Chapter 1: Back Again
“This way, we’ve moved the counselor’s cabins this year. The lake flooded in the spring and now most of them are rotting, we use them for storage now. A little rot can’t hurt plastic canoes and oars!”
“Well, now at least the counselors are closer to the campers in case of an emergency.” Kankri answered, pushing his bangs out of his eyes before adjusting his bag on his shoulder. The hike from the parking lot where his father dropped him hours ago to the camp was longer than he remembered, but he supposed that perhaps he may be a bit more out of shape than last summer. It was highly logical, as annoying conventional as it was, his first two semesters away at college may have added some weight. His shoulder was becoming sore from his luggage, heavy with all the essentials for the next two months.
“It’s always refreshing to hear you thinking professionally Vantas. If only it rubbed off on the others.”
“Thank you sir, I appreciate that.”
The old man turned to grin under his mustache, glasses glinting in the sunlight. “It’s Poppop, you know that. That’s what the campers call me, so you should as well.” Kankri sighed, squinting his eyes against the sun. “I am aware, allow me to become used to it again. It has been a while.” He replied. Poppop nodded, smiling widely as he usually did. He gestured with his good hand, brown gloves covering the ailment on his other. “Just down that path, and you’re golden. It’s nice, shady since it’s they’re on the forest line. Same cabin number as last year, but you know that.” Kankri nodded, shifting his bags for the last stretch of the trip before walking down the rock lined gravel pathway to his home for the summer.
When he arrived he was pleasantly surprised at the state of the cabins, they seemed like they were in the best condition out of all the ones in the camp. They should probably be used by the camp’s adult instructors and leaders, but Kankri didn’t worry too much about it. Better for he and the rest of the counselors anyway, and he was sure there was a reason for it. The cabins formed a circle around a central fire pit surrounded by seating, a small metal grill standing near for cooking with warm coals, something rarely used by the counselors out of laziness.
“Hey!” Kankri internally groaned at the drawn out drawling vowels.
“Kankri Kiss-ass is back!” “Meenah, I find it highly triggering that you refer to me with such crude names. However it is nice to see that you have returned. How have you been?” He stopped at his cabin, placing his luggage on the small porch before turning to look at the girl lounging on the steps of the farthest cabin. “Living large, as usual.” She grinned, swinging herself upright and bouncing towards him across the grass. “Did you take my thoughtful advice and decide to attend college?” “Hell no, I got myself a job and am rolling in dough. School is fucking lame.”
“I disagree, but it’s nice to know that you’ve applied yourself in some way.” “Fuck, college didn’t loosen you up at all.” Meenah sighed. Kankri looked at her in annoyance, looking her over briefly. It had been a while since he had last seen her, and she hadn’t changed one bit. Cargo pants hung off her hips to her knees, revealing the pink and black striped strings of the bikini she wore underneath. The top of the suit was highly visible under the cropped tank top she wore, wide armholes and plunging neckline leaving nothing unrevealed. Fuchsia chunky sneakers covered her feet, and a matching flat brimmed hat adorned her head. The only things that seemed to have changed about her was her skin was lighter than it had been at the end of the summer last year, which was no surprise, and her once dark hair was now streaked with blonde and bright pink that wove through her long braids.
“Are you allowed to look like that, I would think the leaders would have some disagreement with it.” Kankri asked, wincing as her bangles clinked noisily as she shifted. “Please, my momma owns this chunk of land, they wouldn’t dare touch me. Only rule is I have to wear the uniform and my hair has to be tied up when I work the lake.” Meenah answered. “So, you’re our lifeguard again this year?”
“Who else would they hire?”
Biting his tongue to hold in his retort, Kankri picked up his bags and made his way into cabin six. The cabin was much nicer than the ones the counselors stayed in last year. He chose a bed, placing his bag on the bare mattress and pulling open the only slightly stiff drawers to unpack.
The cabin’s wood was light and sun bleached, the floor clean and with no gaps between the boarding. Large windows lined with net to keep out pests lined the entire front wall around the doorway and were set into the walls above each desk set at the food of the beds. After he had placed his clothing in their rightful places inside the drawers and made his bed up, he further explored the cabin. He was pleasantly surprised to find it had more than one power outlet unlike the one he stayed in previously, meaning he wouldn’t have to fight with his bunk mate in order to plug in his reading lamp. Breaking from unpacking, Kankri returned outside to investigate the voices that had begun to echo from outside the door. Stepping out of the cabin he was immediately greeted.
He couldn’t keep himself from smiling at the familiar voice, walking towards the small forming group. “Hello Latula. How was school?” Kankri asked, smiling at his old friend. “Good! As it should be, when it cost an arm and a leg.” She laughed. “You never contacted me; did you end up going to that school in Long Beach after all?” “Totally! It’s so cool dude, you should have applied with me.” “We both know that it’s best for me to stay close to home.” Kankri replied, trying to adjust to her after the long absence of contact between them. Latula seemed like a different person now; he wondered if she had actually changed or if she was adhering to the stereotypes of coastal life.
Latula and Kankri had gone to high school together, both of them being in a select few higher level classes together caused them to become friends of sorts through the years. Kankri had always respected Latula’s positive outlook and intelligence, going far enough to even begin to feel romantic inclinations towards her on the tail end of their senior year and into the past summer. Now, he wasn’t sure how he felt about her.
Her old thick rimmed glasses had been traded for rimless rectangles that were shifting to a dark red in the sunlight, a metallic teal ball set on the side of her nose, and her black hair barely showed through the roots of her now ginger ponytail. She was annoyingly clashing and matching all at once, red shorts and vibrant teal tank top matching perfectly to her sneakers. When she turned towards Meenah, he was shocked to find the wings of an inky dragon spanning across the skin of her shoulders.
“So, what are you haulin’ ass all the way across the country to study?” Meenah was asking her. “Nothing right now, the general stuff. I just wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere chill.” Latula answered, flopping herself down onto one of the fireside benches. “Mom wants me to study law, but I don’t think that’s my thing. Can’t have stuff like that harsh’n my vibe.” “I thought you wanted to go into counseling.” Kankri chimed; feeling a bit betrayed that his friend had strayed so far.
