My ego may be bruised, but my literary spirit is not broken. So, for my readers who have been clamoring for a sequel, here is the first installment, book deal or no book deal:
Pulling into camp, Isabelle saw everything through fresh eyes. There, at the entrance, was the Matokwa sign with its cockeyed “M.” There was Uncle Don in his khaki shorts and tube socks, fist pumping the air. There was the soccer field with its bald patch that never, ever grew grass. Already the drama counselors were dorking out, chorus-lining on the theater deck.
Isabelle felt Ashley’s fingers on her knee, squeezing, digging. Was she nervous? Excited? For years, Isabelle had been begging her to come. Eight weeks in Maine! No parents! Cute boys! Every time, Ash would say no. She wasn’t a “camp person.” (Translation: Ashley Barnum couldn’t survive a day without a blow dryer. To which Isabelle would say that no one cared about hair at camp. You just wore a baseball cap, and anyway, half the time your hair was wet—an argument that got her nowhere.) But back in January, Ashley’s dad had another affair, and she and her mom started fighting all the time. Ash practically lived at Isabelle’s house, which was when Isabelle embarked on a full-court press. She brought out the Matokwa photo albums.
“Listen,” Isabelle had said, as the two of them sipped hot chocolate in Isabelle’s kitchen, “your parents are crazy now. Imagine how much crazier they’ll be by June. Camp is the perfect escape. You’ll love it, I promise you. While they’re tearing each other’s hair out you’ll be canoeing and bumper tubing and kissing boys in the woods.” Isabelle swept her hand over the photos, like a QVC saleswoman. “This could be your summer.”
“I couldn’t live with all those people,” Ashley said, and Isabelle had to laugh. Ashley Barnum was captain of the field hockey team, secretary of the student council, and homecoming queen—as a sophomore. You didn’t get those things just by being beautiful. You had to be a people person.
“You don’t have to live with everyone,” Isabelle said. “Just me, Sam, Evyn, and Coop.”
Isabelle was referring to her two closest camp friends, Evyn Linney and Samantha Gwynn, and Meredith Cooper, the best counselor ever. Coop wasn’t just Uncle Don’s niece, Isabelle explained to Ashley; she was a legend in her own right. Inventor of Smack the Rat. Winner of the pie-eating contest at Carnival. The best M.C. of a Matokwa talent show Isabelle had ever seen.
“Won’t I be a fifth wheel?” Ashley said.
“Are you kidding me?” Isabelle said. “They’ll love you.”
Ashley was so pretty, so high achieving, that you wanted to hate her, but you couldn’t. She was too nice to hate. It was one of life’s great paradoxes.
Isabelle had tried to explain their relationship to Coop once. How she’d idolized Ashley all through elementary school, and how, in eighth grade, when they finally became friends, she felt so lucky. But the genesis of their friendship was like a bad TV movie: Popular Girl and Fringe Girl meet in eating disorder therapy group, barf together, bond. Suddenly, there was a confidence between them. Ashley Barnum had secrets no one knew about but Isabelle. Ashley Barnum threw up her lunch, Ashley Barnum took Ex-Lax, chink in the armor, chink in the armor.
Not that Isabelle should talk. She had flaws, too. Who didn’t? For starters, Isabelle wasn’t the best sister. There was the time she had taken a pair of scissors to April’s favorite mohair sweater and sliced the arms clean off. She had done this for revenge, pure and simple, after April had taken a pair of Isabelle’s earrings without asking and dropped one down the drain. Had the violation of the mohair sweater been justified? Possibly, but still, April was her little sister.
When her mother had first started dating Jim, Isabelle had behaved horribly. She had accused her mother of desecrating her father’s memory. She had told Jim to go to hell. As soon as the words left her mouth, Isabelle regretted them. She thought, I am the worst daughter ever. I don’t even want my own mother to be happy. Over time, Isabelle discovered that Jim was actually a good guy; he was good for her mom. But those first few months had not been Isabelle’s finest.
There was the time last summer when Isabelle had slutted it out, sneaking into the woods with Benji Steiner and dry humping him against a tree while the rest of the senior campers roasted marshmallows. For the last two weeks of camp Isabelle had ignored Benji completely for no other reason than that she was embarrassed by how much she’d enjoyed their time together.
She once stole a copy of Forever from the library. She avoided green vegetables. She hardly ever flossed. She still cried for her father every few weeks, even though he had been dead for five years. And then there was this: the sad fact that while she loved Ashley so, so much, she recently—only recently—wished they had never met.
No, Isabelle wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but at least she could admit it. At least she wasn’t pretending to be someone she wasn’t.
If Isabelle were to be very honest right now she would have to admit that inviting Ashley to camp might have been a mistake.