Charlie was 8 years old. He had light brown hair, usually short but this summer it was a bit long and wanting a cut, and green eyes with a golden brown outer rim that made them look deep and glassy. Charlie had never really been away from home before. He’d been to his grandparents’ for a week but, while that was four hours away, it still felt like home and he could still call his parents whenever he wanted. But today, for the first time, he was really going away! He was going to an overnight camp for boys.
Charlie had never had an adventure like this before. He had been away on trips with his parents, wonderful adventures themselves, but this was different. This was independence. Freedom from the rules of the house.
His parents, especially his father, were strict. He loved them very much, but they were definitely strict. They lived in a nice, red brick house in the city. It was clean and white with a small garden out the back – there wasn’t really anywhere to run and tumble, no children that he knew of nearby that he could play around with, the way his father said he had when he was a boy. So living in a tent at a camp full of boys in a forest by a lake – this adventure he was embarking on would be new and exciting and a bit of freedom!
It was with a mixture of nervousness, excitement and a little bit of sadness at leaving home (just a little bit), that he climbed out of the car in the parking lot and ran around to the back of it, jumping up and down with the butterflies in his stomach. He wasn’t really strong enough to lift out the big black and silver trunk that held all his belongings for the next week and a half, but he wanted to be there when it was lifted out and carried to the bus.
“The bus!” he thought, looking around for it. And there it was, a proper bus, not like the rattlely yellow bus he rode to school, thick with diesel fumes. This was the kind of bus people took on the highway, over long distances.
“I’m not really looking forward to the long bus ride,” he had told his parents earlier that morning. But seeing how nice it was and, even better, seeing the group of boys clustered around it saying goodbye to heir parents, his worries diffused somewhat.
It was a hot, hazy day and he started imagining how nice it would be to go for a swim, to do all the exciting things he would be doing with the other boys at camp.
And that was the really fun part, he thought. The camp was boys only, so it would be even more fun. He was nervous about making friends but tried to hold onto his parents’ assurances that he made friends faster than anyone they knew. And his mother said he would make friends that would be friends for life, because of the closeness, the sharing of such a special experience.
They were at the bus now, his trunk was loaded in the cargo area beside the other trunks, and some of the kids were already getting on the bus.
He turned to his parents. His father, smiling, gave him a hug and some reassuring words about how he would have a great time, saying, for a smile, “don’t even think about me eating all your candy while you’re away.”
His mother, predictably looked like she was about to cry but she smiled and hugged him saying “enjoy yourself, have a great time, camp is so amazing-I wish I could go back myself.”
A lump rose in Charlie’s throat and he swallowed it, smiling and trying to make her feel better about him going.
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll be fine.”
And then he went up the steps and into the bus, turning to wave at them one last time.
The windows were tinted and it was dimly lit after the brightness of outside. He squinted, trying to determine the best place to sit, trying to see if there was anyone he knew, anyone who looked nice and like they could be a new friend. He preferred the very back or the very front but the back seemed to be taken up with older boys. Usually drawn to them, he was a bit unsure of himself today; they all seemed to know each other.
Other boys were trying to get in the bus behind him and the bus driver told him he had to sit down. There was an empty seat two rows from the front and he slid into that quickly, moving over to the window to leave the aisle seat free, and watching the faces of the boys as they passed him.
He looked out the widow and tried to wave at his parents, standing there with their arms around each other. His mother was wiping her eyes. He sighed and waved again, smiling bravely, but realized they couldn’t see through the tinted windows.
He looked towards the back of the bus, still hoping that a Hogwarts-style food cart would appear miraculously, offering chocolates and chips. His mother had explained that buses didn’t have food carts like trains did. It seemed she was right.
A boy about his age, a mass of dark curly hair and black eyes, looked his direction as he came up the steps into the bus. He walked over and sat in the empty seat next to Charlie.
“Hi, I’m Max,” he offered.
“I’m Charlie,” returned Charlie.
“Alright boys,” said the driver, “we’re going to make sure everyone who’s supposed to be here is here. I’m Greg and I’ll be driving the bus. Peter back there at the back will also say a few words when I’m done with the rules. He’s one of the counsellors for those who don’t know him and he’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.”
Charlie and Max exchanged excited glances.
“This is my first time at camp. Is it yours?” Charlie began.
“Yep,” replied Max. “I’m kinda excited about it. Are you?”
“Boys! Listening please,” interrupted Greg, looking pointedly in their direction. The boys smiled at each other and leaned back in their seats, looking at Greg while he enumerated the rules of the bus, the information about the trip, and other probably useful tidbits. They weren’t listening, though. Each boy was thinking about what it would be like to be there, which activities they would choose, and whether they would pass the deep water swim test.
Greg had finished and Peter stood up to speak. He was about 16, had what could only be described as large hair, curly and blonde, and relaxed, friendly green eyes.
“Ok kiddos, we’re heading out. Welcome to Birch Narrows Camp. As Busdriver Greg said, our trip is going to take about three hours so sit back, relax and enjoy, make a new friend, take a snooze. I’ll let you know when we’re close. When we get there, you’ll see a few other buses in the parking lot. They’re coming from other cities. Oh, and there will be people to help you carry your trunks to your tents.
“We should be there in time for dinner, so once you’ve found out which tent you’ll be in, and you’ve settled a bit, met the other guys, it’ll be off to the dining hall for dinner. After dinner, there will be a special gathering to welcome all of you, and then a campfire by the lake before bedtime. I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots more of eachother over the next couple of weeks! Any questions?”
Charlie’s hand shot up. Charlie always had a question or a comment.
“Yes? What’s your name and what’s your question?”
Charlie smiled. “Hi everyone. I’m Charlie. I’m eight. This is my first time being away at camp. My question is, ummm, how far is the deep water swim test?”
“Welcome, Charlie. Don’t you be worrying about the swim test, that is tomorrow. I don’t remember how far it is; the swimming instructors would know that. I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Greg smiled encouragingly.
Charlie sat back in his chair, thinking about how exactly he was going to swim what he was quite sure his mother had said was 250 meters. That was far.
“Are you worried about the swim test?” he asked Max.
“Nah. I guess if we don’t pass we can do other stuff.”
The boys passed the three hours chatting about school, their friends, soccer, cars, zombie attacks and their ideas about how the next week and a half would be. They ate the snacks their parents had packed and Charlie spent some time looking at the magazines he found in his backpack. Eventually, they fell asleep and awoke only when bus bumped over the rough road into the camp parking lot.
Read another post about Charlie at camp here.