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I, Amber Brown, am one happy camper.
This is a strange thing to say, because I have never been at camp . . . . . and I am not there now! Even so, I am a happy camper because I made it through fourth grade and tomorrow I am heading for Camp Cushetunk.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that first I have to pack.
I hate packing. There are too many choices to make!
I am looking at the pile of stuff on my bed when Mom and Max knock on my door.
I know it is both of them, because the door is open.
I have trained them to knock even when it is.
Max is my new stepfather. I was kind of rotten to him when he started to go out with Mom, but I kind of love him now.
“Come in,” I say.
Mom is carrying the packing list that the camp sent. I like lists. I especially like this one because there is a little box next to each item that you can check when you’ve taken care of it. This is very satisfying.
However, the list is missing things like “Gorilla” and “pig-taking-a-bubble-bath alarm clock/bank.” I think I have to leave those things at home. Not because I don’t want to have them with me . . . . . . . . it’s just that I don’t want the other campers to make fun of me for bringing them.
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what is too baby and what is all right.
Max holds up a plastic bag. “I just went to the drugstore, Amber. I think I got everything we still needed.”
I thought I liked lists, but I am nothing compared to Max. He LOVES lists.
He also loves labels. I think maybe the two things go together. He has had a fine time ironing name tags onto my shirts and shorts.
I didn’t let him do my underwear. I made Mom do that.
When I asked Max how he got so handy with an iron, he explained that it was a side effect of living alone for so many years.
Max starts to unpack the drugstore bag. He holds up a toothbrush. “You’re going to love this, Amber. It’s got a timer inside and it lights up after you’ve brushed for two minutes.”
Two minutes is how long the dentist wants me to brush, but I usually get bored before two minutes go by. The light is very cool.
Mom says, “Why don’t you go grab Amber’s towels, Max.”
While he is gone, she picks up one of my T-shirts and looks at the name tag. “Amber Brown. I love that I gave you such a colorful name.”
I love my name too. But I don’t love that Mom’s last name is no longer Brown. When she got married to Max, it became Turner.
Max comes back in and puts a stack of towels on the bed. Then he goes to my desk. “Make sure everything has a name tag on it before you pack it.”
“I don’t think the camp really meant everything,” Mom says. “No one puts a name tag on a tube of toothpaste.”
I look at Max and start to laugh. He has a tube of toothpaste in one hand and a fine-point Sharpie in the other. He drops the Sharpie and tries to pretend he wasn’t about to label my toothpaste.
“Busted!” I say.
Mom sighs. “Oh, Max. Next thing you know, you’ll be labeling her sticks of gum!”
I can’t tell whether she is amused or exasperated.
When the trunk is packed, they go downstairs.
“Don’t forget we’re leaving for the airport in fifteen minutes,” Mom calls over her shoulder.
Tonight, Justin Daniels, my very best friend ever, is flying up from Alabama. He is going to Cushetunk too! This is the best, best, best thing ever.
The reason it is the best, best, best thing ever is that I almost never get to see Justin anymore. That’s because of one of the worst, worst, worst things ever . . . . . . . his parents moved to Alabama! I thought they should leave Justin behind so we could keep going to school together, but they refused.
Now we’re going to be at camp together for four whole weeks. The idea is so exciting, I am afraid my head will explode before we even leave for the airport to get Justin.
I decide to check my e-mail, just to try to keep my head in one piece while I am waiting. I have only had e-mail for a few days . . . . . it was a reward for graduating from fourth grade.
My e-mail name is “Notacrayon.”
When I open the account, I see that there is a message from Brandi Colwin. It is addressed to me and Kelly Green.
This is another reason I am so sure Camp Cushetunk will be wonderful. Brandi and Kelly are my best friends from school, and they are going too. It should be great!
Brandi’s subject line is “Bulletin! Bulletin! Bulletin!”
She is practicing to be a newscaster, and this is her way of letting Kelly and me know that she has something important to tell us.
I open the e-mail, and groan.
I don’t watch the news that much, but I see it more often now that Max is with us. And something I’ve noticed is that most of the news is bad.
Brandi’s e-mail is definitely something that belongs on the bad news channel.
OMG! I JUST FOUND OUT THAT HANNAH BURTON IS GOING TO CAMP CUSHETUNK!!
I want to beat my head against the keyboard. Hannah and I have been in school together forever, and we have never liked each other.
Hannah Burton is tinfoil on your teeth . . . . . . itching powder down your back . . . . . . a giant booger in your soup.
“What if we’re in a bunk with her?” I e-mail back.
Before Brandi can answer, Max calls, “Time to go to the airport!”
I am out of my chair, down the stairs, and into the car while Mom and Max are still getting their things together.
“I checked the flight,” Max says as he climbs into the driver’s seat. “It’s right on time.”
It feels like the airport is a million miles away. Every stop sign and traffic light makes me want to scream. I want to be there NOW.
Mom and Max are yakking away like this is just a normal ride. I realize they are talking about the movies they want to see while I am gone. I am not sure I like this . . . . . I think they should just stay home and miss me. I know that is silly, but I can’t always control how I feel about things.
When we finally get to the airport, we have to walk a billion zillion miles from the parking garage to where we are supposed to meet Justin. Because he is a kid traveling alone, one of the airplane people will walk him out to us.
I see him! But he is not looking for me. He is chatting away to the woman walking beside him. She is in a uniform and looks very official. She is also very beautiful. For some reason I find this very annoying.
Suddenly he turns in our direction. “Amber!” he cries, and runs toward me. Just like when he came up for Mom and Max’s wedding, we almost hug, and then stop.
I look at him. His hair has gotten longer, and he is even more tan than the last time I saw him. But he is still Justin. Then he smiles, and I see the big change. He has braces!
“This is Ms. Block,” Justin says. “She’s in training to be a pilot.”
Ms. Block shakes hands with Mom and Max and asks them for ID to make sure we are the people who are supposed to pick up Justin. Mom thanks her, and Ms. Block walks away. Justin watches her go.
I tap him on the shoulder. He turns back to me and says, “I think I want to be a pilot when I grow up.”
“Come on, flyboy,” Max says. “We need to get your luggage.”
“Was it scary traveling alone?” I ask Justin.
“No, it was kind of fun. Except they almost paid too much attention to me. But I had my own little TV set. That was cool!”
The luggage comes out on something called a carousel, which would make you think it was like a merry-go-round because it does go around and around. But there aren’t any horses. It’s a big oval that carries the suitcases and backpacks past the people waiting to claim them. I soooooo want to climb onto it and take a ride . . . . . . I bet it would be fun.
This is when I realize that Max is getting to know me a little too well. He looks down at me and says firmly, “Don’t even think about it!”
“That’s mine!” Justin says, pointing to a big trunk.
Max hauls it off the carousel. “Ooof! What did you pack in here? Your little brother?”
“I hope he’s not in there!” Justin says. “One of the reasons I wanted to go to camp was to get away from him!”
We laugh and head for the car.
When we get home, I say, “Come on, Justin. I’ll show you around the new house.”
“Great,” Mom says. “Max and I will start the grill. We’re having a barbecue to celebrate your last night at home before you go to camp.”
When we get to my room, I show Justin the place of honor in my closet where I keep our chewing gum ball.
We started making the ball way back in second grade. Justin was going to throw it out when he moved. That started our worst fight ever. I am glad we still have it. It proves that we will always stick together.
“I was afraid your mother might make you throw it away when you were moving,” he says.