Today life would change. Not that it hadn’t been doing that in incalculable ways too frequently for me to keep up with. I felt adrift in the emotional ocean that kept tumbling me over without a perceivable direction or purpose. Today would be different because the direction of the ocean was also a direction on the compass. I was being sent away. Away from the chaos of this city to the unknown of another. I thought of Seattle as my home. This little rented house among so many estates of glanderous proportion. It wasn’t much, but it was the place I had known for most of the days of my life. Now I was headed for a small town that only appeared on a few maps, namely Purdy, besides what kind of name was that? It was a small town by all standards as well a being in the middle of nowhere. So, why? Why all this change. It held the key to the answers I was looking for, but the current why lay in the last year of school in Bellevue High. At fifteen, not old enough to drive, and not old enough to date by normal standards, I had a boyfriend.
Dirk was good to look at and smooth in his ability to convince. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be his girlfriend, but I said yes and began a series of events I could not have dreamt. His best friend wanted to date me too, but I was all unaware. That relationship went south, as most do at my age. He dropped out of school and I didn’t see him for awhile. He was working construction to get away from his parents. All that changed when I awoke in the middle of the night sweating. Something was wrong, my heart shrunk in my chest, it felt like the apocalypse had come to Bellevue. I didn’t realize the apocalypse had come to my own life. I didn’t look at the papers in the morning. I was too caught up in my own fears. It wasn’t until a friend shoved the paper in my face that I realized that I knew the faces of the dead girls there and I knew who had done it and maybe even how. I emotionally collapsed as I sat down with my friends to discuss the situation. Dirk had killed a family. A family we knew. I had dreamed of where. I knew even though it wasn’t in the papers.
In a daze I walked down to the counselors’ office. I had to tell. He knew I would. That made me next and his vengeance had been to a whole family, it would be as expansive with mine as well. Still, the truth had to be told while I could still tell it. I told the counselor. She called the detectives. They picked me up from school. It took almost a month for him to be arrested. In that month I didn’t sleep well, some nights he knocked on my window. I lay shaking in my bed knowing that if I so much as moved he would add my family to the slaughter. Then he was arrested. That should have given me some comfort, but it didn’t and the nightmares never stopped. I had to workout and read all the time to keep my body so exhausted at night that I wouldn’t dream. The trial dates were coming and I would have to face them again.
My family had been turned upside down. Not only because of the news of the murders, but by my psychological reaction to them. I needed help and they came up with the plan of sending me away. Away to a family friend that lived in the middle of nowhere. They believed that somehow it might help me to heal. Or maybe just help them to ignore my problems, either way, I wasn’t sure life would ever be anywhere near normal again. But I was tired, so I didn’t fight it. I was too busy battling to keep hold of myself. That is how I came to be packing boxes in my room, heading off to live with friends I didn’t know well, and to a city I was completely unsure about.
My mother had called her friend not long after the arrest.
“Charlotte, its Dena,” I heard her say, “I need your help. Callista needs your help. I know we talked about your guest house and she needs a change to help her through this. Have you talked to Gregory? Do you think she could stay there for awhile?” and then silence while she listened, “I don’t know how long. Probably for the school year like we talked about. We’ll send you money to help out with the situation and maybe your kids can help her learn to deal with this whole thing better.” She was nodding her head in understanding. “Yes, I think she will be okay. She seems to be trying to work it all out by herself, but I think all the familiar sites make it harder for her.” Again she was listening. “I can bring her next week if you want. I’ll call the school and arrange the move. Thank you. I think it will be the best thing we can do for her… Yes…Thank you, Good-bye Charlotte.”
Then my mother turned around to look at me. “You should start getting ready.”
That was all I was told. I went to my room and found the file of boxes waiting for me. I cried as I packed, not that I had any huge ties to this place, but it was home and I was being sent away. Even if was the best thing for me.
As a last resort I had called my best friend to go for one last walk about the city. I needed to encapsulate the memories and vistas for the dark days of my exile. We took the bus downtown. Somehow my mother saw that as safe enough. Maybe it was just my emotional state that she worried about and not my physical well being. That aside, we took the trip. As we rode on the dirty city transit bus I lay my head down on Megan’s shoulder. She was used to this reaction and was very comforting to me. It was good to have a friend most days, but even better these days.
“How am I going to manage without you?” I pleaded.
