A/N Welcome to my story! I'm so happy you've opened this window and ventured in. I hope that this story will open your mind, get you asking questions and leaving you wanting more. But for now, this is only the first chapter! And I'm just glad you gave this a shot. I promise I will do everything in my power to not disappoint you. Yes, this story may get sad. But there'll be happiness in it too and a hopefulness about it, if I can write it right. So, without further ado, let's begin.
Tara placed the folded t-shirt into her suitcase.
Never in her fourteen years had she been so nervous or so scared for anything.
Yes, that counted that killer algebra final she took in the seventh grade. Or her first roller coaster ever at Disney world when she was eight.
Maybe even a little more nervous than she was at the time of her first surgery, exactly one year ago.
It had been, as her father called it, a mountainous year. Full of ups and downs. But mostly downs. Tara had to keep on pushing, though. What choice did she have? She just had to keep moving upwards and inwards. Even though, as Tara often told her father, she had gotten caught in quite a few crevices.
"You got that right, kiddo." Her father would smile sadly. "But look at where you are now."
Edward Caulfied, Tara's father, was an English professor. He loved metaphors above all else and frequently challenged his daughter to "metaphor battles."
He was the kind of man who let her win.
Whenever anyone in the family referred to "the monster" anymore, Tara's mother would get all weepy and tug her daughter to her. "My baby's fighting it." She would whisper.
And Tara would have an overwhelming urge to pull away and gasp for air.
She hated that phrase. "Fighting it." It was what was used to describe literally every single kid who happened to have the misfortune of some cells growing faster than they should. Automatically, this made them all "fighters."
What of those with a naturally passive nature? That was what Tara had, according to her parents. In their words, of course.
The other kids referred to it as simply being "an awkward nerd."
At least, that was what many called Tara behind her back B.C. Before Cancer. Tara and her family had come up with an entire dictionary of alternative terms. It somehow made everything a lot easier, especially for the little guys. That was what Tara and her parents called her little sister, Casey and Lily. A.D was After Diagnosis.
So currently, she was in twelve months A.D.
Now, someone was telling her to "fight" everyday.
Tara had never fought anything or anyone in her life. Besides, of course, the metaphor battles with her father. Even when dodgeball was being played in gym class, Tara never, ever threw a ball. It just wasn't in her.
She sure was a great dodger, though.
How many big things had she dodged by now?
Well, amputation was way up there. Sometimes that had to happen in really bad osteosarcoma cases, but not in hers.
Tara dusted off her black frames. She'd been wearing the same ones since grade school. Her mother begged her to wear contacts, but Tara found them terribly irritating.
And gross. She was scared to put something in her eye.
Even Tara knew that she was a bit of a wimp. Scared of everything.
Especially scared to spend six weeks at Camp Hope.
Camp Hope. Every time someone mentioned it, nine-year-old Casey would crack up. "Camp Hope?!" She'd giggle. "That's such a stupid name. It's so cheesy. If you ask me, they should've just named it something like all the other camps. Like, Camp Pine Tree or something like that. With a name like Camp Hope, everybody just knows right away it's for sick kids."
Even though their mother had scolded Casey at first, everyone in the family agreed with her.
There was just no avoiding it.
Camp Hope was not like all the other camps.
It was Tara's first time at an overnight camp. So sure, she was excited. Excited to see what all the hub was about summer camp. Year after year, the kids at her school and her won best friend, Agnes Miller, had come back to school talking of s'mores, camp songs, archery, canoeing and meeting interesting new people.
Yes, there would be all of that at Camp Hope, too.
But the real reason she was dreading camp was because of the constant reminder that she, Tara Caulfield, was sick.
Where other camps had rustic, slightly moldy cabins, Camp Hope's cabins were full of state of the art air purifiers.
Agnes's summer camp, Camp Briarwood, was filled with happy kids who ran around like wild with red cheeks and sweaty bodies.
At this one, Tara would be surrounded by stick-thin, sad looking kids with bald heads and oxygen tanks.
Where most summer camps had a tiny, moldy "sketchy" infirmary, this one had a full-on medical center.
Tara's constant hospital visits for the chemo had ended four months ago. She'd been able to leave the tutor behind and go to school those last few months, too.
Her hair was growing back. Sure, it felt like the stuff on chicks or maybe babies, but it was there. Tara had never been especially upset about the loss of her hair, as everyone had warned. It was a rather plain, mousy old brown anyway. Still, she was overjoyed to have it coming back.
Starting in August, she'd be attending Stevenson High, which was a large enough public school that hardly anyone there would know. She could start fresh.
She wore normal clothes now, not having to cover up because of the skin sensitivity that came with treatment. She didn't have to make sure her friends all put a gallon of Purell on their hands before getting near her. No more wigs or even weird looks because of her absence of hair.
Probably the only looks she got now were from the old ladies at the supermarket, clucking their teeth. As if to say "I never will understand these rebellious teens. Why do they go and cut their off like that?" Or perhaps "Such a shame. Such a nice little lesbian."
The very thought of it made Tara giggle.
Now though, now she had to go back to staring reality in its face.
