My Top Secret Dares & Don’ts
1 Dare to Be Truthful
How’s the trip going?
My left eyeball is throbbing in rhythm to my little brother’s kicks on the back of my car seat, the breakfast burrito I had an hour ago is churning up a tornado in my stomach, and I’m less than one hundred feet from leaving the only country I’ve ever called home.
Greater than great! I text back to my best friend, Langley, and regret it the instant I tap the mail button.
Dang! And I just put that on my Dares List too: Dare to be truthful. It’s a habit of mine—keeping lists. I don’t
know why I do it. Langley read an article that said people make lists so they can feel as if they are in control of their lives. I’m not sure about that. I don’t feel very in control of my life at all. My two most important lists are my Dares (things I want to do) and my Don’ts (things I don’t want to do). Once in a while, something from the Dares List gets moved to the Don’ts List, like the time my mom talked me into trying lutefisk (I was daring to try new foods). It’s pronounced “lewd-a-fisk.” Lewd is a good description for it. It’s codfish and it tastes like gooey soap. That’s all you need to know. Once in a while (but far more rarely), something from the Don’ts List gets moved to the Dares List, like when I said I would never grow out my bangs. I figured I was being too rigid on that one, because never is well, never. I did like my longer hair, once I got through that awkward sheepdog phase. Growing out bangs is the ultimate endurance test. Nobody knows about my Dares and Don’ts lists, not even Langley. You gotta have a few secrets, right?
“We’re almost there,” says my mom, drumming the
steering wheel. It’s the third time she’s said that in the past ten minutes. Looks like I’m not the only one who is having trouble being honest today.
I hang my achy head out the window. I count six cars between the yellow posts and us, which means I am going to hear my mom say that sentence at least three more times before we cross the border. For late June, which is usually cool and cloudy in the Northwest, it’s a humid day. The thick, dewy air smells like freshly mowed grass with a hint of cow—a big cow. The sky is a white sheet of haze, as if the clouds are too depressed to create even the simplest swish pattern. I can relate. Resting my cheek on the top of the door, I line up my right eyeball with the yellow post on my side of the car. Once we pass it, there will be no turning back.
I am trying to keep it together. I don’t want to go to Canada. Worse, I feel terrible about not wanting to go. When your grandfather dies, you’re supposed to drop everything and rush to your grandmother’s side to help. I do want to help, but I don’t want to drop everything. I am the most selfish granddaughter on the planet.
My mother is talking again. “. . . so if the customs officer asks you a direct question, answer it but don’t say too much. And don’t say too little, either. And Wyatt, no wisecracks.”
My brother grunts. He is eight. The kid grunts at everything.
Mom taps my knee. “Please sit up, Kestrel. We don’t want to give them any reason to be suspicious.”
I picture a team of border patrol officers racing toward me, guns drawn. One of them flings open my door. Out of the car! he shouts, fighting to keep a snarling Doberman from lunging at my throat. We don’t let slouchers into Canada.
I giggle at that, but my mom’s head pivots, so I quickly straighten my lips, as well as my body. I don’t want to argue with her. We still have a long way to go. It’s 215 miles from Seattle to Whistler, and we’re not even halfway there.
“Uh-oh.” My mom slaps her hands across the dashboard then flips the lid on the utility box between us. She starts pawing through it. “Oh, no! No, no, no!”
“Forget something?” I ask.
She is throwing things on my lap: a pad of sticky notes, her
phone charger, a bottle of hand sanitizer. “If I don’t have it—”
“The consent letter. I can’t take you into Canada without a letter from your dad, because he isn’t riding up with us. That’s the law. This is a nightmare. What am I going to do? I can’t believe I forgot it—”
“Mom.” I clamp my left hand on hers before she can toss the garage door opener at me. With my right hand, I pop the glove compartment latch. Resting on top of our birth certificates and passports is a folded piece of paper. I lift the edge to show her Dad’s signature. “See? You gave it to me to put with everything else.”
She lets out a big breath. “That’s right. Thanks.”
“Mom, get a grip.” I snap the glove compartment shut then begin putting all the stuff in my lap back in the utility box. “Why are you so nervous, anyway? It’s not like we’re criminals or something.”
