Chaperones: Chapter One
The Phelps family and their guests packed up their belongings and drove to the best vacation spot on this side of Iroquois Lake. According to local legend, an indian tribe once hunted these woods and fished these waters. That is, until the white man slaughtered them all. No one knew for certain whether this legend was true. Stories had been passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Mr. & Mrs. Phelps told the kids not to believe everything they hear. Still, these teenagers were excited at the prospect of finding an arrowhead or two.
Camping equipment, fishing poles and crab traps were all that Dad and the boys supposedly needed to get everyone through three days and two nights in the wilderness. Even so, Mom packed plenty of food such as granola bars, popcorn and sandwiches on ice just in case the men failed in their sporting attempts to catch dinner.
Lilly and her best friend, Taffy, had their headsets on as they listened to Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey, a couple of their favorite musicians. Lilly was the shy one, and Taffy was the troublemaker. Oblivious to what anyone else was doing, these two girls happily looked forward to putting on their swimsuits for all kinds of water sports such as swimming, canoeing and kayaking. The lake even had this huge, plastic, bubble-like thing where they were trapped inside, rolling their way across the lake by running in place while hoping the thing didn't spring a leak and drown them.
The girls hated the grins and the snickers that were directed at them by the boys - Lilly's older brother and his friends. They wanted to wear bikinis because they were hoping for plenty of boys their age to have fun with. Accessorize! That's how Taffy had put it. She was always so full of mischief and was totally contagious! Lilly was glad that her Mom and Dad said Taffy could come, even though they had to obey the rules – no bikinis, no wandering by themselves after dark, and on and on... Just when were they supposed to have any real fun?
The boys were allowed to do practically anything they wanted. Parents could be so unfair. So, before Mom and Dad could make any lame sleeping arrangements, the kids had their tents pitched with bedrolls neatly laid out and nightlights in place so they could stay up all night. Since they were acting so responsible, Mr. & Mrs. Phelps put off “the laying down of the law,” and the kids made a beeline for the lake after changing into their swimwear. The weather was warm, perfect for a little 'fun in the sun.'
“OOH, MY GOD, Lilly!” Taffy exclaimed as the kids made their way down to where the canoes were stored. “Look at the muscles on that lifeguard! And that tan!” She giggled shamelessly.
“And, he's wearing next to nothing.” Lilly bashfully turned away. Before the girls knew it, Roger and his buddies were upon them.
“Wanna buddy up with us?” Roger asked. “Come on. We'll have some fun.”
Taffy and Lilly looked at each other and grinned. “Why not?” Taffy answered. “Okay, Roger, I'll bring up the rear.”
“Hey, I'm no chauvinist,” he responded, making his way to the front. “I hope you know how to steer.”
The lifeguard handed Taffy the paddles, and she passed one to Roger. He was sure to keep a firm grip on her arm until she was seated. Taffy's face beamed.
With a look of seriousness, Roger's face tensed. “Hey, she's with me.”
“Sure thing, pal.”
“Will you two quit it already?” Taffy giggled as she flashed the lifeguard a smile and winked at Roger.
As they shoved off, Lilly, Dave and Alan loaded up next as they moved through the water a little more slowly because of the extra weight.
“Taffy!” Dave yelled.
“You sure make friends easily!”
“She sure does!” Roger replied, with a hint of sarcasm.
“Well, when you're hot, you can get any guy you want!” Taffy responded with confidence.
“I don't know about all that,” Lilly replied, thinking no one could hear.
“Don't worry, Lilly. Taffy's got nothin' on you,” Alan said eagerly.
“All right, guys,” Roger spoke up. “Remember the age difference here. Treat these two girls like they're your sisters.”
“Aw, that's sweet,” Taffy responded flirtatiously.
“You and my sister may not have guessed, Taf. But, we're not here to hit on you girls. We're your chaperones.”
“Excuse me?” replied Taffy. “Now, what makes you boys think we need chaperones?”
