The sound that woke me on that fateful first Sunday morning of summer break was truly horrifying. One minute I was sleeping peacefully, dreaming one of my typically boring yet bizarre dreams (in that particular one I was hanging my socks on the clothes line in the back yard with Elvis. I told you they were bizarre). The next minute the sound of my mother singing hyped up show tunes was piercing my brain. All at once the socks and Elvis disappeared and I was blinking up into the hazy morning light spilling through the gap in my drapes.
My mothers God awful singing voice was mingling with the sound of water gushing out of the power shower and hitting the tiled bathroom walls in the room next to mine. Our apartment was super small, and no one could so much as sigh in one room without the person in the next room hearing them. The noise my mother was making sounded deafeningly loud to my sleepy ears. Her bright and early cheeriness could mean only one thing - her date with Steve last night had gone well. I was happy about that. What I was not happy about was being woken up so early on the only day of the week I got to sleep in.
A moment later I heard her shut off the shower and leave the bathroom, her high pitched singing downgraded to a cheery hum. The door to my room swung open and my mother poked her head around it, a bright radiant smile beaming on her face.
'Ah great, you're awake!' She stepped into the room tying the belt of her fluffy white bathrobe around her waist.
'I think,' I said struggling up into a sitting position, 'it's time for me to invest in some earplugs.'
'Oh,' my mother grimaced regretfully. 'Did I wake you?'
'I think you woke the whole building,' I told her. 'Possibly the whole block.'
'Whoops,' she giggled, settling on the edge of my bed.
'I take it you and Steve had a good time last night?' I ventured. My mom smiled goofily at me.
'It was the best,' she gushed. 'He is such a great guy. I know you're going to love him.' Last night had been their third date since they'd met two weeks ago, she usually waited until five dates before introducing me to one of her boyfriends so I was yet to have the pleasure of meeting him. It wasn't like she had had all that many boyfriends since she and my Dad divorced four years ago. Only two infact - Chris and Rob. She had "known" I would love them too. Love really was too strong a word for what I had felt for those guys. Like didn't quite hit the mark either. I would say that I tolerated them, but even that was stretching things a little.
'He had a great idea last night actually,' my Mom went on. 'He suggested that we all meet up for lunch today. You, me and his son Kelley.' I groaned and flopped back against my pillow. 'We don't have to,' she told me. 'I mean if you already had plans that's fine.' I could see the disappointment on her face although she was trying hard not to let it show.
'I don't have any other plans,' I replied. 'Sunday's my lazy day remember?' Actually, most of my days where lazy days, partially at least. Hey, it was summer - as a teenager I was not only entitled to kick back and relax, I was obligated to. It wasn't all going to be lounging on the beach and trips to the mall though. I had a job in a local diner and would be working the morning shift from eight to twelve every day except for Sunday. My Mom and I weren't exactly well off. She worked part time as a nurse and spent the rest of her time studying for her psychology degree. She was half way through her degree, having started it two years ago a little while after the divorce. We had to move out of our house because what with the cost of her tuition fees and the drop in her salary that resulted from cutting her hours we couldn't pay the rent.
My Dad did help us out financially as best he could, but as is usually the case with my father his best just isn't good enough. I don't mean that in a nasty way, it's just that my Dad is like this big kid - kind of reckless and irresponsible. His good points are that he has a heart of gold and a great - if somewhat offbeat - sense of humor. This was not enough to keep him and my mother together, but I've made my peace with that, and now that they aren't married anymore they actually get along and even enjoy one another's company, which was kind of rare when they were a couple. I guess some people are just better off as friends.
'So,' my mother began. 'That's a yes to lunch with Steve and Kelley?'
I nodded sleepily. 'That's a yes.'
'Oh thank you Shana honey,' she giggled scooting forwards and wrapping me up in a hug. 'I'll call Steve right away and let him know.' My mattress creaked as my Mom leapt to her feet and scurried out of the room. I snuggled back down below my comforter and buried my face into the pillow, inhaling the flowery scent of lavender that was infused into the fibres. Lavender oil on your pillow is great way to relax you at night time, something my Grandma swears by. Being somewhat of an insomniac at times I'll use just about any sleep inducing remedy you throw my way. As I lay there breathing in the soothing lavender I could hear my Mom out in the hallway talking on the phone. She sounded all flirty and girly and I silently prayed that she wouldn't be behaving that way at lunch. If she did I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep myself from barfing right there at the table. Way to make an impression. A couple of moments later she shuffled back into my room.
