Rule #1: If at all possible, don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Specifically, don’t play dead. Trust me on this one. I did it, so I should know.
Jo O’Connor has spent her whole life moving around. When it comes to new schools, there’s not a trick in the book about starting over that Jo doesn’t know. But life is about to teach her a new trick: how to disappear entirely.
Rule #2: Always expect the Spanish Inquisition, no matter what anyone else does.
They have to move again. Now. This very night. Jo knows better than to argue. Her dad is the key witness in a major case against a big-time bad guy. But Jo just can’t resist one last visit to the school where she’s been so happy. All she wants is to say good-bye. That can’t cause any problems, can it?
Rule #3: Never assume you can predict the future.
Now Jo’s one last visit has landed her smack in the middle of a ghost story. Specifically, her own. By the time it’s over, she’ll have a whole new set of rules about what’s real, what’s make-believe, and—most of all—what’s important.
The story you are about to read is 100 percent true.
Of course some things have been changed to protect the innocent. But you'd expect that. It's standard operating procedure when it comes to based-on-true-events stories. If this were a techno-thriller, I could say SOP. And I suppose I could anyway. Parts of my story are quite thrilling, though there really isn't anything particularly techno about them. Except for this one part where...
I can't believe this is happening.
I'm only a couple of paragraphs into this, and already I'm starting to tell things out of order. A thing which is pretty danged annoying, I must admit, though it does bring up an important question, which is as follows:
Where does my 100-percent-true story truly start?
I suppose you could say the whole thing started the day I was born. I'm thinking that's a bit extreme, though. As an alternative, I'm going to go with the third grade, which I think makes me about eight years old. I'm choosing this because that's the year my mom died, and my dad and I moved for the very first time.
Actually let me rephrase that. This is an important point, and I need to make sure I get it just right.
That's the year my mom was killed in a hit-and-run collision, and my dad and I moved for the very first time.
Way back then, of course, I had no idea that these events were related, or that changing location on the spur of the moment was, paradoxically, about to become one of the most important constants in my life.
Just how often did we move? Let me put it this way: To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person in the entire United States to have attended fourteen different elementary schools between the third and sixth grades.
That's 3.5 schools a year, in case you're counting.
The pace slowed down a little bit in junior high to 2.5 schools a year, then settled down to an even two for the years I was in high school. Except for senior year, of course, but I'll be explaining more about that in a moment.
Why did we move so much? You're no doubt also wondering. The answer to this one is pretty simple.
I don't know.
Or, here's more of that getting-it-just-right thing again: I know now, but I didn't know at the time. I didn't even ask about it, to be completely honest. By the time I was old enough to question the way we lived, I was so used to the way Dad and I did things that I thought it was normal.
I did stop unpacking my suitcases after a while. This isn't nearly as weird as it sounds. You put your clothes away in dresser drawers. I put mine away in suitcases. In both cases, folding was involved. It also wasn't nearly as depressing as you might think. In fact, you can pretty much stop waiting for me to reveal my inner-trauma girl about this, because I simply haven't got one.
Over the years my dad and I developed a routine when it came to moving. Actually two routines: One for leaving a place, and another for arriving in one. But no matter where we went, the living quarters were always the same: a furnished apartment. This was another aspect of life I simply never thought to question. I think I was about twelve before it finally dawned on me that not all dwelling places came complete with couches.
Regardless of the apartment's location, my father and I always performed the same action upon stepping across the threshold for the very first time. We looked for the perfect location for this big gold-framed photo of my mom. Dad packed it in one of his own suitcases, but he always let me pick out the spot for it. Without fail, I looked for a place that would let me see Mom's picture the moment I walked in the front door.
Not that we were morbid about this or anything. We both knew my mom was gone. But we didn't have to pretend she'd never existed, my dad said. Getting out the photograph was just one way of demonstrating the way she lived on in our hearts.
Our leaving routine was slightly more complex and involved two distinct phases. Phase one involved Phone Calls of Mysterious Origin. These always came in late at night and went on for several nights in a row. Though the calls were another thing I got so used to I never questioned my dad directly, I did come up with a couple of theories about them:
a) They came in at night in the hope that I would be asleep and not hear the phone ring.
b) Dad never talked long, so it couldn't be a new girlfriend. Therefore, the caller had to be another guy.
I mean, can we just get real here for a second? I'm a girl. When do I not hear the phone?
After a couple of days, the Phone Calls of Mysterious Origin would cease as abruptly as they'd started. A day when nothing special seemed to happen would go by. Secretly I'd begin double checking my suitcases, making sure everything was in order, because I knew what was coming next.
