The summer he was 12, all Jim wanted to do was go to camp with his cousin. Matt was an accomplished percussionist and attended a music and arts camp for 4 weeks every summer. Jim played guitar and when his aunt suggested he attend camp with Matt he began pestering his mother endlessly to let him go.
Unfortunately the cut-off age for the session that his cousin Matt was attending was 3 weeks before his birthday. Jim's mother never thought she'd resort to lying about his age but in a brilliant move of deception, she photocopied her older son's birth certificate and instructed Jim and Matt to call him Jonathan for the month. It was as easy as that.
The cousins were excited the day their parents dropped them off. The parking lot was jammed with kids and suitcases and backpacks and instrument cases. Jim was dragging a duffel bag behind him, following Matt to their cabin when he passed a girl whose father was pulling a trunk from out of the back seat of an SUV.
"Dad!" she shrieked. "Watch out for my art box it's right under the…"
But she was a little too late. As her father triumphantly pulled the trunk free of the car, a wooden box opened and paintbrushes, charcoal and pencils spilled onto the ground. Jim immediately dropped the strap of his duffel and crouched down to help her gather up the fallen items.
She turned to him and smiled. "Thanks! My dad can be such a dork sometimes!"
"Yeah." he said. "Parents. What are you gonna do?"
She giggled shyly. "Are you here for art too?"
"Nope!" he said and pointed to his guitar case. "Music!"
"Oh!" she said. "Well, normally the artists and the musicians don't have the same activity schedules but maybe I'll see you around. What's your name?"
"Ji-, er, uh, Jonathan!"
She peered at him suspiciously. He was suddenly aware of how pretty her eyes were. "Are you sure?"
"Uh, yeah! And you?"
She giggled nervously and looked around to see if her parents were listening and whispered, "My name is, um, Mallory."
He smiled and whispered back, "That's a nice name. Is it a secret?"
Her eyes clouded over. "No. Not at all. Hey, thanks for your help, Jonathan!" she said rising and wiping her hands on her jean shorts.
"No problem!" he said. "Maybe I'll see you around!"
"Maybe..." she spied her father looking at her and turned away abruptly.
Matt had been waiting for him to finish and was growing impatient. "Come on, man! We've gotta get to our cabin before all the good bunks are taken!"
Jim paused, looking back for a moment. Then he gathered up his things. "Let's go dude."
The first week went by quickly and Jim didn't see her again. He looked for her in the mess hall. He looked for her at the lake. He looked for her whenever they passed art students setting up their easels as they made their way to the barn that served as rehearsal space for the musicians.
Matt made fun of him for taking an interest in an artist. "I've been coming here for 3 years and all those artsy girls are weird, Jim, trust me!"
"Call me Jon. Otherwise I keep forgetting when other people are around."
"Whatever, dude. If you like her, just find out which cabin she's in and go talk to her during free time."
"Like her? I don't even know her! She's just seemed, um, kinda cool. I haven't even seen her since the first day. Plus how the heck do I find out what cabin she's in?"
"The orchestra conductor has an assistant who I bunked with last year. Maybe he'll be able to find out for me."
"So are you gonna move outta the way so I can perform my amazing high dive?"
Jim looked up to the top of the diving board. She was standing there in a blue and white polka dotted bathing suit. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail and there was a smile on her face. Her eyes were just as pretty as he had been picturing in his mind for the past week.
"Oh, sorry!" he grinned and paddled back out of her way, never taking his eyes off her face.
She stepped up to the end of the board and executed a graceful swan dive. When she broke the surface, she was very near Jim and he applauded. She smiled and bowed her head. "Thank you! And what kind of score did that get from the Russian judge?"
"Oh, definitely an 11!" he said.
"Well, the scoring only goes up to 10, so either the judge doesn't really know what he's talking about, or it was the best dive ever!"
"Clearly, it's the second one, because I seriously know what I'm talking about! Hey, how come I haven't seen you around this week?"
She looked at him closely, treading water. "We go on sketching hikes every day during the first week. Why, were you looking for me?" she teased.
"Oh no, but you know I just wanted to make sure you didn't drop anything else. I thought you might need a hand keeping track of your art supplies."
She splashed him with water. "And I thought you were a nice boy! I mean, for a musician…"
And then it was his turn to splash her back.
They were interrupted by a whistle from shore. She saw the counselor for her group waving them out of the water and turned back to Jim. "I've gotta go. I guess I'll see you around!"
He waved as she swam off. Then he called out, "Hey ...... um, which cabin are you in?"
She smiled as she waded into the shallow water, "Cabin 9!" He watched her disappear into the crowd.
Cabin 9, he thought smiling to himself.
As it turned out, cabin 9 was at the very opposite end of the camp. Try as he might, another week went by before he was able to make his way over there during free time. She wasn't there but her bunkmate said she was sketching down by the lake. Jim walked up and down the path several times. He was extremely late to his next activity but he never found her.
Three weeks of camp had gone by before he saw her again in the mess hall. She walked past his table with her tray. "Hey!" she stopped as she spied him.
He looked up, surprised to see her. "Oh, hey! How's it going! Do you wanna sit?" He gestured to the bench next to him.
"No I've gotta..." she gestured to her friends who were waiting for her. "Do you wanna meet me at the free swim this afternoon?" she asked shyly.
He felt a pang of disappointment. "No, sorry. We have extra practices because the end of camp performances are next weekend."
