I sighed as I looked out of the plane window. There was something inanely comforting about seeing the mossy green grass, the tiny houses, the bright specs of cars that looked like toys from this height, that made me love the feeling of flying. I loved this temporary feeling of being above everything, like I was removed from ordinary life and given a beautiful new opportunity (albeit having to be crammed inside a glorified tin can with wings next to my little sister).
Kitten, said sister, was very much asleep in the seat next to me and she was snoring rather loudly, the sound uncomfortably close to my ear. The noise was so loud, it distracted me from my pondering. The power of my parents was enough to force me next to Kitten for an entire plane trip, so they could not be bothered by her incessant chattering. Or at this moment, snoring. I groaned and resigned myself to having to hear the snoring for the rest of the flight (it was preferable to her talking though)
Hearing the sound of disproval I make, my father turns around in his seat and smiles at me, noticing my obvious state of annoyance.
"Come on Florence, we are nearly home" He laughed and I rolled my eyes, stretching my legs in front of me. The numbness of my limbs wasn't a sign of a good time for me. Nearly home wasn't close enough for my liking.
After about half an hour of this purgatory between home and California, the pilot announces that we are making our descent towards the airport runway. Which was, quite frankly, excellent news not only for me, but for my legs, which felt like they could just give up at any moment. As I watched the green grow closer, I decided to wake up my little sister (not always the safest option, but safer than just letting her sleep forever on the plane. I can't imagine how long I would be grounded for)
I poked Kitten and she stirs slightly, and her heavily lidded eyes opened half-heartedly. She muttered something that sounded slightly inappropriate for a 10 year old. Sitting up now and rubbing her eyes, she fixes a glare at me that would make Frosty the Snowman melt.
"Did you have to wake me up?" she snaps at me
"Oooh, touchy-touchy" I grinned, and she slapped my arm weakly. I had to laugh at the feeble hit.
"Two words, Kit-Kat. Epic. Fail" Kitten rolled her eyes.
"Flor, for a 16 year old, you are very immature" She shook her head disapprovingly.
"Liar, liar pants on fire" I sang just to annoy her. She slapped her forehead in disgrace. Yes, me Florence Harrison, most embarrassing big sister ever.
The plane begin its slow decent to the runway. I made sure our seatbelts were on correctly, and were as tight as they could be. I got the fluttery feeling in my stomach that happens when going down a particularly large hill. The buildings, once ant-sized, now grew around us as we landed on the tarmac with a solid thud and taxied along the runway. Almost at once, everyone on the plane began stirring, gathering bags, tickets and small children.
"Please exit the plane in an orderly fashion. Thank-you for flying with Rose Airlines" a blonde, smiling air hostess guided people towards the exits out of the plane, still smiling when she was almost knocked over by a pushy mother and her snot-nosed kid.
We waited for what felt like three-quarters of the plane's passengers to get out before we finally made it ourselves. We walked down the long stairs and I blinked at the bright light. I quickly slid on my sunglasses and sighed in relief that my eyes would not be fried.
We passed through security, collected our bags from the carousel and joined the line-up for a taxi. My parents had thought it would be too inconvenient to call someone to pick us up, and therefore decided to take a taxi. In retrospect, it was a horrible decision really. It took a good forty-five minutes before a taxi became available. It turned out a lot of people had just returned from vacations, to make it in time for the new school year. I watched annoyed teenagers, tired workers, screaming children and the reunions between families, couples and friends. It took a long time for the taxi driver to understand where we wished to go, but finally we left the airport and headed for home. I couldn't wait to be home, and I soon began to think longingly of my room, and my cat and taking a shower-
Except the place we pulled in front of couldn't be our home. Sure, it was at our house number, in our street, but it couldn't be ours.
'Our 'house was surrounded by a large security fence, and was covered by a giant white tarp. Several neighbours surrounded the house and a couple of guys in some sort of work suit, like a white beekeepers outfit was trying to prevent them from coming any closer.
"Mr and Mrs Harrison?" a middle aged guy in a white suit appeared next to my parents. They nodded and the guy introduced himself as Stephen Wheaten.
"What's happened to our house?" Mum exclaimed, looking pale, bright blue eyes wide in confusion.
"I'm sorry someone didn't get in touch with you earlier. I am sure that they would have tried-" Stephen began, but my dad interrupted him
"We were just on a plane for quite some time" He sounded on edge, very much unlike my usually care-free and relaxed father.
