By Jake Bann
"I'm not Mother Teresa."
"Stop being a bitch."
"She's a charity case."
"Well, if you were a man, you'd do it."
I turned my eyes away. She was dancing on the basketball court. The sun was setting behind her, and I squinted softly. I must have looked cool—I don't know, mysterious—because she kept looking at me. I was never mysterious. I've never been mysterious. I always just was. And then there she was, too. And the sun was setting, and I had to make up my mind quickly.
"Since I'm not doing it for myself, and I'm not doing it for her, then I must be doing it for you guys."
"Don't look at it like that, Bann. She likes you. This is a big opportunity. You get to sneak out. Come on. Didn't you like it when you snuck out with Cori last week?"
"No, I didn't. That sucked."
"Bann. Come on."
"Find someone else."
"There is no one else. She likes you. You know if you don't do this, her friends are gonna think you're an asshole, right?"
The sun was descending faster and faster. Her eyes kept flitting back over to me. She knew we were talking about her. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if we just snuck out and talked into the night. Just talked and delayed the inevitable. That would be fine. We could talk until the sun rose, or until the others were done doing what they do. I'd look sweet. I'd look like a nice, innocent guy. She wouldn't know what the hell to do in the first place, and she'd go back to bed thinking she did a good job and that everything turned out fine. The way I saw it, nobody could lose if I stared at the stars all night.
I looked back at Brett and Klimerman, who sat with me on the basketball court benches, about to burst out of their skin. After all, I was the last variable if they wanted any tonight. I was their Mother Teresa. They wanted the girls to come, who wanted their friend to come, who wanted me to come, who wanted none of it. I was their savior.
The dinner bell rang, and she and her friends left for the dining hall. I glanced one last time at the sun. Behind the trees and down on the lake, it was gone.
"Okay, I'll do it."
"Good. Listen, you don't even have to look at her. Remember, it'll be dark. You can pretend it's Sara or something."
I looked at Brett. "Sara's with Klimerman."
"Oh, right." They laughed. I called them shitheads. It was a fine evening.
In the dining hall, she sat at the table directly in front of mine against the wall. The entire meal I avoided eye contact at all costs, but I could still feel her looking, seeking, wanting. Goddamn, it was always the wrong women at the right time. I took stabs at my spaghetti, feeling like a washed-up whore. They were selling me to her. What I needed was a confessional and a strong cleansing down by the waterfront. But I couldn't see that happening at a sleep-away camp populated mostly by Jews. So I just sat there in my own little purgatory—hidden from the red dusk that I knew would inevitably descend to blue twilight, prying me from my safe haven. It was a lingering pain. Perhaps it was from the meat sauce that had been used in the sloppy joes that afternoon.
Once I looked up and met her face. I was sure she'd be perfect for someone else.
Anyone else but me. What the hell was I gonna do? Rescue her from her unfortunate fate as nothing more than devastatingly mediocre? Jesus, I wouldn't normally think things like this, but I was forced to. Hell, I was entitled to. If she wanted me, she would have to feel my wrath. I poked at my Jell-O. It was a fine evening.
We came back to the bunk at nine-thirty. Lights-out was at ten. We got ready to sleep, and Brett and Klimerman came over to my bed. I put down my magazine.
Brett sat down. As usual, his face was contorted into a pretentious smile. If you weren't careful, that smile could persuade you to do almost anything. Many a girl saw it that summer in a variety of locales: in the hockey rink, behind the tennis courts, in the athletics shed—and I suppose I saw it, too, that night as he came and sat down on my bed, coaxing me into doing his dirty deed. But what I knew was that I was his deity. And all I wanted was to get the prayers out of my head.
"Three-thirty," he told me. "I'm gonna wake you up, and you better be ready for action."
"Oh, I'm primed," I said.
"Roller hockey rink again. Just like with Cori. Listen, if you don't wake up, we're gonna sick Gildea on your ass."
