"Here comes the bus," quietly noted Kelsey, watching the noisy diesel bus pull up to the curb, thick black exhaust spewing out the rear.
"Oh joy," Jessie said, coughing.
"I hope you brought your inhaler," Kelsey said, a look of alarm crossing her face. Jessie patted her jeans pocket. "Good," Kelsey sighed, the look of alarm that had crossed her face only moments before gone with a relieved grin.
Jessie made a face. "Here comes the Fundamentalist Four," she whispered to her smaller friend. Jessie was as two inches taller than Julia, at six foot two, but the two additional inches were exaggerated by her broad athletic build, dwarfing the more graceful, agile Julia. It was quite comical to see the five foot one Audrie tagging alongside her tall quiet friend. Even Julia's boyfriend Luke wasn't quite as tall as his date--almost but not quite.
The fiery sprite Cassie put her stuff down first, consisting of a carry-on bag and her backpack, followed by Audrie's suitcase, Julia's Adidas gym bag and backpack, and Luke's gym bag. "We have three days to put up with each other," Cassie said in a low voice, almost to the point of a growl. "Don't any of you start anything," she said, pointing to the group of three pagan punks.
Kelsey snorted, turning her head away. "What? Don't you dare blame us for instigating these brouhas," Cassie snarled. Suddenly, Kelsey stopped laughing, and three pairs of eyes pinned Cassie to where she stood.
"You're the one who has to make a big deal out of everything," Jessie said, her voice low, rather quiet but every word emphasized carefully. "You'd probably have fewer anxiety attacks if you would learn to let things go."
Natasha cackled, loudly. "No, no, Jessie," she said, putting her hand on her stomach to stop laughing long enough to say her words. "The day Cassie stops complaining about something is the day of the Apocalypse, sweetie. Depriving her of a fight to pick would be like depriving her of breath."
Cassie's face grew red, while her three friends just stared at Natasha, dumbstruck. "Um, maybe she does have a point, Cassie," Audrie said, trying to distract her friend.
Cassie whirled about, ready to fire back with flames. "That bitch doesn't know what she's talking about!"
Audrie took her friend by the arm. "She may be passionate in her rebellion, but please, Cassie, calm down, you worry us."
"Get your hands off me!" she exclaimed, shucking her friend's hand off her arm.
"Cassie," Julia said, her voice a growl. Cassie stopped her pacing and turned around. "Stop it."
Cassie rolled her eyes but acquiesced, halting her attack.
The bus driver opened the storage area in the back of the bus, letting the students load their baggage. Luke rudely shoved Natasha out of the way, cutting in front of her.
"Some gentleman you are, Luke," Jessie said, a drop of venom coloring her eyes.
"She shouldn't even be on this trip, all she is IS TROUBLE."
"Maybe if you all shut your yaps the trouble would stop."
Julia cut in. "Are you implying we're to blame for the trouble?"
Jessie diplomatically grinned. "No, but you do have a way of feeding the fire. You know what happens when you close the flu to the fireplace?"
"The fire goes out."
"Exactly!" Jessie said, snapping her fingers.
Luke cut back in. "She'll find something else, then."
Jessie put a finger up. "If you refuse to feed a fire, it dies."
"Luke, put your suitcase in," Julia said.
"Yes, my fair lady," he said. They went around to the front of the bus, and climbed the stairs.
"We had first pick on the back seats," Cassie growled.
Kelsey valiantly tried to defend her friends' seats. "First come, first serve."
"Mr. Eldon said you guys couldn't sit back there."
"And when was this? He never said such words to me," Kelsey said, her foot flayed across the seats opposite her.
"Fine then. You get in trouble," Cassie said, moving towards the back.
Luke and Julia, who decided it was easier to sit up front than waste time and energy bickering, just looked at each other. "There she goes at it, again," Julia sighed. Cassie sat in the seat unoccupied.
"You're going to regret ever sitting back here, I damn well guarantee it!"
"Oh really?" Jessie said, sitting next to Kelsey, a sardonic smile across her face.
Natasha made her way to the back of the bus, glaring at Cassie the whole time. "And who said you could come back here?" she spat.
"Who said I couldn't?" Natasha fired back.
"Cassie, enough," the frazzled gray haired Mr. Eldon groaned. Audrie made her way back there, sitting next to Cassie.
"Natasha, sit there," Jessie said, pointing to the side opposite. Taking her hand to shield Cassie from eavesdropping, she continued, in a whisper: "And keep quiet. We should let Cassie put her foot in her mouth herself."
"But--" Jessie silenced Natasha.
Natasha rolled her eyes, flopping in the seat and loudly sighing.
"You--" Cassie tried to further the fight.