"Ah, well, that explains it. You appear to have a severe termite infestation in your house. So very severe, that whoever was looking after your house is lucky to have been able to get out without falling through the floor. The wooden beams had all be chewed away" Stephen explained, keeping a calm demeanour despite what he would have to perceive as all of our hearts sinking at once. There were still so many things that didn't make sense: how could it be so bad? We were only away for three weeks! Why had no one got in contact with us?
"How long will it take to fix?" Mum's voice wobbled unsettlingly as she asked. This time, Stephen looked perturbed
"As we spoken with the construction people, the removal of the termites and then the rebuilding process could take about four or five months, minimum" my heart sank even further. This couldn't be real! This had to be some elaborate joke. Where on earth were we supposed to live for five months? We didn't have many family members to live with, and the ones we did were scattered around America or resided in apartments
"Where are we supposed to live?" Kitten exclaims and then starts sobbing loudly. Dad wraps his arms around her and comforts her.
"We'll be OK, sweetie" he says softly and rocks her back and forth like he used to when we were small.
"Oh Pam! Jeff! Oh Goodness, thank God you are okay! We have your animals. This is horrible, just horrible!" a familiar voice behind us calls out, carrying a tank with Kitten's turtle, Sheldon in it, and a carry case with my cat, Caligula within. This was Mrs Heffley, our neighbour and one of my mum's closest friends, not that she had many in the first place.
"Oh Susan! Thank God for you! I am sure the girls were worried senseless about their pets. Thank you so much for looking after them" Mum tried to smile brightly, but the tears bubbling in her eyes gave her away. Mrs Heffley was obviously touched, and handed our pets over so she could wrap Mum in a compassionate hug.
"This is quite a mess, isn't it? Where on earth will you live?" Mrs Heffley said, as she drew back from the hug, hands still on Mum's shoulders
"Oh dear, who knows? We won't be able to afford anything new, not with paying for this mess to be fixed. Oh God, Jeff, how are we going to fix this?" Mum began to sob similarly to Kitten was before, only she did not have the proviso of also being 10 years old. It broke my heart seeing my mother so distressed, so much so that i hardly noticed the small interaction between Mrs Heffley and her husband who I failed to notice standing behind her.
"Pam...if it is easier...the girls could come and stay with us?" She asks tentatively
"Susan, that would be...that would be...so good of you...thank you, thank you!" Mum begins blubbering even harder and wraps Mrs Heffley up in another hug
"Is that alright with you girls?" Dad looks at us, as though expecting us to turn down the offer. Honestly, i'm surprised. Mrs Heffley doesn't know what she is getting in for if she is volunteering to give Kitten and I a home.
"If we can bring Caligula and Sheldon,that sounds fine" I shrug, just grateful we won't be sleeping in a tent somewhere for five months. It doesn't quite sink in that i am not the only factor at play in the Heffley household.
Mrs Heffley smiles at us, obviously happy she can do whatever she needs to help. She's a good woman, I am sure she will try to make these months as easy as she can for Kitten and I. Mum and Dad immediately go on some sort of spur about payments, rent, repaying the Heffley's with my firstborn child etc, but she just waves it away, saying that she is just doing what a good neighbour and friend would. Soon, we all seem to be relatively composed, and in agreement.
The magnitude of the situation doesn't hit me until I walk into the living room and come face to face with the Heffley boys.
Greg, who is 12, and socially awkward, I can deal with. He basically accepts this new fate, of having two weird girls living in his house and invading his space. In fact he blushes a little when he and I make eye contact
But Rodrick? He's a whole other matter. He's a year above me in school. In a band. Kind of hot. And very argumentative. This much is evident when the division of space and rooms is discussed
"OK, so we thought Kitten, you can go upstairs to the guest room and Florence you could sleep in the basement-"Mrs Heffley starts but Rodrick interrupts immediately.
"No way is she sleeping down there! That's where MY room is!" He yells and she stops smiling and frowns at him instead.
"Rodrick, there is plenty of room down there. You probably won't even notice Florence is there" She points out
"It's my personal space!" he retorts, looking very pissed off
"Rodrick! Florence has nowhere else to stay, so mind your manners" Mrs Heffley snaps. To be honest, she's starting to scare me a little bit.
Rodrick rolls his eyes. "Can't she stay somewhere else?" he growls and glares at me. Anger rolls in my stomach and my face burns. As if it's my fault my house got attacked by termites
"Still here, in case you haven't noticed!" I exclaim, glaring right back at Rodrick. It's silent for a couple of moments, until he moans and looks away
"Fine! She can sleep in the basement! But you better not touch my stuff" Rodrick throws his hands in the air, like all the bad stuff has happened to him, not me. He walks away, and that's how I know this is going to be an interesting few months.