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Make sure you're in the Deer Field wearing your staff shirts by 4:00.
It was the first day of summer camp 2008 at Camp Bethel. We had just gotten out of our Sunday afternoon staff meeting & the air was buzzing with excitement for the first campers to arrive. I glanced down at my watch. 2:30PM.
Perfect, I thought to myself. I have enough time to make a quick run to Brugh's Mill.
I had already moved my stuff and set up my bunk in Willoro, the cabin I was staying in for the week. It was probably the first time in the history of ever that I wasn't scrambling around after staff meeting trying to finish getting ready before campers arrived. And boy, was I thankful! During the staff meeting, I got the most intense craving of my life... for Skittles. I've had cravings before, obviously. Things like, "a hamburger sure would taste good right now..." or "I could really go for a chocolate milkshake!" But this... this was a life-and-death Skittles emergency. I didn't just want Skittles; I needed Skittles. I needed Skittles more than I had ever needed anything in my life. And fortunately, I had time to get some.
Camp is tucked away amidst the Jefferson National Forest and Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, so there's no such thing as a five minute round-trip to the local convenient store. A quick trip to Brugh's Mill General Store can easily turn into a 40+ minute outing, so whenever anyone is desperate enough to make the trek, the courteous thing is to ask around and see if anyone else needs anything. Which is exactly what I did. As soon as the staff meeting ended, I told everyone I saw that I was going to Brugh's Mill. Most people said they were fine; a few people gave me some money and asked me to pick them up a bottle of Gatorade or soda.
I headed through the woods to my car, which was parked up by the staff house. By this time, the Skittles-craving had kicked it into high gear, and I was making a serious beeline for my baby SUV. As I passed the staff house, the door opened... and out walked Zach Jones.
I didn't pay him any attention; we hadn't really talked since the summer had begun. He missed the first week of staff training (Rumor has it that he was off fighting bears in Alaska. The world may never know...) and once again, I missed the second week of staff training due to my senior year dance recital. He wasn't there for our staff night Home-in-the-Woods, where I managed to slip and fall in the creek (my middle name is Hebrew for "grace," you know...) and ruined my camera (hence why there are no pictures of the early Zach & Beth days). I wasn't there for the staff tubing trip where he saved everyone from a snake in the water. We just hadn't had an opportunity to hang out or talk. And now was NOT that opportunity. I was on a Skittles mission.
I was almost to my car when I felt guilty for not checking to see if he needed anything from Brugh's Mill. Turning around, I took a few steps back toward the staff house and called out,
Hey Zach. I'm going to Brugh's Mill to get some Skittles; do you need anything?
He paused for a moment.
No, I don't need anything...
Perfect. I had done my civic duty and now I could get on with Operation Skittles-Get-In-My-Belly---
...but I'll go with you.
Ginger kid say what?
Did I ask you if you wanted to go with me? I think not. I asked you if you needed anything. A simple yes or no question, neither of which requires you tagging along.
(Truth: I didn't actually say that. But that's exactly what was going through my head.)
I couldn't be rude (at least, not out loud...). I had no other choice but to smile and say, "sure!" And the next thing I knew, Zach Jones was sitting in the passenger seat.
If this was going to be a short, five minute round-trip, I wouldn't have had any objections. But like I said, driving all the way out to Brugh's Mill, getting everything I needed, and then returning to camp---we were going to be gone for at least forty minutes. I'm a nice person, but I'm not overly out-going. In fact, I'm actually pretty shy until I really get to know people. And from observing Zach, he was the exact same way. Why would he even want to tag along if he was so quiet and didn't need anything? And how in the WORLD was I supposed to keep any type of small-talk conversation going past the end of Bethel Road? I knew I shouldn't have turned around to ask him if he needed anything.
Whatever, let's just get this over with. Maybe we can just listen to the radio so we don't have to force conversation...
I cranked up the car and threw it in reverse. Before I could even take my foot off the brake, though, a nasal-y teenage girl voice came blasting through the speakers at ear-damaging decibels, louder than any song that had ever graced my baby SUV before. Yes, folks... Miley Cyrus was rockin' out to the chorus of "See You Again." Not even on the radio, mind you. It was a CD.
I wanted to die.
I scrambled to turn the volume down and change it to another song, but as frazzled as I was, I ended up turning the entire thing off. Ironically, the last line just before the deafening silence happened to be "the next time we hang out, I will redeem myself..."
No, Miley. There was no redeeming myself here.
Granted, I did have a somewhat legit excuse as to why I had obviously been jamming out to a teenage girl with a serious identity crisis. I had gone home the week before for my senior dance recital, and as a result, I had to miss almost an entire week of staff training. I decided to drive back Thursday night after my final show instead of missing even more training on Friday morning. The recital wouldn't be over until after 10PM, probably closer to 11, and then I still had to clean my dressing room. I knew it was going to be a longgg 2 1/2 hour drive back to camp, so I made a mix CD with all kinds of high energy songs that were perfect for singing at the top of your lungs---some Beyonce, some Kelly Clarkson, and one Miley Cyrus song.
As my face turned red and I fumbled around to find words, Zach spoke up.
I know that song.
Yeah, my sisters love it. They play it all the time.
He sat there, completely unfazed by what had just happened. There were no judgmental glances or snickers...just an acceptance and kind-hearted spirit that caught me completely off guard. I began to relax.
How old are your sisters?
And with that, Zach began to open up about his family. Stories poured out---stories of his sisters, ages 7 & 10, and stories of his brothers, ages 14 & 15. He talked about his parents, especially his mom, and he spoke with an admiration and respect unlike anything I had ever heard from a teenage boy. He clearly adored his family, and with each passing moment, I was beginning to adore them as well.
The conversation continued to flow---no awkward silences or forced small talk. It was as if I had known him my entire life. I was completely at ease, captivated by everything he said. Being with him was so effortless, so perfect.
It was the shortest trip to Brugh's Mill of my life...
(to be continued)