Friday, March 6, 2009

Chapter 1

The way I saw it, I had three options.

The most obvious choice, given my age and gender, would be to yell—to make a real big stink right there in the café in front of everyone. Moms can’t stand being screamed at by their daughters in public. They’ll give in to just about anything to make the screaming stop. And if I really wanted to make an impression, I could toss a few four-letter words in the mix… the juicier the word, the better.

My second option was cold-defiance. That’s what Gandhi would do. I could fold my arms at my chest and lace my ankles tightly around the legs of my chair. I’d state point-blank that there was no way I’d be going to summer camp and I’d like to see her try and make me. If she somehow managed to uproot me, I could follow the example of toddler being forced home from the playground and go completely limp.

Or, for my third option, I could cry. Always a classic. I’d ask if she’d somehow stopped loving me or simply wanted to get rid of me for the summer—meanwhile leaking gallons of “What did I do wrong?” tears. I could sniffle and moan, and even pretend to gag a little. That’d get her.

As I weighed my options, Mom slowly stirred the straw around her Italian cream soda and braced herself for my counter-attack, in whatever form it might take. Her lips were turned under and her eyes, though alert, looked heavy and troubled. Was she worried about my reaction? Or was the worry deeper?

My parents weren’t stupid or anything. Obviously they noticed that the phone never rang for me and the extent of my social life was tagging along with them on their weekly date night, but could they know how bad it truly was? I mean, I’d tried to put on a brave face for them—especially Mom. Every day I painted my lips a rosy shade of happy and pranced around the house like I didn’t have a care in the world. But in the privacy of my own bedroom, I let it all out. I secretly recorded my misery into the fibers of my blanket as I cried myself to sleep.

They must’ve figured it out. That’s why they were shipping me away for the summer—to bring a little pine-scented sunshine into my dismal little life.

I was too old for camp. I was pretty sure that my bra size would be greater than or equal to that of any camp counselor I could have had—so singing campfire songs with a mouth full of toasted marshmallows seemed ludicrous. But after further considering my alternative summer plans—hanging out (hiding) at the public library, watching MTV, eating peanut butter straight from the jar—I discarded options one, two and three (they weren’t my style anyhow), and came up with a fourth option: acceptance.

“Okay,” I shrugged. “I’ll go.”

Mom’s jaw dropped. “You’ll go?”

“That’s what I said.”

She cleared her throat and straightened her posture. “That could’ve been worse.” She peeled open a pouch of mayonnaise and squeezed it onto her turkey avocado sandwich.

Suddenly, I felt annoyed. My mom just ambushed me with the news that I’d be spending the whole summer with squirrels, Popsicle sticks and sleeping bags. She didn’t even bother asking if I wanted to go. And, brilliant me, I had let her off the hook without a word of protest... almost.

“So, how long have you and Dad been conspiring against me with this? Months? Years? Or is this brilliant camp idea a new development?” I couldn’t resist—I was a slave to my fifteenness.

“For crying out loud, Kaitlin. Your father and I thought camp would be fun and a good way to get you out of the….”

“Mom,” I interrupted, not eager to be reminded of my bleak life as a house-plant, “I’m only joking.” Kind of. “But…uh…this isn’t some youth correctional camp or anything, is it?”

Mom scooped up a barbeque potato chip with a plastic spoon and launched it at my shoulder. “Not unless you consider sassing your mother a federal offence,” she laughed.

“Fat camp?” I countered. Being that I weighed only slightly more than my cocker spaniel, Snuggly, my mother felt it necessary to prolong the violent chip assault. I ducked beneath the table and only surfaced when my mother ran out of ammunition. “So tell me about this place you’re sending me.”

“Well, it’s called Camp Overlook. There will be lots of outdoor activities and learning opportunities, but you’ll probably find the whole set-up a little … alternative.”

“Alternative?” I mouthed, mentally sifting through all of the thirteen hundred reasons why alternative could be a problem.

“More or less. I don’t exactly know what you should expect, but the brochure said that camp will be an enriching and enlightening experience.” A shred of iceberg lettuce dove from her sandwich onto the table. Mom picked up the wayward vegetable and directed it to her mouth.