“We don't, Taffy,” answered Roger. “My parents do.”
With her mouth wide open, Taffy was speechless for a moment.
“You've got to be kidding me!” she exclaimed.
“Believe me, Taffy,” Roger replied. “I know how you feel.”
“No, you don't!” Taffy lashed out. “You're a boy. Boys always get to do whatever they feel like. Why is it that we girls need protecting? This is so unfair!”
“Hey!” Dave hollered, as his canoe pulled alongside his buddy's. “What are you two arguing about?”
“What are you doing, Taffy?” Roger asked, sensing the canoe turn.
“What does it look like?” she replied. “We're going back.”
“What's the matter, Taffy?” Lilly asked. “Roger, what did you do?”
“Shh!” Taffy put her finger to her lips defiantly.
As both canoes headed back the way they came, the whole group fell silent. Taffy's anger had changed the mood for everyone. Even so, Roger noticed the gleam of her bare shoulders in the sunlight.
The same lifeguard hauled each boat out of the water over his head stacking them with the others. He winked at Taffy as she passed. She saw this, but was in no mood for flirting.
Lilly and Taffy walked hurriedly back to the camp as Roger lagged behind with his head down.
“Why so glum, buddy?” Alan wanted to know.
“Yeah, what happened out there, Roger?” Dave asked.
“Guys, I blew our cover,” Roger mumbled.
“What? How?” His friends asked in unison.
“I don't want to talk about it,” Roger responded. “I've gotta tell my parents, now. That's just great.”
Taffy and Lilly headed straight for their tent.
“You kids hungry?” asked Mr. Phelps.
“Dad, we have to talk,” Roger replied.
Meanwhile, Lilly could be silent no longer. “Okay, Taffy. Give. What happened between you and my brother?”
Taffy was busy zipping up the tent so they could have some privacy. She told her friend everything as she changed into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.
“That's not so bad,” Lilly countered. “They were only looking out for us.”
“Maybe so, but I wanted to have some fun on this trip.” Taffy began to cry.
“We are having fun,” Lilly said, with concern. “At least I am. Aren't you?”
“Yes, but...” Taffy's voice trailed off.
“But, what?” Lilly continued.
“I want to find my Mr. Right.” Taffy spoke with a bit of hesitation. “My first love. Is there anything wrong with that?”
“Of course not.” Lilly giggled, a little shyly. “I guess you're more ready than I am.”
Now, they both laughed out loud. “Could you believe that lifeguard?” Taffy's face lit up. “God, those muscles.”
“Yeah,” Lilly agreed. “I'll bet there's something against the guys who work here getting together with girls like us.”
“Probably,” Taffy replied. "But, did you see him wink at me?"
"Are you serious?" Lilly was excited. "Taffy, you need to talk to him, at least."
“You know something?” Lilly prompted her friend.
“What?” Taffy asked.
“I think my brother likes you, kind of.” Lilly started giggling again. “How gross is that?”
“Totally!” Taffy blurted out.
It was Lilly's turn to change out of her swimsuit as the girls lay down for a nap.
Mr. Phelps touched his son's shoulder. “It's all right, Roger. I'm sure you just let it slip. All you and your friends need to do is play with the girls. Show them a good time.”
“Dad, you don't understand," said Roger. "That's what we were doing. I spilled the beans on purpose. See, I kinda...jeez, this is hard to talk about.”
“You mean, you 'kinda' like your sister's friend, Taffy?” asked his dad.
“Yeah, I think so,” replied Roger. “Please, don't let on that you know. I'm embarrassed enough after this afternoon.”
“Son, you're a likable young man. Why don't you tell Taffy how you feel? Save yourself all this grief.”
“It's easier than you might think.”
The girls had only been asleep for a few minutes when Taffy opened her eyes with a mischievous look on her face.
"Lilly, wake up."
"What? Is it lunchtime?"
"It's getting close. I have an idea. Listen to this."
"This should be good," Lilly said as she began to wake up. "Your ideas usually are."
