'Where Greatness Is Rewarded’
Etched high above on a wood entry gate, Walter Kendrick helplessly read these words each time the bus passed underneath.
“What the hell does it even mean?” he would always wonder.
The entryway led to Camp Wilmington, home to Walter for the past three summers. It was one of the more exclusive camps in the country and to read a directory of parents who send their children was like reading a list of who's who.
Most campers were grandfathered in as descendants of past campers. For any other parent hoping to send their child, the path was competitive and difficult. Fortunately for the Kendricks, these formalities had been spared, as Walter’s mother attended Camp Wilmington when she was a child, just as her father had done before her.
“It’s one of the few places left where you can be challenged and surround yourself with other extremely smart, talented, and athletic kids,” Walter’s father reminded him at the start of the camp season less than two months ago.
But Walter knew that was not the real reason his parents wanted him to attend, and this summer he was determined to get proof.
# # #
“Where are you two going?” asked a camp counselor after spotting the boys leaving their bunk.
“We were hoping to go for a quick jog before dinner. Is that OK?” asked Walter.
“I guess that’s fine, as long as you promise to keep it quick. Oh, and make sure you stay on the main path.”
“We will. Thanks,” said Walter.
The two boys stopped jogging once they were far enough away. “That was a close one,” said Alex, Walter’s bunkmate. “Are you sure we should still do this?”
“Positive,” said Walter. “They are only here for one week, and this is our last chance. Besides, you can’t tell me you aren’t also interested to know what they’re up to.”
“I guess so. Well, do you even know which path leads to the lakeside village?”
“Sure do. That’s it, right there.”
“That? It looks like any other path.” Alex quickly realized how wrong he was. The path, surrounded by higher brush and trees, quickly changed as the dirt gave way to pavement with lights illuminating the way.
Walter forged on for about a half mile, not once looking back to Alex, that is, until they reached a lake.
“Wow. This lake is much nicer than the one we use,” said Alex.
“Let’s keep going, we don’t have too much time,” urged Walter despite Alex’s hope to take some time to admire the lake’s beauty and tranquility.
Upon partially circling the lake, an outline of a community came into view. The boys could make out rows of log cabins along with two larger buildings on each end, as well as a two-level lake house with access to rowboats tied to the base.
“This place looks amazing,” said Walter. “Why do you think they only use it for one week of the year?”
“I have no idea. I don’t even understand why we’re never allowed to come here, even when our parents are here.”
“Yeah, well I think I do,” said Walter. He had been reluctant to share his reasonings to anyone until he had more proof but figured now was as good as a time as ever.
“Last year, just weeks after camp ended, my dad invited Peter Knolls and his parents to my house for a barbeque.”
“Peter Knolls?” said Alex. “From Bunk C? You barely know him. Plus, isn’t he two years younger than us?”
“Yep. But later that night, I overheard my dad tell my mom something about the largest deal in his company’s history and that it was all thanks to Camp Wilmington.”
“You think your dad made a business deal with Peter’s dad?” asked Alex.
“I think the reason my dad wants me to come to this camp is so he can meet people like Peter’s dad, regardless if I even want to come here,” said Walter. “Well, at least that’s what I am hoping to prove.
Walter scanned around the lakeside village when he recognized a familiar face. “Follow me, I see my dad over there.”
Walter and Alex stayed low, crawling behind the bushes until they were able to get as close as they could to Walter’s father without being spotted.
“Can you tell what they are doing?” said Alex.
“Not sure. He’s talking to Chris Carson’s dad. He and my dad have been friends for a while. Also, I know that scroll they’re looking at is a blueprint of some type. My dad brings those home from his office to work on at night.”
“So they are talking about work,” said Alex.
“Maybe. But they see each other all the time so it makes no sense why they need to discuss this while they’re on vacation.”
“Hey,” said Alex, changing the subject. “You know, your dad doesn’t look sick at all to me.”
“You told me your mom said he’s sick and that is why he’s not been able to attend most of your events this week.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” said Walter. “He doesn’t look sick at all. What the hell?”
“Hey, Walter, if we don’t leave now, we won’t make it back in time for dinner.”
Walter, taking a look at his watch, begrudgingly agreed and the two quietly backtracked their way to the campgrounds. Once they reached their cabin, Alex finally broke the silence.
“Do you think your dad will come to our championship soccer game tomorrow?”
Walter had not even thought about that.
As was tradition at Camp Wilmington, the last full day of camp was devoted to championship soccer games. The tournament ran throughout the summer for the right to play in the finals in front of all the parents, an event which was often regarded as the highlight of Camp Wilmington.
With his team in the finals for the first time, Walter knew he should be very excited, however, he was anything but. In fact, he would have preferred it if his team were not even playing.
Walter had never really enjoyed his summers at Camp Wilmington and found he was less interested in going as each summer passed.
