Text copyright 2016 Lauri Thorburn
Cover design copyright 2016 Lauri Thorburn
Cover illustration copyright anna_elsewhere
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, dead or alive, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Shakespir Edition License Notes
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Published by Lauri Thorburn 2016
Dedicated to my past students at Hukanui School who inspired me every day.
“Can you believe Cassie invited Mallory to have lunch with us today?” my friend Alodie says over the phone after our first day back at school.
I flop on my bed and pick up the glittered purple BFF photo frame that sits on my bedside table. It was a gift from Alodie, taken at one of her pool parties, and shows the two of us with our other besties, Cassie and Gwen, our arms wrapped around each other and wearing huge smiles and wet hair.
“I totally didn’t talk to Mallory on purpose,” Alodie says. “Hopefully she’ll get the hint and leave us alone. If not, I’ll just tell her straight up that the RADs aren’t looking for a fifth member. Even if we were, she definitely wouldn’t be it.”
The RADs stands for the Royally Adorable Dolls, which is what Alodie calls the four of us. I guess you could say Alodie’s the leader of the group because she’s the one that brought us all together. Alodie and Gwen have known each other the longest. They used to be neighbours until last year, when Alodie’s family moved into an exclusive neighbourhood edging the river.
I was the next to meet Alodie – at the Riverside Dance Studio’s Twinkle Toes Mini Movement class – when we were both four. She was wearing a coral tulle skirt, which was dotted with sequins, and I was fascinated by the way her long braided hair swung around like a silky golden rope every time she twirled. Each session was spent shaking pink tinsel pom poms and attempting to swirl rainbow ribbons in the air. They usually ended up in a tangled mess. We both still dance but in different disciplines – I do jazz ballet while she does hip hop.
When we were five, Gwen, Alodie and I all started at Riverside School, but in different classes. That’s when Alodie met Cassie and we’ve been a foursome ever since.
I look back at the photo in my hands. Alodie’s the one that sticks out the most. Her bright blue eyes change shades depending on what she’s wearing, she has the eyelashes of a doll and a wide, warm smile.
As Alodie continues her rant about Mallory, I flick through the pages of Pop! magazine, which Cassie left at my house on the weekend. I’m not sure what Alodie has against Mallory but I let it slide. I hadn’t spoken to Mallory before today, because she only came to Riverside School at the very end of last year, but she seems nice enough. Obviously, Alodie doesn’t feel the same. At lunchtime, Alodie had looked at Mallory as though she was a cold sore on Alodie’s lip. I was so glad that Mallory and Cassie didn’t seem to notice.
My cell phone beeps, cutting Alodie off mid-sentence.
“Who’s that?” she asks.
I read the text. “It’s Gwen, just letting me know she’s going to piano.”
Gwen is always busy with something – piano, violin, swimming, creative writing classes – and that’s only her after-school activities. At school, she’s also a rubbish raider, lunchtime librarian and the assistant editor of the school’s online news site. She’s also been selected for the school’s Young Scientists programme and has plans to start a writing club and book club as well. It’s enough to make my head ache, but Gwen only seems to function under pressure.
The mention of Gwen’s name starts a whole new string of complaints from Alodie.
“What’s up with Gwen trying out for class leader? She knows there’s no way the class is going to vote for her over me!” she exclaims. “Don’t get me wrong, Paige – you know I love her to bits – but what’s she playing at?”
“I dunno.” I feel ashamed not sticking up for Gwen especially because, if the roles were reversed, Gwen would definitely stick up for me.
“I just can’t believe that she’d even think to go up against me.”
I walk over to my desk and pick up my own class leader application, which I’d filled out as soon as I got home from school. I screw it up and chuck it in the bin. I’m so glad no one knows I was planning to apply for class leader too. Nothing is worth being in Alodie’s bad books for.
For the last six months – ever since Alodie’s grandma, Mammy, died –she’s been super snappy and very critical. Alodie is usually a blast to be around. She’s really creative and is always coming up with exciting things for the RADs to do. But lately, she’s mainly just been selfish and mean.
I spoke to Mum about it recently and she said that most people take their problems out on those they’re closest to so that’s why I’m trying to be as supportive to Alodie as I can. With Mammy passing away, she’s been through a lot, so Mum thinks her foul moods are just her way of coping.
“School camp sounds fun, hey?” I say to distract Alodie from her grouch about Gwen.
“Oh my gosh, it’s going to be sooo fun! Apparently the flying fox is really high. I can’t wait!”
The flying fox is actually the one part of camp that I’m not looking forward to. I can handle spiders, I can handle being alone in the dark, I can even eat broad beans, but one thing that really freaks me out is heights. Besides my family, Gwen is the only one who knows this is my biggest fear. It’s stupid and embarrassing and I don’t want anyone else to know about it.
“Oh, I’ve got to go, Paige. Brooke’s just got home and she’s got Dad’s credit card. He promised we could go shopping as a back-to-school present. See ya!” She hangs up before I can say goodbye.
I overheard Mum and Dad talking once about how the only way Alodie’s parents show her love is through their wallets. I stare out my bedroom window and look down at the backyard below. My little brother, Jacob, is kicking a soccer ball against the fence and talking to Dad while he pulls the washing off the line and it suddenly makes me feel really sorry for Alodie.
I turn the phone back on and dial Cassie’s number.
“Hey hey, chicky,” she says. “Seniors at last. Feels good huh – we finally rule the school!”
“So, how was the rest of your day?” she asks.
“Great. I wish you were in our class though.”
“Aw, me too! I can’t believe all of the RADs are in the same class except for me. Loser!”
I would be mortified if I was the only RAD in another class, but nothing seems to phase Cassie.
“So, what did you think of Mallory? Do you think she’ll fit in with the RADs?”
“She seems cool, Cass,” I say, dodging the second part of her question. I don’t have the heart to tell Cassie what Alodie thinks of Mallory. That’s Alodie’s issue anyway, not mine.
“Yeah, she is cool. She’s pretty quiet but she’s friendly and she laughs at all my jokes.”
It would be almost impossible not to laugh at Cassie’s jokes. She is hilarious and plays really funny pranks on the teachers. She even gives them nicknames and they don’t seem to mind. Our teacher last year, Mr Crowe – who she called The Crowbar – told her she had “lots of spunk.” She’s got a nickname for our school principal, Mr Toi, too – The Toiminator – but she doesn’t say it to his face like she does with the other teachers because she knows it’ll land her in detention.
I finally get off the phone, pull out my ponytail and ruffle my wavy brown hair. It feels good to have it loose after a whole day of it being scraped back.
My skin is sticky from the summer heat but, before I have a shower, I need to talk to Mum about camp’s dreaded flying fox. Even though it’s still a week away, I can’t get it off my mind and I know she’ll say just the right thing to stop the bubbling in my stomach.
Little do I know, the flying fox and camp are going to have more of an impact on the RADs and I than I can possibly imagine. In fact, camp is about to change the Royally Adorable Dolls forever.
The next day, at school, Mrs Anderson sends us to our desks to give us some information on camp. I love the first week of school. The teachers always let us sit with whoever we like until they suss out who works well together and who are nightmares.
Alodie nudges me and points down at her iPad. In large flowery font, she’s typed: Mrs A looks like an old man lol! I smile back at her but inside I’m horrified. I like Mrs Anderson. Her short greying hair sits like candyfloss on her head and she’s famous for her wardrobe of shorts and chequered shirts in varying shades, but she has soft white skin and a gentle smile and definitely doesn’t look like a man. I let out my breath when Alodie finally deletes the message.
“I have split the class into two groups for our camp activities,” Mrs Anderson says. “Each group will have two leaders as well as four parent guardians.”