At the very moment Tara had finally forced the zipper on her suitcase closed, Lily came tumbling into the room.
"Mommy says we're going now." She said in a sing-song voice.
Lily is six, and in the phase where she seemed to be talking in a consent sing-song.
"Okay, then." Tara mumbles.
Lily touched her arm softly, in one of those moments of little sister tenderness. "Are you scared? Mommy said you were." She studies a piece of her white-blond hair. "I wouldn't be scared if I was you. You get to go to camp and have tons of fun."
Tara grinned at her little sister. Lily really was the sweetest. "Yeah, you bet I will."
Lily twirls and her tutu-like skirt flares out. "And it's good cause I get to sleep in your room! Hah!"
And whatever tender moment existed before was now gone.
She grabbed her sister's sticky hand. "C'mon, Lil. Let's go to the car."
The two walked down the wooden staircase and past the living room. The familiar reds and browns of the space called out to Tara. Oh, she would miss curling up on that couch with her father and trying to solve a crossword. Then laughing as the two realized neither knew a thing about pop culture. She would ache for listening to the Beatles, especially "Here Comes The Sun," the family song. How she and her mother would dance around, signing into hairbrushes. How Lily would attempt a pirouette and end up crashing into the coffee table. And how Casey would laugh so hard she'd start to snort.
Oh yes, she would miss her eccentric, slightly odd family.
The family's cat, Socrates, ambled into the foyer.
"He's saying goodbye to you!" Lily exclaimed.
Tara knew he was really just coming for the spot of sun that lay on the wooden floorboards, but she preferred to think of it Lily's way. So she gave the old tomcat a good petting before exiting the house with Lily at her side.
It was already hot outside. That was how it was in Washington D.C. The humidity enveloped everyone in its heavy blanket long before noon.
She was momentarily glad to be leaving for cooler mountain in Pennsylvania.
Because then, the chaos of a family car trip took hold.
Her father bustled around, taking Tara's suitcase and trying to fit it into the trunk, along with a separate bag for all Tara's medical supplies, and another bag for swimming stuff.
Lily and Casey had already begun to bicker about whether or not there would be music played in the car. Lily wanted music from the radio, but Casey wanted to listen to Tara's old i-pod that had only recently been passed down to her.
"We all wanna listen to music." Lily said.
Casey crossed her arms indignantly. "Nuh-uh. I don't want to listen to Mommy and Daddy's yucky old stuff. I want new stuff, too!"
"Fat chance!" Tara called over to Casey. "My i-pod mostly has Beatles and Aretha Franklin, anyways."
Casey pouted. "Yeah, but there's lots of Taylor Swift on it, too."
Tara flushed deeply at the mention of what she referred to as her "guilty pleasure singer."
Her mother stepped in to resolve the conflict, stating that the radio signal wouldn't last forever anyway. Once they got into the mountains, Casey could listen to her iPod all she wanted.
Then, she promptly raced over to Tara's father and interrogated him in case he had forgotten anything.
And Tara smiled. This was normal. Just a normal, slightly chaotic family getting ready for a little road trip together. They were arguing about things every kid argued about with their siblings, too. Her father was stumbling around and adjusting his glasses constantly, as he always did right before trips. Her mother was checking everything on the giant list she had compiled inside her head.
Never mind that the road trip was to a camp for "chronically and seriously ill children."
That could all be forgotten.
FInally, everyone had gotten into the car.
Tara sat in the middle, across from Lily in her car seat who has weighed down with kiddie activity books and a Disney princess dvd player.
Casey sat in the back, sulking over having to listen to oldies music for at least the first hour.
As the car rounded its way out of their suburban neighborhood, Tar began to put over her Biology textbook.
It was her favorite subject and she couldn't wait to take it.
At her feet, there was also a Geometry textbook. Tara had already tested out of Geometry, being what the school system labeled as "Gifted." But she wanted to make sure to have all the concepts down.
After all, there would be six whole weeks without studying coming up.
No, Tara was not to exceptionally smart and/or focused that she studied all day, everyday and only thought about schoolwork. But six weeks without studying scared her a little. Besides, when one failed as miserably at every single sport as Tara did, academics were really the only other option.
That was one of the reasons Tara let her mother sign her up for six weeks at Camp Hope.
She wanted to find a hobby.
"This will be good for you." Tara's mother said suddenly. "You'll get to meet lots of other kids going through the same things as you are. Kids struggling with people labeling them only by their illnesses, you know sweetie?"
"Sure, Mom." Tara said.
"I'm sure you'll meet some girls as strong as yourself there."
Tara tried her best not to laugh out loud at that one. Strong? Oh for God's sake. Who was she kidding? B.C, Tara was the polar opposite of what anyone could consider strong. She had as much upper-arm strength as a T-rex, with those spindly twigs of hers. And probably the fitness skills of an amoeba.
She wasn't even emotionally strong!
She cried buckets and buckets every time she saw "Finding Nemo."
Silently, she resigned herself to reading about the nitrogen cycle and listening to the Rolling Stones for the remainder of the trip.
Once they got into the mountains, though, it was another story entirely.
