Read an Excerpt
This is page one in my camp jernal. I am ten years old and this is my first summer at camp. I got this book from Gina, my camp consiler, who is really cool and says we should write down what we think. I think there are lots of kids at camp and I hope I make new friends. My cabin is Woodchuck. I sleep in the top bunk. But what if I don't make any friends?
The warm breeze filled the car with the scent of pine woods and inland lakes. Julia McKee drew a deep breath through her nose and smiled as a familiar excitement began to grow inside her. Even after all these years, it was still there, that mix of nervousness and elation that came in the last miles to Camp Winnehawkee.
She remembered the exact moment her mother had handed her the camp brochure. It had been the summer after her parents' divorce and Lorraine McKee had been unable to cope with the stress of raising her five children. So she'd decided to spend the summer with friends in California.
Julia's four older brothers had been shipped off to sports camps and Julia was put on a charter bus bound for the northwoods of Wisconsin, the brochure clutched in her sweaty hand. She'd read the cover so many times she could recite it by heart. She'd been just ten years old and terrified of what the summer would hold. Friendships for a lifetime? What did that mean?
She really didn't have many friends at home. Julia spent most of her time hiding out in her room, avoiding the incessant bullying of her rowdy brothers. And at school, she preferred reading to socializing, earning her the nickname "Bookworm."
Julia squinted against the oncoming headlights of a car, then glanced over at the clock on the dashboard of her Subaru wagon. A late start and a traffic jam in Chicago had left her two hours behind schedule. At this rate, she would arrive at Winnehawkee just before midnight.
She reached over and picked up her cell phone from the passenger seat, then dialed the number for Kate Car-michael Gray, her very best friend from all her years at camp. They'd been cabin mates that first year, along with Frannie Dillon. Over the following eleven summers, they'd formed a lifelong friendship that had survived another seven years apart.
Kate had married another counselor, Mason Gray, and they'd both lived in Madison before moving to northern Wisconsin when they bought the camp. Mason was a high school history teacher and Kate, a social worker.
Kate's voicemail picked up and Julia sighed. "Hey, Kate. Hey, Mason. I'm still about an hour away. I know it's late and you guys have probably been working hard all day long s go to bed. I'll see you in the morning. I'll find a bunk in one of the cabins. I think I remember how to rough it. Talk to you soon."
She hung up the phone, then wondered if she ought to try calling Frannie. She was supposed to arrive earlier that day with another old camp friend, Ben Cassidy. They both lived in Minneapolis now and had jumped at the chance to help out Kate and Mason.
"We're for you, Camp Winnehawkee, friends forever more," she sang softly. "Every summer we're together, makes us love you more."
She'd graduated from camper to counselor the summer after her senior year in high school, and throughout college she'd returned to the camp each summer as the arts and crafts teacher and advisor for the Woodchuck cabin of twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls.
The camp had been the closest thing she'd had to a stable family. Her brothers had never wanted anything to do with her and she'd rarely seen her father after the divorce, except when he was required to take her for her birthday weekend. And her mother had lost all interest in raising a daughter once she'd begun to date again.
Over the last few years, she'd often thought about the camp. She'd kept in touch with both Kate and Frannie. They'd called on birthdays and holidays and got together once a year for a girls' weekend. But now they were reuniting to bring the camp back to life.
Winnehawkee had closed six years ago. The previous owners had retired to Florida and left the camp abandoned. Rather than sell to developers, they'd insisted that the new buyers reopen the camp. In fact, they'd even written it into the sales agreement. But there were no takers, until Mason and Kate had decided to use the money they'd saved for a house to make a down payment on a little corner of their childhood.
"Though the miles may come between us, we'll never be afraid. For in our hearts, dear Winnehawkee, the friendships never fade."
The camp was reserved in late July for a youth church retreat, but before Mason and Kate could open the gates, they needed to secure another bank loan or find some investors who'd be willing to pay for some of the major improvements. So they'd called on old camp friends to make the trip north, hoping that friendship, nostalgia and a little bit of curiosity would provide them with a workforce ready to make the camp habitable again.
Her cell phone rang and she picked it up. "Winnewho?" Kate's voice called from the other end of the line.
"Winnehawkee!" Julia replied, remembering the little cheer they did after morning meetings.
"Who are you?" they chanted together. "Win-nehawkee Winne-who? Winnehawkee. Are you true? Winnehawkee. We're true blue. Winnehawkee, Win-nehawkee, whoo!"
"I'm sorry I missed your call. I was just getting Derek and Steven set up in a cabin."
"Derek and Steven are there?" Julia asked.
"Yes." Kate lowered her voice. "And they're now a couple."
"Derek and Steven?"
"Umm-hmm. They own a construction firm in Green Bay and they brought a lot of tools, a trailer full of building supplies and two cases of very expensive wine."
