With Dad at the wheel, Mom sat coldly in the passenger side of our maroon four-door sedan. It would be a long ride from Duluth to Minneapolis. If my parents had an argument about the new arrangement, it most likely happened the night before while Clara and I slept. It was June, and my ten-year-old half-sister Cecilia, was flying all the way from California to live with us. Dad’s ex-wife, Jackie, was going through a rough patch of sorts. I tried to remember Ceci. Pictures had been exchanged in the mail and in them I saw a small framed girl with long golden curls. She reminded me of what Goldie Locks might look like in real life.
Three years passed since Dad, Mom and I drove cross-country from Gainesville to Santa Cruz to spend time with Ceci. Back then I was three-years-old and Ceci seven. With Jackie’s permission, Ceci joined us camping in the mountains that summer. The enchantment of the Redwood Forest returned to my mind like blurred colors in a dream. Ceci and I spent our days climbing enormous rust-colored tree trunks, shucking cornhusks for dinner, and sleeping in a misshapen tent under the stars. Mom cast our roles – Dad as Captain Hook, Ceci as Peter Pan, and I was Tiger Lily.
In the fall we said our goodbyes. We’d stay in touch. We’d see each other again soon. Ceci returned to her mother in Santa Cruz and we moved to Minnesota. Two years later, Clara was born. I had a new baby sister. I helped change Clara’s diapers, feed her, and wash her in the bathtub. Another year passed and I turned six. I was the big sister. I wondered how things would change with Ceci’s visit. Curiosity took over my tongue. I leaned forward in the car.
“Dad, how long will Ceci live with us?” Dad stared straight ahead, blinking a couple of times before replying. “A while.”
My year-old sister, Clara, slept beside me as patterns of farm silos and forests moved swiftly before my eyes. Cecilia was coming to live with us. She would get to spend time with her father – with my father. The scenery changed as we drove closer to the airport. Lanes of traffic became crowded. Cars and trucks zig-zagged around us. It was busy. I liked things quiet. I wondered if Ceci liked it quiet too. My thoughts were interrupted by a spurt from my mother. The spectacular array of metal skyscrapers boosted her mood. “Look girls. It’s the Minneapolis skyline!”
At the airport arrival gate, I stood at Dad’s side while Mom held Clara in her arms. Dad stroked my long brown hair and smiled at me then gazed at a slow stream of passengers emerging from a gray porthole. I joined Dad’s search scanning faces as they materialized. Would I recognize her? I thought about the photographs again. Abruptly, Dad stood straight up grinning. “There she is.” My eyes locked on a blue-eyed girl wearing a white top and indigo skirt. The girl ran towards my father and squealed.
Soon she was right next to me, her small arms encircling Dad. I watched as he lifted her up, squeezed her tight like California citrus and set her down again. Ceci then turned to my mother, Clara, and me – giving each of us an embrace. Her smile glowed sunlight.
On the way to baggage claim Ceci spoke about the flight.
“There was this nice stewardess…and she brought me all kinds of snacks and juice. I drew pictures for you, Dad. I drew some for the stewardess too.”
As Ceci handed Dad a few scrolled pieces of paper, I observed the two of them. I noticed how they shared the same eyes and petite sculpted noses. They had the same curly hair though Dad’s was black as obsidian and Ceci’s blonde. They were both outgoing and quick-witted. I was shy and demure. Dad adored Ceci. A pea-sized pit cut into my stomach.
In the car again, Ceci sat between Clara and me in the back seat. She taught me a game called “slug bug.” Ceci pointed at a green car passing in the opposite lane.
“See those cars that are rounded? Those are Volkswagen Beetles… like a bug. If you see a bug first, you turn to the other person and say, slug bug and punch them in the arm.” Ceci demonstrated by punching my arm hard. I winced with the sting.
It was apparent that Ceci had played this game before and didn’t consider that I was younger and weaker. Mom and Dad paid no attention, having their own conversation in the front seat – livelier compared to their rapport on the way down. In between slug bug games, Ceci talked incessantly.
“I collect koala bears. Do you know what a koala bear is? I have one here. This is Kimberly. She’s from my collection. My mom’s going to be sending the rest of my koalas in a big brown box. They should be here soon. I can show you all of them. Each of their names start with a ‘K’.”
I learned a lot about Ceci on the ride home. Aside from collecting stuffed koalas, she loved Star Wars and wanted to make light sabers and role play. She’d let me be Princess Leia since I had brown eyes and brown hair. She would teach me to play card games and chess. She would read me stories and help me pick out my clothes.
By the time we returned to Duluth, my head was spinning, and my arm was sore. At home, that evening, everyone gathered in the living room – Ceci still talking, still the center of attention. I meandered to my bedroom to play with my dollhouse. For a few moments, it was silent. I could think my own thoughts again. I wondered how long Ceci would be staying with us.
I didn’t know it would be two years.