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lookin' out for you, my darling

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“So I’m taking the bus this year,” Trish grumbles, the phone pressed between her ear and her bare shoulder as she wriggles out of her jeans.  The window’s open, her fan’s dialed all the way the up and still it’s too hot, Trish’s skin damp with sweat she can’t be bothered to wash off.  “Hooray, I guess.”

Jo huffs.  She’s in Hawaii, probably watching the waves from her air-conditioned hotel room.  Trish isn’t one for tropical vacations but god, she’d kill for working A/C.  “Big deal,” Jo says.  “It’s a bus, dude.  Imagine every field trip you’ve ever been on, but with less vaping—”

“Yeah, and more screaming.”  Trish flops onto her bed and throws an arm over her face, carelessly dramatic.  Unfinished lanyards and camp nametags of years past hang over her like a tangle of vines, taunting her.  “They really expect me to haul ass out of bed at 7:30, drag myself to the bus stop, and take charge of a group of kids I hardly know.”

“No one’s fault but your own.”  Jo’s right, of course.  She’s also, from what Trish can gather, playing a ukulele, which only makes it more irritating.  “Plus, free breakfast.  Also shitty coffee, but it’s not like you drink coffee anyway.”

“Fine, but that’s not the point.”  The point is that Trish is a late riser by nature, and the only thing that got her through those early mornings and long days of glorified babysitting last year was the drive up to camp with Andy, splitting homemade trail mix and bickering over the radio, having someone to vent to about trouble children and clueless parents on the way home.  The point is maybe Trish doesn’t want to take the goddamn bus, okay, and she shouldn’t have to justify herself, Danishes and poppyseed muffins be damned.

She tells Jo as much.  Jo, of course, doesn’t buy it.

“Y’know, I have a feeling this has nothing to do with hauling ass out of bed at 7:30,” she says.  Trish realizes she’s plucking the melody of “Careless Whisper,” and proceeds to ignore it.  “What bus stop are you, anyway?”

“St. John’s.”  It’s a few blocks down from Trish’s house, which would be convenient if she didn’t have to drag herself home after eight hours of chasing children in 92-degree heat.

“Oh, so you’ll be with Andy, Joan, Wil…and Pete.”  The plucking of the ukulele comes to a discordant halt.  “Hmm.”

“Don’t,” Trish says, scrubbing a hand over her face.

“I’m just saying.”  Trish can hear Jo’s shit-eating smirk from across the Pacific.  “Maybe it’s not the thought of being on the bus that scares you, but the thought of being in a confined space, twice a day, five days a week, with Pete We—”

“Oh, no, Penny, don’t put that in your mouth,” Trish says flatly.  “Sorry, Jo, I’m gonna have to hang up before my dog kills herself.”

“You can’t run from the truth, Patricia—”

Trish hangs up and wishes, not for the first time, that her best friend didn’t know her so goddamn well.

 

Every summer, without fail, Trish’s vacation plans have included the following three things:  1) filming one-person Green Day covers and then deleting them out of embarrassment, 2) putting off homework and school shopping until the last possible minute in favor of browsing record shops and screwing around in GarageBand; 3) summer day camp.

You’d think after eight years, at the ripe age of sixteen, she’d have found something better to do with her summer.  She’s pretty sure the girl whose mom talked her and Jo’s mom into signing up the two of them has long quit and moved onto better more productive things that don’t involve spending eight hours frying in the sun with no pay and an 80% chance of nosebleeds.

Honestly, she probably would’ve quit a long time ago if it weren’t for Pete.

Trish met Pete Wentz in sixth grade.  Pete was two years older, one inch taller, and exponentially cooler.  Jo knew her from soccer, and had in fact ditched Trish at the camp signup meeting to go chat her up along with all the other cool soccer people, but Trish had barely given her any thought beyond “she’s kinda cute”—never imagined they’d be in woodworking together, or partners when Trish had the misfortune of getting a bloody nose on the second day of camp.

Against all odds, and even after Pete spent the entire walk to and from the nurse’s station singing “The Princess Pat” loudly and off-key, they hit it off.  Trish narrowly saved Pete from taking her own eye out with a power drill and Pete, in turn, taught Trish to successfully operate a pair of stilts for no less than thirty seconds without faceplanting on the gravel.  Somewhere in between all this, Pete mentioned she was trying to learn guitar, and her eyes lit up when Trish ducked her head and shyly mumbled that she could help her learn.

They were pretty much inseparable after that:  Pete asking Trish a million questions about bands and instruments and what kind of music she was into, Jo lagging behind complaining about being the third wheel before eventually giving up and latching onto Andy.  Trish let Pete talk her ear off, and surprised herself not only with how much she enjoyed listening, but how much she was willing to share:  how boldly she gave her opinion, and how respectfully Pete listened even when she didn’t agree; how much she enjoyed bantering with Pete about anything and everything, trying to get her to see things her way and realizing they were both too damn stubborn for their own good; but mostly, all their disagreements aside, how much they had to talk about.  Trish never got bored of talking with Pete, about music or Star Wars or anything else in the world—so much so that the counselors had to forcibly separate them when they seemed more interested in Metallica than making gumball machines.

On the overnight, Pete woke Trish up at some ungodly hour to use the bathroom, and Trish stumbled blindly out into the dark, too tired to bother retrieving her glasses, the woods around them an unfamiliar blur.  She waited outside the stalls, Pete’s flashlight swinging like a pendulum from the string twisted around her fingers, and after Pete finished she was about to head back when Pete stopped her.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Pete asked.

Trish nodded.  It was the first time she’d ever seen Pete look serious, all hesitant and unsure.

Pete took a deep breath.  “I have trouble sleeping,” she said quietly.  “I get nightmares a lot.  I was kind of falling asleep, but then I got scared and that’s when I woke you up.  I didn’t actually have to use the bathroom.  I hope you don’t mind.”

Trish couldn’t really mind.  The thought of Pete lying awake in the dark, all alone, fear creeping up her spine, broke her heart.  “Sometimes I sing when I can’t sleep,” she said.

“My brother says I sound like a dying horse when I sing,” Pete said, laughing a little.  Then she looked up at Trish, eyes wide and uncertain.  “Could you do it?  Sing for me, I mean?”

