The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 5: Rescue Mission

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 5: Rescue Mission


“Yes!” Chris Clayton’s arms shot into the air. “Cardinals win!”

“So did the Cubs.” I wasn’t letting my best friend and boyfriend take all the victory.

“Cardinals are better.” Chris had been saying the same thing since I’d started watching baseball games on the Claytons’ couch seven years ago. And for seven years, I’d been ignoring those words.

David Clayton, Chris’s dad, switched to the ten o’clock news.

“About that trip to Kansas . . .” Chris sat next to me on the couch, looking at David.

Earlier, David had asked if I wanted to go with him and my cousins, Joseph and Derrick, to Kansas. Joseph and Derrick were moving back in with their parents, whether they or the rest of us wanted them to or not.

“I haven’t decided,” David answered without hearing the question, because he knew Chris well enough—he was Chris’s dad—to know Chris wanted to join the road trip to Kansas. But the invitation at dinner had been only offered to me.

“So I’m not invited?” The sharpness in Chris’s voice hinted at an argument. But those rarely went well for Chris, and I could almost feel the war going on inside of him.

I was about to elbow him or grab his arm or something to tell him to be quiet, but a news story popped on the screen, stealing my attention.

“On Monday, we told you the police were asking for help identifying these teens from traffic camera footage.” The female newscaster narrated while images played on the screen. The grainy black and white film showed three wagons flying through intersections. Three people sat in the wagons. Three boys.

“No way.” I spoke under my breath and slid off the couch, picking my way around Jamie’s scattered toys and moving closer to the TV.

“An accident resulted on Sunday at the intersection of Eighteenth and Pine, involving these teens. The victim was released from the hospital the same day with only minor injuries. Thanks to our viewers, these teens have been identified. Whether or not charges will be filed and what those charges will be is still to be determined. But this incident . . .”

The newscaster’s voice faded away and my thoughts grew louder. I knew those guys. Jaxon Braddock and his friends, Wynn and Trey. I hadn’t seen the original clip requesting information. If I had, I would’ve told someone. Probably. No, definitely.

Not that it mattered now. The police knew who they were, and now charges . . .

My lungs clenched like a pair of handcuffs tightened around them. Was Jax in trouble? Really in trouble? I’d known Jax my entire life, but he wasn’t speaking to me this summer. Mother and Jax’s mother were best friends, and they had tried to fix up Jax and me on a date earlier this summer. But Jax had stood me up—good thing, since I had a boyfriend—but that didn’t mean I’d stopped thinking of Jax as a friend. Even if I’d told him several months ago that we weren’t really friends. I’d been angry that night, and I’d been trying all summer to apologize.

I pulled my cell out of my pocket and texted Jax. Saw you on news. What’s going on?

A few seconds after hitting send, I got a reply: Invalid number.

I blinked a couple of times and checked Jax’s number. It was saved in my contacts, but I never forgot numbers. Numbers stuck in my head like the caramel forever burned on the bottom of the Claytons’ saucepan. Never, ever to be scrubbed free. So Jax’s number was correct, unless he’d gotten a new one in the last month. Or his service had been canceled.

My hand shook, and I couldn’t focus on the phone screen. Canceling cell service was a huge punishment, like cutting him off from the entire world. I didn’t care about having a phone, but for Jax and my sister and even my mother, a cell phone was a necessity, ranking right up there with food and water. Honestly, I think they spent more time on their phones than eating or drinking. And this summer, when Mother had done everything she could to make me miserable, taking away my phone had never made the list. And I had to admit, when I was hundreds of miles away in New York, staying connected with Chris and my cousins had given me a new—but temporary—love for my cell phone.

I gripped my phone with two hands to steady the screen. After ten—too late to make a phone call. But if I waited until tomorrow, I might lose my nerve.

Jax’s home number wasn’t saved in my contacts, but like I said, I never forgot a number. I dialed and walked to the kitchen for privacy.

The phone rang twice. Three times. Four. No one was going to answer.

“Jack Braddock.” Jax’s dad’s voice sounded in my ear, cautious and tense.

“Mr. Braddock, this is Sydnee Cameron.” My words came one on top of the other. I took a breath and slowed down. “I, um, is Jax . . . Could I talk to him? Please?”

“I’m sorry. Jax won’t be available for a very long time.” Mr. Braddock was dismissing me. I imagined his finger hovering over the off button.

“I saw the news.” I hurried before he hung up on me. “I saw Jax, and I wanted . . . ” Wanted to do what? Why had I called? Was I so shocked by everything I wanted Jax to tell me it wasn’t true?

