by Cherese A. Vines
The next morning, Sydnie hit her snooze button several times before she made the effort to check the time. 9:32. She rolled over on her side and stared at the clothes she’d worn the day before crumpled on the floor next to her desk.
“I’ve really got to find my laundry bag,” her voice croaked.
Sydnie turned on to her back and stretched, her arms above her head and feet hanging over the edge of her full-sized bed.
“OK, Sydnie,” she began. “Get up. You got to go walk.”
Her thoughts immediately turned to Ron. She would meet him later that day. Something was very strange about that guy. Something about his eyes was very strange.
What was it? Sydnie pondered, but couldn’t remember.
She stared at the ceiling without really seeing it. Ron Andres was a college man. She definitely would not tell Aunt Sandra that, but would it matter? Aunt Sandra seemed to like him, but that was even stranger than the feeling Ron gave her. Maybe she was just being paranoid because a college man was interested in her. Sydnie smiled.
Soon, the smell of food compelled Sydnie to snap out of her reverie and get out of bed. She yawned and stretched her way to the bathroom to shower. After dressing, she went to the kitchen where she found Aunt Sandra, dressed in her purple pantsuit, pouring pancake batter into a skillet. Sydnie’s stomach growled–a little too loud. Aunt Sandra turned from the stove,
“You’re sure you don’t want any breakfast?” Aunt Sandra asked. She wasn’t smiling like she had the night before, but she had a pleasant look on her face.
“I’ll just have some cereal,” Sydnie answered, crossing to the cabinet. “I have to stay in shape; you know what my mom says.” She paused, turning toward her aunt. “Do I have to go to Reno? I mean can’t she come here for a few days? Isn’t that why I moved here, to get closer to where she worked?” Sydnie complained.
“Now you know your mama’s busy. A few days won’t kill you. It’s not like you’re going to miss anything, school hasn’t started yet.” Aunt Sandra crossed from the stove to the kitchen table with two plates.
“Has she sent the ticket yet?” Sydnie leaned against the counter and clasped her elbows.
“Sit down and eat. Your mama hasn’t sent anything yet. Not even a call. I’m getting worried.”
Sydnie sat down in the chair across from her aunt. She always does this, Sydnie complained silently. Her mother had promised several times to come see her, but something always got in the way.
“Don’t worry about Mama. Something always comes up,” Sydnie said to assure herself more than her aunt. “She’ll call when she gets a chance.”
Aunt Sandra set a plate in front of her.
“I guess I’m more angry than worried. She hasn’t called in a while and I know you really wanted to see her,” Aunt Sandra said and sat down. She patted Sydnie’s hand affectionately, but lines around her eyes became deeper. She seemed to become lost in thought.
“Don’t worry,” Sydnie repeated, then changed the subject. “You look nice. Where are you going?”
“Oh. I’m going to speak at a teacher’s workshop. Then I’m going grocery shopping, so you’d better tell me now if there’s something you want.”
“No. Nothing,” Sydnie said softly.
“Well, let’s pray then.”
Sydnie folded her hands and said the grace. Afterward, she picked up the honey and soaked her pancakes with it, and in less than fifteen minutes they were gone; including the sausages and glass of orange juice.
“And all you were going to eat was cereal?” Aunt Sandra joked, raising her eyebrows.
“Maybe I was a little hungry. But I’d better go walk it off.” She got up, rinsed her plate, and kissed her aunt’s cheek. Aunt Sandra briefly patted Sydnie’s hand when it touched her shoulder.
“See ya later,” Sydnie said.
“Don’t be too long,” Aunt Sandra answered. Sydnie grabbed her keys on her way out the door.
Sydnie started off in a run once she was on the sidewalk. You always do this! Sydnie blew out her breath angrily. Running helped her relieve stress, but now she needed it to reduce her anger and hurt. She pumped her legs hard, hoping exhaustion would overcome her enough to block the thoughts raging through her head.
