By Christina Dotson
I have had it with that girl!” I fumed as I stormed into the cabin and threw my towel onto the bed. “If she makes one more snobby comment, I’m going to wipe that smirk right off her face!”
My best friend, Mindy, leaned down from the top bunk. “Let me guess,” she said. “Kelsey Payne strikes again.”
“No kidding!” I exclaimed. “You know, that girl’s last name really fits her. She’s the biggest pain I’ve ever met.”
I was so furious I thought I might explode. In the four years since I had been coming here to summer camp, I had never had to share a cabin with anyone like Kelsey Payne. Kelsey made friends by turning other people into enemies . . . and I was one of her enemies.
“So what did she do now?” Mindy asked.
“You’ll never believe it,” I said. “She offered to let me use her hairbrush!”
“Oh, no!” Mindy yelped. “Did you call the police?”
I glared. I was not in the mood for Mindy’s jokes. “Very funny,” I said. “But you know what Kelsey’s like. There were a whole bunch of other girls in the bathroom, and Kelsey handed me her hairbrush because she said I looked like I really needed one. She even offered to teach me how to use it!”
My hands clenched just thinking about it. Kelsey loved to make fun of my flyaway, curly brown hair, which I was already sensitive about. I tried not to let her bother me, but there was something about that girl that just made me want to scream.
I was hoping Mindy could help me think of a way to get back at Kelsey, but before we could come up with anything we heard the whistle blow for breakfast. Revenge would have to wait.
I was still seething as I carried my tray through the breakfast line. In fact, I was so busy thinking about Kelsey that I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. As I lifted a glass of orange juice from the counter, it slipped through my fingers and clattered loudly to the floor. Juice splashed all over, and for a brief moment the entire lodge was silent as everyone turned to stare.
“Nice one,” said a voice from behind. “Real smooth.”
I turned to face Kelsey Payne.
“I don’t blame you for being clumsy,” she said. “It must be hard to see with that frizzy mop hanging in your face. Maybe if you fixed your hair every once in a while . . .”
“At least I’m not obsessed with my hair like you!” I snapped. “You use so much hair spray it fogs up the entire bathroom. I’m surprised the Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t come to arrest you yet. You’re probably the leading cause of the hole in the ozone layer.”
I was feeling pretty proud of my snappy comeback when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Sarah, our camp counselor. “Come on, girls,” she said. “You’re holding up the line. The custodian will mop up the juice.”
Kelsey cast me one last smirk before flouncing off to our table. I was about to follow when Sarah pulled me aside. “Chris, I want to talk to you for a second,” she said.
“I didn’t do anything!” I exclaimed. “Kelsey’s the one who—”
“You’re not in trouble,” said Sarah. “I just want to talk.”
Reluctantly I followed her outside.
“I’ve noticed you and Kelsey really going at it,” Sarah began. “You two have quite a feud going on.”
“She started it,” I protested. “I can’t just sit and do nothing. She’ll walk all over me!”
“I didn’t say you should do nothing,” Sarah replied. “But maybe you need to rethink how you’re handling this.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that Kelsey doesn’t come from a Christian home. You do. Why don’t you show her how Christians deal with their enemies?”
I sighed. “I’m guessing that doesn’t involve dyeing her hair purple while she sleeps.”
Sarah smiled. “I was thinking more along the lines of dumping coals of fire on her head. You know that Bible verse, right? Romans 12:20.”
I sighed. I knew the verse, all right. I recited it halfheartedly. “ ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’ [NIV].”
“Exactly,” said Sarah. “The Bible tells us that if we’re kind to our enemies, they just might become our friends.” She patted my shoulder as she headed back inside. “Think about it.”
So I did. I thought about it all morning long. Maybe I should make the first move toward being nice to Kelsey—but how? I wondered.
That afternoon, when it was our cabin’s turn to visit the pool, I saw my chance to drop a coal of kindness on Kelsey Payne’s head.
