”So… where are we going? ” I asked Helena as we glided through Bell Lake Meadows on her monster truck of a golf cart. I looked across the horizon ahead at the enormous lake houses in the distance. Tall cedar trees lined the narrow asphalt path, a string of golden-lit lanterns wrapped carefully about the branches to illuminate the road.

Bell Lake Meadows was a gated seasonal community situated in a thick Jersey forest, namely surrounding Bell Lake. Spanning only about half a mile, it consisted of a hundred beautiful modern lake houses wrapped around the lake, some on the water and some more secluded into the woods. Tucked back in the ”M ” section was a swimming pool and ice cream bar. Situated in the ”F ” section was a covered concrete pavilion where management hosted their weekend events such as bands, happy hours, and card tournaments. All the way back in the ”B ” section sat bath houses and laundry facilities. Golf carts were commonplace in the community for ”ease of access ” but really I think it was just for drunk residents to get from place to place without feeling guilty.

Bell Lake Meadows, which I usually refer to as simply Bell Lake as the ”meadows ” makes it sound quite pretentious, was truly a little slice of heaven. The cedar trees towered higher than the lake houses and sunflowers grew naturally throughout the wooded areas. The lake was always as warm as the summer day, its water stained an orange hue due to running through the red cedar roots. At the far end of the lake was a dam with a lengthy wooden bridge over it to view the waterfall from the lake runoff on the opposite side. The community sat in the middle of the forest, miles away from civility, which allowed the nighttime sky to illuminate with millions of stars. You could easily view Jupiter from the docks, and on nights where meteor showers graced the Earth, you could wish on a hundred different shooting stars in the span of 30 minutes. It was beautiful. It was everything my soul needed all in one place.

”Im just gonna show you around, ” Helena responded, snapping me out of my trance. ”With all the winding roads, and, ya know, the fact that we
e in the middle of the woods, it can be pretty easy to get lost around here. It would be good for you to just get a sense of where you
e at now. ” As we drove the paths Helena pointed out the pool, the pavilion, the bath houses. She continuously pointed out random lake houses accompanied with names of people I had never met and didn know, but acted as if Id know exactly who she was speaking of.

”This is Eddies place, ” she said pointedly as we passed a house with navy siding and a beautiful white lattice adorned on the front. ”My God, is he gorgeous. And a sweetheart. Man… whats the catch?! ” Helena pondered aloud. ”Oh, and this is Coltons place. Hes… nice, ” She stated simply.

”So… not gorgeous? ” I questioned.

”Oh, no, no. God, no, ” she physically recoiled in disgust. ”And hes not a sweetheart. Hes pretty funny though, but God he gets on my nerves. ” I smirked and laughed lightly to myself.

”Heres Kellies place. Shes a crazy bitch, ” Helena chuckled. ”And Jesus knows I love crazy. I am so here for it. ”

”Crazy like you? ” I teased.

”Girl, I am crazy, but you haven seen crazy until you meet Kellie. We
e crazy in different ways. Im crazy in the not-giving-a-** way, Kellies crazy in the lets-do-acid-and-have-an-orgy way. ”

”Sounds synonymous to me, ” I shrugged. Helena playfully punched my shoulder and rolled her eyes in the most dramatic fashion.

”Youll see tonight. Trust me. ”

”Tonight? ” I questioned.

”Fuck yeah tonight! ” Helena announced cheerfully. ”Bitch its a Friday night at Bell Lake. What do you want to do? Sit inside in fuzzy pajamas and bake **ing cookies? ” I opened my mouth to agree until I realized she was being sarcastic. Fuzzy pajamas and fresh baked cookies sound wonderful to me.

”I mean… not exactly… but what are we doing then? ” I asked haphazardly, thinking back to her comment about Kellies love for acid and orgys.

”Just gonna have a fire at Coltons. Drink some beer, play some games, eat a shit-ton of Kellies buffalo chicken dip. ” Helena casually responded.

”Is there gonna be acid in the dip? ” I questioned seriously.

”God, I wish, ” Helena responded just as serious. ”No acid. Just some booze and cute boys. Well, cute boy… Eddie is the only viable candidate down here these days. ”

”Eddies gonna be there? ”

”Oh, yeah. I mean, everyone is gonna be there. Our group pretty much hangs out together every weekend, ” Helena responded. I felt a bout of anxiety instantly course through my veins thinking about socializing with this new ”group ” Ive never met. And beer? I don drink, will they think Im weird? Will Eddies apparent beauty make me nervous? Am I going to be judged? And who the hell is this Colton character?! Am I even welcome in his house?!

