By Tatum Schutt
Illustrated by Phoebe Wagoner
So there I was, trying to keep my voice calm as I laid out my case to my archenemy on her front stoop.
“You just have to promise,” I said, hating how my voice sounded so weak and pleading. Jess regarded me like a dead mouse her cat had dropped at her door.
“Fine!” she finally spit at my feet, and promptly slammed the door in my face. My shoulders relaxed and I grinned as I got on my bike and rushed away, the warm summer air whooshing by my face.
By some evil force of nature, Jess and I had both ended up at Interstock Sleep-Away Camp for the same two weeks, in the same cabin. I had stopped by her house the day before we left to insure it was safe. I hated it when people felt bad for me.
The next day I was ready with my duffle when the bus pulled up. I gave my mom and dad one last kiss when my mom pulled me back.
“Are you sure you want to do this, sweetie? After what happened, you…” I cut her off before she could finish her sentence.
“Of course I do! I love you, bye!” I shouted over my shoulder as I ran to the bus, my duffle hitting the backs of my knees. The doors opened with a swish and I was instantly barraged with the cheerful, bird-like chattering of happy campers. Coupled with it was the smell of lemons and lavender, which was odd, but I shook it off. Maybe someone was drinking lemonade. My face burst into a grin as bright as a supernova as I sat down next to a girl with kinky brown hair and introduced myself. There was no way I would let Jess ruin this for me.
* * *
The drone of mosquitoes filled the air as Nicole, the girl I sat with on the bus, and I anxiously swatted them away. Today was our first archery contest, and everyone was on edge.
“Why are you twisting your earrings like that?” Nicole asked curiously. I immediately put my hand down and turned a bit red. I hadn’t realized I had been doing it.
“I do it when I am nervous,” I said. Suddenly Jess emerged from the background of girls.
“No offense, but they look really old-fashioned,” she said loudly, and I felt my face heat up like a pit of lava as more girls surrounded me.
Suddenly I blurted out, “I only wear them because my mom makes me. My grandmother gave them to me, and she has really bad taste.” I laughed meanly.
“Is that the same grandmother you’re always quoting?” Jess asked innocently. The obvious answer was yes, and my face felt as hot as a pan in the oven. I looked to Nicole for help, but she was staring intently at the ground.
A girl from the crowd said, “Why don’t you take them off? Your mother would never know.” Others from my cabin chimed in, voicing their opinions.
“I never thought of that!” I said, faking a surprised expression and shoving the earrings deep into my pocket.
I shot terribly, barely making the target. The earrings were a lump of regret and embarrassment pressing against me, like the lump you get in your throat before you cry. When at last the day was over, I threw my shorts on the ground and dove head first into the forgiving folds of the cold sheets.
* * *
The next morning, I awoke before everyone to the eerie sound of an owl calling to its mate. I reached instinctively to my ears before the events of the day before came rushing back like muddy water when a dam breaks. I sat down with a plunk. I couldn’t believe I had lied to my cabin mates just because of something Jess had said. I decided to start fresh and tell everyone the truth about my grandmother and the earrings. I swore that I would never take them off again. I reached into my crumpled shorts pocket to get the earrings. I groped and groped around, but my fist closed around only emptiness. My breathing became more rapid as my heart seemed to rise to my throat. I was shaking out my shorts when reveille was played, signaling everyone to get up.
Someone turned on the light and Nicole said, “Cicile, what’s the matter? Your face is all white.”
I slowly put my hand up to my ears. “My earrings!” I said. “They’re gone!” Several people groaned.
One girl, named Cathy, said, “What’s so important about those earrings anyway? You said yourself, they are really old-fashioned.” I sat down heavily on my bed.
“Let’s just get this over with. My grandmother, the one I am always talking about, died two months ago. She gave me those earrings three weeks before she died. They were the only thing I had to remember her by.” I looked up and was met with eight pitying looks. Jess was the only one who was not looking at me; she was glaring at her lap.
“She made me promise not to tell,” she said spitefully.
“Why didn’t you want us to know?” Cathy asked softly.
“I don’t like being pitied,” I said truthfully.
“OK,” Nicole said suddenly, breaking the soft silence. “Who took them?” she asked, and everyone turned their heads and fixed their eyes pointedly on Jess.
“Hey,” she said. “I don’t think the question is who took them so much as what took them.”
I let out a little gasp. “Do you mean…do you think it was my grandmother’s ghost?”
Jess nodded gravely.
Suddenly the breakfast bell rang, breaking the silence like a class full of chatty third-graders. The cabin erupted in a flurry of kids getting dressed, but the issue of the earrings weighed heavily on everyone’s mind throughout the day. During the arts-and-crafts class, Nicole caught me alone.
“Don’t listen to any of that ghost nonsense Jess is talking about. She probably took the earrings herself and made up that story to mislead you.”
“Maybe,” I said.
* * *
The second and final week of camp passed quickly, and I had lots of fun, although my grandmother’s earrings never showed up. In what seemed like a very short time, it was time to pack up my duffle again. By now I was desperate to find my earrings. I had searched through every nook and cranny on the campus to no avail. I had begged and begged Jess to just give me the earrings if she took them, but each time she would look straight into my eyes and tell me she didn’t take them. Either she was an incredible liar, or she actually didn’t. I was starting to imagine how to face my parents with the news, when Nicole’s parents drove onto the campus to pick her up. We exchanged addresses on little notes, and many hugs, and as she was driving away, through the cracked open window, she suddenly called out, “I’m sorry!” I was about to ask her what for when her car turned a corner and disappeared.
I opened the note to look at her address, and another smaller note fell out.
“Dear Cicile,” it said, “I was the one who stole your earrings.” When I read this I nearly fell over with shock.
I felt guilty for not stepping up and defending you when Jess was teasing you, so I took them so that you wouldn’t be teased anymore. I didn’t realize how much they meant to you. I should have fessed up when you told everyone about your grandmother’s death, but I was too embarrassed. It was easier for me to go along accusing Jess than to justify the wrong that I did. I am very, very, very sorry. If you want them now, you have to run back to my bunk. Lie down like you are going to sleep, and look up. They will be in a small bag directly above your head. I will miss you so much, and I hope you will forgive me.
As fast as my legs could carry me, I ran back to our cabin and lay down on Nicole’s bed. And sure enough, directly above me were my grandmother’s earrings. But they weren’t the only things up there. Resting against the bag was a tiny bottle of perfume. I opened it and sniffed. The smell of lemons and lavender wafted over me, and I shivered though it was humid out. It was my grandmother’s perfume.