"Cassie, hush," Audrie said, putting her hands on Cassie's shoulders and putting her down to sit on her rear, not turned around on her knees.
It was a boring but tense bus trip. Cassie had tried to start a game of truth or dare, daring Jessie to kiss Kelsey. Kelsey fired back that Cassie should kiss Audrie first, which Cassie refused. Those were the only words between them on the long four hour trip to the retreat in the mountains.
The dining hall at the camp was rather small and jammed pack with hungry kids whom the kitchen staff couldn't keep fed fast enough. Small tables made for much jostling once the kids snatched their food and ran. It was rather dark inside, the setting sun blaring its sharp western rays directly into the room, blinding anyone who dared turn around.
"If we're going to have dinner we better make our way now or they'll be none left," Luke said, storming off to the entrance of the dining hall, Julia hot on his heels.
"Same here," Cassie said. "Let's run, Audrie!"
The two small girls ran past Julia and Luke, provoking good natured competition. Julia shot past them, her long legs were no match for them.
It was a serve-yourself buffet, with slices of ham, rolls, mashed potatoes, green beans, apples, and milk on the menu. Luke piled the food high on his dish, while Julia took tiny portions of the ham and green beans and a milk carton. She knew milk was fattening but it was good for her bones, so she dared to drink it.
Cassie and Audrie glanced at their tall dark friend's platter, exchanging knowing looks but said nothing, proceeding to splurge on ham, dinner rolls, apples, and milk.
Natasha grabbed her plate and saw the ham. "Haven't they ever heard of vegans?" she sighed, avoiding the ham and dishing herself apples and green beans, the only items on the list with no animal products in them.
Kelsey shook her head. "Well, no they aren't very fair," she said. "A little milk won't kill me," she said, grabbing a dinner roll, mashed potatoes, an apple and a carton of milk, her tired friend Jessie grabbing the same items. "Let's go find ourselves a place to sit away from the fearsome four."
They meandered to the tables outside, choosing the empty table next to a table of five lively talkers fevorently debating over something with a passion. Alas, the closer they came, they could hear they were arguing over the use of milk products in tonight's dinner.
"They abuse those milk cows," a dark haired young man protested, stirring the green beans on his plate, clearly not too interested to eat them.
"It's not like you're killing the cows," a blonde haired guy countered back, his shirt a lively array of bright colors and his white tank top underneath fitting close to his skinny body.
"Hey, guys, maybe they would like to join in," a brunette in a sundress mentioned. "I'm Brittany," she said, with a smile.
"I'm Jessie," the tall brunette said, waving to everyone.
"I'm Kelsey," her shorter friend said, shyly waving to everyone.
"I'm Natasha," the eccentric girl practically shouted.
"As you can tell, she's the loud one," Jessie quietly said to Brittany.
"Hey, guys, introduce yourselves, don't be rude."
The dark haired boy introduced himself. "I'm Dylan."
The blonde haired effeminate young man then introduced himself. "I'm Kyle."
The third boy of the group, a strawberry blonde, said, "I'm Francis. And yes, you can feel sorry for me for having such an awful name. Don't ask me what my mother was thinking when she named me."
The final member of the group, a quiet blonde girl, proceeded to introduce herself. "I'm Holly."
"Nice to meet all of you," Kelsey said. "How many of you are vegan?"
"Why do you ask---oh, we were kind of loud, weren't we?" Kyle said.
"Well, we just had the same debate while choosing our entrees," Jessie mentioned.
"Two of us are vegan," Brittany said.
One of the camp directors came out to the patio. "Everyone needs to be in the amphitheater in five minutes."
The Rebel Three began to eat their meals, quickly.
"Is that a guy or a girl?" Audrie asked, pointing to Kyle.
"It's a guy," eagle-eyed Julia answered.
"Oh great. Like we didn't have Natasha to deal with, now we have faggots too."
"What a heathen. He looks like a freaking hippie."
"Say, Julia, we should go teach him a lesson, shouldn't we?"
Julia shot him a look to be quiet; right then, the speaker turned on the microphone, the feedback deafening everyone. Frantically they tried to break the circuit, succeeding when the speaker took a few steps back out of the way of the amplifying speakers. "Good evening," he began.
"That speech was boring," Audrie sighed, as they walked out of the amphitheater.
"Leadership? What is this?" Cassie blurted.
"Duh," Luke said. "Student Council?"
"Oh, yeah," Cassie replied back.
"For being a brunette, you act like such a blonde," Luke taunted.
"Shut up," Cassie snarled.
Luke laughed, then sobered up quickly, a feral grimace crossing his face. "Oh look, it's faggot boy."
Cassie snuck up behind Kyle, then screamed in his ear, "FAGGOT!"