“You wanted what?” At least Mr. Braddock hadn’t hung up.

“I wanted to know why.”

“Good luck finding the answer to that.” He sounded bitter, like he’d asked the question a dozen times himself.

“I know Jax is in trouble, but could I come over and talk to him?”

“Jax isn’t allowed to talk to or see any of his friends.”

“We’re not friends. Not anymore. I can show you the text.” Like that was going to convince him.

“All right. If you can be here tomorrow morning at ten, you can talk to Jax.”

“Okay. Yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Good-bye.” This time, Mr. Braddock did hang up.

Now I had to tell David I needed a ride to Jax’s.

What was I doing? Jax didn’t want to be friends. His dad said Jax couldn’t see anyone. So why did I care? Jax hadn’t been a very good friend. He’d ignored me when his friends were around. He’d implied something might’ve happened between him and me to provoke Chris. He’d added to the online bullying of me. I should’ve cut him off years ago.

But I’d seen Jax’s good side too. When I’d hidden in the corner at the parties, Jax had found me and hung out with me. When I’d been angry at all the adults in my life for lying about who my dad was, Jax had reminded me how much they loved me.

I walked back into the living room. Chris watched me, his mouth a straight line. He wasn’t going to like this. But if Jax ended up going to prison or something, he needed to know that I was still his friend. Even if he didn’t want to be mine.

I took a deep breath and looked at David. “Can you take me to Jax’s house tomorrow at ten?”


“Why?” Chris’s demand came right on top of David’s agreement.

I forced myself to look at Chris. His blue-gray eyes hardened. “Because Jax is my friend, and he’s in a lot of trouble right now.”

“So? What’s that got to do with you?”

If being friends with Jax wasn’t enough, then the answer was nothing. Jax being in trouble had nothing to do with me.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t care about what happened to him.

When I didn’t say anything, Chris stood and brushed past me. A shock of static electricity stung my arm.

Chris stormed up the stairs.

“Maybe I shouldn’t go.” I turned my phone over in my hand, like the decision turned over in my head.

“Why not?” David asked. “You said he’s your friend.”

I nodded and glanced at the stairs. I hated Chris being angry with me. I could probably avoid seeing Jax forever. But not Chris. So was it really important to see Jax?

“We’ll leave at nine-forty-five.” David stood, his recliner creaking and rocking back. He wrapped me in a hug. “I understand why.”

That was enough for me to follow through.


“Derrick?” I pushed away from the dining table and stood.

My cousin swore and dropped a box of cereal.

“Sorry.” I picked up the box and set it on the kitchen counter.

“Why are you still here?” Derrick rubbed sleepy eyes. Nine-thirty a.m. was early for him.

“You walked right past me.” I’d been up since six, gone for a three mile run, and showered.

“But you’re not supposed to be here.” Derrick grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and poured his breakfast. “You’re supposed to be off working. And I’m supposed to be alone.”

“Why does it matter if you’re alone?”

“Because if I’m alone people don’t talk to me, only the voices in my head.”

He was joking about that, right? But he didn’t say anything else, just stared at me.

“I’m waiting for David. But I wanted to ask you something.”

“Too early.”

“If I don’t ask now, it’ll be too late.”

Derrick crunched on his cereal, expression blank.

“Will you come with me to see Jax?”

“Why?” Chink. Derrick let the spoon fall against the rim of the bowl.

“Because you know about getting in trouble on purpose.” I’d lain awake for hours last night thinking about Jax. He’d said things over the past year that when put altogether sounded like getting in trouble had been his mission. Alone, nothing he said sounded horrible, but adding it all up, Jax had changed. And who he’d become wasn’t someone I understood.

“Lots of people get in trouble of purpose. Even Chris. Why don’t you ask him?”

Because Chris wasn’t speaking to me today? The list of people ignoring me was getting long. “Because that’s not the same. Chris is trying to get away with one thing he’s not supposed to do. You were using it like psychological warfare.”

“Psychological warfare?” Derrick’s pierced eyebrows shot up, and the stud below his lip wiggled like he was trying not to laugh.

“I read about it in an article.”

“Funny, and pretty accurate, I guess.” Derrick rinsed out his bowl and put it in the dishwasher. “Why do you think Jax is using psychological warfare?”

“Because he seems to be getting in more and more trouble, and he’s been avoiding me this summer.”

“Doesn’t mean all that’s related.” Derrick crossed his arms and leaned against the counter. His eyes looked bright and alert now. “Maybe he’s just bored and not interested in hanging out with you anymore.”