She asks us to open a document on our iPads and I skim the list of groups. Alodie and I are together but Gwen isn’t with us. I’m disappointed about Gwen but at least I’m with Alodie.
“Gwen and Toby, you’re going to be the leaders of the Starfish group and Paige and Max will be the leaders of the Urchins.”
I look up at Mrs Anderson and she smiles, while Gwen gives me the thumbs up. I can’t wait to tell Mum and Dad!
“Well done, P,” Alodie whispers, stroking my hand like it’s a kitten. “It’s only fair you get to be camp leader. Mrs Anderson couldn’t choose me for that as well as class leader.”
Mrs Anderson hasn’t announced our class leader yet, but Alodie seems pretty confident she’s going to get it. I really hope Gwen does though, because I know she’ll be fair. A part of me wishes I hadn’t screwed up my own application, but I know how Alodie would react and it just isn’t worth it.
Mrs Anderson then shares the camp timetable and the class goes crazy when she mentions the flying fox. They keep firing questions at her: How high is it? Can we go on it whenever we want? Are we allowed to go down it backwards? Everyone is really excited so I cheer and whoop and clap along with them, even though my heart’s thumping against my ribs like a fist banging on a door.
“Enough flying fox talk, kids.” Mrs Anderson takes off her glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose. “I also want to talk to you about the camp talent show.” There is a mixture of groans and applause.
“Each person will participate in an item. Your group can be as big or small as you like but your item mustn’t be any longer than two minutes. You can do an item with children from other classes as well.”
Yes, that means Cassie can perform with us!
Alodie leans over. “I’ve got the best idea! Tell you about it at lunchtime.”
When the bell rings, Alodie, Gwen and I walk to the courtyard to meet Cassie. The school is divided into three eating areas and the seniors get the coolest one. The courtyard has a big hexagonal stage as well as a few seats and benches, but you have to get there quick to claim these spots. Even Cassie, who has made it to the lunch area before us, is too late today.
“Ugh, not again! What is she doing with her?” Mallory is sitting next to Cassie on the cobblestones and Alodie is obviously unimpressed. Cassie is doing her beaver impersonation and Mallory is in such hysterics she looks as though she’s choking.
“She isn’t hurting anybody, Al. Be nice,” Gwen says.
We make our way through the vine of kids lingering in the courtyard and sit down on the hot cobbles. I open my salad and dig into it with a plastic fork.
“Oh my gosh, that cheese stinks!” Alodie covers her nose with the collar of her white shirt.
“Yeah, I can’t believe you can eat feta like it’s chocolate,” Cassie chuckles.
I laugh too and ask her how her day is going.
“Terrible,” she groans, pulling the crusts off her sandwich and throwing them at the birds. “Mrs Knight played a spelling game with us before and I had to spell ‘believe’ in front of the class but I got it totally wrong.”
“How’d you spell it?” Gwen asks.
“Geez, Cass, you’re so daft!” Alodie flicks her long blond hair.
“It’s actually quite a tricky word, Alodie,” Gwen says. “I’ve got a mnemonic to help you spell it, Cass.”
“A mne-what?” Cassie screws up her freckled face.
“Mnemonic. It’s a trick that helps you remember things. You see, ‘believe’ has the word ‘lie’ in it so if you say to yourself, ‘Don’t believe the lie’, it’ll help you remember how to spell it.”
“Aw, thanks Gwenny. You’re so clever!”
“Enough of the boring spelling talk,” Alodie says. “I want to tell you about my idea for the camp talent show. Sorry, Mallory, what I have in mind is a four-person thing.” She doesn’t even look at her.
“Oh, that’s okay,” Mallory says softly, looking down at her crossed legs. I feel awful for her.
“Our item’s top secret – we wouldn’t want any copycats – so you’re going to have to find something else to do right now.”
This time Alodie does look at Mallory and, although she’s forcing a smile, there is venom in her eyes.
Mallory says goodbye to Cassie before rushing off, leaving her lunchbox behind.
“Gosh, Al, you’re so rude!” Cassie says and Gwen agrees. I inspect my salad, like a lab scientist, trying to stay out of it.
“Oh boo hoo. Spare me the lecture. Anyway, back to the talent show item …”
Predictably, Alodie’s idea is a dance.
“I’ll come up with the moves tonight but I’ve already got a sequence in mind. Paige and I will be in the front ‘cause we’re the best dancers and you two will be at the back.”
“That suits me fine,” Gwen says. “The less I can be seen the better.”
“We’ll also wear matching costumes. I’ve just bought a really cool outfit so I’ll get you guys to buy the same thing.”
Cassie raises her eyebrows.
“It’s a pair of white crop shorts and a black singlet which has a purple sequinned star on it. The star comes in other colours as well so we could all wear different ones.”
“I don’t know, Al.” Gwen bites her lip. “It seems a bit out there for my liking.”
“Me too,” Cassie says.
“Oh get over it, guys. It’ll ruin it if we’re not wearing the same thing. If we’re going to win we’re going to need to stand out. What about you, Paige? Are you keen or are you going to whinge and moan as well?”
I flinch at the mention of my name. I like the idea of wearing matching outfits but I understand where Gwen and Cassie are coming from. There’s nothing worse than being caught in the middle.
I shrug. “I’m happy with whatever.”
“Right, it’s settled then.”
“Like we had a choice in the first place.” Cassie stuffs her ragged half-eaten sandwich in her lunchbox and grabs Mallory’s lunchbox as well. “Anyway, I’m going to go find Mallory and see if she’s okay.”
“I’ll help you find her,” Gwen says, leaving Alodie and I behind.
“Far out, that was a bit dramatic!” Alodie says.
I nod, prodding a cherry tomato with my fork.
“Cassie and Gwen better step up and work their butts off for this dance. I want to win that talent show, no matter what.”
I just hope Alodie’s mission to win doesn’t cost the RADs our friendship. So far it isn’t looking good.
Alodie stomps over to her iPhone and snatches it off its speaker dock. The Chase Hart song that is blaring comes to an abrupt halt.
“For once in your life can you stop goofing off?” she yells at Cassie. “It’s not going to kill you to be serious for five minutes!”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Cassie salutes Alodie as though she is a drill sergeant.
It’s Friday night and Cassie, Gwen and I are at Alodie’s house for a sleepover. I’m shattered from our first week back at school but Alodie insisted we get together for a dance practice.
“Can you go through the moves again?” Gwen asks.
The dance is a mix of jazz and hip hop and it’s really difficult, even for me. I’m no good with hip hop though. You have to loosen your body and be more relaxed than you are in jazz.
Alodie sighs and gets into position while Cassie and Gwen flop onto her massive bed. She nods at me to turn the music back on and her favourite song booms once more.
Alodie is obsessed with Chase Hart and she has a signed framed poster of him hanging above her bed. Alodie’s room is the coolest. It’s the size of most people’s lounges, with a flat screen TV on the wall, a balcony overlooking the river, and a window seat, where her Maltese dog, Shmoo, is enjoying the last of the evening sun. She even has her own bathroom.
“It’s too hard, Al,” Cassie groans once Alodie is in her finishing pose.
“Well, that’s why we’re practicing, dummy.” She pulls Cassie off the bed and orders the three of us into position.
Alodie stops the music every time we make a mistake. She is getting more and more agitated with Gwen and Cassie who are still struggling with the moves. After the eighth run-through, Cassie collapses onto the window seat, next to Shmoo.
“Enough’s enough, Al, you’re killing me! Can we call it a night?” Shmoo licks Cassie on the face. “See? Shmoo agrees!”
“One more time, for good luck.”
