Aaron is always ready to fight.
Perhaps a summer spent in a less stressful atmosphere will allow him to relax.
Harry had all the boys’ attention now, and even the minor fidgeting had stopped. He grinned. He knew how to get them to listen to him, to give him their rapt attention. Talking about being naked would do that every time.
Then he went with a bait-and-switch tactic. “First however, I have to talk about something else, something important. It’ll lead up to talking about the swimming area. It’s this: this camp is a place where we don’t permit bullying. I know, I know; bullying is a fact of life for kids your age, but not here. We have counselors here who look out for it, look out for each one of you. Bullying isn’t tolerated. If you encounter it, tell me or one of the counselors. Tell us because we may not have already seen it. We’ll stop it, and there won’t be any repercussions affecting you. We want your time here to be happy and memorable and that won’t happen if there’s any sort of bullying. We won’t have it. I guarantee you that. By the same token, we want you to be nice to everyone and not be accused of bullying either. Okay, enough of that unpleasantness.” He stopped and actually shuddered, then looked up at them and smiled again.
“There are new things you can try while you’re here, but what you try, how you spend your time, is up to you. You can spend it in your cabin reading a book if that’s what you want.” Aaron saw Harry’s eyes land on him for less than a second before moving on.
“Or you can be more adventurous than that. We have all sorts of activities, and our counselors will show you the ropes and be sure you’re safe while trying them. We have rules in place to ensure your safety. That’s part of what I need to cover here.
“We have several kinds of watercraft that are for your use. But, no one can go in a boat alone, ever, except for the kayaks, and even then, you need a partner to take one out. And, you can’t go in a boat at all if you can’t swim. We can teach you how to swim if you don’t already know how. Let’s see. Raise your hand if you know how to swim.”
Aaron raised his hand and glanced around. Every hand in the semicircle went up.
“Okay, that’s great! Super! You can use the boats then, but never without checking with a counselor first. Johnny Gross is the counselor in charge of watercraft. He’s who you check in with to get a boat. Johnny, stand up?”
A kid with hair that was almost white and a quick smile stood up and waved. He looked to be 16 or 17, Aaron thought, but it was hard to tell; the hair made him look younger than he may have been.
“We stress camper safety here. So, while you all say you can swim, we’ll check that that’s true before letting you have a boat. You have to get approved by our swimming counselor. That’s Richie Gross. Stand up, Richie.”
Aaron had already met Richie. He was the redhead who’d accompanied him to this meeting. He still wore the happy smile now that he’d worn then.
Harry was continuing. “I’m glad you all swim. It makes Richie’s job easier and your time here more fun. He’s in charge of the swimming area. Just like with the boats, go in the water there with someone else, and you both watch out for each other. If you have no one to swim with, Richie will find you someone, even himself if necessary. Now that I’ve got this far, I can talk about our beach.”
He gave them a happy smile and sat back in his chair, looking very relaxed. “Swimming here is clothing-optional. That means you can wear a bathing suit or not. Now, remember what I said about bullying? It’s especially important when we’re talking about this. Kids at this camp, especially 13-year-olds, are waiting to enter, entering, or already well into puberty. That means, to speak frankly, body development, including the area covered by a bathing suit, is in all stages here. And boys being boys, most are a bit shy about how they look while being very curious about how other boys look. Because of who each of you are, some of you will choose to wear bathing suits, and some others, according to their nature, will choose the other option. Many wear bathing suits the first couple of times they go to the beach, and when they see so many other campers taking the chance to go bare and finding out how much fun and free it is to do that, they lose their suits. We’re a boys’ camp. There are no girls around to see us. There’s no need to cover up, and swimming naked, skinny-dipping, is something all boys should have the opportunity to do at least once in their lives. I’ve never met a boy who hasn’t loved skinny-dipping.”
Harry stopped and looked at each boy in the semicircle, taking his time doing so. He also slid forward in his chair, and both his voice and expression hardened. “We will have no teasing remarks about boys who choose to wear a bathing suit, and none about boys who don’t. We don’t put down any boy for anything here. Anyone doing that won’t be at camp much longer once I hear about it. Anyone who can’t follow that simple rule doesn’t belong here. I don’t get upset very often, but I was teased as a boy because I had to swim naked at school, and I was a very late developer. I was very nervous having to show my all to a group of other kids, and when I did, some of them were vicious in their remarks. You can imagine how that felt, hating having to show myself and then being scorned and made to feel bad about myself when I did it. So I know what it feels like to be teased for being small, for not having hair, for trying to hide myself, and I won’t allow that to happen here. I won’t allow any of my campers to experience that. Anyone who breaks this rule isn’t welcome at this camp. He’s out of place here and will be made to leave.”
