The rest of the campers started to head back one by one, the light hum of their conversations soon replaced by the crackling of the campfire and the pervasive noises of the woods.
The moon was a lustrous pearl while stars sparkled in the night sky. David and Max watched the flickering flames of the campfire as they danced their final dance. The radiant heat from the dying fire hitting Max's chest contrasted with the cool night's breeze whipping at his back.
David looked to Max, smiling from ear to ear, "Max, I was so happy when you said you wanted to stay behind and help put out the fire!" He explained with genuine enthusiasm.
Max's downcast look deepened. This wasn't his normal resting bitch face, no, his expression oozed actual sadness this time instead of his usual discontent. Max poked at the coursing glow of the embers in the metal bowl with a stick. Something had been eating at him. The fading glow illuminated the bags underneath his eyes from sleepless nights.
David's smile disappeared upon picking up on Max's behavior, "What's the matter, Max?"
Max shoved his hands into his pockets and sneered away. "Why do parents suck?" He murmured, barely above a whisper, getting choked up on the subject.
David's demeanor changed instantly as Max broached the topic, "Max, I understand how you feel I—," his grip on the log under him tightening.
"No, you don't! Don't pretend to get me or understand what I'm going through!" He didn't mean to yell but it came out without him meaning to, although, it was quite the weight off of his shoulders.
The red-head began to frown, a seldom seen facial expression on the counselor, "Max, let me tell you a story," he said, hanging his head low.
"There was a boy who looked up to his father with such pride, the man could do no wrong. The father dropped his son off here. H-he never showed back up and the boy was heartbroken, devastated."
Max's eyes widened as he slowly understood the context when David's voice cracked and hitched, "David...I," at that moment his troubles seemed trivial and his sadness turned into concern for his elder.
"It was a day and a half before my mother came to get me, I later found out that he was sent to prison,"
"What did he do? Murder? Bank Robbery?" Max guessed, having romanticized versions swimming around in his head from movies, almost excited that David's father was a criminal.
"I shouldn't say. You’re too young," He protested.
"Oh, come on! Drug kingpin?" He prodded.
David's emotions were running high, "He molested a boy!" He screamed, quickly covering his mouth as tears welled in his reddening eyes.
Utter silence. Even the forest was calm and still.
He dropped his hands and said barely above a whisper, "He wasn't much older than you," he admitted with the softest tone.
Max could sense something odd from David at that moment, at first he thought it was weakness but he was wrong. Though, it was something similar, vulnerability.
"Fuck," Max uttered, looked down, feeling a bit guilty.
"My mother was so worried about me that she wouldn’t let me see him. I tried to see him after I turned eighteen, but by then he had been transferred to another prison, many states away. I haven't seen my dad since he dropped me off here," David admitted, holding back tears. "I desperately wanted and needed a father figure, so Mr. Campbell became my idol."
Max held his chin, it all made sense to him now. "What happened to your mom?" He asked, genuinely curious.
David sighed, the thought of her was depressing, "She became an alcoholic and I ended up taking more care of her than she did me. When I was old enough, I managed to persuade her to go to rehab," he lamented.
After a long and uncomfortable pause, where only the chirps of crickets were audible, Max spoke; "I'm sorry," the boy murmured.
"It's ok," David said, pulling Max next to him and giving him a little peck on the temple while mussing his curly black locks, "So yes Max. Parents suck, sometimes they make mistakes but it's not your fault. Now get to bed," David said tenderly, dumping a large bucket of water on the warm coals.
Max got up, tightening his hoodie to try to hide his burning cheeks. As he walked away he said, "Ok Dad." Only to stop in his tracks, flustered, having realized what word just left his lips.
The little slip brought a small smile to David's face again as he audibly snickered.
"SHUT UP, I MEANT DAVID!" He barked and then angrily stomped off to his tent.