Sixteen-year-old Paisley Manning has been attending Camp Starling since she was a little girl, when her parents ran it together. For the last few years, since her father’s death, she’s been the one helping her mom run the camp behind the scenes. This year, however, will be Camp Starling’s last hurrah because Paisley’s mom has met a guy online and they’re getting married.
Enter Hayden Bennett, who is working alongside Paisley. Paisley and Hayden are like oil and water. She follows the rules, and he seems to live to break them all. But when Hayden catches wind of Paisley's predicament, he has an idea. If a matchmaker in some computer algorithm caused the issue, a couple of real-life matchbreakers can fix it.
As they work to break up the happy couple, Paisley discovers that maybe Hayden's not so bad after all. Has she met her own perfect match in her fellow matchbreaker?
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Read an Excerpt
Camp Time: Sunday. July 17.
I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life. For the first time ever, I get to be a Camp Starling counselor. The first and last time.
My cursive loops on the blank page of my camper’s journal. This one has a purple leather cover with a tree embossed on the front. A lone bird soars in the right corner, which is what drew me to this specific journal. I don’t take choosing the perfect camper’s journal lightly. This one will stay with me over the next two weeks and document all the camp moments I never want to forget. That’s especially important this year.
A lump tightens my throat as I lie on the bottom bunk in my empty cabin, staring up at the wood planks of the bed above me. The other counselors aren’t here yet. It’s just me and one big secret that presses in on me from all sides. I put my pen to paper and prepare to unload that secret—that’s what journals are for—when I hear a rattling noise outside.
My spine straightens. What kind of bizarre sound was that? It reminds me of the obnoxious way my mom’s boyfriend Dave shakes cubes of ice in his glass—only louder. The rattle is followed by a loud SHHHHHHHHH.
The only other people on the grounds right now are my mom—the owner of Camp Starling—and Dave, who gets to serve as assistant camp director just because he’s dating my mom. Camp Starling is a camp for all ages to enjoy nature at its best. The next two weeks are designated specifically for teenaged girls and boys ages twelve through fifteen. Sixteen and up—me!—get to serve as camp counselors.
I hear the noise again and briefly wonder if it’s my best friend, Nora. Nora is going to be the counselor in the cabin next door to mine. It’s early, though, and Nora is a fashionably late kind of friend. I, on the other hand, view arrival times as a rule never to be broken. Actually, I view all rules as unbending lines in the sand.
The rattle and SHHHHH noises start again. I still myself and listen. It almost sounds as if it’s right outside my cabin. Unable to contain my curiosity, I leave my journal to walk over and peek outside the door. There’s no one there. Just Blue Lake, which is little more than a hop, skip, and a jump down a stone path ahead of me. To my left there’s nothing but woods because Chickadee Cabin is the last before an expanse of tall pines and oaks. To my right . . .
I pull in a sharp breath. “What are you doing here?”
Hayden Bennett whirls to face me as he stops walking away from my cabin. He has a surprised expression, as if he had no idea anyone else was here. Even though we’ve had plenty of classes together over the last couple years, I wouldn’t say that Hayden and I are friends. He’s that guy who’s cute in theory, but who’s always in trouble. I know this better than anyone because my mom is the principal of our high school. Usually when I stop in to see her, Hayden will be sitting outside her office, inside it, or he’ll just be leaving. It’s not that he does horrible things. He’s just perpetually tardy, turns in his assignments late, and doodles on everything except paper.
I cross my arms over my chest. “This is private property,” I tell him, waiting for an answer to why he’s standing outside Chickadee Cabin. Camp Starling isn’t even in the town where we live. It’s a thirty-minute trip if my mom’s the one driving. If I’m behind the wheel, it’s more like forty because I only just got my license and I’m a cautious driver.
Maybe Hayden is a counselor here. I seriously doubt he filled out the application, though. Even if he did, my mom would never choose him. Must be good with kids is also a requirement. And from what I’ve seen, Hayden lacks people skills in general.
Case in point: instead of making conversation right now, he’s just standing there. He kind of looks nervous, which is different from his usual apathetic demeanor. Even when he’s outside my mom’s office at school, he’s slouched in the chair with his long dark bangs hanging over his eyes like he’s just waiting to go inside to . . . what? I don’t even know because I am never that unfazed about anything.
As I watch him, his eyes are wider than I’ve ever seen them, drawing me in to the color of his irises. They’re brown. His gaze shifts from side to side. His feet are shifty too, making him look like he’s ready to bolt. I notice the fabric messenger bag on his shoulder. It looks heavy and there’s a bright green stain seeping through the canvas material. Before I can ask more questions, Hayden starts to back away.
