Well, Diary, I suppose I don’t have to introduce myself to you since Momma seemed to write tons about me in her part of you. There are things she didn’t know, of course, but nothing hugely surprising.
For instance, I’m really glad she never found out about the time Theo and I sneaked onto the ferry to the mainland. There, we found a train trestle to explore and we spent a good part of the afternoon imagining places a train on those tracks might visit.
At one point, I asked Theo if he dared me to jump off the trestle into the water below. He immediately pointed out that I would likely die as it was the highest jump either of us had ever considered. His cautionary words didn’t scare me, though. As I stared down at the raging river below, I reassured myself that this was a piece of cake. Theo saved my life that day and it was then I realized I was much too reckless for my own good and it seemed to me I might be missing something, a voice perhaps in the head, that tells you when you’re in too deep.
The trouble on the trestle wasn’t over though, not by a longshot. In fact, the big problem came when we discovered too late (because we’d been bickering on whether I was going to jump or not) that a train was coming upon us fast. So, as a last minute decision, we ended up hanging off the side until it passed. I almost killed Theo that day.
I’ve been trying to cultivate some caution since then. Sometimes, I eat the world, and other times, it eats me. But I’m learning.
Here I’ve rambled on and you don’t even know where I am right now! I’ll attempt, from now on, to keep the monologues to a minimum. Maybe. Another thing I’ve found about myself is that I’m better off not making promises of any kind.
More on that another time.
Anyway, to get back on track, I am in Longview which is about as far away from Winchester as one could get. Not that I don’t like Winchester, mind you. I was happy enough there. I just think I outgrew it a little.
I miss my family and Theo already, but I’m determined that whatever I do, I’m going to make it work.
As for Longview itself, it was just waking up when I arrived. In every direction were buildings with lights just coming on inside, but no one seemed to be about on the street. I had no idea where I was or how to get where I was supposed to go.
This car pulled up and the driver said he was driving a taxi. It didn’t look like any taxi I’d ever seen but it had begun to rain so I gave him the address and climbed into the backseat. He grinned in the rearview mirror at me and said the house was only a few miles away.
I’m so glad there wasn’t any traffic because this guy drove like a maniac and there were at least three times I thought we were going to crash. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you the truth. If I can’t tell you the truth, then who can I tell? It was so much fun! I had to hold in squeals of glee as he took each precarious curve at top speed.
You may as well know that one of the things I really, really want to do someday is to ride a roller coaster. I figured this ride in the taxi was good practice.
Within minutes, we arrived on a block of nothing but brownstones. Or are they called rowhouses? Sometimes I wonder if I’m describing the right thing.
And wouldn’t you know, as soon as I paid the driver and he squealed off, I realized he’d dropped me off at the wrong building, so in the rain, I had to walk all the way down the street until I found the right one.
I imagine Theo or someone else might feel hesitant to knock on the door. But not me. I couldn’t wait to see Aunt Ruby.
She was older, of course, then what I remembered, but still as beautiful as ever. The last time I’d seen her, she was off to a place called Grey Meadow to begin her teaching career. Over the years, she’d ended up here in Longview and was now the elementary school principal. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
“Marty, it’s great to see you!” she enthused. Then, after she looked me over, she added, “It’s summertime, why are you all bundled up for winter?”
“I’m freezing!” The truth was, not long after I’d left the island, I realized what hot summers I’d been used to. Everywhere else seemed frigid in comparison.
Aunt Ruby wasted no time ushering me inside out of the rain. She gushed on about how great it was to see me and how much she missed me and all the family. And she couldn’t wait for me to meet her little girl Gloria.
We heard she had eloped with someone named Barry Banford but had never met him, just seen pictures when she wrote to us.
Aunt Ruby quickly showed me around the main floor of her unit which was a bit small, but so cozy, I found it very nice.
“Thank you so much for having me. I’ll pull my weight, don’t worry,” I assured her.
