The Kiss Keeper - Krista Sandor


Natalie—13 years old—Camp Woolwich

“Natalie, we know you’re not asleep. Stop stalling and get down here!”

“Yeah, what Les said! We know you’re awake, Nat. We can hear you breathing,” her cousin Lara chimed, always piggy-backing off Leslie and never the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Natalie pulled her sleeping bag over her face, debating whether or not to break it to Lara that people do breathe while sleeping. Instead, she tried to remain as unconscious-looking as possible, despite her heart beating like a drum.

Could her cousins hear the blood whooshing through her veins or sense the frantic energy crackling through her like a downed powerline?

“You don’t want to keep the kiss keeper waiting, Nat!” Leslie whisper-shouted.

“Yeah, it’s your turn. Get down off your bunk and meet the keeper,” Lara added.

Natalie cracked an eye open and peered down at the girls. Leslie and Lara had managed to rouse their entire cabin without the knowledge of their camp counselor, still sleeping peacefully on the other side of the rectangular room. The campers stood around her bunk in their nightgowns, staring up at her with bedhead and bleary eyes.

It was their last night at Camp Woolwich. Cozied up to the Maine coastline, their grandparents had been running this summer camp since the early seventies when her grandpa, Hal Woolwich, had won the land in a card game.

Her mother and her uncles had grown up here, spending their summers exploring the woods, swimming in the ocean, and sailing the short distance to Woolwich Island, their tiny private island across the cove. And while she hadn’t grown up in Maine, she’d spent her childhood summers here as a camper, and now, at thirteen years old, Natalie had moved up from the children’s cottage and into the teen girls’ cabin.

And boy, oh, boy! Along with the lip gloss and nail polish, the mean girl claws came out!

Back in the children’s cottages, nobody would ever think of leaving after lights out. Nope, all those nine to twelve-year-olds were snug, dreaming away in their cots while she looked down on the gathering of hormone-ridden, boy-crazy teen girls congregating near the ladder that led up to her top bunk.

Leslie held a flashlight to her wrist, illuminating her watch. “Come on! It’s almost midnight. You don’t want to be late.”

“Yeah, you don’t want to miss your date with your keeper,” Lara added.

The kiss keeper. Ugh!

Natalie had about had it with this silly camp legend.

“Natalie Callahan, if you don’t drag your ass off that bunk, I’m climbing up there,” Leslie hissed.

Natalie ran her hands down her sleep-deprived face. “Fine, I’m coming,” she muttered.

Out of all her cousins, Leslie and Lara were the ones closest in age to her.

And in addition to being her kin, they were also the worst human beings ever to walk the surface of the earth.

Okay, maybe not the worst, but pretty close.

Leslie clocked in at two years her senior while Lara was barely a year older. But from the way they harped on her, you’d think they were decades older.

Another point of contention—these two had a combined intellect rivaling that of a salad spinner and only cared about two things these days: boys and boys.

Natalie climbed down from her bunk and glanced over at the counselor’s bed. But it was no use hoping the woman would wake up. After all the shenanigans her cabinmates had been up to that summer, it was clear that the chick could sleep through World War III.

Nat brushed her hair out of her face as Leslie shoved a pair of rain boots into her chest.

“Put these on. It’s time to go,” her cousin ordered.

“Why boots?” she questioned.

“Duh.” Les scoffed. “You’re going out into the woods. You need decent foot protection.”

Natalie hugged the boots to her chest and shivered as the chilly night breeze blew in through the window screens. “Do I have to do this? It’s kind of stupid.”

Leslie gasped. “You know the legend. It’s your first summer in the teen girls’ cabin, and every newbie has to pay tribute to the Kiss Keeper. It’s a camp tradition, and you’re the last one, Nat. No more stalling.”

“But I won’t even know who I’m kissing,” she protested, trying to buy herself some time.

Lara grabbed a swath of cloth and tucked it inside one of the boots. “That’s the whole point. You go to the old well with your eyes covered and wait for your kiss keeper.”

Nat tightened her grip on the boots. “But the kiss keeper is just some guy from the teen boys’ cabin.”

Leslie stared