The most popular pool activity was to paddle around on the small foam kickboards provided by the pool staff. The campers had invented all kinds of games that could be played only while balancing on a kickboard, yet there were never enough boards to go around.
I had gotten to the pool early and already had a board, but I noticed that Kelsey did not. She sat at the edge of the water, dangling her feet in and watching her friends organize a kickboard race. Gathering my nerve and swallowing my pride, I swam up beside her. “Do you want my kickboard?” I asked, holding it out. “I’m not going to use it anymore.”
Kelsey recoiled as if I were handing her a live barracuda. “What would I want that for?” she sneered.
I shrugged and set the board down beside her. “It’s yours if you change your mind,” I said.
I thought that would be the end of it. I forgot that Kelsey always liked to have the last word. As I paddled away, she shouted loudly after me, “It’s not going to work, you know! Did you really think giving me your dumb kickboard was going to make me be your friend? You’re more pathetic than I thought!”
I felt my face grow warm with embarrassment as several nearby campers turned to watch us curiously. I longed to whirl around and face Kelsey, dunk her underwater, yell and scream, and let the whole camp know that I wouldn’t be her friend if she paid me.
What was I thinking, anyway? I couldn’t be nice to this girl. She was impossible! The best I could manage at the moment was to ignore her and swim away. I headed for the deep end of the pool and began swimming laps to calm myself down.
As I paused to catch my breath, I caught sight of Kelsey at the other end of the pool. I watched as she glanced around, made sure no one was looking, then casually picked up the kickboard, jumped into the water, and paddled over to her friends.
That should have made me feel better . . . but it didn’t. Nothing had changed between Kelsey and me, and I doubted that even 1,000 good deeds would make a difference. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this whole “loving your enemy” thing.
A few days later as the camp bus pulled up alongside the river, my spirits rose for the first time in days. Of all the camp activities, canoeing was my favorite. I was determined to have a good time and to forget all about Kelsey Payne.
“Come on, Mindy!” I said, grabbing my friend by the arm. “Let’s go pick out our canoe.”
I waited impatiently near the water’s edge while the instructors reminded us of the rules. As I glanced around at the rest of the group, I spotted Kelsey standing by herself, holding a life jacket at arm’s length as if it had fleas. Everyone else was grouped near whomever they planned to canoe with, but Kelsey stood alone.
I looked around for Kelsey’s friends, the small group of girls she was always giggling with in the bathroom, the ones she liked to show off for by poking fun at me. Finally I spotted them. They had already claimed a canoe for themselves, and there was obviously no room for Kelsey.
Mindy, seeming to read my mind, leaned over and whispered, “I heard them say they’re sick of Kelsey. They say she’s too stuck-up. Serves her right, huh?”
“Yeah . . . I guess,” I replied.
I tried not to think about Kelsey. I didn’t want to feel sorry for her. I had given up on trying to be her friend. Even so, the words of Romans 12:20 kept running through my head: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
“You’re going to invite her to share our canoe, aren’t you?” said Mindy.
“Do you mind?” I asked.
Mindy shrugged. “If you can handle it, I can.”
I wasn’t expecting Kelsey to say yes. In fact, I was really hoping she wouldn’t. That way I could feel good about being nice without having to actually put up with her.
I was very surprised when she accepted my invitation.
“Fine, I’ll ride with you,” Kelsey said, as if she were doing me a favor. “But I’m not sitting in the middle. There’s no seat in the middle, and my pants will get wet.”
“OK,” I said through clenched teeth.
“And I’m not sitting behind you, either,” she added as she flounced off toward the riverbank. “That bunch of weeds you call hair is liable to fly back and take my eye out.”
I swallowed an angry response as I let Kelsey take the front of the canoe. I helped Mindy push the boat into the water, and we headed off down the river.
All around us the other campers were yelling and splashing excitedly, but our canoe was silent. I was having trouble paddling from my spot in the middle of the canoe, yet I had to try because Kelsey refused even to place her paddle in the water.
