Claires Great Adventure
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One last wad of paper remained, and Claire smoothed this last bit out on her knee. It was the bond, an official-looking document dated five years ago, carrying her full name Claire Jane Samson, and the momentous words, "five thousand dollars upon maturity. While Claire knew it wasn't much in the world at large, it was an unimaginable fortune to a girl of sixteen. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to get to Paris, she thought. Chapter Two: Claire's Plan Gripping the letter tightly in her hand, Claire went out to the townhouse's tiny fenced backyard and sat down on the small patch of grass.
The afternoon sun was still high in the sky, and Claire chose a spot partially in the shade of the neighbor's bright-green acerola tree. It was this tree, of course, which Jacks the neighbor's cat climbed up to get over the fence into her yard. Jacks was just between being a kitten and an adult, almost as large as an adult but still very much a frisky, inquisitive black kitten with a white face and white paws.
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Claire rustled the letter purposefully, hoping Jacks would hear her and come to visit. Ten minutes ago, Claire was unhappy with her Mom working late on her birthday; but now she was relieved that there was time to think about the letter before her Mom got home. Her first idea was to become an exchange student to Paris, and then look up her father after she got there. But I'm one of the worst students in class, she thought with sudden frustration; Ms. Malfleur would never recommend me for an exchange.
And how would I explain to Mom how I have the money to pay for it? If there's anything I know about being an exchange student, it's that it costs a lot. Even if I was the best student, Claire sighed, it's too late to sign up for a program in June; that's only a week away, and that sort of thing is finalized in February. Extending her hand into the sunlight, Claire turned her wrist so the heavy silver ring glinted brightly.
And how will I explain this? I can't just show Mom this new ring without an explanation for where I got it. I'll say Camden gave it to my for my birthday, she thought; but then what if Mom asks Camden? And since Mom knows they're poor, she might wonder how Camden could buy such a nice ring for me. No, I had better hide it, Claire, decided, and she felt an immediate pang of conscience. It was wrong to hide anything from her Mom, she knew, but revealing the letter and ring would just cause her Mom's blood to boil. Claire could already hear her Mom's heated lecture: "After ignoring you for 15 years, leaving me to scrape up a living, then suddenly your Father sees fit to give you a ring and five thousand dollars to visit him in Paris?
That money is going in your college fund, Missy, and you can tell your Father to visit you here, thank you very much. You are not wasting that money galavanting off to Paris! But what part won't drive Mom crazy? I can't even tell her I got this letter, because if I tell her about the letter then she'll want to read it.
And I can't tell her about the ring or the money without revealing the letter, because how else would I know the ring and bond were from Father? Claire's excitement vanished, as if the bright sun had been obscured by dark thunderclouds. Even if I lie, there's no way I can go, she thought gloomily. Flying alone didn't bother her, of course; she'd loved the one time she'd flown to see Aunt May. The bustle of the airport, the glamour of wearing her best jade-green dress and gold-leaf pendant, and the small pleasures of looking out the window as the jet lifted heavily off the ground and then climbed quickly, like a huge bird suddenly freed of a great weight.
How insignificant the city looked beneath her, and how ordinary The letter said nothing about how to contact him; suppose there was some miscommunication between this James Prufrock Giddings and Father?
I might not even recognize him, she thought worriedly; and maybe he won't recognize me, either. Then I'd be alone in a strange city; that would be dreadful. All of Claire's initial hope now collapsed in a heap, like a house of cards hit by a stiff breeze; there was no way to get her Mom's permission, and no way to know her Father would be waiting for her, even if her Mom unexpectedly let her go.
But Mom would never let me go alone, Claire thought with a sour wrinkle of her nose; never, ever, ever. All the awful things which could befall a girl of sixteen in a strange city filled her mind, and she shuddered at the thought of being kidnapped, or robbed, or forced into some sort of servitude because she couldn't understand what people were saying. So he's a terrible person and a bad parent, Claire thought indignantly; but he's still my Dad, and I'd like to meet him to make up my own mind.
If only there were a way to get to Paris, she thought sadly; but there isn't one. Just as her shoulders slumped in complete defeat, a merry little bell rang out from the fence, and Jacks the cat eyed her curiously. With nothing better to do, Jacks dutifully scrabbled down the wood fence and then bounded over the grass to Claire's knee. Claire rubbed Jacks behind his ears, and as he began purring, Claire thought, How easy to be a cat, and how difficult to be sixteen.
I just have to tell someone about the letter, Claire thought; if I can't tell someone, I may just explode. Suddenly remembering Camden's gift wrapped in the Sunday comics, Claire arose quickly, startling poor Jacks, and went back into her room. Retrieving the gift from her backpack, she tore off the colored newsprint and revealed a turquoise-beaded coin purse.
Wouldn't this be perfect for those folded Euro, she thought as she fingered the small blue-green purse and admired the beadwork; I have to tell Camden about the Euros. But then I might as well tell her the whole thing, Claire thought, and it was as if the dark clouds had scudded away from the sun. I never knew something which sounds so wonderful could be such a burden, she thought as she darted to the phone; even something wonderful is a burden if it has to be a secret. Camden answered, and Claire thanked her rather too quickly for the gift before saying, "Can you come over to my house?
I mean right away? If Camden wasn't such a good friend, Claire thought, I would be completely disgusted with such boy-crazy ideas. Maybe I am disgusted, she concluded, but there's no point in wishing Camden were different; she is boy-crazy, plain and simple. He wrote you a love letter, right? No, it's something way beyond Rick Overstreet or anyone at school. I'll be right over. What a dodo bird, Claire thought with rising annoyance; here I have something important and Camden thinks it's some dopey love letter from some dopey guy.
Claire opened the door and Camden burst in, demanding, "Show me the letter. Then her face fell and she handed the letter back with a disappointed shrug. I mean, first they're wildly in love, and then they hate each other. Lots of people go on those. Plus I'm horrible at French. You'll certainly learn something while you're there.
It's hardly a lie at all.
Just make up some bogus program out of thin air, and it's not a lie. I don't have any money, and I'm taking Spanish. Before she could stop herself, Claire blurted out, "There'll be boys, you know. Tons of them. French, Spanish, Italian I can't go, either. I need a reason and some adult to go with. Maybe she'll believe you if you tell her about the bogus study program. And how did I get the money to go? You're not obligated or anything. Claire turned to her friend and asked, "But will you go with me? They're too busy to think about it much, and as long as my aunt will be with us Chapter 3: Aunt May's Dilemma Claire continued looking out at the yard, for Jacks was scampering around with an invisible playmate; Claire couldn't tell if he was simply chasing his tail or if there was some wary insect he'd found for a temporary playmate.
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Without looking at Camden, she said, "It's a terrible thing to lie, isn't it? Doesn't that sound like what a pirate would do? I got an A. Camden widened her eyes in disbelief. There's always been pirates. Only now they steal freighters and hold up oil tankers.
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Even pirates wouldn't be that stupid. Once on the top, he glanced at them one last time and then disappeared into his own yard. Camden turned to Claire with solemn eyes and hesitated before speaking.