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Babes

This is my entry for the Summer Lovin’ 2020 Contest. Please remember to vote at the end and I hope you enjoy the story!

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“Just breathe, Barbara. You’re going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine. Sure, and it’s not crazy that I’m standing here talking to myself.”

Barbara Weir looked up at her face in the bathroom mirror while she gripped the sides of the sink beneath it so hard her knuckles were turning white.

“Slow and easy, in and out…”

How many times had her sister stood next to her and repeated this same simple mantra when they were kids? It seemed like a million. Barbara had been prone to panic attacks, and her older sister, Ellie, had always been there for her. Years of therapy as a teen had reduced the problem to more of a nuisance by the time she went away to college, but the memories of those childhood terrors remained.

“I could kill you for doing this to me,” murmured Barbara.

Her eyes briefly fell on the photo she had taped to the glass. Two girls in their twenties, one tall and as slender as a reed with a long waterfall of dark-brown hair that fell to the middle of her back, the other shorter, more curvy, blond hair in tight ringlets around her narrow face. Ellie and Barbara, in their days before marriage and kids had taken Ellie away. The two of them had grown up thick as thieves, but then real life had intruded.

Barbara straightened, feeling her racing heart finally starting to slow.

Ellie had always been the favorite, but Barbara hadn’t resented her for it. No one who got to know Ellie ever resented her for anything. She was the epitome of someone too good for this world, always kind, always patient, and giving to a fault. The gold standard for sisters everywhere. It should have made her insufferable to live with, but precisely the opposite had happened.

Barbara hadn’t been able to live without her.

“Ain’t it the truth?” she thought, with a mirthless chuckle.

The partying and the drinking had started not long after Ellie left home. Barbara’s parents had perhaps been a little too slow to react, maybe thinking that their younger daughter just needed some time to adjust to the new way of things. If by adjusting one meant to get face down in the gutter multiple times a week, then Barbara was doing it exactly right.

Eventually, they had intervened, but by then, a deep hole had been dug, and Barbara didn’t seem particularly interested in pulling herself out of it. She dropped out of college and decided to see the world. Thus began a nomadic existence that saw the young blond meander her way across the United States and, to the shock of her family, all the way to Europe. If Barbara had any skill, it was a knack for ingratiating herself. It didn’t hurt that she was a beautiful girl, with large, firm breasts, shapely legs, and brilliant blue eyes like a calm ocean. Despite lacking funds when she started, the gregarious young woman managed to maintain a surprisingly functional life.

“Around the world and back again, that’s the sailor’s way,” said Barbara out loud.

The years had gone by in a blur, five, then ten.

Ted and Janice Weir had tried on numerous occasions to rein in their wayward progeny and bring her home, but a combination of shame and ambivalence undermined their efforts.

It was Ellie who finally stepped in and took a hand in things.

By this time, Ellie was in her mid-thirties, two years senior to her baby sister. Married to a quiet, generous architect named James, the pair had two children, a daughter, Penelope, and a son, Jack.

The phone conversation between the two women had been short and to the point. Ted and Janice wanted to retire, Ted’s heart issues playing a big part in that, but they didn’t want to give up their camp.

Camp Hotchkiss, named for its proximity to Lake Hotchkiss, had been in their family since their grandfather had bought the property back in the nineteen-fifties.

Ted and Janice had taken over running the summer camp when Ted’s father had passed on. The girls had spent many summers there while growing up both as campers and later, as counselors.

“Mom and Dad don’t want to sell it, Barb, but they can’t keep up with it either. I think you and I could do it. It would be like old times!”

“You can’t be serious, Ellie? I wasn’t even a good counselor.”

That wasn’t an exaggeration, more than once it was Barbara that had been caught smuggling in booze for the other counselors or found smoking behind the boathouse.

“Come on. It’s time for you to start living a real life. Time to grow up, Barb.”

If anyone else had said that to her, Barbara would have cursed at them and hung up, coming from Ellie, though, it hit home. Maybe her big sister was right? She had spent years refusing to face up to the mess she had made of herself for wholly selfish casino oyna reasons. Perhaps it was time to at least try getting her act together.

