Become a Book Nerd
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T’was the night before Camp Artsy — I’m kidding, I’m not going to start talking like that. After the grueling preparations for Camp Artsy, we were finally gearing up to hit the road. I’d never been camping. I couldn’t swim. I had a fear of birds. It was rational, the evil things peck and poop on people and sing about it. I knew I’d be very tempted to pet a baby bear if I saw one. I read that was the quickest way to get yourself mauled by their mother. There were so many rules you have to follow to remain alive. I didn’t know if I could gather all of it before it was time for us to leave.
Milo was sitting at my desk with his laptop. He was wearing his glasses outside of his suite for once. He had to because he fell asleep in his contacts and scratched his cornea taking them out. Nurse Miller told him that he wasn’t allowed to wear his contacts until it healed, which he wasn’t too happy about. I was put on glasses patrol to make sure that he kept them on. Elle was lying on my bed, sewing sequins onto her back-up camp T-shirt.
“Are you sure this will be fun?” I grabbed my duffel bag from the top shelf of my closet.
“Yes. I told you to relax. We’re sleeping in cabins. It’s not actual camping.” Elle reassured me.
“But there are bears, wolves, falcons — all sorts of things.” Milo chimed in.
“Seriously?!” My eyes went wide.
“No. Don’t scare her like that!” She threw a pillow at his head.
“Hey, you almost knocked my glasses off.” He pushed them up on his face.
“Good.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Just to be clear, is there a chance that I’ll have my face clawed off by something?” I walked out of my closet.
“No. He was 100% joking. This is my third year going to Camp Artsy. No one has ever fallen victim to an animal attack. Milo even made it out without one.”
“You’re mean.” I glared at him.
“He really is. You should kick him out.”
“Then I’d feel bad. This is his time of need.”
He nodded. “I feel very vulnerable in my glasses. They are making me sad.” He played around.
“I’m sure Izzie will make it all better.” She smirked at me.
“Shut up.” My face warmed. “What should I take?” I asked her.
“There’s a list in your Camp Artsy binder.”
“That’s right.” I went to my desk to get it.
“You’re really cute in your glasses.” I rubbed Milo’s shoulder before placing a kiss on his cheek.
“But better without them?” He looked over at me.
“I like you. It’s all the same to me.”
“I almost feel bad for messing with you.”
I picked up my binder and returned to my bag on my bed.
Elle’s phone started going off as I packed. She quickly answered. “I’ve already sewn them on. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
We immediately knew it was Ryan.
“I refuse to be a representation of solely you. Now it’s an Elle-certified garment.” She geared up to argue.
“I’m not overthinking it. You underthought our decision to change our team name.”
She suddenly gasped in outrage. “If you do that, you will feel my wrath, Ryan Matthew Stephens! All of it!” She stormed out of my room, still on the phone.
I giggled at their conversation. “What do you think he did this time? She broke out the middle name.”
“Either he’s incorporated duct tape into something or threatened to revise one of her plans.”
“Or revise one of her plans with duct tape.”
“That’s it. No question.” He played along.
“Whatcha’ readin’?” I ask in a singsong voice, smiling over at him as I continued to fold clothes.
“My prince lesson. It’s basically history homework. Today’s lesson is on ruling histories of my ancestors. It’s 375-pages single spaced. It’s a real page turner.”
“Yikes. When do you have to have it completed?” I cringed at that thought of reading all of that.
“Yesterday.” He admitted with a small smile.
“What page are you on?” I fought back a smile.
I laughed and shook my head at him.
“You’ve been here for over an hour with your laptop open.”
“Yes, but you keep distracting me.”
“The reason you came over here is because you said I help you focus. Now I’m your distraction?”
“Yes, you remind me of what I need to do and work to keep me on track, but the way you look is a major distraction.” He shrugged.
“Good one. Too bad I know you’ve got multiple tabs open. What are you playing?”
“Exactly.” I smirked to myself. “Why don’t you like wearing your glasses?” I asked after a moment of thought.
“Most people don’t wear them. I don’t like standing out because I can’t see.” He shrugged.
