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Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire
By Brenda A. Ferber
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2009 Brenda A. Ferber
All rights reserved.
Tammy said we'd be best friends forever, and I believed her. I was standing on her driveway, squinting in the August sun. The moving truck had left, and Tammy's parents and older brother were already in their minivan. Tammy and I did our secret handshake, complete with butt bump and shimmy. We hugged and promised to call. Then Tammy climbed into the van, and they drove away. The Eriksons were moving to Chicago, only thirty minutes by car from our life here in Deerfield. But when you were about to start fifth grade, anything farther than a bike ride was another world.
Now, finally, eleven long months later, we were going to reunite. I marked a big red X through July 15 on my wall calendar. Tomorrow morning Tammy and I were heading to Camp Star Lake for Girls in northern Wisconsin. Together.
I stepped around the two lumpy duffel bags taking up most of the floor in my bedroom, hopped onto my bed, and looked at my list of things to remember for the bus.
[begin strikethrough]Henry Henry[end strikethrough] Henry!
I rubbed the worn-off spot on my stuffed dog's nose. It would be fine to take him. On the packing information sheet, the camp said to bring a "bedtime buddy." Tammy would probably take her baby blanket, and that was even rattier than Henry. If only she would return my calls or answer my IMs so I could be sure. Tammy had been impossible to get ahold of these last two weeks. Tonight her away message said, packin for csl ... leavin in the morn ... one month w/no computer! ahhh!!!! At least tomorrow I wouldn't have to rely on technology to talk to her.
Even though I'd practically memorized the whole camp brochure, I took it out and studied it again. My favorite picture was of two girls laughing together in a little sailboat with a red, orange, and yellow sail. One of the girls had long blond hair, like Tammy, and the other had straight brown hair, like me. I always imagined it was us in the boat. And riding the horses. And water-skiing. And with all those girls singing around a campfire.
I snuggled under the covers but didn't feel the tiniest bit sleepy. Even the sound of Snowball, my brother Derek's hamster, tap, tap, tapping on his wheel on the other side of the wall didn't calm me the way it normally did. Instead, my mind was racing as fast as his tiny feet. I hoped camp would be every bit as awesome as I'd imagined.
I listened to Mom and Dad turn on the dishwasher, turn off the lights, and head toward my room. They came in and gave me an extra-long sandwich hug. Mom smelled like fabric softener, and Dad like a Hershey's Kiss. It was a good thing Derek was too young to go to overnight camp. Otherwise Mom and Dad would be really lonely this summer. "Don't worry," I told them. "You're going to be okay without me."
They laughed, and Dad said, "We'll try to survive."
Mom took off my glasses and put them on the end table. "I'm not going to be there to remind you to take these off at camp, you know," she said.
"Well, maybe I'll leave them on so I can see my dreams better."
Mom and Dad smiled, and Dad said, "We're going to miss you, Jem."
"I'll miss you, too." With a pang in my heart, I realized that was true. "One more hug," I said, and they both squeezed me tight.
After they went to their own room, I still wasn't sleepy, so I got out of bed, put on my glasses, and looked out my window. The moon was a bright half circle in the sky. It was hard to believe I'd be looking at the same moon from the northern tip of Wisconsin tomorrow night. I wondered if it would look any different. I knew the quicker I went to sleep, the quicker I'd wake up and have this adventure begin. But right then I felt the way I did on roller coasters. I loved scary rides — the faster the better. But I hated that sensation at the top of the first big hill, when you knew there was no turning back.
I searched the night sky until I found a star. Then I closed my eyes and whispered, "I wish that Tammy and I have the best summer ever." I opened my eyes and looked at the star again. It seemed to be moving. Maybe it was a shooting star! No, it wasn't a star at all. It was an airplane.
* * *
The next morning, in the parking lot of the Strike-n-Spare bowling alley, I climbed aboard one of the two chartered buses and saw that girls were saving spots, and that the seats were filling up fast. I tossed my backpack and pillow across a pair of seats in the middle of the bus. I figured that was the best position, not too close to the driver, and not too near the bathroom. Then I headed back out to the parking lot to join my family and wait for Tammy. We were supposed to leave in ten minutes, and she still hadn't arrived.
"Where can she be?" I asked Mom.
"Probably just stuck in traffic."
"What if she misses the bus?" Derek asked.
Dad shot Derek a look and draped his arm over my shoulder. "Don't worry, Jem. They won't leave without her."
I took a deep breath and scanned the crowd again. The parking lot was a mishmash of cars and families, parents drinking coffee and taking pictures, kids squealing and hugging each other, and other kids, first-timers like me, standing uneasily with their parents. One of those girls, a tall, skinny one with frizzy brown hair, waved shyly at me. I started to wave back when an older girl with beautiful long dark curls grabbed her attention. I was in mid-wave, wondering if maybe she hadn't meant to wave to me in the first place, so I pretended to swipe a gnat from my face.
