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Romance Sad Teens & Young Adult

“Hi!” a girl with brown hair and blue eyes smiled at me. “I’m McKenzie Russel.” Her luscious brown hair bounced around her shoulders while she talked. 

McKenzie. McKenzie.

“Hey, I’m Levi Jackson,” The first words I had ever said to McKenzie. Why couldn’t I have said something like “I’m sorry I ruined your life. I didn’t mean to and I still love you even though you don’t think I do.” I don’t care if McKenzie ever loves me again (actually, that’s a lie. I really want McKenzie to like me again). I just want her to know that I still loved her. 

“So...” she said. I realized that I was blushing. “How do you like Camp Victory so far?” 

Camp Victory was the summer camp that made me feel alive again and then broke my heart. It is a sport’s camp that tests your strength, speed, and your ability of working on a team. My first summer when I was twelve, I met McKenzie. She beat me at everything except one thing; kickball. 

“It’s good… besides the ticks, mosquitos, and poison ivy.”

McKenzie laughed. “Well, I’m sure you’ll learn to love it.” She playfully punched me in the arm. She turned around to leave and then stopped. “By the way, you’ll be in the Grand Slam Cabin. It’s the one over by the lake with the kids playing volleyball in front of it. If you need anything, such as a partner for the relay race, come over to Champion Cabin which is my cabin.”

After she left, a counselor came up to me and said, “Levi! Levi, wake up!” 

I woke up to find Ethan looming over me. His blond hair was swept over one of his hazel eyes.

“You were dreaming about McKenzie again, weren’t you.”

“Yeah, how’d you know?” I asked sitting up in my bunk. 

“You talk in your sleep.” he said flatly. It was a dream. McKenzie still hates me, and I have to compete against her in the Cabin Cup with Ethan and a bunch of other kids. And (just my luck) McKenzie, Ethan and I are the head counselors. 

I’m making it sound like I don’t like McKenzie which is not true. She just hates me. Last week I woke up to find a fake spider on my face and the day before that I had ketchup in my water bottle instead of Gatorade. 

That’s one of the things that I love about McKenzie; her playfulness, sense of humor, and her curiosity. 

“We better get down to the mess hall,” Ethan said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “McKenzie already signed you up for chores duty for sleeping in.”

“Great…” I muttered.

At breakfast, I inspected my oatmeal for any “extra ingredients” that McKenzie might’ve put in. 

“Ugh!” Ethan spit out his oatmeal. “There’s mayonnaise in this!”

I laughed. “Looks like McKenzie put the mayonnaise in the wrong oatmeal!” 

Of course, that’s when McKenzie had to stride over with her posse of girls from Champion Cabin. 

“Don’t you have anything else to do?” I asked.

“We just came over to say how sorry we are,” she said in the most innocent voice she could muster.

“Oh yeah, for what?” Ethan leaned forward against the table.

“That you’re going to lose in the Cabin Cup!” 

I crossed my arms. “I wouldn’t be so sure. The first event is kickball and then track-” Ethan kicked me in the shin underneath the table. I quickly looked down at my oatmeal. I couldn’t meet McKenzie’s gaze. Even though I wasn’t looking, I was sure tears were swelling up in her eyes. McKenzie turned on her heel and walked back to her table with everyone else in her cabin trailing behind her. 

I sighed. “Is she ever gonna get over it?” 

“What you did really hurt her. Literally.” Ethan muttered.

“I know.” I watched her walk back to her table. She still limped a little even after four years.

“Go away, you glitter-sniffing unicorn!” seven year old Caleb in my cabin shouted. Then I saw who he was shouting at. 

Avery, a ten year old girl in McKenzie’s cabin came trotting over. She scowled at Caleb, then turned towards Ethan and I. 

She twirled her hair between her fingers and muttered, “Is it true that…” 

“Is what true?”

“Is it true that you and McKenzie used to date?”

I bit my tongue. 

Thankfully, Ethan saved me. “They weren’t exactly dating, they were just friends.”

Just friends. Yeah, right.

Avery scowled at Caleb one more time, then walked back to her table. As Avery sat down, McKenzie looked up from her yogurt, then whispered something in Avery’s ear. Avery shook her head. McKenzie sighed then went back to her yogurt.

Ethan must have seen it too, because he broke the silence and said, “Hey, let’s go back to the cabin.”

“Hmm? Oh, sure.” 

Back at the cabin, I plopped down on my bunk.

“I’ll be teaching archery if you need me.” Ethan grabbed the keys to the sports equipment shed and glided out the door. 

When the screen door slammed shut, something rolled off the shelf above my bed and hit me in the shoulder.

