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Midnight, beneath our tree
As humans, we are instinctively obsessed with love. We read about it in magazines and novels, we cheer for the united lovers onscreen, and we dream about our possible futures if only we were Romeo or Juliet or Rose or Jack.
In one week I met and fell in love with my eternal soul mate. Dramatic words I know, but truth. In one week I spent my days in mystic and wonder and awe, just short of magic. In one week, my ideals for life were changed and my opinions on life, love, God, were changed sub sequentially.
And in one minute, it all was ruined.
Other than my boyfriend, Alex, I had always attracted boys naturally. Some say it’s a blessing. I used to also.
Now it’s only a curse.
For if I wasn’t “blessed” with charm and beauty, Cody wouldn’t be dead. Instead, he would be someone I never got to know, someone not important to me at all. But I loved him so much that trading our coincidental meeting and affair for his life would be fair. I would save him, even if it meant we would never to meet.
So maybe I am partially to blame for my beautiful Cody’s death. Or maybe I am completely to blame.
I wake up when someone is screaming. I nearly hit my head on the top bunk as I sit up straight, groping for my flashlight on the side of my bed.
“What’s going on?” I hear Ali ask. The screaming continues and it sounds like it’s right outside our door. I throw a pair of shoes on and hit the door hard, it swing open easily to reveal Taylor crouched over. At first I think she’s crying because she’s huddled over and then she moves.
A tiny, dead squirrel lies at her feet. Its head is chopped off and its body is mangled. There is dried blood in a circle around it and it’s staining the grass.
“Oh, my God,” I whisper. Then I grab Taylor, holding her in a tight hug. She continues to sob. “Taylor, did you just find this?”
“Yes,” she whimpers, her sobs turning into small hiccups. The rest of our cabin files out, and so do the counselors.
“What’s the problem?” I hear Hope ask. She’s rubbing at her bleary eyes. Then she spots the squirrel and stops short. “Oh, man. What happened?”
“I-I-I don’t know!” Taylor sobs again. Our cabin is hiding their eyes. I even hear someone retching in the woods.
“It must have been some sort of animal,” Hope murmurs to herself.
“Animal?” I ask. “This is so ripped up. What kind of animal would do this?”
Hope looks at us, a small and gentle smile on her face. “We didn’t want to scare you, but there has been reports of a red wolf on campgrounds. A few counselors have seen it lurking in the shadows and there were a few mangled animal bodies found on the horse trail a yesterday. We didn’t want to have to tell you girls.”
My friends and I huddle closer together. My arms are intertwined with Ama’s and I can smell someone has vomit breath.
“Mel?” I whisper.
She coughs. “Yeah?”
“Did you just throw up?”
“Sorry,” she whispers quietly. The rest of us back away slowly as she goes into the cabin for a piece of gum.
“You should all go back to bed. It’s only four a.m. And I’ll call Cody to come clean this up. If you hear a van, don’t worry, okay girls?” We nod at Hope and return to the cabin. Taylor swipes at her almost dried tears and climbs back into bed. The rest of us sink into our lumpy mattresses and then Krista speaks.
“Why were you outside anyway?”
I can hear Taylor sniffle lightly. “I had to pee.”
I’m about to drop my flashlight in my suitcase when I see a small white card propped up on it. I swivel around quickly but everyone else is sleeping. I pull the card out of the envelope, tugging gently on the corners.
It’s from the person again.
This time it reads,
Eva, Eva, Eva,
What am I going to do with you? Didn’t your mommy ever tell you that secrets are no fun? Oh, wait; she never had the chance did she?
And there is no such thing as an accident. That squirrel, he had it coming.
I almost started to choke and had to concentrate on breathing for a moment. This person, whoever they may be, had killed that squirrel and left it out. And they had put this note on my bag, only inches from me, when I had been sleeping. And they knew about my mother.
They knew everything.
