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I tried to picture her face, but it wouldn’t come together. I remembered her hair—short, straight, and blonde—but it was probably different now. I remembered her laugh, and the way she’d used to play with my hair when we were sitting in the sand, because it had been exactly like hers back then.
But the shape of her eyes; the size of her smile? I couldn’t remember those things. Maybe I hadn’t been observant enough to study her features, as if my young mind thought there were more important things to explore. I knew her eyes, like mine, were mud-brown—but only because I’d asked my father about them once, and he’d told me. For whatever reason, though I still wasn’t sure of it, he’d told me.
I frowned at the WELCOME sign as we passed it, going slower now—we’d turned off of the highway and started going a little under fifty. He tapped on the steering wheel thirty-six times in sixty seconds; we were getting closer. Though we’d slowed, and the road began to wind a little, we were still driving.
As the town came into view, I stuffed the rest of the fries he’d bought earlier that morning into the paper to-go bag and tossed it in the back seat with the rest of them. We’d made quite a collection on our journey; if he hadn’t insisted on stopping so frequently to “stretch his legs,” we would have arrived on June ninth—not within the last nine hours of the tenth.
As the smell of saltwater intensified, the houses we passed got progressively larger, with more and more visible window boxes as we drove on. By the time we reached the houses with their back porches looking out onto the endless sea, there were colors everywhere—pinks and purples and whites and blues—colors I would have given anything to avoid back home. It seemed that now, here, I wouldn’t be able to avoid the brightness anymore.
Just as I’d predicted, she was waiting for us—me—when we pulled into the driveway. Her round, brown eyes looked eager to see me, though I didn’t believe her smile said the same thing. Her hair was blonde, like I’d remembered, but almost down to her waist, with bangs threatening to engulf her eyebrows.
She came toward the car eagerly as we sat idling. He shot me a glance, and I picked up my hat by the golden tassel and slipped on my shoes. While I bravely pushed open the passenger-side door and stepped out, he stayed in the car, rolling down his window and giving my mother a civilized nod. She acknowledged his presence before turning to me.
“Look at you!” she pulled me into a hug big enough to strangle me. When she finally let me breathe, she looked down at the gown hanging over one arm and the cap in my right hand, still hanging by the tassel. “You have to show me pictures! Tell your dad to send me pictures when he gets home.”
I glanced at him, watching us. “Okay.”
She turned to look where I was gazing, and gasped, as if noticing him for the first time. “Oh! Hey! Do you wanna come in? I made tea.”
He just shook his head.
I continued to watch him. He looked hesitant at first, like he didn’t know what to do with himself. Then he lowered the sun visor in front of him and pursed his lips. He didn’t look like he was going to say anything. He proved me wrong.
“I’ll see you both in August,” he said. Then he looked at me. “Remember, Leah. If you need anything, I’m forty-four cents away.”
And then he backed out of the driveway and left. Just like that. No goodbye, no “have a nice time”—not even a wave, honk, or farewell salute. He started driving back the way he had come, without realizing he’d forgotten something. I stood in the driveway beside my mother, alone with her for the first time in over fifteen years, and I had nothing to say.
“Come on!” she said, tugging at my arm like a five-year-old. “Let me show you your room. You’re gonna love it!”
I let her drag me up the driveway, into the house, and up the narrow staircase to the second floor. It wasn’t like I was carrying anything valuable to slow me down—no suitcase or laptop or jewelry of any kind. I somehow kept up with her as she tried yanking my hand off my arm all the way down to the end of the hallway. Then she stopped, turned to me, and squeezed my hand even harder.
“You’re going to love me for this,” she beamed.
Then she opened the door, and all I could see was pink.
Pink walls, pink furniture, pink carpet; everything was pink. The sudden burst of pastel solids and fluorescent accents made my jaw drop wide open. Even the lettering above the canopy bed was pink, spelling out L-e-a-h in a zigzag pattern. Despite my terror, she judged the look on my face as astonishment, and scampered over to the closet.
Virtually every article of clothing hanging inside was pink to match the room—pink flip-flops, T-shirts, sundresses, and skirts. Only when she showed me the dresser drawer full of blue jeans did I feel a tiny bit of relief. But it wasn’t to last.
“That’s not all,” she said, grinning, and pulled back the pink-and-white striped curtains.
Through the glass sliding doors behind, I could see a balcony, a chest-high railing the only thing separating any sunrise-admirer from falling over the edge. Beyond the balcony lay miles and miles of ocean that stretched further than the eye could see. I took a few light steps toward it, only half-faking my amusement.
“If you go out there,” she said, referring to the balcony outside, “you can walk right over to my room. You can tap on the glass anytime you want, night or day. We could watch the sun rise and everything.”
Great. Just great.
“I made cupcakes this morning,” she said after a short pause, sounding proud of herself. When I didn’t respond, still gazing out at the ocean, she cleared her throat softly; nervously. “There’s tea, too.” She hesitated. “Do you wanna come sit on the deck with me?”
“Yeah,” I said, tugging at the drawstring on my sweatpants. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
She went back downstairs then, leaving me alone in the chamber I would be living in for the next three months. I walked over to the sliding doors, pulled the curtains back over them, and let out a deep sigh as the vibrant paint on the walls began eating away at my sanity. I removed my tennis shoes, left them in the middle of the room, and went downstairs to meet my mother.
This was going to be a long summer.