1 - The Incident at Thousand Oaks
“You’re sixteen now, Joy,” her parents had told her. “Don’t you think you should do something more with your summer than just lay around the house?”
She didn’t, but it hadn’t actually been the kind of question they expected an answer to. It was a question not unlike, “Don’t you think it would be good to learn a musical instrument?”, which had been asked of her nearly a decade earlier, after her parents had already signed her up for piano lessons. Or, “Don’t you think public schools are getting too dangerous nowadays?” after they’d already signed her up at a private school.
So Jolene had just mutely nodded her head, trying to hide her annoyance as she waited to hear what her parents had gotten her into this time. There wasn’t much in the way of jobs in the little town they lived in, certainly nothing she would be qualified for that she’d want to do. Would she be stuck in front of the fry vats at McDonald’s all summer, coming home smelling of grease and despair? Would she be at Kroger’s instead, stuffing other peoples’ groceries into bags and carting them out to their cars day in and day out?
The answer, it turned out, was both better and worse than any of the possibilities that ran through her mind - Thousand Oaks Summer Camp. It wasn’t something she really saw herself doing, spending a summer looking after a bunch of twelve year old girls, but it got her away from home, and her parents, and that was always a plus. She felt awkward around the little girls for the first few days, not quite sure how to talk to them - twelve seemed so young, and sometimes they acted that way, but other times they seemed almost more mature than her.
The morning of the fourth day, she’d been unable to sleep, and, not wanting to disturb the still slumbering girls in her cabin, she’d snuck into the bathroom - the light of which was kept on all the time, with the door kept just a bit cracked - and sat down on one of the toilets, propping her feet up on the stall door, and started to read. She was a bit of a bookworm… She’d been hoping to be more of one that summer, as she’d started a particularly long fantasy series as soon as she’d gotten home from the last day of class, planning on making it all the way through before school started back up again, but she was only on the fourth book. To be honest, they were already getting a bit repetitive.
She had made her way through only a few pages when she heard someone else shuffle their way into the bathroom. She didn’t think much of it until she saw a pair of small, flip-flop clad feet make their way past the door in front of her once, and then twice, not going into the stall on either side until they had done so. It was a small bathroom, especially to have three toilets jammed into it - though even after just four days, Jo knew it would have been madness for there to be any less with eight twelve year olds, plus her and the other counselor, there at the same time - so she didn’t have to be paying much attention to hear the lack of noise.
After a minute or two, she heard the shuffling footsteps leave the stall, heading off to one corner of the room, then, after a pause, one of the sinks started up. Curiosity got the better of Jo, and she slowly lowered her feet, leaning a hand forward to keep the door from swinging open too suddenly and surprising whoever was there. She pulled the door open just a crack and peaked through, getting just the tiniest glimpse of a retreating shock of bright red hair that could belong only to Mary before the outer door closed, all but a crack.
Jo gave Mary a little time to make her way across the dark cabin to her bed before making her way out of the stall, over to the garbage can in the corner of the room. She was a little disappointed that there seemed to be nothing but paper towels inside. Disappointed, and suspicious. Not enough to go digging through the garbage, but enough to ask Jeanie, the other counselor, if she couldn’t take the girls swimming on her own the next day, claiming a queasy stomach.
She couldn’t help but feel kind of creepy as she walked over to Mary’s bed, sliding her suitcase out from under it. It was really none of her business, either way, since if it was true, she was obviously taking care of it on her own. But that wasn’t enough to stop her from unzipping the suitcase and carefully sifting through it. And, sure enough, there at the bottom, hidden beneath all of her other clothes, was a stack of Goodnites. She stared down at them for what felt like an eternity, just looking at them, their slight padding, the delicate, cute butterflies decorating the front.
That should have been that. Her hunch confirmed, she should have put everything back, shoved the suitcase back under the bed, went about her day. Yet she found herself picking one up, feeling it with her fingertips. It was stupid, she knew, but some part of her wanted it for herself. She counted the ones remaining in the suitcase - there was enough for the rest of camp, and one extra, other than the one she was still hanging on to - then put everything away.
She stood, picking up the Goodnite and starting for her own suitcase, only to notice that she wasn’t alone. She let out a gasp, barely able to convert the scream that had been building in her throat into that, trying to hide her precious cargo behind her before realizing it was too late. “Th-This isn’t what it looks like,” she said with a blush.
“Really?” Hope raised an eyebrow, putting her hands on her hips in an almost eerie recreation of Jolene’s mother’s stance when she ‘smelled something fishy’. “Because it looks like you’re taking a diaper out to Mary.”
Jolene’s heart stopped. There was a part that was glad, sure, that Hope thought this was all about Mary, but the rest of her felt terrible for having inadvertently revealed Mary’s secret. Obviously, if she was getting up so early to change back into her regular panties, it wasn’t something she wanted advertised. Still, Hope was one of the most mature girls in the cabin, so Jolene tried to reason with her. “Mary, you can’t tell anybody about this, please! It would be humiliating for her…”
Hope nodded slowly, as if she were thinking about something, then stopped. “Wait… She’s sure never looked like she was wearing a swim diaper under her swimsuit… And I’m sure you and Jeanie wouldn’t let her in the pool without one, if she really needed them…”
Jo had to hand it to her, it was an impressive piece of detective work, especially to come up with off the top of her head. She had no counter for it, other than to shrug and let her continue. “Then what -are- you doing? I mean, it’s not like you’d be stealing it for yourself…” She giggled, but just for a moment, until she saw Jo’s blush, heard her silence. “Do you…?”
“What? No!” Jolene managed to break out of her embarrassment with the help of a little anger. How dare this kid accuse her of wetting the bed?! Then again, that was hardly any worse than the reality. She sat down on the edge of Mary’s bed with a sigh, not exactly pleased when Hope sat down on the bed next to her, staring at her curiously.
There was something in the girl’s eyes, some wisdom well beyond her years… Despite herself, Jolene found words tumbling out of her mouth. “I-I just… Well, there’s just times…” She set the Goodnite down on the bed with a sigh. “I’ll put it back,” she said at last.
“No, go on,” Hope encouraged her, leaning forward.
And for some reason, she did. “You and the other girls are cool,” she started, unsure where that had come from, but letting herself go with it, “but taking care of you this summer… It’s not really my thing. I’d rather…”
“Be taken care of?” Jolene looked up at Hope, expecting to see the mocking that was missing from her voice in her eyes, but those were as serious as her tone. She nodded.
“It’s stupid,” Jolene shook her head. “I’m just… I don’t know, acting out, 'cause I didn’t want this job in the first place…” To her horror, she felt a tear start to slide down her cheek, her resentment welling up, mixing with the relief of actually saying as much of this as she could manage out loud, and the embarrassment of saying it to a little kid. It didn’t even make sense - she wanted someone to take care of her, to control her, in a way, but she got mad when her parents did just that?
Hope got up from the bed, gave her a hug. “I don’t think you should put it back,” she said. “She won’t miss it, right?”
Jolene nodded. “She has enough… I’m pretty sure she only wears at night.”
“Then keep it,” Hope told her. “I just came in to grab my towel, so I should probably get going…” Jolene nodded.
“You can’t tell anyone about this, either,” she said as Hope headed for the door again.
“About what?” Hope gave her a sly grin, and Jo couldn’t help but return it.
Three nights later, Jolene died.