Well, here’s another nugget from my on-going Young Adult novel in progress, The Rain Catcher. I’m taking it slowly, as you can tell — whenever I rush things, I realize I’m getting away from the characters and the story. So, for now, I’m backtracking and am concentrating on making sure each chapter stays in the same style and voice, instead of rushing off to nowhere fast!
A quick recap: Katy has arrived in Edinburgh from North Carolina to stay with her mother for the summer. Her parents split up when she was three. But her mother didn’t show up at the airport; now, she’s at her Aunt Claire’s apartment (“flat”) and is about to be introduced to her aunt’s creepy boyfriend, Ewan.
The man sat with his legs propped on the coffee table, eyes glued to the TV. He licked his lips like a lizard. I waited for Aunt Claire to yell at him to get his dirty boots off her table, but she just stared at him.
Finally, she said, “Erm… Katy, this is Ewan. Ewan, this is Katy.”
Ewan slithered his eyes to mine; they were the color of empty Coke bottles.
“American, eh?” He sneered as though being American was something only idiots did.
“Yeah, from Mebane, North Carolina.” Why had I said that? He didn’t know where Mebane was and didn’t care. When on earth was Mom going to get there?
“Do ye watch American football?”
“Not really.” Dad and I were more into star gazing with the telescope Granddad had gotten him for his 40th birthday. We’d set it up on the back porch and look for meteors.
“Hmmph.” Ewan went back to watching cricket on T.V.
I followed Aunt Claire into a kitchen the size of Dad’s walk-in closet. She switched on an electric kettle (like the one Dad and I take camping if the campsite has electricity) and opened a tin box with a picture of Prince William and Princess Kate on it. I smiled.
Do you like the Royal Family?”
Aunt Claire snorted. “It was a present from Auntie Fiona. She loves them!”
She took out two tea bags and stuck them into mugs on the counter. We stood awkwardly, waiting for the kettle to boil. I studied her kitchen. On the refrigerator (which was shorter than me!) were postcards of beaches. One said, “Florida’s Calling!”
“Have you ever been to Florida?”
“No, but your mum went last Christmas…” her voice faded as she saw my face. “She wanted to fly up to North Carolina to see you, but it was a super cheap flight. Half price London to Miami.”
The kettle started to whistle and switched itself off. My aunt quickly poured hot water into our mugs, not looking at me. My face burned. Mom had been in the States and hadn’t even phoned to let us know? Dad could’ve gotten us cheap tickets to fly down to Miami, or we could have driven. Even if it took all night, it would have been worth it to see Mom again.
“Umm…” I’d never had hot tea, only iced and soaked in sugar, but right then I didn’t feel like drinking. I just wanted to talk to Dad.
“I bet you like it milky and sweet, like me,” my aunt said, stirring three teaspoons of sugar into each mug. “They don’t drink tea in America, do they? Heathens!” She smiled, trying to cheer me up.
“Can I use your phone. I need to call Dad to let him know I’m here. I have a phone card,” I added, figuring Aunt Claire probably didn’t have a long-distance phone plan.
“Oh, right. Follow me.” She darted through the living room, as though hoping Ewan wouldn’t notice us, and led me to a bedroom with a full-sized bed and orange knitted curtains.
“Don’t ask,” Aunt Claire said, waving at the curtains. “Your mum’s idea.”
She reached under the bed and pulled out a cordless phone. I didn’t have the energy to ask why she kept the telephone hidden under the bed.
“When you’re finished, come and have a cup of tea and a biscuit. You must be famished.”
“Um…yeah.” What on earth did “famished” mean?
I dialed the number on my phone card. After one ring, Dad picked up.
“Hey!” Dad was at work; the coffee maker gurgled comfortingly in the background, reminding me of mornings at home, and his co-workers laughed at something funny. “I was starting to get worried. Everything okay? You’re at your mom’s place?”
“I’m at Aunt Claire’s apartment.” I swallowed and tried to keep the tears out of my voice. “Mom’s not here. She’s teaching a yoga class.” Keep it together, Katy.
“Oh.” Dad didn’t speak for a couple of seconds. “I’m sorry, Katie. Your mom has a habit of getting her times mixed up. She’s got a brain like a bag of tennis balls, you know?”