“No way, Jose. I’m on this seat now and I can’t get up, even if I wanted to,” Cassie says, playing with Shmoo’s diamanté blue collar.
Alodie shakes her head and rolls her eyes but gives in and scoops Shmoo from Cassie’s lap. “Okay, so tomorrow we’ll buy your outfits.”
“About the costumes …” Gwen says.
“Y-e-a-h?” Alodie is raking her fingers through Shmoo’s soft white fur as she glares at Gwen with suspicion.
“Well, Mum and Dad said I have enough clothes and there’s no way they’re going to buy an outfit I’ll only wear once.”
Alodie rolls her eyes again. “Well, we have to wear the same thing so too bad.”
“I’m sorry, Al, but Mum and Dad have just bought me a new violin and paid my music and swimming fees so they’re not going to budge on this one.”
“Oh this is ridiculous!” Alodie thunders out of the room and I can hear her stomping down the stairs.
“Well that went well!” Cassie says sarcastically. She drags herself off the window seat and digs into her backpack. “I’m getting my pjs on. It’s time for some major blobbing.”
Gwen and I do the same and it isn’t long before we’re relaxing on Alodie’s bed, watching bad Friday night telly.
Alodie eventually comes back into her room, a whole lot happier than when she left.
“Dad’s going to buy your outfit for you,” she tells Gwen.
“What?” Gwen springs up as though the mattress has just given her an electric shock.
“I explained the whole thing and when I asked him if he’d buy your costume he said yes.”
“That’s crazy, Al. I’m not letting your dad buy me an outfit. Besides, my parents will go nuts.”
“Who says your parents need to know?” Alodie smirks. “Look, Gwen, Dad’s buying your outfit no matter what. I know what size you are anyway, so you don’t have a say in this one. You don’t want to let the RADs down do you?”
Gwen looks at Cassie and me, then slowly shakes her head.
“But, Miss Morrison,” Alodie continues, wagging her finger teasingly at Gwen, “you’ve got to promise to dance your little booty off. It’d be unfair to me and Dad if you let us down.”
Gwen nods but I can tell she is anxious. Gwen is hard enough on herself without being hassled by Alodie. What she’s doing feels like bribery to me. I don’t like it but I keep my mouth shut for everyone’s sake.
“Enough talent show talk, it’s time to par-tay!” Cassie jumps up and starts bouncing on Alodie’s bed.
Alodie grins, grabs a fluffy pink cushion off her window seat and biffs it at Cassie. Soon, the four of us are bouncing around the room, chucking anything soft we can find at each other, until we are in complete hysterics.
As soon as we wake up, heavy eyes, hair in a tangled mess and bad morning breath, Alodie makes us practice the dance again and again and again, still in our pjs.
Alodie is getting fed up with Cassie and Gwen who can’t get the moves right and, after about the fourth run through, Cassie stops mid-dance and pauses the song on Alodie’s phone.
“Sorry girls but I’m out.”
“What do you mean you’re out?” Alodie shrieks.
“Dancing’s just not my thing. My great grandma could do a better job and she’s in her seventies!”
“But you’re doing really well,” I say.
“I’m way worse than you, Cass,” Gwen says. “Please don’t leave.”
“I’m sorry, Gwen, but I’d rather have people laugh with me, not at me.”
“You’re such a buzz-kill, Cassie,” Alodie hisses. “Whatever, we’ll just do the dance without you, but you’re not allowed back in so don’t change your mind.”
“Don’t worry, Al, there’s no chance of that.” Cassie giggles. She walks over to Alodie and wraps her arms around her. “I’m sorry to let you down but I’m not a dancer. If you still need a fourth member I could always ring up Great Grandma for ya.”
Gwen and I laugh but Alodie pulls herself away from Cassie.
We get dressed and have breakfast but it’s really uncomfortable with Alodie ignoring Cassie the whole time.
Alodie’s dad walks into the kitchen with a towel draped over one shoulder and a racquet in his hands.
“Your mum and I are off to play tennis, Al, but Brooke will drop you and the girls off at the mall to get the gear you need for your camp concert thing,” he says, handing Alodie a wad of money.
“Thanks, Mr Adams,” Gwen says, tucking her shoulder length caramel-coloured hair behind her ear. She always does that when she’s embarrassed. I don’t blame her. It’s awkward that Mr Adams is paying for her outfit, especially when she doesn’t want him to.
“You’re welcome, Gwen.” He smiles and grabs an apple from the fruit bowl before heading out the door.
“I’ll get Brooke to drop me home if that’s okay,” Cassie says to Alodie.
I hate everyone being so tense and things don’t improve when we reach the mall.
“How can Cassie just ditch us like that? I bet you Mallory’s been telling her not to do an item with us,” Alodie grumbles as we head straight to Rosie & Eve. I never usually shop there because the clothes are so expensive, but Mum gave me a few weeks’ pocket money in advance.
“Don’t be silly, Al,” Gwen replies. “It’s nothing personal, she just doesn’t like dancing, that’s all. She’s not the only one either.”
Alodie gets the clothes off the rack and herds Gwen and I into the changing rooms. I’m not a huge fan of the shorts – they’re a bit too cropped for my taste – but I like the singlet a lot.
When Gwen doesn’t come out of her changing room, Alodie swipes the curtain open.
“Please don’t make me wear this.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“People will stare at me!”
“You look great, Gwen,” I say and she really does. I’ve never seen Gwen in something so funky before. When she’s not in her uniform, she usually wears a t-shirt and either jeans or a knee-length skirt. The singlet’s sequinned green star gives her hazel eyes an emerald glow.
“Oh loosen up, Gwen,” Alodie says.
“But I feel ridiculous.”
Alodie shakes her head as if she’s made up her mind. “You know what, Gwen? I’ve had a bad enough morning with the whole Cassie thing and I’m not going to let you make it worse. You don’t like the outfit? Too bad. My dad’s paying for it so I don’t see why you should get a say.”
Gwen finally caves. She knows Alodie has a point even though she didn’t want Alodie’s dad to pay for her outfit in the first place. Gwen looks at me and I shrug my shoulders in sympathy. I want her to know I’m on her side without making Alodie any angrier.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Camp hasn’t even started and the RADs are already falling apart.
“Ew, have you seen how hairy Ben’s dad’s arms and legs are?” Alodie pretends to puke. “He looks like a gorilla!”
It’s Monday morning and we are filing into the bus for camp. The back seat, where Alodie wants to sit, is taken so she, Gwen and I squash together on a seat in the middle of the bus.
We look out the window and see Cassie on the other bus. She waves and pulls silly faces so we do the same. Mallory is sitting next to her and she smiles and gives a small wave.
“Did you hear that Cassie’s doing a comedy skit with Mallory for the talent show? Lame,” Alodie says.
“Cassie’s hilarious, Al, so I doubt her skit will be lame,” Gwen replies.
“I know, but Mallory in her item makes it totally lame.”
Once everyone is settled in their seats, the teacher gives us the usual bus rules before giving the driver the all-clear to leave.
By the time we get to camp I’m feeling really sick. I’m no good on buses and the heat, as well as the windy roads, makes it worse. I’m so relieved when I finally stumble off the bus and into the fresh air.
“How awesome is this view!” Cassie exclaims coming over to us with Mallory, who is hanging back slightly.
The campsite is perched on a hill above the ocean, which stretches so far you can’t tell where the water finishes and the sky begins. Surfers, who are the size of dots from this distance, are riding the waves while whitewash crashes onto the rocks. The sand is a beautiful golden syrup colour and you can smell the salty sea.
“Are you all right, P?” Cassie brushes hair off my face. “You look kinda pale.”
