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It was one of those steamy, California, summer days with a pure blue sky; no cloud in sight. Crowds of people gathered at the beach to surf and swim. Nine to five workers stared out their office window wishing for the work day to be over.
Lauren had just gotten out of the cramped yellow taxi cab. Why did she have to pack so much? She paid her fee and the taxi cab zoomed off down the street. Lauren hesitated. Is she doing the right thing or is this all another scheme? It’s just for a year, she told herself over and over again. You can do this.
As her fist was about to pound on the front door of the pastel yellow house standing before her, a loud beeping noise was going off like a siren. Lauren pulled her phone out from her purse and flipped it open. The screen was flashing “low battery” and after about three seconds, the screen went blank. Lauren could care less; she hated talking on the phone anyway.
Lauren stuffed the stupid contraption back into her purse and proceeded to knock on the door. After a third knock, the lock on the door had clicked and the door opened. A little boy was standing there with Cheerio’s in his hand. Some of them had formed a nice pile on the floor.
“Hi, sweetie,” Lauren greeted, “Is your mom home?” She grinned at the little boy.
The boy looked at her with wide, blue eyes that matched the color of the sky. He never answered; he just stared.
About ten seconds later, a woman’s voice was heard inside the house. “Aiden, what did Mommy say about opening the door to strangers?” Aiden looked back at his mother with the same wide-eyed stare. She picked up her little boy and stared at Lauren annoyingly.
“There’s a homeless shelter down the street. They’ll take you in there.”
Lauren felt disgraced; her cousin didn’t even recognize her. Lauren put her hand in between the door and the wall, stopping her from closing it. “Carrie, it’s me Lauren.”
Carrie stood there awestricken. She put Aiden down on the floor and told him to go play outside. He sprinted to the back door, dropping a few Cheerio’s on his way.
“Lauren,” she stated excitedly, “Oh my God, look at you! You’ve grown so much!” She paused for a moment looking lost. “Wait a minute, were you supposed to come today?”
Lauren nodded and Carrie looked baffled. “Oh my God! I totally forgot and now the house is a mess and-” She kept rambling on and on. Once she was done, Carrie invited Lauren in to the homely house.
“Please, put your things down. Jack will take them when he gets home.”
Lauren placed her belongings next to the cream colored couch.
“I’m going to make some lunch now,” Carrie stated while walking towards the kitchen, “Feel free to look around and make yourself at home. Your room is down the hall next to the bathroom.”
Lauren circled the living room area. She looked at all the picture frames around the room. She knew how much Carrie loved taking pictures, especially of her two sons. Lauren saw a picture on the television that was familiar. She walked closer to it and realized that it was one of her school pictures. It wasn’t recent, it was from when she was in fifth grade. That was the last picture her mom ever sent Carrie.
Lauren shook her head so that she wouldn’t remember the past, and walked into the hallway. Down the hall; next to the bathroom. She found the bathroom and right next to it was a white door. Lauren turned the knob and opened it. The room had white walls and one window. Inside the room was an old twin sized bed up against one of the walls. Lauren suddenly pictured herself jumping on it, eventually breaking it in half. Opposite the bed was matching dresser up against the other wall. She walked on the hardwood floors of the room and looked around, planning on how she would decorate. As she looked around, Lauren noticed two doors near the wooden dresser. She opened one and found a closet filled with empty hangers and a shoe rack.
All of a sudden, loud banging and clanging noises were echoing through the hall. A man carrying Lauren’s luggage barged into the room like a bull in a china shop.
“Damn, that girl does not pack light,” he whispered to himself, unaware that Lauren was in the room with him. She cleared her throat to make him realize that she heard him. “Oh,” he said disorientated, “You must be Lauren.” He held his hand out. “My name’s Jack. I’m your cousins boyfriend.” Lauren cautiously stretched her hand out to shake his. She couldn’t stop staring at the ring around his ring finger. Carrie would always tell the family that she would never marry Jack. Yea right, they’re just boyfriend and girlfriend. I wasn’t born yesterday, she thought.
“Well,” Jack continued, “I’m gonna go outback and work on the pool.”
“You guys have a swimming pool?” Lauren asked confused. Carrie would always call her mom for money. That’s why they stopped talking. The last thing a poor person would spend their money on is a pool.
“Yea,” he stated proudly, “Built it myself. It will be done in a couple weeks.” Jack nodded and then walked out of Lauren’s room. Lauren walked out, too, trying to find the kitchen. It shouldn’t have been difficult; it was only a one story house with a basement.
Lauren walked into the olive green kitchen. Inside there was a dark brown table with five matching chairs. The table was set with white plates holding turkey sandwiches. Apparently Jack never did go back to work on the pool because he was already sitting in a chair, waiting for everyone else to come sit. The wooden color of the cabinets almost matched the table. The countertops were a tan color that went well with the olive walls. All the appliances were snow white and looked very clean. Carrie was standing by the back door calling for the boys to come in.