"You bet they are," Taffy teased. "Okay, I've got the hots for this lifeguard, and Roger might just like me. So, why not kill two birds with one stone?"
"You mean you want to make a move on both of them?" Lilly asked excitedly.
"Why not? At least one of them should work out."
"Oh, brother... You've got that dreamy look in your eyes, Taffy."
Outside, Roger's mom walked up and slid her arms around her son and husband. “And, what are my two favorite men in the whole world talking about, huh?”
“Aw, c'mon Mom.” Roger walked toward his tent to see what Dave and Alan were up to.
“Man talk, Lizzy.”
“Well, lunch has been ready forever. I'll fetch the girls, and you handle those three gorgeous, young men.” Roger's mom beamed an impish grin up at her husband.
“Mom, Taffy and I want to go canoeing after lunch, by ourselves. Can we, please?”
“Lilly, you've got to be kidding. You're both too inexperienced at swimming to be left on your own.”
"Taffy's a good swimmer, Mom. Besides, we have to wear life jackets, anyway."
"No, Lilly. You cannot go canoeing by yourselves. At least one of the boys has to go with you."
“I'll go with the girls, Mrs. Phelps," Dave spoke up. "We can buddy up two at a time. That way, I only have to keep an eye on one of them while we're on the water."
"All right, kids. It's one o'clock now. You've got two hours and then you need to be back here."
"Thanks, Mrs. Phelps."
Lilly and Taffy were excited now because they had plans of their own.
Taffy ate like a horse as she eyed Roger, who was eating with his head down, unusually quiet.
When everyone had had their fill, the kids had to pitch in and help clean up. The air was filled with the scent of barbequed chicken, and everyone was in high spirits now. Roger was also beginning to show signs of renewed vigor.
"Mom, can Allen and I go swimming while Lilly and the others are out canoeing?" Roger asked his mom.
"I could stand a little time on the water myself," Mr. Phelps answered. "I'll go with the two of you, Roger. How's that?"
"All right, it's settled," Mrs. Phelps spoke up. "I'll finish cleaning up and then I'm reading for a while."
"Thanks, honey. We'll be back in a couple hours."
As Mrs. Phelps continued to put food away, she walked behind Taffy and whispered in her ear, “Give Roger a break, Taffy.”
“That's exactly what I plan to do,” she said.
“Behave yourselves, kids!” Mrs. Phelps called out.
Taffy and Lilly were whispering and giggling to each other as they all made their way to the lake.
“What's with all the whispering?” Dave asked.
“The weather's perfect for a late night swim.” Taffy was all smiles now. “Don't you think so, Roger?”
Roger's heart was beginning to melt at the sound of Taffy's voice and her willingness to forgive.
With the lake in sight, Roger and Allen broke into a run as they shed their t-shirts. Roger was the first to dive headfirst into the cool water. He swam to the far end of the swimmer's section where he pulled himself onto the dock and waited for the others.
His dad had brought a lawn chair so he could watch Allen and Roger while he enjoyed the fresh air.
The others took another trail that was narrow and inviting. Lilly ran ahead of the others. Suddenly, she screamed and fell flat on her back.
"What's wrong?" her friends hollered.
"There's a spider! Don't move! It's huge!"
"Is that all?" Dave asked, as he tried not to laugh.
"Don't just stand there smirking," said Taffy. "You're the guy, do something."
The spider web spanned the entire width of the trail. Dave found a large stick and knocked it down.
"God, that was close," Lilly gasped as she stood up and wiped the dirt from her legs and arms.
Taffy smiled as she put an arm around her friend's shoulder. "You okay?" she asked encouragingly.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Lilly replied.
"Good, now let's go see what that lifeguard's wearing this time," she whispered in Lilly's ear.
When the trio arrived, the lifegard was sitting on the sand gazing at the water.
"Dave, Lilly wants to go first. I don't mind waiting," Taffy said. Both girls were all smiles, again.
