A Camp Meal
first published in Salt Flats publication
Girls camp functions as a consolation prize. Our church partners with Boy Scouts but not Girl Scouts, so once a year we have the least camping camp at the cheapest grounds. We aren’t allowed on the obstacle courses or hikes the boys always talk about. There are no driving go karts with drunk goggles or patches to trade.
We have prayers and friendship bracelets, which aren’t bad but also aren’t camping activities. Everything feels a bit more like a picnic than camping.
But there is fantastic food. And we don’t make it.
On the last full day, they make french toast. The best french toast ever, the kind that forces you to change your definition of french toast. That makes you disappointed in every other french toast.
That is what I focus on.
It is my fifth year attending and my first year as a youth camp leader. It comes with a level of freedom. I don’t have every minute booked, and I find myself wanting to escape more often.
This is her first year here. We are the same age, only separated by a couple months, and both assigned to help with the second years. She has short hair and curls as deep as the tree bark surrounding us.
On the second night, after dinner, we both get assigned dish duty.
“So, how do we do this?” Roxie’s hip is cocked to the side. Her eyes are twinkling like there’s mischief you could get into with washing dishes.
I try to focus on the task in front of us. “Well, we need one person on the hose and then the other two drying. We hose down any big stains and then pop them in the dishwasher. They come out very hot so be careful. Then we dry and stack.”
The other girl calls the hose immediately which leaves me and Roxie together. I grab one of the towels. It’s white with two red stripes along the one edge.
The first steaming crate comes sliding out as Hannah pushes the next one in.
I hear her say it, but I don’t think I am supposed to. I don’t think it is meant for me. We each grab a plate, using our towels like a glove.
“So, what do you think of Maryland?”
I ask mostly because I want to talk to her.
“You think I’d have a better answer for that by now. I dunno. It’s just a place, like Portland was.”
She places the first plate on a shelf. She grabs another, but the thing about towels is they aren’t gloves and it slips off of her palm just as she comes in contact with the hot plate.
“Shi — eez!”
The Z almost sounds as sharp as a T.
I want to know if she would have cursed if we weren’t surrounding her. I want to know if she has ever cursed and what moments brought her to it. I think she sees something in my face. I don’t think she understands it. But she leans in.
“Don’t mention that to anyone, please. It can be our secret.”
“The almost curse or the immediately touching a hot plate after I told you to be careful?”
“Oh, the hot plates. I don’t give a fuck about the curse.”
She whispers the word. For me. I blush and stutter.
“Sorry, that was the kind of joke I would make back… with people in Portland. It’s too much, I get it.”
“No!” I reach out to her.
The other girl looks over. “Y’all okay?”
“Yes! These plates are just really dangerous, you know. Practically a safety hazard.” My towel swings awkwardly with my hand gestures and it almost slaps me in the face.
Hannah doesn’t shrug but it feels like she does as she turns back to her crates. I am grateful for the distance between us.
“So… you are willing to lie for me?”.
That twinkle is growing. I think she did manage to find mischief in washing dishes.
The week progresses like a game of tag. Or if Roxie was choosing the metaphor, the penis game. It starts small, of course. My glances when there are opportunities for dirty jokes become her whispering them. Being on the lookout for each other becomes actively signing up for the same activities. By the third night, she jokes about pushing our cots together.
Instead, I fall asleep on her cot.
I wake up the next morning, and my first thought is fear. We must have gotten caught. We haven’t even done anything yet, but it’s over. We’re over. And then my brain actually starts to function. The worst that happens is that Sister Nelson side-eyes us during morning announcements. We sit together, both our thighs sticking to each other and the wooden benches. Another risk.
Roxie bumps into my shoulder. “Hey.”
I glance at her.
“Let’s skip dinner.”
“We don’t have anything after dinner. That’s two whole hours before bed check. I know you want to check out the obstacle course.”
There’s no one chaperoning the course, so it’s closed. We have access, but why would girls be interested in an obstacle course when there is a whole cabin just for nail polish.
“Come on. Please.” She leans in close. Her words beat against my neck and ear. “I’d lie for you, too.”
I nod. I resist the urge to gulp. It would be too obvious, wouldn’t it? Everyone would know. So I nod, and I let my throat close and constrict.
The walk is shorter than you would expect. But there, at the edge of the camp surrounded by trees, are the wooden obstacles. They’re dirty and there are tons of leaves everywhere. For once, I feel like I’m in the woods. The game of tag continues.
