Chapter 1: Monday Surprise
1 Monday Surprise ASHLEY
If only there were a pause button on life.
Then Ashley Baxter would still be watching last night’s meteor shower over Bloomington instead of sitting here stuck in school. She tapped her fingers on her desk. Ashley liked school, she really did. But the meteor shower was the best thing she’d ever seen. She and her siblings laying on a blanket under the night sky watching one fireball after another blaze across the darkness.
That was a moment she would’ve stayed in forever.
Monday morning in Mr. Garrett’s class was a very different story. It gave Ashley a sluggish feeling. This wasn’t their teacher’s fault. Mr. Garrett was at the front of the class talking about the Harrier Reef. Something like that.
Mr. Garrett pointed to a few printed photographs taped to the board. “This is a place in Australia that houses hundreds of types of animals and plant life.”
What? Ashley sat up a little straighter. Hundreds of different animals and plant life? Now they were getting somewhere. But why was it called harrier? One photo showed a long line of pretty underwater orange rocks with what looked like a million white tiny strings floating up. Ashley squinted and stared at the picture. That must be the hair, she told herself. Coming out of something Mr. Garrett called Coral. That had to be the reef part, probably.
Ashley nodded to herself. The Harrier Reef.
“Australia’s Barrier Reef is an incredibly special geographical and scientific phenomenon.” Mr. Garrett seemed very excited. “Not just for Australians, but for people all over the world.”
Barrier Reef. It was the Great Barrier Reef! What was a barrier? Ashley wondered. And why was it so great? Ashley frowned. School was confusing, especially on Mondays.
Ashley rested her forehead on her desk. Focus was a very difficult thing for her today.
Mr. Garrett kept talking on and on and on. His voice sounded like WompWompWompBlapBleepBloop. Ashley placed her hands over her ears. This must be how Charlie Brown felt when his teacher talked. All sound, no words. Ashley closed her eyes. Then her teacher’s voice grew quiet. And behind Ashley’s closed eyeballs, she began to see stars shooting through the darkness.
She blinked her eyes open, and the bright lights stopped. Once again Ashley closed them, and the shooting stars happened once more. She was on to something here. Open eyes, no shooting stars. Closed eyes, a million of them.
Almost like she had her own superpower.
Ashley felt herself drift up, up into the sky with the meteors. They darted and flew past her, but they were friendly, somehow. And they called to her. “Come, Ashley. Take a ride with us!”
And so, she grabbed hold of the next meteor that passed by and whizzz! She was on a journey, racing through the dark sky, the cool wind in her face. “Hold on!” the meteor called out to her. And they were flying even faster across space. And suddenly from up ahead—
“Ashley!” The voice did not belong to the meteor—
Someone was tapping on her arm.
With each tap, more of the nice meteors disappeared from the sky. The night wind stopped, too. Ashley opened one eyelid. “What…?” She opened the other one. “Where are the meteors?”
“Ashley… this is school.” Mr. Garrett was standing beside her. “You cannot sleep on your desk.”
Suddenly Ashley sat straight up. A quick look around the room and she could see the unfortunate truth. Her classmates were all watching her. She cleared her throat. “That, my friends, is called a power nap.” She nodded to them and then to Mr. Garrett. “You should try it.”
Mr. Garrett did not smile or laugh, the way her friends did. “It is time to learn, Ashley. This is not the place for any sort of nap.”
“Yes.” Ashley nodded. “I’m sorry.” She paused. “Long weekend.”
Mr. Garrett removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Just try to stay awake, okay?” He walked back to the front of the classroom and continued.
Ashley gave a wink at Elliot, the boy sitting beside her. “Power naps are the best,” she whispered.
Elliot’s eyes darted to their teacher and back to Ashley. He shook his head real fast. Like he was trying to help Ashley avoid saying anything else. Elliot was one of Ashley’s unlikely and very fun friends. The kid was smart and creative and serious about school. Even on a Monday, apparently.
“Moving on,” Mr. Garrett gave them a weak smile. “Next, I have big news, class.” He walked to his desk and took a stack of packets. He began passing them out.
Elliot leaned closer to Ashley. “I thought learning about the Great Barrier Reef was going to be boring.” He took his glasses off and cleaned them with his shirt. “Wow, was I wrong! Pinch yourself to stay awake, Ashley. This stuff is gold.” Elliot slammed his glasses back into place and smiled.
Ashley released a tired breath. Maybe if they actually went to Australia. That would be interesting. She yawned and remembered Elliot’s advice. Fine, she told herself. Then, with Elliot watching her, Ashley pinched the skin above her elbow. Hard. A yelp slipped through her mouth.
“Not so hard!” Elliot whispered. “You really are one of a kind, Ashley Baxter.”
“True.” Ashley shrugged. The pinch still hurt, but Elliot was right—Ashley did feel more awake. She tucked this trick away for future Mondays.
Sitting on the other side of Ashley was her friend Natalie. Like always, Natalie looked perfectly put together. Right down to her bright white sneakers and the pink laces. Natalie’s hands were folded on her desk, her eyes on Mr. Garrett. Natalie never fell asleep at school. She got all A’s and turned her work in neat and on time.
