Authors: Katy Grant
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For my three favorite peopleâ
Eric, Jackson, and Ethan.
You guys are my world.
I am so grateful to AndrÃ©a Mendoza, who, as a recent Guard Start grad, let me interview her repeatedly, answered my many questions, and read the manuscript, offering me her advice. Her expertise and knowledge were an immense help as I wrote this book.
Also, thanks to Barbara Parsons, who read this manuscript and, as always, gave me sage advice, support, and insight. She is far more than a critique partner; she is a true friend.
And thanks to my gaming consultantsâyou know who you are.
Sunday, June 15
This was it. I was about to leave my past behind me and start my new life. All I had to do was say good-bye to my family and get on the bus.
My mom clutched my arm. “Promise me you'll wear your headgear,” she said, loud enough for twenty people to hear. Was that the most important thing she had to say to me before I left for a whole month?
“Mom! I told you I would. Stop asking me.” We were in a huge crowd of parents and kids, all hugging and saying good-bye.
I looked around at the girls near me. One girl had on a ton of eye makeup, and she kept looking at her nails. They had that stupid white line painted across the top. The girl beside her was chatting away about something. Another girl stood with her parents, not saying anything. She held a unicorn backpack in front of her like a shield.
“We'll e-mail you tomorrow to see how you're doing, but you'll have to write us back by snail mail, so I packed some envelopes and stamps for you,” said Mom.
“Okay, thanks.” I tried to sound grateful instead of annoyed, since she'd told me this three times already. She had her arm around me, and she wouldn't let go. It wasn't her fault she was being so clingy. This was my first time away from home.
“Gimme a hug, darlin'.” Dad grabbed me away from Mom and squeezed my guts out. A couple of the other dads looked up at him. He's six foot four, so he's easy to spot in a crowd. “Have a great time. And don't worry about us. We can take care of ourselves.”
I nodded but didn't say anything. I wished he hadn't said not to worry. How could I not? But maybe I'd have a break from worrying about my family for a while.
Then Adam hugged me. “Have fun, munchkin. Don't get eaten by a bear.”
“I won't!” I laughed and hugged him back. He's fifteen, and he's already six foot one. I was going to miss being called munchkin. I felt small around my dad and brothers, but most of the time I felt like a giant freak, since I'm so tall for a girl. “Thanks for coming with us,” I told him, but then I wished I hadn't said it. It made it sound like I was mad at Justin because he was still in bed when we left. I'd had to say good-bye to him at home.
“I guess I should go,” I said. The bus engine was rumbling, and stinky gas fumes filled up the whole parking lot. Mom hugged me one more time and then finally let me go so I could get in line. I looked at the sign on the front of the bus.
CAMP PINE HAVEN.
Cool. My new life was about to begin.
I stood in line, smushed between girls in front of me and behind me. I kept my tennis racket pointed down so I wouldn't bop anyone in the knees. Somehow the girl with the unicorn backpack had ended up in front of me, only now the backpack was on her shoulders and pressed against my stomach.
I looked back at my family and waved before going up the steps. Mom smiled but she was blinking a lot, so I knew she was about to cry. Dad and Adam waved back.
We all shuffled down the bus aisle. Girls were cramming pillows, backpacks, and other junk in the overhead storage bins and holding up the whole line. By the
time I made it halfway down the aisle, all the front seats were full. So what? I wanted to sit in the back anyway. I walked past the eye makeup girl and her friend, past the unicorn backpack, and was about to sit next to a girl with a long brown ponytail when she stuck her hand over the empty space and said, “It's taken.”
The girl in the seat behind Ponytail said, “You can sit here.”
“Thanks.” I shoved my tennis racket and backpack in the overhead bin and plopped down in the seat next to her. She smiled at me. She was African American, and she had on little wire-rimmed glasses, a yellow tank top, and daisy earrings. She was really tiny. She probably didn't weigh more than seventy pounds dripping wet with rocks in her pockets.
“Hi,” I said. She glanced at me like she was waiting for something. The bus was moving now, and the driver was trying not to mow down all the parents still standing in the parking lot.
“What's your name?” she asked finally.
That was an easy question. Ordinarily. Most people know the answer to that by the time they're two. I almost gave her the wrong name, out of habit. But then I remembered who I was supposed to be.
“JD. That's what everyone calls me,” I heard myself saying.
It felt so strange to say my new name out loud. Now that I'd told one person, there was no turning back. I'd have to stick to my plan.
