Summer of Yesterday
A long time ago, in a water park far, far away, a boy and girl met, became friends first, fell in love later, got married, then had an extremely adorable baby girl. But, sadly, they divorced, forevermore waging text wars over what was best for their daughter. Now she splits her time between her parents’ houses and is forced on vacations with both parents to make them both happy, when what she most wants is to stay home and be with friends instead of staring at cows grazing on the side of the turnpike on the way to Disney World.
Seven days in the magical land of the Mouse. Fort Wilderness, to be exact.
Seven . . . whole . . . days.
“Torture,” I mumble, the word snaking around my ankles and wrists.
“You say something, Haley?” My captor’s brown eyes pop into the rearview mirror.
I quickly shut mine. All I can do right now is feign sleep in the back of the van before my paternal parole officer asks any more questions. As Florida residents, we go to Disney all the time. So, why this week, of all weeks?
Ignore. Earbuds are a clear sign that I’m busy.
I could be home, flitting between the DQ, beach, and Eva’s and Brianna’s houses. Watching Nate’s butt at baseball practice until the sun goes down, finally scoring him as my summer fling. All the changes to make him see me differently, though—wasted. Last week I got red highlights in my brown hair. This week it was the purchase of the super-awesome retro yellow-and-black bikini, the nail in the coffin, so to speak. The one I was going to wear to the Fourth of July bonfire tomorrow to score my victory.
Nate would finally see the real me, not the female Jupiter Cavaliers pitcher he’s been catching with for two years now, but a summer goddess to rival Katie Tillman. He would end up kissing me, not Katie, out on the pier. But noooo.
Because by the time this hookup interruptus is over, Eva and Brianna will be at Ranch Camp for the rest of the summer, and Katie will have swooped in on Nate, taking my perfectly planned prize. Thanks, Dad. And you, Erica, for thinking that I should visit you guys and that we should spend more time as a family. For pushing Fart Wilderness.
I am very, very disappointed in you both.
And you two . . .
I crack an eye open at the other prisoners, my baby twin brother and sister trying to toss tiny bits of shredded napkin at each other like they actually weigh anything, but the handmade confetti just sticks to their little fingers and car seats. They giggle, in their own world like only twins can be. I love them, but I’m outside of their inside joke. Of course I am. I’m seventeen. They’re four.
“Psst.” I reach out with my foot to touch their elbows.
Willy looks back at me and shows me his cute front baby teeth. “Hi, Tata.”
Hi, I mouth through a smile, so my dad doesn’t hear me, because I’m fake-sleeping, but Alice grabs my foot and shakes it. “Ta-taaaaaaa!”
Shhh, I mouth, finger at my lips.
My father’s eyes fall on me again in the rearview mirror, eyebrows expecting a response. I pull out my earbuds. “Yes?”
“I said . . . are you hungry? Do you want to stop for something to eat?”
“No, I’m good.” Earbuds back in.
His eyes talk to me, eyebrows moving up and down. Ugh, now what? I sigh and pull my earbuds out again. “Yeeess?”
“You need to eat something, Haley. You didn’t eat before we left.”
“I said I’m fine, Dad.” Earbuds in. Resume cow watching.
For a second I glimpse Erica’s eyes rolling in the side mirror. She is not a bitch by any means. She does nice stuff for me, but here’s the thing—it’s all fake. Maybe, maybe not, but she is not the “cool big sister” she marketed herself as five years ago. And, honestly, I’m a little peeved by her false advertising.
My dad keeps driving without a word. Erica looks out her window. I know what they’re thinking—they need to fix me before I turn into a wild child like my mom. But let me tell you something—I . . . do . . . not . . . need . . . fixing.
And neither does she.
One nap and two snoring toddlers later, we arrive at the mouth of the Mouse. Dad gets friendly with the Magic Kingdom parking-fee taker, letting him know that we’re checking into the Fort Wilderness campground so we won’t be paying at the moment. Some general pleasantries are exchanged, and I hear Dad tell the guy, “Jupiter . . . ninety minutes flat,” and everybody agrees that my dad has made the best time of any father today.
“Have a magical stay!” the parking-fee taker says, and you can tell from the smile on his smooth-shaven face that he really means it.
“Yay,” I murmur from the backseat, eliciting a warning eyeball from my father.
We drive in and take the right lane that heads to Disney World’s only campground. Once we pass the resort’s fake wood sign and security guy wearing a fake wilderness outfit that would get him beat up at my school, Dad pulls into a space and finally parks.
