Born in January by Stephanie Van Orman - HTML preview

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Copyright © 2023 Stephanie Van Orman All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner except for the use of written quotations in a book review.

Any reference to historical events, real people or places are used fictitiously. Names, characters, places are products of the author’s imagination.

Front cover image by Elena Barenbaum

Background cover image by 18187328 © 578foot |

Book cover design by Stephanie Van Orman

IBSN: 978-1-990217-18-0

Born in


A Novelette by

Stephanie Van Orman

Table of Contents

















A Note From Stephanie


It wasn’t the right time to leave a party, nor the right time to tel your hostess you weren’t feeling wel and you had to leave immediately. The hostess shook her head like the defection was nothing new and went back to attending to her more worthwhile guests. Annaliese’s friend, Kimberly, offered to drive her back to the house, but Annaliese wouldn’t hear of it.

“How wil you get home?” Kimberly asked tartly as she fol owed Annaliese to the door.

“I’l get an Uber, cal for a taxi, or take the bus. It doesn’t matter. I just have to leave right now.” Annaliese rushed the explanation as she threw her coat over her shoulders.

“Oh, I see,” Kimberly said without turning her head. “You’ve seen someone you’d rather not see and you’re only ‘saying’ that you’re feeling sick.”

“That’s a good girl,” Annaliese praised. “I’l make it home just fine.”

“If that’s the case, I won’t worry about you.”

“Good. Don’t,” Annaliese said as she hoisted her umbrel a over her head and stepped out into the late afternoon rain.

Kimberly let her go down the steps and let out the usual sigh.

Annaliese was a soft sort of woman with light brown hair and light brown eyes. When she was younger, her hair would escape from her elastic and col ect in wisps around her face. As an adult, she slicked it back into a no-nonsense French twist and enjoyed a level of sophistication no one would have believed possible of the child she had been.

That was who she had been avoiding at the party. Someone who had known her when she was a child.

His name was Trip. Not real y, but everyone cal ed him that. The nickname was so prevalent that hardly anyone knew what was written on his birth certificate. Annaliese knew what his real name was. She knew al about him. Every detail: his dark hair, his green eyes (which were darker than hers and often mistaken for brown), his height, his weight, what he thought about everything… except one thing. How he would feel about running into her at that dinner party on that night.

She couldn’t pretend anymore.

She couldn’t put that damn innocent look on her face one more time.

He’d seen her.

Trip had seen her before she made her escape. She’d felt his eyes fol ow her as she tumbled out of the house and onto the street.

Her phone blinged.

She couldn’t look at it. Whoever it was, they would have to wait. Whoever wanted her could go to hel … even if it was Trip himself.

She didn’t cal for an Uber or a taxi. She walked blindly through the late afternoon rain as the wind bent the branches of the trees. Raindrops rol ed down leaves col ecting weight until they were blown free and smashed against Annaliese’s umbrel a. Her dress was wet. The sky was getting dark. She slipped under a bus shelter and stared at the numbers on the sign. Did one of the buses that came by take her home?

Trip’s car pul ed up to the side of the curb. Without hesitating, he got out, came over to the passenger side of his car, and opened the door for her.

She didn’t say a word. She got in.

He gave her a little bow before returning to the driver’s side and getting in.

When he maneuvered the car into the driving lane, she asked him, “Where are you taking me?”

“To my house.”

“I didn’t know you had a house,” she said, amazed at what she didn’t know about him.

“Oh, I do. It’s a new acquisition. If you weren’t playing hide-and-seek with me, I would have shown it to you already. If you’re stil playing hide-and-seek, I’l take you home instead.”

“No. Show it to me. You must know how tired I am of playing games.”

He nodded and drove them through the city rain. He put on music that was soft and melded into the sounds the raindrops made as they splashed against his car.

More than once, Annaliese checked where they were going, confusion al over her face.

Trip noticed, but didn’t comment. He wanted to surprise her.

Final y, they pul ed into a U-shaped driveway of a house Annaliese knew very wel . The lights were on and the glow on the gray brick made the house look golden.

“This is your uncle’s house,” Annaliese observed. “He’s always been so annoyed with you.

Why are you staying here?”

“My uncle passed away last month,” he explained.

“How shocking! You should have told me,” Annaliese fumed.

“What? You would have gone to the funeral with me?”

“Yes. If you’d asked.”

“Hmm,” he sighed. “You’ve been through enough lately. I did think to ask you, but you have to understand, I was not expecting him to leave me this house. He left his money to other people, his extensive properties to other people, but he left this house to me. I was stunned.

Like you said, he’s always been so annoyed with me… like my father. In his wil , he said he left it to me because I was the only person who made memories here.”

Annaliese went crimson. “Did you ever explain the situation to him?”

“No, but he found out. I don’t know how, but he found out. He explained as much in his wil .”

“The lawyer didn’t read that out for everyone to hear, did they?”

“No,” Trip said, eager to quiet her fears. “I was given my portion privately. Actual y, everyone was given their portion privately. Maybe it was done that way to keep my secret, but maybe other people have their secrets too.”

“Did he say much about it?” Annaliese asked quietly.

“Yes. That he was wrong. That my father was wrong. That everyone who had dealt with me was wrong and he hoped that this gesture might go a long way in correcting everyone’s terrible advice, incorrect thinking, and stubborn, foolish ways.”

Annaliese relaxed slightly. “Did any of that make you feel better?”

