The campground was quiet. Not silent, but quiet. Silence on the grounds was a rarity. Birds chirped and critters snapped twigs and crunched leaves as they ran through the abundant foliage, sounding off their small, happy-to-be-out-of-hibernation squeaks. The fire Weston Accardi kept lit continuously, day and night, crackled and popped as it chewed into the pieces of wood he fed it.
Soon the soundtrack of the campground would transform from its current nature-inspired sounds to a blend of noises that belonged to the incoming camping families. Children would run and play, shrieking at decibels specific to summertime. Their laughter and yells would echo through the plush pine trees as parents unpacked the camping gear and essentials from the overloaded trucks to prepare the site that they would call home for the duration of their stay. Music—both played through Bluetooth speakers and strummed on old guitars—would travel from the dirt driveways beneath each RV and become one with cloudless blue sky above.
Each currently bare site would have a tent or RV secured on it, and every available rental trailer or cottage would have people occupying them. Every single one, Weston thought as he thumbed through countless pages of reservations. He’d requested the bookings be printed and delivered to the site he’d claimed as ‘The Owner’s Headquarters’ during the off-season renovations. The rest of the employees had WiFi access within the offices and laptops or tablets to view the information and spreadsheets, but Weston found nostalgic peace of mind by holding the printed reservations in his hand the exact way his father before him had done while sitting in the very same chair. A half-grin slid onto Weston’s cheeks. He was pleased with the turnout of reservations for the grand reopening of Begoa’s Point Family Campground. His father would have been too, had he been alive to see it.
Weston tucked the most recent reservation listings into the worn-out openings of the accordion-style folder and tossed it inside the door of his RV, which was situated in a wooded area well away from the hustle and bustle of the main grounds. When his parents had owned the campground more than fifteen years before, they had chosen a site at the center of the grounds directly within earshot of anything and everything going on within their property’s perimeter. They’d preferred it that way—involved, hands-on. In many ways, Weston liked that too, maintaining full control, but when the sun went down, he preferred a hushed space to retreat to in order to separate himself from his work and enjoy the serene nature that surrounded him.
“Achilles.” Weston followed the call with a quick, wet-lipped whistle and a pat of his palm against the thigh of his cargo shorts. He grabbed a leather leash from the picnic table with a clink as the metal clasp sounded against the tabletop. The dog’s ears perked up like antennas receiving a signal. His tail picked up speed, wagging in long, swift motions that swept the sand off the patio mat that covered the land just outside the RV. “Want to go on a run?”
The dog leaped from the shaded dirt area he could usually be found in—a spot he’d claimed to hide away in from Maine’s hot summer rays. He darted toward his owner and pushed his large head into Weston’s hips with a force that almost knocked him over.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Weston used his palm to ruffle the fur between the German Shepherd’s ears. Achilles bounded around in circles with an impressive agility comparable to that of a show dog. With his energy and antics, no one would guess he was missing part of his hind leg. Then again, like pup, like owner. Most people hardly noticed that Weston was an amputee as well. He was a man who ran multiple miles per day, every day, with his dog stuck to his side. He walked all over the campground and was hardly ever seen in a golf cart unless there was an emergency that he needed to handle sooner rather than later. He maneuvered around using his left leg prosthetic as if it were his own natural limb.
Weston stretched out his back and his existing leg before clipping the dog’s leash around his waist. The dog usually ran free, but the leash stayed on Weston’s person in case the need arose for him to use it. Weston took off down the winding dirt path into a long trail of cookie-cutter cottages—empty now but soon to be filled with families ready to embark on their summer camping adventures. There would be some newcomers, but most of the reservation list was composed of returning families from his parents’ time of owning and operating the same campground prior to its untimely closure.
He and Achilles ran uphill, turning a corner to jog past the recently updated tennis and basketball courts, as well as a newly renovated shower and bath house. A custodial worker waved as Weston came around the bend of the road and jogged past.
