It was my first plane ride. Anywhere I had ever traveled with my family had always been in the back of my mother’s station wagon, usually with my brother and me arguing in the back. I never thought I would actually miss those days, but I would rather be arguing in the back of a hot car than worrying about my brother being in a Vietnamese jungle half a world away. The whole way to California my ears popped as they adjusted to the pressure in the cabin of the plane.
Take off wasn’t so bad, but landing wasn’t my favorite part of the flight. The plane taxied closer to the terminal, until it finally came to a stop. Men on motorized carts came out of nowhere – or so it seemed – to start unloading the luggage from underneath the plane. I was patient and waited for the other passengers to get off the plane first. I watched them go down the steps and search for their bags before greeting their loved ones waiting just outside of the terminal.
Before I even got off the plane I spotted my aunt. Dad wasn’t convinced it was a good idea for me to come spend the summer with his sister, my Aunt Linda, but I was excited to experience something new. Mama liked the idea of me broadening my horizons a little. There wasn’t much happening in Bon Temps, Louisiana. I was still coming down the steps from the plane when Aunt Linda came running forward. It was obvious she wasn’t wearing a bra. Gran would be so scandalized by that.
“Hi, Aunt Linda,” I said as I got to the bottom step. I hadn’t seen her in a few years. Right away when she hugged me I caught a whiff of something I knew wasn’t legal.
“You’re all grown up,” she squealed as she hugged me tight. She pulled back, settling her hands on my shoulders. “Look at you; you’re a woman now.”
“I’m gettin’ there. I love your earrings,” I said, reaching up to touch the pretty beads and crystals dangling from her ears.
“Thank you. I can make you a pair if you like,” she offered. “Come on, let’s get your bags.”
“I’d love a pair but I haven’t got my ears pierced. You know how Daddy is.” I let her lead me over to the carts. The last two suitcases left where mine, and packed to the brim with every last thing I could squeeze in and still get the darn things closed.
“My brother isn’t here, is he?” she smirked. “You’re a grown woman. You can get your ears pierced here if you want.”
“He’ll have a fit when I get home if I do.” Like it or not, I had to go back to Louisiana at the end of the summer. Daddy wouldn’t be very happy about it if I went home pierced. He’d made it very clear he didn’t like piercings and tattoos on ladies.
“You’re not going to be a baby forever,” she said, waving me off. “I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want. I can make you some clip-ons if you like.”
“Clip-ons would be nice,” I replied. We each took one of my bags and started to walk toward the terminal. “Where’s Hadley? I thought she was comin’ with you today.” Hadley was her daughter. She was three years older than me. Aunt Linda’s husband, Mike, had been a pilot in the Korean War. His plane was shot down three days before Hadley was born.
“She got herself a job and she had to work today,” Aunt Linda told me. “She’ll be home before dinner so you can see her then. You two could damn near pass as twins.”
“Must be those Hale genes,” I smiled. “You miss Louisiana at all?”
“Not even a little bit,” she smiled back. “I don’t miss the humidity and the closed mindedness. This is where I was always meant to be.”
“What’s there to do here?” I followed her through the airport. There were so many people. Where I was from, the only time I even came close to seeing so many people at one time was at church on Sunday.
“There’s all sorts of things. The beach isn’t too far. Hadley likes to spend her time at the bowling alley or at the skating rink, which is actually where she’s working now. A lot of outdoor shows on the weekends. I can take you into the City if you like. Introduce you to some of the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had.”
“That sounds like fun. I’d like to try some different things while I’m here,” I admitted. “Daddy’s probably at home prayin’ and havin’ a stroke.”
I knew what Daddy expected for my future. He was hoping I’d finish high school, get into a college nearby and find a husband. He was hoping to be a grandpa before I was twenty-five. That didn’t seem like a whole lot of time to find someone I wanted to raise a family with.
“Your mama will calm him down,” she chuckled.
“I hope so. She’s the only reason I’m here right now. Like she says all the time, Daddy might be the head of the family but she’s the neck,” I chuckled.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Aunt Linda snickered as I followed her to her VW Bus. She opened the back door so we could put my bags in the back. “Corbett needs to take a chill pill… or a hit off of a joint.”
“Are you kiddin’ me? Daddy wouldn’t be caught dead doin’ either one.” I got my bag settled in the back of the bus. Aunt Linda hoisted the other one up to do the same. “He means well. He just wants what’s best for me.”