“We’l see,” he said, as he got out of the car and opened Annaliese’s door for her. He took her hand and lifted her out of the car. He closed it quietly behind her and opened the front door of the house for her.

Annaliese had been in the entryway so many times she could hardly remember the first time she’d been there. It was huge with twin staircases rising like wings. Trip had to walk across miles of tiled flooring to reach the closet where he hung her coat.

She lowered herself onto a cream velvet chair to remove her black high heels. Before she could undo one zipper, Trip was on his knees in front of her, sliding her ankles out of the ankle boots she wore on cold days.

A painful sigh escaped her lips. “Please stop.” She slid off the chair and into his lap with the layers of her black gauze skirt flowing al around them. “You’re always on your knees. I hate it.

Stop it.”

Before he could put his arms around her, she stood up, removing her weight and herself from him. The moment the fabric from her skirt slipped between his fingers was always the moment when he felt he had truly lost her. It was not the moment when her skin stopped touching his, but the moment when even her clothes were out of his reach.

She took five steps from him and waited.

He waited too.

They were both waiting for the moment they got the green light from the other, but they hadn’t felt like they’d received it yet.

“Did Uncle Clement leave you al the furniture?” Annaliese asked conversational y.

“Every stick. Even the chess set in the library.” Trip got up from his knees. “Would you play a game with me tonight?”

“Of chess?”

“Yes,” Trip said, his heart in his throat. “We always used to play together. It might help us relax.”

“Is it stil set with the old papers we used?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t looked at it since we played with it last, but it’s always set up. Uncle liked it. He thought of it as part of the decorations.”

Annaliese remembered some of the things they’d written on the papers they’d put in that chess set. It would be so much easier if they could have a conversation like normal people, but it felt too late for that. They needed a therapist… or a lawyer.


The library was a room of unsurpassed beauty. As far as a personal library went, it was beyond luxurious. The room had original y been a bal room. The owner of the house before Uncle Clement had been another relative. They had bookshelves attached to every wal in every corridor in the house. It made moving furniture in and out a nightmare. Annaliese and Trip both remembered the way the house had looked in those days. Sometimes a person had to turn sideways to get down a hal way.

When Uncle Clement inherited the house, the first thing he did was acknowledge that he did not need a bal room. He purchased uniform shelving, had al the mismatched bookcases removed from the house and al the books properly stored in two lines of bookcases in the bal room and leaning against al four wal s. When al the books were moved into the new library, there was stil shelf space for new books. Soon that was no longer true and more bookcases were brought in because the house was just made to be read in.

Of the many beautiful features of the library, one of them was a smal table intended only for playing chess. The pieces and the board were wooden. It looked ordinary enough unless you knew that it held a secret. The secret of the chess set was that every single one of the pieces had a hole dril ed in the bottom. The tube created inside was the perfect size for hiding a tiny rol of paper.

A thousand games could be played with a chess set that had a message hidden inside each piece. Sometimes the game contained commands like dares, sometimes clues, and sometimes questions. Trip said he didn’t know what was written inside the pieces, and he didn’t. He flipped over a black pawn to make sure there was stil a rol of paper inside before pul ing out the chair in front of the white pieces for Annaliese.

She believed him, that he didn’t know what was inside, and sat down. She had long learned that it didn’t matter what was written inside. You could ignore what was written on the papers and ask whatever you wanted.

He sat down and looked at her gravely. “Begin.”

She picked up her pawn and moved it forward one square.


“I miss playing chess with you,” Trip said as their game wore on. No one had shed blood yet and both sets of pieces had strayed far into the no man’s land in the middle of the board.

“Are you going easy on me?” she asked suspiciously.

“I hoped you were going easy on me,” he retorted.

She huffed and kil ed one of his pawns with her bishop. She unrol ed the scrol that had been placed inside his dead pawn. It read, ‘Do you like carrot cake?’ She wasn’t asking him a dumb question. She knew everything about him, even whether or not he liked carrot cake.

Instead, she made up her own question and tried to place it on the same maturity level so it didn’t seem out of place when he read a question from her side. “Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked.

“Is that what it says?” he asked, reaching for the paper in her hand.

“Don’t you trust me?” she asked coyly, like a little girl. Then, she rol ed over her tongue and became a sharp woman. “Or do you not want to answer the question?” She did not show him the paper. She rol ed it up and stuffed it back in the pawn.

“No. I don’t have a girlfriend,” he said flatly and offered no further information before moving a pawn to threaten her bishop in retaliation.

His answer did not satisfy her. It was too childish a question after al .

Three moves later, Trip kil ed her knight. He opened the paper hidden inside. It wasn’t even a question. It was more like a fortune cookie. It said, ‘Make plans for further education.’ It was impossible for him to say those words to her. Instead, he pretended to read a dare instead.

“Let your hair down.”

Annaliese’s hair was tied up in a French twist, but familiar with this game, she didn’t hesitate to do as she was told. If she wanted answers to her questions, she had to play by the rules of the game. She deposited her elastic and thirteen bobby pins into the tray where they were the dead pieces were stored.

Trip felt the tension in his shoulders ease as soon as he saw her hair fal over her shoulders.

He remembered her as a little girl with flyaway whisps, as a teenager who couldn’t quite bring herself to use as much product as it took to achieve perfect smoothness. Seeing the destruction of her French twist gave him a lift.

Maybe everything would be al right.

