Absolution

Originally published in Westview, 2009.

WestviewI should’ve known something had happened when Jeanine came to work so early. She pulled open the main cabin’s creaky screen door at five-thirty, when the sun was barely creeping over the hill. I’d only drunk one cup of coffee and Jeanine looked awful. She’s head counselor at my camp. She’s been head counselor for six years now, and her appearance is always impeccable—hair in a perky ponytail, clothes ironed and carefully chosen, a shiny silver whistle dangling from a bright-green rope encircling her neck. But there she stood, all raccoon eyes from old mascara, mismatched clothes—an old red sweater, wrinkled khakis, and dusty, black flip-flops.

“Jim,” she said, her eyes wildly searching for me. “Jim.”

“I’m right here,” I said, standing at the corner coffeemaker, mildly amused by the whole scene.

“A camper got shot. A camper got killed. Oh my God, Jim, what are we going to do?”

It took me a long while to process what she said. The worst accident we’ve ever had was when little Ronnie Fusco almost drowned in the lake after getting knocked out by a flying boogie board. We’ve had a few broken arms, a badly fractured leg, and it seemed to me that Jeanine simply must’ve had it wrong.

“What?” I said. “Wait. What?”

“Ethan Mosley. One of the senior campers.”

“Dear God,” I said. Ethan was one of my favorites.

“He and two other boys snuck out last night after lights out and went to Crown Burger. Then Crown Burger got robbed.” She bent over like she had a stomach cramp, and her voice was cracking with every other word. “And the man shot Ethan.”

I felt a drop in my gut. I put my coffee cup on the table.

“Which other boys? Are they okay?”

“Scott and Mikey. They ran outside but Ethan tried to stop the guy or something and he got shot. We have to call his parents. What are we going to do?”

My fingers looked gray, all limp and useless on the desk. I could hear buzzing in my ears. Jeanine watched me with her eyes wide, waiting for me to tell her how to handle this. I was silent.

“We have to call his parents,” she said.

“No,” I said. I couldn’t fathom it. I thought of my son, Lee. “Who called you?” I asked, feeling both cowardly and grateful that I’d long ago given the police department Jeanine’s number as the camp’s emergency contact.

“Officer Murray,” she said, handing me a piece of paper with his phone number scribbled on it. “He wants you to call him.”

“You go home,” I said, coughing a little. “Get dressed. I’m going to need you to run camp today. Where are Scott and Mikey?”

“They’re down at the police station,” she said.

“Okay. You go. Don’t tell the other campers. I’ll think about how to tell everyone.” She started to walk toward the door. “Oh man,” I said under my breath, my hand sitting inert on the phone. I couldn’t possibly make this phone call. Would they ask me to come to the crime scene? To identify his body? My job is to make sure these children are safe and happy. A bit of vomit surged to the back of my throat. The sun was half up over the hill, and I could tell it was going to be a sweltering day. “Someone tell me this is a nightmare,” I said as I picked up the phone and dialed.

Officer Murray told me that, as far as they could tell, the man wanted the money from the cash register. The girl behind the register was too terrified to do anything, crying and curled up under the soda dispenser, so Ethan went to help. Scott and Mikey ran outside, but they watched through the window. They said Ethan went behind the counter and bent over to ask the girl how to open the register. The man must’ve thought he was going to tell her to push an alarm button or call the police, so he shoved Ethan and the girl into the back room and put them in the freezer. Then, Officer Murray said, “For reasons we can’t discern, he shot them both dead center in the back.”

I sat there at my desk, listening to this, thinking that I wanted none of it. I wanted to go out and get on the bullhorn and wake up the campers like I normally do. Officer Murray started talking again, and I could feel myself sinking, as if I were in a locked car that had just careened off the bend and was being swallowed on all sides by black water. I would have to deal with this. A child died in my care. I put the phone down and ran to the bathroom and threw up, all acid and coffee. I wiped my mouth with a hand towel and came back to the phone.

“Hello? You all right, Jim?” Officer Murray asked. “I’ll need you to come down to get these boys and deal with some of the ugly formalities that go with a case like this.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be there as fast as I can.” My feet went all jittery. I ran to my truck and floored it all the way to the police station.

* * *

The whole way there I thought of my son. He’s in his thirties now, but if I’d lost him when he was 17, I think I might’ve died myself. Seventeen. It’s such a bright time, a time of such promise and hope. Of course, when Lee was 17, his mom died, and that pretty much took all the hope out of him. Amelia had colon cancer and we didn’t catch it in time. Even when she told me that she was passing blood, I never suggested she go to the doctor. God knows she never would’ve gone on her own. I just figured it was hemorrhoids. We were getting old, nudging 60. Things were supposed to start falling apart a little bit. Just not that much.

