The trouble is that I’m all alone in this freezer of a guest room while Jordan’s sleeping on the other side of the wall. This whole idea to meet his family was his. Not only do I have to be alone, but I can’t even feel my feet. In Hawaii, we don’t use socks or slippers. No one warned me that I’d be staying in the Arctic.
I hear doors closing and footsteps downstairs. I roll out of bed and throw a sweatshirt over my PJs, open my door, and inch down the creaky wooden stairs. Please Jordan, be down here.
An old lady in a long bathrobe and a fur hat with ear flaps is at the other end of the room reaching for the drapery cord.
There's this awesome smell down here, like sweet cedar. I breathe in real deep; god it's nice. Honestly, the place would be cozy if it wasn't so freaking cold. The walls are paneled with honey-colored wood and over near the kitchen, a pretty ceramic wood-burner is in the corner; it's like a picture in a little kid's storybook. . And the sofa! so comfy looking; I love the covering, the blue and white stripes, really nice like it's just begging to catch me between its arms.
"Good morning," I say and before I have a chance to introduce myself, the draperies zing across the window. I cover my mouth with both hands.
A white blanket covers everything; piled up on the birdbath, outlining the bare tree limbs, completely hiding the picnic table, a ledge of snow sticks out over the table edges like a giant turtle shell.
“Would you look at that,” she says, “it snowed last night.” Her tone's so meh, like it isn’t the most startling and gorgeous scene ever.
“Wowww,” I say. “It’s amazing. I've never seen real snow before.”
We stand there gawking at the wonderland. A really pretty chiming bing-bong starts going behind me. Seven times. When it stops, the room’s totally quiet.
The lady starts whispering. “Ayuh, it’s pretty. You grow’n up in the tropics, it's no wondah. I have nevah set eyes on a real palm tree eithah. Not that I see that as a problem mind you. Nevah been on a plane. If the good lawd wanted me to be with the palm trees, he would’ve planted me they'ah.”
I start chuckling, picturing some big old bearded man going along the coastline planting little people-saplings next to the palm trees. She's more like a baobab tree with a wide trunk and small topper.
“What’s funny?” she asks kind of serious.
Oh man. Already making a bad impression, I try harder. “Palm trees are nothing compared to this. It’s like magic.”
“Makes everythin’ clean lookin’. Fah a while. Eventually, it melts and it’s all drippin’ and mud. You-ah Johdan’s friend, Lankia. I’m his grandmothah, in case you wondered.”
“It’s Lanakila. I’m so glad to meet you,” keeping my voice perky, it seems right that we should hug but as I start toward her, she stands stock still with her arms folded across her front. “What should I call you?” I whisper.
“You can call me Mrs. Dickerson or Grandma Dickerson I suppose.”
“Okay then, Grandma Dickerson, very nice to meet you.” My feet are numb standing on that bare floor, so I step onto the braided rug and sit on a low wooden stool and pull my sweatshirt over my legs and feet.
"Now, how’s about you put on youh duds and bring in some of that firewood. What say?”
Her accent is straight out of the Olive Kitteridge series. In Hawaiian, there are only twelve letters, so words are super long, but we speak with sort of sing-song-ee, up and down, like reggae music. This place is like a foreign country.
“Um, sure, in just a minute. I wonder if Jordan's up. I think I hear some noise,” I say, dying for him to come down.
Jordan never had to go through this with my side. My family is just my mother, who is also my best friend. She and I met Jordan when he came to the University office where she works. Mama thinks Jordan is the be-all and end-all of “young men” as she calls them, even though Jordan grew up in Maine. He's tall and fair like a Scot, opposite of my olive skin and black hair. Mom’s crazy about Jordan. He’s funny and polite and smart and good to me, everything she loves.
Grandma Dickerson is still watching the snow. “Oh, he’s likely sleepin’ late, seein’ how it’s his first time home in a while and bein’ up all day yesterday.”