He reaches into the side-door recesses, fumbles with something in his lap, and slaps it on. “We’re here!”
It’s furry. And on his head. “Dad, the Davy Crockett hat? Really?”
He turns in his bucket seat to give me a goofy smile. “You know I wear it every year. Where’s my reservation printout? Honey, have you seen it?” he asks Erica.
“Oh my God.” I suppress a smile.
Fine. Disney is entertaining. My dad is entertaining. But I’d still rather be home with everybody else. I don’t hate this place. I just resent the fact that they thought of little kids and parents, but what about us? Although . . . the one ride I really, truly love is the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. Other than that, they should add a new themed land to the Magic Kingdom, like Hot Boy Land or Leave Me Alone Town. The cast members’ uniforms could be jeans, unlaced sneakers, and heavy eyeliner.
Erica isn’t helping my dad find the papers. She’s on the phone with her mother, briefing her about the trip over. “We did. . . . I did. . . . The kids are fine. They’re still sleeping.” She glances back to double-check Willy and Alice. Of course, I’m not still sleeping, but she didn’t mean me.
I take advantage of the rare quiet moment and share my theme-park idea aloud with my dad. My first nongrunts since we left Jupiter. “It would be awesome to have lands like that.”
“I like it, Haley.” He lifts a giant plastic bag of goodies Erica packed.
“And there could be rides with restrictions for anyone under the age of fifteen,” I add.
“Ooh, yes!” He changes his voice to imitate the rich baritone of a radio announcer. “This summer, come and experience the rip-roaring, plunging new double coasters, Raging Hormones and Angry Daughter.’ ”
My eyelids flatline. “Dad . . . stupid.”
His are crinkly in the rearview mirror. “I liked it.”
“Oscar.” Erica lifts the phone away from her mouth. “What’s so funny?” Dad stops to explain what we just talked about and his clever joke. Erica says, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” as he shares our little secret. Before you know it, she’s rolling her eyes, and then it’s not between just us anymore.
Willy and Alice wake from their drooling slumber upon hearing the excitement.
“We’re here? Where’s Mickey?”
“I wanna ride the train!”
I settle back into my seat again. Why couldn’t Dad have kept that moment between us? It doesn’t all need to be shared with Erica. He gets out of the van and slides the side door open. “I’m going to go check in. Haley, come with me.”
“Why me?” I mumble.
Inside the registration cabin, check-in takes forever. Or maybe it just seems that way because I’m standing next to my forty-something father, who’s shamelessly wearing a coonskin hat. “We’ve been here three minutes, and already we’re in line,” I offer by way of observation.
He eyeballs me again. “Young lady, as long as you act miserable, you will be. Try to have a good time.”
“Dad, one—you made me cancel my last camp session. Two—I can’t even hang out with Eva and Brianna before they leave.” I don’t mention my plot to get with Nate. It’s not like I wanted love—love is for masochists who enjoy the pain of a mangled heart. I just wanted something that would end in time for my senior year. A lot could’ve happened in these seven days!
We move up in line. “Haley, we don’t know what the seizures are about yet. We can’t have you away at camp so long when you just started the Tegretol. You can’t go jumping on horses just yet.”
Oh, yay. The S word. I was trying not to think about that. “It was one seizure, and the whole Internet says that only one percent of the population will ever have a second one.”
“Yes, and there’s only a two percent chance of getting pregnant with twins, yet there they are!” He gestures to the van outside containing my stepmom and mini siblings.
“But they have trained medical staff at camp. My friend Dante has epilepsy too. He stays both sessions, and they know what to do with him. Mom was perfectly fine with letting me go. Why can’t you be?”
“Because . . . it’s too soon,” he says, ignoring my eye contact. “Now stop.”
Ugh. I switch to a better use of my time—playing with my phone. I fire off a round of texts to Eva and Brianna and get sad faces back from both of them, plus pics of them hanging out together at the beach. At least the “wilderness” out here gets good reception.
I feel warm arms enveloping me. “Listen, I know this isn’t what you wanted,” my dad says. “I know that. But you can still try to enjoy it. I had a blast here when I was your age. You can do the same.”
I wriggle out of his hug. “A ‘blast’? Dad, really? Look around.”
“Yes, a blast. Biking, horseback riding, canoeing, the pool. I mean, it’s not the same without the Marshmallow Marsh or River Country anymore. . . .” He looks off behind the registration counter—sort of—and my eyes try to follow his line of vision. It takes him a moment to return to the present. “But it’s still a ton of fun.” His faraway stare melts into a sad smile.