“I’ll be fine. Just a little bus sick.”
“Quiet, everyone,” the senior team leader, Mr Drummond, yells. “While the parents and teachers unload your gear, Mrs Knight and I will take you on a tour of the campsite. Then we’ll have some morning tea and after that you’ll start your first rotation of activities. We won’t get you settled in the dorms until later on today.”
Everyone groans. Other than the flying fox, the thing most of the seniors are excited about is choosing their bunk groups and finding a room.
We line up like a row of dominoes and there is a lot of cheering as Mr Drummond and Mrs Knight take us past the gated swimming pool, obstacle course, huge playground and, of course, the infamous flying fox.
“Oh my gosh, it’s massive!” Alodie bounces up and down. “It’s gonna be amazing!”
I can’t understand why she’s so excited. Just looking at the flying fox makes me feel sick all over again. It’s even bigger than I imagined.
After morning tea in the dining hall, Mrs Anderson leads our class and parent guardians down to the beach for our first activity. We are all hot and sweaty by the time we get there and my legs feel weak and wobbly. Gwen’s group stays on shore to start the sand sculpture competition while mine and Alodie’s goes down to the rock pools for a scavenger hunt.
“Okay, kids, the person who finds the most interesting creature will win a prize,” the teacher says.
“What kind of prize?” asks Fabian, who has put seaweed in his hair and is talking in a Jamaican accent.
“Anything from the prize box back in class,” Mrs Anderson says, swiping the seaweed off Fabian’s head. “Whoever wins can pick out a prize when we get back from camp.”
Alodie winks at me and, as soon as Mrs Anderson lets us, we all run off in different directions. Alodie and I find heaps of barnacles, limpets and chitons stuck to the rocks and, underneath, a huge family of crabs scuttling sideways. There are a few cushion stars lying on the rock pool floor and I carefully pick one up to take a closer look. It’s hard and rough, like sandpaper, but soft and spongy at the same time. Putting it back where I found it, I gasp when I notice a slender tentacled arm waving in the water.
“Look!” I yelp at Alodie.
The tiny, fist-sized octopus’ body is squeezed so tightly between the rocks it makes the camouflaged creature almost invisible.
“Wow! Mrs Anderson, I found an octopus! Come look!” Alodie yells.
“Oh, well done!” Mrs Anderson calls the rest of the Urchins over to us. “It’s very difficult to spot an octopus so congratulations Alodie, you’ve done your group proud. Looks like you’re in the running for that prize I mentioned earlier.”
Inside I am fuming, not because I want credit for finding the octopus, but because Alodie’s lying about it and doesn’t even care.
“On that high note, it’s time to swap over activities,” Mrs Anderson tells us, looking at her watch. “Before we swap over, make sure you put everything back where you found it. We don’t want to disturb this special habitat.”
We all do as we’re told and dry off our legs with our towels.
For the sand sculpture competition, our guardians split us into groups of six and I am relieved I’m not with Alodie. I need some space from her after what she’s just done.
“Let’s make a vampire that’s been shot in the head with an arrow!” Fabian says when Mr Fitzroy asks for sand sculpture ideas.
Mr Fitzroy laughs. “Perhaps not, Fabian.”
To Fabian’s disgust, we decide to create a mermaid. Ella, Brittney and I decorate it with shells and it looks impressive. Alodie’s group makes a shark, which is awesome too.
Mrs Anderson eventually comes back from the rock pools with the Starfish to announce the winner of the sand sculpture competition.
“Drum roll please, kids,” she says and we clap our hands on our knees until she gives us the signal to stop. “The winning group is … Mr Fitzroy’s group!”
We jump up and down, cheering and giving each other high fives.
“Can we demolish them now, Mrs A?” Fabian asks.
“Well, you’ve put a lot of effort into them but …”
She doesn’t even finish her sentence when all of the boys swoop in and smash the sculptures to bits.
“You only won ‘cause Mrs Anderson has the hots for Mr Fitzroy,” Alodie says as we pack up our gear to head back to camp.
The fact that Mrs Anderson is about twenty years older than Mr Fitzroy, as well as married, obviously doesn’t occur to Alodie.
Gwen makes her way back to us from the rock pools. It’s perfect timing, as I’m not in the mood to deal with Alodie on my own any longer.
“Congrats, P! I heard you won the sand sculpture comp,” she says.
“Her group won, Gwen. It’s not like she did it all by herself,” Alodie says and Gwen shrugs. “How’d you go at the rock pools? Did you spot the octopus?”
“Nope, none of us did. Such a shame, because I’d love to see one.”
“Oh, yay! In that case, I can’t wait to choose my prize for most interesting creature,” Alodie says.
We’ve only been at camp for half a day and I’m already fed up with Alodie and her antics. Sadly, it feels like things are only going to get worse.
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Everyone is busting to see the dorms and claim a bunk room each.
“Each room has four bunks,” Mr Drummond explains, once everyone is gathered in the hall. “You can bunk with anyone you like, but if there’s any mischief you’ll be separated.”
Our bags have been lined up on the far wall and Mr Drummond lets us collect them, one class at a time. Cassie eventually makes her way over to Gwen, Alodie and I, lugging her heavy night bag.
“Hey, guys, I’m sorry but I’m going to bunk with Mallory.”
“What?” Alodie yelps.
“Mallory asked me if I’d bunk with her when we were on the bus and I couldn’t say no. She doesn’t really know anyone and I feel bad for her.”
“Fair enough, Cass,” Gwen says and I nod. Alodie turns away from Cassie. Being ignored by Alodie is sometimes worse than when she explodes.
“Come on, girls, let’s go get a bunk room.” Alodie marches off.
Gwen and I say goodbye to Cassie and catch up to Alodie.
“So much for the RADs,” she says. “I’ve had just about enough of Cassie and her pathetic sidekick.”
“Let it slide, Al,” Gwen says. “Cassie’s just being a good friend.”
“A good friend to Mallory, maybe, but what about us? What about me?”
I feel so sorry for Cassie. I’ve never seen Alodie this controlling before. She seems close to actually making Cassie choose between the RADs and Mallory.
“Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Cassie and her fat ugly friend anymore.”
Gwen raises her eyebrows at me and I do the same back. When Alodie’s in this kind of mood there’s no snapping her out of it.
Somehow, we manage to get a really cool bunk room, which is tucked away at the back of the dorms and has a view of the ocean.
“Poo, it’s so musty in here.” Alodie gags as she reaches to open the window. “Bags a top bunk.” She’s welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. Even the height of a top bunk is enough to make the hairs on my arms prick up.
In typical Alodie style, she pulls a sheet set and cotton blanket out of her marshmallow pink suitcase.
“No wonder you brought such a huge bag, Al!” Gwen laughs, unravelling her sleeping bag.
“There’s no way I’m going to sleep in an uncomfortable sleeping bag on a grotty mattress.”
There is a tap on the door and Mrs Anderson enters with her arm around Tamsyn’s shoulders. Tamsyn’s eyes are red and splotchy.
“Girls, would you happen to have a spare bed in here?”
“Of course,” Gwen replies. “There’s a top bunk with your name on it, right next to Alodie’s.”
Tamsyn beams. That’s what I love about Gwen – she is always looking out for others. I catch a glimpse of Alodie, who is wearing a fake smile to please Mrs Anderson. I know she’ll be bummed about having a non-RADs member in our dorm but she isn’t going to ruin her reputation by making a big deal about it in front of the teacher.
“Thanks, girls.” Mrs Anderson smiles. “There’s a bit of down time before dinner so you can get yourselves settled. Have fun.”