It had been months since she’d spent time with her mom. Sydnie’s white jogging pants made shwoosh-shwoosh sounds as she passed the houses on her block and continued on to the next block. Brown and green and tan-colored one- and two-story houses, some with tall dark-green trees, others with small round bushes, sped by Sydnie.
From Colorado to Memphis, then to Southern California, Sydnie had moved in the last year. Her mother, Antoinette, was always promising to pick her up and take her to Reno. Now Sydnie was in Seattle, after flying from California–alone. Antoinette had made some excuse about an important art deal in Japan.
I don’t feel right here, Mama. I just want to go back. Where? Where had she and her mom lived before all the moving? Sydnie’s pace slowed as wonder took over anger until she did not have the drive or energy to move her legs further from home. She was breathing hard. Closing her eyes, she turned her face to the pale-blue sky and breathed in. She began to pace back and forth, putting her hands on her narrow hips.
Denver . . . Before that, Lubbock. Then? She couldn’t remember. Sydnie suddenly felt cold all over. Her brain felt frozen. Where was it? She wiped sweat from her forehead, then absently smoothed her short hair around her head in the direction she had wrapped it the night before. The night before she had felt a similar chill when she looked in Ron’s eyes. Sydnie stopped pacing and started slowly walking in the direction of home. Her brain seemed to thaw just as slowly.
Later that day, Sydnie sat on the couch reading. The living room gave Sydnie a cozy feeling. Aunt Sandra had beautiful furniture passed down from her mother. Three wing-backed chairs covered with colorful crochet blankets guarded the corners of the room while the couch commanded the center. There wasn’t a television in the living room per Aunt Sandra’s tastes. She told Sydnie, more than once, that television slowed the mind and was only good for news reports. Thus, the small television in the kitchen, which when on tirelessly ran CNN or Headline News, was the only one in the house. Sydnie didn’t mind much because she liked to read anyway.
The comfortable old couch was a good place for her to relax and get into her book. After showering following her walk, Sydnie dressed in her usual khaki and long-sleeved button-up shirt, that day: beige and green. Sydnie chose her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, to help her take her mind off her mother and what seemed like a memory lapse.
The story was comforting to her. From her first reading in junior high school, Sydnie had felt a kinship with the characters. She understood their need to be home, to have a place that was stable and familiar. The children had slipped into another dimension, but they eventually got home. Halfway into the book, the doorbell rang.
“Hey Girl!” Neeya greeted, rushing in to hug Sydnie as soon as she opened the door.
“Neeya,” Sydnie said muffled by her cousin’s hug. “What are you doing here?” she asked when Neeya released her.
“No, ‘hi, how are you?’ I can’t come to see my little cousin?” Neeya joked.
“Surprised?” Sydnie looked up at David, Neeya’s husband, who had spoken. She reached up and hugged him.
“You cut your beard.” Sydnie noticed.
“Well, I’m trying to look professional,” David answered. “I look good, don’t I?”
“You guys both look good.” Sydnie laughed. Everyone began talking at once as they stepped into the house.
“Why didn’t you call?” Sydnie asked. “Auntie Sandra’s going to have a fit!”
“Mama’s always having a fit. Let her have it. So what do you think of my hair?” Neeya asked. She spun around slowly modeling.
“It’s cute,” Sydnie said. “How did you get it like that? They look like dreads.”
“I just twisted them after I washed my hair,” Neeya explained, primping the short black spirals that lay against her light-brown forehead.
“It’s really cute. I may think about growing my perm out.” Sydnie reached up to touch one of her cousin’s twists.
“I’m going to bring in the bags,” David interrupted them.
“Sorry, Baby.” Neeya gave him a playful hug. “We’ll help.”
David and Neeya brought in the suitcases, and Sydnie helped take them into the extra bedroom.
“Where is Mama?” Neeya asked.
“Auntie Sandra just went to a workshop and the store this morning, but she should be back soon,” Sydnie said as they walked into the living room.
Just as they got there, Aunt Sandra was coming in the front door.
“Mama!” Neeya rushed to her mother. Sydnie and David followed.
