Eleven-year-old Anthoni Gillis is not the kind of kid who believes in fairies, unicorns, or even the word “maybe.” She’s more of a comic-books girl. So when her mom brings her to Thunder Lake for a summer at the Showboat Resort, she doesn’t believe the local rumors about the Boulay Mermaid.
Anthoni has bigger fish to fry. She’s always wanted a True Blue Friend. But it’s been hard to find one, since for the past five years she’s been bouncing from town to town, helping her mother sell Beauty & the Bee cosmetic products to keep them both afloat. This summer will be different, though. Anthoni has a plan—a foolproof checklist for making lifelong friends! There won’t be any maybes this time.
But as she grows entangled in local gossip, and her mother stretches the truth, Anthoni must decide if she’ll “stick to the plan,” like always, or dive into a summer full of extraordinary possibilities.
Josephine Cameron’s energetic and heartfelt debut raises timeless questions about truth, lies, and the hope that grows between them.
About the Author
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OFF WITH THE OLD AND ON WITH THE NEW
Mom threw her hands in the air and slapped them back on the steering wheel. "S'mores!" she cried. "I can't believe it's been twenty years since I had a s'more!"
We'd been driving for three and a half hours, and Mom could not stop talking about The Showboat, the family resort in Eagle Waters where she had the Best Summer of Her Life — six years in a row. She chattered on about the time her water-ski team pranked the new kid by putting his swimsuit in the freezer, and the campfire tale that was so scary it made her True Blue Friend, Mary Pepper, pee her pants.
"Did I tell you about the time we found a skunk in the bathtub?" she asked. "A real live skunk. I screamed so loud someone called the fire department!"
"I've never had a s'more!" I said, and flipped a page in my issue of Wolverine and the X-Men. I hadn't stopped grinning since Mom had shown up in the parking lot of Milwaukee West Elementary, stuck her head out the window of the Beemobile, and yelled, "Off with the OLD, on with the NEW!" loud enough for half the school to hear.
I was so glad to be done with fifth grade, I almost didn't notice the country music blasting from the car radio. But I definitely noticed the back seat of the Beemobile — packed to the ceiling with all our stuff. I hugged my backpack and gaped at Mom.
"We're moving?" I asked. "Today? Right now?"
Mom gave me a happy poke in the arm as she put her foot on the gas and pulled out of the parking lot. "Surprise!" she said.
I shrugged. Wherever we were headed, it couldn't be lonelier than Milwaukee. I'd been there since March, and hardly anyone knew who I was. Even Mr. Smith still looked around at the boys when he called "Anthoni Gillis" for roll. I tried to remember the next spot on our list.
"Minneapolis?" I asked. I hoped we could get an apartment with a shower that didn't leak. Or a landlord who didn't stop by every few days to argue about electricity and rent.
Mom tried to make her face look deadpan, but the corners of her mouth kept sneaking up.
"How about ... The Showboat Resort?" She said it like it was any boring old town. Akron, Ohio, or Grand Rapids, Michigan. "It should take about four hours to get there."
My jaw hung open and Mom's laughter burst out like it had been killing her to hold it in so long.
"You did it?" I asked. "You got promoted to Queen Bee? How?"
I'm not a Negative Nelly, but as far as I knew, we weren't anywhere near reaching our goal. Sales had been down, and we hadn't signed up a new Worker Bee in months. Lately, Mom had been so desperate she'd been crashing conferences at hotels, trying to recruit Worker Bees in between breakout sessions. My lips spread into a grin.
"Was it the air-conditioning conference?"
Mom took a breath and smiled. Her eyes were tired and puffy even though I knew she'd gone through two jars of B&B's Royal Radiance Eye Cream (made with Royal Jelly!) in the last month.
"I told you that was a good idea," she said. "Air-conditioning manufacturers care as much about looking nice as anyone else does."
I had a thousand questions: How many Worker Bees had she signed up? Fifty? We needed forty-five to reach Queen Bee. What did the CEO of Beauty & the Bee say? Were they going to fly us to St. Louis for another awards ceremony so they could pin Mom with a diamond bee?
Before I could ask any of them, relief hit me, and suddenly I couldn't stop laughing. It was like a comic book. For months, we'd been stuck at that moment when Wolverine's a goner, backed into a corner by a guy whose skin is impervious to metal, and you can't help but wonder if this really is the end. But I should have known. That dark, all-is-lost moment is exactly when Storm shows up with a tornado to save her friend and blast the enemy off the page.
The air-conditioning conference was our tornado.
