Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chapter 2

New to Snapshots? Start here

Chapter 2

“Alex McNeely, please report to the ticket counter.” The voice was crisp and professional, but sounded impersonal and cold to Alex as she reluctantly headed back inside.

She felt hot, sweaty, and sick to her stomach as she forced her rubbery knees to keep pushing forward. It was a bad idea, she thought, a really bad idea. I won’t do it again. Not that she would be likely to get the chance. Would she get sent to a detention center? A foster home? Did it matter that she was suddenly very, very sorry?

Alex stopped at a row of vinyl chairs about twenty yards from the counter. She needed a moment to pull herself together before she faced whatever was about to follow. She took a deep breath, pressing her sweaty palms together in an attempt to stop her hands from shaking. Mere seconds passed before the inevitable. “There she is,” Alex caught her breath as she recognized the voice of the airline representative she had spoken with earlier.

Two things surprised Alex as the cute guy turned from the counter and headed toward her. First, was the look of relief that washed over his face. The second was that he couldn’t be much older than Alex herself.

“Alex?” The guy asked hopefully, raking his fingers through his wavy brown hair.

Alex nodded dumbly.

“I’m Jason Strafford. I’m really glad I caught up with you. Do you have any luggage?” He raised his eyebrows, extending two hands in a palms up gesture, in apparent indication that he’d love to be helpful if Alex would merely show him how.

“Did my father send you?” Alex asked weakly.

“No,” Jason looked puzzled. ”At least not directly. I guess he could have arranged something through the office…” his voice trailed as he faltered, evidently frustrated by his inability to be more helpful. “But I’m here nonetheless.” His tone of voice shifted to an upbeat note. “Can I take that bag for you while we find the rest?” he nodded at the overstuffed carry on weighing down the entire left side of Alex’s slight frame.

Are you with social services?”

Jason looked surprised. “Me? No way, I’m just a lowly photographer. We won’t see anyone from social services until later in the week.”

Alex’s head was spinning, and for one sickening moment, her vision began to black out and her ears began to ring and she knew she was seconds away from passing out.

What office? Why a photographer? What lay ahead at the end of the week? And, more importantly, why was this young, gorgeous guy who could have easily stepped from any one of the magazine covers at the airport newsstand so happy about all of this?

“Are you all right?” Jason asked with concern.

Alex choked back the tears that were threatening to make this already disastrous situation even worse as she back into one the vinyl chairs and pulled a tissue from the small cellophane package she spotted in her emergency pack.

“I’ve been better,” Alex said carefully. “I can’t give you my luggage because it’s lost. I already filled out all this paperwork, that’s all I can do. So I’ll have to go without it.” A tear trickled down her cheek and she stopped to blow her nose and compose herself.

“Hey, now, it can’t be all that bad,” Jason said, taking a seat beside her. “I’m going to call my mom. She loves to shop. She’ll help you get everything you need before we head off to camp. You’ll forget about all of this as soon as you get there.”

Camp? Was it really possible that Jason, the photographer dispatched by the mysterious office was her ride to camp? She had some serious backtracking to do.

“How did you find me?” she asked, hoping the high pitched confusion in her voice didn’t betray the fact that this was the first moment in the past half hour that she didn’t think she was headed for certain doom.

Jason grinned. “I’m getting the idea that you weren’t expecting anyone to pick you up. Let’s start over.” Jason extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Jason from Camp Edson. Meg, the camp director, sent me here to meet you and give you a ride to camp.”

Alex smiled and shook his hand. “Thanks, but how did you know when to come for me?”

“This is the only flight coming in from Virginia until the red eye. Figured it was a good bet you’d be here…if not, I’d just come back in another,” he paused and glanced at his watch “thirteen hours or so.” He pulled a cell phone from a cargo pocket on the side of his khakis and punched out a series of numbers with his thumb.

“Hey, Mom, how’s the research going? You up for a break?”

