Chapter 7: Worry

I’m So Sick (Chapter 7 Soundtrack)

Jiya (Alternate Chapter 7 Soundtrack)

Illness Illness (18)  Ash told his sisters his fears about their mom and dad. “Oh Akash, don’t be so dramatic,” said his sisters. “Pappa is just tired from working so hard. And Ma just has a cold or something.” They both sounded so so confident that Ash relaxed a little, though he still felt a cold ball of worry in the pit of his stomach whenever he saw his mother’s pale face or his father’s drooping shoulders.

As summer sped by, things seemed almost normal. The family, along with Cami, of course, traveled to the bay to celebrate the 4th of July.


The family celebrates the 4th of July at the bay.

A few weeks later, friends and relatives gathered at the Chowdhury house to celebrate Ash’s 13th birthday. Everyone had such a great time eating, laughing, and playing, that Ash didn’t think once about his parents’ health.

Illness (22)

Later, he wondered if the strain of throwing his birthday had had been too much for his parents. Whatever the reason, the next day, everything happened at once.
Ash wandered outside after breakfast to find his father standing in the middle of the front yard. Ash blinked. His father was wearing a pair of his sister’s too-snug jeans, and an old, faded t-shirt that had once belonged to Ash’s older brother, Pranav. Even more shocking, Ash’s father had shaved his head and was now nearly bald.

Illness (10) Illness (11)

Ash froze. “Pappa?” His voice came out high-pitched, like a girl. “Pappa, are you okay?” Ash’s father did not answer, but began to strut around the yard, waving his hands and muttering to himself. Then, without warning, he whirled around and began to yell at Ash in Hindi, his face furious. Ash backed away, then turned and ran to call his brother, Pranav.

When Pranav arrived to help, their mother clutched her abdomen and began to moan in pain. “Call an ambulance!” Pranav screamed at Ash “Hurry!” Ash did so with trembling fingers. Then he waited with his brother and sisters as the ambulance took both his parents away.

Illness (2)

Ash’s mother doubles over in pain, clutching her abdomen.

Illness (1)

Ash’s brother watches the ambulance take their parents to the hospital.

A few days later, Ash and his family and Cami were able to go and visit his parents in the hospital. “The truth is,” said the doctor, “we don’t yet know what is making your parents so ill. We are running a lot of tests to try and figure it out.”

Illness (7) Illness (16)

Illness (17)

Ash’s parents undergo dozens of tests, but the results are inconclusive.

Ash stood very still in Doctor Mack’s office. He let his eyes drift from the fish swimming in the doctor’s fish tank, to the shelves loaded with books, to the corner of the room, where Dr. Mack and Cami were engaged in what seemed to be a very deep conversation.

Illness (6) Illness (19) Illness (20) Illness (21)

We don’t know what’s making your parents so ill, he kept hearing Dr. Mack’s words over and over in his mind. Ash was only sure of one thing – whatever his parents had, it was not just a cold.


Chapter 6: Brave

Hero (Chapter 6 Soundtrack)

Cami was the bravest person that Ash had ever known. Other than the idea of encountering a real, live zombie in the graveyard, she hardly seemed to be afraid of anything – not stray dogs, or scary movies, or thunderstorms. She was not afraid to speak up when she thought something was wrong. She wasn’t even afraid to stand up to her own mother.

Best Friends (2)

“I have exactly two fears,” Cami told him. “Like, I am deathly afraid to swim.”

Best Friends (7)Best Friends (8)

“To swim?” Ash’s mouth fell open. “Why on earth would you be afraid to swim? It’s easy, once you learn how.” Cami shrugged. She had never learned to swim, she explained. And so Ash took her to the public water park, where he jumped right into the pool and began to splash around. “Come on in!” he called. But Cami would not budge from the side of the pool, where she stood shivering, paralyzed with fright.

“I can’t do it,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t.”

Best Friends (4) Best Friends (5)

Cami’s other fear, Ash learned, was of being all alone. As her mother was rarely home, Cami spent a great deal of time at the Chowdhury house. Pretty soon, it was like she was part of the family. Ash’s parents helped Cami with homework and treated her like she was one of their daughters.

Best Friends (3) Screenshot-677 (2)

Best Friends (15)

Cami became like one of the family.

When Ash was around Cami, it made him feel brave, too. He felt like he could do or be anything he wanted. He could be a superhero, flying around and saving the world from danger. He could be himself, laughing and playing video games, and talking about how much he loved to bake. Cami didn’t mind.

Best Friends (12) Best Friends (11)

And so, the summer when Ash first began to notice his parents’ strange behavior, Cami was the first person he went to. “I think that something’s wrong with my mom and dad,” he said.”I think maybe they’re sick.”

Illness (1) Illness (6)

Illness (7)

Ash fears that his parents may be sick.

