I found Lily and Pet in the teenage girl’s dorms. Lily was braiding a very wriggly Pet’s hair.
“Oh, so pretty Pet,” I crooned, smiling at Lily.
“Oh so jumpy,” said Lily. “And not just Pet. She has some creepy, crawly friends that we will be taking home with us. I saw her scratching at morning tea and low and behold, nits!” said Lily with a look of disgust on her face. “I bet it’s that Alice kid, the two of them are as thick as thieves and Pet certainly didn’t come here with nits. I hope we can find some nit treatment.”
“I’ve got nits!” squealed Pet excitedly.
“Shush and put your hat on,” said Lily matter-of-factly, squashing Pet’s hat hard onto her head. “If I see you without this hat on today, you are going to be in so much trouble, do you hear me?” asked Lily. Pet nodded in mute understanding, tears were beginning to well up in her big blue eyes. “Oh don’t cry, you’re not in trouble,” said Lily pulling Pet into an embrace. “We just don’t want you to pass your nits onto any of the other kids, okay?”
Pet nodded, the tears receding.
“Now, what shall we do today?” I asked brightly, trying to change the subject.
“Beach, beach!” yelled Pet jumping up and down excitedly.
“Well, we aren’t allowed to leave the camp area so we can’t go to the beach today,” explained Lily. “We can go down to the river and swim there, shall we do that?”
“Yay, I want to take Alice too,” insisted Pet. Lily and I rolled our eyes at each other over Pet’s head. At least we would have the opportunity to see if Alice had nits too, then if we managed to get a nit treatment later we could treat them both.
“Okay,” said Lily. “You go and find Alice and get ready for swimming, we will wait for you here.”
Pet ran off excitedly. Lily and I changed into our bathers and packed our towels, and sunscreen, and we both packed our books. With with a six year old and an eight year old along, it would be highly unlikely that we would get any chance to read, but we could always hope. We went and sat on the veranda to wait.
There were groups of kids occupied in various activities on the grassed area in front of the dorms. Some were sitting in small groups under the shade of a tree, a group of younger children were involved in a complicated game of tag and I could hear the voices of the Dungeons and Dragons players coming from one of the boy’s dorms. I hadn’t seen Josh on my walk back from the dining room and I couldn’t see him anywhere now, I wondered if he had broken his dad’s rule and left the camp grounds.
Alice and Pet bounded up holding hands. Pet’s bather bottoms were on back to front, giving the world an excellent view of her plump bottom. After Lily rectified that, we headed down to the river.
There were probably half of the kids and most of the camp supervisors down at the river, it was the height of summer and a very hot day. We dumped our bags on the sand and ran into the cooling water. Lily and I sat in waist deep water while Pet and Alice splashed about happily around us. Nearby, boys took turns on the rope swing, seeing who could make it furthest into the middle of the river, letting go with their knees held to their chests to make the maximum splash. For the next few hours we swam and helped Pet and Alice build a sandcastle, only to have them knock it straight down again.
I lay on the sand half asleep, that point between waking and sleeping, I loved this feeling and suspected this is what mum and Tan had gone to India to try to connect with. In my daydream, I was away with my parents and Kate before mum got sick. We went camping a few times a year, we always took Kate otherwise she would spend her holidays at home alone and she was like one of the family. Mum joked that Kate was her favourite daughter as she hadn’t left any stretch marks and didn’t cost her anything. We travelled all over Western Australia on our camping trips, but each Easter we had a standing booking at a coastal town north of Perth, this was usually the time of year when Perth weather was starting to turn colder, so going up north at this time was common for residents of Perth. We loved it up there, the water was crystal clear and the beaches stretched for miles. Dad liked to go fishing and there was quite often fresh fish for dinner.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew I was rudely awakened as my face was engulfed in Baxter’s slobber. To make matters worse, he had had a swim and now proceeded to shake himself dry next to where I lay. Lily, Pet and Alice fell about laughing. Poor Mrs Wellard was mortified as she tried to pull Baxter out of my radius. I sat up and dried myself off, giving Baxter a pat on his slobbery head and assuring Mrs Wellard that I was fine. We had said our goodbyes yesterday, so she was surprised when she saw that we were still there. We explained the situation, Mrs Wellard was concerned as her daughter and grandchildren were supposed to come up on Monday to spend a week with her. Alice and I shared, what had now become our road train theory, and she brightened up.