Trish swallowed.  She’d never sung in front of anyone, except once or twice with Jo in the car.  But then, of the two of them, Pete was always the braver one.  She was always so fearless, so cocksure, so willing, that it hadn’t occurred to Trish that she could be capable of feeling scared.  Standing there, seeing Pete so vulnerable, she realized she wanted to do it.  She wanted to be brave for Pete.

So she opened her mouth, and she sang.

Her voice quivered a little, and the thought of someone walking in on them before they were finished made her falter more than once, but she kept going, eyes closed as she let Bowie’s melody and lyrics sweep her away.

When she opened her eyes, Pete was staring at her, and Trish wasn’t sure whether it was the intensity of Pete’s gaze or the lingering adrenaline that was making her heart race.

“You have a really nice voice,” Pete said, eyes shining.  “Thank you.”

Trish had nodded, and then they’d made their way back to camp.  Pete didn’t bring it up, but when Trish sat down for breakfast she found the words “THANK YOU” spelled out in raisins on her plate.

Trish hasn’t told anyone—not even Jo—but she thinks about that moment a lot.  When she’s singing in the shower, or strumming her guitar, or even late at night when she’s staring up at the ceiling and her brain won’t shut off and she wonders, briefly, whether Pete’s doing the same thing.

Pete ended up not coming back to camp for another two years, and when she did Trish didn’t know where she’d been or how much she remembered.  High school seemed worlds away from eighth grade, and despite Jo’s insistence that Pete was still chill, Trish found herself staying away, worried that approaching her would only lead to disappointment.

In hindsight, it was kind of stupid to worry, because Pete approached her first.

“Trickster!” she said, sauntering up to Trish with that same damn grin on her face.  “It’s been too long, dude.”

Just like that, Pete was back in Trish’s life.

Trish hasn’t stopped thinking about her since.

 

The new counselors this year are ones Trish vaguely recognizes from last year’s training unit and some she’s met in previous years.  There’s Brenna, bouncy and bubbly with bangs that flop in her eyes and way more energy than any high schooler should ever have; there’s Ryan, the lanky one whose continued presence at camp is a mystery to all of them considering she sunburns quicker than Trish and holds a less-than-subtle disdain for the outdoors, but probably has something to do with Spencer, the quiet one; there’s Hayley, the short spunky one whose hair changes colors faster than Trish can change keys.  Hayley was Trish’s trainee last year and Trish really likes her, was disappointed that they wouldn’t be co-running the same unit, but Brenna’s just as capable even if she’s prone to distraction and can’t quite keep her mouth clean.  It’s not a unique problem.

(Trish would know.  She would definitely, definitely know.)

They have a surprising number of first-years on their bus, in addition to a few counselors-in-training and one or two faces she hasn’t seen at camp before, ever.  Collectively, they outnumber the more experienced counselors (Trish, Wilma Beckett, Joan Walker, Andy—and Pete), but this just means more people to keep the kids in check.

This is, of course, assuming they can keep themselves in check.

Trish rolls her eyes when she notices how quickly Ryan’s pulled her phone out, Spencer reading over her shoulder.  Brenna leans over from the seat in front to look but is quickly pulled away by the kid sitting next to her, a small girl with a Hello Kitty backpack who can’t be more than seven or eight.  The CITs chatter amongst themselves, and even Dallon, the bus dad, seems distracted as he attempts to take roll on his bus sheet.

“Hey there, gorgeous.”

Trish looks up, startled, as Pete slides in next to her.  She only ever sees Pete once a year, and over the time they’ve known each other Pete’s hair has run the gamut from curls to braids to, most recently, an angular bob with long bangs flat-ironed to within an inch of their life.  Trish spent the rest of the summer thinking about that haircut, considered getting it herself before being told by the hairdresser that her face was just too round to pull off something like that.  (Andy said that was bullshit, but Jo, who knew exactly what Trish was doing, told her the hairdresser had spared her the embarrassment of “pulling some major Single White Female levels of creepy.”  In hindsight, Jo was probably right.)

This year, Pete’s gone for an undercut.  Her bangs are spiked up and streaked with purple rather than last year’s red, and Trish wonders if she’ll have to sit on her hands the whole ride to keep herself from running her fingers along the buzzed stubble.  Trish’s own hair is tied back and shoved under her dad’s Cubs hat, her pimples on full display.  It’ll be greasy as hell by the end of the day, the kind of sweat-slick that only looks good on metalheads, and it won’t be anywhere near as flattering when it’s plastered to her forehead.

“Hey,” she says, finally.  “Long time no see.”

“Right?  It’s been forever.”  Pete leans an elbow on the seat in front of them, swaying ever-so-slightly into Trish’s space.  “Absolutely tragic.  How’ve you been, Tricia?”

“Uh…fine?”  God, what even are words, Trish thinks.

“Just fine?”  Pete scoffs.  “Come on, you gotta give me more than that.  You don’t post on Instagram, you don’t have Snapchat, how am I supposed to keep up with you?  I mean, besides asking Jo, because she won’t tell me anything.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Trish says.  “I’m really not that interesting.”

“Nonsense,” Pete says.  “I find you very interesting, Patricia, and if anyone finds you boring you need to tell me so I can hunt them down and kill them.”

“I’m flattered,” Trish says, the tips of her ears growing warm, “but please don’t feel obligated to kill anyone on my behalf.”

The bus pulls out of the parking lot, and Brenna immediately shoots up and volunteers to lead the songs.  This is completely fine by Trish, who never remembers the lyrics to anything and would much rather conserve her energy for the rest of the day.

“Brenny, babe, what are we singing?” Pete shouts, and after Brenna replies she dips back down and leans in to whisper in Trish’s ear, “Good, it’s something long.  So tell me—you still writing songs?”

She should’ve known that Pete wouldn’t make anything easy.  But it’s so easy to fall back into conversation with her, and she doesn’t notice they’ve reached camp until the bus comes to a stop.

 

“So, campfire,” says Mikey.