She just laughed at me and patted my leg, “You’ll do fine, you always do. ‘Sides, I’m going to miss you too.”
The bus stopped way too frequently and the twenty minute drive lengthened to almost an hour. We got up and exited as the bus stopped at the familiar station at the top of a hugely slopping hill. It was San Francisco steepness, but the smells were all Seattle. We clumped down the hill with our arms about each other. It was a few blocks down to the Farmer’s Market, which was always our first stop. We detoured to the Flower shops at one end and spend long minutes examining and smelling the flowers. Nothing would ever smell like those flowers in the market, their smell was so familiar because it was tainted by the smells of fresh fish and leather and salt water. To some people that was a bad combination, but the ocean was home. I loved days like today when we wandered through the market under the gloomy overcast sky, smelling and tasting everything that we could. There was the honey vendor with more flavors of honey than imaginable; the people who sold spiced nuts were always near the people who made fresh cider. We always bought some and then went to the little French bakery across the crowded street to get a chewy French cookie, whose name escaped me, but I knew what it looked like and that was all I needed. With our cider and cookies we went to the grassy knoll at one end of the market and sat watching the boats float by.
“I am going to miss this,” I confessed to Megan.
“You’ll mange.” She replied flipping her over bleached blond hair behind her shoulder.
“It’s not the same. I won’t have all these people pressing in around me. No more street fairs, no more space needle, science center, or aquarium. Just lots of trees and too much quiet time to think.” I was already feeling bad for myself.
“At least you’ll be alive,” She smiled at me with that best friend look that kept me on track.
“I guess there are worse options huh?”
She laughed, “More than a few. Like still being stuck here.”
We sat in silence for a little while, just soaking in the gray-blue ocean against the gray clouds. It was picturesque today, as only Seattle ever was. I could hear the waves lapping at the ocean bulwarks so many feet down from us. The cars honked and the street artists tried to talk the passer-bys to buy their only vaguely impressive work.
“How am I going to do this?”
He reached over and patted my hand, “Sleep with everyone in your new school,” she counseled in a sarcastic voice, “You’ll be busy for at least a day.”
I laughed at her. She knew I never would. I never had, but my reputation said differently. She probably had, but it was water under the bridge. I was sure that it would never matter to me if she had slept with the whole school, she was steady when life moved sideways. She managed to shrug off life in ways I could never imagine. I lay down on the grass and looked at the cloud until bright circles of light danced in front of my eyes. Then I closed them and memorized the cacophony that I loved.
Megan interrupted my reprieve, “For real, you’ll manage and when you come back for the trial” it was a known which trial she meant, “Come have lunch with me.”
“I promise,” I agreed.
It was a beautiful drive. I looked out over the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound as the salt water crashed into the sides of the floating bridge. The grey streaked cotton ball clouds seemed like they would open up at any time and sprinkle another of their daily summer storms on us. Then came trees, towering above until they cut off all light from the sky. They reached out over the road as if they were trying to shelter me from the world and protect me from the pains of my life. It grew denser as we got further from the city. A small town appeared in the distance peaking in and out of the groves of trees. I guessed it was to be my new home, but to my surprise we didn’t even slow as we came to and then went out of the little town. Again we crossed the water and found our way back into the forest. The car started ascending and descending hills. In a valley larger than the others, I began to see the ocean through trees again. We began following the water and then just before a bridge we turned left. The road paralleled a tide beaches to our right the last hill was long and steep after an almost right-angle turn. The paved roads stopped, but the packed dirt looked well worn by travelers. One last turn took us into a densely surrounded glen. In the middle was a log cabin of significant size. This was it, my new exile.
We stopped and I exited the car with little excitement. The front door opened and out came the whole clan. I knew them from the family videos and vacations of long ago. Charlotte was a beautiful woman with short dark hair and short stature of the ideal mother. She could have been the mother out of any story book. She made all around her feel like little children who wanted to be taken in and cared for by this all knowing mother. Her husband Gregory followed after her and greeted us with a big booming voice and a bear hug. He was tall and had the voice of a man twice his size. He easily could have been a radio personality with his voice. They were followed by their children, one of the boys was older than me, but the youngest was little more than a baby.
