Friday, April 8, 2011

Chapter 3 Of All The Places In The World


I tossed and turned.  I couldn't believe my luck!  She hadn't been a tourist.  She was Alex's sister.  I ran my mind over all our conversations trying to get a handle on Gianna.  Gia was what Alex called her.  His mom had died; I filed that under things not to bring up.  His sister was a junior; she was funny.  What else had he said? I racked my brain.  Before I met her, Alex had seemed insignificant almost.  He was a typical jock who came in, at the last hour, with promises to save the team this season from the embarrassment of the last eight years.  Chiz liked him right away, so that had warned me to keep my distance.  Chiz didn't like anyone who didn't benefit him.  Why was I thinking about Chiz? I wanted to think about Gia.  What else did I remember?  He hated their dad, probably another forbidden topic.  This, Alex hadn't said, he just called him by his first name, and his voice was thick with contempt when he spoke of him. 
Gia.  The day I'd seen her on the beach, I felt my heart would explode.  It pounded out of my chest.  As luck would have it, Mason threw the ball that far out of my reach.  I still hadn't found out if he'd thrown it like that on purpose or not.  From the time she had stepped on to the pier I was keenly aware of her.  And sitting on the sand, she'd looked so sad.  She was entranced by the waves off of the gulf.  I'd yelled for her to look out twice before she actually did the third time.  And then when she fell over, legs sprawled; she had legs that went on forever. When she fell and looked up, so fragile, I imagined kissing her and what it would feel like.  She caught me sizing her up, she was quick.  I liked that too.   I willed her to look back at me when she left.  And finally she did.  Gia.
I couldn't believe it when I saw them leaving the beach.  Until that moment I hadn't put it together, that she might actually be real and that I might see her again.  Chiz and Mason begged me to go surfing.  I'd have rather stayed home and hung out with mom on her only day off for two weeks.  But she told me to go, enjoy my last day before school.  I now was forever grateful.  I couldn't even focus on surfing though.  I rode a few waves, and then I snuck off to my car to change.  I was nervous about the way Chiz was looking at her.  Alex would have probably approved of his friend going for her.
I couldn't think of anything to talk about.  Stupid prison jokes.  But she played along.  She showed me her pictures.  She didn't have many friends, but I didn't see any boys groping her in her pictures.  That was what I was really looking for.  Yeah there were guys but none that had hands all over her, none that looked at her the way I wanted to look at her.  Her style seemed simple.  The only piece of jewelry she wore was a ring that said LOVE.  I put my ear buds in remembering some of the songs we had that were the same. I'd make a play list tomorrow.  But for now I picked them and I played them as I stared at my ceiling.
School.  It would be here before I knew it, so long as I could go to sleep. The plan, what was the plan?  I didn't have a plan.  I would wing it. I was really good at winging it.  I finally fell asleep after replaying the evening over and over again, and looking at the picture on my phone, a dozen times.
There was soft buzz sound.  At first, in the distance, a low buzz, buzz, buzz noise.  Then as I realized it wasn't supposed to be in my dream, the buzz became louder and louder.  I heard my mom talking. What did she say?  Late?  my eyes flashed open.
"I knew that would get your attention, you need to leave in five minutes.  I jumped up ran to my bathroom, brushed my teeth splashed water through my hair and on my face. I rummaged through the clothes on my floor.  Picked a pair of jeans and grabbed a shirt from my drawers.  Socks and shoes went on as I stumbled down the stairs.  My mom sat with my sister eating breakfast.  She tossed me a banana, and I was out the door.  I'd put my book bag in my car two days before because I knew I'd forget it if I didn't.   It was a good thing too because I was at school before I even thought of it.
I found my locker, put my stuff up and grabbed a notebook for my first class.  There she was a few lockers away from me. A camo army green short pleated skirt and a black cotton top.  Was I really this lucky? I stepped sideways. 
"Hey." I smiled hopeful.  She glanced over concentrating first and then instantly smiled.
"Hi."  She put up her messenger bag; it was army green with buttons, patches and marker drawings on it. It looked vintage.
"What's your first class?"  I was hoping for chemistry.
"English, Algebra 3, and then Spanish."  She didn't even look at her schedule.
"Then lunch?"  I asked hopeful again.
"Yeah I think so."  She was closing her locker now with a spiral notebook and a composition notebook that looked worn in her hands.