As he spoke these words aloud, a cold claw of of fear gripped his insides. He thought about the way both his parents had been so tired lately, and how his father had been taking so many days off work, and somehow he just knew it – something was terribly wrong. Something that even superpowers couldn’t stop.


Chapter 5: The Superheroes

Save Me (Chapter 5 Soundtrack)

The Superheroes (5)

Before she made friends with Ash Chowdhury, Cami spent a great deal of time by herself. The Superheroes (4)

She played make-believe adventures alone, completed her homework alone, even ordered her own pizzas and ate alone.   The Superheroes (3) The Superheroes (1) The Superheroes (13)
Her mother was almost never at home. When she wasn’t at work, she was off to a party, or on a date, or to get mani-pedis with her friends. “You know, Cami, you’re never too young to start paying attention to your appearance,” was pretty much the only advice Cami’s mom seemed to give her. Nothing about school. Nothing about friends, or sports, or being a good citizen. All that her mom was concerned about was that Cami have shiny hair and trendy clothes to wear.

The Superheroes (8)
“I don’t care about any of that,” Cami would say, rolling her eyes. “What about pollution? What about cleaning up this ugly town? What about planting trees and flowers and stuff?” But her mother didn’t care to listen about anything important like that.

The Superheroes (7)
Well, Cami had a plan. She was going to become the greatest superhero ever, and make Mors Canyon into a beautiful city where everybody would want to live, and no one would ever feel lonely.
“If we’re going to be superheroes,” said Ash, who was almost always practical. “then we’ll need super powers. My powers are super strength and super speed.” To prove it, he raced around the park at top speed, then returned, panting, a wide grin on his face.

If we're going to be superheroes, then we have to have super powers"

If we’re going to be superheroes, then we have to have super powers”

Cami thought for a minute. “I know!” she said, her eyes shining with excitement. “My super power is the ability to make everything grow, and to bring dead things to life.”
Ash shuddered. “Even people? Freaky.”
Cami laughed. “Who knows? Maybe even people. Let’s go find out!” They both hopped on their bikes and rode out to the Mors Canyon graveyard. At first, they were both disappointed by how – well, peaceful the graveyard seemed. But as the sun set, and the darkness crept in, filling the graveyard with shadows, Cami was filled with a delicious sense of spookiness.

The Superheroes (10)
“I-I don’t like this,” Ash whispered, his eyes darting around as though any minute, a zombie would burst forth from the earth. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“Wait,” said Cami. She led them over to an ancient-looking stone tomb.

The Superheroes (11)

“I wonder why this didn’t fall down during the earthquake?” she asked. “That’s so w—” Her words were suddenly interrupted by loud rustling in the tall grass beside the tomb. “It’s a zombie! Run!” Cami shrieked and raced for the cemetery gates.
“It’s not a zombie. Look – it’s only a cat,” said Ash. But by then, Cami had already gone, without raising a single person from the dead. The Superheroes (9)

Chapter 4: Akash the Superhero

Hero (Chapter 4 Soundtrack)

Little Ash (2)

Akash was a normal, healthy, happy baby, and everybody loved him.

Little Ash (3)Little Ash (1)But as he grew, his family could see that there was something about him that was very different from the rest of them. For starters, when he grew up, Akash did not want to become a doctor or an engineer or a scientist like his dad. A part of him wanted to become a chef.

Akash loves to bake in his toy oven

Akash loves to bake in his toy oven

But mostly, he wanted to become a super-hero.

Little Ash (4)

“That’s crazy,” said his family. “You can’t be a real-life superhero. You have to study hard and get a real career when you grow up.”

Little Ash (5) Little Ash (6)

But Akash hated to study. He tried and tried, but he was just wasn’t any good at schoolwork. When he attempted to read, the words seemed to swim around on the page. His mother, who was usually a very patient teacher, grew very impatient at Akash’s lack of ability to learn. Eventually, she would shrug her shoulders and turn her attention to the older children. Then Akash would happily run outside to ride his bike and play. Little Akash Little Ash (13)

He spent hours exploring the town. He climbed the lifeless brown hills and had make-believe adventures in the old, abandoned playground near his home. Little Ash (14)Little Ash (15) He tried to share his adventures with his family, but no one seemed to think it was important that he had saved the world from the brink of nuclear disaster.

“That’s cute, Akash,” everyone would say, usually in a patronizing tone of voice. No one understood.

Until one night, while at the public library, Akash met a girl named Camellia Black, who told him to call her Super-Cami.

Little Ash (10) Little Ash (11)

“When I grow up,” said Super-Cami, who had this animated way of talking with her hands waving all over the place. “I’m going to make trees and flowers grow all over the place. And I’m going to save the world. Want to help me?”

Little Ash (9)

Akash grinned. “Sure,” he said. “Just call me Super-Ash.”

