Despite her reluctance, Kat ends up on a teen adventure tour where she meets Nando, a young Mayan guide (who happens to be quite a cutie). As they travel to different Mayan ruins each day, Nando tells Kat his original legend of Muluc, a girl who lived in the time of the Ancient Maya. The dangerous, dramatic world in which Muluc lives is as full of rivalry, betrayal, and sacrifice as Kat's world at school. And as she makes new friends and discovers treasures in Mexico, Kat begins to wonder: Is she willing to keep sacrificing her self in exchange for popularity?
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Chapter OneSalt Lake International Airport Hi! I miss you guys and we haven’t even left yet. Barb is already driving me nuts! Remember to tell me everything that happens at mini-camp. EVERYTHING!!!! Love, Kat P.S. Pickle wart.***I scanned the passengers for possible terrorists. Not the people with kids, or the blonde in the wedding veil, although it would make a great disguise. The guy in the seat across from us kept looking around the plane. Our eyes met. Wasn’t he the guy they double-checked at security? I’d keep my eyes on him, just in case. The flight attendant closed the door by turning a thin handle that looked like it could come flying open in midair, sucking us all out of the plane. I gripped my armrest as I imagined myself falling to the ground, whirling, whirling, splat. Thirteen years of life over. Just like that. My friends probably wouldn’t even come to my funeral. They’d be too busy having a blast at Fiona’s mini-camp, doing each other’s nails, reading celebrity magazines, and talking about boys. The engines made a loud grinding sound as the plane backed away from the gate. I looked out the window at the baggage carts racing across the tarmac, worried that my suitcase got left behind. Barb crossed her long, skinny legs and flipped through Lost Treasures of the Maya. The smell of her coconut sunscreen made me queasy. One little skin cancer warning from me, and she insists on wearing sunscreen on the plane. Maybe I shouldn’t have shown her pictures from Dad’s medical books. Nine is such an impressionable age. "Do you think we’ll find hidden jewels? I could become a famous explorer and travel all over the world and I’d be rich and on TV!" She sighed, looking down at a photograph of an elaborate jade necklace. "Whatever." I closed my eyes. The cinnamon bun in my stomach churned as the plane approached the runway. Listening to the engines whir like a rickety old fan, I stared at the stain on the headrest in front of me. If Fiona were here, she’d say that the neon orange color on the headrests was oh-so ’80s, in other words: old. Maybe technologically obsolete. The plane rolled onto the runway, vibrating like a wind-up toy as the engines sped up. I held my breath and mentally said goodbye to Fiona and the rest of the gang, one by one. Then I added a special love thought to Zach B., even though he barely knows I’m alive. "Why are you so sweaty?" Barb touched my forehead, then brushed back her dark curly bangs and touched her own forehead. "I’m not hot." She fanned me with her book. "Mexico is going to be way hotter. Dad said." "Just leave me alone." I breathed in for five seconds. Cinnamon- tasting acid burned the back of my throat. Pressure built painfully in my ears. I should’ve brought gum; I might end up with a raging ear infection. "You’re not scared, are you? I’m not. You weren’t scared when we flew to Grandma’s last time. Or the time we went to Disneyland either. Dad said airplanes are safer than cars. And—" "I’m not afraid." I held my breath. I wasn’t scared when I was her age either. But then I started junior high. Now I knew the truth: the world was a dangerous place, full of hurricanes, earthquakes, plane crashes, terrorist threats, bear attacks, contaminated food, bra sizes, mean PE teachers, cute boys who ignore you, and supposedly best friends who treat you like a tube of hairy lip-gloss. The plane lifted into the air, making me feel woozy. I started breathing again, and I looked out the window as we climbed through the clouds, to make sure we didn’t hit another plane: thirty-five percent of airline accidents happen during takeoff. The plane tilted. We’re going down! I squeezed my eyes shut, but then the plane leveled. Guess we were