Mentally, I started to do a count. This person showed obvious early signs of being a sociopath. They also knew a lot about me. Personal things that I only told my best of friends. I looked around the cabin. These girls knew everything about me, except about Cody. Was it possible that one of them was stalking us?
Cody was outside, talking to Hope. Then I heard her zip her tent shut and I grabbed my flashlight, tip toed to the door and opened it. Cody had gloves on and was scooping the carcass into a plastic bag. He jumped back a foot when I opened the door.
“We need to talk,” I murmured, pointing at the top of the hill. Cody dropped the bag and followed me, peeling off the dirty gloves and setting them on top of the bag.
At the top of the hill we stopped and looked down. The four cabins and single counselor tent were small and unprotected. They were easily accessible.
“They did this, didn’t they,” he whispered. I nodded solemnly. Cody’s eyes traveled the length of my boxers, tank top and socks.
“Cody,” I said. “They left me another note. They left it on my suitcase when they killed that squirrel. This person was in my cabin while we were sleeping and no one noticed.”
I showed him the card, and waited until he asked. I knew that eventually, he would.
“What does this person mean? About your mom?”
I sighed and then sat down, pulling my knees to my chest. I shivered and Cody sat down behind me so that I was circled in his embrace.
“When I was five, my mom got really sick. We didn’t know what it was, but it was lymphatic cancer. She died when I was six.”
Cody’s arms tightened around mine. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s what everyone says. And it doesn’t make a difference. But I don’t tell people, simply because it’s easier not too. People make all kinds of assumptions about why I only live with my dad. Why I never talk about my mom or why I don’t say during biology that I have my mom’s eyes or ears or mouth.
“And so this person, they have to know me. Only to the people close to me, do I tell the truth about my mom. This person knows way more about us than we know about them.”
We sat for a moment; the only sounds were that of our staggered breathing levels. Mine we short and thin, I was on the verge of crying. And when I started to cry, I leaned back into Cody and he held me as I sobbed. For a solid five minutes, we sat in silence except for my tears.
After my breathing is normal again, I swivel around in Cody’s arms.
“Cody,” I say. “This person knows a lot about us. We have to find out who they are.”
He strokes my hair gently. “Don’t worry, I’ll find them.”
“You aren’t doing this alone.”
“Baby,” he whispers, rubbing one thumb over my lips. “I’d never risk hurting you. But this is something that obviously can’t be ignored.”
“I’m coming with you,” I say sternly. “Take it or don’t go at all.”
Cody laughs quietly. “We don’t have to start now. How about when it’s morning and I’ve had some coffee and you’ve had breakfast. When we get to Wapo tomorrow, say that you have to go check on your cabin. I’ll meet you in the meditation room of crossfire on the lower level. We can talk there.”
“Fine,” I murmur, closing my eyes and letting Cody run his hands through my hair. I start to kiss him, he’s so magnetic, and for a moment I forget that we are possibly being watched. I forget that someone dangerous is looking for a chance to off us and I just sink into an embrace with the boy that I may love.
Once we get to Wapo and are settling into the Old Chapel before lunch, I sneak out with the excuse that I promised my counselor I’d help with the cabin. Then I wait for Cody in the meditation room.
After five minutes, I’m antsy.
Ten and I’m afraid.
Fifteen and I’m scoping out the entire lower crossfire before he bursts through the double doors, his face red with exercitation.
“What’s going on?” I asked. Cody looked around wildly, and then pushed me towards the meditation room. He locked the door behind us and we were silent.
“Serious, you’re freaking me out,” I said. Cody peers out the stain glass window at the front of the room.
“We alone?” he asks.
I give him a look like he’s crazy. “It’s just you and me. You locked the door. What’s the matter with you?”
“This,” he said, whipping out yet another ominous white letter. I snatched it, devouring the sour and menacing words in my head.
I can obviously find you wherever you are. Want to know who I am? I bet you do. But that doesn’t mean you can sneak out and try to find me.
