the adventures of maddie leon
- a continental divide -
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Chapter One: Graduation Day
She never used to think about sweating. Now she was thinking about his and her sweat as she boarded down Burnaby Street, praying for an intervention. She really needed to talk with Jenna about this boyfriend thing.
“Maddie!” Kevin hollered. “Look out!”
Maddie saw the momma skunk and her two kits scurry under the parked car. Boarding downhill, she had the momentum to miss the spray. Three board-lengths behind, Kevin did not.
Bent over, clutching his board with one hand, he backed out of the spray zone, gasping and coughing.
“Kevin! Don’t touch your face!”
He covered his mouth and nose with his free hand. “I – I gotta go change.”
The skunk’s spray drifted her way as she watched him push up the hill. She felt sorry for him… and marveled at the chance to get some sage advice from Jenna about being a girlfriend.
Jenna was waiting on the corner shadow-dancing. “Where’s Kevin?” she asked, looking up Burnaby Street.
“He got sprayed coming down the hill.”
“That sucks! So? Are you ‘the girlfriend’ now? O! M! G! Your face is redder than your hair! He kissed you, didn’t he? I told you he wanted to! Was I right, or was I right? Did you kiss him back?”
Jenna froze in motion, then slowly turned to face Maddie. “But what?”
“But I don’t know. He wanted to hold my hand when we met this morning. And what about Mika? She says she doesn’t like him, but maybe she does. Oh Jenna, what am I going to do?”
“What are you going to do? You’re going to have a boyfriend!” said Jenna, turning to dance their last block to school.
Maddie followed, her stomach full of unruly butterflies and head clogged with unanswered questions.
Maddie checked the task lists Mr. James had posted on the gym wall. Relieved, she saw Mika and Jenna weren’t on the stage decoration team. Kevin was, but she suspected he was home, sitting in a tub of tomato juice to rid the stench of skunk spray.
Her team blew up thirty blue and white balloons to mark their numbers and frame the stage. They draped strands of twinkling white lights up and over the arch they would pass through to receive their grade seven graduation certificates. Mr. James was now setting out certificates, plagues, and trophies on the presentation tables they had skirted with ORCA BAY school banners.
Maddie eyed her group’s work with satisfaction and excitement. Soon she and her classmates would be high schoolers—but before that—her best summer ever was about to begin. No school for eight weeks. Freedom to board, bike, bus, or boat around the city so long as she was home for dinner.
Mika beckoned her to join them for photos. Waving her off, she turned to ask Mr. James if she could help him set up the awards table.
“That’s a new one,” she said, pointing at the Orca whale breaching from the trophy base.
“Yes, and confidential until awarded,” he said, turning her towards the gym that was filling up with students, teachers, and parents. “Time for you to join your classmates.”
Now or never, Maddie accepted as Mika approached.
“So, you’re Kevin’s girlfriend now.”
“Ah. Yeah. I guess,” Maddie stammered, regretting not securing a 24-hour secrecy alliance from Jenna.
“I don’t care if he is. My mom says it’s too soon for me to have one, anyway.”
Maddie knew her mouth was hanging open. With no worthy response, she swung an arm around Mika and steered her towards their parents.
Maddie watched her mom try to distance herself from Jenna’s mom. She had never liked her; said she was too bold and unconventional. She also thought Jenna was ‘too much’ for a thirteen-year-old, but Maddie loved her, and her mom, just as they were.
Her dad’s approach was the opposite. He always welcomed and included Jenna and her mom at community gatherings and family celebrations. She loved his kindness and generosity. When her parents were home, it was usual to add another chair or two into their tiny dining room. Elbow to elbow, they shared meals with friends in the building and community, friends passing through the city, and sometimes – people her dad had just met.
The intercom system screeched as Mr. James fiddled with the microphone before asking all the grads to robe up and take their seats.
Maddie gave her parents and Jenna’s mom a wave, then took her spot between Jenna and Mika. She watched the teachers trying to manage the little kids sitting on the floor. It seemed a long time ago she had sat there. The only thing that mattered back then was being with her besties-Jenna and Kevin. They were still her besties, along with Mika since she came to their school in grade three. But things had gotten complicated with this boyfriend – girlfriend thing.
“Who you lookin for,” Jenna taunted, “your lover boy?”
“Don’t be gross! Why does everything about boys have to be gushy?”
One by one, supported by classmate cheers, they went up to receive their graduation certificates. Back in their seats, they prided themselves on their new status and speculated about the Orca whale trophy still on the table. Most felt confident it was for Kevin, the sports star of their school, who had not yet arrived.
She heard Mr. James call her name. Jenna and Mika pushed her out of her chair. She glanced over to see what her parents knew about this before turning back to see Mr. James pick up the Orca trophy. With each step, she felt her face get hotter. ‘Flushing’, her mom called it. Said it was an Irish heritage blessing. Maddie was certain it was another puberty curse.