She died a month before Lee left for Oberlin. We were happy because he’d chosen a college only an hour away, a good college too. And despite being bald and emaciated, Amelia was still all talk about getting Lee settled in his dorm room, about buying him a new comforter for his bed, a new stereo, and maybe even a computer. Then, the next week, she started to feel bad again, so we took her to the hospital. They said it was pneumonia. It took her in three days. As she died Lee held one hand and I held the other. “Save me a seat,” I said, trying to make her smile. But she didn’t smile and, moments later, I lost my girl.

In the car on the way home from the hospital, Lee was silent, all spent from crying. I didn’t expect him to say anything, but he did. “She’s not going to be able to save you a fucking seat, Dad,” he said. “Because you’re going to go to hell for not telling her to go to the doctor. For being so worried about your fucking camp that you neglected your own wife. Jesus Christ!” He started punching the dashboard, and I saw fury unlike anything I’d ever seen. Spit was flying from his mouth; veins popped out on his forehead. I thought about pulling the car over but just kept driving, staying in between the lines and letting my son rage. I knew he was mourning. I knew he was angry. I hoped he didn’t mean it.

* * *

At the police station I saw Scott Bradshaw and Mikey Davis sitting together on a long wooden bench. They were hunched over, pale and exhausted. When they saw me they sat quiet, like war veterans who couldn’t talk about what they’d seen. I knelt down in front of them. “You boys okay?” I asked. They nodded. “I’m so sorry, boys. I’m so sorry.” Mikey’s chin started quivering and he busted out with one loud sob. I put my hand on his leg, and he didn’t move, just cried quietly. Scott stared at the floor. “We’ll call your parents so you can talk to them about this or go home for a while.” They both nodded again. “Okay,” I said, “I’m going to go talk to Officer Murray.” But I couldn’t quite leave them yet. I stayed there, kneeled on the floor, and put one hand on each of their shoulders. “This is not your fault,” I said.

Scott spoke, his voice all calm and clear. “Yes it is. It’s my fault. I was the one who wanted to sneak out. Ethan wanted to stay and play cards.” He stared at the floor as he spoke.

“Son,” I said, “you can’t help that some raging lunatic robbed the Crown Burger. You’re not responsible. Got it?” He didn’t move. “Scott? Look at me.” Finally, he looked up, his eyes bloodshot and sunken, but still, they were the eyes of a child. “You are not responsible for this,” I said slowly. He blinked and nodded once, then looked back down.

Officer Murray came down the hallway and waved me toward him. I squeezed the boys’ shoulders, then followed Officer Murray to his office. He and I are familiar with each other. His crew always helps direct traffic on arrival and departure days. And they keep an eye out for our kids when they do stupid things like sneak out after hours. More than once they’ve brought campers to my cabin in the middle of the night. He sat down at his desk, and I sat in a chair opposite him.

“Awful tragedy,” he said. “Just awful. That girl was a Havens High School grad. She was saving money so she could go to junior college in Cleveland.” He paused, pushed his thick glasses up the greasy bridge of his nose. “No sign of the suspect yet. He ran out the back entrance and sped off in a red pickup. We’ve got an APB for his make and model. No one got the plates, though. Such a shame. And the bastard didn’t even get a penny. All this for nothing.”

I sat there thinking that if he asked me to come with him to the morgue to identify the body, I might throw up again. I hadn’t eaten anything, but I was sure my body could figure out a way. “I can’t,” I said, “see the body. If that’s something you need me to do. I just can’t yet.”

“Okay,” he said. He looked down at his desk, then pushed a clear plastic bag toward me. “These were in his possession.” In the bag were a Swiss Army knife, a cabin key, and Ethan’s wallet. I took the bag and stood up.

“I’ll go and tell his parents,” I said. I couldn’t bear the thought of them getting a phone call from a policeman with this kind of news. “Can you get Scott and Mikey back to camp?”

“Okay,” he said, nodding and biting his lip.

“Take them straight to Jeanine. She should be in the cabin next to mine,” I said as I stood up. “Ask her to call their parents, tell them to do what they think’s best.” I walked out before he could protest.