“I can’t help it. I think it started in Mrs. Allard’s PE class in seventh grade. She was a real taskmaster. You couldn’t have even one shoelace longer than the other or she’d take off
points. Now, any time I have to pass inspection, I sort of—”
She winces. “Yeah. Sorry.”
I get that. Last year, Mr. Ruddameyer, my math teacher, could scare the fingernail polish off me. He’d get irritated when we—I—didn’t understand what he was trying to teach. I’m glad they don’t make you calculate the area of a trapezoid to get into Canada. I’d be rejected, for sure.
I pat my mother’s shoulder. “Try to keep it together, Mom, so they don’t think you’re kidnapping us, okay?”
That gets a slight grin from her. “I’ll try, Little Bird. “
That’s my family’s nickname for me. Kestrels are birds—falcons, actually. Only one type of kestrel lives in North and South America, the American kestrel. It’s the smallest of all the raptors. May dad likes to say, “Kestrels may be mini, but they’re mighty.” He’s right. They are great hunters, but since I’m also short for my age I know he’s saying it to encourage me.
My phone chimes. It’s Langley again.
Are you in the mountains yet?
I let my thumbs fly. Not even close. We’re in Lynden still waiting to cross. My mom is fruiting out. I miss you already.
That’s better. Dare to be truthful.
Same here times a million, comes the reply. Annabeth is here. She says hi!
Say Hi back!
The throbbing moves from my head to my heart. My two best friends are on summer vacation without me. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. You only get one summer before seventh grade, and Langley Derringer, Annabeth Kim, and I had ours completely mapped out. We were going to paddle Langley’s canoe around Lake Wilderness and eat s’mores. We were going to sleep over at each other’s houses and make homemade ham, pineapple, and olive pizza. We were going to hang out at the mall and eat frozen yogurt (we always get three different flavors and switch after every three spoonfuls). We were going to do everything and nothing, but we were going to do it together. And with food. However, only a few days into summer break, my grandpa Keith
died. He had a stroke. It hit me pretty hard. I cried for a few days. Considering I hardly knew my grandfather, I guess it didn’t make sense to Langley or Annabeth why I was so upset. Maybe that’s why. I wanted to know him. A grand-daughter should know her grandparents, don’t you think? I don’t know mine, though. I talk to Grandma Lark and Grandpa Keith briefly on the phone at Christmas and on my birthdays. We chat about basic stuff like school and sports (I do cross-country and soccer), but that’s it.
Mom says we went to see my grandparents in Canada a few times when I was a baby and they visited Seattle once. I was four when they came. I don’t remember much about it, except for one day—the day Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and I went to the Space Needle. The second I saw the yellow capsule-like elevator inching up the side of the hourglass-shaped structure, I wanted nothing to do with it. I tried to pull away from my dad. Grandpa Keith knelt down. He held out a large, strong hand and showed me a gold ring with the biggest, reddest ruby I’d ever seen. He said it was a magical ring that put an invisible shield of protection
around him and if I held his hand the magic would protect me, too. “I promise you’ll be safe, Little Bird,” he’d said. “And you should know I never break a promise.” Something in the way he looked at me told me I could trust him. I put my hand into his, my fingers practically disappearing in his giant palm. Grandpa Keith didn’t squeeze my fingers the way adults do when they want you to know who’s in charge. He let me do the holding. And he kept his word. Nothing bad happened. Still, to this day, I don’t like heights.
“We’re almost there,” says my mother again.
I watch a navy MINI Cooper peel off from the front of the line. It putters up the hill past a faded, red A-frame restaurant with green trim. The sign on the front says RUN FOR THE BORDER CAFÉ. Beyond the café is a fenced pasture with several horses grazing in the tall grass, their dark brown coats glistening in the morning sun.
I don’t know how long Mom, Wyatt, and I will be gone. Nobody is saying, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s no more than a couple of weeks. I wish Dad would have come, too. After all, Grandpa Keith is—was—his father. When I
asked Mom why Dad wasn’t coming with us, she said what she always says, “He can’t get away right now. I’m sure he’ll have more time—”
“—after the trial,” I finished for her. My dad is an attorney. He practices environmental law. Mom always says, and I quote, “He’ll have more time after his current court case finishes.” He never does.
“Grandpa Keith didn’t want a memorial service, otherwise your dad would have come,” my mother said. “I’m sure he’ll get up to visit us on a weekend—”
“—after the trial,” I said again.
