Seventeen long years building up to this. Just eight more weeks to go, and I will know—all secrets and truths will be revealed, all brought into the light. The end of July is when I turn eighteen. Eighteen: the “magic number,” when I’ll receive what others take for granted as a birthright.
We finally arrived at Camp Pines by the Lake (only several hours late).
The driver swung open the van door, giving us the cue it was okay to leave our seats. I unbuckled my seat belt, stood up, and moved to the door. Immediately, I felt a cold blast of wind trying to mix with the warmth inside the vehicle. There was a familiar scent of pine trees filling my nostrils, reminding me of the balsam fir candle my mother always burned around Christmastime. A quick glimpse of the campgrounds revealed puddles on the ground. And the sky was covered in dark gray clouds, which announced it might rain again.
When I stepped out of the van, I managed to miss a large puddle of water. Instead, I landed with both feet on the muddy ground. Lauren wasn’t looking and went directly into the water. She didn’t bother to hide her irritation and loudly cursed, making me laugh.
After our gear was pulled out from the back of the van, Lauren and I headed to the welcome table set up outside the dining hall to get checked in and receive cabin assignments. We had to make quick name necklaces to be worn at all times. I wrote “Dahlia” with a black marker on mine. Then I attempted to make a flower out of the dot over the “i” to look like a dahlia. When we were both done, we gathered our gear to hike up the hill to our assigned cabins and get ready for dinner.
It was unfortunate, but Lauren and I wouldn’t be rooming together this summer—all because the stupid van, which brought six of us from Seattle, had broken down on the way and made us late. Thinking we might not show up, the staff let another girl take the last available bed in my cabin to be with her friend.
“Ready?” Lauren had just entered my cabin. She glanced over at Caroline, my young-looking counselor, and then looked back at me. It appeared she was trying to hold back a laugh because I’d been stuck with the last bunk, which was over Caroline’s.
“Just about.” I grabbed a sweatshirt to take with me. Even though it was getting later and cooler, I didn’t feel like changing. I’d attempt dinner in shorts.
Caroline looked up and smiled when she saw Lauren. “Dinner started five minutes ago, so you two should probably head to the dining hall. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” She began changing from her shorts into jeans.
We exited the cabin and started down the hill. The dinner line could be seen from where we were and looked to be a mile long. What was worse, I wondered, standing in a long line for food that wasn’t any good, or skipping dinner altogether? The verdict hadn’t come back yet.
“I’m going to lose a lot of weight this summer,” I said, shaking my head. Except losing weight for me only meant I’d be skinnier than I already was. If I wanted to be curvier, like Lauren, then I’d need to put on at least ten pounds. We couldn’t share our jeans anymore.
“I know—it’s one of the plus sides to camp. We’ll start off freshman year looking great,” Lauren replied, flashing me her perfect smile—the smile that made every guy throw himself at her.
Our sister-like interactions carried on as in most times while we stood waiting at the back of the line for dinner. A small boy was in front of us. He looked no older than twelve. In fact, we towered over him, and we were each just a little over five feet five ourselves.
The boy turned and smiled at us. His glasses were heavy looking and too big for his face. We smiled back, then looked at each other, both stifling laughter. His name tag said: Aaron.
“I know someone who picks up radio waves on his braces,” he said in a high-pitched voice completely out of nowhere. He stared at us, waiting for our reaction to his announcement. Already, I could tell something was off with him. I figured he had a developmental disability.
Lauren raised her eyebrows at Aaron and said, “Really?”
“Yep. I think he picks up KWCT. That’s a country station or something. He doesn’t even have to use a radio—he just opens his mouth and listens.” Aaron looked at Lauren, then at me.
Turning my back to Aaron, I covered my mouth, now trying even harder not to laugh. But Lauren seemed interested and continued to engage him with some questions. Aaron, the radio waves boy, entertained us for ten minutes. And the line finally moved forward. Maybe we’d have dinner before midnight.
“Seven weeks. And our camp adventure is starting now.” Lauren grinned widely, awaiting my reaction to her statement.
I smiled back, trying to match her enthusiasm. How was it possible Lauren and I had had such drastically different camp experiences last summer? I thought maybe I shouldn’t tell her how worried I was that two months this summer might be too long. We only went for June’s camp session last year, skipping July’s, and I felt we’d experienced everything there was to do in that time.