“But it feels like something more than that.” I didn’t let Derrick’s direct way of stating facts offend me. He saved a lot of time without the trying-not-to-hurt-feelings politeness. “That’s probably stupid. I’m terrible at recognizing those things anyway. I never know what people really mean. Maybe I shouldn’t even bother going to see Jax.”

“You should go. And I’ll go too. I’m stuck and need a break.” Derrick spent his all alone time designing a computer game. And possibly listening to the voices in his head.

“Thanks.” Safety in numbers, right? Not that I was worried about anything Jax would say or do, but something was going on with him, and I wasn’t leaving his house before I found out what. And since I struggled to understand those things, I needed an interpreter.


Half an hour later, Derrick and I were inside the Braddocks’ mansion. The housekeeper, a woman I didn’t remember from my visits to Jax years ago, led us upstairs and to Jax’s room. She knocked. No answer, but she opened the door anyway.

“What?” Jax slouched on a leather-and-chrome couch. He glared at the door, but his expression shifted into surprise. “Why’re you here? And who’s that?”

Not much of a greeting, but at least Jax was talking to me.

“This is my cousin Derrick. I asked your dad if I could see you today.” I sat on the opposite end of the couch. It was comfortable despite looking smooth and flat instead of cushion-y. I glanced around the room. On the wall across from the couch where the TV should’ve been was only the black metal rack for hanging a TV. Wires poked out of the wall, and the glass windows on the chrome cabinet revealed empty shelves. Had Jax lost his cell and his TV and anything that connected him to the world?


“What’s going on?” My question came off as deep as the generic how-are-you greeting.

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” A tightness in Jax’s voice hid what he was really thinking. He stared at the wall where the TV wasn’t.

“How much trouble are you in?” I wasn’t good at small talk, so I jumped right to the real question.

“Does it matter?”

“Yes.” I slid sideways down the couch, one leg bent across the cushion so I faced Jax. “I’m sorry about what I said at Drake’s back in March. We are friends, and it matters to me that you’re in trouble.”

“It shouldn’t matter. What happens to me has nothing to do with you. Go home to your weird family that’s not related to you.”

“The people who care about me, right? That’s what you said about them last summer. That they cared, while most of the parents you knew just didn’t want their kids to . . . what was it? Embarrass them by puking on a rug?”

“Exactly. And I’ve puked on a rug in front of the entire world.”

“Does that mean you’ve won?” Derrick spoke from a matching leather chair.

“What?” Jax scrunched up his face and looked at Derrick like he was stupid.

“Does puking on a rug mean you’ve won? You’ve beat your dad or your mom or whoever at the game of ‘my family is perfect?'”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, you do. You also know it’s not a game you can win. Especially not when they just send you away so the world can’t see you.”

“How’d you . . .?” Jax’s eyes widened, like Derrick had shocked him with psychic powers.

“The suitcase. The empty hangers in the closet.” Derrick nodded at the bedroom area behind the couch and the open closet door. “You’re leaving, going someplace without any rugs?”

“They’re sending me off to some boarding school.” Jax shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal, but a shadow crossed his face.

“And you’re already figuring out how to get kicked out, aren’t you?”

“Seriously, Sydnee?” Jax frowned at me. “Your cousin’s a freak.”

“Yeah, he is. And he’s really smart.” I wasn’t worried about insulting Derrick since that was almost impossible.

“But if you get kicked out of one school, they’ll just find another. And another. And another.” Derrick picked up his train of thought, ignoring Jax’s comments. “And the game will turn into a war that no one will ever win.”

“Now’s the part where you tell me that I should just do what I’m supposed to and everyone will be happy?”

“No way.” Derrick’s sharp answer startled us. “Because you won’t be happy. Not unless what they expect you to do is what you really want to do. But constantly puking on a rug to embarrass your parents isn’t making you happy either.”

“How do you know? Maybe that’s exactly what I want to do with my life.”

“No. It’s not. I took puking on the rug to a professional level, and it stinks.”

“This whole analogy is getting gross.” I was glad Derrick was getting to Jax, but couldn’t they use something less descriptive? Of course, I’d kind of started the analogy.

“So, psychotherapist genius, what am I supposed to do to be happy?” Jax threw up air quotes. Maybe he wasn’t buying what Derrick was saying, but Derrick’s experience was real.

“Quit making all your decisions based on how it’s going to hurt someone else. And cut out the illegal stuff.”