Harry took the stern edge from his voice as he continued. “Most boys eventually end up skinny dipping. Many do that from their first day here. I encourage it. I think it’s good for boys to do that. It’s healthy for them. It’s healthy for them to look and allow themselves to be looked at. But it’s entirely up to you how you approach this. No one will care whether you wear a suit or not.”
He paused for a moment, then changed the subject. “We have so much to do here. Athletic games. Baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis. Terry Bevin and Jock Mahler run those. Those of you wanting to do those things, sign up with them and they’ll arrange times for games and get you matched up with appropriate partners or teams. There’re always several games going on, and if that’s your thing, you’re going to have a ball here. Terry, Jock, can you introduce yourselves?”
Two taller, older-looking kids stood. One of them said, “I’m Terry, the cute one. Jock’s the ugly one. Come see me or him if you’d like to be involved in any of those things Harry mentioned. We put together groups of kids of like ages and skills and have a lot of fun. We’re not looking for highly competitive games. We’re looking to have a good time for everyone involved. No getting stuck in right field because you’re the last one picked. We don’t have picking and being last. None of that. Everyone is equal; everyone enjoys themselves. Okay? Now I’ll turn it over to my very long-winded—that means he talks a lot—partner. Go ahead, Jock.”
Jock looked over the group, blushed, and muttered, “What he said,” and sat back down.
“Let’s all hear it for Jock,” Terry cried out, and started clapping. The other boys quickly joined in, laughing, and Jock smiled and blushed at the same time.
Aaron liked the camaraderie the two showed. He didn’t find Terry any cuter than Jock. This was how two friends acted together, and he liked seeing it.
“Okay, moving on,” Harry said after the group had settled down. “Dylan McCallister is in charge of a lot of the younger campers’ activities and runs the stables. He’s a great rider and will teach you all about how to behave around horses and show you how to ride. If you already know how, he’s also the one to set up trail rides. Just check with him.” He waved his hand at a dark-haired boy, gesturing for him to stand up, and Aaron recognized him as the boy he’d bumped into earlier. “Listen to him. Our horses are all gentle, but they’re also much bigger than you are, so following Dylan’s instructions is something that’s done for your own safety.”
Harry went on, talking about what times meals were served, when lights-out was for the younger campers, when most boys used the showers—also mentioning anyone could take a shower whenever he wanted to but everyone should take at least one every day—and other facts of camp life that the boys needed to know. Then he turned them loose after telling them that there was a campfire every night just after it had turned fully dark, and they should come for it although, like everything else, it wasn’t mandatory.
Aaron and Shaun walked back to their cabin together. Charlie was there and began talking as soon as they entered. He told them how much fun he’d had in his time at camp, how he’d been embarrassed about the beach but in the end thought it might have been the best part of camp because he’d learned not to be embarrassed when other kids saw him naked and how good it felt to be able to stand on the sand, naked to the world, and not be bothered by that. He said he was sad to be leaving the next morning and how for sure he’d be coming back next summer.
Aaron asked about the showers, saying he usually took one at night before bed.
“Sure, we can all go now if you want to, Shaun.” Shaun nodded, and Charlie continued without taking a breath. “It won’t be very busy right now because not too many kids go before campfire because wait till after allows them to clean the smoke smell off. So, now or after?”
Aaron gave it some thought. He decided he’d rather go when it wasn’t crowded. He still wasn’t sure about being naked in front of a bunch of kids. If there were fewer there now, he was all for that. “I’d rather go now,” he said, making up his mind.
“I think I’d rather go after the fire,” Shaun said. “That part about not stinking of wood smoke makes sense.”
“Okay,” Charlie said. “I can go twice. Come on, Aaron. But first, take anything you have from your pockets. There’s nowhere there to lock up anything.”
The shower room turned out to be just a large room with many showerheads. Instead of being all built against one wall, the room had standing risers spread throughout the room with four showerheads ninety-degrees apart on each. Aaron saw how this made for much more efficient use of the available space as more boys could shower at once this way.
Charlie showed Aaron where to undress and leave his clothes and towel. Charlie stripped without a care in the world. Aaron knew it was better if he showed the same nonchalance, so he kept pace, feeling the butterflies dance in his stomach.
Charlie didn’t even glance at him when he was nude. He just said, “This way,” and walked into the shower area.
There were ten boys already showering. They were in pairs or foursomes under the showerheads. Charlie walked to an unused stanchion and turned on the water. Aaron debated whether to go to where no one else was showering, but he was already forcing himself to accept being naked with other kids, and he thought he should make the best of it without being squeamish. He chose one of the showerheads on the stanchion Charlie had picked.
Charlie was younger than Aaron and had little genital development. Aaron was embarrassed that he didn’t, either. He was, like Harry had said he’d been, late in entering puberty. It was only in the last week he’d found anything he could rightly call a pubic hair growing; it was still, for all intents and purposes, invisible. Nothing else down there was very big, either. It was somewhat comforting to see that Charlie was even less developed, but then, he was younger.