Things had been bumpy out of the gate. The two girls hadn’t been around each other regularly in years, and Barbara had developed a maverick streak that made her difficult to deal with at the best of times. Ellie had displayed her usual patience, though, and eventually, her sister had come around, learning to tone down her cursing, not smoke in front of the kids, and try to stay sober.

Ellie had done the heavy lifting, most of the organizing and management as Camp Director, while Barbara was tasked with keeping the counselors in line. Dealing with the kids was not Barbara’s strong suit, and she generally kept her distance from them.

The camp had continued to flourish, bringing in large groups of several hundred every summer.

When things slowed after school started, Barbara would often head back to her old haunts, visiting friends in England or France. It was while lounging in a hotel in Amsterdam that she got the call.

Even now, Barbara had trouble remembering the exact details. It didn’t help that she had been baked on some seriously potent weed at the time and so not disposed to form long term memories. Perhaps that was for the best. It hadn’t been a day she wanted to remember.

The accident had taken Ellie quickly, killed on impact they said, a small comfort, but something. Barbara had hung up on her mother, vomited all over the hotel bed where she lay, and spent the hours that followed in a stupor. The next two days saw her attempt, with quite a bit of success, to drink herself into a state of numbness that no emotion could penetrate. She might well have stayed that way but for a chance encounter outside a cafe near her hotel.

Barbara had been hammered, barely able to walk straight, and stepped out right in front of a tour bus that she never saw. A hand snatched her back to the curb, the big vehicle passing so close to her she could smell the rusted steel of its side panels. Staring up into the sky, her vision of blue was cut off by the wizened features of a white-haired older man looking down at her.

“Are you all right, Miss?”

“Huh?”

“I said, are you all right? That was a close call…”

He had helped her to her feet, but she was barely capable of standing on her own. He could smell the liquor on her breath and he wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Whew! A little early in the day, don’t you think?”

“None of your business,” snapped Barbara, pushing him away.

She swayed, and he steadied her with one hand.

“Perhaps not, but I don’t think you’re in any shape to decide. At least let me walk you home?”

Barbara had been too drunk to argue, and the man, whose name turned out to be Jerome, stayed by her side, guiding her back to her hotel. They sat down in the lobby and slowly, in bits and pieces, he had fished the story out of her.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am—such a great loss. My sister died of cancer two years ago. It is an open wound I still feel,” he told her sympathetically.

She nodded and immediately broke into sobs.

Jerome had comforted her, ordered her a strong espresso, and helped her sober up. He pointed out that her brush with death might be a wake-up call and that she should heed what the universe was trying to tell her.

“I’m sure your sister is not ready for you to join her just yet, Barbara. I think you still have more stories to tell with your life.”

They sat in their straight-back chairs until the moon had risen above the buildings outside, and then he helped her back to her room and tucked her into bed like one of his children. When Barbara awoke the next morning, she called her mother and made arrangements to come back for the funeral.

It had been during the wake afterward that she had overheard her parents talking about selling the camp.

Barbara’s heart skipped a beat.

“You can’t!” she blurted.

“Well…We can’t run it ourselves. It’s too much work, and with your father’s heart,” Janice started to say.

“I’ll run it,” Barbara snapped out, hardly believing the words had left her lips.

“You?” said her father, incredulously.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dad.”

“I don’t mean to sound negative, but…there’s a lot to it and Ellie…”

“I know. Ellie did most of the work, but I watched her every day. I’m pretty sure I could do it.”

“I don’t know, Barbara. It’s a lot of responsibility. All those kids on your watch…”

“I can handle it, Mom. I just…I just know that Ellie wouldn’t have wanted that camp to be with anyone else but our family. It meant the world to her.”

Reluctantly, Ted and Janice had agreed to let her give it a try on a trial basis.

That had been three years ago, and Barbara’s efforts had been a mixed bag. She had rapidly discovered that her organizational skills were nowhere near on par with her deceased sisters. It required canlı casino keeping track of a hundred small details every day to run a proper summer camp, and Barbara had often been overwhelmed by it all. The only thing that kept her going half the time was the thought of how disappointed Ellie would be if the camp failed.

Failure certainly seemed to be looming on the horizon. Enrollment was down, and her parents had given her one more summer to turn things around, or they planned to sell the camp that fall. Barbara, in a fit of desperation, had done something that she rarely did, and reached out for help.

