The first summer I spent at Bell Lake I was only sixteen years old. I was young, hopeful, impressionable. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school, which went wonderfully in terms of grades and academic achievements, but quite mediocre in terms of meaningful relationships and fulfilling hobbies. I spent my afternoons studying and my evenings indulging myself in random YouTube rabbit holes (come on, we all know the random men who build houses and swimming pools in the woods out of practically nothing. Spoiler alert: its not real.) I occasionally treated myself to a walk through the woods with my dog. If I was feeling really precarious, Id sneak out my bedroom window after my parents went to bed to sit on my roof and watch the stars. Up until the summer of 2015, I never experienced true fun. I lived the same unfulfilling, monotonous routine every day of my life. School, study, random men in the woods building swimming pools, repeat.

That all changed the moment Helena waltzed into my life. I was unloading boxes of random tchotchkes outside of my familys new lake house when she approached me for the time. Well… approached is a strong word. She actually glided past me on a lifted monster-truck of a golf cart, slammed on the brakes so hard that she skidded across the asphalt, threw it in reverse, and just stared. I stared back, box of tchotchkes in hand. Silence.

”Hi, ” was all I could remark. She chortled. More silence. ”…Whats up? ”

”Whats up? Oh… nothing really. Just driving around. Whats up with you? ” she retorted casually as if weve been friends forever.

”Oh… just, uh, movin in. We
e new to the community this year… so… just getting all our ducks in a row, ” I awkwardly cliched like a middle-aged lady working in Human Resources and waiting in line for the water cooler.

”I see, ” Helena stated simply. ”Need any help? ”

”Oh, no, no, its okay, ” I responded as if it was a ridiculous request. Helena hopped off her comically enormous golf cart and swiftly lifted the tchotchke box out of my grip.

”Well thats too bad! ” she called over her shoulder as she made a dash for the house. I paused, noted her cart still parked in the middle of the street, grabbed another box, and lightly jogged after her. She casually put the box down on the sunroom table and turned to me. ”Im going to help you. Because the quicker you move these damn boxes the quicker I get to know you! God knows Ive been needing another girlfriend down here. I mean, listen, Im all here for some male attention, but theres nothing like a good soul sister. ” She rambled off as she nudged my arm.

I was stunned, and not in a bad way. Helena oozed this radiant, warm energy that Ive never witnessed in another human being before. She was bubbly, carefree, and kind. She had the most beautiful sun-kissed locks of hair that perfectly framed her heart-shaped face. An amethyst crystal wrapped in silver twine adorned her neck. She wore only a white strappy bikini top with a pair of loose-fitting denim shorts. She stood there smirking at me, waiting for my response.

”Well move, girl! Lets go! ” she ushered me out the door of my very own lake house like a drill sergeant. I followed her to my car, and continued to grab more boxes and move them into the sunroom.

”Cass? Is that you? ” I heard my mom call from the kitchen.

”Yeah, its me! ” I yelled back. ”Me and… ” I paused, realizing I didn even know this enigma-of-a-human-being-standing-next-to-mes name.

”Helena! ” she called to my mom, as if everyone knew exactly who she was. My mom emerged through the double french doors with a look of confusion that quickly dissipated into a warm smile.

”Helena! ” my mom cheered. ”So nice to meet you! I see youve met my daughter, ” she motioned toward me. ”I was hoping there would be some girls Casss age down here. ”

”Well, how old is this Cass you speak of? ” Helena chirped as if I wasn literally standing right by her side.

”Im sixteen, ” I spoke up.

”Sixteen?! ” Helena gasped. ”Ah, I remember those days… ” She reflected for a moment with a slight smile on her lips.

”Are you, uh, an adult? ” I quipped. She threw her head back with laughter.

”Oh, God no. But Im way too close for my liking. Im seventeen, but Ill be eighteen in August. ” I raised my eyebrows at her response. She remembers those days, huh? The days that were two years ago?

”Well thats wonderful, ” my mom replied sweetly. ”Helena here can be your mentor. ” My mom said with a wink as she returned back to the kitchen to finish unpacking the dishes.

”Oh Ill be your mentor all right, ” Helena assured me in a low voice. ”We
e going to have a fun ass summer. ” She gave me a warm smile, grabbed my arm, and led me out the sunroom again for more boxes.

________

”So, what is it that you do? ” Helena asked as we sat on her dock overlooking the lake. The water was still sans for the stickbugs that seamlessly glided across the surface. The mirror-like stillness reflected the late afternoon sky that began to melt into a dreamy swirl of orange and pink hues. I pondered for a moment. What is it that I do? I read books… I bake cakes for a hobby… I watch random men on YouTube build houses with sticks at 2 am.

”Honestly, I don do much. ” I replied with full sincerity.

”Well you have to do something. ” Helena stretched her body to lay flat on the wooden dock and gaze at the orange sky.

”I mean, I do boring stuff. ”

”Well I like boring, ” Helena paused for a moment. ”Well, not really, but I can still get down with boring people. ” I glanced over at her with a raised eyebrow. ”But its ok, I don think you
e boring. I can tell you have a fire within you. ” I reflected on this statement for a moment. Maybe I did have a fire within me. A small, barely-lit fire albeit, but it was there. I could feel the embers burning in my chest most nights as I laid in bed and thought about the future. The smoke coursed through my veins when I daydreamed about falling in love someday. The ashes filled my lungs when I questioned whether Id ever break out of my shell.

”Maybe you
e right, ” I said. ”But I dunno, I never saw myself that way. ”

”Well none of us do, ” she reassured, not once breaking her gaze from the swirly sky that was now shifted to a more lavender hue. ”Thats what friends are for. To remind us of our fires. ” I smiled softly and peered across the horizon. ”That reminds me, ” she quipped as she dug through her pocket. She pulled out a red lighter and a flimsy blue cardboard box. Without a second thought, and still laying flat against the wooden surface, she placed a cigarette to her lips and lit it. After a long inhale she extended her arms as if to hand the cigarette to me.

”Oh, uh, no thanks, ” I confusedly declined. She shrugged, pulled it back, and took another drag.

”Thats okay, ” she reassured me, exhaling a thick cloud of gray smoke. ”Ill find your fire one way or another. Maybe cigarettes just aren your spark. ” I chortled and curled my knees up to my chest.

”My spark? ” I questioned.

”Yeah, your spark! ” she excitedly remarked. ”Everyone has a spark. Ya know, the spark that ignites your inner flame? ” she questioned as if I was an absolute moron. ”The spark that makes you feel like youve never felt before, that exhilarates and drives you. Sadly, my spark is a good ol pack of Menthol Smooth 100s. But your spark… ” she paused and turned her head toward me, curiously peering into my eyes. ”I don know it yet. But give it time. Ill get that flame shining brighter than youve ever seen before. ”

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