Chapter 1: Texas Is Different
Cold air is blasting in my face, pushing my bangs back and exposing my sweaty forehead. It's hot in this stupid van and I'm aware of Tino rambling non-stop in the front passenger seat. Peter is slapping his little hands at the window and one of my older brothers is pelting cheese puffs at the back of my head. The urge to turn around and shout obscenities is overwhelming, but the heat is making me groggy. I hate America already.
I've already begged Berwald twice for him to pull-over and dump me in a lake; he just grunted out an angry (at least I think it was angry - you could never tell with Berwald) 'there are no lakes.' Well that's rubbish.
Another cheese puff hits me and I whip around in my seat. Daniel grins at me over the top of his novel yet Collins is the one holding the snack bag, snoring softly. Scott's banging his head to a crashing guitar from his iPod that I can hear through his headphones. Peter's still stupidly looking out the window. And Tino's still babbling, his life partner still glaring out the windshield. This is my big happy family. Not.
I slump down in my seat and beat my head against the window on my side. I'm sweaty, tired from jetlag, frustrated and disappointed. Tino had said America would be good for us, so we could get away from England, the estate and everything that was once owned by my snobby parents. No reminders, a fresh start. But I hate it here already and I want to go back. The estate – England! – was the only constant in my pathetic fifteen years of neglected life. And because the Lord, or whoever runs that sorry excuse of a Heaven, hates my guts, everything was violently ripped from my grasp.
I don't remember when I've closed my eyes but I do feel the van pulling to a stop and hear the chink! of seatbelts unbuckling. If it's another gas station I will throw myself out into the road. We have been driving since six in the morning (I snuck a glance at the dashboard – 1:30pm) and crane my neck to look out the window properly. Instead of an ugly little gas station with blinking lights and graveled pavement, there's a house.
It's fairly decent sized from what I can tell, painted white with green, faded shutters and a big oak door. I release my seatbelt and slide the side car door open. Stepping out in the sun makes my eyes sting. It's even hotter out in the open. I turn to climb back inside the van but my brothers are climbing out along with Tino. He's absolutely ecstatic, laugh lines outlining his small, round face. He reaches out to touch me and I cringe away. No body heat, thanks.
Tino looks unfazed. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" His accent's thick and I wonder if that's how I sound as well. I look at the house again and think it's more of a cottage than a house. Picket white fence and everything. How very American. Scotty comes up behind me and smirks. I don't even have to look back to know it's him – the smell of tobacco is overwhelming.
"Why, yeah. It is pretty, ain't it Artie?" He nudges me too hard with his elbow and I almost fall over. I scowl.
"Sure. Whatever. I want air-conditioning." I shove past them all and unhitch the lock on the fence. The house is much bigger now that I'm up closer. The paint is chipped severely. There are weeds where I supposed there was garden. The roof looks like it's ready to collapse.
Berwald nudged me away from the door and thrust the key into the lock. The door opened eerily. I squint into the house, which is lighted only by the sun pouring through the dirty windows. Peter rushes past me, giggling. It's even more humid in the house.
"Is so big!" he slurs. My little brother is small for seven, only reaching up to my hip. Sandy blonde hair – not unlike mine- flies around his face and into his big ocean colored eyes. His mouth is large and his baby face holding up high cheek bones. His two top, front teeth are missing. Peter would be a cute boy, if he wasn't such a prying brat. My brother's and I take pity on him though because…
"Artie, Artie! Can I have this big room? Huh, huh?" Peter takes my hand and leads me down a narrow hallway. I pass several rooms before he stops at the end, gazing into the master bedroom. I look at him with my lips pursed.
"Ask Aunt Tino." I state and he runs from me with giddy delight. I hear his tiny footsteps pad away down the hall. I look around at the rest of the rooms with mild interest, hands in my pockets. There are five other bedrooms other than the master, three bathrooms and a very large towel closet. I walk back into the salon, where Scott, Collins and Daniel are waiting.
"Where's Tino?" I ask. Collins, whose inspecting a wall, turns to me. Collins is the most tolerated of all my brothers. In a way, he was the real father in my life, helping me with schoolwork and walking me down to the library when I wanted. He's nineteen with that smart guy charm; auburn hair and kind, chocolate eyes. He has a strong jaw; glasses perched nicely on the bridge of his nose. Everyone adores Collins.
"He went into the kitchen last I saw." He strides across the room with long legs. Did I mention he was the tallest of the Kirkland family? Everyone else is short, including me, standing at an awkward five foot four. He peers through an archway and I realize it's the kitchen. "Actually, he's outside. With Berwald and Petey." He disappears past the arch. "Wow, is that our back lawn?"