I saw that the boys got into Officer Murray’s car, and I told them to get back to camp, clean up, eat something, and go to Jeanine. As they drove away I stood there with the plastic bag in my hand. I opened it. I tried not to look at the picture on Ethan’s driver’s license, his goofy grin, his disheveled brown hair that was always dangling in his eyes. 43 Poplar Drive, Pittsburgh, PA. It would take about an hour and a half to get there. I got in my car and began driving.

* * *

I remembered Ethan’s parents from when they dropped him off at the beginning of each summer. His father was clean-cut, with a salt-and-pepper goatee. He had a rigid, bony build. His mother’s voice was loud and raspy, like Ethan’s, and it looked like she hadn’t cut her brown hair since 1973. She was heavy and wore a long, bright-pink, flowery skirt and a purple tank top that exposed her thick upper arms. I liked them both. They were all smiles when Ethan was around, and Ethan had this way of jibing his dad, making him bust out with deep belly laughs. As I pulled onto Interstate 80, I tried to remember everything, anything about them.

Ethan had been coming to Rollicking Hills since he was about 12 years old, and he was proud to have become a senior camper. He was incredible with the younger campers, especially the boys. He could dissolve a fight in two seconds just by standing between the kids. Then he’d squat down and talk to them, get to the heart of what was wrong. None of the other senior campers possessed that kind of maturity. He was about 6’2″ and a star baseball player in high school. Last summer he dated a sweet, pretty junior camper named Ashley. And when he broke it off early this summer, she cried for weeks. I saw her crying once, sitting in the semicircle of tree trunks that makes the amphitheater. She was holding court with several overly concerned 15-year-old girls. “I just don’t understand,” she wept. “I loved him so much.” He had graduated from high school just a few weeks ago, was headed off to Ohio State in the fall. He told me he wanted to be a veterinarian. Scott and Mikey were going to Ohio State too, and they were planning to room together. I loved the idea and told them so over supper one night not long ago. I knew they’d keep each other in line. But now Ethan was gone. I shuddered and gripped the steering wheel.

I thought of my son again, about when I took him to college. It was just me who said good-bye after unloading the car and hauling the boxes into Lee’s dorm room. Amelia would’ve made the moment so perfectly sweet and sad. She would’ve been crying and laughing at the same time, touching Lee, holding his hand, and telling him to have a great time, to enjoy every moment of college. She would have given him perfect advice—something I never would’ve thought to say. But, instead, Lee and I hugged with this awkward mistiming. He squeezed first, then I squeezed, and then we both let go fast, like we felt we’d done it wrong. I had the urge to lean in and hug him again, but I didn’t. “See ya,” he said, and he turned around and walked back into the dorm. “Bye, son,” I said, but I wasn’t sure he heard me.

I looked at my dashboard, saw that I was doing 90, and realized that I hadn’t really been paying attention to the road since I left the police station. The gas tank was barely a quarter full, so I pulled off at the next exit. I needed to regroup, buy a map of Pittsburgh, get some food.

I bought a Snickers bar, a bag of chips, and a jug of soda. As I walked back to my car, I had this urge to call someone. Anyone. I needed someone to talk to; I knew that much. I needed to tell someone other than Ethan’s parents that this had happened, as if in preparation to say the words to them. I thought of Scott and Mikey, so traumatized, and it made me cringe to think that this would be their camp story. Not how great it was to spend so much time outdoors, make lifelong friends, practice independence. Rather their friend got shot at a burger joint when he tried to help some innocent girl.

I walked over to the gas station’s payphone and used my credit card to call Lee. He was living in Washington, D.C. now, married to a powerful lady named Diane, who didn’t seem to like me very much. When he answered, I tried to sound calm, but I don’t think it worked. “Something’s happened, Lee.”

“Dad?” I knew what he was thinking. It wasn’t really like me to call him. I called on holidays and his birthday and, once, I even drove to D.C. to visit him. But we’d just drifted apart. We didn’t really have much to talk about. He’s an Internet marketing manager; his wife’s a lobbyist. I barely knew what those job titles meant. Neither of us watched sports much anymore, so we always ended up talking about the camp—which cabins were getting rehabbed, how the developers from Cleveland were getting too close for comfort and new subdivisions were popping up not 20 miles from us. But Lee always seemed bored by this, irritated even, so I just stopped calling and visiting, and I’m ashamed to say that, when I stood at that phone booth, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked to my son.

“A camper got shot at the Crown Burger,” I said.

“What?” Lee said.

“And he died.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Oh my God,” Lee said. “What were they doing at the Crown Burger?”