"FAGGOT!" Luke hollered, his shoulders tensed as if he was looking for a confrontation.
"FAGGOT!" Cassie chimed again, reaching around to pull his ponytail.
"Leave me alone," Kyle snarled, pushing Cassie's hand away from him.
"Don't push a lady," Luke said, giving him a hard shove, which sent the skinny boy reeling, tripping over his own feet and landing in a dust cloud. Julia and Audrie laughed, turning away to enjoy their perverse humor.
"What the fuck is this?" Brittany said, getting in Luke's face.
"What's up with this faggot?"
"Out of here, now!" she said, possessive. "Leave my boyfriend alone or else."
"Or else what?" Cassie taunted. Brittany didn't bite at the bait.
"You don't want to know," she said, danger oozing in her voice. She turned to her shocked friends, helped Kyle up, and said, "Let's go," each one of them warily glancing back to make sure the Fundamentalist Four didn't follow them.
Jessie stood there, her mouth agape. "And then that blonde haired conceited asshole pushed my boyfriend on the ground, while his small brunette friend kept screaming 'Faggot!' And their other two friends---one really tiny and one really, really tall, just kept snickering."
"Oh goddess," Kelsey said. "I'm glad Natasha's too busy boy-chasing to hear this."
"The bad news is that those jerks are in our student council."
Brittany made a sympathetic grin. "I have no clue when they're going to strike again. That boy--"
"Yeah, he had a look not unlike when a cat is toying with a mouse before it pounces on it to break its itty-bitty neck in half."
"Jessie," Kelsey said.
"We better hang around them, don't want the Fundamentalist Four to catch them off guard."
Brittany looked at them. "Fundamentalist Four?"
"Well, yeah," Kelsey said, her green eyes in a smile, for she actually enjoyed talking, contrary to her more reserved reputation. "They're kind of like a cult."
Brittany grimaced, then glancing at Holly. "Cult?"
"Cassie is no doubt the leader. You know, the short brunette spitfire--"
"The one who started it," Holly said.
Jessie butted in on the conversation. "Sometime last year she ran into Luke and they found they shared a similar rabid taste in imposing Judeo-Christian morality on everyone else."
"Did they date?" Brittany asked.
Jessie shrugged. "No, I don't think so, it's merely platonic."
"How do you know?"
Kelsey jumped back in. "The tall girl, Julia, is Luke's girlfriend."
"For a moment I could have sworn she felt bad," Holly said. "But then she snickered with the tiny girl---"
"Right." Holly continued. "Killing any hopes that maybe she had an ounce of compassion."
Kelsey unrolled her sleeping back, spreading it out on the bare mattress on the bunk. "Thank goddess they separated us three from Julia, Audrie, and that fiend Cassie."
Brittany laid on top of her sleeping back, resting her head on her intertwined fingers. "I know, I don't think a night would last before I'd have to beat the crap out of her for being such a homophobe."
"Trust me, you don't want to get in a fight."
"Why? I can take her on," Brittany said.
"What's going on?" Natasha asked, for she had missed the confrontations earlier.
"That blond haired asshole---Luke's his name, right? He and Cassie taunted my boyfriend after the speech in the amphitheater."
"That little whore--"
Jessie put a hand out. "No, Natasha, we have enough people involved as it is."
Natasha pouted. "You guys don't let me have fun!"
Kelsey grinned at her. "How many guys did you make out with tonight?" Natasha stuck her tongue out rudely, then rolled over, giving all of them the cold shoulder.
"As I was saying, why did you say what you said?" Brittany continued.
"A fight will not solve it; it will just infuriate and you'll never hear the end of it," Kelsey said.
"Too late now, I'm angry as hell right now," Brittany retorted.
Jessie flashed a devious smile. "Nah, the joke's on her."
Before the tall girl could finish, Brittany butted in. "What do you mean?"
"I'd rather torment her, you know? She doesn't deserve a fight---she deserves humiliation to put her in her place. And humiliation requires teamwork."
Kelsey interrupted. "No, it does not require a team. The girl is fully capable of putting her own klutzy foot in her own big mouth, we just have to avoid taking the bait so she shines as the fool."
A camp counselor came in. "Lights off."
"Goodnight, then," Kelsey said.
Silence, except a faint snore in the corner. "Who's snoring?" Brittany whispered to Jessie.
"Sounds like Kelsey."
"Blah," Kelsey said, her eyes still heavy with sleep, wiping the excess water off her face.
"Morning, sunshine," Jessie said, hovering over her bunk.
"You little..." Kelsey took the pillow and smacked Jessie in the head with it. "I can't believe you poured a pitcher of ice water on me!"
"The day is young, you'll dry off."
Kelsey rolled her eyes, sitting up. "You're quite the imp." She turned around, putting her bare feet on the floor. "So, what's up?"
