"Nothing important I hope," Charlie said rolling over to face her.
"My mom. For as long as I have lived out here and as many times as I tell her she always seems to forget about the two-hour time difference. Sorry if it woke you," she answered following it up with a quick kiss on his lips.
"Hey, if that's what we're getting up for, I don't mind so much. As long as you remember that I was up numerous times with the baby and there could potentially be performance issues," he said pulling her closer.
"That's all fine and good, but Mom did have an invitation I think deserves some consideration," Kirsten said kissing Charlie on the chest, shoulders and neck.
"I'm trying to get lucky and you have to bring your mom into the room?" he said in a teasing manner. Kirsten extracted herself from his arms and sat up.
"Actually, she wanted us to come out. I don't know if I told you about the camp we used to go to? We started going with our neighbors when we lived in Kenosha. It's in Wisconsin and we've gone for years, most of the people come back year after year. It's on a little lake, there are cabins and a dining hall, a beach. It's church camp, but I think they would let you heathen Salingers in, they're a pretty understanding lot."
"Camp? Isn't that kind of third grade?" Charlie teased.
"C'mon, Charlie, I've gone to that camp for years and years. My dad has to go to Japan on business and my mom doesn't want to go alone. She thought it might be fun for everyone. She's trying, Charlie."
"Camp . . . well, I guess we could at least put it before the committee. I'll bring it up at dinner tonight," Charlie said as he pulled her back into his arms. Their amorous activities were interrupted with the cries of a hungry six month old. Charlie gave Kirsten one more kiss and then climbed out of bed and headed for the nursery.
Kirsten climbed slowly up the steps to the closed attic door. She could hear the music was on, but she wasn't sure Julia had awakened yet. She knocked gently on the door. After Julia's acknowledgment she pushed the door open.
"Hey, I wasn't sure if you were up, but I figured I'd take a chance," Kirsten said as she walked over to the bed where Julia sat in her pajamas.
"Yeah, we were out kind of late last night," Julia responded as she indicated that Kirsten should sit down.
"I'm glad to see you going out and doing something with your friends. I know this has been a really hard summer," Kirsten said. Griffin had left town in March and as far as she knew had not contacted Julia. She had a feeling that he had left legal papers for his young wife before his departure, but neither Kirsten nor Charlie knew for sure and Julia wasn't saying.
"Yeah, it's kind of been a bummer, but there's a few people from school in town so it's not so bad," Julia responded in a flat tone. It was clear that she was depressed about the whole situation.
"My mom called and has invited us to go to Wisconsin in a couple weeks. Charlie's going to talk about it at supper tonight, but I wanted to talk to you first. I think it would be really nice if you would go with us, Jule. I think the change of scenery might do you some good. We'd spend the week at a camp where my family's gone for years. There's a little lake, a beach, lots of places to read, write and hang out. There would be people your age on the staff, but if you just wanted some time to yourself you could have that as well."
"I don't know Kirsten. I'm temping and trying to make some money for school," Julia answered in the same flat tone.
"At least consider it. I think you might be surprised," Kirsten said getting up from the bed. "I have a lot of good memories there and I would like to share them with you."
Julia nodded and returned to the book she had been reading when Kirsten had come in. Kirsten looked at her for a moment and then turned and left the room.
"So then Jamie told the guy to get lost or he'd sock him. Like Jamie should sock some guy who's like at least 6 inches taller than him and at least 50 pounds heavier. I had to step in or there would have been major blood shed," Claudia continued her story in an animated fashion. They were waiting for Julia to join them for the weekly dinner at the restaurant. Bailey's "no reservation" policy had done well for the restaurant, but as founding members and owners of the business the Salingers' still enjoyed their choice table on Sunday evenings.
"I'm glad to see that you are more reasonable than your friend," Charlie teased his little sister. She was growing up so fast. "But, I do want to talk about a family outing coming up." He paused for a moment and then continued, "I was going to wait for Julia, but I'm not sure she's going to show." He paused for a moment, looking over at Kirsten. "Kirsten's mom has invited us to go out to Wisconsin to go to camp in two weeks. We talked it over and think it sounds like a good idea. We'll be back before cheerleading starts in August so I think everyone's schedule should be free. You will keep the home fires burning won't you Bay?"
"Absolutely. Sarah and I'll come stay at the house. It'll be great to spread ourselves out. That apartment is getting smaller by the minute," he laughed and nuzzled Sarah's neck. They seemed to have moved past all the difficult times and were really happy.
"So, is there going to be room for one more in that cabin?" Julia's question caught them all off-guard. No one had seen her walk up to the table.
"Absolutely," Kirsten said as she took Julia's hand and smiled.
"Owen, get your bag and get down here. If we miss the shuttle I am not coming back here for you," Charlie hollered up the steps.
"Charlie, he's only five years old. Settle down. The shuttle will not leave without its passengers and they aren't even here yet. I swear it almost isn't worth the vacation when you get so bent out of shape," Kirsten said as she shifted Elizabeth to her other hip,
"Well, I've never had to get ready for a vacation with a baby, a five year old and a couple of recalcitrant teenagers," Charlie said in an irritated tone.
"I would be careful how you phrase that. We need Claudia and Julia's assistance just to get out of this house," she was interrupted by Charlie's hollering up the steps.
"We're leaving this house in 15 minutes and I want everyone's luggage at the bottom of the steps now!"
"Hold your horses, Char. We're coming," Claudia said as she came down the steps not only with her bags, but with Owen and his luggage in tow. "I just wanted to make sure Owen hadn't Trepacked' his bags after last night. I could just see us in Wisconsin with two left shoes and three pairs of clean underwear."
