Camden sat on the steps of the back porch of her house, her father’s arm slung around her shoulders as they watched friends and family members clean up the aftermath of Colby’s memorial service. Camden’s grandmother insisted that she would take care of everything, and would not let Charlie or Camden help out.

“You’ve got some good friends,” Charlie commented, as he and Camden watched Sadie and Drew carry chairs and tables back to their garage. They insisted they would stick around and help clean up after the memorial service, after both their parents had left.

“Oh, I know.” Camden responded with a nod. She was well aware her father was referring to more than just the fact they were so willing to help clean up. He was talking about the fact that Sadie and Drew hardly left Camden alone and were always making sure she had everything she needed. Charlie liked having them around, helped the house feel full.

“Did you see Sammy?” Charlie asked, looking down at his daughter. “He was telling me about his trip. Sounded really cool. I think you should study abroad.” He said, referring to Sammy’s semester aboard in New Zealand, where he spent most of his time on a boat studying marine biology. Camden could not imagine going abroad anytime soon, now more thankful than ever that she chose a college only an hour away from her dad. She was worried about leaving him alone, she couldn’t imagine being out of the country for that long anytime soon. “Is he coming to your bonfire?” Charlie asked, drawing Camden out of her thoughts.

Turning to face him, Camden gave him a shrug. “Maybe. Drew mentioned it to him.” Charlie simply nodded and leaned over and kissed the top of her head before standing up.

“Well, if any of your friends decide to drink, have them just crash on the couch.” He said with a soft sigh. Charlie knew better than to assume that after Colby’s death, all of his son’s friends would stop drinking. Charlie knew that Colby had reckless tendencies, he never expected him to do something as driving under the influence of more than one substance. “Go save your friends from Grandma,” He said, nodding towards the two teens who were receiving commands from his mother. “I’m going head inside if you need anything. I think I’m going to take a nap or something. Tell Drew I still want to go out on the waves with him tomorrow morning.” He said, shooting her a half smile before disappearing behind the sliding glass door.

Camden stood, letting out a sigh and moved towards her friends, who looked relieved to see her. “Hey Grandma, is it alright if I steal Sadie and Drew back?” Camden asked and her grandmother smiled and nodded.

“Sure, of course, sweetie.” Linda smiled at her granddaughter, reaching over to pat her shoulder. “Thanks for your help, kiddos.” She said as Sadie and Drew insisted they did not mind. Drew slung his arms around Sadie and Camden’s shoulders, leading them back to the direction of the house.

“Do you guys want to go get some milkshakes?” He asked with a grin. Both girls nodded immediately, never turning down ice cream. The three of them piled into Drew’s red Jeep and headed for Al’s, the local diner that kept its old equipment and theme from the early 1950s. Al’s had served as a staple in Camden’s life from a young age, it was the same place her father used to hang out in. The best part about Al’s was it was the only place in town open 24 hours a day, and served breakfast all. There have been so many late nights Camden would sit in the back booth with her friends, taking bets on who could eat more pancakes at 3 in the morning.

“Hey there, kids.” Polly, the owner and a waitress who had been working at Will’s longer than anyone could remember greeted them when they walked through the doors. “Your table is open in the back.” She said, nodding towards the empty booth in the back corner. The red and white vinyl seats had cracked, and table was wobbly. Colby had written his and Camden’s initials onto the side of the table when he 14 with permanent marker, and nobody ever bothered to scrub it off. One of the many parts of Citrusville that felt like home.

“Have I ever told you how much I hate Britt Levitt?” Drew asked, before taking a huge bite of a giant cheeseburger. “I can’t believe she’d show up, and then pull that crap on Cam. The whole “oh I wanna be your new bff Camden”. God, she sickens me.”

“I can’t believe you’re eating, again!” Sadie said, rolling her eyes as Camden laughed, taking a sip of her chocolate and vanilla milkshake, with rainbow sprinkles on top, the way she liked it when she was a little kid. “We literally ate like two hours ago?” Sadie said as Drew scoffed, shoving some fries into his mouth. Sadie was referencing the sushi bar at Colby’s memorial service, in honor of his favorite food. Camden’s grandmother Linda came up with that idea and was quite proud of it too.

“How’s your dad doing, sweetie?” Polly asked, stopping by the table on her rounds.

“He’s doing alright, Ms. Polly.” Camden said with a nod. “He’s working a lot.” Polly sent her a sympathetic nod and a thoughtful smile. She reached over at placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry sweetie, you’ve got a good family.” She said with a soft smile. “Colby was a great kid. And you’re even better. Things will get easier soon enough. Let me know if there’s anything I can do you for you all,” She said, Camden thanked her and she returned to work. Camden had gotten really good at thanking people as they offered their condolences. She smiled and nodded as if they could imagine the way in which she felt. Most of them have not had to deal with any form of loss, let alone losing two members of your immediate family before turning eighteen as Camden has. Camden adored Polly, always has, but she could not possibly understand what Camden and Charlie were going through. Hardly anyone in this town could.


