“I call this room!” I yell so everyone knows which room I had claimed for myself. My brothers and sister run up the stairs so that they too could declare their rooms. I look out my window, seeing the big moving truck pulling into our driveway. I love our new house. There’s a pool in the back and still room for a nice big backyard. The front yard has a rose bush that gives the entryway that perfect look. I can’t wait for our new life to begin in this new house.
The next day as we wait for our dad to come back with the dinner, I start going through my things. I take a picture out of a box labeled “Fragile: Handle with Care” and look at myself with my best friend. Then, I had just gotten my braces and my smile was a little awkward, but I love this picture anyway. And besides, Ashley, my best friend, only lives a block away now.
“Rachel! Your father’s home!” Mom calls.
I race downstairs, my stomach growling for food.
“Yes, finally!” my older brother Jeremy says. We all eat our dinner happily. This is our first meal in our new house!
Ring! Ring! Ring! Ring!
“I’ll get that,” Dad says. He walks into the other room and picks up the phone. I can tell just by his face that something is wrong.
He walks back into the dining room slowly with a frown on his face.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Mom asks, concerned.
He doesn’t speak for a moment; he just stares at his pizza. He finally says, “I’m sorry kids, but…” He doesn’t know how to say it. “I was just laid off,” he says slowly. Now the little ones don’t understand, but Jeremy, Mom, and I know what it means. It means we can’t live in our new house, the house that I had already grown to love, the house that was close to my best friend’s house, the house with a swimming pool in the back yard, the house where I had hoped to make many memories…
* * *
“Why?” I manage, trying not to choke on my orange juice. Mom is too shocked to say anything. Jeremy abruptly leaves the table and goes to his room. My food churns. I am bubbling with questions, though I know I should give Dad some respectful silence.
“The company was bought by another, bigger company.”
The twins, Monica and Michael, stop fighting with their forks. “What’s de matter, Mommy?” they chorus, looking concernedly at Mom, her eyes red, trying to hold back tears.
Seeing Mom not being up to answering, I say quietly, “Dad got fired. He can’t go to work anymore, and he... doesn’t get paid.”
“So? Now he can play with us!” shouts Michael happily.
I shake my head. “It’s not like that. He won’t get paid, and he can’t pay for the house expenses.”
The twins begin to get it. Monica breaks into tears. “Where we gonna go, then, Rachel?” she sniffs. Dad and Mom are talking quietly now. I usher the twins to their rooms.
“Dad? Where will we move?” I ask, taking the liberty of cleaning the table.
He sighs. “I don’t know any more than you, sweetie. For sure not back to our old house.” My heart sinks to my stomach. “So we’ll probably move to the cheapest place we can find. Renting. Maybe in the country.” My heart finishes the drop to my toes.
I burst into my room, sobbing. Reaching for the phone, I dial the number I know so well. “Ashley? Yes, it’s me. Hi. I know I said we were… Yes, but something’s come up… Oh, Ashley! My dad got fired… No, I don’t know why! No, it’s nothing he did! Wait!” But I am talking to no one. She hung up on me.
I weep until my eyes are so puffy I can hardly see. The next week is spent repacking everything and selling most of it at garage sales. The neighbors look at us weirdly as we sell our stuff. It is really obvious that we are moving. I bet some of the neighbors think we’re leaving the country after attempted bank robbery or something.
Once I see Ashley peddling by on her bike. I am about to wave, but then I see she is with another girl, Megan. I stare wistfully after them as they round the corner. How could she do this to me?
* * *
Mom, are we there yet?” Monica asks for the fifth time.
“No, dear, we still have half an hour left,” Mom answers, a little annoyed.
“OK,” Monica says, a little disappointed.
“Mom, are we there now?” Michael asks.
I can tell that Mom is really getting aggravated. She doesn’t respond so Michael just goes back to playing with his action figures.
I look out my car window and see literally nothing. There is just sand and road and a few tumbleweeds and the occasional farm. Mom said we were lucky that our closest neighbor was right next door, since most likely we would have had to go at least a couple of miles from any neighbors. I’m not looking forward to living on a farm with a tiny house. Dad had shown me pictures of our new home, and once I saw them, I really wasn’t looking forward to living there.
I fall asleep until we get there. Then Jeremy wakes me up and I quickly get up to see my new house. I stare at it in disbelief.
“Mom, seriously. This is where we have to live?” I moan, raising my eyebrows.
The house itself isn’t that bad, OK, yeah, it is that bad. It has one bathroom, three tiny little bedrooms (and that includes the master bedroom), the kitchen is smaller than our old bathroom, the living room is in sad shape, as well as all the other rooms, and the barn outside is at least three times bigger than our house.
I run to the door and open it. An older couple stands there, along with a younger couple and six children.
“Hello there, darling. Aren’t you the cutest thing! We’re your new neighbors!” the older lady says.
“All of you live next door?” I ask, looking at their house which is no bigger than ours.
“Well of course, dear, what’d you expect?” the older lady replies. “Oh, and we brought you all a gift—to start out your new farm good.” She gives me a box. Expecting to find brownies or cookies or something, I open it and there sit three young chickens in the box, two hens and one rooster.
I stare at the lady with the kind of look that says, What’s wrong with you people?! and I put the lid back on. I am not looking forward to living here at all. I have a tiny room that I have to share with Monica, a tiny bathroom that I have to share with everyone, a tiny house, and to top it all off weird neighbors who give chickens as gifts!!!
* * *
After Mom discovers that we have guests, she smiles her how-nice-to-see-you-but-this-is-not-exactly-the-best-time smile and leads them outside with the chickens. I can tell she is surprised at this new gift. No one could conceal the shock of finding three chickens in a box!
After Mom comes in she wipes her forehead tiredly. “What nice folks,” she comments, and begins to unpack the dishes.
