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Forever the Two C's
Heavy, smog-filled rain strikes the old, yellowing windows of my apartment. I smell my Mom’s organic green tea steaming on our tiny stove and her famous all-vegan oatmeal cookies baking in the equally tiny oven. It’s a combination of smells so familiar, I can just barely distinguish it from the exact scent of our home, which would be a mishmash of herbs and whole-wheat bread.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” says Mom, picking tomatoes from the plant on our kitchen windowsill. “You haven’t seen Colbee since she lived here in Manhattan.”
“Yes, Mom, but technically, we’re still best friends. We made that promise a long time ago. So it’s our responsibility to keep the friendship alive,” I say, realizing that my words sound like something from a corny Disney Channel made-for-TV movie.
“Well then why couldn’t Colbee have come here to our house?” says Mom, lifting the cookie sheet out of the oven.
“House? I think you mean hamster cage. We can hardly fit ourselves in here,” I say, grabbing a cookie from the hot sheet and burning my finger.
“Cleo, listen. I’m a mother, and like any other mom, having my child fly on a plane for more than an hour by herself makes me a little nervous. I just think you’re a tad too young to be going to Georgia all by yourself. But I trust you,” says Mom.
That’s one of the great things about her. She’s a Mom who isn’t afraid to be honest with me, and who trusts me. And she raised me well. Unlike many other 8th graders, I’m fine not having a cell phone or iPod or TV in my room.
“Thanks, Mom,” I say, cramming the now cool oatmeal cookie in my mouth and washing it down with a gulp of hot tea. I look over at the wall clock and it tells me that I need to be getting on the subway in ten minutes.
“Well, I better get going. Don’t want to miss my flight,” I say, hugging Mom. I can tell she’s holding back truckloads of anxiety.
“Bye, Cleo. Love you,” says Mom, and I head out the door and into the elevator and then down the street to the sidewalk. I walk past my favorite Starbucks, an awesome music store, my Mom’s favorite bread shop, and the best Chinese restaurant on the face of the earth.
When I finally reach the stairs down to the subway station, I hurry onto my train and quickly drift off into a light sleep. See, being a seasoned New Yorker, I know exactly how to sleep and still be able to hear the automated voice call out each stop.
After what seems like no nap time, I’m at the airport and ready to go. I go through the take-off-your-shoes security process and find my gate. The plane’s already boarding, so I sprint over to the gate desk and hold out my ticket. Jittery, hyperactive hummingbirds are flying around in my stomach.
“Have a good trip, Mrs. Harvey,” says the attendant who scanned my ticket. I manage a “Thank you” and fast-walk through the tunnel and into the plane. It’s only the second flight I’ve ever been on.
“Would you like me to help you find your seat?” says a good-looking male flight attendant probably in his late twenties.
“Um, yes please,” I say, handing him my ticket. He smiles and ushers me towards a seat in the middle of the plane. I thank him and sit down. Luckily, a young college-aged girl on her laptop is sitting next to me, instead of some creepy old man or some loud kid who throws tantrums.
After a long time of sitting and waiting and having more time to freak out and worry, the plane finally takes off. The feeling of speeding up into the air makes my stomach jolt, but it’s a feeling full of adventure and new things to learn about and see. This could possibly end up being one of the best vacations of my life.
“Can I get you a beverage or snack?” says the flight attendant after about 40 minutes of travel, his gelled brown hair glinting from the sunlight let in by the plane’s miniature windows.
“One Diet Coke,” says the girl sitting next to me flatly. She’s staring at the screen of her thin, expensive-looking laptop in a trance.
“I’ll have Mountain Dew,” I say confidently. Mom would rather eat a bowl of live crickets than let me have Mountain Dew or any other type of soda (or non-organic drink, for that matter) at home. It feels great to be able to have whatever I want for once.
The flight attendant pours our drinks and hands them to us carefully. I take mine and practically drown myself in its sugary caffeine goodness, but the girl next to me is typing furiously at her laptop keys, ignoring her bubbling brown soda.
Once I finish my Mountain Dew, the caffeine doesn’t take long to affect me. And for me, caffeine takes an opposite effect. It makes me tired. Very tired. So I lean my head back, close my eyes, and slip off into post-soft drink dreamland.
“We are now landing in Atlanta, Georgia,” says the pilot over the intercom, and I jerk awake. Have I really been sleeping a whole two hours? “I hope everyone had a great flight, and please fly with us again.”