Tara craned her neck to look out of the window. Everywhere, green rose above them. Green trees dotting green hills and green peaks. There was an emerald color on the grass, and a deeper forest color, with specks of gold everywhere.
It took her breath away.
They drove through a pass, which made for a very scenic route.
As she looked under and saw a valley, dotted with farms and houses, she suddenly felt very small.
There was a whole, big world out there.
Filled with people whose problems were a lot bigger than hers.
Maybe to someone else, the thought would have been a little depressing. But to Tara, it was a reassuring one.
There were just so many people in the world.
Perhaps somewhere out there, there was a girl exactly like her. Maybe not sharing the name of Tara Caulfield, or exactly fourteen years old either. But maybe there was a girl who cared deeply about academics, had an eccentric family, was okay with being a little odd and had the bad luck of waking up with a painful lump in her collarbone. Or any bone. Whatever. But maybe Tara would find someone exactly like her.
Sure, Agnes Miller was her very best friend. The two had been this close since Agnes came to Somerset Elementary in the third grade after moving from Michigan. They were paired up for a project on Egypt, and walked out with an A+ and a new best friend.
Agnes was an intelligent girl. She didn't study much, but was in all the highest classes with Tara. The two breezed through elementary school, ignoring the occasional name calling for their less than popular status.
The two ended up going to the same middle school. But whereas Agnes blossomed there, Tara fell deeper and deeper into her books. Agnes joined the field hockey team and the spring musical with ease, and went on to star as Laurey in "Oklahoma." For Tara, it took every ounce of strength in her to join the Quiz Bowl team, and even then she hardly said a word during meetings.
Yet Agnes remained fiercely loyal to Tara, even though other girls expressed their distaste of this. the girl set them straight, though. And so Tara was merely left alone.
Agnes became known throughout the school for her nice, easy-going attitude. Suddenly, it was almost cool to be as smart as she was. At least, it was tolerated.
While Agnes rose to the top of the social ladder, her best friend still somehow managed to fade into obscurity.
That all changed the fall of eighth grade.
Tara wasn't in school for the first week. That was strange. The other students didn't know what to make of it. Who misses the first week of school? No one.
Well, as a result of her best friend's status, the entire school knew that Tara had cancer by the time she walked into the doors.
Rumors came and rumors went. At first, the school was on fire with talk of the girl no one had known before, besides as the socially awkward best friend of the most popular girl in the grade.
Some said Tara was completely bald and that the hair on her head (suspiciously a shade darker than her normal hair color) was actually a wig. Funny how it all works, but believe it or not, some middle school rumors are actually true.
Others said Tara was dying.
Even though no one said it out loud, pretty much everyone in the grade thought it. Cancer was a death sentence, right? Didn't Jim Irving's brother die from some kind of brain cancer back in elementary school? So therefore, it was thought that Tara would die at any die.
Now that did not have an ounce of truth to it.
By spring, though, everything seemed forgotten. Tara's hair was growing back and she wasn't missing anymore school.
Slightly morbid, but as soon as everyone was positive she was not, in fact, dying, she quickly became forgotten.
Which was just how she liked it.
But maybe at camp it would be different.
Maybe here, she could become someone else entirely.
Tara smiled quietly to herself in the car window. Why not? Why shouldn't she just make the best of what she had?
This was her first time at summer camp, after all.
Could it be possible?
Yes. Yes it was.
This summer, Tara Caulfield could meet a boy.
The thought made her grin even more. She probably looked completely stupid, staring out the car window in the middle of nowhere while Casey snored behind her and Lily kicked her seat.
Just then, a few familiar chords coming from some random radio station they'd somehow been able to pick out drifted through the car.
Her father adjusted his glasses. "Would you look at that?" He whistled. "I can't believe it. We're in nowhere at all where there shouldn't be a radio signal for miles, and yet, here one is. And girls, it's playing our song! Incredible, isn't it?" He exclaimed happily.
Tara mother smiled. "It's like a little miracle."
In a split second, the car is filled with singing voice, none of them too good.
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it's all right
It is fair to say that Tara sings loudest of all.
Sun, sun, sun here we come. She thinks to herself.
In more way than one.
Sun, sun, sun, here I come.
A/N that was a little intro for you guys. Most chapters should be a little longer than this, as I love to write long stuff! But I thought just to give a little prequel, before we get to camp. All song credit goes to the Beatles, of course. I don't know why, but that song was just poking through like it just had to be Tara's.
Over the next chapters, you'll be introduced to three more key characters. Sammy's chapter is next. Then we'll have Jessie's and then Ani's. The multiple characters will give you guys some insight on all the ways these guys are coping. Tara's comfort is forgetting her illness, while Sammy and Jessie are much more open about theirs. Sammy wants to live life as normally as possible, but often ends up doing things that are thoroughly ridiculous and unrealistic. Most of all, he wants a girl.
Jessie is more than willing to talk about her troubles. In fact, talking is her comfort. Ani likes helping others who are going through similar problems and by thinking about life as a whole, not just her illness.
So I can't wait to write more for you guys!