You won’t be able to.
Here’s my list of things I now about you:
You wear blue boxers everyday.
You don’t really love your girlfriend Tracie.
You’re having an affair with Eva.
And you’re lying to her and yourself.
Eva is an amazing girl. Hurt her and you will be sorry. Stay with her and you will be sorry. I suggest that you tell her soon and hurt her no more.
I’ll be watching.
“What does this mean?” I asked. “What’s your secret?”
Cody sighed and sank into one of the chairs lining the walls. He cradled his head in his hands and I sat in a chair across from him.
“You’re sixteen. I’m guessing that this isn’t your first relationship.” I shook my head.
“No, I’m on a break with a guy. Whatever breaks means.”
“Well,” Cody continued. I couldn’t see his eyes. “I’ve dated a few girls before Tracie. And one of those relationships got physical. I’m still Christian and I believed in abstinence, but it didn’t work out for me.”
I gasped a little bit. Cody wasn’t a virgin? Sure, he’s in college. But I thought, being that he’s a Christian bible camp counselor, that he was pro-abstinence.
“Oh,” was all that I could say.
“I know you’re disappointed,” he said. “But it’s something that I’m not proud of. Something that I regret deeply. Not just because we weren’t married. But because I didn’t love her.”
“You don’t have to explain to me,” I said.
“Yes, Eva, I do.” Cody took my hands in his and held them tightly. “I think that I’m falling for you. And I want you to know that what she and I had, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the future that is important.”
“Don’t be ashamed,” I murmured. Then, “Wait, you’re falling for me?”
He smiled lightly. “Yeah, I think I am. It’s only been a few days but I see something in you that I’ve never wanted in anyone else. And sure, maybe we have a psychotic stalker that wants to kill us. But when I’m with you, everything else melts away and it’s only us here, in this world, at this moment, together. I’ve never felt this way before. And honestly, I hope I never feel it for anyone else.”
Everything that he was saying was perfect. I jumped into his lap and started to kiss him, not caring that our “stalker” could be watching. All that mattered was that I was kissing a guy who liked me just as much as I liked him.
“Perfect,” I whispered lightly. I don’t think he heard me.
Cody laughs lightly. “This wasn’t the reaction that I was expecting when I thought about telling you. I thought you’d be mad, storm out, never want to see me again, scream. I don’t know, any of those seem like logical things. How are you forgiving me for this?”
“Cody,” I murmur, running a hand over his hair. “This all happened before I even met you. I’m not so keen on the fact that you’ve done stuff, but I have to accept it because that means accepting you. You’re amazing and perfect in all the other ways possible and I think those qualities should mean more.”
“I don’t think it was coincidence that brought us together,” he said. I leaned back so that I could see his face. His dark hair was shining under the stained glass and his eyes had those green flecks that I had only discovered Sunday night. “I think it was God.”
“Then let God help us through this,” I whispered. “Because that’s all we’ve got left.”
“Dramatic much?” he chuckled. “That seems like a line from Titanic or something.”
I laughed along. And when we laughed, it was easy and simple. There wasn’t anything holding us back and I wasn’t afraid. But I feared that the moment we left the meditation room, everything would change.
“I have to go,” I whispered.
Cody tugged on my tank top. “Don’t.”
I giggled. “I have to. Covenant is almost over and Kristin’s going to be worried.”
“One more kiss,” he murmured. I leaned down and kissed Cody from where he sat beneath me. His lips melded into mine and it was hard to drag myself away.
“Stop doing that,” I said. I grabbed my stuff and headed for the door.
“Stop doing what?” he asked, genuinely concerned. When Cody stood up, his shirt was bunched up at the waist and his hair was sticking out from where I had pushed my hands through it.
I opened the door and slipped halfway out before I turned back to answer him. “Making me fall in love with you.” And before he could reply, I left the meditation room, and him, behind me.