“So basically, you’re telling me you have no idea what I will be doing at camp?” I paused for dramatic effect. “For all you know, Camp Overlook could be some religious cult camp brainwashing us into worshiping tofu and bran muffins. Or maybe it is a tattoo camp and I might come home with a body scribbled in gang symbols and pictures of buxom young women. Or better yet...”

“Whoa there. Your father and I wouldn’t send you just anywhere. We researched this place and feel really good about it. You’ll love it. Trust me.” Somehow, the expression on her face was not very reassuring. Her eyes drifted hazily to the café’s back window.

I would miss her, too.

“I’m sure I’ll be okay.” I said. Though careful not to sound too enthusiastic, Camp Overlook didn’t sound that bad. I liked the mountains just fine and didn’t mind roughing it once and a while. Maybe a few toasted marshmallows and “Kum Ba Yahs”—or tattoos of bran muffins—would be exactly what the doctor ordered.

I swigged the remains of my raspberry Italian cream soda and eyed Mom’s full plastic cup hopefully. Her trance lifted and she pushed her soda towards me. “So how long will I be there?” I inquired with a slurp.

“Till the end of August. Three whole months of fun. Your dad and I will pick you up in time to register for your junior year.”

The sun filtered through the café’s window and lightly powdered my mother’s face. I was hit by the irony of how beautiful she was and how beautiful I was not. Heredity, bless its heart, was rooting for me. Like Mom, I had long honey-colored hair with natural blond highlights and eyes that opted hazel or green depending on the sun’s mood. Even though my facial features resembled hers, my nose was just a little too round and my skin had just one too many freckles; I barely missed the cutoff.

“We really need to get going on this camp thing, though. I need you to do the laundry, vacuum your room and pack your duffle bags tonight. We have to leave first thing in the morning to get you checked in on time.”

“Tomorrow! We are leaving tomorrow? Holy freakin’ cow—school just let out two days ago! You really did spring this on me.”

“We thought the short notice would give you less time to plan an escape.”

“Ha ha.”

The front entrance to the café swung open and a dark and heavy sensation washed into the room. My first thought was “Dementors,” but the real source of my blackened mood was far worse. A group of girls from my ninth-grade class, led by none other than fabulous Mia Bethers, giggled their way in, smothering any trace of happiness I might have felt the moment before. I tilted my head downward and feigned a sudden interest in a dried ketchup mass under our table. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I could hear the girls snickering and whispering my name. My heart pounded and my ears tingled; for me, that’s what inadequacy felt like.

“Isn’t that Mia?” Mom asked. “Golly, she’s all grown up.”

Mia was the captain of the JV dance squad. She was cute, popular, and the leading reason my life as a teenager was a complete disaster. Did I mention that she used to be my best friend?

“Oh yeah,” I nodded, trying to play it cool. “She’s a little different now but still really nice.”

Mom looked hopeful. “You should go say hi to her. You could invite her to dinner tonight. Wouldn’t that be fun? Just like old times.”

“I don’t think so, Mom.”

“Why not? You two used to be so cute together.”

True, when Mia and I were in elementary school, we had sleepovers on the weekends and spent recesses hanging upside-down on the jungle gym. That, however, was before the “incident” and before Mia made it her life’s mission to see to it that no one at school would touch me with a ten-foot pole.

“Come on, Potato Bug? Give it a shot. No pain, no gain—right?” Mom looked at me with so much hope, so much concern. The fact that I had no friends made her sad. I made her sad; I could tell. Her heart might shatter into a billion pieces if I told her no.

“Fine. I’ll say hi to her,” I said and stood up.

My feet felt like blocks of cement as I walked to the service line, where Mia and her stupid friends were waiting to order. One of them gasped as tapped Mia on the shoulder. Mia turned around, a synthetic grin stapled to her face.

“Er… hi, Mia,” I managed.

“Er… hi, Katelin,” she mimicked. She stood there, unhelpfully, and waited for me to say something else.

It took a second. “Um…” was the best I could do.

“Ummm…” Mia repeated, though trying to sound mentally retarded. Her friends cackled.

Then silence.

More heart-pounding and more ear tingling.

“I guess that’s all I had to say,” I said. I turned around and trudged back to our table, humiliated by how I was treated, but more embarrassed that my mother had just witnessed “a day in the life.”