"I dropped by the breakfast hall earlier."
Kelsey rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "What time is it?"
"Seven in the freaking morning and you've bathed and been to the mess hall?"
Jessie laughed, then sobered. "Here's the deal. All of us are going to be divided up on ten teams."
"Activities for the next two days. Your group has the ropes course this morning right before lunch."
"Before lunch! That's...I better eat a lot of breakfast, then." On cue, Kelsey's stomach rumbled.
"Yeah, you better eat a lot of breakfast," Brittany said, rolling over.
"I didn't know you were awake," Jessie said.
"I'm not," Brittany uttered.
"So, how big are the teams?"
"About five people each."
"I hope none of the fundamentalist four are on any of our teams."
"Well, the four aren't in any of our groups," Jessie said, making a circle of the five girls in the cabins, "Except for yours."
"Ah crap!" Kelsey said. "Well, which asshole is it?"
"At least it isn't Cassie or Luke," Kelsey sighed. "But still, a fundie is a fundie..."
Kelsey grinned. "The only problem with Baptists is that they don't hold them under long enough." Jessie cracked up, laughing, Brittany joining her in laughter, waking up Holly.
"What's so funny, guys?"
Brittany rolled over, and mentioned, "I should have mentioned that Holly is a Baptist."
"I'm used to the jokes. Goodnight," Holly said, rolling over to face the wall.
Kelsey yawned, stretching her limbs. "I better take a shower, I'm sure I don't smell like daisies. See you guys later," she said.
Kelsey stood at the top of the platform, the cargo net was cake for her. She had remembered the principle rule of climbing them: the more you struggle the worse it is to climb them.
"C'mon, Julia, you can do it."
Frightened blue eyes looked up at Kelsey twenty feet above. "I...can't."
"Can't isn't a vocabulary word right now," Kelsey said. "I know you can do it. You made it this far, to student council and..."
Julia tentatively started climbing the net, but started to panic halfway up the cargo net. "Ah.."
"Julia, stop." The tall girl stopped struggling. "Now try to climb, slowly. The more you panic the more you'll get wrapped up in it."
"Okay," Julia said, taking a deep breath and trying to will herself on, feeling the harness attached the safety rope pull slightly against her rib cage.
Kelsey stood at the top of the platform, wondering why she was being so nice to the girl who so cruelly mocked Kyle the night previous. Well, duh, she thought. Maybe because there is that certain girlish charm. I can see how Luke fell for that.
Julia looked up at Kelsey, terror in her eyes. "Five more feet, Julia. Don't give up." Julia reached a hand tentatively, to grab the next rung of the cargo net, a few tears running down her face. Moments later, she reached her hand to grab the platform.
"See?" Kelsey said, smiling. "You made it."
The wind started to blow, and the platform began to sway. "Kelsey--" she said, panicking.
"They're supposed to sway a little bit. Makes the structure more sound."
"Kelsey," Julia said, her voice frantic. "I want to go down, I hate it up here."
"Here, we'll cross the tightrope together. Would that help?"
"Um, yeah," Julia said, offering a weak grin.
"First, attach this clamp to the top rope."
"Okay," Julia said, then panicked again. "No, I have to remove the safety rope to clamp it on."
"Here." Kelsey removed the clamp and placed it on the rope, ahead of her clamp. "I'll be right behind here, okay? And if you need to catch your breath, just sit in the harness."
Julia nodded. "Um, okay, here I go," reaching a foot and placing it on the rope. "One, two...three...four..." Kelsey followed her. "Oh shoot..."
Kelsey reached a hand from the top rope to help balance Julia. "Easy, easy, there," she said, putting her hand back on the rope when Julia regained her balance.
"I need to stop for a moment," a frazzled voice whimpered. "Okay." Julia continued making gains, until she stepped upon the second platform.
"See?" Kelsey said, big smile plastered on her face. "You did it!"
Julia turned around, to see the remaining two obstacles. "Oh no..." she whimpered once again. Ten swings were lined up in a row, the object was to walk on them, swinging from one to the next. "Kelsey, don't make me."
Kelsey arched a blonde eyebrow. "After you." Julia turned around again, to face the swings.
"I'll try," she whispered. Kelsey took the clamp and unhooked it from the safety wire for the tight rope and replaced it on the safety line for the swings, doing the same for hers. Julia took a step onto a swing, dropping her jaw in fright. "Ah..."
"The safety line will catch you. You can do it, and I know it."
Julia came down from the ropes course, tears running down her face, shaking. Despite the impeding feeling of trauma, she felt a sense of accomplishment, of facing her fears and tackling them. Kelsey unhooked her clamp, took of her harness, and congratulated Julia.
