SHANE MARTINELLI sat in his lifeguard chair above the water at the corner of the dock, watching the campers as they played in the lake. He kept his eyes peeled for any infraction of the rules and made sure that when heads went under the water, they came up again. He’d been at Camp Huntington in the Adirondack Mountains for almost a week now and was still learning his way around.
“Is everything okay?” Brian Fisher, one of the senior lifeguards, asked as he strode down the dock toward him. The guy had to be eighteen, broad-shouldered, sun-bleached hair, tanned, toned, and he filled out his bathing shorts in all the right ways. Shane smiled and tried not to stare. The fact that he liked boys was just now really coming into focus, and Brian was enough to make the picture crystal clear. Not that Brian was interested or ever would be—he apparently was dating one of the counselors from the girls’ camp across the lake.
“I think so,” Shane answered, forcing his mind off his sixteen-year-old libido and back to the subject at hand.
“Good. The counselors are supposed to be here when the campers from their cabins are swimming. We’re to be an extra set of eyes.” Brian scanned the area, and Shane did the same. “They seem to be having a good time. Just don’t let them roughhouse too much, especially jumping off the wet docks.”
“I won’t. This group seems to be better than the one that was here an hour ago.” That cabin had been older kids, and they’d wanted to do their own thing and had refused to pay attention to what Shane said. Their counselor had ended up taking them back early.
“They’re younger, so they listen. Just make sure to keep them from going under the inflatable slide. It’s anchored, and we don’t want anyone getting tangled in the rope. I’ve asked to have it removed, but the kids love it so much that they’re reluctant to. It’s been here for years without an incident, so I suppose it’s okay.”
“I’ve been watching. The little kids use it correctly,” Shane said as he did his best to ignore Brian and keep his attention where it belonged.
“Some of the kids will go home today, so parents will start arriving in an hour. This is the last swim for some of them, so they’re trying to get the most out of it. New kids will arrive this afternoon, and the whole process will repeat itself like it does each week. So this afternoon all the lifeguards need to be here for the swimming tests.”
“That’s no problem,” Shane said. It wasn’t like he had anywhere he had to go. His dad worked on the cars of one of the men on the camp’s board of directors, so he’d helped Shane get this job for the summer even though he was a little younger than they usually accepted as a lifeguard. Shane had been swimming for as long as he could remember and had all the certifications the camp required. The other lifeguards had been skeptical when he’d shown up. Shane wasn’t a big kid, to say the least. He came across as geeky and a little shy.
“Everything okay, small fry?” Harry Bonner, one of the other lifeguards, asked as he walked up to them. Shane referred to him in his mind as Hairy Boner because the guy was a huge dick. Not that he had one, judging by how flat his shorts were.
“We’re doing fine, Harry,” Brian said. “And you need to stop acting like a prick.”
Harry ignored Brian. “I don’t know how they can put him in the chair. He couldn’t rescue anyone, as small as he is.”
“Stop it, Harry. Shane pulled me from the water during his lifesaving test. He’s a stronger swimmer than you are,” Brian said.
“No way!” Harry challenged and turned to Shane. “We’ll race once the kids are gone.”
“He doesn’t have to race you to prove anything,” Brian said, crossing his arms over his chest. “He’s a lifeguard, and he’s been hired. Shane is as qualified as you are.” Brian glared at Harry. It was obvious they hated each other. “Go back to where you’re supposed to be, and stop causing trouble.”
Harry turned to Shane. “One hour. Right here. We’ll see who’s qualified.” Harry pointed at Shane, glaring at him with beady eyes.
“You don’t have to,” Brian told Shane.
“I’ll race you,” Shane said. Harry swiveled around and walked off the dock. They both watched him go, and then Shane returned his full attention to the swim area. The entire time, he had been watching the area just in case something happened. It was what he’d been taught to do: never let his attention stray from his task. That was when something would happen. Shane blew his whistle.
