Bethie is a Pax Baxter super-fan. Aaron is Pax’s best friend. When they meet at camp, sparks fly.
Bethie is a Pax Baxter fan. In the last two years, she’s been to 21 concerts in 7 different states, has 435 live songs downloaded onto her iPod, and just earned Gold status on the online PaxBoard.
But, Bethie has a secret—it’s not Pax she wants, it’s his best friend, Aaron Mayze. Aaron is a staple at every Pax event and even has his own dedicated section of the message board. Bethie is head-over-heels for him.
When her mother’s new boyfriend makes life unbearable at home, Bethie decides she needs a change. No Pax Baxter summer tour, no more mooning over Aaron. Time to get her head out of the clouds and back into reality.
She picks the only summer camp she’s ever heard of—on one of Aaron’s t-shirts. The last thing she expects is him to actually be there.
There was something magical about campfires.
The entire camp gathered around one huge fire pit in a grove of trees west of the lake. The fire was tall, loud, and hot, flames flaring high from a teepee of wood that one of the boys’ counselors had built. It was only one of two times that we’d have an all-camp bonfire like this, Olivia told me. Usually the campfires were by cabin, or age group, or co-cabins, and much smaller, but the first night of camp and the last called for bringing everyone together.
I didn’t think I could get anywhere close enough to roast the marshmallow I was rolling around in my hands as I waited for my turn with a roasting stick.
Lea sat on the log beside me, her eyes transfixed at the fire. Or, I realized, transfixed at something past the fire. I followed. My chest tightened. I sat up straighter. Even with the darkening sky and the distorted air around the fire, I recognized Aaron Mayze.
He was hard to miss, with his silky black hair that was slightly too long and his square, set jaw and his well-defined upper arms and the braided rope necklace he always wore. I found myself just as transfixed as Lea was, as though seeing him for the first time. Which wasn’t true at all. I’d seen him, and spoken to him, countless times over the last year and a half, at nearly every Pax Baxter concert I attended. Which numbered a decent amount. A fair few.
Oh, all right: my concert number had risen to twenty-one after the one I drove to Atlantic City for a show three weeks before camp. It was my last hurrah guilty pleasure. The last hit before quitting cold turkey. Aaron had been there, even. Three weeks ago.
See, the one thing everyone’s got to know about the Pax Baxter fan community is this: obsessed is too tame a word. No, really.
When it came to Pax Baxter, not only did I know the words to every song on all four of his albums (even though his second album is the worst record ever made in mankind, which is something I can say only because I’m a fan; non-fans are not allowed to pass judgment) and not only did I see his last tour eight times in a month and a half, but I also knew the names and resumes of every member of his band, could tell you what his rider said (he’s allergic to peanuts and likes bottled tap water, for instance), and which outfit he was going to wear to which concert. And that was just the tip of the iceberg
Being a Pax Baxter fan was not a hobby; it was a lifestyle.
A lifestyle I was trying to shake.
Of course, the fact that I was also an Aaron Mayze Facebook stalker didn’t help things. After all, he was the reason I chose Camp Timberlake rather than any other summer camp in existence, of which there had to be a hundred. Or more. But the thing was: I never expected him to be here. He was supposed to be with Pax all summer. Everyone knew that. Everyone knew that Aaron was Pax’s right-hand man, and that he could barely tie his own shoes without his best friend with him.
Sitting there, seeing Aaron just on the other side of the fire from me, gave my head a spinning sensation not unlike the time I downed half of my mom’s whiskey and ginger ale before I realized it wasn’t my own regular ginger ale.
“That’s Aaron,” Olivia said, causing me to jump when she sat beside me on the other side of the log. “Camp heartthrob. He’s an old-timer. Started the same year as me and Lea. All the girls loved him even then.”
“Why are you talking as though you’ve never had a crush on him before?” Lea said across me.
“I’m over it,” she argued back. “Unlike the rest of camp.”
“So,” I said, trying to be casual. “He’s here every summer?”
“Not for the last two,” Olivia said. “Not since Patrick —”
Lea cut in. “You know who Pax Baxter is, right?” she asked. “The singer? Well, before he was Pax, he was Patrick, and he used to come here with Aaron. There probably aren’t many of us left at all who remember that. But then he got too famous for us and went off to be a pop star or something like that.”
Two things came to mind immediately. One was, how did I miss the fact that Pax used to camp at Timberlake too? Had I seriously been so focused on Aaron that I missed it? Or was that one of the last secrets left about Pax’s pre-superstar days? And two was, why did Lea sound so bitter about it all?
“I take it you’re not a fan?” I asked carefully.
She shrugged. “He’s fine. I mean, he can sing and he was always nice but he was a, well, a dweeb, you know? Really awkward and ridiculous and always hanging around Aaron and his friends and everything, but it wasn’t like any of the girls had crushed on Patrick. We all liked Aaron.”
“You can’t see it now,” Olivia said quickly, keeping her voice low. “Of course you can’t. All anyone can see now is the Pax on TV or heard on the radio. You didn’t know what he was like.”
“He was creepy,” Lea added.
“He got caught looking in the girls’ cabin once, watching them undress.”
“He did not,” Lea argued. “That’s just a rumor.”
Olivia held up a hand a la ‘scout’s honor’. “Swear it’s true.” She shook her head, switching away from that subject which, frankly, I was thankful for. And here I thought I knew everything there was to know about Pax Baxter. Seemed like I was missing a pretty big chunk. “Anyway, none of that matters. We sidetracked. Aaron wasn’t here the last two summers because he was off seeing the world with Patrick — Pax, I mean. Who can blame him though, right? He got to go everywhere.”