“Maybe, I’ve been looking at special education stuff, you know like helping kids with disabilities and all that. I’ve got time, no need to rush.” Latula smiled. “Dude, you haven’t changed a bit. It’s kinda tripping me out.” “Once a hard ass, always a hard ass.” Kankri shifted his eyes to the other people in their presence, sighing to himself. Why did she have to come back?
“Hello Damara.” He was short with her, not wanting to wander too far into conversation. He had never gotten along well with her; he could even call her somewhat of a bully. Every button he had she would push, and she had since she had become friends with Meenah when they were in this very camp during the summer of their fourth grade year. Most of them had gone to camp when they were children; some of them knew each other from school or church outside of that, and when they reached the age to become counselors it seemed like an easy monetary opportunity that they all took.
“I’m dying to know what fun Kankri has gotten into while away at college.” She grinned, sitting up from her spot lying across the bench to straddle it. Kankri took notice that she was un-lady like as always. “So, has the insufferable one finally gotten someone to suffer through fucking him?” Meenah fell into howling laughter, cackling as she doubled over. Latula and Kankri shared a glance, the prior shaking her head slightly at him in warning. He tried to breathe, he really did, but Damara’s crude gesture and lewd grin was too much.
“That is highly inappropriate Damara, and I am offended by such implications about my personal life. For all you know someone here could be triggered by the thought of sexual intercourse or could have a lack of knowledge for such things. It is disrespectful to those around you to force your personal agenda regarding the reproduction practices onto others. My personal life is absolutely none of your business, and I implore you to not make any more remarks about such things as stereotypical college circumstance in my presence.” He finally took a sharp breath through his nose, his throat aching at his volume.
“So, you’re still a virgin. Not surprised, though it’s kind of disappointing. I thought maybe a good cock sucking would shut you up.”
“Damara, you a-“
“Whoa! Guys and gals, can we not have a bloodbath on the first day?”
Kankri turned to look at the familiar voice calling down the path, relieved and shocked to see who was walking towards him. This summer was going to be an adventure it seemed, and Kankri wasn’t sure if he was ready for it.
Chapter 2: Two For Two
“Ru-fi-OOOOOOH-man is it good to see you!” Latula cried, catapulting herself from her seat and throwing herself into a hug with the new addition. “That’s the welcome I wanted!” Rufioh laughed, tossing his bag onto the ground and throwing an arm around her shoulders.
“You look good kid.”
“So do you, do you ever stop growing? You’re like a fucking palm tree man.”
“What happened to the red? It looked badass, now you just look like any other douche bag.” Rufioh grinned awkwardly at Meenah’s comment, running his hand through his once red spiked hair. Now it was all black, still as thick as before but lacking in shock factor. “I dyed it back for school and training, can’t exactly work as a vet-tech with bright red hair.” Rufioh set his bags on the steps of second cabin, shoving his hand into the pocket of his jeans as he joined them.
“But the bull ring stayed?” Latula questioned, returned to her seat. “It comes out for work.” Kankri barely was paying attention, staring at the familiar girl that had set her bag on the steps of the forth cabin, next to Latula’s own brightly colored luggage. “Who’s the broad? Dragging a pet along for the summer once again Rufioh?” The large boy sighed at Damara’s drag at his most recent past romantic partner, laughing awkwardly at the tension. Rufioh began to introduce the new face.
“She’s a new counselor. Guys this is-“
“Hello Porrim.” He answered, moving towards her to take her outstretched hand out of politeness. She was the only person Kankri could stand to touch him most of the time, the rest of it he couldn’t stand physical closeness with anyone. The girl gently took it, smiling widely down at him before allowing him to lead her towards the group. “This is Porrim Maryam; we attended church together as children until her family stopped attending. We now attend the same university, too much of our surprise.” He said, watching as the group took in their new addition.
Porrim was as always a sight, she never seemed to be anything less but properly primped and well dressed for the occasion. Black hiking boots covered her feet, knee high black socks with green stripes at the top tucked seamlessly into them and perfectly matching the green button up tied just far enough above black shorts to show a line of skin. Curled hair fell gracefully from her bun as she turned to smile at him, patting his hand before releasing it all-together.
“Pleased to meet all of you, I’m sorry if I’ve intruded on something personal between you.” Porrim addressed them, piercings glinting against fading purple lipstick. “How do you know Rufioh?” Latula questioned, thankfully breaking the awkward silence. Kankri felt himself tense as he watched Meenah look his contemporary over appreciatively, but he went on high alert as Damara stood and tilted her hips with a sly grin.
“So, maybe you needed more than a cock sucking to shut you up.”
“Damara! This is neither the time, nor the place for your ruthless lying in order to spite me. It’s awfully rude, not to mention stereotypically bending to social standards, for you to assume that the only relations I could possibly have with a woman in our young adult years would be one of sexual inclination.”
“Kankri, calm. As much as I appreciate the defense, even though as usual you’ve focused it completely on yourself, I can handle myself.” Porrim said, holding a hand up to silence him. He flushed, embarrassed by her forcefulness with him in front of his peers. Porrim ignored Damara, turning to Latula with a calm smile. “Rufioh and I arrived at the same time; it’s just luck that I had someone to help me find my way here.” Damara barked a laugh.
“He’ll follow after anything with a nice tail end.” “I thought we were done with this.” Rufioh shot back at her, immediately retreating back into himself after the outburst towards his still bitter ex-girlfriend. “Fatter than what he usually goes after though.” “Damara!” Rufioh and Kankri both raised their voices at her now, the rest of the group shifting awkwardly. Porrim seemed unfazed, laughing softly to herself before planting a well-manicured hand on each hip before finally turning to face her attacker.
“It seems like you’re a bit sore from a failed relationship, and I completely understand holding hard feelings towards a man who had wronged you.” She began. “But putting down another woman in an attempt to place your own self above her is never the answer. In fact it often points to a sense of self-loathing. You’re no better than a man putting a down a woman who does not follow his orders like a slave by calling me a slut for simply being in the same general area as someone who is not reciprocating your feelings.”
