the adventures of maddie leon
- a continental divide -
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Chapter 1 – Best Summer Ever
Maddie woke to hear her dad talking on the phone. She loved having her parents’ home, but her dad speaking Spanish meant work and inevitably they would leave her – again.
She fumbled around the bed for Jolie, her one-eared rabbit of little stuffing. Except for Jolie, she’d packed up all her stuffies, proving without a doubt, she wasn’t a little kid anymore.
Found, she flopped Jolie, now disguised as an aroma pillow, over her eyes and inhaled the blend of lavender, mint, and sage she’d plumped the rabbit up with. Taking in slow deep breaths she tried to chase away her negative thoughts, making room for the delights of the day ahead. In less than six hours, her best summer ever would begin.
Putting Jolie aside, she reached for her journal and flipped to the centerfold entitled, ‘Best Summer Ever’. Two pages covered with venue schedules, fashion musts to wear, find, or create and lists of fun things to do like hanging out at the beach, thrifting, boarding, baking, AND turning thirteen.
She’d been waiting forever to be a teen. Being thirteen meant no more being left behind when her parents went off on one of their cultural anthropology assignments. She would finally be able to join them on some far away or interesting location during school breaks. She hoped they’d get a posting someplace exotic like Vietnam, France, or Morocco where she could speak French, explore her love of fashion, and maybe stay for a semester or more.
Kicking off the sheet, she tucked Jolie and the journal under her pillow then peaked out her blinds to see if the promised sunny day had arrived. She scowled at the new apartment block across the alley that blocked her panoramic view of English Bay Now instead of seeing the bridge, beaches and boats of all shapes and sizes, she had a PG 13 window view of other people’s lives.
Confident the sunny day forecast was present, she turned to scrutinize her latest fashion creation, folded, and set out on her dresser. It had been late when she’d finished stitching the lace onto the hem of the coolest thrifted shorts she ever found. Her decision to add the crystal beads onto the front and back pocket seams had left her pointer finger bloodied and still tender.
She peeled the band-aid off her finger and wished for the umpteenth time she’d get a sewing machine for her birthday. Thoughts of her birthday brought back unwanted questions about whether her parents would be here for the party, she, Jenna, and Mika were already planning. Surely, they wouldn’t leave before her birthday. Sadly, she knew they might.
Tossing aside thoughts that hurt her guts she wiggled into the shorts and slipped the satin-lined lacey shell, over her head. The top was cool on her skin, perfect for a hot summer day. Standing in front of her closet-door mirror, with hands on her hip, she twisted left then right, delighted by her latest design. A serious scrutiny of her face confirmed no unwanted zit would blemish the day. She grabbed her hairbrush and headed down the hall – hoping her parents weren’t waiting with departure news.
Her dad sat at the makeshift desk he’d somehow squeezed into their small and already overcrowded living room when their field assignment in Ghana ended abruptly because her mom got sick. She never got used to them being away, always worried about them when they were gone. She was glad they were here for her grade six graduation but hoped her mom wouldn’t be in one of her moods.
“Work?” Maddie asked, pausing to scan their research poster about education for girls.
He nodded and tossed her a kiss.
“Whose Dad talking to?” she asked, grabbing a piece of toast off the stack plated on the kitchen counter.
“Colleague in Lima,” her mom said, putting the cheese spread and jam jar into her hands before turning her back to the table.
“Maddily Modified, I presume,” her dad said, joining her at the table.
“Yup!” she replied, pulling the outer lace so he could see the lavender shell beneath, then lifting a knee, so he could fully appreciate her latest upcycled fashion.
“Mom said they were too short, so I added the ruffle. They’re perfect now and I have lace left over.”
“Clever girl,” he said, tousling her hair as he slid into his chair.
“Russell! Don’t make it worse than it is,” her mom said, attempting to tame Maddie’s unruly curls with her palms. “What! Not brushed!”
Maddie pulled the brush out of her back pocket. “Can you?” she asked, holding out the brush for her mom.
“Definitely not!” her mom replied. “If you can’t manage it, it’s time to cut it!”
Maddie shoved the brush back in her pocket and took a deep breath to lift her chest off what felt like a breaking heart. It seemed everything she did lately bothered her mom. She was hypercritical of her clothes, summer plans, and especially her passion for thrifting.
“Sophie, you can’t possibly forget how you and your locks used to get on. There’s no doubt this creative beauty is your daughter.”
Her mom slapped the plate of toast on the table boring her laser green eyes into Maddie’s heart.
“This isn’t about me, Russell! It’s about Maddie. Growing up comes with responsibilities.”