Alex didn’t like the sound of interrupting someone’s research, but from Jason’s end, the conversation sounded smooth and easygoing. He grinned into the phone, responded with a small laugh at something that his mother had said, and answered with a comment Alex guessed to be appropriately witty in context. “Thanks, mom,” he finally said, in a charmingly sincere tone Alex found unlikely outside a Boy Scout meeting. Snapping the phone shut, he turned to Alex and said, “We’ve got about a half hour to kill. Want to sit somewhere with a soda?”

Camp life, Jason explained, was very full. “Relax while you can,” he said, handing her a large paper cup and a straw from the plastic tray he carried from the service counter of the airport’s snack bar. “Once we get to camp, you won’t remember what it’s like to kick back with a cold root beer.”

Staff training would begin that very afternoon: first aid basics, water safety, awareness talks from social services. There were cabins to clean, trails to clear, and handbooks to memorize. Then the campers would come, along with the need to put all that training into constant use. It sounded pretty intimidating, but Alex reminded herself that, after all, she did sign up for a challenge.

“I just wish I knew what my job was,” Alex said. She’d been hired to fill the vaguely outlined position of “support staff”, the ramifications of which she hadn’t previously taken the time to consider, but, now were advancing into the forefront of her thoughts as Jason threw in tidbits about unruly campers and the usual shortage of kitchen help.

“You were one of two or three people Meg hired over the phone. She just wanted to meet you guys before she assigned you to specific jobs—there’s a few possibilities, I’m sure she’ll find one that’s a good match.”

“What, exactly, will you do?” Alex asked.

“Talk about a perfect match, this is my dream job.” Jason practically oozed with enthusiasm. “It’s a new feature on the camp website. We’re posting pictures of the campers as they go through their day. That way, families can see what’s going on with the kids. Plus, it helps the camp. They’ve been applying for some grant money. This gives potential donors a way to really see the camp in operation. I’m expected to post twenty new pictures twice a day.”

“So basically, you’re working with cameras and computers all day?”

“Pretty much, but it gets better. I’m hoping to get into a photojournalism program next year, and I’m applying for a scholarship. This gives me a great opportunity to put my portfolio together. I’ll take pictures all week, and spend the weekends in the darkroom working on my scholarship package.”

“Where’s the darkroom?”

“At home.”

“You have your own darkroom?”

“Pretty cool, huh?” Jason flashed his cover boy dimples. “Photography has been my thing since middle school. Mom and Dad transformed storage area into a darkroom for me as an eighth grade graduation gift.”

The only thing Alex managed to recall about departing the eighth grade was a lengthy visit to the guidance office concerning the possibility of remedial summer course work to boost her GPA. The session did not culminate in significant overhaul of any area of the house, although she did receive a free tote bag at the bookstore where her mother purchased refresher workbooks for her annual flight north.

It was becoming clear that Jason was from one those impossibly perfect families that Alex occasionally observed from a distance but had little firsthand knowledge of, likely due to the fact that neither of her own families had anything in common with perfection.

Alex pictured well-dressed people with smiling faces gathering around a dinner table covered with steaming, homemade entrees. Jason and his siblings would brag about all the A’s they racked up at school that day, while the parents related amusing tidbits from day’s work at stable, lucrative professions.

“What is your mom researching?” Alex asked, as if to prove her point.

“Art therapy and the at-risk child,” Jason said. “She’s a university professor. She’s up for tenure, but in her field it’s publish or perish. She’s been working on this study for nearly 18 months. If it’s successful—i.e., if it gets printed in a professional journal—she’ll get tenure.”

“What’s that?” Alex asked, feeling dumb.

“Permanent job security.”

Of course,” Alex said, more to herself than Jason.

As the level of Alex’s soda inched closer to the ice congregated at the bottom of her red plastic tumbler, her nervousness about the professor’s imminent arrival rose in inverse proportion. Alex couldn’t recall ever meeting a real-life professor, but stereotypes and movies served her well in forming a mental image of what to expect. A suit, definitely. Possibly polyester, but more likely tweedy grey. What with all the research, there was bound to be some sort of black leather bag or briefcase in one well manicured hand and the keys to a late model sedan in the other. Alex hated situations that made her feel awkward, at the mercy of others, and generally out of control. The current one was shaping up to be all three.