"Alright I'll see you then."  I turned as the five minute warning bell sounded.  I had to be across the building on the third floor in by the time the next bell rang.  I walked casually.  I looked back at her as she disappeared into the herd of students.  Once I knew she was gone I ran.  I took two steps at a time up the stairs and made it to an empty seat in the middle of class, the only one left, just as the bell rang.  In my rush to not be late to my first class of the first day of school, I didn't bother looking around to see if any of my friends were in my class.
"You were M I A this weekend. Why didn't you return my calls?"  I knew that voice.  Jillian. Gorgeous, sexy, hot Jill; and before last spring I honestly thought she was the girl I'd probably marry after high school.  She had been my girlfriend since the seventh grade.  But I had finally realized she took what she wanted and didn't care who she hurt.  In her last scheme (or the last scheme that I knew) a girl had broken her leg, a teacher had been fired, but Jillian had landed on top of the cheerleader's pyramid with the title of Head Cheerleader.  When I realized what she did, I broke up with her.  Only recently after she'd seemed to have made some amends was I speaking to her casually.   I didn't really want to tell her how much she disgusted me.  Just because she was mean didn't mean I had to be.  I shrugged, and looked toward the teacher who was reading off names.  He rambled something about lab partners; I looked at Jill and groaned.  She smiled pleased.
"Well, the least you can do is, walk me to my next class, English.  You at least owe me that.  I'm going to carry you for this A."  She was opening her book to the page the teacher just instructed us.
"I think you can find it on your own, and for the record."  I turned, leaned across the table looking her in the eye so she knew I was serious.  "I don't owe you ANYTHING.  I can take care of my own grade."
"Travis, please read out loud the first paragraph there."  I held her eye contact until she looked away.  Mr. Jackson was looking down at me over his glasses.
"What page again?"  I turned and acted innocent.
"Fourteen."  He turned back to his podium.  I found the page and read out loud about exploring the wonders of chemistry.
As if chemistry wasn't bad enough, then there was Spanish class, and U.S.  History.  What kept me sane was the knowledge that lunch was coming.  I would have thirty minutes of uninterrupted face time with Gia.  I put my History book back in my locker.  I began organizing things impatiently waiting for her to show up.  I looked up and down both directions of the hall; she had to be coming soon.  Then I saw her head bobbing.  I thought she saw me.  "Stay calm, be cool."  I said under my breath while I concentrated on the bottom of my locker like I was looking for something.
"GIA!  GIA!" We both turned our heads in the direction of the voice calling her name.  Gia reached her locker, not seeing me but looking at the curly red head bouncing down the hall.   Abby, I thought.  You couldn't miss those curls, streaked with bleached blond strands making sporadic parts of her hair white.  That was new. It would have given her an edge, if she wasn't an A+ student, and on every geek squad this side of the Atlantic.  I chuckled at myself.  She was a cool girl though, called it like she saw it.  She had advised me to "open my eyes", when things started to seem wrong with Jillian.  I'd always be grateful to her for that.  She gushed.
"I've been looking for you everywhere.  Did Alex give you my new number?  I stopped by you know.  Ohmigawd, look at you, you're all grown up.  I'm totally digging your skirt.  Do you have lunch next?"  Gia closed her locker laughing at her.
"OK."  She slowly said, pausing for effect. "I didn't even know where to begin to start looking for you.  This school is so confusing,” She held up her phone. "Alex gave me A number for you, he wrote it down wrong. AND look at you!  You're so gorgeous!  I. Love. Your hair.  Where'd you get it done?  And yes, I have lunch next."  She turned toward me.  I still pretended to be searching my locker, but I got the feeling that she had seen me when she was walking up.  "Travis was going to eat with me."  I looked up when I heard my name, acting as though it was the only part I'd heard.
"You wanna join us Abbs?"  I had earned the right to call her that, she'd been a good friend who'd actually kept her distance during school hours and not tried to be my instant best friend or worse, had a hidden agenda to get me to out with her, so because of that I'd skipped the games of "don't speak to me in the hall, but you can tutor me after school".  She actually did tutor me last year in Geometry.  I always talked to her in the few classes we did have together, sometimes inviting her to the clique outings we went on.  She always declined, I think, feeling that she didn't fit right in that circle of friends. 
"Sure, Travis. How do you two know each other?"  She winked at me, instantly approving my interest in her friend.  Was I that obvious?
"We met this weekend at the pier.  Mason almost clocked her with a football."  I chuckled. Gia's complexion on her face darkened a little, though I wasn't sure why.
"And then a bonfire last night, I had fun."  She smiled at me and then looked to her friend; we were now walking toward the cafeteria. 
"I miss all the action!"  Abby sighed.
