Slow It Down
A/N: So a disclaimer. This book is still within the realm of my other works like the To Death series. Though this first book won’t contain the blood and gore of the infected, it does act as an introduction to the lives of characters before their lives were changed forever. It can either be skipped if people reading this series aren’t into romance. Or it can be read for an even deeper and more intimate relationship with the characters in this story!
I hauled my bags off the bus, squinting up at the sun that was beating down hotly even this early in the morning.
“Has everyone looked at their email last week containing details about your group color?” A camp counselor called.
I ignored him and spotted my group color, heading over to the pink flag, seeing a group of other boys. Guys honestly made me nervous; not in the butterflies way either because I was gay. But because they thought it was funny to slut-shame me. And in high school the only way you’d get slut-shamed is if you were female, feminine, or gay. So needless to say I minded my business, keeping my eyes glued onto my phone’s screen doing nothing in particular.
“So I’ll be taking you all to your cabins. Along the way, I’ll tell you all about the camp.” Another camp counselor wearing a light pink shirt.
I thought it was ironic that my shorts were a soft coral pink. It was bold on my part wearing flashy clothes that drew unwanted attention. I followed behind everyone else, keeping my distance as I’d hate to get shoved down or into something and stain my t-shirt.
“So showers are in that building right there. They’re open at all times. But there is a bedtime at 11 pm.” The counselor instructed as we walked. I just found myself staring at the vast amounts of nature.
Downtown Atlanta was home for most if not all of us enrolled in our high school. So city streets and massive expanses of grey concrete was the majority of what we’d saw. I’d never even done anything like this my entire life. I was a city boy and not ashamed of admitting it. My parents thought it would build character when all I wanted to do was spend summer at ma’s; free of judgment. When someone stopped right in front of me I did all I could to avoid running into his back. It was this Asian guy who looked back at me with a look of indifference.
“S-sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.” I stammered, adjusting my glasses as they’d slipped down the bridge of my nose. He simply shrugged, stepping into the cabin and I now felt like I’d missed so much. I swear I was such a dunce. It’s a miracle my grades were even high enough to attend this summer camp. When my mom and dad learned this they were quick to sign me up.
The cabin was pretty small; literally only having two sets of bunk beds on both sides of the painfully oak-colored interior in addition to a television. The other guys were talking with one another while I just tried to become invisible as I tried to determine which bunk I’d take.
“So it seems like you’re our token white guy.” A boy spoke up, running his hands through the locs that sat atop his fade.
I felt my heart begin hammering in my chest at his tactlessness. But the odd one out in our room simply doubled over in laughter.
“Yeah. I’m Trevor by the way.” The guy in question introduced. I don’t remember seeing him this school year. He must have been new.
“Jai. This is my homie Alstein.” Jai introduced, his eyes flitting over to me. I felt fucked and with no way out. I didn’t want to be stuck in a small cabin with a bunch of guys that hated me for two months.
“What’s your name pretty boy?” Jai asked while he stuck out a hand, leaning against the tacky log bedframe of the bunk.
“Kalin. Kalin Carter.” I replied as I reached out a shaky to meet his, he took my hand in his and instantly a mischievous look crossed his face. He pulled me into a one-armed hug, tapping my back with a fist in a greeting I didn’t share often with peers.
My heart hammered in my chest as I was quick to pull away.
“Loosen up.” Jai chuckled as I felt a tap on my shoulder that almost made me hop out of my skin.
“You can have the top bunk.” Jai’s friend Alstein said, that face of his not changing in the slightest as he went back to putting away his things.
“So Kalin. What’s a nickname of yours?” Jai asked just as I climbed up to the top bunk.
I froze up, hating them all as they seemed childish. Or they were more so insults than anything.
“Never had one.” I lied smoothly.
“So Kali, KC, or Kal. You have some now.” He grinned, seeming happy that he was effectively picking me apart.
I simply flopped back onto my bed, just resolving to deal with putting away my stuff later. This summer was going to be brutal. I knew it. I just didn’t know why I was still trying at this point. Nothing was really looking good anyway. Just when I was about to doze off I heard someone call my name.
“We’re gonna get lunch. C’mon.” Jai said as I frantically looked around the room when I sat up.
“You’re somethin’ else man.” Jai laughed as I noticed Trevor was gone.
“Okay.” I sighed, looking over at my phone and seeing it was nearly dead. I climbed down off the bed, getting a pleased look from Jai, and a bored one from Alstein. His name was really unexpected. I expected a lot of things. But I don’t think I’d ever met an Alstein.
We all headed outside and a squeal nearly reaped my hearing.
“You boys didn’t text me where you were.” An honestly pretty girl said as she approached our trio.
“Hey, papi.” She drawled at me suddenly, winking over her shades as I felt my face heat up. Her voice had a bit of an accent. And my assumption was confirmed when I saw a necklace peaking from her cleavage with a small flag of Mexico enclosed in an Africa-shaped charm.
“H-hey.” I replied.
“See something you like?” She asked.
“Leave him alone Yana.” Jai sighed, looking amused nonetheless.
“I know. I’m pretty.” She replied, with sass I wish I had, inspecting her immaculately done nails.
“You really are.” I said dumbly, getting yet another wink.
