The keys of her laptop crackled with the fierceness she was pounding into them. She was pouring out her frustrations to her best friend, who was now several thousand miles away, a number that was increasing with every click of the train’s wheels.
It’s not fair, Cassie. My mom knows we were supposed to spend this summer together, and then at the last minute she decides that I’m going to stupid Cape Cod to spend the stupid summer with my stupid freaky aunt Penda. WHAT KIND OF NAME IS PENDA, ANYWAY?!?!?! I can’t believe she’s doing this to me. I mean, we’re going to be sophomores next year, you’d think she’d respect my independence…
Alexandra let lose a long sigh and leaned her head against her seat. It hadn’t been pretty, the scene when her mother told her about the decision she’d made.
“Mom, you can’t be serious! You can’t just tell me where I’m going to go… I have plans!”
“Alexandra Carson, I am very serious. You’re fifteen; I am still responsible for you, which means I can just tell you where you’re going. And if by plans you mean floating off to god-knows-where on Cassie’s family’s boat, you are quite mistaken. You are spending the summer with your aunt in Provincetown, and that’s final.” She began to walk out of the room.
“There is no more discussion, young lady. You leave in one week.” And with that, she was gone. That’s how things always went with mom. Alex sighed again. She never listened, never heard anything, never cared! Alex didn’t know how she had gotten cursed with the most unreasonable mother on the planet, but she knew one thing for sure – it wasn’t fair! The only concession her mother made was allowing her to choose to fly or take the train from Miami to ‘The Cape’. She had decided on the train because it would prolong the time when she would have to face weird aunt Penda.
Alex didn’t remember much about her aunt, just flashes really. Penda wasn’t even her real name, just something that Alex’s Grandma had started calling her when the sisters were little. Grandma was weird, too. She lived with Granddad in an old plantation-looking house in Savannah. Unfortunately, the train passed through there and Alex had to visit. Alex went back to her letter.
Did you ever see “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”? I swear, that movie’s for real. My grandparents are so strange… they OWN a cemetery, for freak’s sake. Granddad spent my whole visit talking about a bunch of people who were involved in some scandal like a million years ago, and Grandma tried to get me to go see her maid’s Voodoo alter at her house. Apparently, Grandma is her newest student. Isn’t that special? I ask you, what did I do to deserve this?? When I think that I could be there with you, sunning on the deck of your dad’s boat, I get sick to my stomach.
She leaned back again. Being able to get online to surf the web and send emails to Cassie was a definite bonus to this whole train thing. She could also walk around, sleep in her own cabin, get meals whenever she wanted in the dining car, or even hang out in the game room. Not that she was trying to find good things about this trip; all too soon she would be in the town that time forgot.
I mean, what is it with the whole ‘Cape Cod’ thing anyway? I don’t get why people think it’s so great. It’s cold, windy and smells like fish all the time. There isn’t even a decent sand-beach around anywhere! I can’t believe that I’m actually going to be spending three whole months there. I’ll die of boredom! If you don’t write to me, I swear I’ll lose my mind.
I’m going to go see about getting something to eat. I’ll write again soon.
She hit the ‘send’ button and closed her laptop, stretching out along her couch that doubled as a daybed. At least she had her own cabin. She didn’t have to deal with the gross sleeper-car that she saw when she’d walked through the train. Maybe she really would go get something to eat… and a milkshake; that would help matters. Everything she spent went on the card her mother had given her, so why not splurge a little? Mom needed to pay for ruining her summer.
“And what can I get for you, Miss?” The dining car waiter paused by her table.
“Ummm… a grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, pasta salad instead of fries, water and a milkshake... have you got an Oreo one?” She was looking forward to this already.
“I think we can handle that. Anything else?” Alex shook her head. “Very well… it won’t be a moment.”
Alex took a good long look around. It wasn’t quite dinnertime yet, with any luck she’d be out of here before the real crowd descended, and then she could just go back to her cabin and read. She wished she had a cell phone, but her ultra-conservative mother wouldn’t let her.
“Not until I’m sixteen, at least.” She thought, snarling to herself. Someone just happened to be walking by.
“That’s attractive.” The voice was filled with laughter, and when she looked up, she saw the eyes were too. He was probably in his twenties, far too old to be anything other than a ‘grownup’.
“Who asked you?” Her voice sounded harsh even to her, but he had caught her unawares.
“Easy, Attila, I didn’t mean anything.” He was still smiling. “Not that it’s any of my business, but what’s got you all pinched?”
“Ah, yes… the bane of adolescence. Good luck with that.” He started to move away.
“Yeah, thanks.” And then he was gone. For a brief moment, Alex thought about calling him back, asking his name, getting to know him… but she didn’t. She tried to tell herself it was because he was too old or too… something, but the truth was, he made her nervous. Not just him, all guys. She had never even been kissed before, not that she trusted anyone with that information. Alex heard girls talking all the time about guys they’d kissed, or done even more with, but she couldn’t even bring herself to talk to them. Maybe it was because her dad hadn’t been around since she was three. Maybe something was wrong with her, and she’d be alone forever. It certainly felt like it sometimes. She was about to slip into a funk of epic proportions, but just then her food arrived. And there’s nothing like an Oreo milkshake to make you forget whatever it was that was bothering you.