I have another text. It’s a selfie. Langley and Annabeth are cheek to cheek with wide smiles. Annabeth is taking the picture. Langley is holding a homemade sign that says WE U KESTREL! The heart is made out of pink glitter glue. Awwwww! I start to type back, but tears blur my vision. It takes me a few minutes to blink them away. Sniffing, I write U 2!
“We’re almost there,” says my mom.
This time, she’s right! We are almost there. There’s only
one car between us and the redbrick building with the border guards: a black Hummer. I flip down the sun visor to check my face in the mirror. I have good skin. So far. No pimples yet, though Annabeth says they are coming, says they started exploding onto her face one day like dozens of miniature volcanoes. I wipe away a smudge of mascara on my eyelid. I am allowed to wear mascara and lip gloss, as long as I don’t paint anything on in layers. Perfectly peachy with me. Linzie Dockett wears so much makeup her face can’t hold it all. It slides right off. By the end of the day she looks like a melted candle. Tucking my long, straight, dark hair behind my ears, I flip the visor up. I make a point to sit up tall so my mom won’t go bonkers again. The Hummer’s brake lights go off. Here we go!
I open the glove compartment and reach for the letter, birth certificates, and passports. We are moving forward. My mom hits the button to lower her window and turns to me for the documents. Out her open window, I see the redbrick wall come into view then the frame of a window, the front of a dark uniform, a window frame again, more red bricks . . .
We’re still rolling. Oh no! We’re rolling into Canada!
“Mooom!” I cry.
She slams on the brakes, pitching us all forward. I bang my elbow on the dash and my knee on the cup holder. My phone goes airborne.
“Oops,” says my mom. “My bracelet got caught in the door handle. Everyone okay?”
“Yep,” says Wyatt, laughing.
“Yes,” I say, not laughing.
Sticking her head out the window, my mom yells back to the border patrol officer, “Sorry. Do you want me to back up into the US?”
I slap a hand over my eyes.
I. Am. Dying.
I hope they don’t haul my mom off to border jail.
“Bit of a hurry?” The officer has come out of her little building. I can’t see her face, but I hear her chuckling. The silver name tag on her pocket says CORRIGAN.
“Really, really sorry about that,” my mom says meekly, handing her the passports.
“Where are you headed?” asks Officer Corrigan.
“Blackcomb Creek Lodge. Whistler. British Columbia.”
She had to add the “BC”? My mom sounds stiff. Worried. Guilty.
“These are your children?”
“Yes, indeedy. Mine. All mine. Nobody else’s.”
The officer bends to peer into the car. “Your full names and ages, please.”
“Kestrel Lark Adams,” I say coolly to show Mom how it’s done. “I’m twelve.”
“Wyatt Keith Adams,” spouts my little brother. “I’m eight and one-quarter.”
“Here are their birth certificates and parental permission letter from their father,” says Mom. “My husband couldn’t get away from work, but he’ll be coming up soon.”
I look away so the officer does not see me roll my eyes up into the far reaches of my head. Dad is not coming.
“And how long will you be in Canada?” asks the officer.
My head swivels. Yes, mother, how long will we be in Canada?
Giving me a sidelong glance, my mom leans toward the officer. I lean with her, so I can hear her whisper, “A month or two.”
A squeak escapes my lips. A month? Or two?
“One moment.” The officer steps back into the building with our documents.
“Mom!” I hiss. “Two months? That’s the whole summer. You didn’t say anything about staying all summer.”
“I thought you might not want to come if you knew we might be here that long.”
Ya think? The stabbing pain behind my eye is getting worse. My neck hurts now too. I think I have whiplash, thanks to my mom’s little braking incident.
Officer Corrigan is back, handing the documents to my mom. An index finger points toward Canada. “Now you can be on your way.”
As we chug up the hill past the Christmas-tree café, I
take a deep breath. We did it. We made it. We’re in Canada.
“I’m hungry,” announces Wyatt. “I hope they have normal food here.” By “normal food,” he means hamburgers, pizza, and junk.
“I’m sure they do,” says my mom. “Unfortunately.”
Before we reach the top of the hill, I take one last look back.
Good-bye, United States of America.
Good-bye, Langley and Annabeth.
Good-bye, only summer before seventh grade.