"We can get take-out pizza again!" I said, and laughed some more because I hadn't even known until that minute that I cared about take-out pizza. "I can taste the pepperoni!"
Mom fiddled with her earring and gave me a funny look.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Of course! I just ... It's overwhelming, you know?"
"I know," I said. "You worked really hard."
Mom reached over and squeezed my knee. "WE worked really hard."
"True." I did a robot dance in my seat to make her laugh. "I am the best promotional products packer on the planet."
"Ha!" Mom turned the radio to earsplitting volume. Just the way we like it.
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going!" she shouted. "And we're going to The Showboat to have the Best Summer of Our Lives!"CHAPTER 2
NEXT HIVE DESTINATION: EAGLE WATERS
The website for The Showboat Resort hadn't changed one bit since I was seven. It only had two things on it — the photo from the postcard, and four lines of text that Mom and I knew by heart. The minute we drove past the Welcome to Eagle Waters sign, we put on our best radio-announcer voices and traded lines.
"THE SPECTACULAR SHOWBOAT RESORT: Where True Blue Friends Meet!"
"EXPERIENCE the pine air — a TREAT for your lungs!"
"The resort of your DREAMS — AWAY from the modern world!"
A glimpse of blue water glistened between the trees on the left side of the highway.
"That's Thunder Lake!" Mom said. Her eyes sparkled like Christmas Eve.
We shouted the last line with gusto as we drove past a yellow church, a gas station, and a small blue house with a sign that read Anna Lee's Little Store.
"Don't DELAY! Call TODAY: 555-SHO-BOAT!"
Mom pointed across the street from Anna Lee's. "There's the public beach. If they still give free swim lessons, I'll sign you up."
"That's a beach?" It was an empty patch of sand the length of a school bus.
And then the trees closed in again. The branches got thicker and closer together until we couldn't see Thunder Lake on the side of the road anymore.
"Where's the rest of town?"
"That's all," Mom said. "Quaint, right?"
A pang of disappointment poked at me, but I pushed it away. There'd be so much to do at the resort, we'd never need to go to town.
After another mile, the GPS beeped. On the left side of the road, a wooden arrow with black hand-painted letters announced: THE SHOWBOAT RESORT.
Mom put on her blinker and winked at me.
"I forgot to tell you," she said. "Remember Maddy Quinn? Mary Pepper's daughter from Chicago? You two used to ..."
She turned the Beemobile onto a gravel road and the rumble of rocks under the wheels drowned out her voice, but I knew exactly who she was talking about. I didn't remember much about Chicago, but I remembered Maddy Quinn. We used to make forts out of pillows and hide while Gramps pretended to be a fire-breathing dragon.
Another sign led us onto a dirt path so narrow that pine branches scraped the sides of our car. Mom shouted over the din like it was perfectly normal to drive straight into the heart of a forest. "I heard the Quinns still spend summers in Eagle Waters. Think she'll remember you?"
"Maybe," I said. "It was a long time ago."
It was a long time ago, but the thought of the Quinns at The Showboat made my brain buzz with hopeful possibilities. Since Chicago, Mom and I had moved nine times. I'd used up boxes of stationery writing to girls I'd known, and not a single one wrote back. But I'd never moved to a town where somebody knew me.
We made another turn, and Mom had to slow to a snail's pace to avoid ripping the bottom off the car.
"Gillis Girls Don't Believe in Maybe. If she doesn't remember you, remind her!"
She had a point. Quickly, I reached into my backpack and pulled out my notebook, turning to a dog-eared page in the center:
TRUE BLUE FRIEND CRITERIA
1. Shares secrets
2. Keeps promises
3. Likes the same things you like
4. Would rather be with you than anyone else
5. Makes you laugh until your stomach hurts
6. Shows up when needed
7. Is loyal to the bitter end
I added a new line to the list:
8. Remembers you when you move away
The bumpy road made my handwriting all jiggly until suddenly, Mom stopped the car. My pencil jerked, dragging the tail of the "y" right off the page. I looked up. The road had split again, but there was no arrow to guide us. Thunder Lake was nowhere in sight. The voice on the GPS said, "Recalculating ..." and Mom's phone started to blink a new message: No Service.
Mom laughed. "Away from the modern world — as advertised!"
We got out of the car and Mom made wide, sweeping circles with her phone, looking for a signal. The website was right — the air smelled exactly like the pine-scented potpourri Mom always kept in the bathroom.
"I forgot about mosquitoes." Mom swatted her hands in the air.
