Chapter One: The Prentiss Twins
Life is so not fair. I mean, Dad tells me all the time how lucky I am. How he knows lots of kids who dream about dinosaurs and would give anything to go to a real live paleontology field camp. Yeah. Whatever. Those kids don’t have a paleontologist for a father and a full-blood Crow shaman for a grandfather.
I’ve spent my entire life around fossils — the rock kind and the legendary kind — and I’m tired of messing around with dead dinosaurs and nonexistent thunderbirds. I don’t care if the Museum of the Rockies is world famous for its dinosaur finds, or if our clan of the Crow tribe thinks it holds the special blessing of the thunderbird. I want to be a normal girl and play with live things for a change. I want to go to cheerleading camp.
Unfortunately, Dad doesn’t think cheerleading qualifies as a legitimate use of my time or his resources. A stance my shaman grandfather supports completely.
“Please, Dad?” I pleaded, resisting the urge to bat my eyelashes. I settled for twirling a lock of straight black hair around my index finger. “Think how good this camp will look on my application when it’s time for college. I mean, cheerleading is an actual sport these days.”
“Invalid argument,” he countered without looking up from his packing. Dad is so organized he could give lessons to a neat freak. “Paleontology Field Camp is a far more impressive credential.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve already been to a million field camps,” I said, sifting through my brain for a new angle. “I need to…diversify. My app will look better if I do more things, show them I’m not just a fossil geek. Besides, cheerleading is a team building experience.”
Dad stopped rolling socks into tight little knots, straightened, and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He scowled at me. “I am not paying an arm and a leg for you to run off with a bunch of hyperactive preteens for the summer. I have no idea how well supervised that camp is, but the whole idea gives me a headache.”
“Come on, Dad,” I tried not to wheedle, but my voice cracked under the strain. “Sandra’s letting Haeley go.”
“And that’s another thing; I don’t like you calling your friends’ mothers by their given names. It’s disrespectful.”
“Mrs. Jessup asked me to call her Sandra,” I countered. Haeley’s mom was the coolest. She stayed home, cooked delicious meals, braided Haeley’s hair, made sure everyone in the family had everything they needed, and she liked me. Let me call her Sandra. If Mom had lived, she would’ve been just like Sandra. They would’ve been best friends, just like me and Haels.
“And don’t change the subject. You know Mrs. Jessup wouldn’t let Haeley go if it wasn’t safe. Really, Dad, cheerleading will show what a well-rounded person I am.”
Good one, I thought, folding my arms across my chest and swallowing the smile that threatened to creep across my face. Too soon to celebrate.
“No daughter of mine is going to prance around in a skimpy outfit just so she can show off how well-rounded she is!”
“Dad!” I squealed, shocked out of my shoes. I mean, hello! I’m twelve years old, flat as a board, and just as straight up and down. My cheeks flamed and tears blurred my vision. I turned and ran for the door. “That is so unfair,” I yelled over my shoulder. “I wish Mom were alive. She’d understand about being a girl.”
* * *
Who in their right mind would want to play around with pom-poms all summer when they could be tromping through the mountains with almost no adult supervision?
Justin shook his head in amazement at his twin sister’s idiocy and then flattened himself against the wall outside Dad’s door as she raced past, tears streaming down her face. Girls — especially sisters, just didn’t recognize a good thing when they had it in their hands.
Personally, Justin lived for summers at the paleontology field camps. Lots of dirt and rocks, the excited buzz of the community when an important fossil was discovered, no chores, food he didn’t have to help cook. Fresh air, sunshine, and adults too busy with their own pursuits to care what he was doing as long as he showed up for meals and bedtime. Yep, field camp was a twelve-year-old boy’s dream vacation. He just hoped Janine hadn’t ruined everything by arguing with Dad.
He rolled his eyes at her stupidity and peeked around the door jamb at Dad. The paleontology professor stared out the second story window, hands on hips, jaw muscles twitching. Before Justin could decide whether or not to go in, Dad whirled to the bed, grabbed a pile of tee-shirts and slammed them into his duffle bag.
Justin swallowed hard and crept away from the door. He’d ask Dad about that air rifle later. Getting one was a long shot, but with Dad pissed “no” would be automatic. Besides, if he played his cards right — and Dad was in a good mood, he might convert a refusal into a new super soaker. He grinned. Yeah. A super soaker would be cool.
He bolted down the stairs in search of Janny. He’d need his sister calm if he was to have any chance at finding Dad in a good mood before they left for the mountains. How to pacify Janny? He sure couldn’t get her a trip to cheerleading camp — Gag! Who’d want to? — but there had to be something he could do to cheer her up.
Skidding to a halt in the middle of the kitchen, a brain wave hit him. Oh yeah. Was he brilliant, or what?
“Hey, Janny,” he called, scouting the kitchen and breakfast nook. Not there. He moved on to the great room. “Janine! You in here?”
When only silence answered him, Justin trotted over to the sliding patio door and stared into the backyard. Empty cedar deck, no movement in the garden plot, but he couldn’t tell about the treehouse, not with the oak in full leaf. Scanning the great room one more time, he opened the slider and jogged to the foot of the oak.
“You up there, sis?”
Floorboards creaked and Janine’s tear-stained face appeared above the window sill. “What do you want?”
Justin shaded his eyes and peered up at her. “I heard you and Dad yelling. Want some company?”
“Okay. You stay there and sulk and I’ll keep my idea to myself.”
She cocked her head, eyebrow raised. “What idea?”
“I’m not talking to a tree. You want me to come up, or are you coming down?”
The rope ladder unrolled to hang in front of him. Justin grinned and grabbed hold. “Thanks, Janny.” He scrambled up the rungs and pulled himself onto the smooth sanded floor.
Janine sat cross-legged against the far side of the treehouse. She wiped her face on the hem of her tee-shirt and then folded her hands in her lap.
“Sorry about cheerleading camp,” he said, working hard to keep a straight face. Girls!
“You heard, huh?”
He allowed a tiny smile to slip past and tug at his lips. “Kind of hard not to. You and Dad weren’t exactly being quiet.”
She shrugged. “So what’s your idea?”
“Well, I know I can’t change Dad’s mind, but what if you could spend the next couple of days with Haeley? I mean, I’m sure she’d invite you over, and if I volunteer to do all your chores and make sure you’re packed, Dad wouldn’t have any reason to say no, now would he?”
Janine’s eyes lit and she sat up a little straighter, but then she narrowed her eyes and studied him. “Why would you agree to do all my chores? What’s in it for you?”
“Busted,” he said with a sigh, but smiled inwardly. They weren’t twins for nothing. Janine knew him, just not quite as well as she thought she did. “Look. I want to ask Dad for an air rifle and there’s no way I’ve got even a glimmer of a chance if he’s not in a good mood. What do you think the odds are of him feeling chipper if you’re moping and whining at him all day?”
“I don’t mope and I don’t whine.”
“All right. Fine. I’ve still got a better chance if you’re out of my way.”
“Dad’s not going to buy you an air rifle,” she said, the whisper of a smile in her voice.
“Yeah, well, that’s my problem, not yours. Do we have a deal?”
She considered a moment and then stuck out her hand. “Deal.”
“Great. You go call Haeley and get yourself invited. I’ll deal with Dad.”