“Don’t swim under there,” he called out, making sure the kid got out from under the dock. He made sure that Dave Jones, the kid’s counselor, saw it as well and got him back to the group.
“You’ll do just fine,” Brian said. “And don’t listen to Hairy Boner. I mean, Bonner.” Shane put his hand over his mouth to stifle his giggle. “What were his parents thinking?” Brian shook his head and began walking back toward the beach.
The activity in the water slowed down as the kids began getting out and drying off. Shane relaxed and climbed out of the chair when the swim area emptied. He checked all around the docks, making sure the area was truly empty, before walking up the dock to the small lifeguard building where all the equipment was stored. The counselors instructed the campers to put everything away, and the kids ran around to do as they were asked. Shane got a few hugs and some good-byes from the campers as they walked off the beach. He said good-bye and waved, and the young boys waved back. Then he got to work making sure everything was in its place so the next group of campers would have a clean welcome.
Shane was still feeling his way around, and things were still a little strange for him. This was the first time he’d been away from home for any length of time, and he understood how some of the younger campers felt when their parents said good-bye and left. They got teary-eyed, and most of them tried not to show it. Shane knew how they felt, though they would see their parents in a week or so, while he wouldn’t see his parents much until the summer was over. Still, it was good for him to know he could be on his own. He spent the next hour making sure everything was as it should be and then closed the door to the lifeguard shack.
The swimming area was very nice, entirely enclosed on three sides by dock and even divided into deep and shallow areas, with a third area way out that was divided into lanes for formal racing. At this camp, expense was rarely spared for the campers, and that included the beach and swimming facilities. During orientation Shane had been told that truckloads of sand were brought in each year to make sure the swimming area was as nice as possible. Shane wished his parents had been able to afford to send him to this kind of summer camp, but there was no way. The cost was thousands of dollars a week, or so he’d been told by one of the many counselors. Campers were encouraged to stay the entire summer, and as many as half of them did.
“Are you ready for me to kick your little ass?” Harry snarled as he approached.
“Jesus, who writes your dialogue, Bugs Bunny?” Brian asked as he followed him.
“What are you doing here? This is between him and me.” Harry turned toward Brian.
“Why are you gunning for him, anyway? He wouldn’t be working here if he wasn’t qualified, and you know it. He hasn’t done anything to you.”
“He’s here,” Harry countered, and Shane looked to Brian for some explanation. He’d been picked on plenty in school, so he knew kids didn’t need a reason to be mean. Anyone smaller was fair game.
“Are you still trying to get your cousin a job?” Brian asked. Harry crossed his arms over his chest. “Shane had nothing to do with that. I told Jerry that I didn’t want to work with your stupid cousin.” Brian stepped closer to Harry. “I don’t want you here either, but Jerry wouldn’t fire you.”
Shane turned away so Harry wouldn’t see him laugh. Unfortunately he couldn’t keep it in.
“Think that’s funny?” Harry asked.
Brian began laughing too. “It is funny,” he said. “You’re crazy if you think anyone wants another guy like you working here.”
Harry looked about ready to spit. He turned, and Shane shivered in the humid air. “Come on. I have a race to win.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Brian told Shane again.
“I can race. It’s no big deal,” Shane said with a shrug. He’d been in lots of swimming races before.
“Well, if you’re going to do it, then get it over with. We have a new set of campers coming down in half an hour.” Brian led the way down to the far end of the dock.
“Out there,” Harry said, pointing toward the open water between the boys’ and girls’ camps. “To the other dock and back.”
“No,” Brian said sharply. “If you want to race, you do it in the lanes or not at all.”
Shane was relieved because he wasn’t interested in swimming in the open lake. Boats came through all the time, some too fast, and they wouldn’t be easily seen.
“You’re no fun,” Harry teased.
“And you’re a useless sack of crap,” Shane said to Harry. “I’ll race you, and if I win, then you leave me alone for the rest of the summer.” He’d met guys like Harry before.
“What do I get if I win?” Harry asked.
