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“Hope you like hot dogs,” he said.
“Oh.” She debated whether to tell him she didn’t eat meat; she didn’t want to seem fussy. “Actually, I’m vegetarian.”
“Hope you like hot dog buns.” He took one and handed it to her.
Her resolve to not eat anything was trumped by her hunger. Josie nibbled at the bun. The white flour dissolved in her mouth almost immediately. She took a bottle of mustard and squirted some on the bun. It wasn’t so bad.
“Josie, I was kidding. We have veggie dogs.”
“Oh,” she said again, and wished everyone would just say what they meant.
“I’ll have one with you.” He opened a cooler, took out a pack of Not Dogs, and put two on the grill. When the skin blistered, he skewered one and stuck it in Josie’s half-eaten bun. He took a huge bite of his own and licked a bit of mustard from the corner of his mouth.
“You have some on your face.” He dabbed a napkin to her chin. “You brought a poncho, right? Looks like rain.” Before she could respond, a group of noisy guys approached, demanding dinner. “Here come the vultures,” he said, and dumped an entire package of hot dogs on the grill. Mrs. Gibbons sat eating a bag of chips by herself. She looked like she’d rather be anywhere else. Josie guessed Mrs. Gibbons was too old for camping.
She felt a tug on her arm and turned. Tiff pulled her aside. It was colder away from the fire.
“We decided what you should do. To make up for not helping set up the tent. And for not getting the spider.”
Josie studied Tiff and tried to figure out whether she was serious. Possibly it was some elaborate joke—she would make Josie think she had to perform a dare.
“Tonight you have to go into Mr. Franklin’s tent.” Tiff crossed her arms and stared at Josie.
“How would I even do that?”
“Tell him you don’t feel well. Tell him you’re scared. Tell him you’re in love with him. That’s the truth, isn’t it? We saw him touching your face.”
“He wiped some mustard off my chin before I could stop him.”
“I’m not going in his tent.”
“Have fun sleeping outside, then.”
Josie glanced up at the sky. In the distance, storm clouds gathered. “I just have to go in, then come back out, right?”
“Well, yeah. Unless you end up having sex with him. Then you have to tell us.”
“That’s disgusting.” Even as she said it, she pictured crawling into his sleeping bag.
Tiff smirked. “So you’ll do it?”
At the fire pit, Val passed Josie a bag of marshmallows. Josie passed the bag without taking any. On the other side of the fire, Mr. Franklin was showing someone how to play a chord on his guitar. She had to swallow hard, as if trying to get a phantom marshmallow down. The air was getting clammy as dusk fell, and a mosquito landed on the back of her neck. She smacked it, but not before it bit her. She wiped the smear of blood on her jeans. A flash of lightning sent everyone running for their tents. A group of girls pushed past her, screaming. Josie rolled her eyes.
Inside the tent, Josie turned on her flashlight and tried to read, cheek to damp pillow. Next to her, Tiff, Val, and Stacy took a magazine quiz: Is Your Crush Into You? Josie answered the questions silently, though the results were ambiguous. Rain pounded the roof of the tent, and a bit of spray blew in from the bottom corner, right near her face. She turned a page without having registered what she’d read. Maybe she could just go outside for a bit, walk around in the rain, and pretend she’d gone to Mr. Franklin’s tent. Make up something about how he’d yelled at her, and have that be the end of it. She brushed her hair with her fingers and pulled it into a ponytail. She’d showered this morning, but already her hair felt greasy.
“Trying to look pretty for Mr. Franklin? Here.” Tiff tossed a tube of lipstick at her. The tube hit her arm.
“No thanks.” She set the lipstick back on Tiff’s sleeping bag.
“Come on, don’t be a baby. Go like this.” Tiff puckered her lips and stuck her face in Josie’s. She uncapped the lipstick and dabbed some on Josie before she could protest. “Now you’re better.”
“I was fine before,” Josie said. She reached for her sneakers.
“What are you doing? It has to be the middle of the night before you go. It’ll be more romantic that way. But now you’ll be prepared. Like a Girl Scout.”
Josie’s heart fluttered. “I was never a Girl Scout. Plus I don’t care whether it’s romantic. I told you, I’m going in and coming right back out.”
“Maybe she should just go now while Mr. Franklin’s still awake,” Val said.
“No way. She has to wake him up,” Stacy said.
Tiff nodded and took off her watch. “I’m setting an alarm for 2:30 in case we fall asleep.”
Josie lay back down. The outside of her sleeping bag was slick with condensation, but it was too stuffy to sleep inside the bag. Something hard jutted into her back. She curled up and turned to face away from the spray. She shut her eyes and listened to the petering of their inane chatter. Finally they ran out of magazines, and they whined that they were bored, and eventually that they were tired. Josie watched through a slit in her eyes as Tiff turned away, took off her shirt as fast as possible, and slipped on a lavender nightie. Everyone else was wearing sweats. Tiff was such an idiot. Josie listened to her own breathing, and then to Stacy’s soft snoring, and waited for the alarm. The chirping of tree frogs and crickets filled the silence. She made lists in her head: the approximate number of minutes left on this trip, things she wished she could say to Mr. Franklin, the girls in the world she most hated. She couldn’t tell if she’d been asleep when Tiff’s alarm rang.
Tiff jostled her arm. “Get up, Josie. We’re going to watch to make sure you do it.”
