Through Sun and Rain by Mackenzie Diaz
Zale didn’t know what was worse: being without his friends or being stuck with the most antisocial kid in camp. As he made his way through the forest that Thursday afternoon, it had taken a 10-minute drive and a 10-minute walk to get to where they were. The 14-year-old couldn’t help but feel a dollop of dread souring his normally sunny disposition. Even so, he carried a calm hopeful smile on his face and a sparkle in his bright green eyes as he studied the nature around him.
He wore one of his best outfits- or well all of his outfits were basically the same. It was always a bright graphic tee, blue jeans, and hiking boots. That day was no different.
“Whatcha doin’, Zale?” asked Sally, the 20-something-year-old camp counselor that strode between him and his group partner, blocked from view.
Zale jumped onto a white-spotted rock and did a little twirl. “I’m looking for landmarks. We gotta find our way back to camp right?”
“That’s the assignment,” Sally replied with a nod. Then, she glanced to the other side of her where Zale now saw his partner, Abigail- or well, he saw the dark grey hoodie that covered her head as she trudged alongside them. Sally looked back at Zale who had jumped off the rock to rip off some birch leaves. “Y’know, I heard Abigail knows a lot about nature.”
“Really!?” Zale asked, his green eyes lighting up with excitement, “I do too!”
Sally beamed at him and said happily, “You have something in common then.”
The boy pocketed his leaves, about to strike up a conversation with his partner, but before he could, something else grabbed his attention: a long pole with a red flag at the top a few yards away.
With an excited gasp, he bolted to it and called back to his counselor, “Is this where we’re starting?!”
“Bingo!” Sally laughed and stopped walking when she was next to him. “Now you two wait here. When you hear the horn, you’re going to want to make your way back to the camp with your partner before the sun starts to set and collect all the things on the list. The first three pairs that arrive will get a prize. You two understand?”
Zale nodded enthusiastically with an “Mhm!”. His light brown hair bobbed up and down, disheveling his already messy mop. Meanwhile, Abigail looked up from the flag she was intently staring at to set her eyes on Sally. She lowered her hood to reveal straight brown hair flattened by headphones.
“Hm?” she asked.
Sally frowned and held out her hand. “I told you to leave your device at the cabin. C’mon Abigail. You know the rules.”
Abigail gave her a glare but reluctantly handed over her phone and headphones.
“Zale, explain all the rules to Abby,” Sally instructed, “I have to go. Bye!”
“Bye!!” Zale called back.
And with that, Sally disappeared into the undergrowth. Zale turned back the Abigail who was taking off her jacket and putting it in her backpack. The sun was probably baking her alive with it on. Zale hadn’t really been able to get a good look at the girl. Now that they were there waiting for the horn, he finally was able to study her.
She had brown eyes and pale skin and wore a dark red turtleneck with sleeves that she was now rolling up, as well as jeans- darker than his own-, and black ankle-high boots. She carried the demeanor that she didn’t really care how she looked- or about anything else.
“Are we going to go or what?” she snapped, throwing him out of his thoughts.
After a moment of silence (so Zale could comprehend what Abigail had said), he replied, “Uh, well we have to wait for the horn.”
The girl narrowed her eyes at him causing his cheery smile to falter slightly. “Sure. You go do that. I’m going to get a head start. The sooner we get back to camp, the sooner I can pretend you never existed.”
Zale frowned, realizing she wasn’t going to wait for him nor was she going to wait for the horn, so he decided the best course of action was to follow her. When he had caught up, Abigail gave him yet another hostile look.
“You’re not going to wait? Don’t you have that scout’s honor to uphold or something?” she asked sarcastically.
“Well, technically, the ‘No scout gets left behind’ rule overrules the ‘obey your elders’ one.”
Abigail blinked at him, stunned at his lack of wit, “…you’re kidding me, right?”
“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?” he asked.
She stopped to look around. “Uh yeah,” she said, completely sure of herself, “It’s the way we came.”
“But what if the counselors went like this-” Zale wiggled his arms around, “-and didn’t go in a straight line.”
“Counselors are lazy college students that have nothing else to do with their lives but watch a bunch of teenagers learn about nature. They wouldn’t put the effort in to make a complex path.”
“Well, I guess that’s logical…”
“Yeah. It is. Now let’s go.”
As if in agreement, the horn blew loudly, signaling everyone to start.
