I woke up at the crack of dawn, literally, because my room faced east and my blinds were in the guest room. I laid there for a long time, staring at my pretty gray walls and soaking in my surroundings. Once I heard someone moving around I decided to risk it and get up. I quietly descended the stairs as the TV came on. There in the too bright living room was my messy haired brother eating a big bowl of cereal. He was watching Cartoon Network, the constant child in him showing through. The frosted flakes and milk sat on the coffee table just waiting for me to partake.
"Is it OK that we eat in here, shouldn't we eat in the dining room? I looked at the table guiltily.
"Nah, as long as we don't spill and clean up after ourselves Oliver doesn't care. He's actually pretty laid back. Like I said, we stay out of his way, he stays out of ours." Alex took a big bite of his cereal. I went into the kitchen and got a bowl and spoon. When I returned he was refilling his bowl.
"Are you ready for school tomorrow?" He asked in between bites.
"Ugh, don't remind me. I'm so not looking forward to that. How about you? Are you still pissed that you don't get to graduate with your friends?" Alex had a few choice words for Oliver for dragging us back here, before he left three weeks ago. He simply shrugged.
"I've made friends, so it's not as bad, some of the guys are pretty cool. I like the football team; they need work though. I'm just glad they let me join. The coach didn't have to; the roster was picked last year, you know."
"Yeah, but I bet once they saw you play they didn't have a choice." I laughed. He nodded his head agreeing. He knew he was a good player. He had led our old school to state championships two years in a row.
"Well at least you'll have Abby; she stopped by last week thinking you were in town." He said. I thought about Abby, my best friend from preschool and kindergarten, and my pen pal from over the years. She was a bright light in a gloomy storm.
"I can't wait to see her." I said. He smiled, at his memories I assumed. She and I got into a lot of mischief together, and he was usually blamed for it. He was a good sport, and I think deep down our mom knew it was Abby and me.
"Did you get your school supplies yet?"
"Yeah I went last week. Did Mitchell take you before you left?"
"Yeah, and we got you a few new clothes too." I said casually as I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I knew once our money ran out we were fending for ourselves. By the looks of Oliver's truck and the furniture in the house we wouldn't have much of a clothing allowance.
"Why didn't you tell me last night?" He jumped up almost knocking over the cereal box.
"Let's clean up this mess, and try not to wake up sleeping beauty first." I motioned upstairs. We finished straightening up and then went to my room. I took the last suitcase out of my closet. The only one I hadn't unpacked and I'd made sure to put it away before he saw it. I unzipped it on my bed and showed him the new jeans, gym shorts, cargo shorts, tank top shirts, t-shirts and polo shirts that were completely his style. There was a tone to the new clothes, black and navy. Alex and I had agreed to incorporate black into our wardrobe to mourn our mom. However long it took we'd have on something that was black. We'd also bought him a few pair of sneakers and running shoes. He was very pleased. We then quietly put our rooms back together. By the time we finished, it was time to eat lunch. I made us lunch meat sandwiches and found chips to add. We were sitting at the dining room table when Oliver finally graced us with his presence.
He descended the stairs; I held my breath waiting for his first words to me in almost ten years.
"Good morning Lexie, Good morning Gia, I take it you're settling in comfortably." His Italian accent was thicker than I remembered. His jet black hair now was speckled with gray. Long lines in his forehead and frown lines along his lips lined his face. His stubble looked like it hadn't been shaved in a few days. I couldn't believe how old he looked. He walked straight to the coffee machine and made his coffee
"Yes, I'm settling in fine. I hope you don't mind that we painted our rooms." I felt as though I need to take responsibility for that, especially since Alex hadn't painted until the night I arrived.
"Well I think it was the splash of color that this old house needed, if you get the urge feel free kids, this is your home now. Lexie did you get Bessie running?" Alex raised his eyebrows to me saying I told you so.
"Yeah, Oliver, she'll run probably another 200 miles before she blows her radiator. It was a quick fix, we should go to the junk yard soon though."
