By the time we got to Bolton, it was six-thirty in the evening. I had already eaten some McDonald’s junk on the way, so I wasn’t terribly hungry. As I predicted, Maine was a very cloudy, gloomy place with frightening signs that said “MOOSE CROSSING” on every corner. I had a hard time understanding why we couldn’t have moved to Florida or California, or somewhere extremely hot. But I wasn’t in New York, which was a plus.
I hopped out of the car and slammed the door shut, while Mom was as slow as a snail climbing up a tree. I didn’t wait for her.
Although I felt a touch groggy, I leaped past the stone entrance way. The house looked adorable and neat; surrounded by mysterious clouds and sprinkles of rain. I hurried through the door and stood in the doorway. I must admit that the house was pretty plain, the walls covered in beige paint, through and through, the upstairs and downstairs. But it was one of those perfect houses you’d see in an old movie: it looked small and congested on the outside, but the inside was spacious and welcoming.
Mom casually walked into my glory, studying my reaction to our new home. “Do you like it?” she seemed worried as if I would hate it, but the idea almost made me laugh.
I guessed Mom was really lonely after Dad died. She asked if I was okay with her trying one of those dating sites, and I was. But none of those relationships were truly successful. I even met a few guys she dated, but few of them liked the idea that she already had a daughter. My mom, I supposed, fell in love easily, because she was never used to raising a teenager and being alone. I tried to be nice to the men, but I had a bad habit of judging them fast. Of course, I didn’t mean to be, but I guessed, (even though I hated to admit it), if you weren’t my biological dad, you weren’t gonna be my step-dad. So pretty much, it was my fault.
I assured Mom that I loved the house. It wasn’t anything but perfect.
* * *
The next day, I woke in my new room on my air mattress, which was tucked on the ground in the corner of the wooden floor. Overall, there wasn’t that much work that needed to be done to the house, except for the stupid paint. “We needed some bore in our exciting summer to come”, Mom would say. I wasn’t worried. When we had time, I would paint my room a light shade of purple.
I threw on a t-shirt and shorts, too tired and unsettled to shower. I stumbled into the kitchen, a tad hungry. Thankfully, we had some cheap cereal and milk in the cabinets. I didn’t know I felt now. Still extremely grateful to be in Maine, still happy with the house, just confused. I didn’t know if I wanted to spend the entire summer with Mom, weeping at the sight of any of Dad’s things. Couldn’t you hire someone to do that for you? Save you the emotional toll? Whatever it was, that’s not how I wanted to spend my first summer in Maine. I wanted to make friends for the school year.
I went over to my Mom’s room to see if she was awake, of course, she was doing none other than unpacking boxes. “Hi,” I peeped.
She looked up, startled. Again. “Hi Cora,” she spoke like she was slightly annoyed with me scaring her. Her room looked exactly like mine, except for size: beige, with an air mattress awkwardly in the middle, and boxes everywhere else.
“How’d you sleep?” I tried to act casual.
“Um, fine,” her facial expression was the “why-are-you-here” look. She looked around, probably trying to think of something to say. “Listen honey. I was thinking maybe we could go kayaking today? Get to know people?”
Kayaking? “Uh...anything else to do?” This would be difficult to get used to.
Mom shrugged. “In Bolton, kayaking is pretty much it, unless of course, you want to go shopping. But if you’re willing to go, there’s bowling alley about fifteen miles from here in Ellsworth.”
I hesitated. “Okay...” Socializing! I remembered, shrugging. “Yeah, sure.”
I ran to my room, suddenly caring about my appearance. I quickly ran a brush through my hair, and flicked a quick tooth brush through my mouth.
I got in the car and explored Maine out the window, seeing the tourists and the little shops and its beauty. I loved it. I loved the way it looked with the sun hidden behind the clouds, giving the town an undecided look. The setting was beautiful. No wonder why everyone wanted to vacation here: Maine was so different from any other state in the U.S.
It looked like it was going to rain, so I watched as the outdoor restaurants moved inside as if we were on the boardwalk at the end of the summer. But I personally loved rain. It was fun, especially during a thunderstorm, and you were inside, cozy, safe, and warm, knowing that it’s dangerous and cold outside.
* * *
When we got to the bowling alley, it was pouring, so Mom ran to the nice warm inside. I didn’t. I took my time, breathing in the smell of ocean, suddenly afraid. Bolton seemed like it was perfectly built for my liking, and I was finally about to go out in public. What if the people didn’t like me? Who in the right mind would move their kid out of the state for their first year of high school? Mom was crazy. It was too late to start over. Dad died, and took all the clean slates with him.
When I noticed a mother and a child eyeing me for standing in the rain in the middle of the parking lot, I left where I stood, a bit embarrassed, and headed inside before lightning struck.
Rushed by a draft of warm air as I stepped inside, I looked around. The place was lit up like a Christmas tree, with neon lights that highlighted everything, making my white sneakers turn purple. It was perfectly dark, but I could see shadows of people’s clothing and some neon designs on the floor. Mom was nowhere to be found, two minutes and she’d already run off. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found a group of girls my age and told them all about me. It was something she would do. But there she was, laughing to the moon with some random man that had a girl behind him, she looked about my age. Great. Another boyfriend. I could see by the excitement in her eyes that she was enjoying his company. Basically, that meant that the girl was my mom-given new best friend. I could see history beginning to repeat itself.