"Thank you Claudia," Kirsten said. "I'm going to go change the baby's diaper one last time and then I think we'll be ready to go."
By the time the shuttle van pulled up the ragtag group had pulled themselves together. Julia finally emerged from the attic with her bags and Bailey and Sarah pulled up in the Jeep for their last minute instructions.
"You have the number at the camp office and at Kirsten's house. If you have any questions or . . . " Bailey interrupted Charlie's instructions.
"We'll be fine. Go, have a great time. If anything at all comes up, we'll give you a call. Don't worry," Bailey said smiling and pushing Charlie toward the door. The man just didn't know how to relax.
Charlie slowed the van at Ellie's instruction. The last turn came up quick from this approach. She pointed it out and then Charlie noticed the sign directing them to Crossroads Camp. They turned onto the smaller road and then again into the camp proper. They were almost immediately greeted by a smiling young woman. She introduced herself as Melanie, the program director for the summer. The Salinger/Bennett clan pulled themselves out of the minivan. The drive up from Chicago had seemed extremely long at times with a five year old and a baby.
Melanie directed the family up the small hill to their cabin. They quickly unloaded their belongings. Elizabeth, who had been asleep, woke up and began to cry. Kirsten took her out of the infant seat and walked out onto the grassy area on top of the hill. Many of the family's had not arrived yet, but there was a blonde-haired woman sitting near her pop-up camper. Bikes and shoes were scattered all over in front of the camper, but the woman seemed oblivious to the disarray.
"That's a little baby," she said setting her book and glass of iced tea down. She walked over to Kirsten and took a closer look at the baby. "Yes, you are a little one, aren't you? How old is she?"
"Elizabeth was six months last Thursday. I'm Kirsten Bennett," she said and held her hand out to the woman.
"Annie Camden. Are you a longtime camper here? My husband is the resource pastor this week and we've inflicted this poor sanctuary with our five kids who seemed to have disappeared for the moment."
"Actually, I have come to Crossroads for years, but the rest of the gang is new. I grew up in Chicago and live in San Francisco now. My dad couldn't come this summer, so Mom invited us to join her." Kirsten was keeping her descriptions purposefully vague. She knew their old family friends would understand, but it was confusing to describe Charlie, her once fianc , now live-in boyfriend, his daughter by a woman he wasn't with, let alone his brother and sisters. Hopefully Annie wouldn't ask too many questions and they could let it pass for now.
"The gang? So who does that comprise?" Annie asked. Kirsten motioned to Charlie who was closing the door of the van.
"This is Charlie, the little one who looks like he needs a trip to the outhouse is Owen, and Claudia and Julia are in the cabin getting settled in. Owen's 5, Claud 16 and Julia's 19."
"Well then, they'll match-up pretty well with our kids. Matt's 19, Mary 17, Lucy 15, Simon 13 and Ruthie just turned seven. I'll bring them by when they show up," Annie responded. Charlie and Kirsten made their excuses, including Owen who was now acting quite owly and in need of the nap that every 5-year-old demands after a long car ride.
Annie sat back down and attempted to read her book again. She didn't intend to be nosey, but she did wonder how this nice young couple had a 19-year-old and she had noticed that neither one sported any kind of ring on their left hand. It wasn't her place to ask questions or make judgments, but perhaps she would talk to Kirsten more later.
Claudia and Julia put their bathing suits on and walked down the hill to the beach. A quick survey of the area showed three teenagers, two girls and a boy. They seemed to know each other, playing with a frisbee on the small beach front. There was also a lifeguard on the dock watching the unoccupied swim area.
"Well, this looks promising," Claudia said in a sarcastic tone.
"It's definitely not the Pacific Ocean," Julia said lifting her sunglasses to survey the small lake. The lake was so small motor craft weren't permitted, only canoes and sailboats.
"I guess we might as well make the best of it," Claudia said moving towards the group of kids.
"Hi! I'm Claudia," she said. "This is my sister Julia. Are you first-timers or lifers at Crossroads?"
"First time. Would you believe our parents made us come?" the older of the two girls said. "I'm Mary. This is my sister Lucy and my brother Matt. How about you?"
"First time and definitely against our better judgment. Our brother's girlfriend used to come here all the time when she was little so she thought it would be the perfect family activity," Julia responded.
"Brother's girlfriend? Did your parents come too?" Lucy asked receiving a nudge from Matt indicating she was once again prying for too much information.
"Don't ask," Claudia responded. "If we start to explain the family dynamics we'll never get into the water."
"I don't know if you actually want to swim in there. It may be August, but it's also Wisconsin and it's pretty darn cold," Matt offered in a solicitous tone.
"Hey, we're from Northern California . . . the water's always cold," Julia said as she tossed her towel down and ran into the water. Claudia followed her shrieking slightly as the cold water hit her legs. The Camdens watched the two sisters for a moment and then followed them into the water. A quick game of splashing of dunking began almost immediately.
Owen had awakened from his nap just in time for canteen. Charlie put Elizabeth in the baby carrier and joined Kirsten and the little boy. Kirsten had told Owen about what good ice cream cones they had at the canteen so Owen had been begging the whole trip to try one. They found Melanie again who directed them to the little store. After signing up and paying their money, Owen was quickly served a two-scoop cookies and cream cone. The instant it came over the counter Charlie knew he would regret that decision. The chance that more than 25% of the ice cream actually getting into his brother seemed unlikely.
They carried their treats back out of the lodge into the sunlight. There was a bench outside the door overlooking the lake shore. A man in his early 40s sat in the bench. Charlie sat down and lifted Elizabeth out of the carrier.
"Your first?" the man asked.
