New LA Life: Chapter 5

We didn't even play for five minutes before Mrs. Taylor called us back to the living room. Auntie Laine, Angela, Curtis and I all hopped into Mrs. Taylor's black Tahoe and she drove us to this huge park. Groups of kids were standing around in the parking lot but they looked nothing like the ones I went to soccer camp with in Portland.

Portland's soccer scene was all white boys with blonde or brown hair cropped short, or cut in slightly shaggy Abercrombie cuts. The white girls all had long straight ponytails and strong, lean legs. There was usually a smattering of Asians from Aloha, a few Indian kids from Bethany, some Latinos from Beaverton, and a handful of mixed kids like me, but in this parking lot the ratios were flipped.

Most of the kids here were Latino. There were some Asian kids, a few Black and mixed-race kids like me and C.J., and a few white kids too, but even they looked a lot harder than the kids in Oregon. What I noticed next was that it was almost all boys. Only a handful of girls stood in clusters around bags and I thought about Nat and wished she were here. Normally, I would have ditched Mom and started walking around, talking to friends I hadn't seen since school got out, or teammates I hadn't played with since basketball or spring soccer. Now I just watched, trying to figure out who went with who and waiting on C.J. to show me the ropes.

"Come on, E," Curtis said, already providing me with a nickname. "I'll introduce you to the guys."

"So, have a good day, Erika," Auntie Laine said before I got to far away, "and I'll see you around five tonight."

"Okay," I said, pulling on the shoulder strap on my bag and ignoring how tight my chest suddenly felt. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I followed C.J. as he walked toward three boys juggling a soccer ball.

"What up, kid?" a boy with black spiky hair asked as he gave C.J. a high five.

"Not much, not much. Hey fools, this is Erika she just moved here from Portland."

Before he even finished this introduction the ball came sailing toward me. I dropped my bag instantly and let my body respond. Right knee, left knee, right knee, head, left knee and then down to my right foot where I passed the ball to C.J. who caught it in his hands.

"Whoa, she gots better handles than you, Jose," said the taller of the boys with longish brown hair and a hint of Asian in his eyes.

"Better than your punk ass too," Jose responded as he leaned down to lace up his cleats.

The short kid with a short-cropped afro held out his hand. "I'm Manny, and that fool over there is Alan. Looks like you might have better handles than all of us."

A whistle blew and kids streamed to the shade of a tree on the edge of the field.

Throughout the morning I lost myself in the familiarity of soccer drills: dribble through cones, pass, trap, pass, trap, wall pass, throw-in, penalty kick and for that first hour I forgot everything but the ball, and the grass and the summer sun shining down. I didn't even pay attention to my competition the way Nat would have wanted.

Instead I pretended that the coaches were the ones I'd played for back home; that the boys I paired up with were Nat or Paris or Andie, girls that I'd known my whole soccer life. I let myself get lost in the only truth that felt right, the stiff leather of a soccer ball, the green grass of the field and my body's automatic responses in that world.

On the soccer field I didn't have to think about Jem, still up in Portland playing with our cousins at Uncle Kev's house, or Mom and Dad's bodies buried six feet underground. I didn't have to think about Nat meeting up with Paris because she was her new best friend and the two of them would call Jason and Derrick, the guys we'd been crushing on before I left, to see if they wanted to meet at the movies.

I played as hard as I had to in order to forget.


New LA Life: Chapter 4 continued

Auntie Laine rang the doorbell and I could hear footsteps. Someone inside yelled, "Angela, can you get that? It's Lainey."

I'd never heard anyone call Auntie Laine Lainey before and then a little girl cracked the door open. She was tiny, about seven or eight years old and super cute with her hair in braids with little pink plastic clips on the ends. She looked like she might be shy but when she saw Auntie Laine she flung the door, "Hi Lainey!" she screamed and I couldn't believe that loud of a sound could come out of something that small. She jumped into Auntie Laine's arms and Auntie Laine carried her inside saying, "Hey, there my little butterfly. I haven't seen you in like, I don't know, three days or something. I have someone here for you to meet."