just turning. I looked down through the clouds and watched as we passed over the soccer stadium. Wait! That house with the pool—were those small dots in the middle Fiona’s Five? Had mini-camp started early? Oh. Wait. That was the rec center. Barb shook my shoulder. "Are you still in a fight with Mom?" I glanced at my parents a couple of rows back. Mom had gotten really mad at me last night after I’d presented her with my list of "34 Reasons Not to Go to Mexico" conveniently written in the travel journal she’d given me. She went on and on about all the sacrifices they were making for this trip, but they wanted to give us the opportunity to see a different culture, and we needed to spend time together as a family, and she and Dad needed to relax, and time is passing so quickly. Blah. Blah. Blah. She just proved my point by hitting upon reasons 3, 6, and 29 through 32 of why we shouldn’t be taking this trip: #3. You’ll save a ton of money if I stay home #6. I’m too old for family vacations (especially if it means missing mini-camp!) #29. Barb will drive me crazy#30. Mom will drive me crazy #31. Dad will drive me crazy #32. Why not make it a second honeymoon to improve your marriage? (And leave me out of it!) When I showed her my list (and elaborated maybe a little too much on reason number 30), Mom ran into her bathroom and cried. So what? Missing Fiona’s mini-camp was going to ruin eighth grade for me. But does Mom care? My head hurt when I thought about Fiona and everyone pigging out on pizza and root beer floats, swimming, watching tons of movies and staying up late, ranking all the guys in our class by looks, intelligence, and personality. And this year, Fiona’s mom had hired some students from the beauty school to come over and do makeovers. And as much as my thirteen-year-old self needed to stop looking ten (boring straight blondish hair, barely visible bosom, four feet eleven and three-quarters), I wasn’t just going to miss the makeover; I was going to miss all the little inside jokes that my friends would be talking about all year long. Like last year someone only had to say "pickle wart" and we’d all start cracking up. Inside joke. But the biggest thing (and the thing that Mom totally didn’t understand) was that Fiona invited only five friends to minicamp. Being part of Fiona’s Five meant instant popularity, always having someone on your side, never eating lunch alone, never hoping, hoping, hoping for IMs or phone calls. I’d be on the right side of all the gossip, invited to every sleepover, new movie, or shopping trip to the mall. But now she was thinking about inviting someone else! On the phone last night Fiona had said, "Sorry, Kitty Kat, but you should totally skip your oh-so boring family vacation and come to my mini-camp. I totally have to invite five people, you know. Maybe Lexi . . ." I hadn’t really listened to Fiona’s list of replacements, because I was too busy picturing myself alone at my locker, alone in the lunchroom, alone at the school dance, alone on the weekend . . . Alone. Shut out. Reason number 33: eighth grade will be totally ruined. As the plane reached cruising altitude, my stomach finally settled down, so I tore open my bag of M&M’s and sorted them by color, eating all the yellow ones first, saving the green ones for last. Inside joke. Barb leaned over me, poking my leg with her sharp elbows, to look out at the clouds as the pilot announced a bit of turbulence. "That cloud looks like a dragon," Barb said. "Oooh, and that one’s a whale!" Looked like big fluffy deathtraps to me. The plane bumped up and down. I tightened my seat belt until it hurt, wishing I had a shoulder belt too. I looked around to see if anyone else looked nervous. The guy sitting across from us bent down suspiciously to rifle through a grimy old backpack. He handed Barb a bag of Mini Oreos. "You like?" he asked. "Yes!" Barb ripped open the package. Probably poisoned. I gave her a warning look and nudged her arm. You’d think she’d pick up on the whole taking candy, cookies, whatever, from a stranger thing. I flipped open my journal and added one more item to my list: "#35. Dangerous strangers." "Oops. Sorry." Barb slapped her hand across her mouth. "Thank you for the cookies." The man smiled and nodded as Barb bit into the probably poisoned Oreos. Well, I tried.