"Yes . . . well kind of," Charlie responded.
"Kind of? That's a unique response. I'm Eric Camden. I'm the resource pastor this week."
"Charlie, Charlie Salinger. This is Elizabeth and over there are Kirsten and Owen who is more of my firstborn."
"May I pry?" Eric asked, obviously intrigued.
"He's my brother, but my parents died when he was about six weeks old, so I've raised him. It's a little strange, but in many ways I feel like he is my first born. I definitely experimented on the kid more than he might've like."
"Perhaps you should talk to my son Matt about that. He's 19 and I think he would agree that being first is the hardest. We have five kids running around here. I'm just waiting for the two youngest to emerge from the canteen with my butter brickle crunch," as he finished the door opened again releasing the two youngest Camdens. They each held a melting cone in their hands, Simon obviously entrusted with his dad's butter brickle.
"Here you go Dad. I hope they made it big enough for you," Simon said passing the cone over.
"Well, you know it can never be big enough for me, but much larger and it would have gotten back to your mother and we don't want that," Eric said taking a large lick of the side to catch the drips. He laughed as Owen ran over to Charlie virtually covered with ice cream. Before Charlie could contain him there was cookies and cream all over the baby and Charlie and spilling onto Eric.
"Sorry about that. I underestimated the size of the double-dip cone," Charlie said trying to clean up Eric's leg while holding Owen back so he couldn't do anymore damage.
"Like I said, we have 5 of our own so I understand completely." Kirsten came over and took Elizabeth from Charlie.
"Why don't you just take him swimming? I think the girls are down there and it would be easier than a shower," Kirsten said laughing at the sight of Charlie and Owen, the living ice cream cones.
"Easier on who," Charlie said as he picked the little boy up and headed for the cabin.
"Owen, sit right here while I go get your suit," Charlie said as he pointed to the bench outside their cabin. If Owen came in with him, Charlie could only imagine the potential destruction.
"I'll stay right here," Owen answered. As Charlie disappeared into the cabin, a young girl with a head of curls approached Owen.
"Hey, you've got quite a mess there," she said.
"It's ice cream. Charlie says I'm a living ice cream cone," Owen answered. "What's your name?"
"It's Ruthie. Ruthie Camden. What's your name and who's Charlie?"
"I'm Owen and he's Charlie," Owen answered pointing to his brother who had reappeared in his swimming trunks holding a smaller pair in his hands.
"Hey Charlie! I'm Ruthie. Are you going swimming, too?"
"You must be the littlest Camden I've heard so much about," Charlie responded.
"That's me. I'm off to the beach, gonna join me?" Owen jumped off the bench and followed her down the hill towards the beach. Charlie laughed at them and followed down the hill.
Slowly but surely the entire Camden and Salinger contingencies had converged on the beach area. Kirsten and Ellie sat in the gazebo with Annie who now held Elizabeth. The women seemed engrossed in conversation. Charlie quickly slipped Owen out of his ice cream-covered outfit and into his swimming trunks. The older kids had now been joined by Eric and Simon. As soon as Owen's trunks had been tied, he took off running after Ruthie into the water.
"I think we've gotten the whole family introduced now," Annie said as Charlie walked over to the group of women.
"Aren't you going in?" Kirsten asked. Charlie sat down next to her and gave her a kiss.
"Oh, probably, but I thought I see if you wanted to join me," Charlie teased.
"I don't think so," she responded. "Besides, I don't have my suit on."
"I don't believe I've seen a camp rule that you have to wear a suit," Charlie responded trying to keep a straight face. Before Kirsten could prepare herself, Charlie snatched her up off the bench.
"At least take my shoes off," Kirsten screamed as Charlie threw her over his shoulder.
"Ellie," Charlie directed as he pointed Kirsten's feet towards her mother. Ellie obliged as she and Annie laughed at the display. Even baby Elizabeth joined in the laughter, clapping her hands.
"Charlie! Put me down," she screamed as he carried her further into the water.
"As you wish," Charlie answered as he dumped her into the lake.
"Charlie Salinger, you're dead," she yelled pulling him down into the water with her.
"They look like they're having fun," Annie said.
"Yes, Charlie and Kirsten are definitely made for each other. They've had a lot of challenges, but they seem to have come through it okay," Ellie said.
"Well, from what I can see, they have a lovely family," Annie said bouncing Elizabeth on her lap. "This one is especially cute."
"She sure is. We're awfully glad to have her in our family," Ellie answered reaching over to kiss the baby.
Kirsten walked out of the shower house. The swimming had felt good, even though it was unplanned. It was fun to see Charlie so carefree and relaxed. It was exactly what she had hoped for when they decided to come to Crossroads. She caught sight of Annie and Eric sitting outside their camper.
"So how do you do it? You have five kids and here you sit relaxing outside waiting for the supper bell?" Kirsten asked as she sat down. "The only reason I even got to take a shower by myself is that Charlie took Owen and my mom has the baby."
"Years of practice," Annie responded. "You'll get better as time goes by. Besides, our kids are much older."
The threesome chatted quietly until they were interrupted by the teenagers.
"Hey, what time is dinner?" Matt asked as they got to the top of the hill.
"Six o'clock. Did you kids have fun?" Annie asked. They all nodded their assent.
"Mom and Dad, this is Julia and Claudia Salinger. Julia and Claudia these are our parents, Annie and Eric," Lucy said introducing the rest of the group.
"Yeah, and this is Kirsten. Kirsten, this is Matt, Lucy and Mary. We're going to go down to the lodge to shoot baskets before dinner," Claudia said. Julia had remained silent, but her participation with the group seemed like a positive sign to Kirsten.