Alex scanned the horizon of the airport terminal and, seeing no immediate prospects, relaxed enough to sip down the last of her soda. She tensed again as a wave of recognition crossed Jason’s face, but called off the mental alert as a blonde woman in paint splattered blue jeans approached the table. Someone from the camp? A chance meeting with an old teacher? Alex wasn’t sure, but the woman’s warm smile put her instantly at ease. All thoughts of the impending shopping trip with the professor were temporarily pushed from her mind. At least until Jason motioned in her direction and said , “Alex, I’d like you to meet Joanna. My mom.”

As surprising as Alex found the professor’s well worn jeans, flip flops, and long wavy hair, it was her easy manner that really caught her off guard as she timidly shook Dr. Strafford’s outstretched hand. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess,” she laughed, turning toward her son. “You caught me at the end of a session.”

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Jason said.

“Oh, it was perfect timing,” the professor said. “We’d already survived three overturned mixing trays, a puddle of green paint, and two brushes down the drain. It’s safe to say we were done for the day.” She turned to Alex. “My research is a lot of fun, but a special needs art class is always an adventure. But enough about me. Jason says you need a few things to get by while the airline locates your luggage?”

Alex nodded dumbly, and continued feeling both mute and less-than-bright as she trailed behind Jason and his mother through the parking lot and toward their incredibly average minivan. Alex couldn’t think of a single thing to say, but Dr. Strafford—Joanna, as she insisted on being called—instantly put her at ease with stories about research sessions that sounded an awful lot like children’s art classes. Alex became absorbed in the stories of Joanna’s students: the autistic boy who couldn’t hold a paintbrush but formed a clay zoo full of animal sculptures, the little girl who never spoke but said volumes through collage cut outs –that she almost forgot to be concerned about her own situation until they pulled into the parking lot of a shopping center Alex remembered visiting once with Angela and the twins.

She knew it was unlikely that Angela would be out shopping in the early afternoon—her prime time for seeing clients at her home based office—and even if she did find a sudden need to purchase wholesome snacks for the twins, she would almost certainly be at a shopping center a closer to her neighborhood, a good half hour north by Alex’s estimation. Still, being in a place where she knew Angela had been, ever, put her on instant edge.

In the interest of speed and economy, Alex made a beeline for the clearance rack in the back of juniors section of the large department store. After rejecting four shirts upon consultation of the price tag, Alex’s eyes began to dart around in search of a deeper layer of savings on a more distant rack.

“What about this,” Joanna asked, holding up a cute green top and a pair of jean shorts. Alex hesitated, trying to think of a clever brush off that would neither offend Joanna nor lead to her having to part with a large portion of her wallet’s meager contents.

“Hey, I’ve got this old gift card,” Joanna said, rummaging through a knit orange bag that wasn’t remotely capable of transporting scholarly research. It’s probably about ready to expire. Let’s get you a couple good outfits just in case the airline doesn’t come through for a few days.”

“Oh. Wow. You don’t have to…” Alex stammered.

“Nonsense,” Joanna replied. Let’s get some clothes and get you guys off to camp!”
With that, Joanna took control of the cart and they breezed through the aisles, Alex keeping a grateful eye on the ever-growing pile of camp essentials mounting in the basket and alert gaze around each corner they turned. Her heart skipped a beat every time she saw a thick head of dark hair on a woman with an athletic build—which seemed way too often than Alex found reasonable to expect. By the time they reached the checkout line, she was on the verge of an anxiety induced asthma attack. And she didn’t even have asthma.

Alex wasn’t keeping up with her end of the conversation and she felt terrible, but really, what was she supposed to say? Sorry, guys, I’m a little distracted because I might run into my stepmother, who doesn’t know I’m in town?”

As if reading her mind, Joanna turned to Alex as they crossed the parking lot toward the minivan. “So, how did you end up with a summer job in New York, Alex?”

