The white moving truck with faded blue letters pulls into the driveway behind us. I stare ahead at the one-story house that is now ours. Unbelievable. I look down, into my folded hands. The never-ending car trip seems like a bundle of candy right now. Will things keep getting worse?
“Bay,” my mom says gently. I look out the window, oblivious to her coaxing voice. Diandra lets out a snicker. Fine. Let my only sister think I’m an idiot. Works for me. I close my eyes, remembering California. The waves rolling in, the sun beaming down. I take a glance at the harsh reality. Snow falling. Short houses. Lakes, not oceans. Why Minnesota?
Mom deserves the silent treatment. She caused the divorce. She caused the move. Diandra doesn’t care, Mom doesn’t care, and Dad’s all the way on the other side of the world, deciding to live his life in Australia. Why didn’t he take me with him? Why did Mom have to package me up and ship me to the opposite of California with her?
I unbuckle my seatbelt and get out of the car. I hold out a finger and let a snowflake land on it. The delicate thing melts at my touch. Shivering, I tug my scarf tighter.
Diandra hops out of the car, swinging her backpack after her. Only a few more years, I remind myself as she whips her dazzling blond hair around herself. Just a few more years before Diandra can drive off, searching for boys or something. Mom is out next, turning off the car, the old engine stuttering to a stop. She hurries around the car, her high heels clicking as she moves in a strangled run, working against her impossible shoes. I brush aside my mess of dirty-blond hair that is in two knotty braids.
“Bay,” Mom repeats, raising her eyebrows in exasperation. I turn away, facing the street. No cars pass. An occasional jeep or something rolls by, a trail of exhaust following. “Come on, let’s be rational. What can be so bad with change?” My mom rattles on, but my eyes are fixed on the street, tuning her out. I scan the houses facing ours and turn back to the bumpy pavement that needs work. Then, a bike rides by. Wait, hold it. A bike? In winter? On the calm streets caked with a layer of fresh snow? A biker in this weather? A biker with—wait—no coat on? This is strange.
I’m off, racing after this bike. My mom is taken by surprise, screeching after me, “Bay! Bay! What do you think you’re doing? Diandra? Diandra!!! Bay!” My feet thud against the pavement, my breath coming out in puffs of fog. I don’t know what’s taken hold of me. Maybe it’s the move. Maybe it’s the sight of something strange. Or maybe it’s everything tied up in one big knot. The fact that once I finally make a friend, I’m whisked off to another town, expected to rewrite my whole life. The fact that this is impossible for me, and that I never fit in. The fact that this girl might be someone else who’s in her own world. Just another person who is out there, different, odd. Awkward with everyone and everything. I keep running.
The biker finally stops in front of a house a few blocks down from ours. She takes off her helmet, letting her short, choppy brown hair come into view. The biker rests her bike against a sign that reads “No Parking from 5 p.m.–7 a.m.” and locks her bike to it.
“Hey,” I greet breathlessly, after I’ve caught up to her. The girl looks at me with her blue eyes, puzzled. She looks thirteen, my age. I also notice that she doesn’t seem to be cold at all, even though
her arms are bare.
“Hello?” she responds. Her eyes scan me. I hesitate, then continue, a little nervous, to be honest. This girl’s intimidating. Or maybe I’m just intimidated by everything.
“I’m Bay and I’ve just moved in. Few blocks down. I know…”
She cuts me off. “It’s Rowen. And I’m busy. Good luck.” Then Rowen turns on her heel and is marching inside her tan house. Her hair bounces with her stiff body. I’m speechless. My mouth is still open. I ignore the urge to call out and close it, disturbed by her rudeness. I tug at one of my braids, biting my lip, feeling tears welling up.
“Just another one of those girls,” I whisper to myself. I just stay there, standing, staring at the house until I give in to myself and turn away, my head down. I slip off my Toms and walk home barefoot, ignoring the biting pain of the cold. The snow melts against the bottoms of my feet, leaving footprints. I give in to the pain, slipping on my shoes. I shiver and continue walking down the middle of the seemingly abandoned street. Thoughts turn in my head. I already messed up. School hasn’t even started. Thank God it’s winter break.
I arrive at our new house and stand there, sighing. Our new house doesn’t even look good. It’s off-white with red shutters. Our old house was a brilliant but calm green. I remember introducing Coral to it, and how I could fool around with her, relieved that she didn’t care how insecure or awkward I was. But now, I don’t have anyone who cares that I exist. I stare at my dull house with hate. Then, I nearly get run over and have to hop out of the street to avoid the honking car. This brings me back to my senses.
The door bangs open and Diandra runs out, shooting darts at me with her sharp eyes. Her hands curl into fists.
“Baylie Natalie Gale! Where were you?” she shouts.
“Around,” I tell her. She emits an exasperated noise and storms back inside. A few more years and she’ll be off. If I don’t keep reminding myself of this, I think I’ll go crazy. I follow her inside. By now, my feet are burning with pain. When I take off my shoes and lift them up to look at them, they are all sorts of different colors. Not good. I venture through the house, trying to remember it from when we toured it earlier in the year. I find myself in what looks to be the living room, where my mom is leaning against the wall, head back. She looks up when she hears me approaching. What follows is a whole speech from her on how impossible and irresponsible I am. Fair enough. She goes on and on until I realize that if I don’t stop her, I’ll go mad.
