Opposites Attract- Four
The airport was huge, and bright, and so Atlanta. It gave me the feeling that I was in a different world, technically the airport was big enough to be another world. Walking out of the airport felt almost like walking out of a teleporter. In the airport it had been cool, chilly even, outside it felt like a sauna. It felt like someone knocked the air out of me, it was so freaking hot!
“Whoo!” I exclaimed, shielding my eyes from the hot Georgia sun and thanking my intuition for leaving my long bell bottom dress pants behind.
Stella, who had stayed a step or so behind me, caught up and pointed me in the direction of a navy blue Camry, sitting patiently at the curb for me. “That’s Dad,” Stella said, “I could—”
“Nice car,” I cut her off and quickened my step. “Are we going to straight to your house?”
“Yeah, we’re going to—”
“Great,” I stepped up to the car and looked into the passenger side window to look at my dad in the driver’s seat. He waved at me with a broad smile, looking like Georgia hospitality itself. I grinned back at him and turned back to Stella whose face looked all contorted. I couldn’t tell what kind of expression it was, but if anything it was annoyance. I lifted my heavy purple duffel bag, “Could you open the trunk for me?”
Stella gave me a friendly smile, the annoyance disappearing as fast as it came, “Sorry, yeah of course.” She helped open the trunk for me and I helped myself to stuffing it in beside the bag of kids clothes and baby toys. “Oh, sorry,” Stella tried rearranging the toys to make room for my bag, “We were supposed to donate these to Goodwill, like… a month ago, I think?” she turned to smile at me in amusement, looking at me as if looking for approval or shared amusement.
I forced a smile, “Oh really? That’s funny,” I laughed, and I guess being in the arts helped because Stella looked relieved.
We managed to stuff the purple monster into the trunk. I couldn’t help cringing at the thought of how wrinkled my clothes would be, and how easy it would be to rip my bag trying to get the bag back out.
I hopped into the passenger seat and turned to fling my arms around my dad’s neck. I couldn’t really say that I had much of a father daughter relationship with my dad, he was more like an uncle… or adult friend who really isn’t your friend but you pretend to know them. Despite this, I still felt a bit happy to see him. I convinced myself that I really had missed him, and was excited to stay with him for a week.
“Dad!” I bubbled, “Oh my goodness, I’ve missed you so much. I can’t believe I haven’t seen you in, like, forever. You look great, you’re so trim and nice looking. Oh!” I exclaimed, my anxiety and nervousness taking hold of my tongue and running away with it, “You smell so good. Is that pine, or something? It’s a great smell. Anyways, I can’t wait to see, um, Katie… oh and the kids, I was just thinking on the plane—”
He laughed in amusement at my shotgun talking, “Whoa! Whoa! Steady girl,” he grinned and shook his head, he stroked my head in a fatherly way which sent a pang through my chest. “It’s good to see you to, darling. Now you go ahead and buckle that there seat belt, and we’ll talk on our way home, ‘kay?”
I grinned at the southern hint in his voice which I heard more prominently than I did over the phone. “Yeah, yeah.”
Stella, who I hadn’t noticed climbing into the car, buckled her seat belt first and leaned in from the back seat, “Doesn’t Riley look older, Dad?”
He pulled out from the curb and glanced over at me, “Yeah… looking as cute as a button.” He reached over the consul to pinch my cheek playfully.
I laughed easily, “Aw… Thank you guys, you two are too sweet. I swear I am so pasty and pale. I feel like a vampire. New York is so freaking cold, it’s cray-cray. But oh man, it’s so hot here. I felt like I was stepping into an oven.
They both laughed, making me feel pleased with myself.
Stella touched my arm slightly to get my attention. I remembered then how much she hated interrupting people and also being interrupted. “Is it too hot? You’ll have to make sure to drink plenty of water while you’re here, and sunscreen.”
“Do you, like, wear sunblock every day?” I grimaced at the thought of feeling sticky for seven days.
My dad shrugged, “You could if you wanted to, but as long as you stay inside you’ll be fine.”
I sighed in exasperation, “Why do people keep on saying that? It’s Georgia in winter, it’s not like I’m going to try to stay inside much.”
Stella tried not to laugh at me while dad let it all loose. He shook his head, “Oh, you’ll spend a lot of time outside, but you’ll want to stay inside most of the time.”
I shrugged, not really caring anymore. I looked out the window at the congested traffic up ahead, and the crazy roads and ramps. Everything my mom told me about driving in Atlanta comes back to mind, reminding me of a New York street minus the buildings, and plus more roads and ramps… plus… actually it’s nothing like New York.
“You girls want some music?” Dad asked.
“Yes!” I exclaimed quickly
“That would be nice,” Stella said sweetly, making me smile in amusement. She wouldn’t last five minutes in New York.
Dad turned on the radio, some country station coming on which instantly made me cringe. He seemed to know the song, he started singing along as soon as he realized what song it was. Stella, in the back seat hummed along, leaving me to suffer in silence… Aw hell no!
“What’s this?” I asked, sneering before I could help myself.
