I probably would have made it to the campsite first if Big E hadn't taken the two tents I was carrying and given me the cooler. It was heavy, and there was simply no comfortable way to carry it. Finally, Landon took one end and I took the other. We balanced the grocery bags Landon carried on top. The camping idea was Big E's, but I think the "short" hike to the river was a little longer than he remembered.
Big E had practically dared us not to go. Although Gordon and Two-Laine were also seniors, Big E called the shots. "Boys, we're all going camping tomorrow, the whole offensive line," he had announced after Friday's practice. Perhaps Big E could simply inform his parents of such matters, but my household worked differently.
Uneasiness filled my dad's face as soon as I asked him Saturday morning. My dad, a deli shop owner by day and the chairman of deacons at all hours, was also a die-hard football guy. So I tried to appeal to the pride he had in his sophomore son being named the varsity's starting center.
"Dad, this is just some bonding time for the offensive linemen before the season starts, there won't be any girls. I promise."
He immediately started laughing. "I'm not worried about girls. I don't see you and those other four grunts convincing any girls to spend the night in the woods. I think the local ladies are safe this weekend."
"Real funny Dad. But I promise we won't..."
"Let's play a quick game," he interrupted.
I cautiously agreed, although his tone indicated it wasn't optional.
"How about Truth or Dare? And I'll go first. Truth."
Stories told by my uncles sprang to the forefront of my mind. But in the end, apprehension of the game's true purpose led to a lame question about my dad lying to his parents when he was younger. He answered without hesitation. And then it was suddenly my turn.
"Dare," I said. Truth was never an option. What sixteen-year-old would give a parent such an opportunity?
He looked me straight in the eye, but his words hit square in the gut. "You can go camping if you want, but I dare you to be a Christian tonight."
"Dad, I am a Christian, you know that."
"Good," he responded. "Then it shouldn't be a problem."
* * *
"Hurry up, I'm thirsty!" Big E bellowed as Landon and I caught up to the others. "This is where we camp." As soon as we dropped the cooler Big E dug out three drinks, tossing one to both Gordon and Two-Laine. "We'll be at the river fishing. You two set up the tents and find some firewood, we'll be back shortly." The three seniors turned and disappeared down the trail toting fishing rods and laughing.
I started unpacking the tents while Landon stared at the cooler. "Are you going to drink some tonight?" he asked. I knew what the question meant. Landon hoped to be part of the crew without partaking of the brew.
"And how did you talk your parents into letting you come anyway?" I asked.
He blew out a deep breath. "Well...I told them that you were going."
Landon's response hit me harder than Big E during blocking drills. His parents knew my parents well. They knew me well, or at least the me they saw at church and around town.
Prophetic words ran through my mind - "I dare you to be a Christian tonight".
I tossed aside the tent poles and squatted beside the cooler. I flipped the lid and looked at the submerged silver cans. I rubbed my head to speed the thinking process and then retrieved a can from the icy water. I popped it open. Landon stared wide-eyed, as if I was about to offer it to him.
I turned the can and let its golden contents pour slowly onto the dusty ground. When it was empty I plucked a second can from the cooler.
"What are you doing?" Landon asked. "Big E is going to..."
"Landon, go find some firewood please."
A nervous smile crept slowly across his face. Finally, he turned and headed into the woods. It took a while to pour out the remaining thirty-two cans. It took even longer for Big E, Gordon, and Two-Laine to give up on catching any trout. But eventually I heard them, loud as ever, cursing and laughing on the trail toward camp.
Things were about to get real interesting among the big boys.
Jason Swiney is a Christian, husband, father and educator who lives and writes in NE Georgia (lettingitflow.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org