"Thanks," Julia sighed. "Or should I say, thank you."
Kelsey smiled, blinking. "No problem." Her stomach rumbled for lunch, the smaller girl putting her hand on her abdomen to dampen the noise.
Julia looked at her watch. "Like clockwork. It's lunchtime." Both laughed. "Let's walk over to the dining hall."
"Okay." Julia kept wondering why she wanted to give her newfound companion a hug, but had a feeling it was somehow inappropriate; as to why, she didn't know.
Kelsey tried to keep her breathing normal. I cannot believe it, she thought. She's actually a little nice. Oh goddess. She glanced at Julia once more. She is fine....Kelsey, don't set yourself up for heartbreak, okay? The fairy godmother will strike her wand at midnight and she'll turn into a frog again!
Kelsey quirked an eyebrow to herself. What? I'm definitely not thinking straight. Then she laughed, noting her irony.
"What's so funny?" Julia asked, a goofy grin on her face.
"Out of the clear blue, you laughed."
Julia rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Thinking about cute boys at camp and not willing to admit it."
Kelsey laughed. Boys? Boys? Ha, ha, ha. She'd freak if she knew I was gay.
Julia smiled. "Knew it!"
"Knew what?" Kelsey said, in a sober voice.
"Boys on the mind, you have that dreamy look..." Julia said, prodding her new friend more.
Kelsey blushed. Try *girls* on the mind. Oh shit, I'm definitely caught there. Almost. "Let's see what's on the menu today. Chicken strips, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and apple juice."
Julia looked at her companion. "Well, let's eat." Kelsey took a plate, and filled it with lots of macaroni and cheese, a small half of a corncob, and two apple juice boxes. Julia took about two bites of each, then both of them sat down on the patio.
"Why do you eat so little?" asked Kelsey, pointing to Julia's plate, which the tall dark haired girl only picked at.
"Why aren't you eating any of the chicken?" Julia asked in return.
"I'm a vegetarian."
"Yeah." Kelsey took a long sip on the juice box, until it collapsed on itself. "What a rip-off." She set the box down. "You never answered my question."
Julia sighed. "I'm just not hungry."
"I don't believe you. A tall girl like you can't survive on a bird's rations."
"This is none of your business!" Julia snarled.
There are times to back down, but this is not one of them. "Julia."
Blue eyes pinned her, but she was determined to not let her win. "None. Of. Your. Business."
Kelsey rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I still don't believe you." She took another hefty bite of macaroni and cheese. "So, I wonder what they're going to subject us to this afternoon?"
"I'm not going to be very happy if it is as traumatizing as that ropes course," Julia said.
"I'm sure it isn't." She saw the guide for their group walk by. "Hey, Tyson," she called out. The tall, skinny guide turned around, his hair trimmed short with a Van Dyke beard and fisherman's hat.
"Someone call me?" he asked.
"Yeah. What are we doing this afternoon?"
"We have a hike planned."
"Good, no more ropes courses," Julia sighed. Tyson moved on, making his way through the crowds in the dining hall. "Look, it's my friends."
Kelsey tried very hard not to gag on the macaroni she had in her mouth. Of all the things, this? Oh goddess, not another confrontation. She was on the verge at screaming at everyone to stick a sock in it and hope they all died of the stench.
"Hey, Luke." The tall blonde boy had tried to sneak up on her, but Julia turned around before he could boo her. She turned around and he bent down, kissing her on the cheek.
Umph, Kelsey flinched internally, keeping her face stoic to not let her guard down. It felt like she had been kicked in the gut, so she reacted like she always did. Put herself down because she could, because it was easier to antagonize herself than Luke.
"Well, consorting with the enemy, are we not?" Cassie said, getting in Kelsey's face.
"Really? Hmm. 'Enemy' is a subjective term, don't you think?"
"Skip the philosophy crap," Cassie growled.
"Suit yourself," Kelsey said, getting up and calmly leaving, her half eaten lunch left on the table. Luke and Julia shot Cassie a look.
"Well? She doesn't belong here," Luke finally commented.
"We don't need her brainwashing you with that satanic crap," Cassie said. "She's a bad influence and you shouldn't even consider hanging out with people like that, unless the pit of Hell is your desired destination."
Julia rolled her eyes, her teeth bared in a grimace. "Geez, you make her sound like she oozes poison out of her pores," she sputtered. "As long as we're both in the same group we mine as well cooperate. Some of us don't like bickering, Cassie."
"Acquaintance leads to friendship, which leads to bad influence, Julia," Luke said. "I don't want you getting hurt."
