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Youth Camp: Day 1 By Elliott Lay

Day 1: Angel Sauce, Diablo Sauce

You ride in the back row of the church van on the long seatbelt-less hip-to-hip barely air-conditioned ride to youth camp because you’re one of the older boys now and they’re all ready for a camp crush and you might be too and to prepare, your flitting flirting cracked-voice words must be exchanged in backrows with the older girls who ride in the third row. You have a crush on Millie but she has a crush on Justin who has a crush on everyone and no one. But he’s your best friend. He’s your wingman, an equal-opportunity investor in hopeful and hopeless endeavors.

You stop at Taco Bell near the base of Luck Ridge Mountain because everyone must spend their precious and limited camp money to fill up on the cheapest food before you ascend. (To your knowledge, no one’s ever thrown up on the meandering switchbacking mountain roads.) In Taco Bell you eat with the older boys but you watch Millie in your best sideways-glance-way half hoping half dreading eye contact. She points emphatically with a tortilla chip and laughs with her wide braces-filled smile and you wonder if it’s about you or Justin or both or neither. You stop because you know this isn’t right. You know this week is about God. You pray silently, eyes open. You get distracted because Justin grabs a handful of Diablo sauce packets before you leave. He shoots one into his mouth. He says it calms his nerves.

You ascend the mountain and pass the lake and the baseball diamond and eventually the gate and you’ve made it. The boys’ and girls’ cabins are on opposite sides of the camp so you have to say goodbye to Millie though you don’t really say goodbye, just watch her and the other girls drag their luggage towards their cabins. As she leaves, Millie turns around and tells Justin she’ll see him at dinner and you feel angry and your stomach burns like if you’d had some of Justin’s sauce.

You begin to sweat and you run to get your luggage. Moving luggage is miserable because the path is all gravel but exciting because you know you’re early because your church is big and influential and your youth pastor is speaking this week so you get to choose bunks first. Justin grabs the bunk above you. He tosses a packet of sauce down to you. You hide it in your luggage because you can’t handle it but you also don’t want to throw it away. You lay on your bunk and try to shove Millie’s smile at Justin out of your brain. Justin jumps down and says you should go to dinner.

The food is terrible as always but you eat. You’re always hungry these days. Justin only eats the bag of Doritos. You know he’ll barely eat all week except for sour straws and Coke from the Canteen and you get prepared to unavailingly remind him of nutrients and hydration. His mom will thank you. And maybe Millie will admire how good of a friend you are.

You gaggle to the GaGa ball octagon with the boys from your church and watch the bloody knuckles scraped knees concrete cutthroat madness and realize it’s street rules not camp rules and move to another octagon where a game is just starting. Everyone’s calmer but lamer because with almost every move a group of girls in one corner yell double-tap! or closed fist! or head shot! and you don’t know these girls but you know them with their tight ponytails and matching church tshirts and track shorts the girls at your church aren’t allowed to wear. Most of their shirts are too big and cover their shorts. Other girls wear the same shorts but with tank tops and you see their iPhones tucked into their waistbands and you could stare down their shirts when they lean over if you wanted to and they all lean over for some reason and you know you shouldn’t look so you look away and say a prayer and remember that this week is for God not camp crushes.

After GaGa ball but before service you and Justin take the long sweaty gravel march back to the cabins to clean up. You hate camp showers because they’re grimy and covered in hair and spiders and other people’s soap and the curtains don’t quite close all the way and you really don’t want other guys to see you naked even if you are one of the older boys. Some guys don’t care. They walk out the shower totally nude and dress in front of everyone and even have convos like it’s no problem at all. You don’t look at them not because you feel guilty but because it’s weird and not even Justin would do that. You wear flipflops to the shower and clean as fast as you can just to get it over with so you don’t have to spend another second around everyone’s filth and nakedness. You dress nice for service. You wear a new polo and plaid shorts and your Converse and you think you look good and hope Millie thinks so too. Justin wears jeans though it's stupid hot and you laugh at him and he doesn’t care and laughs too. He even sleeps in jeans. You love how weird he is because he’s your best friend. Service that night is dark, like always. The room is crammed with the whole camp, half showered Axe-drenched boys and girls that went from shorts and flashy low-cut shirts to dresses and eyeliner and clouds of perfume. You try to find Millie in the train of girls marching into the auditorium from the girls’ cabins but you don’t see her. You tell yourself you can’t think about her now. You ignore your thoughts and sit down beside Justin.