Angela looked up at me with big brown eyes and held out her little hand. "Hi, Someone."

I smiled a little and held out my hand.

"Hi," she said with an adorable grin. "I think Curtis is going to like you," and then she ran away down the hallway.

Before I could hope that Curtis would like me a woman wearing jeans and a bright orange polo shirt walked in from the kitchen. "Hey, girl," she said, reaching out to hug Auntie Laine. "And this beautiful thing must be Erika."

Mrs. Taylor looked like she was either Filipino or mixed with Asian and Mexican or something and even though Mrs. Taylor looked really friendly with her long straight, thick hair and big smile, I hated it when adults said stuff like "Oh, so beautiful," or "Isn't she adorable," because it never seemed honest. I had on soccer shorts, a baggy sweatshirt, and my curly hair (my best feature) was pulled back into a loose ponytail. I wasn't wearing a lick of make-up and my eyes had looked dull and tired ever since Mom and Dad died. If that was beautiful, then they sure didn't know pretty on tv or in the movies. I guessed that little Angela and her brother Curtis were multi-racial, like me, half-Black, half-Hapa (half-Asian). In Portland I could have counted the number of Blasians (that's what Auntie Laine said Jem and I are) on one hand, but here in LA, apparently things were different.

"Lainey has told us all about you," she said, giving me, a complete stranger, a squeeze around my shoulders. "I know you've had a rough go this summer, but we sure are glad you're down here."

I imagined what Auntie Laine might have told Mrs. Taylor. "You'll never be able replace her mother, but you'll have to learn to be a parent, Lainey; the parent of a teenager." The idea of having a new Mom sent me thinking about all that bad stuff that was still locked up in a box on a shelf in a closet somewhere and I needed to stop thinking about it because just the thought of that box made me really sad and depressed. I glanced around the house for a distraction and checked out the photos on the walls. Most were of two kids, the little girl about the same age but smaller than Jem, and a boy my age. And a mom and a dad. I had to look away from the photos just thinking about what was now missing from our family portrait.

"Curtis," Mrs. Taylor yelled, and that's when I first met Curtis or C.J. He walked out from the dark of the hallway wearing only a pair of shorts and wiping his eyes like he'd just woken up. He was tall and lean and looked strong, built like a striker. Even though he was Blasian, like me, he was much darker and his hair was dark and cut short so I couldn't tell how curly it was.

"Yes, Mother," he said and I could tell his voice had already changed but then he saw me, turned and disappeared back into the dark of the hall.

Mrs. Taylor chuckled. "I think he was wants to make himself a little more presentable."

It was pretty hilarious, when you think about it, and later C.J. and I would laugh about it but that day I thought, great, what a terrible way to start things off.

When C.J. came out a few minutes later he shook my hand. He was tall and cute and his palm was warm and dry. Something about his touch made me even more nervous. We just stood there for a few seconds while Auntie Laine and Mrs. Taylor talked about soccer camp registration and paperwork she needed to fill out if I wanted to go to school with Curtis in the fall. It was adult stuff and even though it related to me I wasn't really listening because I was avoiding looking at C.J., who had the same great grin his little sister. He nudged my shoulder though and asked if I played video games.

I shrugged, "Sure," even though I wasn't all that into them and he led me through the kitchen and into the Taylor game room.

It was a sports fan's dream room and I was pretty sure Auntie Laine hated it because it didn't go with her design aesthetic. USC, Laker and Dodger memorabilia covered the walls and Fatheads of Reggie Bush, Derrick Fischer and James Loney (I always wondered who actually bought those) flanked the big screen tv. I wasn't in Oregon, Trailblazer or Mariner country anymore. A wide, lived-in couch cluttered with Rock Band instruments and various remotes and game controls sat in the middle of the room. But it was the foosball table in the corner that made my heart hurt. Dad and I used to play at the table in the church youth center on Sundays and I could feel the tears welling up.

