the adventures of maddie leon
- a continental divide -
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Chapter 1 – Best Summer Ever
Maddie fumbled in the bed for Jolie, a one-eared rabbit of little stuffing. Except for Jolie, she’d sealed all her other stuffies in plastic – proving without a doubt – she wasn’t a little kid anymore.
Found, she flopped Jolie, now an aroma pillow over her eyes, inhaled the lavender fragrance, and felt the sweet reality of today stir in her. In less than six hours, her best summer ever would begin.
She opened her journal to the center pages titled, “Best Summer Ever”. Covered in illustrations and activities that she, Jenna, and Mika had compiled, she savoured what was ahead. Boarding, swimming, days at the beach, thrifting, eating copious amounts of pizza, ice cream, cupcakes – AND TURNING 13!
She’d been waiting forever to be 13. Thirteen meant no more being left behind when her parents went on assignment. Now she’d be allowed to join them during school breaks, and she hoped if they got posted someplace cool like Vietnam, France, or Morocco, she could stay for a semester or more.
Kicking off the sheet she stuffed Jolie and journal under her pillow then sneaked a peak outside to be sure the sunny day promised, had arrived. Since the skyscraper went up across the lane, her view of English Bay had become a screen into other people’s lives. Each window revealed stuff that was interesting and surprising.
She pulled her outfit off the dresser and wiggled into the shorts. It was late when she finished stitching the lace hem on. Peeling the band-aid off her still tender index finger, she wished for the hundredth time she’d get a sewing machine for her birthday.
Tossing her sleeping shirt aside she slipped the satin lace shell over her head. It felt cool on her skin, perfect for today. She took a slow fashion walk towards her full-length mirror, shifting left then right before casting a look over her shoulder to check out the new outfit. Satisfied, she grabbed her hairbrush and headed down the hall for breakfast.
Her dad was at the desk he had squeezed into their already small and overcrowded living room when their last assignment ended. Maddie was glad they could work from home. This was the first time since grade four they’d been home for an important school event.
“Is that GG?” Maddie mouthed, scanning a presentation her parents had been working on for a cultural anthropology exhibit. He shook his head as she turned into the kitchen.
“Whose dad talking to?” she asked, swinging one arm around her mom’s hip for a casual hug and pulling a piece of toast off the stack.
“Museum curator in Lima,” her mom said, putting cheese spread and strawberry jam into her hands before turning her around to the table.
“Maddily Modified I presume,” her dad said, joining them.
“Yup!” she beamed, tugging the hem of her shirt before lifting her knee so he could fully appreciate her creativity. “Mom said they were too short, so I added the ruffle. They’re perfect now, and I have left over lace.”
“Clever girl,” he said, tousling her hair as he slid into his spot.
“Russell! Don’t make it worse than it is.
Maddie! Its not even brushed!” her mom said, attempting to tame the unruly curls with her palms.
“Can you?” Maddie asked, offering her the brush.
“Definitely not! If you can’t manage it, time to cut it!”
“You used to like to brush it,” said Maddie, shoving the brush back in her pocket.
“Sophie … you can’t possibly forget how you and your locks used to get on. No doubt this creative beauty takes after you and your family.”
Her mom slapped the plate of toast onto the table. “This is not about me Russell! Its about Maddie. Growing up comes with responsibilities.”
Maddie felt her face flush and back stiffen. She didn’t get why her dad always said she and her mom were alike. Yeah, they both had red hair, green eyes, and too many freckles but after that they were opposites. Maddie loved everything creative and artsy. Her mom was all about order, planning, and managing.
“And graduation is a significant growing up event,” he said, spreading honey and peanut butter on his toast.
“Shall we have a celebratory lunch after?”
“Not today Dad, we’re going to the beach right after,” she said, squeezing past her mom to dust toastcrumbs and crusts into the recycle bin. “Kevin’s dad sending pizza for us.”
“Who’s we and us?” her mom asked.
“The whole class. Everyone’s bringing something.”
“I don’t know anything about you bringing something.”
“Jenna and I made cupcakes at her place. We decorated thirty-two with sun-glassed emojis,” wanting out of this conversation before her mom’s reaction unplugged her excitement.
“Maddie, you should tell us more about what’s going on.”
