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Monday, March 17, 2014

Nine Days by HR Willaston

 YA Romance Story

Andy Qwinn isn't even ordinary in a family full of extraordinary. 
She's a straight A student, created her school's Earth Club, has been a top-ranked varsity swimmer since her freshman year and is the youngest person to earn an internship at the aquarium she volunteers at. She dreams of going to college and studying marine biology. In an artistically-minded family, none of this matters. 
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. Her four siblings have been showcasing their artistic talents since preschool, and even her seemingly mundane stepparents have an artist's flare. However, while the spotlight may be shining brightly on her extraordinary family, not everything is as perfect as it seems. The glare of the stage lights washes out the black and blue of bruises. The roar of applause drowns out the sounds of verbal punches. Costumes and make-up, canvas and paint make it easy to hide what life is really like for Andy.
With a brave but risky plan and the click of a mouse, Andy changes an ordinary spring break visitation with her mom, step-dad and step-sister to an extraordinary nine days in Hawaii, working with a couple of monk seals and their intern - Kai. She spends the week experiencing 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? Following her dreams. Making her own choices. Dealing with the consequences of those choices.
What happens when the Nine Days are up?

Excerpt Chapter 2
First Steps Into A New World

The sound of the Hawaiian waves crashing on the shore outside pulled my eyes to the open window.  The clear blue horizon was so different than looking at the ocean back in California.  The water seemed clearer and deeper, the sky was brighter.  The breeze coming off the water felt more exhilarating than standing on the shore at home - or maybe it was the anticipation of the new things I'd get to experience during the week that was so exciting. 
From across the table, the aquarium's volunteer coordinator, Coleen brought my focus back to the meeting.  "I see you've been very busy in the last 12 months.  Completed five college classes, currently enrolled in two more, volunteering at the Pacific Aquarium's gift shop and as guide, plus an internship.  A lot of experience working with the public.  What did you think of your time as a guide?"
"I really enjoyed it,"  I told her.  "It was great getting to work with the visitors and I learned a lot about the different animals and their habitats."
Still looking over my letters of recommendation, the head of the animal caregivers and the Monk Seal Program, Dr. Stanton said, "Your sea otter internship from the fall is impressive.  One of the youngest interns they've had.  Dr. Odean's letter mentions that the otters were very comfortable with you, more than they were with her past interns.  'The otters were attracted to Miss Qwinn like she had her pockets lined with squid and fish.'"  He looked up at me with an amused smile.  "I'm assuming you don't carry fish in your pockets."
"No, sir," I shrugged.  "I can't explain it.  They just liked me.  They trusted me."
"And what are you hoping to accomplish while you're here this week?" he asked.
"I want to learn and experience as much as I can."
Dr. Stanton closed my file, setting it on the table in front of him.  "I think we can help you with that."  Turning to Coleen, he asked, "Shall we give Andy a tour before getting her set up to work tomorrow morning?"
They led me through the exhibits of the Ku'oko'a Aquarium.  The aquarium was smaller than the Pacific Aquarium back home.  Maybe it was because of the lateness of the day and lack of visitors, but the aquarium felt peaceful, the animals calm and content in their habitats.  Most of my time spent at the Pacific Aquarium had been on weekends and holidays or during special events.  It never failed that I'd run into someone I knew while I was working, which just made my busy volunteer or internship shift even busier talking about things outside of the aquarium, pulling my focus away from the animals.  Here, there would be no questions about how my family's doing or how my sister Emily's first year of teaching was going.  No chats about Jase's last baseball game, how I thought I did on last week's AP Chemistry test or how the swim team was doing.  No chance of running into anyone here.  Here, the focus would be on the aquarium and the animals. 
My happiness grew as we walked from one exhibit to the next.  I comfortably answered Dr. Stanton's questions displaying my knowledge of the animals, and watched him brighten when I showed my eagerness to learn more by asking my own questions.  They introduced me to a few of the other volunteers working as tour guides and animal caregivers. 
We stopped at the monk seal pool.  Still answering questions, I looked around at the rocky cliff walls on the far side of the pool, the flat stone shelves, and the greenish-blue water.  I'd looked at this pool online so many times it was branded into my brain, but the computer views were nothing like actually being there.  I heard a splash and my heart leapt as the seals came racing towards us.  Their gray bodies twisted and swirled through the water.  Popping up to look at us, they made grumbling wup-wup-wup noises.  Forgetting about the tour, I leaned on the habitat wall and stared down at them.  A perfect calm washed over me while I watched them swim.  Becoming playful, both seals swam laps around the pool, taking turns to stop by us each time for a chat.  Their sleek bodies - wrinkled just below their heads with folds around their necks, white tipped whiskers and big dark eyes mesmerized me.  I fell more in love with them than I already was from just watching them online. 
They swam away from us when their caretakers came out for feeding time.  I heard Dr. Stanton mention that the caretakers were program interns.  Usually during feeding times they'd talk to the aquarium visitors about the seals and the conservation efforts for them, but this close to closing it was just feeding and interacting time.  The seals took turns swimming to their interns for food and back to us, chattering as if they wanted us to know how delicious their dinner was.
"That's strange.  I've never seen them do that before.  They usually just stay with the interns.  Andy, are you sure you don't have any seal food in your pockets?"  I tore myself away from the seals to look up at Dr. Stanton, finding him and Coleen both grinning.  I shook my head, answering "no" to his question. 
Coleen smiled bigger.  "Yeah, I'm sure we can find something for you to do this week."  I returned her smile before turning back to the seals.  Speaking to Dr. Stanton, she laughed a little, "Will and Kai look really confused.  Amazed, but confused."  He chuckled in response.
We said goodbye to Dr. Stanton at the seal pool when he left to help the interns and Coleen led me away to the gift shop.  "Dr. Stanton and I will discuss your schedule this evening but for now, can you start in the gift shop tomorrow morning at9:00?"  I nodded my agreement.  "Great.  Then I'll introduce you to Leilani and she can show you around the shop while I get you set up to work."
The open front gift shop was empty except for a girl in a dark green tee-shirt with the aquarium logo on it and brown shorts.  She'd dressed up her simple outfit with a matching beaded lanyard around her neck to display her badge.  A green and brown headband pulled her dark brown, professionally highlighted hair away from her tanned and make-up covered face, showing off beaded earrings that matched her lanyard.  She turned when Coleen interrupted her straightening up the shelves.  "Lani, this is Andy.  She'll be working with us this week and will start her first shift tomorrow morning in here with you.  While I get her badge and shirts, can you show her around a bit, please?"  We watched her enter a room behind the counter with my college id in hand.
Leilani smiled, tossing her hair over her shoulders with a flick of her head.  "You're only working here for the week?"
"Yeah, just for spring break.  I wanted to get some experience at a different aquarium."
"Where are you from?"
"Southern California.  I'm an intern and volunteer at Pacific Aquarium."
She nodded towards the room Coleen had entered.  "And you go to Bellmore Junior College.  I saw your id.  Are you studying biology there?  Freshman?" 
I simply nodded.  I had taken a biology class during the fall semester and with the number of credits I had, technically I would've been considered a freshman. 
She asked me a few more getting-to-know you questions while she showed me around the store.  I answered as vaguely as possible, trying hard not to sound like I was hiding anything.  As Leilani showed me how to work the cash register, Coleen returned with a stack of green shirts and a badge attached to a simple black cord.  I placed the pile into my backpack as Coleen told me she'd come by the gift shop in the morning and give me my schedule.
"Welcome aboard, Andy!"
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."
"That's new?"
"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.  "True."
"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."

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