That was his favorite expression, “a brain like a bag of tennis balls”; I had no idea where he got it from.
“Mom can’t wait to see you.”
“Sure.” My voice trembled and I sucked in a breath, trying to stop my hands from shaking. “Did you know Mom was in Miami last Christmas?”
“Miami? What was she doing there?”
“Vacation, I guess.” I breathed slowly and wiped my eyes with my sleeve.
“Huh,” he said again. “Well, don’t worry about it, Kiddo. Just have a good time and get me some of that great Scottish shortbread!”
Really? Mom had been in the U.S. and hadn’t even called us? And Dad was okay with it? Maybe Mom had been embarrassed because she couldn’t afford to visit us. Maybe she’d worried that Dad would offer her money, and she was too proud to take it.
“And call me if you need anything.”
“Anything at all.”
“I WILL!” Jeez!
When I got back to the living room, Aunt Claire was sitting on the couch with a photo album open on her lap. She beckoned me to sit beside her. Ewan sat at the other end of the couch drinking a beer.
“Do you remember Auntie Fiona’s flat, where you and your mum and dad used to live?”
I shook my head, hoping she didn’t notice my puffy eyes. I’d been three when my parents split up, and Dad had taken me to live with him in North Carolina. He said he wanted me to grow up with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. Mom and Aunt Claire’s parents were dead, and they didn’t keep in touch with any other family members, except Auntie Fiona, who’d taken care of them when they were kids.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake! Look at my hair!” Aunt Claire pointed to a photo of herself with blue hair. “Liz dyed it for me. Can you tell?”
I smiled and pointed to another photo, one of Mom with half straight and half frizzy hair. “What happened in that one?”
“I tried to perm your mum’s hair but ran out of the chemicals halfway!”
Just then the living room door opened, and in walked a big woman in a brown coat. I just about jumped out of my skin, thinking she was going to rob the place!
“Mavis! Since when do you have a key?” Aunt Claire shot up off the couch.
Mavis ignored her and stomped past us. “Ewan, I brought ye some lamb for dinner,” she yelled from the kitchen.
Ewan dragged himself off the couch. “Aye, Mum.”
So, Mavis was his mother!
Aunt Claire stormed over to the kitchen. I followed behind, peeking over her shoulder. Mavis stood by the refrigerator, clutching a packet of frozen peas to her chest.
“Put down those peas!” Aunt Claire shrieked. “Those are my bloody peas. I bought them at Morrisons!”
“Aye, it’s all you bought!” Mavis snarled. “You’ve been starving my only child!”
Aunt Claire picked up a phone book waved it in the air. “If you don’t leave right now, I’ll drag you out by your hair!” I grinned. The fiery Aunt Claire was back!
The doorbell rang, and my stomach did a flip. Aunt Claire didn’t take her eyes off Mavis. The doorbell rang again. Nobody moved. Come on! I squeezed my hands together. What if it was Mom?
Someone called out behind us, “Hellooo! Anybody ho-oome?”
“Mom!” I dashed into the living room.
“Katy!” Mom wrapped me up in a hug. She smelled like dried flowers and wore her hair in a ponytail tied with purple ribbon. She looked like a birthday present. Her hair tickled my nose as she rocked me. I held on tight, afraid to let go in case she disappeared.
Mavis barged past us. “Cow!” she hissed before slamming the living room door. Ewan dashed after her. “Mum! Come back!”
“Och, what a woman!” Mom bustled over to the couch and sank onto the cushions.
“She’s not a woman; she’s a monster!” Aunt Claire came into the living room carrying a tray of cookies and a pot of hot tea. As we sat, “blethering,” I watched the way Mom moved her lips around words and tucked the hair behind her ears. She had my long forehead and thin lips. I touched her denim jacket to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
“I don’t know how you put up with that man,” Mom said, finally.
“You should change the locks, now that he’s gone, Aunt Claire. Is there a hardware store around here?”
They both looked at me for a second and then burst out laughing.
“You’re not as meek and shy as you make out!” Mom said. My cheeks burned.
“Katy, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all year,” Aunt Claire said, and I felt a lot better.