The sound of his bunkmate’s soft snoring reached Tobias’ ears as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. After hours of tossing, turning, and crying into his pillow, sleep still had not found him.
And that was when he decided.
He couldn’t stay there one more minute.
Tobias knew he’d promised his Mama that he’d be brave – that he wouldn’t give up the first night. But after a few short hours, he already felt ready to go home. The food was weird. The older kids were scary. The bed was lumpy. Everyone was a stranger.
Sorry, Mama. The young boy thought, rising to his feet. But I just can’t stay.
Tobias crept quietly toward the door of the tiny cabin, taking great care not to wake his bunkmate as he tiptoed out into the crisp night air.
Uh oh… Which one’s the counselors’ cabin? He wondered uncertainly, glancing around at the identical rows of tiny wooden buildings. Surely they would have a phone. And surely they would understand that he had to go home… Promise or no promise.
As he stood there wondering which way he should go, Tobias was startled by the creaking of an opening door. He didn’t even have time to react before a figure emerged from the next cabin over.
Tobias recognized her right away – she was the only other camper besides him who had barely touched their dinner, and had looked almost as miserable being there as he did.
She looks so sad… He thought as the little girl’s eyes fell on him. She did not show any sign of alarm at his presence. Maybe even sadder than me…
“Hi!” Tobias called out a bit louder than he’d intended.
The girl cringed at the sound and raised a finger to her lips as he drew closer to her.
“Sorry…” He said in a whisper.
The girl waved a hand dismissively at him and began to turn away, but Tobias quickly positioned himself in front of her, blocking her path.
“Wait a second.” He held up his hands as he spoke. The girl stopped. “What’re you doing out here? Where are you going?”
She seemed to hesitate for a moment before replying. “N-none of your business! And what about YOU?” The girl countered. “Where are YOU going?” There was something funny about the way she spoke, but Tobias couldn’t put his finger on it.
“No fair! I asked you first.”
“Ugh. Fine.” She sighed, rolling her eyes. “I’m going home, okay?”
“Well… Home to my papa’s house.” The girl explained. There was definitely something strange about her accent… The way she said “papa” was all wrong.
She’s not from around here. Tobias realized. But where IS she from?
“So… Are you gonna call and have him pick you up or something?” Tobias asked.
The little girl shook her head. “No, I’m walking. It’s not that far.”
Tobias was surprised by her answer. He’d been certain she must have lived somewhere very far away. “Oh, okay.” He replied flatly. Tobias wasn’t sure what else to say.
There was an uncomfortable silence between them for a few moments before the little girl finally spoke once more. “Okay, now it’s YOUR turn… Are you running away too?”
For a moment, Tobias almost told the truth. But he didn’t want to look like a baby. Especially not in front of a girl. So instead, he shook his head. “I’m just taking a walk.” He said, keeping his voice casual. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Just taking a walk?” The girl raised her eyebrow skeptically.
Tobias nodded. “You can come with me, if you want.”
She bit her lip uncertainly. “I dunno… I should really go soon if I wanna make it to my papa’s house before morning…”
“Why do you wanna go home so bad anyway?” Tobias had a feeling it was the same reason he wanted to, too.
“It’s kind of a long story.” The girl replied with a shrug.
Tobias just smiled. “Well I love stories, so I don’t mind hearing it. And I mean, it’s gotta be better than that lame ghost story they tried to tell at the campfire tonight.” He laughed softly as he spoke.
“YES!” The girl giggled, raising her voice a bit too loudly. “It was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard… Ever.” She agreed.
“It kinda made me miss my grandpa. He tells the best stories.” Tobias’ smile widened. “Especially ghost stories… His Auntie Ev – well she’s not his real aunt, I guess – but she used to BE a ghost!”
“What?! Shut up!” The girl laughed at him. “You’re making that up.”
“I’m not! My great-great-grandpa brought her back to life!”
“No way! You’re lying!’
“It’s true. I swear.” Tobias smirked at her. “If you tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.” He offered. “Deal?”
“Hmm… Okay, deal.”
Tobias and his new friend ended up sharing a lot of stories that night.
As soon as he’d finished explaining the fantastic tale about his great-great-grandfather, he told her all about his family, and his home back in Windenburg.
She was excited to hear that he had a twin brother (“You always have someone to play with! Cool!”), but jealous that he had a mother and father who were married.
“Well, Jonas isn’t my real Papa.” He’d explained. “I just call him that.”
The little girl shook her head. “Doesn’t matter.” She insisted. “My maman and papa aren’t married to anyone. Even each other. It stinks.”
“Maman?” Tobias repeated, confused. “Is that some funny way of sayin’ “Mama” or something?”
The little girl giggled in reply.
Tobias learned that her name was Colette Katz (What kinda name is THAT?! He’d secretly thought), and the reason she had such a funny accent was because she lived with her mother in Champs Les Sims, France.
“How come you know so much German, then?” He’d asked her.
“My papa grew up in Windenburg.” Colette explained. “But he moved away from the city a long time ago, when I was just a baby. I’ve been spending every summer with him for as long as I can remember. That’s why I’m so mad.” She told him, as they laid together beneath the stars. “I love being with my papa… And it kinda feels like he’s trying to get rid of me or something.”
“Maybe.” Tobias replied with a shrug. “But… maybe not. Maybe he just wanted you to have fun, y’know? That’s why my Mama and Papa sent me here. So that’s gotta be it.” He assured her.
And besides, Tobias thought, he couldn’t imagine how anyone would ever want to get rid of someone as fun and cool and amazing as her.
“It’s been a lotta fun talking to you!” Tobias said brightly as his laughter finally began to subside. “But… I guess you should probably get going, if you wanna make it to your Papa’s house before the sun comes up.” The little boy tried to hide his disappointment as he spoke.
Collette shook her head, smiling. “I thought about what you said your maman told you… About waiting two nights…” She paused, and appeared thoughtful for a moment. “And… I think that’s kinda good advice.”
Tobias smiled widely at her as a wave of relief washed over him. “Good.” He replied happily, then paused for a moment before continuing. “Well… if we’re both staying, I guess we should head back and try to get some sleep now, huh?” His reluctance was apparent in his voice as he spoke.
He wished he could stay up with Colette all night, but he really was getting sleepy.
The little girl nodded, then hopped off the wooden bench in reply. “Come on, I’ll race you!”
With a small yawn, Tobias headed up the wooden steps and back into his cabin. His roommate was still fast asleep.
Maybe she’s right… He thought sleepily, crawling back into bed. Maybe it WAS good advice after all… I’ll try it ONE more night. Tobias decided. And we’ll see what happens.
He closed his eyes, snuggled up in the soft covers, and quickly drifted off into a sound sleep, already certain that tomorrow would be a much better day.