Lauren had spent the three weeks during June’s session talking to various hot guys around camp. And I’d spent most of my time standing beside her, listening to her talk or flirt or whatever it was she was doing with them. I knew I’d had enough when one of the guys shoved his tongue down her throat. It was already uncomfortable to do that in front of me, but then it got weirder when he opened one eye and sort of watched me—while still kissing her. I shot him a look of disgust before walking over to a bench to wait for Lauren to finish.
“Maybe we should’ve come for June only. That way we’d have all of July to get ready for school.” I realized I didn’t sound convincing.
She gazed at me questioningly before responding, “Cameron was your excuse last summer. Now it’s getting ready for college?”
“No. Not an excuse. And I wasn’t even thinking about him.” And I hadn’t thought about him.
She was right, though. Cameron was the reason I wanted to get back home from camp last year. And he was why I’d had no desire to converse with anyone during camp who might’ve shown interest in me. Those three weeks away from Cameron were torture. Things between us only intensified, exploded, then ended once I’d returned from camp.
My mom had found me lying on my bed after Cameron’s abrupt breakup, face down on my pillow, sort of dangling the phone in my hand. She’d told me to sit up, then sat down beside me. I’d managed to tell her what had happened in a monotonous and stunned tone—and somehow without crying.
She’d said, “Cameron is starting college this fall. He shouldn’t have to maintain a long-distance girlfriend but rather experience his freshman year without any attachments. And you still have one more year of high school to look forward to.”
Her words provided no comfort. But at least at the end of her pep talk she’d agreed with me that breaking up over the phone was insensitive. Then she offered me a bowl of ice cream.
At that point, my eyes had begun to water. The initial shock had worn off, and the reality that we were indeed broken up had hit. Dessert just wasn’t going to do it for me.
She noticed and pulled me into a tight hug. I’d clung to her, soaking her shirt collar with my spilled tears. The pain I felt reminded me of when I’d gotten my braces tightened during middle school. It was agony. All I wanted to do was eat but wasn’t capable of chewing food. So, I’d had to figure out a way not to fixate on the suffering and allow enough time to pass so I could eat again. The difference with the braces, though, was that I knew the pain would subside after a few days. Meals would happen again. But not knowing if Cameron would ever speak to me again was horrible. I knew the hurt wasn’t going to dissolve after a few days.
“I think you’re making a bigger deal of your relationship with him because he took your virginity. You need to have sex with someone else. You’ll never think about Cameron again.”
What the hell, Lauren! Quickly, I looked at Aaron to make sure he hadn’t heard what she’d said. He was looking straight ahead, swaying slightly, and humming.
I covered my mouth and mumbled, “It was more than sex. You know we were talking about going to college together.”
At the time, Cameron seemed good for me. He made me feel important—a feeling I craved. My friendships, other than with Lauren, had been more guarded because I hadn’t always trusted the other person would stick around if I were to disappoint them. But I’d let my guard down with Cameron. He convinced me I mattered to him and the relationship was serious. Then I wasted so many months pining for him. What did that do for my situation? Nothing. No wonder Lauren was annoyed with me. And he’d said a lot of hurtful things at the end. Well, during the relationship, too, if I were being honest.
“He did you a favor,” Lauren said, bringing me back to the present. Her statement proved further how close we were. She could read me like a book and knew exactly what was going on inside my head. “Now you’re free to meet anyone you want this summer.”
I looked away, keeping her from reading the rest of my thoughts. If only I could get over relationships like Lauren. She’d been sexually active much sooner than me and with lots of partners. But when it was over, it was over. She’d always moved on like they meant nothing. That was the biggest difference between us. I held on to Cameron for way too long. Now I regretted it.
“Are you angry?”
I realized by Lauren’s question that I hadn’t responded to her earlier comment. “No. I’m tired and hungry.”
She changed the subject. “I’m glad we decided against the dorms. We’ll have much more space in our apartment. I don’t want to start classes, though.”
“Yeah. Here I thought I’d be going to California with Cameron. Never once did I think I’d stay in state—and we’d end up roommates,” I said.