Aaron wasn’t sure if Charlie even looked at him. Charlie, being who he was, simply chattered away while showering, while he was toweling off afterwards, while they were dressing, and all the way back to the cabin, where he roused Shaun and told him they should head down to the fire circle.
» » » »
Coming out of their cabin, Aaron saw a stream of boys walking in the same direction they were. Down near the lake there was a level spot that had a fire-pit where the evening ceremony was held. The pit was near the lake, and around it, quite a ways back, there were a large number of hay bales set in an arc, all facing the pit. There were already many boys sitting on the bales, and Charlie led Aaron and Shaun to where there was room for the three of them. Harry had his own bale in the center of the arc but far enough away from the fire so as not to be uncomfortable. At the moment, he was standing and pointing out empty places on bales for the latecomers.
“Harry leads songs and tells stories. Or sometimes, some nights, he has someone else entertain,” Charlie explained when they were seated. “He plays the guitar. I overheard him telling a parent who was dropping off his kid that the campfire helps develop camp spirit, but mostly it’s so kids can wind down and get sleepy after an active day of, of . . . well, activities.
“Don’t worry if you don’t know the words to a song. You’ll see.”
That night it was singing. Harry was playing the guitar and announced each song, then passed out lyric sheets to anyone who needed them. There was enough light from the fire for the sheets to be read, and all the songs were old standards with melodies that were easy to follow. Aaron didn’t know many of the songs but was a quick learner. He found he was actually having fun.
It was as he was walking back that his mood changed. Charlie and Shaun trotted off, Charlie saying it was good to get to the showers quickly or they might have to wait for a free showerhead otherwise. Aaron was in no hurry to return to the cabin and so ambled, enjoying the soft night and absence of city sounds. He found himself walking not far behind two other boys, a dark-haired one and a blond. He realized from the sound of his voice that the dark-haired one was Dylan. The blond boy had been with Dylan when he’d collided with Aaron, and Aaron had learned his name was Micah.
The two were walking shoulder to shoulder and speaking softly; Aaron could only hear snatches of their conversation. What he heard was Dylan, and his words only reached Aaron intermittently, “ . . . was trying to give me an excuse and parts of his story just didn’t jive. I pointed that out, and he finally admitted what he’d done.”
Aaron, not giving it any thought, snickered. Dylan heard him. He turned around, saw who was snickering and asked, “What’s so funny?” with a frown on his face.
Aaron wouldn’t normally have answered the way he did, but there was just something about Dylan that brought the defensive part of his nature into play. He didn’t know why that was. He didn’t know the boy at all. It could have been Dylan’s good looks, his good posture, his obvious self-confidence, the way he carried himself, the way his clothes looked new and fit him perfectly—he couldn’t say exactly what it was. But the boy reminded him of how the rich kids at school, who were the ones who bullied him the most, acted, and so Aaron simply responded the way he always did: he became confrontational.
That was why he answered as he did. He said, and said it belligerently, “It’s ‘jibe’, not ‘jive’!”
Dylan frowned, then said, “Oh, I remember you; you’re the one who knocks people down walking through doorways and then blames them for it.” Then he smiled to show it was a joke. “I guess you listen in on other people’s conversations, too, huh, professor?” Dylan’s voice still contained a note of humor, but Aaron didn’t hear it. What he heard was mocking sarcasm.
Dylan turned back to Micah and said, “Let’s move on,” and the two walked away. But Aaron could hear Micah say, “Professor?” and then laugh and pat Dylan on his back. He thought he saw Dylan’s shoulders shake, like the boy was laughing.
» » » »
Charlie left after breakfast the next morning. That left Aaron and Shaun to figure out what to do with themselves.
“Let’s get wet,” Shaun said. “I want to check out what that’s like. After that, I want to go see what sports they have. I love basketball. I’m not all that good, but it doesn’t sound like that matters here. I think it’ll be fun. You can come, too.”
Aaron knew he wasn’t going to do that. He and sports didn’t work. He started to laugh at the thought, then didn’t. Dylan’s putdown of the night before still rankled; Aaron hadn’t been able to forget it. He was in a mood because of that and had no intention of joining any activity he didn’t enjoy which might result in more humiliation.
But swimming? He still felt uneasy about the prospect of baring himself outside to a whole group of boys, but he had showered with a few other boys last night. However, he couldn’t help but remember how it had been at his school, too. Kids there got teased for how they looked naked. He’d found ways to avoid that: missing gym classes frequently for fictitious reasons supported with his mother’s signature—well, it looked quite a bit like her signature—and then not showering on the days when he did have to take the class.