Why am I defending the heathen? Julia asked herself. The thought of leaving the smaller girl undefended hurt for some reason. Why? She could not tell, but rationale said not to defend the girl. Emotions said to trust the inner instinct and protect the girl. Years of carefully cultivated rationale won out. "Okay. I won't talk to her."
"That's my girl," Luke said. "Standing up for what's proper and Christian."
It left a bitter taste in her mouth.
The tall dark haired girl marched alone on the hike, her knuckles turning white from clenching the hiking stick. It was pathetic, really, Kelsey noted, the few glances she made to the back of the group revealed an internal war within Julia's sapphire eyes, which were more of an ice color at the moment.
Julia kept a stoic face, letting her rationale battle her emotions. The hike was boring, it more entertaining to witness herself battle her divided self than listen to Tyson describe the various plants in the chaparral. Plus, it kept her mind off the guilt of abandoning Kelsey; well, sort of, since the whole argument was over Kelsey.
Her inner fundamentalist stepped up to the plate. You know she's a bad influence. Heaven knows what type of things she's into. Group orgies? Well, that's more like Natasha, but you never know.
Her inner caretaker objected. Kelsey's not a slut.
The inner fundamentalist couldn't bear to listen to anything praising the pagan punk girl. You saw that ankh. Mark of Satan! And to even think of associating with that sinner...
We're all sinners, her caretaker interrupted. She needs you as much as you need her.
And I don't need her! the fundamentalist screamed. So she doesn't need me. So stop feeling guilty.
But... the caretaker cried.
NO! You don't need her.
No. I said no. And "No" it shall be. The inner fundamentalist started to dance when the caretaker could not retort with a smart lash.
Kelsey kept wanting to glance at her. So alone. She turned around again, to see "Keep Away" written all over her face. So much for breaking through the ice this morning.
They sat around the patio, picking at their dinners. Luke had finished off most of his dinner, Cassie made a face at the smoke drifting from the citronella candle into her face, Audrie sat there, quietly staring at her plate of spinach.
"Julia, what's wrong?" Audrie asked.
"Nothing," she growled, pushing the spinach around her plate with her fork, rotating it and making patterns with the sad, weeping boiled leaves.
Audrie got up and tugged on Julia's elbow. "We need to talk."
"Come with me."
"I'll be right back," Julia said, scooting her chair back and walking away from the patio with Audrie. They strolled to the bathroom, both silent.
"What's going on?" Audrie asked.
"Nothing's going on. Why do you ask?"
"You look sad."
Julia laughed. "I am many things, but sad is not one of them!" She twirled about. "I have many things to be grateful for. A loving boyfriend. Great friends. Wonderful parents. Nice..."
Audrie put her hands on her hips. "You're definitely hiding something, Julia."
She giggled. "Am not! What leads you to such a thing?"
"You are acting strange."
"Really?" Julia said, narrowing her eyes. "I didn't realize that."
"Cut the bullshit, Julia. Something's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong," the tall girl protested.
The tiny girl rolled her eyes. "Nothing's wrong. Right." She scratched an itch on her arms.
"I don't why you shave your arms, Audrie, the hair itches when it grows back in." They walked into the bathroom, the fluorescent lights blinding them momentarily. Audrie disappeared into one of the stalls while Julia, bored, washed her hands, taking a dash of the powdery coarse soap and rubbing the grip between her hands, then washing the funny pink granules off. She happened to look up in the mirror before she had a chance to turn away to grab a paper towel to dry her hands off.
The face in the mirror didn't look too happy. Dark circles under her eyes, which were just beginning to bulge out, accentuated her sorrowful look. A loving boyfriend. Great friends. Wonderful parents. Nice teachers. A perfect house to live in. What more can I want from life?
She took a dark lock of hair and spun it around her fingers. Something's missing. But what? Why do I wake up and feel a hole in my soul? What ever I try to do to plug up the hole doesn't work. Friends: they're great, I can trust them, but they....I don't know. I thought that was my problem. Now that I got them, they weren't the entire answer.
She let the lock fall upon her face, hanging limp. I got a boyfriend. Luke is a wonderful guy. But ever time we kiss, I feel empty. He obviously likes it. I must be frigid.
Frigid. What an awful word. Frigid. Hopeless. Lukewarm. She finally tore herself from the mirror to grab the paper towel, the hollow face staring back at her was too much. Perhaps not looking at its reflection would stop the thoughts. Much to her chagrin, it didn't go away.
Audrie flushed the toilet, then stepped out of the stall, washed her hands, and looked in her friend's eyes. "Well?"
"Let's go," she said, tiredly.
"Something's definitely up," Audrie muttered to herself.
She stood there, towards the back of the amphitheater, arms crossed, absorbing the chaos down below. She had gotten annoyed by her group's chatter earlier. They were always up to something nasty. She never thought of it that way, but strangely it stuck out as a sore thumb tonight.
