The main building at Camp Megunticook was called Penobscot Lodge. It contained a large kitchen and one huge room that had a wooden floor, walls of rough pine, and a cathedral ceiling of exposed rafters. A line of windows that ran along the wall facing the lake emitted light, a view of the water, and a glimpse of Mount Megunticook. A massive stone fireplace, built in the 1950s, dominated the room where generations of young campers had eaten meals and carved their initials into the surfaces of the neatly ordered rows of picnic tables.
As soon as Rainy Tucker entered the room, it was the impressive fireplace that drew her attention. For a moment she forgot all about why she was there; forgot about her older sister and her parents, who were a few steps behind her; forgot about the fear of leaving them that had been building in her for days and, more acutely, during the two-hour ride from Portland.
She dropped her backpack, and, oblivious of the campers and parents waiting in the long line that looped around the room to the check-in station, she headed for the fireplace, already wondering how many rocks it had taken to build it and if they had found them in the woods or maybe taken them out of the lake. Before she even touched the cold metal fire screen, whose black paint was worn in the middle to an ashy gray, she was picturing herself toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It’d be midnight-dark out, and there’d be a thunderstorm with lots of lightning. Sweet, she thought. I can handle this.
But a second later, when she glanced back at the army of campers, whose faces showed worry, even tears, Rainy told herself, “I’m outta here.” There was no way she could ever stand in a line that long without getting yelled at. Besides, one quick look around had told her all she needed to know—she was going to eat her meals in a room that looked like a barn and had a cool fireplace.
Her father, who’d retrieved the backpack that his daughter had forgotten as soon as she’d dropped it, grabbed Rainy’s arm just as she was skipping out the side door.
“Oh, hi, Dad,” she said, as if she were surprised to see him. “Wanna go for a walk? Go see the water?”
“We have to check you in first, honey,” he reminded her, and then pointed toward the back of the long line, where her mother and sister were waiting with the rest of Rainy’s stuff.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, spotting her mom, whose long braid and hippie clothes always made her easy to find in a crowd. Her mother was an artist whose “real job” was teaching. This camp had been her idea. She’d told Rainy how she’d get to go swimming and canoeing and on nature hikes, and how they had archery. She’d shown her pretty pictures in the camp catalogue of sunset on Lake Megunticook and girls dressed in gray shorts and white tee shirts hiking through the woods, the words “Multicultural” and “Esteem Building” printed over them in bold type. Her mother had repeated those words every time she’d described the camp to the relatives, had made “Multicultural” sound like it was going to be some big deal, like Splash Mountain at Disney World.
It’ll be such a good experience for her—that’s what her mother had told Memere and Nana and Aunt Jane and anyone else who would listen, like that lady in the grocery store with the hairy mole on her chin. Rainy had gotten in trouble for asking her why she didn’t take a pair of scissors and snip that thing off.
“Rainy?” her dad repeated.
“Look at me and focus.” Her dad held up her backpack and pointed at it. “You’re going to have to be really careful about keeping track of your stuff here, honey. Okay? You’re not going to have Mom, or me, or Jewel around to do it for you.”
That painful reminder captured her attention. Sent her mind right into a tailspin. No Dad, no Mom, no Jewel. Who was going to tell her what to do? Who was going to help her find her shoes? All the sad and scary feelings she’d managed to forget had been reawakened in a heartbeat. Her parents and her sister, whom she loved more than anything on the planet, were going to leave her all by herself at some camp she couldn’t pronounce, at a place so far away from home she’d never be able to walk back or even remember the way. And suddenly, amid all that turmoil, a clear thought sped through her brain: Now I know how Max feels when we leave him at the kennel.
Slowly, she looked around the room, thinking, At least Max knows Wanda and all the other nice people who work at Whitten’s Pet Hotel. I don’t know one kid, not even a grownup. They’re always yelling at me for talking to strangers, and now they’re going to make me live with a whole camp full of them. I don’t care what Mom says—“I don’t think this is gonna be a very good experience for me, Dad.”
Rainy’s father gently took hold of her chin and turned her face toward his. “I know there’s a lot going on in here, honey, but try to listen. This is important.”
Her father’s touch, his this is important warning, managed to cut through her worried thoughts. “I’m listening,” she said, because she knew that’s what he wanted to hear.