His eyes dart around anywhere except to meet mine. What was he doing right before I peeked out of my cabin? I’m certain he was the source of the strange noises. “Hey, Pais. I, uh, didn’t know anyone was here yet.”
“Just me and my mom, Principal Manning,” I tell him, emphasizing the word principal even though my mom takes that hat off during the summers. I’m just trying to ignite fear in Hayden’s eyes. He doesn’t look scared, though. Just suspect. “A few of the camp counselors are starting to arrive too.” The counselors arrive one day before the campers. It gives us a chance to bond and review the rules before we take charge.
Hayden steps back and I can tell he’s about to jet. I don’t want him to go until I figure out why he’s here to begin with, though. “We have counselor orientation this evening. Camp starts tomorrow,” I tell him, trying to stall. “Today is Camper’s Eve.”
The skin between Hayden’s dark eyes pinches softly. “Like Christmas Eve?”
I shrug. “Camper’s Eve is what my dad used to call the afternoon before all the campers arrived for the first day. It might as well have been Christmas to him. He loved Camp Starling.” I can feel my eyes suddenly burning and I know they’re glistening. Now I’m the one who wants to retreat. I don’t talk about my dad much, and this is why.
Hayden looks mildly interested. “Used to? What does he call it now?”
Hayden didn’t start attending my school until my seventh-grade year, right after I lost my dad. I guess he doesn’t know my story. Why would he? I’m surprised he even knows my name. Or at least the first syllable of it. “My dad died when I was twelve.”
Hayden looks at me for a long moment. Then his gaze drops to his feet. I notice that he’s used a pen to draw all over his white Converse shoes. There’s so much ink, they’re practically black. I make out tiny streets and a cityscape. I think maybe there’s a dragon on the toe of his other shoe. I look up at him again and his gaze swipes to the bag on his shoulder.
“My dad is gone too,” Hayden says. “He doesn’t have a good excuse. He just bolted one day.” He shrugs like it’s no big deal. Maybe it’s not for him, but not having my father around is a huge deal to me.
“You never answered what you’re doing here,” I say more forcefully this time.
“I, uh, was just driving around and saw this place. I guess I wanted to see what it was.”
He must think I’m gullible to buy such an obvious lie. No way would he waste gas to drive thirty minutes from his home for no good reason. “The Camp Starling sign at the front entrance should have clued you in that this place is a camp. At least for now,” I mutter.
“What do you mean by that?” he asks.
Oops. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. I shake my head. “N-nothing. Nothing I can control at least.”
Hayden’s gaze catches and holds mine. “You have more control than you think. Adults just like you to think you don’t.”
I watch him for a moment, wondering if he’s right. If I could somehow reverse the huge tidal wave that’s about to sweep my life off its axis. Once my mom makes up her mind, though, her decision is cemented. There’s no wiggle room to compromise for what I want.
“A starling is a bird, right?” Hayden asks then.
I have to admit, I’m surprised and a little impressed that he knows this. “A starling is one of the most intelligent birds,” I say. “They’ve actually outperformed tamarin monkeys in intelligence tests.”
I know a lot of random information about birds. It was my dad’s thing and now it’s kind of mine too.
“Wow. That’s cool.”
“Yeah.” I quickly drop my gaze and deflect the attention back on him. “What’s in your bag?” I take a step forward, but he takes several steps back, nearly tripping over his graffitied shoes.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, looking at me for real this time. “I didn’t know this was your mom’s place. See you around, Pais.”
“Paisley,” I say, correcting him. Apparently he thinks he’s too cool to use my full name. He doesn’t seem to hear me, though. He’s already walking, half running, away. I watch as he veers off the path and into the woods that eventually lead to a fence that he’ll need to clear before leaving the property. I have no doubt he’ll be able to. He’s an easy five foot ten, whereas I’m only five foot four standing tall. There’s a parking lot beyond the fence. I’m guessing that’s where his car is.
Again, I wonder what he was doing here and what that mysterious noise I heard before stepping out of my cabin was. I watch him disappear and another thought comes to mind. Since Mom and I are moving away from our hometown of Seabrook next month, I’m pretty sure that was the last time I’ll ever lay eyes on Hayden Bennett.
An hour later, I hear another noise outside Chickadee Cabin. It’s not a rattle or a SHHHH. Instead, I hear footsteps, punctuated by Nora’s muffled grunts as she lugs what’s probably way too much stuff for two weeks of camp. I rush to the door, throw it open, and let out an excited shriek that surprises even myself. “You’re here!”
She laughs as I pull her into the cabin. “Since we’re sharing a car, I bugged Dad until he decided it would be easier to take me sooner than listen to me jabber for another second.”