“I’m sure it will all work out just fine. Why don’t you go upstairs and settle into your room? I have to get to work, but I took part of the afternoon off so we could catch up.”
“That sounds great!” I had to admit I was kind of tired.
As I mounted the stairs, I heard Aunt Ruby collecting some things before she left. The hallway was narrow and I made a right turn… to the wrong room! It was pretty and pink and surely belonged to little Gloria. Pausing for a moment, I marveled at the thought of being an only child and what that would be like. She didn’t have to share anything with anyone which was something I’d always craved.
I found that it was more comfortable to push thoughts like that into the back of my mind where they belonged because as much as I had always dreamed of being on my own, I did miss my older brothers and younger sisters terribly. Who would have thought?
Anyway, I turned back around in the cramped hall and realized Gloria had painted a little sign with my name on it and put it on one of the doors. Squinting at the picture, then looking at it sideways, I couldn’t tell if those were flowers around my name or crazily shaped cats. I had a feeling art was not in Gloria’s future, not that I could do any better.
Look at this big, comfy bed! And it’s all mine! Mine! Bwaaahaahaaahaaaa!
I didn’t stay put for long. By the time I’d showered, put all my things away in my new room and had snacked on an orange, Aunt Ruby was home.
We sat in the TV room and talked about how things were with my siblings, my parents, Uncle Leo and Aunt Wilda and even Theo. I guess she’ll find out soon enough that I rarely leave Theo out of any conversation.
Then, she caught me up on her life and family. Uncle Barry wasn’t around at the moment because he was off doing some military thing. I’m not very clear on the details but it seemed to me that Aunt Ruby wasn’t either. Even so, it didn’t seem to bother her too much that he was away so I could only guess he did this a lot.
“So,” Aunt Ruby said, “what’s happening with your entrance exam to Longview University?”
Butterflies immediately made their presence known in my belly filling me with both excitement and dread.
“I took the test a few weeks ago and am still waiting to hear.”
“How do you feel about how it went?”
“To be honest, it was really hard. I don’t think I did very well, but I’m hoping I get in. I want to go so badly and Grandpa said he’d pay for it. I don’t want to let him down.”
Ruby’s mouth curved into a soft smile and she patted my hand. “Grandpa could never be disappointed in you. I know that for a fact.”
While Ruby was making dinner, I decided to take a walk. The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out behind the clouds so I figured I didn’t need my winter coat. I only went around the block because I didn’t want to miss seeing Gloria get off the bus.
On my return, I pulled the mail out of the box and when I straightened up, there was a strange looking old lady staring at me.
“Good afternoon, dear,” she said in a squeaky voice that grated my nerves.
“Good afternoon, ma’am. My name is Marty – Martha, I mean, Larochette and I’m staying with my Aunt Ruby. Uh, Ruby Banford.”
“Ah!” she exclaimed moving her glasses from the end of her nose to look at me and then back again. “Of course. I wondered when you were coming. I’m one of the neighbors, Mrs. Abernathy.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Abernathy,” I murmured. She went on to say something else in that annoyingly bombastic tone. Honestly, I was so distracted by her flame-orange hair, I’m afraid I didn’t catch what she was saying.
“Nothing to say?” she said. “Don’t you worry, there’s always something can be done about one’s appearance. I mean, look at me, I’ve just come from the salon. I know! Let’s go there together!” Her lips pursed, she looked me over once again, then added, “As soon as possible.”
Mortified, I said, “Oh, I think Aunt Ruby will want me to go wherever she goes.”
Mrs. Abernathy made a tsking sound with her teeth. “Nonsense. Her salon won’t even know what to do with straight, stringy hair, not when they deal mostly with curly hair like your aunt’s.”
Before I could get in a reply, she swished right past me toward her unit, calling over her shoulder, “I’ll let you know when they can get us in, dear!”
Good grief, this couldn’t be good. And what was wrong with my hair anyway? I didn’t spend any time on it, that was true, but I didn’t think it was stringy either.