“That’s not what I get from it. There’s a Clark Kent/Superman vibe. Your Kryptonite is gravity.”
“Are you my Lois Lane?” He looked at me with a small smirk.
“I have come to know both sides of you – the real you and the person you become for other people. You did try to keep your secret identity hidden from me. Things are complicated, but I like you enough as a person to put up with it. I guess I am your Lois. How did that happen?”
“You’ve got to stop being cute. I’m never going to get this finished. It will be all your fault.”
“Let’s be honest here, Clark. You were never going to finish reading that.”
“No.” I situated my clothing in my bag. “Have you packed?”
“Yes, it helped me put off reading for an hour. I know all of the information. That’s what makes it monotonous to read.” He vigorously rubbed his injured eye beneath his glasses.
“If you keep that up, you’re going to make it worse.”
“I can’t help it. It’s irritated and my eye is dry.”
“Put your eyedrops in.” I collected items I needed off of my dresser.
“They burn. I rather rub it.”
I walked over to where he was. “I’ll put them in.”
I went into his backpack and removed his eye drops.
“Turn towards me.” I requested after rising to my feet.
“I don’t need –“
“Let me take care of you.”
He reluctantly swiveled the chair towards me after pausing the game. I carefully removed his glasses and put them on my desk. I guided his head back and dripped the saline solution into his eye. I blew onto it afterward to combat the stinging sensation. I returned his glasses to his face, gave him a hug, and kissed his cheek. His chest rose as he took a sharp intake of breath.
“Are you smelling my hair again, Weirdo?” I pulled back and placed my hands on my hips.
“You smell like a piña colada.”
“If I reek of booze, you need to leave so I can shower.”
“You’ve been partying without me?” He quipped.
“Uh, yeah. It was my way of spicing up my packing experience.” I played along.
“You’re masking it well. I can only pick up the scent of pineapple and coconut on you, no rum.” He took my hand and pulled me down to sit on his lap.
“I can give you the name of the shampoo I use.”
“I like it when my pillows smell like you. I won’t know if I use it too.”
“You are such a sapling.” I shook my head at him teasingly.
“I’m a tree?”
“Yes, a mushy one.” I smiled.
“I’m not usually like this.” He wrapped his arms around me.
“I have trouble believing that.”
“I tend to be apathetic in my romantic entanglements. The girl I am dating tends to realize that early on, but lets me get away with it. It’s not like that with you.”
“Maybe the difference is timing, not me. From what you’ve told me, you’ve changed.”
“That doesn’t guarantee compatibility. I never intended or attempted to fall in love. Most of it happened without my knowledge.”
“Do I love you?”
“You are everything at once. You’re silly, but you can engage in serious conversation. You’re reluctant to let people get close to you, but you’re warm and friendly to everyone you meet. You’re no stranger to pain, but you find immense joy in the things that are typically regarded as ordinary. The way you are, it’s – you are so beautiful.” He looked into my eyes, nervously tracing patterns on the surface of my jeans.
“Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” I draped my arms around his neck and offered him a reassuring smile.
“I’d say I feel special, but you said I’d get attacked by a bird earlier.”
He warded off a smile. “But you saved me by administering eyedrops. That was basically an alliance declaration.”
I shook my head. “Don’t underestimate my fear of those little monsters.”
“I’ll protect you.”
“That’d conflict with my grudge. Sami’s got it covered.”
“You’ve commissioned the merciless protector of wildlife to fight off an animal?”
“The irony appeals to her.”
“May I be your understudy?”
“I’ll think about it.” I pecked him on the cheek. I went back to my bed to pack.
“You have yet to kiss my lips today.”
“You have to earn that by reading.” I winked.
There was a knock on my door when I was finishing up.
“Come in!” I checked off the items on my list that I had packed.
“Hi, we’ve got a Camp Artsy update.” Morgan walked into my room.
“Hey, Milo. How is your eye?” She sat down on my bed.
“Better than before. Thank you for asking.”
“As you know, Finn made sure all of the junior teams, not just us, get to compete with their friends by letting all of the team captain write up a roster. He allowed the advisers to be handed out the good old fashion way. We have Mrs. Davidson.”