'We're meeting them at twelve o'clock,' she informed me. 'At La Luna Belle.' I shot up in bed and blew a few stray locks of hair out of my eyes, glaring at my mother questioningly.
'La Luna Belle?' I asked sounding cynical. 'Isn't that place like insanely expensive? We can't afford to eat there. And for lunch? Don't you think that's a little extravagant?'
My Mom twirled a lock of her damp chestnut colored hair around one of her fingers and smiled. 'Steve insisted that we go there, and he insisted on paying.'
'What is this guy?' I asked in reply. 'Mr Money Bags?' I raised my eyebrows and waited for her to answer. Instead she just placed one hand on her hip, pursed her lips and gave me her patented wide eyed stare. It was a look I knew well. It was her "don't start getting all smart mouthed with me young lady" look.
'He happens to work there as a chef,' she told me finally.
'Oh,' I replied. 'So he's actually Mr Marinade.' My mothers face morphed straight back into "the look."
'His name is Steve,' she said pointedly. 'And that is what you are going to call him - nothing else, you got that?' I gave her my best innocent face, knowing exactly what she was thinking. Chris, her first boyfriend after Dad, worked as a chimney sweep. Yes, I kid you not. It had been his families business for like a million years or whatever. Seeing as there wasn't much call for chimney sweeps anymore their business had expanded to include all other handy man jobs that needed doing on people's properties, although he would still roll up his sleeves and clean out a chimney if and when the opportunity arose.
It was with his profession in mind that I came up with his adorable nickname; Dick. You know, like Dick Van Dyke who played the chimney sweep guy in the cinematic classic that is Mary Poppins. Mom didn't really like this, and on the few occasions when I had accidentally slipped up and called him that to his face, he hadn't really appreciated it either.
Her next boyfriend Rob worked in publishing. It was a pretty standard job so I couldn't derive any kind of fun or wacky nickname from that. Something I could work with however was his hairstyle. It was, shall we say, a little on the unnatural looking side. On some days it would be more to one side than the other infact. Toupee or not toupee, that was the question. I never received a definitive answer to that question unfortunately, but still I bestowed upon him his very own cute little nickname in honour of it - Rob the Rug.
My Mom fixed me with one final look and turned to leave, calling over her shoulder as she went, 'Dress nice.' By this point I was well and truly awake. I glanced at my alarm clock and saw that it was nearly eight thirty. Three and a half hours until I had to meet Mr Marinade - sorry, Steve - and his he-she sounding son, Kelley. The morning passed quickly and at eleven o'clock when my Mom bustled into the living room taking the last few curlers out of her hair she found me sprawled on the couch, still in my pyjama's, watching cartoons and eating cereal straight out of the box. She threw a fit.
'Shana!' she cried. 'We are leaving in half an hour, you haven't so much as ran a comb through your hair yet!'
I popped one last handful of cereal into my mouth and chewed it slowly. 'Don't worry,' I mumbled spitting crumbs everywhere. 'I'll be ready.'
My Mom looked at me in dismay. 'Shana, please promise me you won't talk with your mouth full at lunch.' I got to my feet and headed to my room.
'Okay, I promise.' I noticed that my Mom seemed pretty strung out. She had only known this guy for two weeks and here she was getting all bent up in knots over introducing me to him. I suddenly realized that things must be moving pretty fast between the two of them, and that was a thought that did not sit well with me. It wasn't that I didn't want her to be happy, or to have a love life, I just didn't want her to lose her head over this guy.
