For the one thousandth time, I shifted in the backseat, trying to get more comfortable, but I should have known better. Nothing about this summer was going to be comfortable, not even the leather seat that was supposed to be all ergonomic and crap--making road trips a dream, my dad had claimed. After doing almost six hours of hard time in the backseat, I could confidently say that my dad’s definitions of dream and nightmare had gotten crossed.
The air-conditioning inside the Ainsworth family Range Rover was blasting from the front seat, where my parental units sat, but they might as well have been on opposite poles of the planet for as much as they’d acknowledged each other on this four-hundred-mile-and-some-change road trip.
I adjusted my seat-heat, dialing it up a notch when I noticed my mom crank up the air-conditioning from frosty to arctic. A faint sigh slipped past her lips as she angled the vents toward her face. Any other human being would have been sprouting icicles out their nose from the way that glacial air was blasting at her, but instead she continued to fan her face, like it was still too warm.
The leggings and tunic I’d thrown on were not holding up to the cold front, so I snagged my North Shore Track & Field hoodie from my backpack. I pulled up the hood and tied the drawstring around my face. Despite the sweatshirt, a shiver rocked me right before the seat-heat started to do its job. My mom might have been born and raised in the Northeast, but I was Californian born and bred. I didn’t do below sixty degrees unless I was sporting a couple extra layers.
“We’re almost there.” Dad pointed at a sign on the side of the road, but I couldn’t have read it if I’d wanted to. We’d been hauling ass ever since he’d pulled out of our driveway in Santa Monica.
“Still looking through that brochure?” Dad glanced back at Harrison, my ten-year-old little brother, who was sitting beside me and thumbing through the camp brochure I knew he’d memorized fifty flip-throughs ago.
Harrison, or Harry as I called him despite my mom’s protests that the nickname was much too “ordinary,” scooted his glasses higher on his nose.
“Fencing’s that thing where they wear the weird masks and dance around each other, right?” Harry asked.
“That’s right. It’s kind of like medieval sword-fighting, but with blunted swords that won’t totally maim or injure the opponent.” Dad glanced at Harry again, which made me all kinds of uneasy given he was speeding into a sharp corner going at least fifty miles per hour.
“That sounds sick!” Harry pulled a pink highlighter from his side pocket and drew a surprisingly straight line over Fencing under the activities section of the brochure. Most of the few dozen others were already highlighted. Everything besides basket-weaving, papier-mâché, and cake decorating were highlighted in different colors depending on Harry’s level of interest.
He had a key for it and everything. A yellow highlighter meant he was interested, a green one meant he was very interested, an orange one meant he’d be camped out the night before so he could be first in line, and a pink one meant he’d sacrifice a litter of puppies to do it. For a kid whose life had consisted of textbooks, music lessons, and computers, this was the adventure of a lifetime--almost as major as winning a lottery to go to the moon.
For someone like me, though? A teen girl who’d planned to spend her last official summer at the beach, playing volleyball during the day and huddling around bonfires at night before going away to college next fall--this was like serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison, the guards being my parents, my cell being some “rustic” cabin smack in the middle of nowhere.
I wanted to spend the summer before my senior year at Camp KissMyButt in Flagstaff, Arizona, about as much as I wanted to be locked in the same bedroom where I’d found my former boyfriend rounding second base with my former friend at a party a few weeks ago. Keats--former boyfriend, current buttmunch--had blamed it on his overconsumption of tequila that night. I’d blamed it on his underconsumption of self-control over his whole life.
Whoever was right, the outcome was the same. We were done. Through. Good-bye and good riddance.
That was my mantra, though my conviction lagged sometimes.
“Sick, sick, sick,” Harry said as he continued to devour the camp brochure.
“Harrison, please stop talking like you’re auditioning for a rap video.” My mom’s eyes were closed, like they’d been the majority of the trip, but now she was pressing her temples, which meant a headache was coming on. She’d had headaches for as long as I could remember. She blamed them on the California sun and not being used to so much sunshine, even after two decades of living beneath it. Lately, her headaches had been a lot more frequent. The sun wasn’t to blame for the majority of them now, though.
“Sorry, Mom.” After drawing another wide pink line through Fencing, Harry added a few exclamation points on either side of the word. “Fencing sounds both mentally and physically stimulating.” Harry smiled up at her, but she didn’t see it.
Harry was Mom’s little clone, her shadow for the first five years of his life, and the child she deemed worthy of living vicariously through. I’d always been more of my dad’s carbon copy and used to love knowing I’d gotten all my drive and ambition from him.
I didn’t feel that way anymore.
“So? Can I do it?” Harry flipped to the last page of the brochure.
Mom twisted around in her seat just enough so that she could look at us when she opened her eyes.
Harry took after our mom in the looks department--fair skin, dark hair, slight build--but everyone said I had her eyes. That had been a point of pride, but then things changed. The person who used to be my mom seemed to have disappeared, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted the same eyes as the person sitting in the front seat now.
Before Mom glanced my way, I made sure I’d angled my body as far as I could toward the door and stared out the window like the sight of pine trees and blue skies was killin’ it on the first Saturday of summer break. The same day when all my friends were getting together at Laguna Beach to kick off the first beach party of the summer. I’d had my headphones on the entire trip, too, but I’d only listened to music from home to the Arizona state line. I’d kept them on the rest of the way, though, because they spared me whatever awkward talks my parents had in mind for this trip.
“Can you do what, Harrison?” Mom asked when her eyes wandered his way.
“Fencing.” He shrugged.
Mom’s forehead creased into several deep wrinkles as her mouth drew a hard line. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. What about pottery? Or cake decorating? Don’t those sound like compelling options?”
