- Danielle Keil
Secrets of the Summer is almost here!
Yesterday was the cover reveal and pre-order release for the Pact Series novella, Secrets of the Summer!
This story is about 5 friends who attend a summer camp together. It's their last summer as campers, and there are only 5 days left until they return to their 'real' lives.
There's one thing they don't talk about at camp: reality. They want to live their best summer lives without thinking about all the craziness they left behind.
Without further ado, I present to you: the prologue:
The Last Campfire
Four weeks ago, I took my first deep breath in almost a year. As I passed under the big arch with Camp Wildwood carved into the wood, I became a person again.
Not a state champion swimmer.
Not a straight A student.
Not a stereotype, category, or label.
Just me, Lizzie Wright.
I leaned back in my chair watching the flames of the campfire flicker in front of me, my mind wandering. Four weeks flew by in a flash, just like it did every summer. I spent months looking forward to coming back to Camp Wildwood, yet when I got here… it went too fast.
I kept my Camp Wildwood activity packet on my nightstand the second it arrived in my mailbox, looking it over almost daily. Just seeing the pine tree logo made me smile.
Things here were different than at home. It was almost like we lived in a magical bubble of sorts, and the outside world couldn’t penetrate it.
People here don't have the same expectations of me like they do at home. I don’t have the pressure in my chest never ending, my brain running a mile a minute just making sure I stay on top of everything in life.
Here, I can relax. I can play. I can goof off, be free, make bad decisions. I can eat what I want. I can go days without swimming. I can be a normal teenager.
I don't have to prove myself to anyone. I don't worry about every move I make in fear of someone telling me it was the wrong decision. There's no one breathing down my neck, telling me how my choices will negatively affect my future.
The weight of the world gets lifted from my shoulders as soon as I step out of the car and breathe the crisp, woodsy air.
That’s one of the main reasons why, as a high schooler about to enter my junior year, I keep returning summer after summer. There was no place I’d rather be than Camp Wildwood.
“Earth to Lizzie!” Robin shouted, waving a hand in my face. I snapped back to reality, blinking myself into consciousness.
Our last night. Our last campfire. I arrived super early to get the fire started and think for a bit. Robin dropped herself into her low-to-the-ground camping chair, tossing a bag of marshmallows onto Ray’s chair next to her.
I chuckled slightly, thinking how funny it was that we always ended up sitting in the exact same spots, even before we started leaving our chairs here every night.
Jennie sat to my left. She's the one who designs all the murals around camp, and is my oldest friend here. I met her my second summer, when we were seven. She's won awards and whatnot for her canvas work, and here, she basically lives in the art studio. When she has a big project, she tells me where to put color and I oblige. Jennie gets lost inside her head overthinking all her family drama, but is always there for a shoulder to lean on. Or a sarcastic comment to smirk at.
Next to Jennie is Heather. She keeps to herself, but is the nicest person on the planet. She's never uttered a mean word in her life. It took us an entire summer to get her to speak more than a sentence at a time, but once she did... man, that girl is sweet. But she'll only hang out with us. I'm not sure how she deals at home, but I'm glad we got her to open up here at camp. I worry about her having to deal with bullies at school, since she had a few here before.
Ray calls dibs on the broken office chair between Robin and Heather. He’s the only boy in our crew and was sent here because of all the trouble he got into at home. He joined us last summer and attached himself to Heather pretty quickly after saving her from a few mean boys in the dining hall. They were picking on her at lunch and Ray sat down next to her, never speaking, but it scared them off. That night he found his way to our campfire and never left. He’s our voice of reason, the peacemaker. We like to pretend we keep an eye out for him and make sure he stays out of trouble, but really it's Ray who looks out for all of us.
And between me and Ray is Robin, the genius. Seriously, she’s the smartest person I've ever met in my entire life, adults included. Robin’s the reason we win prank wars almost every year. Her brain works in theories and experiments. She also blew up the drama barn by accident last year when she had a science experiment go wrong. That was the best day ever. Robin is also a twin, but her sister Hazel doesn't go to Camp Wildwood. Not that she would be part of our crew if she did--she's literally a Mean Girl. Robin struggles with her a lot, which is another reason we would never deal with her.