I smile to myself and look out the window. I see the city, but it’s a village compared to New York where I live.
“What brings you to Atlanta?” says the girl next to me. I’m surprised because her laptop is gone and her Coke cup is empty, ringed airplane ice and all.
“Uh, I’m just here to visit a friend,” I say, wondering where this sudden spark of sociality came from. Maybe two straight hours of staring at a glowing screen does that to you.
“Oh, fun. Lucky you. I’m here for work. My name’s Lia,” she says, holding her hand out for me to shake. I shake it and manage to smile, but I forget to introduce myself. We’ve landed and the hummingbirds are back, making themselves at home in my stomach.
“Goodbye,” says the flight attendant routinely, as I walk out of the plane and gather up my luggage, which is basically a small brown duffel bag from The North Face. I’ve always been a light packer.
I walk along the moveable tunnel and finally reach the gate. I scan the room and then do a double-take. Didn’t Colbee and her parents say they were meeting me at the gate? But before I can wonder anymore, a tall, blonde girl scurries over to me and entangles me in a bear hug.
“Lord, Cleo! I haven’t seen you since we were babies! You’re so gorgeous!” says Colbee in her signature southern accent. But this time the accent seems even heavier than when she lived in New York. No surprise there.
“Yeah right, Colbee. We all know who the real hottie is,” I say, giggling. Colbee looks so different, with all her eyeliner and mascara and shimmery eyeshadow. And her hair, which used to be brownish-blonde and wavy, is now pin-straight and a blinding shade of platinum blonde.
“Oh gosh, Cleo! You know you’re beautiful!” says Colbee truthfully. I can’t say I agree, but it’s the thought that counts.
“Cleo, I’m just so glad to finally see you. Girls, let’s go back to the house and get settled in,” says Colbee’s mom in her southern accent matching her daughter’s. I smile and give her a hug, and we’re off to the car. As we walk to the car and ride in it to her house, Colbee fills me in on pretty much all of her life since she moved. According to her autobiography, she is now the star soccer player on her select team and she’s going out with this “ah-dorable” foreign exchange student from Spain.
“Well, this is my house,” says Colbee proudly as we get out of her Mom’s fancy, sparkling Escalade.
The place is huge and it’s in a suburban subdivision full of matching huge houses that are all squished together. There are also fountains in the middle of the cul-de-sacs and surroundings that look like a florist had worked there for hours. I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that she now has her own backyard. It’s just so different from living in a big city.
“Wow,” is all I can say.
“Come on,” says Colbee, tugging on my wrist. “I’m gonna show you my room!”
When we walk into her giant front door coated with whiter-than-white paint, I smell an awkward mixture of Febreeze and apple scented candles. My mom has issues with Febreeze, being an environmentalist and also someone who relies on herbs for a good aroma.
“Isn’t it amazing?” says Colbee, beaming. I force a smile on my face and nod as we tread up the polished hardwood stairs. We reach Colbee’s room and it’s nothing like I imagined. It’s practically the size of our whole apartment and it has a bathroom and a walk-in closet.
“This is huge,” I say, looking at all the photos of Colbee with friends and boyfriends arranged on her dresser mirror. Those should be pictures of us, I think to myself.
“I know, right? When we bought the house, Mama said I could pick whichever room I wanted, so I obviously chose this one. I mean, who wouldn’t? And look what I bought for us!” says Colbee, holding out a package of Organic Cheddar Whales. That makes me feel a lot better about her house and everything I’ve just endured. Cheddar Whales are a tradition with us, and I’m glad Colbee didn’t forget.
“You’re awesome,” I say, snatching the bag from Colbee’s hands. I open it and take a whiff. Ah. The goodness of cheese-flavored crackers.
“Hey, gimme some!” says Colbee, laughing. I hold the bag close to my chest and before I know it, we’re on her bed, wrestling for the Cheddar Whales and laughing more than I think we ever did back in Manhattan. We’re both pulling on the bag when it splits in half and all the Whales spill out onto Colbee’s soft, pink monogrammed bedding.
“Whoops,” we say simultaneously, and then burst out laughing again. Colbee picks up as many Whales as she can hold and crams them in her mouth. I do the same.
“Girls! Time for dinner!” calls out Colbee’s dad from the kitchen downstairs. I love her dad, mostly because he’s a New Yorker like me and I’ve heard that he used to be really artsy and environmental, like my mom and I.