Maddie felt her face flush as she stiffened her back. Her dad always said she and her mom were alike. Sure, they both had red hair, green eyes, and too many freckles, but apart from that they were mostly opposites. Maddie loved everything creative and artsy. Her mom was all about science, order and being proper.
“Shall we celebrate graduation with lunch at Alfredo’s?” her dad asked, spreading honey and peanut butter on his toast.
“Can’t,” Maddie replied, dusting toast crumbs into her hand. “We’re going to English Bay right after the ceremony. Kevin’s dad is sending pizza to the beach party.”
Leaning over her mom’s shoulder, she dropped the crumbs into the recycle bin.
“Who’s we and us?” her mom asked.
“The whole class. We all signed up to bring something.”
“I don’t know anything about you bringing something,” said her mom.
“Jenna and I made cupcakes at her place,” Maddie replied, wanting out of the conversation before her mom’s words dampened her excitement. “We decorated thirty-two sun-glassed emojis.”
“Maddie, you should tell us more about what’s going on,” said her mom.
“No worries,” her dad added, pushing aside the chair blocking Maddie’s exit. “We’ll see you in the auditorium. We can celebrate tonight. I’m making your favourite dinner.”
“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 continuing complaints about her choices and behaviour.
Maddie spritzed her hair with the detangler she and her mom had perfected. It almost always released the knots in her hair and sometimes appeased the butterflies that seemed to have taken up permanent residency in her belly. She took a deep breath of the lavender fragrance, hoping to calm them.
Kevin was meeting her out front in fifteen minutes. Her mind was tossing about questions so quickly she had no time for answers. What happens after a boy kisses you? Was he still a friend? Would they still just hang out? She didn’t even know if she was allowed to have a boyfriend, or if she wanted one.
She doused another handful of curls and encouraged her brush through the tangles.’ I should have told Jenna he kissed me’, she thought. ‘She always knew what to say and do about boy stuff’.
“Mind the time, Maddie.”
Her mother’s voice and tap on the door sent her butterflies into full flight. OMG! Five minutes and she still didn’t know everything about having a boyfriend. Back in her room, she threw her brush on the bed, grabbed her bag, and headed for the door.
“See you there,” she called, grabbing her skateboard then slipping out the door.
She entertained the thought of taking the stairs then decided against it, not wanting to meet him breathless and sweaty. She knew this kiss thing was a problem, it could even ruin her best summer ever.
Chapter 2 - Graduation Day
Maddie held her breath watching Kevin step within a breath of the crosswalk on Burrard Street. He stopped within a fraction of the steel pole, flipped up his board
and tapped the walk button with his elbow. On his command, it turned green.
Everything Kevin did seemed effortless. He made friends with strangers as easy as he did with everyone at school. He was their rock-star jock and almost every girl wanted his attention, but to her, he was just Kevin.
Her friend since grade one. She watched him run a hand through his blond curls. He’s probably not even sweating, Maddie thought.
“Nice outfit. You make it?” he asked reaching for her hand.
“Upcycled it.” She answered, dropping her board and with it his hand. “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. She really needed to 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 down the hill 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’m going home,” he gagged. “I have to change.”
The skunk’s spray drifted her way as she watched him push up the hill. She felt sorry for him and marveled at the reprieve she’d been given to update Jenna AND get some sage advice.
“Where’s Kevin? I thought you two were an item,” Jenna said, dancing 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,” said Jenna pretending to be taking notes.
“What’s going on with you and Kevin? Is he your boyfriend? O! M! G! 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 before turning back and continuing to probe her. “Did you kiss him back?”
“Yes, but . . .”
With hands on her hips, Jenna straddled the sidewalk blocking Maddie’s continuance. “But what?”
“But I don’t know. What if he wants to hold my hand at school? What if Mika sees us? I know she said she doesn’t like him – like him, but I think she does. 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 sentry stance to dance the last block to school. Leaving Maddie behind with a belly full of unruly butterflies and still no answers.
Maddie checked the assignment list Mr. James posted on the gym wall. Relieved, she saw Mika wasn’t on her team. Kevin was, but she suspected he was home sitting in a tub of tomato juice to rid himself the stench of skunk spray.
As decoration team lead, she assigned the tasks to transform their gym into a graduation hall. Forty-minutes later their efforts and creativity were evident. Banners and pictures highlighting their achievements hung on the walls. Blue and white helium balloons framed the stage that now twinkled under an arch of blue and white lights.
Ignoring Mika’s beckon to join them for some group pictures, she headed over to Mr. James at the Awards’ table. “Can I help?”
