Sketch #323

what happened on april 6

Girls like me do not buy pregnancy tests.

I drag my pencil down the paper, drawing tears rolling from her eyes.

Girls like me sing in the church choir. Every spring break, I go on mission trips to Honduras, where we renovate houses for the underprivileged. I do all my homework every night, and before I go to bed, I kiss Daddy’s cheek and tell him I wish he’d go to the doctor about his blood pressure and start getting more exercise than walking Fritz and scooping his poop.

I’ve only kissed one boy my entire life.

Emily called that day, crying. “Kate,” she said between sobs. “You can’t tell anyone. Not even your mom.”

I drove to Walmart two towns away, over in Green Hills, so no one would see me buying the test. I trembled as I carried the box to the self-checkout lane. I scanned, bagged, and paid, and bit back tears, because my best friend of fifteen years—since we were three years old—might have accidentally gotten pregnant by her long-time boyfriend.

I didn’t even know they had had sex. It’s not something they would tell. If anyone found out that Jacob, son of Brother Michael—our preacher at church—got a girl pregnant out of wedlock? Chaos.

It wouldn’t look good for Emily either. She’s like me. Always wears clean T-shirts and none of her jeans have holes or loose strings. She would never even think about smoking a cigarette. She doesn’t go over the speed limit. She plays the violin and has a scholarship lined up to attend Belmont University in Nashville.

But Emily made a mistake.


I use my black coloring pencil to shade her hair. My red pencil fills in her lips, turned upside down in a frown.

And then I made an even bigger mistake: I helped her.

you were my first kiss

friday, june 1 ~ week 1 of 7

I haven’t been to Cumberland Creek Camp since I was eleven, since I was a camper. Now I’m eighteen, a high school graduate. I’m someone who has no business being a camp counselor, that’s for sure. I can’t start fires. I can’t tell poison ivy and poison oak apart. And since I tipped over in the Cumberland River sophomore year, canoes and I have had a serious love-hate relationship.

But my friendship bracelet–making skills are first-rate, so my church—Forrest Sanctuary—nominated me to be the camp arts and crafts instructor. I never would’ve agreed if Emily hadn’t been nominated to be a counselor as well.

“It’ll be a great summer!” she’d said. “We’ll meet new people and get to hang out by the lake and make s’mores and go creek stomping together. Like when we were eight!”

But now I’m here alone.

I need the money for college, and it’s too late to find a job anywhere else in this economy, and I figure if I do this for the church, maybe God will think about forgiving me for what I’ve done.

Back in the day, the Chickasaw Indian tribe believed that this land—these mountains in Tennessee—were where heaven meets the earth, and lots of locals say God often communicates to people here. Through signs. Through visions. Through just feeling closer to Him. When I was little, it was always the talk of camp. Would God speak to anyone this year? I remember hearing a rumor about how a counselor had this deep feeling she needed to go see her boyfriend. So she drove away from camp and made it to his house just in time to find he’d slipped and fallen down the stairs and was bleeding heavily from his head. He lived, thanks to the sign.

Everyone wants a sign at some point, and this summer I need one more than ever.

I park my car along the tree line beside the basketball court and make my way up the trail, past the cedar and oak trees, keeping a watch out for copperheads and black widow spiders. Last time I was here, a deer tick bit me and burrowed into my skin. Two weeks later, I had a rash the shape of a dartboard stretching across my pale stomach. Everybody wanted to see it. And I mean everybody. Even Will Whitfield. But when you’re eleven, you don’t pull your shirt up for anybody except your mom and the doctor.

Anyway, the whole reason I’m thinking about Will Whitfield is because I see him standing in front of the camp director’s cabin, along with the other counselors. The cabin’s name is Great Oak because camp is divided into two lands: Birdland and Treeland, and all the cabins are named accordingly. Cardinal, Redwood, Wren. My favorite cabin is White Oak because it’s nestled up in the hills overlooking the lake and it’s closest to the Woodsong Chapel, my favorite place. Emily and I made a lot of good memories here, memories that I hoped would continue this summer. But this job doesn’t pay much—not enough for her to rent an apartment in Nashville.

Her parents kicked her out of the house after they found out about the abortion.

They said they’d pray for her soul.

I hope they’re praying for my soul too.

A guy wearing no shoes is staring at me.

Boys don’t usually stare. Except for Bruce Wilson, captain of the high school math team, and he hardly counts because I never wanted to return his stares.

Shoeless Boy is beautiful. His tan face is kind and maybe a bit mischievous. A red bandana keeps his dirty blond hair in check. His khaki shorts reach his knees and sunglasses hang off the collar of his black T-shirt. He’s carrying a guitar case in one hand and has a laundry basket full of clothes under the other arm.

He sets the guitar down and waves. I wave back. He grins, and my knees feel kinda wobbly.