It’s the first counselor meeting of the year.  They’re supposed to be planning the annual campfire that kicks off the overnight, which mostly consists of songs and screaming and embarrassing the firefighters who come to make sure they don’t burn down the forest.  Trish would avoid it if she could, but it’s a nice way to end camp and the kids always look forward to it.  She has a good group this year, fourth and fifth graders who are a little sassy but nothing she can’t handle.  Andy, on the other hand, called her up last night and said, “I already know who the problem children are and I’m not looking forward to it,” but if anyone can handle problem children it’s Andy goddamn Hurley, so Trish isn’t too worried.

“We need music,” Mikey says.  “Well, obviously.  But not just music.”  Mikey’s a tall, vaguely intimidating fourth-year counselor with an incredibly deceiving resting bitch face and cheekbones that could stake vampires.  (Pete gifted Trish with this description last year, and it honestly bugs the hell out of Trish that it’s all she can think about when faced with Mikey Way.)  “We need something to spice things up, something to keep the kids hyped, y’know?  This is a safe space and we are open to any and all suggestions.”

“Can I shoot myself out of a cannon?” Brenna asks.  Spencer facepalms, Ryan clamps a hand over Brenna’s mouth, and Hayley snickers quietly.

Mikey points at Brenna.  “Sounds awesome, but the fire department would kill us.”  She gestures to the back of the crowd.  “Think, like, stories or something.  Nothing too scary, just—fun, lighthearted stories, maybe stuff the kids can interact with.”

“None of the stories I know are appropriate,” says someone from the back, probably Gabe.  The other counselors laugh.

Mikey pinches the bridge of her nose.  “Look, just—let’s just start simple, okay?  A guitar.  No campfire is complete without a guitar.”

“I have a guitar!” Brenna says, hand shooting up.  “Well, actually, I’m not allowed to play it right now.  My mom took it away because I was making too much noise.  But Ryan—”

“Don’t,” Ryan says.  “I’m not planning on giving Linda a dirt bath, thank you very much.”

Wil says something about how she broke her guitar fighting with her ex, and Vicky groans and says they don’t need to know about Wil’s love life, and Gabe shushes Vicky and says she absolutely needs to know about Wil Beckett’s love life, much to Vicky’s chagrin.  The group quickly descends into chaos, and as Mikey tries to steer everyone back on track, Trish feels a tap on her shoulder.

“You still play, right?” Pete asks.

“…Why?” Trish asks, after a beat.  She’s not sure she likes where this is going.

“I mean, clearly you’re the only sane person with a guitar here,” Pete says.  “Other than Toro, who’s in college.  Jo, too, I guess—where is she, anyway?”

“Hawaii,” Trish says.  Pete scoffs.

“Of course she is.  Why would she hang out with us losers and a bunch of asshole kids when she could swim with Flipper the goddamn sea lion?”

“Flipper was a dolphin, not a sea lion,” Trish corrects.  “There are no sea lions in Hawaii.”

“There could be, if you wished hard enough.”  Pete winks.

“Why would I—”

“IF NONE OF YOU SHUT UP GEE’S GIRLFRIEND WILL MAKE YOU CLEAN HORSE SHIT OFF THE TRAILS,” Mikey finally shouts, and the noise dies down.  “I’m serious.  Don’t test me, Frankie.  Now,” she says, her voice leveling out to its normal tone, “does anyone here have anything helpful to contribute?”

Pete grabs Trish’s arm, nearly yanking it out of its socket.  “Trish has a guitar,” she says loudly, waving Trish’s arm around.  God, if Trish wasn’t trying (and failing) to wriggle out of Pete’s iron grasp, she’d elbow her in the stomach.

“Awesome,” says Mikey.  She presses her hands together, like Pete volunteering Trish as tribute is the answer to all her prayers.  “Trish, you good with that?”

“I mean, I guess.”  Trish tugs her arm down and Pete finally, mercifully, lets go.  “Beats flailing around like an idiot.”  It also, now that she thinks about it, beats hiding in the back with her scarf over her nose trying not to die of smoke inhalation.  Pete might have just lowered her risk of an asthma attack.  Thanks, Pete.

“Cool beans,” Mikey says, shooting finger guns.  “All right, so Trish will play ‘Wonderwall,’ you all will be beautiful and perfect and on time, and we will meet back here on Thursday to discuss song orders and all that good stuff.  Got it?  Good.”

“God, I love a woman in charge,” Pete says as they stand to leave.

Trish dusts off her jeans.  “I hope for your sake Frankie didn’t hear you say that.”

“Frankie loves me,” Pete says, winding an arm around Trish’s shoulder.  “Don’t be jealous, Trick.  You’re still my numero uno.

Trish feels her face grow warm and hopes to god Pete thinks it’s a sunburn.

 

Trish manages to go a whole week without getting a nosebleed.

“That’s gotta be some kind of record, kiddo,” says Gee.  Gee’s been working the medic station with Mikey for as long as Trish has been at camp and each year, without fail, they’ve pressed tissues into Trish’s hand and reminded her to apply constant pressure while shooing along the kids who come to gawk.  Last year they drew a picture of her as Carrie, bloodied and gothic.  Gee is a saint.

“Need another tissue?” they ask Trish, pressing one into her free hand.  Trish nods in gratitude and adds it to the growing wad shoved against her nose.  It’s not how she planned on starting her day, but she’s glad it happened now and not later, and that Jo isn’t around to fake-pass out when she sees the blood.

It’s early, so the buses are still rolling in.  A group of kids passes Trish and one of them, a girl with braided pigtails she recognizes from last year, waves manically at her.

“Hi Tricia!”  Katy, that’s her name.  “Hope your nose gets better!”  Trish lifts a hand in response.

“Sweet kid,” Gee says.  “Mine would rather be abducted by aliens than talk to me.”

Trish is pretty sure Gee is part alien, and also one of the coolest people on the planet, but most kids think their parents are remarkably uncool anyway.

“Well, hello!” Gee says brightly, as another kid approaches the table.  Trish realizes belatedly that it’s one of hers, a fourth grader named Billie who announced, on the first day of camp, that she held a tarantula in her mouth once.  Trish was eighty percent sure the story was made up, until the kid stuck her tongue out two days later and there was a giant fucking beetle hanging off it.

This is the kid now standing in front of Trish’s hunched form, staring blankly at her with folded, bug-bitten arms and an oversize Nirvana T-shirt.

“I get nosebleeds,” Billie says.  “Lots of nosebleeds.”

