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Right off the bat, the boys were a unit. Conrad was the leader. His word was pretty much law. Steven was his second in command, and Jeremiah was the jester. That first night, Conrad decided that the boys would sleep on the beach in sleeping bags and make a fire. He was a Boy Scout; he knew all about that stuff.
Jealously, I watched them plan. Especially when they packed the graham crackers and marshmallows. Please don’t take the whole box, I wanted to tell them.
I didn’t, though–it wasn’t my place. It wasn’t even my house.
“Steven, make sure you bring the flashlight,” Conrad directed. Steven nodded quickly. I had never seen him follow orders before. He looked up to Conrad, who was eight months older; it had always been that way.
Everybody had somebody but me. I wished I was at home, making butterscotch sundaes with my dad and eating them on our living room floor.
“Jeremiah, don’t forget the cards,” Conrad added, rolling up a sleeping bag. Jeremiah saluted him and danced a little jig, which made me giggle. “Sir, yes, sir.” He turned to me on the couch and said, “Conrad is bossy like our dad. Don’t feel like you have to listen to him or anything.”
Jeremiah talking to me made me feel brave enough to say, “Can I come too?”
Right away Steven said, “No. Guys only. Right, Con?”
Conrad hesitated. “Sorry, Belly,” he said, and he really did look sorry for a second. Two seconds, even. Then he went back to rolling his sleeping bag.
I turned away from them and faced the TV. “That’s okay. I don’t really care anyway.”
“Ooh, watch out, Belly’s gonna cry,” Steven said joyously. To Jeremiah and Conrad he said, “When she doesn’t get her way, she cries. Our dad always falls for it.”
“Shut up, Steven!” I yelled. I was worried I really might cry. The last thing I needed was to be a crybaby our first night. Then they’d never take me along for real.
“Belly’s gonna cry,” Steven said in a singsong voice. Then he and Jeremiah started to dance a jig together.
“Leave her alone,” Conrad said.
Steven stopped dancing. “What?” he said, confused.
“You guys are so immature,” Conrad said, shaking his head.
I watched them pick up their gear and get ready to leave. I was about to lose my chance to camp, to be a part of the gang. Quickly I said, “Steven, if you don’t let me go, I’ll tell Mom.”
Steven’s face twisted. “No, you won’t. Mom hates it when you tattletale.”
It was true, my mother hated it when I told on Steven about things like this.
She’d say he needed his own time, that I could go the next time around, that it would be more fun at the house with her and Beck anyway. I sank into the couch, arms crossed. I’d lost my chance. Now I just looked like a tattletale, a baby.
On the way out Jeremiah turned around and danced a quick jig for me, and I couldn’t help it, I laughed. Over his shoulder, Conrad said, “Good night, Belly.”
And that was it. I was in love.
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