So sorry I missed last week guys! School is getting crazy. Anyways, this week’s story:
kind stranger, new kid, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” 89 minutes. 2,026 words.
The New Girl in Town
She sat next to her brother, but her body was turned away. She sat as if she were leaned against an invisible wall between them. The Georgia sun shined through the window and illuminated her book. Aleja preferred the world of demons and sexy teens to the stiff silence of the mini-van. “So, Sweetie,” her mother turned around to speak, “we’re almost there! Dad is waiting for us in the new house and-.”
“Room,” Aleja replied as she dog-eared the page she was on. “It’s a new room, isn’t it? Communal housing?”
“Yes,” her mother said, her eyes darting around in search of a silver lining. “We will share a common room with three other families, and a kitchen, but we will have two bedrooms and a living room all to ourselves.” She took a deep breath.
“Well,” she tried to be positive for her mom, “that’s better than a room.”
“Exactly! Besides, you wanted to get away from all those people back in Atlanta, right? So this is good.”
“For her,” Gabriel muttered. “I still don’t see why I had to come.”
“If you moved out, you wouldn’t have to.” Aleja grumbled.
“STOP. You are not fighting right now. No. Your brother needs our help and we needs his.” She turned down a dirt road. “Am I going the right way?” Gabriel shrugged.
“All these farms look the same,” he said. “Hey, you could ask that guy.” He pointed at a someone working on an engine. He was bent over. The family could see his boots, jeans, and flannel, but not his face. Aleja opened her book again. Her mother pulled over behind the truck. He stood up.
“Hello?” The older woman walked over to him.
“Good afternoon ma’am. Can I help you?” He wiped his greasy hands on a rag.
“Yes…” she lifted her head to look at his face. He had a small smirk made of pink lips and squinted brown eyes. “I’m Linda Ramirez, and I’m moving into town with my two children, but I can’t seem to find our house. Can you give me directions?” He nodded.
“I can try. Matheo Arcos,” he offered his hand to shake. “Where are you staying?”
“Oh ok. You are definitely lost. Um, the dirt roads can get kind of confusing so if you give me ten, fifteen minutes to get this engine started I’ll show you the way.”
“Thank-you Matheo. Kids, did you hear that?” Linda shouted into the car. Matheo laughed as he went back to work. Aleja looked up from her book and made a non-committal noise. Linda rolled her eyes. “Oh, you know what, why don’t the two of you get outside and stretch your legs? Come on.” Aleja climbed out the car and her brother laid across the seat. “This nice young man is Matheo and he is going to guide us home once he’s done with his engine.”
“Matheo?” Aleja replied, “you mean there are latinos in the country?” Linda frowned, despite the audible snort from the engine.
“Plenty of us. And now you’re here too.”
“Meh. I don’t count.”
“Aren’t you Dominican?” Matheo hadn’t seen her yet. Her mom laughed.
“Good guess,” Aleja said, “but Mom is Black, and not the Spanish-speaking kind. We get the last name from Dad and he’s an island or two over.”
“Did he come with cigars or rum?” Linda laughed harder.
“Cigars.” He pulled his head from under the hood. His neck snapped back when he saw mother and daughter. Aleja wasn’t nearly as brown as her mother, although just as plump, and her short hair was thin, straightened and dyed a color somewhere between red and purple. The look was complete with baggy jeans and a superhero tee that was a size too big. He wasn’t sure what to make of her. She rolled her eyes at the confused look on his face. He wiped his hands and offered one. “Matheo.”
She shook it. “Alejandra. You can call me Aleja.”
“Mucho gusto.” She laughed.
“Nice to meet you too.”
“No Spanish?” She shook her head. “Too bad. I’d like to have someone in school to talk to.” No Aleja snapped her neck back.
“Um, school? Aren’t you like, twenty?”
“Seventeen.” He shrugged. “People always think I’m older because I’m tall. But I’m seventeen.” He got into the cab of the truck and cranked the engine. “Yes!” He rolled the window down. “Alright ladies, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you the way to Garden Homes.” Linda and Aleja got back in the car and let him lead the way. He turned them around and took them down a different road that suddenly became paved. A strip of buildings appeared. They were shops and a handful of restaurants, along with three white and brick buildings that made up the government center. He pulled over. “This is the heart of town. I figure if you need to learn your way around, you should start here.” Then he drove off again and they saw church after church, broken up by homes. Another turn and they came across what looked like a mansion. In front of it was a wooden sign that read “Garden Homes”.
“When your father said it was nice,” Linda said, “I thought he was just trying to make me feel better about living here.” Matheo got out of his truck and walked over to the driver window.
“Here’s the place! The people here are nice, I’m sure you’ll like it. Do you need any help moving in?”
“Alright then, I’ll see you- is that The Heavenly Bones?” Aleja nodded. “I love those books!” He stared at the cover. “We don’t have a bookstore here, almost all my books are digital.”
“You didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who reads about demon hunters and paranormal romance.” He shrugged.
“Don’t judge a book.” He walked to Aleja’s side of the car.