"Well, I would have invited you if I'd have had the right number for you. Next time you write it down, or, at least proof read his note."  She shook her head giggling.  We got into line as I surveyed the room. It was set up like the solar system, jocks in the middle, next to the cheerleaders, like they were the center of the universe.  Then the groups fanned out depending on the popularity of the clique. Band sat somewhere close to the jocks, because for some reason a lot of kids were in the marching band. Of course drummers were cooler than the tuba players, so they were closer to the most popular tables.  However Orchestra sat further out, and Chess Club was on the outskirts.  I suddenly didn't know where I fit into the picture.  I could have easily sat with the popular kids, but then thinking of Gia, I wanted to be alone with her.   table for two –err three.  As we moved through the line Gia and Abby chatted about their days so far. 
"What do you have next?" Abby asked inching along.
"Speech with Franklin, free period, and then Art Composition, final class is U.S. History. With Martin” She sighed
"I have speech next." I was relieved, an easy class with her.
"I have Art comp seventh too."  Abby added equally happy.
"Good, because aside from Alex, you guys are my only friends."  She laughed, and we smiled.  “It must have been nerve racking coming to this school, being a new student junior year after you've been at the same school for so long.”  Abby was voicing my thoughts.
"Well, we moved around a lot. It would have been nice to graduate with my friends, but I feel worse for Alex; he's a senior."  She swiped her prepaid lunch card.  Abby followed, then me.  "I mean we both went to the same junior high and then high school, it would have been nice, but what can we do?  Oliver lives here.  He wasn't going to sell his house and the bar to move to Indy for us."  There was a deep sadness in her voice.  Almost like that was what she wished her father had done, to allow them to graduate with their friends.
"Well I'm glad you're here." Abby sideways hugged her.
"Me too."  I echoed a little softer.
"Where are we going to sit?"  Abby lightened the mood as we surveyed the cafeteria.
"Over there, an empty table."  I pointed.  Abby led the way.  We didn't sit there very long before Alex and Mason joined us.
"Alex, I can't believe you gave Gia the wrong number!"  Abby started in on him.
"I read it back to you!"  Alex defended.
"You weren't paying attention. Weren't you watching Cartoon Network?"  Abby was relentless.
"Hey there are some quality shows on that channel. Very educating." Alex still defended.
"Don't worry Abby, I already ripped him a new one when I called and got the China Castle. 'Best all you can eat crab legs east of the Orient'."  Gia said in between bites.
"That sounds really good."  Mason piped in looking down at his meatloaf unhappily, "Now I want seafood."  We all laughed.  Chiz, who had been eating in the center of the room, got up and came and sat beside Alex, discussing what else, but some football plays.  Abby and Gia began talking quietly and looking at their phones.  Mason turned to me.
"Good call on that air ball Saturday, huh? She seems into you."  He winked at me as he drank his Gatorade.
"Dude, I thought you did that on purpose." I nudged him with my elbow.  "Definitely, a good call."
"I saw the way you were looking at her when she stood on the pier.  You couldn't even see her that well, but she's hot." Mason matter-of-factly stated.  "But Keep your eyes on that guy” He motioned toward Chiz.  Ah, Mason; wise beyond his years.  We were always wary of Chiz.
"You know why they call me Chiz, right?"  Chiz had somehow managed to incorporate Gia into their conversation.
"Because you eat a lot of Cheese Wiz?"  She asked innocently.  I decided that I might just love this girl.
"Dude! NO!  But I do like Cheese Wiz on crackers." He distracted easily, just throw something shiny in front of him.  "Anyway, the girls gave me that name because I'm so chiseled.  I mean look at me; I'm a rock."  He lifted his shirt and flashed his abs.  Mason and I shook our heads laughing; Chiz had given himself the name and insisted we called him that.  Gia looked at Mason and me with her eyebrows raised.
"Well you know what they say about steroids right? It makes your wee-wee, well, wee-wee."  She held her pointer finger and her thumb an inch apart.  But she kept her gaze innocent and smiled politely.  Both she and Abby stood with their trays, and turned to walk away.
"Baby, this isn't steroids!  This is hard work! It took a whole summer to get this ripped!  I was puny." he called after her.
"Not helping your point, dude."  Mason said. He patted Alex on the back saying “Good luck” and we stood to take our trays to the return also.  Alex had a panicked don't leave me alone with him expression on his face.  Maybe he was cooler than I'd originally given him credit. So I saved him.
"Alex, I got those protein bars in my locker I was telling you about. Do you want one for before practice today?"