I reach for her hand as I walk across the balance log. She grabs my whole body in a bear hug as she stumbles after slipping off the monkey bars, and we both fall. I laugh first and she follows suit. From on top of me, she leans closer and I… I kiss her.
Right there, on dirt and leaves, we kiss.
She whispers, “Fuck” as she pulls away first.
It feels like an inside joke. Our thing. She kisses me and I pull her body closer. We stay in the middle of that obstacle course for the two hours before lights out, and when we get back, we sneak into our own cots. I don’t sleep.
It is the morning of the last day. We walk the camp, on the path, and wake the girls with singing for our last morning ritual. There’s already crowds of hugs and goodbyes starting. I steal looks at her the whole time. I know technically I shouldn’t. My lips taste like her curse still. That very first fuck while drying the dishes.
I pull her to the side as we walk back together. “You have to try the french toast they are serving for breakfast, but… wanna grab a plate and dip?”
Her smile is full force. Full mischief. “Absolutely.”
She walks fast to catch back up with the group, and I can hear a hint of her singsong voice. “Two sweet things a day keep the… devil away.”
I swear to God we are going to get caught. But I can’t stop. I chase after her and throw my arm over her shoulder.
“That’s not the saying I remember.”
“Well, you must have very boring sayings here in Maryland then.”
It already smells like french toast as we walk in. The inch deep pans filled with bread and cinnamon and sugar. It’s completely indulgent. I turn to Roxie and her wide eyes.
“It’s a french toast casserole.”
“It’s made in a pan. That doesn’t make it a casserole.”
“Your favorite thing about camp is a casserole. A french toast casserole.”
I shove her. Lightly. Mostly.
“It’s really good!”
Her smile comes back. It should prep me, but it doesn’t. Not when she says at completely normal volume, “I trust your taste. I know you’ve had some pretty good things recently.”
I can’t tell if the heat that rushes through my body is a blush or something else entirely.
I plop down at the nearest seat. It doesn’t matter that it’s not where I’m technically supposed to sit. It doesn’t matter that the girls already seated at this table look at me funny. It matters that it puts a tiny bit of distance between me and Roxie. That distance is vital. She sits across from me, much more gracefully and raises her eyebrows. The wood is between us. To touch her, I’d have to get up.
“They need to bless it before we can eat.”
I say it like it is an explanation. It is not an explanation. And it takes a fucking long time. They have to finish setting up the tables. Then there’s roll call and finally someone is called to bless the food. It’s a first year from the Brunswick ward. This tiny freckled redhead. I bet she’s a good church girl.
The tables get called up one by one. We are third. I grab two pieces of french toast and pour a generous portion of syrup over it. Roxie grabs one and some cantaloupe.
“So, any particular spot you were thinking?”
I wait to answer until we are outside. The door swings closed and it dampens all the sounds inside. I breathe the empty air. Then, I gulp.
“I hear balance logs double as pretty good sitting logs.”
Roxie smiles, and it stays strong as we walk. We make it back to our safe haven. The spot hidden in trees.
“This log isn’t actually that comfortable.”
She takes her first bite as she says it. She hums a happy little admittance. “Yeah, it’s a little low.”
I take mine, and it’s just as good as I remember. Brown sugar grains crunch through each bite, sticking to my teeth. The bread is soft and bouncy. I dosed it in maple syrup and it’s soaked in already making it all feel heavenly and just warm enough. The cinnamon sticks to my tongue and breaks through the sweetness. “So… about last night?”
She cursed first but I kissed her. I wonder which of those sins are worse.
Roxie looks at me. Her face goes blank. “What about it?”
The sweetness on my tongue becomes a little overwhelming. A little indulgent. “It’s too much?” It’s not really a question, but it comes out like one anyway.
Roxie takes a deep breath. She places the plate on the ground and turns to me. “Eve, I liked kissing you. And I’d like to keep kissing you, if you are interested.”
“But…” I wave my hands like this place is the answer. It kind of is.
“I’ve never been religious. I never believed this stuff. My dad just thought we needed the community again. So I don’t understand your conflicts, but I am here.”
Here, a religious camp. Girls camp. With a girl I really want to kiss again. So I do, and I taste the french toast on her lips. It’s just as good as that fuck.
“I’m here too.”
Lewis Figun Westbrook (he/they) will always prefer their bio to be some kind of joke but now they actually have accomplishments to talk about. They are a queer writer of too many genres and artist of too many things. He is currently published in Love Gone Wrong, a horror anthology and Father Father, an online dadaism magazine. Find them on most social media @lewisrllw