I slipped out the room before the other guys were ready and headed up to the meeting spot. I detoured past a few cabins on my way, hoping to see Simon. Not that I really wanted to talk to the guy, but wanted to make sure he was alright.
Along the hilly bank, old wooden steps lead up to the top, weaving around giant rocks and pine trees. Behind me, Lake Stoneway, spread out over the horizon pushing a cool breeze out to the shore.
At the top of the hill, a kind, feathery voice sang out through the trees accompanied by the gentle plucking of a guitar. Sitting by himself on the grass, looking out at the water was Simon Partridge. I stood in the shadows for a minute, listening to the soft hum of his words and the sounds of his four stringed instrument. For a moment it felt like I was listening to the radio - to a boy crying - crying out for help. I couldn’t make out everything he was singing, but there was pain in his song. I understood.
I pushed a few branches away and stepped out onto the grass. Simon stopped and turned to me. He tightened his hood again and lowered his head.
“Don’t stop on my account,” I said. “You got a good voice dude.”
“Thanks,” Simon replied.
I sat down on the grass a few feet away from him and picked at the dandelions. The sounds of kids laughing and talking echoed out from the camp below us. The kids made their way up the hill, dressed in their swim gear or gym clothes.
Before the trip, each student was placed in a group and given a schedule of the events they would be participating in that week. Our job was to know the schedule and make sure we were dressed appropriately for each activity.
Simon sat by the tree with the same clothes he wore on the bus. I don’t think he even had a bag.
“What song were you singing?” I asked.
Simon lifted his head, picking at a loose thread from his torn jeans. “Nothing you’d know,” he muttered.
Michelle and her friend Sarah stepped through the trees and walked over to the meeting spot. The voices from below grew louder as more kids arrived.
I turned my attention to Michelle and threw a dandelion at her feet. She picked it up and smiled at me. The last time we spoke to each other was in June on the last day of grade seven. I was leaning out the window of my school bus in the parking lot, waiting to head home for the summer. I remember Michelle hugging some friends before getting onto the bus. Just as she approached the first step, I managed to catch her attention. I shouted out, wishing her a good summer. I can still remember how she pushed her hair to the side, and replying, Have a good summer too, Wesley.
The image of her face stuck in my mind for two whole months. I saw her every now and then at the park when I walked my dog, but never got enough courage to go and say hello.
But, this year was different. I was in grade eight, and had worked my way up to the top. I had to establish some contact with her. This trip was the perfect chance.
“Okay folks, looks like we’re all here. We’re going to get started with our first activities.” Chaz stood on a giant rock in the center of the meeting spot. “Our first group will be doing mountain biking with Pete.” Chaz pointed to a lanky guy geared up with knee pads, wrist guards and a bright red bike helmet.
That was my first activity. I was excited because Michelle was in my group. Coach Mackleby did his best to split us all up so that our cabin groups and activity groups would be completely different. He said it was because he wanted us to get to know everyone, and not always stick with our friends.
I kind of agreed.
Besides, I was able to talk to Michelle without Brandon breathing down my neck.
“Is there anyone who is a non-swimmer?” Chaz lifted his arm up over his head. “All non-swimmers are to join the mountain biking group today.”
I stood two feet away from Michelle. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she smelled like coconuts. We had twelve people in our group and the only one I really knew was a kid who sat beside me in French class named Ethan Demarko.
“Simon Partridge can’t swim He’s scared of the water!” Brandon shouted from the hill. “He should be in the mountain biking group.”
Chaz blew his whistle looking down at his clipboard. He waited for the kids to stop talking before continuing. “Simon Partridge? Where is Simon Partridge?”
A cool breeze from the lake pushed up over the hill. A bluejay squawked and chased a couple robins through the trees above us.
Simon stood up and raised his hand. He shifted through a few people on the grass with his guitar in hand and walked over to Chaz.
“Are you Simon?” Chaz asked.
“Are you a non-swimmer?”
“He’s a non-bather as well!” Brandon ducked his head down and pulled his shirt over his face. Giggles and muffled laughter spread around the grade eights on the hill.
Chaz wrote something down on his clipboard and pointed to our group. “Simon Partridge, you’re mountain biking for the rest of the afternoon. Leave your toy here with me, you can get it at the end of the day.”
The kid handed the guitar to Chaz and dragged his feet over to us, staring blankly at the gravel in front of him. We followed Pete across the main lodge and over to the mountain biking station. Pete did a demonstration of how to use the helmets and ride the bike safely and correctly, and in a matter of minutes, we were gathered in a straight line following our instructor down a narrow path through a wooded trail.
Mrs. Finch joined us from the other bus, and volunteered to take the back of the line for the kids who were beginners. I timed it perfectly so that I would end up riding behind Michelle. Part of me thought, she tried to get near me as well.
“Okay!” Pete shouted from the front. “When I shout directions, I need everyone to repeat what I say so that you can all hear my instructions. Got it?”
“Yes!” we all shouted back.
I looked behind me at the back of the line. Simon gripped tightly onto his handlebars, while Mrs. Finch rode beside him.
Up ahead of us, Pete maneuvered through the trail and disappeared down a winding slope. Michelle pedalled in front of me, carefully keeping an eye on the rocks and bumps along the path.
The thick trees, shaded us from the sun, bringing an eerie darkness to our excursion.
I wanted the trail to widen so that I could pedal up beside Michelle, but instead, the path narrowed, making it difficult to strike up any sort of conversation.
To my right, the sun poked out through the tops of the trees, lighting up a clearing. In the middle, in the tall grass, a boy leaned up against a rock.
A gust of cool wind brushed past me.
I slowed down my pace and focused on the clearing.
I’d seen the boy before.
I knew right away who it was.
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