Chapter 3: Tammy’s Party Night Blues


Can’t Be Tamed (Chapter 3 Soundtrack)

Tammy Party Blues   Tammy could hardly concentrate on her sales. She was in the middle of a crisis. Today was Friday, and her social life was totally about to fall apart. All because she couldn’t find a babysitter for the Brat. What on earth was she going to do now? Her party was supposed to start at seven! Tammy after (4)

Having a baby had been waaaay harder than she had expected. Little Cami was cute and all, but it seemed like every time Tammy turned around, the kid had a stinky diaper, or needed to be fed, or was whining for attention. Tammy was exhausted. The only way she could get any me time was to sit Cami in front of the TV, lock her bedroom door and put in a pair of ear plugs.

Tammy after (12)

And thank goodness for day care! Tammy had figured out that, if she dropped off Cami at 6:30 each day, then she had time to relax at the coffee shop or have an early morning manicure before heading to work. Of course, that meant the kid was at day care for like, twelve hours, but whatevs, right? Not like it would kill her.

Tammy after

Tammy drops off Cami at daycare before work

“Tammy, you have a customer!” Lisa called out as the shop door swung open. Tammy perked up. It was Steve, that hot guy she’d run into at the supermarket the other day. He flirted with her, like always. But she had a feeling he would bolt the moment he found out she had a daughter. They all did. Tammy after (1) And whenever she did manage to get a guy to come over her house, the brat would start crying and totally ruin the mood.

Tammy after (8) Tammy after (9)

Well, she was not going to let her ruin the party tonight. Just before her guests arrived, Tammy put Cami into the swing to keep her quiet. Screenshot-657 Then she turned up her party night playlist (a little Nikki Minaj, some Pitbull, and a touch of Katy Perry) and let herself relax and have fun with her friends. To Tammy’s relief, the baby didn’t ruin the party. Not this time. Still, she could not wait for the kid to grow up. Tammy after (3) Tammy after (7)

Chapter 2: Education the Chowdhury Way

Hamari Atariya (Chapter 2 soundtrack)

Chowdhury 1 (1)

The small, 2-bedroom house on the military base, where the Chowdhury family lives

 Education was the number one thing in the Chowdhury household.

“The more advanced your education,” Shariq often told his four children, “the farther you can go in life.”

“Then why can’t we go to school, like the other kids on base?” asked Prudeep, his oldest son.

Chowdhury 1 (9)Chowdhury 1 (7)

Chowdhury 1

Shariq at work in the research lab

Shariq shook his head. “The public schools turn out children who will become the dregs of society,” he said. “I want you children to be doctors, or engineers, or scientists like me.”

Because of his critical views, Shariq insisted that his wife, Mohana, homeschool their children. And so, each day, Mohana taught the children, sometimes around their small kitchen table, and other times, at the base tutoring center, which was often empty during the day. She was a very skilled and patient teacher, and all four children were quite advanced in their studies.

Chowdhury 1 (14)

Mohana teaches anatomy to the children

Chowdhury 1 (2)

Although Shariq worked long hours at his job, he never failed to make time to spend with his beautiful wife. The couple was still very much in love, even after 15 years of marriage. Chowdhury 1 (4) Chowdhury 1 (5) Chowdhury 1 (3)   They were also, as they discovered, still very fertile. Mohana was expecting their fifth child. Chowdhury 1 (10)Chowdhury 1 (11)

And after an uneventful pregnancy, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, who they named Akash.Chowdhury 1 (13)

Chapter 1: Tammy the Party Girl

Dani California (Open link in new tab to listen while reading)

Tammy BlackTammy Black knew what people called her behind her back. But she didn’t care. Other people were just jealous, she knew.  Jealous because she was young, free, and gorgeous.

 Tammy Black (4)

Jealous because she had the power to charm any man (even the boring married ones who wouldn’t stop talking about their kids).

Tammy Black (6)Tammy Black (5)

She never stayed with any guy for very long. Tammy Black (11)Why should she, when there were so many men out there to entertain her? Why be tied down when she could have a different hot guy in her bed every weekend? Tammy Black (9)Tammy Black (10)Tammy Black (7)

But one day, the unthinkable happened. “Oh no.” She groaned, clutching her nauseous stomach.

Tammy Black (13)

“What is it?” her best friend, Rachel, looked up in alarm.

Tammy chewed her lip, counting the weeks since her last period. Then she groaned again. “I think I might be pregnant,” she said.

Tammy Black (14)

“That’s great!” said Rachel.

Tammy scowled. No, it was not great. She hated kids.  “Maybe I’m coming down with the flu.”

However, it wasn’t the flu. Her doctor soon confirmed it – she was definitely pregnant. Just her rotten luck. Tammy Black (15)

And seven months later, she gave birth to the little brat – a daughter, whom she named Camellia Black, as she had no idea who the kid’s father was.

   Tammy Black (12)