Annaliese always lost her knight first when she played chess. It didn’t matter who she was playing. She was better with her bishops and took another pawn.

She opened the paper. It read, ‘Wonder not. Al wil be revealed.’ She did her best to hide an exasperated pant before she asked cleanly, “What did you think of me the first time you saw me?”

“Probably nothing,” Trip answered. “I don’t think I even remember the first time I saw you. I was a child.”

The disappointment Annaliese felt at his statement was so palpable it surprised her. What he said was perfectly reasonable. They were three or four years old when they met. Stil , she must care a lot about what Trip thought to be hurt by his honest reflection. She thought it was a bad sign for their conversation if he didn’t try to make something up, even if only to please her. Had he fal en to his knees in the entryway for nothing?

“However,” he continued. “I always thought the days when you were here, in the library, were the nicest.”

She smiled. That did feel like a hopeful place to start.


Meeting as children and looking through Uncle Clement’s books was a pleasant memory for Annaliese too. Trip’s Uncle Clement and Annaliese’s mother were lawyers who worked for the same firm. Not only did they work together, but they were close friends. Hence, on some Sunday afternoons, they met to chat and unwind. Annaliese was brought to visit the library and Trip was cal ed over to help entertain her.

Those were essential memories, but they were not the beginning of Trip and Annaliese’s love affair.

Rushing forward, Annaliese was sixteen and she was set to attend summer camp. She had chosen the camp herself for the archery program and horseback riding. It was in a beautiful mountain range miles away from the sort of summer hideaway her mother would have chosen for her, but Annaliese was sixteen and granted the right to choose how she spent her summer.

None of her friends from school were going to be there, but that was part of the appeal. She was awkward with friends and didn’t know what to do with them. At her high school, everyone Annaliese knew was so competitive, it was cutthroat.

“What was your score on the test?”

“How many times did you get asked to dance?”

“What was your time around the track?”

Annaliese struggled because she wasn’t above average at any of those things. She was plagued by a haunting feeling that she didn’t belong there. She was an imposter, but she couldn’t tel anyone she thought that. The last thing in the world she needed was to land herself in therapy or have even one person tel her mother that she felt that way.

So, Annaliese chose her camp and she was al owed to go mostly because when her mother was researching the camp, she discovered that Trip was going to be there.

On Annaliese’s way to the camp, there was a mixup at the airport. A limousine company was supposed to take her from the airport to the camp and the mixup meant that instead of merely going from point A to point B in a shiny black sedan, she arrived at the camp in a white stretch limo.

It made quite the sensation.

Al the girls and al the boys stared.

However, Annaliese was a pro at showing no emotion. That was the thing that carried her through attending a school where the average student was an over-achieving showoff. She didn’t give them any reaction and instead looked unimpressed and vacant no matter what happened.

Annaliese couldn’t see the sensation she created as she pul ed up, but Trip could. He was standing on a balcony that overlooked the U-shaped drop-off point. Everyone was watching as the white limousine pul ed up. When the chauffeur opened the door for her, the effect was quite dazzling. She was not dressed like a person who ought to be coming out of a limousine. She was wearing frayed cut-offs, a white undershirt with a short-sleeved plaid shirt over it, tied at the waist. She wore yel ow high-top sneakers and carried a backpack. She yanked her headphones from her ears and stowed them away while the driver unloaded her luggage.

Her dark blonde flyaway hair was straightened, her tan was the perfect shade of golden and suddenly, everything about her was rich with a capital R.

“I know her,” Trip said to his friend Jamison, who was standing next to him.

“Sure, you do,” Jamison sniggered back. “What’s her name?”

“Yeah. That’s Annaliese Strider.”

Jamison clicked his tongue. “She must be famous.”

Suddenly, it struck Trip as a mistake to let on how he knew her. He had been one of the first people there and he noticed something from the way the other campers arrived. He and Annaliese were rich by comparison. It meant that his family was far wealthier than the families of the other campers, but he decided not to show it off. He got the counselors to hide al his best tech toys in the camp safe and vowed not to use them. He decided that the use of his gear was more important than whether or not anyone knew where they came from. He ripped the logos off his hiking gear and drew on his shoes with a permanent marker.

He came to the camp to have a normal summer, a stress-free summer, and he couldn’t do that if he was labeled as a rich kid. What if he was targeted by some brat who had something to prove?

Staring down at Annaliese, it was already too late for her. He racked his brain. Why had she arrived in a limo? Of al the stupid, careless…

He looked down at her and his tirade stopped. Maybe it didn’t matter how she arrived. She looked like white gold and sunshine. She probably caused a riot wherever she went.

A second later, she was wheeling her modestly sized suitcase behind her as she passed through the log arch into the camp.

Annaliese was not surprised when she saw that she was rooming with three other girls. It said she would be on the website, but stil , she was surprised by her roommates. They were friendly, unlike the other girls at school.

She went to dinner with them under an outdoor canopy. She saw Trip on the other side of the cluster of tables, surrounded by his bunkmates because everyone was eating with their bunkmates for the first two days. She tilted her head at him and gave him a cool-girl salute, which he returned in the form of a wink.

There was no rush to meet up with him. She knew he had been told to watch out for her.

She’d meet up with him eventual y.

As she chewed on her gril ed cheese sandwich, she glanced at him repeatedly. He had real y changed since the last time she’d seen him. They were almost the same age. He was born on January third and she was born on January nineteenth of the same year. What right did he have to have gotten that tal ? They had been the same height for as long as she could remember.