It was only four in the afternoon, but in the woods, it felt like twilight. Branches filtered the sunlight so only small patches of ground were lit up. When I imagined The Showboat Resort, I never pictured trees. Mom's stories were about waterskiing and sunbathing. Not wilderness survival. I glanced around to make sure there weren't any wild animals waiting to pounce.
Something rustled in the trees. I stiffened and tugged Mom's sleeve. Near a scrubby trio of baby pines, a crouched figure crept in slow motion away from us.
"Hello?" Mom called.
The figure froze, one leg suspended in the air. It was a boy. With branches sprouting from his limbs.
"We're trying to find The Showboat Resort."
"We can see you," I added. A mosquito bit through my sweatshirt and I slapped at it.
The boy let his leg drop to the ground, then shifted some of the branches around and crouched lower. "How about now?" he asked. "Can you see me now?"
The bugs must have caught a whiff of Mom's Honeycomb Highlighting Shampoo. A full-on swarm formed around her head.
"We need to know the way to The Showboat," she said, hopping from foot to foot.
The boy trudged toward us, yanking branches out of his T-shirt collar. As he got closer, I could see mud caked to his hair, his right arm, and his face. His left arm was in a cast.
"Camouflage never works," he said sadly.
I stared at him. Either there was something in the woods scary enough to hide from, or testing camouflage was a thing kids in Eagle Waters did for fun.
The boy walked a slow circle around the Beemobile. Mom was already back in the driver's seat with the windows rolled up tight.
"We're getting eaten alive!" Mom shouted through the glass.
The boy pulled one last pine branch out of the waistband of his pants and waved it in the direction we'd come from. "Turn right at the fork, but ..." He wrinkled his dirt-caked nose in my direction. "Why would you want to go to The Showboat?"
"We're staying there," I said.
"Of course." This kid was bizarre. What else would you do at a resort?
I got in the car, and the boy watched us back up the whole way to the fork. He stood covered in mud, with sticks and leaves in his hair, and waved his branch at us with a goofy look on his face. Like he thought we were the ones who were strange.CHAPTER 3
THE SPECTACULAR SHOWBOAT RESORT
In some ways, The Showboat looked exactly like the postcard. The building was boat-shaped. It had round windows, a black smokestack, and a blue lake that sparkled behind it.
But there were no daisies in the field, only tall weeds and dandelions.
The paint on the hotel was dull and peeling — more dirt-gray than white — and two of the grimy porthole windows were cracked.
Instead of a smiling girl waving from the deck, there was a sign hanging from a broken railing: DO NOT ENTER — Upper Deck Temporarily Closed for Repairs. Except the sign looked old and faded, too, like there was nothing "temporary" about it.
A red light over the front door blinked on and off: Vacancy. No kidding — the only thing in the parking lot besides the Beemobile was a rusty basketball hoop with no net.
All the hope and tingly excitement I'd felt on the drive disappeared like the air in a popped balloon. Mom stared straight ahead, recalculating. I knew she was running through the possible options — throwing out the bad ideas, categorizing the potentially good ones and analyzing them for flaws. I knew we'd sit in the Beemobile until she could come up with a new plan that would be as good, if not better, than the first.
Except the longer we sat, the thicker the silence got. Mom wasn't offering any options.
"Is there another hotel?" I asked.
Mom shook her head. "We can't get the deposit back. I already called and asked."
"You did?" That was news to me. "Why?"
Just then, a light went on in the big bay window of the hotel. Someone pretended to fuss with the curtains — probably wondering what kind of creepy people lurk around a deserted parking lot in a car that looks like a bee.
The shadow behind the curtain was short and appeared to be wearing a long dress. From her height, I guessed she was my age or younger. She disappeared, and seconds later, the bottom of the curtain started to lift. A pair of binoculars appeared on the windowsill, and the shadow crouched behind them, peering at us like a spy.
I didn't know what else to do. I waved.
The shadow shot straight up. Then the girl reached her hand under the curtain and waved back a wiggly-finger wave. Something about it made me breathe easier. Maddy Quinn used to wave like that, each finger dancing individually in the air. She used to wave at me when we were in Silent Time-Out — which happened a lot when Gramps pretended to storm the castle. Every time he roared his dragon roar, we'd get so scared and worked up that one of us would scream, and for some reason, that always made us laugh. We'd laugh and scream until our stomachs hurt, and Mom would have to make us go to Time-Out so we could calm down.
It would be nice. Having a friend like that again.