"Yeah, I'm coming."  He didn't even tell Chiz “later” as he ran and caught up with us.
"Thanks man."  He said under his breath.
"No problem."
And to think I almost took choir instead of speech.  How glad was I that I didn't listen to Mrs. Kensington when she said I had a lovely voice.  We arrived in our class and found two seats beside each other.  Mr. Franklin was the Drama instructor.  He was dressed in very bright colors, and waved his hands very flamboyantly.  If there was a Gay Pride parade you would picture him front and center.  Maybe he was in the closet of some sorts, but he was married to a smoking hot Cuban woman ten years younger than him.  They had three rambunctious boys that were both involved heavily in the sports program and community drama program.  It was a little awkward to see them out as a family.  He was very doting and she looked at him like she would eat him up.  I heard him speak of her once to another faculty member.  I remembered him saying, "There is something glorious about finding your soul mate.  Pita gets me in a way that is amazing.  And when we make love, mountains move."  I shivered at the image, I took it too far.  Gia looked over at me quizzically. I half-smiled at her, relieved that Mr. Franklin began speaking.
"We are going to have an amazingly fun year, this year.  I am going to push you to your dramatic limits, but don't worry, I’ll bring you back.  That said this is a safe place.  Where we can share dialogue, and where we can create.  We will get to know each other intimately." I looked over at Gia, her complexion darkened again.  He continued.  "Through our words we will break down walls.  Itineraries."  He scanned his podium, as he held up a stack of papers, the itineraries.  He then scanned the faced pausing on Gia's.  He began again as he passed out the papers.
"For our first exercise, we will get to know each other.  Each of you will have a minute and an half to talk about anything you want.  I'd like you to all stand in the back of the room. As I call your name, come forward, introduce yourself and show me what you've got."  We did as instructed.  "Jackson Adams."  Jackson went forward and spoke of his missionary trip to Haiti.  "Jackson please take this first seat here."  Jackson went to where he had been sitting before and moved his stuff to the new seat.  "Ugh" I groaned realizing there would be a seating chart.  "Ella Akers?"  Ella spoke of how cheering was her life, and every student should have school spirit.  And so it continued.  He was getting dramatically close to my name and still hadn't called Gia's either.  “Gianna Moretti?”  Gia looked up at me with a shrug.  She went to the front and smiled nervously at everyone
“Hi I’m Gia.  I’m new here.”  She turned anxiously to Mr. Franklin and he nodded for her to go on.  “I’m from Fishers, Indiana. Well, originally I’m from here, but my mom, brother and I have lived in Atlanta, New Orleans, Texarkana...” looking down under her breath she said, “for two months,” She looked back up determined, “Louisville, Evansville, and finally Fishers, just outside of Indianapolis.  I just moved back Saturday, and I’m excited for the coming year.” She paused and glanced out the window.  She couldn’t meet our eyes as she began to speak fast, nervously.  “It’s funny how one moment can change and define your life—send you down a path that you didn’t even see—like you were in the woods and suddenly you see a path, but it’s over grown and your scared and nervous—because there could be bears, scary snakes, or mountain lions, but you have not choice, because the path you are on is now a circle, You have no choice but to take that path, the scary one.” She looked at me.  “Because it might lead you someplace safe, if you can make it to that safe place the world can be a safe place.  But it’s scary to take that first step, because in one moment your life can change.”  She looked at the clock nervously, counting the seconds, I was sure.
"Very nice Miss Moretti."  She sighed relieved.   "Please take the seat behind Miss Langley.  Travis Nichols."  I was still moved by Gia's speech as I walked to the front of the room scanning the faces.
"Hey, I'm Travis.  Most of you know that.  I guess. Um. Well. I love to surf.  There is something about being in the ocean and seeing that perfect wave coming toward you."  I looked at Gia.  "And yeah, it terrifies you, because it's big, and it's a lot of water.  But you paddle out to it, because it calls to you, and you jump up on your board.  You feel the sheer strength of the creature, of the wave. And it's frightening.  It could turn on you any second, but right now, as you tame it, all you feel is the salty misty breeze over your head.  All you hear is the low rumble the surf, and in that moment all is right with the world.  And you ride the wave until it becomes a small swell.  And you no longer have to stand on your board, you can sit and either wait for the next big wave to come to you or you can paddle out to it.  There's just something amazing about it and that's why I like to surf."  I didn't take my eyes off of her, and I felt every eye in the room on me.
"Well put Mr. Nichols, please take your seat behind Gianna."  I got my things and sat behind her.  I ripped out a page in my spiral note book, scribbled a note and handed it to her.  I sat back in my seat and listened to the rest of the speeches.

