I love to argue. I’ll argue about anything – school uniforms or raising the driving age or ear hair. I can be for something or against it – doesn’t matter. That’s why my speech coach says I have such potential. Mom and Dad say I was born to argue. My first word was “no” and 14 years later, it’s still my favorite. That’s how I knew something was different about Devon Yeats. I took one look at him and all I wanted to say was…yes.
I met Devon the first day of the Christian Society Speech and Debate Camp. CSSDC is one of the best summer camps for incoming freshmen who want to compete on their high school speech teams. When I got my acceptance letter, I was so psyched. Zeydeh, my grandpa, said I was meshugah ahf toit. Roughly translated, that’s Yiddish for “crazy as a loon.”
“What Jewish girl goes to a Christian camp?” he ranted.
“Speech and Debate camp,” I said.
“We’ve been arguing with the Christians for two thousands years. You have to go to camp to argue more?”
I was watching him chop onions in the kitchen. Zeydeh had his own house down the street, but most nights he cooked for us. “It has nothing to do with religion,” I said. “The Christian Society is just the sponsor.”
He waved his knife in the air. “That’s what they tell you, Ellie. Next thing you know, you’re genuflecting and craving little wafers.”
“That’s Catholic, Zeydeh.”
That was Zeydeh’s standard answer when he had no answer. He was the one person I couldn’t win against. It was like arguing with a crazy person.
Correction. It was arguing with a crazy person.
“It’s an honor even to get in,” I told him. “I had to write an essay and get three letters of recommendation, just to apply. Besides,” I added, “it’s the only way I can get into Benedicts.”
His fingers were stiff and bent with arthritis, but he still worked the knife like an expert. “And Benedicts is such a good school?”
“The best,” I said. “They win the state competition for speech every year. Kids who graduate from there get their pick of the top colleges.” I squished a piece of onion between my fingers. “And, they end up with the top jobs.”
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be – famous litigator, feared lobbyist, president of the world – but I was going to be something. Big. And it all started with Benedicts.
Unfortunately, Benedicts was also a private school and impossible to get into unless you were rich or connected. Which I wasn’t. I’d registered to start my freshman year at Canyon Vista High in August, but I was praying I could still get into Benedicts. This camp was my one shot. Every year, one or two of the top finishers at CSSDC were offered a private scholarship. I’d done all the research. If I could kick butt at camp, I’d bypass the Benedicts’ waiting list and get full tuition.
“Even Mom and Dad think the camp is a great idea,” I said.
Zeydeh grunted. “Your parents think Cheez Whiz is a great idea – what do they know?”
“They know everything is not about religion.” If they thought like Zeydeh did, they’d never gotten married since Mom is Jewish and Dad is Christian. “Forget it,” I said. “I’m not arguing with you.”
“Then wish me luck.”
“Don’t I always?” His eyes flashed at me beneath his curly gray eyebrows. He had the same curly gray hair on his head, and he was proud of how much was left. A close shave irritated his skin so he always had a two-day layer of stubble on his cheeks.
“This camp will help you reach your dreams?” he asked, his expression suddenly serious.
“If I do well, yes.”
“Then you should go,” he said, setting down the knife and wiping his hands. “Always you should follow your dreams.”
And Benedicts was my dream. Canyon View would be okay. But no one from Canyon View had ever made it to a regional speech tournament, much less Nationals. At Benedicts, I’d be with the best of the best. I’d be one of the best.
Zeydeh rubbed the back of one hand over my cheek. His skin was soft and papery. As familiar as my own. “Always remember, my Eleanor Jane. You can do anything. Be anything.”
I wrapped my arms around his waist until I felt the bony knobs of his spine, and smelled the starch of his shirt and the vanilla scent that is Zeydeh. I squeezed him, and pressed closer until there was no room for anything between us. “I love you, Zeydeh.”
“I love you, too,” he said. “But if men wearing purple robes try to sprinkle water on your forehead, run!”