“Don’t feed the princess.” Jai chuckled, urging us all along.
I kind of hung back as Jai lead the way to the dining-hall. He must have paid attention on the way to our cabin. Mostly because I swear I’d never seen this place. I scanned the options for food, not seeing many vegan or vegetarian options. I wasn’t vegan for any other reason aside from carving out some sense of autonomy from my parents really.
“I’ll get the table.” Alstein said, slipping off while the princess as I opted to call her went off to peruse some other foods.
“You don’t eat?” Jai asked, catching me off guard.
“I’m vegan.” I said, studying the options. It all just looked like processed food; which I tried to avoid.
“Cool.” He said simply, leaving me to debate.
I picked out something, taking my tray across to the table where the honestly colorful trio was waiting and talking among themselves. How could people seemingly so vastly different get along? I wasn’t even sure they were aware that talking to me was social suicide. I guessed I said that aloud as Jai spoke up.
“We’re all a lil different here.” Jai smiled.
“I’m the queen bee anyway.” Yana hummed, taking a sip of her drink.
“So I’m curious.” She added, turning her green gaze on me.
“Are the rumors true?” She asked, her question cutting deep as Jai tried stopping her.
“I don’t even know you all well.” I stammered, recoiling into myself as my stomach threatened to lose its appetite.
“I’m Aiyana, this is Al, and this is Jai. We’re acquainted.” She smiled sweetly, seeming intent on not backing down.
The rumors about me around the school weren’t true at all. But no one believed me. And when my parents thought I was having sex they made me put a tracking app on my phone.
“No. They aren’t.” I sighed.
“Woah.” Jai exclaimed, leaning in as Aiyana did as well. Luckily Alstein didn’t join in, offering me an apologetic look.
“Well?” Aiyana pressed and I heaved a sigh. I was getting to the point that I didn’t care about much these days. Not like school life could get any worse when everyone thought I was a sex-starved whore already.
“There was this guy who I was supposedly dating. That was just a sick joke to see if I was...you know.” I began explaining, my voice growing meeker and meeker by the second.
“When I caught on. He started spreading around that I was a slut with all these diseases and that I gave him some.” I recounted, shuddering, and completely losing my appetite. Even though I knew those things weren’t true I still felt dirty for ages.
“So you didn’t even fuck him? And he lied and said you two did?” Jai asked bluntly, eating a french fry.
“I’m actually still a...” I began, cutting myself off. Trying to save myself from embarrassment was a flop. I’d already said too much.
“You’re really handsome though. Like a short GQ model.” Aiyana scoffed in disbelief.
I didn’t think I was that short at 5′9". Just in a height purgatory of sorts. Not quite tall, but not quite short either. I definitely knew I wasn’t ugly.
“Everyone thinks I’m a disease-riddled corpse.” I muttered, getting up from my seat. I’d effectively lost my appetite, wanting to just wander off somewhere until it was time to go to sleep. I think someone told me to wait up but I just up and left. I didn’t owe these strangers anything anyway. Wandering outside it seemed everyone was settling in fine.
They were talking with friends and happy. All the while the sight just made me bitter. Even dealing with all the bullshit I had to deal with at school I still tried being nice to everyone. I was always mindful of guys feeling uncomfortable around me; going sometimes ten steps ahead to no be in their presence. I’d refuse to use the bathroom if someone was in it. For gym, I would change in an entirely different section of the locker room. All of that as I was still treated like shit. I spotted the docks looking empty so opted to just stare off into space. Hell, if I was pushed in I could drown at least. I laid out on the docks, dry and aged wood prickly and honestly uncomfortable against my back.
Staring up at the sky was something I did whenever I had the chance. Back home our house was in a suburb of the city, not having as many towering buildings to block your line of sight. Though the trees did most of that instead. Looking up was something I noticed a lot of people didn’t do. When you did you realized how not much actually mattered in the grand scheme of things. That we were all tiny blips compared to what was beyond our pond of existence. It was one of the few thoughts that comforted me. That no matter how hard things got it all wouldn’t matter anyway. Snapping me out of my thoughts I heard the thumping of bare feet on the wood of the dock. I sat up, propping myself up on my elbows, and seeing a group of guys running down the docks. They shot past me, jumping into the water. I wasn’t able to get out of the way fast enough and I was soaked with chilly water.
“Sorry about that!” One of them called when they all bobbed to the surface, snickers floating up to me. I felt gutted for some reason. Though when I rose to my feet I greeted them with the kindest smile I could muster.
“It’s okay. I didn’t make myself visible.” I replied, crumbling internally with that little lie to myself. It wasn’t okay and it hurt what feelings I did have.
As I walked away I couldn’t help my clutch at my heart; trying somehow to ease that nasty feeling I’d remember sometimes. It was like I was grievously wounded. Bleeding out profusely yet somehow still alive. And no matter what I did I couldn’t save myself. And I don’t think anyone else could save me either. It didn’t hurt in the extreme sense. But more so an omnipresent ache.
A/N: Some things were made super obvious as I laid out some things. That aside I actually really like the names of every character introduced so far. Things will be bad for our boy Kalin so far. But do know he’s in good hands. And that I’m aiming for the feels jugular the entire story!