Chapter 2 Wide Awake, But Wishing I Was Still Dreaming


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.

Chapter 1 As If It Wasn't Enough


I hugged Mitchell goodbye.  I hoped it wasn't the last time I ever saw him, but a small voice told me it might be.  I felt lost.  We stood in Chicago O'Hare Airport waiting the final moments before I would head off to security.
“You've got your ticket right?"  He nervously checked his pockets as if he were looking for something, pausing only to push his wire rimmed glasses up his nose.  My mother made a good choice with Mitchell.  He was a lawyer, and we lived in a northern suburb of Indianapolis. We came to Chicago for a final shopping trip before I was exiled to Florida.  I was leaving my gated community to return to the first home I had ever lived.  We had struggled over the years, and when it seemed like we were finally happy, boom! Cervical cancer.  My mom had passed a month earlier, and though Alex had already been in St. Petersburg for three weeks, I had dragged out the relocation for as long as my father would allow.  Now the man I had wished for the past four years to be my father, the man who felt like my father was being forced to tell me goodbye.
"Yes I got it right here."  I held it up to show him.
"Good.  One more thing Gianna."  He finally found what he was looking for in his front pocket.  He pulled out a small velvet drawstring pouch.  I watched him warily, because I hated surprises.
"I've been looking for this for a week,” He started to chuckle, “Your mom hadn't worn it in years.  But I think she would want you to have it."  He loosened the top with one hand, cupping my hand with the other as he tipped it over.  Out fell a small white gold ring.  I knew this ring.  It was my mother's wedding gift from her father before she'd married Oliver, my father.  In cursive, LOVE was carved on the top of it, the letters connecting and blending into the band.  I remembered the story she'd told Alex and me growing up.  "My father, a hardworking man, told me that as long as I was loved I would find my happiness.  I was loved by him, and I am loved by you, so no matter where we are, I am happy." 
I just stared at it as I said, "I thought she lost this a long time ago, she stopped wearing it when I was still young."  I sighed as I slipped it on the middle finger of my right hand still admiring it. 
“She thought she had too, but I found it going through some things from before we lived together, in the attic.  It must have slipped off when she was packing some of the boxes. After I found it, I misplaced it too."  I laughed at his absentmindedness.  Mitchell was a brilliant litigator, but sometimes he had trouble finding his shoes in the morning when they were where they'd always be.  I didn't know how he'd survive without us.
"There are more things I'm having shipped to Florida, but I wanted to make sure you had this.  It's important that you know your mother will always be with you, watching over you and smiling.  You and Alex made her proud."  A single tear threatened to escape my eye.  I willed it to stay at least until I was out of his sight.  He had wanted to adopt us when he first married my mom, an act that my father had refused to allow.  I couldn't forgive Oliver for that.  To be honest there were a lot of things I couldn't forgive him for.  But for that, I wouldn't forgive him.    Mitchell promised to visit over our fall break, and I nodded in agreement.  I hoped my father wouldn't find a way to prevent that from happening.  Mitchell represented stability and integrity, everything that my father did not.  So I hugged him goodbye, trying to remember everything about this moment.
When I found my seat on the plane and buckled myself in, I allowed the brimming tear to escape.  I sat between a kid who looked like he was in college and a man in a suite with his lap top open.  The business man had huffed annoyed when he realized mine was the middle seat.  I didn't like the window seat; I always got dizzy looking out the window.  I never liked the aisle seat after a mishap with an airline attendant and drink cart a few years ago.  The result was three broken fingers on my right hand.  It usually wasn't a problem because I sat with mom and Alex.  Thinking about them together I allowed another tear to escape my eye.  I leaned my head back and looked up at the air vent above me, waiting for the plane to move, to do anything.  Nothing happened though.  Tear three escaped my eye.  The kid on the other side of me looked like he wanted to say something to me, but I ignored his glances.  Instead I closed my eyes and I was in a happy memory.  I closed them tighter and I could smell the floral arrangements.  I saw the four of us standing there on the sandy beach, with the wind blowing in our hair.  My mother and I wearing flowered hallows around loose soft curls, cream sun-dresses and barefoot.  Mitchell and Alex in khaki shorts and button up and down Hawaiian shirts, sand between their toes.  I saw the Hawaiian justice of the peace smiling at the newly married couple so in love.  They were married the second day of a three week family vacation.  We'd never been anywhere for a vacation before that.  How my mother had found Mitchell was a mystery even to me now.  Another tear slid down my cheek.  I opened my eyes to the air vents above my head again and looked down at the ring that said LOVE.  I got the strange sensation that my mother wrapped her arms around me in that moment.  I closed my eyes again. 