“The first year social studies teacher that gives her team a bed time?” Milo groaned.
“That’s the one. She’s already critiquing Elle and Ry’s plans. It’s only a matter of time before they crack. Sami’s up in arms about the fact that we have to be in bed by 8:00. ”
“Does Elle know? She was arguing with Ryan over a t-shirt earlier. I feel like this could be much worse.” I replied.
“We told her. She was fine with it. Something about thriving in a high stress situation proves true leadership.”
“Sweet. What’s our bunking situation like again?” I followed up as I checked more items off of my list.
“Each team has a cabin. You, Elle, Sami, and I will be sharing a room with Mrs. Davidson. There are bunk beds. The boys will have their own room. We have a shared living room. The bathroom is a short walk from our living quarters.”
“Outside?” I looked over at her.
“It’s in a building, but the building isn’t where we’ll be sleeping.”
“So if it’s raining and I have to go potty in the middle of the night, I’m screwed?”
“It’s not ideal, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.”
“She’s scared.” Milo teased.
“I saved you and this is how you repay me, the ultimate betrayal. I thought you had a strict moral code.”
“Chivalry is dead in your eyes. You have shut down every attempt I have made at being a gentleman. I have stopped trying.” He grinned from ear to ear.
“Keep the pretend arguments and other hints that you like each other to a minimum when Mrs. Davidson’s around. The lines are blurry. Keep your distance or we’ll be disqualified and our captains will lose it.” She pointed to each of us with her index finger.
“Yes, Mom.” I offered her an innocent smile.
She shook her head at me. “Make sure you pack warm pajamas. It’s chilly at night.”
“That wasn’t specified on Elle’s list. Thanks for the heads up.”
“That’s what I’m here for. We’re heading to dinner in 20 minutes, if you’d like to join.”
“We’ll be there.” He answered.
“Awesome. I’ll leave you alone now.” She shut my door with a cheeky smirk.
“We weren’t doing anything!” I called after her.
“The point is moot.” His eyes were back on his computer.
“You’re okay with everyone thinking you’re with me?” I pointed out lightly to alleviate the emotional impact that conversation could’ve had.
“I want to be with you, your boyfriend or someone you regard as special. Why would I see that as a problem?”
Phil’s face flickered into my mind. He told me he loved me, didn’t mean it, and tore me apart in my weakest moment for an indiscretion that didn’t belong to me. Milo wasn’t Phil. He was the opposite of Colt. I feared that he would fall more in the realm of my parents, everything that I was would become too much and he would give up on me. I couldn’t take that – not again.
I cleared my throat to remove the lump that formed. “I don’t want you to waste your time on me.” I looked down.
“You crept up on me, but I – I know what I’m doing. I’m not going away unless you tell me you’ve had enough.” His tone was stern.
“What about the saying ‘if you love something, set it free’?”
“I think we both know that’s ***********
The room fell silent.
“I don’t want this to be one sided. Please correct me if I’ve misconstrued everything. Tell me this is over and it will be.” He pressed.
I kept my eyes down and shook my head.
“Iz, tell me.” He challenged.
“No, I don’t want that.”
He walked over to me. He guided my face up to his. I kept my arms wrapped around my torso. My eyes were fixed on his, allowing him to see past my defenses.
“Are you happy?”
I nodded. “And you’re great too.”
He smiled at my joke. “I was kidding about the birds. I’d never genuinely wish one of your fears upon you.”
“I figured. That’s why I tended to your wounds.”
He leaned down and kissed me softly. I smiled against his lips.
The way I felt with him was too surreal to simply define as ‘liking’. I was invincible while all too aware of our temperamental nature. He didn’t save me. I embarked on my road to recovery before I met him. His absence wouldn’t make me lose my desire to get better. There was so much I wanted to do for others and myself. I wasn’t his princess or anyone else’s. I was finally the heroine in my life. I was willing to admit to myself that I loved him, but I refused to give up the power I worked so hard to earn. I saw admission as surrender.