Final y, she acknowledged that it had been a while since she had last seen him. Two years?


She chatted with her roommates and tried to ignore their awestruck gazes as they gril ed her about what school she went to and what her life was like as a super-rich heiress.

Annaliese tried to explain that the limo to the camp had been due to an error and not because she was a super-rich heiress. She told them it was the first time she’d been in a limo, which was a lie, but it was the first time she’d been in a stretch limo, which was the truth. She wasn’t sure if she was curbing their enthusiasm, but she continued to try, while the rest of the camp did not hear her explanation.


Trip was awoken that night by a counselor, a twenty-year-old named Skyler, hissing in his ear. “Trip. There’s been a problem. Can you get up?”

The clock read 12:30, so he hadn’t been asleep that long. “What’s going on?” he asked as he flopped out of bed.

“Shh! Don’t wake up the other guys. I only need you.”

Trip was confused. What could they need only him for?

Skyler led him to the administrative building and to the counselor’s lounge.

Trip heard Annaliese crying before he saw her and quickened his pace. He knew exactly what Annaliese sounded like when she cried. In the room, a female counselor was hovering over Annaliese, clearly unsure of what to do.

As soon as Annaliese saw him, she rushed him like a little girl who needed a hug. Trip put his arms around her. It was only a little awkward and the strangeness of them touching like that melted away in seconds.

“What happened?” he asked the counselor over Annaliese’s head. The top of her head only came up to his jaw.

“Someone put a dead, bloody, rabbit in her bed. Either she got into bed and didn’t notice it at first or someone put it in after she was already in bed. Needless to say, when she put her feet down at the foot of her bed, she felt something weird, investigated and this is the result.”

“You need to cal her mother,” Trip said instantly.

“Let’s not be hasty,” the female counselor said.

Trip understood immediately. This counselor, Camil a (Trip read her name tag), knew that Annaliese’s mother was a lawyer and didn’t want to involve her. Instead, she wanted to see if she could de-escalate the situation on their own. The first thing they needed to do was calm Annaliese down. They asked her if there was anyone in the camp who could comfort her, and she gave them his name. Trip tightened his arms around her.

Camil a went on to explain that it would be wisest if Annaliese and Trip took a few minutes to calm down in the counselor’s lounge while she found out who had put the dead rabbit in her bed.

Trip agreed that was fine. They might be able to rectify the situation before they reported the incident to Annaliese’s horrifying mother. If they couldn’t set things straight, nothing was going to stop the horrifying mother. It was much better to try to find a solution first.

He pul ed Annaliese over to the couch and held her close as he yanked a tissue from the box free.

Camil a left and Annaliese took the tissue from him like he was a hero and blew her nose.

Skyler held a garbage can out to her.

“How are your feet?” Trip asked the weeping girl.

“How do you think? I left bloody footprints al down Roger’s Hal .”

“Did anyone take a picture? You’re going to want that for the scrapbook,” he chuckled ironical y. “So many memories.”

“This is serious,” she wailed. “I have to see a doctor in the morning! I’m up on my tetanus shot but I’m going to need a round of antibiotics.”

“So you got your feet washed?”

“I washed them in the bathroom sink, but I don’t know. They stil feel weird,” she wiggled her toes.

“Let me see them,” Trip said, moving to look at her feet.

She had cute feet, perfectly polished toes, and an anklet made of string, which had absorbed a bit of blood through the ties that dangled.

“Your anklet is ruined,” he observed. He pul ed her ankle onto his knee and undid the knot. “I hope this wasn’t like a friendship bracelet.”

Annaliese did not have close friends. “Nah, I made it myself, but I’m annoyed. I liked it. I bought the materials myself and learned how to make it myself so I would have one.”

“Let’s keep it,” Trip said brightly, exuding a next-level charm he didn’t know he had. “Can we get a baggie?” he asked Skyler.

The counselor looked surprised but could see no reason to deny them a sandwich bag, so he got up.

“Are your feet clean enough? Do you think we should wash them again?” Trip asked, turning her foot around in his hand.

“I dunno. I scrubbed them. I want a pedicure.”

“You know,” Trip said with a cheerful, yet wicked, smile. “If we told them you needed a pedicure to feel better, I bet the two of us could spend tomorrow in that cute little tourist vil age we passed on the way here.”

She turned to him. “Are you good at milking things?”

“I bet I could make you cry al over again if you want to make the appeal look genuine.”

Annaliese’s mouth fel open. Alone in the counselor’s lounge, she bent toward him. “You want to go to the vil age, go to a spa, and get a pedicure with me?”

“I’ve never wanted or had a pedicure in my life. But, I was told that I was supposed to look out for you at this camp, and so far… this is a bit beyond my pay grade.”

“They’re paying you! I could die of embarrassment,” she cried as she pul ed a throw blanket off the back of the couch and covered her head with it.

“They’re not paying me!” he said as he pul ed the blanket off her head.

“Real y?” she asked with wide eyes.

“Real y,” he said flatly. “Al I was saying is that this is a little more drama than I was expecting on the first day! I require professional assistance.”

“Look, I know you didn’t come to this camp to hold my hand.” At that moment, he was literal y holding onto one of her feet. Annaleise was not able to articulate that the gesture was the most reassuring thing about having him come to comfort her. If he was wil ing to touch her foot, then what happened must not have been that big a deal. She pul ed her feet back and tucked them under her on the couch.