They were ecstatic to greet us and I began to wonder what I would have to do to manage to be worthy of all their warm welcome. We were ushered into the house and told not to have a care for our things, because the boys would follow with them and help me to get them settled. I brought in my back pack and was shown the way up the stairs and away from the main house to the guest house. It was nice, but little more than a sitting room with a loft and bed. I set my bag down inside and almost ran face-first into their oldest son.
We both stepped back, “Excuse me,” we both chimed.
I ducked my head and stepped around him and went back into the kitchen to sit down beside my mother.
Both mothers were in the middle of a conversation as I slipped into one of the seats at the table. Without a pause in the conversation, I was presented with a plate of cookies and a cup of milk. I probably didn’t catch more than two words as the talking flew on over my head. It wasn’t until the cookies were gone that I noticed that my name had been called more than once.
“Callista…” Charlotte said again. This time I looked up, “The kids are outside and will show you around if you want them to.”
It was more excuse than I needed. So I made my way out to the back yard which was mostly an extension of the woods. There was an odd swing and a tree house as well as a trampoline and a huge lawn of mostly wild grass. The whole expanse had the almost natural look about it and the trees thickened at they became more distant from the house. There were no houses that could be seen from the back yard, but there was laughter. All the kids were doing something. The oldest boy was pushing the two little girls on the swing and they were squealing as they tried to stay on. I figured that was probably the safest place for me and avoided the other two boys that were younger than me, but close enough to my age to still be intimidated.
The girls’ laughs were contagious as they flew back and forth on the swing. I couldn’t help but smile at their childish glee. The young man pushing them had caught me smiling as I met his eyes.
“You have a nice smile,” he said as I got close enough to hear him.
“Thanks,” I replied looking at my feet.
“I’m Tristan Scott,” he introduced himself thrusting his hand out in my direction.
“I’m Callista Decker,” I replied, “but I’m sure you knew that.”
“Maybe,” he laughed, & shoved the girl high up again. They screamed gleefully in response.
“Are you going to be my tour guide?”
“Sure, over there,” He added pointing out into the woods, “Is the place where we tie the kids up on Saturday. Over there,” he continued pointing another direction, “is the place where we beat them on Sunday, and over there,” he finished, in his still very serious tone, pointing in again another direction, “is the place that we get our weekly lectures on Tuesdays.”
I scrunched my eyebrows at him as I tried to determine if he was kidding.
He laughed in response, “Of course, I’m kidding. There’ nothing very interesting around here, but when I’m done, I’ll take you down to the town and show you all five of the local sites.”
I laughed at that, “All five huh? That many?”
“Actually there are probably only four now, but that’s because Bessie is in for the night, which exclude all cow tipping.”
I shook my head and smiled.
“Actually, there may never be five again. Crazy Jake shot her this morning when the kids were walking to school.”
I pursed my lips, “Another joke.”
“No,” he laughed, “That one really happened.”
I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at that, “Holy Cow!”
“Literally,” he agreed, again serious.
He grabbed the swing and the girls in it in one movement. He held steady while they jumped the girls down one at a time. “Let’s go get some ice cream and I’ll show you the sights.”
“All four of them.”
“Yes, all four.”
He stuck his head inside the house for a moment and then directed me around the house. There was his silver car. Rather sporty actually. It wasn’t what I expected someone who lives in the middle of the woods to drive. It looked more suited for the city streets of Bellevue than the dirt roads of Purdy. He opened my door and I slid into the bucket seat.
As soon as he was in we peeled out on the gravel and were headed down the dirt road followed by a cloud of dirt. I soon was lost through the quick turn and rises in the road. Still, it was surprisingly soon when we reached the local grocery store. Frankly, that is all there was here. A store and a little ice cream stand. There was a frazzled girl working at the ice cream stand and a help wanted sign. He smoothly pulled into one of the front stalls and jumped out of the car. I followed him up to the stand.
“Hey Katie,” he greeted, “This is my friend Callista. She’s going to be staying with us for awhile.”
“It’ great to meet you,” she responded. “So, what can I get you?”
“Strawberry,” he responded, “what can she get you?”
“Plain old vanilla.”
“Well, aren’t we adventurous today?”
“I don’t think an adventurous spirit is needed here. Especially if of the top four things to do in the town, we go to the grocery store.”
“Hey now,” he chided me, “This is one of the top four things to do here. This is where I work.”
“Well,” I agreed, “that does make it more interesting. What do you do here?”