He reminds me of someone…

A lady blows a whistle. “If y’all will gather round,” she says to the group of ten counselors. She’s got a mass of curls and she’s… large. I can’t think of another way to describe her. My face flushes. I shouldn’t think mean things like that.

“Welcome to the sixty-fourth summer of Cumberland Creek Camp!” she yells. Everyone hoots and screams in response. I clap along with them, but my heart’s not in it. Not while Emily’s living by herself, working two jobs to make enough money to pay her rent. I’ve already promised myself I’ll send her half of every paycheck. I’ll make $300 a week here.

“You okay?” Will nudges me.

“Great, thanks,” I lie. We went to the same school—Hundred Oaks High in Franklin—and I had a crush on him for just about forever. Now he’s finally got a girlfriend…who’s also a counselor here this summer. She took Emily’s job.

Parker wraps her arm around Will’s waist and leans toward me. “Hey, Kate.”

“Hey,” I reply with a smile. A non-jealous smile, I pray. I always imagined he and I would get together, but I don’t think they’re the kind of couple who breaks up. Parker goes to my church and we went to school together, but we never talk. Her long brown hair is tangled with messy plaits in it. She’s like a beautiful wild child.

The whistle screeches again. “I’m Megan Anderson, the camp’s director.”

Two girl counselors squeal, “Megan!”

“Let’s have a seat on the porch and we’ll do introductions, go over our training schedule, and then take a tour of camp, for those of you who haven’t been here before,” Megan says.

Everyone rushes for the folding chairs and porch swing, but I make myself comfortable on a tree stump next to the deck. Sunlight filters through the leaves dripping above us.

The boy who had been staring at me got a coveted spot on the porch swing. The two girls who squealed “Megan!” sit on either side of him, and he’s laughing and looking back and forth between them. He must be a returning counselor. I can’t help but notice how pretty the girls are, with their short shorts and tanks and tan, skinny legs. My body and legs are skinny too, but I desperately need a tan this summer. I also need to gain some muscle back after my soccer injury.

“Okay,” Megan says, tooting her whistle. “We’re going to play an introduction game. Y’all have to pair your name with an animal and tell us a bit about you.”

Everybody groans, but they’re smiling. I remember playing this game when I was little.

Megan starts us out. “I’m Monkey Megan and I just finished getting my master’s in education from Tennessee Tech.”

A buff guy with brown hair announces himself as “Bumblebee Brad. I’m the games director this summer.” He says he just graduated high school but doesn’t mention where he’s going to college. I notice a series of deep purple bruises peeking out from beneath his T-shirt sleeve.

Will says he’s Wallaby Will and Parker is Platypus Parker and they are going to college together at Vanderbilt.

My turn. I swallow the lump in my throat. “I’m Kangaroo Kate—”

Shoeless Boy laughs and croons in a deep Southern accent, “Oh, cool. I can ride in your pouch.”

“What does that even mean?” his swing mate asks, elbowing him in the gut.

“Filter, dude. Filter,” Bumblebee Brad says to Shoeless Boy.

Megan blows her whistle, giving everyone an evil eye. That whistle’ll get way old way fast. “Tell us a bit about yourself, Kangaroo Kate.”

My face burns. I decide not to tell them this is my first job. Ever. “I’m going to be a freshman at Belmont University in Nashville this fall. I’m the arts and crafts director here this summer.”

Shoeless Boy stares at me some more and I stare back. Ride in my pouch? Really?

We move on to other counselors. A girl sitting on the swing says, “I’m Alligator Andrea and I’m a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, where I’m majoring in communications. I’m also the president of Chi Omega Tau.”

This guy Iguana Ian howls like a wolf, and everyone cracks up.

“Huh?” I whisper to Parker, who’s sitting on the steps.

She plays with a clump of her long messy hair. “Chi-O-T. Coyotes? It’s a sorority.”

I raise my eyebrows. I didn’t know Christian girls joined sororities.

Next up is Shoeless Boy and I hold my breath, waiting to hear his name and interests and what he’s doing here this summer.

“I’m Marsupial Matt—”

“That’s not an animal,” I interrupt, and everyone gives me weird looks.

“Sure it is,” he says with a laugh.

“It’s a classification, not a specific animal. A kangaroo is a marsupial.”

“I know,” he replies. His mouth curls into a smile.

“What does that even mean?” Andrea asks, using the same tone as before.

“It means that a kangaroo is a marsupial.” He shrugs and glances at me again.

She flicks his thigh, then musses her hair, watching him for a reaction. So Andrea likes Matt.

He looks so familiar.

He clears his throat. “Now, as I was saying, I’m Marsupial Matt—”

I accidentally snort and laugh, and Matt smiles. Will’s mouth falls open as he looks at me.

“Fine,” Matt says to me. “I’m Matt Brown the Mutt, and I’m from Bell Buckle. I’ll be a junior at MTSU this fall. I’m majoring in literature and I’m getting a minor in classical guitar. I’m the camp lifeguard.”

I love that he plays classical music and likes reading.

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