But even with all that, Natalie was a great friend. Elliot and Natalie were proof that friends didn’t have to be the same as you.
Mr. Garrett handed Ashley several stapled pages and then he returned to the front of the classroom. “We have a very exciting trip coming up.” He began writing on the board.
Ashley read along as he wrote. Science camp. Ashley sat up a bit straighter. Okay, now this was interesting.
“Science camp is in eleven days.” Mr. Garrett smiled at the students. “The packets I gave you explain the details. You will take those home today and get them signed.” He paused. “This is an annual trip for fifth and sixth graders. It is an honor. A rite of passage of sorts.”
“Rite of passage?” Chris asked out loud from the back of the room. He sounded confused. Chris used to be a menace. But he’d been nicer to Ashley lately, ever since she beat him in a footrace.
Ashley turned around to look at Chris, and that’s when she spotted Landon Blake. Landon was her friend, too. He smiled at her and nodded, which was Landon’s way of saying hello without words. Landon was good at sports. He was also smart and brave, like the time he helped a group of them escape a crazy corn maze.
Landon was one of the good ones, that’s what Ashley’s dad said.
Mr. Garrett walked halfway to Chris. “A rite of passage is an event marking an important time in someone’s life.” Their teacher sounded happy about this. “Every fifth and sixth grader before you has gone to science camp. It’s part of growing up in the Bloomington School District.”
Ashley thought about that. Science camp. Was it far away? Or possibly like church camp? Back in Michigan, where Ashley and her family were from, church camp happened in the summer. They sang songs and did crafts and played fun games. Maybe science camp was like that.
“Now. Some of you may wonder what science camp is.” Mr. Garrett’s eyes practically danced with excitement. “It’s something like church camp, if you’ve ever been to one of those.”
Ashley slunk down a little in her seat. What was this? Mr. Garrett could read her mind. That was apparently his superpower.
“Science camp lasts a few days and is far away in the woods,” Mr. Garrett explained. “We will take a bus there, and we will stay in cabins at night. In the daytime, we will explore nature and do experiments.” He was back at the front of the classroom again.
All at once the boys and girls started to talk. Natalie grabbed Ashley’s arm. “Hey, let’s be in the same cabin!”
From the back of the room, Chris shouted, “I want to see a volcano!”
Yes, Ashley thought. She wanted that, too! Wherever this faraway science camp place was, surely there would be a real-life volcano!
Mr. Garrett raised his hand, and the students stopped talking. “Science camp is very exciting. I’ll explain more later.” He held up one of the packets. “For now, remember to get this signed by your parents or guardians. It is expected that every student attend. Please return your packet with an adult’s signature by Wednesday.”
The lunch bell rang.
“All right.” Mr. Garrett walked to the door and propped it open. “Let’s line up.”
The students grabbed their lunch bags and coats and fell into single file.
A million questions flooded Ashley’s mind. Science camp sounded like an incredible adventure. She couldn’t wait to talk about this with Elliot and Natalie.
Once they were seated at their lunch table, science camp came up right away.
“Science camp is my biggest dream.” Elliot dunked a carrot in ranch dressing and chomped on it. “I’ve been to a different science camp before. With my family.”
“What’s it like?” Natalie sounded a little nervous. She pulled a peanut butter sandwich from her lunch bag. “It could be scary, you know.”
Ashley patted her friend’s arm. “Don’t be afraid, Natalie. God is with you. That’s what my mom and dad always say.” Ashley leaned closer to her friend. “It’s in the Bible.”
“Okay.” Natalie seemed to relax. “I’ll try to remember that.”
Elliot raised both hands high over his head, which made his glasses fall a few inches down his nose. He fixed them and lifted his hands again. “Science camp is the best time. You collect samples and study different species and walk through streams.” He seemed to run out of air. He took a drink of water and continued. “At least that’s what we did.”
“What about experiments?” Ashley finished the last of her fruit snacks. “Scientists always do wild, amazing experiments. Like with green gloop or electricity.”
Natalie furrowed her brow. “I think that stuff is only in movies.”
“Actually”—Elliot spoke up—“Ashley is right. But I don’t think fifth and sixth graders are allowed to do those experiments. That’s for adults.”
Ashley crossed her arms. “I’m not sure I want to go if there are no gloopy experiments. What else is there?”
“Ashley, I know you. You’ll love it. I promise.” Elliot slipped his lunchbox into his backpack and gasped. “Oh! I almost forgot.” He pulled out two envelopes and handed one to Ashley and the other to Natalie.
“A Monday gift!” Ashley squealed. “I love Monday gifts.”
Natalie stared at her. “What exactly is a Monday gift?”
“It’s this!” Ashley tore open the envelope. “A gift on a Monday just cause it’s Monday, right, Elliot?”
He blinked. “Um… actually—”
Before he could finish, Ashley pulled a metallic piece of cardboard from the envelope.