I pushed my glasses up on my nose. The back of my neck was sweaty, so I pulled my hair up into a ponytail. Then I untied and tied my gym shoes, trying to look busy.
Finally the Eriksons' minivan pulled into the parking lot, and relief rushed through me. "She's here!" I jumped up and down and weaved my way over to Tammy's minivan.
The door slid open, and Tammy stepped out, wearing a handmade I [love] CAMP STAR LAKE shirt and sporting a short new hairstyle that caught me by surprise. We screamed and hugged each other, and then I asked, "What happened to your hair?"
"I donated it to Locks of Love," she said. "You know, for kids who lose their hair from cancer and stuff. Do you like it?"
"It's cute," I said. "Perky." I thought about my own hair and suddenly felt guilty for keeping it to myself. Maybe I'd donate it, too.
Tammy stepped aside as another girl came out of the minivan. "You remember my cousin Brooke, right?"
Brooke was wearing a shirt just like Tammy's. She had straight, shiny brown hair, blue eyes, and freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks. "You're Brooke, from California?" I asked.
She nodded. "The one and only."
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, wondering why Brooke was here and why she and Tammy were dressed like twins. "Too bad you're visiting when Tammy's leaving for camp."
Brooke raised her eyebrows at me and gave Tammy a sideways glance.
Tammy said, "Oh my God! I forgot to tell you. Brooke is coming to camp, too. Isn't that great?"
Huh? I was too shocked to think, let alone say anything, but I didn't have a chance to, anyway. Tammy's parents and Brooke's mom were asking them to help with the duffels. My family came up behind me just as Mrs. Erikson shut the trunk, and Tammy and Brooke hurried off with their parents to check in with Eddie Kramer, Camp Star Lake's director.
"Who's that girl?" Derek asked.
"That's Tammy's cousin Brooke. She's coming to camp, too." My voice sounded so normal, which was strange because that was not at all how I felt.
"Really?" Mom said, and I could tell by her face that she was as surprised as I was. "Well, the more the merrier, right?"
Eddie blew a whistle and spoke into a megaphone. "Time to go, girls. Say your goodbyes, and let's hit the road!"
My stomach dropped. Whoosh. The roller coaster was speeding downhill. And all I could do was hold on tight.CHAPTER 2
I boarded the bus with Tammy and Brooke, and as we walked down the aisle, I suddenly realized there was a problem. "Shoot, Brooke. I only saved these two seats. Sorry."
"Oh," Brooke said. "Well ..." She looked at Tammy. But what could Tammy do? All the seats near us were taken.
"Maybe we can all three squish in," I offered.
Brooke scrunched her face and said, "For seven hours?" The left side of her upper lip rose in a look of disgust, and she peered down her nose at me.
Alarm bells went off in my head. Should I have seen into the future and saved three seats instead of two? "I'm just trying to include you," I explained.
Brooke narrowed her eyes at me, and I felt as though I'd once again said the wrong thing. Didn't Brooke know that Tammy and I were best friends? Tammy smiled weakly at me, then peered around at the seats near us — the seats that were all taken. Some girls attempted to pass us in the aisle.
"Jemma," Tammy said, and she stared at me as if trying to communicate via ESP, but the message didn't come through. Then she motioned for me to follow her. We left Brooke at our seats and walked down the aisle to the back of the bus.
Tammy stood against the bathroom door and tugged on her earlobe, a habit I'd seen since kindergarten. Tammy's face had gotten thinner. Her chubby cheeks had disappeared. And her new short hair made her eyes, which were the golden brown of perfectly toasted marshmallows, seem larger. She was prettier than before, older-looking. She had even begun to develop curves. I was still flat as a second grader, but I wondered if I seemed any different to her.
She leaned in so only I could hear her, and she said, "Brooke's parents are getting divorced. And she and her mom are moving. And she just found out about all this two weeks ago."
"Oh man, that stinks."
"Seriously. So she's having a hard time, and I kind of need to take care of her. So ... do you mind if I sit with her?"
My stomach knotted. I knew I should sympathize with poor Brooke and admire Tammy's sense of caring and duty. And I should be happy to let Tammy sit with Brooke. But that was not how I felt. I did mind!
Tammy lifted her shoulders and tilted her head to the side with a hopeful look on her face. I took a deep breath. I didn't want to let Tammy down. I didn't want to start camp off on the wrong foot. Besides, it was just a bus ride. "No problem," I said. "We'll eat together at lunch."
"Jemma, you're the best." Tammy smiled and hugged me, and I was proud of myself even though the knot in my stomach did not disappear. I had done the nice thing, the thing Tammy would have done if the tables had been turned, but still, something was wrong.
Tammy hurried back up to the seats I'd saved. I followed behind, grabbed my backpack and pillow, and found the only seat left on the bus — squished in the back between a first-aid kit and the stinky bathroom.