“No worries,” her dad interjected, “we’ll celebrate tonight.”
He pushed in the chair hindering her exit.
“Not too many pictures dad. We can take them tonight. Agree?” she asked, planting a kiss on his cheek to seal the deal.
Slipping into the bathroom she heard her mom’s continued complaint about her choices and behaviour.
She spritzed her hair with the lavender scented detangler she and her mom had perfected and inhaled deeply hoping to calm the kaleidoscope of butterflies doing figure eights inside her.
Kevin was going to meet her in 15 minutes. She was nervous. What happens after a boy kisses you? Was he still her friend? She didn’t even know if she could have a boyfriend, or if she even wanted one.
She doused another handful of curls and encouraged the brush through the tangles. I should have told Jenna he kissed me. She always knows what to say and do.
“Mind your time Maddie.” Her mother’s voice and tap on the door sent the butterflies into a panicked migration.
OMG! In five minutes, she needed to know everything about having a boyfriend. Back in her room, grateful she’d packed her beach stuff last night, she tossed her brush on the bed, grabbed her bag and board, and headed for the door.
“See you there,” she called, hearing muffled responses as the door close behind her.
She entertained taking the stairs then decided against it not wanting to be breathless or sweaty when she met him. She knew this kiss thing was a problem, it might even interfere with her best summer ever.
Chapter 2 – Graduation Day
Maddie watched Kevin board within a fraction of the crosswalk pole. He stopped with ease and flipped his board up just as the pedestrian light turned green.
Everything seemed cool and easy for him. He was captain of the Orca’s basketball and soccer team and last week, recruited to play center-forward on Vancouver’s under-14 Select soccer team. He was also the guy all the girls and most of the boys liked.
She watched him run a hand through his blond curls then tuck-in what looked like a new white t-shirt into his shorts.
He’s probably not even sweating, Maddie thought as she crossed the street to meet him.
“Nice outfit. You make it?” he asked reaching for her hand.
“Upcycled it,” she replied dropping her board and with it, her hand from his.
“Jenna’s waiting. We should hurry.”
She never used to think about sweating, now she was thinking about his, and her sweat as she weaved down Burnaby Street praying for an intervention until she could talk with Jenna about this boyfriend thing.
“Maddie!” Kevin hollered. “Look out!”
Maddie saw the momma skunk and her two kits scurry under the parked car. Boarding downhill she had enough speed to miss the spray. Just behind her, Kevin got caught.
Holding up his hand, choking, and coughing, he backed out of the spray zone. “I gotto go home. I need to change,” he gagged.
The skunk’s spray drifted her way as she watched him push back up the hill. She felt sorry for him and marveled at the reprieve she’d been given to update Jenna AND get some advice.
“Where’s Kevin? I thought you two were an item,” said Jenna, doing her forest sprite dance in front of her.
“He got sprayed coming down the hill.”
“Bloody skunks! When did something so cute get to be such a bother?
Where is he now?”
“Alright then! Tell me everything. What’s going on with you and Kevin? Is he your boyfriend?
O! M! G! Maddie your face is redder than your hair! He kissed you didn’t he! I told you he liked you like that! Was I right or was I right?” she asked, adding a leggy twirl to her know-it-all opinion.
“Well, did you kiss him back?”
“Yes, but . . .”
Jenna straddled the sidewalk hands on her hips blocking Maddie’s continuance. “But what?”
“But I don’t know. He wanted to hold my hand when I met him this morning. What if he holds my hand at school? What if Mika sees us? Do you think she still likes him?
Oh Jenna, what am I going to do?”
“What are you going to do! You’re going to have a boyfriend!” Jenna laughed letting down her guard stance to dance herself the last block to school, leaving Maddie behind with a confused mind, belly full of chaotic butterflies and no answers.
Maddie checked the task list Mr James had posted on the gym wall. Relieved, she noted Mika wasn’t on the decorating team. Kevin was, but she suspected he was now sitting in a tub of tomato juice to rid the stench of skunk spray.
Forty-minutes later their decorating effort and creativity was evident. Banners and pictures showing the graduates achievements and school year highlights hung on the walls. Blue and white helium balloons framed the stage that now twinkled under an arch of blue and white school-pride lights.