“Produce. I keep it lookin’ and smellin’ nice.”
“So you are the one that cons me into buying more carrots than I would need in a month?”
“On a good day, that’s my job.” He grabbed the cones and paid Katie.
“Katie,” I began, “could I get an application? I get the feeling that working is a good idea in this little town.”
She handed me a paper, “Frankly, if Tristan says your worth hiring the job is yours. The application is just for the files.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
He led me into the store and gave me the full tour while cracking jokes the whole way. From the dairy section, which “kept the smell of the cows out” to the produce department, which had “regular rain, like any other working farm.” Not that the store was that much different from any other mom and pop grocery store in the world, but it was more interesting because Tristan told me that it was. The whole time my mouth was occupied by licking the ice cream cone and trying not to let the food in my mouth spray out through my nose. He took me on a tour of the isles with commentary about the set up of each one as well as historical content.
“Isle 5 and 6 were added later,” he explained with a waive of his hand at the oddly strange set of isles we were headed towards, “and the contractor evidently did not own a level because the floor rises over five inches and comes back down on the other side.” I giggled as we stepped up and then at the end of the isle, back down, “This store could not be in the city due to handy cap code. In the city some one would have sued the stupid level-less contractor in an instant, but here in Purdy it just makes isle five a little more interesting especially after it is mopped. So many people fall going to the freezer section.” He shook his head and I kept laughing as we exited the two after thought isles.
We went back outside and past the box boy, who was delighted to be sweeping, at least he was outside and on level ground.
When we finished our cones and the tour, Tristan led the way back to the car. We continued on our tour through the woods. Next on the trip was the church building. We stopped and I was given a tour around the whole exterior. That was so useless, but it was funny all the same. When we got back to the car and climbed in Tristan began pulling doughnuts to depict what a nice parking lot the church had. I just clung to the sissy bar for dear life. I could hear the rims begin to cut into the asphalt on the last one and gasped at him. A guy dressed in a Karate uniform came by and began yelling at the two of us. He was so animated that I had to hide my face to keep from laughing outrageously. He was promptly cut off by yet another car stopping in front of the church to my chagrin, it was the bishop. He calmed the man and in a very calm voice informed the man that he would take it from there. I ducked my head a bit. This was not the kind of first impression that I was looking for. He looked directly at Tristan. He smiled, as if they were close friends.
“This must be a very good car if it can do that. Maybe this is the kind of car I should get.” He smiled broadly at Tristan and then patted him on the shoulder and left.
“And this must be the long awaited Callista,” he shook my hand, “It is so good that you are here. Try not to let this guy get you into trouble.”
“See you on Sunday!” Tristan called as the bishop waved and left in his plain little car.
“He’s not going to say anything?” I asked.
“I told you it was a happening place.” He replied with the mischief making it back into his eyes again. I chuckled at him and wondered what would be next.
Next was the High School, which also looked similar to all other High Schools. It was built on a steep hill and the high light of the stop was “Pride rock.” At first, I assumed that it would be like some movie prop from the Lion King, but it was little more than a huge boulder with hundreds of layers of paint. I giggled at the fresh coat of paint, which I could smell when standing near it.
“This week is the football game with our rival school. They came and painted our rock last night and we had to reclaim it this morning.” He was very serious about it, but that just made it all the more funny.
“Well, we can’t have another school painting our rock can we?”
“Absolutely not,” he agreed still keeping as strait face, “I am glad that you see the importance of the situation.”
I just laughed all the harder.
Next we made a stop at the Purdy spit. It was a rather anti-climactic kind of place. It was little more than a long pile of gravel topped by a road and surrounded by the sea. Even so, the view from it was amazing. The water was gray and green and smelled like the open ocean. The waves crashed softly on both ides of the spit.
“Once it warms up a bit we can all go swimming,” he offered.
“Isn’t it a little bit cold?”
“More than a little,” Tristan agreed, “On the best days of summer the water gets above fifty degrees, but not much.”
I chuckled, and made a shivering gesture at him.
“So, where is our last very interesting place?”
“Over by my sister’s house. It’s one of my favorite places to go.”
“I know! It’s the local dairy farm.”
He just chuckled at me.
“You’re not going to tell me?”
“I hadn’t planned on it. I was thinking that showing you would be better.”