“Well,” I stammered, fighting an urge to hang up the phone. “Come on, Lee. You know. Campers sneak out all the time. It’s what they do.”

“Yeah, but, Jesus Christ. That is awful.”

I shoved a hand into my pocket and looked around at the gas station, at all the normal people with their normal lives. “Well, I just wanted to let you know,” I said. “I’m on the way to inform his parents.”

“My God, Dad. Are you okay?” His question seemed tainted, like he didn’t really care how I was. I hated that this was the feeling I had when calling my son, that all I wanted was to say good-bye. I needed Amelia here. I needed Amelia to be standing next to me, telling me it would all be okay.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I just wanted you to know. I’ll call you later when I get home.”

“Okay, Dad. Be careful, okay? Drive carefully,” Lee said, and I smiled, just a little, at this.

* * *

It seemed like the hour-and-a-half drive lasted about ten minutes. I parked in front of Ethan’s house and could see that his parents were home. Their house was a modest two-story brick colonial, with a bright-green front lawn and beds of Hostas blooming with purple flowers. It was eight-thirty on a Friday morning, and Ethan’s parents were probably bustling around, getting ready for work.

As I got out of the car, the sight of a well-worn basketball hoop in the driveway made my knees almost buckle. Never had I felt my body move so slowly and heavily. I paused, studied my worn sneakers on the green doormat that said “Welcome!” in white plastic script with colorful flowers around it. Then I inhaled, held my breath, and rang the doorbell. Ethan’s mom, Georgia, answered the door, all smiles and smelling like shampoo. I exhaled like her opening the door sucked the air right out of my lungs. I watched her face register who I was, and that I was at their doorstep early on a Friday morning. She put her hand on her mouth.

“What happened?” she asked behind her fingers, stepping back a little, like she feared that what I was about to say might physically harm her.

“Hi, Georgia,” I said. My heart knocked violently in my chest. I wanted to fall down there on that spot. I wanted to run back to the police station, revive her son, and tell her that everything was all right. “I have some awful news.” The words came out so cold and regular. “Can I come in?” I asked, my body a different animal entirely than my brain.

“Connor!” Georgia yelled. “Something’s happened!” I could sense that she would become hysterical. Part of me wanted to leave her a note with the awful news and take off, avoid seeing the whole scene entirely, and part of me wanted to watch it all, to see her fall on the floor and kick and scream and pull out her hair in protest. Connor walked toward the door, holding a cereal bowl in one hand, a spoon in the other.

“Hi,” he said, either trying to be polite or not registering who I was.

“I am so sorry to tell you that, last night, your son and two other boys snuck out of camp and went to the Crown Burger a mile down the road. While they were there, the restaurant was burglarized, and the man had a gun.” I could feel my lips tightening, my throat clenching in protest. “I’m so sorry. Ethan was killed.” I bent over involuntarily as I said it.

“Killed? He’s dead? Ethan’s dead?” Georgia whispered.

Georgia turned to Connor and put her face to his chest, and he dropped his cereal bowl. Milk splattered onto the welcome mat and my shoes. He held her like he knew what was coming. Georgia screamed. She made a sound like a dying animal or a train screeching, an unworldly sound. Connor closed his eyes. It looked like her scream hurt his chest, like the sound cut through his body. His face was the palest white, and his mouth hung open.

I stood there feeling like I should go, leave them to this awful, private moment. But then they turned to me and started asking questions. Was I sure he was dead? Was he in a hospital? Could they see him? And I told them that he’d been declared dead at the scene and that he was in the morgue. When I said the word “morgue,” Georgia sank down to the floor. Her denim skirt rode up to her knees, exposing her dry, pink kneecaps.

“I’ll drive you to Ohio, and you can decide if you want to see him,” I said. Georgia didn’t say anything, but Connor nodded.

“Yes, we’ll want to do that,” he said. I wanted to tell them about Amelia, about how I knew death and how I mourn daily for her. I wanted to tell them that I have dreams that I’m trying to save her from menacing things like sharks and tsunamis, but I never can. I wanted to tell them that I should’ve kept Ethan safe, that his death was something I should’ve been able to prevent. Instead, we shared an awkward silence before Connor said, “Well,” and walked away from the front door. Georgia followed him. A few minutes later they returned with a small duffel bag for the trip.