If looks could kill, Porrim would have been run through with Damara’s glare. Luckily they couldn’t and Porrim was allowed to live another day. “What cabin are you in?” Latula asked her, once again breaking the deadly silence that had fallen over the group for the second time since Porrim’s arrival. “Four.” “Rad! You’re with me then.” “Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.” Porrim joked, glancing over Latula and then towards their luggage sitting on the cabin steps.
“Well, this summer is getting off to a good start.” Rufioh sighed, ducking out of the way of the shoulder Damara attempted to plant into his side as she stalked back to her cabin where she promptly slammed the door. The windows of cabin three rattled. “It’s only the first day.” Latula offered, smiling widely. “Exactly.” Kankri sighed, sitting down on a bench after promptly dusting it off. “Porrim, why are you here?” Porrim turned at his question, sitting down next to him and crossing her legs.
“You spoke about it, and I mentioned it to my mother when I returned from the semester. She decided to place my sister here in an attempt to encourage her to branch out, so I applied as a counselor to keep an eye on her.” “Perhaps she could befriend my brother, he’s here as well.” Kankri replied. “That would be wonderful; we should introduce them when they arrive.” “Then it’s settled.” Porrim smiled widely, looking around at the views around them before standing and dusting off her shorts. “Well, I think I shall go unpack before my clothes wrinkle beyond repair.” She turned to Latula. “Is there a bed you’ve chosen?”
“Nah, I don’t care either way.” Latula answered, hopping up and almost knocking the bench over in the process. “I’ll be in later; I’m waiting on someone to show up.” “That boy is never on time to anythin’, and you know it.” Meenah sighed, sticking her tongue at Latula when the latter rolled her eyes. “Wait, are you implying that Mi-“
Kankri’s eye twitched at the yell echoing down the path. This wasn’t turning out like he had imagined. The cloud of dust that was blocking view of the pathway to camp barreled closer, and Kankri couldn’t help but flinch away from the clearing fog. The bright yellow bike almost became parallel with the ground as yet another addition to the growing number of current camp counselors came to a stop. Mituna was the second to last person he wanted to be around, the first person was locked inside her cabin fuming to herself.
Latula bounced over to her current boyfriend, throwing her arms around him as he shook out shaggy black hair and removed the large goggles that had been covering his eyes. With a wide grin Mituna dropped the bike to the ground, tossing the bright yellow protective eyewear next to it before planting a kiss Kankri would describe as sloppy on her. The two joined the rest of the group; Rufioh ruffling Mituna’s hair in a brotherly fashion after the two shared a high-five.
“What’s with the bike?” Rufioh asked, Mituna looking over his shoulder at the neon yellow and black striped contraption lying on the ground. “Well I’d be a fucking idiot to try and skateboard down here.” Mituna answered, earning a shrug and a laugh from the bigger boy. “You’re right, I should have thought of that.” Mituna grinned, looking around at the group.
“Who’s the new chick?” Mituna asked, pointing rudely towards Porrim with dirty hands before returning them into the back pockets of Latula’s shorts. “That’s Porrim, she’s chill.” Latula answered. “She’s smoking.” “I know right!” Kankri tried not to grit his teeth too hard, annoyed by both Mituna’s lack of volume control as well as their impolite talking of Porrim like she was not sitting right in front of them. When Porrim herself did not make comment on it, he decided he would.
“I find it very rude of you to speak about Porrim as if she is not here with us now, and I would like to ask that you please not do it again.” The only reason Kankri knew Mituna had turned to look at him was because his head turned, the other boy’s eyes hidden by his mass of untidy thick hair sticking out in all directions. “Man, you’re still annoying as fuck.” “And you’re sti-““Dudes! Chill out.”
“Sorry Latula.” Both boys muttered, Kankri standing abruptly and making sure his the hem of his red t-shirt was still tucked in properly. “Well, this is far too much excitement for me to handle at one moment. If you all don’t mind, though any arguments would be disregarded in favor of my mental health, I am going to retire to my cabin to finish unpacking my things. I shall see you all when it is time for dinner, but until then I would like to be left alone. It would be wise to respect my space as to not do so could possibly be triggering.” He began to walk towards his cabin, ignoring Meenah’s loud sigh of annoyance as he passed.
“Oh shit, I need to put my stuff up.” “What cabin are you in ‘tuna?” “Six.” Kankri stopped, turning on his heel and facing the two sickening lovebirds. “You are ABSOLUTELY NOT in cabin six, for I am assigned to cabin six. You can take that monstrosity of a bike and ride back up to the camp to request another arrangement. We are NOT, and I repeat for clarifications in case any of you happen to be hard of hearing, NOT rooming with you Mituna.”
“Fucking deal with it Kiss-ass, I’m not going fucking anywhere.” Mituna slurred, throwing his bag off his back and towards Kankri with a loud cackle. “Kankri, I’m sorry but we really can’t change who we room with.” Latula moved towards him in an attempt to calm him. “Meenah has already tried to change the situation, it’s not possible.” “The camp is packed like a sardine can, ya’ insufferable prick.” Meenah added.
This was definitely not going to be the summer Kankri had hoped it was. Nothing could make this situation any worse, or better for that matter, he was sure of it.
Chapter 3: Better Late Than Never
The sun was beginning to set as his tires slowed to a stop on the gravel, barely sinking below the tree line. He was late, he was always late, but he was especially late this time. If only he hadn’t had to drop his geeky little brother at science camp, and then loop back around when the kid phoned him whining that he’d left his books in the trunk. If only his mom hadn’t grilled him about packing every single thing anyone could ever possibly need, including ten bottles of sunscreen and enough bug spray to kill a man. If only his dad hadn’t argued with him about bringing his guitar and good headphones. If only he would have known that the roads to the camp were absolute shit.
Parking as far away from any trees to avoid any bad karma from Mother Nature screwing up his ride, Cronus shut off the music that had been filling the small car and plunged himself suddenly into silence. Ears ringing, he shoved anything slightly important he was leaving behind under the seats, eyeing the sound system before climbing out of the car. If only he could hide the one thing in the old ride worth any real money under the seat.