“Mom, I’m old enough to look after myself! You didn’t have to get so worried!” I exclaim. Her eyes dig into me.
“Well, it’s a little concerning when you chase after a random bicycle and don’t return until a half an hour later!” she argues. I return this with a death stare. I really do wish Rowen hadn’t been so rude.
* * *
The next day is all work. We unpack the kitchen first, putting all the dishes away and then the cooking tools. Diandra stops every ten minutes to text who knows who and complain some more. And then Mom is out half the time shopping for everything in the world, making Diandra the boss. She yells at me every minute, finding something to criticize me for. So the whole morning is torture while I’m the only one doing work. Thanks, guys. But then again, what can I expect from my family?
At lunch we have a break to eat ham sandwiches. I only eat half of mine and am quickly out of the house. I wear my Toms again, even though there is at least a foot of snow on the grass. I don’t have any boots from living on a beach my whole life. I pull on a sweatshirt and scarf, throwing my hair into a bun. I roam the streets outside, not caring if I get lost. I walk forever and soon, snow starts to drift down. I shudder at the unfamiliar weather. I push aside the part of me that realizes how pretty the landscape looks with snow covering the small houses. The streets are just as calm as yesterday, though occasionally I hear the whir of cars on the freeways next to the neighborhoods. I wonder if Mom is mad yet, wondering where in the world I am, when all I want is just to get some fresh air.
I’m walking along one street when I come upon some boys who look like they’re playing hockey in the street. I walk up onto the sidewalk to avoid their violent game. The noise of clattering hockey sticks and pucks stops abruptly.
“Hey!” a boy shouts. I inhale a shaky breath and turn to face them. The boy in front of me smirks. “You’re the new girl, aren’t you?” I open my mouth to respond, but a different boy interrupts.
“Look at her sweatshirt, Andy. ‘Surf ’s Up!’ How cheesy!” I glance down at my sweatshirt and my face turns red. The boys laugh. I don’t know what to say. These are my bad moments.
“I-I surf,” is what I come up with. Lame. I wince. Times like these, I’m useless. Odd, weird, lame, awkward. Just plain awkward.
“Hate to break it to ya, Ms. Surfer, but this is Minnesota. If you had any brains at all, you’d realize there aren’t any oceans around here, so good luck with that!” Another wave of laughter. Uh oh. This is going from bad to worse. “Try hockey!” Andy whacks a puck at me. I gasp and duck. They burst into more laughter.
“I realize.” My voice is shaky and quiet and I’m not sure if they can hear me. I turn to leave and start running. Suddenly, I slip on the layer of fresh snow and am on my butt. Who knew snow was so slippery? The laughter is exploding. My face burns and a lump forms in my throat. Wow. Way to mess up, Bay. Way to be the most awkward person alive. Way to…
“Shut it!” A sharp voice interrupts my thoughts. That’s when Rowen and her bicycle enter my view. She lets her bicycle clatter to the ground and storms over to me. She thrusts out her hand. I scramble up in surprise, taking her strangely warm hand. She still isn’t wearing a jacket. Just a plain orange short-sleeve shirt. The boys’ laughs have faded to awe. “Come on,” she says, her voice like nails.
Rowen picks up her bike and starts walking, rolling it beside her. She pauses for second as I hurry over. Then we walk, side by side. Rowen doesn’t look back. She doesn’t say anything. She keeps her eyes forward and we keep walking until I realize that we’re at my house. Rowen stops. The moving truck is still parked in our driveway. There’s a silence and I don’t know what to say.
“Thanks,” I whisper, looking down.
“Not a problem,” she responds. I look up, into her bright eyes.
“I don’t get it,” I murmur. She doesn’t look away. “Why did you help me?” There is another long-lasting silence. At last, Rowen sighs.
“Do-do you ever feel… odd? Different? Like… you’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t fit? You never know what to say, never know how to cover up your mistakes?” She finally breaks our gaze. “That’s me. When I first saw you, I thought you would be just another perfect girl to tease me,” she says.
“That’s what I thought about you,” I remember. Rowen looks up. “I’m the oddball,” I continue, “the one who doesn’t know what to say… just the awkward one.” She frowns, tilting her head and looking into my eyes.
“I was wrong about you,” we both say at the same time. A smile forms on my lips. Rowen is the same as me. She was just protecting herself. I shouldn’t have judged her. That was wrong.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Me too,” Rowen agrees. Then we are both smiling and laughing. Rowen looks relieved for the first time since I met her. Maybe my mom was right. Maybe change isn’t all that bad. After all, it taught me not to judge Rowen or anyone else on a first impression. The snow starts up again. A light flurry. For once, I think I’m happy that the snow is falling, the snowflakes blowing around in the breeze. And then Rowen and I stay there in the street, dancing in the snow.