It was not out of the normal, really, but she could not shake off the urgent panicky feeling in her gut. Something was changing---how could Audrie detect it before Julia could herself? It bugged her to no end. She had excused herself to use the facilities and disappeared into the darkness beyond the reach of the lights illuminating the seating.
"Why are you standing alone?" a soft voice asked. Julia turned her head, to see who had asked. Kelsey.
"Just thinking," she said, hoping she didn't have to explain because there was no way to explain the chaotic feeling roiling in her guts. What was happening? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!!!
"Yeah, we all have to take timeouts and catch up with ourselves," Kelsey said, quietly, standing beside Julia, her customary black shirt blending in the total darkness beyond. She looks awful. I wonder what happened--it looks like she's been through the meat grinder.
Hordes of people began heading their direction. "Speech over. Hey, I'll see you later, then," Kelsey said, turning around to walk off when Julia caught her arm. Kelsey turned her head around. "Yes?" she asked innocently.
Julia had no idea why she grabbed Kelsey's arm, but the thought of letting her go panicked her. Scared of the inner crisis that she didn't want to face alone---
Rationale recognized that emotions were trying to rebel against natural order once again. She swallowed her dry spit, like a lump in the throat. She forced herself to release Kelsey's arm. "Sorry," she said, frowning. Luke, Cassie, and Audrie caught up to the tall dark girl. "Bye." Then she turned away to follow her boyfriend, into the void.
Kelsey just stood her, speechless, her eyes down. Something happened. I just don't know what. She scratched the crown of her head. She's hurting somehow but won't admit it. The image of Julia struggling to keep that stoic face when she could no longer cover it up with a laugh---
"Earth to Kelsey!" a voice chuckled. Kelsey slowly turned around.
"Hey, Jessie," she dryly drawled.
Jessie stopped, when she realized Kelsey wasn't following. "Well, are you going to come?"
"Yeah." She left the amphitheater, to see Jessie had decided to hang out with the Philosophical Five. Kyle and Brittany were gleefully holding hands, Dylan blended into the dark just like Kelsey, Holly was laughing with Francis, who kept spewing spontaneous sarcasm, ahead of them.
Brittany said, "I am so glad both of you are here. Maybe we'll keep that asshole out of our hair tonight," she said, in reference to Luke.
"Jessie has a mean punch, I'll tell you that!" Kelsey said, then giving her tall companion a devious look.
Brittany sized up her newfound tall friend. "How tall are you?" she finally asked.
"Holy cow---I'm only five four. You're pretty tall, too, Kelsey."
"Oh, a little over five seven. I'm still the short one, though."
Brittany protested. "The only one here taller than you is Dylan."
Kelsey glanced at the handsome lad. "How tall?"
"About six foot," he said, his voice a rich tone, hands stuck in the pockets of his khaki corduroy pants.
Kelsey couldn't recall when the group split into two. All she knew was that Kyle and Brittany were left to fend for themselves....
"Ah ha!" Cassie whispered.
"What is it?" Audrie asked.
"We finally found Natasha, I see," Julia said. "Making out with some boy."
Cassie smelled blood. "Let's go humiliate her." She tiptoed right behind Natasha--she was too busy kissing the guy to ever notice her archival's presence. "SLUT!" Cassie screamed in her ear.
"WHORE!" Luke yelled, on the other side. Natasha flew around, swinging wildly, enraged. Cassie and Luke took a few steps in opposite directions.
Audrie said to Julia: "We should get some rubbers and spermicide as a gag joke for her, shouldn't we?" Julia laughed, a cruel, mocking laugh.
"Where's Trojan Man when you need him?" Cassie asked, howling at her own joke.
"Fuck you all!" Natasha hissed, her face red. She turned around to see her embarrassed date had fled. Turning around, she coldly eyed each one, looking for which one would become her intended prey. Julia and Audrie were merely bothersome, she couldn't take on Luke, but Cassie---that bitch deserved every bit. Like a bat out of hell, she chased Cassie.
Cassie knew she was in for it when she got a close glimpse of Natasha's eyes. She was about to stand her ground and teach the harlot a lesson, but she reconsidered her options, and knew the only thing was to run. Panicked, she ran, cutting the path and trying to cross the divider, lined with bits of bark. Taking a sharp turn to elude her pursuer, she slipped, and Natasha was upon her in moments. "Fuck you!" she screamed, tearing Cassie's red scrunchie out and grabbing fistfuls of hair and pulling as hard as she could.
Luke was upon the scene in moments, to see his friend helpless under the hellcat's fury. Cassie kept screaming as Natasha howled epithets and curses at the them, Luke tried to get Natasha to release her but it furthered her hair pulling. Julia and Audrie ran up, and each one pried Natasha's talons from Cassie's hair.
