Unknown – L.A. Kirk

Bang! Bang! Bang! My door rattles from the pounding coming from the other side. “Cassandra! It’s time to get up. You have thirty minutes to get ready, or we’ll be late,” Simon yells through the door. Ugh. I roll over, glance at my clock, and blink several times to clear my vision. Five in the morning mocks me. Last night, I laid in bed and stared at the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling for hours. Now that movement’s required, I regret not making myself go to sleep earlier. My brain function wakes up after nine o’clock, but with the lack of sleep that might be P.M. and not A.M. Why did I agree to be shipped off to Camp Odysseus after only four months of living with my newest foster family? Granted, they limited my options to camp or spending the summer working at Simon’s store. My foster parents, Simon and Jeannie, seem nice enough. Bouncing between homes for the last three years provides me with tremendous respect for how I’m treated by foster parents.

Both Simon and Jeannie leave me with space to be myself, so when they told me about this camp, the need to accept their request weighed heavily on me. After my time with them—which I can only describe as a normal life—they decided to ship me off to Camp Odysseus for gifted children. Based on how people treat me most of the time, a camp for troubled teens sounds more accurate. I haven’t always been the best foster child, but since reviewing my path up to this moment hinders my ability to be on time, I drag myself out of bed. I’m going, regardless of the place or reason. I might be a total screw up, but I hate being late. My bag sits by my bedroom door, already packed except for what I need this morning. The hardwood floors chill my feet as I rush down the hall to the bathroom and shower quickly, trying to be quiet so I don’t wake the twins. After I get out, I towel dry my hair, then flip my head upside down to gather my wet hair into a loose bun on top of my head. Slightly curly, brown tendrils fall around my cheeks and neck, but as long as my hair stays out of my eyes, I’m good.

One of these days, I’ll cut it all off, which would make showering faster, and I wouldn’t have to worry about pulling it up. There might be scissors under the counter. My mind wanders into all sorts of strange places from a single word or idea, and I force myself focus instead of searching for sharp objects. Wiping condensation from the mirror, I check my face as I brush my teeth. Blessed with clear skin eliminated one of the typical teen harassment options for me, but kids being picked on because of their acne irritates me. Last year, a freshman picked on one of the girls from his class, so my foot connected with his knee, knocking him into his locker and breaking his nose. The principal suspended me for a week, and I moved back to the orphanage until they found Simon and Jeannie to take me in. This morning, my eyes appear too bright. The red around them from lack of sleep mocks me as much as the alarm clock numbers. The cornflower blue stands out against the crimson.

Because of the stark contrast with my dark-brown hair, my eyes receive a lot of attention. I tend to avoid eye contact. The less people who notice me, the better. Putting on dark eye shadow causes them stand out more, so I go without makeup, which allows me to go unnoticed most of the time. After I finish in the bathroom and dress in jeans and a navy blue t-shirt, I pack my bathroom supplies into my bag. Simon checked the bag last night to make sure I didn’t have any contraband in there. Little does he know I added a secret compartment to the suitcase. He hasn’t been with me long enough to know some of my tricks. There are some things a girl cannot live without. As I make my way downstairs, dragging the suitcase quietly behind, I contemplate running away.

I have everything I need to make it on my own. In a month, I’ll turn eighteenth. I may be small, but if necessary, I can pass for an adult until then. My fake ID rests in the hidden suitcase compartment. No one will miss me. Simon and Jeannie might be upset, but they’ve been foster parents for years, they’re used to kids coming and going from their home. It won’t take long for them to move on. They’ll be more upset I left on their watch than that I left at all. Before I convince myself to make it to the door, Jeannie’s smiling face greets me at the bottom of the stairs. I sometimes wonder if she takes drugs because happiness drips from her.

She doesn’t have any drug usage signs that I’ve noticed, though, so she’s probably just one of those annoyingly happy people. “Good morning, Cassandra. I made you an egg and cheese bagel to eat on the way. Would you like a bottle of water or a glass of orange juice to go with it?” she chirps like one of those birds that wakes me up too early to be legal. “Cassie,” I tell her for the millionth time. I hate being called Cassandra. “I’ll take water. Thank you.” She nods as she glides away, and Simon walks up to take her place. “Here.

Let me take your bag for you.” Simon has the bag out of my hands before I can protest. There goes my escape plan. I meander out to the van with Simon, somewhat surprised to find the driveway still dark, the only illumination coming from the streetlights. No one should be up this early. At least summer came early this year, so it’s nice out. Jeannie plans to stay behind to watch the twins, Sam and Dean. My four-year-old foster brothers have no reason to be awake this early to go anywhere. While I would never admit it to Simon or Jeannie, I’m going to miss Sam and Dean. I told them goodbye last night before they went to bed and promised them I’d return.