“Good morning, Larry!” Weston called. Larry tipped his hat in Weston’s direction. Weston had made it a point to learn the name of every employee—a rule of his father’s that he’d inherited and valued. He continued his journey down the pathway toward the beachfront bar and restaurant, stopping where Mark Jenson was readying the place for the upcoming grand reopening. The outdoor bar itself was a new addition, built while the cabins and sites were being remodeled, but Mark was an original employee. A longtime friend of Weston’s father, Mark had run the bar and restaurant during Begoa’s Point’s first run and had agreed to come back to manage the new facility.
“Morning, boss.” Mark moved large boxes of glasses from the ground to the bar top as the sun beat down on the tiki-themed hut while he worked. He wiped his brow on his forearm. His sweat-soaked shirt clung to his skin at his chest and back. “What are we having today?”
“The usual will be fine.” Weston slowed and came to a full stop. Achilles followed suit, coming to a halt, then lying down in the small bit of shade the bar provided.
Mark grabbed a silver bowl from a below-bar cabinet and filled it with water before stepping out from the service area and coming around the bar to serve it to Begoa’s Point’s most prominent VIP. Mark stayed on one knee for a moment, scratching below the dog’s chin. Achilles stood and started lapping water from the bowl, leaving more water on the ground in a messy puddle than he’d swallowed.
Mark returned to his position behind the counter, filled a cup with ice and water and slid it across the bar into Weston’s hand.
“Where are you headed to today?” Mark leaned into the bar.
“All over the grounds, I think. The usual path.” Weston paused to take a sip of the ice-cold water. “At least as far as the marina. I just want to make sure everything is ready to go for the opening.”
“That’s what you said yesterday.” Mark raised an eyebrow. “Then again, it’s what you will probably say tomorrow and the day after that too.”
“I like to be prepared.” Weston sent his now-empty plastic cup back across the bar.
“You will be. You are your father’s son, after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Weston looked at Mark, analyzing the new lines that sank into his skin, but other than a few signs of aging, Mark looked almost the same as he had when Weston’s parents had owned the campground before its closure, leaving Mark and many others without a job.
“Thank you for coming back, Mark. This place wouldn’t be the same without you, even after all these years. I’m sorry we ever put you out of a job in the first place.” Weston turned his eyes downward in sadness.
“It’s not your fault, Weston—”
“It is, actually,” Weston interrupted, adjusting his ballcap, with his gaze still glued to the floor. He watched the dog, if for no other reason than to avoid Mark’s eyes. “You know it and so do I.”
“It’s not. You knock that off right now.” Mark’s voice teetered on scolding, and he wagged one aging finger in Weston’s direction. “You know that your dad used to come down to the old bar every night for last call. Every night. He sat on the same barstool each time, and you know what he told me?”
Weston shook his head. He had been only seventeen when his parent’s ownership had come to an end, so he’d not reached the legal drinking age where he could spend those waning nighttime hours with his dad, occupying Mark’s bar stools. His ‘no’ wasn’t an entirely honest answer to Mark’s question, however. He knew what Mark was going to say—what his dad had used to say—but he wanted to hear it. If he couldn’t hear it from his own father, Mark’s affirmation was the next best thing.
“He said it was his dream to see you run this place. So maybe it didn’t happen as he’d expected, but it’s happening, and you should be proud of that. You’re not a kid anymore, Weston. You’ve grown and should be so proud of who you’ve become. Your father would be.”
“I remember that. He used to come down here every night but never had a sip of alcohol.” Weston smiled at the seemingly small memories of his father, but they were anything but insignificant. They were everything.
“I remember watching you run around these grounds, from learning to walk all the way to chasing after the girls on the beach in your teenage years.” Mark continued to speak, but Weston’s mind was elsewhere, time-traveling down a winding path to his childhood.
It was a humid day, the kind where it was too sticky to do anything except sit around and complain about how hot it was.
“Give me your change,” Charlie said, reaching across the table for Weston’s quarters.
Weston grabbed the coins off the table and held them in his sweating palm, pulling them out of his best friend’s reach. “You just had two ice creams. What do you need now?”
“Fried dough, of course. I’m just fifty cents short. Come on. I’ll share it with you.”
Weston handed over his quarters begrudgingly, but he couldn’t resist fried dough any more than the next kid could. Charlie sprinted to the ordering window.