I threw open my closet doors and surveyed it's contents. My Mom had told me to "dress nice" but the problem was I didn't really have that many "nice" clothes. I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl at heart, always have been, probably always will be. My Mom had made attempts to introduce more sophisticated - her word, not mine - items of clothing to my collection, with a floaty skirt here and a pretty shawl there. No matter how many times I told her that those kind of things just weren't me, she carried on bringing them home regardless. Eventually I gave up trying to dissuade her and got into the habit of thanking her politely and swiftly sticking whatever stylish - again, her word, not mine - item of clothing she had presented me with on that occasion into the back of my closet, wishing the moths a merry time and bidding them to do their worst.
After a few moments of deliberation I pulled out a pair of khaki trousers and a silky chocolate brown camisole that was one of the very few purchases my mother had made on my behalf which I actually liked. I laid them out on my bed then grabbed a towel and made a beeline for the shower. I could hear my mother's voice over the stream of hot water, urging me to hurry up. Didn't she realize it was a woman's prerogative, nay - duty, to be fashionably late? This was a fact I informed her of as I emerged from the bathroom clutching a towel around me and dripping all over the maroon threadbare carpet. She responded to this by tapping at her watch and saying, 'Fifteen minutes, Shana. I don't want to keep Steve and Kelley waiting. It's rude.'
I could tell she was going to be really pissed at me if I pushed her buttons on this one. This little lunch date obviously meant a lot to her and I didn't want her to think I was trying to sabotage her relationship with this guy or anything. So, like the good and obedient daughter I am, I hurried into my room, dried off, dressed, and fixed my hair and make up in record time. As it turned out we were still late. Only five minutes late, but it still earnt me a sly stare from my Mom as we pulled up outside the restaurant.
'Hey,' I told her with a shrug of my shoulders. 'Don't blame me. The traffic's a bitch at this time of day.' My Mom whipped a tube of lip gloss out of her purse, adjusted the rear-view mirror and applied it as she spoke.
'I don't want you talking like that during lunch,' she said with puckered lips. 'I don't want Steve thinking I have some kind of little miss smart mouth for a daughter.' I rested my head back against the seat and rolled my eyes. Oh, this was going to be so much fun. I don't think. I had never in my life been inside La Luna Belle and I had to fight the urge to gawp, open mouthed, as we stepped through the doors. This very tall, sleek looking woman with perfect eyebrows and an impossibly bright smile approached as we entered and I guessed she was the hostess.
'Good afternoon ladies,' she beamed. 'Welcome to La Luna Belle. Do you have reservations?'
'We're part of the Carson party,' my Mom replied.
'Oh,' she grinned. 'So you must be Susan. It's wonderful to meet you. Steve and Kelley are already seated. Allow me to show you both to your table.' As we walked through the restaurant I looked around casually. Even though we were inside, it had a very outdoorsy feel to it, as though we were in a little Italian courtyard or something. Not that I had ever been in an Italian courtyard but I was guessing it would be pretty similar to what I was seeing. The walls were all stone, with creeping ivy, tiny flowers and fairy lights draped everywhere. Large glass windows let in tons of light, turning it into a bit of a suntrap. Thankfully they had great air conditioning.
There was a string quartet playing quietly in the corner and I had my eyes on them when I heard this coy little giggle coming from my mother. I turned my eyes in her direction to find her staring adoringly at a table a few feet ahead of us. I followed her gaze and was slightly surprised. The guy she was making her goo goo eyes at appeared to be a few years older than her, not like decades or anything, but he was more than half way to being totally gray. He got up from the table, a charming smile stretching across his face, and strode over to us.
'Susan,' he said happily, reaching out to give her a kind of half hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek.
'Sorry we're late,' my Mom replied twirling a lock of her hair.
'Oh you're not late,' he assured her. 'Kelley and I were a little early.' At this point he turned to me. 'And you must be Shana?'
I smiled and reached out to shake his hand. 'Nice to meet you.' Steve's smile grew a little as he extended his hand to mine and shook it. Little Miss Smart Mouth, huh? I gave my mother a quick glance and she knew me well enough to know the look in my eyes. It was saying, "See, I can be nice."
'Well,' Steve began, motioning us over to the table. 'Let's introduce you guys to Kelley.' I looked over to the table Steve had come from and saw someone else seated there. He had his back turned to us, and at a glance I was guessing this guy was maybe a wrestler or something. If my Grandma had been there she would no doubt have described him as "strapping." We stepped up to the table and Steve placed a hand on his son's broad shoulders.