"Kirsten, I have to ask . . . the girls are . . . " Annie's voice trailed off.
"Julia and Claudia are Charlie's sisters. Their parents were killed five years ago and he's raised them since then. Their brother Bailey stayed at home. He runs their dad's restaurant."
"Wow, that's a lot of responsibility for you. It must've been hard," Eric responded.
"Well, I wasn't there when it happened, but they've all done pretty well," Kirsten answered turning her head at the sound of Owen's voice. He and Charlie headed from the shower house into the cabin to finish getting dressed.
"So Owen . . . " Annie asked.
"Another brother. Yeah, they had a 24-year span between the five of them. I actually met Charlie when I became Owen's nanny. Pretty funny, huh?" Kirsten said with a chuckle.
"We never know what path life will take us down," Eric responded. "But, you seemed to have blended into a great family."
"Yeah, it hasn't been easy, but little in life is. If you'll excuse me, I'd better see how my mom and Charlie are coming along," Kirsten said getting up and moving over to the cabin.
"Hey, Owen are you ready for supper?" Kirsten asked as the bell sounded outside calling them for the meal. "We'd better get down there and get a good table."
The little boy scampered out the door in search of his older sisters. He was quickly joined by the younger Camdens.
"Annie and Eric are nice," Charlie said as he pulled Elizabeth's jacket on.
"Yeah, they are. Easy to talk to, but I feel weird," Kirsten said sitting down on the bed.
"Weird? About what?" Charlie asked.
"I don't know. We aren't married, Elizabeth isn't my daughter, Owen is your brother . . . we aren't your traditional family. I just don't know what to say."
"So don't say anything or tell them the truth, I don't care. I figure you and I have gone through enough in the past few years that we can do whatever the heck we want to. We've earned that right." Charlie picked the baby up and held out a hand to her. She stood up and they walked out the door towards the lodge arm in arm.
The lodge was full of familiar faces for Kirsten and Ellie. It was fun to see so many old friends and introduce them to Kirsten's new family. They were instantly accepted without few questions. Claudia and Julia disappeared into a larger group of teenagers. Ellie, Kirsten, Charlie and the younger kids joined Tim and Claire, old friends of the Bennetts.
"Charlie, when Kirsten was Claudia's age I used to say goodbye to her on Sunday afternoon and rarely see her until we were ready to leave on Friday. I'm not sure why they call it family camp, but it's fun to see them enjoying themselves," Ellie said as they took their seats.
"So Charlie, what do you do?" Claire asked. She and Tim had retired the year before and had been joined for the week by their grown children and a cadre of grandchildren.
"I design playground equipment. I'm overseeing a project for the San Francisco public schools to refurbish their old equipment," Charlie answered.
"Well, that's very interesting. How does someone get into playground equipment?" Tim asked.
"Actually, I happened to know a well-connected child psychologist," Charlie responded smiling at Kirsten. "Kirsten knew someone who knew someone. It happened very quickly. I actually managed my dad's restaurant for about four years before that, but my younger brother Bailey took it over last year. We had to leave him at home. Someone has to pay the mortgage."
"We understand that. Our sons-in-law usually can only come for part of the week. It was nice that you could get away," Claire responded.
The evening passed without event. After dinner the families took turns introducing themselves and then enjoyed a campfire down by the lake. After the campfire Kirsten headed to the cabin with a sleeping Owen. She got him settled into bed without incident. Charlie had decided to keep the baby down in the lodge with him. As she exited the cabin, she caught sight of Annie leaving her camper.
"Owen go to bed?" Annie asked. Kirsten nodded. "Yeah, I think the sun and swimming wore Ruthie out. She practically fell asleep on my lap at the campfire."
"One day down," Kirsten said looking out over the hillside to the lake. "As a little girl I dreamed about coming here with my family, but I never really thought it would happen."
"So you've been coming for many years?"
"Yeah, since I was about Owen's age. I haven't been here for a few years now, things have been a bit more complicated the past few years, but it's really good to be back," Kirsten sighed and sat down on the bench. Annie joined her.
"Charlie and I . . . it's complicated. We . . . we met almost five years ago when I became Owen's nanny. We planned to marry the next fall, but Charlie got scared. It probably would've worked out, but I fell into a pretty major depression. I left San Francisco, Charlie, the kids and came back home."
"That must've been rough," Annie said in a sympathetic tone taking Kirsten's hand.
"Yeah, it was. But, I got better and I met a really great man and then I did something really horrible. I married him. I didn't love him and I knew it, but it seemed like the thing to do. We ended up moving back to San Francisco and before I knew it I was right back in the middle of the Salingers." She paused for a moment. Annie sensed that Kirsten needed to just get it all off of her chest.
"Charlie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. He started treatments and it went okay, but he was pretty sick for a while. Things got pretty wild there and I couldn't not be there for him. I loved him. I mean I had loved him, so of course I still did. After he went into remission things started to go back to normal with Paul, my husband, but then there was the baby."
"Elizabeth?" Annie asked.
"Yes. Charlie had met a woman, a great woman actually. Daphne helped him to start his life again. She got him to turn the restaurant over to Bailey and think about what he really wanted to do with his life and then suddenly she was pregnant. She didn't want the baby, but agreed to let Charlie raise it. You see, he knows about unplanned parenthood and I think he saw the baby as some kind of affirmation of being alive, not being sick anymore."
"Was it hard for you to see him with another woman?" Annie asked.
"In some ways, but the baby is what made it so hard. I already loved Charlie more than I should have, but I can't conceive a child. Charlie was having the baby I never could so I used that as an excuse to deny what was going on. I just pretended it was all about the baby. Finally, Paul left me. He took a job in Boston and said I wasn't to come with him and he was right. He's such a good man, but he deserves someone who loves him with all of her heart and I never did."
