Janelle stared at the medicine cabinet mirror and gave herself, and her black and white polka dot bikini, a final appraisal. She tried not to grimace. Trusting her counselors was part of her therapy. The real test was what reaction she got from James. She put on some cherry lip gloss, tasting the fruity flavor as she smacked her lips together twice. Wrapping a scratchy white towel around her, she slipped on her pink flip-flops, and headed to the back door of the girls cabin. The other three sophomore campers were still in their shared bunk room getting ready for their final day of the retreat.
Opening the door, a swirl of dusty whiteness bit at her toes. She shivered. The old stone barn with a new slate roof sat imposingly across the yard; the four inches of freshly fallen snow a seemingly non-traversable glacier separating her from her future. Janelle pulled her long brown hair out of her face and into a loose knot that sat high on her head. It was now or never. Bracing herself against the whistling January wind, she grabbed tight at her towel and made a beeline for the barn, her toes pinching her flip-flops so they wouldn’t slip off as she lifted her feet in a kind of high step run as she made her way across the camp’s common area.
The barn door was ajar and she entered quickly, pulling the door shut behind her to keep out the cold and snow. The newly renovated barn was warm and cozy and had an earthiness to it with a slight musty smell of old hay and damp stone which she found comforting once inside. Lancaster County’s Youth Services had purchased the farm a few years ago, turned it into a retreat center, and offered various rehab programs for Philadelphia’s messed up rich kids. The old stone barn was now a recreation room that sported a pool table, ping-pong, foosball, and a variety of games students could play old school style. No electronics allowed.
The barn also boasted a hot tub in the corner.
Alone in the tub awaiting the rest of the campers, James waved his fingers. Janelle waved back and smiled nervously, making her way to the wooden paneled spa, the gurgle of the hot water inviting her to relax with her best guy friend in the whole world. The pulsating jet streams and bubbles offered to take her insecurities away and she decided to let the whirlpool make good on its promise.
“Hey,” she said as she walked up the steps on the outside of the hot tub. She kicked off her pink flip-flops. Her cold toes were bright pink as well.
“Hey back at ya,” James said, his dark eyes following hers. He sank to his chin, letting the bubbles play with his long blond hair.
Janelle stood fast, suddenly frozen, though the old barn was warm, well lit, and doing its best to be friendly.
“Big step today,” her friend said, suddenly pushing himself out of the water and onto the ledge where he sat smacking his gum. His skinny frame was not as skinny as when they’d first met at this same camp two summers before. He was making good progress and it looked like it. Janelle nodded to herself.
“Almost like graduation,” she replied, her thoughts scattered.
James nodded. Waited.
Janelle breathed in, held it, and let it out. Now or never. It had become a kind of mantra as of late. Taking the top edge of her towel, she untucked it and pulled it open. Her pale skin nearly matching the white fabric of her swimsuit allowing the bikini’s black dots to pop.
Like her friend’s eyes! She blushed.
“Wow. You look great, Janelle. Really. You… you’re perfect.”
He frowned. “Am I fat?”
“Then there’s your answer.”
In her heart, she knew the truth. Her body type was perfectly normal. But her mind had played tricks on her heart for so long, it was hard to believe. But James would know. They’d shared this journey together for a year and a half. He was perfect. She was perfect. They didn’t need to purge or binge or hide or cut. They could just be.
She stepped into the hot tub up to her knees, her cold toes burning at the immediate heat. Surprisingly this gave her arms goosebumps as the air temperature seemed to drop. She quickly immersed herself to her shoulders and James got back in the swirling water. They moved close, eyes locked on each other. She put a wet hand to his cheek and as he leaned in she kissed him.
“Mm. I like cherry,” he said after pulling back and licking his lips.
“And I like spearmint.”
He smiled, took his gum out and proclaimed, “Doublemint, actually.” He put it back in his mouth and they both laughed.
A noise at the door alerted them to the other campers making their way into the recreational barn. Conversation and shouts and giggles accompanied the six other girls and guys, fellow students on their way to health and wholeness.
Janelle stole a quick kiss and said, “I’m glad we got here first.”
“Me too,” James said. “And even though I’ve sorta gotten used to this place since our freshman year, hopefully, this will be our last time here.”
“Happy graduation day,” she said, and kissed him again before the others joined them in the relaxing, healing waters of the hot tub.
Lyndon Perry enjoys dark roast coffee, has taught middle school English, and currently herds cats. He can’t decide what genre to write in so dabbles in a bit of everything, including mystery, thriller, fantasy, science fiction, humor, and more. His stories have appeared in Mikrokosmos, Every Day Fiction, and Mindflights, among other print and online publications.