That would be phase two. In phase two, The Map got involved. The really big one of the whole United States that covered the entire kitchen table when we opened it.
"Hey, Jo-Jo," my dad would call out as he heard me come in the door. Dad does freelance research. Or maybe, considering our lifestyle, the term should be free-range. He spends most of his day sitting in front of his laptop looking things up for people he almost never sees. Not your standard Dad-type job, I must admit, but it did have an advantage for us in that he could work from home no matter where home was.
He calls me Jo-Jo because that's my nickname. My full name is Josephine Claire Calloway O'Connor, if you have to have it all spelled out. Usually I'm just called Jo. Or, occasionally, Jo-Claire, if my dad is seriously annoyed with me about something.
Dad's name is Chase William, a name I've always thought sounds exactly like a relay race. I've never heard anybody call him by either one of his first names. Instead people call him Con. That's short for O'Connor, not a negative character assessment, by the way.
"Guess where we're going," my dad would say, gesturing to The Map while I put my backpack on the counter and headed to the fridge for the glass of juice I'd poured before heading out for school that morning. Just another example of being prepared. I probably would have been a Girl Scout if we'd stayed in one place long enough.
"Is it warm and sunny with no big bugs?" I'd inquire. This had been my standard question since I was ten, mostly because I thought it described Southern California. If we had to move, why not close to Disneyland?
"Sunny and warm?" my dad would exclaim, scrunching up his face in mock horror. "Where's your sense of adventure, Jo-Jo?"
"Gee, Dad, I don't know. But if you give me a minute, I'll find it and pack it."
At this, my father would laugh and tousle my hair, a thing which occasionally resulted in juice ending up on the floor.
"Here. We're going right here, sweetheart."
With these words, Dad would point to a spot on The Map. He never pointed at anyplace even remotely close to Disneyland, a thing I probably don't need to tell you. Pretty much without fail, my dad would have selected some town that even the people who already lived there had barely even heard of.
Not only that, but for some reason I've never even attempted to explain, my father seemed particularly attracted to towns whose names begin with the letter B.
Which explains how I ended up living in Bemidgi, Minnesota; Bottom, North Carolina; Braintree, Vermont (actually, East Braintree); and Boring, Oregon.
Boring was the last small town we lived in, though. And also the last place beginning with B, now that I think about it. I was about to start high school by then, and the next time my father got The Map out, he announced that, for the duration of my high school years, we'd be living in a metropolitan area environment, as this would be better for my overall development.
I have no idea how he came to this conclusion. Let's just say I didn't argue.
After Boring, we moved to Clackamas, which wasn't all that far away but did have one key feature of a metropolitan environment which definitely improved my overall development: shopping malls. It also started with the letter C, which I had to figure meant Dad and I were making some sort of progress, even if I didn't exactly know what kind. That's where I began my freshman year.
I finished it across the Washington border, in a place called Enumclaw. I am not making any of these names up, just so you know. Enumclaw is actually slightly east of Clackamas, in a longitude and latitude sort of way. I think it was right about then that I developed this sudden fear that, having spent most of my childhood moving in a westerly direction, my father was now going to touch base at the Pacific Ocean, then start moving us back the way we'd come.
Before I could get up the courage to ask about this, however, we moved again pretty much straight north, to a place called Issaquah. This did allay my moving-back-east fears, though the thought that we might might be headed for the Canadian border did begin to cross my mind.
The rest of sophomore, all of junior, and the beginning of senior year we spent bouncing from place to place on what people in the greater Seattle metropolitan area call the Eastside, by which they mean the east side of Lake Washington.
Right about the time I was beginning to worry that my father had developed a water phobia, about two thirds of the way through senior year, we got a flurry of Phone Calls of Mysterious Origin. As a result, we finally did it. We moved to Seattle. And it's in Seattle that the main events of my story actually take place.
There you have it. My childhood in a nutshell.
Before I get completely up to date, though, there's a thing you absolutely must know. I don't particularly relish confessing this, but I pretty much have to. If I don't, nothing that happened later will make any sense to you at all.
Now that I think about it, I suppose I could have started my 100-percent-true story right here. On my first day at Beacon High. That's the day I did the very last thing I expected.
Cameron Dokey is the author of nearly thirty young adult novels. Her other fairy tales include, The Storyteller’s Daughter, Sunlight and Shadow, and Golden. She has also written the #1 bestselling How Not to Spend Your Senior Year. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and four cats.