I looked across the bunk at Gildea, my alarmingly muscular 14-year-old bunkmate with an even more alarming affinity for World War I. His biceps winked at me.
"Then let me get my rest if it's gonna be such an eventful night," I said.
"We only want the best for our boy," Klimerman chimed in. He laughed an overly husky laugh. I called them shitheads.
I woke up to something biting my leg and opened my eyes. Everything came into focus, and my heart was racing. Brett was standing over my bed in a black hoodie and matching sweatpants. He had pinched me. "Brush your teeth. We're going."
Walking over to the door, I debated whether or not to brush my teeth. In this circumstance, the odor could prove beneficial. But I went to the bathroom anyway. After all, I was a nice, innocent guy with a customer to entertain.
In total, there were five of us: Brett, Klimerman, Gildea, Stern, and me. Brett and Klimerman were each moving on to girl number three for the summer. Gildea had been with the same girl since the two of them were at least ten. And Stern must have been on his fourteenth since July, one for every birthday. And me? I was servicing my first client on a generous, little whim.
We walked across the soccer field in dead silence. Tex the water-ski counselor and Burke the basketball instructor were always on the prowl. Drunk most likely. And nothing's better for a counselor than to catch some horny 14-year-olds in the act. They were old, going on 50—pillars of camp lore and culture—and they'd seen every trick in the book. But we were smarter.
We reached the hockey rink at the corner of the woods. No one was there. Brett said to give it a few minutes before the girls came. He was positive there was no way they'd back out.
But Klimerman posited they could have already been caught on the girls' side of camp, and we were all silent after that.
After a few minutes, shadows began to move across the tennis courts in the distance. Soon we heard whispering. Five bodies in all. They came towards us, and before long we heard the cracking of twigs below their feet.
They reached the rink, and we all said hi. I asked her how it was going. She said it was super cold. I said, well, it's the Berkshires.
Stern took his girl's hand, and soon everyone followed suit. Pretty soon the inevitable came, and we all went off to our separate spots. She and I sat down by the entrance to the rink, while the others each occupied a corner.
Goddamn, here we were already. I never thought it would come; in the back of my head I thought God would extend his hand in such a way that would whisk me home. If not that, then maybe provide a good slap to this girl's face, on a oneway ticket to the Infirmary. But God wasn't there. It was just us. Brett was right: it was dark.
I asked her how her day was. "Alright," she said. "I played a lot of basketball." Do you like basketball? "Yeah, but Burke is such an asshole." That's true. I think he's funny though. Don't you? "Sometimes." What else do you do at camp? "Lots of things. Like crafts. I like arts and crafts."
And that was the extent of that. I realized it was getting late, going on four in the morning, and Gildea's moans from across the rink did not expedite anything. We were, in fact, stuck in time, on a continuum of Gildea's sexual crescendos. I started to think about baseball. But it was no use. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this tactic would come in handy somewhere in my life, but it sure as hell wasn't helping me now.
I tried to ignore the noise from across the rink. I turned my body. It was now or never. I slid closer to her. She slid closer to me. I stared into the abyss. The stars were out, and everything just kind of floated as her lips came into focus just faintly through the blackness. But it was dark enough so that I could pull out some of that inner mystery that shined just a few hours ago on the basketball court. "Well," I said. "Let's do this." We leaned in.
And then a light came. And voices. All at the same time. I looked up into the blinding power of a flashlight. Beyond that were silhouettes. Two men stood tall in the darkness, smiling. "Jesus Christ," I heard one say. "Is that who I think it is? Jake Bann? And Sammy Stein? Goddamn, isn't this a fine evening?" Tex and Burke laughed their asses off. I didn't say anything, and neither did she. All of us were caught in the act, and nothing needed to be said.
Between some drunk and derisive commentary from Tex and Burke on the way back to the bunk, Brett managed to ask me if I had gotten any. I told him I had a renewed faith in God and in all things holy. I told him I had a more awesome sense of the divine. He said he had no idea she was that good.