'Kelley,' he said with a smile. 'I'd like you to meet Susan Torres and her daughter Shana.' My Mom smiled cheerily and stuck a hand out to Kelley, obviously expecting her introduction to Kelley to be as amiable as mine and Steve's had been. Kelley tore his eyes away from a spot on the wall he had been staring at, glancing quickly at my Mom's hand before giving it a very brief, half - hearted shake.
'Hey,' he mumbled. He didn't even attempt to muster a smile, instead he just went back to staring at the wall. My mothers smile faltered a little but she still managed a warm, 'It's very nice to meet you.' He made no attempt to acknowledge my presence but I could forgive him that. He obviously didn't want to be there, and in my heart of hearts neither did I, so I couldn't really bitch about the way he was acting - it was totally understandable. Meeting one of your parents love interests was always a cringe inducing, often harrowing experience, so if he wanted to work the surly teenager routine more power to him. Steve pulled out the two chairs opposite his and Kelley's and my Mom and I slid into them.
Steve settled back into his own seat and reached for my mothers wine glass. 'I ordered a bottle of wine while we were waiting,' he said picking up a bottle of white wine with his free hand.
'Oh, not for me thanks Steve,' Mom giggled. 'I'm driving.'
'I'm not,' I quipped shoving my wine glass in his direction.
Steve chuckled. 'What are you? Fifteen?'
I smiled and nodded. 'Yeah. And already an accomplished alcoholic.' My Mom scowled at me and snatched the glass out of my hand.
'Not funny Shana,' she told me sternly. Who was trying to be funny? She always let me have a glass of wine when we went out for dinner - not that she'd admit to it of course. I shrugged my shoulders and slouched back in my seat. I suddenly felt like I was being watched, and a quick look in Kelley's direction told me I was. As soon as I caught him gawping at me - and for the record it wasn't an adoring kind of gawp, more of a "who the hell's this weirdo" kind of gawp - he looked away so quickly I got whiplash just watching him. I let my gaze rest on him for a moment. My Mom hadn't told me how old he was but I was guessing he was college age. Whether or not he attended college was a different matter - judging from the dumb dimwit vibes he was giving off as he stared vacantly into the distance he wasn't really the academic type.
'So Shana,' Steve began. 'How is your summer vacation going?'
'Oh, school only finished on Friday,' I told him. 'But so far, so good.'
'And you'll be starting high school in the fall?' he asked.
'Actually,' my Mom interjected. 'She'll be a sophomore, right Shana?'
I nodded. Steve took a sip of wine and gave Kelley a small pat on the back, which I was guessing was an attempt to rouse him. 'Kelley's going to be a junior in the fall.'
'In high school?' I asked in surprise, aiming my question at Kelley himself. I thought, seeing as he was sat right there, it would be a little rude to direct a question about him to someone else.
His eye line shifted lazily towards me and he gave a nod of his head. 'Yeah.'
'What school do you go to?' I asked, trying to get a conversation going. 'I haven't seen you around Mercer.' Kelley wasn't the kind of guy that you could miss. He was easily six foot, and although he wasn't my type, he had the kind of inoffensive good looks that could guarantee a person popularity.
'George K. Adamson High,' he informed me, sounding very bored.
'George K. Adamson?' I echoed. 'I've never heard of it.'
'You wouldn't have,' he replied. 'It's in Reorda Bay.'
'Oh,' I replied. I had no idea where Reorda Bay was either but I guessed it must be where Kelley lived with his mother. At this point a waiter glided up to the table and handed us each a menu. I took it gratefully and ducked down behind it, turning it into a barrier between me and Kelley. I got the feeling he didn't really like me that much. People like him usually didn't. Okay, so I had known of him for all of two minutes, perhaps it was a little too soon for me to judge what kind of person he was. But the evidence spoke for itself. He was cool and aloof, handsome, with a smart and stylish dress sense - he even had a Rolex - a freaking Rolex! If he had gone to Mercer High I had no doubt that he would have been friends with the terminally cool rich kids like Kurt Glover and Tina Cameron - the kind of kids who hated me and my friends and were hated by us in return.
