Chapter 2 - Home-Not-So-Sweet-Home
The honk of a car horn jolted Oliver from the deep confines of sleep and he blinked his eyes repeatedly at the sun streaming in through the smudged window to his right, blurring his vision briefly.
“Finally awake, sleepyhead?” his mother asked, grinning over at him from the driver’s side.
Light glinted off her ebony curls as she kept one hand on the wheel and reached another out to brush one of his own stray curls back. Oliver retracted from her touch, waving her hand away and Elizabeth just smiled, rolling her eyes.
“I was just about to wake you - thought you might like to see the city,” she told him cheerfully.
It was only then that Oliver finally took note of his surroundings, only to have found them changed completely. The trees all around had cleared entirely only to be replaced by towering aged Spanish buildings, each one closely situated by another of the same architecture. Each one behind a balcony, the balustrade a dark wrought-iron with potted ferns hanging above them for decoration. As they drove on, Oliver could see down the different streets they passed, each one streaming with people walking the sidewalks. Jazz music drifted to his ears then and his blue eyes alighted on an African-American woman sitting on a metal fold-up chair near the sidewalk. She was singing her heart out, sweat gleaming on her dark skin from the sun beating down from above as jazz musicians behind her played in tune. A Caucasian man with long brown hair passed their car then, his black shirt with bright red lettering ‘Take Down the Wall’ glinted in the sunlight.
Oliver was impressed, despite himself. He hadn’t wanted to like this city but he couldn’t deny how interesting the people were - colorful, free. It was something he’d always admired and was taught to appreciate by his mother from a young age.
“Wow,” his mother breathed then, dark ringlets flying around her head as she shook it in disbelief, “The city hasn’t changed...it’s just like I remembered it...”
Oliver frowned in thought, “Wait, mom, you’ve been here before? When?”
Elizabeth said nothing in response though, her deep brown eyes focusing back on the road as the car meandered down the street. Before Oliver had a chance to press her further on the subject, the car took a sharp turn and beautiful, towering, Antebellum-style homes rose up on either side of them. His eyebrows arched up in surprise to the stark contrast to the last street they were on - these houses were incredible! Whatever he had expected New Orleans to offer, it wasn’t this. The homes looked to have been frozen in time almost.
But as his mother finally began to slow down farther down the road in front of a small, mostly dilapidated building, Oliver’s heart sunk in his chest. His blue orbs roved over the tumble-down building before him as a mass of ebony curls fell across his forehead.
“This is it?” he asked his mother in disbelief as he yanked his earbuds out for the first time in hours.
Internally, he groaned as Elizabeth nodded in confirmation. Oliver couldn’t believe it. His mother had dragged him halfway across the country to live out the rest of his teenage life here?
The small house before him fit snugly between two other houses of the same caliber, if not a tad newer. It had two stories, a few of the shingles on the roof had fallen onto the ground, and the wrought-iron railing that wrapped around the upper story that although likely once ornate and beautiful was now orange and rusted. Even a couple of the tiny fleur-de-lis’ decorating it having long since been broken off.
Any other time, Oliver would have complained. He wanted to complain. But the hopeful look of desperation in his mother’s eyes was enough to shut him up before the words could leave his lips. As Elizabeth got out of the car, he let out a frustrated sigh as he briefly fell back against his seat. This was going to be even worse than he’d imagined, he could see it now. Quickly grabbing a few suitcases from their beat-up little car, he followed after his mother to their new home.
Twisting the doorknob, Elizabeth leaned her shoulder into the large oak door, pushing on it heavily before it opened with a heavy swing and a clatter of nails onto the floor. Motes of dust mixed with stale air hit them immediately as they stepped inside. A cough escaped his mouth as he wafted a hand through the air, eyes adjusting to the darkness pretty quickly.
Everything inside was covered with sheets, a thick layer of dust having long since settled on the top of them. It surprised Oliver that there was some sparse furniture still in here but he supposed the previous owners must have left it when they moved. Or died. He made a face, not wanting to even imagine the place being haunted. This was New Orleans, after all.
As his mother wandered off to explore, Oliver trudged deeper into the house, letting his hand fall onto one of the sheets covering the couch before tugging it free. The old, worn sheet fell to the floor in a cloud of dust just as something small and furry squeaked and ran out from underneath it. Startled, he jumped slightly, back pressing into the wall as the tiny rat ran off to yet another dark corner, burrowing under an alternative haphazard sheet. Rolling his eyes at his own naivety, he let out a deep sigh as he took in the disarrayed, dilapidated house around him.
“Home not-so-sweet home.” he huffed, shaking his head in disappointment.