Alex was prepared for this question. However, the ever-tightening knot in her stomach served as a constant reminder of the possibility of becoming entangled in the maze of her own deceit. She took a deep breath. “I spend every summer in New York,” she answered truthfully. “My dad and his family live here, so I’m a summertime resident. But this year, my father had to go away on business, and my step mother had to go to Atlanta to take care of her mother who had surgery, so asked if I could work at camp. That way, I’ll have a place to live and work, and still see my family on a few weekends here and there,” she said, seamlessly sliding into the fiction around which she’d shaped her summer.

This was the first chance Alex had to try her prepared statement on a live audience and she tried hard not to study Joanna’s face for signs of doubt. Joanna started the van, said something about a “creative solution,” and steered both the vehicle and the conversation down a camp-bound path. Alex fixed her face forward, in a concentrated effort to avoid a show of relief.

As the van crunched across the gravel road that led straight into camp, her face broke into a huge smile that was part relief and part sheer excitement. She’d actually made it. She was here, at Camp Edson! Alex held her camera up to the window and took a shot, commemorating her first moment at camp. Turning her attention to the image captured on her screen, she felt her hands go to Jell-O. She fumbled her way across the controls in an attempt to zoom in on what she thought she saw. Even as the background consumed the camera screen, it took a few moments for reality to sink in. Although she couldn’t think of a reason why, the picture in front of her confirmed her worst fear. Angela was here, at camp.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chapter 1

(New to Snapshots? Start here)

Chapter 1

“I can’t find my bag.”

The airline representative behind the counter sighed broadly, licking her index finger and planting it on a form that she plucked from a large stack near her computer. “Fill in the top two fields,” she instructed in monotone, wielding an oversized fingernail over some highlighted text.

No, no,” Alex said, “it’s sort of an emergency.” She glanced at the carousal of spinning luggage behind her, seeing nothing but the lone red suitcase that had been travelling the circuit for the past ten minutes.

Another long sigh from behind the counter. “Isn’t it always,” the agent said wryly, in a tone that did not indicate compassion. “Listen, just fill out the form and we’ll call you when we have your bag.”

Alex swallowed hard. If only it were that easy. A sudden realization made her face burn and her stomach churn. The identification tag on her duffel bag gave her dad’s address and phone number. What if the airline called his house? After all, it was a local number. They’d probably assume she had returned from wherever she had been and that delivering the luggage to her home would be a great service.

She couldn’t let that happen. “Do you contact the address on the ID tag?” Alex asked innocently. The agent raised her eyebrows and narrowed her eyes. Alex wasn’t sure how to interpret the look, so she plowed ahead. “See, I’m going to be at camp. Not my house. My home address is on the tags, and-”

The airline employee wordlessly tapped her fingernail over a phrase that read “….every effort is made to ensure that your baggage is returned to you on site.”

“Yes, but—”

“Indicate the address where you wish to be contacted on the top two lines.” She gave the form several firm thumps with her fingertip.

“Yes, but what if the luggage doesn’t turn up here—where the form is…” her voice trailed helplessly.

“That’s why you label it, dear. As long as it has an ID tag, you’ll get it back.”

Alex’s hands shook as she filled out the forms. She was thankful that the airline agent was too busy rapidly clicking her fingernails across her keyboard to notice. Alex was leaving a trail, just like criminals did in the movies—the bad ones that got caught, anyway.

When she was finished, Alex slid the papers across the counter. The agent plucked a couple brochures from a rack, grabbed a small clear bag from beneath the counter and handed it all to Alex. “I’ve put a trace into the system,” she said, nodding toward her computer. “Good luck.” She gave an authoritative nod that effectively ended the conversation. “Next.” She barked, craning her head meaningfully around Alex, as she beckoned the good-looking young man who was next in line.

Alex turned slowly from the counter, scanning the brochures with grim titles such as When Your Luggage Doesn’t Make It and Stood Up at the Baggage Carousal: What to do When All Else Fails. She glanced through the clear plastic bag at the oh-so-helpful assortment of emergency supplies: a small tube of toothpaste, a travel toothbrush, even a thin pair of socks. The only thing that seemed immediately useful was the small foil packet containing a single dose of headache medicine. About two feet into her retreat she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. The cute guy at the counter had definitely said her name.

