The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 2: Sore Losers

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

 

Episode 2: Sore Losers

“Now it’s twenty-two to twenty.” Reilly Anderson raised his arms in victory. He high-fived Liam and then me, acting like he’d sank the most recent basket. But I didn’t care. Spending the afternoon on the basketball court in my backyard was all I needed.

“Good job.” Chris Clayton, my best friend and boyfriend, paused to peck me on the lips.

That was the third time today he’d kissed me after I’d scored points, which was so weird. One, because we weren’t on the same team. Two, because who kisses on a court during a game? But I didn’t say anything. A dozen of our friends were here, playing basketball, and talking about kissing wasn’t what I wanted to do. Also, I was probably wrong about it being weird.

But the kiss felt like it had less to do with me and more to do with something—or someone—else.

The game continued. Dean Larkin had the ball. He passed to Marcus, who dribbled the ball a couple of times before passing to Chris.

I stole the ball, took it back down the court, and scored another three points.

Elizabeth Clayton, Abby Stewart, and Lilli James clapped from the sidelines.

“Yes!” Another victory high-five from Reilly. He smirked at the other team. “How’s it feel to be losing?”

Chris glared at him and lifted the hem of his T-shirt to wipe the sweat off his face. He didn’t try to kiss me this time.

“We’re just getting started.” I tried to balance out Reilly’s cockiness. This was the third time we’d all played together on my court but the first time our team had the lead.

“Sydnee!”

The sharp, shrill voice silenced and froze us all, but it sent a chill through me. A chill so strong that I almost stopped sweating.

“Mother?” I turned slowly, dreading what I might see, hoping someone was impersonating her voice.

She stood near the garden path, about a hundred feet from the court, wearing a white, gauzy, open-front coverup that didn’t cover much of her blue bikini, and wedge sandals that looked uncomfortable.

Mother stared at me, her mouth a thin, pinched line. She didn’t say anything else. Just waited.

I walked toward her, moving like my feet were frozen in blocks of ice. Seeing Mother, talking to Mother, breathing the same air as Mother—none of that was ever good.

“Hi.” I tried to sound confident.

Mother had to raise her chin to look me in the eye, but at least she looked at my face. She didn’t use to. “What are you doing?”

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“Playing basketball?” The answer came out a question since it should’ve been obvious.

“I am trying to relax by the pool, and . . .” Mother closed her eyes and massaged her temples.

“I’m sorry. We’ll be quieter.” Not that we’d been all that loud. Elizabeth, Abby, and Lilli’s cheering was half-hearted at best, and Reilly’s victories weren’t shouted.

“It’s the bouncing of that ball. Who gave you permission to be out here?”

“It’s my court.” I avoided the question. I’d asked David Clayton if I could invite my friends over, but I wasn’t about to get Chris and Elizabeth’s dad in trouble.

“You’re almost fifteen years old, Sydnee.” Mother shook her head and lowered her eyes, taking in every inch of my loose-fitting, sweaty, basketball clothes. “Don’t you think it’s time you started acting your age? Started playing in more appropriate ways with boys?”

What was inappropriate about basketball?

“I’m sorry.” David strode up to Mother and me. He moved quickly, but acted like he wasn’t in a hurry. “Is there a problem?”

Mother shifted her gaze to David. Even though she was half his height, she looked at him like he was an annoying little bug. Since David was the gardener—for lack of a better title—of the Cameron Estate, Mother probably didn’t think he was worth much more than a bug. “I will take care of my family problems. You take care of yours.”

David nodded, but as he turned away, he smiled at me. A quick flash of encouragement.

“They’re my friends, Mother.” I wouldn’t let her dismiss them like she did her employees, who were also my friends. “And it’s my basketball court.”

“Those are your friends.” Such a cold voice coming from someone whose eyes shot flames. “You are so much like him.”

“Like who, Mother? Alexander, my dad?” I challenged her with his name. I still didn’t completely understand why she hated him so much. But Alexander was gone now. He’d died seven months after I’d met him, and Mother was the reason I’d only had him in my life that long. I wasn’t sure I’d ever completely forgive her for that. But it wasn’t like she’d ever apologized or anything. “Because I’d rather be like him than like you.”