“It’s an invitation.” Elliot gave Ashley a high five. “To my Super-Duper Birthday Bonanza. This Saturday.” He hesitated, very dramatic. “And guess what? The whole class is invited. And I’m having team challenges. And junk food. Plus, you can wear a costume!”
“Wow!” Ashley stared at the invitation. “I’ve never even heard of a Super-Duper Birthday Banana, Elliot.” She thought for a minute. “Are we supposed to bring bananas? Or are we making fried bananas? Maybe I could dress up as a banana.”
Elliot blinked a few times. Like he wasn’t sure what to say.
Natalie giggled. “Bonanza. Not banana, Ashley.” Natalie looked at Elliot. “Ashley gets words mixed up sometimes.”
“True.” Elliot smiled in Ashley’s direction. “When that happens, Ashley, I’ll help you, my friend.”
“Me, too,” Natalie nodded. “You need a lot of help, Ashley.”
Ashley did a bow. “That’s all I need. A lot of help from my friends.” She pressed the shiny paper to her heart. “Bonanza! Wow!” Her mind was spinning with excitement. “What does it mean?”
“It means fun!” Elliot looked proud of himself. “An adventure day of fun. And the whole class is invited.”
“Really?” Ashley jumped in a few small circles, waving the invitation in front of her. “I’ve always wanted to go to an adventure party.” Her voice sounded dreamy. “Thank you, Elliot. Your birthday bonanza will definitely be one of the highlights of my life.”
“It will.” Elliot pumped his fists in the air. “That’s why it’s a bonanza.”
Ashley stuck the invitation in her lunchbox. “Also, I can’t wait to meet your parents. Because I bet they’re interesting, like you.”
“About that.” Elliot frowned, like he had sudden bad news. “Ashley… my parents, they’re suspicious about you.”
“What?” Ashley’s eyes grew wide. “Why me?”
“They heard about the corn maze.” Elliot made a concerned face. “And about you getting us in trouble for that group drawing last week when Mr. Garrett was teaching. And they saw you go sort of do your own thing at the talent show… and that time when—”
“Okay, okay.” Ashley crossed her arms. “You have a point. But those are just a few moments. That’s not who I am.” She found her smile again. “I’ll change their mind at the party. You’ll see. Then they won’t be suspicious. They will be… happy- icious.” Ashley nodded. Yes. She would show them just how amazing and trustworthy she was.
After lunch was library time. Ashley had just finished Charlotte’s Web. It was an intense story about barnyard animals and a talking pig, and a spider who risks her life to save the day by writing messages in her web. But really the story was about friendship. And courage.
The spider reminded her of Landon Blake.
After she slipped Charlotte’s Web onto the return cart, Ashley walked over to the desk of Ms. Forrest, the librarian.
“Ms. Forrest?” Ashley rocked back and forth on her heels.
“Yes, baby?” Ms. Forrest wore colorful flowy outfits. She had beautiful dark curly hair and her eyeglasses hung around her neck like a decoration. “What did you think about Charlotte’s Web?”
“I liked it. Wilbur was so cute.” Ashley smiled. “But the spider was the best.”
Ms. Forrest grinned. “I thought so, too. I love Charlotte.” She paused. “You looking for another story like it? Or something new?” Ms. Forrest loved helping the students find the perfect book.
“Something new.” Ashley tapped her chin. “Maybe a book about science. We’re going to science camp, and I have a lot to learn.”
“Well, what do you know?” Ms. Forrest grinned. “It’s science camp time already. You’re going to have a blast.” She stood. “I have the perfect book for you. Follow me.”
The two walked toward the back to a section called Science. Fitting, Ashley thought.
Ms. Forrest scanned the shelves. “A-ha! Here it is.” She pulled out a book and handed it to Ashley. It was a hardback book. “Scientists that Shaped Society.” Ms. Forrest sounded proud of herself. “This is just what you’re looking for.”
Photos of old people decorated the cover. Scientists, Ashley guessed. She blinked a few times. “I was thinking maybe something about volcanoes. I’m really hoping to see one at science camp.”
“That’s funny.” Ms. Forrest laughed. “Give this book a try. I really think you’ll like it.”
Ashley thanked the woman and headed for the readers’ corner. It was a spot in the library with chairs, bean bags, and cozy lighting. In some ways, it was the perfect nap spot. Ashley sat in the nearest bean bag chair. Then she pinched her own arm again.
Just to be sure she didn’t fall asleep.
A book about scientists. Ashley studied the cover, then she began to read. In Chapter One, Ashley learned about Marie Curie, a scientist who helped find treatments for cancer. Next was a man named George Washington Carver, famous for his work with soil and crops. He was also an inventor.
Reading hour was almost over, so Ashley closed the book. The librarian had been right. Ashley couldn’t wait to read more. Maybe one day she’d be a scientist in a book like this and some fifth-grade kid would read about her.
In the time that remained, Ashley sketched herself as the most amazing, world-changing scientist, dressed in a white coat surrounded by coils and test tubes and mixing bowls. The possibilities were endless.
The sketch made Ashley even more excited for science camp. She couldn’t wait. Plus, she might just see a real live volcano.
What could be better than that?