Trip didn’t get to say anything further before Skyler came back with a ziplock and a tray of snacks and drinks. He turned on the TV for some background noise and prepared to hunker down.

“Was Camil a thinking that she’d figure out who did this before sunrise?” Trip asked.

“She was hoping,” Skyler replied.

Trip thought that was impossible, but far be it for him to criticize. He spent the rest of the night on the couch watching old TV programs and convincing Annaliese that it was fine to snuggle with him.

The whole thing was a bit of a revelation for him. He learned that he was cool-headed in a crisis, that he enjoyed cuddling with a girl, and that he could outlast a camp counselor in a game of which one of them could keep their eyes open the longest. As soon as Skylar was asleep in the recliner next to them, Trip maneuvered Annalise so she was using his lap as a pil ow and leaned back himself.

He hadn’t been aware that he had a crush on her. He had a soft spot for her from their col ective childhood as he had always thought she was very sweet. He liked her better than the other girls he knew. She was not fascinating to him in a novelty kind of way. He had crushes on girls at his school sometimes, but it never felt like a replication of what he felt for Annaliese.

He clicked his tongue dryly and wondered if she was his first love. Part of him hoped she wasn’t. The idea of a first love sounded doomed to failure in his mind. The other half of him timidly suggested that he would have to find someone very attractive for him to find them more attractive than Annaliese.

The idea was simply impossible.


The next day, Trip kept to his word. He went with Annaliese to the vil age. They began their day by visiting the doctor, where Annaliese got the prescription for the round of antibiotics she knew she needed. Then they went to the pharmacy to get the prescription fil ed. Then to the spa for pedicures.

“Real y, Trip, you don’t have to do this with me,” she said, shaking her head wearily at him, but also squelching her laughter as they stretched out at the spa.

“I’m only doing this because it’s so funny for you,” he said with his feet in the whirlpool bath.

He was wearing a T-shirt with a Batman logo on it. No one could have looked more out of place. The sight of him made Annaliese cover her mouth to stop the giggles.

“Do you want polish?” the beauty consultant asked Trip.

He flipped his head toward Annaliese. “Do I want polish?”

“No!” she gasped.

He flipped his head back. “I guess not.”

When they left, he took her out for lunch. Skyer was with them, saying consoling things about how Camil a hadn’t been able to figure out which camper had played the rabbit prank.

“Maybe we should stay at a hotel tonight,” Trip suggested casual y. “You know, because we don’t know who did it. The criminal’s stil hanging around the camp. Annaliese can’t be expected to return to her bed tonight or to spend another night in the counselor’s lounge.”

Annaliese and Skyler exchanged looks. Clearly, they both thought that suggestion was too demanding, but at that moment, neither of them had a better idea.

When the three of them returned to the camp, it turned out that the situation was more serious than they thought and the camp counselors were considering alternatives.

It seemed that even though they spoke to everyone in the cabins and interviewed everyone, no one knew anything. The rabbit had been hit by a car, so it was probably hit by one of the people coming to the camp, but it had been fresh enough to make a bloody mess. Had whoever hit it stopped their car, got out, put the rabbit in a bag, and then dumped the whole thing out in Annaliese’s bed? That would require an alarming amount of forethought.

None of the campers knew how it happened. No one had any memory of their vehicle hitting a bump or anything.

With no new information, Annaliese was final y encouraged to cal her mother, but she knew that if her mother heard what happened, she would be pul ed from the camp. She glanced at Trip and worried that if she decided to go home, it would not be the last time she saw him. They were getting older with only two more summers before they graduated from high school. She went to a different school than him. She wasn’t sure how much more time she could spend with him if she bailed.

“Could I be moved to a different room?” she asked Camil a.

The camp counselor hissed in hesitation. “There aren’t any other beds available in the girls'

dormitory. There is an empty cabin for sick campers that we could set you up in until we find the culprit.”

“That sounds perfect,” Annaliese said.

“It’s behind the front office. Do you think you’l be scared to stay alone? I’d feel better if we could get another camper to stay with you.”

Annaliese shook her head. “As far as I know, the only camper here who couldn’t have pul ed the rabbit prank was Trip. You aren’t going to let a boy stay with me, so I’m fine staying alone.”

“What’s your relationship like with Trip? Is he your cousin?” Camil a asked, digging a little deeper.

“He’s not a relative. We’ve been friends since we were little kids.”

“So, he’s like your brother?” she asked, stil picking.

Annaliese didn’t know where that line of thought was going, so she answered, “I don’t have a brother. Of the people I know, I guess he’s the closest thing.”

Camil a smiled knowingly and helped Annaliese cart her luggage out to the infirmary cabin and helped her get sorted from there.

Afterward, Annaliese went under the canopy for dinner and saw Trip sitting al alone at a table. She was supposed to be sitting with her roommates, but since she didn’t know if they were the ones who had left the rabbit in her bed, she walked at a measured pace over to Trip.

He got up with her and they joined the line to get food.

“Why are you by yourself? Aren’t you supposed to be sitting with your roommates?” she asked in a sly whisper as they moved through the buffet, choosing their dinners.

He leaned over and whispered into her hair, “I was removed from my room this afternoon.”


“They moved me to a room by myself.”

“Huh? So there were no free rooms in the girls' cabins, but there were plenty of free rooms in the boys’ dorms?”

“Something like that.” He gave her a meaningful look.

