Everything about Liberty’s life was gray. The dull, cookie-cutter houses in her neighborhood were all painted shades of gray. The sidewalks where she walked her dog, Katniss, every day were hard and gray.
Each morning, she sat in front of a gray computer monitor and performed her work, writing technical documents for the world’s least interesting company. She paid her bills, flossed her teeth, and greeted her neighbors every day, the same gray routine. But she couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that her life meant nothing.
Then one day, she came across an ad posted on the community center bulletin board.
CHANGE YOUR LIFE IN THE AMAZON RAIN FOREST! FIND YOURSELF WHILE MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE.
Liberty knew that this ad was speaking directly to her. The very next day, she resigned from her job and called the number on the ad. This was it! She was going to the Amazon. Somehow, while lost among all those trees, she was going to find herself.
After her plane landed, she took a bus to a remote location at the edge of the rain forest. From there, a guide led her small group on foot through the thick selvage, all the way to the town of Selvadorada. When she arrived at last, she was exhausted and queasy, and covered from head to toe with itchy mosquito bites.
“Thank goodness for all the immunizations I had before I came,” she said to one of the guys in her group. “Just think of all the icky illnesses these mosquitoes probably carry!”
The young man didn’t smile. “Yeah, just think. You could like, die of malaria. Then you wouldn’t get to go back home and shop at the mall with your friends, or send Snapchats.”
Liberty frowned. “Isn’t that a kind of harsh judgment? I mean, you don’t even know me!”
“I know your type. Rich, pampered girls who think they’ll have an adventure with the poor jungle people, all so they can impress their friends with cool selfies. Meanwhile, some of us are here to actually work.”
He walked off, leaving Liberty staring after him in disbelief.
His words had taken some of the shine off the beginning of her trip. Even though she knew that none off it was true, it still nagged at her all through orientation. After a lively group meal, introductions, and a tour of the town, the volunteers were given their house assignments.
Liberty had been expecting something primitive. A grass hut, maybe, or a platform tent. She couldn’t believe how cute her assigned cottage was. The walls were bright and cheerful. Colorful quilts and rugs added a homey feel to the humble dwelling. There was even electricity and indoor plumbing, to her surprise.
“I thought we’d have to sleep on the floor and use an outhouse!” she told Katniss. She danced around with glee, her spirits already much lighter than they had been. “We need to name this place. Hmm…I know! How about Casa de Sorpresas?” This house had been a pleasant surprise, after all.
Then came the knock on the front door. Liberty rushed to answer it. It must be her assigned housemate.
“Hi!” she said with a wide smile, throwing the door open. Then her smile fell. It was the rude guy. “What are you doing here?”
The guy’s eyes narrowed behind his glasses. “I live here. For the next year, anyway.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Wish I were.” He stepped inside and dropped his heavy backpack. “Looks like we’re stuck together.”
Liberty groaned. Of all the volunteers in her group, this was her new roomie? Maybe there was someone she could talk to, to trade.
“My name’s Al Gae.”He thrust a hand toward her.
She blinked. “Like….algae?”
“Okay. Well, I’m Liberty Sweet. And that’s Katniss.”
He nodded toward Katniss, then headed toward the kitchen. Liberty realized how worn-out she felt. She headed upstairs, where she found another bathroom, and a small bedroom. There was one bed, covered in a lovely hand-sewn quilt.
This was so not going to work. It was bad enough that she’d have to share a house with the rudest guy in the rain forest. There was no way she was going to share a bed with him, too. She searched every cabinet and closet in the house, praying for an air mattress or futon, but there was nothing.
“Flip for it?” Al suggested. “Loser takes the sofa.” He pulled out a coin.
“Tails,” said Liberty. The coin went spinning in the air, then landed in Al’s outstretched hand. Tails.
“Have fun on the sofa.” Liberty couldn’t help but flash Al a smirk as she climbed between the cool, crisp sheets. She’d given this place the right name. Her new home was definitely full of surprises.