Broken Little Melodies

By: Jennifer Ann
Chapter One


Three weeks before I turned thirteen, as my Aunt Joey’s rusted-out Jeep rolled up the cobblestone driveway among well-manicured brick buildings and towering pine trees, I was well aware that life as I knew it was about to change. It just wasn’t for the reasons I believed at the time. Little did I know, by getting accepted into Camp Oscines on the south side of Lake Tahoe, my fate had already been set into motion. That summer was the start of a tumultuous future that couldn’t be stopped no matter how hard I tried. The wild, unpredictable source of my pleasure and agony for years to come was about to enter my life with a presence too quiet to be properly appreciated.

I remember all too well how my stomach flipped over itself as I peered out the cracked windshield, taking in every detail of the massive campsite. Dozens of buildings scattered across the property, similar in architecture but varied in size and shape. My heart pounded against my ribs when we passed colorful Adirondack chairs perfectly arranged around a circular fire pit. The admissions counselor had mentioned that campers were split up around different campsites every night to showcase their talents. But I wasn’t sure I was ready to sing in front of more than a small handful of people. Just thinking about it twisted my gut in knots.

“Fancy place,” Aunt Joey said, snapping her bubblegum. “You sure about this, half-pint?”

I cringed with the nickname she had used on me for as long as I could remember. I knew I was lucky to have her after my parents died, and I was grateful she didn’t consider me to be a burden as she raised me as her own despite barely having enough money to support herself, but too often she forgot I was growing up. Too often I had to remind her that I was no longer a little toddler she could tickle and read stories to at bedtime.

“It’ll be fine,” I answered. Then I mumbled to myself with reassurance, “Everything will be okay.”

Four months prior, when I entered the Fresno auditorium for regional auditions, there was no denying that I was out of my league. All the other kids were from private schools, probably the type who lived in mansions and were accustomed to lavish vacations. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were still wearing their uniforms, having come straight from class, I would’ve been tipped off by the overbearing, well-dressed mothers who accompanied them. I’d spent those four months mentally preparing myself for camp, knowing I’d be an outsider.

At the crest of the grand driveway, Aunt Joey prepared to park behind a sleek luxury car. A girl around my age with shiny blonde hair stood by the curb, sharp blue eyes filled with disgust as they followed my aunt’s hunk of junk. Something about the girl’s perfectly ironed outfit and glowing white teeth behind lush red lips as she smirked bitchily at Aunt Joey reminded me just how much I was out of my element.

I sunk down into my seat, all at once wondering if I had made a mistake. Just because the talent scouts thought I had a strong voice didn’t necessarily mean that I belonged at this camp. If I hadn’t been one of few recipients to receive a full scholarship, Aunt Joey never would’ve been able to afford to send me.

“Let’s do this thing,” Aunt Joey said enthusiastically, reaching for her handle.

I reached out to grab her arm. “No, that’s okay! I mean…I’ve got it from here.”

“Don’t want the other kids seeing you hug your old auntie goodbye? That’s cool with me.”

She leaned back with one of her goofy grins that always reminded me of my dad. It never failed to make me both depressed and nostalgic at the same time. As my dad’s baby sister, she’s a mere ten years older than me. In those days, she was my entire world. I adored the hippie vibe she carried that was wild and without apology. Dark hair messed, worn clothes usually mismatched, often the stench of pot clinging to her like a second skin. We were both fortunate enough to inherit the strong Martin cheekbones, dark brown eyes, and thick lashes. With those same striking features, my dad’s presence could always fill a room.

With the thought of him, my throat thickened with tears. Although my dad put in grueling hours that left his hands calloused from cutting down trees, he only made enough for us to live somewhat comfortably. And I remember my parents fighting about how they owed the bank thousands of dollars. When they died, I was left with nothing. But I didn’t care about money. It was my fault they were gone. I’d never forgive myself.

“You sure you’re okay?” Aunt Joey asked, raising her eyebrows high. “You look a little nervous.”

Rolling my eyes so she wouldn’t catch on and obsessively worry, I blurted out a rather abrupt goodbye before grabbing my bag from the backseat and slipping from the car. As soon as I had slammed the door shut behind me, sucking in the crisp air, I almost choked on the tears threatening to spill. I was old enough to know I shouldn’t have been such a jerk to my aunt. Although she wasn’t paying a dime for me to attend the camp, she had bought me a few new outfits and took a day off from work to drive me four and a half hours that turned into six with bathroom breaks and lunch.

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