If Mom hadn’t known how bad it was for me before, she certainly did now. Her eyes flickered with disappointment and protectiveness—a look I’d only seen three times before. Once, when she flipped through my junior high yearbook and saw that no one had signed it, again when I came home from school with three wads of gum knotted in my hair, and once more when she saw that someone had written “barf bag” in permanent marker on my white backpack.

So I did the same thing I did the other times Mom gave me that look—I acted like I didn’t notice or care that I was a loser/loner of the most putrid variety. I forced a smile. “We probably should go. Like you said, my room really needs to be vacuumed.”


But this time I could tell that she didn’t buy it.

We discarded our trash and left the café, pretending not to notice the taunting eyes and the shameless whispers that followed me out.

Mom dealt with the situation by rambling on in a voice that can only be described as chipper. “Dad might be starting a new contract on this week so it will be just you, me and the open road. We’ll pack all sorts of junk food, listen to funky music and have so much fun together. Girl time.”

“Can’t wait,” I said, already imagining the hours of Wilson Phillips and Eric Clapton cassettes I’d have to endure on our trip to Colorado.

Had I known that the car ride to Camp Overlook would ultimately lead to my disappearance, however, Mom’s sorry taste in music would never have crossed my mind.


Janssen said...

I can't even finish this without telling you HOW GOOD this is. I tend to be ultra critical of novel writing by people I know (since um, only people I DON'T know can be authors, I guess), but I kept forgetting I know you. This feels just like a real published book. I'm seriously so so impressed, Bethany.

Kind of reminds me of Elizabeth Scott. Or maybe Sarah Dessen. Otherwise known as the two authors I have spent the whole month reading.

Okay, off of to finish the second half.

Kristy said...

Bethany! I love it! My favorite is "my life as a house-plant." I laughed out loud.

Amen to Janssen. You ARE a writer. And I rejoice in the fact that I KNOW you!!

Melanie said...

Great job. I can't wait to read more (hopefully I'll buy it in a published version).

I wish I could write fiction. I would love to experience that sensation of the characters telling me what to do.

Becky said...

They said it all, but once again amazing I can't wait to read it all one day, adn honestly I don't really like reading that much, but I love this!

Breanna said...

Oh I am so disappointed that I have to WAIT to read the rest of this! Seriously. Do you need someone to do some sneak-peeking, I mean proofreading? You remind me of janette Rallison in the way you are SO in touch with the teenage mind.(If you haven't read her books i would recommend starting with 'It's a mall world after all' you could read it in a couple days). Promise me an autographed copy for Christmas!

Rachel Evans said...

What! That's all that I get? That really is a teazer! Bethany you are so talented! I loved it! There are so many reasons why I think that this is the right book for right now that I will tell you about later. Did I tell you that iLG just added a section about making a best seller???

You are amazing!

Steph said...

WOW, that really was GREAT!
I really want to keep reading and find out more, already have a connection with the characters, and think you need to post more ASAP. Oh and can I request one of your first signed copies?!?!?! You are so freaking fabulous and a hot mama of many talents!

Evan and Rebecca Jones said...

SO impressive that you're doing this! And I LOVED it - seriously girl you can write. Can't wait for more!

bethany.j said...

dang good beth. young adult fiction is my favorite. keep it up!

Ryan said...

Just one of the many reasons that I love you so much. I love hearing your personality come through in this book. Cant wait for all of the new house furniture that this bestseller will bring. I love you

Sherry said...

I like it! And I don't much have anything to say that hasn't been said. :) Just wanted to share my approval.

Emily said...

I can't say we officially know each other (I was Kristy's friend in high school and roommate in college- she had a link to this on her blog) but I wanted you to know how much I liked this. I am so curious about where the story is going, I really hope you're planning on finishing the whole book. You are a GOOD writer.

Dianna said...

EXCELLENT! I can't decide if I identify with the mom or the daughter more. I look forward to reading the rest. Hurry up!

Chris and Tara Mason said...

Bethany I am so proud of you! It's great! Seriously, I love your writing style, and I'm already wondering what will happen next! Are you going to post more?

Marissa Marie said...

I found your blog, blog surfing. And, I would love to read more of this story! I think it's great so far.