Then there's me, Lizzie. Camp Wildwood is in my blood. I’ve been going here since I was six. My mother went here as a kid, and my Aunt works here. I have multiple camp records hanging in the main office. My main passion is swimming, but here… it’s anything else. I tend to freak out when things get too complicated, or overwhelming. Jennie calls it perfectionism, but I call it being in control. I also like to think I’m the glue that holds our little crew together, but sometimes they’re the ones that hold me together, even if they don’t know it.
“Did anyone grab a soda or something? I’m fucking parched.” Jennie sighed as she slid onto her painted wooden chair next to mine. I reached down to the grass at my side and tossed her a Dr. Pepper. I took two from the dining hall—one for Ray and one for whoever else wanted it. I would have taken it, but swim season starts in a few days. The restrictive nutrition plan would begin sooner or later. Another thing to not look forward to.
Jennie popped the top before looking around. “Where’s Ray and Heather?” she asked, taking a long drink and letting out a massive burp.
Robin snorted and giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. I smirked, used to Jennie’s antics by now.
“They’ll be here any second, I’m sure,” I answered, still somewhat lost in my thoughts.
There was something about the last night that made us all nostalgic. Especially about my favorite part. Every night, we gathered around the campfire outside my cabin. Most nights it's only the five of us, but sometimes random stragglers join too. Everyone is welcome, but over the years it's whittled down to us. Really, it depends on how many marshmallows we can steal from the dining hall.
“So… are we going to talk about—” Robin started, but a glare from me cut her off.
She was about to break our one main rule for our crew at Camp Wildwood: don't talk about lives outside camp. Even on the last day.
Everyone deals with shit in different ways. If we brought our real-life drama here, all we would end up doing is commiserating, whining, and complaining instead of living. We came to camp to be free of our problems, our issues, and the things that weighed us down, not to mope on them all the time.
It's not like we completely ignore it-- we're not robots. But whatever drama you have in your outside life, stays outside. Drama within camp life is permissible, though rare. Except for yesterday…
We live in the moment here at camp. For a few short weeks every summer, the outside issues we deal with don't exist.
“Fine. I’ll wait until Ray gets here,” Robin pouted, leaning back in her chair.
Ray was the only one who didn’t follow our ‘don’t talk about real life issues’ rule. He hated secrets. He thought the rule was stupid, but since he was the last to join the group, he didn’t get much say.
I raised an eyebrow at Robin, but she stared at the fire instead. Shaking my head, I crossed my arms over my chest and pouted too. I glanced at Jennie, hoping for some backup, but found her kicking the dirt and picking paint off her fingers instead.
It was our last campfire, our last night of camp, and we were already off to a bad start.
“What’s shakin’ bacon? Who’s ready to have a good, long talk tonight?” Ray’s deep voice appeared from the woods.
My heart sunk. Just what I hated— talking. I despised talking about feelings, about my thoughts, about what was bothering me.
Ray knew that, too. But he said his purpose in life was to get you to an uncomfortable spot and force you to grow from it.
“That’s right! Tonight’s the night to spill your guts, bare your souls, and talk more than we had in the past five days total. Stop being such mopey Moe’s and get ready for some chatter,” he said, settling into his chair.
Heather spread her blanket next to him, crossing her long legs under her.
Ray was right. The past five days had been pretty mopey. Except for our Senior Prank earlier today—that was epic. Well, maybe not epic, but hysterical.
I glanced around. Jennie busied herself with more marshmallows, Heather sat quietly with her hands folded in her lap, and Robin was twirling one of her brown curls around her finger. We had taken a turn the past few days, allowing the gravity of our situation pull us down.
We knew the end was near. We let it take over us. We let it hang like a dark cloud, keeping us in the shadows, hiding us from the joyful parts of camp. Day by day it got worse and we did nothing to stop it.
“So… who’s going to start?”
If you enjoyed reading, make sure to pre-order a copy at your favorite bookstore:
Until next time!
<3 <3-- Danielle