"It still must have been hard," Annie said.
"It was terrible and Daphne was having the baby and I was so afraid I would have another depression. I was literally driving myself crazy and then out of the blue Daphne called me. She asked me to come back to Charlie. She knew he loved me and she knew I would love Elizabeth like I've always loved Owen and the other kids. She's still a part of Elizabeth's life, but Charlie and I . . . we're her parents."
The two women sat in the moonlight in silence for a few minutes. Finally Annie turned and hugged Kirsten.
"Thank you for sharing that with me. It sounds like you have all come through some pretty incredible times, but you seem quite grounded."
"Actually, I feel like I should be wearing a scarlet 'A' on my chest. Paul and I aren't even divorced yet and I'm a little scared about marrying Charlie. I know I love him and I want to be with him, but I've already screwed up once."
"God works in us in ways we don't know and can't understand. If you love one another and trust that feeling, it'll work out. It always does. Just have faith." Annie stood up. "I've heard there's some pretty intense game playing late at night, so we'd better get moving."
The women walked back towards the lodge. There were screams of teenagers coming from the field in front of the building.
"It must be the traditional game of moonlight kick the can," Kirsten said. "When I was a teenager, we would play for hours. Don't be surprised if your kids don't turn up tonight or maybe show their faces just to get their sleeping bags. I don't know if they still do it, but we used to sleep down in the boathouse by the lake every night."
"I guess they should be fine if they're here at camp," Annie said with a smile. She pulled the lodge door open and the women entered.
"Hey, we were beginning to wonder if you had fallen asleep," Eric joked. He was seated at a table with Charlie and another couple, the Warrens, another longtime camp family from Minnesota.
"Jack was just explaining the intricacies of TMexican Train' a popular dominoes game in these parts. You up for a game, Annie? Kirsten?" Eric asked.
"I'm not much of a gamer, but do you want me to take Elizabeth?" Kirsten asked.
"That would be great," Charlie said as he turned his attention to the tiles on the table. Jack was explaining the general rules for the game to novice players Eric and Charlie. Jack's wife, Vanessa got up and excused herself to the table where Annie and Kirsten had joined Ellie.
"Kirsten, it's so good to see you. Your mom keeps us on top of all your moves and changes, but it's nice to see you for ourselves," Vanessa said as she pulled up a chair. "It's also good to have some fresh blood here, Annie."
"Thanks. I think we've discovered a real treasure. Our kids couldn't believe we were making them go on vacation with us, but I haven't heard a single complaint since we got here," Annie said taking a sip from her mug of coffee.
"The first year we came our daughters cried the whole way because they didn't want to go and they cried the whole way home because they didn't want to leave. We used to go up to Door County for a vacation after the week was over. I would be hard pressed to even get Amy and Renee out of the car. They would be writing letters to all of their new friends and crying . . . for hours at a time," Vanessa said.
"The kids are so busy that I'm just glad to see them taking some time for relaxation. Matt will start his second year at our local university and Mary's going to be a senior. She's getting calls from college basketball coaches and I think the stress is starting to get to her a little bit," Annie said.
"There's so much pressure put on kids these days. Julia even took a year off before starting Stanford last fall. She just felt that she was being pushed to decide how she wanted to spend the rest of her life. I think a lot of that comes from spending some of her formative years without her mother, but in general they just have so much to deal with," Kirsten stated as the other women nodded in agreement.
Matt walked out of the lodge. He had headed in for a water break, but now it seemed like the game was breaking apart. He walked past a picnic table in the shadows. He noticed a familiar figure and walked over.
"Hey, is the game over?" he asked as he sat down next to Julia.
"Yeah, I guess so. I dropped out a little while. I guess I just needed to pull my thoughts together," she said quietly.
"I understand that. With four younger siblings I try to get the quiet wherever and whenever I can. So do you live in the dorms at Stanford?"
"Yeah, I did last year. All freshman are required to. This year I'm living in a co-op house of people in my writers' collective. It's just off campus so it'll be kind of like the dorm."
"That's cool. I stayed at home last year . . . money, but next year I want to get a place with some friends. I think my mom was not ready for me to leave, but maybe now. If Mary goes away next year on a basketball scholarship then I'm definitely getting out, even if I have to sell Simon to do it!"
Julia sat quietly. Even in the short time since she'd met Matt he seemed like a really nice guy, so easy to talk to, but she wasn't sure she was ready to talk to anyone yet. Not about Griffin, anyway. The two young people sat quietly for a minute.
"Well, I'm going to head up and get my sleeping bag. You going to join us in the boat house tonight?" Matt asked.
"Yeah, I think I will. I just want to go let Charlie know," Julia said pushing herself off the table and heading into the lodge to find her brother.
Monday and Tuesday passed by quickly. Kirsten continued to renew old friendships and Ellie seemed to enjoy watching her new family join in the Crossroads community. At campfire time Julia and Claudia's voices soared with the rest of the teen-aged group. They seemed to revel in folk music. Charlie and Kirsten barely saw the girls as they continued to sleep nights in the boat house and take all their meals with the other kids their age. They seemed to particularly enjoy the company of the Camden children. Claudia and Lucy had become fast friends.
"So, do you want to do arts and crafts this afternoon or just hang at the beach," Claudia asked Lucy as they sat at lunch on Wednesday.
"Actually, I have to go on the river trip with my dad. He said we needed to spend some time together. I think he just needed to get somebody to paddle instead of Ruthie. For some reason Simon seems to have gotten out of it. Hey, maybe there's still room and you could go with Charlie. He could take your little brother. Owen seems to be following Ruthie around most of the time anyway."