“Now that’s taking away all the fun.” Jax sounded serious, and maybe he was. But I’d never understood how breaking rules, and especially laws, could be fun.

“Yeah, I miss some stuff too, but I was missing more trying to punish people. Now, I get to do what I want. Most of the time.”

“Maybe that worked for you, but . . .” Jax shrugged like Derrick’s ideas weren’t practical.

“Works for Sydnee too.”

“Really?” I looked at Derrick. When had I applied his theories for happiness?

“Sure. You rarely care what anyone thinks about you. You play basketball not because your mother hates it or because you want to hang out with guys, but because you love basketball. Sometimes you compromise on small things or you fight big things that matter to you, but you don’t make choices to purposely hurt anyone. Not even people who deserve it.”

He was right, most of the time. I’d made a few choices that were aimed at pleasing or punishing someone, but when I did, I usually ended up miserable.

“Yeah, well, Sydnee’s different.” Jax didn’t sound like he was complimenting me.

“And that’s why you’ve been friends with her for so long. And why you’ve been avoiding her all summer. Because she has almost as many reasons as you to publicly puke on that rug, but instead, she’s off doing her own thing.” Derrick shrugged, his expression changing to indifference. “But maybe you’re right. I did just meet you. Maybe puking on the rug will work for you.”

I’d hoped we’d gotten off the gross analogy.

Jax’s forehead had bunched up and he seemed to be thinking. About what Derrick said? He’d made sense. I could never have put it that way.

“Can I email you or something while you’re at school?” Maybe I could keep Derrick’s ideas in Jax’s mind while he was at school.

“No email, no phones, no communication at all, except snail mail, and only with people approved by the school and our parents.” Jax recited what sounded like words from a school brochure. A very depressing school brochure.

“I’ll ask your dad.”

“Good luck.”

“He let me come over.” After seeing Jax’s stripped-of-all-fun room, I realized getting Mr. Braddock’s permission had been huge. “I’m not very good at writing, but I’ll try.”

“Whatever.” Jax’s word meant to say he didn’t care, but I’d seen a flicker of hope pass across his face.

I’d spent two weeks in New York, away from all my friends, and even calling and texting couldn’t erase the loneliness. Being cut off from everyone would suck.

“I guess we should go now.” I looked at Derrick to see if he agreed.

Derrick shrugged, but he stood. Jax and I stood too.

“You’ll be home eventually, right?” I looked at Jax, not quite ready to leave. I’d never had trouble saying good-bye to him. We saw each other rarely anyway. But I’d never thought I might be saying good-bye forever. “The school will have holiday breaks or something.”

“I don’t know.” The hopelessness in Jax’s voice made him sound like he believed he might never come back.

“Of course you will.” The confidence was as much for me as for Jax. “And you’ll call me and we’ll hang out or something.”

“Okay.” Jax sounded like he was humoring me. He followed Derrick and me to the door.

We said good-bye again, and Derrick and I left the room, retracing our steps down the massive hallway to the stairs. I texted David to let him know we were almost ready to leave. But before meeting him, I detoured by Mr. Braddock’s office for Jax’s address and permission to write. Mr. Braddock was surprised, but he scribbled down the address for me and warned that my letters would probably be read before they were given to Jax.

Guess I wouldn’t be helping Jax plot an escape.

I thanked Mr. Braddock. Then Derrick and I met David at the van.

“Thanks for coming with me,” I told Derrick. “I couldn’t have said things like you did.”

“Just said it like I saw it.” Derrick shrugged like what he’d done wasn’t worth complimenting. “But you should write him. He cares what you think. That’s why he’s been avoiding you all summer.”

“He does?” How had Derrick figured that out? But I didn’t really question if Derrick was right. Even if I had trouble believing it.

“Do you think you’ll be able to . . .” I tried to think of a non-gross way to say it, but failed. “To not puke on the rug after you move back in with your parents?”

Derrick stared out the window. Iron gates, huge privacy hedges, and stone walls rushed past. Derrick stayed quiet so long, I thought he wasn’t going to answer. But finally, he did. “No.”

What could I say to that? Everything Derrick had said to Jax showed Derrick knew going back to acting the same way he did before living with the Claytons would make everyone—including himself—miserable.

But Derrick had left out the biggest thing that helped him get over his desire to puke on the rug: God.

Lord, Jax is in a bad place right now, and Derrick thinks he’s heading back to a bad place. Please, give them the help they need to get out.

That was really all I could do to help either of them. Except to stick around, even when the rug needed cleaning.


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