Bella has a bunch of postcards from her mom. She gets a few of them every year, starting when she was a baby and her dad had to protect them from her little baby hands and little baby gums. Now she keeps them clothespinned to a string that goes wall to wall to wall in her bedroom. On one side, Paris, Rome, Mogadishu, the Caymans, Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Berlin, Hyderabad, Shanghai, Athens, Boston, Manaus, Costa Rica, Helsinki, Lhasa, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Cairo, Cuba, Phoenix, Toronto, Versailles, Las Vegas, Angkor Wat, Disneyworld, Sydney, San Francisco, Singapore, Barcelona, Seoul, Dubai, Vancouver. On the other side, short messages. Sometimes just, "XOXO Mom <3!" Sometimes, particularly on the Disneyworld one, "wish you were here!" Once "your mom kills at trivia night!" Once "your ????cousin???? says hi, or he would if he weren't a tool!" Once "they didn't have postcards at the last place I went to, can you believe it? Get with the times!"
Bella figures a lot of people have single parents. A single dad is more unusual but he does a good job. He's let her more or less homeschool herself after a couple years in regular school prove difficult - Bella's smart, her teachers acknowledge this, but they live in a small town where nobody's trained to handle dyslexia and once she's at the point of putting audiobooks on with headphones there's not much further point in being in a classroom. So Bella does audiobooks and stubborns her way through websites with liberal use of text to speech and refines her own personal dyslexia alphabet while slowly picking up the tricks that will just let her read - the fonts for it are one thing but she wants to be able to write. Occasionally between the postcards there's a book, and Bella gets her dad to read those to her, except for the one in Latin and the one in Ancient Greek, which it's a mystery why Mom sent them.
When Bella's eight, her mom actually visits. It's two days after the Vancouver postcard arrives and Bella does note, finding Vancouver on Wikipedia and looking at the map, that it's awfully nearby, but she still isn't expecting the knock on the door.
She doesn't recognize her mom at first. There's a couple of pictures of Cate and Charlie, one on the mantelpiece and one on the wall in the upstairs hallway, but in one of those she's wearing sunglasses and in the other she's in profile. "Can I help you?" Bella says. Charlie's not even home.
"Ooh aren't you polite," coos Cate. "It's me! Mom!"
Bella doesn't really know what to do with that, seeing as she's never met her mom. "Can I see your ID?" she asks.
Cate laughs and laughs and hands over a driver's license, which says "Cate Kourotrophos".
"Did you get married?" Bella asks. "Charlie said your last name was Soteria."
"Oh, nah, I just changed it," says Cate. "I probably have an old one with Soteria on it somewhere..." She digs up a passport, which does say Cate Soteria.
Bella lets her in.
Cate lets Bella make her a turkey sandwich and show her her room, with all the postcards, and the postcards seem - affecting. "You kept them all!" she coos. "Aren't you precious. Hey, let's go to Wild Waves!"
"Okay," says Bella, sort of figuring that Cate has coordinated with Charlie in the background. She goes on thinking that till she gets home, three days later, wearing a Magic Mountain t-shirt and a Mount Rainier sun hat and a whole instant camera's worth of selfies and in possession of a passport that Cate acquired for her in some manner to get them into Canada so they could take in the Vancouver theater scene.
Charlie hugs her so hard she can't breathe. He must give Cate some kind of look over Bella's shoulder, because Cate says, "Hey, I left a note!" (Charlie doesn't say anything.)
After an argument Bella is sent out of the house for, Cate leaves, but not before giving Bella a stropholos keyring with a key and a tiny flashlight and an itsy-bitsy Swiss army knife on it. Cate's gone again before Bella can ask her what the key is for, but she gets a carabiner from Newton's anyway and clips it to her jeans every day. She forgets once and her dad reminds her.
When Bella's twelve, Cate shows up again. This time she's less bubbly. This time, Charlie's home.
"How do you feel about... summer camp," says Cate conspiratorially.
"I dunno," says Bella. "I've never gone. Why?"
"My -" Here Cate stops, counts on her fingers, mutters, shakes her head a few times, eventually shrugs, "- my cousin! Runs a summer camp. I signed you up."
"What kind of camp is it?" Bella asks.
"Kind?" blinks Cate.
"Yeah, like, is it more arts and crafts or is it like, hiking, I have a balance thing, I dunno if Dad told you?"
"Oh, it's like, uh, equestrianism. Archery! And some arts and crafts," says Cate. "And they have a strawberry farm and I think they'll teach you Greek."
"...Greek?" says Bella. "What kind of camp has Greek and strawberries and horses?"
"Do you not like those things?" blinks Cate.
"No, they sound fine... except I'm dyslexic..."
"Oh, they know how to handle that. Anyway, go pack!"
Bella, confused, looks at Charlie. When he nods, she packs. iPod, notebooks, laptop, clothes, shampoo, keyring. "How long is it?" she calls down the stairs.
"All summer!" Cate calls back.
Bella packs slightly more aggressively. She gets in Cate's car. She never asked where the summer camp was or she might have noticed the trip not taking as long as it should to get across the country.