I picked it up and rolled it around my palm. It was the baseball McKenzie had caught at the baseball game we had gone to together last year. She had given it to me and told me it was good luck. She needed that luck, not me. 

About a month later, when I was helping her train for a track meet, I accidentally tripped her. She wrecked her ankle. She said it was all my fault. She was going to be one of the best, until I came along and ended her career in track. 

I sighed and put the dusty white ball back on the shelf. I glanced at my watch: 8:00. One hour until the Cabin Cup. I had to lead a hike and then finish helping Ethan at archery. I sat up and looked up at the baseball one more time. It wouldn’t hurt to bring it on the hike. Would it? 

I slid off my bunk and walked to pick up the rest of the campers. 


* * *

“Okay,” I read the list on my clipboard one more time. “Lucas, Isabelle, Owen, Cameron, Caleb, Jenny, Harrison, and Marybeth. Once Owen finishes tying his shoe, we can go on the hike. We can take Walter Trail, or Greenvalley Path.”

“Which one’s more dangerous, Levi?” Lucas asked eagerly.

I laughed. “I guess Walter Trail then.”

Hiking down the trail might’ve been fun for some of the campers, but not for me. I had to herd the kids away from poison ivy, thorn bushes, and anything else that could hurt them in some way. 

Once a few kids got tired, we approached a peaceful creek rolling over pebbles and stones. I thought about how nice the creek would feel. I almost slipped off my shoes, but I decided not to, because then the campers would want to and I can’t deal with them complaining about wet shoes. Instead, I plopped down on a large boulder and took a swig of water. I plucked the "lucky" baseball out of my backpack and rolled it on the boulder.

I heard crunching leaves and snapping twigs getting louder and louder. Probably just another counselor leading a hike. 

Looking back on that moment, I should’ve brushed my hair that morning.

McKenzie came into the clearing laughing with the campers she was leading. When she saw me, she frowned and she glanced at the baseball in my hand. Reluctantly, she sat down on the other side of the boulder that I was sitting on. 

Her hair was pulled back in a red bandanna. She wore a navy Camp Victory t-shirt with faded jeans and hiking boots. Honestly, I thought she had never looked prettier. “I guess you found my spot.” she whispered as we watched the campers play tag and hide-and-go-seek. Now that I thought about it, McKenzie did seem to be gone a lot lately.

"Sorry about that."

"You still have that baseball." she noted.

"It was you who needed that luck, not me."

She was silent.

“I’m really sorry.” I murmured. “For everything I did. Your ankle, bringing it up at breakfast, and for putting that fake spider on your bunk this morning.”

“What?” She looked at me. I wasn’t exactly sure what she was thinking, but I saw a little bit of amusement in her icy blue eyes. 

“Kidding!” I smirked.

“I really missed your sense of humor.” McKenzie leaned closer, which surprised me. I took in all of my surroundings.

The rolling creek, the campers, the dandelions blooming among the weeds. I thought about McKenzie, Ethan, and when McKenzie caught the lucky baseball and then when she broke her ankle.

“You’re going to win the track race.” I sat up straight, suddenly really excited.

“How? I’m never going to be able to run as fast as I used to.” 

“I have an idea. You are going to cross that finish line, whether you’re first or last. You can still run though, right? Just not as fast as you used to?”

“I guess so. But-”

“Meet me in my cabin in half an hour.” I lead my campers back through the woods, leaving a grinning McKenzie behind me.

Back in the Grand-Slam Cabin, I filled Ethan in on my plan.

“You really like her don’t you. I thought you didn’t like track.”

“Yes, I really do like McKenzie. But can I please have your place in the track race?”

Ethan thought about it, then said, “Fine. But don’t blame me if I lose the kickball tournament. It’s not my strongest sport.”

I heard a knock on the door and grinned. I grabbed the handle and ripped the door open. 

McKenzie was still wearing her navy Camp Victory t-shirt, but now her brown hair was pulled back in a braid down her back. She now wore running shorts and running shoes and a smile I had not seen in a long time.

After I filled McKenzie in on my plan, she stared at me dumbfounded. "Seriously?"

"Yep!" I confirmed.

* * *

At the starting line, I planted the ball of my foot in the ground.

When the foghorn sounded, everyone dashed forward. McKenzie and I weren't in the lead, but we weren't in the back either. I stayed right in line with her and every time she stumbled, I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her upright.

After two and a half exhausting minutes, McKenzie crossed the finish line in fifth place out of twelve people while I came in sixth.

Once we had both caught our breaths, she threw her arms around my neck and kissed me on the cheek.

"Levi Jackson, I love you!" she whispered in my ear.

She smelled of lemons and fresh cut flowers.

She kissed me again on the lips. I kissed her.

I'm never going to forget that moment.



February 19, 2021 12:22

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