I pursed my lips and waited as we plunged back into the forest and made our way to the last of the interesting spots of Purdy. It ended up being quite a way out to the last stop. The deep woods closed around us as we went and it was dark like late after noon. Suddenly, the trees began to thin and the gray light of the sky began to shine through once again. We slowed as the trees cleared and the land dropped off sharply. There in front of us was the uninterrupted Puget Sound. It streaked away to the distant gray land mass on the horizon, which must have been Seattle. The rhythmic lapping of the waves against the sandy shore was soothing and made me relax as the ocean always did. It was one of those things that soothed me as nothing else could. The waves were a sound I had heard through out my life and had that helpful permanence, like the heart beat of the planet.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” He asked from just behind me.
“There are no words.”
We stood there in silence watching the waves come in. As I lost focus to the sound of the water, Tristan flopped down beside me and began taking off his shoes and rolling up his pants. I tilted my head to the side and watched him. Then, I decided to join him in taking off my shoes.
We walked down into the water and I squelched the sand in between my toes. It was very cold, but it felt good. It was the way the ocean was supposed to fell, not like the warm water in California. That to me had felt more like a bathtub that smelled bad or a very big pool with a fake wave machine. This cool water was the background of my childhood. Water that never, even on the warmest day of the year, make it up above fifty five degrees. In an odd way it felt solid, the stark reality that had been there in the days before the world had turned itself upside down. It was the one North Star to me and somehow the simple act of standing in the cold water with the predictable rhythm of the ocean lapping against my legs, the world righted itself for a moment. I could feel a bit more me than I had before. I could see the way the world had been when I was little. It all felt just as carefree and okay at that moment.
So, I shoved Tristan in the water. It was the act of a little girl. No thought, no care for the consequences. It was just a moment of being. That felt right. Until, after sputtering out of the water, he glared. I knew it was coming, and I did what I shouldn’t have, I laughed at him. He didn’t look scary at all dripping with water. He plunged me under the water in one leaping bound. Lucky for me it wasn’t deep and I was able to get a hold of my breath before I momentarily went under.
It was nice to play, and Tristan indulged me in my need to be five for a time. We laughed, until it hurt to keep laughing. We splashed and chased and generally made idiots of ourselves without a thought to how we looked.
“Tee?!?” Called a voice from the trees on the edge of the beach.
Tristan turned and smiled, one of those dangerous, yet not at all scary smiles. It must have been his sister, Marie. She was short and blond and looked just as happy as any person could have hoped to have been. Next to her was a tall man with dark hair and broad shoulders. He looked more like a bear than a man and was not a person I would have liked to have met in a dark anywhere, until he smiled. Some how his smile lit his whole being and the dangerousness about him faded from expressing grizzly bear into big teddy bear.
They began making their way towards us. I stepped back a bit so as to let Tristan take the lead. Instead, he scooped up water and managed to fling it directly his sister, and missing her husband. She in due course screamed in offense. This caused the battle to begin anew without so much as proper introductions.
By the time the water fight ended all four of us were soaked, laughing, and exhausted.
“So, you little brat,” Marie began as she glared at her brother from the safety of the other side of her husband, whose name I had gathered was Eugene. “Why all this?”
“Well, I was showing Callista around the sites of Purdy.”
“I guess with the limited options, this would have to be considered on of the highlights of the place,” she laughed at the idea. “You know you live in a pitiful place when there is so little to see that you go and have a water fight on the beach for good times.”
We all laughed. It seemed like this would be one of those places that we spent a whole lot too much time. Even though we were all soaked to the bone, we were oddly warm and still smiling.
“Well, Eugene,” Marie began, “I think the clams are clean now.”
I noticed the abandoned buckets and shovel at the top of the path only when Marie gestured back to them.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” I replied,” I wasn’t trying to ruin your night!”
“Don’t worry,” Marie replied brushing the guilt aside, “Plans were made to be changed.”
“Let’s get something hot to drink back at the house and dry out before we send these guys home.”
They led the way down the beach to a cliff drop off. It looked like there was a house on the top of the cliff that over-looked the ocean. The climb was steep one side a cliff the other a row of trees.
“How do you pass here?” I whispered to Tristan as we walked down the drive.
“You don’t,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
“You have to honk the whole way up or down. Last summer there was an accident here.”
“Really,” I was instantly worried, “What happened.”