Reluctantly, I walked over to Mom and her two new friends. “Cora! There you are! This is Paul, and this is Sarah.” She gestured to the man and the girl.
I studied Paul. He was tall and skinny, tall enough that I was just past his middle, and his hair was a little too long for my comfort. Sarah had long brown hair that was braided into pigtails, her eyes a little too wide for my comfort. She studied me intensely, like I was an amazing creature from Mars.
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed, her voice a wide whisper. “You look exactly like her! What did you say your name was?”
“C—” Before I could answer, Paul cut me off, grabbing her arm.
“You’ll have to excuse us for a minute.” Paul dragged Sarah away, doing his best to keep his pathetically fake but polite smile on his face.
Fairly confused, I stepped back. Who was “her”? Great. Just great. I was the “new girl who looks like ‘her’“. Sarah looked back at me from where she stood. From my outstretched ears, I knew that Paul was lecturing her about being welcoming and polite. I still looked like an alien to her. Dare I say it, I already didn’t like both of them.
Mom glanced over at me to make sure I thought this was normal. Yeah, sure Mom. I’m a freak already and I haven’t even been here for twelve hours.
She saw my expression and gave me a “I’m-so-disappointed-in-you” look. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” she assured me. “Paul’s a fantastic guy. Funny, oh so funny. I hope he doesn’t have a wife...” she trailed off, probably hoping I didn’t hear that last part. Whoa. Five minutes of knowing a guy, not even knowing his last name and she’s already wondering about marrying him. Oh joy: my sister, Sarah, the rude, wide eyed, cup of wonderful.
I pretended to be interested in my mother’s love life. “Oh well, does he live near here? Or is he on vacation?”
Mom seemed satisfied with my curiosity. “Oh, he and Sarah actually live right down the road from us. Paul’s the manager of this place.” I should’ve seen that one coming. Mom continued after my silence. “Sarah’s a real sweetheart. You always want to make new friends, right? Well, here she is.”
And I was officially bound to be Sarah’s best friend.
I tried not to roll my eyes as I watched Sarah and Paul move back toward us to try again. Talk about a bad first impression. They were not helping my nerves right now. “I apologize for our lack of manners.” I tried to smile to assure them that I, of course, for Mom, accepted their—I mean, his—apology.
Before I could say anything, Mom rushed to cut me off. She started batting her long eyelashes and blushing as if Paul were the slightest bit attractive or at least nice enough to blush over. “Oh really, it’s...no problem.” In response, Paul grinned in a weird way. Him and Mom walked into a flirty conversation that lost my interest after ten seconds, so I thought I’d just let Mom act like she was in high school and be that cheerleader hitting on the football player, and I drifted over to the Pac Man set.
I studied the machine until I heard an annoying voice that I didn’t recognize. Sarah. “Hey,” she said. Of course she would follow me.
I rolled my eyes and turned around. I didn’t care if she saw. “What were you talking about with your dad when you left? Who do I look like?” I nagged.
Ignoring me, she looked down at the neon designs on the floor, roaming around the pool table. After a few seconds, she spoke as though she hadn’t heard me. “The neon is a nice touch, isn’t it?” After I didn’t reply, she added, “My dad works here. We basically own this place. The owner of the building is a rich drunk, and my dad’s the manager. Everyone thinks of him as the owner. It’s pretty awesome. All the kids are jealous. I go to your school, by the way.” She waited for me to answer, but I didn’t want to have a conversation about how popular she thought she was. “Wanna start a bowling game?” she asked, and I wondered if that was a line from the script her dad wrote for her.
I shrugged and followed her to the shoe counter.
She tossed me a pair of eights.
When we got to the lane, Sarah beat me by forty points. I was not having fun. While all the other kids were laughing and hanging out with their friends, jumping up and down whenever anybody got a strike, giggling every time someone got a gutter ball, I was stuck here, with my soon-to-be sister who was already keeping secrets from me. I imagined Mom, cracking up at all of Paul’s dumb jokes that he probably got online or looked up in a joke book. Mom was all too excited about him, while he was probably married and flirting with all the moms that came through this bowling alley, using Sarah as a distraction for their child. Or he could’ve been of course, the man of her dreams.
When we were finally done with the bowling games Mom made us play, I couldn’t wait to go back to the house. I probably would’ve had more fun unpacking boxes than bowling with Sarah.
When Mom saw us coming toward her and Paul, her face lit up with excitement. “Ah! Did you two girls have fun?” That’s the thing about Mom in front of guys; she always spoke to me like I was five.
Before I could yank her away from Paul and complain to her about what a miserable time I had, Sarah jumped in. “Cora is so fun! It was such a good time! We plan on hanging out tomorrow.”
I was beyond confused, she could understand how bored I was, but I smiled and nodded. Mom’s plot had worked. She made me a new best friend. Apparently.