“Nope,” he said, stepping between her and a table draped with a blue tablecloth stamped with ORCA BAY across the front. Scrolls tied with blue and white ribbon were lined up in front of the sport, scholastic, and extra-curricular plaques and trophies. Standing out from the usual line-up of awards was a trophy with an Orca breaching. She hadn’t seen that trophy before.
“Time to join your classmates,” he said, turning her towards the gym doors. “The receiving line is forming.”
Now or never, thought Maddie as she walked towards Mika.
“So, your Kevin’s girlfriend now,” said Mika.
“Jenna!” Maddie muttered, knowing she should have sworn her to secrecy until she had this boyfriend thing figured out.
“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 door where most of their classmates were already greeting parents and teachers as they arrived.
Escorting parents to their seats, Maddie watched her mom’s effort to distance herself from Jenna’s mom, while her dad encouraged her to sit with them. She loved his kindness. Whenever her parents were home, it was common for him to add another chair or two to their tiny table. Elbow to elbow they shared a meal with friends in the building, friends passing through and sometimes someone he’d just met.
A piercing screech through the intercom system interrupted her musings. “Can I get all the grads into their robes and seats please,” Mr. James sputtered from the stage podium.
Maddie gave her parents and Jenna’s mom a wave, then took her seat between Jenna and Mika. She watched the teachers coaxing better behaviour from the little kids on the floor. It seemed a long time ago that she was a little kid. Lately life seemed to be both in a hurry and upside down. In two months, she’d been in junior high, she had a boyfriend, ‘a must when your thirteen,’ Jenna said, but life without her grandpa felt odd and empty.
“Who you lookin for?” Jenna taunted. “Your lover boy?”
“Don’t be gross Jenna. Why does everything about boys have to be so gushy?”
Then, one by one, supported by cheers and jeers from classmates, and in some cases standing ovations from parents, they went up to receive their grade six graduation certificates. Back in their seats they prided themselves on their new status, awards received, and speculated about the Orca whale trophy still on the table. Most felt confident it was for Kevin, who had not yet arrived.
She heard Mr. James call her name. “Come join us one more time.”
Maddie’s classmates whooped and cheered her onto the stage. She saw Mr. James pick-up the whale trophy.
‘What’s going on?’ she wondered. ‘What did I do?’, she questioned, feeling her face heating up. Her mom called it flushing, ‘a blessing of their Irish ancestry’. More of a curse, she thought standing beside Mr. James, wondering how far off her sweating was or what her butterflies would do now.
“We are going to miss this girl. Maddie has taught us much about fashion. Her passion for fashion and the environment led us to establish the Orca Bay Recycle and Reuse Club. Together,” he said, waving his hand from right to left to include everyone in the gym, “we kept one hundred and fifty kilos of unwanted fashion out of the landfill and raised two hundred and fifty dollars that we will apply to the purchase of new school jerseys.”
Maddie felt the heat on her face intensify and perspiration pool on her upper lip as parents, teachers, and students in the auditorium applauded her. She shivered in the heat knowing it was only a matter of time before the armpit sweating started.
“Wait,” said Mr. James, holding up his hand, “there’s more. Her passion for fashion has opened a new door for her,” he said turning to Maddie and handing her a sheet of paper.
Maddie stared at the page picking up the words she had been waiting for – ADMITTANCE ACCEPTANCE, as Mr. James went on. “Maddie has earned acceptance into Emily Carr’s Creative Arts program starting in September. Her junior high years will be divided between Granville High with her friends and Emily Carr with other aspiring artists.
Maddie saw Jenna and Mika leap out of their chairs. Soon her whole class, even her teachers were standing up and cheering for her. A glance at her parents, proved her perception of how they would receive this awaited news. Her dad was clapping and wearing a smile that crossed his face, her mom was clapping but neither her eyes nor her mouth was sharing a real smile.
“In honor of her vision, creativity, and leadership, we are pleased to present for the first time ever, the Orca Bay S.T.E.A.M. award. This award acknowledges the significance of ART embedded in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum. Maddie, your future looks bright, and we anticipate with your passion for eco-fashion our future will also be bright.”
Mr. James guided her down the stage steps. In the sanctuary circle of her friends, she let her joy rise knowing it was short-lived.
With the ceremony concluded the grads gathered for group, family, and friend photos, hugs, and chitchat before hanging up their gowns. She passed her trophy and graduation certificate to her dad while doing her best to keep her mom at a distance. She didn’t want to see her disappointment. She knew it would be there when she got home.
“Gotta go,” she said, giving him a kiss on each check before sharing the same with her mom and Jenna’s mom too.
“Home by six.” Maddie heard him say as they streamed out the door for their graduation celebration at English Bay.
