"STOLLS! WHERE ARE YOU?!"
The green-eyed girls mighty roar could be heard by every nymph, demigod, and satyr around as she stormed across camp, her stomp matching that of General Sherman's march to the sea during the Civil War, in which he left a long line of destruction in the wake of his army. Thus was the mirrored effect of Katie Gardner's rage. For those who do not know Katie on a personal level, it would be hard to describe the full extent of her wrath, especially when it is concerned with the troublesome Stoll brothers. But, in order to try to paint a somewhat vivid picture, try to imagine a snarling, menacing animal who has just been robbed of something of great importance, pride and value, such as a cheetah's spots or an elephant's trunk. Whatever one manages to conjure up may be as close of an idea to Katie's rage as one may see without actually meeting the young lady herself.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" she cat-called in a sing-song manner. She knew they had to be around here somewhere, and even if they were in North Dakota at this point, their specially trained ears would still have been acute enough to hear her calling for them, although that would not be reason enough for them to go to her. When Katie Gardner was mad, you stayed out of her way. It was the unspoken rule at camp. That's why when the people at camp saw the daughter of Demeter approaching, smoke nearly pouring out of her ears like a cartoon character and her face the exact shade of tomato red, they made a wide path to let her pass. Many averted their eyes and flinched when she went by, a few of the meeker ones whimpering quietly, "Please don't hurt me!"
It was comments like this that managed to penetrate the invincible armor of Katie Gardner. People called her bossy. She preferred being known as a strong leader. They said she was too controlling. She called it passionate. Sure, she was known as being no-nonsense, maybe even strict, but that was part of who she was. She didn't take crap from anyone, especially two mischievous sons of Hermes. Somebody needed to keep an eye on those two! Or, more appropriately, on their wallets; after all, the boys' last name was Stoll, so anyone who didn't go into a room inhabited by them without being wary of being pickpocketed was a fool.
Katie knew she was tough. Maybe not the rough kind of tough like Clarisse was, but she knew that on the inside she was made of steel. She was strong. She was independent. Shewas patient and kind. And yet somehow it was always the Stolls who managed to get under her skin, specifically that rascal Travis. Their relationship was weird: when Travis was with his brother, everything was very normal between them, Katie doing the chasing while they did the stealing and marauding. But when Connor was gone (a rare occurrence indeed), Katie often felt very unsure with Travis. They had been "dating" for quite a while now, some number of months, but they hadn't really done anything serious except for going out to see a few movies and going to the fireworks show at the end of the summer together. To be perfectly honest, the relationship wasn't awkward so much as it was new territory. How strong were his feelings for her? More importantly, how strong were her feelings for him?
It seemed as though she would never know, Katie thought as she ran past a group of giggling dryads and raced past the dining hall. Inside she could hear lots of loud clattering and clanging. She was always so caught up in straightening out the Stolls and making them leave her alone that she never gave much thought to actually spending time with them- specifically, him. But maybe she could learn to be more lenient, with time, patience, and a little sacrifice on Travis's part too.
Unfortunately, during some of her tirades she often came across as mean, scary and controlling. That was what really hurt her. She was viewed sometimes as an unreasonable, strict, and boring. Maybe not by her friends, who had spent enough time with her to know that when she was more relaxed she was very kind, gentle, and patient, but certainly newcomers to camp felt that way. And why shouldn't they? From what they saw, that's who she was, and they would never know any different unless she showed them her true self.
As Katie raced down the beach and onto the dock, she was filled with an overwhelming resolution to renew and fix herself. All this time, she had been concerned with straightening out the Stolls and making them behave better. But maybe, she thought as she reached the edge of the pier and leaned over the side, it's myself I need to fix. She stared at her reflection, the image choppy from the constant waves that splashed around, with a phlegmatic and sanguine expression that was new to her face.
For a moment, she seemed to not recognize her face. True, she looked the same when one counted the defining features, like her shoulder-length brown hair, or her leafy green eyes, or her skin that was sunburned from the plethora of hours she spent gardening outdoors. All of those easily recognizable features were there, and yet, somehow, there was something different underneath there, something that she had trouble pinning down.
Could she really do it? Change, and remodel herself to be the person she knew deep-down that Travis deserved. Sure she could, she was Katie Gardner, the girl who could do anything with the right amount of willpower and inner strength. But, she questioned herself again,
should she do it? Certainly a change would be nice, refreshing even. And it might help her get the guy in the end; at least, that's how it worked for Sandy from Grease. But was getting the guy so important that she should alter herself to gain him? Ugh, dating was so complicated!
"Travis!" she yelled to no one in particular. Her frustration extremely palpable at the moment, Katie felt a tug in her lower abdomen, and blades of grass shot up out of the wooden dock like daisies in the snow. She yanked the lush tendrils out, the roots still protruding from the wooden planks, and hurled the chunks violently into the water, and that was it. That was the extent of her tirade. A few clumps of grass floating peacefully on the rocky waves of Long Island Sound. Wow. Beware of Katie Gardner!, she thought to herself bitterly. Don't make her mad, or she'll make grass grow, and she'll throw it at you! Yep. She was definitely a force to be reckoned with. Katie's thoughts were mirrored exactly when someone behind her spoke:
"Impressive," the voice said.
Katie turned around wtih a start. It actually was impressive for someone to be able to sneak up on her like that. After spending so much item hunting the infamous Stoll brothers, her senses had improved considerably, and she could rarely be startled by anyone. Or anything, the voice in her mind mocked when she registered the pair of eyes that met hers.