We ordered quickly, and then Kelley and I sat there in awkward silence as our parents rambled on and on to one another incessantly. It didn't take long for me to start squirming in my seat and tapping my fingers on the table. When I'm struck down by boredom I just find it impossible to keep still. I noticed Kelley stealing looks in my direction every few seconds and I realized that my squirming and tapping was annoying him. What was I supposed to do? I couldn't just sit there imitating a block of stone like he was. I decided to have another stab at instigating a conversation between the two of us.
'So,' I began cheerily. 'Are you a wrestler or something?' He looked at me as though I'd just asked him if he'd ever tried swimming through a sewer drain.
'No,' he replied. Then he immediately went back to staring at the wall.
'A footballer?' I ventured.
He looked at me again. 'No.' Oh, this was fun. How glad was I that my Mom had dragged me here to have lunch with her new boyfriend and his charming son. Especially when I could have been doing something else like topping up my tan on the beach with my friends, rollerblading along the boardwalk, playing volleyball. Thank goodness my mother had suggested this instead. I decided to abandon my attempts at drawing Kelley into a conversation and waited patiently for the food to arrive.
'Mom says you're a chef here,' I said turning to Steve as the waiter placed our plates down on the table.
'That's right,' he smiled. 'Only during the summer though. I just do to it to help a friend out while he's on vacation.'
'So what do you do for the rest of the year?' I asked spearing a Greek olive with my fork.
'I have my own restaurant that I run back home.'
'Back home?' I asked
'Yeah,' he replied. 'Reorda Bay.'
'So you guys aren't from Anaheim?' I went on.
Steve shook his head and Kelley raised an eyebrow. 'Why would I go to school in Reorda Bay if I lived in Anaheim?' He was looking at me like I was some kind of idiot and I did not appreciate it.
'Well maybe,' I shot back icily, losing my temper a little,' It's a boarding school. You know, for special kids who have a hard time learning in a normal environment.'
Kelley's strong jaw set and his brown eyes went all hard and mean. My mother almost choked on her tomato and mozzarella salad. 'Shana!' she exclaimed after regaining her composure. I was so not going to apologize. I had been willing to cut Kelley some slack to begin with, but now he was just getting on my nerves.
Steve cleared his throat and made a swift attempt at changing the subject. The atmosphere wasn't quite the same after that - not that it had been all that great before. When lunch was over and it came time for us to go our separate ways we paused at the door.
'I have had a wonderful time,' Steve smiled. 'Thank you so much for the pleasure of your company ladies.' My Mom giggled again, giving him a playful little swipe on the arm as if to say, "oh, you!" Kelley stood a few feet away from the rest of us, staring down at the floor with his hands jammed into his trouser pockets.
'It was really nice meeting you Kelley,' my Mom called over to him. 'Maybe we could do it again sometime.'
'I'm leaving for camp tomorrow,' Kelley replied, tilting his head up a little. 'So I probably won't see you again.' Well that certainly made his feelings clear. He didn't think his father's relationship with my Mom was going anywhere. I took a second to think about this. Steve only lived in Anaheim for a few months a year - wouldn't that put a strain on his relationship with my Mom? And where was Reorda Bay anyway? Just how long distance was their relationship going to be? These were all questions I asked my Mom once we were settled in the car.
'Reorda Bay,' my Mom began. 'Is up the coast, northern California. It's only a few hours away.'
'And it doesn't bother you that once the summer is over you and Steve - if you're still together - are going to have to have a long distance love affair?' I asked.
My Mom just shook her head. 'Shana, when you get to my age and you meet someone that you really like, someone you think you could be really happy with, you don't let a little thing like distance get in your way.'
'So you think you could be really happy with Steve?' I pressed.
'Really happy,' she beamed. 'Really, really happy. I mean I realize I haven't known him that long, but I can't remember the last time I felt like this.' I tried to smile encouragingly. If my Mom thought she could make this work, then good luck to her. I just hoped Steve felt the same way, otherwise I was going to have a broken hearted woman on my hands.