Alex paused and fiddled with the bag, straining to hear without looking conspicuous. The guy said something that sounded suspiciously like her flight number, and she definitely heard the word “page.” She decided not to stick around to find out more. Alex made a beeline for the exit.

Paranoia set in quickly. Alex had certainly underestimated the efficiency of the airline. An agile bunch of dedicated workers, they must have not only found her bag, but phoned in the good news to her father’s house. Busy with clients all day, Alex’s step mom, Angela, never picked up the phone. Undoubtedly, though, she would have been the first to hear the message. Alex wasn’t sure about how Angela would have notified her father at court—didn’t they keep the jury sequestered? If he could be reached at the courthouse, however, he’d have a wide assortment of law enforcement options at his immediate disposal. It was hard to tell how the cute guy might fit into the scenario, unless social services had been dispatched already.

Alex had always considered herself to be an honest person. Although some—and Alex feared that this equation included all parental units—would argue that her current actions not only flew in the face of straight up honest dealing, they teetered on the brink of downright delinquency.

Turning Lester’s escapade into a once in a lifetime opportunity was the ultimate application of the lemons to lemonade philosophy that had served her so well in life. Put the proper spin on it, and any situation can become an advantage. Even her Sunday School teacher had said that adversities were a gift from God to help people grow. Although Alex was pretty sure that covert summer employment was not what Mrs. Evans had in mind when she made those remarks, it didn’t diminish their application in Alex’s mind.

After all, this situation wasn’t appreciably different from the time when she’d skipped three September school days to sell French fries at the traveling carnival that set up camp three blocks from her house. She had trudged home each day in rough synchronization with the final bell, smelling thickly of grease that she hoped her mother would associate with the school cafeteria.

Her mother had needed the cash. Indirectly, at least. She’d just been laid off from her job at the billing department of a large auto dealer, and Alex felt guilty for needing soccer cleats and school supplies. With careful rationing, Alex didn’t have to ask her mom for a dime for the next three months, which was a far better time because by then she had been rehired—in a promoted position, no less. It had all been for the good cause of stress reduction and happy home relations.

It was the same thing now, another good cause. After all, if Alex was ever going to have a normal teenage summer complete late night cabin pranks and one of those seasonal romances she always read about, it would seem like now was the time. And, these were disadvantaged kids she’d be working with. And again, the anti-stress factor couldn’t be overlooked. With Alex’s summer plans, everyone benefited. Alex’s parents could enjoy summer without cumbersome rescheduling and taxing phone conversations, the disadvantaged kids had enough staff for their camp, and, as an added bonus, Alex could have the kind of summer she’d always dreamed of having.

It had been the perfect solution to the ultimate joint-custody mishap. Even Alex’s father could now endure jury duty with pure peace of mind after reading his daughter’s letter about the exciting new job she had taken. Alex’s letter to her father had, in fact, been technically accurate. She’d taken great pains to describe her new summer job in a way that would leave Dan McNeely with a sense of confidence.

Yes, his daughter would be all right this summer. No, they couldn’t reschedule the trip, as she’d taken a responsible position at a nearby camp. The only thing left open for interpretation was what, exactly, the camp was nearby. Alex knew her father would feel no need to investigate that detail. She’d been under her mother’s roof at the time, and, though Alex was quite sure he’d naturally assume the camp was nearby as in Virginia, not nearby as in New York, Alex had not actually lied.

It had been a plan of flawless design. Beautifully executed, and with the aid of the cell phone her parents split the cost of for their individual Alex-tracking purposes, completely possible to sustain indefinitely. Although Alex had always known that there was a possibility the entire plan could backfire, she never imagined that it would happen before she even left the airport.

She was determined to at least get to camp. She had no idea what was up, but she needed some time to think, to sort through her options. Although it appeared that she’d have to face up to the whole mess a lot sooner than anticipated, she wasn’t prepared for it to happen in the next ten minutes.

These were the thoughts that hammered through Alex’s brain as she exited the airport, stepped onto the curb and attempted to hail a cab. Three passed her by and the driver of a fourth was parked and asleep at the wheel. She finally got the attention of a fifth cab by stepping off the curb mere inches from the passenger door and waving her arms in a wide arc. The driver stopped, and she slid into the backseat of the cab. “Thanks,’ she said, breathlessly, hoping she didn’t sound nervous. “I need a ride to Camp Edson.”

