Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)
TITLE: Long Ride Home
By Shannon Hale
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She looked down at the sink, then back up at the tarnished mirror, hoping it was gone. If it were just another zit, she could easily cover it with makeup, but once again she’d forgotten sunscreen and the tip of her nose was a beacon of red, oozing blisters. She pulled a rectangular bandage from her carefully packed cosmetic bag and gingerly placed it over the blisters.
The blast of the air horn brought her back to reality. Church camp ran like a well-oiled machine, thanks to Mr. Clarence, the Director. A retired army sergeant, Mr. Clarence believed youth should be treated to equal amounts discipline and fun. Every morning began with calisthenics on the volleyball court, followed by a devotional and then breakfast. Miss the horn, miss a meal.
For Lyric, there was no more putting it off- time to face her friends. She’d known the other girls in her grade since they were in the church nursery. Many of their parents had taken a week of vacation to help in the camp kitchen, including her mom. The parents seemed to have as much fun as the kids. For Lyric’s mom, working in the kitchen was a welcome break from her usual jobs of teaching summer school English during the day and working at the local department store in the evening.
But she wasn’t really worried about the girls- they’d tease her and let it go. The boys, on the other hand, with their bunk-bed hair and surly expressions, were another story. Wait until they noticed- it wouldn’t be long now. Here it came. “Hey Rudolph- what’s underneath that bandage?”, “Did you stick your nose somewhere dangerous?” They, of course, thought they were hilarious.
She stifled the urge to run crying to the bath house, instead willing a stoic expression. Soon enough, exercises started and the stupid boys moved on to making fun of each other. All but one of them, and he was the only one she was watching; from the corner of her eye, of course.
Jake was quiet, a virtue unheard of by the others. Since she’d never had a male of any kind in her home, Lyric felt totally wrong around the opposite sex. But Jake, with his gentle laugh and gorgeous, blue eyes, seemed safe.
The other boys seemed to notice it, too. They still acted like idiots, but the atmosphere was always a little more subdued when he was around. Maybe they respected him for playing first-string basketball.
She had found herself watching him all week, and maybe he was watching her too. Jenny said he was, and she was usually pretty honest. But this was the last day of camp, and besides sitting next to each other once at the evening meeting, nothing had happened all week. “Just as well now”, Lyric caught herself thinking, a clear view of the tip of her nose looming before her.
Packing, cleaning, and planning rides for the trip home occupied the rest of the morning until the group began boarding the bus. A three-hour trip in the church’s broken down clunker had seemed like a sweaty eternity just six days ago, but now Lyric was conscious of every passing second. She took the first open seat, near the window. At least she could distract herself by watching the scenery change from tree-lined dirt roads back to asphalt and subdivisions.
She folded herself in half at her thin waist and tucked her bag under the seat. “Is this ok?”, she heard, as she straightened up, lifting the sticky backs of her legs from the black, vinyl seat with a little snap.
Even through the outrageous din of teenage noise, she recognized the steady tone of Jake’s voice. “Sure”, Lyric replied, watching in disbelief as he sat next to her, his muscular legs taking up twice the room as hers. Words came to her mind like the staccato notes she’d practiced on the piano, but none of them would escape her mouth. “Now what?” she panicked, as she noticed the sweet muskiness of his aftershave. Lyric caught a knowing look from Jenny, sitting across the aisle.
The bus lurched to a start, breaking the invisible barrier between her and Jake. A million emotions swirled around inside her like the dust behind the bus. Her eyes met Jake’s with a glance and they each let out a nervous laugh. “Oh God,” she prayed for the first time today, “let this be a long ride home.”
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