Camden sat on a blanket spread out behind the fire pit Drew had spent the last forty-five minutes tending too. She had long ditched her dress and strappy sandals for a pair of shorts, an oversized t-shirt with the logo of an old metal band on the front that once belonged to her dad and a pair of worn down high top Vans. She wiped her face clean of any makeup and twisted her long hair into a messy topknot. Sadie had changed from her long maxi dress into a pair of Camden’s sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Drew opted for a pair of board shorts he kept in his car at all times and an old sweatshirt with faded letters.

“Sammy should be here soon, and a couple of Colby’s friends from school.” Drew commented, pulling a cheap beer out of the cooler he dragged from the bed of his truck. Camden nodded as he passed beers down to her and Sadie.

Drew situated himself down on one of the blankets, kicking his shoes off and cracking open his can of cheap beer. “Make sure we don’t leave any of this stuff out,” Camden said, nodding towards the cooler. “That way, Charlie can continue to live in bliss thinking his daughter would never partake in any under-aged drinking.” Drew chuckled and saluted, causing Camden to roll her eyes.

“God, I can’t believe Colby used to drink this stuff like it was water,” Sadie said, scowl on her face after taking a long sip of the beer in her hands. Both Drew and Camden laughed as Sadie stared at her can with distaste.

“Most of Colby’s favorite things were stupid,” Camden said, pulling her knees to her chest. “His taste in beer, his so-called hobbies and his taste in movies.” She said causing her friends to chuckle. Colby was the rebellious one in the family, whereas his younger sister had always been thoughtful and reserved. “This stuff is nasty though,” Camden concluded with a nod before reaching out and clicking their cans together.

“Cheers to Colby,” Drew said somberly, they each nodded before taking a long sip simultaneously. “One hell of a dude.”

It was not much longer till Sammy and a few of Colby’s friends from school had arrived, clutching packs of beer under their arms. After exchanging greetings and hugs, each sat down across the blankets they had spread out, and Sadie turned on the speaker, playing soft music. Colby’s college roommate, Daniel sat across the fire from Camden, beside him sat Jose, who was on the surf team with Colby. Camden had met them a few times, occasionally come up on weekends to visit Colby or watch him surf. Daniel was the opposite of Colby, he was studying physics and never missed class, yet both were fond of going out and partying. Daniel offered her the same smile from earlier in the day at the memorial service, which showed he wished he could do something for her. He was able to solve any math problem without much effort, yet when it came to emotional problems, he was at a loss.

Sammy situated himself beside Camden on the blanket, offering her a half smile. “I got you some of these.” He leaned in closer to Camden, pulling out the familiar glass bottle of alcoholic apple ciders, causing her to let out a laugh in remembrance of the first time she had ever truly been drunk, and after experiencing her first hangover, refusing to touch hard liquor or beer for weeks. Sammy found a solution and started to bring alcoholic lemonade or cider to every party as a way to find a drink Camden wouldn’t hate. Everyone gave her a hard time, expect Sammy who would drink them with her. “But more importantly, I snagged you some of these.” He said, pulling a Tupperware container with stacks of cookies packed inside.

“Are those Mrs. Eckerd’s famous peanut butter-chocolate cookies?” Camden asked, a grin making its way onto her lips. Sammy nodded and grinned back at her, offering her container.

“Yeah, and they are all for you.” He said, smiling when she immediately opened the container and reached in, taking a bite. “She wouldn’t let me leave the house until she finished making them since she knew they are your favorite. Even told me to make sure Drew didn’t steal any.” He said, leading Drew to shout out in protest, making Camden laugh. Mrs. Eckerd had always been the type of mother who baked cookies on a regular basis and was a part of a book club. The complete opposite of what Camden remembered of her mother, Amelia. Colby and Camden would come over to Sammy’s house after school and eat dinner with his family when Charlie had to work late. Mrs. Eckerd always sent them home with leftovers for Charlie.

When Amelia was alive, she was a free spirit. She spent her free time painting, hiking, or on the beach. Amelia was spontaneous and carefree. She and Charlie adored one another, almost as much as they adored their children. Camden did not remember much about her mother; she was hardly ten years old when Amelia died. She could remember how good she was at surfing, the way she liked to braid small flowers in Camden’s hair, how often she liked to eat papaya. What left more memories for Camden was when Amelia was sick. So weak she could not get out of bed in the mornings, too tired to go to the beach, never able to eat or not be able to keep it down. She remembered vividly how frail Amelia looked, and not like the strong and spontaneous woman who raised her.