Up on the stage, she and her butterflies felt frozen as Mr. James, sounding like he was speaking through a voice distortion filter, addressed her. “Maddie Leon, you have gifted us with your passion for fashion for years. You showed us how to mend our ORCA jerseys, quilt the Pride flag, and created the most colorful coat for our ‘Jumpin Joseph’ play. Your final legacy, the Reclaim and Reuse Textile program.
Thanks to all of you,” he said, waving his hand across the audience, “we kept a shipping container of worn clothing out of the landfill, raised two hundred and forty-six dollars for new school jerseys and discovered in those donated items, costume material and accessories for next year’s production of ‘Peter Pan Downtown’.”
She wondered if everyone looking at her could see the perspiration on her upper lip. The graduation robe shielded her moist armpits, she hoped the sweat wouldn’t mark the crocheted lace shell she’d spent hours stitching.
“In recognition of your integration of S.T.E.M. and Art into your schoolwork and extracurricular activities, we are pleased to present you with this,” he said, holding up the trophy, “the Orca Bay S.T.E.A.M. award. We have no doubt your passion and abilities will take you far and ease the environmental concerns of dumping textiles in landfills.”
Maddie saw Jenna and Mika leap out of their chairs. Soon her entire class and the teachers were standing and applauding her. A glance at her parents proved their response differed. Her dad was clapping, his smile stretched across his face. Her mom was clapping too, but Maddie could tell by the tightness of her face, she was not pleased.
Back in the sanctuary of her friends, she let her joy rise, knowing it would be short-lived. Her mom had decided Maddie must stop turning her clothes, and other people’s discarded clothing into what her friends had branded as ‘Maddily Modified’ fashion and focus on a practical future.
With the ceremony completed, the grads gathered for group, family, and friend photos. She passed the trophy and graduation certificate to her dad and did her best to keep her mom at bay. She didn’t want to see or hear her disappointment; it would still be there when she got home.
“We’re leaving Dad,” she said, kissing him on each cheek before sharing the same with her mom and Jenna’s mom, too.
“Home by seven.” She heard him say as they streamed out the door for their graduation celebration at English Bay.
Maddie loved everything about English Bay. The wide, expansive beach was always busy with families, teens, tourists, buskers, and occasionally officers on horseback, no matter the season. Out in the water, huge transport ships anchored waiting to enter the Vancouver Port and unload their cargo they’d carried from else where in the world. In and around the freighters, sail boats, day cruisers, and speed boats passed by them, heading for the open water, Vancouver Island, Northern BC, or Washington coastline. Closer to shore, paddle boards, peddle floats, dinner cruises, and little tugboats populated the inlet.
They marked out their sandlot with backpacks, skateboards, sneakers, sandals, and towels. Then all thirty of them lined up. Hand in hand, shouting “Bigger! Better! Beyond!”, they plunged into the cool Pacific Ocean for the traditional junior high school baptism in the Bay.
“He’ll be here,” Jenna said, poking Maddie’s leg with her toes as they laid in the sun drying off.
“Jenna, every thought of mine is not about Kevin.”
“Then what’s your problem?”
Jenna rolled over on her belly. “Oh yeah! Big problem. I know you’ll get accepted to Emily Carr when they find out about the STEAM award. You are lucky Maddie; you know who you are and what you want to do with your future. Except for being your best model, I don’t even know what I’m good at.”
“I’m giving up on the fashion stuff.”
Jenna sat up and stared at Maddie. “Are you crazy? What about our plans? You said we had a responsibility to disrupt fast fashion and bring back original style!”
“My mom says it’s not a good choice for me. She said the pace of change and customer demands make it too risky. Besides, most clothes aren’t even made in Canada.”
“When did your mom get to be a fashion expert? Hey ho! Lookey there,” she pointed. “Here comes your lover boy,” said Jenna, waving at Kevin to join them.
Hand in hand, they walked up Burnaby Street. Kevin talked about their plans for a day at Playland while she wondered if he could feel the sweat on her palm.
“That coasters a hundred years old. It groans and creaks like its ready to collapse.”
“News Broadcast,” he said, putting on his sports announcer’s voice and speaking into his fist. “Grade Seven grads go down in rubble of old-school coaster.”
“You should say high schoolers, not grade seven grads.”
“Either way, I’m not riding that rickety old thing. I’ve got a whole life in sports and sports broadcasting ahead of me.”
“Jenna will ride it with me,” she said, flashing her key across the apartment’s entrance panel. “We’ll wave at you just before the screaming and fun begins.”
Anxious a neighbor might see them kiss, she slipped through the door turning to give him a wave. Waiting for the elevator, she wondered if she was ready for a boyfriend. It felt weird to kiss your friend on the lips. What would happen if he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore? Could they still be friends?
Ascending to the fifteen floors to her apartment, she realized Jenna’s special abilities included knowing how to have fun and helping other people figure out complicated life stuff. She really needed to talk to Jenna.