“Cool, me too,” Trish says, pinching her nose tighter.

Billie doesn’t blink.  “You know what’s cool about having nosebleeds?”

Trish shakes her head.

“Free face paint.”

Billie stands there for an uncomfortable eternity until someone finally calls her away.  Trish honest-to-god shivers as she leaves.

“You know, one thing I’ve always liked about these kids,” says Gee.  “They don’t shy away from the macabre.”

Trish doesn’t doubt that.  She thinks of the kids interrogating her last year about the possibility of being eaten by bears on the overnight and wouldn’t be surprised if any of them had spent an excess time with Gee or, worse, their daughter.

“Trickster!”

Trish lifts her head.  Her glasses slide down her nose, leaving her with the blurry impression of Pete Wentz coming toward her.

“Don’t mind me,” Trish says, as best she can with tissue plugging up her nose.  “I’m just giving blood.”

“We vampires need food, too,” Gee chimes in.

“Gnarly.”  Pete grins, wolflike and blinding.  “You know, last year one of my kids got glowstick in her eye.”

“Sounds fun.”  One year Trish got glowstick in her mouth.  She’d guzzled down half her water bottle in a panic, then spent the next thirty minutes desperately trying not to pee before giving up and dragging Jo to the bathroom with her.  “So what are you up to today?”

“A whole lotta walking.”  Pete leans her elbows on the table, unconcerned about the various clipboards and medical supplies laid out on the table.  “Basket weaving up at shelter, nature in the meadow, and I think we might have the treasure hunt later too.”

“Sounds exhausting,” Trish says, thankful her day consists mostly of tying knots and weaving friendship bracelets.

Pete shrugs.  “I could use the exercise.  I’m skipping off-season for this, so.”

“Ah, yes.  Must be nice to be naturally athletic,” Trish quips.  Pete flexes her bicep in response, snarling, and Trish has never been so thankful to be hiding behind a bloody tissue.

“Sports are overrated,” Gee says, “but impressive.  You better be the next Rapinoe, Wentz, or you’ll feel my disappointment all the way from Jersey.”

“I wouldn’t dream of letting you down, G-Whiz,” Pete says, solemnly placing a hand over her heart.  “That World Cup is all mine, just you wait.

“Speaking of waiting,” says Gee, looking at their watch.  “That’s fifteen minutes, Trish.”

“Thank god,” Trish says, releasing the tissues.  There’s always the chance that her nose will just start bleeding again once she gets up, but this is why she keeps spare tissues in her pocket.  God, the heat is a bitch.

“I’ll walk you over,” says Pete, offering her hand.  Trish stares at it for a moment, then thinks fuck it and loops her arm with Pete’s.

“Use protection,” Gee calls after them.  Trish flips up her ring finger behind her back and hopes they get the message.

 

“Do I have any requests for songs?  Any requests, any requests at all—going once, going twice!”

They’ve gotten into a rhythm now.  Brenna leads most of the songs and Trish makes sure the kids are behaving—no easy task, but one she’ll happily take on as long as she doesn’t have to call too much attention to herself.  They make a good team, Trish thinks, but occasionally the camp supervisors like to remind them that they’re supposed to be well-rounded, multi-talented counselors.

Today was exhausting and Trish spent most of it running around making sure nobody’s fingers ended up in the mac and cheese, and of course in the middle of their busy cooking day the supervisors had to stop by and remind Trish and Brenna that they should be taking turns because “it’s not fair if Brenna does all the games and Trish does all the hard stuff,” as if Trish could ever resent Brenna for singing.

“Princess Pat,” Pete calls from the back, hands cupped over her mouth.  Trish bangs her head against the back of the seat.  Of course.  Of-fucking-course.

“An excellent choice, thank you, Pete,” says Brenna, grinning manically.  She swivels her head to the front, where Trish is sinking down in her seat, praying for the ground to swallow her.  “Trish, you wanna lead this one?”

“I’m good, thanks,” Trish mumbles, yanking her cap down over her eyes.

“Are you sure?” Brenna says.  “You know what they told us.  You haven’t led a single song all week—”

“Neither have Ryan and Spencer, but I don’t see you bugging them.”

“Come on, Trish,” Pete says, “they haven’t heard that sexy voice of yours yet.”

The kids burst out laughing.  Trish feels the tips of her ears grow red.  The universe is really not kind to her, is it?

“Brenna has a perfectly good voice,” she protests.

“We all know what Brenna’s voice sounds like,” Pete counters.

“Plus I think I’m coming down with something,” Brenna says, coughing.  “My voice…my poor sweet, beautiful voice…are you failing on me?”

Trish could call bullshit, she really could.  Except she thinks back to sixth grade, to that night with Pete in the bathroom, and how she never really thought singing was something she could do until Pete, and…ah, fuck it.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” she says.  “Just this once.”

The bus erupts into cheers.  Trish sees Dallon jolt awake out of the corner of her eye and thinks, same.

“Don’t get used to it,” she says, and god, she isn’t sure whether she should be irritated or endeared by Pete’s shit-eating grin.  “This is a repeat-after-me song!”

“THIS IS A REPEAT-AFTER-ME SONG!”

 

(Later that night, Pete texts her:

U really do have a sexy voice u kno.

Trish blushes.  Stop, she types.  Then, That fucking song will be stuck in my head for the whole weekend, thanks a lot

Pete responds:

As long as u think of me ;)

Touché, Wentz.

Touché.)

 

If Trish thought last week was tiring, she was incredibly unprepared for the sheer amount of stuff they’ve got packed into this week.  They all involve a lot more walking than she’d like, and more often than not she finds herself trailing the group, lagging behind to catch her breath while Brenna soldiers on to their destination, somehow unaffected.

Today, they’re doing map and compass.  A few tables over, Pete’s kids are setting up for s’mores.

The girls wander off in search of buried treasure and Trish follows close behind to make sure they don’t fall into poison oak or anything, but the trails the leaders have set up are fairly simple and they reach the tree hollow full of Skittles in no time.  They spend the remaining twenty minutes of their session swapping grape Skittles for orange before Brenna offers to lead a round of Quack-Diddly-Oso.