"That's a great idea," Claudia responded. She immediately moved to find her older brother. When she got to their table, she poured the whole scheme out in rapid fashion.
"Charlie was going to make me go with them, but if you want to go Claud, I would actually love to stay here and read my book," Kirsten said.
"Great, what time do we go?" Claudia asked.
"Right after lunch and you had better be prepared to get wet," Eric said with a grin.
Claudia returned to her table to share the good news with Lucy.
The group began to assemble by the bell tower. There were six canoes full of campers ready togo on the trip. They were joined by two counselors, Dave and Todd who would lead the expedition. A third counselor, Mike, entertained them all with stories while they loaded up. He would drive them down to the river and pick them up after the hour-long trip. Owen ran around the van and trailer, visibly excited about "going down the river." Charlie had never had him in a canoe, so this would promise to be quite an adventure. He grabbed Owen and got him into the large van that would take them to the river. Once everyone was in, Mike closed the doors and they got underway.
The staff and campers efficiently unloaded the canoes and got them into the water. Claudia climbed into the front of the second canoe. Charlie walked into the water carrying Owen. He carefully set the little boy down in the middle admonishing him to stay seated and not rock the boat. Eric held the back of their canoe while Charlie climbed aboard.
"Ready to shove off?" Eric asked. The Salingers said they were ready to go and he gave them a gentle push. After some basic instructions from her brother, Claudia began paddling in earnest.
"Hey, Claud it isn't a race to the end of the river," Charlie said in a teasing tone.
"It isn't? I would stay away from the canoe full of Camdens if you don't want to get wet. Lucy said her dad is famous for big water fights and capsizing. You know, he does baptism for a living!"
"Well, then I guess our only defense is a good offense," Charlie responded dipping the paddle in the river more deeply.
But through fate it wasn't the Camdens that got them wet after all. Todd had warned them about the small rapids once they passed under the bridge, but the combination of Claudia's inexperience and the bug that flew into Charlie's mouth as they approached the rocks spelled a recipe for disaster. Charlie tried to call out to his sister, but it was in vain. Before they knew it the canoe tilted and they were all in the water. Charlie yelled to Claudia to grab the canoe and the paddles while he pulled Owen from the water. They were all wearing life vests, so there was little danger, but it scared the little boy.
"Hey, buddy. It's okay. I've got you. I wouldn't let anything happen to you," Charlie said trying to reassure Owen.
"You said we wouldn't get wet!" Owen exclaimed his mouth puckering up to cry.
"Well, I didn't think we would, but we did. You know if you cry you're only going to get more wet."
"Hey, is everybody okay over there?" Eric called out as they came out of the rapids. Claudia had pulled the canoe over to the side. She finished putting the second paddle in as Charlie made his way over still holding Owen in his arms.
"We're fine, just a little bit surprised," Charlie answered. Eric steered their canoe over next to Charlie.
"Owen, would you like to ride with Ruthie for a little while?" he asked. The little boy nodded. Charlie carefully set him down facing Ruthie in the middle of the canoe.
"Well, I guess now we'll have to race you to the end," Charlie said holding the canoe so Claudia could climb back in.
"That's no fair, we just took on like 40 more pounds," Lucy complained.
"C'mon, Luce, you're up to the challenge," Eric said as he began to paddle away. Charlie gave their canoe a push and climbed in. They wobbled for a moment and then took off quickly catching up to the other craft.
It became a battle of wills as first one boat pulled ahead and then the other. When they reached the pull out Mike would only say it had been a dead heat. Both boats agreed that it had been a good race though.
"So, is this the next great American novel," Matt asked as he sat down next to Julia on the pagoda overlooking the lake. He had watched her first looking pensive then writing in her book. When Mary went down to check out the prospects for a 3 on 3 basketball tournament, he decided to interrupt her.
"No, more of a journal. I'm trying to get some ideas, but I don't know . . . I just have a lot of things on my mind now."
"Man trouble?" Matt asked.
"Yeah, you could say that," Julia responded not offering any more details.
"Been there. My girlfriend Heather and I were separated while she went to school. She finally sent me the basic TDear John' letter. It took me forever to get over it. I even took off to Philadelphia to talk to her."
"My situation is a little more complicated," Julia said.
"So, do you want to talk about it? People say I'm a pretty good listener. I think I get it from my mom, she's pretty world-class in that area," Matt said.
"I don't know."
"You don't have to, Julia. I only thought that talking about it might help. You never know."
"I'm not sure you're prepared for what I might tell you. I'm not your usual college freshman."
"Try me," he responded looking at her. His eyes told her that Matt Camden might be just the person she needed to share this with.
She began by telling him about the first time she met Griffin. How tough he had seemed and then when his sister Jill died how she tried to be his friend. She told him about Justin, the miscarriage and how they had tried to save their relationship. She told about Griffin's return in the midst of Bailey hitting bottom with his drinking and finally about her marriage to Griffin. Throughout Matt kept his eyes on her, looking with compassion, appearing not to be shocked although this was far different from what he had expected to hear.
"We got married because we thought it was the right thing to do, but it was never the same afterwards. I'm not sure when we got so off-track, maybe it was the shop or my job. Maybe it was Charlie getting sick. It was just that we loved each other and then I couldn't even look at him without hating him a little bit. He left, I went to school, it was over."
"So, are you still married?" Matt asked.
"Technically. He left San Francisco last spring on his bike, said he didn't know where he was going, but he left me the divorce papers and an attorney to send them to. I've never signed them and he hasn't written so I guess we're still married. I don't know, but somehow I can't sign those papers without talking to him one more time and I'm just not sure where he is," Julia said turning to look out over the lake. Matt moved over and put his arm on her shoulder.