“I know he does. He’s a good dad, but he does need to lighten up some.” When we got settled into the driver and passenger seat respectively she reached into her purse and pulled out what looked like a joint and a lighter. “You want to try?” she offered.
“Oh… um… I don’t know…” It wasn’t the first time I’d been offered a joint, but I’d never tried smoking pot before. I wasn’t sure it was my thing.
“Maybe later,” she smiled. She put the joint between her lips and lit it up. “I promise I won’t tell your dad if you do decide to try it while you’re here.”
“I’d hope not. He’d ask how I got it in the first place.”
“I’m sure he’d know it was me,” she laughed. She took one more hit before she snuffed the joint out and set it in her ashtray.
“You’re sure you’re okay to drive?”
“I’m fine,” she assured me. She started up the van and slowly started to back out of the spot. Once she was out she moved the gear shifter into first gear and took off like a bat outta hell.
“How far away is your house from here?” I wasn’t sure if she was in a house or an apartment, to be honest. I knew she was just outside of San Francisco, but that was about it.
“I;m about seven miles away. I have a little two bedroom bungalow. You don’t mind sharing a room with Hadley, do you?”
“Assumin’ she doesn’t fart in her sleep like Jason did when we were kids, it’ll be just fine.” I shared a room with my brother until I was nine. We moved out of the little two bedroom house we were living in at that time and moved into Gran’s old farmhouse. She needed help around the house and there was more room for us to spread out. “I think I’m sleepin’ in your old room now.”
“That’s a good room. Easy to sneak out of,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
“I never tried.” It was easy to think I was boring, but I really wasn’t. I respected my parents. Their approval was important to me. There was nothing wrong with that.
“You’re a good kid, Sook,” Aunt Linda smiled. “I hope being here will loosen you up some.”
“I’m not worried about loosening up.”
I watched out the windows as Aunt Linda whipped around corners and zoomed down streets. It didn’t take long at all to get back to her house. As soon as I saw the place I knew it was hers. The outside was painted in pretty colors like one of those painted lady Victorian houses. She pulled into the short driveway that her VW barely fit in. We got out of the van and went to the back to get my bags. She had rose bushes and an herb garden planted in the front yard. So the Louisiana girl in her wasn’t completely gone.
“You get Gran’s green thumb?” I asked as I followed her past the front gate.
“I did. This is a great climate for plants too,” she told me. “I spend my mornings before work out here working on the garden.”
“It shows. Your roses are beautiful,” I complimented. I stopped to smell one that hadn’t finished blooming yet. It was heavenly.
“Thank you. If you ever get the urge you’re always welcome to join me,” she said as she unlocked the front door.
“I think the green thumb skipped me. Mostly I help Gran with the weeding in the spring since her knees aren’t so good anymore.” As soon as Aunt Linda opened the front door I smelled incense. Daddy hated the stuff, claimed it gave him a migraine. Personally, I liked the smell of sandalwood.
“I wouldn’t turn down a weeder,” she smiled. “Make yourself at home. Hadley’s room is the one to the left. Are you hungry?”
“I am, actually. I haven’t eaten since breakfast this morning. I was too nervous for lunch,” I admitted.
There were exposed beams running along the pitched ceiling in the living room. There were a few big windows, yet the room wasn’t flooded with too much natural light. I loved all the throw pillows on the couch. Actually, it might have been a futon. I took note of a window seat in an alcove, partially hidden by some beaded curtains. I headed toward the door just off the dining area, assuming that was where Hadley’s bedroom was. I opened the door and I was sure right away it was her room. There was Jim Morrison posters everywhere.
“Whoa,” I muttered. “Is Hadley a little obsessed with The Doors?”
For all I knew, it was Aunt Linda.
“Had thinks she’s going to marry Jim Morrison,” Aunt Linda said from behind me. “I don’t have the heart to tell her that’s not very likely.”
“Everyone has a dream, right?” I didn’t think it was very likely either, but I sure wasn’t going to tell her that.
“I admire her spirit,” she laughed. “Get settled. How about a grilled cheese sandwich and some fruit?”
“Sounds delicious.” I wasn’t sure where my things were going to fit with how full Hadley’s room already was, but I was sure we could figure something out. In the meantime, I didn’t want to go poking around in Hadley’s things. That was rude.