“You’ve never heard this song?” he said in surprise, turning it up, “Why, this is the best song on the radio today.”
“You’ve never heard this before?” Stella asked inquisitively from the back seat.
I shook my head with a frown, “I never listen to country music.”
Dad looked over his shoulder quickly to exchange a look with Stella. He grinned and nodded his head to the beat, “Ain’t it good though?”
“Ain’t?” I spat out with a laugh before I could help myself. I cleared my throat, realizing how rude that sounded, “Sorry… it’s just cute.”
Dad smiled wryly, “Cute, eh?”
“Hey!” I changed the topic quickly, “What are we eating tonight for Christmas dinner?”
“Food,” he replied sarcastically, giving me a small smile.
I turned to Stella in exasperation, “Do you know?”
“Spaghetti and Meatballs, with garlic bread and a green bean salad.”
“Wow,” I said with a laugh, “You sound like you’re reading from a restaurant menu. But I love meatballs, actually I think they’re my favorite. There was this one time, Mom and I went to this Italian place and our meatballs were like, oh, probably the size of my head.”
Dad laughed in disbelief.
“I’m serious,” I exclaimed with a laugh and then rolled my eyes at myself, “Okay, well maybe not that big, more like the size of… um…” I bit my lip and looked around the car for something that would match the size of our meatballs, I couldn’t find anything. “Ugh! I don’t know… anyways, they were huge, so big that the centers were still pink. I had to send them back in after, like, an hour of waiting for them in the first place. It was ridiculous.”
Dad leaned over and patted my knee, “Glad you’re home.”
“But this isn’t home,” I said before I could shut my mouth.
He shrugged and touched his chest, “But this is.”
I glanced back at Stella in the back seat, who looked stiff. She forced a smile of encouragement at me.
This should have been a heartwarming moment, where I would feel at home and fall in love with Georgia… and maybe forgive my father for picking Stella over me. But for whatever reason, I just didn’t feel it. I put on my actress face and put a hand to my chest as if this really meant something to me.
“Aw…That’s so sweet.” Sometimes I scared myself with how sincere I could sound, and I could tell my Dad had bought it… I looked over my shoulder at Stella, who just looked at me with a mixture of interest and confusion.
Nothing got past her. I remembered when we were young, can’t remember how old we were, but we were spending the afternoon with Dad. Stella had been on a girls’ softball team, and Dad and I had cheered her on in the stands. I remembered being excited, holding popcorn and chewing on the ends of my hair, that disgusting habit Mom had me quit quickly. The softball team was terrible, but at the time I didn’t care. Stella ran the only homerun of the game so Dad promised to bring her to her favorite pizza place. When we got to the pizza place and had eaten our pizza, Dad bought Stella an ice cream sundae. So I faked an injury, crying as hard as I could and wailing so that Dad, feeling bad for not keeping me in sight, bought me a sundae. Stella glowered at me for the rest of the night, but never tattled. She might as well have tattled, Stella was my idol and having her mad at me was worse than being punished.
I shrugged at her, “Isn’t that sweet, Stella?”
“Sweetest thing ever,” she said in a soft voice, studying me with narrowed eyes.
I pursed my lips, feeling uncomfortable. I turned back and stared out the window, my foot unconsciously tapping to the beat of the obnoxious country tune.
“Katie!” I wrapped my arms around the woman’s neck, trying my best to act like the bubbly and friendly step child.
Sure, I liked Katie, she was… different… maternal. She was like the mom that you saw on TV, cool-headed, sweet, and well… perfect. She was too perfect, which made sense, since my Dad hated imperfection; otherwise he would still be with mom and me.
“Whoa,” Katie swayed slightly under my force, and touched my back in a pretend hug, surprised by my friendliness probably. “Hey Riley, how are you?” She pulled away from and studied my face with a pleased smile, “Wow, you’ve grown.”
I grinned and shrugged, “Thanks.”
She touched my faded pink strip of hair, “You dyed your hair?”
I sighed in exasperation and rolled my eyes, “Yes! It was months ago. I tried that Cool-aid trick, you know, where you dye your hair with cool-air. It was supposed to wash out way before school. It’s just finally fading.”
“Yeah.” I looked past her at the thirteen year old boy I remembered to be a complete brat the last time I was here. I waved, hoping things were different. “Hey…um…”
“Seth,” he reminded me incredulously.
“Right… Seth.” I should probably hug him, but I don’t want to, I just nod at him and turn to the little boy at my knees, grabbing at my suspenders. I yelped as he snapped the suspender against my chest. “Ow! Oh, hey there little guy.” I tried smiling at him like I really did like little kids, I leaned down, resting my hands on my knees, “Look at you, you’re so cute.”
“You like green eggs and han?”
I tried to laugh, “I’m pretty sure it’s ham, little guy, and sure… whatever you say.” I straightened to the sight of a tough little girl… right, Anna Marie. “Anna Marie, how’s it going?”
She laughed, “Anna Marie? Are you serious?”
“What?” I blushed.
“It’s Avery, thank you very much.”
