I wanted to run.
It wasn’t the best way to end a conversation. It wasn’t even a polite way. In fact, it was probably rude and awkward, but in my state, it was the best I could do. So there I was, pretending I wasn’t there, and they were all staring at me, because…I was there.
This wasn’t working.
I cleared my throat. “About Betty…”
“Oh. Uh.” Owen took the bait, always the respectful one. “No, actually she isn’t here either. She and Helen are off-island. Keith and Trent are handling the welcome reception tonight, but we’re in the kitchen for the weekend.”
“Just you guys? How many people are coming for this three-week thing?”
“Maybe around thirty?” Owen seemed to be asking Hadley.
“I think that’s right,” Trent said. “Yeah. Plus their extra staff.”
I did the math, which surprised even me. “So, what? That’s, like, forty people you have to feed? Forty-two, adding Mary and—”
“Well, only half the staff is here, but yeah. We’re twelve total.”
“You guys are taking care of all of them?”
Hadley shrugged, getting comfortable on the couch again. “We’ll be fine. You fed two hundred people alone one time, remember?”
Shit. I had. “We’re lucky I didn’t burn down the main lounge.”
That had all of them laughing, remembering when the grill caught fire. Keith had moved me out of the kitchen after that. I’d gone back to the camping staff personnel team. I think everyone was relieved, particularly the firemen from town. The fire captain came out once after that for an event, and when he saw me in the kitchen, I swear he paled.
I’d thought he was getting the flu and told everyone we were going to get sick. They’d stocked up on antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer and thought that’s what had stopped it from happening. Nope. It’d probably been that the fire captain was not contagious, just terrified of me.
I shouldn’t have felt some pride about that, but I did.
My power to instill fear was legendary. Except with Keith.
“Wait!” I shot my hands out, remembering to ask. “Who are the campers for this thing?”
They wouldn’t tell me.
They laughed at me, so I kicked them out.
Full disclosure: the real reason was because I wanted to take a nap. The day had already gotten long with the waking up after dancing and boozing, then the driving after dancing/boozing, and then the whole dealing with Keith. But seeing Owen and Hadley, sitting and talking a bit, had been nice. It was good.
It felt normal.
And I needed normal, especially after waking up from my nap.
I’d been dreaming that Newt was chasing me, threatening to smack my ass with his dentures. Behind him, Trent was dancing with Owen and Hadley, and Keith was the DJ. I didn’t know if we were in a nightclub, but whatever it was, it was horrifying. I kept running from Newt, and Keith was always there. I couldn’t get away from either of them.
I had chills when I crawled out of bed, until I saw the time.
I had five minutes.
There was a strict late rule when it came to meals at camp. If you weren’t there on time, you didn’t eat. That was it. This was for staff, not campers. Those guys could stroll in forty-five minutes late, and it’d be fine, but if staff was a minute late, no food for you.
After cleaning up a little—traveling had a smell—I grabbed my sneakers and tore down the walking path with the most direct line to the main lodge. It connected to another path, so I had to veer to the right halfway there. As I did, I was already thinking of ways to make a straight path just for me. I doubted the board would allow it, so I was going rogue.
Call me Camp Badass.
My stomach growled, and I kicked up my speed.
I burst through the front doors, expecting the cafeteria to be busy with activity.
There was nothing. No one. Not a peep.
I skidded to a halt.
The good news: I could still eat and not have to sneak a plate somehow.
The bad news: we were still eating, right?
The office door was closed so I passed it, going into the cafeteria. On one side of the large room was the kitchen. Campers would line up, grab a tray, and go through the line. They’d grab their drinks, stop so the kitchen staff would hand out food, then move farther down the line for the rest of the meal.
This three-week thing didn’t seem full, with only forty people to feed, so I wasn’t surprised to see only a few tables set up. The back half of the room had been left open for an indoor gym, the carpeting rolled back to reveal a hardwood basketball court. Sometimes a volleyball net was strung up, or a stage could be pulled out from the wall if there was a show going on during the meals.
The gym area had its lights on, but the table area was dark.
I saw lights on the other side of the kitchen, though the sliding wall was still pulled down. It was locked at night so no one could sneak into the kitchen, but it was lifted during the serving times. The fact it was still down said that they weren’t expecting anyone immediately; otherwise everything would be out and uncovered.
It was like the camp gods had decided to answer me, because as I was about to call out again, the front doors opened behind me.
I turned, almost expecting to hear church choirs singing.
A lone guy wearing a business suit was there.
That was it.
He moved forward, a tired look on his face, a bag thrown over his shoulder, and two more guys in business suits came behind him.
I was used to having wealthy campers. Echo catered to them, and the random celebrity had been known to rent out the whole place before, so I was used to seeing nice things. Nice clothes. Nice shoes. Nice bags.
These three guys? They were the definition of nice.
Their faces were manscaped. Clean. Their teeth were white. They had an air of authority and confidence—not arrogant, but strong. They were sure of themselves, so sure that I moved back a step.
These guys were known, whoever they were.
Custom-tailored suits. Italian shoes. Their bags, I didn’t recognize the brand, but wealthy people used them. There was a look to them. The first guy was normal height, but trim. The two behind him were giants.
And then all the air was sucked out of the room. It started spinning.
The first guy looked at the office door and at me. He pointed. “That’s where I go?”
“Argucham,” came out of my mouth.
I didn’t recognize the language myself. Maybe it was something foreign, or maybe it was a future alien language, because that’s how I played it off. I smiled, blinked, and nodded as I felt like I was about make a crash landing on the floor.
He frowned briefly, but went to the office. A soft tap and he opened it, stepping inside.
The two other giants went with him. Neither spared me another look.
Why would they? Because the reason I started speaking Alien was because I’d recognized one of those giants. He was a former NBA All-star, had been on the All-NBA team, on the All-Defensive Team, and had won six NBA championships.
He. Was. A. Legend.
And I couldn’t breathe.
Do platypuses walk backward?
I was hyperventilating.
When you’re eighty, will you look back and wish you’d been a psychic?
Winston Duty retired six years ago, but he was now the head coach for the Seattle Thunder.
The Seattle Thunder.
I was wheezing.
How many records is too many to break for the Guinness Book of World Records?
I bent over, my hands on my knees, but I couldn’t get any air out. I was panicking and pissing myself from excitement all at the same time. And I was about to pass out.
“Charlie!” Hadley hissed my name from behind, and I tried to turn around. I really did.
She was probably motioning for me to get to safety. Hide and die. But I couldn’t. My knees were melting. My feet were already in a puddle. I was sure that really was pee dripping down my legs.
This was my dream come true, if I lived to relish it.
A hand wrapped around my arm and jerked me backward. I clutched it and raised my head. I was pretty sure that was Owen’s hair just in front of me. He pulled me into the kitchen’s office and shoved me in the chair. They pushed my head between my knees, and Hadley kneeled in front of me.
“Breathe, Charlie. Breathe.” She patted me on the back.
I couldn’t. I kept shaking my head, pointing past them and out the door. Did they not know who was out there? No. The joke was on me. They did.
The Seattle Thunder. Reese Forster. My favorite all-time team and player.
Those were his coaches. If they were here, it meant one thing.
I was so unbelievably stupid.
The Seattle Thunder was having their training program here. HERE! AND I WAS HERE TOO!
All the fangirling, fanatical fan/obsessive stalker inside of me was freaking the fuck out.
Aliens. I’d talked like an alien, and it seemed I wasn’t done.
They were snickering at me. They were laughing.