After a moment of awkward silence I ask, “Well… what do you think of their gift? Pretty crazy, huh?”
Mom looks at me and sighs. “Dear, I don’t see why you seem to think their gift is so stupid. We were eventually going to get chickens, you know—but the expense. That was a very kind favor they did.”
I shrug, not quite getting it. “So, like, can I name them?” Mom looks up from her doings.
“Only one. Let Michael and Monica name the others.” I groan, knowing they’d name them crazy stuff, like from some comic strip. Sometimes Monica could be convinced of a good name. But not Michael. The chickens end up being named Ms. Clucks (mine), Rosy-Posy (Monica’s), and Dino Rock (guess whose).
At least I’m not totally cut off from civilization. One of the neighbor kids is my age, her name’s Willamina (everyone calls her Willa, thankfully). One day, I’m out scowling at our little pond, which has barely any water in it.
She comes up so suddenly I jump when she begins talking. “You think we’re weird, don’t you?”
I know I can’t hide the truth. “Yes, I do.”
She smiles and sits down beside me. “Then we’re even.”
“For instance, what color eggs will your chickens lay?”
“Uh—white? But what does this have to do wi…?”
“See, that’s something everyone knows around here. And to answer that question…” Willa hops up and runs over to the coop. After opening the side door, she displays a roundish-oval egg that’s… blue?
“It’s not the right shape,” I frown, “and I never heard of an egg that wasn’t white or brown.”
“See, now you have to admit you don’t know much about farm life.”
“So I have a deal, you teach me, I teach you.” I look into her soft, hazel eyes. They mean it. I reach out my hand and grasp hers.
* * *
So you’re saying that this is the latest laptop... which is like a travel computer?” Willa asks as she looks at her desktop computer sitting on the desk.
“Yeah, your computer is like ancient compared to mine,” I say, surprised that desktops still even exist.
“OK, now time for your lesson... I’m gonna teach you the art of plucking a chicken,” Willa says jokingly.
“Um… can we learn something else first? I don’t think I need to know that right now,” I say, my eyes going big. When will I ever need to know that? I think to myself.
“OK then, I’ll teach you how to milk a cow,” Willa suggests.
“How about something more practical?” I say, since we didn’t even have a cow yet. “How about you teach me how to pick up a chicken?”
Willa kind of stares at me for a second, probably thinking, She doesn’t even know how to pick up a chicken? My three-year-old sister can do that! Then she says,
“OK... let’s get started.”
At first the chickens just run away from me and I can never get a good grip on the chicken, but after an hour I become an expert at picking up chickens the right way.
During dinner, Monica can’t stop playing with her spaghetti. “Hey, Mommy, watch! I can throw this meatball really far!” Monica says.
“Dear, the only thing I want to watch right now is you eating your food,” Mom says, not really wanting to deal with a mess.
“Rachel, how was your day?” Dad says in a low husky voice which means that he didn’t have enough coffee this morning.
“Willa taught me how to pick up a chicken the correct way,” I laugh, remembering how bad I was at it at first.
“Jeremy, what’d you do today?” Dad asks.
“I went back into town and hung out with Sam and Jon,” he answers. Jeremy, Sam, and Jon could never be split. They were always together. I just wondered how long their friendship would last now that we live two hours away. I was afraid that Jeremy would lose his friends like I lost Ashley. In a way I kind of wanted him to lose his friends so that he knew what it felt like to lose your best friend. I didn’t even know why Ashley left me. I mean, just because we were gonna live farther away didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends. Right?
* * *
I sniff, trying to keep tears back. We’ve been living in our new house for a month now, and I feet like a piece of string being pulled so tightly I am about to snap.
I look at my reflection in the muddy puddle called the pond. My eyes are so blurry I don’t see Willa come up behind me.
She sits down beside me. “What’s wrong?” she asks. I pour out my troubles to her, which she takes so kindly and understandingly I feel she knows exactly what I mean, especially as school is starting; I would be again in a new environment—without Willa, who I had begun to accept as a friend. She is homeschooled. Maybe Willa isn’t Ashley; maybe she is better.
She hugs me, and I wipe away my tears. We gaze at the pond for a moment and Willa smiles. “That’s Periwinkle Pond all right; forgot it even existed.”
I look at her, curious. “Periwinkle? It looks mud-brown to me,” I snort, trying to make a joke, but failing utterly. I look at my once new designer-brand shoes. Now they are caked with mud and dirt from the care of the animals, which we had eventually gotten—including a goat; (cows were too expensive), and Willa had taught me how to milk it, too.
“You’ll see—this autumn.” We grin, and then head home.
Weeks pass, and it begins to rain—oh rain! I never appreciated it before! I feel… happy, when I come home through the rain from school.
Willa leads me to the spot where the pond used to be, and I am overjoyed to find it is full with crystal-clear water. But no sign of the periwinkle.
The next day we go again, to find the place covered with millions of dainty little blossoms, blue with a slight tint of whitish purple. I pick a handful and breathe them in. The dusty countryside has changed in one day—from sandy slopes to hills covered in vegetation.
If the land could wait so patiently to change—for the better—maybe I could, too. For all I knew, Dad could get a new, better job (he’d currently not been working much—just selling vegetables, etc.) and then we could move back—not to the old-new house, but somewhere near Ashley, and… and…
I suddenly feel sick to my stomach as I gaze at Willa, her back turned, picking the wildflowers. And… leave this place… and Willa. Not until now do I realize how much I appreciate her. This hollow feeling of just imagining my life without her is way worse than when Ashley hung up on me that fateful day.
A tear rolls down my cheek, but I quickly brush it away. And then—something happens, that I will always remember: I find I do not want to move away. I want to stay here, out in the middle of nowhere, forever—with Willa.