“ ‘A ton of fun.’ ” Could anything called the Marshmallow Marsh be a ton of fun?
“Yes, a ton of fun,” he says in a new, annoyed tone. “Now you have a problem with the way I talk?”
“Dad, River Country closed when I was a baby, and now this place is just a bunch of trees, fake cabins, and an old arcade pizza place. We could’ve at least stayed at the huge Wilderness Lodge with the hot springs pool. Now that would’ve been a ton of fun.”
My dad shifts his weight and moves up another inch in line. His silence suggests that I don’t get it. But I do. I get that Fort Wilderness is important to him because it holds lots of memories. It’s where he spent every summer as a kid. It’s where he met my mom.
But that was a long time ago.
And a lot has happened since then.
Divorce and whatnot.
But can I blame him for holding on to something that no longer exists? When the possible reasons for what went wrong between my parents float around in my mind more often than I care to admit?
“Look, we did the Disney thing for you when you were a kid. Now we have to do it for Alice and Willy,” Dad says.
“Really?” My eyebrows get that arc to them. I can feel something foolish coming. “Are you sure this is about Alice or Willy?”
Oof. Too snarky. A middle-aged blonde ahead of us turns around to stare at the perpetrator of such sass. Dad’s laser gaze descends on me, the familiar sign that I’m crossing over into Shut Up territory. “I beg your pardon?”
He’s always saying I can tell him anything, and considering this is a rare opportunity without Erica and the kids around, I clear my throat. “Dad, you have these . . . ideas . . . of us all together like some perfect TV family, when you know it’s not like that. It’s you, Erica, and the kids together all week, and then . . . there’s me part of the time. You know I’m the odd man out.”
That’s it. That’s all I’m saying.
I’m not going to complain about my life. When you compare it to the hell some other people live, it’s great. But if I had to play one sympathy card, it’s this: I have to live at two houses. Willy and Alice don’t. Life would be a lot easier if my parents were still together. I know I caused some of it. I sided with Mom on most of their good-cop-bad-cop arguments about me.
According to my father, it was because Mom was “too reckless, too free-spirited.” And in one particular beer-affected conversation, he actually told me there was never a love-at-first-sight factor when meeting her. Pfft, nice, Dad.
So where does this leave me? In the middle. Not cool, parentals. Not cool.
I can feel the tension in Dad’s ten-second silence. “I don’t have delusions of a TV family, honey. I was just trying to spend more time with you. That’s all.”
“Then, why couldn’t we have spent a few days at home on the beach? Alice and Willy would’ve been fine with one day in Disney. Who’s the only person who ever wants to spend a whole week in Fart Wilderness? You.”
No eye contact from him. But plenty from others around us, including a manager type, for blaspheming about his beloved campground. “Haley, don’t be selfish,” Dad grumbles.
Wait. . . . Whoa. “Me? You’re the one trying to relive your childhood memories and making me pay for it. How does that make me selfish?”
“Stop it now,” he stage-whispers, “or you’re going to understand the true meaning of pain. In five . . . four . . . three . . .”
Empty Daddy words that he’s been threatening me with since I was a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore. He needs to listen to me. “I hate this place!”
A stunned hush falls over the room. Great. Now I’ve done it.
His brown eyes bear down on me, and I know I’m in trouble. But I’m past the point of caring. He ruined my summer plans. How else am I supposed to feel?
His voice is icy. “I’ve heard enough, Haley. Go wait in the car.”
My eyes sting. They plead with him, but they have no power anymore. Apparently, I have to be Erica for that. “Fine.” I crouch under the ribbon-divider thingy in one swift movement and charge toward the main exit. Everyone in the lobby stares at me, but I don’t care. It took me seventeen years to have one tantrum. Not bad, if you ask me.
Someone brushes by me on purpose. “Campfire by the Meadow Trading Post tonight. Nine thirty,” a male voice says. When I look up, a guy and a girl about my age are exiting through the other doors. The guy, blond hair hanging in his face, looks back at me, I guess to make sure I heard him.
“It’s a lame campfire,” I inform him. “A sing-along and a Disney movie. And it’s at seven thirty, not nine thirty.”
A taller, older kid strides past me just then. “Not our campfires.”
Oh. I see.
His dark brown eyes challenge me. “Nine thirty. Without your old man.”