Zale wasn’t good with silence. He didn’t like how Abigail trudged along not saying a single word, but he didn’t want to be awkward or anything. She didn’t seem to want to talk to him. On the bright side, he had time to think to himself.
Thirty minutes went by as he studied the plants, collecting ones that were on his list. His mind soon drifted off to the leaves. There were the big star-shaped maple leaves, the spikey teardrop elm leaves, and the small, clustered ash leaves. The list just went on. There were so many different kinds. They were like little people, all unique in their own way.
“Hey, Abby,” Zale said.
Abigail looked straight ahead, not meeting his gaze. “Don’t call me that.”
“If you were a leaf, what kind would you be?” he asked.
“I think I’d be an oak,” he explained taking out the leaf he had collected, “They’re simple yet weird, and they’re smooth and glossy. I don’t know. I just see myself as an oak leaf. What about you?”
“Uhhh…I genuinely don’t care,” she responded.
Zale thought for a second before saying, “What about a holly leaf?”
Abigail gave a rude laugh. “You mean the spiky ones? Wow, you sure have a sense of humor, don’t you?”
“Yeah, they’re prickly, but once you get past that, they have colorful berries right at the stem.”
“That are poisonous to eat,” she added.
“…oh,” he said, “Well, let me think of something else then.”
“No, no. It’s fine. I think a holly leaf suits me perfectly,” she said, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
This made Zale grin. “Okay then. I’m glad I made you talk though.”
Abigail’s approaching smile fell back into hostility. For the next thirty minutes, she ignored every conversation he tried to bring up.
“Walking through the woods, we’re trying to get to camp,” Zale sang, “My calves really hurt, but I’m taking it like a champ.”
“Abigail and Zale. We are gonna win the thing. Hiking on the trail. You are gonna hear me sing. Dance break!” Zale deviated from the trail a bit to do a do-si-do around a nearby tree, grabbing an acorn to add to the list.
“Are you done yet?” Abigail asked.
“Yeah, I’m kinda out of lines. Unless you-”
Suddenly, the nearby bushes started to rustle. Both partners immediately stopped.
“What is it? A squirrel?” Zale asked.
Abigail shook her head and said, “No, it’s too big.”
As the rustling increased a person emerged from the undergrowth, and then another. Both were boys around their age. The leader, a tall redhead locked eyes with Zale and gave a surprised smile.
“Zale? I should’ve known that dumb singing was you,” he said.
“Oh, hey Andrew. Hey Clyde,” Zale replied, “Funny running into you here.”
Andrew nodded and Clyde, a stalky brunette, glanced at Abigail. “So, that’s your partner? She seems-” Abigail gave him a glare causing him to flinch slightly. Still, his smug grin barely faltered- “Disturbing.”
Zale shrugged and said, “Yeah, she’s pretty cool. Hey, aren’t you guys going the wrong way? Camp is this way.”
Andrew gave Clyde a look. Both were wearing expressions of amusement. Then, Andrew turned back to Zale. “We were just going back because Clyde said he saw something on our list.
“Oh. Can we come?” Zale asked.
“No,” Abigail put in.
Andrew ignored her and replied, “I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed to team up.”
“Oh, yeah. You’re probably right”
“Anyway see ya.”
And with that, Andrew and Clyde left.
“Friends of yours?” Abigail asked.
“Yeah,” Zale chirped, “We’re real close. They’re my best friends. We couldn’t all be in the same group though. Y’know, pairs and stuff.”
“Yeah basically. They just asked if I wanted to be on my own, and I said ‘Sure!’. I mean, I really don’t mind.”
Abigail didn’t respond but she looked a bit skeptical as they continued walking through the trees.
Another 30 minutes later, they were still walking through the trees. The more they walked the more Zale became less sure of himself. He recognized none of the landmarks- not even ones from past hikes he had gone on.
“I don’t think we’re going in the right direction,” he said aloud.
Abigail decided to ignore him with an, “Mhm.”
“I think we’re lost.”
“Maybe we should…”
He was cut out of his thoughts by something interesting. This time, it was the sound of rushing water.
“What? Did you see something?” Abigail asked, noticing his sentence trail off.
“I hear water.”
There was a moment of silence before Abigail spoke again. “Oh my god. You’re right. I think it’s coming from over here.” She pointed forward.
They continued walking, the sound growing louder. Soon enough, the trees cleared and a river came into view.