“Wish my grades had been good enough for a scholarship so I could’ve had more school options. But my parents said UW is considered a good school. We’re still close enough to see our families but have some distance, too.” She laughed.
I had to admit I liked having my parents close by in case I needed them.
“So, have you downloaded the form yet?” she asked, changing the subject again.
“Yes,” I said, feeling my heart rate increase.
“You’ll send it in once we’re back?”
“As soon as I can. I might scan and email it back. Unfortunately, my birthday will be celebrated at camp. Inconvenient.” I let out a sigh.
“Oh, please. We go home only a couple days after it. Think of getting your birth certificate as your belated eighteenth birthday present.”
“Hopefully, I’ll get it—unless she filled out the contact preference form to keep her name hidden. Then I don’t know what I’ll do…” I bit my nail and looked away, feeling more anxious.
“Don’t think negatively. DNA tests have come a long way. You can always resort to that as plan B. Soon we’re going to know where your exotic looks come from.”
Exotic? I studied Lauren’s face to see if she was teasing me.
She smiled warmly. “You must have some Egyptian ancestors.”
That comment made me grin. She always referred to the shape and greenish-brown color of my eyes along with my darker skin tone as being Egyptian. She had a pretty fair complexion compared to mine.
It was fun to envision what my birth parents might look like and where my ancestors originated from. My non-disclosure packet from the adoption agency, which I’d torn open in anticipation to learn more about myself, unfortunately said nothing about my background.
“I have to know,” I whispered.
Lauren grabbed my hand and squeezed it, making me feel her full support. “We’re going to find her, and it’s going to be epic.”
Her words made me laugh. She was always so enthusiastic, outgoing, self-confident, and encouraging—probably why I’d always been drawn to her. I’m a dweller and a worrier—traits I don’t like.
Once inside the dining hall, we’d picked up our trays of food, then found a table together. I set down my dinner but realized I still needed a fork. After walking back to where the utensils were, I stopped and reached for one. As I did this, a guy’s hand also seeking a fork extended over mine. Our fingers lightly touched, and I felt a small tingle—why, I had no idea. Quickly, I glanced over my shoulder to see who’d caused this reaction in my body with a simple touch. Walking away was a guy with dark, surfer-like hair. Most of his hair fell to his shoulders. I’d missed seeing his face as he disappeared among the dinner crowd.
I turned my head back and saw a nice-looking guy standing next to me. Immediately, I noticed he had well-groomed, short, light blond hair and blue eyes. His name tag read: Luke.
“Did I pronounce it right?” He was smiling warmly.
“Yes, you’re correct.” I didn’t recognize my own voice—I sounded confident even though I felt somewhat shy.
“Pretty,” he declared. “Enjoy your dinner, Dahlia.”
Involuntarily, I rolled my eyes without meaning to and hoped he didn’t think it was at him. So, I explained, “The meals here are anything but enjoyable. But thanks.” I nodded, then proceeded back to my seat.
Lauren barely waited for me to sit down before speaking to me. “Were you just talking to that cute guy?”
“I think so.” I continued to gaze at her so she’d ask more. Her inquisitive look made me smile.
“Okay, would you stop grinning like an idiot, and tell me what he said to you?”
Her reactions only made me smile more. “He paid me a compliment.”
“Really?” Lauren’s eyes truly lit up at this news.
This was another thing I loved about Lauren. I might’ve been envious if some gorgeous guy had paid her a compliment. How many times had this happened in school? Too many to count. But Lauren was happy for me. And she wasn’t being fake.
Immediately following dinner, we had to meet in our “family groups” comprised of roughly nine guy and nine girl campers. We’d meet in these groups once daily during weekdays for discussions and activities. They were a way to be more involved in camp and become better acquainted with other campers. We’d have competitions against other family groups as the summer progressed.
Separating us beyond the cabin situation, Lauren and I weren’t placed in the same family group. But at least I anticipated this part—I knew from being at camp before that it was the camp’s way to get us to branch out and not remain in the same cliques. Each family group was led by a girl and a guy counselor.