Ignoring Mika’s beckon to join them at the photo booths she headed towards Mr. James at the Awards’ table.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Nope,” he said stepping between her and the table covered with scrolls tied up with Orca colors, sport team plaques, and a whale tail trophy she’d not seen in the awards cabinet before.
“Time for you Maddie Leon to join your classmates in the reception line,” he said shooing her away.
Now or never, thought Maddie as she walked over to Mika.
“So, your Kevin’s girlfriend now,” said Mika.
“Jenna!” Maddie muttered.
“I don’t care if he is. My mom says its too soon for me to have one anyway.”
Maddie knew her mouth was hanging open. She also knew she had nothing to say. She swung an arm around Mika and steered her towards the reception door where most of their classmates were now greeting parents and teachers as they arrived.
Guiding parents to their seats, Maddie saw her mom’s effort to distance herself from Jenna’s mom, while her dad invited her to sit with them. She loved that about him, he was kind, always including others in their family bubble; especially those who were alone.
A piercing screech through the intercom interrupted her thoughts.
“Can I get all the grads into their robes and seats please,” Mr. James sputtered from the stage podium.
Maddie gave her parents a wave then took the seat between Jenna and Mika. She watched the teachers coax better behaviour from the little ones on the floor. It seemed so long ago that she’d been sitting there. So much had changed since then, particular this year. In two months she’d be in high school, her grandpa had died leaving her feeling fractured and kind of lost, and now she had a boyfriend.
“Who you looking for?” Jenna taunted. “Your lover boy?”
“Don’t be gross Jenna. Why does everything about boys have to be so gushy?” she asked, fussing to get her grad sash tucked under the collar.
One by one they went up to receive their graduation certificates. Back in their chairs they prided themselves on their new status, awards received, and whispered about the remaining whale-tail trophy.
“Maddie Leon, please join us one more time,” she heard Mr. James say.
Maddie heard her classmates whoop and cheer her up onto the stage. She saw Mr. James pick-up the whale- tail trophy. ‘What’s going on?’ She knew she was blushing. Her mom called it their Irish ancestry blessing. More of a curse Maddie thought as she stood beside Mr. James.
Mr. James words entered her ears like they were spoken in a deep cave. He was talking about fashion design and her.
“… this year alone, we collected one ton of clothing for recycling and upcycling. Maddie to honor your vision, creativity, and leadership, we are proud to present for the first time ever the ORCA S.T.E.A.M. award that acknowledges the significance of ART in STEM education.
Handing the trophy to Maddie, he explained, “The whale-tail signifies the importance of following your truth, the importance of listening to your inner voice and being mindful of the impact emotions have on your life. Those who carry the whale-tail stress the importance of maintaining harmony between self and environment.
We wish you all the best as you leave us . . . maybe for Emily Carr? … still waiting to hear from them?”
Her body trembled as she held the trophy in her hands and nodded affirmatively that she was still waiting. She looked out over the little one’s on the floor, past the threes, fours, and fives, then onto her parents. Her dad’s smile seemed to reach from one ear to the other. Her mom was clapping but her face was red.
Mr. James guiding her down the stage steps to the sanctuary of her classmates. Maddie accepted their back slaps and kind words all the time thinking about her mom. The more Maddie showed enthusiasm for fashion, the more disappointed her mom had become with her.
With the ceremony concluded the grads gathered for group, family, and friend photos before hanging up their gowns and saying goodbye to teachers and parents. In mass they streamed out the door heading for their graduation celebration at English Bay.
Maddie loved the Bay. As usual, the water was populated with tanker ships coming to unload goods from around the world – places she would one day go. Water devices of all sizes and shapes occupied the space between the tankers and shoreline.
They staked out their sand lot with beach towels, blankets, back packs, and flip flops then joined hands for their junior high school baptismal dip.
“He said he’ll be here,” Jenna said poking Maddie’s leg with her toes.
“Jenna, every thought of mine is not about Kevin.”
“Then what’s your problem?” Jenna asked.
“Oh yeah. What a problem that my interests are so cool that I should get the Orca Whale-Tail Award. How can that be a problem? You love fashion. Your lucky you already know what you want to do. I don’t have a clue. I don’t even know what I’m good at.”