As the train slowed to a crawl, the twisting got worse in her stomach. Alexandra didn’t feel well at all. After an all-too-brief stay of execution on the train, she was here. There was nothing to do now but gather her bags and get off the train. She scanned the crowd from the safety of her cabin’s window, and realized it was incredibly easy to spot her aunt. They were in Boston, after all, and not too many people wore big, floppy, green felt hats. The rest of her outfit was surprisingly normal, in contrast, a fitted white blouse and black capri pants with flats. Ah, but there was her purse… it looked like a shoulder bag made out of someone’s old quilt. Weird! For the millionth time Alex tried to answer the question of why she should have to be cursed with this sort of family. She had a moment before the train fully stopped, so she studied her aunt’s face. It was interesting; she looked a little bit like Alex, but a lot like Alex’s grandmother. Her eyes seemed to twinkle as if she shared a private joke with the wind, and her curly brown hair poked out of her hat like it was mad to be missing the fun on the outside. She smiled, and Alex was reminded of her mother. Sometimes, at night, Alex would close her eyes and remember her mother’s smile… it was just like that. She hadn’t seen the real thing in a long time, though, and seeing it on her aunt made the little ball move from her stomach to her throat. She shook it off quickly, grabbing her bags and huffing her way out of the train car.
The air hit her like a blast, it was that unexpected. Growing up in Miami did not in any way prepare her for the air in Boston. Instead of wrapping her up like a blanket, this air popped, like the jerk in homeroom who thought it was hysterical to flick her arm every time she walked by. She was processing this new information when something else hit her.
“Lexie!” It was her aunt. Who knew she had a voice that could reach three counties? Alex looked around, as though she didn’t know where her aunt was, then half-smiled when she caught the woman’s eye. She made her way down the steps, only to find that her aunt was already there when she reached the last one.
“Lexie, it’s so good to see you! I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted you to come up here for a good long visit. It’s been what, five years since we saw each other? Too god-awful long!”
“Yeah, it’s been a while.” Alex was so un-thrilled.
“Well, let’s not hang around here all day. We’ve got a little bit of a trek to get to the house. Ridley’s cooking, he’s just about to bust with excitement at your visit.” Penda was gathering the bags that Alex pointed out in baggage claim.
“Who’s Ridley?” Alex asked, not that she cared.
“He’s my boyfriend, sweets; we’ve been together for oh, about four years now.”
“You have a boyfriend?” This was a little more interesting.
“Sure do. Didn’t your moms tell you? Ohmygod! She probably doesn’t know! But I could have sworn I told her…” Penda started heading to the parking lot, looking slightly confused. “It is possible… maybe she wouldn’t have said yes… hmmm….”
“Wouldn’t have said yes to what?”
“To you finally coming up here to stay for a while. I’ve only been begging her for years now. But she probably wouldn’t have said yes if she’d known. Oh HELL.”
This conversation was getting more interesting by the minute, as far as Alex was concerned. Her mother never used language like this, or acted distracted. She was almost interested in what would happen next.
“Why would Mom have said no?”
“Because Ridley lives with me, sweets, and your mother is a tad bit… oh, what’s the word… rigid?” Penda chewed on the nail of her pinky finger. She looked younger for a minute. Alexandra couldn’t stop the chuckle that forced its way out.
“Yeah, I’d say she is.”
“Oh, you think it’s funny, do you? Thanks a heap! Some niece YOU are. Geez!” Penda was trying hard not to laugh herself. “Just do me a favor, okay? When you talk to Margaret, don’t mention this teensy little addition? Think you can handle that?”
“Sure… but it might cost you.”
“Cost? I think you’ve been taking too many business classes. Or is it espionage?”
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
“Lexie, I’m from Savannah. You’d have your work cut out for you.”
They both laughed as Penda threw the last of the bags into the shiny silver SUV and slammed the back hatch. Alexandra noticed a sticker on the window that read “Namasté”.
“Gah, it’s a monster! But at least it’s a hybrid.” Penda scrunched her face into a scowl. “I’d rather have an electric, but try getting any kind of small car through a New England winter!” They laughed again. As they crawled in and set off down the road, Alex let herself think, just for a second, that this summer might not be the worst in known history. Maybe.
“Aunt Penda, can I ask you something?” The road seemed to go on forever, they might as well talk.
“Sure, but with a few stipulations.” For some reason, the corners of her mouth were turned up in a smirk.
“First off, it’s just Penda. You can drop the ‘aunt’ part, makes me feel old. Second, it’s ‘may’, not ‘can’, proper grammar is essential to life. And three, you never have to ask if you may ask. I’ll answer as truthfully as I can any question you have. Deal?”
“Deal.” Yeah, this aunt was definitely going to take some getting used to.
“Now, what was the question?”
“Why are you calling me Lexie?”
“Doesn’t your mom call you Alexandra, and everyone else call you Alex?”
“Why should I do what everyone else does? That’s not original. Besides, I like Lexie better.”
“O-kay…” Alex needed a minute to figure this one out. Weird, definitely weird.
“You’re not happy about being here, are you?” Without even looking away from the road, her aunt saw more than her mother did while looking right at Alex.
“What do you mean?” Alex looked out the window.
“Next rule, Lexie, no lies. I don’t care what you have to say, you say it. I’ll do the same. No lies between us. I mean it.” Alex looked over at this stranger who was fast becoming the most confusing person she had ever met. But she seemed to mean what she was saying. No one had ever demanded honesty from her before… or given it.
“Okay, no. I didn’t want to come. I still don’t want to be here. I want to be on my best friend’s boat sailing to the Bahamas right about now. Instead, I’m up north where I don’t know anyone, don’t know where I am, don’t know where anything is, and to top it off–” Alex pressed her lips together and looked out the window, mortified at what she almost said to her aunt.
“You’re with some weird aunt that you don’t even know who wears a big green hat to pick you up at the train station. Right?”
“Right. … I’m sorry.” Alex wanted to disappear.
“No you’re not, but it’s okay. You have a right to feel the way you want to feel. We’ll just have to see if we can change some of those perceptions of yours. September is quite a ways away.”
Alex stared out at the passing landscape. It had actually started to rain.
“Don’t remind me.”