First the captain came on saying we'd be leaving shortly, and then the flight attendant spoke about safety procedures.  I reached under my seat and grabbed my messenger bag.  I found my iPhone and put the ear buds in my ears.  Drowning out the flight attendant, I played the loud rock music.  I went to my mobile email and sent two messages. First to Alex, it was simple and short.
Arriving on time, don't be late!!  Phone off now but will turn it on when I land. Luv u
The next message I sent was to Mitchell.  He wouldn't get for another three and half hours, even if it made it to his phone before then he wouldn't check it while he drove.
I couldn't say all the things that I've wanted to tell you these past
few weeks but, thank you, for loving my mom, and for loving us. Even though we couldn't call you dad, you were our dad. Thank you again for the ring it means the world to me to have a part of mom with me.  I will call when I've settled in.
luv –Gia.
I switched my phone to airplane mode, before I glanced at the boy by the window just long enough to see he was still watching me.  I leaned my head back as we took off and let the music fill my ears.  I didn't look at anyone or anything. It was me and the music for the rest of the flight. 
Finally we landed.  As I left the baggage claim, I was suddenly assaulted by the heat and bright sun.  I turned on my phone.  I had a new text message.
Truck won't start. Find a cab. –Alex
"Great" I sighed.  I walked up to the first cab I saw.  There leaning against the passenger side door was a short, skinny Asian man in his forties.
"Where to?" he asked in a thick accent.
"St. Pete." I half smiled.
"That far.  You pay, and not stiff me for going so far?"  He didn't crack a smile.  I dug out my wallet, opened it enough so he could see in as I fanned a row of twenties.
"Do you mind if I see your ID.?"  I asked as I put my phone on picture mode.
"No I don't mind, looks like we don't really trust each other."  I took his ID and took a picture of it.  I texted the picture to Alex with the message:
This is my cab driver.
"Hey, you've gotta make a living and I'm a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone." I smirked as I typed and he helped me load my luggage in the trunk. 
"Where to in St. Pete?"  He asked as we both climbed into the car, he behind the wheel, and me behind the passenger seat.
"Can we go to the St. Pete Pier first?"  I was feeling overwhelmed and not looking forward to the reunion with Oliver.
"No problem, you're dime, or twenty."  Ah, a joke! I smirked again and I put my ear buds In my ears as we drove away from the Tampa Airport.  I didn't feel like much more small talk.  I watched the scenery change from large city, to beachy forest, to small town.  I was here.  I was home.  He drove up and parked by a meter. The LCD screen flashing that it had expired.
"I expect you to feed that thing."  He nodded toward the meter as he reached for a newspaper in the passenger seat.
"I will and feel free to leave the meter running."  He looked at me shocked in the rear view mirror, but he reached and turned it off. I got out and fed the meter.  First I walked to the pier.  It was an old gray worn, wooden platform with a matching gray wood railing encompassing it.  A few older men sat on a bench with fishing poles strung into the wavy water.  I remembered the last time Alex and I stood at the end and watched dolphins dance in and out of the water in the distance.  He was seven I was six. This was the only ocean I had ever seen.  Alex told me it wasn’t the ocean; it was the Gulf of Mexico.  To me it was just an ocean. 
I stood there for a long time watching the gulf’s choppy water.  The breeze chilled my legs beneath my short jean skirt.  My blouse was black and thin and my skin goose bumped under it.  I walked the length of the pier back to the path that lead to the beach. I slipped off my sandals and carried them in my hand. In the distance there were people jogging in pairs, some with dogs, a group of boys playing football in the distance and a couple having a romantic afternoon picnic.  About half way between the couple and the boys I sat down, tucking my skirt under my thighs and pulling my knees up to my chest.  I watched the waves roll in.  They rolled out, in, out, as they had always done.  There was something comforting in that, knowing how constant this place was to me, even after all these years.  This was where I came to as a little girl.  As soon as I realized I could escape, I came here.  Sometimes, I just sat here for hours watching the waves, until Alex would come for me.  He only came after our father was finished hitting our mother and had either passed out or left to go tend the neighborhood bar he owned.  Alex never told our parents where I escaped to.  It didn't matter where I was in the house, or what the time of day, when my mother called to us "LEXIE, GIA ESCAPE!"  We ran.  We each had our hiding place from him.  He never came to look for us.  He really didn't care.  Alex would creep back to check when it was safe to return.  He was always the braver of the two of us; then when he was sure it was ok, he'd return with me.  The two of us would put our mother back together, icing her face, bandaging any scrapes, picking up the broken dishes or furniture.  I don't remember when it began. I just remember it always happening. 