“See. I told you we were going in the right direction,” Abigail said, “There’s a river next to the camp, right?”
Zale frowned, “I guess, but doesn’t it go into the forest.”
“Whatever. At least we know we have to follow it. We’ll have to cross it though since the river is on the other side of the camp.”
“We could build a raft,” he suggested, “Unless you want to swim.”
Abigail began to collect large branches saying, “I can’t swim, so we’ll build a raft. Let’s work quick before the sun starts to set.”
“Okay,” Zale said with a smile, moving to assist her.
She glanced at him, but otherwise said nothing more. It wasn’t long before they had made a fairly stable raft. They climbed aboard and pushed it into the water pleased to find out that it worked well.
“This is probably one of the best rafts I’ve put together,” Zale chirped as he rowed the raft through the water with a stick. “We make a great team don’t you think?
“Yeah sure,” Abigail dismissed, also rowing.
Zale paused before he continued. “You don’t talk much do you?”
“Nothing worthwhile to talk about,” was all she replied.
“And that’s fine,” he told her with a smile, “Though, sometimes I get the impression that you don’t like me that much.”
Abigail laughed, but it sounded more rude than lighthearted. “That’s because I don’t,” she said, “You know, you’re so dense that if you were put in a hydrometer, it would break under the density.”
Zale was stunned. Their rowing had become inconsistent now, and they weren’t making any progress. “But, w-why don’t you like me?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes and said, “You’re loud, and you talk too much. You’re brainless-.”
“I was just trying to be nice,” he muttered.
Abigail continued as if he hadn’t said anything. “Not to mention you let your friends push you around like a ragdoll.”
“What? No, they don’t push me around,” Zale protested.
“Not what I saw,” she replied with a scoff.
“I- well,” he stammered, emotions flooding his mind until he snapped, “You’re not so great either you know.”
“Oh really?” Abigail instigated. By this point, the raft was moving downstream in circles.
“You- you never take my suggestions seriously, and you act like you’re always right,” Zale said, words flowing straight from his brain to his mouth with no filter, “I’m pretty sure if we hadn’t found this river we would’ve been lost. And…and you don’t even try to talk to me.”
Abigail leaned hard on the raft causing water to drench Zale’s knees and legs. “What if I don’t want to talk to you,” she retorted.
“That’s not the point,” he argued, leaning harder on the raft so that water splashed on Abigail too, “Would it kill you to be a bit nicer to me?”
“Oh, you mean like you friends?” The raft leaned right.
“Yeah.” The raft leaned left.
“Maybe if you looked a little harder, you’ll realize how terrible they are. They’re the ones who had let us keep going in the wrong direction.” The raft leaned forward.
“No, they didn’t. They’re good guys.” The raft leaned backward.
As the arguing increased, so did the instability of the raft. It wobbled back and forth and back and forth until it toppled over causing both partners to scream as they fell into the icy river.
Time seemed to move in slow motion as the sudden adrenaline hit Zale. He didn’t realize how cold it was, just that he couldn’t breathe until he was able to swim to the surface. He swam as fast as he could and gasped for air as his head was exposed to the fresh air. He looked around, heart beating fast, searching for any sign of Abigail. There was none.
“I can’t swim, so we’ll make a raft,” she had said.
Without thinking, Zale dived into the water, squinting to see any sign of his partner. Soon enough, he noticed her silhouette, motionlessly sinking. He swam to her and hefted her up, out of the water, and onto the shore.
After he too had climbed onto solid ground, he laid there, his chest heaving. His backpack was surprisingly still on him, but the same didn’t go for Abigail. When his lungs had gathered a satisfactory amount of oxygen, he turned to Abigail who was still unconscious. Her heartbeat was quick, but she was otherwise stable. Things were going to be fine.
When Abigail had regained consciousness, she was surprised to find a reflective blanket over her and a warm fire in front of her. The sun was starting to set and Zale lay in front of her eating some beef jerky. They were both sopping wet. He glanced up at her realizing she was awake.
“Oh hi,” he greeted with an awkward smile.
“Hi…” she muttered. For a bit, there was silence before she said, “You rescued me?”
“Of course. No scout gets left behind, right?”
There was more silence for a few seconds. Abigail looked around, they were right next to the river. A few yards away, she could barely spot something yellow.
“What’s that over there,” she asked.