A loud knock at her cabin door yanked her out of her memories.

“You’re late,” said the short, mousy looking woman on her porch.

“Ah! Wendy! I can always count on you to tell me I’m fucking up.”

“Language,” said Wendy, her unblinking brown eyes looking almost inhumanly big behind her large, round glasses.

“Oh…Right…Can’t offend the kids. Got it!”

Barbara stepped away from the door letting the smaller woman inside.

Wendy Prentiss had answered Barbara’s ad for an assistant camp director before the start of the summer. Applicants hadn’t exactly been beating down her door, but among the few, Wendy had undoubtedly stood out. Intense, reserved, and with no sense of humor as near as Barbara could tell, Wendy had stepped in and from day one had helped bring order out of the chaos in the camp office. Overdue bills were paid, maintenance brought up to date, and schedules created for the summer activities in record time. Little by little, Barbara had started to gain confidence that maybe it wasn’t too late to turn this thing around. Still, as Wendy was all too quick to point out, they needed to impress the next group of campers and build some momentum for the future. A lot was riding on how well this summer went, and Barbara knew it.

“The campers are arriving. It’s time for your speech.”

Barbara grimaced. This was the part she hated, well, one of them. Ellie had been fantastic at giving off an attitude of confidence and warmth, but Barbara struggled not to throw up when speaking in public. She hated the opening day ritual of having to address the campers.

Wendy handed her a clipboard.

“I took the liberty of jotting down a few notes for you. After our last practice run, I thought it would be best if you didn’t just wing it.”

“Was it that bad?”

“Minus the cursing and your tendency to mumble it was passable, I suppose.”

“You know, Wendy, one of the reasons I hired you was your ability to pick me up when I’m feeling down.”

Wendy didn’t crack so much as a smile.

“So…Where are the little fuckers?”

“Language…”

“I’m just fuc…messing with you,” laughed Barbara.

“On the green in front of the dining hall.”

“Okay…Let’s do this!” said Barbara, trying to project a confidence she didn’t feel.

The walk over to the dining hall was all too short, down a slow, sloping hill and across the main road into the camp proper. Barbara paused to look up at the sign next to the road.

When she had taken over three years prior, her first act had been to rename the camp. The letters on the rustic wood no longer read, “Camp Hotchkiss,” as it had for decades, now it said “Camp Ellie Weir,” in honor of her sister.

“I see they got the letters touched up,” noted Barbara.

“The maintenance crew took care of it yesterday,” said Wendy.

Barbara nodded and started walking again, thinking it best not to mention that during their declining fortunes, the camp had picked up and new and unfortunate nickname, “Camp Elsewhere.”

A tug on her shoulder made her look over, and she noted Wendy was pulling down the sleeve of her t-shirt that had rolled up while in the process hiding the scorpion tattoo that covered Barbara’s upper arm.

“Yeah, don’t want to scare the kids. I tell you, Wendy, don’t visit a tattoo parlor after six whiskeys and a dime bag. Nothing good will come of it.”

Wendy didn’t comment, busying herself with something on the clipboard in her hands.

Barbara sighed and continued as fear gripped her stomach.

The campers were gathered along with their belongings in a semi-circle in front of the dining hall. A hundred young faces stared back at her, roughly half of what the camp would have seen in its heyday. She took them in with a slow turn of her body, some smiled at her, some looked lost and confused, and far too many looked bored.

“Give them a friendly smile, and it will come back to you tenfold,” she whispered.

It was one of Ellie’s little sayings, bits of wisdom her older sister would sometimes drop about how to run a summer camp. Barbara had ignored a lot of it, or been too hungover to care, but now she was willing to grasp at any straw that offered hope.

“Good Morning. I’m Barbara. Welcome to Camp Ellie Weir!”

No applause, well, she hadn’t expected any.

“I know for some of you, this is your first time at summer kaçak casino camp, and I hope that our returning veterans will help you fit in and show you the ropes. If you have any questions, feel free to talk with your counselor. This summer we have a ton of really great activities planned that I’m sure you will all enjoy. I grew up coming to this camp, and it was a big part of my life back then. My sister and I had a wonderful time every year, and I know that you will too. You are going to create memories here that will be with you for the rest of your lives.”