If only he didn’t need the money desperately enough to travel miles into the middle of no-where to take care of a bunch of privileged kids. Cronus’s life was filled with “if only” and it didn’t seem to be changing any time soon. Slinging his bag over his shoulder and grabbing the other from the backseat, he started heading down towards the wooden buildings balancing on the hillside. Signs led him to the largest wooding building with a large wooden staircase, ducking inside the swinging doors and following the arrows pointing to the main office.
“Can I help you?”
The women at the desk raised a brow as he dropped his bags to the floor, watching him from behind her bangs as he planted his palms on the counter to lean against it. Cronus wrinkled his nose and kept a chuckle to himself as the smell of hard liquor hit him. Sitting at a desk in a summer camp can’t be that stressful, but everyone had their vices he guessed. Ms. Lalonde, as he figured out by her name tag, looked up at him from over her bright pink coffee mug impatiently as she waited for him to answer.
“I, uh, I’m supposed to be a counselor this year, but I guess I missed the welcoming committee.”
She sighed loudly, setting down her cup and reaching for the phone on her desk. Cronus listened to the clack of her nails tapping against the wood as she waited for whoever she had called to pick up. After a few moments she leaned back in her seat and a voice mumbled through the ear piece. “Yes, the last counselor showed up.” She glanced at him as she talked, Cronus stepping back and shoving his hands into the pockets of his dark jeans as he busied himself to looking at the pamphlets on the wall.
“I know it’s passed the call time, he’s late.”
“Well I don’t know, English is out looking over the campers bunks again.”
“Look, just send someone to take his stuff down to the counselor’s cabins so he can go to the dining hall.”
“Fine, that’s good enough for me. Thank you dear.” She hung up, Cronus turning at the click of the phone on the receiver. “They’re sending someone to collect your things and show you to dinner, that’s where the rest of the counselors are.” Standing and adjusting her skirt she disappeared into the offices behind her before appearing moments later. “The man can’t organize to save his life…”
“I didn’t mean to cause a fuss mam’, I hope I’m not throwing everyone off their groove.” Cronus said over her muttering to herself. He really didn’t mean to get here this late; it wasn’t his fault after all. If people would just stay off his case he would have only arrived fashionably late, not late enough to be an inconvenience.
“It’s fine, dear. The campers don’t get here till Monday; at least you got here on the right day.” She smiled as she sat back in her desk, sipping her coffee and looking over the papers she had brought back. “Monday, huh? Are we just supposed to lounge around for two days?”
“What’s your name?” Cronus walked back towards the desk, leaning a hip against the polished edge and shrugging off his jacked to sling it over his shoulder.
“Cronus, uh, Cronus Ampora.”
He glanced over the list of names and numbers her bright pink nails trailed down, tilting his head to better look. This camp must be pretty big to need 12 counselors he thought, wondering what the marks by the names meant. His own and two others punctuated by a large green dot. Were these people keeping tabs on them or something?
“You’re in cabin two when you get down there, your bunk mate was a counselor last year so you can ask him and any other of the returning counselors any questions. I’m sure that some of them will jump at the chance.” Lalonde smiled to herself, rolling her eyes at whatever joke she was hinting at as she folded her hands over the paper. “Thanks.” “Ms. Lalonde, you called?”
Cronus turned at the voice from the doorway, and knocked himself into the desk when he came face to face with the person who was standing behind him. He hadn’t even heard him, or the bulky guy standing in the doorway, come in. “Yes, thank you. Mr. Zahhak, he’s in cabin two.” Cronus barely listened to her talk, scooting around the teenager who hadn’t moved to stand near his things. The adult barely looked at him before moving to grab Cronus’s bags, eyes hidden behind a thick set of shades and dark hair pulled back into slick braid under his brimmed hat.
“I appreciate you takin’ care of my stuff, sir.”
Mr. Zahhak didn’t answer Cronus, instead addressing the boy who still stood by the desk. “Horuss, take him to the dining hall for dinner, and then come right back to work.” He disappeared out the door, heavy footfalls creaking the buildings wooden flooring as he left. Turning back to Ms. Lalonde, he shrugged his shoulders at her amused expression.
“Not much of a talker, eh?” She shook her head at his comment, turning back to the book she had been reading when he came in and picking up her mug. Cronus turned to the other person in the room, looking over the kid that had given him a shock just a while ago. “I guess you’re the cat taking me to dinner?” He chuckled a bit, but his wording was obviously lost on the other guy.
“Indeed! I’m Horuss Zahhak, pleased to meet you!” He stuck out a hand with a wide grin, Cronus blinking at the volume of his introduction before shaking hands and nodding towards the door. “Cronus, nice to meet ya’ too man. Wanna head on out?” “Yes!” He followed after Horuss , breaking his usual slow stride to keep up with him. The kid was fast. They stepped back out into the sun, Cronus squinting at the light and looking to the boy next to him as he pulled tinted goggles down over his eyes.
The kid was wearing a baggy shirt, stained with black splotches and half tucked into cargo shorts that swung inches above thick boots. He looked ready to work on heavy machinery in that get-up; goggles, leather gloves and thick hair pulled back only added to the aesthetic. He wasn’t much shorter than Cronus, so he was as tall kid, long limbs swinging at his sides. Cronus couldn’t get over his grin; it never seemed to fad from his face, and his teeth looked unnaturally white against his tan skin.
“So, uh, you been here a while?”
“Since I was little, Ate has worked here since before I was born and I’ve been coming along with him since I was old enough to not drag him down.” Horuss replied, barely looking back at him as he took the stairs up onto the patio of the second largest wooden building Cronus had seen yet two at a time. The two stopped at the door, the sounds of voices floating out towards them.
“Who?” Cronus asked, brows raised in confusion. Horuss stared at him for a moment before breaking out into an even larger grin and pushing his goggles up onto his forehead. Big red brown eyes shone under the thickest set of eyelashes Cronus had ever seen on another dude. “Ate, it’s what I call my dad. Sorry, I forget that not everyone knows, you’ll get used to it.” He clapped Cronus on the shoulder with a laugh, grabbing the door handle and yanking it open hard enough for it bounce off the wall behind it.
