That night they gathered at Winter Quarters, which was a pine hammock bordering a stretch of fenced-in pasture. After a lunch of chicken stew cooked in their Dutch ovens, Lissa and her sisters went over to the hairwashing station. Her mother was there among the other women volunteers from various wards, and for some reason she felt shy as they hugged. Her mother was a reminder of the world outside, the world they would have to go back to once the Trek was over. For a little while longer she wanted to remain in the cocoon of unbearable heat, no deodorant, lukewarm Gatorade, and aching muscles. She felt closer to God and to the kids from all over the stake with whom she’d never spent much time or felt much in common with. Even the popular girls, like Sara and Ellen and beautiful, perfect Josie, seemed friendlier as they all ducked their heads under the spigots and washed out three days’ worth of sweat and dust.
And Justin was here, instead of across the stake in Palm Bay. Close enough to touch.
At the thought Lissa jerked her head upright and clocked her skull against the spigot. “Ouch.”
“Honey.” Lissa’s mom steadied her. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lissa shrugged away. “I think I’m going to go learn how to shoot guns.”
She wandered over to the gun range, set up a safe distance away from the center of the camp, but it couldn’t hold her interest. The stick-pulling competition was no competition at all, with her height and arm strength. “Pioneer Idol” was an assault on her ears as Ma Atkins, who considered herself to have quite a voice, caterwauled a terrible rendition of some song off the Sons of Provo soundtrack. Lissa felt restless as she walked through the camp. Inside her warred two sets of feelings: the part of her that wanted more, that didn’t understand, that thought a lot of what Sister Staples said in Sunday school didn’t make sense at all, that liked boys and wanted to kiss boys—and the part that loved the closeness of her ward and the security of the scriptures, magnified by being out here on the ranch with only other people who believed the way she did.
She didn’t know what she felt, or wanted to feel. Her prayers weren’t being answered anymore…or maybe they never had been. Lissa stopped beneath an oak and climbed onto a thick branch that dragged close to the ground. She knew that when the week ended and she returned to the real world, the world waiting for her at Trek’s end, this would vanish. Her Family would disperse. She would no longer be close with the cool people from her ward and the rest of the stake. And Justin would never talk to her again.
Her head snapped up. Speak of the devil and he would appear…Justin stood in front of her with one of his brothers, a lanky guy named Alex who was a friend from her ward. They slouched with hands shoved in their pockets, hats pushed back.
“Hey, uh, we’re all supposed to go over to the bonfire pit for the fireside,” Justin said.
Lissa stood up, brushing ants off her skirt. “There’s a dance afterward, right?”
“I believe you mean a hoedown,” Alex drawled. He made a little jigging movement as they walked. Lissa giggled.
“Right, of course, a hoedown. If only I’d brought my prettiest hoopskirt.” Hoopskirts were an old-timey thing, right?
“I like that pioneer style,” Justin joined in. They all laughed together. Lissa’s heart ached. They came to the bonfire pit and Justin swerved off to sit with his Family. Alex ignored Trek protocol and dropped down next to Lissa onto the blanket with the rest of the Shannon tribe. He nudged her in the ribs.
“Justin’s totally into you, dude.” Alex called everyone dude, regardless of sex.
Lissa just managed to keep her jaw from falling open. “What? What are you talking about?”
“Totally,” Alex repeated. “We were over at the blacksmith station making those “prairie diamond” things—“ He made air quotes. “—and I asked him who he was going to give his to and instead of, like, making a joke out of it he didn’t say anything.” Alex grinned and waggled his pale gingery eyebrows. Lissa craned her neck to see what Justin was doing, trying to be casual about it. He was talking to Sara and one of their brothers.
“Dude, you’re off,” Lissa muttered. “He’s always talking to Sara. Alison told me they went out a couple of times.”
“I call ‘em like I see ‘em, yo,” Alex said.
“Well, thanks for the analysis, Dr. Love.” Lissa rolled her eyes. Ma Shannon shushed them as President Lesley stepped up to the front.
She couldn’t concentrate on the fireside. By some miracle she kept herself from glancing over at Justin every ten seconds. She wanted the fireside to be over so that the dance could start—the hoedown, her brain sassed. Hoedown. Hoeing a garden. Garden hose. Pantyhose. Panties. Girls at school with jeans so low you could see their panties. Hos. That was what other girls and some guys called them. Hos.
Ho, like whore. Was that where the word came from? She wondered vaguely if there were any real whores in her hometown. It seemed too small to support a community of prostitutes. She winced at the bad words filling her head just then. Was she a ho? For wanting Justin’s hands to slip down her shoulders that morning in the canal? For not caring that he could see her boobs through her soaked shirt? For hoping he asked her to dance in a few minutes once the closing prayer had been said? For thinking about all the dark corners and hollows this camp had, behind giant old oak trees and across the pasture in the patch of thicker woods?
She was breathing too hard. Alex looked at her out of the corner of his eye, one eyebrow cocked. It was his specialty; he thought it made him look like a Bond villain. Lissa swallowed and shifted her weight on the blanket, folded her arms for the prayer. After Pa Lancaster had finished, everyone surged up and bolted toward the clearing where the dance was supposed to take place.
Lissa could already hear an R.E.M. song booming out of the speakers. She rolled her eyes—it was everyone’s least favorite amateur DJ, Danny from Melbourne who thought that being into music released when he was eight years old made him cool and retro. “Everybody Hurts” wasn’t even a love song, and who started off a dance with a slow song? Lissa followed her family at a leisurely pace. Along the way some friends from her ward, Becky, Lizzie, and Trevor, caught up to her. For the time being she allowed herself to be tumbled along in their wake of laughter, goofy dancing, and shouts of “More Ke$ha!” to DJ Danny.