Zale followed her gaze to look at it too. “Oh, it’s a yellow flag. I noticed it when you were blacked out.”
Realization hit Abigail. They had been going in the wrong direction. In fact, they had gone horizontally the whole time. They were basically still at square one.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s fine. Anyone would have made the same mistake.”
“Yeah, but I even ignored your attempts to correct that mistake.”
“Don’t worry too much about it. The counselors are probably out searching for us.”
Zale offered some jerky to her and she took some, thanking him.
“I’m sorry for being so mean to you by the way. I was just so caught up with getting back to camp as fast as possible. I had forgotten to…be a decent person.”
“I forgive you,” Zale responded with a friendly smile, “I probably was talking too much anyway. I was just trying to be friends with you.”
Abigail froze and met his kind gaze. “Really.”
She couldn’t help but smile at that.
“To be honest, you were probably right about my friends being jerks to me,” he continued, “I act like such a pushover all the time, I never really noticed.”
Abigail shrugged and said, “It’s because you care a lot about people- even the ones that are mean to you.”
Zale gave a laugh, the kind one usually gives when they’re given a compliment that makes them smile so wide that a sudden giggle escapes them. He stood up and sat down next to her so that they were side by side instead of across from each other.
“Since you’re probably looking for new friends now, do you mind if I apply,” Abigail asked.
Zale beamed. “You’re already accepted!”
They sat talking for a little while longer, enjoying each other’s company. About 15 or so minutes later, Sally, followed by two other counselors, found them.
“Oh thank god!” Sally said, relieved, “I was so worried about you two.” Then, she noticed they were sopping wet. “What happened to you guys?”
Zale and Abigail exchanged glances.
“Went the wrong way,” Zale said.
“Got lost,” Abigail added.
“Fell into a river,” he continued.
“Stayed here, so we wouldn’t freeze to death,” she finished.
Sally nodded slowly, “Ah. Well, let’s get back to camp.”
With that, they climbed into a vehicle made their way to the camp. Zale and Abigail talked some more since Zale was a shameless chatterbox, and the counselors observed with smiled on their faces.
When they had arrived at camp, everyone was eating dinner under the stars. On stage, they were giving awards to the winners.
“You disappointed that we didn’t win?” asked Abigail as she observed the scene.
Zale shook his head. “Nah. I got something better out of it.”
Abigail smiled, but her expression turned sour when she noticed Andrew and Cylde walking over to them with smug grins.
“Hey, dude, where did you go? We heard you got lost,” Clyde asked, “Oh my god, why are you all wet?”
Zale chuckled nervously as they laughed at his drenched state. “Uh, yeah, funny story. You guys led us in the wrong direction, and we ended up falling in a river.”
This only made them laugh more. Zale’s smile faltered. Andrew noticed this and gave him a rough nudge.
“It was just a prank. C’mon, lighten up,” he said.
Zale gave a forced smile.
“Is that girl still hanging around you,” Andrew asked, jabbing a finger at Abigail who stood next to Zale, glaring at his two friends. “Do you not have any friends?” he said to her.
The two broke into fits of laughter.
The fake grin Zale wore immediately dropped into a scowl matching Abigail’s. “Hey, don’t you think that’s a little mean?” he said.
Clyde cocked a brow at him and said, “Dude, it was a joke.”
Zale glanced at his new friend. She gave him an encouraging smile. Then, he turned back to his two old friends. “Well, it wasn’t a funny one. Y’know, people don’t like it when you make fun of them.”
Andrew and Clyde exchanged glances. Andrew spoke up, his smirk persisting. “You okay? Hit your hard on the river floor a little too hard.”
“No. I got a wake-up call. And I realized that I don’t want to be friends with people like you.”
Both of their expressions had changed from amused to hostile. Clyde gave a surprised chuckle and said, “Wow okay. Whatever man. If you wanna hang out with your new girlfriend, go ahead, but just know we’re got gonna accept you back in with us if you feel lonely.”
Zale gritted his teeth. “Fine.”
“Fine,” said his old friends.
Without looking back, he turned and walked away. Even though he was angry, he felt free and content with his decision. He looked next to him to see Abigail had caught up to him.
“I spit on his shoe,” she said simply.
The two of them laughed as they made their way over to where they were serving dinner.
Even years later, they still remembered that Thursday when they first became friends, knowing that their lives had changed for the better. Changes like those were always going to happen and, since then, were always welcomed with open arms.