1. FIRST LOOK
The hot phoenix sun glared down on the car windowsill where my bare, pallid arm dangled shamelessly. My mom and I were both going to the airport, but only I had a ticket waiting for me, and that ticket was one-way.
I had a dejected, brooding expression on my face, and I could tell from the reflection in the window that it was also an intriguing expression. It seemed out of place, coming from a girl in a sleeveless, lacy top and bell-bottom jeans (stars on the back pockets). But I was that kind of girl out of place. Then I shifted from that place on the dashboard to a normal position in the seat. Much better.
I was exiling myself from my mom's home in Phoenix to my dad's home in Switchblade. As a self-exiled exile, I would know the pain of Diaspora and the pleasure of imposing it, callously disregarding my own pleas to say one last good-bye to the potted fungus I was cultivating. I had to coarsen my skin if I was going to be a refugee in Switchblade, a town in northwest Oregon that no one knows about. Don't try to look it up on a map it's not important enough for mapmakers to care about. And don't even think about looking me up on that map apparently, I'm not important enough either.
''Belle,'' my mom pouted in the terminal. I felt a pang of guilt, leaving her to fend for herself in this huge, friendless airport. But, as the pediatrician said, I couldn't let her separation anxiety prevent me from getting out of the house for eight or so years.
I got down on my knees and held her hands. ''Belle is only going to be gone for the rest of high school, okay? You're going to have a lot of fun with Bill, right Bill?''
Bill nodded. He was my new stepdad and the only other person available to take care of her while I was gone. I can't say I trusted him, but he was cheaper than a sitter.
I straightened up and crossed my arms. It was time to cut the crap. ''The emergency numbers are above the phone in the kitchen,'' I told him. ''If she gets hurt, skip the first two they're your cell phone and Domino's. I've cooked enough meals to last you both the first month if you split one-third of a Stouffer's Lasagna a day.''
My mom smiled at the thought of lasagna.
''You don't have to go, Belle,'' said Bill. ''Sure, my street-hockey team is going on tour, but only around the neighborhood. There's plenty of space in the car for you, your mom and me to live.''
''It's no big deal. I want to go. I want to leave all of my friends and the sunlight for a small, rainy town. Making you happy makes me happy.''
''Please stay who will pay the bills when you leave?''
I could hear my boarding number being called. ''I bet Bill can run faster than Mom to the nice Jamba Juice man!''
''I am the fastest!'' my mom shouted. As they ran off, Bill pulling her shirt to get ahead, I slowly backed away into the gate, through the jet bridge, and onto the plane. None of us were very good at saying good- bye. For some reason, it always came out good-BUH.
I was nervous about reuniting with my dad. He could be distant. Twenty-seven years of being the only window-wiper in Switchblade had forced him to distance himself from others by at least a windowpane. I recall my mom breaking down crying on the sofa after one of their rows and him just watching her stoically, right outside the window, wiping in powerful, circular motions.
When I saw him waiting for me outside the terminal, I walked towards him shyly, tripping over a toddler and soaring into a keychain display. Embarrassed, I straightened up and fell down the escalator, somersaulting over the roller luggage inconsiderately placed on the left side. I get my lack of coordination from my dad, who always used to push me down when I was learning how to walk.
''Are you all right?'' my dad laughed, steadying me as I got off. ''That's my clumsy old Belle!'' he added, pointing to another girl.
''It's me! I'm your Belle,'' I cried, covering my face with my hair like I normally wear it.
''Oh! Hello! It's good to see you, Belle.'' He gave me a firm, gripping hug.
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