The prelude to a camp mystery
Today, our third day at Camp Sewanee, my friend Rachel and I got up early so we could go help set up the dining hall. Well, mostly so that Rachel could get the Early Bird award for being the first one to come over and help. Rachel will try for any prize anyone offers. She'd missed her chance yesterday because she stopped to talk with Dwight.
We noticed Dwight when we first arrived at camp. A few kids hung around the graveled basketball half-court. Bruce was showing off, making some pretty good shots and pretending not to notice Deanna admiring him. Dwight was standing back and watching Bruce the way I sometimes watch Rachel--a little admiring, a little jealous. I guess Bruce noticed. He lobbed the ball at Dwight, who flinched, grabbed too late, and missed by a yard.
Bruce shrugged and said, "I guess you have to be a real man to play ball."
Rachel grabbed the ball, went to the back of the half-court and made a perfect shot. I passed the ball back to where she stood, now at the back left corner. She aced the shot again. She did that one more time from the other corner, drilled the ball at Bruce's head and walked away with her hands on her hips.
Yesterday morning we got up early and headed for the kitchen. We heard thumping on the other side of the hedge that separated the path to the kitchen from the basketball court.
"Bruce already?" Rachel said.
She ducked around the corner, with me after her, just in time to see Dwight, in the middle of the court, stare at the hoop with fierce concentration, jump and fling the ball straight up. He stared at his hands as of he was trying to figure out how they did that, looked around to see if anyone had noticed, and saw us just before the ball came back down and hit him on the head.
He took a deep breath and said in a tight little voice, "So I'm a hopeless klutz. Always was."
He put his chin up and waited for us to laugh at him. I remember Rachel looking like that in school sometimes. I guess she remembered too.
"It's okay," Rachel said. "Different things are hard for different people."
"Not for you," he said. "I saw you shooting yesterday."
"I'm good at basketball. Not at reading."
"But reading's easy."
"Not when you're dyslexic."
I was miserable until they taught me a few tricks for outsmarting dyslexia and let me listen to some of our books on tape. I can read when I need to, but I still have to concentrate hard."
"Oh." Dwight looked down. "Reading was easy for me, but I had training wheels on my bike until I was eight, and I still fall over a lot, and I'm miserable at sports."
"But you're still trying."
They smiled at each other.
The three of us talked a little more about camp stuff. Then we went up to the kitchen to find that Deanna had already gotten the Early Bird Award. Rachel didn't mind as much as I thought she would.
This story is about to turn mysterious
This morning was rainy, so we ducked into the rec room on the end of the main building that was closest to our cabins. The dining hall was six rooms away on the other end. Rachel breezed right on through the rec room door and into the equipment room, but I stopped because I'd noticed the writing on the rec room whiteboard.
Someone had printed "RACHEL STERN IS A DYSLEXIC RETARD" on the board in messy capitals.
It must have been written early this morning. I was the last kid out before they locked the main building last night, and I went out through the rec room, and all that was written on the board then was the day's schedule.
I grabbed the eraser, but I couldn't get rid of the message. There was a permanent marker next to the board. I pulled on the board, but it was screwed in place.
Rachel came back to see what was delaying me, read the message and made a noise like an angry cat. "That loser Dwight! she hissed. "He'll be sorry. I'll deck him, and then I'll tell everyone about his basketball practice and how he can't even ride a bicycle, and…"
I grabbed her by the shoulders. "Hold on! For one thing, if you do that you'll be in deep trouble. For another thing, you don't know it was him."
"Who else knew?"
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"I knew, but I didn't write it. And anyone could have overheard you. Anyone who was standing behind the hedge."
"But we know Dwight heard me. I'm going to…"
"You're not going to do anything that's going to lose you a friend."
"I don't need friends like Dwight!"
Friendship is about to raise to the top!
"I think you do want friends like me, though," I said.
I took the dry-erase marker down, crossed RETARD out and continued the message: READER, WHO IS KINDER AND BRAVER THAN THE PERSON WHO WROTE THE FIRST PART OF THIS MESSAGE. ALSO SHE'S FAIR, SMART AND A GOOD ATHLETE. AND FIERCE. DON'T MESS WITH HER. I signed my name: KIM FREEMAN.
She looked at the message, and she looked at me. We stood together for a little while without saying anything. Then Bruce's friend Evan strolled into the rec room. He looked at the message on the board, looked at us, raised his eyebrows. Rachel and I stared at him for a minute. When he didn't say anything Rachel and I walked into the dining hall together.
Dwight was there already, with his hair dripping wet. So was Bruce, right in front of him in line. Six more kids stood ahead of Bruce.
"It could have been Bruce, the creep," Rachel muttered.
"What could have been Bruce?" Deanna asked, hurrying toward us from the kitchen.
"It could have been Bruce who wrote lies about me on the rec-room whiteboard this morning," Rachel said.
"No," said Tommy Smith, the kid lined up in front of Bruce. "We came over from the cabin together and we didn't come through the rec room."
Deanna sighed. "So that's what Dwight was doing," she said.
"I saw him in the rec room when I came over from my cabin a few minutes ago. He looked nervous and he was putting the top back on a permanent marker. I didn't think to look at the board...I guess I was still half asleep."
Dwight's face went white. "I wasn't!" he said to Rachel. "I didn't write that!"
Bruce smirked at him. "Liar," he said. Dwight wheeled back around to face Bruce. I thought Dwight might hit him, which seemed like a bad idea for several reasons.
Our counselor, Mr. Baird, must have thought so too. He came loping over. "What's the matter?" he asked. Rachel was too angry to talk. Mr. Baird turned to Deanna, who looked grown-up and disapproving with her hands folded in front of her and an Early Bird badge with today's date pinned on her shoulder.
"Someone ruined your whiteboard and made fun of Rachel for having a learning disability," she said.
Mr. Baird frowned. "I'd better have a look at that." He headed for the rec room with all the campers trailing behind him.
"I've made the message better now," I said as we hurried through the exercise room.
"Not just you, I guess," he answered, looking at the whiteboard. I looked around him to see what he meant.
Rachel's jaw unclenched a little.
Dwight took the dry-erase marker and added his name at the bottom.
"Well," Mr. Baird said. "That's all well and good, but whoever wrote the first message…"
I stepped forward. "I think I know who that was."