“You need to keep track of things like your disc player and CD case. You can’t leave them hanging around, or someone’s going to walk off with them, just like your L. L. Bean coat.”
She was going to be hearing about that dark purple L. L. Bean coat with the black fleece lining for the rest of her life, even though she’d only owned it for two days. “No worries, Dad. Mom wrote my name on everything, even my underwear.”
“Hey, wiggle-worm, you want to come with me?”
Rainy looked up at her big sister, who didn’t want to babysit her this summer, who was going to work at Friendly’s Ice Cream instead, so she could make more money and buy more clothes and save for college and a car. “Sure, where we going?”
“To find a bathroom.”
“Smart idea,” said Rainy. If they were really going to leave her here, she should know where that was. She wouldn’t want to pee in these woods, she’d probably get poison ivy, like her cousin Caleb got last summer while he was at camp. His arms and legs had looked just like hamburger before you cooked it. Wouldn’t want that on my butt, she thought. “I’m going with Jewel, Dad.”
“Mom and I will be right here,” he told her, and then to Jewel he said, “Keep an eye on her.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let her go to any family reunions,” said Jewel, and then she laughed and so did their father.
Although that was now a family joke, last summer when Rainy had disappeared during her mother’s class reunion at Sebago Lake State Park, it hadn’t been funny. That day, while her mother was talking to her friends and her father was barbecuing and her sister was busy flirting with some boys, Rainy had wandered off. Once they’d realized she was missing, they’d split up and searched for her everywhere. Panic was just starting to kick in when her dad finally found her at a big family reunion a quarter of a mile away. He’d just happened to hear someone yell “Go, Rainy!” while he was walking by a softball game, and there was his daughter, sprinting toward third base. With such a big party and so many children running around, the adults had just assumed Rainy was the guest of one of the kids. And why wouldn’t they? She’d had lunch with them and was out there playing softball, and because she was such a good player everyone seemed to know her name.
“That’s not funny,” Rainy now told her father, because her memory of that day was different from theirs. She hadn’t been lost, she’d just found a party that had better food and people who were having more fun. In her mind, her father had spoiled her good time by making her quit the game, and that was why she now added, “You ruined my whole day. I was on third base—I could have gotten another run.”
“Oh, get over it,” said Jewel, giving Rainy a gentle push toward the door. “Next time, we won’t even bother to look for you.”
“Fine with me,” Rainy told her. “’Sides, only one who’d miss me is Max, ’cause I’m his favorite. Don’t let Dad forget to feed him when I’m gone.”
There were six toilets, four sinks, three showers, and one mirror in the bathroom. There was also a long line. “I’ll wait for you outside, Jewel,” Rainy told her sister. “I don’t like the smell in here.”
Her comment caused a ripple of giggles. “We’re not related,” Jewel said. “I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
A minute later, Rainy was standing beneath a tall pine tree, thinking how much better it smelled than the bathroom, when she spotted a chipmunk. “Look!”
A black couple and their two children, lugging suitcases and other gear, stopped to see what Rainy was pointing at.
“Look at him go!” she shouted. “He’s fast. Sign him up for the Olympics.”
“It’s just a chipmunk,” said the boy, who was about four, and carrying a sleeping bag that seemed bigger than he was.
“I know,” Rainy told him. “Isn’t he cool? We don’t have any of those where I come from, just squirrels.”
“Where are you from?” asked the father.
“Too far from here to walk home,” Rainy told him. “Portland. Where you from?”
“Danvers,” he answered. “Massachusetts.”
Looking at the girl, whose hair was fashioned into beaded braids, Rainy told her, “Guess you won’t be walking home, neither. Whatcha name?”
The girl looked at her mother, who then made the introductions for her. “I’m Anne Beady; this is my husband, John; our son, Winston; and this is Vanessa. She’s a little shy around people she doesn’t know.”
Rainy gave the mother an understanding nod, and then told Vanessa, “My name’s Rainy. So, now that you know me, let me help you carry some of that stuff. Boy, you brought a lot more than I did. I didn’t even think about a fan. Hope I’m in your cabin.”
“What one are you in?” Vanessa asked hopefully as she let Rainy take one of her bags.
