I've decided that today isn't really a setback. I WANT to have reactions so I can find out what's causing them. Of course, what if my RA isn't affected by food at all and today is just a coincidence -- caused by something else, but just happened to come the day after I ate new foods? Still, I think there is something to the food aspect, because yesterday I was better than I've been in a long time. Anyway -- I'm sticking to rice and prunes for the time being.
I have a favor to ask. Most of you have read this already, so it's a BIG favor. I've been working hard on Caroline Online and would appreciate it if I had other sets of eyes looking at it. If I post a chapter at a time, would you all read it over and see if there are any problems, inconsistencies, suggestions to make it better?
The biggest thing is that I changed some names (and in the case of Caroline's younger sibling, I changed his gender). Caroline's older brother was Ben and I changed his name to Kael. Word has this "Replace" function, so I replaced all the Bens with Kaels. The only problem with that is that the word "bench" becomes "Kaelch" and "beneath" is now "Kaeleath." I think I've caught all of them, of course, but having someone else look at it will be helpful. I also made her little sister a little brother, and that involves changing she's to he's and her/his "princess costume" to a "Woody costume."
I changed a couple more names, too, so if you notice any inconsistencies, I would appreciate you pointing them out. Anything at all. If you read something and it doesn't make sense, I'd appreciate knowing. I am NOT very sensitive about this -- mostly because I actually think it's kind of good, but I know it could be better. So let me have it!!!
With that said, here is chapter one:
“C’mon Caroline—cheer up! It’s the last day of school,” Rachel pleaded with her friend. But the last day of school was precisely the reason for Caroline’s grumpy mood. The girls were standing at the school bus stop, Caroline Brennan slouching against a tall palm tree and glaring at the world around her.
She knew she looked totally pathetic. Her normally wavy blonde hair was inexplicably straight this morning, as if the effort to bend even the slightest bit was too much for it. There were circles under her brown eyes and she knew her expression was one of despair. She was wearing an ill-fitting pair of jeans shorts and a muddy-colored t-shirt that didn’t do much for her on a good day. She reasoned that she could afford this look for about fifteen more minutes. She’d have to perk things up a bit before arriving at school or she’d run the risk of scaring everybody and having no one at all call her over the summer. Considering her gloomy mood, however, it was the perfect look for the bus stop.
“Rach, you have no idea how boring it is around here during the summer. You get to go away—you spend your summers surrounded by eight million of your closest relatives. I spend mine cleaning out kennels at the animal clinic, babysitting Donny, and watching Cartoon Network. By the end of June I’m practically looking forward to Mr. Katz’s math tests. Desolation. That’s my life during the summer. Desolation.”
Rachel and Hannah Delgado, twin sisters and Caroline’s best friends, lived two doors down from the Brennan house. During the school year the three girls were inseparable, but as soon as summer vacation began Rachel, Hannah, their little brother Rafael, and Mrs. Delgado, the Spanish teacher at the high school, headed to Miami to spend the summer with their Cuban relatives. It sounded like Paradise to Caroline, who had visions of guava pastries, salsa music, and pink and turquoise houses.
“We’ll email you every day, Caroline.” Tenderhearted Hannah couldn’t bear to see her friend unhappy. “Twice a day, I promise. Maybe you can come and visit. You could drive down with Papi one weekend when he comes, and maybe you could stay for a week or two!”
“Maybe,” Caroline sighed. Her mother had, in fact, suggested that very thing the night before as Caroline complained to her about the desert that was her social life over the summer. Right this minute, though, she didn’t want the possibility of good news taking the edge off her despair.
Caroline lived on Bonita Key, a small island off the southwest coast of Florida. She was finishing her first year at the Bonita Point Middle School. The school was on the mainland and the girls rode the bus to their classes every day. For nine months of the year Caroline often stayed in town after school for club meetings or to hang out with friends at their homes or at the local community center or the mall. And Rachel and Hannah lived so close by that she never lacked for companionship. When summer came, however, she felt stranded. Her friends would come over occasionally to go to the beautiful island beaches and she was sometimes invited to go to the movies or spend the night with different girls, but most of the time she was alone on her island prison.
Of course, Caroline knew that she was blessed. Bonita Key was a beautiful place—a small island with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Bonita Bay on the other. White sand, palm trees, beautiful shells, wildlife—people paid lots of money to spend their vacations there every year. But it is possible to be lonely in a beautiful place and Caroline often felt abandoned by her friends when the school bus stopped running. So right now she was indulging in anticipated misery—“borrowing trouble,” her grandmother would have said. Rachel’s gasp interrupted her dark thoughts.