I bit my tongue against saying something smart back at her and just smiled apologetically, “Sorry.” Bennett snapped my suspender again, “Ow!”
“Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?” said a curly auburn haired little girl at my hip.
“Gracie,” Katie reprimanded gently, “Only say it once.”
Stella walked into the livingroom with my purple duffel in hand, “It’s Riley, Gracie, remember. I told you about her.”
“Oh,” the little girl drawls out the word and looks intently at me, “You wear too much make-up.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but all that came out was another, “Ow!” as Bennett snapped my suspenders. I pushed him gently away, starting to feel claustrophobic with the younger children surrounding me like a mob.
Avery pulled my headband off to look closer at it, “This is nice.”
“Ow!” Bennett went back to my suspenders.
“Kids,” Katie gently said, trying to pry them off me, “Don’t-”
“Mom,” Seth butted in, “How long is she staying?”
“I LOVE PINK!” Gracie squealed, “Is that a hair clippy thingy?!” She stood up on her tip- toes to grab at my pink strip of hair.
“Ow!” My head is yanked to the side, the rest of my body with it, knocking Bennett roughly with my knee. “Ow!”
“Get off her,” Avery said pulling Gracie away from me.
Gracie didn’t let go of my hair, so as Avery pulled on her, Gracie pulled on me.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!”
Bennett started wailing.
“Guys!” Stella tried to step in, picking up Bennett.
“Mom,” Seth sounded incredulous as Katie comes back.
“Kids!” Katie said, slightly raising her voice from perfect-mom mode.
“IT’S NOT COMING OUT!” Gracie yelled.
Tears sprung to my eyes in pain, “Ow! Let go! Let go! Let go!”
“Only say it once,” I heard Seth say sarcastically.
I felt Katie’s hands untangle Gracie from my hair. “Gracie Rose!”
“Mom!” Avery practically shouted.
“I’m so sorry, Riley,” Katie said, her apologetic smile in my face, “It can be kind of crazy at first.”I put a hand to my sore scalp and glared at Gracie, Katie took her by the shoulders and turned her towards a doorway, “Gracie, let’s talk for a minute.” I watched in distress as Katie walked out of the room directing Gracie by the shoulder into the kitchen.
“How long are you staying?” Seth approached me, crossing his arms on his chest.
“Are you okay?” Stella asked at the same time, bouncing the still sobbing Bennett on her hip.
Avery passed me back my polka dot head band, “It stinks like head sweat.”
“Seriously,” Seth pressed, “How long?”
“I’m sorry,” Stella said with an apologetic smile, looking exactly like Katie.
My head, turns from one person to the next, swimming with color and voices. “I’m fine,” I said facing Stella. I turned to Seth, “For a week,” I turned to Avery, “thanks.” I sighed in exhaustion and turned expectantly to Katie.
Katie tried hiding her amusement, “Stella, how about you show Riley up to your room.”
Stella passed Bennett, who stopped crying and started whimpering, and picked up my purple duffel bag which she had set down during the craziness. “Come with me.”
I followed Stella, up a flight of stairs and to a small, quaint room. It was modestly furbished, with a bed, dresser, bookshelf, little desk with a lamp. The hardwood floors, scuffed and marked with age and use, still shined up at me, reflecting the light that came from the two windows.
“Ugh… Oh, um, nice,” I said quickly, trying hide my disapproval of the two windows. “Do you have a pull out bed or something?”
Stella, placing down my duffel bag in the corner, shrugged and gestured to the bed. “Nope, but you can sleep in my bed. I’ll be sleeping with Gracie… probably”
I sat down on the side of the bed, it was firmer than I was used to, but not unbearable. “Comfy. But are you seriously going to sleep with the red head?”
“Gracie,” Stella said her face going red.
Oops. “Sorry, Gracie, that’s what I meant. I mean… You could sleep in here, like, with me. I really don’t care. It would be like a sleepover, but like a weeklong sleepover.”
“Like a sleepover with your sister?” Stella asked with eyebrows raised.
“Exactly, but you know, you’re more like…” I trailed off and shrugged. This wasn’t going to help me, but my big mouth said it anyways, “You aren’t really like a sister, more like a distant friend or a cousin.”
“We used to be close,” Stella said, her eyes studying me sadly.
I looked away, uncomfortable with the look she was giving me. It made me feel both pitied and looked down on. “Yeah, well... It’s not like it matters, anyways. I mean, why should we be close when we live so far away?
Stella shrugged and bit her lip thoughtfully, “I guess so.” She blinked and looked at the mattress, “Well if you’re okay with it, I might just sleep in here; Gracie is still a bed wetter. Sorry we don’t have a guest bedroom.”
“No, no,” I waved her away, feeling the tenseness hanging in the air, “It’s better than nothing, obviously, totally better than the couch.” I nodded and looked around the room , taking it all in. Ugh… Be positive! You can make it.
“Oh,” Stella perked up, “Sorry, are you hungry, thirsty?”
“Totally, can we eat?” I stood up and left the room without further ado, feeling uncomfortable and ready to go home.