Camp Broken Arrow

by Cassi Carver

Kara went down the last step and moved out of the way as the other kids exited the bus. They came out in such a perfect row, they reminded Kara of ants marching toward melted ice cream after the scout ant laid down the sniff trail.

She set her bag in the dirt and looked around, seeing nothing but fake teepees, a faded brown building, and a big field of yellow grass with hay-bale targets on the far end. She thought camp was gonna be pretty, but it was dry and ugly, just like where she came from. Seeing as the only kids invited were students from around the district who had a family member up and die on them—she figured they could’ve at least picked a camp that looked more…alive.

But here they were, Camp Broken Arrow. And Kara’s new foster mom had told her that this was supposed to be a good place. That after a week here, Kara wouldn’t feel so alone anymore. That was a laugh! But not the ha-ha funny kind. It was the type of laugh you did when your foster dad said he’d pick you up after school, but then forgot—everyday day for two months.

They said loneliness was an empty feeling, but Kara knew better. It was a tight knot that squeezed your gut until you just wanted to roll into a ball and scream uncle.

So how did living in teepees and learning to shoot arrows make you less lonely? Was her new foster mom suddenly going to decide to keep Kara if she got good at bows and arrows? How many bulls-eyes would something like that take? The whole thing was so dumb, Kara might have done something to get sent home early if she had a real home to go back to.

When Kara bent to tie her sneakers, the weird red-haired girl who’d cried quietly—the whole entire bus ride—walked off the last step. Judging by her puffy eyes and the snot she left trailing to the side of her mouth, the red-haired girl was obviously a newbie at not having parents. Since Kara had never had them, she guessed that made her an expert.

As Kara was finishing double-knotting her shoes, the red-haired girl was looking around like she was lost, holding her bag against her shirt real tight like it was her favorite blanket. But the tall boy behind her—a seventh grader if he was a day—must not have felt like waiting because he shoved her out of the way. The girl was so skinny, she went flying like a paper airplane, nose-diving into the dirt, and her skidding bag sent up a cloud of brownish-red dust all around her.

“Look at Scabbey Abbey!” the boy said, but his voice was low enough that Kara guessed he didn’t want the bus driver to know what he’d done.

She glanced at their big, bouncy ride, but realized help wasn’t gonna come from the old man. From what Kara could hear, he was still busy unloading stuff on the other side of the bus.

The boy smiled, but it only pulled up one corner of his lip. “I told you that if you didn’t stop crying, I’d give you something to cry about, Scabbey. I warned you, and you just wouldn’t shut up. ‘Oh, my mommy died. That makes me special.’ On what planet?”

The girl just lay there for a minute, like either she was tired and wanted to take a nap, or she was too embarrassed to get up. Kara stepped closer and tried to figure out which one it was. When the red-haired girl peeped up at Kara, her green eyes were all pink in the white part, and it looked kind of creepy and sad at the same time.

Kara frowned. She hated bullies even more than she hated girls who let people bully them, so she reached her hand down and held it out to the girl. “Get up, Scabbey—I mean…Abbey.” And then more quietly she added. “You’re making us girls look bad.”

Abbey blinked fast, like she was gearing up to cry a gusher, then she blinked again, more slowly, and took Kara’s hand. Kara pulled her to her feet and brushed some dry bits of leaves out of Abbey’s square-cornered bangs. Standing next to Kara, Abbey was actually pretty tall. It must have been her shrunken pride that made her look short.

When Kara looked down at the thick, powdery dust on Abbey’s pants, a big pair of shoes came into view. “Aw, look how nice the new kid is. She’ll even touch hands with Scabbey.”

His friend laughed and pushed closer, looking over the other boy’s shoulder. “Gross! She’s gonna get the cry-baby disease!”

Kara’s eyes narrowed, and she stared straight into the big bully’s mean gaze. Those boys might wear shoes as big as her entire head, but that just gave them more foot for stomping.

“What’s your name?” Abbey whispered. Her little voice was hard to hear even though the other kids gathered around were so still and silent it looked like they were barely remembering to breathe.

“Kara,” she answered, giving a quick sweep of the stink-eye into the crowd, daring anyone to pick on her like they did Abbey.

“What grade are you in?”

“Fifth.”

Abbey’s face lit up and she used the back of her hand to wipe the snot from under her nose. “Me, too! At Liberty, or one of the other schools?”

“Yeah. Liberty.” At least, it would be Liberty—if she was still at the same house when summer was over and school started up again.

“Thank you, Kara,” Abbey said.

Kara shrugged it off. She didn’t like being stared at like a superhero for helping a girl to her feet. She would have to teach Abbey about girls sticking up for themselves against boys of every shape and size, cause if anyone had cooties, no doubt it was the boys. If Abbey was smart like Kara, she’d never start liking boys like those crazy sixth grade girls did.

“Liberty? Just my luck,” the boy said. “I can’t go to school with two dumb-as-nails girls. Scabbey Abbey and Kara…bear-a.” He laughed. “Like one of those wimpy stuffed animals. Which one would you be, Kara? Stupid Bear?”

Her hand might be small, but it made a nice-sized fist. “No, at the moment, I’m feeling like Smashing-Your-Nose-In Bear.”

She hauled her arm back, getting ready to teach the boy’s face a lesson, but frail little Abbey grabbed her wrist. Kara had to stop her swing mid-air, or risk breaking Abbey’s skinny-boned arm. “Kara…” the girl began. “I think you’re more like Friend Bear.”

Abbey let go of Kara and brushed her palms across her pants to sweep the dust off, then she stood taller and turned to face the boy. “You don’t have to hit him for me, Kara. Someone he loved died too, and he’s just not smart enough to cry like I do. He’s turning his sad to meanness, but I don’t think that’s gonna make him feel better.”

Kara couldn’t tell if the boy was mad or sad, but his face got red, his nostrils flared, and his eyes went watery. “Stupid girls,” he muttered, and then he turned and stomped away. When his friend went to follow, the bigger boy shoved his friend’s shoulder and kept walking.

After another minute, when the kids started talking again and getting back to normal, a hatch slammed on the bus and the driver came around to their side. “Let’s go get you checked in, kids. I think you’re going to love this place. Follow me.”

Abbey picked up her bag and waited for Kara to grab hers, then Abbey held out her hand. Kara wasn’t much the hair-braiding or hand-holding type of girl, but she linked fingers with Abbey anyway. “Kare-bear,” Abbey said, “I think we’re going to be friends forever.”

Kara was halfway between smiling and rolling her eyes, but on the inside, some gnawing thing sighed a happy breath and went still. Maybe her new foster mom was right about this place after all.