Rolling his shoulder and turning his smile into a cringe, Cronus stepped around the boot holding the door open and into the cool blast of air carrying the smell of food from inside the building and followed the sounds of talking to what he hoped was a welcoming crowd of somewhat interesting people. If his first college summer was boring, his parents were never going to hear the end of it.
Chapter 4: Unexpected Arrival
Kankri and the rest of the camp counselors had all trekked up the mountain when the dinner bell rang, most of them falling into groups as they talked amongst themselves. After finishing his unpacking and shutting out Mituna’s own with music and a good book, Kankri had sat with Porrim as dinner time neared and talked about what had happened in the few weeks since their semester ended. Now they all sat at tables in the mess hall, more scattered than they would be for the rest of the summer once the campers arrived and chatting idly amongst themselves as the finishing touches on their meal were made.
Sitting in the corner of the room, Kankri looked over the newest editions to their group of young adult care takers. Aranea had come back again this summer, and was now sitting on the other side of the table talking about her English studies with Porrim. As he analyzed her Kankri came to the conclusion that she hadn’t changed much after her first year of college, much to his relief. He and Aranea were on good enough terms, but he hated her babbling about useless subjects and how she would often cut him off in conversation. Her hair seemed longer, flipped ends brushing her shoulders as she pushed up her cat-eye glasses and beamed her annoyingly straight teeth at Porrim. It seemed that Meenah’s attempt to change cabin situations had been because of Aranea; Latula implied the two had been involved in a fling last summer that ended up going nowhere.
Kankri refused to believe Aranea would ever do such a thing.
Out of the cabin next to the one that Rufioh had placed his belongings in came the golden couple of the group, still stuck to each other like glue even through their first semester. Meulin now had her legs slung over her boyfriend’s lap as they, as usual, displayed unnecessary amounts of public affection. Kurloz was sporting new tattoos and piercings, the holes in his skin filled with clear plastic due to camp regulations and his sleeves barely covering the edges of the skeletons that grinned on his arms. The smells from the kitchen permeated through the room, the staff still finishing as meal time crept closer. 5:30 was meal time, it was 5:27 and Kankri was getting antsy.
“You’re an idiot if you didn’t bang her.”
“Damara, please leave me alone.”
Damara slid into the seat next to him, leaning against the table as her legs straddled the bench. Adverting his eyes, Kankri continued to watch the small television in the corner of the room playing the evening news. He could feel her staring at him, arm slung across the table lazily.
“Not even a drunken makeout, she didn’t suck your dick or anything?”
“Damara, how in the world are you allowed to work around children.”
“Because boys just hitting puberty adore me.”
The seat next to him shifted, his head turning to see Porrim straightening out her shirt and Aranea sitting across from her. Now in close quarters Kankri could analyze Aranea completely. Just as he could tell from across the room, her teeth were abnormally white and strait, even more so than last year. Her hair shone in the dim light, flipping at the ends and falling softly around her pale cheeks. Blue straps dug into her shoulders before disappearing below the white shirt falling down her arms and bunching at the top of her khakis. Both girls looked at Damara with raised brows, the latter of the two striking up immediate conversation.
“Hello Damara, how was your year?” Aranea asked, tucking her hair behind her ear and folding her hands on the table.
“It was fine, I went to a shit school, worked in a bar and danced for money, had a few flings, fucked my professor; the usual.”
Aranea turned pink, looking at Porrim for solace and only finding a small smile waiting for her. Kankri was trying his hardest not to snap at the girl, hands knit into the fabric of his pants. Damara leaned forward on the bench, legs spread around the wood and a sickening smile splitting red lipstick.
“What about you Aranea, suck off any TA’s this semester?”
The entire table moved, Kankri’s knee burning from the impact against the sharp wooden corners. He was too enraged to care. Someone gasped near him, the entire room falling silent as everyone turned to look at him. Their stares bore through the red fabric of his shirt, sending unease into his stomach that he couldn’t be bothered to deal with at the moment. Standing above her, he felt his jaw tighten and eyes narrow as he pointed sharply across the room.
"Damara, move. Now. I will not sit here and put up with your foul language and explicit assumptions. Find someone else to pester.”
His teeth hurt as he ground them together, watching Damara stand slowly with a roll of her hips. Her smile never faded as her breasts pressed against his chest, his own body recoiling away from her as if she had burned him. Splitting her fingers, she flicked her tongue between them lewdly before turning sharply on her heels and stalking across the room towards Meenah, who had been speaking to Kurloz and Meulin before the outburst. Breathing hard through his nose he attempted to calm himself, tapping his fingers on the wooden table. He could see Porrim staring up at him, brows raised in concern. The rest of the room went back to talking over the dull sound of the television.
“I am find, just give me a moment.”
Just as he had finished speaking the door slammed open, the sound jolting him out of his attempted calm as his heart beat skyrocketed. Aranea screeched, covering her mouth in embarrassment before turning towards the source of the noise. Meenah’s group went on about their business, talking away about something while Damara cackled. From the front table Rufioh stood to move towards the entry hall, leaving Latula and Mituna to talk amongst themselves. Leaning forward, Kankri tried to see who had come in, not expecting anyone else since the camp authorities ate later than the counselors and campers. It was a few moments before his questions were answered.
“Well this summer may have just gotten a little more interesting.”
“What do you mean?”
“Honey, I mean that the boy is gorgeous.”
“Porrim you don’t even know him.”
Kankri mumbled his objection, his own eyes stuck on the newest arrivals. One was Horuss Zahhak, son of the camp handyman and athletics advisor, whom he had known since he began attending this camp as a boy. The other…well, the other boy he had never seen in his life. In fact, he’d never seen anyone who looked quite like him in his entire life, despite having what Kankri would call a worldly and informed view. Silencing whatever was stirring in the pit of his stomach, his eyes dragged over him quizzically. Thick dark hair was pushed back from his face, shiny with product and curling at the ends. Sharp brows framed tilted dark eyes and faded into olive skin that dipped with each curve of his bone structure. He has never seen a jaw so sharp in his life, his cheekbones and nose sculpted from the same stone that disappeared under tight white cotton. As wide shoulders dipped into a smaller waist, dark jeans lead down to black and white sneakers, the bottoms of his pants cuffed to show the high ankle.