Suddenly, the bus pulled up and a little girl hopped down the steps and over to me. Before anything could be said, she wrapped her little arms around me and hugged me tightly.
“Hello, Marty! I love you! We’re going to have so much fun! Did you know we’re cousins? You’re not dressed for summer, are you? Cool boots, though! I think I’d like a pair just like them! Do you like sweet? Salty? Sour? I think I need a snickety-snack! My tummy’s been making loud noises all day!”
She was definitely chatty but also about the most adorable thing I’d ever seen in my life.
As soon as we came inside, she bounced into the dining room with her homework. Ruby and I soon followed her, also sitting at the table.
“Just a minute now, young lady,” Ruby said. “How was your day? What did you do?”
“Well, first I got on the bus and I wanted to sit next to Becca but snooty Viola was sitting there. So, I sat next to George and we talked about frogs and the best places to see them. When we got to school, I said hi to all my friends before the bell rang and then we had a spelling test. Can you believe a spelling test first thing in the morning? We all groaned about it but Mrs. Nichols said the morning is our best thinking time so she made us do it anyway – ”
” – And how did you do on the spelling test?” Ruby patiently asked.
Personally, I was amazed at the play by play of Gloria’s day but I couldn’t imagine getting one every single day.
” – Oh, I did fine! I only missed one, so I have to write that word in a sentence ten times tonight. Ten times!” she exclaimed, her eyes huge.
“And what word is it?”
“Onion. Blech. As if I ever want to know anything about onions!”
“You can do your onion sentences in a while. Let’s start with your math homework.”
As they worked on Gloria’s math problems, I realized she was doing work I found to be very hard, and she was just a kid! My stomach knotted up at the thought that I’d probably failed the math portion of my own test.
Over the next few weeks, I became more acclimated to the cooler summer weather and began to dress like a normal person. Gloria, it seemed, had gotten pretty attached to me, but I didn’t mind. Not really.
There were times I wished she didn’t talk so much, but most of the time, I found the accounting of events in her life to be quite funny. I pictured her someday as the writer of a humor column…. or a comedian.
As for Mrs. Abernathy, I was in the routine of avoiding her like the plague. Since Gloria was now out of school for the summer, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
Gloria had her own opinions about the Abernathys, of course.
“Mrs. Abernathy doesn’t like being called Constance,” the little girl declared. “Even Mr. Abernathy doesn’t call her that.”
“What’s he call her?”
“Same thing you and I do, ‘Mrs. Abernathy!’ Isn’t that funny? But she calls him Glenn. And he can’t hardly hear so she gets mad because all he ever really says to her is, ‘What?’”
I laughed when Gloria said ‘What’ because she tried to imitate a grown man’s voice. She was pretty good, though.
Every day, Gloria had another Abernathy story to tell me and I found I quite looked forward to them.
At last, I found a place that reminded me of home. One hot summer day, Gloria asked me to take her to the beach and I just reveled in the familiar surroundings.
And, look. My first two-piece swimming suit! Don’t tell Momma! Bwaahaahaa!
I think yellow is fast becoming my new favorite color. When I get more comfortable in this maybe I’ll get a real bikini! Of course, getting a new anything will require a job but hopefully, I’ll be in uni before I have to think about that.
The water was colder than what I was used to on our island back home, but it felt so good. I let my mind drift for a while, daydreaming about Theo being there with me and playing in the water. With reddened cheeks, I wondered if he’d like my bathing suit?
As per usual, that night I checked my Longview University email account where the results of my test would magically appear one day. As I waited for the screen to load, I held my breath and counted the seconds. Did I want to see? Should I have Gloria look for me?
No, I was a big girl. A nervous big girl.
As the page finally began to appear, I closed my eyes because it looked like I finally had the results.
“Did you pass?” Gloria urged. “Open your eyes!”
Slowly, I did. As I read the email, my jaw went slack and I couldn’t pry my eyes away.
Holding back tears, I said, “I failed. I failed the exam.”