Before I can climb into the front seat, Jeannie comes running from the house. She hands me a bagel sandwich wrapped in paper towels and a bottle of water before she pulls me into a tight hug. “This will be great for you. I know you’re scared, but I promise you’ll have a great time.” “Thanks, Jeannie.” I want to tell her I’m not scared, but I don’t. I am scared. Jeannie walks over to hug Simon next. She whispers something in his ear I can’t make out, but it earns her a smile and a quick peck on the cheek. Afterward, Simon climbs into the driver’s seat.

Juggling my breakfast, I climb into the passenger side, set the water bottle in the cup holder on my side, and buckle in for the long drive. Simon turns to me as he pulls out of the driveway. “I know you think we’re abandoning you, that you’re being pushed off onto someone else, but that’s not what we’re doing. This place is designed to strengthen your innate abilities. I’ve watched you for the last few months. I know you read faster than anyone I’ve ever met. You also seem to retain what you’ve read. This place will help you with that. There will be kids like you there.” “Okay.

” I unwrap my breakfast sandwich and take a bite to give myself a reason to avoid admitting the truth about his observations. Having bounced around most of my life, most people ignore me, but Simon notices aspects of me others miss. I pace myself in class, so I appear to read at the same speed as everyone else. I purposely miss questions on exams to blend in with my classmates’ grades. Speed-reading and memory skills barely touch what I’m capable of doing. I can mimic people’s voices and play a musical instrument by ear. I know multiple foreign languages. Regardless of whether this place has people like me, I still don’t want to go. Even after I finish eating, the drive remains quiet as I contemplate my future. My eyes blur as I watch the city give way to the monotony of empty highway, grays mixing with staccato lines of white.

The sun peeks over the edge of the world, casting a golden glow over the fields. As we continue, I wonder about our destination as the fields turn to hills and then slowly into mountains. My hands shake from sudden stress, and a light pounding hits my temples. I always know where I am and how to escape if needed. Now, I won’t know where to turn if I want to get out. I force my voice to remain calm as I glance at Simon from the corner of my eye. “Are we going out of state? Is that why we had to leave so early?” “We’re not leaving Ohio, but the camp’s not far from the Pennsylvania border. It’s located near a lake.” He sounds reassuring, but I’m leery. Several lessons in geography and geology give me a baseline about mountains, but if I’d known our destination ahead of time, my reading would have included the local flora and fauna.

If this place is designed for smart kids, internet access should be available. My research begins when we arrive. As I make plans for my time at Camp Odysseus, I wonder why they built a camp for geniuses in the middle of nowhere. Don’t smart kids go to big schools like Harvard? Wouldn’t those places have programs for future enrollees? While lost in my musings, Simon exits the highway. I focus on his turns. Remembering the way won’t be an issue, but I want to catch anything important that may help me in the future. As we drive, nothing of significance stands out. A small bait shop and convenience store connect via a long gravel drive. Cabins, mobile homes, and tiny houses nestle into the side of the mountain. No cars pass us, and few people linger outside.

Simon turns off the two-lane road and onto a gravel drive, hugged on each side by trees and wildflowers. Had Simon not turned, I’d have missed the driveway. We aren’t on this stretch long before it opens up into a large gravel parking lot. At the end of the space, a large two-story, white building that looks like an old church with its steeple and bell tower in the front sits. Off to the left side, several tables are set up with people sitting behind each. To the right, another gravel lane curves along the side of the mountain. By this time, the clock clicks over to nine o’clock. Parents mill around with their kids, and everyone seems either happy or resigned to be here. A few younger kids run through the crowd, but most students appear to be my age or older with an equal mix of boys and girls. Simon pulls into one of the open spots, gets out of the car, and grabs my bag for me.

As I climb out the clean scent of the country hits me. It reminds me of when my class went on a two-day field trip at one of the state’s nature reserves. Like then, I miss the sounds of cars and the smells of the city. With no signs or people giving direction, we walk over to an empty registration table to find out what to do next. CHAPTER TWO As the man on the other side of the table greets Simon and me, my attention gravitates to my new surroundings. Down the lane to my right, small, two-story apartment buildings line the way, reminding me of the nun housing near one of my old group homes. The back of the buildings faces the side of the mountain, and, as far as I can tell, no cameras point to the building entrances. Staying there would be perfect. I could sneak out without anyone noticing. Simon pulls me out of my appraisal with a slight nudge.