“Coming, Papa!” yells Colbee with her mouth full of Whales. It makes me think she’s Goldie Locks from how she calls her parents “Mama” and “Papa”. And her hair makes it even more ironic.
As we walk out to her back patio where we’re going to eat, I see a giant, juicy steak out of the corner of my eye, and I try not to panic. Don’t worry. Just tell them you’re a vegetarian.
“Alright, we’re having steak, but Colbs reminded me you’re a vegetarian, so I cooked up some tofu, too,” says Colbee’s dad casually. I’m glad that they were so considerate. I thank him and sit down at the table. As we eat, Colbee’s family talks about their day, and about how they’re going to have a Fourth of July party tomorrow. I just sit silently, chewing on my rubbery tofu. It isn’t cooked exactly how I usually like it, but it’s not horrible.
“So yeah, I invited my boyfriend, too. It’s going to a blast!” says Colbee, chowing down on her slab of meat.
“Colbee Delilah, do not talk with your mouth full,” says Colbee’s mom. Her napkin is sitting daintily on her lap and her steak is cut into itty-bitty pieces. “And slow down. You don’t need to eat all that steak.”
Colbee drops her fork and slowly bites into a strawberry. It hurts me that her mom would make her feel like she’s fat, because she definitely isn’t.
After a long time of just sitting and listening to Colbee’s parents converse, we get up from the table and walk back up to Colbee’s room. She sits down on her bed and lays back. I lay down next to her.
“Why did your mom call you out like that?” I say, watching the ceiling fan go round and round.
“I don’t know. I guess she just wants me to be perfect,” says Colbee.
“Well that’s stupid. And you’re not fat,” I say.
“Fat? Who ever said I was fat?” says Colbee, raising her voice. “And it isn’t stupid. My mom just wants me to grow out of being that rebel I used to be when I lived in Manhattan.”
I have no idea what to say to that. And, rebel? Yeah, right. Colbee was always a follow-the-rules girly-girl, even when she was little.
“Well, sorry,” I say with an attitude. But all I hear is even breathing. I look over at Colbee and see that she fell asleep, so I close my eyes and try to sleep too. But something tells me that our friendship was only an illusion. We were only friends because we lived in apartments next to each other as children. It was never a real connection.
I wake up to see blinding Georgia sunlight shining through the glossy window of Colbee’s bedroom. It’s the fourth of July, and I find myself suddenly wishing to be back in New York, watching the Macy’s fireworks show from my apartment and drinking raspberry iced tea.
I roll over slowly, trying not to shake the bed, and Colbee is nowhere in sight. But it isn’t hard to find her, because I can hear her loud voice coming from the kitchen downstairs.
I get up off the bed, smooth my hair out with my hands, and walk down the stairs. I hold onto the railing to make sure I don’t fall over since I’m still in an early morning daze.
When I reach the kitchen, I see Colbee and her mom at the table chatting animatedly. Colbee is dressed in a silk robe eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Her mom is in a red, white, and blue polka-dot business suit, sipping Starbucks coffee.
“Hey,” I say shyly, grabbing a seat at the table.
“Hello, Miss Cleo. And what would you like for breakfast,” says Colbee’s mother, beaming at me. Colbee is just staring down at her bowl of colorful cereal.
“Um, I’ll just have some Lucky Charms,” I say, wondering what marshmallow cereal tastes like. I’ll find out soon.
“Coming right up,” says Colbee’s mom, pouring the little shapes into a sparkly white china bowl. After pouring in the milk in, she prances over to my spot at the table and sets the bowl down. I can practically see my reflection in the glistening silver spoon.
“Well, girls, I’m going to go out to the grocery and get some final touches for the party this afternoon. I’ll be back in an hour,” says Colbee’s mother, jangling her keys and strolling to the front door. Colbee says “Bye” and we hear the door shut.
“I’m sorry I went off on you last night, Cici,” says Colbee, using the nickname she used to call me when we were little. “I just get defensive sometimes.”
“It’s okay…. Coco,” I say, using the nickname I used to call her. Colbee smiles and shovels another heaping spoonful of charms and marshmallows into her mouth. I look out the window and take in another dose of the Georgia sun. A big house and the smell of candles and air spray and eating sugary cereal isn’t so bad after all.