"Good, Good. I was worried about how you kids were gonna get to school." He didn't even look up as he said it. I looked at Alex confused. Alex looked at him with shock.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, of course you have to fill the tank, I'm not made out of money, unlike Michael. But I will help with the repairs on her." He went to the cabinet and took down a coffee mug.
"His name it Mitchell." I said solemnly. Oliver managed to ruin a good moment.
"Yes, that is his name." was all he said as he poured his coffee and went back upstairs. Alex shrugged, but I didn't know how I felt, except for sad. I was very sad that he was undermining our lives, our happy lives that he ripped apart yet again.
"At least I won't be a senior walking to school or worse, riding the bus." Alex stated.
"But you heard him we have to keep the gas tank filled." I wondered how we would do that, once the money Mitchell had given us, ran out.
"I'll get a part time job."
"Yeah, along with practice, and homework, and prepping for college. Just add that, to the list of things to keep you busy."
"And out of this house." He added cheerfully.
"Maybe I'll get a job too." I giggled envious of his genius.
"Hey you can't steal my gig." He cleared his plate in the trash and put it in the sink.
"We can share the wealth of ideas. Don't forget that, feel free to share." He took my plate and dumped it
"Hey I wasn't done with that." I mock pouted.
"It's our final day of freedom, and Bessie has a good two hundred miles to go before she needs another repair. Wanna go to Treasure Island, or we can go over to Clearwater, let's do something." Alex quickly washed up our plates and cups.
"I need a shower first, let's go to Treasure Island. I went to the pier yesterday but I'd like to feel the gulf, it's been a long time since I've felt the ocean water."
"Get a move on. Because I need one too and might have to beat you there, we only have one bathroom you know." That was all it took and we were racing up the stairs tripping each other. I was in my room first. I tore under my bed for my tote that had jean shorts in it, then I found a black tank top in the other one. Undies from my dresser, and I was running for the bath at the end of the hall. I knew this was tricky because it was closer to his bedroom. But I heard him still rummaging through his drawers. I made it to the door, as I went to open it, I banged my head against it. It was locked and didn't open for me. Alex came and stood in the door way with his arm above his head leaning on the door jam.
"Um, Yeah. Oliver's in there now and I call dibs." Damn it! Dibs. He had me now! I glared at him. He must have known before he went into his room.
"Dibs doesn't matter if I'm here when he comes out." I laughed.
"You're such a brat." He went back into his room.
"And you love me anyway." I called after him. Just then the door opened as Oliver came out, I startled him.
"I've got to get used to a full house again, I guess." He mumbled under his breath. I stepped back out of his way, let him pass and took my turn in the bathroom. I came back to my room, and took out my make-up case. I put on eye shadow, mascara, lip gloss and blush. I surveyed my face. It was my mother’s face. As a little girl I'd looked at pictures of her when she was my age. I had her almond eyes, so dark brown that they looked black. My olive skin that was sun kissed now, from a summer in Indiana, and an oval face. It was my face but it was hers also. I even had her hour glass shape. I felt guilty for looking so much like her. There was a knock at my door, and Alex entered.
"You ready?" he was wearing a plain navy t-shirt and khaki cargo shorts, with boat shoes.
"Yeah I'm ready." I slipped on my sandals and we were heading down the stairs. I expected Oliver to be sitting on the couch but he wasn't.
"He said he had some errands to run. He took Bessie, so wherever we go we need to walk."
"So much for Treasure Island." I stated sarcastically.
"Let's go toward the Pier instead." So we left.
After an afternoon of walking down the beach collecting broken shells, and looking for dolphins, we watched the sun inch closer to the horizon. Finally, we began our trek back home. As we rounded the path to the pier we came upon a large group of kids. I walk close behind Alex. We walked past them, my eyes on the ground, because I felt their curious eyes on me.
"Alex, dude, where are you going?" A big beefy blond guy was addressing him. "And who's your chick? She's hot!" My face burned, Alex paused, and I hid behind him looking away.
"Chiz, this is my sister, show some respect! We're just heading home what are you guys getting into?" Alex was always so cool and collected.