Chapter 2: My Life Sucks
“Just in time,” her dad said, holding a spoonful of his spaghetti sauce for her to taste. “I’m certain it’s the best I’ve ever made.”
Maddie savored it, trying to detect the secret ingredients he withheld. She knew it was all about the spices. But what was his secret? Everything she guessed, he denied.
“Now that I’m a high schooler, I’ll need to know all your secrets.”
“Not so fast graduate,” he said, holding the wooden spoon like a royal mace. “As the proud father, I retain all rights to my daughter’s favorite food; ensuring I remain essential to her life.”
“You forget you are away more than you are here with me. It’s time to give it up.”
He planted a kiss on top of her head. “Nope. You, cherie, must await my return.”
“How was the beach party?” he asked, sticking the spoon back in the pot.
She opened the fridge and scanned the shelves for something good. “The boys inhaled the pizza. I had a piece of watermelon and two cupcakes.”
Her dad pushed the door closed with his foot. “Dinner’s almost ready, and your grandmothers are waiting to see some pictures. If we don’t send them soon, Irish Gran will be asleep at her kitchen table and GG will think you didn’t graduate.”
“Fat chance of that,” she said, heading to the bathroom to wash up and deal with her beach hair.
Bent over at the waist, she coaxed the brush through her hair. Grains of sand fell at her feet and most knots defied her efforts. She flipped her hair and self back up to see her wild mane reflection. Grandpa always said her hair was proof positive the spirit of a lion was in her.
Oh, to be a lion, she thought as she worked the brush through her mane. No one telling you what to do – or who to be. If I was a lion, no one would expect me to do or be anything other than a lion. She looked into her green eyes staring back and felt empty thinking about her life without fashion.
Her stomach grumbled. She was hungry and anxious. She hadn’t seen her mom since she got home, but she noticed the STEAM award was now the table centerpiece, meaning dinner could be difficult.
Her dad’s call that dinner was on the table sent her butterflies into a nosedive. Why was her life so complicated?
She gave her mom a guarded smile, then slipped into her chair. She stabbed the hill of spaghetti on her plate, twirled up a forkful then filled her mouth. Slurping up the danglers, she wondered if she had already guessed her dad’s secret ingredient and he was just teasing her by saying nope – nope – nope.
Her mom cleared her throat and waved a napkin under her nose. Maddie kept her head down, knowing the sign and sound of trouble coming her way.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the Award?” she asked. “Jenna’s mom knows more about your achievements and ambitions than I do.”
Maddie twirled another forkful. “I didn’t know I was going to get it… and Jenna’s mom likes to talk and listen to us. When she was our age, she liked to thrift and upcycle too.”
“And look at her life now. A single mom washing dishes at Hamburger Mary’s. With your grades, you should be considering becoming an engineer, architect, or professor. Even a systems programmer would be better than deconstructing good clothes or buying other people’s trash … then choosing to wear it!”
“But I don’t want to be any of those things. I want to be an eco-fashion designer. Why is that so wrong?”
Her mom’s green eyes were penetrating. “Careers of tomorrow are all about science and technology not thrifting or upcyling. That’s something you do for fun.”
“Mr. James says STEM without ART misses the mark. That’s why they made the STEAM award – and gave it to me.”
“We’re proud of you Maddie,” her dad said, placing his hand over hers. “And you’re right, no innovation or creativity would mean no work for cultural anthropologist like us. On that topic, our posting was finalized today.”
“Who are you leaving me with this time?”
“Really Maddie!” her mom said, slapping her utensils on the table. “You raise a fuss every time we get a new contract?”
“Most parents don’t leave their kids for weeks or months so they can go study someone else. Too bad I’m not one of your subjects ─ you could stay here and observe me.”
The legs of her dad’s chair grated on the floor, sending a shiver down her spine.
“Okay, you two. Let’s focus on the best part of this assignment. You’re coming with us!”
Maddie dropped her loaded fork and reached across the table to hug him.
“Finally! Where are we going?”
“Maddie! Your hair! It’s in your father’s spaghetti!”
Maddie flicked her long red locks out of the plate, speckling the wall behind with saucy dots.
“We’re going to Peru.”
“Does GG know?” she asked, bouncing in her chair with excitement. “How long will we be gone?” she asked, realizing this long-awaited opportunity to go on assignment with them meant her best-summer ever would be interrupted.
“We fly on Canada Day; and your grandmother is thrilled. That’s the first time I heard joy in her voice since grandpa died.”
Maddie watched his eyes shift between her and her mom.
“What’s wrong? Is GG okay?” Maddie couldn’t bear the pain of her grandmother dying too.
“She’s fine but—well—you know since grandpa died, she’s been alone and so, we decided its time we moved to Peru.”
“Move! To Peru?” certain she had misunderstood him.