After an hour of chilling out on our beds – Tamsyn and I reading, Gwen writing and Alodie flicking through a special edition Chase Hart magazine – it’s time for dinner.
We have to sit in class groups and I’m amazed when Alodie doesn’t complain about having macaroni cheese, which she hates. Even weirder is how quiet she is. Her chin is cupped in one hand, her head hanging low, and she is swirling her pasta around and around the bowl with her fork. That’s when I notice a big fat tear fall from her face and into her dinner.
“Are you okay, Al?” I put my hand on her back.
Without a word she dashes out of her seat and sprints off towards the girls’ dorms. Gwen and I stare at each other for a second, totally shocked, before we get up and follow her.
We find Alodie lying on her bed, facing the wall, shoulders heaving.
“What’s wrong, Al?” Gwen asks, climbing the ladder and kneeling next to Alodie’s shaking body. As much as I want to help, I can’t bring myself to climb to the top bunk so I stand helplessly at the bottom.
Alodie finally sits up, hugging her pillow to her chest.
“I hate it here,” she confesses, wiping her wet face with her hands. “I just wanna go home.”
“Oh, Al,” Gwen pulls her in for a hug and Alodie cries so hard her breath comes in short little gasps.
I’m stunned to see Alodie this upset. The last time I saw her like this was at Mammy’s funeral. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her cry.
“Paige, can you get Mrs Anderson to call my parents,” Alodie sobs into Gwen’s shoulder.
“Get Cassie,” Gwen mouths to me, stroking Alodie’s hair.
It isn’t good news when I arrive at the dining hall and find Mrs Anderson.
“I’m sorry, Paige, but I won’t be ringing Alodie’s parents. Unfortunately, homesickness is just one obstacle some people face at camp. Go back and tell Alodie I’ll be in to check on her soon.”
I grab Cassie and fill her in on what has happened before we get back to the dorm.
“Gee, that doesn’t sound like Alodie at all,” Cassie says.
Breaking the news to Alodie that she isn’t allowed to call her parents goes exactly as I thought.
“I wish I’d snuck my cell phone to camp with me,” she wails. “I hate this, I want my mum!”
It’s strange seeing Alodie so desperate for her mother. She’s never been that close to her because Mrs Adams is always so busy. If she isn’t at work then she’s out socialising with Alodie’s dad.
“It’s okay, Ally Belly,” Cassie says soothingly. “We’ll look after you. Tell you what, I’ll bunk with you tonight. We’ll top and tail, what d’ya say?”
Alodie nods, slowly calming down.
“I’ll just go get my pjs.” Cassie smiles. “Oh, and grab the big stash of junk food I managed to smuggle into camp!”
Alodie manages a tiny smile and wipes her runny nose on a tissue Gwen has given her.
While the rest of the seniors are in the hall doing team building activities, Mrs Anderson gives us the green light to stay in our room and keep Alodie company. We spend the night listening to Cassie’s ridiculous ghost stories, playing truth or dare and pigging out on Cassie’s mountain of chocolate and lollies. Alodie is still quiet but she’s no longer crying and she even laughs a few times.
Eventually, Tamsyn comes back into the room, looking surprised to find the four of us.
“It’s lights out in five minutes,” she says in her tiny voice.
We rush to the bathroom, brush our teeth and snuggle into our beds before Mrs Gibbons, one of our camp guardians, comes around to turn our light off.
“Night night, girly whirlies,” Cassie says.
In the darkness, I begin to think about what a crazy day our first day of camp has been. It feels like ages ago we arrived and yet we’ve been here for less than twelve hours. A lot has happened in that time, especially for Alodie.
But, now, it is time to think about me. Tomorrow is my class’ turn on the flying fox. Just the thought of it makes me want to throw up. Can I go through with it? I seriously have my doubts.
“Rise and shine, girls.” Mrs Gibbons opens the seriously outdated, mouldy floral curtains.
“What time is it?” Cassie groans.
“Seven,” Gwen replies. She has a book in her hands as well as a little reading light.
“It’s criminal to be awake this early,” Cassie grumbles. Her chestnut hair has gone fuzzy and is sticking out in odd directions. She looks as bad as I feel.
I rub my eyes, which feel like they’re coated in sand. I must have slept at some point but it doesn’t seem like it. If I wasn’t awake thinking about the flying fox, then I was asleep dreaming about it.
“Cassie Maree Ryburn that’s the last time you’re ever allowed to top and tail with me!” Alodie is scowling at her. “My neck is sooo sore from trying to get away from your stinky feet and you wriggled like a worm all night. I’m sure your bestie, Mallory, would looove to top and tail with you tonight though. She must’ve been sooo lost without you last night.”
I expect Cassie to say something sarcastic back but she’s just sitting on the bed with her mouth open. She’s obviously as shocked by the change in Alodie’s attitude as I am. Last night, Alodie was miserable but this morning she’s acting as though nothing happened, like we’d just imagined the whole thing. If it wasn’t for her puffy eyes I would swear she hadn’t just spent half of last night crying.
“Well, I’m going to have a shower and try to make myself feel better, ‘cause I feel like a zombie.”
“Um, can you believe that?” Cassie says, pointing to the door that Alodie has just pounded out of.
I shake my head.
“That’s Alodie for you though – full of surprises. Not always good ones, either,” Gwen says, closing her book.
The three of us and Tamsyn get dressed and head to the dining hall for breakfast. Alodie eventually prances in, hair washed, lip gloss on and wearing clothes way too flash for camp.
“Ruby just told me that Jimmy from Room 12 fell off the flying fox yesterday!” Alodie exclaims, eyes sparkling. She is in a much better mood after her shower but she loves to share gossip, especially something as dramatic as this. “Apparently, he leaned back too far and landed on his back,” she says, before slurping milk off her cereal spoon. “He’s okay though ‘cause he was pretty close to the ground when he fell off. He got winded but nothing’s broken. I can’t believe we’ve only just found out about it now though. It must’ve been the talk of camp when we were having our RADs party last night.”
I don’t know if I’m more shocked that someone has fallen off the flying fox or that Alodie is trying to hide the fact that she was homesick last night. We weren’t having a RADs party! I want to shout at her. We were looking after you! But what’s the point?
Gwen gasps. “Poor Jimmy!” She looks over at me and gives me an Are you okay? look. She knows this will shake me. I smile to let her know I’m fine, although I’m feeling far from it.
“I just wish this afternoon would hurry up already,” Alodie says. “I can’t wait to have a go on it. I hope we get more than one turn.”
“Yeah,” I say, forcing a smile on my face.
“I can’t believe we have to do snorkelling in the pool first. Stink! Your group’s going on the flying fox before ours aye, Gwen?”
“Well, don’t fall off it like Jimmy!” Alodie laughs, elbowing me in the ribs as if she’s just told the joke of the century.
The toast I’m eating suddenly feels like concrete in my throat. I gulp back some water but it makes me feel even sicker. I wish I could blink and find that the afternoon has disappeared so I can avoid the flying fox altogether, but who am I kidding?
Like a cruel prank, the afternoon looms quickly and it isn’t long before the Urchins are gathered around the summit of the flying fox. It’s time to face my fear and I’m not feeling confident at all.
Mrs Anderson explains the rules and I know I should be listening but her words just scramble in my brain. The flying fox is nothing more than a plank of wood attached to two ropes, like a huge swing. It’s obvious to see how easily Jimmy fell off. I’m just surprised no one else has. Surely something from this height requires a harness?
“Can I go first, Mrs A?” The sound of Alodie’s voice snaps me from my thoughts.
“Seeing as you won the rock pool scavenger hunt yesterday, why not?” Mrs Anderson smiles. “The rest of the group can make a line behind Alodie.”