“Poor Len and Jill,” she mused. We looked at her quizzically. “Oh, sorry, they own the caravan park, this is their busiest time.” We shrugged, there wasn’t much we could say to this. Mrs Wellard reminded me of my grandma, always talking about people I had never met and would never meet. I didn’t know how Mrs Wellard was, average grandma age. She had salt and pepper hair and a kind smile. She was tall and I think she would have been attractive when she was younger. She spoke with the hint of an English accent. When Baxter got excited he nearly ripped her arm out of its socket. Apparently, Baxter was a present from her daughter who worried about her mum living on her own in a town that was predominantly a holiday town.
“Doesn’t your hair look smart Pet!” Mrs Wellard exclaimed. Lily leant over and whispered into in Mrs Wellard’s ear, she must have explained the nit situation because Mrs Wellard suggested we take the girls to her house. She had some left-over nit treatment from the last time her daughter and grandkids were up.
Lily and I looked at each other, “We should ask Tim,” I suggested. “I’m sure he would like to contain this insect infestation, parents are not going to be impressed if their little darlings come home with nits. Why don’t Mrs Wellard and I go up and see him now? He can talk to her if he has any concerns and Baxter can get his bone to take home and we will meet you in the dining room? You can pack this stuff up,” I said with a smile gesturing to the towels.
Lily readily agreed and Mrs Wellard, Baxter and myself headed up to Tim’s office. Poor Mrs Wellard had a hard time controlling Baxter, he knew exactly what was waiting for him, a big juicy bone. In the end it was safer for her just to drop his lead and save herself from a dislocated shoulder.
Baxter was on the grass chomping on a bone by the time we got to the dining room, he hadn’t wasted any time once given his freedom. He wagged his tail lazily as we stepped past him into the dining room. Tim was out of his office and sitting at one of the tables with his lunch in front of him, my stomach gave an embarrassing growl and I realised I was hungry and it was past lunchtime. Tim and Mrs Wellard laughed, “Aren’t you feeding this poor girl? She sounds like she is starving!” Mrs Wellard joked. Lunch was always a casual affair, drop in when you were hungry and make yourself a roll or sandwich, it seemed like today we had forgotten.
We explained the situation to Tim, I was about to argue our case when he readily agreed. I must have looked taken aback and he laughed. “Relax Jenna, I’m not trying to keep you in prison conditions, I just don’t know when the highway will open and when it does I want everyone close by so we can leave, that’s all. If I know where you are, that’s fine.” I nodded, of course, that made sense.
I grabbed an apple as the others walked into the dining room. I smiled and gave Lily the thumbs up. Once everyone had grabbed a piece of fruit for the road, we went outside to collect Baxter. He had demolished his bone and looked ready to head home.
Mrs Wellard only lived a few minutes away from camp. When we arrived at her house she set to work first on Alice’s hair then Pet’s, clearly this wasn’t her first time. Alice was very stoic about the whole experience, but Pet cried and screamed. She claimed the nits were her pets and that she was teaching them tricks so they could all join the circus and that Mrs Wellard was meant to be her friend, but really she was a murderer. Poor Mrs Wellard. Once she had finished with Pet’s hair, she explained to Lily and Alice that they would need to do follow-up treatments in a few days as there were still eggs. This seemed to brighten Pet up, her nit circus dream wasn’t dead yet. We were then offered a piece of rich chocolate cake which really put a smile back on Pet’s face.
We said our good-byes and headed back to camp. The girls, high on sugar, bounced ahead playing some game involving a troll, Lily and I walked at a distance behind them. Passing by a small park, I glanced over to see a boy in a red Billabong cap pushing himself lazily on one of the swings, his back was to us, but it looked like Josh. I stopped Lily and pointed to him, she just shrugged and kept walking. I got the feeling Lily really didn’t like Josh. I had already decided I was coming back on my own to try to talk to him.