"Okay, Lilly, I'll show you how to steer and we can switch up on the way back."
"Okay, let's get to it!"
The lifeguard set their canoe in the water and handed them two paddles. Taffy walked a little closer and splashed him repeatedly.
"You better keep an eye on her," Lilly giggled. "She's anything but harmless."
"You can say that again," Dave hollered as he steered for the middle of the lake.
Taffy splashed him a few more times.
"Keep it up," he said with a smirk.
"What's your name?" Taffy asked.
"Why don't you just call me sir?"
"Aw, c'mon. I'm Taffy."
"Okay, Taffy. Let's get something straight. You're here to canoe, not flirt with guys twice your age."
Taffy's feelings were hurt as she looked down and kicked the dirt. "Well, who says I'm flirting anyway? Besides, you winked at me this morning. So, what does that say about you?"
"It's part of my job to be friendly. Please, don't take it the wrong way."
"Okay. We can still talk."
"What do you know about the Indian legend?"
"A lot. I'm one quarter Iroquois, only from a different tribe than the one who got massacred."
"Really? You mean the legend is true?"
"So, tell me about yourself? What're you doing here?"
"I live here year-round. This is my home now."
"Don't you have any family?"
"Yes, I do. But, they're still on the reservation where I was born."
"Oh, my God. This is so cool."
"I can see your friends coming back."
"Darn, just when things were getting interesting."
"You can come and see me next time you're here, Taffy. We'll talk some more."
Taffy ran and dove into the water, heading for the canoe. "Hey, you two!" she exclaimed, as she grabbed hold of the stern.
"So, how did it go?" Lilly asked in a whisper.
"How did what go?" asked Dave.
"Nothing." Taffy beamed at her friend.
"Don't try to get in, Taffy," Dave said. "You'll swamp us."
"I'm not, don't be silly," Taffy replied as she began to swim alongside them.
Then, she came face to face with the lifeguard. "Grab hold of this, Taffy. You know the rules. No swimming outside of the swimming area."
"Aw, c'mon. Can't you let us have some fun?"
"Not if it means breaking the rules, which is what you've done, deliberately."
"Oh, all right." Taffy pretended to be angry.
As they approached shallow water, the lifeguard walked out a ways. "You guys took on some water. Let me empty it out for you."
Lilly and Dave got out and he lifted the canoe over his head so the water could drain.
"What a showoff," Dave mumbled, under his breath.
Lilly looked at Taffy and grinned.
Taffy didn't respond.
"I thought you liked me," she said to the lifeguard.
"You're a camper like anybody else."
"Look, we can be friends, Taffy, but that doesn't mean you can take advantage of my good nature."
"I'm sorry," she said with a half smile.
"Okay, Taffy, you're next." The lifeguard winked at her again.
"So, you two are on a first name basis, huh?" Lilly asked teasingly.
When Dave and Taffy reached the middle of the lake, she told him to take her to the swimming area.
"Why?" asked Dave.
"I want you to drop me off. You and Lilly can meet us there. You know the way."
"That's not such a good idea, Taffy. I promised Lilly's parents I'd watch out for you both."
"You are watching me, while I'm in the canoe. Does that sound fair?"
"Yeah, I guess so. What have you got up your sleeve, Taffy?"
"You'll find out, nosy."
"Mr. Phelps, here come Dave and Taffy in a canoe!" Allen exclaimed.
"What do they think they're doing?" asked Roger.
As Dave steered alongside the dock, Taffy stood up, sat on the edge of the dock and swung her legs over.
"Look, you two, this is not what we agreed on," Mr. Phelps stated firmly. "Where's Lilly?"
"She's with the lifeguard at the canoeing shed. She already had her turn with me in the canoe." Dave said. "I'm on my way back to join her so we can hike back here. Taffy wanted me to drop her off here first."
"Taffy, you've got some explaining to do," Mr. Phelps said, as he eyed her carefully.
"We only have two hours, Mr. Phelps. I wanted to get some time in here, too. Roger and I have some fence mending to do, don't we, sweetie?"