Chapter 3 - My Life Sucks
They staked out their sand lot with beach towels, blankets, back packs, skateboards, and flip flops then joined hands for their junior high baptismal dip.
“He said he’ll be here,” Jenna said, poking Maddie’s leg with her toes as they laid in the sun drying off from their dip.
“Jenna, every thought of mine is not about Kevin.”
“Then what’s your problem?” Jenna asked.
“The award. The acceptance letter.”
“Oh yeah … my interests are so cool and important I should get a STEAM award AND acceptance into Emily Carr. How is that a problem?” she asked, rolling over on her belly. “Your lucky Maddie, you already know what you want to do. I don’t have a clue. I don’t even know what I’m good at,” she said, turning away from Maddie.
“I’m thinking about giving it up!”
“What! Are you crazy?” said Jenna, popping up from the beach towel. “What about Emily Carr! What about our plans to disrupt the fashion industry?”
“My mom says it’s a bad idea. Too much competition. Too much room to fail and poor working conditions.”
“How does she know? Hey! Here comes your lover boy,” said Jenna rolling over on her towel and waving at Kevin to join them.
“You have to ride the roller-coaster with me. It’s my favourite,” Maddie said, walking hand-in-hand with Kevin up Burnaby Street.
“That rickety old thing is a hundred years old. ATTENTON – News Broadcast,” he says into his fist. “Grade 6 grads go down with the rubble.”
“I’m smart. My tickets are for The Beast and AtmosFear.”
“Your loss,” she said, flashing her fob-key at the entrance to her apartment block.
“See you tomorrow,” she said, turning to see Kevin leaning in with what looked like ‘the kiss face’.
She opened the door and stepped inside feeling his face brush through her hair.
She dropped her bag and skateboard at the front door.
“Just in time,” her dad said, holding out a spoonful of spaghetti sauce for her to taste. “I believe its my best ever.”
Maddie savoured the sauce and licked her lips “I think you’re right. Tell me your secret. I want to make it for my friends.”
“Nope! It is I,” he said holding the wooden spoon like a scepter, “who holds the secret to my daughter’s favourite dinner. Should you now or in the future,” he went on in his phony English accent, “you must call on me and me alone,” he said, planting a kiss on her head.
“Now then,” he said, sticking the spoon back in the pot, “how was the beach party?”
“Good. The boys inhaled the pizza and Joey’s grandma’s samosas. The rest of us got by with watermelon and cupcakes,” Maddie said opening the fridge.
Her dad pushed the door closed with his foot. “Go wash up. Dinner’s almost ready, and your grandmothers are waiting for some photos.”
In the bathroom, Maddie did what she could with her mangled mane. Oh, to be a lion, she thought. No one telling you what to do – or who to be. If I were a lion there would be no argument or disappointment that I behaved like a lion . . . what or who else could I be?
Her thoughts felt as knotted and tangled as her hair. Why is my life so complicated? How can I follow my dream if they disappoint my mom? Why did you have to die grandpa? I have so many things to ask you and tell you.
She spritzed her hair, taking several deep breaths of the lavender fragrance to calm her flighty butterflies. She encouraged the brush through her tangles and thought how a lion might get out of the predicament she was in – Roar? Lunge? Run? Hide?
Ever since Irish Gran had come back into their life, her mom had changed. She was either mad and bossy or sad and crying and in between she had become determined that Maddie give up on her up-cycled fashion ideas, and get focused on her academics and a more ‘respectable’ career.
Her dad’s shout-out that dinner was on the table set her butterflies into a flight pattern that felt like a roller coaster ride – wild and rickety.
She gave her mom a guarded smile before sitting down and hoped their dinner conversation would not be about the Orca whale trophy, now the centerpiece on the table.
“Thanks Dad. I’m starving,” she said, stabbing the hill of spaghetti on her plate. She twirled up a hearty forkful, stuffed it in her mouth, then slurped in the danglers. She used her tongue to remove the saucy skid marks off her chin.
Her mom cleared her throat and waved a napkin under her nose. Maddie kept her head down knowing the sign and sound of trouble coming her way.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the Award?” she asked. “Jenna’s mom knows more about your achievements and ambitions, than I do.”
Maddie focused on twirling spaghetti. “I didn’t know I was going to get it … and Jenna’s mom likes to talk – and listen to us. She agrees we can’t keep throwing clothes we don’t like or that don’t fit into landfills. Did you know textile dumping is the fourth biggest polluter of our environment?”