"That must make it hard. I mean, to not have things resolved," he said quietly.
"Yeah," she answered turning back to him, her eyes filling with tears. "I just keep thinking if I don't talk about it, don't think about it, it will all go away. But the thing is, I'm not sure I want it to go away. It's like I was miserable a lot of the time when we were together, but when it was good, it was so good. Now, it's just empty."
"It's mourning a loss, just like a death," Matt said. "You have to give yourself time."
"I don't think I can do that. My mom and dad have been gone for five years and even though I don't think about them every single day anymore, I still miss them. I don't think I ever will stop. I can't imagine feeling that way about Griffin for the rest of my life."
"But when you think about your parents now, what comes to mind? Is it good stuff or bad?" Matt asked.
Julia gave a short laugh and even smiled slightly at him. "Good. It's pretty rare that I think about them dying anymore, it's usually about things my dad used to say or the way my mom smelled so great. I hope that's the stuff I take from Griffin, because there are so many great things."
They sat for a moment, both looking at the tranquil lake, a sailboat skirting the edge of the lake, shouts from the beach in the distance. Their solitude was interrupted by Matt's younger brother, Simon.
"Hey Matt! You want to play on our 3 on 3 team? Me and Mary are signed up for the tournament, but we need two more players," Simon shouted as he ran up to them.
"You game?" Matt asked Julia.
"Basketball? Are you kidding? I'm terrible," Julia said laughing.
"That's okay. Mary's practically in the WNBA, so it'll all balance out. C'mon, it'll be fun," he said as he stood and held his hand out in invitation. Julia took it still shaking her head.
"You'll be sorry," she called out as she walked back to her cabin to change her clothes.
The van pulled back into camp. As the canoers climbed out, they noticed a large group had assembled around the basketball hoop in front of the lodge. The Camden/Salinger entourage gathered their towels and T-shirts and walked over to see what all of the excitement was.
"So what's the big attraction?" Eric asked as he walked up to his wife who was watching with Kirsten.
"The kids are playing in the 3 on 3 tournament. They're going to take on last year's champions, the Warren's youngest son, Paul, Jon, the camp counselor and Tim and Claire's son-in-law Mark," Annie said as Mary, Matt, Simon and Julia began to warm up. The Camdens moved in sync as if they were on their own driveway, but Julia had clearly overstated her skills when she said she was terrible. Shot after shot missed the basket, most of them missing the backboard all together and flying into the playing field behind the hoop.
"Julia's playing basketball?" Charlie asked Kirsten.
"I guess they convinced her. I didn't know she knew how to play," Kirsten said turning to give him a kiss. "How was the canoe trip?"
"Eventful, but more about that later. Obviously she doesn't know how to play. I mean, Bay and I used to shoot some hoops when we were younger and I played in high school, but I'm not sure I've ever seen her dribble a ball."
"Maybe you should go give her a few quick pointers," Kirsten suggested Charlie moved over to the court area. He pulled Julia aside and spoke quietly to her for a moment. They both looked intense, Julia nodding her head a few times. He stepped back and showed her how to shoot arching her arm more. She mimicked him a couple times and then tried it with the ball. The first shot came much closer. Charlie spoke to her again, she took the ball and again and this time it went through the hoop. Julia shouted with joy jumping up and down while her team and the onlookers all congratulated her.
Melanie blew her whistle and announced that the game was about to begin. It would be the first one to 21, each basket counting one point. She laid out the rest of the rules. Julia took her place off-court to be subbed in. Matt nodded and winked at her. She gave him a thumbs up as he prepared for the jump ball against Paul Warren. Matt knocked the ball to Mary and the game began.
The teams were well-matched. Although he was short, Simon was quick and a good shot. Mary had great form and Matt wasn't bad either. The other team proved worth opponents with Paul and Jon working in perfect sync. Mark had an outside jumper that seemed to stump the Camden defense.
With the game tied at 15 Matt and Paul both went after a loose ball. When they stood up it was clear that Matt had hurt his ankle. His mom came over to check him out and while deciding it was probably just a strain, she suggested they sub Julia in. Matt cast her a glance and she shrugged her shoulders.
"C'mon Julia!" Lucy and Claudia shouted. Kirsten, Charlie and Eric joined in the cheers. Julia ran out on the court and slapped Mary and Simon's hands.
The game progressed. Mary was able to pick up the slack and they pulled ahead to 20-19. After the other team's latest score Simon took the ball out. Paul and Jon double-teamed on Mary leaving Julia open. Simon passed the ball in to her. She held it for a moment until a voice came out of the crowd.
"Shoot the ball, Julia," Matt cried. She paused for a moment and then let the ball lift off her fingers. It his the rim, rolled slowly and then dropped in for a victory. The crowd erupted in cheers, the team in a big group hug. The rest of the Camden/Salinger crowd rushed the court with Eric helping Matt over.
"I knew you could do it!" Matt exclaimed.
"Yeah, yeah," Julia said laughing and shaking her head. "I'm glad someone did!"
Thursday night was the traditional light ceremony. The campers gathered for the evening campfire in front of the lodge overlooking the lake. As the service progressed, three small lights appeared across the lake. They slowly moved across the water coming three into one to symbolize the trinity of the Creator, the Savior and the Spirit. As the lights grew closer it became apparent that they were torches on canoes being paddled by staff members. The service was a beautiful and perfect end to the week. So many new friendships had developed over the past few days.
After the campfire many of the campers stayed to sing more favorite songs. Their voices rang out across the lake. In the midst of it all Julia sought Matt out.
