Waking up, I rolled out of bed and planted my feet on the hardwood floor. Bare skin met cold wood, jolting me awake as I stood up and shuffled over to the door to my room, picking up my glasses from the nightstand. I showered and ate breakfast in silence; merely grunting at my father’s probing questions about my life while Mom asked me how the church group is going.
I rolled my eyes. Ever since summer let out, Mom had been signing me up for program after program through the church, in order to dominate all of my free time. It doesn’t help that I wanted to have some friends over on my birthday and got the cold sting of a “No” from my father, I merely plugged along acting as camp counselor for this Christian Kids Camp with my bratty cousin Nina.
Nina is a year older than me, but about a head shorter. With short blonde hair she keeps in pigtails, she looks like an emaciated cheerleader minus the ego trip. But really, she can be all right most of the time.
That was because she was allowed to date, I thought miserably.
Ever since I entered middle school, my parents had forbidden me from asking girls out. In church, they didn’t let me work with anyone of the opposite sex and they always made me stay late with them so they could keep an eye on me. Really the first spot of freedom I’ve had in, like, ever is sadly this Christian Sponsorship Camp, where troubled teens are brought to our camp and taught the joy of loving Jesus like we do.
Walking back into my bedroom I pull on my pressed black slacks and undershirt, before pulling on my white button up shirt. The doorbell signals that Nina got here early and is waiting impatiently for me, yet again. Checking myself over in the mirror (smoothing out my spiky hair and adjusting my glasses) I yell I’ll be right there. I grab my wallet and my cell phone and head to the main room.
“There’s the birthday boy!” Nina said, running up to give me a brief hug, which I return in kind. I notice she’s nibbling on a piece of toast and just give her a smile.
“That’s right, sweet sixteen,” Mom said with a strained smile. She’s been working double shifts at the hospital to pay the bills around here while my father looks for a job. Not a lot of market for an architect out there right now.
“Well we’re off for bible camp,” I say, grabbing my boots and dropping down onto a wooden chest to begin lacing them up. Nina stays at the table for a minute, conversing with my mother about the different kids at the bible camp, while my father busies himself with reading the newspaper.
Once my boots were on, I stood up (A full three inches taller) and motioned for Nina that we’re going to be late.
I walk out the front door, pocketing my keys as Nina called out farewell. I turned and looked at her, smiling. “Well?”
“Well, what?” She asked innocently.
“Well how was the date?”
“So not the drama,” she said, waving it off. “The guy was a class A loser, he wanted to take me to a take-out Mexican restaurant.”
“Was it good food at least?” I asked, knowing she gave her patented speech in rejecting guys to this poor soulless than twelve hours ago.
She nodded, closing her eyes as we walked out from beneath the awning of home into the hot summer sun. I winced at the contact and reminded myself to put on sunblock when I got to camp. My little backpack had everything I needed for a day to day basis: sunblock, two bottles of water and some aspirin. I also kept a roll of gauze and some general first aid stuff on me in case one of the campers ended up hurting themselves while playing soccer or something.
The walk to the church was a sweltering one, as the walks always turned out to be. I asked if we could stop beneath an old sycamore tree for me to apply my sunblock, earning a weird look from Nina.
“What, it’s bright out today!” I said, defending myself.
“Exactly, you should get a little color on that pale frame of yours.” She half-joked, smiling at me.
“Ha-ha, now just get the back of my neck and we’ll be ready to go,” I said, pulling a bottle of water and chugging it while she applied a dollop of sunblock to cover the bare scruff of my neck.
The rest of the walk down Babcock to First Lutheran of San Antonio is relatively peaceful, at least until a few more counselors that happen to be friends with Nina see us and rush over to have “girl talk,” which is essentially complimenting each other’s outfits and asking each other about every rumor possible. I personally hate it, but I’ve faded into the woodwork with these girls, who merely ignore my presence.
Which is why when one of them asks me a question, I have to pause and look at her, asking her to repeat herself.
Looking annoyed, she puts her hands on her hips. “Have you heard of the Goth kid?”
I looked at her like she’s crazy, but then remember everyone knew me as the shut-in boy whose parents keep him on a tight leash. I nodded my head silently, pushing my glasses up my nose as I looked at the girl, Brittany I think her name was.
She smirked. “So we got a Goth kid in today, her parents dropped her off to stay in the dormitories. I figured you could show her around camp, seeing as you're both into that kind of stuff.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, somewhat annoyed.
Brittany waved me off. “Just meet her in front of the Pastor’s office at Nine after service so you can give her a guided tour. I’m supposed to do it, but I got this thing.”
Yeah, making out with one of the seniors, I think to myself, chuckling. She shot me an evil look and blushed as if she could read my mind. I just nodded and said I’d be happy to do it.
We arrived at church a few minutes before the sermon, and Pastor Rick called me over. Pastor Rick is a paunchy, older man with a bald head and a big nose. He always smells vaguely of Old Spice cologne, though nobody else seemed to notice.
“Happy birthday buddy!” He said, holding out a hand and patting me on the back as I shake it. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a roll of twenties, stripping off five and handing them to me. “Buy yourself something nice.”
I smiled. It’s a traditional gift from the pastor for all the kids who turn sixteen to get a hundred dollars from the congregation. I pocketed the money and thank him again, before moving into the hall. I looked up at the cross and say a quick prayer before pulling out my second water bottle and my bottle of aspirin. Palming three red tablets, I downed them with a glug of water and put them away, just as Nina takes a seat beside me. The Pastor walked to the front of the room and instructed us to open to Genesis, where we listen to a sermon about Cain and Abel, the world's first murder and first lie to God.
I just tried to fight back a headache that’s coming on as I think about what Cain must’ve gone through after killing his brother, wandering the world until he could settle with others in the land of Nod, forever marked with his shame for the world to see.
The Pastor ended on a lighter note, asking for volunteers for the summer cookout to the beach (“The sign up is on my door!”) and reminding us that the rest of the day was full of events so that we could have fun.
The younger kids all rushed out to get to the “fun” events like playing with clay and painting while some of the older kids just hung back to speak with the counselors. I walked past them all towards the front of the pastor's office, where this new girl should be.
And after bumping into a minute frame with a girlish grunt, I think I found her.