“Yes Maddie, that’s what your father said.”
“What about my friends? What about the Emily Carr art program? You promised if they accepted me, I could go there.”
“We found you a new school,” her mom said, speaking like this was good news. “Its an international baccalaureate program. You’ll study in English and Spanish.”
“But I can’t read past the elementary stuff. Why do you think I could high school in Spanish?” she asked, pushing her plate away.
Her mom’s palm stopped the plate from leaving the table.
“Peru is perfect for all of us. You’ll be there with GG and close enough to visit us on-site when school’s not in session,” her dad said.
Staring at them, she wondered if they were actually her parents. Real parents don’t mess up their kid’s life. She wondered if she was part of some secret cultural anthropology project, and it was their assignment to observe how she coped with being abandoned.
“But I don’t want to leave Vancouver! Jenna, Mika, and I planned the perfect summer, and …” Maddie hesitated. Kevin! What about Kevin?
“And what?” her mom asked. “You always wanted a bigger room, space to work on cutting up clothes. This is the perfect time and opportunity for all of us.”
“I thought you wanted me to give up ‘Maddily Modified’,” she said, wrapping her arms across her chest to hold herself together. Moving was totally unfair and just wrong, except for GG. She didn’t want her grandmother to be alone. Being alone sucked. She should know, her parents were always going off to some research site and leaving her behind.
Her mom’s firm voice forced her attention back to the dinner table. “I’ve spent a lot of time finding this school! Few Peruvian schools cater to students whose first language isn’t Spanish. You should appreciate my efforts.”
“I suck at Spanish.”
“Don’t say suck. It’s rude,” her mother snapped.
“Immersing yourself in a community is the best way to learn a language and appreciate its culture. And… the school has a theater program. They’ll be lucky to have you help them with costumes and stage design.”
“Rene! She’s going for the STEM curriculum! She needs to get serious about her future.”
“I am serious! I’m an artist, not a whatever else you think I should be.”
Her mom pushed her plate back across the table. “Finish your dinner. Your grandmothers are waiting to see some pictures.”
Maddie didn’t bother to prevent the meatball that rolled off the plate and hit the floor.
“I’m not hungry.”
Her mom’s hand flashed up like a stop sign. “No dinner. No dessert!”
“Fine!” she said, pushing her chair away from the table.
“What about cake?” her dad asked. “You always say yes to cake.”
“Oh! Gross!” she groaned, hopping away with spaghetti sauce and meat oozing between her toes.
“Maddison Marie Leon.”
She didn’t turn back. She knew when her mom said her name like that she was in for a lecture or lesson. She didn’t want either.
“Let her go Sophie.” She heard her dad say before slamming the bathroom door.
She sat on the edge of the tub with her foot under the running water. The warm water washed away the meaty red sauce, but not her tears or despair.
Chapter 3: Maddie’s Moving
“Anthropology!” she cursed, flipping to the BEST SUMMER EVER centerfold in her journal. Tears welled in her eyes as she scrawled a thick black X across both pages. They were always messing with her life. Leaving her whenever an assignment came up. Who picks a job where you leave your kid behind?
She spat on the page and watched the black ink bleed into the porous paper.
Tossing the journal aside, she rummaged in her backpack for her phone.
JENNA! I need to talk to you!
Mika, u there?
Why is no one ever around when I need them? Reaching with her toes, she flicked the stress ball her grandpa brought her from Thailand, off the dresser. Even YOU grandpa! Even you left me.
She set the ball on her belly and watched it move up and down with each breath. Deep breathing usually helped relieve her anxiousness… but what she really needed right now was to talk to Jenna.
She made a mental note to tell Jenna about her special talent in helping other people figure out life stuff. She was certain whatever Jenna decided to do in the future, her mom would support her.
She used to think being left behind was the worst part of her parents’ being cultural anthropologists, but taking her away from Vancouver, her friends, and the chance to go to Emily Carr’s Art program was worse.
MY LIFE SUCKS! she wrote in thick black letters over her ‘TO DO’ and ‘TO MAKE’ lists.
She punched out another message to Jenna.
Where are you? I need to talk. ASAP!
She dropped the phone and put her stress-release ball back in motion. She thought about the grandmothers Grandpa Leo said made these reed balls so their grandkids had something to play with or throw at water buffalo when they got too close to their crops or ball game.
She didn’t have to worry about water buffalo, but she worried about most everything else. She worried something would happen to her parents when they were away. Her mom said that was silly, but GG’s dad died on assignment during a war. It could happen to them too.
She worried Grandpa Leo would die before she got to see him. She was so upset she threw up on her mom’s shoes on their flight to Peru and then didn’t want to go see him in the hospital. She loved him so much and now he was gone, along with the plans they’d made to go on a real archaeological dig and travel to Paris when she graduated from high school.
You shouldn’t have left grandpa. I wasn’t ready. Now, I’m moving to Peru, and you won’t even be there.
