The city was gorgeous. It was nothing like Modesto, where I could walk for miles and still be in the comfort of the residential area. Here, the city was laid out in a random patchwork pattern. In the ten minutes between our entry to the city, and our arrival at Aunt Jo’s, I saw dozens of private businesses, rows and rows of townhouses and apartment complexes, and a few streets of majestic skyscrapers. I loved how simple yet exquisite everything in Dolan Springs was. I loved how you could have such the sudden change from desert expanse, to cozy suburbia, to bustling city. I loved the brilliant blue sky that seemed to go on forever. In fact, I loved everything about Dolan Springs.
I had my arm out the window and my eyes shut. The light April breeze pushed my hair out of my face, and I could feel the warm sun glowing red behind my eyelids. Maybe things really would be better in Nevada. We pulled over, and the distant memories flooded my mind. I remember splashing in the sprinklers on the small, brown lawn. I remember the pale yellow panels and the ivy strung garage door. Years of playing in the sandbox with Claire and Ray poured into view. I remembered this house. Why couldn’t I remember anything else?
The screen door flew open, and a spotted mutt ran out, along with three familiar faces. The dog was Bot. I remember that. When we were little, his sandpaper tongue lapped at our faces as our tricycles circled the driveway. I recognized Aunt Jo right away. She was only 35, but her face held the lines of ancient experiences. After she birthed Ray, her husband ran off to the East coast with a young and bubbly blonde, leaving Aunt Jo, mother of two, to fend for herself. Years of working numerous jobs to support her family have made Aunt Jo the most powerfully beautiful woman I know. I’ve always been proud of her.
Ray and Claire looked the same as always. Claire was tall and tan, looking as gorgeous as my mother. She had the same blonde hair, falling in short corkscrew curls around her face, bringing out her magnificent blue eyes. My eyes stung, and it took all the force I had to keep the tears back. How could I have missed out on those eyes? Ray flashed his stunning smile in my direction, and his chocolate brown eyes took in the mess I’d become since he’d seen me last. Despite what I know he was thinking, he pulled me into his muscular arms in one of his infamous bear hugs. I breathed in the aroma of fresh cut grass, mixed with the subtle scent of his cologne. This had always been my family.
Father followed Aunt Jo inside, as Ray, Claire, and I held back. “Wow Evie, you’re finally as tall as me.” joked Claire. I couldn’t help but laugh along. Her humor used to have me lost, but by the time we were 10 she knew how to dumb it down for me.
“Yeah squirt, I don’t know how you lived in California for that long and are still as pale as the moon!” Ray beamed at me.
“Man, I missed you guys.” I couldn’t help but be honest. We sat out on the porch for hours, just laughing and talking like we used to. It was the best time I’d had since mother got sick.
That first month with Claire and Ray was easy. We went to school, and went to the mall, and played videogames in the living room. I met all their friends, and passed all my classes. I just kind of floated by. I never heard from mother, or even father. I knew I should be worried, but I wasn’t. I was just kind of numb. I stayed up late with Claire and her friends, and listened to them talk boys and watched them give makeovers, but I never really felt like I was part of anything. I was on the outside, looking in on some perfect family, that I just didn’t belong to.
On my birthday, June 27, we got out of school. The school dean said that if I attended summer school until August, I’d be able to graduate to my sophomore year with my “peers”. I wasn’t about to tell them that I had no peers to move on with, so I just sat and listened to them talk about the future, as I nodded along silently. The upside to moving forward as planned, was that I could graduate sooner than if I had to repeat the ninth grade.