The words left my mouth and I heard them. Every molecule in my body stopped moving.

Mother’s face hardened in a way I’d bet even Botox couldn’t achieve. “Come with me. Now.”

She walked back into the garden.

I glanced over my shoulder at my friends on the court. They all stared. David looked sad or worried. Or maybe he was disappointed with what I’d said.

I already regretted it.

I hurried to catch up to Mother.

“You’ve been given entirely too much freedom,” she said. “But that’s going to change.”

If I hadn’t been so scared, I would’ve laughed. Freedom? I’d been grounded twice in the last three months by David.

We walked out of the garden and onto the tiles surrounding the pool. My legs were longer, but I had to skip every third stride to keep up with Mother. And she wore heels. She paused to open the French doors, and then she continued into the air conditioned hallway.

I hugged goose bump-covered arms around myself.

“Go to your room and change into something appropriate. Be ready to leave in forty-five minutes.” Mother glanced at me, her look like hot coals raking over my cold, sweat-covered skin. “Make that an hour-and-a-half. Hopefully that will be enough time.”

“Leave?” I hurried up the stairs behind her. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll find out later.” The hardness had faded from her face, and something like excitement sparkled in her eyes. Like she was enjoying these threats to my supposed freedom.

My chest clenched and my lungs couldn’t fill with air. Normally I would’ve assumed she was making me go to some party or other really boring social event. But she looked too happy.

“How am I supposed to know what to wear?” I tried to sound strong, but my voice squeaked out in a whisper.

“Anything other what you’re wearing will be an improvement.” Mother gave me one last look of disgust mixed with delight, and then she went into her bedroom.

I walked up another flight of stairs to the third floor in case she popped back out of her room. Then I ran down the hall to the back stairs and flew down to the kitchen, jumping over the last four steps.

Delia, the cook, stopped chopping vegetables.

“Where’s . . . Candy?” I squeezed out the words between wheezing breaths.

“I’m not sure. Is something wrong, sweetie?” Delia wiped her hands on her apron.

I nodded, the run down the stairs and Mother’s news had stolen my ability to talk or breathe.

“Sit down.” Delia grabbed a couple of cookies from a jar on the counter and pulled her cell out of her apron pocket. “I’ll find Candy for you.”

Delia set the cookies on the table—her solution to every problem. But this problem was bigger than a cookie. Bigger than one of those giant, birthday cookies.

To calm myself, I counted and recounted the chocolate chips. Nine in one cookie, eight in the other. The repetition slowed my breathing and calmed my pulse but did nothing to ease my panic.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Candy hurried into the kitchen. She slid into the seat next to me, her face pinched, tiny wrinkles at the corners of her eyes.

“My mother, I made her mad.” My stomach churned. Not eating those cookies was smart. If I had, they might’ve come back up.

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think.” Candy placed her hand on mine and squeezed.

“She told me to be ready to leave in an hour-and-a-half, and she looked happy.” That last word came on a desperate whisper. Normal kids would freak out over a parent looking angry. But Mother often looked angry or annoyed. Happy was rare. Happy was weird. Happy was terrifying.

“It’s probably nothing. Just something she’d forgotten to tell you about.” Candy’s reassurance sounded forced, and the lines around her eyes deepened. “Why don’t you go change, meet your mother, and later you can tell us about how boring whatever-it-is was.”

“But what if I don’t see you later? What if it’s not something that ends tonight or tomorrow?” I had no idea what that something could be, but for some reason, a horror-movie version of Rapunzel was playing in my head, with Mother starring as the crazy, evil witch.

“Then you’ll call or text us all about it.”

“My phone.” I slapped the sides of my shorts, like they might’ve magically grown pockets. “I left it in my drawer.”

“You go upstairs, and I’ll bring it to you, okay?” Candy sounded calm, but she must’ve been almost as scared as I was if she was making sure I had my phone.

I nodded and stood. My legs felt as stable as chocolate chips in right-out-of-the-oven cookies. My muscles trembled beneath my skin. This was bad. But my fault. Why hadn’t I stayed quiet? Why hadn’t I ended the basketball game? Why hadn’t I just let Mother win?

Because I was tired of being a good loser.

But Mother was the queen of sore losers.