Thankful for the reprieve, and sparing an additional glance to make sure the kids don’t topple Brenna off the bench, she makes her way over to Pete’s unit, where the charcoal grills are smoking and children are giddily shoving diabetes-inducing sandwiches into their mouths.

Pete’s leaning against the side of one of the grills, heedless of the embers sparking toward her.  She grins when she sees Trish, lips smeared with chocolate.  “Marshmallow?” she asks, holding out a metal skewer.

Trish shakes her head, keeping a fair distance from the smoke of the grill.  “I don’t do sweets,” she says.  “Also, asthma.”

Pete frowns.  “Begone, purveyor of lung pollution,” she commands, waving the smoke away from them.  Trish takes another step back, wary.  Pete shrugs.  “More for me, then.”

“Hey!” one of the girls protests, tall with her hair flopping out of her bandanna, and Pete flashes her a smile.

“Just kidding!” she says, ruffling the kid’s hair with sticky marshmallow fingers.  The kid huffs and goes to bug one of her friends, and Pete rolls her eyes and grabs Trish by the shoulder.  “Let’s talk, babe.”

Trish tries not to think too hard about the implications of the word “babe” as Pete steers them toward one of the fairy rings, those isolated circles of trees where the girls are (technically) forbidden to play due to the poison oak and ticks that run rampant.  Trish isn’t too keen on either of those, and she’s fully ready to blame Pete if she gets Lyme disease, but for now she could use the privacy, and after all, she hasn’t seen or talked to Pete all day.

“So we’re making s’mores, right,” Pete says, her voice a low murmur barely audible over the chatter surrounding them.  “You know how much they give us?  They give us, like, four times as much as we need, because, I dunno, they’re extra like that.  Anyway, I told our adult we wouldn’t need all of it, because guess what the kids made earlier?  Toasties.  I don’t know whose idea it was to put cherry pie sandwiches and marshmallow-chocolate sandwiches on the same day, but that’s the card I’ve been dealt, so I say to her, don’t use all of it.  And you know what she does?”

“She uses all of it?”

“She’s letting them have fourths,” Pete says.  “Fourths!  No one needs that much sugar, what the fuck is she thinking—”

“Okay, shh, shh, it’s okay,” Trish says, glancing around.  No one seems to have heard them, thankfully.

“No, it’s not okay, Tricia.” Pete sighs.  “Wanna know why it’s not okay?”

“Why is it not okay?”

Pete pinches the bridge of her nose.  “Tell me what we’re having for snack after this.”

“Oreos,” Trish says, and then it clicks.  “Shit.”

“Yup.”

“Oh, Pete.”

“Oh Pete indeed.”  Pete groans dramatically.  “I am fucked, dude.”  She collapses against one of the trees.  “We’re making fairy houses after this.  They have so much sugar coursing through their little bodies.  They won’t make it.”

Trish pats Pete’s shoulder, mindful of the three-leaf death clovers at their feet.  “You’ll make it,” she says.  Pete smells like smoke and sunscreen and marshmallows and if it wasn’t for Trish’s goddamn asthma, she’d want to bury her nose in those wilting bangs and never leave.

“Thanks, babe.”  Pete leans her head on Trish’s shoulder, and a low breeze rustles through the trees, fanning their faces.  Trish sighs, eyes fluttering shut, and if she tunes out the commotion around them she could believe that it is just the two of them, in their own little corner of the forest, the ticks and the poison oak and the massive redwoods guarding them from the rest of the world.

“You still want my ice cream?” she asks, remembering their last conversation.

Hell no.”  Pete pauses.  “Well, actually.  What flavor is it?”

“Root beer, I think.”

“Eh, I’ll pass.  Orange sherbert ‘til I die, bitch.”

“God, you’re picky.”

“I deserve nothing but the best,” Pete says, and yeah, Trish can’t really argue with that.

 

For the kids, the overnight is the highlight of camp.  For Trish, it’s a giant boulder of stress that never stops rolling, and she’s Harrison Ford running for her goddamn life.

The lead-up to the overnight isn’t so bad.  There’s a carnival, and Trish finally gets to do something other than worry about her unit while the girls play games and win prizes and pester people while waiting for ice cream.

Trish had ended up at face-painting, a nice little alcove away from the sun; she’d spent a nice amount of it keeping Gee company while they painted butterflies and elephants before promptly fucking off to go find the kids for lunch.

Now the fun part’s over and they actually have to make food, which means allergies and injuries and impatient, bored children and the more-than-probable possibility of inedible food, which they will likely end up having to dump in the garbage and spend the rest of the time begging neighbor units for leftovers.  This week is tacos, and Trish already knows who will complain the most and who will spend most of the prep time running around looking for bugs and who she really can’t trust with a knife (looking at you, Billie) and who has dietary restrictions and will be sent to hang out with Andy and Frankie and “the rest of the vegan squad”, as Brenna puts it.  She even wrote up a game plan when she couldn’t sleep, which Pete told her was overkill.  Pete’s good at thinking on her feet, though.  Trish spent two hours working on that game plan and she still feels massively unprepared.

The one nice thing about cooking days like this is they get extra help.  Lyndsey is Trish and Brenna’s counselor-in-training, and although she’s shy she knows exactly what she’s doing, so Trish has no problem delegating her to watch the fire with the kids while Trish handles cleanup and Brenna, ever distracted, runs off to find Ryan or Spencer or whichever member of her ever-growing posse happens to walk by.

Right now, it’s Ashley, who happens to be Pete’s CIT.  The first week, Pete and Brenna had gushed over Ashley’s blue hair and Ashley’s pretty face and Ashley’s confidence and Ashley’s everything, and Trish had glared out the window trying to tune it all out, a pit of something (annoyance, definitely annoyance) forming in her stomach.  She’s tried to hate Ashley ever since, but it’s hard when she sees her surrounded by a crowd of kids at all times, flowers in her hair, music in every note of her laugh.  Ashley will make a damn good counselor, and Pete, admittedly, has good taste.

“Ashley!  Stop talking about your boyfriend in Korea and get your butt over here,” Pete calls, and Ashley scurries over with her head ducked, muttering something about how “he’s not my boyfriend” while Brenna doubles over laughing.

“You get back here, missy,” Trish scolds, only half-joking.  “I’ll make you clean the meat pot.”