Josie sat up. Tiff switched on her flashlight, unzipped the tent, and trained her light on Mr. Franklin’s blue Eureka. Maybe she would go inside his tent, apologize, and explain that they’d made her do it. Rain still pattered on the roof; she pulled the poncho over her head. She’d look like Big Bird crashing a sleepover.
Outside, the grass had turned into a giant slick of mud. She turned and saw the girls holding open their tent flap, shining flashlights. She held a hand to her eyes and turned back toward Mr. Franklin’s tent. Mud splashed on her calves. Her ponytail had come loose. Ready to gag, she knelt and unzipped the tent just enough to peer inside. She couldn’t make out much other than a dark lump. She drew a breath, pulled the zipper the rest of the way, and stepped inside. Mr. Franklin was curled, shirtless, on top of his sleeping bag. She crouched in the corner. Mr. Franklin stirred, then sat up and rubbed his face. His eyes focused.
“Jesus Christ! Josie? What the hell. Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m sorry. It was a dare. I’m going now.”
He blinked. “A dare?”
“Sort of.” She tried not to look at his bare chest.
He sighed. “Take off your shoes.” He patted the bunched-up blanket beside him.
She shivered and sat down on the blanket. He dug in his pack, pulled out a towel, and draped it across her shoulders. The kindness of the gesture made her burst into tears. For a moment, she thought she felt his hand on the top of her head. He rummaged in the pack again and produced a box of cookies.
“These were supposed to be a treat for tomorrow.” He ripped open a sleeve with his teeth and extended the box.
He was sweet underneath all that muscle. She took one even though the thought of food still made her nauseous.
“Did Tiff make you do this?”
Josie sniffled. “Don’t tell her I told you. Please.”
“Do you want to stay here, just until the rain stops? You can tell Tiff I lectured you for hours. Made you sit up and write I will not break into anyone’s tent a thousand times.”
Mr. Franklin dug a paperback from his backpack and propped himself on his elbow. Josie wished she had a book, too. Beneath her, the ground was uneven. She leaned against the end of a duffel bag and listened to rain pelt the tent. She felt creepy for just sitting there while Mr. Franklin read, so she took a handful of cookies to occupy herself. When she finished the last one, she glanced at Mr. Franklin, whose eyes were closed. His book had fallen next to his head. She was about to leave when she thought of Tiff, and then of Mr. Franklin—his fleshy arm, the soft expanse of chest hair.
She watched his chest rise and fall. Then she lay next to him as lightly as she could, took a fraction of the pillow. He stirred. Her calf itched, but she didn’t dare move. She prayed he wouldn’t wake up—she hadn’t thought of what she’d say if he did. Lying so still was almost as uncomfortable as trying to sleep on uneven ground. She closed her eyes and breathed in the musty tent smell and Mr. Franklin’s sweat. It was nice, though. Most boys her age smelled like feet when they sweat, and Mr. Franklin was a man. She settled against him a little more. Sometime in the night, he put his arm around her. She couldn’t tell whether he was asleep. She didn’t know what it meant, but she wouldn’t tell anyone—not her mother, certainly not Tiff. And she wouldn’t tell anyone how, just before dawn, she felt him hard against her leg. She lay on her side, rigid, arm sore from the ground. The word erection flashed through her mind, like a ransom note clipped from a human sexuality textbook. Mr. Franklin’s breath was warm against her neck. Tiff and Stacy and Val could talk all they wanted, but no one would ever know what happened inside that tent. Not even her.
Mr. Franklin shifted and yawned into her hair. Josie’s neck was sore. Moving seemed like it would hurt. So did not moving. She raised herself on an elbow, then sat up and turned to face Mr. Franklin, who picked a crust of sleep from his eye and flicked it. He put on his glasses, and his eyes came into focus.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“You said I could stay.”
“I said you could stay until the rain let up. Shit. Keep your voice down.”
Josie felt tears prick the backs of her eyes. She felt pimply and exposed in the sunlight.
“Please, don’t cry. I can’t have you crying right now. I have to figure out what to do. Do you have any idea what this looks like?”
“What about what happened last night?” she whispered.
“What do you mean?” Mr. Franklin struggled into a T-shirt.
“You put your arm around me.”
“Did I?” He zipped his sleeping bag and began stuffing it into a sack.
She nodded and began to cry in earnest. Mr. Franklin set down the sack. The sleeping bag spilled onto the tent floor.
“Josie, what do you think happened? Do you think I did something to you?”
“No.” The thought hadn’t even occurred to her.
“Look, if I put my arm around you in my sleep, it was an accident, okay?” He looked at her and waited. “Okay?”
She took a shredded tissue from the floor and blew her nose. There was still some snot on her upper lip. No wonder he didn’t like her anymore. She must have looked hideous. She realized she wasn’t wearing a bra and drew her knees up to her chest.
“Josie, I have to know that you understand what happened here.”
“I don’t think you did anything bad,” she managed.
“Then why are you crying?”
She wiped her lip with the soaked tissue. Maybe he was embarrassed and had to pretend that putting his arm around her had been an accident. That he’d been unaware of his boner. She tried to stop sniffling. He would never want to date a crybaby. Plus, she was sure her eyes were puffy.
“Could we take a walk later?” she asked. “Before we have to go back?”