I was lost in thought; so of course, I didn't see the football hurling toward me.  I was entranced with the waves and my memories but I snapped out of it when I heard "Hey, look out!"  I turned my attention to the direction of the voice. I saw the football hurling toward my head.  I leaned to the side a little too much, landing on my side as the football barely missed my head.  Sand was everywhere, in my caramel colored hair, all over my skin, down my blouse.  I was utterly mortified.  Running toward me was a tall tan boy, shirtless and wearing long cargo shorts. His first features that stood out to me were his messy dark hair that framed his face, and white teeth smiling at me.  His hazel eyes sparkled.  I stood dusting myself off, trying to avoid his gaze and failing miserably.  He reached for the ball and as he straightened up he appraised me from my bare feet up to my eyes that were scrutinizing him as well.  He realized I'd watched him sum me up and looked away briefly, his face darkening slightly with a blush.
"Sorry about that. My buddy," he pointed to another shirtless boy waving both hands yelling "sorry" to me.  "has got no aim. Or the best aim in the world, depending on how you look at it.  I'm Travis."  There was that perfect smile again.
"Gianna. It's ok." I fanned my shirt a little as sand continued to fall out of every crevice of it. I picked up my sandals as he asked,
"Are you new to town or on vacation? I don't remember seeing you around." He shuffled the ball between his hands.
"Just arrived, but now I have to go.  Thanks for saving me from the football."  I smiled and took a step back from him, captivated by his eyes.
"No problem. Anytime. Really." He stood there and watched me as I inched away.  I turned and walked away.  I didn't look back.  It was really hard, but I'd seen all the sappy movies where the girl regrets looking back, because she usually got caught by the boy who is still watching her leave.  When I made it back to the pier, I turned to walk the final section to the sidewalk.  I couldn't help myself.  I looked over to see if he'd gone back to playing with his friends.  He stood there, shuffling the ball in his hands staring at me. His focused look suddenly turned into a great big smile that reached his eyes. I chuckled, and shook my head suddenly understanding why it was so much cooler to not look.                   
I made my way back to the cab.  The cabbie looked up from his paper as I climbed in.  I told him the address as I leaned back in the back seat, but he didn't say anything.  It was three streets over and down two blocks.  I watched the scenery out of the window.  The neighborhood looked different, but felt the same.  He pulled up in front of a house and I sat there mesmerized by it. I remembered it as blue.  My father had painted it an olive green color, the trim was bright white.  The porch was a green wooden floor with white pillars along a white railing.  A dark cherry wooden door made the home seem welcoming and inviting.  My mother's flowers still lined the walkway and flower bed in front of the porch.  I sat there staring at the house. 
"This is it right?"  The man turned to me confused.
"This is it." I sighed.  He popped his trunk and opened his door to get out taking one more look at me.  I just stared at the house as the flood of memories came back to me.
"Come on girl, or I'll turn the meter back on." I tore my eyes from the house, and turned to him. He laughed out loud and got out of the car.  I got out also and left some sand on his seats.  He helped me take my luggage to the porch I paid him giving him a nice tip.  He tipped his hat and turned to leave.  As he pulled away, I stood there, outside of the door, willing myself to go inside.  Finally I took my keys out of my messenger bag and found the hot pink key my dad had made and sent to me.  Alex's had been army green camo.  We talked about switching, just to mess with him, but then thought better of it.  I had to give him a D for effort though, he'd gotten the girlie part right.  Finally I went in, the living room looked the same, but different.  It had the same furniture but the colorful walls I remembered were freshly painted white.  I called out to Alex, to Oliver.  There was no answer.
"Great" I sighed.  I lugged my heavy suitcases upstairs.  After three trips I finally stood in my tiny room.  The walls had been freshly painted white also but were bare. It looked like the entire house had been painted.  I looked at my single bed.  It had a new pink comforter with two pink pillows on it.  I despised pink.  I began to unpack.  My closet was too small.  My dresser had no decorations on it and too few drawers.  I unpacked half of my bags and decided that I needed more storage.  I changed my clothes and texted Alex.
Where are you  
My phone sang a pop song almost immediately.  I answered it.  "I just got back from the parts store. Oliver is sporting some junker." He didn't even say hello, just jumped into the conversation.