“Okay,” Linda said before he could open his mouth. “Why don’t you two talk while I find your father?” She stepped out the car and pulled her phone. The teens continued to talk about books and Linda spoke with her husband. Aleja heard her mother’s voice grow louder and she tried to ignore it. Linda came stomping back, looking as if she were trying to hide her fury. “Mom…?”
“We need to find Garden Ridge. Garden Homes is where your father works.” She took a deep breath. Matheo tried to keep a straight face. Garden Ridge was not a nice place to live.
“I can show you the way, Mrs. Ramirez.”
“No, you’ve done enough.”
“It’s on my way home.” He spread his hands. “With all the dirt roads, GPS can get confusing. It really isn’t any trouble.” Linda sighed.
“Alright. It it far?”
“Nothing is far here.” Gabriel groaned. “It is what it is.” Much like cities, small towns had sections where poorer people lived. It was this part of town they drove to, as shown be increasingly decrepit churches and older homes. With every mile, Aleja grew more embarrassed. This handsome stranger was leading them to the ghetto. Part of her hoped he lived in one of the neighborhoods they passed, but the crispness of his clothes and the shine of his car told her the chances were slim. Finally the arrived at Garden Ridge. The knock-out roses in the front of the building were nice enough, but the wooden siding was splintering and starting to come loose. What little paint was on the shutters was faded and cracking. For her mother’s sake, she tried to smile. “At least we’re with Dad again.” Her father, Rafael, walked outside when he saw their car. Gabriel was suddenly inspired to get out of the car. The nineteen year-old missed his father. Aleja followed, with her mother several paces behind. Linda and Rafael often fought, and she didn’t want him to know how excited she was. Not after the long drive from Atlanta to Egerton. After a few minutes, Matheo got out of the truck to introduce himself. “Matheo Arcos.”
“Oh!” Rafael said, “you’re Diego’s boy, aren’t you?”
“One of them, yes.” Matheo never bothered to ask how people knew his father.
“Well, thank-you for guiding my family. You are welcome here any time.” Matheo thought of Cindy and seriously doubted it.
“Matheo?!” Cindy, a blonde girl, shouted out of a window.
“I need to go. It was nice meeting you all- I’ll see you in school Alejandra!” He got back in his truck at top speed.
“Matheo! Get back here!” The girl’s sweet tea drawl was a sharp contrast with Matheo’s clear speech. “Ugh! Little shit! Quit trickin’ folks inta thinkin’ you’re nice!” He took off.
“Quit shouting Cindy!” Rafael yelled back.
“Don’t you yell at my kid,” Cindy’s mother shouted from another window.
“Well tell her to stop yelling at her boyfriends!” He groaned. “Come inside.” The family walked in and Aleja looked around. Everything seemed dirty, and it smelled like stale cigarettes. The light was low and dim. Suddenly, Aleja wondered if they’d moved out of the fire and into the frying pan. Rafael started to tell his family the rules of the house as they walked to their rooms.
1) Keep your doors locked. They don’t screen people before they move in.
2) Community dinner is at 6:30 pm and each family takes turns cooking. A continental breakfast is set out by students on their way to school at 6 am. That’s you and Cindy for now.
3) Washing and drying services are a dollar per cycle.
4) You clean your own rooms, and the owner checks to make sure things are kept clean.
5) Midnight curfew for those under 18.
6) Anyone breaking rules or shirking responsibility will be responsible for the common room for a week.
7) If you are considered a problem resident, you will be kicked out.
“Does anyone feel those will be an issue?” Rafael asked.
“Depends, does curfew mean in the house or in your room? Like, is it lights out at midnight, or just we want to make sure you and your boyfriend don’t cuddle after?” He crossed his arms.
“It was a joke, Dad. Obviously my problem is not staying out.”
“Well maybe here you’ll make friends!” Linda tried to smile. Rafael unlocked the door to their rooms.
“Oh thank God,” Gabriel said when he saw the state of their living room. The floor was tile, but Rafael laid rugs, and there was a powder blue sheet over the couch. A small LCD tv hung on the wall and through the window came bright light. There were two lamps in opposite corners. Rafael smiled.
“Not so bad?” Linda kissed her husband.
“Home is where the heart is. And where is the bathroom?” He pointed at a door on the far left of the room. Aleja breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a communal bathroom. Rafael showed his children the room they would share. Unlike their living room, it wasn’t decorated, but it consisted of two twin beds, two closets, a nightstand, and a lamp on the nightstand. There was no window, it was the interior room, but it was good enough to read in and that was plenty for her. She looked at her brother. “It’s only for a year,” she said, “and then I’m moving for school and you’ll have the room to yourself. Or if Mom finds a job, we could get a house. I checked, houses have like, half the value here.” Gabriel sat on a bed and frowned. “What? Are you going to whine about your friends again?”
“This is totally different,” he replied. “We’ve never lived in a town like this.”
“Hey, buck up.” She punched him in the shoulder. “You’re getting that car for like, dirt cheap next week, and you could probably find work somewhere in the county.”
“I just don’t see why the company moved Dad to the Garden Homes property.” Aleja shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter now. Come on, it’s time to unpack.”
I have a feeling Aleja is going to shake things up in her new town. This feels like something fun to continue with! What do you guys think? I hope you enjoyed!