To most people, the sound of loose change rattling around in the pocket was a mild annoyance which is why many people preferred to pay with plastic instead of cash, but for Riley Quinn the sound of loose change was musical and, most importantly, it meant she could afford to pop into a corner store and buy a store-brand bag of pork rinds for six quarters. On some days she was even able to get a slushie. Until earlier that day, Riley had never been in an airplane and, as it turned out, she still hadn't. Despite her Christmas gift being an 'all expenses paid' trip to a camp she didn't even know existed or why - seriously who wanted to willingly go to camp during the cold months - the 'expenses' didn't cover a plane ticket because campers were expected to provide their own transportation to a specific airport where busses would do the rest of the work. Most campers, she figured, didn't see this as a hindrance. The kind of people who could afford to send a kid to a fancy snow-camp in Washington were the kind of people who would see a family of five holding a sign outside a mini-mall and then flip a coin to see if their reaction was "Oh, how unfortunate for them" before speeding off or "It's probably a lie" before also speeding off - in both cases no doubt about to spend triple digit figures on shit that'll last a week or two at most.
Fortunately, Riley was able to charter a bus from her home to the airport - because she was going to make the camp do some amount of work - and she was well aware that taking a bus to an airport just to get on another
bus was a lot like going to a foreign country and only ever eating McDonald's. But what other option did she have? It was too late to refund her camp fees so not going would be a slap in the face of what was, all considered, a fairly thoughtful gift. The bus ride to the airport was ten hours long and Riley spent most of it listening to someone on the phone who was clearly having an affair because no one in a serious relationship at his age used terms like 'honey bunny' and 'I can't wait to feel inside you' which was not only inappropriate for a phone call but also really fucking gross. At least a little past the halfway point the phone flirter got off - probably not the first time he would that day - and one of the new pick ups was an older man who noticed Riley's guitar case and told her stories of how he roadied for Queen. Their conversation came to an awkward end when Riley admitted that she found Queen overrated.
At least he gave her half of his turkey sandwich beforehand.
When the bus arrived at the airport it was still dark out, morning was an hour away and Riley had more than a little time to kill. What she didn't have was spending cash to kill time at an airport coffee shop or something but if her life had taught her anything it was that if you entertained the drooling masses for a little bit, at least one of them will realize that it's polite to give them a little bit of thanks. Airports were a busy place and while most had a no loitering and no soliciting restriction, Riley was never exactly one for caring much about the rule of law. Society as a whole had decided she wasn't worth caring about so why should she care about what society told her to follow? Her political views aside, as Riley stepped off her first bus of the day she stretched her limbs out and proceeded to find an empty bit of sidewalk with a lot of foot traffic coming and going.
Busking was nothing new for Riley, she even had a little sign inside her case that said 'TIPS APPRECIATED, NEVER MANDATORY (OTHER THAN IN RESTAURANTS)' which she displayed in her case. She didn't begin to play right away, it was always better to wait until the sun was actually up, so while she had her spot scoped out, Riley dipped into the airport and blended in with the crowd as she made her way towards a coffee shop. A little life hack she learned was that if you ask for water they give it to you for free - and yet people pay like five dollars for a bottle of it at a grocery store. While she wasn't a paying customer, she knew how to make a free cup of water last an unusually long amount of time and most airport eateries didn't have people wanting to stay in them for long periods of time anyway since they typically had planes to catch. Another hack she knew about was the habit of coffee shops to dispose of the day old baked goods that didn't sell and that's how Riley had a breakfast of water and a croissant. Not bad. Bit hard, but still flaky enough.
By the time she finished her breakfast, and also the crossword in the paper someone left behind, it was promptly two hours before the camp busses were supposed to arrive. Two hours was enough time to earn some pork rinds, as she liked to say. Back outside, the Washington winter breeze was a bit less hostile than she thought, but the best thing about colder weather is that some people took bigger amounts of pity on those who were busking. Some.
Riley unzipped the only thing she cared about in the world
other than her family. and set up her sign while making sure she could be heard if she strummed a string. After that brief sound check she played a rather familiar melody
, albeit with more emphasis on the bassline. She even sang along, because people were more entertained by entertainers who used their voices too. Or at least their mouths. "Come...as you are...as you were...as I want you to be...As a friend...as a friend...as an old enemy..."
By the time she reached the solo, she had about four people listening, one of whom was mouthing along to the words. By the time she got to the third song of her impromptu set
she had a decent gathering and a few people who were in a hurry who just dropped some change or singles in the case as they passed. By the time she got to her penultimate song
she had earned enough to buy a fresh croissant and some tea instead of just water, not that she intended to do so.
After she finished, to applause from those who were still there, she thanked everyone, wished them a safe flight and happy holidays, and began packing her bass up. Counting the tips she had made seventy five dollars and eighty eight cents which...was pretty damn good for a two hour busking session outside an airport at some of the busiest time of the year.
Riley was the first one on the bus to camp and she found a seat near the back, kept her head down, and barely interacted with anyone at all until finally she, like everyone else on the bus (though in her case there was hardly any enthusiasm at all), stepped off and stepped onto the ground of Second Horizons. Riley let out a long sigh and looked around. She didn't know anyone nor did she particularly feel motivated to get to know them right then and there. Riley must have been standing by herself for a long time because someone came up next to her and startled her out of her observational phase. "Are you new here too?"
