Robert was shaking me awake.
"Morgen," I mumbled.
"Morning," he replied. "You miss breakfast."
Will, or did? I wondered.
"What time is it?" I asked.
After he answered, I said, "Missed. Already happened, past tense."
"Zo, you missed breakfast. You don't get off your ass, you miss lunch?"
"I will miss lunch."
"Vy? No hunger?"
"I mean, if I don't get off my ass, I will miss lunch."
"Ah, vill. Eef you don't get off your ass, you v-will miss lunch. Und your parents are here."
I didn't really want to get out of bed, but I was glad they were there and I could see them. I got dressed fairly quickly, then Robert walked with me to the main cabin. I found my parents easily. They were sitting at a table looking around the room. I didn't need Robert to point them out, but he did before I told him I saw them.
"Hi," I said, closing in on them.
Mom obviously was dying to wrap her arms around me, but kept them crossed. Dad put out his hand and I shook it.
"I hear you survived a shocking experience?" Dad asked.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head sadly.
"It just hit close by. I got knocked on my butt is all. And some glass cuts on my hands."
I held up my hands, but the small cuts were already becoming hard to make out.
Mom grabbed my hands, though, and turned them this way and that, as if inspecting a pricey item in the store before deciding on purchasing it or not.
"I count ten, dear," Dad said.
Something shared between them passed between them. I didn't get it, but Mom looked a bit peeved.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I proclaimed, as I reclaimed my hands from my mother's reluctantly released grip. "Survived intact. Slightly singed around the edges is all." I shrugged. "How's my room coming?"
"It's a mess!" Mom declared.
"Dusty work. It gets all over the house, and your mom is about to lose her patience over it. That dust is the sign they're getting it done, dear. I think you'll be happy with it, son."
"Cool. I can't wait!"
"So, do you like it here?"
"It's not too bad when I'm unconscious. If I could spend more time that way, I might even be able to put up with it another week."
"See, I told you he'd be fine. The same smart-ass and all. No lightning strike is going to dull that sharp edge."
"You were worried?" I asked.
"Your mom, you know better than to ask. All we knew was you had been taken to the hospital after a severe thunderstorm, and that you might have been hit by lightning. They said you were conscious and awake, and seemed okay, just some small cuts on your hands, likely from a broken window."
"We called the hospital." Mom said, taking over, "but they said they didn't show you being admitted at all, so you must have been treated and released. I called the camp and made them promise to call me the second they heard anything. Mister Brownlee called as soon as you got back here, and I waited on the phone until I heard your..."
She choked up and grabbed a tissue from her endless purse supply. I groaned inwardly and hoped everyone else was too busy to notice.
"I'm fine, Mom," I insisted, hoping that would put her back on firm footing, shrinking into myself.
"Oh, I know! It's a mother's prerogative to worry about her kid."
"Geeze," I moaned.
Mom settled down and we went through the lunch line. After lunch I showed them my bunk and replaced my dirty clothing with the clean that they had brought from home. I noticed that the windows were all replaced and the plastic gone. They talked to Greg for a few minutes, and he related my "rescue of four younger campers" and how grateful the four were for my help, as were the counselors and staff. He gave me a certificate in a cardboard frame that thanked me for "dedication to the safety and well-being of his peers."
Mom needed another couple of tissues and Dad looked like I had been promoted to camp counselor or student president. I just wished it would stop so I could get back to being a silent shadow in the background and being left alone.
It only got worse when we ran into the twins. With many parents there, most of the kids were doing things with them, but the twins were running along alone and almost ran into us. They were dressed really nicely for a summer camp, and they looked so clean and respectable.
"Woah! Alex! Dude! Where you been hiding at? We been looking for you all day!" Ryan said as soon as he recognized me.
"Yeah! You're harder to find than a straight guy in San Francisco!" Brent added.
I swallowed with difficulty, mostly from Brent's unintended reminder.