Annaliese didn’t know what that meant. When she sat at the table, she expected Trip to sit across from her, but he didn’t.

He sat next to her, with his shoulder brushing hers, and whispered, “I’m supposed to sneak out and sleep in your cabin.”

Her face flushed red. “Do they know how inappropriate that is?”

“They said that since I’m like your brother and we have been friends al our lives and since the person you wanted when you found the rabbit was me, I should be there for you. Just until they find out who did this and then you can return to your room.”

“Even though al that is true,” Annaliese hissed back, “we’re not actual y that close.”

“I heard Skyler tel them that in the eighteen hours he spent with us he has never witnessed less sexual tension between two teenagers than us.”

“That can’t be true. Half of these kids barely know the difference between their knees and their elbows. How could al of them be raring to go?”

“I agree.”

Annaliese swal owed, but the cool, empty look was on her face. “What do you think about staying in my room with me?”

“We need to make a deal,” he said, trying to match the coolness on her face. If he could look as indifferent as her, it could only serve them both.

“Should we talk about it tonight, when we’re alone in our… cabin?” Annaliese asked in a conspiratorial whisper.

Trip nodded.


Trip snuck out of his room by merely packing a backpack with what he needed for the night and walking out his front door. The hal of the cabin was empty and the counselor on supervision knew he would be leaving and that everyone was fine with that.

Annaliese waited for him. She had changed into her pajamas, ones she never thought would need to look good for a guy, and felt her heart hammering like there was construction going on inside her.

He tapped on the door three times as they had already decided that would be their secret knock and she opened the door for him.

Once inside, he dropped his backpack and locked the door behind him.

The room was general y used as a sick room, so there were six beds lined up instead of the regular four of the dorms. He saw which bed she was using and put his stuff on the bed next to hers.

“I have a problem,” he said, trying to keep his mask of indifference up.

“Me too,” she said, sitting on the bunk facing him.

He mimicked her and they sat together with their knees touching. “This isn’t a good situation for me.”

“Not me either,” she confessed.

He started off easy. “I don’t like being here on the pretext that I’m ‘like your brother’.”

“I agree. I’ve never thought of you like that,” she reassured him.

“I’m relieved to hear it,” Trip said steadily. “The thing is, I think I like you too much to be here, spending the whole night with you. It would put my mind to rest if you merely told me that even though I am not your brother, you’re not available. You have a boyfriend at your old school.”

“I’m not al owed to have a boyfriend,” Annaliese squeaked.

“You’re not?”

“No. My mother is fiercely opposed to my dating until I finish law school.”

“Law school?” Trip echoed in bewilderment. He started counting the years in his head. “You couldn’t possibly finish al that before you turn twenty-six.”

“I know, but she didn’t get married until she was thirty-eight and she didn’t have any children until she was forty-six, so I’m not going to win that argument. Besides, I haven’t wanted to fight with her. She’s a terrifying lawyer. If she turns al that on you, you don’t win fights with her.”

“Ah. I have a similar problem, though not exactly,” Trip confided.

“What’s your problem?”

“My father and my uncle don’t believe in being with one person. They believe I should date as many women as there are weeks in a year. They think I should never be on a date with the same girl twice. They want me to die having sworn on an affidavit that I have screwed half the population of mainland Vancouver.”

Annaliese was appal ed and showed it. “Do you want to do that?”

“Do I want to become the source of al sexual y transmitted infections and diseases? Of course not. Those old men are mental y unstable, and even though I have spent Sunday afternoons lol ing around in my uncle’s mansion, my mother raised me. No, that is not what I want for myself.”

She started snapping her fingers. “I know what this is. It’s my mother and your uncle. They’re friends. What do you want to bet he’s never slept with her? If he’s slept with everyone, what do you want to bet he’s never got together with her? She’s the fortress he could never topple?”

Trip continued the train of thought. “And on her end, she’s proud of her perseverance and wants to raise you the same way?”

Annaliese tapped her lips with her fingertips. “Our old people are weird.”

He agreed.

“Back to what you were saying before,” Trip said, getting ready to say what he had to. “You say you aren’t al owed to have a boyfriend. Have you tried dating someone behind your mother’s back?”

She shook her head. “I haven’t been asked and I haven’t wanted to.”

“This,” Trip said, indicating the cabin around them, “Is pretty far behind her back.”

Annaliese huffed in surprise. “Are you saying you want to date me?”

“Yeah,” he said breathlessly.

She hesitated. “You’re not talking about one date and tossing me aside after it ends.”

“No. I want us to be a thing,” he said, sticking to his sweaty guns.

She scoffed, skipping the question as to why he wanted to do such a thing and going straight for the how. “How could we possibly date behind my mother’s back? Your father and uncle would certainly tel her everything.”

“We hide it from them too. We hide it from everyone.”

“This is the deal you mentioned in the dining hal ? You want me to be your secret girlfriend?”

He nodded.

Instead of answering, Annaliese got up and started pacing the room. “We would have to make a detailed bargain.”


“You couldn’t have any other girlfriends other than me, secret or out in the open.”

He leaned back on his elbows. “Same goes for you. No one but me.”

She snorted. “You think there’s a lineup of guys who want to date me?”

“There is. You just don’t see it because you’re always looking over it with that distant, snobby look you wear so wel .”

“I’m not distant or snobby,” she contradicted with her nose in the air.

“You don’t do it because you’re trying to keep people away. You’re doing it because you’re trying to keep people away.”