She was mulling over what a terrible idea it was to move to Peru when her phone pinged. She dropped the ball and grabbed it.
What’s up? Jenna’s text read.
They got a posting there.
Can’t you stay?
My dad wants to move back cause GG’s alone now.
That sucks! What about Kevin?
Jenna! What about me?
I know. And what about our plans?
Jenna THEY ARE TAKING ME AWAY!
I don’t know what to say. Did you tell Kevin?
I’m telling you!
What can you do?
Nothing. I’m 13. I can’t live on my own.
You could come live with me. My mom would let you.
And my mom? She would never let that happen.
Want me to come over?
You know she’ll say no.
Say we have to finish something.
We can work on our bathing suits! I can come over early tomorrow.
Maybe your dad will make us French toast.
I gotta go. My mom’s standing here staring at me.
Text me back with a time to come over.
Maddie rolled herself up in her sheet. She was going to be the new kid. The weird one, like Mika when she moved to Vancouver from Osaka. She shuddered, remembering the many ways and times she and Jenna had teased Mika about the food she ate, and they laughed at her when she bowed to the teacher. And what about Kevin?
A knock interrupted her worries.
“Can I come in?”
“Then who’s speaking to me?” her dad asked, opening the door.
He nudged the Maddie roll over to make room for him to sit on her bed.
“Why do we have to move?”, she asked from inside her protective wrap.
“Lots of reasons cherie. For the work, and GG needs us now. And I want you to experience Peru and know your culture.”
“I already know it. We’ve been there lots of times.”
“Visiting isn’t the same as living someplace. I thought you’d be super excited about living in a house. No more waiting for elevators while our ice cream cake melts, and GG is going to share her studio with you.”
Maddie pulled back her protective wrap to reveal her face and shoulders. “Why did you pick such a weird career?”
“Cultural Anthropology is actually a cool career. You can travel around the world, visit urban and rural communities, learn about other people’s traditions, their fashion and food preferences – even make good friends.”
Maddie pushed the sheet lower so she could snuggle up beside him. “But you always leave me.”
“That’s why moving to Peru makes sense.
There’s lots of research and teaching opportunities in South America.
Our first post is in the hills of the Sacred Valley. First school break you have, mom and I can meet you and GG in Cusco. We can tour around there, see that mural GG painted in the tourist center, and visit some Inca sites. If the weather is good, we’ll take the train to Macchu Pichu and visit that textile factory in Ollantaytambo.
“Grandpa promised to take me to the museum there. I want to see the Inca ceramics he uncovered and the gold, jade, and silver jewelry.
He wrapped his arm around her. “Its amazing all the lost treasures and history he and his team uncovered in Peru and around the world. The best I can do now is show you what he showed me.”
“Why doesn’t GG move here? You and mom could go do your research whenever you wanted. She’d help me with my art and fashion – not try to stop me.”
“Not much work for cultural anthropologists here, and besides, I’m ready to go back home.”
“But it’s not my home. I don’t fit in.”
“Why would you say that? You’re Peruvian too.”
“I never met a Peruvian with red hair and green eyes. You know that boy who kept bugging me at Grandpa’s funeral,” she said, putting her face into her hands, “he said I looked like a lizard – the kind you keep in a zoo!”
He cupped her face in his hands. “You, my cherie, are a Scarlett Peacock butterfly. Have you seen one?”
“In Grandpa’s rose garden.”
“So, you know it’s not one color, it’s many – red, white and brown – each color as bright and beautiful as the other. You will always be Canadian, Irish, and Peruvian – no matter where you live or go. I bet that boy thought you were amazing; he just didn’t know how to say it.”
“Is moving to Peru going to make mom happy?”
“I hope so.”
“I heard her talking to Irish Gran yesterday. She sounded angry.”
“They’ve got stuff to sort out.”
“Her mom wants her to come to Ireland.”
“I’m sure she’d like that, but she’d settle for a visit.”
“Why don’t we visit her?”
“Your mom’s not ready.”
“I wasn’t ready for grandpa’s funeral. We still went.”
“The timings not good.”
“Something bad happened to mom in Dublin didn’t it?”
“Yes. Her best friend, Annie … she died in a fire. It traumatized your mom. She told me she had to get away from the city from her life as it was. So, she left and started a new life… that’s when she met a tall, handsome, and charming Peruvian man at McGill.”
Maddie shoved him with her shoulder. “You can’t just leave your life.”
“You can choose to.”
“I’m not choosing to leave. You’re taking me away.”
He tousled her hair. “It’ll be a great adventure. Your mom is right! Your hair has gone wild.”
“What should I say to mom about Annie and the fire?”
“Let’s leave it for tonight. Tonight is to about you, we’ll make time to talk about your mom’s history another time.”
“Do you think the cake melted?”
“Let’s go see.”