"Um, this is my parents," I said, gesturing at them. "Mom, Dad, this is Brent and Ryan, two of the guys that I got this for helping out," I said, holding up the certificate.
Ryan literally snatched it from me and held it so that his brother could read it too.
"Cool!" they said together.
"You deserve it, too," Ryan said, handing it back with a huge grin. "He saved our... butts, big time," he added to my parents.
How much more embarrassing could it get?
The grin he wore was cute, though, and he seemed to be aiming it at me. At least, I felt like he was, and I did notice that he held eye contact, as if it were only me and him there. He was well-dressed, smiling, gray eyes flashing behind his glasses, slightly blushed and breathing a little quickly from running, and so cute. I felt that weird feeling again and I felt myself turning red. Mom and Dad looked about as happy as I had ever seen them, which only added to my ruddy tone. This was all exactly what I had been hoping to avoid: attention.
"Yeah. I don't know if I could'a done what he did if we was reversed. It would be really, hard, to do," Brent added, giving me a grin that made me feel very uncomfortable.
He and his twin shared a grin, laughed, then Brent said, "We wanted to make sure you got that award, but we gotta get to the stage for the show now. Where you gonna be later?"
"I don't know," I answered.
"We were thinking of getting dinner at Ponderosa," Dad hinted. "We saw one up the interstate."
I grinned, thinking things were possibly looking up.
"You boys care to join us?" he asked.
"Nah, we got stuff we gotta do for the concert next and then other shows, but thanks," Ryan shot, and pushed his brother off to a start.
"Later!" they said in unison, waving.
"See, I told you that you would make friends here," Mom said with a victorious grin.
"So, how about we go to this concert thing they're putting on?"
"Honey, really? I don't think Alex wants to sit down for a music recital."
I didn't. We went to other events instead, and as we were heading up the incline away from the little cabins and toward the main one, Robert was walking the other way.
He waved and Dad asked, "Isn't that the boy your counselor sent to tell you we were here?"
"Yeah, he's in the next bunk to mine, and was with me and helped with, the twins and the other kids. And some other stuff," I answered, then said to Robert, "Hey, your folks here yet?"
"No. No visit."
"Oh, sorry. Next week?"
He shrugged and looked sad about it, or something.
"No. Dad work much, mom not here. No visit."
He looked even sadder, and I felt badly for asking.
"You care to join us for dinner?" Dad asked.
I lit up and asked as well. He didn't look like he was going to accept, but I nodded vigorously. He shrugged, then nodded.
He had never heard of Ponderosa restaurants, and while it wasn't anything fancy, it was one of my favorite places to eat. And having Robert along almost seemed natural. He was having a good time, so I was, too. Several times during the ride there, or dinner, or the ride back, I wondered why I didn't feel nervous, worried, or uncomfortable with him there. Eventually I stopped thinking about it.
My parents seemed to be on their best behavior. They didn't ask any embarrassing questions, they didn't embarrass me in other ways, either, and they only asked reasonable questions of Robert.
Mom and Dad talked for far too long, but eventually we were back at the camp and I was waving as they drove away. I felt alone again, even though Robert was next to me. He nudged me with his elbow.
"Danke, for taking me to eats."
"Kein Problem. Like it?"
He nodded, grinned, and said, "Pon-der-o-sa kicks ass."
We laughed together then ran to the cabin. It was just after eight, and most of the kids were there. I hadn't seem James much at all, and asked how his day went. He said he had spent the day at the academy with his parents.
I was tired, and actually fell asleep with my glasses on and my book in hand.
I woke up later as someone was taking the book out of my hands. It was pitch black, and after the someone put the book on the table, they removed my glasses. I mumbled thanks, then slid down until I was on my back, and was asleep almost immediately, almost before I realized that I wasn't at home and that couldn't have been Mom or Dad.
I worried over who it had been, and was sure it hadn't been James, as they hadn't been on that side of my bunk. I was also sure that Greg or Kurt wouldn't have. I was too tired and too much asleep to really care, though.