It’s an empty threat, but it gets the job done.

Dinner is edible, and actually pretty good.  Lyndsey manages to get the unit to campfire with minimal distractions, which Trish is pretty darn proud of if she says so herself.  Per request, Trish has brought out her guitar.  Lugging it down the hill was something she’d rather not do again, but she has a pretty comfortable seat on the edge of the fire pit, so that’s something.

The campfire goes better than Trish expects.  The girls are all screaming and dancing with the songs, the dads and the firefighters get roped into “Alice the Camel”, and they all manage to stay (mostly) on-key for “Seasons of Love”, buoyed by Brenna and Hayley and Gabe and Wil and, if the way Pete gazes at her afterwards with those soft hazel eyes is any indication, Trish herself.  She has butterflies in her stomach for the next two songs, though they’re swiftly trampled when she has to suffer through “The Button Factory” (a song that involves way more coordination than Trish could ever dream of having).

Trish’s kids get dismissed first, so she and Brenna get them ready for bed, cajole them into their sleeping bags before heading off to prepare themselves.  She lets Brenna go first, waiting for the crowd of sleepy kids and exhausted leaders to disperse before heading into the bathroom to brush her teeth.

No one’s inside save for Pete washing her face, reflection an indistinct blur in the bathroom’s terrible excuse for a mirror.  Trish lingers next to her, waiting for her to finish.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey.”  Pete turns off the sink, towels down her face, and yawns.  “Dude, I’m beat.”

“Same.”  Trish pulls out her toothbrush, sets the rest of her toiletries on the sink.  “I had to lug my guitar up and down the hill.  I’d better get paid in, like, extra cereal tomorrow.”

“I’ll save you some extra Cheerios,” says Pete.  Even without makeup, eyes bare and temples dotted with pimples, she glows.  “You want extra raisins with that?”

Trish snorts.  “Once was enough, thanks.”

Pete lingers by the door while Trish brushes her teeth, watching.  Trish is all too aware of Pete’s eyes on her messy hair, the baggy Bulls sweatshirt and pajama pants engulfing her small frame.

Trish rinses, spits.  Wipes her mouth with her sleeve; it’s a hand-me-down she’s had forever anyway.  Pete watches her the whole time, arms folded, one foot braced against the wall like she’s playing coy.  She may very well be, except there’s that same look in her eyes from the campfire, made softer from lack of makeup and watching Trish like she’s the most fascinating person in the world.  Trish thinks back to sixth grade, Pete watching her sing with bated breath, and realizes this whole situation feels very full circle.

“How are you sleeping?” she asks carefully.

“Uh, same as you?” Pete says.  “Sleeping bag, edge of the mat, some kid’s knee digging into my back—”

“No, I mean—are you still, y’know…having trouble?  Sleeping, I mean?”

“Oh, that.”  Pete shrugs.  “’S gotten better, I guess.  I still have nightmares sometimes.”

Trish nods.  “I’ll stay up with you,” she says.  “If it gets bad again.  You know where to find me.”

Pete doesn’t say anything, and Trish wonders for a moment if she shouldn’t have offered.  They haven’t talked about it in years, and time could’ve drawn a number of lines she may have crossed without knowing.  But then Pete smiles and says, “Thanks,” and Trish feels the tension in the room lift, like a weight she hadn’t known she’d been carrying.

“Don’t mention it,” she says.  “I’ll see you in the morning?”

“Can’t wait.”  Pete gives Trish a two-fingered salute.  “Tomorrow’s gonna be awesome.”

 

All too soon (or not soon enough, depending on who you ask), camp is over.

Trish and the other counselors line up by the road to sing and wave goodbye to the buses as they head off, the last time they have to be absolutely civilized.  Already the decorum’s starting to wear off, and in between buses Brenna and Frankie pepper their version of the goodbye song with profanities, Brenna throwing in more than a few dabs and whips to Ryan and Spencer’s visible embarrassment.

Pete stands just off to the side, eating Cheerios out of the box.  A few eyebrows go up, and she holds out the box in response, like she isn’t just going to wolf down the entire bag anyway.

There’s a long lull between buses and Trish makes her way over to Pete, reaches in and shoves a large handful of Cheerios in her mouth.

Pete stares at her, slack-jawed.  “You said you’d save me Cheerios,” Trish reminds her.  “I’ve come to collect.”

“You could at least let me serve you myself, like a civilized human being.”  Pete reaches in and offers Trish a handful.

“Civilization is a construct of the capitalistic society,” Trish says, accepting Pete’s offer anyway.  “Andy Hurley, 2019.”

“An absolute icon,” Pete concedes, “and a legend.  We stan.”

“We do indeed.”  Trish grabs more Cheerios; this time, Pete doesn’t blink.  “Also, you are the last person who can tell anyone what is and isn’t civilized.”

“I’m in a class of my own, Tricky baby.”  Pete stares into the bag, frowns, then offers it to Trish.  “Finish the box?”

“It’s all crumbs.”

“More for me, then.”  Pete tips the box into her mouth and shakes, funneling the last bits of cereal directly into her mouth.  She chokes a little and bends over, coughing Cheerio dust over the side of the road, and Trish kind-of-sort-of-maybe laughs.  Just a little.

The last of the buses pulls out, the counselors waving manically at the kids sticking their heads out the windows, small disembodied hands and arms poking out like some grotesque anime monster, and as soon as the driver turns the corner everyone lets out screams of relief.

“Now,” says Pete, winking, “the fun begins.”

 

They aren’t released into the wild right away, of course.  Before that there’s a long (and somewhat painful) feedback session with the camp administrators, in which most of Gabe and Andy’s concerns go completely ignored and Vicky, to no one’s surprise, wonders why they’re not getting paid.  Trish’s eyes are glazed over by the time they release them to clean up, and she barely has time to react before Pete’s pulling her off the bench, down the hill to the meadow.

“God, that was such bullshit,” Gabe’s groaning into Travie’s shoulder, unrelenting even as Travie bends down to pluck a stray bead from the dirt.

True to form, Pete makes it a game, daring everyone in their group to find the weirdest/most obscene piece of garbage and bring it to their supervisors.

“One year,” she says, perched on a table as Trish combs the ground for rubber bands, “I found a condom.  Used.”