I was sorely tempted to rock the canoe until we capsized. Mindy wouldn’t mind if it meant we could soak Kelsey’s perfectly sculpted hairdo. I had to keep reminding myself that the only real way to destroy an enemy was to turn that enemy into a friend.
We continued slowly down the river. One by one the other canoes began passing us by. Soon the boat carrying Kelsey’s former friends pulled ahead of us. I saw Kelsey’s shoulders stiffen. She stared straight ahead.
The girls in the other canoe waved. “Hi, Mindy! Hi, Chris!” they called out. They were obviously making sure Kelsey knew she was being ignored.
As the girls’ canoe rounded the bend and disappeared from sight, I heard Kelsey sniffle and saw her wipe her face with the back of her hand.
Is she crying? I wondered. Should I say something?
Before I had a chance to decide, another canoe pulled up and nearly bumped us from behind. “Beep, beep! Move over, slowpokes!” The three boys in the canoe splashed us playfully as they zipped by. “It might be faster if you got out and walked,” they laughed.
That was the last straw. Not for me, but for Kelsey. Without warning she leaped to her feet, waving her paddle in the air and shouting, “Come back and say that to my face!”
Whoa! Mindy and I exchanged surprised glances as we tried to steady the canoe. Had Kelsey completely snapped?
“You’d better sit down,” said Mindy. “We’re going to tip over.”
Kelsey sat, but she was still fuming. “Those . . . those guys,” she sputtered.
“You know,” I said hesitantly, not sure how Kelsey would react, “we could race them. If we won, that would teach them to call us slow.”
Kelsey turned to look me in the face. I imagined she was thinking the same thing I was. Racing would mean we’d have to work together. Could we do it? Did we want to do it?
It was Kelsey who made the final decision. “OK,” she said. “Let’s race!”
Immediately the three of us began paddling with all our hearts.
“We’re coming!” Mindy called out to the boys ahead.
“Go, go, go!” I whooped.
“Paddle! Paddle!” Kelsey yelled.
United by a common goal, we started working together. Kelsey watched for debris in the water and warned us before we hit anything. Mindy provided the steering, and I taught Kelsey how to determine which side of the canoe to paddle on. We were turning into a regular team when trouble struck.
None of us saw the underwater log until we crashed into it. The next thing we knew, the current had carried our boat sideways, pressing us against the log. We were stuck.
I watched miserably as the boys’ canoe pulled even farther ahead. I couldn’t let this happen! We were getting along so well! I wasn’t going to give up now!
Without thinking I leaped over the side of the canoe. The sudden rush of cold water up to my shoulders took my breath away. The current was much stronger than I’d expected. I tried pushing the canoe free, but it was no use. I couldn’t do it.
Suddenly I heard a loud splash, and Kelsey Payne was by my side. I could hardly believe my eyes. My mouth dropped open, and I choked on river water.
“Come on!” Kelsey urged. “You push and I’ll pull.”
“And I’ll stay here where it’s warm and dry,” Mindy added.
Working together, Kelsey and I managed to free the canoe. We pushed for a while to get it going before slipping and sliding in our struggle to climb back in.
“You guys look like swamp rats,” Mindy laughed as we lay gasping in the boat. “I’m going to tell everyone I tied bricks to your shoes and dragged you along the bottom.”
Kelsey and I looked at each other. Sure enough, we were covered from head to toe with muddy water. There was even mud on our faces, and our hair was soaked. We began laughing so hard we could barely hold our paddles.
“So much for not getting my clothes wet, huh?” Kelsey gasped.
“Hey, look!” I exclaimed. “My hair isn’t frizzy anymore!”
The smile vanished from Kelsey’s face. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as we both remembered that we were supposed to be enemies.
“Yeah . . .” said Kelsey. “About that . . .”
“Hey, look!” Mindy exclaimed, pointing downstream. “The boys ran their canoe into a rock! We can still beat them!”
“Let’s go!” I yelled.
Kelsey cast me a grateful look before dipping her paddle into the water. I replied with a smile. Somehow we both knew that the other was sorry and that things would be different from now on. And anyway, words aren’t always necessary between friends.