YA Realistic Fiction: SAME AS IT NEVER WAS Feb 1, 2017 19:29:12 GMT -5
Post by Marlana on Feb 1, 2017 19:29:12 GMT -5
Friday - August 3, 2001
Mom would laugh if she saw Dad trying to navigate these mountain roads. Dad stomps the gas pedal. The engine screams as the truck slams into gear and rumbles up the hill.
The stubble from a week of not shaving bites my cheek as my head bounces against the window. But I refuse to peel myself away from it. The sporadic face slamming reminds me I'm not stuck in some crazy-ass dream about moving to West Virginia. Nope--this is my reality. Now I understand why there aren't any lines painted on the roads. They're too narrow to split into lanes for the trucks, vans, and...holy crap! the eighteen wheeler, dead ahead.
"Watch it!" I manage to call before all the air scrambles from my lungs. Dad jerks the steering wheel to the right. The semi's so close, I'm sure the driver can see the beads of sweat rolling down my forehead. We can't move left or right. And we're about to trade paint. So I do what any good son would do. I bury my head in my hands and wait for impact.
Instead of the crunch of metal filling my ears, Dad says, "We're fine. These roads are just smaller than what we're used to. Not much farther, though. We'll be there before nightfall."
I peer over at him, amazed we didn't crash and annoyed that he's trying to act like that didn't scare the shit out of him too. Color slowly returns to his knuckles as he lessens his grip on the steering wheel.
I toss the map into the glove box, the weight that lay on my chest since he told me we were coming here growing heavier with each turn. We weren't moving just so he can oversee the construction of a mosque. The land left to Mom is his excuse to leave Orlando. He's been running from reminders of their life together since she died last year.
"Hey," I say, pasting on a plastic smile. "We could go back and cross these last few days off as a road trip to hell."
Dad sucks in a measured breath. "We're not turning around. Besides, there's no greater way to honor your mother than by building a mosque where she grew up."
The memory of our last visit flashes through my mind--a man sneering at Mom's hijab as he shoved past her. I remembered something else, too. Mom sobbing the entire time we were here.
"I can still see that guy pushing her out of the way at the gas station," I say. "It's like people thought her conversion to Islam was worse than choosing the Dark Side."
"That was almost ten years ago," Dad reminds me. "One person acting like an idiot doesn't represent an entire town."
"Yeah, but I think that's one of the reasons why she never wanted us to come back. She cried a lot."
"Well, her mother was really sick," Dad says. "You probably forgot. You were only seven."
I shoot him a sideways glance. "What happened to her brother? Uncle Russ, right?"
If not for the box of old photographs Mom kept in the end table, I probably wouldn't remember having an uncle.
Dad presses his lips together, forming a thin line. He finally says, "He's still in Warrenstown."
"Does he know Mom died?" I ask.
"Are we going to call him when we get there?" I ask.
"It was his decision to cut himself out of your mother's life which means he also cut himself out of ours," says Dad. "There won't be a family reunion."
I tap my index finger against the knee of my jeans, wondering if I dare ask it again. Screw it. "What happened between him and Mom?"
"Abdel-Ali--enough! I know this isn't easy for you to understand, son, but that is not a conversation we're going to have. Not today. Not tomorrow."
The whirring from the AC fills the cab. I make a silent vow to find out what the hell happened between Mom and her brother.
"There it is," says Dad. He risks taking a hand off the wheel to jab his finger toward a wooded area at the bottom of the hill, his face suddenly beaming.
"Um, more trees?" I ask, sitting up and leaning forward to see what has him so excited.
That's when I notice a gravel path snaking through the woods. A green sign marked Looney Branch Road sits on the corner. Seriously... I couldn't make this shit up.
Dad flips the signal and we head down Looney. We drive a few hundred more feet when he pulls over and turns the engine off. When he jumps out, the smell of dead earthworms trails in. "You've got to come here and see this," he calls as he darts around to the front, waving for me to join him.
The hinges on the door squeak as I shove it open. As soon as I step down, the ground tries to suck my shoes off my feet. I yank them from the mush and hurry over. Dad gestures toward a large clearing with a sweep of his hand. "What do you think?"
I'm not sure what I'd expected. Civilization maybe? "This is it?"
The edges of his mouth turn down a little. "You don't think it's large enough? It's four acres."
"Is this the building site? I thought we were going to the house first." Unless he expects us to pitch a tent.
Dad's eyes light up as if he's seeing Mecca and not a field of overgrown grass surrounded by thick trees. "Well, I figured since it's pretty much on the way, we might as well check it out." He clasps his hands together, like a personal handshake. Of course we had to come here first--his reason for moving me to West Virginia.
The acceptance that this is really happening oozes through my veins like concrete. Thank God for soccer. As soon as I'm unpacked, I'll find a team and ignore everything else.
Dad lays his arm across my shoulders. "Isn't it great?" He hasn't sounded this happy in a while.
I slap a mosquito gnawing on my neck and manage to muster up a smile. "It is. But isn't it too far away from... everything?"
He shakes his head. "The university is only five miles to the north and there's supposed to be a grocery store over the hill. We can tap into the city water and electric..." This is all he's talked about since we left Florida. Nothing like moving to a new town right before my senior year.
He's still chattering away. "We'll have parking on the left and the Musallah on the right. It's only fifteen minutes from our new place. Once it's built, during school breaks you can join me for Jumaa."
I bite my lip. I don't want to argue about Friday prayer again. Dad's still staring at me so I say the one thing I know he'll never question. "Insha'Allah," I say. If Allah wills it.
He smiles and pats me on the shoulder. I shuffle back to the truck and wait while he takes some photos. A knot forms in my throat when I realize I'm waiting to go home to a house we no longer own, for a mother I'll never see again.
I know the faces of every one of the three-hundred-twenty-seven students I go to high school with. The guy walking down the sidewalk in front of my house isn't one of them. There are probably tons of places a new kid can show up and no one would think twice about it. But not in Warrenstown, West Virginia. For all of us who've grown up here--which is pretty much everyone--seeing someone new is equivalent to a person in the city witnessing a giant marshmallow man doing a high kick while singing, "I'm a Chiquita Banana".
A tingle of excitement skitters up my spine as I study New Guy through my bedroom window. Maybe he's visiting a relative. I shake my head. I've never seen anyone who looks like him in the neighborhood. His skin is perfectly sun-kissed, like the tan I can only achieve with three coats of bronzer (minus the streaks), and his hair is the color of coal. He lingers in front of the house and I guess that he's checking out the row of old homes. There's not one younger than seventy-years old on the block. They might look pretty neat if you hadn't spent over sixteen years sweating in one of them every summer and freezing to death every winter.
As the wind picks up, he turns into it and his hair blows back from his face revealing high cheekbones and piercing, dark eyes. He's wearing a sports jersey that clings to his muscular chest; the tips of his fingers are tucked into the pockets of his perfectly fitted jeans. Talk about tall, dark and...damn! Our eyes lock and one of his eyebrows arches. That's when I realize my mouth is hanging open.
I leap back. Crap, crap, crap. It's bad enough I'm caught drooling over him, but then for me to scramble from view like the seriously disturbed... I take a few deep breaths and brave another look outside, but he's gone--undoubtedly running for his life, away from the rabid girl leering at him from the house that could have come right off the movie set of Psycho.
Great. It's not even nine in the morning and I've already achieved creepy, weird girl status.