“You can keep your job…,” Brian quipped, and Harry closed his mouth. They got into position at the lanes. “Twice there and back. I’ll be the starter. On your mark, get set….” Shane crouched. “Go!”
Shane dove into the water and swam effortlessly, gliding first before kicking his feet and pulling his body through the water with his arms. His movements quickly took on a fluid motion, and as he approached the dock on the other side, he rolled and started back. Harry was right next to him. Shane added more speed and power, moving more quickly through the cool water. He was at home here and loved swimming. He turned as he approached the dock, pushed off, and poured on the speed. He wasn’t sure where Harry was any longer, and he didn’t really care. He swam with everything he had, ripping through the water, almost feeling it part before him. He loved when everything worked and all the cares from the outside world fell away until it was just him and the water. Shane made the last turn and glanced over, but he didn’t see Harry. He was sure he’d already lost but swam his best toward the other side, figuring he’d let them see what he could do.
When he touched the dock, Shane stopped and looked around. Harry still had half a length to go. Brian reached down and took his hand, then pulled him up onto the dock. “You smoked his sorry ass but good.” Brian grinned. “Go on and dry off. Campers are arriving, and you need to get back in the chair. I’ll take care of Harry.” Brian tossed him a towel, and Shane dried his skin and hair before climbing up into the lifeguard chair. His heart raced, and he felt amazing, especially when he heard Harry swearing when he got out of the water. Shane smiled to himself and went back on alert as campers began arriving at the swimming area.
“Were you and Harry racing?” a kid asked as he approached the base of Shane’s seat. He looked about twelve, with blond hair and huge blue eyes. Then Shane looked over and realized he was with a group of the oldest campers, so the kid had to be fourteen or so. He just looked younger.
“Yes,” Shane answered, keeping his attention on the water.
“Did you beat him?”
“I did.” Shane smiled. “Do you like to swim?”
“I do, but not in a lake.” His lip curled up a little. “We have a huge pool, and I like to swim in clean water.” He shivered a little, and Shane stifled the urge to tell the spoiled brat that he should be grateful to have a place to swim at all.
“The water is clean and fresh. It’s also a lot better to swim in than a pool filled with chemicals. Trust me.” Shane flashed a smile, and the kid turned back to the lake. He could tell the camper wasn’t buying it. “You don’t have anything to lose by trying it except sitting out while everyone else is having fun.” Shane went back to watching the swimmers. “I’m Shane, by the way.”
“William Houghton,” the kid said formally, and Shane half expected him to shake his hand. As stiff as he was, Shane expected him to be wearing a three-piece suit instead of his camp bathing suit. The tenets of the camp included diversity and the belief that everyone was equal. So everyone wore camp uniforms and was issued camp bathing suits. Shane thought it a noble effort, but there was no way to hide the fact that some of these kids were the children of the richest people in the country, and some were there on full scholarship because they were poor.
“It’s good to meet you, Will,” Shane said with a smile.
“William,” he corrected.
“All right, William.” Precocious kid. “Why don’t you join the other kids?”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t want to.” Shane suspected the words were to show disinterest, but William’s defensive posture conveyed something quite different. Shane’s mother had always told him that his gift was being able to read people, and William was like an open book.
“All right.” Shane stood and blew his whistle to stop two boys from horsing around on the dock. Too late. One went in the water, and Shane was down off his seat in an instant. And when he didn’t see the kid come up right away, he went into action. “Everyone out of the water now!” He dove and propelled himself under the water, coming up in time to see the kid surface. Shane reached him as the kid on the dock laughed down at his friend.
“I got you,” the kid said.
“Get out of the water,” Shane said firmly. The kid turned to look at him, and the smile slipped from his face. Shane stood and walked the boy toward shore, with his friend following on the dock. Counselors had gathered near the lifeguard chair along with the other lifeguards. “He’s fine,” Shane said.
