Charlie Simmons didn't have any friends. They didn't much suit him. His carefully constructed life was free from the obligations required by social interaction. He preferred, instead, the warm company of Tchaikovsky and Pinot during the unproductive hours of a quiet evening.
One night, Charlie couldn't sleep. After several fitful hours, he rose from the bed and wandered downstairs. The house was silent.
In the kitchen, he glared with disgust at a carton of milk. There was nothing wrong with the milk, other than the fact that it was milk.The housekeeper purchased some each week when she went for the groceries, insisting that it was healthy and he might like it if only he would try. For months this standoff had led to nothing more than a lot of wasted cartons. Still, he stood there staring at it. Until, without thinking, he poured himself a glass.
A light was on in the office. He couldn't remember leaving a light on, but the glow illuminated the carpet around the door. He pushed open the door, half expecting to see someone at the desk. The room was empty and he shook his head at his own foolishness, crossing the Persian rug to snap off the lamp.
The closet door was open. Just a few inches. The housekeeper had probably missed it earlier when she was cleaning. Charlie tried to push it closed, but it was stuck on something. He tried again. Still nothing. He pulled the handle and the door swung out, revealing the obstruction. A half-open box lay on its side, the fall from a shelf causing its contents to spill at his feet.
A t-shirt. A ball. Several books and a few baseball cards. Trinkets from a long-forgotten childhood sentenced to an eternity on the top shelf of a rarely used closet.
He scooped the mementos back into the box, brushing his finger against the sharp corner of a picture frame. There were four boys in the picture. All around age twelve. Frozen in time beside a glittering lake, surrounded by mountains and pine trees and miles of brilliant sky. The colors in the photo had faded some with time, but the sudden discovery of the image caused Charlie's knees to buckle and he sank to the floor.
It was summer camp, some forty years ago. Painfully shy, the 12-year-old Charlie spent most of his time alone. And then, one warm June afternoon, his parents left him at the front doors of Camp Neyati. His mother would come alone to collect him at the end of the summer, after the divorce proceedings were well underway.
He'd barely had time to pick up his suitcase before being descended upon by three boys his own age. John, Tim, and Billy.
Charlie touched the photograph, brushing each of their faces as he remembered the details about them. Where they were from. Who their families were. All the pranks they managed to dream up. Flashes of memory became a flood as he thought of archery contests and unauthorized canoe races across the lake. There would never be another summer like the one he spent at Camp Neyati.
They got together as often as they could. But Billy got sick the next year. He never went to camp again. A few years later, John survived most of the war, only to be killed in a plane crash on his way home. Charlie and Tim eventually parted ways. They had their reasons. Both agreed it was for the best.
But as he sat on the floor of the quiet office in his empty house, Charlie found himself wishing to talk to his old friend.
With a sigh, he got to his feet and picked up the box. He had no use for those souvenirs. He would tell the housekeeper to get rid of them in the morning.
The picture, though. That, he kept.