“Tristan tried to kill me,” Marie volunteered.
“You can’t blame it on me! You were the one blasting the music and looking for your next CD!” He retorted in a teasing and yet irritated voice.
“You say you were honking, but were you really?” she continued to jab at him.
“Maybe if you hadn’t been playing Prince loud enough for all of Purdy to hear you might have noticed me carefully coming up the hill to get your stupid movie!”
“Oh, sure, it was all my fault. You said you weren’t coming. It’s not like this is the most public highway in the world. You shouldn’t have been on the road!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have been on the road. Besides, have I ever really told you no when you asked so nicely. Even if I had a prior appointment?” He teased her followed by a little brother arm around the shoulder.
“Appointment huh? Where?” I asked prying for more details.
“A girl…” Marie began with the air of another good story on the way. Until her mouth was closed in a hurry by the hand of her brother. When she struggled out of it, it was quickly followed by a change in tactics. Tristan began tickling Marie and she began shrieking and squirming to get way from him. Eugene let out a big chuckle and joined the fray going after Tristan. I watched for a little while as I tried first to decide if I wanted to join the tickling giggling party and secondly what side I would end up on.
The decision was circumvented by the end of the fight when Tristan ended up running quickly up the hill and Marie running down it to break the whole thing off. The rest of the walk was punctuated with gibes and teasing, but not very close physical proximity; as if they were all afraid that if they got too close together again they might not be able to stop the magnetic need to attack each other. It was nice to watch a group of people just be together without any demands from their proximity. I hoped to someday get to be in that kind of family. As much as I knew and liked the Scotts, I was still just the outsider and it took work for them to think about including me in the natural relationships that they had formed over the years.
Eugene began to slow down to come and talk to me as we got closer to the house.
“Hey,” He began, “How’ it going?”
“Better than expected,” I replied.
He laughed at that, “Let me guess, not very excited about moving to the middle of the lost country?”
“Basically,” I laughed in return. He made me feel to comfortable and I just wanted to tell him everything after a few minutes talking with him. He seemed to honestly relate with everything and was quick to be witty and jovial.
When we arrived at their little house, Marie went to get us towels and Eugene busied himself with the hot drinks. I watched them in interest. I had expected Marie to be the in the kitchen kind of person like her mother, but it seemed that Eugene had a knack from maneuvering his way around the appliances.
Eugene made a huge salad for us with all kinds of unusual toppings. We had fresh bread to go along with it and tons of teasing and laughter. I was at ease with them in the little dinning room. I helped Eugene clear the plates, while Marie and Tristan kept digging at each other. Eugene handed me two mugs.
“For dessert,” he explained and motioned for me to go back into the dinning room. We gathered by the fire, which Tristan started, with blankets and steaming cups of hot chocolate. It was like a scene from a postcard or a “Why Washington isn’t so bad” book.
“So, you’re here for awhile?” Eugene asked, between sips at his drink.
“It seems that way,” I agreed doing the same.
“What are you planning to do here?” asked Marie as if she had no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to spend any amount of time in this bumpkin town.
“To be completely honest, I haven’t a clue. I was going for not die of boredom, and then if I make that goal for awhile, manage to have a bit of fun.”
They all nodded and the room went quiet as we warmed ourselves by the fire.
“Well,” Tristan began, interrupting the quiet, “We had better be getting home, we have church in the morning and you know how mom likes us to actually be coherent for all of sacrament meeting.”
Marie smiled and it crinkled the corners of her eyes with glee. She was holding back something witty, but probably didn’t want to say anything bad in front of a new friend.
“Thanks for the sand fight, it was most entertaining,” Eugene said standing up and thrusting out his big paw in Tristan’s direction, then he turned to me, “And thanks for distraction from the usual. It was nice to meet you.” I felt a lit dwarfed by him but welcome all the same.
Marie got up and hugged us both and then held the door open for us, “See you in the morning,” she called, and then shut the door behind us.
“So, what did you think about the five sights of Purdy, exciting aren’t they?”
“More than I could have guessed that they would be,” I replied through a grin, “Are they always this fun?”
“The sights are not, but me, I am,” Tristan bragged puffing out his chest. I looked at him, not sure if he was joking or not.
He laughed when he looked over at me, “I was kidding,” He informed me.
“That’s good to know I was beginning to think that I might have to schedule an ego reduction for you.” I teased him back.