As the bus pulled out of the parking lot, I waved to Mom, Dad, and Derek, but they didn't see me through the tinted windows. I was sure of that because they were waving to a girl about ten rows in front of me. Oh well. It was better to pretend to wave goodbye to my family than to sit there all alone, like a nobody.
Once we'd gotten onto the highway, Tammy ran down the aisle and said, "I almost forgot. I made you a shirt!" She tossed the shirt my way before a counselor told her to get back to her seat. I unfolded the white cotton T and saw another I [love] CAMP STAR LAKE design. I brought the shirt right up to my nose and breathed in the cotton and fabric paint before pulling it on over my plain yellow tank top. Even though my best friend was sitting with her cousin, and I was sitting next to the bathroom, I knew I hadn't been completely forgotten.
We sang songs while the bus rolled out of Illinois and into Wisconsin. I learned the Camp Star Lake song. And for the first time in my life, I sang "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and actually made it to zero. I stared out the window as we passed farms and cornfields. I didn't know what to make of Brooke's being here. I'd known all along that there would be other girls at camp besides Tammy and me. So why did I care? Maybe Mom was right. The more the merrier, I told myself.
Sitting in front of me were two girls who seemed to be identical twins. They both had red hair and looked about my age. One of them snorted every time she laughed. The other one was constantly patting out a rhythm on her legs. Through the crack between the seats, I watched them dig into a bag of Starburst jelly beans. After what felt like hours later, the snorting girl turned around, kneeled in her seat, and asked, "Do you like yellows?" She held out a handful.
"Sure," I said. "Thanks."
"I'm Kat O'Reilly," she said. "And you're new. Star Lake is small enough to know everyone, and this is our second year here. I would definitely know you otherwise, so welcome!"
Kat talked so quickly and with so much energy, I couldn't help but smile. The other girl poked her head up over the seat and removed her iPod earbuds. "Hi," she said.
"That's Annie," Kat said. "We're twins, and yes, we're identical — everyone always asks."
Red hair. Black eyebrows. Brown eyes. Quite an interesting combination, especially when there were two of them. Kat was wearing a necklace with a silver K on it. Annie had one with an A. "I'm Jemma," I said.
"Jenna?" Kat asked.
"No, Jemma, with an m." Sometimes it felt like "with an m" was my middle name. Jemma With-an-m Hartman.
"Cool," Kat said. "I'm Kat with a K."
I liked this Kat with a K. I could tell she was the kind of person Tammy and I would get along with.
"You're going to love CSL," Kat and Annie both said at once. Then they looked at each other and laughed.
"Do you guys always do that?" It was kind of freaky, but cool, watching them talk at the same time with the same facial expressions.
"Sometimes," they said together again.
We all laughed then. I ate the jelly beans, and Kat and Annie told me they were going into sixth grade, too. They said there were usually only two cabins of sixth graders, so we had a good chance to be together. I tried to point Tammy out to them, but she was too far forward for them to see. "Which activities are you going to take?" I asked.
Kat said, "We spend most of our day in the gym. We take every dance class they offer, like jazz, ballet, tap, hip-hop. Oh, and acrobatics and gymnastics, too."
"Kat's a great dancer," Annie said.
"So is Annie."
Annie crinkled her nose and shook her head to let me know she didn't agree.
"Last year they didn't have break dancing, but Annie and I begged Eddie to add it this year, so I guess we'll find out tonight." The whole time Kat was talking, Annie was nodding and tapping her fingers on the top of the seat back as if she had a song going through her head, even though her iPod was off. "What about you?" Kat asked. "Do you dance?"
"Not really. I'm more into sports."
For a second, I wondered if I was insulting them by not liking dance, but Kat said, "Well, that's what's so great about CSL. You get to take the classes that interest you."
"Unless you have a twin sister who makes you take all the same classes as her," Annie said.
Kat playfully elbowed Annie. "So not true! You know we just like the same things."
Annie shrugged and raised her eyebrows. Kat seemed to think Annie was kidding. Maybe she was. Kat tilted the jelly bean bag my way, and I took some more. "And the sports here are awesome, too, especially the water sports. Waterskiing, swimming, sailing ..."
"Yeah, I can't wait to learn to sail!" I thought again about being in that pretty boat with Tammy. Just the two of us. "So what else should I know?"
They both asked, "What do you want to know?" Then Kat did her snorty laugh.
I smiled and said, "Tell me about that award ... Firelighter." I had read in the brochure about Fireside, camp's Sunday evening program, and about Firelighter. There was a picture of a girl holding a torch in front of a big bonfire. She was smiling so wide I thought her face might split, and her eyes glistened with what I could only guess were happy tears. The brochure said the Firelighter was a camp role model, "someone who embodies the character and spirit of Camp Star Lake."
"How do you win it?" I asked.
Excerpted from Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire by Brenda A. Ferber. Copyright © 2009 Brenda A. Ferber. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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