Andy Qwinn has always loved everything about water. She trains all year to keep her spot on her high school's swim team. She volunteers at an aquarium. And she earns extra money as a science tutor to help her reach her dream of going away to college and working to protect marine animals and their ocean homes.
In a family where artistic abilities are coveted above everything else, being placed on the varsity swim team as a freshman or earning an internship to work with sea otters isn't seen as a great accomplishment. Spending the summer in art camp is more important than being offered the chance to study dolphins in Belize. Her four siblings have been in the artistic spotlight since preschool. At 17, Andy can't act, draw, paint or sing. She didn't inherit her mother's graceful gift of dance or her father's talent to play any instrument he picks up. While her parents attempt to pull Andy's "hidden talent" out through dance, music and art lessons, her stepparents have their own ways of reminding her about her failures - both as an artist and as a daughter- and that she isn't even ordinary in a family full of extraordinary.
Everything changes when she decides to runaway and spend her spring break doing what she's been dreaming of doing for years. With the click of a mouse, she changes her itinerary from an ordinary week long visitation with her mom, step-dad and step-sister to an extraordinary nine days in Hawaii, working at an aquarium with a couple of monk seals and their intern - Kai. She spends the week meeting new people, getting the chance to experience things she's never thought possible before and learning more about herself than she could in any art class.
How much can Andy's life change in nine days? Doing what she wants? Making her own decisions without parental approval? Dealing with the consequences of those decisions?
What happens when the nine days are up?
Note: This excerpt has a phone conversation between Andy and her best friend Jase. Their nicknames are Pete and Repeat. Jase calls Andy "Reep" for short.
I walked slowly back to the hostel that would be my home for the next nine days, trying to focus on the beachside sidewalk instead of the cell phone that was blowing up in my hand. The phone demanded my full attention with its ringing, dinging and pinging - sounds of voicemails and text messages piling on top of each other. I went through the voicemails first. Lots of questions in angry tones - "Where are you?" "What were you thinking?" And of course a rundown of how much trouble I'd be in when I got home. There were a couple of guilt-filled threats from the stepdad and a "How stupid are you?" from the stepmom. I quickly deleted each one, not listening to any of them all the way through. I took this trip to get away from the suffocating craziness of my home and family. I didn't need to listen to the messages to know what each person was saying. I erased the text message from Zoe stating that "The parents are going to kill you!" and read the many from Jase telling me to call him - "NOW!"
Before I got the chance to, my phone sang with his ring tone. I took a deep breath, pushed the answer button, but didn't even get out "Hello" before he pounced.
"What took you so long!?"
"Hey Pete. What's up?"
"What's up? You ran away from home!"
Dropping my backpack on a bench, I sat down and looked out at the water. "I'll be back next Monday. Is that still considered running away?"
I quickly pulled the phone away from my ear as he hollered, "Yes, that's still running away!"
"Stop yelling at me."
I heard him take a breath to calm down. "Fine, no more yelling. Everyone's going crazy over here."
"Well, no, I guess not. I'm just worried about you. Are you okay? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. I can't tell you where I am. Have my parents called you yet?"
"Yup, all four of them. They don't believe that I didn't know anything about this."
"That's why I didn't tell you. I didn't want you to have to lie for me. This is a lot bigger than telling my dad we're going to see a movie when we're really going to a party."
"I'm not the bad liar here, Reep. That would be you." I didn't respond. What he said was completely true. "The step-bitch said there's no way you planned this out on your own, so it had to be me."
"That sounds right."
"And the step-prick told me to make sure you know how much this 'little stunt' is hurting your mom. He sounded pretty pissed."
"That sounds right, too."
"You do have a plan, right?"
"Of course I do. I'll be volunteering at an aquarium for the week. I just finished meeting with them. That's why I couldn't call you sooner."
"You could've done that here." His voice raised with anxiety. "You've been doing that here!"
"Different aquarium, different animals, different environment, different experiences."
He sighed, "Shit. You planned your own program. Why didn't you wait until summer?"
"I don't have enough money to support myself through the summer."
"But you have enough to support yourself for the week?"
"And you have a place to stay? A way to get around? A way to get home? A way to keep your folks from finding you and dragging your ass back home?"
I pulled my feet up on to the bench, hugging my knees to my chest. "All that would be part of the plan."
"Which you decided to tell me nothing about. You've always told me everything."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"You could've taken me with you."
"You don't even know where I am. I could be somewhere so boring you'd be complaining the whole time."
He laughed, "I doubt that. You'll be working at an aquarium, that means you're near the beach and it's spring break. I'm sure I would've found something to do. And it sure as hell wouldn't have been working."
I smiled, looking out at the water, feeling the breeze blow the free strands of hair away from my face.
"So, a beach where? You're still in California, right?"
"No. Now stop asking questions. I'm not telling you any more."
His voice took on a more serious tone. "Just one more. Are you scared? I'm sure the steps have tried calling you."
I slid my clamshell locket back and forth on its chain, hearing the rattle of the smaller, real shell locked inside. "Yeah, they left messages. It feels strange being on my own, but I'm not worried about the family finding me. More nervous that someone here will find out and put me on a plane back home."
"What are you going to do about the steps when you get home?" I didn't have an answer. "You didn't plan for that huh? Great plan!"
Annoyed, I snapped, "So, I haven't thought that far ahead! I'll deal with the consequences of this trip after Monday."
"The consequences are what I'm worried about. Your mom and dad are freaking out, but Kim and Tony sound ready to kill."
"Don't worry about it. It'll be fine. They won't kill me. They can't hide that from mom and dad."
"Will you let me pick you up when you come home? You don't have to give me any of the information now, but if I get you, they can't."
I rubbed my forehead with my hand, resting both on my knees. "I don't know, Jase."
"Andy, please. I don't want the steps to hurt you. Will you at least think about it?"
"Yeah, I'll think about it. Did they find the letter I left?"
"No one said anything about a letter."
"I left it on my pillow. It says why I did this, when I'll be back, and that I'll find a way to make sure they know I'm okay every day I'm gone."
"I'll make sure they get it. So, more texts to Zoe saying 'I'm fine. See you Monday.'? They weren't happy with that."
"I didn't think they would be, but it's the best I can do without calling them."
"You're planning to keep your phone off?"
"Yup, hard to have any kind of fun with my phone exploding with parents."
"Will you call me if you need anything?"
"Of course. Don't worry. Everything will be fine. I know what I'm doing."
"Man, you're a bad liar. What are you telling everyone you meet there? How is the aquarium allowing you to work for them without your parents' permission?"
"They think they have it. I forged the forms and listed you as my emergency contact. The supervisors think I'm traveling with friends. And I brought my fake id with me just in case."
Sarcastically, he laughed. "Sounds like I'm rubbing off on you. Your parents will be very proud."
H.R. Willaston lives in California with her husband, Scott and their menagerie including five cats, three tanks of fish, two mourning doves and one dog - Laura-Glue. When not writing, she enjoys reading, camping at the beach, volunteering for animal rescues and working at a high school as a special education tutor. Nine Days is her second book. Future Letters was the first.