Camden smiled, turning to face Sammy again. “Make sure you thank her for me.” Sammy agreed with a nod. Camden leaned back resting on her free hand, opposite clutching a glass bottle and listened as Drew told a story about the time he, Colby and Sammy got caught sneaking into of Sammy’s house after a party, while Drew and Colby were stoned.

“That’s nothing on the time Colby and I snuck into a music festival,” Daniel said, shaking his head and leaning into the circle with a huge grin as he started to tell the story. Camden stayed quiet, listening to stories of her brother, and her friends all sit around and talk about anything and everything on their minds. Drew was going on a rant about how some kid at the skate park always calls him names. Camden nudged Sadie and told her that she was going to walk down to where the sand met the tide because if she had not, she knew Sadie would worry or assume she was upset. She stood and made her way down far enough to have her ankles submerged. Taking walks along the beach at night helped Camden to clear her mind and tire herself out when she couldn’t fall asleep at night. Ever since Colby’s accident, Camden has found herself walking up and down the beach behind her house almost every night.

“Cam!” A voice called out, causing Camden to turn around to see Sammy approaching her. At this point, she was a quarter of a mile away from where her backyard met the beach, where her friends sat around a fire, still in eyesight. Camden stopped, waiting for Sammy to catch up before falling in step with her. “Have you been out here a lot?” He asked, only to get a shrug in response. Camden took to pacing the beach at night whenever she was stressed or conflicted since age fifteen. Sammy had been over the first time she got caught sneaking back in the house at three in the morning. “We can talk about it, you know.” He said, nervousness apparent in his voice. Camden looked over and stared at him silently for a minute, analyzing his expression. He shifted uncomfortably under her gaze.

“Sam,” She said with a sigh, looking forward again. “I’m alright, okay? I’m looking for a savior.” Brushing back a piece of her hair, she declared. Had this been six months ago when Sammy either texted her on a regular basis or was in town and over for dinner at her house, it would be different. If it was then, she would feel just as comfortable as if she were talking to Sadie, if not more. She would have no problem telling him how she really felt. But, since it wasn't then, Camden could not bring herself to open up to Sammy. The reason she has felt so closed off around Sammy was that he never reached out after the accident, not even when Charlie called and left him a voicemail. She could not understand how her brother's best friend hadn't tried to contact her. “I already have Drew and Sadie trying “fix” me. The last thing I need is for you to do the same.” She said with a sigh, looking straight forward and continuing to walk.

“C’mon Camden.” Sammy said, reaching forward to touch her arm. “You know that’s not what I meant.” He defended with a frown. Sadie and Drew had texted him multiple times to tell him of their concerns for Camden. Immediately they saw the change in her, they understood but were starting to get worried. Now, Camden was always quiet and seemed like she was never fully there with them in the moment. She was stubborn but determined to figure things out for herself. No longer was she energetic and excited all the time like they had been used to seeing. “I was just trying to tell you that I’m here now, alright?” He said, getting a shrug in response. “And I’m not going anywhere. I mean it.” His hand reached out and gently brushed against her shoulder, making her stop and look at him. Camden stared at him silently, searching his face. She was not ready for Sammy to float in and out of her life again, she could not handle losing someone else so soon.

“I think we should head back.” Was all Camden offered in response as she shifted so Sammy’s hand fell back at his side as she started to walk back in the direction of the bonfire. He nodded and turned quickly to meet her strides again.

“Cam, you have to tell the story about the time Charlie found out that Colby was high and wouldn’t let you give him a ride home,” Drew said, as Camden sat back down in her spot and Sadie handed her another bottle of hard cider.

“So this was the first time Colby ever got stoned I think, I was 15. I called Charlie because I had no idea what to do, and Colby had driven us in my dad’s truck and I did not even have my license yet. It was late at this point, past our curfew. Charlie was pissed. He told me to drive home, but make Colby walk. So I drove at like 3 miles per hour as Colby walked beside the truck because dad thought it would teach him a lesson or something.” She laughed along with her friends, as Sadie began to tell the story of the first time she and Camden ever were high, which was when Colby convinced them to eat weed brownies without telling them they contained weed.

For the first time in weeks, Camden didn’t mind hearing stories about Colby. Instead of making her sad or angry, this just made her remember him fondly. She was content being surrounded by friends who knew him well, and all missed him nearly as much as she did. Camden leaned over, resting her head on Sadie’s shoulder as she listened to her friends laugh in reaction to the story Sadie was telling. This was one of the first moments in the past two weeks where Camden felt like she could breathe again.