Truth or Dare
The Comma Club
I RIPPED OPEN THE BOX, and there I was.
My name, times five hundred.
Amalia Jessica Rollins.
Seeing my name in print always gave me a weird feeling. But this wasn’t just weird. It was wrong.
Not even asking me for input, Dad had ordered five hundred labels for the stuff I was bringing to sleepaway camp. How had he come up with the number five hundred? Even if I labeled every bristle on my toothbrush, I didn’t own half that many things altogether.
And the font. It was all frilly and girly, like what you’d use to invite someone to a tea party. This is my sock. Sorry it smells like feet. I say, would you care for a crumpet?
Plus, he’d ordered the wrong name. Nobody called me Amalia, which sounded like a fussy old lady who wore lace collars, or maybe an old-timey girl who played piano for her cat. I was just Lia, definitely not a lace-collar sort of person, and I couldn’t play piano, except for “Chopsticks.”
And if I stuck all these labels on my clothes and towels and stuff, I’d be spending the entire summer going, Actually, it’s Lia. No, just Lia. L-I-A. You pronounce it Lee-uhh.
Another thing: He’d included my middle name. Using your middle name on camp labels made you sound kind of like a baby. The fact that Jessica was also my mom’s name—well, I didn’t need five hundred labels to remind me about her. It’s not like I’d forgotten anything in two and a half years.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the labels Dad had ordered were iron-on. Abi’s mom had told him to get the stick-on kind, but maybe he forgot. Or else he remembered that Mom had always used the iron-on kind, so he assumed they worked better. Maybe they did—but I was supposed to leave for camp in two days. I didn’t know the first thing about how to iron. Even if I downloaded some instructions, ironing labels—five hundred!—at the end of
a scorching June sounded to me like medieval torture.
I plopped onto my bed.
All my camp clothes—shorts, tees, swimsuits, jeans, socks, pj’s, sweaters, raincoat, underwear—were piled in semi-neat stacks on my bedroom floor, waiting for somebody to pack them. Me, obviously. Well, I could just write Lia Rollins on everything in Sharpie, couldn’t I? But what if the ink ran in the rain, or in the washing machine, and all the clothing I owned got smeared? Or what if the ink bled through to the other side, and so my back said snilloR aiL?
That would be horrific. Actually, no, it’s Lia. Read it backward, okay? Just pretend I’m standing in a mirror!
Then it occurred to me: I could ask Abi’s mom to help me iron. Abi’s mom was like the Mom in Chief of Maplebrook. Plus, she was the leader of what Dad calls the Mom Squad, all my friends’ moms who pitched in after Mom’s accident. Abi’s mom—she made us call her Val—was constantly saying, You can call me anytime, Lia. About anything.
So maybe I could call her now and say, Hi there, Val. How would you feel about ironing labels? Even though Dad ignored your advice about the stick-ons?
Okay, maybe not.
I reached under my bed, which was where I stored all my collections in bins: buttons, seashells, erasers, marbles,
charms, dice. I opened the bin of marbles and started sorting them by color, which usually relaxed me.
“Lia?” My fourteen-year-old brother, Nate, was in the doorway. “Friend for you downstairs.”
“Now? Who?” I sat up.
“I dunno. All your little friends look the same to me. Except for Jules.”
“Shut up,” I said. I was sick of his comments about Jules. “Is it Abi? Makayla? Marley?”
I’d tossed my cell phone exactly two and a half years ago, vowing never to get a new one. This meant friends of mine were always showing up without the “can-I-come-over-now” call first. It wasn’t a problem for me, but it got on my brother’s nerves.
He shrugged. “Go see for yourself, Lia, okay? She’s in the kitchen.”
I ran downstairs. Marley was standing at the counter. She was wearing a baggy Maplebrook Middle School tee and jeans with holes in the knees, and she was holding a Tupperware.
“Hey,” I said.
She grinned. Marley’s orthodontist let her change the colors of her rubber bands every visit, and now, for some reason, they were purple and orange. Her mouth always looked as if she were rooting for a team I’d never heard of.
“I came to say good-bye,” she announced. “For the summer. Also, my mom made you these. She wants the container back, so . . .” She handed me a Tupperware. I took off the lid: oatmeal cookies.
“Yum,” I said. “Tell her thanks.”
“They have raisins,” Marley said. “Sorry.”
“What’s wrong with raisins?” I took a big bite of cookie.
“They’re all shriveled up.” She made a face like a raisin. “I like food that’s smooth.”
Marley could be a little weird sometimes, but she was smart. Sometimes people thought she was sort of slow, because she had “a learning thing,” which meant that she had a bunch of different aides and tutors at school and also at home. But I knew how fast her brain worked and how she noticed things. Also how incredible she was at drawing.
Plus, there was another thing about her: She was the only friend I had who looked like me.
I don’t mean in the face. (I was green-eyed and light-brown-haired, with a turned-up nose and pale freckles on my cheeks. Marley had dark brown eyes and dark brown hair and messy bangs and wore black glasses that practically shouted nerd. But on her they looked cool; I can’t explain why, but they did.)
I mean in the body. Of all our friends, Marley and
I were the Least Developed. Neither of us had boobs or waists or hips, and we were both skinny as spaghetti. Julianna—who everyone called Jules—was Most Developed; she’d had her period since the start of sixth grade and made sure we knew about it every month. (“Omigod, I have killer cramps,” she always said, which sounded to me like a cheesy sci-fi movie: Attack of the Killer Cramps. Return of the Killer Cramps.) Makayla and Abi—which was short for Abigail—were both “on the verge,” they said, constantly talking about and comparing “symptoms.”
But Marley and I weren’t even close to being “on the verge.” We were both in the Comma Club, we joked—comma as opposed to period, haha. (This was a private joke, by the way; we didn’t share it with our other friends. At least, I didn’t.)
Marley was spending this summer with her dad in Chicago, going to art school at some museum. And suddenly it occurred to me how much I was going to miss her.
“I wish you were doing camp with us,” I blurted.
“Not me.” She shuddered. “I hate spiders. And sitting around the campfire, toasting things.”
“We don’t toast things. We toast marshmallows. And it’s not like that’s all we do for ten weeks.”
“Yeah, okay. But the whole cabin business.” She caught my eye.
“What about it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Living with the same people all the time. Eating with them, listening to them snore, changing clothes in front of them . . .”
I didn’t need to ask; I could guess what she meant. Marley still wore undershirts. I had a couple of “training bras” Val gave me after Abi must have asked her to. Training bra: The idea was funny, if you thought about it. Like you needed to train yourself to wear underwear. Oh, good job; you’re really wearing that thing correctly today!
“But it won’t be so bad,” Marley added quickly. “I mean, you have Jules and Abi and Makayla—”
“Yeah. But there are twelve girls in our cabin, not just them. I wish—”
“Nothing. No, you’re right. We’ll have an awesome summer. So will you.”
Marley threw her arms around me and squeezed. “I’d say I’ll write to you, but you know I won’t. See you in September, Lia.”
“See you, Marley. Bye. No, wait!”
Except she ran out the front door before I could give her back the plastic container.