I was woken again by thunder. At first I didn't care and started going right back to sleep. Until I remembered the last time I had heard thunder. I sat up and brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them before I thought of doing so. I started counting seconds between lightning and thunder. It didn't seem to be getting close in any hurry, but I found it hard to relax.
Just after the next flash of lightning, Robert asked, "No sleep in storm?"
"Guess not," I replied in the darkness.
I sat there, uncomfortable, and actually scared of a thunderstorm for the first time that I could ever remember. It waxed and waned, and in time I slid down into bed and tried to sleep, but couldn't.
I am not afraid of storms! I repeated again and again. I am not afraid of lighting. I am not afraid of thunder. I am not a little kid!
A bright flash and a close, loud crack of thunder and I sat bolt upright with a gasp. I jumped again when my bed moved before I realized that the movement had been Robert sitting down next to me.
"Be okay," he said, and nudged me with his elbow.
I nodded, unsure if he could even see the gesture in the dark. Another close bolt of lightning, and I tried not to flinch, but the flinch was done and over before I could have stopped it. As the resultant thunder boomed, and I flinched again, I felt something over the back of my neck and shoulder, and realized that Robert had put his arm over my shoulder. At first I almost shrugged it off, and thought of jumping out of the bed and calling him a faggot. Another close flash of lightning, followed almost immediately by loud thunder, changed my mind.
I put my head down on my knees and closed my eyes tightly. I shivered and felt like a baby. Especially sitting there with another boy who had his arm around me. I prayed that everyone else was asleep, or at least couldn't see that Robert was in my bunk, and especially couldn't see that he had his arm around my shoulders.
I shivered until Robert pulled the blanket up over the both of us and huddled close to my side. It wasn't that it was cold, it was warm and humid, but I stopped shivering nearly as badly almost as soon as we were under the blanket and I felt him so close.
Another flash of light and the crack of electricity, and I jolted. The thunder followed immediately, and I shook all over again. Robert put his arm around my shoulder again and I automatically leaned into him.
I am not a sissy! I am not afraid of a simple little storm! It's not even a bad one!
Eventually the storm seemed to weaken or move away, and soon the lightning wasn't as bright, and the thunder wasn't as loud.
Robert said, "Over. Most. Go to sleep," then squeezed me once with his arm over my shoulders.
It felt great. Not the same as Mom's hugs, or Gran's, or Dad's, but it did feel very good. And realizing that made me feel very bad.
I am not a homo! I am not into guys! I will grow out of it! He don't even mean it that way!
Robert removed his arm after the short hug, threw off the blanket, and went back to his bed. I slid down and pulled the blanket over me a little, and tried to sleep. I didn't, but I did start crying. I felt worthless.
I will not be a faggot! I will grow out of it. It's just a phase! I am not a sissy-baby faggot!
I threw an arm over my eyes, shook, and cried, and I tried to be quiet, and I hoped the fading thunder and continuing rain would hide any sounds I made. Obviously that wasn't happening, as Robert came back.
"Be okay," he said very softly as he lay down next to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
I couldn't have felt smaller, weaker, or more worthless. I was almost fourteen, almost in high school, but I was crying like a little child. I was disgusted at myself, and that only made it even worse.
Robert wriggled up closer to me and I felt his breath on the side of my neck. My mind started thinking those wrong thoughts. I crushed my eyes tightly closed and tried to imagine that it was a girl, not a boy, that was holding my shoulder and lying next to me, our bodies touching. I wasn't feeling those weird, confusing emotions about a boy, it was a girl. And I wasn't crying, she was.
It didn't help. I shook and shivered, and cried.
I didn't want a boy to comfort me, and I really didn't want a boy lying behind me, his body heat mixing with my own, and I really didn't want to be thinking the things that my brain was thinking about Robert.
I had no idea how long I cried, but I opened my eyes and it was daylight.