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Authors: Jessica Verdi

The Summer I Wasn't Me

BOOK: The Summer I Wasn't Me
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Copyright © 2014 by Jessica Verdi

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Torborg Davern

Cover image © Elisabeth Ansley/arcangel-images.com

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

www.sourcebooks.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the publisher.

To Amy

For all the reasons

Chapter 1

My mother drives right past the New Horizons sign.

“Um, Mom?” I touch her arm gently.

She doesn’t respond. She’s zoning out again. But these moments have been happening a lot less often lately. Maybe soon they won’t be happening at all.

“Mom,” I say again, louder. “You missed the turn.”

She finally snaps out of it and glances in the rearview mirror, where the New Horizons sign is still slightly visible.

“Oh!” She pulls a sudden U-turn, and my insides do somersaults. I knew I shouldn’t have let her drive. She glances at the clock. “Sorry, Lexi.”

She makes the correct turn this time around, and I manage a reassuring smile. “It’s okay.”

The narrow road up the mountain is so winding and bumpy that we’re forced to creep along at a measly ten miles per hour.

A thick forest surrounds us. The trees are dark and plush and reach up and over the rocky road like a fringed canopy. As we inch forward, the amorphous blob of green foliage comes into focus and I can see each leaf and branch in perfect clarity. I roll down my window and take a deep breath. It’s so quiet here. I rest my chin on the window jam so that all I see is the forest slowly rolling by. My mind takes me back in time, where I’m riding in a horse-drawn carriage through untouched woods.

But as we progress up the mountain, hints that this place is not quite as natural as it first seemed begin to emerge. The tree branches above us have been pruned back from the road. The narrow strip of grass that buffers the road from the tree line has been neatly cropped. Flowers sprout in patterns too perfect to be accidental.

Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to manipulate the raw landscape into some preconceived idea of what nature
should
look like. Goosebumps trickle across the back of my neck as I realize that’s exactly what they’re going to do to me too.

About halfway up the mountain, the signs start popping up. They line the edge of the road, sticking up out of the perfectly manicured ground.

You
are
on
the
road
to
truth.

Help
is
on
the
way.

God’s love heals us all.

I look down at my lap and run my left thumb over the tiny lightning bolt tattoo on the inside of my right wrist. Everything this tattoo means is about to change.

Salvation
waits
just
around
the
next
bend!

Almost there.

With no warning, a deer leaps out of the woods and sprints across the road in front of our car.

“Look out!” I shout.

My mother slams on the brakes, and the car skids forward on the gravel, missing the deer by mere inches. It scampers off into the woods unharmed, but we’re still too stunned to move. My knuckles have gone ghost white from my death grip on the dashboard, and my chest stings from where the seat belt jerked too tightly against my skin—but it’s my mother I’m worried about.

“Are you okay?” I ask once I’ve regained control of my voice.

Mom is facing me, her brown eyes wide, red splotches on her fair face and neck. The simple gold cross around her neck sways gently back and forth.

Though my heart is still thrashing around wildly under my ribcage, I unbuckle my seat belt and grab her shoulders. “Mom, talk to me. Are you all right?” She nods, and I exhale in relief. “Okay, I’m driving the rest of the way. Switch places with me.”

“I’m fine, Lexi—” she begins, but I’m already out of the car and opening the driver’s side door. She sighs and scoots over to the passenger seat.

I readjust the seat and the mirrors, make sure my mother is buckled in, and we resume the final leg of our journey. After rounding the next bend, the hill levels out and the woods open up. Ahead is a palatial log cabin with a wraparound porch. A woman waves to us from the front steps, her smile so big it looks painful.

I park the car, and the woman rushes over to help with my bags.

“Hello! You’re right on time,” she chirps. “I’m Brianna.” She’s in her midtwenties and dressed in head-to-toe pink, from her pink New Horizons T-shirt and sparkly pink capris to the bright pink elastics holding her pigtails in place. I tune out her perky words of welcome and stare up at the giant banner hanging over the log cabin’s entrance, a prominent lump developing in my throat.

Welcome
to
New
Horizons
, it reads in tall, imposing block letters. And beneath that,
Say
good-bye to homosexuality; say hello to your new life!

I take a deep breath and follow Brianna and my mom up the path.

Here we go.

Chapter 2

“Right this way, Alexis,” Brianna says, leading the way up the front steps.

“It’s Lexi,” I correct her.

She eyes me up and down, her gaze lingering distastefully on my vintage Doc Martens/black romper combo and the way my dyed-black choppy hair contrasts with my pale skin. I’m used to getting this look from people. But my style is one thing I don’t want to change about myself.

“I’d prefer to call you Alexis,” Brianna says.

My parents gave me my nickname when I was little. But the way Brianna says it, it’s like she thinks my nickname has something to do with why I like girls. It’s really weird. But as much as I would like to snap back at Brianna and her know-it-all judgy-ness, I don’t say anything. If this camp has any chance of working, I need to cooperate.

“Did you have a nice trip?” Brianna asks my mom.

“Oh yes, thank you. Virginia is beautiful country,” Mom says. “The Blue Ridge Mountains are lovely. But it was a long drive. About five hours.”

“It was worth it.” Brianna smiles knowingly at me.

We cross the threshold, and crisp air-conditioned air caresses my skin. The log cabin-esque exterior was entirely misleading; the inside is modern and spacious, with high ceilings and track lighting. We’re in a large lounge-type area, with leather couches and armchairs and glass coffee tables with books and New Horizons brochures neatly laid out on them. The space is really comfortable and inviting. I don’t know why, but I’m surprised.

“Lexi!” Mom says, staring around the room in awe. “Look how beautiful this place is! Oh, you’re going to have such a wonderful time here!”

