A gaggle of girls entered the cabin. Two flustered counselors soon followed behind them. The counselors instructed the girls to sit on their beds. Although it was unnecessary, they handed out a name tag to each girl. Bianca took off her pink sweatshirt. It was very hot in the cabin. The girls fidgeted throughout the getting-to-know-you games. Finally it was rest hour. Bianca bolted outside to join Emily.
They played one of the games Natalie had taught them. Emily didn’t speak. Neither did Bianca. It had felt more exciting when Natalie played it with them. Natalie had always been the leader of their trio. She was funny, but not in a mean way, not like the other girls. She always wore pink. She was a ballerina. She had lots of ideas. Bianca had sometimes suspected that Natalie read her diary, because she often said exactly what Bianca was thinking. Bianca tried to imagine Natalie at ballet camp. She couldn’t picture it.
“I don’t want to play anymore” whispered Emily. They walked inside. Bianca had not realized how much they had relied on Natalie. She didn’t think Emily had either.
The girls opened the bunk windows. They began to litter their beds with bright-colored personal belongings. Sunglasses, portable fans, and t-shirts were everywhere. But for Bianca, the cabin felt stale and remote. The beige wood floors and metal cots seemed to reflect back a colorless emptiness inside her.
They joined the rest of the cabin, who were sitting in the middle of the room, setting up a card game. Bianca looked around the circle of girls and frowned. She had spent the last three summers with these girls. She barely knew them. Natalie had sat next to Bianca on that first bus ride to camp. They had later decided to befriend Emily. Bianca had never needed to make any other friends.
They were playing tongues. Bianca picked up a card. It was a two, not a three. She passed it to the girl sitting next to her. Bianca did not notice that everyone else had already stuck out their tongues. She was out of the game.
Bianca looked at Emily. Emily was concentrated on the game and didn’t notice. Emily was often concentrated. Adults said she was really smart. Bianca wasn’t too sure. Bianca and Natalie lived in New York City while Emily lived thirty minutes from camp. Emily had always been quiet. This summer she barely spoke.
A few months ago Bianca slept over at Natalie’s townhouse. They were already in bed when Natalie asked Bianca to lock pinkies with her. Then she told Bianca about Emily’s mom. Bianca was still waiting for Emily to tell her herself.
The card game finished. The girls put on their bathing suits. Bianca was happy to leave the stuffy cabin. In the water, a lifeguard told the girls to get into groups of three. There were ten girls in the chickadee cabin. Emily glanced at Bianca. Then she swam over to two other girls, completing the last group. Bianca was left alone. She got out of the pool and grabbed her pink towel. Last summer she remembered it being fluffy and cozy. Now it itched her legs. She watched the girls play. Mostly she watched Emily. She thought she caught Emily looking back.
Eventually the rest of the girls got out of the lake. They filed back into the cabin. They showered and went to dinner. Bianca didn’t know exactly why, but she stayed behind in the cabin. Emily also stayed. It began to rain. Emily saw a flash through the highest window. She started to count. They heard the thunder at the same time. The storm was about three miles away. Emily sighed.
“Looks like we will be here a while,” she whispered. It was a rule that everyone had to remain inside during a thunderstorm until a counselor came. Sometimes this took hours. Bianca sat on her bed. Emily sat on hers. They stayed quiet for a while.
“I’m sorry,” Emily said finally.
“Me too,” Bianca said.
“I meant about the lake,” Emily said.
“Oh,” Bianca said. She felt stupid.
“I shouldn’t have left you alone.”
“You’re right. You shouldn’t have.” Bianca had meant to say that it was fine but these words tumbled out of her mouth instead. Emily had not confided in her. Bianca didn’t need to feel sorry for her yet.
“It’s different without Natalie, isn’t it?”
“I guess.” Bianca knew that this wasn’t the only thing that was different.
“I need to tell you something.” They locked pinkies.
“My mom died,” Emily whispered. She said it so quietly that Bianca would not have heard unless she had already known.
“I know,” said Bianca. Again, the words tumbled out of her mouth. “I mean, you kinda seem different,” she fumbled.
“I knew Natalie would tell you.” This didn’t sound like an accusation. Just a fact.
They sat in silence for a while.
Bianca was confused. She thought she would know what to say. She did not. She was just happy that Emily had finally told her. She knew she was not supposed to be happy.
It was Emily who spoke first. “I wanted to tell you myself. I just couldn’t figure out the best way to. I didn’t want things to be different.”
“They already are.” Bianca couldn’t believe the words she was vomiting. She did not know how to stop herself.
“I’m sorry,” said Bianca.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
At that moment a counselor rushed in. Bianca then realized that she had moved to Emily’s bed. They were both clutching Emily’s stuffed pink bear. Her first instinct was to jump off. She decided to stay.
The next day the girls went swimming again. This time, the lifeguard said to split up into groups of four. Emily immediately looked at Bianca. They swam towards each other. It was just the two of them. It was fine. It was then that Bianca knew things would never go back to being the same. But she smiled. Emily smiled too.