The climb back to the third floor took three times longer than the dash down. My insides flashed hot and cold with my alternating thoughts of Mother making my friends leave and wondering where she planned on sending me.

In my room, I showered, put on the only pair of designer jeans that hadn’t gotten too short and a T-shirt with an equally famous label, and started drying my hair.

“Sydnee?” Candy’s voice in the bedroom carried over the blast of the hair dryer.

I switched it off and stepped out of the bathroom. “Yes?”

“Wanted to make sure you were dressed.” Candy opened the door to the hall and spoke to someone. “You can come in.”

Chris stepped inside and glanced around at the 60-inch flat screen mounted on the wall, the couch in front of it, the bed in practically another room, and finally at me. He looked as confused about being here as I was to see him. “I brought your phone.”

“Thanks.” I said that like a question, looking at Candy and taking my phone from Chris.

“I talked to Eva, your mother’s personal assistant.” Candy paused like she didn’t want to finish delivering the news.

I tried to breathe, but my lungs felt like brand new balloons refusing to fill with air.

“Your mother had Eva make reservations at a hotel in New York, starting tonight.”

“Until?” I could barely get the word out.

“Until indefinitely.”

My legs turned into marshmallows. Sticky, melting marshmallows that had been roasted in a fire. I stumbled over to the couch and leaned against the back for support. “Indefinitely? So maybe forever?”

“Not forever. Probably only a few days,” Candy said. But she’d brought Chris. Why would Chris be here if she really believed I’d be gone just a few days? Every day trapped with Mother would be like a year. Or forever.

“So Sydnee’s leaving?” Chris stepped closer, wrapped his hand around mine, and gripped like he wasn’t letting me go anywhere. “When?”

“In like half-an-hour.” I twisted around to find a clock. I spent so little time in this bedroom that I didn’t know where anything was located. If I avoided being in the same, three-story, ten-thousand-square-foot house as Mother, how would I survive a hotel room?

Candy gave a sad smile. She couldn’t change anything. Then she drifted away from us, moving to the bed that I hadn’t slept in or sat on in months and straightening the comforter.

“You’re leaving.” Chris repeated this like he was trying to understand.

“Yeah, I guess I am.” I turned my hand underneath his so our fingers could intertwine. “And I don’t know when or if I’ll be back.”

“You have to come back. She can’t kidnap you.”

“I don’t think it’s called kidnapping if I’m with my mother.” I blinked a few times, my plans of spending the summer playing basketball replaced with . . . with what? An empty black hole?

“If you’re not home by our birthday, I’ll come find you.” Chris lowered his voice, his eyes shifting from looking at me to keeping tabs on his mom.

“How would you do that?” And that was almost six weeks away. Practically forever.

“I’m turning sixteen. I’ll get my license and drive to New York. Or buy a plane ticket and fly out there.”

My eyes and nose burned at the seriousness in his voice. This was so crazy it should’ve been funny. Instead, we were talking about kidnappings and running away. “Your parents would never let you—”

“I wouldn’t tell them. Not until I found you.”

I tried to laugh, but the sound I made was shaky and squeaky and not laugh-like at all.

Chris hugged me, and I laid my head on his shoulder, breathing in his dried-sweat, post-basketball scent. I hoped my T-shirt absorbed the smell because Mother would hate it.

“We better go.” Candy had run out of things to pretend to straighten.

I stepped away from Chris, but he didn’t move.

“Chris?” Candy waited by the open door.

“Our birthday,” he said in a voice quiet enough Candy couldn’t hear. “I promise.” Then he kissed me for the fourth time that afternoon. And this time, the kiss was all for me.

***

Two hours later, I stared out the window on an airplane. Mother was already ignoring me, and so was my sister, Jessica. But at least Jessica was along. She’d distract Mother, and she meant maybe Mother hadn’t randomly planned this trip as some weird punishment. Maybe a weekend in New York—a weekend was as long as I could bear to imagine—was a mother-daughter trip.

The Cameron Estate was visible from the air. A huge mansion surrounded by green, and the tiny-in-comparison Clayton house on the other side of the stone wall. A tear rolled down my cheek. What if this trip lasted longer than a weekend? What if it lasted until my birthday? What if it lasted forever?

I might play on a winning basketball team, but with Mother, I was always the loser.

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