SoCal, Days 3 and 4

I woke up Sunday morning to a beautiful sunrise. Clouds were rolling in, bringing with them the promised several-day-long rainstorm. I took a shower and got ready, then borrowed Dad’s Escape and drove out to the Parkers’ house for brunch. I love Paul’s parents and they’ve been great to me. I know how hard it is for them, having us living far away. Paul’s mom Kathy and prepared a feast – quiche, sausage, muffins, and fresh fruit. Paul’s dad Wayne and I played with the cats. They have six, and they range from super friendly to shy. The oldest of the bunch, a handsome muscular orange cat named OJ, walked calmly over to me to ask for petting and attention. Doyle, the six-toed gray cat, rolled around for my delight on the countertops until Kathy shooed him away (something about cat hair in the food). And the youngest, a little striped kitten named Tiger, is a little terror who gets into everything. In his desire for my affection, he proceeded to climb my leg to get my attention. He now has a full mane, looking more like a lion than a tiger. He was so cute, I wanted to stuff him into my carryon and smuggle him home.

The Parkers’ good friend and neighbor Vicki Ostermann came over to join us for the brunch. I miss nights playing cards or dominoes with the Parkers and the Ostermanns. Since everyone had lived in the Northwest, they know where I’m talking about when I tell stories about places I’ve discovered and they always enjoy reminiscing.

After brunch I made a quick stop at Albertson’s for cooking spray and then headed back to my parents’ house. It was time for Christmas baking. This is a longstanding tradition in my house. Every year we make a variety of cookies and other Christmas treats, all together in the kitchen. I love it. When I got to the house Dad was making another batch of fudge, and I licked myself into a semi-sugar coma with the bowl. Then I had some of the pressed cookies Mom had made while I was at brunch. I love pressed cookies. They’re buttery and delicious, not too sweet, perfect with a cup of coffee.

Steve and Shannon arrived and joined me and Melissa in the kitchen to decorate sugar cookies. We started off by putting white frosting into bowls and coloring it with food dye. Steve decided he was going to combine red and blue to make purple frosting. As he added the colors to his bowl he sang a made-up song. “Red and blue makes purple,” he crooned. “Red and blue makes purple.” We all cracked up.

Once we had our colors mixed, we went to work spreading the frosting on the cookies with butter knives. I wasn’t thrilled with the effect I was getting so Mom brought out her pastry bags and different decorating tips. We each filled a bag with frosting and began piping the frosting onto the cookies, making designs and passing the cookies around until everyone had put some different colored frostings onto each. My favorite cookie was the one I posted the picture of, because it’s one that we all worked on.

We finished up our cookies and piled into the car to go to Chili’s for dinner. After baking all day, nobody wanted to cook dinner, and besides I wanted to go to Chili’s since we don’t have that restaurant in Washington. I got my usual order: the Triple Dipper Appetizer (yes, I would routinely eat an appetizer trio for dinner) with southwestern egg rolls, chicken crispers, and spinach artichoke dip. To drink I ordered a Blue Pacific Margarita. It was fun watching the server try to figure out my birthday on my out of state driver’s license. To be honest, I still can’t find my birthday on my license at a glance either. We had a nice dinner, then headed outside into the rain.

When I woke up Monday morning I was a little in shock. The weekend had gone so fast! Was it really time to go home today? Melissa had to go to work, so I spent the morning sitting in the living room talking and drinking coffee with Mom and Dad. Maui was trying her best to be good, but it was obvious she was bored from being cooped up inside because of the rain. She nibbled Dad’s legs, chased the cats, and tried to stick her head up my pant leg in some game I didn’t seem to know how to play correctly.

We went to Target to get a couple things Mom needed for work and then Steve came over. He was fresh from job testing and pretty optimistic about a position as an assistant principal. Since it was my last day in California, Dad said I should pick someplace to go eat that I can’t normally get. Now, the tourist would’ve picked In N Out, but I wanted El Pollo Loco. I got my pollo bowl and devoured it. I may or may not have chased it with a piece of every kind of fudge Dad had made and several cookies.

Melissa got home from work and we got to have about an hour together, our whole family. All too soon it was time for Dad to take me to the airport to catch my flight home. I hugged my siblings goodbye and then turned to Mom. I hugged her hard, kissed her cheek, hugged her again, and told her over and over how much I loved her. I was incredibly sad and didn’t want to leave her and go home but I kept it together. I didn’t want her to see me leave sad. So I put a smile on my face, got in the car with Dad, and waved to her until we’d pulled away and she was no longer in sight.

The storm raged and rain was falling hard but we still made it to Ontario airport in record time. Dad parked and walked with me to my terminal. We stood for a bit and talked, since I was still pretty early. Eventually I had to go to my gate. I hugged him, then hugged him again, told him how much I loved him and how glad I was that I got to spend the weekend with the family. I kept smiling as I went up the escalator, waving to him. I went through security and then as I walked to my gate, two huge tears dripped down my face. I hadn’t expected it to be so hard to leave.

I didn’t want to stand in the airport crying, so I knew I needed to distract myself. I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath, and found a gift shop where I got myself some cool ranch Doritos, a bottle of water, and a trashy celebrity gossip magazine. Nothing takes a mind off saying goodbyes like reading more-than-likely-made-up stories about celebrity agony. My flight was delayed, so I was glad to have the stupid magazine.

When my flight finally boarded, I accepted a request from a stranger to trade him seats. I think he wanted to sit near people he was traveling with. Either that or he preferred my aisle seat to his window. Although I’d had no anxiety at all on the flight down, after takeoff I found myself incredibly nervous. I felt like the plane was going to drop out of the sky any minute. Bad, bad thoughts. Maybe it’s the window seat that gives me anxiety, which sucks because I like looking out when the plane descends into my destination. I opened “E”, the awesome book Bob had gotten me for Christmas, and read almost the whole thing by the time the plane touched down at Seatac.

I walked through the terminal, paid for my parking (all $112 of it, thankyouverymuch) and found my car. I was still feeling pretty down as I got on the freeway and headed north. I did feel a bit cheered up when I drove through downtown Seattle, saw the Space Needle, and felt the familiar excitement of living here rush through me. I want my family to visit me here. They would love this place. I know they would. I’d show them the best places.

There wasn’t much traffic, and I got back to Marysville without any trouble. I parked in the driveway, pulled my suitcase out of the trunk, and took a deep breath. I’m home, I thought. Would the sadness persist, would I be unhappy missing my family, or would I settle back into a routine?

I stepped inside. The townhouse was warm, bright, and comforting. As I s
et my things down, the cats rushed to greet me and purr their delight that I was back. I stroked their soft, fuzzy heads and the purr chorus grew louder. Above my head, I heard movement on the second floor.

Paul appeared on the landing, smiling at me. He walked into the kitchen, gave me a kiss, and folded me into a hug. At that moment, sadness evaporated. I had my kitties and Paul, I was home, and I was happy.

We knew when we moved that it would never be perfect, that living far away from our families would be tough. We also knew that coming here was the best thing for us and our futures. Since we’ve been here, we’ve grown closer and spend more time together, have paid off some bills, and I’ve gotten a job I love and made friends I couldn’t imagine my life without. So even though those airport goodbyes are never going to be easy, I’m going to be glad for the time I do get with my family, and embrace the memories and look on them with happiness.

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