Mouth dry, Kankri watched as Rufioh shook hands with him, giving Horuss a clap on the shoulder and a smile before falling into conversation with the two of them.
“I call him.”
“That’s not fair!” Kankri’s eye twitched at Aranea’s shrillness.
“Porrim, I don’t believe that it’s polite to ‘call’ a human being.”
“I don’t care, I want to know what’s going on underneath all of that.”
“I hope you’re not being explicit.”
“You’re the one who took it that way.”
Kankri shot Porrim a harsh look, eyes softening at her smile. He realized he was still standing, the table leaving marks on the thighs of his black pants as he shifted. Dusting off his clothing, Kankri looked up to find himself caught in a predicament. His gaze had accidentally landed on the new arrival.
And he was looking right at him.
Chapter 5: New Boy In Town
The yelling coming from the mess hall drove Cronus forward, his pause in the small hallway short lived as Horuss pushed past him at his break-neck speed to continue on. Hands were shoved deep into his pockets as he shuffled forward squinting a little in the swell of light from the wide window. He could feel the gazes turn to him, sticking like his shirt to his lower back as he followed his single almost-companion towards the second camp counselor he would meet today. Cronus barely had time to look around the room before a hand was stuck out in front of him.
“Hey, I’m Rufioh Nitram. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too man. Name’s Cronus, Cronus Ampora.”
His hand was sweating, heat and slight nerves working against him in this situation. The gentle grip from Rufioh disappeared, Cronus’s eyes barely having to shift downward to look him in the face. The dude seemed like an okay dude, white teeth grinning under thick lips and green eyes standing out against his tan skin. He clapped a hand onto Horuss’s shoulder, pulling the boy towards him as he laughed.
“Hey man, I didn’t know you were coming back this year. It’s good to see ya!”
“Likewise, it is very nice to see you again too. I am surprised to see that you have once again altered your appearance.”
“Yeah, you can’t really have a professional job with bright red hair and metal through your nose.”
“You could be like, a tattoo artist or something’.”
Cronus got a laugh out of that, Rufioh grinning widely at him as the thin line of metal along his teeth glinted in the sunlight streaming through the window. Crossing his arms in front of his chest he puffed out as discretely as possible, wondering if the guy across from him was as built as he looked under his jacket. Probably not as much as Cronus was, but he definitely worked out. His eyes wandered to the television on the wall, squinting a bit to read the headlines. Something about politics, nothing he cared about. A bark of a laugh snapped his attention back to the two boys in front of him, feeling stares still stuck on him from across the room. Rolling back his shoulders he turned to Horuss.
“Didn’t your pa’ want you back or somethin’?”
Brown eyes widened, the kid had probably forgotten or gotten wound up in the excitement.
“Yes! I am supposed to grab some supper for the both of us and get back to work!”
“Well you’re out of luck, cooks are behind this year. No big deal since it’s just us, but it’ll be a few.”
Rufioh’s smile never left his face it seems, watching Horuss babble on about how his dad was or something like that. He couldn’t tell with all the lingo he was throwing around. A kid in the front of the room made eye contact with him, wrapping his arms the chick next to him and pulling her into his side. He couldn’t see what looks he was giving him due to the shag on top of his head covering his eyes, but the lip curl sure didn’t seem like a good sign.
“So I supposed that Vantas is back this year?”
“You didn’t hear from outside? He must have lost his touch, Damara has been driving him nuts all day.”
Cronus looked at the two of them, brow raised in interest.
“Speaking of, which one of these dudes was yelling earlier?”
“Kankri, he’s in the red shirt in the corner with the two girls.”
Cronus looked around the room, easily finding who he was talking about standing at the back of the room. The kid was short, small shouldered and thick around the waist. He couldn’t tell if it was weight or if the kid just had hips under the baggy cotton tee and black hoodie tied around his waist. Thick dark hair stuck out in curls that brushed against his nose, dark eyebrows furrowed behind his bangs. Cronus tried to determine what he was exactly, his skin a racially ambiguously tan. While attempting to put together the pieces of his body type and facial features, the kid looked up and locked eyes with him. Raising a brow they stared for a moment before his the kid, Kankri right? Yeah, that sounded right. Kankri looked down abruptly, sitting behind a wooden table next to two chicks he couldn’t see as well and fell into hushed conversation. Cronus looked back to Rufioh.
“What’s his deal?”
“It’s been like that since we were kids. Damara gets on his nerves and he snaps at her for it, honestly it’s not entirely his fault when she goes out of her way to piss him off.”
“You guy’s been friends for a while?”
“Yeah, some of us. Horuss here has been here since he was like 6. Damara, Kankri, Aranea, and I have been here since we were 10. Meulin and Latula showed up in middle school, and then the rest just kinda started working here with us cause they were our friends. Meenah’s mom owns the land, so she was just handed the job really.”
“Way to put pressure on the new kid Nitram.”
Rufioh laughed, teeth barred as his hands crossed over his chest. Jumping at the bell that rung from the food line made everyone jump, heads turning towards the noise. The kitchen staff had set out the food into the heated plates on the line, one chef standing behind the glass with a smile on her face. The group lined up, piling pasta onto their plates and taking extra garlic bread when the chef turned her back. Horuss took off after getting two Styrofoam containers full of food, waving as he left. Cronus noticed someone linger towards the back of the line, bright red catching his eye as Kankri made his way to the line after everyone else had already been served. From his seat across from Rufioh he watched the smaller boy meticulously portion his food, filling half his tray with limp salad from the bowl before picking the smallest piece of garlic bread.
“He diets more than Miss Lalonde.”
Cronus turned his head at the voice, watching the girl place her tray next to him. Black hair hung in braids that curved over her chest, the fabric of her white tank barely covering her bra and her….skirt? Yeah, we’ll just call it a skirt. Her skirt barely scraped the top of her thighs, leaving a chunk of tan skin bare above white thigh high socks. She parted red lips in his direction as she smiled, thick lashes lying heavily over dark eyes.