"Wanna play?" Curtis asked probably because he noticed I was staring at the table.

"Um," I tried to stop myself from crying in front of this cute guy I'd just met but I couldn't say anything.

"It's okay if you don't want to." He walked over to the couch and landed with a thud.

I didn't want to be a downer and tried to think of something to say. "You a big Laker fan?"

"Yeah, well, my dad is. You can't even talk to the guy when they're in the playoffs. I hope they win this year because he's still depressed about last season."

I sat on the stool in front of the Rock Band drums and tapped a little rhythm. When I looked up Curtis was looking at me. "What?"

"Well, I know you just moved in up the street and, well, your aunt told us about," he stopped then and I waited wondering how much he knew. "Well, you don't have to talk about it or anything, but I just wanted you to know that I already know, so, you know, I'll understand if you don't feel so great all the time."

I looked into Curtis' eyes because he was still looking right at me. He was sitting

here on the couch with his weight leaning forward on his elbows and suddenly I didn't feel like crying anymore. "My dad used to love foosball," I said and I held C.J.'s gaze.

"Do you think he'd want you to play?"

I smiled. "Yeah, probably."


New LA Life: Chapter 4

I woke up early the next morning and took a shower in what had been Auntie Laine's guest bathroom but now was the one Jem and I would share. At first I wasn't sure I liked the bathroom. The floor was this wood bamboo and the sink and stand-up shower were this beige stone. All of that was just fine. It was the shower doors that were all glass-enclosed and there was a big window with no covering so even though the outside wall faced the backyard and a wall of thin bamboo blocked out the view, some peeping tom could sneak into the backyard, part the bamboo and watch me bathe. That first morning I kept looking out the window, imagining what someone would see if they were watching me. I showered for those first few weeks as if I was in a shampoo commercial, lathering up and posing, closing my eyes and arching my back as I rinsed.

For some reason, I didn't feel scared, though. After the last night at our old house everyone kept expecting Jem and I to freak out, be nervous or jumpy, but I never was especially once I arrived in LA far away from anyone who knew Dad or his mistress. In Portland we always had to worry about running into someone Dad had prosecuted as a DA, but in LA no one knew my family, our history, or me.

I dried off with a thick white bath towel and wrapped it around me. When I opened the door to walk across the hall to my bedroom Auntie Lane was there.

"Morning, Honey. Find everything okay?"

"Um, yeah," I responded, my wet hair dripping down my back.

"Well, we're heading over to the Taylor's place in about half an hour. You should probably pack your soccer stuff too. Do you eat breakfast?"

"Um, sometimes," I lied again. I somehow couldn't stop myself. Mom always made us eat breakfast even if it was just a yogurt and a sports bar.

"Okay, well, there's some cereal on the counter and milk and juice in the fridge."

"Great. Thanks."

I closed the door behind me and shook my head. It wasn't a trick question or anything.

She just wanted to know about breakfast. What was my problem?

I skipped breakfast because all of the cereal was the super healthy kind and looked gross. Auntie Laine did have a stash of sports bars though so I grabbed a couple of those and threw them in my soccer bag which was packed with everything I needed to survive this first day: long soccer socks, cleats, shinguards, two bottles of Gatorade, headphones and my iPod loaded with my thinking mix (The Shins, Seawolf, Helio Sequence) and my hyper mix (Black Eyed Peas, Missy Elliot, Beyonce). I was wearing my short soccer shorts instead of the baggy ones, and an extra t-shirt in case I wanted to change. I had a sweatshirt on over my tank top and Auntie Laine told me I probably wouldn't need it but I decided to wear it anyway.

"Okay, so the Taylor's live just a couple of blocks," Auntie Lane said as she backed out of the driveway. "Audrey, or Mrs. Taylor, hired me last year to convert their garage into an office and she has a son about your age."