Roger shrugged. "Whatever you say, Taffy."
As Dave reached the other end of the lake, he couldn't believe what he saw. Lilly was lying on her back and the lifeguard appeared to be having his way with her.
As he approached the two of them, the lifeguard turned towards him. "Go call an ambulance!"
"What's going on?" Dave began to panic.
"Just do it!"
As Dave ran into the camp waving his arms frantically, Mrs. Phelps caught sight of his scared expression. “What's wrong?”
“There's been an accident at the lake, Mrs. Phelps. Lilly needs an ambulance.”
Mrs. Phelps ran to their tent to retrieve her cellphone. "I'm dialing 911! Take me to her, Dave!”
When they got to the canoes, Mrs. Phelps kneeled beside her daughter while the lifeguard continued CPR.
“Sweetheart?” Lilly's face was pale and her eyes lifeless and wide open. She still wasn't breathing.
"Dave, run get my husband! Now!"
As they all arrived at the scene, Mr. Phelps shoved the lifeguard out of the way. "Move!" he yelled.
As he bent over his daughter, he ran his thumb over her lips.
"Oh, god please." Mrs. Phelps began to cry.
Frozen with disbelief and shock, the kids stared, not one of them willing to voice the terrifying truth.
After the paramedics hooked her up to oxygen and an IV, Lilly was transported alongside her mom to County General. The ambulance siren did not come on. Mrs. Phelps held her daughter's lifeless hand and told her everything was going to be okay.
Back at the lake, Mr. Phelps had stayed behind. He wanted to make sure the rest of the kids were safe. But, first he had business to take care of with the lifeguard. He was in a rage.
"Now, you've got some explaining to do, boy. What in God's name happened?"
"Sir, your daughter asked if she could take a canoe out. She was getting bored and didn't know what was taking her friends so long."
"You mean, you let her go out by herself?"
"There isn't any rule against it, Mr. Phelps. As long as the kids have a life preserver on, they can ride around the lake as they please. I keep an eye on them every minute."
"Then, how did my daughter... almost drown?" He choked back tears of outrage.
"She stood up and the canoe swamped. I could see that something had caught her eye. Then, she tried to swim ashore, but she was too far. I dove in and swam as fast as I could. When I got to where I saw her go under, the life jacket was floating on top of the water. So, I dove and found her a few feet below the surface."
Mr. Phelps was trying to calm down now, but couldn't let go of his anger. He took a deep breath before speaking again. "So, how did Lilly's life jacket come off?"
"I haven't got a clue. Maybe she loosened it a little and it slipped off when she went in the water. But, I swear to you these kids are not allowed to shove off until their life jackets are secure. I can't tell you how sorry I am, sir. This has never happened on my watch. Please, know that I did everything I could."
"Come on, kids." They all walked behind Mr. Phelps to the camp. Taffy was in tears and Roger had his arm around her. Dave had his hand on Allen's shoulder with a guilty look on his face.
Taffy ran to her tent when they reached camp. The boys could hear her sobbing as they sat down and stared at each other.
Just then, they noticed the lifeguard had walked into their camp.
Mr. Phelps stood up and faced him. "What are you doing here?" he demanded to know.
"Sir, I'm upset about this, too," he answered. "I have something for Taffy; maybe it will ease her pain."
He explained that he had experienced a sense of the same kind of trauma. Distant relatives of his had died mercilessly at the hands of white men in an Indian massacre. He had nightmares still about what it must have been like.
"You mean, the legend is true?" asked Mr. Phelps, noticeably shaken.
"Yes, sir. Taffy and I talked about it. I don't mean this as inappropriate, but I feel a sense of protection for her now."
Mr. Phelps rubbed his eyes. "She's in her tent," he said pointing to where Taffy had been crying.
The lifeguard cautiously opened the tent flap. When Taffy caught sight of him, she turned around and sat up. He'd put a shirt on so as not to give these people the wrong impression.