“You’re so full of shit, Pete,” Wil yells over her shoulder.

“It’s true, I was the condom,” Travie deadpans, and Trish bursts out laughing.

“You fuckers always doubt me,” Pete shouts, tossing a crumpled candy wrapper in Wil’s direction.  It flutters about two feet in mid-air before landing, feather-like, on Trish’s head.

“Hey, no littering!”

“Yeah, Trish ain’t a trash can.”

“Fuck both of you,” Pete says, “for you assuming I would dare sully Patricia Stumph’s beautiful face.”

“Oh, get lost,” Trish groans, hiding her face as she searches for more litter.

“That can’t be good for your back, babe.”  Trish looks up, and Pete pats the space next to her.  “Take a break.  Let Gabe pull some of her own weight for once.”

“Oh, fuck you, Wentz!” Gabe calls.  Pete blows her a kiss, and Trish, after a moment’s deliberation, climbs onto the table beside Pete.

“There’s my girl,” Pete says, wrapping an arm around her.  It’s supposed to hit 90 today and Trish is already sweating, but she leans into Pete’s side anyway.  “Let me take care of you, babe.  You work too hard.”

“Damn right,” Trish says.  “I’m glad someone noticed.”

“Trust me, people notice.”  Pete shifts, brings her hands up to rub Trish’s shoulders.  It feels so, so damn good.  “You might not be in the spotlight all the time, but they notice.  You’re one of the hardest-working bitches in this forest.”

“Thanks.”  Trish moans a little as Pete works her muscles, too relaxed to feel any embarrassment from the connotations.  “You’re really good at this.”

“I do this all the time.  Soccer really fucks you up, dude.  I’m like the team masseuse.”

She finally releases, and Trish rolls her shoulders forward, feels the remnants of tension melt from her body like roasted marshmallow from a skewer.  She half-expects Gabe or Wil to tell them to get a room, but they’ve taken off toward the meadow, Travie not far behind.

“God, I haven’t checked Snapchat in 36 hours.  That’s a record,” Pete says, pulling out her phone.  “Oh shit, I have a bar.  What do you think?  Should we show Trohman what she’s missing?”

She opens Snapchat, and before Trish can protest Pete’s slamming their cheeks together, her lips perilously close to Trish’s jaw.

“Smile, babe,” Pete says.  Trish tries not to wince at her sunburned reflection in the screen as Pete snarls at the camera.  “Perfect.”

The photo turns out blurry, but Pete doesn’t seem to care, rapidly tapping out a caption before sending it off.

All that tanning can’t hide ur FOMO jotroh

Jo replies two minutes later, with a pina colada and a middle finger:

Least I’m not third-wheeling ur filthy asses

Pete rolls her eyes.  “Whatever.  I don’t even like Hawaii.”  She puts her phone back in her pocket and huffs.  “She can have her pina coladas and her hula girls and her luaus, I don’t give a fuck.”  The forcefulness of her tone gives Trish slight mood whiplash, and Pete must notice it too, because she winces.  “Sorry,” she says briskly.  “Just—I’m over it.”

Trish gets it, though.  “I’m not big on Hawaii, either,” she says.  “Very touristy.  I also can’t swim, and the sun and I don’t really get along, but you knew that.”

“That I did,” Pete says.  “God, I’m glad I’m not on vacation.  I mean, I like to get away and all, but it’s so much work.  And I fucking hate airplanes.”

“That’s fair,” Trish says.  “Although, I gotta ask, you’d really rather burn to a crisp in the hot summer sun with a bunch of unpaid dumbasses?”

“I would,” Pete says.  “And you know what?”  She gestures to the woods before them, the rays of light filtering through the trees, Gabe and Wil darting through the grass like puppies while Travie chases after them.  “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

 

Dinner is pizza, which Trish and Pete devour in earnest.  Trish finds dessert considerably less thrilling—some leftover s’more materials pinched while everything was being packed up, and Kit Kats with frosting.

“You are going to get so many cavities,” she says, eyeing Pete’s jar of bright pink frosting with disgust.

“Live fast, die young.”  Pete scoops out a heap of frosting with her Kit Kat and offers it to Trish.  “Pat Stumph, do it well.”

Trish bats Pete’s hand away.  “Do not,” she says, pointing to Pete with as much authority as she can muster, “call me Pat.”

“Where’ve Ry and Bren gone off to?” wonders Spencer, seated cross-legged on the ground.  “Their pizza’s getting cold.”

Ryan and Brenna took off half an hour ago, the sky and everything around it still dipped in honey-gold.  Now the sun’s gone and everything is lavender-tinted and if Trish is being honest, the idea of Ryan and Brenna out alone in those woods makes her nervous.

But Pete’s eating frosting out of the can without a goddamn care in the world, and she’s laughing that full-throated, unrelenting laugh that ripples shockwaves through Trish’s stomach, and if Pete thinks everything’s okay, then everything really is okay.  Probably.

(God, Jo’s voice says in her head, you have a problem.)

 

After dinner, they lay their sleeping bags out on the road and play a couple rounds of Cards Against Humanity with Gabe, Wil, and Travie before Pete gets sick of losing and Trish gets sick of the other three.

(“Dude, this game is rigged.  You’re literally judging with Wil’s head on your lap, it’s so unfair.”

“Nah, you just suck at this game.”

“Do not.  I’ll have you know I was elementary school class champion of Apples to Apples three years in a row.”

“That’s not a thing.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Whatever.  You’ll see.  Trish will pick my card as the most fabulous of them all, and then you’ll all be sorry.”

“Sure she will.”

“Uh—”

“Just judge the round, Trish.”

[One round and much shoving later—]

“HA!”

“Oh, what the HELL?”

“SUCK IT, BITCH!”

“The Stumph has spoken.  You’ve been weighed, measured, and found wanting, dude.”

“…Sorry, Pete.”

“ET TU, PATE?”

“Pate?  What is she, chopped liver?”

“Trish is a vegetarian!  I’m telling Andy you called Trish liver paste.”

“Oh, eat my ass, Saporta.”)