Both boys sprinted in seeing who could sit down first. Lauren and Carrie sat down last. Everybody began to eat except Lauren. She wasn’t used to the fact that they didn’t say grace before they ate. Lauren sat there and prayed to herself and then took a bite from her sandwich.
“Jordan,” Carrie stated with a full mouth, “You remember your cousin Lauren.”
Jordan nodded with stuffed cheeks. Lauren has only met Jordan once, when he was one. He probably only remembered Lauren from pictures.
“Well, she’s going to be living with us for a whole year! Isn’t that exciting!”
Jordan’s eyes became wide with excitement and then he went back to eating, as if nothing had happened.
Once lunch was over, Carrie offered to buy Lauren paint for her room and a bed spread and other decorating essentials. They went from store to store buying everything Lauren needed.
“So,” Carrie said awkwardly on the car ride home, “I’ve got a job for you. Well, actually, two.”
Lauren looked at her hoping it wasn’t at a McDonald’s.
“I need assistance in filing and copying and other things. So I was thinking, you could come to the office with me sometimes. For about twelve-fifteen bucks an hour.”
Lauren nodded in agreement.
“And then, sometimes, you’d have to baby-sit Jordan and Aiden. That I will give you seven to ten bucks for. Is that a good deal?” she asked hoping that Lauren would agree.
“Okay,” Carrie grinned, “Can you come to work with me tomorrow?”
Lauren nodded and smiled.
When they pulled into the driveway, Lauren grabbed all of her decorating supplies and headed for her room. She placed everything on the bed and dug through her purse for her cell phone. Lauren flipped it open and forgot that it had died earlier that day. She then dug through her suitcase and carry on for her charger. After about five minutes of searching, Lauren found it all the way at the bottom of her purse, past all the old gum wrappers, wallet, and make-up. She found an outlet and plugged the charger in. Lauren plugged her cell phone in and flipped the phone open. The screen blinked “10 missed calls” and “7 new texts”. She checked who called; it was her mom. Lauren didn’t want to talk to her now. She couldn’t even bare thinking about her.
Lauren then checked her seven texts; they were all Ethan and they all said pretty much the same thing: “Where are you? Your mom says you’re in Cali? WTF?!”
She honestly didn’t have time right now for Ethan. Lauren texted him back saying: “It’s a looooooooong story…I’ll call you later.”
Lauren threw her phone carelessly on her bed and began to pull out everything she bought from her bags. As she was putting the sheets on her new bed, Lauren thought about Ethan. She missed his hugs and his laugh. Lauren realized a year without Ethan would be like a year without air. She had to stop making her bed to catch her breath.
Lauren looked at her cell phone. It was the only clock she had and, even though she hated it with a passion, her cell phone was a boredom suppressor. The little clock in left hand corner of the screen read 8:34 AM. It couldn’t possibly be, Lauren thought. She walked over towards the window and saw that the sky was still dark. She opened her phone again and realized that 8:34 was Chicago time, not Sacramento time.
Lauren walked away from the window and sat down on her bed. She opened up her cell phone again and dialed a number she could never forget.
“Hello?” asked the familiar voice on the other line.
“I don’t belong here. I belong at Bradley,” Lauren whispered, “Can’t I come home, Mom?”
“Now Lauren, you know our situation. We just can’t afford to pay for college in Illinois and-”
“But Mom,” Lauren whined, “I don’t want to go to college here! I want to go to Bradley! We CAN afford it! Look at all the scholarships I got!”
“Yeah, look at all the money we got from FAFSA,” Lauren’s mom stated sarcastically into the phone, “FAFSA gave us nothing, Lauren. Nothing! And, right now, we just don’t have the money to send you to Bradley. Trust me, this year will fly by.”
Lauren paused. “I hope so.”
“Just think positive and just be thankful that you don’t have to live with your uncle.”
Lauren was glad that she didn’t have to live with Uncle Detlev. Her sinuses would be flaring because of all the second hand smoke and, besides, his cats don’t really like her too much.
All of a sudden, Lauren heard the little patter of foot steps coming from down the hall. She turned around and she saw Aiden, standing in the doorway holding his blanket.
“Mom, I’m gonna go get some more sleep. I’ll call you later,” and then she hung up. “What’s wrong Aiden?”
He walked towards Lauren. “I can’t sleep.”
Lauren looked at Aiden. He had a sheepish expression on his face. Aiden held on to his blanket as if some monster was about to snatch it right from him.
“Well, do you want to sleep in here?”
Aiden analyzed the room. “Are there monsters in here?”
“I can assure you, Aiden,” Lauren giggled, “This room is monster free.”
Aiden smiled and climbed into Lauren’s bed, still clinging to his blanket. Lauren lay down next to him, and before her head hit the pillow, she fell asleep.