“I don’t disagree with the waste problem but there are plenty of more acceptable ways for you to apply your creativity than deconstructing used and soiled clothes. A good career for you,” her mom went on as she twirled her noodles, “a stem-cell researcher. You could discover solutions for deadly diseases or an industrial engineer, you could design office buildings or high-rise towers.”
“But I don’t want to be any of those things. I want to be a fashion designer. Why is that so wrong?”
“Science and technology careers are the future Maddie.”
“Eco-fashion is science and technology and more. Mr. James says S.T.E.M. without ART, misses the mark. That’s why they made the S.T.E.A.M. award – and gave it to me.”
“Speaking of careers,” her dad said. “We’ve got some good news. Our next assignment is confirmed.”
“Who are you leaving me with this time?”
Her mom banged her utensils on the table. “Really Maddie! Almost thirteen and you’re still gripping about our work.”
“Most parents don’t leave their kids for weeks or months so they can go study someone else. Too bad I’m not one of your subjects ─ you could stay here and study me.”
“Okay, you two,” her dad said, shuffling in his chair. “How about we focus on the really good news? We’re not leaving you.”
Maddie dropped her loaded fork and stretched across the table to hug him.
“Really! Where are we going? When do we leave?”
“Maddie!” Her mom’s finger wagged like their music teacher’s baton when the choir was off key. “Your hair! Its in your dad’s spaghetti! “
Maddie flicked her hair out of the plate speckling saucy dots on the wall behind.
“Well . . .” he said, reaching for her mom’s hand. “We’re going to Peru.”
Charged with excitement, she started popping questions. “Does GG know? When are we going? When we’ll be back? We won’t be gone the whole summer – will we?” Suddenly, realizing going to Peru could interfere with her summer plans.
“We’ll leave on Canada Day. And yes, your grandmother knows – she can’t wait to see you.”
Maddie watched his eyes shift between her and her mom.
“Has something happened? Is GG okay?” Maddie couldn’t bear the thought of her dying too.
“Maddie, take a breath. Your grandmother is fine but – well – you know, grandpa died, GG’s been all alone and since your almost old enough to come on assignment with us . . . well, we decided its time to move to Peru.”
“Move! To Peru?” she said, feeling like she’d just gone over the highest point of the rollercoaster.
“Yes Maddie. That’s what your father said.”
“What about my friends. What about Emily Carr? You agreed if I got in, I could go. You promised.”
“We found you a new school,” her mom said, making it sound like this was good news. “An international program, so 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 palm stopped the plate from leaving the table.
“Peru is perfect for all of us. It’ll be an adventure.” She heard her dad say.
Staring at them, she wondered if they were 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.
“I don’t want to leave Vancouver! Why would you do this to me? Mika, Jenna, and I planned the perfect summer, and …” Maddie hesitated, Kevin? she thought to herself.
“And what?” her mom asked. “You always wanted a bigger room, space to work on Maddily Modified projects. This is the perfect plan, and the best time for us to move to Lima.”
“I thought you wanted me to give up on fashion,” she said, locking her green eyes on her mom while wrapping her arms across her chest to hold herself together. Don’t cry Maddie, she told herself. Not here, not now, she coached herself. This was cruel, unreasonable, and just wrong. GG was the only good part of their crazy idea. She didn’t want GG to be alone, being alone sucked – she should know.
Her mom’s demanding voice brought her attention back to the table. “I’ve spent a lot of time finding this school for you! Not many schools in Peru cater to students whose first language isn’t Spanish. You should appreciate my efforts.”
“I suck at Spanish.”
“Don’t say suck. It’s rude,” her mother snapped back.
“Immersion is the best way to learn a language, Maddie. When I went to Montreal to study anthropology, my English and French were both limited and now,” her dad opened his arms in front of himself like a flat parenthesis, smiled, and settled back in his chair as if the problem they were talking about was over.
“And the school has a theater program,” he added, “there’ll be costumes to design and stitch.”
“Russell! She’s going for the S.T.E.M. curriculum not more dress-up! Maddie needs to get serious about her future.”
“I am serious! I’m going to be an eco-fashion designer.”
Her mom pushed her plate back across the table. “Finish your dinner. Your grandmothers are waiting to see some pictures.”
Maddie didn’t try to stop the meatball that rolled off the plate and hit the floor.
“I’m not hungry.”
Her mom’s hand flashed in front of her like the crossing guards stop sign. “No dinner. No dessert!”
“What about the cake?” her dad asked. “You always say yes to cake.”
“Cake sucks!” she said, pushing her chair away from the table.
“My life sucks.”
“Oh! Gross!” she groaned, 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 full name, she was going to get a lecture or lesson.
“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 waterspout. Warm water washed away the meaty red sauce and hid her tears from them.
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