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."