I nod, but what I don’t say is that whether my time at New Horizons is wonderful or not doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the grin on my mother’s face. She’s
happy
. Right now, in this tiny moment in time, she’s the woman she used to be. And I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep her that way. Because she’s all I have left.

The only other people in the room are a handful of New Horizons staff; no other campers are in sight. A middle-aged, balding man has his blue shirt tucked so tightly into his pants that his bulging belly looks about ready to burst through the fabric. He comes over and extends his hand to my mother.

“Welcome!” he says a bit too jovially. “I’m the director of New Horizons, Mr. Martin.”

“Christine Hamilton,” my mother says. “And this is Lexi.”

Mr. Martin wraps his large hands around mine and smiles down at me. “We are very happy to have you, Lexi. You have taken the first step to inheriting the kingdom of God.”

“Um…thank you?” I say for lack of anything better. I pull my hand away.

“You are very welcome! Now, we just have a few business matters to attend to. If you’ll follow me.” He leads me and my mother into an office with a cherrywood desk and lots of pictures of his family.

I study a framed photo of him with a blond woman and two little boys. The boys are wearing little league uniforms and Mr. Martin’s hand is resting on the woman’s shoulder. It looks like it was taken at one of those department store photo studio places. Mr. Martin catches me staring.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” he says and picks up the frame. “Nancy and I will be married ten years this October. The twins just celebrated their eighth birthday. Big party at the bowling alley.” He chuckles.

“They’re lovely,” Mom says with only the slightest hint of sadness in her voice.

I look back and forth between Mr. Martin and his family photo. They’re happy and smiling and perfect—like the fake family that comes in the frame, only real.

Jealousy twists in my heart. But all I say is, “Cute kids.”

“Now, Mrs. Hamilton,” Mr. Martin continues, changing the subject, “we just have a few documents to go over.” He slides a stack of papers across the desk to my mother. Insurance, liability, emergency contacts, medical information…He goes through each one with her, and she signs my life away on the dotted lines.

“And finally, payment,” he says as he gets to the last page. He points to some figures. “After your one thousand dollar deposit, your balance is eight thousand five hundred dollars. This covers the entire summer program: the proven New Horizons reparative therapy system, room and board, and incidentals.”

My mother nods and reaches into her purse for her checkbook.

I’m stunned. $9,500?

“Mom,” I whisper. “That’s a lot of money.”

“It’s fine, Lexi, I’ve got it covered.”

“But how?” Money’s been tight lately. We don’t have Dad’s salary anymore, Mom only recently started back at her job, and what money they had saved for my college had to go to Dad’s medical bills. I got a job waiting tables at the Hard Rock Cafe in Myrtle Beach to help out—a job I had to quit to come to New Horizons for the summer.

Mom lowers her voice, even though in this small room there’s no way Mr. Martin won’t hear. “Your father’s life insurance disbursement finally came in.”

I feel sick. There was no way Dad could have imagined when he took out that policy that this is what the money would go toward: the de-gayifying of his only daughter.

My father died without really knowing me. I mean, he knew me in lots of other ways—he knew that I love shopping at thrift stores and like to experiment with my hair and that my favorite food in the world is the pad thai from Bangkok Delight. We listened to the same kind of music and went to see Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie together. He knew that I love English but hate science and that it’s my dream to go to fashion design school in Paris.

But I never told him I was gay. I wanted to. I really did. If anyone was going to know, I wanted it to be him. But how do you tell a dying man something like that?

Here’s the thing: where I come from, people go to church.
Everyone
goes to church, actually. Including my family. We get married and have kids young, and the biggest scandals revolve around the Cardwells’ divorce or whether or not Becca Simpson got a boob job before the Miss Dillon County beauty pageant. In my small town in South Carolina, no one is gay. It just. Doesn’t. Happen. To the people in my town, homosexuality is something that happens on TV, not in real life.

When Pastor Joe gives his sermons about protecting the sanctity of marriage, heads bob in agreement. When someone does something dumb in school, they get called
fag
and everyone laughs. The word of choice for all things uncool is
gay
.

It goes way past homophobia. It’s the norm. It’s our way of life.

So what if I told Dad the truth and the shock was so big it made his already-weak heart stop beating forever? What if the last time I saw his eyes, they were filled with disappointment?

“Mom…” I begin as she writes out her check. But she looks at me, her eyes brimming with hope, and I clamp my mouth shut.
It
doesn’t matter
, I tell myself again.
The
money
doesn’t matter. Dad’s life insurance doesn’t matter
. The only thing that matters is keeping what’s left of my family together, doing whatever it takes to make sure Mom doesn’t go back to the dark place she lived in for so long after Dad died. If I lost my mom too, I’d officially have no one. And it would be no one’s fault but my own. “Okay,” I say finally.

“Okay,” she echoes and signs the check.

“Wonderful!” Mr. Martin says, clasping his hands together. “Now, I’m afraid that this is the point where you must say your good-byes. We’ve got a full day planned for our campers, and we need to get Lexi settled in.”

When I see the tears in my mother’s eyes, I throw my arms around her and hold her tightly. “I left a list of everything you need to remember on the refrigerator door,” I tell her. “Trash pickup is on Wednesdays, so you have to bring the can out to the curb on Tuesday nights.”

She nods.

“And I already arranged for Robbie across the street to mow the lawn, so you don’t need to worry about that.”

“I know.”

“And—”

“Lexi. Don’t worry about me—I have the church, I’ll be fine. You just focus on getting better.”

I swallow back my tears. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, Lexi.”

And then she’s gone.

BOOK: The Summer I Wasn't Me
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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