“You said the same thing twice!” she exclaimed.

“I know. You’re using it as a filter so you only let the good ones in. I’m flattered by it constantly because I’m one of the rare ones you let in,” he admitted with a warm smile.

“What would agreeing to this tonight entail?” she asked briskly. “Are you saying al this because this sleepy-time arrangement is too good to pass up?”

“No. I don’t want anything,” he said, without hesitation. “I don’t want to do this because I want to fool around with you tonight. I’m doing this because I want your phone number. I don’t have it.”

“I’d give you my number anyway,” she said, rol ing her eyes, and grabbing her phone.

Trip needed more of an answer than that. “Look, I don’t think this is the first time we’ve talked about this, or that I’m whipping this out of thin air. Do you remember playing pretend with me in the library?”

She did remember, but it was pretty embarrassing to bring up. When they were little kids, they used to play games where she was the princess and he was the prince. They’d enact little weddings on occasion. It was also true that they had little affectionate rituals. They’d hug when they met and when they said goodbye. He’d kiss her booboo if she skinned her knee. They held hands when they crossed the street.

It was just that she had always wanted to believe that that was just how a little boy and a little girl acted when they were friends.

It wasn’t special until he said it was.

“Okay,” she said, putting up her hands in a gesture of surrender. “I believe you. I even want to do this crazy thing with you. I’m just not sure how we can do it. If we’re only going to date for the five weeks we’re here, then that’s one thing, but what wil happen to us when we go back to school in the fal ?”

“I don’t want to act like we’re going to break up. Let’s make plans for the fal ,” he said quickly.

She swept her hair off her shoulder, a plan springing to her mind. “I’l get my mother to switch me so I’m going to your school instead of mine.”

“How wil you do that?”

“I’l tel her how much better my life wil be if I go to a school that’s close to home. My schedule right now is murder. I spend an hour and a half on the bus every day just going one way,” she complained.

“Yeah. You’l tel her, I’l tel her, and we’l get anyone else who’l listen to tel her. My school costs less and it’s less of a big deal, but you need something less rigid.” His emphasis on the word ‘need’ cracked her up.

“We’l do better tel ing her I get motion sick and that I would like a shorter commute rather than fighting on the grounds that I need time to be a teenager.”

“Should I tel her that too?” Trip offered.

“No. You shouldn’t say anything. It would make it look like you care where I go to school. It would be a mistake that would make her suspicious. I’l just tel her that you told me about your ten-minute commute and I got jealous. After al , we don’t live that far apart.”

“Do you think she’d send you to board somewhere near your old school rather than switch schools?” Trip wondered. “If the prestige means that much to her.”

“No,” Annaliese said firmly. “She did not go through the trouble of getting me only to send me to boarding school. She wants me around.”

Trip picked up on the odd construction of that sentence and idiotical y pointed it out. “Doesn’t a mom usual y say the trouble of having a child rather than the trouble of getting a child?”

“My mother was forty-six when she got me. She did not give birth to me. I’m not real y her kid,” she admitted candidly.

Trip’s mouth hung open. “I didn’t know you were adopted. Were you adopted, or surrogate?”

he stumbled over the word badly.

“Not a surrogate. I had a different mother before I was adopted. My new mother adopted me when I was three. I thought you knew.”

He stayed silent like he absolutely did not want to stick his foot in his mouth a third time. He also didn’t know exactly what that meant.

Suddenly, Annaliese started laughing. “You are so sweet. Everyone knows I’m adopted. I don’t look anything like my mom or my dad.”

Trip thought of Annaliese’s sixty-year-old mother and her sixty-five-year-old father. It was hard for him to tel if her mother had once been the harvest breeze Annaliese was when she was old enough to be her grandmother, but he didn’t like to say.

She continued, “And there has never been a time when I didn’t know I was adopted.”

“Real y?”

“I was three when my mother got me. I remember a bit about my biological mother.”

Trip didn’t dare ask her any questions about that. “Oh… sorry, I didn’t realize any of this.”

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “So, let’s say I start going to your school. What then?”

“Then, we tel everyone that we’re friends. That way we can hang out as friends in front of everyone without any issue. The rest of the time, I have to make an appointment to have some alone time with you. If we duck around corners and kiss, we’l get caught fast.”

“I think that too,” she agreed.

“We’l have to take our secret dating seriously. I’l invite you over to my place when no one is home and vice versa.”

Annaliese nodded.

“And for now?” he asked, leaning in for more conspiring.

“You want me to make the rules for camp?” she asked, leaning forward also.

“Yup. Make the rules.”

“We just started this, so let’s just try being friends in public and see how that goes.”

“We can do that,” Trip said, nodding. “But I do need a little more tonight.”

Annaliese swal owed. What was he going to ask for?

Trip continued, “I said I want to date you, which felt like a pretty big confession at the time, but now it doesn’t seem like it was enough.”


“B-because you haven’t told me that you like me,” he stuttered.

Annaliese leaned further forward. “I like you. Everything about you is just a little strange because you’ve grown so much since I last saw you.”

“You’l get used to me,” he said confidently.

She kissed him, giving him a sweet lingering kiss that was preceded by deep looks and fluttering eyelashes before the knock on the door startled them both.

Trip jumped to answer it.

Skyler stuck his head in. “You didn’t think we’d let the two of you sleep alone, did you?”

Trip widened the door for him.

Skyler came in, observed their beds and the placement of their things, and nodded.