Chapter 4: Letting Go
Jenna grabbed Maddie’s umbrella from Mika. “You’re getting all the good stuff. This should go to me, I helped paint the stars.”
Maddie wrapped her hand around the umbrella’s middle. “I’ll need this. It rains a lot in Lima too.”
“Try these,” she said, passing Jenna a pair of shorts she refashioned with red velvet “X’s” and purple “O’s” for PRIDE Day.
“Comes with this ‘sweeTARTS’ belt,” said Maddie, rocking it in front of her.
Jenna reached for the belt. “How did you make this?” she asked, giving it a stretch.
“Covered my Dora the Explorer belt with the candy wrappers then sprayed it with fabric glaze. Et voila! It’s kind of small, but I like how it bunches the shorts at my waist.”
“What waist?” asked Jenna, wiggling into the shorts.
“They’re too tight!” said Mika. “And too short! You can’t wear those.”
“Can too,” said Jenna, lying on the bed, breathing in deep so she could hook-up the belt.
Maddie laughed at Jenna’s pinched red face. “Can you breathe, or get up?”
“Blast! Nothing fits me!” Jenna rolled off the bed so she could stand up.
“Here. Take my mitts and toque.”
She slipped on the red felt mitts Maddie had covered with crystal beads. The summer sun jumped off the crystals, casting a rainbow of colors around and between them. “Doesn’t it get cold there?”
“Yeah, but they’re too Canadian for Peru.”
“I’m going to be a fashion flunky without you!” said Jenna, trying to squeeze her foot into a beaded mukluk.
Maddie plucked the mukluk off Jenna’s foot. She wasn’t willing to part with anything her Grandpa had given her. “You’ll figure it out.”
“You’re the one who figures it out. I model it!” said Jenna, dropping her leg down on top of Mika.
“Hey! You and your leg are too big for this room,” Mika complained.
“I’m leaving Maddily Modified in Vancouver.”
“What! You can’t leave yourself behind,” said Mika. “I didn’t stop being Japanese just because we moved to Canada.”
“My mom says if I’m going to fit in, I need to be more regular.”
“But you’re not regular,” said Mika. “You’re… you!”
“Was me. Now I’ll be the weird kid. The one that eats lunch by herself and can’t figure out what the other kids are talking or laughing about,” she said, plucking the other mukluk from Mika to pack in with her Tintin Adventure book set.
“I love your weird you,” said Jenna, pulling her onto the bed.
Mika joined them. “Me too.”
“Hey girls!” her dad said, peeking into the room. “What’s going on in here?”
“Maddie’s leaving,” Jenna sighed. “We’ll never see her again.”
“What do you mean? You’re on your screens all the time.”
“It’s not the same. We can’t hug her… or try on each other’s clothes,” said Jenna, passing Maddie her vibrating phone.
“It’s the guys. They’re at the bus stop,” Maddie said, feeling glad and glum to be breaking up the packing party.
“You okay with me taking down your bed while you’re out?”
“Does it matter what I want?”
“I thought the three of you were sleeping here tonight. You’ll need all the floor space.”
“Okay,” she said, picking up her backpack. “But don’t move any of my stuff. I’ll finish packing when we get back.”
“Eight o’clock – at the front gates,” he said to their backs. “Text me if anything changes … and not too much junk food.”
They claimed two rows in the back of the bus. Maddie sat between Kevin and Jenna. Mika and Kevin’s cousin hung over the seat in front of them. Together they had clipped thirty-five ride tickets out of the Westender paper. When they pooled their funds, they had fifty-two dollars to spend.
Maddie watched and listened to them like she was an observer, watching a television screen. She was going to miss them. HECK, I’m going to miss myself, she thought, shaking off the out-of-focus reality she was experiencing.
“Change of plans,” she said, stepping over Jenna to scan the bus map above the back door. “We’re going to Chinatown. Three stops till Pender Street.”
“We can’t do that!” said Mika.
“Can do! Will do! It’s my last day here. I want some dim sum.”
“Let’s do it!” said Jenna, joining her in the aisle.
“What about your dad? He’s picking us up at Playland at eight!” said Mika, squeezing the metal bar in front of her.
“Come on Mika. Last time, last chance.”
Her parents might take her away, but so long as she was still here, she would be Maddie Leon.
They sat around a table littered with chopsticks, dirty dishes, balled up napkins, and bamboo steamers, making plans for ‘next’.
“Call your dad,” said Mika. “You have to tell him where you are.”
“Why? This was supposed to be our freedom summer – remember – come and go as we like. We’ll be home by eight. Who’s ready for Gastown?”
“Ya! Gastown!” said Jenna.
They cut through T&T and bought a mixed box of Japanese mango ice cream bonbons. Crossing Hastings Street, she was surrounded by familiar and favourite places. Rice, the coolest Japanese restaurant in the city, Rosebuds, the best consignment store, and Dressew, a must shop for dedicated reFashionists. She was leaving all of this too.