“Damara leave him alone, he can’t even hear you.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“He’s had some trouble with his weight, it’s not uncommon.”
“Maybe he shouldn’t sit on his ass being a jerk and do someone instead.”
“You mean, do something?”
Cronus couldn’t help but snort into his water. She was funny, her deadpan had thrown him off guard when he questioned her. His other companions shook their heads at her, busying themselves with their food. He decided that she was probably the easiest looking tail in the joint, which meant he wasn’t going to touch it unless he hadn’t hit the jackpot in a few weeks. She drummed her fingers on the table next to him, watching Rufioh shift in his seat before turning towards Cronus with a toss of her braids.
“Where are you from?”
“Uh, Jersey originally. We moved to Oregon a few years ago.”
“So, you had quite a drive to get here.”
“It wasn’t much, just a couple of state lines.”
“Must have been tiring.”
Rufioh shook his head from across the table, Cronus raising an eyebrow at him as Damara pushed her tray away from her and slung her legs over the bench so she could push herself up onto the table, crossing her legs with a grin. With a sigh, Rufioh spoke up.
“Damara, he’s been here for five minutes, give him a break and stop flirting with him.”
“That wasn’t stopping you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You always did like cute boys a much as I did.”
“Whoa, guys and gals, can you give a guy a little input before you tussel over me?”
Both of them looked at him, Rufioh looking utterly embarrassed and Damara looking utterly pleased with herself. The room around them was quiet, muffled conversation barely heard over the television in the high corner of the room. Cronus crossed his arms, elbows on the table, and glanced around the room before looking at the two of them. In that quick glance he took in the two couples at tables together, the trio in the far corner and the single with her face stuck into her phone. All of them seem occupied with themselves. He turned back to Rufioh, brows folding the skin of his forehead.
“So, what’s the story?”
“What has gotten both you guys’s panties in a twist? You two date or something?”
Damara crossed her legs, leaning into him with a raise of her lip as she answered.
“Okay, so, what’s up?”
“Why do you care?”
“Well, how is a new guy like me supposed to gauge how to interact with you cats if I don’t have a little info?”
Rufioh’s growing embarrassment broke, snorting through his nose and shifting his food around his plate as he finally became part of the conversation.
“Damara and I used to date, we split because I liked someone else.”
“You cheated on me with that creep.”
“Horuss is not a creep, he just doesn’t know how to talk to other people sometimes.”
Cronus waved a hand between them, pushing his tray away and turning his body so he could face both of them. This was too good to pass up.
“Wait a minute, so you’re telling me that you dumped her to chase some guys tail?”
“I dumped him, he had the tail first.”
He grinned at Rufioh, quirking a brow to signal he was going to hear the full story later. Damara sat in silence for a moment, looking around the room with a small smile before turning sharply to Cronus as it grew. He looked up at her with raised brows as she spoke to him, catching the glint in her eye.
“So, Jersey Boy, what do you like?”
“What do you mean?”
“Boys, girls, both, neither, anything with a hole? Who are you mentally fucking while you lie in bed at night?”
Cronus couldn’t help but laugh, trying to brush of his embarrassment but also highly amused by the look on the boy across from him. Rufioh drug his hands down his face, covering his mouth with his fingers as he looked between the two of them. Looking up at Damara, he cleared his throat roughly.
“I’m not picky, I just like a pretty face and a nice ass.”
“I have the boy for you. His mouth needs occupying.”
Chapter 6: The Pleasure Is All Mine
“What in the world is she doing?”
Kankri had been watching Damara from around Aranea for the past few minutes, muffling his frustrations into his hand when she made a show of herself by sitting on the table. At least she had taken to wearing skorts this year, probably because they wouldn’t let her work again unless she did. Damara, at the moment, was leaning into the new arrival with a grin while holding a conversation that could not mean good for any of them. Kankri knew that look anywhere, he’d had to deal with it since early childhood. Damara had plans for him in her grotesque mind, and Kankri couldn’t bring himself to ponder what they might be without feeling sick.
“Kankri? Kankri, I’m talking to you.”
“Stop staring, what if they look over here.”
“I’m not staring.”
With a bang of her cup on the table Porrim got his attention, head turning sharply and his mouth opening to scold her. The raise of her brow stopped him, his chin sinking into the skin of his palm as she began to speak.
“Kankri, if you want to remain in the closet for now I would suggest not ogling him.”
“I was no-“
“Yes, you were, you don’t look at Damara like that.”
“You’ve never seen us together until today, you have no frame of reference.”
“She’s right, you don’t.”
Aranea grinned at his glare, the corner of his eye twitching at the line her teeth made when pressed together.
“Either way, you don’t look at girls like that either.”
“Kankri, I know you refer to yourself as not leaning either way but you do have a preference dear.”
“Wait, Kankri am I correct to assume that you’re ga-“
“No, you are not. Now please drop the subject.”
Aranea pouted, spearing a tomato with her fork before huffing towards the window. She was wrong to assume Kankri was homosexual, as it is wrong to assume anyone sexuality or gender based on small interactions. But, Kankri was in fact not heterosexual. He had discovered this his first semester of college during rush week, the same time he had met Porrim. His first experience of being attracted to someone of the same sex was a boy from a fraternity that wanted him to join, who Porrim later proved to be heterosexual later in the year. He was one of many reasons Kankri did not join, price and responsibilities being others. He didn’t like to label himself, and even if he did the label of “gay” would not fit him since he had liked Latula at one point and he had fleeting on/off feelings for Porrim that she was aware of. Sexuality as a whole was confusing and almost pointless to him, he’d never experienced more than romantic attraction towards anyone and since sexual feelings were what most people based sexuality on, he chose not to pick a name for his preferences.
An addition to the table caused all of them to turn, wood squeaking as it shifted from the extra weight on top of it. Meenah had catapulted herself on top of the dining table, sitting cross legged facing the open room. She glanced over the three shocked faces before her with a grin before speaking.
“So, what do you think?”
Kankri sighed, pushing his food away from him. His appetite was gone, this was all too much for him to deal with right now.
“What do we think, of what?”