Startling was not the only word to describe them. Vibrant, alive, compassionate. There was an undeniable sign of innocence and oblivion in them, as well as obvious sorrow and darkness. It really was astounding that someone's eyes could be painted so vividly, but, then again, the eyes did belong to none other than Percy Jackson.
"Percy," she whispered. Not sure that he heard her, she cleared her throat and tried again. "Percy." He nodded as a sign of greeting.
"Katie." He inclined his head towards the scene of broken grass on the dock and the sad clumps that were sinking to that bottom of the sound. "Grass was not meant to grown on top of water, in case that's what you were testing." She didn't say anything, so he continued.
"Seriously, what goes on that would make you of all people destroy grass? I mean, being the daughter of Demeter and all," his eyes hardened when he said her mother's name, "I assumed that you would have more respect for the Earth." She opened her mouth to explain, but he walked forward, hands in his pockets, and plopped down next to her, his legs dangling off the side of the pier. "Not to mention that you were somewhat taking your anger out on my territory. Now, I could accept you throwing trash in the water, or spilling oil or some other dangerous material on it, but grass-throwing? Come on Gardner, that's just low." He cracked a lopsided grin, and she allowed herself to smile slightly. When she didn't respond, he nudged her lightly and spoke softly.
"Okay Katie, seriously, what's up?" She sighed.
"I don't like myself." He looked startled but didn't interrupt her. She went on. "I'm so dull and boring, and I want to change but then at the same time I don't, and then I kind of like this guy and then I kind of don't, and he might sort of like me but he maybe he doesn't really and I just don't know!"
Katie was surprised when the son of Poseidon didn't respond for a moment or two. He seemed to be lost in a train of thought, his eyes trained on the distance, seeing something past the visible horizon. "You know what I do whenever I'm confused? Or lonely? Or just having a bad day?"
She shook her head curiously. He continued.
"I go to my happy place. The ocean. The ocean is part of me. It's in me. So sometimes I come here and just, I don't know, connect with it. Smell the salty air, see the rhythm of the water, listen to the waves crashing on the shore and the seagulls crying, feel the salt cling to my skin, maybe even taste it on my tongue. I come here to find whatever I feel is missing in me. I'm guessing that you're having a similar problem, so I recommend you go find your happy place." Then he got up and left without another word.
Katie was stunned. Did that really just happen? Did the goofy and silly Percy Jackson just give her advice, advice that was not only really deep but also actually good? Annabeth had told her there was another side to Percy, but Katie had never pictured it like that. She was surprised by how much the words of the son of Poseidon hit home, and she suddenly felt a new connection to him, or maybe just the words he'd spoken. Percy Jackson, a boy that she'd often labeled a goofball, had just showed her how mature he could be. Maturity was exactly what she strived to find in Travis, although she always failed. For a brief moment, Katie tried to visualize herself in a relationship with Percy: holding hands while they walked on the beach at night, a romantic candle-lit dinner, maybe a kiss or two in the moonlight...
She shook her head to clear the thoughts. It didn't feel right. She loved Percy Jackson as a brother and a friend, not like that. But Travis, she knew, she could love as more than a friend. She stood up, wiped away the wet grass that clung to her pants, and walked down the dock, away from Percy's happy place to find her own. She already knew where it was.
A small outcropping on the edge of the forest, tucked away in a glade near Zeus's fist. There was a small brook bubbling nearby, birds were singing in the trees, and the flowers were in full-bloom. She laid down gently in the lush grass and closed her eyes. She finally felt at peace enough to think.
Who am I? What am I? Others are so defined in what they do, in what they contribute to camp. Annabeth is obviously the brains of the operation. Clarisse is the brute force. And Percy is the perfect paragon of a leader. She briefly recalled the way he'd fought so heroically at the Battle of Manhattan, sending their troops into battle and he alongside them. The way he had taken control of the situation, handing out orders and trying to do what was best for everyone.
But what about me? she wondered again.
"Katie!" someone called. "Katie! I see you, so don't try to hide."
She expected herself to groan at the sound of his voice, or to tackle him and start punching him when he sat down in front of her, but instead, the voice and sight of Travis Stoll was welcome to Katie indeed.
"Travis," she said patiently, "where is my prom dress?"
"Well," he rambled nervously, although all anger had left her, "it was supposed to be a surprise. You see, I would steal your dress, and then you would follow me, and then there was a banner and a confetti cannon and the Hephaestus kids made some fireworks, but then you didn't follow me and I couldn't find you, so then I thought that maybe you somehow knew what was going on, and that you left so you could avoid me, and-"
"Travis," she interrupted, "what the heck are you talking about?"
"Prom," he said, confused. "Duh. I stole your dress so I could ask you to prom. Like I said, it was supposed to be a surprise. I figured you would chase after me like you usually do when I mess with you, and then we would run into that place near the waterfall where we had our first date," he blushed, his ears pink at the tips," and a banner would drop down that said 'WILL YOU BE MY PROM DATE?' But, obviously that plan didn't work out."
Katie was so surprised she couldn't even speak. That's why he'd stolen her dress? Really? And everything he'd planned to do for her...something that thought-out and well-planned certainly showed a lot of maturity on his part. She realized he was even more mature than she'd originally thought when he continued anxiously:
"So, since the banner idea didn't work, I suppose I should just suck it up like a man and ask you: Katie Gardner, will you be my date to prom?"
She paused for a moment. Prom dates were big decisions. Was this what she wanted? She could seek after a guy like Percy, who was not only strong, a good leader, and incredibly good looking, but also a leader. Or she could have a guy like Travis, who was sweet, funny, cute, and mature in his own way. She made her decision.
"Yes," she said.