I thought it over. Things always turned out best when Mom and I had a goal and stuck to the plan. In Milwaukee, Mom had the worst sales quarter of her life. She could have cried her eyes out and given up, but she didn't. She stayed positive. She stuck to the plan. If she hadn't, we'd be celebrating the last day of fifth grade eating beans and rice in our tiny apartment and arguing with Mr. Li about rent. Instead, we were at The Showboat Resort. It didn't matter if it was beautiful. It mattered that we were here.
"Mom," I whispered, but she was either still thinking or she'd been telepathically frozen by a mutant with psionic powers like Emma Frost. She never took this long to recalculate.
I reached for the glove box and took out a stick of Honey Blossom Bee-You-tiful Lipstick.
"It might be nicer on the inside," I said. "And we can still make s'mores." I put the lipstick in Mom's hand and gave her the best can-do smile I had in me. "Gillis Girls Always Stick to the Plan, right?"
Mom studied the lipstick, turning it over in her hand. She looked at me. She looked at the beaten-down hotel. Then, slowly, she uncapped the tube and pulled the rearview mirror toward herself. She applied a thick, rosy layer, and smacked her lips.
"This place could use some sprucing up," she said. Like all it needed was a good volumizing shampoo and a set of organic loofahs. "But I've seen worse. You're right, Anthoni. Positive Thoughts Attract Positive Results. Let's go check in."
Yes. Positive thoughts. I opened my door and let the pine air swallow me whole.CHAPTER 4
THE BLUE HERON
The door marked Front Office creaked on its hinges and shut behind us, sucking up every last bit of outside light with it. At first, I thought I saw two women standing in front of a wall of books, but as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I realized that one of the women was a lamp — a life-size statue of a mermaid holding a light bulb and a pink shade over her head.
An elderly woman with bright-orange hair stood next to the lamp, waiting in the glow. She wore a silver evening gown covered with butterflies — the kind of dress a movie star might wear if they had the Academy Awards when Abraham Lincoln was alive. The gown shushed as she stepped toward the "front desk," which was actually a stacked-up set of old-fashioned traveling trunks plastered with stickers that read Chicago: The Palace, New York: Hippodrome Theatre, and San Francisco: Orpheum Opera House. Around us, the walls were covered with framed newspapers, black-and-white photos, and posters advertising strange things like MASTER HOMER, CHAMPION BOY WHISTLER and UPSIDE-DOWN STANLEY, THE TOPSY-TURVY FELLOW.
The room felt like a forgotten museum, not a hotel.
"Are you the person I talked with on the phone?" Mom asked. "I know you said the deposit is nonrefundable, but I was wondering if special circumstances might ..."
Special circumstances? I thought Mom had said "positive thoughts." Special circumstances sounded like leaving.
Silently, the woman handed Mom a form that had Carrie & Anthoni Gillis: Six Weeks, Paid in Full written at the top in swirly pink script. She stabbed a bony finger at a line that read All Deposits Are Nonrefundable. No Exceptions.
Mom shook it off with a smile. She put on her chirpy Chief Pollinator voice and said, "I'm so glad to be back at The Showboat Resort. I always felt like magical, impossible things could happen here."
I relaxed a little. Mom was back on track. Mostly. But her voice was a notch too cheerful.
"Do they still have swimming lessons in town? Anthoni's never been here before, and if she can get the basics, we could have Mr. Boulay get her up on water skis ..."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Maybe a Mermaid"
Copyright © 2019 Josephine Cameron.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Beemobile,
1. Off with the Old and on with the New,
2. Next Hive Destination: Eagle Waters,
3. The Spectacular Showboat Resort,
4. The Blue Heron,
5. Impossible Things,
7. Queen Bee,
8. Thunder Lake,
9. Swim Lessons,
12. Honk for Assistance,
14. The Black Bear,
15. Cleaning House,
16. Trick Skis,
18. Novelty Acts of the Vaudeville Stage,
19. Splash! Take Two,
20. Team Goals,
21. The Weight of the Past,
22. All Is Change,
23. Swim Lessons: Take Two,
24. True or False,
26. Gillis Girls Donâ&8364;t Believe in Maybe,
27. Death of Vaudeville,
28. Seven Spectacular Days That Will Change the Course of Your Life,
29. Chopping Wood,
30. Swim Lessons: Take Three,
32. Out with a Bang,
33. Splash! Take Three,
34. The Show Must Go On,
35. True Blue,
36. Next Hive Destination: Chicago, IL,
How to Publish a Novel in Four Easy Steps,
About the Author,