I nodded even though she wasn't looking at me and I wasn't looking at her. I peered out the window and try to guess which street we would to take, which turn off of Redondo Beach Boulevard would take me to this new place called home. I tried to let the mellow grove play like a soundtrack for a my life, of a happy moment, to forget what had brought me here.
A sign welcomed us to Gardena but I didn't see any gardens. All I saw was concrete, asphalt, anemic palm trees rising up from sidewalks and a few trees planted in mini-mall parking lots.
We passed by a Starbucks and an In 'N Out burger and my stomach rumbled again but rather than stopping for lunch we turned right on Harvard Avenue and pulled into the driveway of the house that would be my new home.
The house looked different than the others on the block and I figured it was because she was an interior designer. Most of the homes were older, one story ranch homes, or two story duplexes and they all looked like it they were built in the late seventies. The paint on these homes had faded from day after day of sunshine and the trim was peeling around the edges. Most of the lawns were cut and maintained and had these plants called Birds of Paradise with red flowers pointed like a beak planted around the edges. Auntie Laine's house was once one of those one story ranches, but in a recent remodel the pitched roof became straight and the windows wide with neat white trim. The rest of the house was painted a dark gray and her lawn was perfectly maintained and trimmed with succulents and pointy desert plants. I figured she must hire a gardener because I couldn't imagine her actually mowing this lawn or pulling weeds around the desert plants.
She pulled into the garage and pulled up the parking brake. "Welcome home, Kiddo," and I remembered how Grandpa used to always call me kiddo and both Mom and Auntie Laine must have gotten that from him.
We grabbed my bags and the room grew dark as the garage door slid down behind us. Auntie Laine opened a side door that opened to the kitchen and the first thing I noticed was how clean the house was. I wondered if Auntie Laine had cleaned up for me or if she always kept it so neat. I learned later that the house was always clean on the weekends and during the week dishes might pile up in the sink and mail would fill the woven basket on the kitchen counter but that was as messy as her house got until Friday night when out of habit or some sort of ritual Auntie Laine would clean like crazy until order was restored, the floors shone, dishwasher was loaded and everything placed back where it ought to be.
She glided down the hardwood floors, past the living room where there was a huge tv flanked by two paintings with browns and greens bubbles of color. A mini-grand piano in a deep chocolate color sat in the corner of the room and an acoustic guitar gleamed from a stand next to that. Across from the TV there was a big leather couch a couple of chairs that matched but didn't match perfectly. I followed her down the hall lined with black and white family photographs and recognized one from Mom and Dad's wedding with Auntie Laine as the maid of honor.
"This will be Jem's room when he gets here," Auntie Laine said pointing to a room off to the right, "And this is you," she said as she plopped my bag onto a bed with an icy blue comforter and pillows with big white flowers on them. I hate flowers, but how could she have known that.
"Thanks," I said and my voice sounded quiet even in the completely silent house. I walked around the room and noticed that it was bigger than my room back home. Everything in the room looked new and I hoped Auntie Laine hadn't bought all of this just for me. The walls looked like they'd just been painted a light brown and the trim a clean white. There was a little desk in the corner that had that perfectly distressed look and there was a pile of books on each bedside table. A wide window was covered by a white sheer curtain and there was a full length mirror with a fancy scalloped trim. I was way too tomboy for that room. I was about to sit down on the bed when Auntie Lane asked, "You hungry?"
"Okay, well, take a minute to get settled and then we'll go grab a burger or something."
I thought she was going to leave then but she stopped at the door. All I wanted was to be alone for a minute but she turned and looked back at me. "You're so quiet, Erika, and I understand. This is all so completely crazy, but you can talk to me. Really, you can."
I could tell she wanted me to say something. "Sorry, Auntie Laine. I'm just..." and that was when my voice faded away again and I didn't know what I could say to her. Not yet. I knew I wanted to talk to her but I didn't know what to say. Not yet; not then.