Harry looked at our mom like she’d just suggested he slip into lederhosen and take up yodeling, but she didn’t see it. She’d already twisted around in her seat and squeezed her eyes shut as she massaged her temples.
Harry crossed his arms and put on the face Dad made when he wasn’t happy. “I don’t want to spend my whole summer learning how to bake. Or make stupid pots. We’re going to one of the most adventure-filled places in the country.” Harry thrust his hand against the front of the brochure, where, I guessed, he was reading one of the quotes. “I want to fence, and mountain bike, and fish, and climb a rock face--”
“Climb a rock face?” Really, if she rubbed at her temples any harder, she was going to give herself brain damage. “I don’t think so, Harrison. Be reasonable.”
It was really hard to keep the listening-to-music act up and stay quiet. Who told a ten-year-old boy to be reasonable? Who actually expected they were capable of it?
Beside me, Harry slumped in his seat. The brochure fell onto his lap as he stuffed the highlighter in his pocket.
“Hey, we’ll see. Okay? Let’s take it one day at a time. No need to leap right in.” Dad reached his long arm out and patted Harry on the knee a few times, like that was all it would take to make a kid feel better after crushing his summer vacation dreams.
I had to shift in my seat and bite the inside of my cheek to keep my mouth shut. My parents could mess each other up all they wanted if that was what they were into, but when it came to dragging Harry into their three-ring circus, I got a little touchy. Last time I’d gotten a “little touchy,” I’d lost cell phone privileges for two weeks.
I distracted myself with my phone. I’d played enough games on the trip so far to qualify for gamer status, so I decided to do a quick drive-by of the social media scene. My dad had assured me there was Wi-Fi and cell reception up here at this Camp BlowsBigTime, but I wasn’t going to take his word for it. Dad’s word wasn’t exactly golden these days. I’d caught him in so many lies I’d stopped counting.
This might be my last chance to check in with friends and make a few final words before dying to the world for the next couple of months.
I replied to a few friends’ comments and posts, trying to distract myself from why I’d really logged on--to check Keats’s profile picture. It was still the same--the photo of the two of us staring at that sunset like we’d figured out a way to freeze time. When I found myself relaxing into my seat, a smile starting to form, I dropped my phone in my lap and cursed under my breath.
That guy was not worth smiling over ever again.
My phone buzzed against my thigh. When I turned it over, I saw it was a text from my best friend, Emerson. You’re not thinking about him are you?
I cursed under my breath again. The girl claimed she had psychic powers--I was a believer. Thinking of who?
Emerson had never been Team Keats for no other reason than believing that dating such a good-looking guy who was also fully aware of it was like handing my heart over to a rugby team to use for practice. I’d defended him, saying he couldn’t help it if girls fell over themselves to brush his shoulder passing in the hallway. They could keep right on loitering at his locker and sliding into the seat beside him in class--he wasn’t open for business.
Turned out, I’d been in serious denial, as I’d discovered the night I found my “closed for business” boyfriend getting it on with “her” a couple of clothing pieces away from moving on to the next stage. What sucked even more was that the girl I’d caught rubbing crotches with my boyfriend wasn’t the kind of girl you’d automatically think would be the boyfriend-hunter type. She was on the track team with me, got good grades, and was well liked and respected by the male and female populations of North Shore. It would have made it easier to hate them both if she had a reputation of low standards and zero class. But she didn’t. And neither did Keats.
Of course, realizing that made me do what any other teenage girl would--I spent the next week and a half analyzing what the hell had happened. Was it me? Was it her? Was it him? Was it something she had that I didn’t? Was it something he felt for her that he didn’t for me? Was it because I’d held out for so long that a certain part of Keats’s anatomy had finally fallen off like he’d predicted it would if we waited much longer? If overthinking a situation became a high school sport, I’d be the captain of that team, too, and lead it to another state championship.
“Her” had a name, of course, but it was one I’d never speak again. Get caught kissing a good friend’s boyfriend? Yeah, that landed you smack in you’re-dead-to-me territory.
Good girl was Emerson’s reply, immediately followed by BTW, summer sucks without you.
As a new policy I’d adopted a few months ago, I made it a point not to smile when my parents were around. I didn’t want them to get the wrong idea that I was happy being in their presence, and I sure as hell didn’t want them thinking I was thrilled with the sudden detour in my summer vacation plans. I occasionally set that no-smiling policy aside when Harry was close by, though. I didn’t want to take it out on him when I was mad at them.
I might have let a smile slip when I read Emerson’s text, though.
Summer sucks without you too, I typed, holding my breath when it took a few extra moments to send. We were winding higher and steeper up the gravel road, which only looked wide enough for one car, making me wonder if there was another way down. If there was, I’d find it. I’d use it, too. I was four months from being eighteen--an adult in the eyes of the law--and my parents were treating me like a kid in dragging me up here.
Emerson’s text vibrated in my hand. How’s the fam?
I scanned the inside of the car and frowned. How do you think?
Things have to get better soon.
I wiggled further down in my seat. They couldn’t get worse.
Emerson’s reply came about five seconds later. She made other text-savvy teens look like amateurs. Have you talked to them about you know what?
My knuckles went white from the fists I was making. I practically had to pry my fingers open to text her back. No. Not sure how to work that into a conversation.
How about . . . Hey Dad and Mom, about that eviction notice I found under that stack of unpaid bills.
I swallowed as I punched in my reply. Ugh. I’d rather be in denial over it like they are.
I glanced over at Harry. He’d flopped his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. When Dad glanced in the rearview mirror, I accidentally caught his gaze. I got back to admiring the ocean of trees and tried not to make a face. I was already sick of trees. And I was expected to spend ten weeks surrounded by them and not go insane? The ozone had a better chance of repairing itself with a hot glue gun and a roll of plastic wrap.