If there is one indisputable rock in this world, it is the genius of Tom Waits

Renee didn’t introduce me to him the summer we met—I’d say he introduced us—but I’d never heard him before she placed the needle on “New Coat of Paint,” and her weight on me.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Alice saw the clipping first, and I thought it would be great: spend the summer on the Cape, teaching 11-year-old girls how to swim, braid lanyards, quietly claim the flags of their enemy cabins. I didn’t want eight weeks without my brothers nearby, but I’d have Alice, and everyone knows a sister is worth at least two boys.

So we applied. My dad drove us up, on his way to a trade show in Portland. We met the other counselors, found our bunks on opposite sides of camp, and are yawning into bed when a voice appears outside my window, rolling a flashlight. I lean over and the light asks my name. She repeats it, like she’s memorizing a code. Then she says, Bonfire at 2:00, far side of the woods. And the light’s gone.

Sleep is pointless, so I creep toward Alice’s cabin. After what must have been 15 minutes, I am the voice at her window, and three hours later we’re wading through the woods, toward no sound, guided by a dim quarter moon. Eventually, the trees give to a wide, young cornfield, and we decide we’re lost enough.

Alice sits on the slight downslope and pulls a flask from her back pocket.

I’ve never seen you even look at alcohol before.

Yeah, she smiles. I never have. But we’re 16 now… it seems important. And… honestly, I want to know what the fuss is about. She takes a long slug.

I’ve never tasted whiskey, but I’ve thought about it plenty. Alice lends me her determination, and we pass it back and forth what seems like an hour, laughing about that party we always wanted to throw at my house when we were kids.

You know, I’m secretly pretty scared to order around 11-year-olds.

It’s easy: just call ’em by name, look ’em in the eye, and tell ’em they look good today.

Thank the heavens for you, Alice Gavelston. This summer is going to be fine.

Then a flashlight finds the pocket between us, asking a one-word question, like she’s offering a code.

Added: May 14, 2014 | Last changed: January 25, 2015