“Him. New kid.”
“I can’t form an opinion.”
Meenah turned to Porrim, lips pouting playfully as she tossed a braid over her shoulder. Kankri eyed the straps of her shirt sliding down her shoulders, feeling his inside churn as Porrim’s brow raised in interest when Meenah leaned down towards her.
“What about you, miss perfect?”
“I haven’t met him yet but he seems like a fine young man.”
A smile pulled at Kankri’s lips at her sarcasm, Porrim returning it across the table when Meenah straightened her back and leaned on her hands with a loud sigh. Aranea kept her head down, looking out the window while twirling a bit of her hair around a finger. She looked at Meenah when she spoke, her brow furrowed.
“I hate him.”
“He’s a dick.”
Kankri spoke up now, holding a hand in front of himself and shaking his head in disbelief at her blunt accusation.
“I don’t think it’s very polite to assume such things of someone you’ve never spoken to before.”
“Shut it, kiss-ass. Look, he’s an attractive dude. He obviously knows he’s attractive, and ever guy who knows he’s attractive is a dick.”
“That isn’t very sound logic.”
“It’s just the way it is Vantas.”
“Your way of viewing the world is entertaining, as always, Meenah.”
Pale blue met deep burgundy as Aranea and Meenah shared a look, the latter imposing as always from her position on top of the table. With a twist she was gone, stomping off across the room towards Damara. The two girls turned to each other with a smirk Kankri barely caught, Meenah throwing herself onto the bench next to Rufioh and turning towards the new comer. Soon enough the bell rang for dinner to clear, Kankri tossing his half-eaten food and waiting for Porrim to finish touching up her lipstick in the girls restroom on the patio outside. Most everyone else headed back down to the cabins to relax or went off to walk around the grounds after dinner, splitting apart while it was still light enough to do anything. Leaning against the wooden poles holding up the patio, Kankri zipped his hoodie against the breeze that came with the sunset. The air rustled his hair like it did the leaves on the trees, blowing it into his eyes.
This was always something he looked forward to. Not the bugs, dirt, sunburn or screaming children, but the summer breeze and fresh air. At night, away from the bugs in the comfort of the cabin, he liked to feel the breeze through the screened windows and listen to the waves of the lake echo in the forest. It was calming, a good change from the bustle of college life in the city. Kankri was staring off across the grounds when he heard the wooden slats creak behind him, his head turning sharply to see if Porrim was finally done.
“Sorry if I scared ya, chief.”
A few feet away stood the new arrival, hands held in front of him in a way that Kankri assumed was meant to be assuring. His eyes wandered for a few seconds too long, a familiar feeling in the center of his chest reminding him to look away or otherwise move the conversation forward. With a nod he acknowledged him, clearing his throat to accept the apology.
“It’s quite alright, I believe we are both at fault here. I for not being more aware of my surroundings, and you for not making your presence known sooner.”
“Right, good of ya to say that.”
The other boy looked him over for a moment, brow furrowed curiously as he smiled to himself. Kankri couldn’t look away as he stepped forward.
“Pardon me, but we haven’t been introduced. I’m Cronus, Cronus Ampora.”
“My name is Kankri Vantas, and you’ll have to forgive me but I don’t feel comfortable touching people I’m not well acquainted with.“
Cronus’s outstretched hand fell between them, shoved into dark jean pockets as he rocked back on his heels. Now that they were closer, Kankri took a moment to glance over him for a better idea of who he was. Not an article of clothing was smudged or dirty, the path barely scuffing his shoes. Everything he wore seemed to fit perfectly, as if it had been tailored to follow every curve of the structure of his physical being. Feeling a dry spot forming in his throat, Kankri took a look at his face quickly before he felt any more embarrassed with himself. From this proximity he could now see that his eyes weren’t a dark brown like they had appeared from across the cafeteria, but instead a deep blue that almost turned indigo around the edges. A few scars decorated his face, from injury or just teenage blemishes Kankri couldn’t tell, but otherwise his skin seemed well maintained. Cronus Ampora was not like any other person Kankri had met in his life, at least not any other male, and he was certainly not like anyone who you would expect to volunteer at a summer camp.
“Kankri dear, whe- Oh, I’m sorry to interrupt.”
Both boys turned to look at Porrim. Kankri sighing softly at the break in the tension he was feeling. Cronus, on the other hand, grinned once again as he turned on a heel to face her. The look on his face was one Kankri had seen boys give Porrim a number of times in the past year. His charm was much different than other boys though, he would give him that. Not many guys their age dressed like they had stepped out of a clique movie about American culture circa 1950.
“Not a problem, we was just introducing ourselves.”
Cronus stuck out a hand again, taking a step towards her. His grin widened when polished nails stood out against his olive skin.
“Cronus Ampora, pleased to meet ya.”
“Porrim Maryam, and the pleasure is all mine.”
Kankri almost gagged, feeling his body bristle as he watched them. Porrim did say she called him, and besides, Kankri was not interested. Being a pretty boy was one thing, being a contender for a relationship was another. He was not interested in the latter like Porrim was, so he didn’t need to care about this situation. Still, he had sort of liked the attention of him, so with a huff, he broke their moment.
“Well, we should all be heading down to the cabins before it gets dark. I’m sure someone will want to do something horribly inappropriate for the first night.”
“Sounds like my kind of party.”
His head hurt as his eyes rolled at the other boys words, turning on his heels and linking arms with Porrim as they began their walk down to the lakeside. Rufioh appeared from the parking lot, probably off for a smoke the only place it was allowed before he had to turn in for the night. Last year the camp had implemented a smoking area when too many of the counselors and instructors were sneaking off for a break and causing a threat for fires. Kankri’s boots crunched against the gravel as he walked beside Porrim, listening to her comment on their surroundings absentmindedly. Behind them Rufioh and Cronus joked about college life, mentioning classes and experiences they shared in common while Kankri tried to remember subjects to bring up later in conversation when it was needed. Cool air blew past them, calming his flushing skin and buzzing worry from the days tragedies. With even breaths, he tried to expel the bad and look forward to the good that might come later in the summer.
As much as he focused, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was looking at him.