”Oh, don be nervous, ” Helena reassured as if she read my mind. ”Seriously, everyone is really cool down here. I don know how we all ended up here, but trust me, I wouldn hang around with any weirdos. ” But you
e hanging with a weirdo right now, my inner voice thought to myself. ”Just be cool. Let loose a little, Im taking you under my wing. I am your mentor, remember?! ” I looked over at Helena, smiled gratefully, and took a deep breath.

Remember that spark, Cass? I asked myself internally. Maybe youll find it tonight.

____________________

Helena whizzed into a gravel driveway that I presumed belonged to this mysterious Colton. I could smell the burning bonfire from the front of the house and watched as a stream of smoke emanated into the atmosphere above the roof. Helena hopped off the golf cart and I followed suit, careful not to break my ankle from the seemingly 10 foot drop to the ground. Helena said nothing to me as she strided confidently across the gravel and down the side of the house. I picked up my pace to keep up with her – the woman was on a mission.

”Helena! ” I heard a few voices call cheerfully just before I rounded the end of the house after Helena. As I rounded the corner, I saw a group of five drastically different looking individuals sitting in a circle around a smoky bonfire, a few empty chairs scattered among the group. Two guys sat by the edge of the lake facing us, their faces illuminated by the glow of the fire. Well, that must be Eddie, I thought to myself as I laid eyes on one of the strikingly-handsome boys with a jawline chiseled by Jesus Christ himself. Across from Eddie and his friend sat two girls turned toward each other deep in conversation. Next to them, slightly to the side, sat a guy in a black hoodie and a beer bottle in his hand. He looked toward us with a blank expression, seemingly unphased by our arrival.

The kid sitting next to Eddie stood up and wrapped Helena in a lanky bearhug. His eyes drifted toward me as he quickly pulled away from her and gave me a goofy grin. ”You brought a friend? ” He asked Helena but still locking eyes with me.

”I did! ” Helena cheered enthusiastically. ”Not just my friend, but our new friend! This is Cass, shes new this summer, ” Helena approached me and dragged me by my arm to come closer to the group. ”Shes wonderful. Now I expect all of you to give her a warm Bell Lake welcome and show her how we get down. ”

”Okay Camp Counselor lets pack it up, ” blank-expression-boy quipped playfully with a smirk on his lips. The group collectively giggled, and honestly, so did I. ”Whats up? ” He asked me politely, taking a sip of his beer bottle.

”Oh, uh, nothing really, ” I responded literally. Silence. ”Yeah, uh, my family just moved in today. This one here just rolled up on me and took me under her wing, ” I motioned toward Helena with a smile.

”Oh yeah, thats Helena for you! ” one of the girls piped up.

”Hey, Kellie, is there a problem we need to hash out or what?! ” Helena quipped playfully as she waltzed behind Kellies chair and playfully wrapped her in a headlock. Kellie cackled loudly and slapped Helenas arm to break free from her grip. The girl seated next to Kellie turned to me with a warm and bright smile.

”Welcome! My name is Alina. You
e gonna love it here, ” she nodded reassuringly. ”Do you like brownies? I brought some over with me. They
e on the table if you
e interested. ” I nodded and returned her smile.

”Thanks so much, ” I earnestly responded. There was a brief silence that made me realize I was still standing awkwardly a good distance away from everyone else.

”Im Colton, ” the pale, lanky boy who initially wrapped Helena in a bearhug stated, now approaching me with an extended hand… for a handshake? I apprehensively shook his hand and he awkwardly returned to his seat, clearly self-aware that the handshake was quite strange.

”Oh my God, Colton, ” Helena groaned with embarrassment. She walked over and grabbed my arm again, dragging me to a seat to the left of blank-expression-boy. She sat on the other side of him and engaged Kellie in a conversation about buffalo chicken dip. To the right of me sat Eddie, an empty plastic chair in between us that only very slightly alleviated my nervousness. I noticed he hadn spoken up yet, but he didn look rude. He just looked… unbothered. Calm. At peace.

”Its nice to meet you Cass, ” he suddenly spoke up, reading my mind. His velvety smooth and deep voice was barely audible over the crackle of the fire and Helenas clear dissatisfaction that Kellie in fact did not bring her buffalo chicken dip. ”Im Eddie. Want a beer? ” He reached into the small cooler next to him and pulled out a can of Bud Light, grasping it in his large palm and extending his veiny forearm toward me. I froze for a moment. Think of the spark, Cass, I lectured myself in my head.

”Sure, Ill take one, ” I replied as naturally and casually as I could. I took it from his grasp, popped the tab, but didn take a sip. I stared into the fire, drowning out all the noise and conversations around me. All I could hear was the crackling of the blazing logs. They popped loudly, screaming at me to take a sip. To socialize and loosen up. To find and harness the power of the very own fire that burned within my soul.

I blinked hard to snap myself back into reality, took a deep breath, and put the can to my lips, taking my first-ever sip of beer next to my new friends.

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