Ryan and Brenna are still nowhere to be found.  By now word’s gotten around (largely through Joan and Vicky) that they’ve smuggled in, quote, “contraband” and have fucked off to hotbox and/or make out in Ryan’s car in the meadow parking lot.  Trish doesn’t see how they could’ve smuggled in anything, but the second half of that story seems extremely likely, from what she can tell.

Spencer looks exasperated but not surprised.  Pete squeezes her shoulder, invites her to come up to the shelter with them, but she shakes her head, eyes darting to where Vicky’s spread out on an empty table, staring at the stars.  Pete’s gaze follows Spencer’s, and she smirks.  “Suit yourself,” she says, shoving Spencer toward Vicky.  “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, young grasshopper, or however that shit goes.”

Everyone’s dispersed, either tucked into their sleeping bags or holed up swapping gossip in the bathroom.  Trish follows Pete up to the shelter, the chill nipping at her bare legs.

It’s different seeing the shelter abandoned.  Usually it’s bustling with activity, yarn and ropes and all sorts of craft supplies scattered across the tables, and at night some of the boys trek up the hill to camp out.  The only lingering evidence of human presence is an abandoned friendship bracelet and a leftover key ring, both of which Trish pockets out of habit.

Pete hoists Trish up onto a nearby dumpster before pushing herself up, and from there it’s a short step up to the roof.  It’s nice and flat up there, and Trish lies down for a moment to soak in the sky, the stars scattered about like so many jewels, so many possibilities.  It’s rare that Trish gets to see them like this, in all their open, unhindered glory.  Here, under the stars with the cicadas chirping and her friends’ laughter petering out in the distance, she can watch the world go by.

“Y’know,” Pete says, breaking the silence, “if I wasn’t at camp I’d probably be halfway through my parents’ wine by now.”

Trish sits up straighter.  Pete’s scratching lines in the roof with a tree branch, her face vacant.  Trish thinks back to the year Pete didn’t come, the year she wasn’t there, and realizes that even with all they’ve shared, all the conversations they’ve had, all the memories they’ve made together, there is still so much Pete hasn’t told her.  There is still so much of Pete’s life she hasn’t seen; there is still so much about Pete she doesn’t know.

What’s kept her up at night all these years?  What does she see in her dreams that terrifies her so much—and how much pain has she kept hidden from Trish?

How long has she suffered alone?

“I hope I make better company than a bottle of wine,” Trish says finally, earning a snort for her troubles.

“No kidding,” Pete says.  “You know, they say alcohol keeps you warm, and they’re right.  It’s there when you need it, it does the trick.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my mistakes—and I’ve made a lot of mistakes—it’s that nothing keeps you warmer than human contact.”

Trish thinks back to the past two weeks, to how freely Pete’s thrown herself into Trish’s personal space and how natural it felt whenever Pete leaned her head on her shoulder, wrapped an arm around her waist, like everything was right in the world.  Like they fit.

Be brave, Trish thinks.  The space between them feels too large, vast and electric with possibility.

“Can I kiss you?”

Pete’s mouth falls open, stunned.  The silence seems to stretch on for an eternity, Trish’s heart thundering in her ears, and then Pete’s hand is on her jaw, fingers skimming the surface of her skin.

“Yeah,” Pete whispers.  “Yeah, you can.”

 

Kissing Pete isn’t like kissing a whirlwind, or a hurricane.  It’s slow, a little awkward, noses bumping and nervous giggling and Trish admitting sheepishly, “I’ve never done this before,” and Pete smiling against her lips, guiding her, meeting Trish halfway.  It’s soft and gentle and tender and even in its messiness, in all its imperfection, Trish hopes more than anything that this closes the gap between them forever.  That all the nightmares, the aching, the loneliness can disappear, swept away in the embrace of their lips, if only for one night.  That Pete realizes she never has to be alone again.

They pull apart, Trish a little breathless, this weird lightness bubbling up in her chest.  “Wow,” she manages.

Pete’s smile, tentative at first, springs forth in full bloom.  “You liked that?”

“Yeah,” Trish says, fingers skimming her lips.  “I did.”

Pete nods.  “I liked it, too.”

She tucks a stray hair behind Trish’s ear, her touch light and delicate.  Trish thinks she could get used to this, the wide and endless spectrum of Pete’s touches.

“Not bad for your first time, kid,” Pete says, punching Trish lightly on the shoulder.  Trish yelps, rubbing at her shoulder.

“’M not a kid,” she huffs.  “Go back to ‘babe’.  I like ‘babe’.”

“Aw, but I call everyone ‘babe’.”  Pete nuzzles Trish’s neck, and Trish holds her close, revels in the feeling of Pete’s lips against her collarbone, Pete’s voice thrumming against her skin.  “So what’ll it be?  Honey, sweetie pie, sugar lips—”

“Ew, not sugar lips,” Trish says, wrinkling her nose.

“Yeah, not sugar lips,” Pete agrees.  “Love, light of my life, my sweet Juliet—”

Trish should’ve known Pete would be sappy, but even the simpler names (honey, sweetie, love) seem too trite, too showy, too much expectation and not enough them.

“None of these, huh?”  Pete sighs.  “And you called me picky.  Y’know, Trick, I’m starting to think you have issues with projection—”

“Trick,” Trish says, cutting her off.  “I like Trick.”

Pete gazes up at her, barefaced and utterly beautiful.  “You like Trick?”

“Yeah,” Trish says.

“Pete and Trick,” Pete says.  She hums approvingly.  “I could get used to that.”

“Me too.”  Trish presses a kiss to Pete’s hair, and Pete hums, snuggling closer like a contended kitten.

“I’m not projecting, by the way,” Trish says.  “I’ve just learned I deserve the best.”

“Hell yeah, you do,” Pete murmurs.  “Nothing but the best for my Tricky.”

“Nothing but the best,” Trish agrees, and she knows on the ride home tomorrow she’ll spend too much time thinking about the kiss, about Pete deserving the best and somehow seeing that in Trish, pimply, awkward Trish.

But that’s tomorrow, and Jo and Andy will be there to talk sense into her, and so Trish lets herself drink in this moment, the stars vast and endless above them, the lights fading out one by one below them, the noises of the forest around them and Pete in Trish’s arms, grounding her, keeping her warm.

Yeah, Trish thinks, it really doesn’t get better than this.