Fabian pushes to the front along with the other boys while I hang back until the very end. I hope that, if I’m last, we might run out of time before it gets to my turn.
Alodie bounces onto the platform and puts a helmet on. She sits on the seat of the flying fox and pushes herself off the platform straight away as if it’s no big deal. The wire whirrs to life as she soars down the flying fox, squealing and laughing the whole way. Her body is flung violently at the end when the pulley hits the tyre brake, but she gives us the thumbs up. Even from this distance you can see the huge grin on her face.
She’s panting when she makes her way back to the top. “That was amazing! Oh my gosh, Paige, it’s sooo fast. It’s like being on a rollercoaster!”
Of course, I’ve never been on a rollercoaster. I’m so petrified I can’t even talk so I just smile at Alodie and hope she is too preoccupied in her own excitement to notice how nervous I am.
Person after person jumps off the platform, screaming and yahooing like the flying fox is the coolest thing on Earth. How can I possibly be the only one to think it’s crazy to leap off a huge hill?
Suddenly, there’s nobody left in line but me.
“Come on up, Paige.” Mr Fitzroy beckons me from the platform, smiling encouragingly.
My feet are glued to the grass but they suddenly begin to move towards the flying fox, even though I’m telling them not to. I take one step onto the platform, then another.
“I can’t do this,” I say to myself but my feet keep moving closer and closer towards the edge of the platform.
I find myself sitting on the seat and wrapping my hands around the ropes. They are clenched so tightly my knuckles are white. I might as well be standing on the top of Mount Everest. The ground below is like a crocodile’s mouth, ready to gulp me up.
“Don’t do a Jimmy!” I hear Alodie yell from behind.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I squeak at Mr Fitzroy.
“I said I don’t think I can do this.”
“Oh, Paige, you’ll be fine,” he says tousling my hair before putting the helmet on my head and clasping it for me.
“On the count of three I’m going to get you to jump. Don’t even think about it, Paige. Just go for it.”
I nod, trying to lick my dry lips with my even drier tongue.
“Okay, Paige, ready …”
I have two choices.
Face my fear.
Or face the humiliation of being a wimp.
It’s now or never.
“I can’t do it.”
“Sure you can!” Mr Fitzroy smiles at me.
“No, I can’t. I can’t!”
I’m frozen on the seat of the flying fox.
“It’s okay, Paige,” he reassures me. Realising there is no way I am leaving the platform, he pulls the swing away from the edge. When I feel safe enough, I slide off, rubbing my wet hands on my denim shorts.
“Oh my gosh, Paige, what are you doing?” Alodie shouts. “Don’t be such a baby!”
Fabian and some of the other boys laugh along with Alodie.
“Don’t worry, Paige.” Ella wraps an arm around me when I slink off the platform.
“Can I have Paige’s turn, seeing as she chickened out?” Alodie pleads with Mrs Anderson, while Fabian makes clucking noises.
“I’m sorry, Alodie, but that wouldn’t be fair on the others.”
Alodie rolls her eyes before she heads back to camp with the rest of the Urchins.
Walking back with Ella, I can’t believe how insensitive Alodie is being, especially after last night. I was there for her when she was upset – why can’t she be there for me? Not only has she embarrassed me in front of our entire camp group, she hasn’t even bothered to check how I am. My throat feels painfully tight as I fight back tears. I’ve shamed myself enough for one day.
Back at camp, I avoid Alodie, who is doing flips on the trampoline, and head straight to our dorm room. I’m relieved to find Gwen lying on her bed, reading, and burst into tears as soon as I see her.
“Oh, Paige.” She gives me a hug.
“I’m such a wuss!” I cry. “I just couldn’t do it.”
“Well, you tried and that’s the main thing.”
I don’t tell Gwen about Alodie teasing me in front of everyone, but I keep playing the scene over and over in my head. How can a friend be so cruel? Why am I friends with her at all? I’m seriously beginning to wonder.
After calming down, I go and have a shower. The water on my body is so relaxing, and by the time I get out I feel heaps better. I look in the bathroom mirror. My eyes and face are red from crying but I don’t look as bad as I expected.
By the time I get back to the dorm, Alodie is there practising our talent show dance.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asks, pointing at my face.
“Hay fever,” Gwen answers for me, knowing I won’t want anyone else to know I’ve been crying.
“I didn’t know you get hay fever.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Alodie,” I say through clenched teeth, and she just shrugs her shoulders.
“Right, you two need to practise our routine as well, to make sure it’s perfect for tonight.”
As usual, poor Gwen struggles to remember the moves. She just can’t co-ordinate her body and turns in the opposite direction or jumps up when she’s meant to crouch down.
“Are you acting like an idiot on purpose or is that really how you dance?”
Gwen stares at Alodie, dumbfounded, and brushes her hair behind her ear.
“We’ve been over this dance a thousand times, Gwen. How is it that you still can’t do it?”
“It’s a hard routine, Alodie, even for me, and I’ve danced my whole life,” I say feebly.
“Zip it, Paige,” she barks. “If you don’t get this dance right soon, Gwen, then you’re not going to be in it at all! Don’t forget that my dad paid for your outfit and he’ll be so angry if you ruin my chances at winning this talent show.”
Gwen’s face suddenly goes pale and she gasps.
“What’s wrong, Gwen?” I ask.
“The outfit, I – I forgot to pack it. It’s still in the shopping bag in my wardrobe!”
“What?” Alodie shrieks. “Oh my gosh, Gwen. You know what, for such a brainbox you really are sooo stupid!”
“I’m so sorry, Al. I promise I didn’t leave it at home on purpose.”
“That’s it, Gwen, you’re out of the dance for good. Not only are you a terrible dancer but you’re a bad excuse for a friend.”
That does it. I’ve had enough. I can feel the adrenaline fizzing through my veins. Everything I dislike about Alodie is finally getting the better of me. She is about to meet a side of Paige Brownlee that she doesn’t know exists. For once in my life, I am going to explode and it isn’t going to be pretty.
“Alodie Adams, I’m so over you!” I yell, pointing my finger at her like a dagger.
I don’t know who is more surprised by my outburst – Alodie, Gwen or me. Once I start, though, the anger spews out of me and won’t stop.
I list every example of how awful Alodie has been to the RADs lately: for backstabbing Gwen about applying for class leader; for her negativity towards Cassie’s friendship with Mallory; for blackmailing Gwen to perform in the talent show dance; for lying about finding the octopus yesterday; for being nasty to Cassie this morning after Cassie helped her through her homesickness last night; for being so cruel to me at the flying fox; and, now, for kicking Gwen out of the dance. I’m out of breath by the time I’ve finished.
“Well, Paige the Pushover finally grew a spine, huh.” Alodie is trying to sound in control, but I can tell by her flushed cheeks that she is stupefied. “Who do you think you are talking to me like that?”
“You treat your friends like dirt and it’s like you don’t even care!” I continue, my throat burning from all the shouting. “You’re not a friend, Alodie. You’re a bully!”
“I’m the bully?” Alodie shrieks. “I’m the one being attacked here, Paige, so maybe it’s you that’s the bully. The RADs are better off without you!”
Alodie looks over at Gwen who is as stiff as a pole. “Say something, Gwen!”
Gwen looks from me to Alodie and back again. “I’m sorry, Al, but Paige is right.”
“What?” Alodie screws up her face.
Gwen puts her hand on Alodie’s shoulder but Alodie shakes it straight off.
“Don’t touch me!” she shouts. “Some friends you two are.” She runs out the door.
“Woah, that was intense,” Gwen says. “I can’t believe you stood up to her like that!”