We both laughed at ourselves.
We climbed back into the silver Saab and speed away towards home and the waiting showers. As we turned into the drive way, a sly smile crossed Tristan’s face.
“What?” I asked a little scared of the retaliation that his smile might reflect.
“I’m going to race you to see who gets clean and dressed first. I’m sure mom and dad want to say good night, before it gets too late.”
I nodded in acceptance of the challenge.
As soon as we stopped we both leapt from the car. I had a moment’s head start because I didn’t have to turn off the car, but his greater height caught me before we reached the front door. As soon as we entered we changed directions, I for the guest house and him for the stairs to the main house. I was sure he made it to the bathroom before I did, but I was nearly undressed by the time I arrived, because I knew there would be no one there. I scrubbed and soaped as quickly as I could and then jumped out with a towel caught as an afterthought. It was probably harder for me to get re-dressed; I had to find my clothes in my suitcase. I ran back down the stairs while brushing out my hair. I was just finishing this up as I got to the kitchen. Tristan was lounging with his feet up on the table as if he had been there for a long time, but I could see he was still breathing rapidly.
“I loose,” I conceded, “So what now?”
“It is movie time with the family,” He informed me.
“Is that an every week occurrence?” I wondered aloud.
“Mostly. Some weeks we aren’t all here, but the movie almost always goes on at about nine and plays till late. That is how my parents get the little kids to go to sleep on weekends.”
I nodded, “So, where is the movie fest going to be?”
“Outside of course,” he replied.
“Well, I should have known, that was the obvious answer.” I was sarcastic as he looked at me out of the sides of his eyes as if saying he wasn’t sure that I was joking. It must have seemed so normal to him, but I was from the city and movies were watched in the house and a theatre.
Outside, tied between two large trees was a pristine white sheet. There was a movie projector on a card table and everyone was flopped out on a variety of chairs, none of which even pretended to match in the least. His mom looked up when we opened the back door.
“Nice to see you,” she greeted us, “You missed the beginning, but you probably have that memorized. Grab a seat.”
He directed me to one of the empty chairs. The show was with Chevy Chase and the plot, if one exited, was beyond me, but I was intrigued by the laughter that regularly erupted from all the members of the family. I wasn’t really touched by that kind of humor, it seemed more stupid than anything to me, but I found myself laughing at how much they loved it. It was so contagious, that I found myself watching the each person in the family more than the movie. That is probably why I missed the point of the show, seeing as how it wasn’t that challenging mentally. Maybe that was the whole point. This family was so happy to be together that they didn’t need social sophistication, they just needed each other and that seemed to be enough for all of them.
I watched each of the family members in turn. There was Charlotte, the eternal mom, with the littlest girl on her lap. She was watching the show while brushing her baby’s hair. The little girl was putting on princess shoes and playing with her baby while intermittently gave orders to her mother as to how to improve the brushing and hair-do creation.
The next oldest was sitting in the middle of a blanket surrounded by toys and blatantly ignoring the movie. She was too busy getting ordered her toys and baby dolls. She had long black hair and had scrunched her face up in concentration. I wondered at her, she had so much of the world ahead of her, would she make it through without any scaring. That was so rare these days, but I hoped it for her.
Then there were the two boys. One was still little, but he sat up like he was the king of the world in his little chair. He had a look of total enthrallment on his face, yet never seemed unaware of his posture or the locations of anyone else in the area. He caught me looking at him and I quickly turned my face away and to the other boy. He was only a little younger than me and had big bottle cap glasses. He loved the movie and laughed with the older members of the family. He seemed a little unsure of himself and almost the opposite of his little brother sitting feet away from him. I made a note in my head to look out for him at school. He looked like he needed good friends around and so did I.
Lastly, of the children, there was Tristan. He had the kindest face of them all. There was so much youthful and uncorrupted about him. He laughed freely and just seemed to be totally carefree. Would that be the same all the time? I wasn’t sure, maybe. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn to be so sure of the goodness of all things in life that nothing seemed all that bad to you? That would be a nice change from the constant fear and uncertainty that overshadowed my whole existence.
I seemed like a very short time had passed as I examined all the members of the family, but the credits were rolling. I looked around and the three younger kids were asleep in various, uncomfortable looking, positions.
