Tess, Gavin, and Everyone Else

Frida Jackson

Summer camp has always been my favorite place. It’s filled with air that feels easy and people I trust. With trees that last forever and streams that whisper fairy tales, it always seemed like camp was all anyone could ever hope it to be.

So you can imagine my confusion as I am awoken to a sudden feeling deep in my core that something is missing.

Puzzled and a bit disoriented, I wipe the sleep from my eyes, hop out from the top bunk of my creaky bed, and head to the communal sink. I like to wake up a few minutes before the wake up bell. I’ve never had a problem with sharing, but there’s something peaceful about getting to brush your teeth without ten other girls surrounding you.

After a breakfast of frozen waffles and eggs from the box, we head over to the only paved road on the property, where we all gather to hear the counselors announce which activities they’ll run for the day. There’s always classics: kickball, canoeing,  friendship bracelet making, but something today grabs my attention. A counselor that I don’t quite recognize is standing up to introduce his activity.

“What’s his deal?” I whisper to Lua, my brown-haired, long-legged, prettier-than-me best friend. “I’ve never seen him before.” I don’t think I’ve ever been this intrigued by someone in my life.

“His name’s Gavin,” Lua has a way of talking that seems like she knows what she’s going to say minutes before she says it, and rehearses a few times in her head. “He’s 17. Used to go during the second session.”

Gavin. I say it a few times in my head. It sounds like rain pattering against the window as I fall asleep. I study his slightly oversized jeans, his short brown curly hair, the way he doesn’t quite look like he belongs, but doesn’t seem to mind. I especially study his soft-looking lips as he introduces his activity.

“Hello everyone,” he sounds oddly formal, a little nervous. “Today we’ll be writing poetry!” When he says those words, I make sure I haven’t begun floating off of the pavement and into Gavin’s arms. If there’s one thing I can appreciate more than poetry itself, is a guy that can appreciate poetry.

As everyone stands up to pick their activity, I don’t hesitate to walk up to Gavin. Not many people chose poetry, but I don’t mind. I have a good feeling about this.

We walk to the third floor of what used to be a barn, and I decide I should introduce myself.

“Hi. I’m Tess, Willow year,” which meant I was 14.

“Nice to meet you, Tess.” I want to hear him say his name. I want to know what it sounds like outside of my head.

As if he was listening to my thoughts, as if he was living inside my brain, he adds, “I’m Gavin.” I was right. It does sound better coming out of his mouth.

“Nice to meet you, Gavin,” I realize I like saying his name out loud too.

We reach the third floor of the barn. It’s old and abandoned, with windows looking out at the mountains covered in green, creating an oddly serene atmosphere. Gavin tells us to sit in a circle as he passes out pens to those who don’t have. I, however, always have a pen.

When he’s done, he takes a seat. There are a few sizeable gaps in the circle, but Gavin plops down right next to me. I feel our knees touch, only I don’t just feel his touch on my knee, I feel it everywhere. I tell myself it doesn’t mean anything that Gavin chose to sit next to me, but the fireflies in my stomach are saying otherwise.  

“First,” Gavin starts, sounding as excited as I feel inside, “I want you all to focus on one object in the room. It may seem hard, I know there’s not much up here, but take a look around, pick something that you think tells a story.”

As much as I want to close my eyes and imagine what would happen if it was just me and Gavin up here, alone, I focus on his instructions. I am drawn to a neon exit sign mounted on the top of the wooden door frame. It looked old like it has lost its light. I pick up my favorite blue pen and get to work.

“Nice pen,” I barely notice that Gavin has said anything until I feel his gaze on me.

I look over at him and see that he is holding the same blue pen. My favorite blue pen. It was a gift from my grandmother on my thirteenth birthday. I wonder why I’m so happy by this little thing we share. I wonder about what else we share.

I want to know everything about him.

I grin at Gavin and smoothly reply, “Yours too.”

The sky is now a light pink. The air is a bit cooler. The camp’s afternoon energy now an evening calm. My bunk and I walk down the hill from our cabin to the dining room, our flip flops smacking the grass in unison, our laughter mixing with the easiness in the air, our stomachs growling from a long day.

I sit down at a table with Lua and some other kids from my bunk. We laugh about our day as we fail to aim water from pitchers into our glasses. I slowly lose focus in the conversation as I eye Gavin walking toward our table with some of his campers.

“Look, Tess,” Lua remarks with a grin, “it’s Gavin.” I guess I’ve talked about him a lot since this morning.

“Shut up, he’s coming over,” I half-yell-half-whisper.

“Mind if we join you?” Gavin asks, with a hand on one of his camper’s shoulders.

“How could we say to no you guys?” Lua gleefully responds before I can think of a way to accept without leaping with excitement that Gavin wants to sit with me.

Once again, Gavin takes a seat right next to me.

Trying to breathe easy, I smile and say, “Hey.”

Without even looking at me, he replies, “Hi Tess,” as if he knew from across the room that I’d be right next to him when he sat down.

We sit and listen to the others talk about canoeing and swimming, but that’s all they feel like: others. It’s just Tess, Gavin, and everyone else.

“I really liked your poetry activity this morning,” I say to Gavin, directing away from the larger conversation.

“I’m glad,” he leans in. “Your poem was f***ing amazing.”  Counselors aren’t supposed to curse in front of campers. Does he not see me as a camper? I try not to overthink it, because either way, he definitely just complimented me.

“You think so? Because I really wasn’t sure about using the exit sign as my focus point,” I’m not sure why I find it so easy to talk to him. But I do.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Tess. You’re really special.”

Kapow. My head is absolutely splattered all over the dining room.  Not only do Gavin and I have the same pen, not only did he chose to sit next to me twice, and tell me that my poem was, and I quote, “f***ing amazing,” but he thinks I, Tess Goodman, am special.

Smiling uncontrollably now, I think to myself, “I think you’re what was missing, Gavin,” only I think I’ve said it out loud because I feel him turn to face me.

I’m expecting confusion, but Gavin doesn’t look confused in the slightest. With a wide smile he simply replies, “Oh yeah?”

We continue eating. My leg touching Gavin’s. I feel pure electricity running through us. I wonder if he feels it too. I wonder if he’s allowed too.

That night, I sneak out of my bunk to watch the stars. I’ve always loved stargazing because the light we’re seeing is so old. Because stars are millions of light years away, we’re seeing what they looked like millions of light years ago. Maybe one day, someone will sneak out of they’re summer camp bunk, look up at the stars, and see light from the day I met Gavin.