Chaz’s ghost story about Riley Grayson was unexpected, at least it seemed that way. I know we were thirteen, but it was apparent Chaz had sent chills through every single one of us. I was pretty sure Brandon was even spooked. The orange light from the fire brightened Chaz’s face, casting shadows over his eyes and mouth. He grabbed the stick again from the table and poked at the logs. I looked over at Michelle, and noticed her holding onto Sarah’s arm. Man, I wished I was sitting beside her.
Chaz rubbed his chin and looked out to us again. “It’s been a few years since Riley’s death, but every evening, late in the night, Riley Grayson can be seen, climbing out out of the water and onto those same rocks.” He pointed his stick out to the lake again shaking the glowing embers off of the tip.
Roxanne appeared from behind us and stepped through the group. She picked up the microphone and tapped it with her hand. “That’s not an invitation for you to sneak out of your cabins tonight by the way.” Roxanne shook her head and punched Chaz on the arm. "Although after hearing that story most of you might want to lock your cabin doors tonight
“That ain’t real,” Brandon whispered. There’s no way some dead kid is living in that lake.
A wave of murmurs spilled out over the fire pit as we all started talking to each other again. Real, or not, Chaz’s story was definitely spooking everyone.
“That sounded pretty real to me,” I said, pulling the sleeves over my hands.
“I hope you’re not going to lose sleep over this,” Roxanne added. “Remember, it’s just a story. Anyway, we are about to get our trivia game started and we need to make teams.”
I knew Roxanne was just trying to make us feel better, but I think it was too little too late. Simon stood up near the front by Mrs. Finch and scurried out past Chaz with his guitar. He had only taken a few steps before tripping over the speaker wires from the sound system, pulling the table and hot chocolate pot down with him.
I guess there was a lot of tension from the story because every single person around the fire that night burst into fits of laughter- even the teachers. Simon, staggered to his feet and looked out to all of us. For a second I was positive he saw me, laughing out loud at his expense. He turned away and quickly disappeared into the night.
The coach and Mrs. Finch got up and hurried out after him.
“What a loser!” Brandon shouted. “The kid is scared of water, and ghost stories!”
Muffled laughter bounced around the group. I smiled at Brandon, pretending to find his idiot comments amusing. I hated that about myself. Why couldn’t I just tell him to leave the kid alone?
I stood up and slipped past Brandon and Markus.
“What are you doing?” Brandon asked. “Going to find your new friend?”
“Very funny. It’s too smokey, I’m gonna get some air,” I replied. I made my way down to the fire and told Chaz I was going to the washroom. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to sit beside my so-called best friend.
“Wait, where are you going?”
I turned around to see a shadowy figure running alongside the lake.
“Michelle?” I said. “Is that you?”
“Yes, wait up.” The ends of her hair glowed from the light of the fire behind us. She caught up to me and slowed down. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just needed to get out of there.”
Michelle tucked her hands into the pockets of her big sweater. “Me too. Crazy story eh?”
I nodded and looked out at the lake. “Yeah, kinda gave me the creeps actually.”
“Ha, me too,” Michelle whispered.
We walked for a minute, following a narrow sandy trail along the edge of the water. The light from the fire slipped away from us as we followed the shoreline around a tight bend. Voices from the trivia game echoed out into the night, bouncing off the distant trees.
“Why do you still hang out with Sarah?” I asked finally.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if she’s your ex-friend, why were you sitting with her at the fire?”
Michelle lifted her head and looked up at the moon. The shrill of crickets filled the darkness around us. “Because if I stop hanging out with her, I would have to stop hanging out with the rest of my friends. We’re a group. I can’t break up the group.”
“So, because of your group you still hang out with your ex-friend?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
I stopped and picked up a rock from the sand. “What did she do to you?”
Michelle looked out past me, through the trees, into the emptiness of night. Her eyes reflected the white glare from the moon. “She posted a pic of me saying that I was fat and ugly.”
I threw the rock into the water and turned to her. “What? You’re none of those things...you’re beautiful.” I felt my heart skip a beat. I didn’t expect to say those words to her so confidently.
“Thanks. But there was more to it than that. She hates me behind my back but sucks up to me when we’re with our group.”
I spun back to the lake, watching the tiny waves from the rock, roll up to the shore. “Sounds like a two-face.”
“Exactly,” Michelle replied. “Just because I like the same guy as her, it doesn’t mean she can rip me apart every day online.”
I felt my face get warm for some reason. Maybe because my heart just sank into my stomach. “Oh, I see. Sorry she’s being so mean.”
“Yeah, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
I wanted to ask her who the guy was - who she was interested in, but I didn’t think it was the right time. “It sounds like she’s bullying you," I said.
Michelle nodded. “That’s exactly what she’s doing. But who can I go to? Adults can’t help. If I tell my parents or a teacher it’s just gonna make it worse.”
She was right. Sometimes adults weren’t the answer. I could totally relate, only the problem I had was not with me, it was with Simon. I wanted so badly to talk to Coach Mackleby about how Brandon was bullying him, but it would somehow get back to me, and I would be responsible for splitting up my group.
Distant laughter bounced around the trees and out to the point. Chaz's voice boomed out from the microphone.
I looked at Michelle and smiled. "Sounds like they're having fun back there."
She nodded and returned a smile. She reached out her hand and touched my shoulder. "Wesley?"
"Yes?" I replied.
"You do realize that the boy Sarah is jealous about is you."
My heart jumped back up into my chest. Little hairs on my arms suddenly stood on end. "Really?"
"Yeah. Because it's you who I like," she replied. “But don’t tell anyone. Please. Sarah would be so mad.” She leaned in and hugged me. She looked at me one last time and then ran back along the shore toward the fire.
My body tingled, like a feather had brushed gently over my skin. I wanted to run after her - to smell her perfume again - I wanted to look into her glistening blue eyes. However, the sound of a stick snapping, diverted my attention into the darkness. Along the bank, through the pine needles and birch trees, a shadowy figure moved toward me.
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