I found my group waiting inside the recreation center. This was where the camp dances, organized sports, and skit nights would also take place. Chairs were set up in a circle, so I chose one and sat down. Soon nearly all the seats were filled by campers from my family group. I felt like my luck was improving when I saw Luke glide past me and take a seat across from me. Suddenly, I wasn’t missing Lauren anymore. If she’d been in the group, I’m sure he would have liked her first.
Luke made a slight wave to me and mouthed, “Hi.”
I mouthed back, “Hi,” and waved, too. Luke seemed satisfied, judging by the grin he tried to hide.
The chair next to me bumped mine as someone sat down. “Hello,” a voice spoke.
I was surprised to see Aaron. “Hi, again,” I said in a pleasant tone but wished it were Luke sitting there instead.
Caroline sat down, then a male counselor sat beside her. I hadn’t expected Caroline would also be my family group leader. I was going to see a lot of her this summer, so I hoped my good first impressions of her were correct.
“Okay, let’s get going everyone,” someone said, bringing the chatter that had been going on to a close. “I’m Blake, and this is Caroline. We’re your family group leaders this summer.”
Blake looked to be about the same age as Caroline, and I figured he’d be popular with the girls. He had short dirty-blond hair that looked like he took the time to fix, because every piece was in place. He was tan. And he had very toned legs and large biceps, making me guess he was athletic. His tone and direct speech made him sound confident. He reminded me of our high school quarterback—he knew he was hot and had his way with the girls. I felt relief again that both family group leaders were good ones, considering I’d have to spend many weeks with them.
During the meeting, more than anything, I wished phones were allowed at camp so I could send a discreet text to Lauren. I wanted to tell her Luke was in my group and that Aaron also showed up.
“So, let’s get started,” Blake continued. “We have a little social game to play so we can get to know each other. Please pull a candy out when the bag gets to you, but don’t eat it,” he instructed.
A bag filled with colored candy pieces was passed my way. I reached in and pulled out a blue one. Blake held up a color-coded chart. Each color candy had a different question attached to it. For blue, the question was: If you were on a deserted island for a year, what one item would you take with you?
When it was Aaron’s turn, he stumbled over the words while trying to read his question. I leaned into him and whispered it to him, trying not to be obvious I was helping. He mumbled but managed a passable answer—his cat. At least no one made fun of him.
My turn was next. Clearing my throat and picking inadvertently at my cuticles, I said, “I’m Dahlia. If I were on a deserted island, I’d take my best friend with me.” I felt self-conscious with Luke watching, so I wanted my turn over. I looked to the person on my right to show I was done sharing.
When I glanced over at Luke, he smiled at me and slyly pointed to himself—a gesture that made my heart pound hard as if it were trying to force its way out of my chest. Would I prefer a deserted island with Lauren, with the remote chance a hot guy could wash up on shore and choose her over me? Or would I prefer Luke and having two hot guys vie for my attention? Hmm… Maybe I would take Luke instead.
When family group ended, we had a quick campfire where we sang silly songs, then could get ready for bed. I met Lauren by the bathrooms so we could shower.
“Anyone interesting in your group?” she asked.
“Luke is—the one you saw me talking to at dinner.”
“Well, that’ll make up for me not being in it. Who are your leaders?”
“Caroline and Blake.”
“You got Blake, too?”
I noted envy in her tone. “Yes, why?”
“So unfair… Dahlia, don’t you remember him from last summer? Everyone here had a crush on him. You’re so lucky.”
I didn’t remember Blake at all. Maybe she had him confused with a different counselor.
“I got stuck with Dirk,” she added.
Yuck. That was unlucky for her. Dirk was the male counselor who drove us crazy last year. He was at least in his late forties and didn’t fit in socially. The problem was that he didn’t realize he didn’t fit in and thought he was popular. He acted like he was a gift to the girls around camp, giving plentiful unwanted hugs.
“I’ll grab you for breakfast,” Lauren said after we’d finished showering and were headed toward our cabins. We hugged good night.
Back in the cabin, I climbed up to my bunk and adjusted my sleeping bag. As I settled down for sleep, I smiled knowing I’d see Luke again tomorrow.
Edge of Eighteen is available for purchase on Amazon for less than the price of a Starbucks and for free with Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime (through Kindle Owners’ Lending Library). Readable on any Kindle or device through the free Kindle app.