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Beginning-of-Summer Rituals

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David’s always had a soft spot for rituals. They remind him of his mom, of camp -- of all the things that feel like home. They center him, clear his mind, get him ready for the challenges ahead.

He carefully dots the exclamation mark in the sand and takes a step back, tossing his writing stick to the side and putting his hands on his hips. The words written on the shore are a little crooked, the D a little crooked from when a sudden bird call startled him, but as he kicks off his boots (carefully rolling up his socks and smushing them into the toes to keep them from getting sandy) his chest is warm and light.

And lucky for him, because the lake is so cold he nearly jumps out of his skin. Clenching his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering, he forces himself to wade out to his waist, and turns back to survey his handiwork. With the frigid water of Lake Lilac leaving his legs numb, the cool breeze making the trees rustle and the air smell like pine needles, and the sun already scorching everything it touches as it climbs into the sky, he reads back the words in the sand, letting his gaze move slow and deliberately over each swoop and wobbly line and tracing their mirror in the calm surface of the lake like sacred runes.

Campe diem. The words that make the summer begin. 

Or . . . not quite.

“David!”

The voice makes him jump, but a second later he smiles. “Good morning, Gwen!” he calls, splashing back to shore and subtly kicking away the letters. “It’s nice to see you up so early on such an important day!”

His co-counselor doesn’t look like it’s nice to be up, but aside from a baleful glare she shoots at the sunrise she doesn’t respond. She’s still groggy, dressed in her pajamas with her hair a messy tangle of knots that blend the two tones into a single warm burgundy. The sun makes her glow where it hits her face, warm and lit from the inside like a jack-o-lantern . . . only that sounds a lot less pretty than he intended, so he’s relieved that’s one of the thoughts he didn’t share out loud.

David wonders if people enjoy looking at their best friends this much, or if it means something potentially dangerous. The way he always does when this question occurs, he quickly banishes it from his mind. “How are you settling in?” he asks, fully aware of the answer. They share a cabin, after all, and Gwen’s spent enough years at Camp Campbell to have the routine down to a science; within minutes of hopping off the bus QM rented for the summer, she’s mostly unpacked, changed into her counselors’ uniform, and begun a critical sweep of the camp’s supplies and paperwork.

She makes a noncommittal noise, rubbing the sleep from one eye with the heel of her hand and trying to shield herself from the sun with the other. “Are you ready? The stores are gonna be full of families getting shit for the summer -- it’ll be like Black Friday, so we’ve gotta be in and out as soon as the Tradin’ Post opens unless you’re prepared to deck some soccer moms.”

He resists the urge to smile; she might not believe in the power of the beginning-of-summer rituals, but this optimistic plan for their camping supply trip is as much a staple of every summer as David’s sand writing. “Sounds like a swell plan, Gwen.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she mutters, but he catches a half-smile before she turns her back on the lake. “Come on, get dressed and meet me in the Mess Hall. I’ll start inventory.” As he falls into step beside her, she glances over at him, raising her eyebrows. “Morning swim?”

He shrugs, turning to survey the empty campground. “Basically!”

“Sure. Seems like something you’d do.” She dismisses him with a wave of her hand, already fixated on the task at hand. “Just hurry up so we can get out of here. If you think you’re gonna make me do all the hard jobs by myself, I’ve got a guitar with your face written all over it.”

David laughs before he can stop himself. “There it is,” he murmurs, causing her to glance over curiously.

“Huh?”

“Nothing! I’ll meet you in the kitchen. Might as well start by seeing what food we have, right?” As he ducks into the counselor’s cabin, he catches a glimpse of her hair, glinting like copper in the early-morning light, and his heart lifts.

There it is.

Writing the camp’s motto in the sand and water is important to him, a silly little consecration ritual that marks the line between his life outside of Camp Campbell and the endless, magical months of summer. He’s done it ever since he was a junior counselor; it feels like staking a claim on the only perfect place that’s ever existed, like writing his name on the heart of the earth. Even if he technically owns the camp now -- something that felt too bizarre and wonderful to make sense last summer and if anything is only more strange after an entire year -- no amount of signatures or invoices capture the simple power of the words “campe diem” on Lake Lilac.

But for David, the summer doesn’t really begin until Gwen tells him she needs him. Never in those exact words, of course . . . but he’s gotten pretty good at reading between her lines, and she’s never exactly been subtle.

He tightens his bandanna around his neck, smiling at his reflection. Get out there and help your CBFL, David. Campe diem.

The wheels that help spring become summer begin turning.