From Chapter One
...the air smelling like honeysuckle, I dangle my arm from the passenger window, aware only of the honeysuckle air, Indigo Girls on a scratchy radio, and a white sun. And that everything we own has been packed into the back of a battered orange moving van...again...
"My dad named me Calle after a cat he had in college that ran away. He really loved that cat. I always thought that was funny since he was the one who ran away from me...and my mom."
"Calle? With just the "e" at the end? Not C-A-L-L-I-E?" the counselor asks.
"Just an 'e.' It's how he spelled the cat's name. The Smith part's easy, though."
Mr. Hyatt, the counselor, shifts in his seat and scribbles something on a yellow legal pad. He has on a Mickey Mouse tie and red shoes. Vans. I've seen the uniform before. Mickey tie because he has to wear a tie but doesn't want students to think he's stuffy. Vans because they're Vans. The nameplate on his desk says "Hyatt Way," like a street sign.
I watch him write, making sure I don't say more than I should. I always give away too much information, and sometimes it gets me in trouble. My mother once said I inherited this from my father. I don't remember him, have never even seen his picture. I take her word for it. And don't ask questions about him. It just makes her mad.
But the talking thing. I'm working on it. I've always admired the type of kid who can sit in silences and not need to fill them. There is one of those silences now.
"Your mom is remarried?" He flips through the manila folder with my name written in black marker on the tab.
"Rob," he repeats, over-rounding the letters. Raawwbb. Annoying.
"He works in computers and stuff." Actually, I have no idea what Rob does for a living, but I figure he probably has a computer wherever he works. He married my mom a month ago in San Diego where we used to live. She'd known him only four months. Now we live here. Andreas Bay, a snag in the Northern California coastline. The only thing I know is that he drives a Ford like all the others and makes a bunch of promises like all the others.
"How'd you guys end up in Andreas Bay?" Mr. Hyatt looks up from my folder, his pen poised.
"Same way we find every town. My mom tosses a penny onto a map of California, and we go wherever it lands." He nods and pretends this isn't strange. Usually that story gets at least a raised eyebrow.
He finishes writing, caps his pen, and pushes my new schedule across the desk. "You like to write?" He points at the journal in my lap, with its faded purple velvet cover that looks like corduroy pants.
I instinctively clasp a hand over the cover. "It's my song journal."
"Last year, I started writing down memories I get from songs. I hear one, mostly older songs, and I write down the memory it brings. Like glimpses of my life as I remember it. Snapshots." His nod is directed over my shoulder. A black-haired girl in a Betty Boop T-shirt and skinny jeans hovers by the door. I shrug. "It's just something I do."
"Cool. Sounds really cool." Trying too hard.
"My mom's not the type to keep photo books. So I sort of have to keep my own version."
I don't tell him I'm hunting for the Tambourine Man who plagues my dreams.
"You're sure you don't want a nicer shirt to wear?"
In the mirror, I look at my mother, perched on the side of the tub, holding a coffee mug the size of her head. Her dark hair is wet from the shower and combed back away from her face.
I spit toothpaste into the sink. "I like what I'm wearing," I say for the third time. Swirling water around my mouth, I stare at my reflection. Faded blue T-shirt, jeans, brown eyes, shoulder-length brown hair. I look the same as I always do. A blurry, ordinary version of the beauty sitting behind me.
People say I look like her but it's in an out-of-the-corner-of-your-eye sort of way. We both have dark hair and eyes, but her genes lined up in the right order; her dark hair thick, her eyes wide. Her angles drawn straight, her limbs long. My genes used some sort of splatter method for me, with everything not quite in the right spot. People notice my mom no matter what she's doing. If I wanted to be noticed, which I usually don't, I'd have to hire a band and some fireworks.
"First days are so critical," she continues, sipping out of her trough.
I catch her eye in the mirror. "I think I know something about first days."
This shuts her up. For about one second.
"You'll be fine," she says. "It's like riding a bike."
I roll my eyes. My mother has a tendency to launch into speeches that start sounding like the bad television she watches. I say nothing. I don't want to encourage her.
"The school is beautiful," she says, trying a different tack.
I nod, leaning in to inspect what looks like it might be a pimple on my left cheekbone. "Ocean view. Not bad."
"You'll really like it here." She tightens the sash of her yellow terry robe with her free hand. "It's a really nice town. Small, independently owned stores. A real community."
"You've been reading way too many billboards for subdivisions off the freeway," I say.
She frowns into her coffee. "I just think it's really cute. Rob loves it here."
"Rob sits in an office all day. He eats boring for breakfast."
"Calle..." I can see her start to falter, the tears just around the corners of her large eyes.
I back off.
"It's great," I say, and she smiles over her coffee. "Cute." Though I wonder how cute it will be when she realizes that she's not a tourist and that she actually lives here.
I take a last look in the mirror before walking into the hallway for my backpack. She follows me out, her bare feet slapping against the ceramic tiles. "You're sure you don't want to borrow my red shirt with the Buddha? The cute one with three-quarter-length sleeves?"
"I'm sure," I say, slinging my backpack over my shoulder and trying not to roll my eyes. Two years ago in seventh grade, she convinced me to wear a green dress the first day. I spent the next four months as "Gumby." No thanks.
She gives up. "Okay, sweetie." She leans over to give me a peck on the cheek, the one that's not getting a pimple. "Good luck on your first day!"
I open the door and smile back at her. She looks genuinely hopeful for me, the way she always does when we come to a new place. She even packed me a lunch.
"Thanks," I say, holding up the brown sack. Giving a little wave, I pull the front door closed behind me.
Outside, drowning out the sound of gulls, I pull on my headphones-Jack Johnson's guitar soothing the frenzy of nerves in my gut-and begin the eight-block walk to school, buoyed by the cool sea air. I take in the green hills and the small, flat-roofed houses, and spot a flash of ocean as I round the last corner toward the school. It's actually one of the more beautiful places we've landed, and I sigh, wondering how long I'll get to have this view.