It wasn’t going to work without her. She should be smack dab in the middle, or really big, touching everything. I loaded my brush with a washy cerulean blue and wrote CAITLYN, across the canvas. Some of the other words smeared, but it wouldn’t matter. They’d be my secret. This wasn’t part of the assignment, but I needed to do it. I read over the words. Marine Elementary, Shazam, Miller Falls... My childhood and hometown: Nothing left but some primary-colored calligraphy. And Caitlyn. I did a lousy job of painting her name. A trickle of blue ran down from the Y. Blue? Marley, girl, what were you thinking, blue? None of it should be blue, Caitlyn least of all. Caitlyn was deep garnet red, or pine green–colors that weren’t in my jars or tubes. Caitlyn was captain of the ski team. She was homecoming princess. And though she was save the whales... She wasn’t blue. I scrounged through my paint box. Not purple or turquoise. Magenta? It had been Caitlyn’s favorite color crayon, but it certainly didn’t fit her over all. Bronze. There! That was closer. Harder and stronger than gold, but it sparkled in the light. I squeezed paint from the tube like I was decorating a cake and covered the blue: C-A-I-T-L-Y-N W-A-T-E-R-S. Better, but so undignified–big poops of letters. They’d never dry. I stuck a paper towel over the paint, squishing the letters below, then pulled it off. “Wrong!” The crumpled towel barely made the trash can. “Totally and absolutely wrong!” Caitlyn was mostly unreadable. I growled at the canvas then stood up. Didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Not classes, not home–actually there wasn’t really a home anymore, was there? But this. As if I didn’t have enough to feel rotten about already. I wheeled the easel aside and kicked away the litter. People were such pigs. The studio was crowded, but there was just enough room between easels to lay the canvas flat. I only had twenty minutes before they locked up the studios, but I wanted to finish so no one would see the words. There wasn’t anyone else in painting, although I could hear the band saw over in the sculpture studio. Just mix up these paints and go to Mom's. Maybe she'd even be there. I grabbed a stack of the cat food cans I used for mixing and dropped a blob of paint and a quarter inch of water into each one. I had to mix fast. There. Cadmium red and yellow, sap green, dioxane purple, and black. Here we go. I held the yellow and green tins straight out from my waist over the canvas and only hesitated for a second before I poured. The streams of paint swirled around each other making puddles with splashes the color of lime Kool-Aid. Red and purple next–some very crazy eights over the whole thing. Most of the words were already illegible. Now black. This I dripped off my brush in big glops. “Time to lock up, Marley.” Mr. Vizenor stood in the doorway with his keys. “ You can leave the canvas there. I’ll move it in the morning.” Great. It would have to do. I’d see what I had tomorrow when it was dry.
"Solo" (coming soon to Kindle Vella)
Episode 1 Was it really so horrible that I didn’t want to go camping with my dad?
What if I truly preferred the action of the city to looking at a bunch of trees? They’re just trees for god’s sake—they’re everywhere! I didn’t need to cross a giant, scary lake in a rickety boat to see them. I could look outside at the ones in my yard. They had nice leaves that turned gorgeous colors in the fall, and I could press them into books as keepsakes. I didn’t need to go to an island to see trees. These would do just fine, thank you very much!
It was partly my own fault. Charlie and I were supposed to spend half the summer with Dad, like we always do. But I had this great opportunity to be in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Dad said there were probably theatre classes in La Crosse, but the director here had asked me to audition as one of the narrators. How could I turn that down? Especially when I landed the part, and, even more especially, when Cameron Jackson was going to play Joseph? Talk about dreams coming true!
So I stayed in St. Paul with Mom while Charlie went to Dad’s by himself. All was good. The show was as amazing as could be—all those long rehearsals with Cam—and Dad and Charlie drove up to see my final performance. I totally rocked those solos! We all went out to dinner after, and Dad suggested we could take some time in the fall for just the two of us—maybe go camping or something. So, stupidly, I’d said, “Yeah, that would be nice.”
Then, later, when he called to tell me about his plan, I didn’t holler, “What, no way! I’d rather have bamboo shoved under my fingernails.” He told me we would take a long weekend this fall—the last one of the season—and boat out to Isle Royale.
“It’ll be great, Natalie! No mosquitoes, and barely any campers—just the moose, the wolves and us!”
Moose and wolves. Great. “But what about school?”
“I talked to your mom and she said you could miss a few days. We’ll drive up Tuesday night and boat out Wednesday. Come back Sunday. It’ll be great!”
“But, Dad, an island? Couldn’t we just camp on the North Shore and to see the lighthouse and stuff instead?”
“You can do that any time. This is the best time to see the island! The moose will be rutting; when else can you see something like that?”
Um, rutting? That would be the one thing I’d be happy to get away from. The halls of Central High are teeming with horny males.
Dad went on. “Come on, Nat. September’s my birthday month, and I’d like to show you one of my favorite places. Besides, Mom says you love camping with Bonnie & Wayne.”
Sure, I camp every summer with my Grandma Bonnie and Grandpa Wayne. They have this big camper that’s practically a second house. It has a kitchen, a bathroom with tub and shower (although we use the campground showers), and an old TV/DVD player with surround sound. It’s pretty cush. We eat our meals outside, though, so it’s sort of a camping experience. We just sleep and cook and watch movies inside. There’s not a lot of hiking or looking at trees when we camp with Grandma and Grandpa. Usually my cousins are there along with Charlie and me, and there’s a ton of stuff to do. We swim at the pool, play mini-golf, rent inner tubes or canoes when we’re by a river or lake, or just hang out at the rec hall.
The best part about RV camping? There are almost always a few cute guys hanging around. Not the jackass kind of guys rutting around the school halls in packs, though. These guys are just normal because they’re camping with their families or working at the campgrounds. Like the guides on the trail ride we took last July? Yum! Okay, too old to look my way, but they were probably only in college. Maybe five years older, so not out of the question. After all, Dad was four years older than Mom, and he’s like eight or ten years older than Melissa, his new wife.
So of course I like camping with Grandma and Grandpa. It’s a non-stop party. No moose allowed.
Here are the things Dad suggested I could do for fun on Isle Royale: hike, look at trees, read books, hike some more, look for moose, play cribbage, hike even more, take pictures of trees (and moose!), and bond. Whoop-di-dong-dingo.
It’s not that I don’t like my dad, or that I don’t have fun when I’m with him. I do usually. But it’s always whatever he wants to do: hike, go out to eat, watch action movies. And, unless Charlie or Melissa is with us, we don’t talk a lot when we’re together. He’s usually too busy on his phone, either for work or taking pictures. He documents everything. When we do talk, it’s about his stuff. He asks about me, but his attention span is short. And I get bored listening to him talk about golf or biking or work. What will we talk about for almost a week?