Scott pushes himself away from the corner he was lurking in and looks at me sidelong. While Collins has the nice guy look, Scott was all rugged handsome – seventeen years old. Red-cinnamony hair, pale skin, hazel eyes and a strong jaw. He's of average height, with a wide mouth and thin lips. He's just like our father. I had only really seen him in pictures, but Collins says Scott will look exactly like him. I just hope Scott doesn't act like him too.
"You like the house?" He says in his scratchy, deep voice. I look at him with narrowed eyes.
"I don't know. It's nothing like England. It's hot," I fan myself with my hand. He grunts and walks away from me, to the kitchen. Daniel creeps up behind me, snickering stupidly.
Daniel's the oddball of the family. He gets lost in his own little world most of the time, big brown eyes hazy as he stares at nothing. He has a round, freckly face and a big nose. He's not defined like my other brothers, still holding onto a boyish face. And he's very short for sixteen. Daniel is also the sibling whom picks on me the most; knocking me down and around everywhere. It isn't fair but I suppose its life.
"Little baby Artie all sad that he moved away from England?" he says as if he's talking to a child. I'm not a child, no matter what anyone thinks; fifteen is a perfectly fine and adult like age.
"You don't like it here either, so shut your fat mouth." I snap and shove him. He's unfazed and pushes me back. I turn to punch him in his chubby face and he moves to do the same. Collins appears suddenly, Tino at his side, and breaks us apart.
"Stop it, both of you. You are young men and brothers, this is uncalled for." Collins turns to me and slides his glasses back up his nose with his thumb. "Especially you. You're always insisting you're the only mature one in the family. Well god damnit, start acting like it." Collins walks away. Daniel follows.
Tino looks at me with tired eyes and I feel guilt wash over me. He heard me and now he feels stupid for shipping us over here to start a new life. I'm a terrible person. I give Tino a small, weak smile and he returns it wholeheartedly.
"Tino, it isn't so bad. I mean, sure it's a little… hotter. And all I can see is grass and dirt, and we'll be living with a bunch of hillbillies, but it's got a…" I pause because damnit, I can't think of anything else. "… A charm."
Tino's face warms instantly. I want to feel relieved but I'm still kicking myself for saying anything at all. Tino, the sweet, blessed man he is, sniffles and pulls me into a tight embrace.
"Arthur, I know you don't like it and neither do Collins or Daniel or Scotty but Lord… I-I want to make it all better, place band-aids on all the booboos – just like I used to. I am the family nurse after all." I smile at him, more lovingly because he's right. He's kissed all my scratches and fixed me up right. He's always been there for us, especially Peter. We've even caught my little brother calling Tino mom…
The man pulls away from me and wipes his nose with his sleeve. His cheeks are flushed and his blue eyes are puffy. "I love you Arthur, okay? This is going to get better. I pinky promise," his pinky is held out expectantly. It's childish but I love it. My pinky grips his. Tino lets go; he pivots and briskly pads away. The salon is still, empty.
I move to face a dirty window that looks out to the front lawn and beyond. Texas is different, I reason. The heat is unbearable; there is dust everywhere and when I look out the window all I can a little dirt brown path, wide enough for a car. On the other side of the path are acres and acres of green-yellow grass, surrounded by a brown, stable like fence that I've only ever seen in pictures.
I squint out the window in surprise. Is that a… house? Shit, neighbors. It's already bad enough that we have to be here in the first place. I would rather not have any rootin', tootin' Americans knocking on my door and inviting me to square dancing. I shudder. Something wet grabs my hand.
Peter's looking up at me expectantly, sweaty tiny hands gripping mine. "Artie! Guess what? The back lawn is really, really big and – and we can play football and – and…" He's panting because he no doubt was running around in the back lawn.
"That sounds nice Peter." I look at him with a certain fondness. He will be such a handsome boy when he's older.
"But-but Artie, you can plant that garden again, like you did back in England! Ya know…" he tugs me down to his level. He looks around and whispers, "… for our real mum. Not Tino." My heart swells and contracts at the same time and I feel sick. I'm going to kill Scott. Only Scott was supposed to know about the purpose of the garden. In fact, Scott's the only other person who knows anything about me. I squint, trying not to cry.
"I- we'll see Peter." I stand back up again. "Let's go check out that back lawn, alright?" He leads the way happily. On the way, we pass through the kitchen. It's nice, fairly large with a sunlight roof. It has an old feel to it, with oak countertops and an old fashioned stove. Yes, I'd love to cook in there. Beyond that is the dining room, which has old peeling walls and a low hung chandelier. I'm pretty sure Berwald has hit his head on that already.