“What’s wrong?” Jenna asked.
“I keep thinking about tomorrow.”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad. We can screen time and my mom said she’ll get me a job at Hamburger Mary’s when I’m fourteen. I can wash dishes and they’ll let me serve when I turn fifteen. Then I can really save. By the time I graduate, I’ll have enough money to come to Peru.”
Maddie turned to her friend. She was sure they would be forever friends like GG and Tata M. Those two had been apart since university, but they were family – sisters. Maddie was named after her, and her grandson Victor Rene, after her dad. That sort of made them cousins. Her only cousin, a virtual one.
She hugged and held onto Jenna, ignoring the grumbling pedestrian who complained about them crowding the sidewalk. Grumble all you want, she thought. You don’t know what’s going on with me.
“Hey you two! Hurry up!” Kevin called back. “Old Steamer’s going to blow.”
Arm in arm, Maddie double stepped to keep up with Jenna’s long stride.
They took a ton of selfies in front of the Steam Clock and more, as they walked around the cobblestone lanes, dancing in front of the musicians, applauding the buskers, and eating warm caramel corn.
They stopped at Jules French Bistro and shared two orders of frites while sitting on the sidewalk patio watching tourists, locals, and street people interact and, or ignore one another. Every fifteen minutes, the steam clock blew, reminding Maddie her time was almost up.
She called her dad at seven to say they’d catch the bus home and promised to be home by eight.
That night Maddie lay between her two best friends experiencing a depth of loneliness she didn’t know you could feel when other people were with you. She focused on her breathing. Long, slow deep breaths, over and over, until only one thought remained, their pinky promise to go to university together.
Mika wanted to go to UBC or SFU. She figured they could go to her place for dinner a few times a week to keep their food costs low. Maddie and Jenna voted for Paris or Ho Chi Minh City. Maddie wanted to live some place where you could speak French and wear fashionable clothes every day.
Neither the sirens nor the party noises across the laneway could distract her from her sorrow. She watched as the rising sun nudged the night away and thought about all the things that could and would go wrong for her in Peru.
Chapter 5: Goodbye Vancouver
Maddie sat in her empty room, sketching wilted daisies in her journal. She heard the ‘wheels of goodbye’ approach as her dad pulled their travel bags down the hall.
“Taxi in 20,” he said, passing her door. “You can start taking our suitcases to the lobby.”
Her phone vibrated in her back pocket as she crammed her journal into the overstuffed travel case. Waiting to leave was proving to be worse than preparing to go. Every text and phone call felt like pulling at a band-aid not ready to come off.
She took a photo of the wall art she’d drawn when at seven. She was certain her parents would love it, they always oohed and awed over GG’s mural work. Her mother was not impressed, she even confiscated her markers, crayons, and paints and didn’t get them back until they left on their next assignment.
“Maddison Marie Leon!”
Her mom’s voice chased her remembering away.
“The cases! They and you are supposed to be in the lobby.”
Maddie hoisted on her backpack and emitted a groan that sounded more like a wounded animal, rather than a girl moving on.
Four big black bags covered with airport and landmark stickers from around the world blocked her exit. She nudged them aside with her feet and hips and pulled her suitcases into the hallway. Waiting for the elevator, her dad arrived with two more bags.
“These too. I’ll take a final walk through, then we’ll be down.
You okay kiddo?”
Maddie stared at her shoes, rolled her ankles and stretched her toes, grateful to feel something other than the ache in her belly and heart.
“Maddie, I know it’s hard to leave, but it’ll get better. You need to give it some time.”
“Will we ever come back?”
“I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The elevator bell rang, and the doors opened. She dragged two cases inside knowing ‘we’ll see’ meant no or probably not.
“Let the cabbie in,” he said, hauling in the other bags. “Have him-or her-load everything. I requested a van.
I hope we get a van.” Maddie heard him say as the doors closed.
The weight of departure grew as she descended. By the ninth floor she knew she would cry. At seven, she was crying.
Waiting for the cabbie, Maddie listened to their neighbour Robert play the piano in the community room. Her mom had cried when he sang ‘Goodbye Friend’ at their going away party. Her mom was hard to understand. She could cry, but thought Maddie was too old for tears. She could disagree with her mom, but Maddie wasn’t to disagree with her. She could live her life but didn’t want Maddie to live hers.
Squished between her parents, they crossed the Burrard Bridge. Sunset Beach was quiet. Too cloudy for a beach day. She counted nine tankers in the Bay and wondered if she would ever see them or the little blue tugboats shuffling between drop off and pickup docks.
Her spirit sunk lower as they drove up Granville Street. They passed Nick’s the best place for spaghetti and ribs. The Big Scoop was set to re-open today. There would be no more banana splits on Neapolitan ice cream for her. The last shop on Upper Granville was Meinhardt’s. The only place, to get her birthday cake. She wondered if she would ever taste a red velvet cake as good as the one’s they made again.