“I don’t know yet, ’cause my parents are in a line that’s gonna take longer than the ride here.” Rainy heard both adults chuckle, and, looking over at Vanessa’s dad, who was really loaded with stuff, she told him, “I got another hand, I can carry something else. I might be little for my age, but I’m wicked strong and I never get tired.”
“You’re helping us enough already,” Mrs. Beady told her. “Really, I hope all the girls here are as friendly as you.”
Staring up at Rainy, Winston let her know, “Nessa’s a-scared no one at camp’s going to be black.”
“I get black in the summer,” Rainy told him. “My mom says it’s ’cause I’m half French and half Lebanese, so I got a lot of melanin in my skin. If I lived in Beirut, where my grandparents came from, I’d probably be black all year long, ’cause they don’t have winter like we do.”
“Oh,” said Winston.
“Come on, troops,” said his father. “According to the map, the cabins are this way.”
With a job to do and a place to go, Rainy forgot all about her sister in the bathroom and headed off with her new friends.
“How old are you?” Vanessa asked as they followed her parents down a wide dirt path outlined on both sides by a split-rail fence and thick woods.
Although Rainy heard Vanessa talking, the question didn’t register. That’s what happened whenever she was thinking about something important, and right then she was thinking it’d be fun to see if she could walk along the top of that fence without losing her balance. Bet if I wasn’t carrying this bag I could do it without falling, she told herself. I’ll try later. With that settled, she looked back at Vanessa. “What’d ya say? I didn’t hear ya.”
Vanessa repeated the question, and Rainy told her, “I just turned ten, but I’m only going into fourth grade. They made me do kindergarten twice, ’cause I spent most of it in the time-out chair. See, I get bored easy, and it’s hard for me to sit still, so I’m always getting in trouble or yelled at for something.”
“I’m ten and almost a half,” Vanessa told her, “so maybe we’ll be in the same cabin, because I think they divide them up by age, not by what grade you’re in.”
“Nessa’s in the Wolf Cabin,” said Winston, who was tagging along right beside them. “That’s what the lady said.”
“Sweet,” said Rainy. “I wanna be a Wolf, too. Seriously, dogs are my favorite animals. I have a golden retriever named Max. He loves me a wicked lot, ’cause I’m the only one who plays with him. I brought one of his toys from home, so when I miss him I can smell him.”
“Nessa brought Bunny,” said Winston. “She can’t sleep without him.”
“Stuffed animal?” asked Rainy.
Vanessa gave her a shy nod and admitted, “I’ve had him since I was a baby.”
“Yeah, I know what ya mean. My sister, Jewel, is seventeen and she still sleeps with her Binkie: it’s a blanket that used to be blue. Mom says Jewel’s probably gonna take it to college with her. I sleep with Max and books, ’cause I can’t go to sleep without reading. I packed a bunch of them and a ton of batteries for my flashlight. Wowza, those must be the cabins.”
The woodsy path had led them to a clearing and a hill that was partially shaded by ancient pine trees. There were ten cabins painted forest green and one that was dark brown and a lot larger than the others. There didn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason to the placement of the cabins. Although they were well spaced from one another, they weren’t built in a line or a semicircle but, rather, scattered here and there along the hillside.
“Check it out,” shouted Rainy, already running toward the closest one, whose weathered sign above the door was engraved with the face and paw print of a bear and the Abenaki word Awasos. Without a knock or a hello, she threw open the screen door and marched right into the room, where two young campers were unpacking with the help of their families and the cabin counselor.
Glancing around, Rainy made a quick assessment: three sets of bunk beds, one single bed, one small bureau, two windows, wood floor, wood walls, wood ceiling. No rug, no curtains, no chairs, no lamps, just a lightbulb hanging from a rafter. No wonder the catalogue only shows a picture of the outside, she thought. Then, out loud, she optimistically concluded, “Guess it’s better than sleeping in a tent.”
The cabin counselor, who had a “Hello My Name Is Jessica” sticker on her chest and who didn’t look much older than Jewel, asked, “Are you in my cabin?”
“Hope not,” Rainy told her. “I wanna be a Wolf. I just wanted to see what this place looked like.” With her mission accomplished, Rainy turned on her heel and ran back outside to catch up with Vanessa.
Leaping off the porch, which had only two steps, she dashed over to where the Beadys were waiting for her. “The Bear Cabin is pretty bare,” she told them. “Just beds and a lightbulb.”