Chapter 3: Summer's End

"Li!" I sprang to life, racing towards my best friend, eyes alight with excitement.

"Sammy!" she crowed excitedly, reaching out to grab me in a bone crushing embrace. I didn't even wince. I hadn't seen her in a full nine weeks, and there was so much I needed to fill her in on. Nine weeks! It was the longest we had ever been away from one another, and our constant stream of letters hadn't been enough to fill the void.

I had written her pages and pages detailing my summer-camp adventures, and received numerous short, cheery blurbs in return. I miss you, she would sign off every letter. Come home NOW. I would laugh at her emphatic, loving request and feel the slight pangs of homesickness for a few minutes afterward, before I became once more entrenched in the day to day flurry of activities that was camp.

But it was good to see Liana's familiar face in front of me again, and to hear her loud, carrying voice reach my ears once more. Camp had been fun—though I pined every day for my five best friends—but after seven weeks I was ready to come home. By then, Liana was away in France with her family, and she had gotten home just the night before. Her room was neat and tidy, all her clothes put away and stowed in an orderly fashion—I'd been home from camp for two weeks already and had yet to unpack half my stuff. Liana's organization had never failed to amaze me.

After a whole summer apart, it seemed that all we could do was stare at one another in amazement. "You look tan," I told her.

She smiled at me, dimples flashing in the same way as ever. "I missed you. You can't ever go away again. It's no fun," she declared solemnly in her typical short, childlike sentences.

I laughed. "You had Lilly, and Kara, and Cait and Lyss. I'll bet you weren't too lonely. Or bored, for that matter. They always make things interesting."

"Not like you, though." Her eyes, round and innocent, met mine straight on, and I knew she meant it. "You would never have pushed me down that slide at Alyssa's birthday party, anyway."

Kara had written me about that at camp. Apparently, Liana had cried for hours about it, and Alyssa had thrown a fit, berating Lilly for ruining her party with her stupid pranks. Just like Lilly, Kara had written in her letter. Trust her to pull such a stupid prank. Both Alyssa and Lilly had refused to apologize and it had blown up into whole lstupid drama between the two of them that had taken days to resolve. I was not sorry I had missed that and did not envy Caitlin, our designated peacemaker, who had probably spent the two days locked in agonizing attempt to end the feud. "It was just a silly waterslide, Li."

"Yeah, but it was scary. I said I didn't want to go down, but Lilly pushed me anyway." A strange expression darted across Liana's face just then, her eyes darkened slightly and she shook her head uneasily as though to clear it. The expression was gone almost as soon as I had registered it, and when her face broke into its customary smile a second later, it was as though the strange gleam in her eyes had never been.

"I missed you too," I told her with absolute sincerity, enveloping her in another quick hug. "It's good to be back."

Later that night, Kara, Alyssa, Lilly, and Caitlin came over to welcome Liana home. Although I had since been reunited with each of my best friends in the two weeks that I had been home, it was the first time the six of us had been together since the end of the school year. It wasn't until that moment that I fully appreciated just how much I had missed my friends.

We crowded around in our sleeping bags, giggling and swapping summer stories. We laughed until we cried at Lilly's tales of her stay in Ohio with her country-hick cousins. "You sounded so desperate in your letters," I told her laughingly. "Sam," I adopted a whiny, high pitched voice and screwed my face up into a tiny pout. "There's no cable and not a McDonalds in sight for at least twenty-five miles. How am I going to survive?"

Lilly shrugged indignantly while the others ruled on the floor with laughter. Shaking her head so that her spiky dark hair fell to the side, she glared up at me from the corner of her eyes. "I almost didn't," she announced melodramatically, then paused, waiting, for our reaction. I couldn't suppress a snort of laughter at her latest words. "Hey! I'm serious!" she protested as we were overtaken by a wave of laughter. "It was not funny. All they ever do there is pray, eat, and tell me how I'm gonna rot my body in this life and my soul in the next because I don't eat enough vegetables and," here she adopted a slight southern twang, "I don't pray enough. And all that healthy food was enough to make me sick."

Liana made a few clucking sympathy noises, at which Lilly scowled and Caitlin laughed. "You think they'd have something better to do than harp on you," Alyssa teased. "Hopeless Satanist that you are."

"Naw," Kara made a face and we burst into another round of spontaneous giggling. "It's the country. What else is there to do?" she asked, ever the city girl.

"Or at least realize that you, Lilly, are entirely hopeless cause." Alyssa amended.

"Our little rebel," joked Caitlin.

"It was awful," Lilly told us unabashedly. "If I didn't have your letters I think I would've died."

"Stop being so melodramatic," Caitlin scolded teasingly. "It can't have been that bad."

"Easy for you to say," Lilly scoffed. "They would have loved you. Caitlin, the little nun, the little angel."

"Hey!" Caitlin flushed red, then shook her red-gold hair into her eyes and fake scowled, causing us all to break out in a fit of giggles. Lilly, however, wasn't quite done.

"You would have fit in there very well, Cait, come to think of it. Very well after all."

Caitlin opened her mouth to retaliate but Alyssa quickly intervened. "Enough with the two of you," she told them, eyes sparkling. "I want to hear about Liana's trip to France."

Caitlin shut her mouth immediately and turned, expectantly, towards Liana. Lilly, glowing a little at having gotten in the last word, did the same. "It was fun," Liana told us, brightening as she always did under our attention. "My brother and I had the best time—he met some French boys that were into soccer and he totally creamed them. And they were all mad because some American footballer beat them." She chuckled, a deep, throaty sound which echoed across the room, as she lost herself in pleasant reminisces. "Andy showed them!" We all laughed freely. Andy, two years older than us, was the darling of our group. We all adored him, but none more so than Liana. Though she frequently complained about how much he and his friends, all supreme jocks, annoyed her, she all but worshipped him. I always had to laugh at that, because I was of course the same way, as is a little sister's rite. No matter how much my brothers, Aaron, age 15, and Jason, age 12, annoyed me, I idolized them. But Liana's blind adoration for her brother far outstripped my own. Despite her loud and frequent complaints, Andy was her hero and in her eyes could do no wrong.

We all laughed as Liana tied up her story and then Kara began a glowing account of her experience at acting camp, followed by Caitlin, Alyssa, and my own tales of our respective camps. We stayed up until all hours of the night swapping summer stories and laughing until our abs ached. Halfway through, Lilly got bored and started pelting us with pillows, and within seconds a full out three on three war had erupted: me, Lilly, and Liana against Alyssa, Caitlin, and Kara. By the time we finally collapsed onto our sleeping bags, stiches in our sides, to resume our glorious tales of summer, my appreciation for my friends had swelled to unprecedented levels. We woke up the next morning with stiff backs and dark circles under our eyes, but none of it mattered now that we had been reunited once more.