In the dining room is an open, wooden porch door, leading out to an also wooden porch, and an old swing and everything. We step through it and the sun makes my eyes water again. Scott is sitting on the rickety swing and smoking, Collins beside him with a book. Daniel is lying down in the grass, beyond the porch and stairs, and staring at nothing. I look around and see Berwald inspecting the beams holding up the porch. I walk to him, Peter still following.
"When does the furniture truck come?" I ask. He glances up with me over the top of his glasses, blue eyes shining in the sun.
"Later today. Around five maybe." He stands up from his kneeling position on the ground and grunts when his knees pop. He reaches for Peter, whose sucking on his thumb. I lean over in front of him.
"Hey you, big boys don't suck their thumbs." He rips it out, wiping it on his blue shorts. "That's better." I pick him up with a huff and hand him to Berwald. He takes him with his big hands.
"Go reserve a bedroom. Scott and Daniel will show you no mercy otherwise." Berwald kind of… grimaces a bit and I realize he's trying to smile. Berwald is a big man, over six feet, with a torso like an oak trunk and thick arms. His light blonde hair is short, nearly shaven and I've always wondered if he was ever in the military. He's firm but kind. I think he's a bit of a softie under all that steel. And he certainly does love Tino very much; I can see it in his eyes. (This is the part where I blatantly deny any envy towards their love.)
I walk back into the house (it's not any cooler, no matter how much I wish it was) and pass through the house to the halls. I need a big enough room for my two massive bookshelves and paint sets. I pass each room and scrutinize everyone carefully. I stop at the room next to the masters. It's bigger than the others; I step inside.
It's spacious, with mint green peeling walls (like the rest of the house) and a dusty, burgundy hardwood floor. It's clashing and needs some work, but I like it. I step inside further and sit cross legged on the floor. There is a large window that I can look through. The sun's still high in the sky, because I can't see it. When I look harder, I can see beyond the weeds and fences, the dirt brown path. It reminded me of a painting.
I don't know how long I sat and stared out the window but when I finally broke the barrier of consciousness, I could hear shifting and voices in the salon. I stand up and wipe the seat of my pressed pants free of dust. Peeking my head out the door, I see men in blue work suits carrying in a light blue, pink flowered couch. I never liked that couch.
Scott walks past the doorway. He spots me and motions for me. I hesitantly step from my room, dodging a set of movers carrying my bed frame.
"Excuse me sirs? Could you take that to the third bedroom on the left, please?" I ask. They grunt, eye me weirdly and shift themselves so they can carry the frame down the hall. "Thank you!"
"You've already got a bedroom, eh?" Scotty asks, hazel eyes gleaming. I nod, eyebrows scrunched together. My eyebrows were a bit on the… large side, but I liked them. Tino says they add character. My older brother gets a somewhat faraway look that glazes of his eyes. I realize its nostalgia.
"Mum used to do that. If we'd question her, her lips would draw thin, like that, her nose and eyebrows all scrunched." He flicks me on the nose and my eyes water. I scowl at him. I'm always being compared to our mum, even if it's subconsciously. And I understand why; I look just like her.
A grand mirror passes by Scott and I and I take a glance. I'm a small and skinny teen, all sharp angles and awkward limbs. No matter how much I eat, I never gain any weight and I feel a bit self-conscious. My hair is raggedy and limp, hanging in my eyes, covering my ears. My face is narrow, my eyes too big and my mouth too small; Tino says I have the most perfect nose. I'm evenly pale everywhere. My eyes are toxic green. My fingers are long and boney, meant for a piano, (which is ironic because I'd never had the patience to harness one) or possibly a paint brush.
"I don't want to hear about her." I shove past him, my shoulder pushing his. I don't hear a snide remark.
It isn't until the sun is setting behind the horizon that the movers are finished unpacking the truck. Berwald and Scott move what's needed and Tino sent the workers home with a cheery smile. I'm sitting on the couch, legs drawn up and my arms around my knees. I'm staring out the window that it's flush against. The sunset is breathtaking; rosy pinks and mellow yellows washed out by a deep, red-purple. My fingers twitch for my paints. I see something moving beyond the dirt path. It's just a silhouette, but it's bouncing in a fluid, fast motion. I sit up straighter. It's a horse.
I watch the horse as it gallops around freely, almost frolicking. I had always wanted a horse, always wondered what it'd be like to ride one. Of all the things my parent's money could buy, a horse and stable was never one of them. I feel tingly with imagination. I want a horse, and by the size of out back lawn, I'm going to be damn well sure I get one. Then something nags at me in at the back of my mind. Am I implying I want to stay? No, I'm not. Once I turn eighteen I'm leaving back for England with an inheritance and no other worries. I don't want to be here, I tell myself. I'm going back no matter what.
I fall asleep on the couch, thinking of England.