3. Early Bird

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It was four in the morning

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It was four in the morning. One hour before we had to leave for South Africa.

Over the past forty-eight hours, I'd tried not to think about it too much. Dad and Laura knew what they were doing. I just couldn't help but fill in the gaps of missing information with made-up scenarios that all ended in death.

I really did like my life. I wasn't giving it up for Camp Liberty, but I'd already gotten zero hours of sleep just by thinking about it. Who knew what else that stupid camp had in store for me?

At this particular moment, I was scrolling through my phone again. This time, I was alone, and the only evidence of human life was Isaac's baseball hitting the side of the house. Like a clock ticking down. A bomb ready to shatter us to pieces.

I'd abandoned Twitter and gone straight to YouTube. Of course, watching someone stand in front of a microphone and review memes was better than scrolling past billionaires tweeting about duck emojis. I got lost in video after video. Life seemed amazing. I never wanted to leave.

Until my phone died.

I sighed and rolled over to shove its charger in. My phone hit my nightstand with a smack.

I sat back. I didn't move a muscle.

Isaac's baseball continued to punch the walls outside.

And it drove me insane.

I got out of bed to throw my window open. A blast of air hit me in the face and pushed me back. I leaned into it. Bring on the pain. "Isaac! Dude! Quit it!"

"I'm not hurting anyone!" he retorted, his ball rebounding and hitting his palm with perfect precision.

I pulled at the tips of my hair. "You're hurting yourself and my ears. Come inside before you wake them up."

"I'll do it if you close the window."

"What?"

"You're letting the bugs in."

I slid the window shut in an instant. Sure enough, two mosquitoes had buzzed their way into my room, which meant I was on the path to getting no sleep at all.

I hated bugs. I hated Isaac. I hated Camp Liberty.

For the rest of the night, I waved my hands around my ears, trying to shoo the black dots away. I cast glances toward my luggage, my backpack, my day clothes, still drenched in the indigo of dawn.

Nothing.

Then, everything.

Dad's rising yawn shattered eardrums all over the world. I leaped into the bathroom, repeating my night routine (with the added step of a hurried handful of water splashed into my face), and I wheeled my things downstairs, then into the kitchen, then in front of the garage door. Isaac was already there.

He ran his hands through his hair. "Do I look tired?"

"Yeah. You'll fit right in."

Dad thundered down the stairs, Laura hot on his tail. They wrestled with our bags and threw them into the trunk before we could say a word. Laura set her hands on our shoulders. I could taste the perfume she'd slathered over herself. It wasn't pleasant, either—more artificial and sour than anything else.

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