“I’m thinking about giving it up!”
“What! Are you crazy? What about Emily Carr! You said you’d die if you didn’t get in.”
“My mom says its a risky career – too much competition – too much room to fail.”
“How does she know?”
“Life experience,” Maddie said, air quoting her words.
“She wants to mini-me you. Turn you into a researcher or anthropologist. Then you’ll probably leave your kid or kids behind.”
“I’d never leave my kid behind!”
“You might. Look at us, we get left behind.”
Hey! Here comes your lover boy,” said Jenna rolling over on her towel and waving at Kevin to join them.
Chapter 3 – My Life Sucks
“You’ve got to ride the coaster at least twice,” Maddie said, walking up Burnaby Street, hand in hand.
“You’re kidding – right? That thing is ancient – it was built in 1958! That is not how I plan to make the 6 o’clock news, ‘GRADE 6 GRADS GO DOWN WITH THE RUBBLE.’
“I’m smart. You ride it if you want – I’ll save my tickets for The Beast and AtmosFear.”
“Perfect,” she said fobbing her key at the apartment’s front door. His averted kiss landing in her hair. She flashed him a smile and slipped through the door. “See you at the bus stop tomorrow.”
“Just in time,” her dad said sticking a spoon with his secret spaghetti sauce out for her to taste.
“Fresh Italian parsley?
That’s your secret isn’t it?”
“Tell me!” she pleaded.
“No way! Only I,” he said, planting a kiss on her forehead, “hold the secret to my daughter’s favourite dinner.
How was the beach party?”
“Good. The boys consumed the pizza like eating machines. We had to survive on watermelon and cupcakes,” she replied opening the fridge door.
He pushed the door closed with his foot. “Wash up. Dinner’s almost ready and you promised us some photos. Your grandmothers are waiting too.”
Maddie washed up and did what she could with a totally tangled mane. Oh, to be a lion, thought Maddie. If anyone gets in your way her roar would send them away. She would lie in the sun and think about nothing except maybe dinner, the beach, and a fashion design or two.
But now her head was full of knots and confusion. What about Maddily Modified? How could she quit? How could she not? What about Kevin? And now, Irish Gran had suddenly become part of their family and she was expected to be a granddaugther to someone she didn’t even know.
She sprayed detangler, inhaled the fragrance with a slow deep breath through her nose and slowly released it out her mouth. Maddie liked the breathwork Mr. James taught them. He was right it made exams and sometimes life easier. She rubbed some cream on her sun blushed face accepting the spatter of freckles across her nose and cheeks as part of her heritage – something else she had to live with.
“Dinners on the table.”
Maddie gave her mom a guarded smile as she slipped into her chair. She hoped their dinner conversation would not be about the award sitting on the table.
She stabbed the hill of spaghetti on her plate and twirled up a hearty mouthful, stuffed the fork in her mouth and slurped in the danglers.
Her mom’s green eyes flashed ‘proceed with caution’ as she removed the saucy skid mark let behind with her tongue.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the award? Jenna’s mom knows more about you and your fashion ambitions, than I do.”
“I didn’t know I was going to get it, and Jenna’s mom likes to talk and listen to us. She agrees its wrong to dump clothes when you can upcycle and even resell them,” said Maddie twirling up another forkful of spaghetti.
“You might like thrift stores and recycling dear, but most teenagers do not. Besides fashion isn’t even made in North or even South America anymore.”
“Teenagers care. We’re polluting our own world.”
“Well Maddie, dreams like yours need a lot of money, time and helpers, none of that is easy to get,” she said, passing Maddie a napkin.
“Science and technology, that’s the future,” motioning with her napkin for Maddie to wipe hers.
“Mr. James says STEAM careers are the future. Art and science and technology. Eco-fashion has it all; that’s why they gave me the award.”
“Speaking about careers,” her dad said wiping his mouth. “We have good news. Our next assignment has been confirmed.”
“Who are you going to leave me with this time?” Maddie asked through a mouthful of noodles and sauce.
“Why do you say that?” her mom asked. “We don’t leave you. We go to work… its what most parents do.”
“Most parents don’t leave their kids to study someone else. Too bad I’m not one of your subjects ─ you could study me.”