"You--" Natasha decided Julia was her next target, running into her in hopes it would knock her down.
Big mistake, for Julia found Natasha to be a good punching bag for her frustrated day. "JULIA!" Luke yelled, pulling her away. "JULIA!"
"Let's get out of here," Audrie said. "Everyone." She wrapped an arm around Cassie, who was crying puddles.
"Calm down, Julia, we got her enough for the time being," Luke said, wrapping an arm around her waist. Everyone welcomed the peace and quiet, the drama was a bit much.
"And then she caught Mike and I making out, and started yelling "SLUT!" at me!" a crying Natasha bawled to Jessie, Kelsey, Dylan, Holly, and Francis. "Luke joined in, calling me a whore. Cassie asked where the Trojan man was. I just lost it---I chased the fucking bitch down and beat the crap out of her. Took all three of them to get me off her--" her face gleamed with pride. "But Julia decided to take a few swipes with those paws of hers." She rolled up her sleeves, to show off budding bruises.
"She really got you," Francis said, wincing at the bruises.
"I didn't expect Luke to pull her off me, I thought she was going to literally kill me on the spot. She had this feral look in her eyes."
Jessie glanced at Kelsey, who looked back at her with sad eyes.
"Would a hug help?" Jessie asked Natasha. The controversial girl gladly took the consolation.
"Why do they always want to pick on me?" she cried on her friend's shoulder.
The snack bar was still open, and all six of them bought ice cream. "Ice cream solves the world's problems," Natasha said, gladly munching on an ice cream sandwich. Kelsey smirked.
"I could list you the reasons ice cream is better than men. For starters ice cream doesn't snore..."
Natasha grinned, then threatened to cry again. "Sorry," Kelsey said, frowning. "Here, I'll get you another one, that little doesn't look like it's going to work the cure completely." She got up and stood in line.
"Isn't it chocolate, not ice cream?" Holly asked. She saw the tears brimming. "Oh, I am so sorry--"
"It must be my time of month," Natasha sighed. "I always get overemotional when I'm about to start my period."
Dylan and Francis gave each other uncomfortable looks. Men and periods mix like oil and water.
Kelsey came back, sandwich in tow. "Here," she said, smiling as she sat down. "They've having a campfire later on, I hear."
"Yeah. They're working on the fire pit right now," Dylan said. "That should be fun. Hopefully there'll be room for marshmallows."
"Who's providing them?"
Dylan shrugged. "Dunno." Shrugging his shoulders, he added, "Just a thought."
A little later they decided to wander about, when they caught a glimpse of the fundamentalist four wandering around. "That's some shiner," Jessie said to Kelsey, pointing to Cassie's eye that was puffing up. "Hey, Natasha, nice job."
Kelsey reminded, "Remember beating the crap out of her?"
"The Amazons live amongst us," Francis laughed, in reference to Natasha.
"I didn't think I'd--"
Jessie turned her around. "Good job. She looks like she's been humbled a bit. I never thought I'd see that day."
"They're coming this way," Dylan said, breaking the bad news.
"Jessie, get in front of me," Natasha said, tugging her tall friend in front to hide herself.
Luke stopped when he saw Jessie. "You've seen Natasha around?"
Jessie shook her head. "Nope." Luke turned around, to appeal to the other five.
"Any one else?"
A dischorus of voices answered, "No."
"I best be going." The Fundamentalist Four walked on.
"That was too close," Natasha said. "They have it in for me and I know it."
Kelsey looked at her frightened friend. "I suggest you stop sneaking off to kiss the boys, and start hanging around us. After all, there is strength in numbers."
"Does anyone have to use the bathroom?" Holly asked, embarrassed. Nearly everyone decided it was sound, walking to the facilities as a big herd. Kelsey said she didn't have to go, so she waited outside for everyone else.
Dylan walked out first. "That was fast," she commented. Suddenly, a commotion erupted up ahead, turning both heads.
"Not again!" Kelsey said, sighing with defeat.
"They got Kyle and Brittany cornered," Dylan said, using his height to see over everyone else. "We better go rescue them." They began running to aid their friends, Luke already had Kyle in the ground choking on the dust. Cassie decided to opt out of the bashing, letting Audrie and Julia keep Brittany from rescuing poor Kyle.
"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?!" Dylan hissed, five feet from the scene. Luke was oblivious to it, still pummeling Kyle with his fists, Kyle trying to shield himself from the blows.
"If you want to harass the faggot, you're beating up the wrong person."
Luke stopped, but maintained a stranglehold on Kyle's collar. "Really? Then who's the faggot?"
Dylan stared in his eyes, and growled, "Me."
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