Aside from Alex, Walter had not made too many friends as he found most of his fellow campers to be pretentious and even snobby. And it seemed to Walter that, this summer, the snobbiest kids of all were all on his soccer team.
# # #
“You ready for this?” asked Alex to Walter, just as the team was about to enter the field. Alex noticed Walter looking up at the stands, so he too took a look and saw what Walter saw: his mom in the stands with no sign of his father.
“Walter, let’s focus on the game,” said Alex, hoping to distract him. “Once we win, we can celebrate being champions, as well as that camp is over.”
Walter nodded back to Alex; however, as the game progressed, it became obvious that Walter was indeed having a difficult time focusing. Alex noticed Walter peeking up from time to time in the direction of where his mom was sitting.
“Time out!” yelled Henry, the team captain, with the score tied at two and time running down.
“What the hell was that, Walter!” shouted Henry. “Get your head in the game. You had Owen wide open. Why didn’t you pass it to him? You are worthless today, Walter.”
Walter had always disliked Henry. Most days, Walter just tolerated him, but today was different.
“Don’t you ever tell me I am not worth it. You boss everyone around like they work for you when, actually, no one can stand you. I guess you learn that from your father being the CEO at a company nobody can stand working at.”
There was a sudden quiet among the teammates as all eyes shifted to Henry for his response.
“Is that so Walter? Well, at least my father is here watching the game.”
Within seconds, Walter swung at Henry. Henry returned the punch and the two fell to the ground, continuing to jab each other until the camp directors got there to break it up. Every parent and camper rose to their feet for a better view, trying to make sense of what was happening.
“I don’t know what this is about,” said the senior camp director. “But the two of you have ten seconds to shake hands or else I’m ending this game with a disqualification.”
“Fine,” said Henry, being the first to extend out his hand.
Walter took a few seconds to respond, giving his teammates a sense that the game might be ending at that moment, a thought which Walter had considered.
“Four, Three, Two,” counted down the counselor, making sure each number was more audible than the last.
Walter extended his hand and a there was a sigh of relief by his teammates and the onlookers alike.
The remainder of regulation was uneventful as both team’s defenses tightened up, and the game went into overtime with the next team to score to win.
Walter finds himself with the ball heading towards the net and spots Henry in position on the other side. He fakes a kick to the net, forcing the goalie to jump in his direction, and, instead passes the ball to Henry. With a wide-open net, Henry kicks and scores the winning goal.
“That was an incredible play,” said Alex as he came running right up to Walter in celebration. “We won the game thanks to you.” Despite their glee from the win, the two watched from a distance as the rest of the team smothered Henry, first knocking him to the ground and then lifting him above their shoulders.
“We know who the real hero is,” said Alex.
“Thanks,” said Walter. “Now we can celebrate that camp is over and we can go home tomorrow.”
# # #
It’s been over thirty minutes since they left the campgrounds when Walter’s father finally broke the eerie silence in the car.
“Walter, I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to make it to the championship game,” said Hubert. “Another parent and I had to meet with the owner of the camp and that was the only time he had available.”
Walter’s mother, Susan, gave Hubert a puzzled look, wondering why he felt he needed to tell Walter this.
“Whatever,” said Walter. With no interest in continuing the conversation, Walter picked up his headphones.
“Hold on,” said Hubert, noticing Walter’s action in the rear-view mirror and speaking up before the earbuds reached his ears.
“I heard you and Henry got into a fight in the middle of game. Can you tell us why?”
“Just forget it. Henry’s arrogant and he deserved to be knocked down. Just like most of the campers.” Walter meant the last part to be inaudible to his parents but said it louder than he intended.
“And you thought it was your job to teach him a lesson?” asked Hubert.
“And what lesson are you teaching, Dad? That it’s more important to work than attend your son’s events?”
“What are you talking about, Walter?” asked Susan, beating Hubert to the punch.
“I know what Dad’s been doing. I snuck out to the village last night and saw him looking at blueprints along with Frank. I know he has not been sick like you told me he was. He’s just been working.”
Hubert and Susan gave each other a long stare, almost too long as the car started to swerve off the road before Hubert noticed and jerked it back.
“Walter,” said Hubert, “I know you’re not happy at Camp Wilmington, so I’ll make you a deal. If you receive a Raw Score of A- or better in all your classes this coming year, you do not need to go to Camp Wilmington next summer.”
Walter’s eyebrows rose as a spike of joy surged through him, even if the excitement was brief and the anger towards his parents quickly seeped back in. Walter merely nodded in agreement and placed the headphones over his ears.
“Why did you offer him that deal?” asked Susan, once convinced that Walter could not hear her.
“It’ll be fine. Next year Julia’s old enough to go to Camp Wilmington, and as long as we have one child attending the camp, we’ll be able to go up for the final week.”
“Good point,” said Susan. “But, still, you need to be careful around Walter. He thinks you were just working so we dodged a bullet this time, but let’s not give him any further reasons to be suspicious.