We passed by houses heading south on Harvard and then turned left on Redondo. The cul-de-sac we pulled into had five houses and the Taylor's house was one of them. It was painted a bright yellow except for the garage that Auntie Laine had helped them remodel. It was painted olive green and blended in with the trees and grass so that it almost disappeared. There was a black SUV parked in the driveway and I was suddenly nervous and hoped, maybe even prayed even that I'd get along will this Taylor kid. Maybe he'd even but hot.


New LA Life: Chapter 3 continued

Auntie Laine was on the phone in the kitchen making some popcorn and I wondered if that was some kind of Yamanaka tradition, to make popcorn and watch tv because Mom used to do that just about every night too. A show was on pause on the tv and Auntie Laine must have been talking with someone from work because she was complaining about being asked to finish some project that shouldn't have officially been her job. Auntie Laine is Elaine Yamanaka at work, an interior designer at a firm in Century City where she caters to people who like that clean, modern, minimal look in their homes.

She held out the bowl of popcorn and motioned for me to sit on the couch. The room was still spotless and there were a bunch of pillows on the couch. I sunk into the leather and I had a sweatshirt on even though it was still hot outside because Auntie Laine liked to keep the air conditioner cranking all night. I pulled my legs up beneath me and soon Auntie Laine was pointing the remote at the tv, "Did your parents let you watch this crazy reality stuff?"

I recognized The Amazing Race and nodded. It was the first time Auntie Laine had really mentioned Mom and Dad. "Yeah, they let us watch this, but not The Bachelor or the reality shows on BET or MTV."

"Oh, yeah, huh. Well, I guess we'll keep that same policy going here." She grabbed a handful of popcorn. "Are there any other little rules your mom and dad had that I should know about?"

I thought about Mom and Dad's no computers in our bedrooms rule even though I'd already broken that one and checked my email on my laptop earlier. But what Auntie Laine didn't know about that one it wouldn't kill her. Mom and Dad had tons of rules, about meeting friends' parent before we could hang out with them and no tv during the week but I didn't want to tell Auntie Laine about any of those rules. Mom and Dad were way too strict anyway.

And there was no way I would be able to tell Auntie Laine how Mom and I had stopped getting along after sixth grade, how we hardly talked anymore, how the house had been dominated by silence, how I'd cried at the funeral but no one knew the real reason because I felt too awful about it. What kind of daughter feels relief when her mom is gone?

But that night I had to think of at least a few things I could tell Auntie Laine so I thought about my phone. "Well, I can't go over my minute limit and I only have 500 texts a month. I'm not allowed to download ring tones or movies or anything like that." I stopped. I didn't think she needed to know that they checked my phone every week to see who I had in my contacts or who I was calling the most. Besides, I was pretty much a good kid so she didn't need to be all up in my business like Mom had been. Besides, living in LA now, I didn't know anyone to call.

"Okay, phone rules. And what about boys? Any rules about dating or makeup?"
I hadn't really gotten into make-up but yes, there were rules Mom and Dad had about boys. I could go out with groups of people but never anywhere with just one boy. And again, they had to meet his parents. I definitely didn't want Auntie Laine to know any of that so I just shook my head and pretended to watch the people on tv getting ready to climb part of the Great Wall of China. "I guess I'm not all that into that stuff yet," I lied even though I sometimes messed around with make-up at Sephora with Nat and I had my first real kiss this past year.

As I sat there pretending to watch tv, words from my mom echoed through my mind. "Erika, there's nothing I hate more than a liar." Maybe that's why I'd felt relief when Mom was gone. I knew I'd let Mom down, that she hated the girl was becoming. But how was I supposed to know how things would end?

"I'm heading to bed," I told Auntie Laine before the end of the show and in my room I buried my head in the foreign smelling sheets of my new bed. Tonight I was a liar and as I lay there, face down on the bed I hated myself. I used to lash out at Mom, had told her more than once that I hated her but now she was gone and there was no one to hate but myself.