“Everyone head off to bed.” Dad ordered very nicely as he gathered up one of the girls. Charlotte picked up the one in her lap and they headed to the house. Tristan gathered up his little brother and the other brother picked up the projector. I was surprised to see them leave the sheet hanging on the trees, but there must have been a reason, even if it was only that everyone’s hands were full already.
I followed the troop into the house, feeling a sudden wave of exhaustion wash over me. I headed for my bed. I was tired in every bone. I had too much stimulation today, but my mind wandered. That was no good. I would have to fall asleep reading.
Going through my bedtime routine didn’t take all that much effort. It was mindless from regular practice. Still, I stood with my back to the wall and the sink to y side when I could. I avoided washing my face, it took too long with my eyes closed. So, I had found these scrubbing pads that I could use without exposing my back to the room.
In my room I shoved the bed into the farthest corner so that there was no part of the room I could not see when I lay there. I closed the blinds and opened one of my book boxes. I pulled out a new book, whose binding I hadn’t yet cracked. It was a good night for a simple story. Books were so good, they were safe. Even when bad thing happened, I knew that all the characters were going to end up just fine, and even if they did not, they wouldn’t bleed from wounded hearts as soon as the book covers closed on their world. Sleep was the closest thing for me to that, but it hadn’t come easily for a long time. I had to leave lights on all the time and lock doors, and yet I was still so afraid. It was irrational. I would check everything more times than necessary and I was still afraid that he might be there at any turn.
At some point I fell asleep in the light. I woke up when it was very late outside. I was tired enough to be able to flip off the bedside lamp and keep sleeping, but that was only because I made the motion in mid-sleep. I was too tired to be bothered by dreams and that was how I liked it. I had to keep myself so tired that my mind and body didn’t have the extra power to keep going after I lay down.
Morning came too early and I took a long hot shower, glad for the separate water heater that serviced the quest house. I pulled on comfy clothes for the morning and went about doing my hair and makeup for church. By the time I was done, everyone else was probably up, so I went down to the kitchen and joined everyone else at Sunday breakfast. Charlotte had made blueberry waffles, bacon, and hash browns for the crew. Everyone looked in some state of insomnia. It was rather amusing to see a group of people sleeping over a meal rather than eating it. All that is except for little Caitlin, she laughed in her highchair and pushed her food around making bubbles on her lips. I decided to sit by her. She would probably e the best conversation of the group.
“Good morning Princess,” I greeted her.
“If you don’t mind, she could use some help getting some of that food into her mouth rather than around it,” Charlotte asked me over her shoulder as she tossed the bacon onto the serving plate.
“That I can manage to do,” I replied and picked up the jar of baby food and began flying it into her airport mouth. She thought that I was so funny that I managed to get most of the food down her gullet before she realized that it was just a misdirection tactic. She must have been full, because she began grabbing the spoon with her little baby hands and smearing baby art across her tray.
“Well, I think that is plenty for you,” I informed her with a distasteful look and a dramatic shake of the head. She just goo-ed at me and held up her hands to ask me to join in her play.
“No, but thank you very much. I have no desire to take another shower today. I would never be ready in time and then I would have to stay home all alone.” I was sure she had no idea what I was saying, but she liked that I was talking to her, and that’s what mattered.
I looked up to see Tristan watching me. I smiled at him and he looked down quickly.
“Hey guys, it’s time to eat, who wants to say prayer?” Charlotte announced as she laid the last plate on the table. The family seemed to wake up significantly. We said prayer and then all dug in. The food was very good and disappeared from the serving plates at record rates.
When everyone had their fill and had headed upstairs to get ready of the weekly expedition to the church house. Jim had left just after everyone finished breakfast to attend to his business for the day. I volunteered to help with the morning dishes and had the breakfast mess cleaned up before anyone was ready.
“You better knock that off,” said William, “you’ll make the rest of us look bad.”
“Thanks for the warning, but I am more worried with being liked than I am with making the rest of you look bad.”
“Don’t worry about that.” He reassured me, “Mom and Dad like you just fine. You are more helpful than a lot of people who have set up shop here. They would like it more if you called them Mom and Dad though it makes them feel appreciated.”
I made mental note of that.
“I better get ready, so I don’t hold everyone back,” I nodded my thanks to him and hurried back upstairs to finish the beautification process that always proceeded church, no matter what the day.