“On a more positive note,” her dad said rustling in his chair, “we’re not leaving you.”
Maddie dropped her loaded fork and stretched across the table to hug him.
“Finally! Where are we going? When are we going?”
“Maddie!” Her mom’s finger wagged strenuously in front of her like their music teacher’s baton when the choir is off-key.
“Your hair! Its in your dad’s spaghetti!
Maddie flicked her hair out of the plate speckling the wall behind her with saucy dots.
“Well . . .” her dad said, “we are going to Peru.”
“Awesome,” Maddie replied clapping her hands. “Does GG know? When do we leave?”
“July 1st . . . and yes GG knows. We’ve been talking to GG and since Grandpa passed – well you know, GG’s alone and… we know you’d rather we be close enough so you can join us during school breaks – so, we’ve decided its time for us to move to Peru.”
“Moving! To Peru? On Canada Day? Before my birthday?”
“Yes Maddie. That’s what your father said – we’re moving to Peru.”
“What about my friends. What about Emily Carr? You agreed if I got in, I could go. You promised.”
“We’ve found you a new school,” her mom said making it sound like this was good news.
“An international school where you can study in English and Spanish.”
“I don’t speak Spanish. I speak English and French,” she said shoving her plate away.
Her mom’s hand stopped the plate from leaving the table.
“Peru is perfect for all of us,” he said. “I don’t want my mom to be on her own, and there’s plenty of work for your mom and I in South America. It’ll be your next great adventure Maddie.”
It felt like her heart and breath froze. Surely, these were not her real parents. Real parents don’t mess up their kid’s life. She wondered if she was part of some secret cultural anthropology project. The noodles in her belly started knitting themselves into a ball and banging around looking for a way out.
“I don’t want to leave Vancouver! Why would you do this to me? Mika, Jenna and I planned the perfect summer, and what about…” Maddie hesitated, ‘Kevin?’ she thought silently.
“And what?” her mom asked.
“You always wanted a bigger room and space to work on your Maddily Modified projects.”
Don’t cry Maddie. Not here. Not in front of her. Her tears would be followed by a lecture from her mom that she still wasn’t ready to join them on assignment. She wrapped her arms around her trembling body and tried to control her emotions.
She didn’t want GG to be alone but if they took her away, she’d be alone – except for GG – the only good thing about this crazy idea. GG was her champion. She helped Maddie fun-up her mini-me clothes. When they weren’t sewing, they liked to bake. Once they made Grandpa Leo a cake with 36 cupcakes and 72 candles. They laughed so hard she snorted when he said he could cook a chicken over the flames.
Her mom’s demanding voice brought her attention back to the table. “I spent a lot of time finding this school for you! There are not many schools in Peru who can accommodate students whose first language is not Spanish. You should appreciate my efforts.”
“I suck at Spanish.”
“Don’t say suck ─ its rude,” her mother responded.
Her dad put his hand over hers. “Your Spanish is better than my French was when I came to Canada. Immersion is the best way to learn, and the school has a theater program, there’ll be costumes to design and sew.”
“She’s going there for the STEM curriculum Russell! Its time Maddie got serious about her future.”
“I am serious! I’m going to be an eco-fashion designer.”
“Disassembling or taking clothes out of the dump is not a career Maddie. You’ll need a real job when you leave home. Now, finish your dinner,” her mom said, pushing the dinner plate back across the table, “and let’s get some pictures taken. Your grandmothers are waiting.”
Maddie didn’t even try to stop the meatball that rolled ahead of the plate and hit the floor. “I’m not hungry.”
Her mom’s hand flashed up like a stop sign. “No dinner. No dessert!”
“Maddie,” her dad called. “What about the cake? You always say yes to cake.”
“Cake sucks!” she said pushing her chair away from the table.
“My life sucks.”
“Oh! Gross!” she moaned, hopping away with spaghetti sauce, noodles, and meat oozing between her toes.
“Maddison Marie Leon.”
She didn’t turn back. She knew when her mom said her name like that, she was going to get a lecture or lesson; she didn’t want either.
“Let her go Sophie.” She heard her dad say before she slammed the bathroom door.
She sat on the edge of the tub with her foot under the spout. The warm water washed away the meaty red sauce and hid her tears from them.
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