Leaving Vancouver felt a lot like being at grandpa’s funeral – real and not real. She tipped back her head to keep the tears in her eyes and rubbed her stomach to calm the unhappy butterflies.
With every click of the fare meter, the airport got closer, and the clouds darker.
“Will the real Maddie be joining us today?” her mom asked.
“Did you know you can get arrested for kidnapping your own kid?”
“Most kids would love an adventure like this,” her mom said, patting her leg like she was a pet.
“I’m not most kids. I’m Maddie.”
Her dad wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. Heavy raindrops fell as they ramped onto the Richmond overpass.
“Dad! I closed my window! The Stanley Park Fairies. They’re homeless!”
He squeezed her a little tighter. “It’s been some time since you mentioned them. I thought they got packed off with those stuffies of yours. Don’t you worry,” he said, kissing her head, “every Westender knows to keep a window open so they can sail in on their maple leaf parachute and rest a while.”
The cabbie parked in front of the international departure doors. She stood on the sidewalk breathing in the ocean air and letting the rain fall on her face. Go ahead Vancouver. Cry for me.
Her head hung low as she pushed the stacked luggage cart inside and towards the check-in counter. As comfortable as she was with preparing for a trip … flying stressed her. She didn’t like tight places or turbulence. She shuddered, remembering the last time they flew to Lima.
“Cold?” her dad asked, lending a hand to help her take off her rain jacket.
“I miss Grandpa.”
Maddie slipped her hand into his. “I wish things didn’t change.”
“Do you? If things didn’t change, you’d be seven or two, or not even born. Change is everywhere, all the time, and all around. You just don’t notice it if it’s going your way. Let’s give this change a chance,” he said with a smile, then turned to the attendant who scanned their boarding passes and took their bags.
In the boarding lounge, Maddie found a secluded corner and pulled out her phone.
‘Friends forever,’ Kevin’s text read.
‘Virtual Companion – ready and waiting,’ read Jenna’s text followed by a string of dancing and twirling emojis.
‘Goodbye sucks,’ Mika wrote. Maddie smiled at the thought of Mika being so expressive.
With nothing to say, she put her phone away and turned her attention to the people in the boarding area.
She had spent a lot of time at airports, train stations, and bus depots waiting for her parents and grandparents to come or go. She and grandpa used to play, ‘What’s Your Story?’ He was best at imagining where someone was coming from and going because he had been to many countries in the world. She was best at ensuring they had the right clothes to wear once they arrived at their destination.
She watched a pesky boy jammed between two rows of chairs pull at a teen girl’s hair. Must be his sister. Who else would bug you like that? She’d given up wishing for a brother or sister – who needed someone to bug you like that. Just then, the girl swatted him with her magazine.
ELLE! Maddie’s favorite fashion magazine because it was available in French and English. It was in ELLE she first read about eco-fashion and the harm fast fashion has on the environment. She wondered if she would be able to buy ELLE in Lima, and if it would be in English or just Spanish.
Without grandpa, she was left to create this girl’s story on her own. Seeing she was at the same gate as Maddie she was headed to Toronto. Would that be her final destination or would she transfer for some fashion hub like Paris, London, or even Tokyo. Paris used to be her destination choice for almost every adventure story. But with Grandpa gone and her fashion staying in Vancouver – she needed a new city and new ideas to dream about.
A boarding announcement interrupted her. Standing in the line staring at the north shore mountains she felt her butterflies swoop then loop. They and she were headed south, so far south, summer was winter, and no one would believe a red-haired, green-eyed, freckled face girl from Canada could be even one part Peruvian.
Settled into seat 12E, she plugged in her play-list titled BREATHE, then flipped through the Butterflies of the World coloring book she bought at the airport bookstore. She planned to practice the relaxation techniques Mr. James taught them for test taking to chill and stay calm throughout the flight.
She closed her eyes, chewed some gum so her ears didn’t get plugged, and focused on her breath as the plane ran like a jack rabbit down the runway, then lifted over the ocean. In the air she concentrated on her music and coloring, thinking she might even frame and hang this butterfly in her new bedroom.
Absorbed in her coloring she was startled when the flight attendant’s palm waved in front of her.
“Something to eat?”
“Sure,” she said pulling one bud out of an ear. “Noodle Box please.”
“Something to drink?”
She glanced over at her parents. They were totally involved in conversation with each other.
“Coke please,” she answered, knowing what would follow. Grandpa always laughed at her big burps and would offer one of his, declaring her free from trouble because two or more burps, wasn’t rude… it was a tune.
The attendant set a tin of Coke with a glass of ice and straw on her tray.
“I’ll bring your noodles on my way back.”
Ignoring the glass and straw, she took a big drink of Coke. As expected, an enormous burp erupted.
No doubt about it—she was on her own.
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– reposted May, 2022