“Neeya, David!” she exclaimed. They both kissed Aunt Sandra’s cheek as Sydnie took the grocery bag from her arms and headed for the kitchen.
“What a surprise! How long are you staying?” Sydnie heard Aunt Sandra ask as she began to put up the bags of fruit. Some shopping. She didn’t get anything.
“We were coming to keep you company for a few days while Sydnie went to Reno,” Neeya said.
“About Sydnie.” Sydnie heard Aunt Sandra hesitate, then said something so low that Sydnie couldn’t hear her. Sydnie paused and sat at the kitchen table. She knew she wasn’t going to Reno. A lump started in her throat. She swallowed several times to stop it but couldn’t stop the tears forming in her eyes.
As evening approached, Sydnie sat alone on one of the front porch chairs. She decided to wait on the porch so she wouldn’t look too eager if Ron decided not to show up. He was the one who wanted to walk with me. But I didn’t even tell him what time. Maybe I should start walking where I met him yesterday. She made a move to get up.
“Oh, hey.” Sydnie looked up at her cousin and settled back in her seat.
“You waiting for someone?” Neeya smiled knowingly. She went to the railing and leaned her back against it.
“Someone I met yesterday,” she confessed softly as she saw Ron approaching from the sidewalk. It was almost as if he had appeared there, but Sydnie shook the feeling. An involuntary smile began on her lips instead.
“Who?” Neeya asked, nosily.
“Why don’t you ask him for yourself?” Sydnie answered. Ron stood a few feet behind Neeya. He winked at Sydnie.
“Him?” Neeya asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Yeah, he’s right behind you.” Sydnie giggled. Neeya turned around. Ron smiled at her.
“Hi,” Neeya said with a plastic smile. “I’m Neeya Cooper, Sydnie’s cousin.”
The young man standing before her looked too old for her 16-year-old cousin. He wore a black long-sleeve knit shirt and black jeans. The style was obviously too mature for the taste of a teenager. He had a mustache and a shadow of a beard. His dark eyes looked too solemn, too deep.
“I’m Ron Andres.” Ron bowed his head slightly in introduction.
He’s good, Sydnie thought as she watched Neeya’s face soften. She glanced at Sydnie as if to say, Where did you find him? Sydnie raised her eyebrows and gave her a smile.
“It’s nice to meet you Ron,” Neeya said, looking back at Ron. “You’re very charming.” Sydnie saw her give Ron a smile she usually only gave David. Sydnie blushed, shocked by her cousin’s behavior. Charming?
“Thank you, Mrs. Cooper, but Sydnie and I should get going.” Ron held out his hand to Sydnie. “Shall we?”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Sydnie called over her shoulder as they walked down the driveway arm in arm.
“You’re smooth,” Sydnie said once they were on the sidewalk.
“Why do you say that?” He glanced at her.
Sydnie thought for a moment, then said, “You have an affect on the women in my family.”
“What kind of affect?” Ron asked, pulling Sydnie’s arm closer to his chest.
“You maneuver your way around so that you are always on their soft side. Even my aunt’s. Now that’s a trick I would love to learn.” Sydnie gave a small laugh.
“Does that include you?” Ron cajoled. “Am I on your soft side?”
Sydnie was silent. What do you say to something like that?
Ron held her hand close to his heart. She felt it beating fiercely beneath her fingertips.
“Sure,” she said finally, without looking at him. All the attention Ron was giving her felt good. This is nice, she thought.
They started across to the next street. A few moments later Ron stopped in front of a big house overgrown with weeds. No one seemed to have lived there for years. The green paint was chipped everywhere, and the porch could barely be seen through overgrown vines. Sydnie thought she saw something black scurry across the weeded yard.
“Ron, why did you stop here?” Sydnie asked, squeezing his arm a bit. “What’s here?”
“Let’s go in, Sydnie,” Ron said, his eyes never leaving the house’s dark frame.