"Um, yeah, my flight was fine.  Do you think you can take me to the store to get some Rubbermaid storage boxes?" I sat down and surveyed my new smaller living space that looked like a tornado had ripped through it.
"It might make it to the store. How do you like your comforter? I helped pick it out."  He was now standing in my door way. He took his phone from his ear and put it in his pocket.  He surveyed my room and stifled a laugh, I grimaced.
"Tell me you didn't."  I looked at him annoyed.  He seemed to have grown in the three weeks apart.  He was taller than me, auburn hair, with a spray of freckles across his nose, green eyes that had the girls in Indiana swooning over his every word.  The grease stains on his shirt gave him an older look.  Eighteen months though, he was only eighteen months older than me. I had to keep telling myself that because sometimes it seemed like I was older than him.
"No, I didn't and I told him how you hate pink."  He plopped down on my bed beside me and looked at his dirty hands annoyed. 
"Where is daddy dearest anyway?" 
"Working.  I know it sucked grabbing a cab but trust me it would have been worse abandoned by the side of the interstate, because Bessie, would not have made that trip. Let me go change and wash my hands then we can go, how much money do you have? Enough you think?"
"I'm sure! Mitchell gave me enough allowance to last me the next six months with a raise."  I raised my eyebrows smiling.
"Give me five minutes."  He stood and left the room.
An hour later we were both pushing carts with under the bed totes closet organizing tools, room decorating things and a duvet cover.  We rolled past the mega store's paint section.  I looked at Alex forbiddingly. 
"You think we should?  I've stared at white walls for three weeks.  I feel like I need a stark white straight jacket to go with it."  He rolled his cart down the aisle full of the rainbow of color swatches.  "I call navy."  He laughed and stood on the bottom bar of the cart as it continued to roll.
"I obviously call pink."  I scrunched my nose in disgust like it smelled bad.
"I'm thinking a silver grey.  That color always suited you."  He was right.  I also picked an accent of sage green. We checked out and went home.  Before we unloaded everything from the old beaten down truck, I looked at the back door.
"Do you think he's here?"  I asked again suddenly nervous.
"Working until 2 A.M.  How a recovering alcoholic can tend bar I'll never figure out."  Alex said as he pushed his seat forward grabbing the bags and totes from the extended cab section.  "Who's room are we gonna paint first?" he was unlocking the back door now.
"You've been in hell longer, so yours first."  I grabbed the rest of the bags.
"It really hasn't been that bad.  We stay out of each other's way.  He'll probably do the same with you."  We walked through the small stark white kitchen, to the stairs and up to our rooms.  Since Alex's was the most organized, we dumped the stuff in there and sorted our storage units.  I took my things to my room and began helping him move furniture across the hall to the guest room.  We took down the blinds taped off the old wood trim and began painting.  Joking and laughing, we finished in a few hours.  It was a total transformation.
"Kinda feels like home."  Alex smirked as he picked up the pan and left the room. 
"Kinda feels like prison."  I whispered under my breath.  He didn't hear me.
We then went to my room and he helped me unpack.  We organized and loaded totes.  I reorganized my drawers. 
"We could paint your room tonight too."  Alex plopped on my bed. 
"Where would I sleep? You've already got the guest room."  I sighed really wanting to paint my room and take it away from Oliver, to make it mine.
"You can have the guest room; I'll pull my mattress in the middle of my floor and sleep there"
"Alexander the Great, so noble."  I smiled
"My Lady, I aim to please." He mock bowed from where he sat.  Like that, it was decided, so we did it.  We moved my bed and dresser and new totes out of my room, took down the blinds, taped off the old wood trim and painted.  Three walls gray and the wall around the double windows we painted green.  Then we opened the windows to let the fumes out.  We went downstairs and ate a late dinner of delivery pizza.  All felt right with the world, or as right as it could be with the world.  We watched the Reality TV channel.  Alex turned down the volume and gave me his own commentary.  We laughed.  I had really missed laughing; I had really missed him.  Our texting and phone conversations hadn't been enough for me.  Finally after the pizza was gone, and the shows became more serious cop programs, we turned off the TV.  I decided to drag my mattress into my room too and we went to bed.  I didn't hear Oliver come in, but I did hear my bedroom door open, and saw a light across my walls, then it shut.  I heard Alex's door open and shut, and then I heard Oliver's bedroom door slam shut.  I wasn't sure if it was because I was actually here or because we'd messed up three of his bedrooms.  I didn't really care to find out either. So I put my earphones back in and went back to sleep.  Eventually.