The driver cocked his head to the side as he turned around to give her a questioning glance that made her suddenly uncomfortable.

“Come again?” the driver asked, cupping a hand around his ear.

“Camp Edson,” Alex enunciated carefully, hoping she didn’t sound sarcastic.

“A street address would help us along, here, ” the cab driver prompted.

Alex dug through her carry on until she found the crumpled sheets she’d printed from the camp’s web site. “Thirteen-twenty Edson Road,” Alex began.

“Edson Road? Let me see that,” the driver reached a bony hand toward the sheet in Alex’s hand. “May I?”

Alex handed off the paper, her nervousness mounting by the second. Rapid-fire “What if” thoughts hammered through her mind. What if she misread the maps? What if Camp Edson was in a different Faulkner, NY? One nowhere near the Albany airport. What if-”

The driver chuckled in a way Alex didn’t like at all. “Well,” he began, “I can get you there, but,” he tapped the meter on the front of his dashboard, “you might not like the results.”

What do you mean?”

“Look,” he said, tracing the lines on the not-really-to-scale map under the dog-eared corner of the paper that shook in his hand. “This is forty, fifty miles from here. The trip would cost at least seventy-five, eighty dollars. I’m not interested in wiping out your ice cream money. Why don’t you do yourself a favor and go inside and make a call to this camp. See if they can’t send someone out for you.”

The driver’s voice had taken on a sympathetic, if not downright grandfatherly tone. Alex fidgeted in a moment of uncertainty. On one hand, going back into the airport seemed to be clearly out of the question. On the other hand, she had counted her money the night before, and already knew that she only had $76.37. Maybe just enough to get her there—or maybe not. Her brain started to crank out the “what if” questions once again: what if I just ask him to let me out once the meter hits $75.00? What if I’m still five miles from camp? What if the driver gets suspicious and calls the police? What if I need more money before I get my first paycheck?

“Listen,” the cab driver said as he handed Alex her paper. “Go in, make a few calls, if nothing works out, flag me down on my next pass through the airport.”

Alex stood on the curb, stunned. Her summer was going to end here, then, in the airport, before it even began. Before she’d be able to answer the questions that her actions demanded, the reasons and the why’s to which the only answer she could offer was that she’d love to be able to explain herself. It hardly seemed feasible that explaining herself could be both the question and the answer at the same time.

The glass doors behind Alex slid open as passengers exited the airport. Riding on the sound waves trailing in their wake, Alex heard the one word she dreaded most. He name. A cold sweat broke over her entire body as she realized the awful truth. She was busted.

(I appreciate your comments! I have heard from some readers that they are having trouble posting comments below. If you are having trouble, you can comment in the thread on my facebook page--I value your input no matter where it appears--CD)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Exactly two things were clear to Alex McNeely at takeoff: for Lester O’Reiley it would be a summer of stiff charges for flying a late model Lexus through the window of a 7-11, and, in a lifetime first, she had no way to predict what she’d capture on the point and shoot digital camera tucked inside the pocket of her carry on bag.

It was early June, and Alex was flying into the unknown with nothing but an endpoint to frame her adventure. Her return ticket was tucked inside the duffel bag she’d checked during the lengthy security ritual she’d endured in the early morning hours and confirmed a 6 am flight the Thursday before Labor Day. Just like any other summer, Alex would return south in the final hours of August. Back to school, back to her room, back to routine. These facts were a given as the jet barreled down the runway.

What was unclear was what would happen between the moment that she got off the plane in Albany, New York in three hours and her scheduled return nearly three months in her future. That was also a fact, and it excited Alex more than anything that had ever happened in the sixteen years she’d been alive.

Leaving her mother and Courtney at the airport was familiar territory, as was the last minute packing she’d finished at midnight. Even the crayon-scrawled sign her half- sister taped to her bedroom door was identical to the one she made the year before: Closed for the season—Grand Reopening in September.