“Do we go after her?”
“No, not yet. She needs to cool off first.”
I sit on my bed, not knowing what to do with myself. I’m glad I’ve let out all of my emotions but the more I think about it the more horrible I feel for being so blunt. Even though I’m angry with Alodie, I didn’t mean to hurt her. I just wanted her to stop and think for once. Not that I’ve made a single bit of difference. As far as Alodie is concerned, she is the victim.
When she eventually thunders back into the room, her eyes are glassy.
“You know what, Paige? I’ve been feeling pretty bad about myself lately and now you’ve gone and made it worse,” she yells. “I know I’m a bad friend. I’m a bad daughter and sister too. Nobody loves me!”
She bursts into tears and slumps onto Gwen’s bunk bed. I can tell by the way she’s hunched over that her tears are genuine, and my heart sinks.
“What are you talking about, Al?” Gwen asks, sitting next to her.
It takes Alodie a long time to reply. “No one in my family cares about me. Since Mammy died, I’ve felt so lonely. Mum and Dad are never home – all they care about is work and tennis and their friends. And Brooke hates my guts ‘cause she’s always stuck babysitting me when she’d rather be hanging out with her loser boyfriend. I just miss Mammy so much!”
“Oh, Al, why didn’t you tell us earlier? We could’ve helped you.”
I sit on the other side of Alodie and put my arm around her. I feel terrible. I knew Alodie’s weird behaviour started after her grandma’s death, but I didn’t realise how badly it had affected her. Then again, I should have. Mammy practically raised her. She was way more of a mum to Alodie than Mrs Adams has ever been.
“I could tell Mammy everything and not be embarrassed. Now that she’s gone I’ve got no one.”
“You’ve got us, Al,” I say.
“But I don’t want to tell you guys all my stupid problems. It makes me feel weak.”
“Admitting your life’s not perfect doesn’t make you weak, Al,” Gwen says.
“And it sure beats hurting your friends’ feelings, which is what you’ve been doing lately,” I add.
Alodie nods. She looks so small. I guess that’s how she feels too.
“You were right about what you said before, Paige. I am a bully. I’ve been treating you girls so badly and, what’s worse, I know I’ve been doing it. I’ve been feeling so stink about myself that I’ve wanted to make everyone else feel just as rotten too.”
“Everything’s going to be okay, Alodie,” I say. Gwen and I remain on the bed with her and she slowly calms down.
“I’m really sorry, guys.” She wipes underneath her eyes with the tip of her index finger. “I know I’ve been a nightmare lately but I’m going to try really hard to be a better friend. I promise.”
At that moment, Mrs Anderson pokes her head in the door.
“Is everything all right in here, girls?” she asks, looking at Alodie.
“Everything’s fine Mrs Anderson,” Gwen replies, but the teacher doesn’t seem convinced.
“Well, I just wanted to let you know that it’s time to get ready for the talent show. We’re holding the concert straight after dinner so everyone needs to be prepared beforehand.”
“Thanks, Mrs Anderson.”
She hesitates before leaving the room.
“I don’t want to do the dance anymore,” Alodie says. “We’re going to look dumb if we’re not wearing the same thing.”
“I think just you and Paige should do the dance,” Gwen says. “You’ve both got your costumes and you’ve got a way bigger chance of winning without me. I don’t think I can go through with it anyway.”
“I’m sorry, guys, but I’m not doing the dance if Gwen doesn’t do it too,” I say. “You’ve worked really hard on this dance, Gwen. Don’t back out now … And there’s more to the talent show than winning.” I look at Alodie and she nods reluctantly.
“We’ve all got jeans with us, right?” Gwen and Alodie nod. “Well, let’s just wear our jeans. I have a plain black singlet that Gwen can wear and if she dances in the middle of us two it’ll look pretty effective with our matching singlets on either side of her.”
It’s a big call. The middle person is the one that the audience usually focuses on, and it’s where Alodie positioned herself when she changed the sequence after Cassie left the dance. I know that giving up the middle spot is the last thing Alodie wants to do so I’m surprised when she agrees.
“It’s settled then.” I clap my hands together. “Let’s get ready!”
Once we are in our outfits, we head to the dining hall. Dinner is chaotic with everyone on a high about the talent show. Poor Gwen hardly touches her food.
After dinner, the adults usher us into the main hall for the show. Everyone is going nuts, especially the boys, and I can tell the teachers are annoyed before the show has even started. Mr Drummond blows his whistle but it takes a while for the hall to quieten down.
“Right, everyone, remember to respect the performers on stage. Show your support by clapping at the end, but most of all, have fun!”
Everyone erupts into applause and a few of the boys start whistling. It takes ages for Mr Drummond to calm the group down again.
The concert is heaps of fun. There are so many different items, from breakdancing and lip synching to ukulele playing and magic tricks.
Eventually it’s our turn to dance. Gwen gasps when Mr Drummond calls us on stage.
“You’re going to be great, Gwen,” I say, squeezing her arm.
The Chase Hart song blares from the speakers and we leap and pirouette around the stage. I love being up here with everyone cheering us on. The stage is one place I’m truly confident.
“I’m sorry I messed up a few things,” Gwen pants as we come off stage to a huge round of applause.
“Don’t be silly, Gwen,” I say. “You danced your heart out. I’m so proud of you!”
“Me too, Gwen.” Alodie smiles.
“I’m just so glad it’s over!”
Finally, it’s Cassie and Mallory’s turn to perform. Their skit is hilarious. Both girls are behind a white sheet and all the audience can see is their shadows. Cassie is a surgeon and Mallory is her patient. In silhouette, Cassie knocks Mallory out with a giant inflatable hammer. She then starts pulling all sorts of things out of Mallory’s stomach – a string of sausages, an umbrella, a shoe … Everyone is in hysterics, even the adults.
By the time the last item is over my eyes are drooping. It has been a long day and I’m ready for bed. Mr Drummond gets up on stage with an envelope in his hands. Alodie clings onto both mine and Gwen’s arms. She is bouncing up and down in anticipation.
“Well done to everyone on such amazing items. I didn’t realise how many talented students we had at Riverside School!” Mr Drummond exclaims, and everyone hoots and hollers.
“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for …”
I cross my fingers. Please be us, please be us, I beg inside my head. I want to win for Alodie’s sake. She’s had a rough time. Not only that, the talent show is all she’s been talking about since the start of the year and I know she’ll be devastated if we don’t win. It’s the moment of truth.
“And the winner of this year’s camp talent show is …”
Mr Drummond opens the envelope and smiles.
“The winner is …,” he repeats and then pauses again for effect, “Cassie Ryburn and Mallory Cunningham!”
The crowd goes crazy and Cassie dances up on stage blowing kisses at the audience like she’s at a real awards show. I look at Alodie and can tell she’s disappointed by the way she hesitates before clapping.
“Thank you to all our fans,” Cassie says, wiping a pretend tear from her eye. “Me and Mallory will be around to sign autographs straight after the show.” Everyone laughs.
“I’m so gutted we didn’t win,” Alodie admits when Gwen rushes over to congratulate Cassie and Mallory. “I know this is a mean thing to say, but Gwen was right – we would’ve won if she hadn’t been in the dance.”
Even though Alodie’s confession sounds harsh, I know she isn’t being mean. She’s just admitting how she feels, like she would if her grandma was here. The Alodie I’d grown used to since Mammy’s death would have stormed up to Cassie and told her she didn’t deserve to win, and then would have yelled at Gwen for making us lose. She really is making an effort to change.
“We did our best, Al, that’s all that really matters, aye?”
“Sounds cheesy, but yeah, I guess so.”