“But,” Lea said, casting a sidelong glance in Aaron’s direction. He was surrounded by other guys, and they were laughing and shoving and doing those things that guys tended to do when they all got together in a group. “That doesn’t explain why he’s back this summer.” I noticed for the first time that she had a bit of an accent. New York or Spanish, something that gave a lift to her consonants.
“Someone told me that he and Patrick got into a fight. Over a girl.”
I held my breath. I hadn’t heard that, and I’d heard pretty much everything. No one had suggested that Aaron wouldn’t be on tour with Pax, no matter the reason. I mean, I had just seen a concert less than a month ago, and Aaron was there, off stage left like always, head bopping to the beat of the music. He had even sung along to “Pressure Cooker,” inarguably Pax’s best song.
I could see Aaron needing time away from Pax to be just a regular guy again, and maybe that meant a break from touring. But for Aaron to steal a girl away from Pax? No way.
“Someone told me she’s even here,” Olivia was saying.
Both me and Lea looked at her immediately. “What? Who? Where is she?” I’m not sure which of us asked which question since the two of us both had the exact same reaction at the exact same time. I looked around as though I’d be able to pick out which girl was here with Aaron just by seeing her.
Olivia nudged me, and I nudged Lea. “There,” she said. “Her.”
I squinted through the smoke and flame to see a dark-haired girl walk up to Aaron and put a hand on his arm. She was pretty: tall, dark haired, tanned. She seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Again, there seemed to be a gaping hole in my knowledge of Pax and Aaron information, and that didn’t settle well with me. Never mind the fact that I was working toward become un-obsessed (after all, I was missing six possible concerts and road trips during my stint at camp). I didn’t like not knowing something about something that I was a self-professed expert in.
My friends on the PaxBoard knew they could come to me with their questions. Well, that is, they could have come to me until three months ago, when I stopped visiting my previously daily Internet bookmark. I told myself I needed a clean break. It was becoming unhealthy. It was getting in the way of living.
That was why camp was for the best. It was a place to start over. To avoid the Internet. To avoid the texts and photos from my PaxBoard friends. To reinvent myself out of the ‘geeky girl obsessed with musicals and Pax Baxter’ and back to a Bethie that was defined by me, not by everyone else or what music I listened to.
Despite all that, no, I didn’t precisely recognize the girl standing much too close to Aaron Mayze.
Lea sighed. “That sucks,” she said, standing up suddenly. “Not like I had a chance anyway, but it’s always nice to dream, isn’t it?” She grinned at me then turned and took two roasting sticks from a girl walking away from the fire with a s’more in her other hand. “Let’s go, Bethie. We’re up.”
I was about to ask Olivia if she’d rather have a go instead of me, but when I turned to look at her, she was munching away on her raw marshmallow already. “Go,” she said. “I don’t like them warm.”
I took the stick and stuck my marshmallow on the sharp end, then made my way over to the fire. There weren’t any spots open by Lea, at least none that smoke wouldn’t have clouded me in, so I made my way to the other side of the fire and squatted down to hold my marshmallow over a small section of glowing coals. The last thing I wanted to do was let my marshmallow catch fire. The thought of a burnt marshmallow squashed into my s’more gave the back of my mouth a sour taste.
“How long do you think it’ll take for you to get a perfectly roasted marshmallow?”
I froze, my eyes widening to the point that the coals in front of me went blurry. I knew that baritone. It belonged to only one possible person: Aaron Mayze.
Relax, I told myself. It’s dark. He’s not going to recognize you. Be cool. Act normal.
I turned my head to look up at him. “Hopefully not too long, considering I’ve been salivating over the idea of s’mores for weeks now.”
“You know, you can make them at home, in the microwave,” Aaron pointed out.
I couldn’t quite picture how that worked, considering I’d never tried. In fact — and I wasn’t about to admit to this — this was going to be my first s’more ever. “I’m sure they don’t taste the same,” I managed to say, turning back to the fire.
“It’ll taste the same as you’re doing it,” he said, kneeling down beside me.
Please, God, don’t let him hear how hard my heart was pounding, I thought. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” he stressed, “that the only way to make a decent s’more is to do this.” He plugged his two marshmallows onto a stick and shoved the entire end into the flames, holding it there for a long moment. If he kept that up long enough, it would burst into flames.
I looked from the fire to his face and back again. Then back at his face. It was silhouetted by the heat and light from the fire against the backdrop of the dark trees surrounding the fire pit. I looked away again, just in time to see his marshmallows ignite.
“Aha!” I said, nearly knocking my own treat against the dirty coals. “Your marshmallows’ are on fire.”
Aaron grinned and pulled the stick out from the orange glow. Sure enough, both marshmallows had caught, the white obscured by orange and red flames licking along each side. I stared at it. “The only way to eat a marshmallow is burnt,” he said just before puffing up his cheeks and blowing the fire out in one short, hard breath.
I pulled a face. I couldn’t imagine anything about the charred, black, bubbly skin of a burnt marshmallow tasting good. “That’s gross.”
“Only way to eat them,” he said, sticking his thumb and index finger over one of the two marshmallows and pulling the entire gooey mess off the stick. Black and white bits remained on the thin metal, and I watched in horror as Aaron pushed the entire charred mass into his mouth, licking his fingers off.
“Ew,” I reiterated, rotating my own marshmallow over the goals to get the underside the same shade of golden-brown as the other. “You’ve ruined a perfectly good marshmallow.”
“You’re ruining it,” he countered. “If I wanted to do what you’re doing, I could do it at home. The only way to get a campfire-perfect marshmallow is to catch it on fire.”
The Rules of Summer Camp is currently listed on Swoon Reads HERE. You can read, rate, and comment on the entire thing at the Swoon Reads website and help me on my journey to be published!