“Why do you want to go in there? It’s . . . let’s go Ron.” Sydnie tried to pull him away from the barely visible path leading to the porch. The sky was turning purple, and it would be dark soon. She had to be home.
“Come on Sydnie,” he said turning to look into her brown eyes, as if into her soul. “It won’t take long.”
“But . . . Ron. . . .” Sydnie’s voice trailed off.
She couldn’t think. She felt like she was floating. Slowly, she let Ron lead her down the ragged, weedy path to the house. They made it to the door. Its white paint was chipped with cracks, and it hung on one hinge. Ron touched the doorknob, and the door opened to a beautifully lit hallway. As they stepped into the house the light brightened.
“Ron, where are we?” Sydnie asked tentatively.
Ron only smiled at her as he led her down the dazzling hallway. Sydnie then found herself in a large, brightly lit room. There were many people talking and laughing and dancing. A strange, soft music permeated the room. It was felt more than heard. To Sydnie, it felt like the vibration made from someone humming a lullaby.
The air was warm inside the vast place where candles, blue and green, surrounded the walls on every mantel and wall hangings and on every table. Several large chandeliers hung low from the ceiling, each one made with silver bowls to catch the melting blue wax caused by the large candles they supported. Even though it was warm, the light radiating from the candles was a cold blue flame.
As they neared the center of the great room, Sydnie began to feel warmer and reached to pull off her jacket. Then, for the first time, she noticed that she wore long, brilliantly blue gloves. She also no longer wore khaki pants, but a blue dress that brushed at her ankles as she walked. Looking around, Sydnie found that the people around her were similarly dressed in extravagant blue, turquoise, purple, and black dresses and suits and tuxedoes. Many of the people seemed to blend into the sea-colored walls. Again and again, they disappeared and reappeared with the only things distinguishable being their brown faces.
Sydnie looked back to Ron, only to find that now a woman was leading her by the hand. The woman’s back was to her, but Sydnie noticed something familiar about the way she moved. She wore a blue dress similar to the color Sydnie wore. Her long curly black hair moved against the high neck of the dress. She was slightly taller than Sydnie and seemed to know where they were going, making their movement through the crowd graceful and smooth. Several people spoke to the woman, but, when she answered, Sydnie couldn’t catch what she said. Finally, Sydnie reached up with her free hand and touched the woman’s shoulder. She glanced back at Sydnie.
“Enjoying yourself, Sydnie?” Antoinette smiled.
Sydnie stopped, causing her mother to stop and face her.
“Mama.” Sydnie stared in disbelief at her mother, concentrating on her face, but Antoinette’s image seemed to move in and out of focus.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Antoinette laughed and grabbed Sydnie’s other hand, walking backward through the moving crowd.
“Where are we?” Sydnie demanded. She again felt as if she was about to float away as faces moved around her quickly. Mother and daughter moved toward the center of the room, but the distance seemed a long way to Sydnie.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Antoinette asked again. Sydnie tried to focus on her. Although Sydnie could still feel her leading her by the hands through the people, her mother’s face appeared far away,
“We can be together. I promise,” Antoinette cooed. “Just go to Ronaldis.”
Antoinette suddenly released Sydnie’s hands and was swallowed into the crowd.
“Mama!” Sydnie cried, her eyes darting to every face. She recognized none.
“I’ll take you to her,” Sydnie heard whispered into her ear.
She spun around quickly to see Ron holding his hand out to her. He was dressed in a long-waisted black coat that buttoned to his chin and black pants. In the pocket of his coat was a blue lily. His face looked as if it were glowing blue in the room’s light.
“Where is she?” Sydnie questioned, tense. She looked around again.
“First, dance with me.” Ron pulled Sydnie into his embrace, cupping her palm around one hand and pressing her back with the other.
“I need to find her.” Sydnie looked up at Ron–into his eyes. The swirling depths were there. Soon all thoughts of her mother fled, and she followed his lead around the room. Her eyes became heavy as she and Ron twirled around the floor. Soon her eyes closed, and Sydnie felt herself floating to the hum of a lullaby.