You brought your Bible to service. It’s awkward because you don’t know where you’ll set it after service. But you shove that thought down too, can’t think about it because that means you’re thinking about after service and not service service. This is time for service service. This is time for God. The room is thick with sweat and drumbeats and fog and lasers and songs you recognize from church but turned more like pop and voices that don’t crack and everyone clapping and jumping and then getting serious and then one girl yelling in those sacred nonsense syllables you envy. Those syllables are really the whole point of camp. Justin thinks they’re weird because he grew up Lutheran but you know they’re sacred.

It happens near the end of the music, by a girl your age, the kind of girl who wouldn’t wear short shorts and tank tops but that kind who wears jean skirts and no make-up. She’s been moving around the auditorium all during the music and stops in the corner at the side of the stage when the music lulls and starts mumbling in a voice that crescendoes louder than the music. She makes the music go longer and the preacher delay. Everyone around you looks solemn. Some look annoyed. You know the annoyed ones are irreverent so you try to look solemn too and do your best not to steal a glance at Justin just to make sure he’s being reverent because you don’t want to be that kind of friend but you feel like you might need to.

The preacher eventually gets up there. He’s your youth pastor. You think the world of him because he’s fun and funny and knows all about the new Star Wars movie and some Greek and has been to Jerusalem and Patmos and Hillsong and you feel like you could really be friends with him though he only knows your name. He tells jokes and stories and Bible verses and talks about being set apart and being different and you feel all eager and guilty because you’re afraid. You hope Justin feels the same way so you won’t have to be set apart alone.

After service the canteen opens and so does GaGa ball. The girls still play in their dresses. You don’t play because you showered and you’re in your nice clothes. You can’t find a place to set down your Bible so you carry it and only have one hand free to go to the canteen and you know you won’t be able to carry all the things you want but go anyways because you know Millie will be there. And so will Justin. Those two feel dangerous together. You find them in line and it feels like all the cardboard food hardens and sinks to the bottom of your stomach. You shouldn’t have eaten, like Justin. Millie’s friend Annika is with them, so they aren’t alone and so things aren’t so bad. But Annika wants them together.

The line is longer than the music part of service, longer than reading Leviticus, but even longer because Millie looks at Justin. Her eyeshadow is purple. You know that’s her favorite color. And her nails are painted glossy with white tips. And she talks with them and touches with them and slaps Justin’s arm when he jokes and pulls him ahead in line and grabs his hand with hers and takes his phone and takes a selfie with it. You don’t have a phone. You wish you did. You try to stand nearer her but Annika is in your way. When you get to the front of the line, Justin and Millie get to go in but you and Annika have to wait. She says you two should set them up. You tell her Justin isn’t interested.

You leave the line and let Annika go in alone. Your sinking stomach won’t let you eat candy tonight. You want to intercept Justin and Millie, but you want them separate. You find them together. Justin’s bought sour straws and Coke and you’re so unsurprised and happy you knew and almost smile but then Millie asks Justin for a sip and he gives it to her and it feels like they’ve kissed and you walk away. They chase you. Justin gives you a sour straw and another packet of Diablo sauce. You eat the straw and pocket the packet. Millie asks about the Diablo sauce and laughs and you hope Justin’s weirdness might finally get to her but she decides to nickname him Diablo Sauce and so Justin already has a camp nickname and that name is from a girl and your panic freezes your tongue and your eyes and your stomach sinks more and you want to throw up the sour straw and maybe you’ll use the Diablo sauce but then Millie says that if Justin is Diablo Sauce then you’re Angel Sauce and so you have a nickname and it’s from Millie and camp nicknames from girls stick and mean things and you think again that maybe camp isn’t so bad.


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