Charlie returned to the table, but just as he did, his mother beckoned from the beach.
“Be right back, Wes. We’re number one forty-eight.” The red color of his skin peeking out from the edges of his tank top led Weston to believe it was time for Charlie to reapply sunscreen.
“Numbers one forty-seven and one forty-eight,” the snack bar attendant yelled from the pick-up window. Weston stood and headed toward the counter. Just as he did, a young girl with a mess of deep brown curls made her way there. The attendant handed two large, golden-brown fried doughs out of the window and they both headed toward the table where the cinnamon and sugar—the best parts—were kept.
The girl waited, rocking back and forth.
“Go ahead.” Weston slid the shakers toward to her. “You ordered first.”
She smiled and flipped the cinnamon shaker, brown dust falling to cover her plate. She followed with the sugar shaker, but no matter how much she tried, nothing came out. She looked at him and gave an embarrassed frown.
“It’s not empty.” Weston looked at the shaker. “It can be tricky, though. Sometimes the powder clogs the top. Let me try?”
She handed over the shaker. Weston tapped the container on the tabletop three times then flipped it over, hitting the side. A fractional amount of powder come out, and the girl giggled.
Weston undid the top, wiped away the excess confectionary powder with a napkin and pressed the lid back on. He picked it up once more and shook hard.
The top popped off, covering his fried dough in a small mountain of white powder. A cloud of sugar flew through the air and stuck to his black shirt and hair. The girl laughed so hard that she snorted.
Weston nodded, accepting an embarrassing defeat, then started laughing too. He picked up the fried dough and held it at an angle, allowing some of his sugary mess to fall over onto her piece.
“Thank you.” She was still laughing as she walked away with her fried dough plate in hand.
Weston kept his gaze down the beach, imaging that younger version of himself as his adolescent years flashed before his eyes. He shook the memories away and returned his attention to Mark. “I was only chasing after one girl.”
“Whatever happened to her, anyway?” Mark grabbed a towel to continue his cleaning.
“She got away.” Weston slapped the bar top with his palm and winked before turning away and heading back to his predetermined path. Achilles bounded to his three legs, following behind him without being told.
The path came to an abrupt halt at the end of the shuffleboard courts and immediately turned to acres and acres of sandy beach at the lake’s edge. Weston continued his jog, both his real foot and his prosthetic one kicking up sand as he ran down the untouched beach. Achilles kept pace, his paws stirring up a dusting of sand alongside Weston’s. They ran the length of the main beach area, past the snack bar and mini-golf course, then turned left before finding a dirt pathway that led into the marina. He slowed as his feet hit the wooden dock. The structure, which extended into the lake, creaked under his weight. He kicked off his shoes, taking a seat on the edge of the dock and dipping both his feet into the water, only feeling the lake’s cool temperature around his right ankle. Achilles sat next to him, proud and tall, as if the multiple-mile run had taken nothing out of him.
“We did it, Achilles.” Weston wrapped his arm around the dog’s shoulder blades. Achilles licked the side of Weston’s face, stopping the salty sweat from dripping past his ears. The dog lay down next to Wes and inched forward, trying to reach his tongue into the rippling lake.
Weston removed his prosthetic and pushed himself off the dock, submerging in the water. He resurfaced and used one hand to balance on the wood. Achilles paced the edge of the dock, deciding between jumping in after him or remaining dry.
Weston used his free had to slap the water. “Get in here, boy!” Before he’d finished the command, Achilles dove in, splashing Weston upon entry and paddling toward him. They swam around, cooling off in the cold lake. Weston pulled himself back onto the dock then helped Achilles up next to him. The dog braced himself and shook, water spraying from the ends of his fur and further soaking Weston in the process. Achilles lay down once again at the edge of the dock, his front paws dangling over the wooden edge. Weston looked out over the unoccupied lake.
“This is what we’ve been waiting and working for. We counted down the moments to the grand reopening and it’s finally happening.” Weston stroked wet fur out of the dog’s face. “Tomorrow is officially camping season, boy. Memorial Day. Best day of the year, if you ask me.”