I raise my eyebrows as I turn to him. Both men wait expectantly, which means I missed a question. Simon smiles down at me and saves me from embarrassment. “Mr. Pratt asked if you’ve ever been to camp before.” The middle-aged man’s face remains blank as I answer, “I’ve lived in and out of foster homes and orphanages my entire life. This is my first time to camp.” In the next instant, I want to kick myself. What made me give him so much information? The more people know about me; the more they can use against me. Mr.

Pratt’s eyebrows bunch while he considers my statement. His deep, blue eyes never stray from mine as if he tries to read my thoughts. “There’s been a slight mix up, I’m afraid. We have you listed as a boy, which would put you in one of the boys’ cabins.” “Clearly, I’m a girl,” I grump. “I don’t want to be in a cabin with boys.” “Oh, my dear, we don’t mix boys and girls in the same cabin. Had you been paying attention, you would have noticed I handed your father the rules, schedules, and class choices.” Mr. Pratt points to the packet in Simon’s hand.

“I’m not your dear, and he’s not my father,” I respond back before turning to Simon, stretching my hand out. “Please hand me the packets so I can read them.” Simon passes me the packet, but I hold off on reading it until we finish checking in. He turns back to Mr. Pratt. “When will you know her cabin assignment, so I can get her settled in? I’m not comfortable leaving her here without knowing she’ll be taken care of.” I was worried I might have hurt Simon with my declaration of him not being my father, but, to my relief, he seems more worried about my current situation. “Give me a few minutes while I speak with Ms. Whitney, the head of our female students. It shouldn’t take us long to sort this out since I don’t believe we’re at max capacity with this summer.

” Mr. Pratt gets up and walks over to a pretty, young blond speaking with some parents. As he walks away, I question whether this camp is a fit for me. I mean, how hard can it be to assign a cabin correctly? I understand if my name was unisex, like Jessy or Taylor, but not Cassandra. Again, Simon pulls me out of my reverie. “I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for this, and it will be resolved quickly. These are supposed to be extremely intelligent people, so how hard can it be?” His smirk clues me in that he knows what I was thinking. A few minutes later, Mr. Pratt and Ms. Whitney join us at the table.

“Hello, Cassandra. My name’s Kelly Whitney, and I’m the girls’ counselor for the camp. I’m sorry for the confusion with your cabin. I have a place for you in cabin number five. I’ll show you there, now.” She starts to walk away, but turns back to Simon. “Mr. French, please wait for us here. Although parents are allowed back in the cabin area, we like to try and begin the separation up front so there are no emotional memories built back where the girls stay.” Simon nods and hands me my bag.

I follow Ms. Whitney down the dusty, gravel-covered road to the cabins. “You may call me Kelly. We like to be informal around here. It helps build trust which in turn allows us to understand your strengths but also your weaknesses, so we can make you into the leaders of tomorrow.” She sounds like a brochure for the place. “Cassie. People call me Cassie. I’m only called Cassandra by the authorities. I’ll be frank with you, I don’t know much about your camp.

I was only just informed I would be attending two days ago. I have the packet of instructions from Mr. Pratt, but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.” What is this place? I wish the camp sent out the material in the packets before we arrived on site. Kelly’s young; I wouldn’t place her as someone in charge of people a few years her junior. “Well, Cassie”—the brightness in her voice, followed by a wink, gives me the impression she thinks I’ve let her in on a secret—“Camp Odysseus started more than a hundred years ago to help educate future generations to be open to new ideas, to think through existing problems and find solutions, and to help lead the government and businesses. The camp is named for the same Odysseus that you may have read about in a mythology class. He was an excellent strategist. He overcame adversity. Most importantly, he was the hero to many.

Those are the qualities we look for in our students.” “I don’t think I belong here,” I blurt out. I take a few deep breaths to calm myself. This place throws me off my game. I usually control what I say or how I react in situations, but not here. Based on her assessment of the camp, I don’t meet any of the qualities they seek in their participants. “Why would you say that?” When she stops in the middle of the road, I almost run into her. Softly, I sigh to myself. I’ve done it now; although, maybe if I tell her, they’ll kick me out. “I’ve gotten into fights at school before.

I’ve broken into houses. I’ve stolen—” She cuts me off before I can finish my resume. “You were protecting a young girl from a bully when you fought the last time.” How does she know that? “Yes, but—”

.

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