The reality of Alex’s adventure hadn’t hit her yet, because everything so far had seemed so normal. The tug she’d given Courtney’s braid as the little girl pushed her bags across the stained backseat of their aging mini van, the hasty pass through the drive up window of the all night donut shop: it was all so ordinary. Catching a flight on a northbound airliner the first Monday of summer break was unremarkable in every way.

Each September, Alex’s classmates returned to school with faces kissed by sun and surf, wallets bulging with the proceeds of summer jobs, and online albums of photos that told the stories of open roads and interesting places, old friends and new faces. Alex’s summers in New York may have begun at the airport, but they didn’t go much further than the living room of her father’s brick split level where she was surrounded by the preadolescent clutter of her twin half brothers and the ever present foliage of her herbalist step mother. Her own summer photos didn’t document much beyond the growth of the twins and the recession of her father’s hairline.

Alex’s summers were an edited version of rest of her life. They were bite-sized chapters in a story of a girl who shared a life with one family, a name with another, but a clear identity with neither. Of a second room, additional rules, and half siblings: division and multiplication at its worst, a mathematical madness that left Alex searching for a formula to account for it all.

Glancing at the newspaper clipping she clutched in her hand, Alex knew that the choices that would determine the course of her summer had already been made. There was no turning back. Lester O’Reilly’s crime demanded the ruling of a jury of average citizens, and Alex could bear witness to the fact that no citizen in the Keystone State was more average than Dan McNeely. Summoned to jury duty two weeks ago, Alex’s father had written her his apologies. He even sent a clipping—honest to goodness documentation of criminal activity that required his attention.

Alex knew that this wasn’t news of your average bump-in-the-road variety. Not after her parent’s semi-annual phone conference was in the past, an airline ticket purchased, and her mom’s calendar filled with a season of carefully planned, Alex-free arrangements. No, from the moment Alex plucked her father’s letter from the usual assortment of bills and junk, she knew this would be a four alarm, send in the lawyers custody squabble.

In a simple avoidance tactic, Alex sat on the information for a couple days. Just for fun, she began clicking her way though internet search engines wondering what she could do with a ticket to Albany, NY besides instigating another round of McNeely peace talks.

That’s when she discovered the prevention of her mother’s headaches, the antidote to her father’s guilt and her own escape from boredom all in a convenient, one-stop package. The website described Camp Edson as the “summer-long ride of your life” and Alex had to hand it to the camp’s advertising department: the phrase hooked her.

The online employment application included a lot of tough questions. Alex found that she spent a long time with it—two whole nights, in fact. The folks at Camp Edson wanted to know a lot more than the basic factual information demanded by any potential employer. They were obviously after some deeper analysis.

The questions ranged from determining how the applicant might deal with various fictional camp mishaps to what special skills and abilities the candidate might bring to the camp, and why the individual would be a good choice to work with disadvantaged campers.

Alex really didn’t have the answers to these questions, but she wasn’t one to let a small detail like a lack of content keep her from cranking out true masterpieces of creative fiction. She didn’t have a clue what she might do if she got lost on a trail with a group of campers, or how she’d potentially respond to an overturned canoe on choppy waters. She certainly wasn’t aware of possessing special skills likely to prove helpful in the camping environment, and what’s more, she wasn’t sure she could tell the difference between a disadvantaged camper and one who got all the breaks.

Alex didn’t have the answers, but she wanted them. She wanted them enough to allow her imagination to fill in the gaps between who she was and who she might be. The snapshot Alex really hoped to capture this summer wouldn’t be on film. It would be a glimpse past the smiling brown eyes, sassy hair, and freckled nose she saw in the mirror and into the murky haze of her own identity.

It was a snapshot Alex wanted so badly that she surprised herself by hitting the send key and emailing the application. She was even more surprised by the phone interview and job offer later that week, and relatively shocked that she actually accepted it.

Astonishing and sudden as it all was, the events of the past two weeks left a trail of unanswered questions. There were many to ponder, but at an altitude of 20,000 feet and long past the point of no return there was one question that concerned Alex more than most: would her parents find out?