Even though it’s late, the teachers let us have hot chocolate and biscuits before bed, seeing as it’s our last night at camp.
“Great job, girls,” Alodie says to Cassie and Mallory when they come up to us at supper. Saying that alone shows how much of an effort she’s making.
“Aw thanks, Ally Belly. You guys were awesome too.”
“Wow, it’s been such a cool camp,” Gwen says, biting into a chocolate chip cookie. “I still can’t believe I danced in front of all of the seniors.” She grins. “And that they didn’t laugh at me!”
“You did great, Gwenny,” Cassie says.
Gwen’s courage in facing her fear makes me think.
“You know, guys, I really regret not doing the flying fox today,” I say, dunking my biscuit into my drink.
Alodie breaks out into a sly smile. “I’ve got an idea. Back in a minute … Gwen, can you come with me?”
Cassie shrugs at me. She has no clue what Alodie’s up to either.
“Gwen just told me about what happened with you and Al today,” she says as the two of them skip off. “That took a whole lot of guts, P.”
“I can’t believe I did it, Cass, but I’m glad I did. I just wish I’d stood up to the flying fox as well!”
Mallory yawns and the three of us decide it’s time for bed. Alodie and Gwen run up behind us.
“We’ve got a surprise for you, P!” Alodie is jumping up and down, clapping her hands. “We had a talk to Mrs Anderson and she’s agreed to let you have a go on the flying fox tomorrow, before we go home!”
“Woah,” is all I can muster. I don’t know how to feel. I’m glad but anxious at the same time. It’s one thing to say I wish I’d done the flying fox but it’s another to actually do it.
“Thanks, guys,” I say.
“Way to go, Al and Gwenny!” Cassie gives them both a high five.
“You’re not allowed to tell anyone though,” Gwen says. “Mrs Anderson’s worried the rest of the seniors will want a second turn if they find out you’re going on it.”
We get to the dorms and say goodnight to Cassie and Mallory.
“Um, I need to talk to you two for a sec,” Alodie says, so Gwen and I leave them to it.
The two of us put our pyjamas on and wriggle into our sleeping bags. Alodie finally returns with Cassie and Mallory following behind her.
“Paige, Gwen, we have a new member of the RADs.” She gestures towards Mallory like a game show host. Mallory is beaming as though she’s just won a shopping spree. We all clap and Mallory takes a shy curtsy. It’s such a cool thing for Alodie to do. You can see the relief and happiness on Cassie’s face too.
“Lights out now, girls,” Mrs Gibbons announces. Cassie and Mallory say goodnight before scurrying away.
Snuggling into my sleeping bag, I start to regret telling the girls I want another try on the flying fox. Everything is so much more frightening when you’re lying in the dark and thinking of the flying fox terrifies me now more than ever. Images of falling off keep playing in my head. I picture myself losing grip and somersaulting off, landing with a thwack on the impossibly hard ground metres below.
“I don’t think I can do it,” I whisper into the silence. Gwen, Alodie and Tamsyn must be asleep. I have a massive decision to make and it is one I have to make all by myself. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.
My heart is about to lunge out of my throat. I can’t believe I’m on the platform of the flying fox again.
Last night was a pretty sleepless one. The movie of me plunging off the flying fox kept repeating in my head.
The milk from this morning’s cereal, which I only managed to eat a quarter of, has made my stomach feel heavy. There is a dull feeling at the back of my tongue, which I get when I’m about to spew.
“When you’re ready, Paige,” Mrs Anderson says.
“Go Paigey!” Cassie yells from behind me. Mrs Anderson has let her, Alodie, Gwen and even Mallory come down to the flying fox with me for support. We’ve snuck down while the rest of the seniors are packing up and cleaning the dorms.
Standing on the platform, my brain feels all muddled and confused. My thoughts are spinning around my head like a whirlpool. I close my eyes, hoping that once I open them I’ll be at the end of the flying fox. No such luck.
Why did I tell the girls yesterday that I wanted to do this? Panic is throbbing in my ears and it feels like I’ve swallowed a cotton ball.
“You can do it, P!” Gwen says.
“Uh-uh. No way. I can’t do it!” I shout, backing off the platform.
A hand touches my shoulder. It’s Alodie.
“I’m really sorry I mocked you yesterday,” she says. “I didn’t realise how scared you were and it was totally uncool of me. It’s okay to be afraid, Paige, but I know you can do this.”
She’s right. This time, I’m not going to let my doubts stand in my way. A new Paige was born yesterday when I stood up to Alodie. I’ve never confronted anybody before, but yesterday I looked Alodie in the eye and was completely honest with her. Well, now it’s time to look the flying fox in the eye and let it know who’s boss. Paige Brownlee.
I give Alodie a hug and turn to Mrs Anderson.
“I think I’m ready now,” I say. “No. I am ready now.”
Without even thinking, I sit on the swing of the flying fox and push myself off the platform. The wind whips at me, flicking my hair in and out of my face and I can hear the zipping noise of the pulley whooshing me down the flying fox.
“Wahoo!” I shout.
I don’t even look at the ground below. I am too absorbed in how fuelled my body feels. My feet tingle as they swing in the air and my stomach dips and dives like it’s roly polying inside my body. I seem so close to the cloudless sky it feels like I can reach out and touch it. I’ve never felt so free.
All too soon, I’m jarred back by the tyres at the end of the flying fox and my ride is over. I dangle up there with a smile on my face and my legs pulsing with excitement.
I did it! I can’t believe it.
Mrs Gibbons grabs a stepladder so I can get down, and the RADs rush at me, stampeding me with hugs.
“You were amazing, P!” Cassie raises my hand in the air like I’ve just won a boxing match.
“We’re so proud of you!” Gwen exclaims.
I’m proud of me too.
As the five of us head back to camp, our arms linked around each other, I think about how much we’ve achieved since being here.
Camp has helped us all in some way. It has made all of us stronger, as individuals and as a group. Cassie has realised it’s okay to make a new friend and still keep old ones. Gwen has stepped out of her comfort zone and danced in front of all of the seniors. Alodie has learned how to ask her friends for help. Mallory has become a part of the RADs. But I’m the one that has changed the most. Camp has made me brave.
I look at my favourite friends and the grin plastered on my face only gets bigger. Camp may be coming to an end, but it feels like the Royally Adorable Dolls are just getting started.
Lauri Thorburn is a trained primary school teacher who also has a background in journalism. She is the former editor of New Zealand teenage lifestyle magazine, Crème.
Lauri is a wife and mother from the Waikato region of New Zealand. In her spare time she loves to read, listen to music, escape to the beach, hang out with friends and family and go to concerts with her husband.
How to Tame a Feisty Friend is Lauri’s second Shakespir publication and her debut chapter book for children.
To connect with Lauri, follow her on
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The beginning of the school year is full of promise for ten-year-old Paige Brownlee and her friends. The girls, who call themselves the Royally Adorable Dolls (the RADs for short), are in their final year at Riverside School and off to senior camp. While the flying fox is the camp highlight, Paige is secretly petrified of heights and unsure whether she can go through with it. If this isn’t enough of an obstacle, she also has to face up to the leader of the RADs, Alodie Adams. While Alodie is usually a blast to be around, Paige has noticed a huge change in her recently and camp seems to bring out the worst in her friend. It’s time for Paige to conquer her fears once and for all. Alodie and the other RADs members – smart and mature Gwen Morrison and bubbly and funny Cassie Ryburn – have their own obstacles to face as well. From talent show dances gone wrong and trying to make new friends without compromising old ones, to unexpected homesickness and having to reveal painful truths, camp will either make or break the Royally Adorable Dolls, and it will change them forever.