"Hi, Taffy," he said, with deep concern.
"Hi," she whispered, softly.
"I know this isn't easy, Taffy," he said. "I've been through something similar."
"Were you scared?" she asked hesitantly.
"I still have nightmares. It's as though I were there when it happened. Our indian memories are passed on from one generation to the next."
"You mean about the massacre?"
"What's your name?"
Taffy smiled through her tears. "I want you to know that I really like..."
"I understand your feelings, Taffy," Victor interrupted her. "I have them, too."
She beamed a smile at him.
"But, I'm way too old for you. That doesn't mean we can't be the best of friends. We're already closer than you think."
Taffy couldn't believe the hope she was feeling so soon after what had happened.
"I have something for you." Victor removed a leather pouch from his pocket. He untied it and removed two shiny arrowheads.
"Are they real?" she asked.
"Yes. A lot of them are buried around here. You have to know where to look. I polished these two myself."
He handed her one of the arrowheads and the leather pouch.
"Are these for me?"
"Yes, they are. Keep them in a safe place, as a reminder of our friendship.
"I will. Thank you very much, Victor."
"I'm keeping this one in my tent on the other side of the lake. Now, we are like brother and sister."
Taffy felt a sense of longing for Victor, but she kept it to herself.
"Your friend is in a safe place, Taffy. She is very proud of you. I will pray to my ancestors tonight and ask them to befriend her. I have some things to take care of right now. You can come see me anytime."
"I want to hug you," she whispered so no one else could hear.
"Save your hugs for a young man your age," he replied.
Taffy wasn't disappointed this time. She already had someone in mind.
As Victor came out of the tent, Mr. Phelps eyed him carefully.
Victor walked up to him. "Everyone here has my deepest sympathies, sir. I apologize that we got off to such a bad start."
Mr. Phelps couldn't help but grit his teeth. He took a deep breath and let out a sigh as he swallowed his pride.
"Good luck to you, son"
He couldn't bring himself to shake Victor's hand.
Mr. Phelps's cell phone rang. The boys could hear him whispering about what they knew had already happened.
"I think they already know." There was a pause. "Are you sure you can drive back?" Another pause. "All right." As he set the phone down, his face was noticeably pale.
“Dad?” Roger didn't want to face it either.
“She didn't make it, kids. Now, I want everyone here to understand that this is no one's fault.” His voice was coarse with emotion.
Nothing much else was said as everyone packed for home. The boys had each other; the Phelps did, too; Taffy felt alone, but less scared since she had spoken to Victor.
When their SUV pulled up to their tents, Mrs. Phelps got out. Her face was deathly pale and she was visibly shaking. Mr. Phelps walked up to her with his arms open wide and she broke down sobbing uncontrollably.
During the drive home, Taffy sat next to Roger with her head lain against his shoulder and tears in her eyes. “Hold me,” she whispered, softly. Roger put both his arms around her in a tender embrace.
As they pulled into the Phelps's driveway, everyone got out of the car. “Try to keep calm, kids,” said Mr. Phelps, as he pulled the tailgate down for them to sit on. He removed two lawn chairs for the adults.
"I want you kids to know that things aren't going to be easy for a while," Mr. Phelps spoke with compassion and courage. "You've got each other; you've got your parents; you've got school. I want you to talk about it when you feel ready. The worst thing you can do is to hold it all in or to blame yourselves in any way.”
At this, Roger started to cry. “I should have been there; she was my responsibility, Dad.”
“Look at me, son.”
Roger looked at his dad with deep reverence. “You loved your sister, Roger, and she loved you. That's all that matters. You are in no way responsible for her death.”
He couldn't bear to hear these last words and clung to his dad for dear life.
“My wife is going to call your parents, now.” He let go of his son and sat back down.
Each of these kids had the same thought in common. They didn't want to leave one another's sight.
As they looked deeply into each other's eyes, their tears flowed. They were never so close as they were in that moment, knowing their lives were forever changed.