Our squash colored station wagon bumped its way over the rocky dirt driveway. My heart pumped like it was about to explode. “Maddie, we’re here!” I thought of all the adventures we could have in the woods and the bubbling creek next to our pop-up camper. We could search for gold or catch a magical fish. Madeline was eight, three years younger than me. She did what I did.
Our adventures had to wait until after we helped mom make our little corner of the woods feel like home. Red checkered tablecloths had to be spread over wooden picnic tables; a rope had to be tied between to trees to dry laundry. What she didn’t get was that we were supposed to get dirty camping or it wasn’t fun. We had to wash in the shower stalls every night to clean off the day’s grime. Bathing in the river didn’t count.
After I groaned she said, “Patience, Jodi.”
“I don’t need patience; I need to cool off. My flip-flops are melting.”
“Mine too,” Maddie echoed.
“Okay, go, but watch out for poison ivy.”
“Yeah, we know,” we ran off, barefoot. We followed the gurgling sounds and shimmied down the moss-covered bank until cold water covered our shins. The chill felt great and painful. I smelled rain.
“Let’s find gold,” I pulled Maddie off a boulder. “It’s not too cold.” Our teeth chattered as we scooped our hands in and pulled out sand and stones. We inspected our piles. No gold nuggets, just pretty silver rocks. We did this until our feet turned numb.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“Don’t try to scare me; I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“No, really. Someone’s by that tree. I heard leaves crunch and whistling like a robin.”
A boy my size jumped out. “Boo!” he shouted before running off and laughing as I slipped on a patch of moss and rose up drenched.
Maddie covered her mouth too late, after a giggle had snuck out. “Oops, sorry.” Then we both laughed. “Who was that?”
At the campsite, Dad gathered a few towels, and had changed into his plaid bathing suit. “You girls want to go to the pool? You’re already wet.”
“Yeah, no showers tonight.” Maddie sang.
The pool was longer than I expected with a deep end and a high diving board. “Wow, that looks fun! And scary.” A line of kids climbed the ladder and one by one walked the plank. Most held their nose and jumped feet first. When they landed, the water clapped and splashed up like a fountain. One teenage boy with muscular arms dove in or did flips in the air each time. I wanted to try, but had to watch first.
“Are you gonna jump?” Ghost boy stood there and smirked, daring me.
“Yeah, I am just…”
“Bet you’re too scared.”
“Am not. Bet you haven’t jumped yet.”
“Just watch me.” So I did. He climbed up quickly, but walked at a slower pace across the board.
He looked down, shook his wet hair like a puppy, and bounced a few times, until another boy shouted: “Hurry up or get down.”
“I’m goin.” He closed his eyes, pinched his nose, and jumped.
I had to jump.
“Come on, Madeline.”
I followed her little feet watching her toes curl on each ladder rung and stop two steps before the top. The chlorine smelled strong enough to taste.
“It’s really high.”
“Don’t look down.” I made that mistake too.
Maddie took three steps on the board and cried, “Get me down!”
The line of kids reversed. Dad caught her. Now I climbed back up with strawberry cheeks. At the top, I could see the creek, and wished I were back there on low ground. A breeze tickled my neck, and I wondered how cold the water would feel. I had to stop shaking; ghost boy was watching with that stupid smirk again.
I took a deep breath, pinched my nose, and splashed through the surface. Bubbles surged around me like I jumped into a bottle of Sprite. I opened my eyes under water and swam to the surface.
Ghost boy smiled. “High five. Not bad for your first jump.”
After Evan and I jumped a hundred more times, Maddie took her first plunge, looking like a flying chicken.
Before we left, Evan whispered: “You’re cool for a girl.”
I smiled and decided boys weren’t all groce monsters. Especially ghost boy.
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