Everything was in order as far as he was concerned.


In the morning, a dead squirrel was found in another girl’s bed and after thoroughly investigating it, or claiming they had, the counselors decided that the girl who was targeted couldn’t have been the culprit. The squirrel was also roadkil but not as fresh as the rabbit found in Annaliese’s bed and the girl was just as freaked out as Annaliese had been since the squirrel was flattered and in two large pieces.

The girl, Dawn, was invited to join Annaliese in the cabin. It was noticeable how much the two girls had in common. Both were blondish, with light builds and huge eyes. Annaliese was bigger because she was three years older, but they stil looked a little like different versions of the same girl.

With another girl, Annaliese did not expect Trip or Skler to join them. She was stunned when Trip showed up anyway, tapping three times at the door.

“What are you doing here?” she hissed after opening the door for him.

“Skyler wil be here in a few. We’re not going to stay the night,” he said immediately. “I’m just here to make sure you’re both al right and make sure you have the correct number of people to play cards. Hearts? Rook? I’ve got both!” he said playful y as he showed a set of cards in both hands.”

“I guess you can come in,” Annaliese said grudgingly as she stifled her giggle.

Trip came in and locked the door behind him. They pushed a few of the beds together so they could al sit cross-legged on the mattresses. Skyler brought snacks from the kitchen and tried hard to turn lemons into lemonade, hoping to turn their misadventure into a fun story for later.

As they played, Dawn was in complete awe of Trip and Annaliese. They were older, more confident, and downright beautiful. She was too shy to ask them questions, like if they were dating, how long they’d known each other, or even why he was there at al . They played cards until two in the morning when Dawn was so tired she would have fal en asleep on the mattress with the dead squirrel on it.

Annaliese walked Trip and Sklyer to the door. Skyler was saying reassuring things about the deadbolt and the phone if Annaliese heard anything outside.

Behind him, Trip gave her a look that she would learn to recognize as the equivalent of a kiss, and the two of them left to go back to the cabins.


It turned out that it was good someone had been walking around late that night because Trip and Skyler saw some campers out of their beds. They fol owed them and hid behind trees until they saw them head back to their cabins. Once they were gone, Trip and Skyler returned to their base and lit it up with a light Skyler kept on his keychain and found a stash of dead animals.

Yes, they found the animals, but they weren’t in time to stop a dead skunk from arriving in a camper’s bed that night. It was a boy.

“Wow. They hit someone different every night since we got here.” Trip whistled the next morning when he talked it over with Skyler.

“You said you saw three people?” the counselor pressed. “I only saw two.”

“Yeah,” Trip said, detailing what he’d seen in the forest for the second. “The thing that makes the most sense is that they have two girls and one boy who are doing this. It’s someone who’s in their rooms who’s doing this, so that narrows your suspects down to nine since there are four campers in each room. One of the girls is one of the girls who shared a room with Annaliese, another one is one of the girls who shared a room with Dawn, and the guy shared a room with last night’s victim. I mean, if you don’t think the boy who was targeted with the skunk is a suspect.”

Skyler frowned. “I do suspect him. His name is Powel . I think he has a grudge against Annaliese and Dawn and that’s why he put the skunk in his own bed. He thinks he’l get pul ed out of his dorm room and sent to join the girls in the cabin. Then he can do something real y outrageous to them.”

“Then don’t send him to join the girls. Put him with me in my room,” Trip offered.

“Real y?” Skyler asked, surprised. “Aren’t you worried something wil happen to you?”

“Like what? What can he do after we’ve gathered up al their dead animals? I’m pleased no one wil get that stack of dead snakes in their bed.”

Skyer fol owed after Trip to the canopy, where breakfast was being served. “You don’t have to be a hero, you know.”

“Who’s trying to be a hero?” he asked with his hands in the pockets of his cargo shorts.

He separated from Skyler and joined Annaliese and Dawn at their separate table and told them they were going to the vil age for some special treatment. He wanted to get Annaliese and Dawn off the campgrounds while they disposed of the dead animals.

“Why are you saying that?” Dawn asked. “You’re not a counselor.”

“I know, but I have a big beautiful mouth and I’ve got them to do most of the things I’ve asked for. I’m sure I’l be able to get them to do this too.”


Catching the culprits was easy from that point. They put a camera over the crate where the dead animals were being stored and when Powel and his two girlfriends showed up, they took a video feed of them.

When questioned, it turned out they didn’t have anything against Annaliese or Dawn. They were just interested in seeing how long they could get away with it. They were al sent home, which was apparently their goal in the first place.

Once that was done, Annaliese and Dawn went back to their rooms, but Trip didn’t. He said he preferred the private room. He used the alone time to write Annaliese love letters. He didn’t sign them with the moniker Trip but decided to sign them with the reason he was cal ed Trip.

Three marks, III, because he was not a junior, but a third. Trip was short for triple. He would joke privately that he was going to name his son Quip since that would be cuter than Quad.

He folded his love letters into tiny books that had to be dismantled if they were going to be read and stuffed them into Annaliese’s pocket when he had a moment to swing a hand along her hips and slide the book into her pocket.

One of Trip’s love letters looked like this:


I saw you today in the archery range. You looked beautiful as you drew your bow. I wanted to cal out to you, to cheer you on, but I had to move. I was carrying a vol eybal net. I’l watch you next time. I’m horseback riding tomorrow. See if you can come with my group.