New LA Life

Here is an excerpt for my new NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) work in progress. It's a YA book but it doesn't have anything on the novels my students are writing. If you don't know anything about NaNoWriMo... here's a link. http://www.nanowrimo.org/

LA is nothing like they show in the movies but I didn't know that as I was flying into LAX last summer. Now I know, reality isn't something you watch on tv and celebrities never make their way to Gardena, the suburb I moved to a year ago.

Sure, there are palm trees, sunshine all year round, and the beach is just a few miles away, but Hollywood (even though it's just a few freeway miles to the north) is a completely different LA than the one I moved to.

My Auntie Laine picked me up from the airport that afternoon and for once she wasn't late. Well, she wasn't early either, but she pulled up there at the curb in her little white Audi just as I walked out of the terminal.

She looked nervous. She glanced around the airport like a little squirrel, gave me a quick, rough hug and then grabbed one of my two bags. Her keys jangled as she popped open the truck and as I watched her fumble with my luggage it occurred to me that even though I'd spent every Christmas with my mom's sister, even though she'd come to visit us every summer, I'd never seen her look uncomfortable or uneasy.

Usually, she flew into Portland all tan and golden. She wore jeans and traveled light and always seemed so much younger and hipper than Mom ever did. It was hard to believe Auntie Laine was two years older than Mom, but they were two extremely different people.

First off, Mom had me and my brother Jem. She married Dad right out of college and stayed home to take care of us. Auntie Laine is single. She works out every morning, drinks wine with dinner and watches more tv in one night than we watched in a whole week at our house.

But when Auntie Laine picked me up, and I buckled my seat belt in the passenger seat, I wasn't all that worried about her. I was worried about me. Even though it had been almost a month, I couldn't talk about it, couldn't make the words come out my mouth about what happened to Mom and Dad. I could talk about them no problem, but I still can't talk about that night, what I saw or what I heard once I closed my eyes.

Grandma, she's a psychotherapist, and she says that's okay. When something terrible happens you can put it in a box and lock it up, shove it on a shelf in a closet far away from everyday life. It's called coping and I don't know how I'm coping and when people ask I don't think they really want to know about it so I tell them I'm okay.

It was warm in LA, way warmer than it was in Portland, but it wasn't too hot and Auntie Laine had her sunroof open even with the air conditioning on. The combination made it cool in the car but I could still feel the dry air of LA and smell the exhaust from all the traffic as Auntie Laine pulled away from the curb.

I wasn't in the room when Grandma and Grandpa, Uncle Kev and Auntie Laine talked about where Jem and I should go. All I know is that it wasn't really up to me or Jem. Who knows what Mom and Dad would have wanted for us under these circumstances. I tried to listen from the tv room where I was watching the Wimbledon final while the adults discussed my fate. Venus and Serena were playing and I didn't know who to root for. I wasn't really watching the match anyway. I was trying to eaves drop on the conversation that would determine where Jem and I would land for the rest of our lives.

Uncle Kev kept saying, "They'd want them together," and Auntie Laine agreed but they also knew that I couldn't stay in town, not after what I'd seen, which was already boxed away and on a shelf in a closet far away so I didn't have to think about it.

I don't know how it was finally decided but I ended up on a plane and the plan was for Jem to come down in a few weeks later, right before school started.

Auntie Laine drove fast and I felt like I had to hold on but didn't because I didn't want her to know she was scaring me to death. The sky above me was perfectly blue and that definitely didn't fit my mood.

"Well, welcome to LA," she said and as I looked over Auntie Laine steered us out of traffic. She put her hand on mine and gave it a squeeze. "We're taking the scenic route home," she said with a smile, but I could tell she was still freaking out. Just like my life had changed completely, so was hers and I didn't how she was feeling about it.

I did know she was missing her sister, maybe as much as I missed my mom, so at least we had that in common.

She turned left and the ocean appeared before us, reflecting sunlight and stretching all the way to the horizon. The palm trees, the sand, sea and sky all made me want to cry just like so many things did lately. But I didn't cry so I wouldn't have to explain that I didn't know why I was crying so I fought back the tears and wondered how Auntie Laine was coping. Did she have a box stored away on a shelf in a closet somewhere or was she handling this differently? I thought about asking her but she seemed preoccupied by driving and finding a parking spot so I figured we'd have time to talk about it some other time. In fact, we had the rest of our lives.

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