“You know you’re not supposed to mess around on the docks,” Xavier, one of the counselors, said to the two boys. Shane didn’t know all the counselors yet, so he was grateful for the names stitched on their shirts. “The lifeguard thought you were in distress. If you hadn’t been acting that way, there would have been no issue.” Both boys stared down at their feet. “Do you have anything to say for yourselves?”
“Sorry,” both of them said in unison. Shane was sure neither of them had intentionally done anything.
“You know that being in the water is fun, but if someone gets hurt, the fun is over.” Xavier kept his expression serious. “Both of you go sit on the beach and stay there. The rest of your cabin mates can play in the water, but you two are to watch for now. When we get back to the cabin, we’ll discuss how long you need to stay out of the water.”
Shane nodded and walked back to his seat. Helping people was his job. Once he was at his perch again, he motioned to the counselors, and they allowed the boys back into the water.
“That was cool,” William said, approaching his chair once again.
“No, it wasn’t,” Shane said. “Every time I have to get off the chair and go into the water, it means that someone could be hurt or in danger. It’s my job to keep all of you safe in the water.” Shane continued watching the swimmers. Noel, one of the other lifeguards, walked along the dock and approached the chair.
“We have more kids coming down, so I’ll take the other side,” he said.
“Thanks. It’s been active today.”
“I saw.” Noel walked down the dock and stationed himself on the other side. One of the counselors began organizing swimming tests for the new campers who wanted access to the deep-water area, and most of the boys gathered on that end of the dock, either to wait their turns or watch. Shane shifted in his seat so he could see better. William stayed where he was.
“Do you want to join them?” Shane asked William.
He shook his head and stayed where he was. William didn’t move much for the next hour or so. After the swimming tests were completed, the other boys started having races, competing to be named swimming-race champion for the day.
“You know you don’t have to sit apart, right?” Shane said to William, wondering if he’d taken his swimming test, since he was a little old for the red armband that indicated he had to stay in the shallow area.
“I already said I don’t want to.” William moved away and walked toward the beach. He sat under one of the trees, alone.
Shane shook his head and made a note to talk to Xavier once the boys were done at the lake. He forced his attention on the water where it should be rather than on the kid sitting alone on the beach.
Later on, after the racing broke up, the boys were herded away into the free swim area. Shane finished his shift, and Brian came to relieve him. He had been working for hours, and it occurred to him that he hadn’t had lunch. As soon as he remembered, he was instantly starved. He needed food, a shower, and a change of clothes.
As Shane walked across the beach toward the cabins, he saw William was still sitting by the tree watching the other kids with his knees drawn up, hands wrapped around them. There was no way Shane could simply walk by him the way the other campers and even some counselors were. “Did you eat lunch?” Shane asked him.
“A little,” William answered without looking up. Shane sighed, turned around, and walked back out to where Xavier and two other counselors stood watching their charges. He caught Xavier’s eye, and Xavier approached him.
“I’m going to get some lunch, and I’ll take William with me,” Shane said.
Xavier’s eyes widened. “It’s your funeral.”
Shane stared at him. Xavier was in his early twenties and had worked at the camp for years. “Excuse me,” Shane said. “I was told we were to help kids who had trouble making friends—” He bit his lip to keep from mouthing off. He was new and among the youngest staff at the camp.
“His father is—”
“Probably someone important. So what?”
Xavier looked around. “If you can get him to open up, it would be a miracle. He’s been here three weeks and stays away from everyone. He’s scheduled to be here the rest of the summer.” Xavier turned to the others and then back to Shane. “If he’s willingly talking to you, then you’re the first. No one has been able to get through to him at all.”
“Well, as I said, I’m taking him to the dining hall. I just wanted you to know.” Shane turned and walked back to where William sat. He tapped him lightly on the shoulder. William flinched, and Shane removed his hand, silently waiting for him to stand. He didn’t, so Shane turned and started walking toward the dining hall. He didn’t walk as fast as he normally would, but he didn’t look back either. After about a minute, he heard someone behind him.
“I guess I need to eat,” William said.
Shane slowed and let William catch up with him, smiling on the inside.