"Who else is there?" Julia held her breath. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear his name. Adam Sutherland. There, she'd said itor thought it. Adam Sutherland. The memories came flooding back and she felt like her heart was about to burst into a million pieces. She knew he and Mason were still friends. There was always a chance.
"Just them," Kate said. "There'll be more coming tomorrow. And I think Frannie and Ben might arrive in the morning. I made up Woodchuck for you and Fran-nie. I knew you'd want to be close to the bathrooms."
"Old Woodchuck," she said. "I wonder if" Julia cleared her throat, brushing the memory aside. "Well, I'll see you in the morning then. Go to bed and get a good night's sleep. I hope you have your tennis racquet, because we have to play this week."
"I haven't played in years, and we haven't put up the new nets yet, but I'm ready," Kate said. "By the way, I'm counting on you to do some baking for us. I can't be responsible for feeding eight people all week long."
"I have pies in the back of my car. And pastries and croissants for breakfast tomorrow morning. I even made a little Winnehawkee cake for dinner tomorrow night. It looks just like the lodge."
"That's perfect! We have a wonderful dinner planned for tomorrow night," Kate said. "Not the usual hot dogs and baked beans."
"Good," Julia said. "I'll talk to you in the morning."
"Night, Jules. And thanks so much for helping out with this. Mason and I really appreciate it."
Julia hung up the phone and stared out at the road ahead of her. Eight people. Kate and Mason, Frannie and Ben, Steve and Derek and her. Who was the eighth? Could it be him?
She'd met Adam Sutherland her third summer at camp. Even as a twelve-year-old, he'd been every tween's dream. With his dark hair and pale blue eyes and his devastating smile, every girl at camp had fallen in love with him at first sight. But for Julia, it had been just the start of a decade-long romance, entirely unrequited and yet as real as any she'd ever experienced.
She'd seen him once since leaving camp eight years ago. He'd been strolling down Michigan Avenue right before Christmas with a beautiful woman on his arm. She knew he worked in finance at his father's venture capital company in downtown Chicago. She'd looked him up on Google a number of times over the years, piecing together a fairly comprehensive biography. She'd even found a few photos that had been taken at charity events around town.
Though the infatuation had faded long ago, the curiosity was still there. And when her dating life seemed to be at its lowest point, she'd wonder what it might have been like if she'd been able to attract the attention of a guy like Adam.
As a teenager, she'd put all her thoughts about him in her camp journal which she'd hidden beneath a loose floorboard in Woodchuck cabin. She remembered the day she began the journal at age ten and then the day she left camp for the last time, the journal still in its hiding place. She'd walked away from Winnehawkee determined to forget the journal and Adam Sutherland. She thought by leaving the record of her adolescent angst behind, she'd finally have the closure she so desperately needed.
But even now, after all these years, she thought of Adam whenever she thought of Winnehawkee. Julia giggled softly. Gosh, she'd been a fool for that boy. She'd tried so hard to avoid him, pretending that he meant nothing to her. And whenever she did attempt to attract his attention, she managed to make a complete idiot of herself.
There was the time she stuffed the top of her swim-suit with toilet paper, only to get pushed in the water and watch her newfound bust line float away. And then there was the time she made him a lopsided birthday cake in the camp kitchenshe'd tripped on a tree root carrying it to his cabin, splattering the purple frosting over the front of her T-shirt.
But the worst experience, the one that ranked number one in the pantheon of embarrassing moments was when she'd finally poured out all her feelings in a letter. She'd screwed up her courage and left it beneath the pillow of his bunk. Then she learned that he'd switched bunks with a cabin-mate just that week. Dougie O'Neill spent the rest of the summer following her around, trying to kiss her, certain that the letter had been meant for him.
As counselors, she and Adam had worked together regularly, but she'd always kept her distance, treating him like a friend. Hiding her feelings for him, especially when he'd managed to charm nearly every other female counselor, had been one of the hardest things she'd ever done in her life, but it kept her from further humiliation.
Julia moaned softly. Thankfully, her luck with men had gotten a bit better over time, but the results had stayed the same. She enjoyed the fantasy of love, the possibilities and the anticipation, much more than she every enjoyed a real relationship. Men just never lived up to her expectations, at least not the men she met.
Julia suspected her insecurities and disappointments were probably rooted in her parents' divorce, but she told herself that she just hadn't met the man of her dreams yet. When he came along, she'd know and then everything would make sense. Love would finally become a reality.
Over the next thirty miles, her thoughts remained mired in memories of her years at camp. So much of it was good, and even in the worst of times, there had always been dreams of Adam Sutherland to keep her going. Would the journal still be there? Perhaps if she read it again, it might give her more insight into why her love life was so messed up now.