He was well aware that he wasn’t as developed as some, but more than that, he knew he was incapable of being ridiculed without coming unglued and getting into it with the antagonist.
Yet last night no one in the showers had said anything. No one seemed to pay any attention to him. If he could be naked then, he could be the same today, couldn’t he? He did wonder what it felt like, getting in the lake naked with or without other boys being there. He’d never know if he was too chicken to try it.
“Okay, swimming. I’m not going to do any of those sports though.”
“That’s fine. Let’s go to the beach then.” Shaun immediately began shucking off his clothes.
Even this was difficult for Aaron. He’d left his underwear on last night to sleep and then turned his back to the others getting a fresh pair on this morning. Neither Shaun nor Charlie had any reservations at all about seeing each other naked that morning. Shaun had even been aroused. He’d just slipped his clothes on anyway and headed off to the toilets without commenting on it.
Shaun didn’t bother to put on a bathing suit. He simply wrapped a towel around himself. Then he looked at Aaron, who’d only managed to remove his shirt.
“What’s the matter?” Shaun asked.
“This is all new and strange. That’s all. You must be used to getting naked in front of people. I’m not. The shower last night was the first time I’d ever done that. It doesn’t seem to bother you at all. You even had a boner this morning and didn’t try to hide it.”
Shaun laughed. “I’ve got four brothers,” he said, “and seeing boners is nothing. Hey, we all get ’em. So what? We’ve all got bodies, too. It’s who we are and all natural. My mom says most of us have real worries to occupy us, and that we should work on them and not care about things that aren’t important. Being seen naked by other boys is about as unimportant as anything I can think of. So come on. We’re wasting time here.”
Aaron wondered if the fact that Shaun was a couple of months older than Aaron and more developed had something to do with his lack of shyness but figured probably not. He just had grown up differently. He wasn’t a bit embarrassed about himself. He also had a quiet confidence that was apparent the more time Aaron spent with him. Aaron envied that.
He decided he needed to get with the program and hurried to get his clothes off, but still turned away from Shaun while doing so. And he didn’t wrap a towel around himself. Instead, he put on his bathing suit. “Okay, ready,” he said. “Let’s go.”
They walked to the beach area that way, Aaron wearing his swimming trunks and carrying his towel, Shaun with a towel around his waist. The beach and lake were both full of boys, almost all of them naked. Aaron saw only a few bathing suits, and they were all being worn by kids about his age. He understood. Both older and younger guys had nothing to hide. The only kids older than the campers were the counselors, and they were all naked. It was optional for them as well as the campers, but Harry was of the school of thought that felt it was good for boys to see all stages of development and subtly encouraged the counselors to get with the program. Boys being boys, it didn’t take all that much encouragement.
When they were at the beach, Shaun didn’t hesitate. He dropped his towel and walked to the water. Richie was there and paired him up with another swimmer, and both kids were then in the water. Aaron watched but didn’t move. Instead, he looked around at all the boys.
It didn’t take long for him to spot Dylan. He was standing in the lake with water up just under his knees with a whole bunch of younger boys around him vying for his attention. The Pied Piper seemed to have nothing on Dylan, Aaron thought.
Micah suddenly appeared beside Dylan, popping up from under the water. He rose to his feet, showing himself to be as undressed as Dylan was, and he said something to Dylan. Dylan looked in Aaron’s direction, perhaps directed by Micah, who was looking in Aaron’s general direction as well.
Then Aaron saw Dylan laugh. He’s laughing at me, Aaron thought. Laughing because I’m wearing a bathing suit! He sees I’m shy about this nudity stuff and thinks that’s funny!
Aaron felt his ears getting hot and knew he was blushing. Dylan was laughing harder now. Then he reached down and scratched his hair right above his dick. The gesture looked to be unconscious, but Aaron was sure it wasn’t. The boy had to be showing off how much hair he had. Showing it off to him!
Aaron got angry, really angry. He gave a thought to running across the beach and into the water and attacking Dylan, but just then Micah gave Dylan an unexpected shove and then both were down in the water. Aaron watched for a moment, seething, then turned around and stormed back to the cabin.
When Shaun returned an hour later, his skin showing the beginnings of a tan or a burn, he looked quizzically at Aaron, who was propped up on his bed, reading, and asked, “What happened to you?”
“Dylan!” Aaron said sarcastically.
“Oh. What did he do?”
“He was laughing at me.”
Shaun wrinkled his forehead, looking confused, then dropped his towel and began gathering athletic shorts and sneakers to put on.
“A kid told me about a basketball game that kids were getting together for. It’s scheduled for 9:30. He invited me to come. I’m going to go play.” He quickly got dressed, then gave a questioning look at Aaron, who shook his head. Shaun shrugged, then took off with a wave but no backward glance.
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