We made a silent, slow processional to my car. Connor practically carried Georgia, and he laid her down in the backseat. I wondered if she’d taken some Valium, because her body was limp, and she was mumbling nonsense. Connor sat in the front seat next to me, and I started the car, listening to Georgia’s crying in the backseat. I couldn’t imagine why Connor wanted to sit next to me. I half hoped that they’d just want to caravan behind me and I could make the drive alone, but when I made that suggestion, Connor told me he would prefer I drove, because it would be safer. If I were him, I wouldn’t have been thinking about safety. I would’ve pummeled me in the front yard, threatened my life for letting someone take their son’s. Instead, he just sat twisted in my passenger’s seat, one hand on Georgia’s hip as he turned away from her to watch the road.

Not long into the drive, Georgia’s eyes closed. “I think she’s sleeping,” Connor said. “Probably feels like the only way she can survive right now is to be asleep. Isn’t that some defense mechanism in the wild? Don’t some animals, when turned upside down or when they go into shock, they just sleep? Makes sense evolutionarily.”

I nodded and gave Connor a little smile. I could see by the empty look on his face that none of this had registered with him yet. He reminded me of myself when I lost Amelia. I felt like I could run a marathon the day after she passed. I actually worked in the yard all day. I put new flowers in all around our main cabin. I bought the brightest flowers I could, because I knew Amelia would’ve liked them and because they made me feel alive. There were red, fuchsia, and yellow petunias, and that afternoon, when I finally stepped back to admire what I had accomplished, the flowers only looked imperfect, the soil lumpy, the spacing uneven. The next day I woke up crying. I’ve never had that happen before or since. I opened my eyes, must’ve been dreaming about her, and there were tears on my cheeks. That was the first in a series of really dark days. I can’t really tell if I’m out of them yet. It’s been 12 years but everything started to blend together after a while—the dark and the light.

Connor was staring out the window at the sky.

“You okay, Connor?” I said.

“This is the day I’ve lived in fear of since the day Ethan was born. That day is here.” He paused. I didn’t say anything. “Now that it’s here it feels so strange and calm. Like I’ve always known it would come. Like that fear was preparing me for this moment. But I just felt like we were in the clear for some reason. Just recently, I’d started feeling that. Like now that he was older, I didn’t have to worry about him chasing a ball across the street and getting hit by a car. I didn’t have to fret that he was out all night, because he knew how to take care of himself. He knew how to take care of everyone else too. I just thought I didn’t need to worry anymore.” He held his hand on his cheek, as if to see if stubble had grown since his morning shave.

“Ethan was a spectacular young man,” I said, and Connor turned to me.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Oh, beyond a doubt. The children used to hang off of his arms like little monkeys.” I noticed that I was speaking in past tense, and I paused, unsure for a moment how to continue. “He took them on nature hikes and pointed out every living creature. They would all scramble to sign up for his hikes. Never a spot left. Everyone wanted to be around Ethan.” I could hear myself talking, but I couldn’t focus on what I was saying. I couldn’t tell if it was helping or hurting. I just felt this pit in my stomach, this awful sour feeling. Here I was, the grim reaper personified, sitting there waxing poetic about this poor boy’s too-wonderful-for-words life. I stopped, turned to Connor, wanting to pull over the car, wake up Georgia, tell her they could have everything I owned, that I would give up the camp, all that I loved, if only they would find a way to not let this ruin them.

Connor looked like he was in a trance, like he hadn’t heard anything I’d said, didn’t even remember speaking himself. I figured the silence was for the best. I just drove and began to count the fields on the right side of the road, guessing the crops: soybeans, corn, alfalfa. All that dirt, that fresh, green growth in those sprawling fields, and I could smell nothing but dry, metallic exhaust. My tongue felt thick. I thought about what I might do after I’d taken Connor and Georgia back to Pittsburgh. Chop down that evergreen that’s been leaning next to the dock, plant flowers, maybe call Lee again.

* * *

When we pulled into the police station, Georgia said, “We’re here,” from the backseat, startling both me and Connor. We hadn’t heard her wake up or move, but she had her car door open before I’d even finished pulling into the parking lot. “Sorry,” Connor said before jumping out and running to catch up with her.

I turned off the engine and got out of the car, an act so ordinary that, for a moment, I imagined I was simply going to the hardware store or about to put gas in my car. One glance at the police station and reality kicked in. Inside at the front desk, Georgia paused and looked at me like I terrified her, eyes wide, mouth pushed down, hands clenched at her chest. I stepped back and sat on a bench next to the entrance and waited until someone called me in.

