Nikhil and the Geek Retreat
The Opposite of Retreat
Can’t wait until summer to get back to camp? Neither can we! Join us for a weekend of learning, friendship, and fun at the first-ever Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment RETREAT!
Nikhil had the webpage about the retreat open in one tab and the definition of “retreat” open in another. According to Merriam-Webster, it was from Anglo-French retrait, the past participle of retraire, meaning to withdraw. As a noun: A place of privacy or safety.
In other words, it should have been exactly what Nikhil needed. An escape from the stress of his everyday life. A sweet taste of summer camp in the middle of the school year. Three glorious days with his best friends, Wesley and Gabe. Only it wasn’t going to be restful at all. That’s why Nikhil had arranged for this video chat with his bunkmates. To warn them, and to enlist their help.
They were supposed to chat at 8:03 p.m., but Nikhil had logged in early, just to be safe. He’d done a test call to make sure his camera and microphone were working, and he’d adjusted the volume to perfection. Finally, at 8:03 on the dot, he saw Gabe’s name pop up on the screen. Nikhil counted to ten before clicking on it. Then, even as his stomach was roiled with unease about the upcoming retreat, his lips curled into a smile, because there was Gabe—gelled hair, night brace, bifocals, and all—on the screen.
“Smarty!” Gabe said, using Nikhil’s nickname from camp.
“Geek!” Nikhil replied with Gabe’s.
“Of course Egghead is late. And it’s too bad Three O’Clock can’t be here,” Gabe said, referring to their fourth bunkmate, Dong Dong Dong.
“It’s ten a.m. tomorrow in Seoul,” Nikhil said. “Maybe during the retreat we can video call him while we’re all together, at a time when he’s not at school.”
“I know,” Gabe said, “we should do it at three o’clock!”
A chime announced that Wesley was now online and requesting to be added to the call. Nikhil clicked to have him join. His grin grew bigger as the screen split to reveal Wesley’s oval face, which, on the computer, looked particularly suited to his nickname, Egghead.
“Greetings!” Wesley said. “T minus six days until the Geek Retreat. Who’s pumped?”
“Me!” Gabe said.
“Me squared,” Wesley said.
Nikhil knew he was supposed to say, “Me cubed,” but instead he said, “I’m pumped, with reservations.”
Wesley’s head cocked to the right. Gabe’s cocked to the left.
“Explain,” Wesley said.
“Okay, I called this meeting to warn you about—”
Nikhil was cut off by a loud THUNK-THUNK-THUNK, followed by a scream.
“What was that?” Gabe asked, leaning closer to the camera.
Nikhil sighed and shook his head. “That was a perfectly timed example of the reason I called you here today. That noise was my sister Monishah doing something to endanger her own life.”
“What did she do?” Wesley asked.
Monishah came running to the computer. She rolled Nikhil’s chair out of the way and stuck her own face in front of the camera. One of her pigtails was halfway undone, and her bangs were matted against her forehead with sweat. “I wrapped myself in my duvet and sledded down the stairs,” she said, breathless. “Well, it was supposed to be sledding, but it was actually more like spelunking.”
“Exploring caves?” Gabe asked, confused.
“Oh, is that what spelunking means?” Mo laughed. “I thought it meant, like, plopping down and hitting stuff along the way.”
“That’s kerplunking,” Wesley said.
Mo grinned, revealing a muddle of baby teeth, big teeth, and empty spaces where teeth should be. “Yeah, that’s what I did!”
Nikhil rolled his chair back into the conversation he’d initiated, being careful not to roll over his sister’s bare toes. “Can you get out of here, Mo?” he said. “I’m talking to my friends.”
“So am I,” she said. “Hi, Smarty and Egghead!”
“I’m Geek,” Gabe corrected. “Nikhil’s Smarty.”
“Oh, I don’t want to talk to Smarty, then,” Mo said. “He’s boring.”
Nikhil crossed his arms. “Dad!” he shouted. “Mo’s ruining my conference call!”
“Monishah,” came a halfhearted warning from upstairs.
Mo rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll go kerplunking somewhere else.”
“Thank you,” Nikhil said. He watched her walk to the stairs. She took her time gathering her duvet. “Dad!” Nikhil yelled again.
Monishah stuck her tongue out at Nikhil and then stomped up the stairs with her duvet draped over her back like a puffy cape.
“Wow,” Gabe said. “And I thought my stepbrother and I were opposites.”
Nikhil shook his head in disbelief. “How can Mo and I come from the same pool of genes? My mom started working full-time, so now I have to babysit Mo after school. I don’t even have time to enjoy my homework, because she’s always eating a crumbly snack on the couch, or putting the trampoline by the basketball hoop to try and slam dunk. I haven’t checked my blood pressure lately, but I’m sure it’s through the roof.”
There was another loud crash, and Nikhil winced.
“It sounds like your sister might have just gone through the roof,” Wesley said. “Literally.”
Nikhil got serious. He looked straight into the camera. “This is why I called this emergency video chat. Monishah is nine, and she passed the test for Summer Center. My parents want her to go to camp with us next summer.”
“Oh man,” Gabe said.
“It gets worse. As a ‘test run’ for the summer, she’s coming on the retreat next weekend.”
“No way!” Wesley said.
“Yes way,” Nikhil confirmed. “She doesn’t even want to go—she thinks it sounds boring, as if camp could ever be boring! But my parents are making her go anyway, which means she’ll probably be extra bad the whole time. And here’s the worst of all: My parents said that, because I’m her older brother, it’s my responsibility to make sure she comes home in one piece. If anything goes wrong, she can’t go to camp next summer.” He sat back in his chair and paused for effect. “And neither can I.”
The dramatic announcement got the response Nikhil knew it deserved. Wesley gasped, and Gabe’s eyebrows flew up above the rims of his glasses. “Are you serious?” Gabe asked.
Nikhil nodded solemnly. “If Mo doesn’t go to camp, she’ll need someone to babysit her while my parents are at work. Either we both go to Summer Center with the sibling discount, or we both stay home so I can babysit.”
“That’s the most unfair thing in the history of the world!” Wesley said.
“Maybe not the most,” Gabe said, “but it’s definitely, like, ninetieth percentile.”
“I’d say eighty-fifth percentile, just to be safe,” Nikhil said. “But my parents don’t care!” The basement ceiling began to vibrate with a semi-rhythmic pounding. Mo was probably trying to break dance again. Why anyone would do something that has break right there in the name was beyond reason. “I can’t stay home and babysit her all summer,” he said, his palms pressed into his eyes. “I need to go to camp with you guys.”
“Agreed,” Gabe said. “We just have to make sure the retreat goes smoothly.”
“We’ll do everything in our power,” Wesley promised. “And our power is mighty.”
Nikhil admired their optimism. They clearly didn’t understand just how powerless anyone was when it came to Mo causing trouble. “I’m going to apologize now for my sister ruining your weekend,” he said. “With Mo around, this is going to be the exact opposite of a retreat.”
“What’s the opposite of a retreat?” Gabe wondered aloud.
“A nightmare?” Nikhil suggested.
“Chaos,” Gabe tried.
“Bedlam,” Nikhil said.
“I’ve got it.” Wesley snapped his fingers. “PandeMOnium. Get it? Because it has ‘Mo’ right in the middle of it.”
“Pandemonium,” Nikhil repeated. A whole weekend with his friends, turned into a whole weekend where his unruly sister was in charge of his destiny. He slumped back in his chair, wondering if they’d even make it through the first night. “I probably won’t even unpack when I get there,” he said, “just to be safe.”