"Do you want to walk down to the beach?" she asked. He agreed and the left on the path along the lake's edge. When they reached the beach area she moved over to a bench and sat down.
"This has been quite a week," she said turning to look at him. They stared at one another for a moment and then she moved in and kissed him. He held the kiss for a moment and then moved away.
"Jule," he said slowly.
"Don't," she answered. "I just want to enjoy tonight and not think about those other things." She started kissing him again. He pushed away.
"I don't want to hurt you, but you have to figure out what's going on. I like you and I want to be your friend, but if we do something now, we'll only be sorry later."
She sat staring straight ahead at the lake. The silence filled the air.
"You're right. I'm sorry Matt, it was really unfair of me . . . " he stopped her with his finger on her lips.
"No, it just isn't the right time. Maybe we come back next year and things are different. Anyway, I feel really lucky to have met you," he said putting his arm around her and pulling her close. They sat there for a long time, not talking until Julia got up.
"Thanks Matt. Now, there's something I have to do," she said and walked back up the hill towards the cabin.
Charlie pulled the blankets carefully around the baby. She had adjusted to sleeping in her portable crib quite well during the week. Maybe she wouldn't be able to go back to the crib they had all slept in as babies. Charlie turned when he heard the door open. He signaled to Julia to be quiet. She nodded her assent. She moved over to her bag and pulled some things from it. She signaled Charlie to follow her outside.
They walked over to the picnic table under the large yard light. The light was so bright, it was almost like daylight. Julia sat down at the table and Charlie followed suit.
"I've wanted to talk to you about something, but I just haven't known what to do about it," Julia said laying the rolled up papers in front of her. She continued, "I'm sure you know Griffin left town in March. I'm not really sure where he went, but before he left he gave me these." She pushed the papers over to Charlie.
He looked down at the legal papers. They were an official decree of divorce.
"Jule, I'm sorry. I wasn't sure, but I figured you would tell us when you were ready."
"Thanks for giving me my space. I almost told you and Kirsten so many times, but I just couldn't. I didn't know what I wanted, but I think this is the right thing to do. For whatever reason Griffin and I are not meant to be together." Julia began to cry. "And, I don't know why because I still love him so much it hurts." Charlie moved next to her and took her in his arms.
"Love is really, really hard, Jule. Look at me and Kirsten. I have loved her since the moment I met her, but it took four years and a lot of water under the bridge to get us to where we are. Who knows? Maybe this isn't the end for you, but if you think signing those papers is the right thing, then you should do it. Trust yourself. I know you and you have always been the best judge of what was right for you. You've made a lot of big decisions and you've always lived with the consequences and learned from them."
Julia wiped her eyes and looked at her brother with a smile. "Thanks Charlie, that means so much." She pulled the cap off of the pen and lifted the pages to the final page. She paused and looked at him again and then signed her name on the line. For better or worse, it was over. For now.
Friday dawned a beautiful day. Claudia and Julia hauled their sleeping bags and pillows back up from the boat house where they had slept all week. Everyone took one last shower to get ready for their reemergence in the real world. They packed all of their things up and after a final songfest got ready to say goodbye.
"This has been a wonderful week," Annie said as she came over to give a hug goodbye to Kirsten and Charlie. "We will have to get our reservations in for next year."
"Annie, getting to know you has been a real treasure. Thank you for all the wonderful talks," Kirsten said pulling the older woman close again. "You have our address and phone number? Please think about coming out to visit. We have lots of room at the house and we'd love to show you around the Bay Area."
"That definitely sounds like a great idea to me!" Eric stated. He moved to first shake Charlie's hand and then pull him into a hug. "Charlie, it's been great. Take care of yourself and this family. We'll look for you next August and maybe next time you can get Bailey and Sarah to come as well."
While their parents were saying goodbye Ruthie and Owen had been undergoing their own departure rituals. First hugs, then kisses, then slaps on the back. After observing the odd behavior Simon walked over to his mother.
"We'd better get in the car, or Ruthie and Owen are going to hurt each other," he stated in his usual serious tone.
"I think they'll be okay, Simon. They're just trying to show their own special brand of love," Annie said with a laugh. "Ruthie, say good bye to Owen and get in the van. We need to head out." Ruthie gave Owen one last Thigh five' and ran to the van. Owen ran over to Charlie and Kirsten.
"I'm going to write Ruthie every day!" he exclaimed.
"Well then, we'd better get home so you can start kindergarten and learn how to write," Charlie said laughing and picking his little brother up to give him a hug.
"Well, we seem to be missing about three Camdens," Eric said surveying the area. Lucy, Claudia and Mary were sharing their goodbyes with more than a few tears already showing while Julia and Matt stood off to the side.
"Thanks again Matt," Julia said lifting her face to look at him.
"No problem. Same place next year?" he asked. She nodded and then gave him a long deep kiss. Charlie glanced at Kirsten who motioned they should get in their own van. Her mom took Elizabeth and climbed in. Kirsten buckled Owen in the first bench and then climbed into the passenger's seat.
"Claudia, Julia, last call. You'll see them next year," Charlie called out to his sisters. They gave their last hugs and walked slowly to the van.
"So we can come again?" Claudia asked as she crawled into the third seat of the minivan.
"I think it sounds like a good new tradition," Charlie said. He turned to look at his younger sister. "Claud, what are you doing?"
"I'm starting a letter to Lucy to tell her we can come," Claudia responded pulling open her notebook and getting out a pen.
"Well, Vanessa Warren did warn us," Kirsten said as they all laughed. Charlie started the van and headed back down the driveway. Back to Chicago, California and the rest of their lives.