“Mom, it’s summer,” I said. “And anyway it’s almost over. School starts in two weeks.”
“You’ll be back just in time for school,” she said, flipping through the brochure again.
“I have a job,” I told her, my last-ditch attempt at an excuse. Scarlett and I were both cashiers at Milton’s Market, the grocery store at the mall down the street from our neighborhood. “I can’t just take two weeks off.”
“Mr. Averby says it’s slow enough that he can get your shifts covered,” she said simply.
“You called Mr. Averby?” I put down my fork. My father, who up until this point had been eating quietly and staying out of it, shot her a look. Even he knew how uncool it was for your mother to call your boss. “God, Mom.”
“I just wanted to know if it was possible,” she said, more to my father than me, but he just shook his head mildly and kept eating. “I knew she’d think of every reason not to go.”
“Why should I go waste the last two weeks of summer with a bunch of people I don’t know?” I said. “Scarlett and I have plans, Mom. We’re working extra shifts to make money for the beach, and we—”
“Halley.” She was getting irritated now. “Scarlett will be here when you get back. And I don’t ask very much of you, right? This is something I really want you to do. For me, and also, I think you’ll find, for yourself. It’s only for two weeks.”
“I don’t want to go,” I said, looking at my father for some kind of support, but he just smiled at me apologetically and said nothing, helping himself to more bread. He never got involved anymore; his job was to placate, to smooth, once it was all over. My father was always the one who crept to my doorway after I’d been grounded, sneaking me one of his special Brain Freeze Chocolate Milkshakes, which he believed could solve any problem. After the yelling and slamming of doors, after my mother and I stalked to our separate corners, I could always count on hearing the whirring of the blender in the kitchen, and then him appearing at my doorway presenting me with the thickest, coldest milkshake as a peace offering. But all the milkshakes in the world weren’t going to get me out of this.
So, just like that, I lost the end of my summer. By that Sunday I was packed and riding three hours into the mountains with my mother, who spend the entire ride reminiscing about her own golden camp years and promising me I’d thank her when it was over. She dropped me at the registration desk, kissed me on the forehead and told me she loved me, then drove off waving into the sunset. I stood there with my duffel bag and glowered after her, surrounded by a bunch of other girls who clearly didn’t want to spend two weeks “bonding” either.
I was on what they called “scholarship” at Sisterhood Camp, which meant I had my way paid free, just like the four other girls I met whose parents just happened to be therapists. I made friends with my cabinmates, and we complained to each other, mocked all the seminar leaders, and worked on our tans, talking about boys.
But now I was leaving early, drawn home by the loss of a boy I’d hardly known. I put my stuff in the trunk of the car and climbed in beside my mother, who said hello and then not much else for the first fifteen minutes of the drive. As far as I was concerned, we’d come to a draw: I hadn’t wanted to come, and she didn’t want me to leave. We were even. But I knew my mother wouldn’t see it that way. Lately, we didn’t seem to see anything the same.
“So how was it?” she asked me once we got on the highway. She’d set the cruise control, adjusted the air-conditioning, and now seemed ready to make peace. “Or what you saw of it, that is.”
“It was okay,” I said. “The seminars were kind of boring.”
“Hmm,” she said, and I figured that I was pushing it. I knew my mother, though. She’d push back. “Well, maybe if you’d stayed the whole time you might have gotten more out of it.”
“Maybe,” I said. In the side mirror, I could see the mountains retreating behind us, bit by bit.
I knew there were a lot of things she probably wanted to say to me. Maybe she wanted to ask me why I cared about Michael Sherwood, since she’d hardly heard me mention him. Or why I’d hated the idea of camp right from the start, without even giving it a chance. Or maybe it was more, like why in just the last few months even the sight of her coming toward me was enough to get my guard up. Why we’d gone from best friends to something neither of us could rightly define. But she didn’t say anything.
She turned to look at me, and I could almost hear her take a breath, readying herself for whatever I might try next. “Yes?”
“Thanks for letting me come home.”
She turned back to the road. “It’s all right, Halley,” she said to me softly as I leaned back in my seat. “It’s all right.”
My mother and I had always been close. She knew everything about me, from the boys I liked to the girls I envied; after school I always sat in the kitchen eating my snack and doing homework while I listened for her car to pull up. I always had something to tell her. After my first school dance she sat with me eating ice cream out of the carton while I detailed every single thing that had happened from first song to last. On Saturdays, when my dad pulled morning shift at the radio station, we had Girls’ Lunch Out so we could keep up with each other. She loved fancy pasta places, and I only liked fast food and pizza, so we alternated. She made me eat snails, and I watched her gulp down (enjoying it more than she ever would admit) countless Big Macs. We had one rule: we always ordered two desserts and shared. Afterwards we’d hit the mall looking for sales, competing to see who could find the best bargain. She usually won.
She wrote articles in journals and magazines about our successful relationship and how we’d weathered my first year of high school together, and spoke at schools and parents’ meetings about Staying in Touch with Your Teen. Whenever her friends came over for coffee and complained about their kids running wild or doing drugs, she’d just shake her head when they asked how she and I did so well.
“I don’t know,” she’d say. “Halley and I are just so close. We talk about everything.”
But suddenly, at the beginning of that summer, something changed. I can’t say when it started exactly. But it happened after the Grand Canyon.
Each summer, my parents and I took a vacation. It was our big splurge of the year, and we always went someplace cool like Mexico or Europe. This year, we took a cross-country road trip to California and then the Grand Canyon, stopping here and there, sucking up scenery and visiting relatives. My mother and I had a great time; my father did most of the driving, and the two of us hung out, talking and listening to the radio, sharing clothes, making up songs and jokes as state lines and landmarks passed by. My father and I forced her to eat fast food almost every day as payback for a year’s worth of arugula salad and prosciutto tortellini. We spent two weeks together, bickering sometimes but mostly just having fun, me and my parents, on the road.