Her friends called her impatiently. She smiled ruefully. "I guess I'd better go."
He smiled back and nodded. His chest hurt a little. He loved her smile and he wanted to talk to her some more. He watched her walk away, never taking his eyes off her until he lost her in the crowd.
The last week of camp was filled with extra rehearsals for the grand finale on the last night. There would be a dance afterwards and then a final show for the parents on Saturday when they came to pick them up.
Jim’s big number on the last night was a duet with a flutist. As he gave a final tuning to his guitar, he spotted Mallory sitting in the 5th row. Her hair was pulled back in a ribbon and she smiled brightly at him. When he finished his number he saw her leap to her feet, applauding. He blushed and in his mind the crowd faded away until she was the only one in the room. He winked at her and she waved back.
The art was being displayed in the adjoining building. Jim knew the students would be there presenting their projects for 2 hours but Matt was performing with the orchestra and he had watch his cousin for their four songs.
The last note of the fourth number had barely played when Jim slipped out of the room and ran over to the art gallery but the students were already gone. Their work was still set up so he searched until he found a painting signed “Mallory”. It was a watercolor of a beautiful house. There was a second floor terrace and it was covered in flowers. He smiled. She was very talented.
After all the performances were over, he and Matt arrived late to the dance. He scanned the crowd for her and made his way around the room several times but he never spotted her. Eventually the band announced the last dance. A slow song started playing and suddenly, she was standing there before him in her pretty sundress, smiling.
"Would you care to dance?" she asked.
He swallowed hard. His head was spinning a little.
"I would love to," he managed to say.
She took his hand and he followed her to the dance floor. He tried to remember how to dance but his hands were shaking and all he could concentrate on was how close she was and how good she smelled and how soft her hand was in his. She moved closer to him until he could press his cheek against her hair. She nestled her head into his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his neck.
He never wanted the song to end. When it did, the lights came up and they stood there blinking at each other in the suddenly bright room. He was vaguely aware that he was leaning towards her and she was looking up at him, expectantly. Around them, the crowd was milling and campers were making their way to the exits, some saying their goodbyes.
But all he saw was her. He licked his lips and before he could talk himself out of it he pressed his lips gently to hers. He felt her hands in his hair and he pulled her close. As quickly as it started, it was over. He gazed down at her. She opened her eyes slowly and looked up at him, smiling. He grinned at her. Then she looked around and seemed to realize that they weren't alone.
"I, uh, have to go..." she stammered and backed away.
He nodded sadly and watched her go, but he felt a glimmer of hope as she turned and gave him a little wave just before she disappeared through the door.
He didn't see her the next day but he wrote her a note with his address on it. Just before his final performance, he ran over to cabin 9. When he walked in, he froze. His heart sank as he realized that her belongings were gone and the bare mattress lay rolled up on the springs.
He was too late. Then he spotted a piece of paper stuck under the mattress. He looked at it, smiled, and tucked it carefully in his jeans pocket.
He thought about her that whole year until the next summer but she didn’t attend camp. The summer after that he got a job and his first real girlfriend pushed any residual thoughts about her out of his mind.
Over the years, her face faded from his mind. But he never forgot the feeling he got when she smiled at him. He never forgot her pretty eyes. And he never could forget the way he felt as her hands slipped into his hair and they kissed for the first time.
“Pam? Where are you?”
“In here, babe!” Her voice drifted out of the spare bedroom.
She was sitting on the floor, cross legged, surrounded by boxes and piles and piles of photographs. She looked up at him and grinned as he leaned in the doorway.
“What on earth are you doing? It looks like a Fotomat exploded in here!”
She giggled. “I’m trying to organize our pictures!”
“Um, clearly, but why are you doing it right now? It’s 2 in the morning!”
“Jim, I’m nesting!” she laughed patting her belly. “This last trimester is all about the crazy hormones, you know.”
He rolled his eyes. “What were the first two about then?”
She picked up a pillow and threw it at him. He ducked and then carefully tiptoed over to where she was sitting and sank down next to her.
“Jim! You’re crumpling up my summer camp pictures!”
He picked them up and started rifling through them. “Hey, this looks familiar. What was the name of the camp?”
She thought for a second. “Ummm. Adirondack Arts and Music Camp? Or something like that. That’s where I had my first kiss!”
He stared at her, struck by a sense of déjà vu. "You told me your first kiss was at a dance.”
“Oh, well, it was. It was the dance they held on the last night.”
"Me too," he whispered.
Jim looked at her. Pam looked at him. They shook their heads.
Nah, couldn't be.
“Oh my god,” she said softly. “Jonathan?”
His eyes grew wide. “Mallory?” he replied slowly.
“Stole your brother’s identity?” she laughed.
“Liked ‘Family Ties’ much?” he teased.
“Had to lie about my age so I could go to camp with my cousin. You?”
“Going through a phase that summer and hated the name Pamela!”
He looked at her somberly. “I thought about you for a long time, you know.”
She gently brushed the hair from his forehead. “I know. Me too.”
Then he leaned in and kissed her. Her hands slipped into his hair. And he wondered how he had never noticed it before.
Suddenly, he jumped up and ran out of the room. She heard him rummaging around in their closet for a few minutes and when he walked back into the room, he was brandishing a small piece of paper which he handed to her.
The ink was faded but she could still make out the heart and the words inside, "Jonathan and Mallory 4-Eva".