I waited a long time on that bench. No one talked to me, but everyone looked at me like I’d just lost a family member. I went outside after one of the secretaries saw me and shook her head like she pitied me. I began to pace in front of the station and thought about how we could prevent something like this from happening again. I pictured a barbed wire fence around the perimeter of the camp or tracking devices around the kids’ ankles so we would know if they’d snuck out. Was this what it would come to? Monitoring them like this? Security guards at summer camp?

I sat down on the steps and thought about Ethan. So far this summer I’d barely talked to him, really. I saw him in senior camper meetings, waved at him when we passed on the path to the dining hall. He was one that I never worried about. Last summer he pulled a classic prank on the girl campers. He put a Milky Way in the lake when all the girls were having a swim lesson, then walked nonchalantly out onto the deck and shouted, “Doody! Doody in the lake!” The girls ran out screaming. A few were gagging and Ethan and Scott were doubled over on the dock, laughing so hard, they could barely breathe. A senior girl camper lodged a formal complaint, and I had to admonish him, tell him he was out of line. I sat there on those steps, wishing that I’d winked as I punished him, done something to show him that he was the kind of kid I loved having at my camp. Then I heard a voice behind me.

“He’s out here enjoying the afternoon!” It was Georgia. “He let my son die, and he’s out here getting a suntan!” she screamed. I stood up and tried to speak, to hug her, anything. But she began hitting me in the chest. Her face was ashen gray, her eyes red and bloodshot. “My son! You killed him!” she said, growling and pushing me, all hair and fists and fingernails. I grabbed her wrists. They were thick and cold and weak. I held her until Connor and one of the policemen came outside and pulled her away from me. She crumpled, her body limp, like she was going to melt into the ground, but then she stood up and screamed, another wild-eyed, loud, crazy scream, and it seemed just right for what she was going through. I felt my body letting go, like it had no more capacity for stress like this. I would’ve welcomed a heart attack or a stroke. Instead, I just sat down like an invalid and felt dizzy, then watched as Connor and the police officer each held one of Georgia’s arms and led her to the back of an unmarked police car. Officer Dwight came and told me he would drive Georgia and Connor to Pittsburgh. “No sense in you going through more than you already have,” he said. I thanked him. “She’d just seen the body, Jim. She didn’t mean what she said.”

“Okay,” I said. I looked at Connor, who stood at the door of the police car, watching me. Then he slid down into the backseat with Georgia and closed the door quietly. Officer Dwight gave me a little wave, then started the car and drove away.

I talked to Officer Murray for a while, filled out paperwork, listened to him explain the formalities of a murder case like this, then went to my car and started back to camp. It was late afternoon; the light on the horizon was turning a warm golden. I didn’t feel like planting flowers or chopping down trees. I didn’t feel like doing anything. When I pulled up to the cabin, I sat in my car for a while, then opened the door, longing for familiar sounds: splashing down at the lake, children laughing, feet crunching on gravel. But it was eerily silent.

* * *

That night at dinner I had to stand up in front of all the campers and explain what had happened. The girls were crying. The boys were on guard, like cave men preparing to attack someone who had invaded their village. The hubbub was comforting for me, all of us mourning together.

Later I locked myself inside my cabin, turned off the phone’s ringer, and worried about how long we would all be reeling from this, how this would change my camp forever. I ignored all of the messages from panicking parents. It was dusk and the sky had turned a brilliant orange outside, but I only felt like hiding.

A knock came on the door, and I didn’t answer it, just sat as quiet as I could, hoping whoever it was would go away. I’d had enough. I couldn’t continue to act like everything would be okay, like I knew exactly how to heal and move on. I peered from around the corner and saw Lee cupping his hands on the window like he did when he was a boy, spying on me and Amelia as we discussed his future were she to pass away. I stood there blinking like someone had shone a bright light in my eyes. I imagined that he had come to tell me that he forgave me for everything, that we needed to talk, to be close again. I didn’t hesitate. I ran to the door, opened it, feeling myself teetering, unstable.

“Son,” I said and looked up. But it wasn’t Lee. It was one of the other senior campers, a good friend of Ethan’s, coming to tell me that he and some other boys had decided to begin a night patrol, to make sure campers would never try to sneak out again. His cheeks were flushed and his brown hair blown back as he urgently explained that they’d made a chart with three-hour shifts and that they intended to start tonight. I interrupted him. “Listen,” I said, “you kids just all need to go on with your regular life at camp. Don’t worry. You’ll be safe. You just leave the protecting to me. Okay, son?” I put my hand on his shoulder. The boy looked up at me, squinting a little, as if he didn’t trust a word I said.

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