"Sister, huh?" I felt his eyes boring a hole through me. "We’re just heading up this way for some late evening surfing and a bonfire. You should join us."
"I'm not sure. Gia?"
Before I could even answer I heard, “Yeah Gianna, you should come." I looked to find the other voice. Travis stepped forward next to Chiz. Alex shrugged at me like it was my decision. I shrugged back. So it was decided, we were lemmings. We turned and followed the group. Some girls laid a few blankets out and I sat by Alex. Other girls sat on the other side of him, and he entertained his subjects. I interjected, occasionally just to remind him that I was listening to the crap he was spitting to the girls. I had one of my ear buds in with the music to keep me company. What I was really trying to do was keep from watching Travis surf in the distance. I was failing miserably.
"Yeah state champs two years in a row. I don't know how they're going to do it this year." I laughed at his modesty. I'd lost track of Travis.
"You're gonna take us to the state championship this year." Chiz and the other boys that had been surfing came and joined us at the blankets. Alex shook his head "yes" and they did a knuckle bump secret hand shake. The empty spot beside me was suddenly taken. His leg brushed up against mine as he shifted to get more comfortable. Though he was dressed, his leg was still wet: it made me shiver. He handed me his hoodie, without even looking at me. I put it on, and sat looking straight ahead for a short while. Finally I turned and looked at him. He was smiling his brilliant smile. He leaned back on his elbows as if he didn't have a care in the world. I turned back to the conversation that was still going on. They were now talking about plays and how to defeat their opponents. Boring.
"Our last night on parole." Travis leaned in and whispered in my ear. He was so close to me, it sent chills down my spine. "We might as well be strategizing how we're going to work the prison yard tomorrow." I chuckled quietly, only he heard it. He continued. "Though it wouldn't be so bad, as long as they give us plastic spoons so we can make shivs."
"Ok, that comment just got your shoe laces taken away." I giggled softly.
"Aw, shoe laces are overrated. So what's your story?" His question took me by surprise.
"You didn't get our story from Alex already?" I asked not really knowing what he was asking.
"Yeah, Yeah. From Indiana, he plays sports, doesn't have a girl. So what's your story?" He winked at me.
"I'm from Indiana, I hang out and, I don't have a girl either." I winked back at him.
"You're gonna make me ask aren't you?" he looked at his hand that was digging in the sand and letting fistfuls of it fall slowly between his fingers.
"So what's your story?" I asked taking the focus off of me.
"Lived here my whole life, with my mom and my little sister, sports, and hanging out, I don't have a girl either. I guess we have stuff in common." He took the other ear bud and put it in his ear. He started moving his head with the music. "A lot of stuff in common." He approved. At some point they managed to start the bonfire, and I no longer was sitting by Alex. Travis had taken over my phone and was now DJ-ing for the two of us. He would make a comment about my old school rap verses my punk rock and pop music. I would give him informative facts about the bands. We looked at my pictures and I told him about some of my old friends back in Indiana. I was never as popular as Alex was. I was popular by association. I felt comfortable with Travis, but I was also unbelievably nervous. I’d never felt this way around anyone before. I wasn't my normal witty self. I held back and I regretted it immediately. As the night wound down people began to leave. I took my phone from him to check the time, it was nine forty-five.
"Can I see that again?" He whispered. I handed it over. He played with the menu on it, and pulled me close to him. With his hand resting against my hip, he told me to smile and held it arm’s length away from us to take our picture. He played with my phone a little more and handed it back to me. "I'm speed dial five, and I hope you don't mind, I texted myself that picture. You'll be speed dial three in my phone, if you were wondering." He leaned closer to me and grinned, "I'll see you tomorrow." He stood and walked away. I sat there staring after him dumbly unable to process what just happened. He was leaving. That meant the night was over.
Chiz gave us a ride home in his monster SUV with great big tires and a license plate that said "da Chiz". He made me uncomfortable as he kept watching me in the rear view mirror. Alex didn't seem to notice, which annoyed me, he was my protector. Bessie wasn't in the drive, so we went in and got ready for bed. It looked like we weren't the only ones trying to avoid something, or someone.