“There’s Kael!” Rachel waved excitedly, a blush coloring her pretty face. She tossed her long dark hair as she turned to wave. Her blue eyes sparkled as a beat-up red Honda Civic rumbled by. Kael coolly tapped on the horn and touched the bill of his baseball cap as he passed. He was Caroline’s older brother, on his way to Bonita Point High School. His car, dubbed “The Tomato” by their father, rounded the corner and disappeared with a clatter and a puff of exhaust.
“Caroline, do you think I could email Kael this summer? Would he mind? Do you think he’d email me back?” Rachel’s crush on Kael had existed for as long as Caroline could remember. She’d figured that Rachel would outgrow it but it seemed to be getting worse and it got on her nerves. Kael pretended to be oblivious but Caroline suspected that he actually enjoyed being the object of Rachel’s devotion. The whole thing kind of freaked her out.
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Caroline just couldn’t see it. Kael was an okay older brother, if you had to have such a thing. But a boyfriend? She gave an involuntary shudder at the very idea and tried to keep from rolling her eyes. “You have his email address, right? MarineMan-something.” Kael had a part-time job at the local salt water aquarium and was planning to study marine biology in college.
Rachel fumbled with her notebook, scrambling to find a pen. She finally gave up. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. I’ll remember it and if I don’t you’ll just email it to me, right? MarineMan…0131? That’s his birthday, isn’t it? On Gmail? Oh—here’s the bus!”
Hannah leaned over to pick up Caroline’s backpack. “Really, Care—I’ll email you all the time. It’ll be like we never left.”
Caroline forced herself to smile. As much as she was savoring her bad mood she didn’t want Hannah worrying about her all summer. “Oh, I’ll be fine. I’ll email you, too—regular reports from Camp Desolate. All the news that’s fit to email—like anything ever happens around here. You don’t mind emails filled with weather reports and what I had for dinner, right? ‘Sun. Hot. Afternoon rain. Meatloaf.’”
As the girls took seats behind the driver, old Mr. Maits glanced back at them. “You girls hear about the new folks? Rumor is that the Benson place has been bought by some New Yorkers who want to spend their vacations here.”
“Who are they, Mr. Maits?” asked Hannah.
“Well, now, you know everything I do, Hannah Banana.” Mr. Maits had called her that since the girls were in kindergarten. “I was hoping y’all would have some news for me.”
Caroline tried to act interested. “Just what this place needs,” she thought. “Another batch of old folks spending their holidays down south.” Aloud she said, “We’ll ask around at school today, Mr. Maits. I’ll bet somebody knows something good.”
It would be nice to see the old Benson place all fixed up, she admitted. Both of the Bensons had died before Caroline was even born and the house had been empty since their deaths. Their only heir, a distant cousin, seemed to have no interest in the house, either to live in it or to sell it. So for years it remained empty, the formerly beautiful, manicured lawns and gardens turning wild and overgrown, the paint peeling from the once-stately walls. One by one the windows had been broken out and boarded over. The palm trees were laden with old, dead fronds. The place was a mess, with an air of sadness and mystery surrounding it.
The stories that Caroline’s mother told of parties and dances held on the Benson grounds were almost impossible to believe. Bright colored lanterns and tiki torches blazing, live music, fresh oysters and crab boils—according to her mother’s accounts the Benson parties were the highlights of the social season each year on the key.
The house was on Caroline’s street, Manatee Court. Its backyard stretched out to a private beach, marred now by a rotting pier and a ramshackle gazebo. You could barely see the house from either the street or the beach because it was set so far back and because of the tangle of vines and overgrown brush around it. It might be okay, Caroline allowed, to watch while the house emerged from the jungle, even if its inhabitants were of no interest to her.
Sure enough, as the bus lumbered down the street Caroline caught a glimpse of some panel trucks and vans parked along the driveway of the Benson place. She could see a man in a cherry picker trimming old fronds from the palm trees that lined the drive and she thought she could see some workmen on the roof as well. The windows seemed to have been replaced, too.
“How long has this stuff been going on?” she wondered. Right under her nose and she was clueless about it! Well, as soon as she got home from school today she’d wander down and see whatever there was to see. For now, though, she had less than ten minutes to do something about her hair, the circles under her eyes, and her general attitude toward the world.
“Hannah, can I borrow some makeup?” Caroline’s mother didn’t approve of her wearing makeup, but now and then she figured it was an absolute emergency. Today certainly qualified. Hannah and Rachel were allowed to wear lip gloss and mascara and blush and Caroline used Hannah’s stash as her distress supply. Yet another reason why she hated spending her summers alone—she had to spend ten weeks looking like a child instead of the practically-a-teenager that she actually was.
Seven minutes later, her hair in a ponytail and her outlook fortified with lip gloss, blush, and a determined attitude (Mr. Maits had seemed intent on hitting every pothole in the road this morning so Caroline had wisely decided to forego the mascara), she clambered down the steps of the bus, squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and marched into Bonita Point Middle School for the final day of sixth grade.