I hung up what I could get to fit in her closet so it wouldn’t be wrinkled beyond repair. After that I found the bathroom so I could wash up a little bit. Mostly just my hands and face needed a little cleaning up, but I felt better afterward. They had an old claw foot tub in the bathroom with a pedestal sink. I found Aunt Linda in the kitchen and I wasn’t surprised at all to find her smoking a joint. It made me laugh, thinking of her stashing them around the house in random places.
“Does Hadley smoke too?” I asked curiously.
“Sometimes. Usually on Friday nights before she goes out for a drink.” She tried to hand me the joint. “You sure you don’t want to try it?”
I had a feeling she was going to keep trying until I did. It wasn’t going to kill me, right? Just one time…
“What do I do?” I relented. Boy, was my constitution weak or what?
“Just put it your lips and suck. Pretend you’re taking a deep breath to inhale it. You’re going to cough a lot,” she warned.
I took the joint from her, brought it my lips, inhaled…
Then I coughed my fool head off when the smoke hit my lungs. I’d never even had a cigarette, so my body was completely unprepared for any kind of smoke at all.
“That’s… how do you…” I coughed some more.
Aunt Linda handed me a glass of water. She took the joint back and settled it between her lips as she patted my back.
“You get used to it,” she smiled. “Also don’t inhale as much. You learn to control how much you take.”
“You could have told me that before,” I said.
“I’d rather you do that in front of me than in front a boy you’re interested in,” she told me.
I took a drink of water and said, “I’m not lookin’ to get involved with anyone while I’m here, Aunt Lin.”
“That’s doesn’t mean you won’t,” she pointed out.
“You know I’ve never had a boyfriend,” I confessed to her.
“Really? That shouldn’t surprise me given who your dad is,” she chuckled. “This is a big city. It’s very possible you’ll meet someone that interests you.”
Of course that was possible, but I wasn’t counting on it. I wasn’t sticking around for long, so it didn’t seem like it would be worth the time or the effort to get involved with somebody. When my sandwich was ready I took it over to the little table in the kitchen and sat down. Aunt Linda brought out a bowl of fruit salad from her little pink refrigerator.
“Thanks,” I said with a smile.
“You’re welcome. I want you to feel at home here. Anything I have you’re welcome to,” she said. “Want some more water or a beer or something?”
“Water will be fine, thanks.” I wasn’t sure smoking pot was something I wanted to take up while I was in town. The coughing it caused wasn’t very attractive.
She took my glass so she could fill it up with water for me. “Maybe Had can take you out tonight,” she suggested.
“I’d like that,” I nodded. “I don’t want to intrude too much on her free time. If she doesn’t want to, that’s okay.”
“She’ll want to. She’s been looking forward to you showing up for weeks. She probably already has your whole summer planned,” she chuckled.
“Oh, well, I’m okay with that too,” I said before taking a bite of my sandwich. It was delicious. Once I swallowed I added, “That bread is amazing, Aunt Lin.”
“It’s fresh sourdough,” she told me. “It’s my favorite. I get it from a restaurant and bakery on the wharf.”
“I think I could get addicted to this.” I took another bite.
“It’s what kept me here when I first moved. I was going to trek up to Seattle, but the bread here was so good I stayed,” she laughed.
“That’s pretty good bread,” I said after I swallowed. “Why’d you come here in the first place?” I was still pretty young when she moved away, and Daddy definitely didn’t agree with Aunt Linda’s lifestyle.
“I drove over to San Diego and traveled up the coast on my way to Seattle,” she shrugged. “I knew I wanted to get out of the south and I’d heard the west coast was gorgeous. I heard right.”
“It seems beautiful so far. Very different from home, that’s for sure.”
“It’s different from anywhere I’ve been. There’s so much diversity here, I love it.”
“I’m excited to see more of it. I really do want to try out different things while I’m here. It might be the only chance I have to do it if Daddy gets his way.” Which he probably would.
“Hadley only works three days a week. That leaves four days for traveling unless she lets you use her car,” she said. “There’s so much to see here.”
I had no doubt Hadley intended to show me as much of it as she could. Being on my own, so to speak, was a little nerve racking. Yes, technically, I had two adults around, but I knew my father didn’t exactly consider Aunt Lin to be the most qualified adult to mind his baby girl. As long as I could still go home and look my daddy in the eye, I would consider the trip to be a complete success.