For just a moment, she saw herself and Ellie standing on either side of the flag pole where two other girls stood now, leaning against the metal warmed by the sun, listening to their mother give roughly the same speech that Barbara was giving now. It was amazing how fast the years had flown.

“You were so much better at this…” thought Barbara as she struggled to wrap things up on a positive note.

“At least they didn’t throw anything or boo,” she said to Wendy as the campers dispersed into groups by age.

“If that is where you set the bar, we have work to do,” deadpanned Wendy.

Barbara shrugged and started to walk off.

“Before you leave, we have two knew counselors this year. I thought you would want to meet them.”

“Oh…Uh…Sure. I should do that, as director and all.”

Wendy led her a short distance away to where two young people stood talking nearby. She started to introduce the young woman, but Barbara was already scooping her into her arms.

Oh! Wow! Penelope! It’s so awesome to see you!”

“Hey, Aunt Barbara! Go easy, huh? You’re crushing me!”

Barbara set her niece on her feet, taking a step back to look her over. The apple had not fallen far from the tree, Penelope Weir-Foster was a mirror image of her mother at the same age, tall, willowy, with long brown hair and a warm, friendly gaze that made everyone feel welcome. Her hazel eyes twinkled with barely restrained mischief, and her smile lit up her face.

“I didn’t know you were going to be working here this summer?”

“I thought I would surprise you. I decided not to take summer classes this year. I was burning out at the university and needed a break.”

“We’re thrilled to have you. We can use all the help we can get.”

“This is my friend, Rodney Willis. He didn’t feel like going back home for the summer, so I talked him into coming along.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Weir. Penelope speaks very highly of you,” said Rodney in a deep voice that sounded far too grown up and masculine for one so young.

Barbara had been paying so much attention to her niece that she had hardly acknowledged that anyone was even standing next to her. That changed very quickly as Rodney’s steady hand gripped hers.

“Uh…Hey…Hello, there…Yeah…Uh, just call me, Barbara, okay? We aren’t too formal around here,” she stammered.

Rodney smiled, and it was debatable what was more distracting, his perfect teeth, or those piercing green eyes that seemed to look right into her soul. He was easily one of the most handsome men she had ever seen, and she had traveled plenty, with a firm, masculine jaw covered with fine stubble that gave him a dark, mysterious look.

“Barbara then,” he agreed with a nod.

“She’s going to need her hand,” cut in Wendy, when the handshake had, in her estimation, drug on a bit too long.

Rodney just laughed, releasing Barbara’s hand and taking a step back to pick up his duffel bag. He lifted the heavy tote without apparent effort, his muscular biceps flexing as he shifted it onto his back before passing a hand through his long, raven-black hair, sweeping it out of his eyes.

“And you are?”

“Wendy, but you can call me Ms. Prentiss. I like the formality.”

Rodney started to laugh again but stifled it when he saw by Wendy’s blank expression that she was serious.

“Ms. Prentiss got it. Could you…”

“You’re in cabin seven. I’ll show you the way.”

“Sure. I guess we’ll catch up later,” he said, smiling at Penelope.

Wendy marched off with a reluctant Rodney in tow.

“She’s kind of scary,” said Penelope once Wendy was out of earshot.

“I know, but she’s a great organizer. I would be lost without her, and she grows on you.”

“Like fungus?” teased Penelope.

“Something like that…Come on. I’ll show you to your cabin.”

The two women fell in beside one another, and Barbara couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia at how familiar it all seemed. If she squinted, she could almost see Ellie walking beside her.

“So…Rodney…are you two?”

“What! No! I mean…I’ve thought about it. He’s gorgeous, right?”

“He certainly is,” agreed Barbara, thinking gorgeous didn’t cover it, more like smoking hot.

“Yeah, but he and I have been friends since high school. I don’t think he sees me in a romantic light.”

“Is that how you feel?”

She could see by the look on her niece’s face that she didn’t.

“I don’t know. I guess I just don’t want to mess things up between us. We’ve been friends for so long.”

“Nothing ventured…”

“I wish I could be as bold as you, Aunt Barbara.”

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