“Nice to meet you, JD.” She cleared her throat. I could tell she was a little on the shy side, but I still liked her. “What does JD stand for?”
I stared at her like I was in a trance. What was I supposed to say to that? I thought I could just tell people to call me JD and they would. Did they have to know my whole boring life story?
I tried to think of something funny. “Just Dandy!” I said. It wasn't that funny, but it was better than the truth. Natasha looked at me like I was speaking Portuguese.
“Okay, I'm kidding. That's not what it stands for.” I stalled, trying to think of a better answer. The bus made a wide turn and I gripped the seat in front of me to keep from sliding over and smashing Natasha against the window.
“You want to know what it really stands for? It's pretty embarrassing.”
Natasha's eyes got bigger. “Oh, you don't have to tell me.”
“No, I don't mind. My first name is January and my middle name is December. Crazy, huh? I have really weird parents. You know, the New Agey type. It could've been worse. At least they didn't name me Apple.”
Natasha smiled, which made me feel bad about telling her such a goofy story. But it was part of the plan. I wanted to make sure no one at camp ever knew my real name.
Judith Duckworth. I've always hated my name. It thounds like I'm lithping when I thay it. Mom named me after her grandmother. She was crazy about her grandmother, and she thought naming me after her would be a great way to honor her. Too bad my great-grandma's name wasn't Ashley.
I'd never told anyone to call me JD before, but that was about to change. I'd tried to come up with some kind of nickname for myself, but I didn't want Judyâthat sounded old to meâand Ducky was even worse. I figured initials would be pretty good. And I liked the way they sounded. JD. That was
much better than Judith. Already my life was improving.
Natasha looked at me. “Are you nervous about going to camp?”
“No. Why should I be? I think it'll be fun.”
She smiled and scooted her glasses up on her nose. “You're braver than I am. I'm nervous about meeting a lot of new people.”
“You know what my dad said about going someplace where nobody knows you? He said I should think of it as a fresh start.”
Natasha nodded like that made a lot of sense. My dad also said camp would give me a break from all the stuff our family has been through, but I didn't mention that.
A fresh start. That was what I was most looking forward to. Going someplace where nobody knew me.
Fifth grade was when I first realized how boring I was. That was the year Chloe Carlson came to our school. You'd think being the new girl would be hard, but it wasn't for this girl. From Day One all the boys were in love with her and all the girls wanted to be her friend. Part of it was her name. How could you be anything but cool with a name like Chloe Carlson? Her parents obviously knew what they were doing. They didn't name her something random like Bernice. Or Judith.
This year, in sixth grade, I tried to act like Chloe. I made funny comments in class and I tried to be everyone's friend, but it didn't really work. Everybody stared at me and said, “Why are you acting so weird?”
So when my dad said camp would be a fresh start, I figured it was time for a personality makeover. Then I had this great idea. I'd borrow Chloe's personality while I was away at this summer camp in North Carolina, and she'd never even have to know.
While I talked to Natasha, I tried to think what Chloe would do if she was on this bus right now. She'd say something funny loud enough for everyone to hear. I just wasn't sure what that funny thing would be.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” asked Natasha. Now the bus was making a humming noise, and everyone was pretty quiet, talking to the people next to them.
I thought about it for a second. I could tell her anythingâmake up an older sister or a baby brother. But I decided to go with the truth. I didn't want to act like Justin and Adam didn't exist. “Yeah. Two brothers. Both older. What about you?” At least I could tell her that and she wouldn't say,
Oh the football stars at Central High? THEY'RE your brothers?
“I'm an only child.”
“Really? What's that like?”
Natasha shrugged. “Okay, I guess. It's all I know. I think that's why my parents are sending me to camp. So I can see what it's like to live with other kids for a change. But I'm really going to miss them. The three of us are very close.”
“Hey, we've got a whole month without parents,” I said. “It'll be great.” Then I did the craziest thing I've ever done in my life. I stood up and yelled really loud, “Hey, everyone, let's hear it for a whole month without parents!” Then I whooped, the way I would at Justin's and Adam's football games. “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!”
When everyone turned and stared at me, I smiled and waved, like I was glad to be making a fool of myself. Then I slid back down in the seat. Natasha's eyebrows were way above the rims of her glasses.
“Sorry. Didn't mean to cause a scene,” I told her. I could tell she hadn't expected me to do that.
hadn't even expected me to do that. Chloe wouldn't have done something
stupid. I hoped I wasn't blushing. It felt weird being the center of attentionâlike I was wearing someone else's shoes instead of mine. It didn't seem to fit right.