Harper Davenport had never seen snow before in her life. Sure, she'd seen movies that prominently featured snow but for all she knew that was just fake snow like they use for school plays. As she traveled northward from the comforts of her small Texas town, fellow Texan Kayden traveling with her - much to her surprise, but clearly the lord heard her prayer and delivered so that she wouldn't be completely alone at this camp - and finally saw snow in person her first thoughts were disappointment. She didn't expect snow to have so much...brown and black dirty bits in it. Snow on the side of the road or even the snow still stuck to the asphalt was hardly the pristine sheet of beautiful white that all the winter movies portrayed it as. If she made a snowman out of this snow and put a magic hat on it, the thing would wish for death because its blood was half motor oil and piss.
Fortunately, she was able to recognize that the snow on the main roads was different to the snow that fell on grassy fields and yards, otherwise her enthusiasm for the camp would have been quashed before even stepping foot on the grounds. She was nervous the entire trip up, not even listening to her favorite band could fully calm her nerves and no number of prayers could either, though prayer did help her settle and look forward to the good times ahead rather than worry about the bad ones. Even if no one liked her by the end of camp, she was never truly alone. Of course she wanted people to like her and befriend her, but she figured a lot of the campers would be more...city kid types. They were rumored to have short fuses but deep pockets and while she didn't want to stereotype...it was a thought she had lingering in the back of her head all the same.
But Harper had an ace up her sleeve.
Harper brought four bags: two suitcases with wheels, a backpack, and a carry on bag slung across her shoulder. Only one of her bags had her clothes and essentials. The other three were her offerings to her cabin mates and, indeed, people outside her cabin if they asked politely. Rice krispy squares, homemade beef jerky, brownies with and without nuts, homemade trail mix with and without raisins, and even donuts she made herself, glazed only. If the saying was the quickest way to a man's heart was his stomach than the quickest way to make friends with strangers had to be the same method. She might've gone overboard, but if she learned anything from organizing church functions and prayer circles it was that if you offered refreshments then more people tended to show up even if only for the free food. Church functions had that in common with support groups.
As Harper arrived at Second Horizons, telling Kayden that she'd talk to him later - he probably had friends of his own to greet given that he wasn't a newbie like her - she took a deep breath and tasted the difference in the air. It was...well it just didn't have the same feel as the warm Texas air she was used to, probably because more cars were in this area code than her entire county back home, but there was still that unmistakably winter twinge to the air that was paired nicely with the sounds of people talking, greeting, meeting, and everything inbetween. Harper smiled, closed her eyes a moment, and said a quick prayer before opening her eyes and taking her first step onto the camp grounds.
She spotted someone who she could tell was like her, a first timer, though with how they were just standing there, not moving, Harper assumed they were nervous. Like she had been. God had given her a potential friend within seconds of arriving, truly He was good.
"Are you new here too?"
"Whatthefuck." The silver haired girl looked like she had seen a ghost and reacted accordingly by jolting to the side. Harper just smiled, knowing that if she laughed it might be taken the wrong way. "You can't do that to people, man." What was curious about this silver haired girl, Harper thought, was her voice. She sounded...well she didn't know how to say it politely, but she sounded like what 'dames' in old gangster movies sounded like, but with a rougher brogue. Husky, rough, but unmistakably young still. She sounded like someone who had lived two lifetimes already but she couldn't be older than seventeen and what kid had a difficult life these days?
"I'm Harper. I'm new here too!" There was a pause as the silver haired girl looked at Harper like Harper was speaking gibberish.
"Should I give a fuck?" Harper's smile was fading fast. City kids sure were...different. "Where's that accent from, Georgia?" Before she left, Harper's boss, Brad Whittaker the town butcher, had told her that her accent would be seen as cute in camp, that people loved a southern drawl, and that she shouldn't try to hide it. Maybe Brad was on to something.
"No, but I've-" Harper didn't even get a chance to finish her thought because as soon as she said she wasn't from Austin, the silver haired girl was walking away. Undeterred, Harper waved to the silver girl's retreating back. "It was nice meeting you!" That could've gone worse. Sure, it could've gone better too but Harper wasn't going to focus on the negative. She tightened the hold on her bags and followed the signs and bodies deeper into camp.
Good things surely lay ahead.
It was cold. It was always cold. But the cold never stopped a hero from doing what needed to be done, and this time the hero was Mike Carter, Red Counselor. Carter knew that some of his fellow counselors weren't exactly enthused, but not him. Not Mike Carter. He was built different, and he didn't just mean in the sense that his t-shirts felt a bit tight thanks to his gym membership, but he was built different because he was on a mission to guarantee that this winter was the best experience those under his care were going to have. Of that he was absolutely certain. How certain? Well, while other counselors were waiting at the North Pole - he was too, of course - shivering and questioning their life choices, Mikey had a surprise in store.
Now that he could see campers arriving and making their way towards their respective counselors, he had a job to do. Mike Carter came equipped with a megaphone and he was now standing on top of a table, megaphone in hand. There was no way his campers would get lost. Not on his watch. He pressed the button down and suddenly his voice was being broadcast like he was speaking on a P.A. system at school.
"RED SQUAD, COME FORTH. RED SQUAD, TODAY YOU WILL BECOME Z-WARRIORS. RED SQUAD, OVER HERE! THE WORLD NEEDS HEROES LIKE YOU! RED SQUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAAAAAD!" He repeated the message, louder the second time. If there wasn't enthusiasm then Mike Carter would be enthusiastic enough for the entire damn camp.
It remained to be seen if people would love him or hate him, but regardless he'd always have his pride.