“Not to mention the time difference. Five hours,” I say. “The trip was definitely grueling. I’ve never been to the mainland, let alone the east coast.”
“Well, you-ah here now, so just go ahead and get those boots on. Bring in some wood, now will you?”
“If you don’t mind, I need to use the bathroom, sorry,” I mutter.
Grandma Dickerson turns from the window with her arms folded across her front. She frowns and shakes her head a little, mumbles something I can't make out, and starts for the kitchen. If I had been ten, I might have done as she asked. But I'm twenty years old. Mom would never treat a guest this way. At home, guests were special and waited on, catered to. She’d be like, “You want some French toast, I’ll make it for you. You like a nice fire? I’ll go out and cut down a tree for you.”
The house is still silent but I criss-cross my feet and stand up, leaving her there, I dart upstairs to the bathroom, flush the toilet, and tiptoe to Jordan’s bedroom door which is still closed tight. It’s their house, I don’t want to ruffle the water, but tap at his room anyway, and just as my hand reaches the doorknob, a sound comes from behind me. There she is, the grandmother creeping up to check on my whereabouts. I turn toward my own room. “Um, I’ll be down in a little,” I whisper and slink back to my bed.
The old window leaks enough air to move the curtains. I’ve never been so cold in my life. A little plastic electric heater rotates with its fan doing a low roar, sending out hot air in the minuscule spot just big enough to heat up my feet. When the feeling comes back, I jump from the bare wood floor to the cold bed and wiggle down in, throw the pillow over my face and scream Jordan's name into it. It's hard to relax, I know Grandma Dickerson's waiting. I just need another minute of this warm bed. In spite of myself, I fall asleep.
Voices are in the hall; it's Jordan and a woman talking. He’s up! I'm saved. The room is warmer and I'm so happy that I feel almost normal again, not so alone and foreign. I throw back the quilts and jump up, open the door to find Jordan and his mom standing there. No doubt it's her. She looks just like him with dimples and a round face.
“Well, there she is,” Jordan says but doesn't reach for me. He acts like I'm his sister, not the adoring boyfriend I'm used to. He's wearing a grandpa-bathrobe, flannel plaid that reminds me of an old movie where the dad has a pipe and a newspaper under his arm, and some long-eared dog at his feet.
“Mom, this is Lanakila. Lana, this is my mom,” he says. The three of us stand there squashed in the dark narrow hallway.
“Nice to meet ya’,” she says, real flat like she isn't really happy to meet me at all. But then she says, “Jordan didn’t tell me you were such a beauty.” She smiles that same wide grin like her son. Did you get any sleep?”
“I’m a bit off schedule from the flight and time change, but I’ll adjust I’m sure.”
“Uh huh. Somethin’ to considah before you go makin’ plans with Jordan. I can’t see you two flying back and fawth too often.”
Jordan says, “Let's eat and talk about our day over breakfast. Mom says Grandma’s making some cream-of-rice cereal and hot chocolate.”
Oh, that sounds disgusting. In Hawaii, it's fresh fruit and eggs from our coop most mornings. Jordan shoots a sideways look that says, just go with it. I give a nod, like oh, okay.
“Thank you so much for having me. Your home is sweet, so quaint, like nothing I’ve ever seen. Really, it could be a movie set. I can imagine Katherine Hepburn coming through the door. Grandma Dickerson asked me to bring in firewood earlier. We were up before the sun.”
Mrs. Dickerson leads the way downstairs. “And did you?”
“Bring in wood?” I ask. Oh boy, I'm busted.
She turns around, eyebrows up, and nods as if I'm an imbecile.
“Um, actually I didn’t. I had to use the bathroom and wanted to see if Jordan was up yet. He wasn’t, so I went back to bed.”
Grandma Dickerson hollers from the kitchen, “Yes, and I’ve been waiting for someone to get down here and do it. You think I can go out on that ice? Pretty soon, this house will be a refrigerator if we don’t get some firewood in that stove.”
I think of Mama, of the Maui sun, the way the rainbows show through the mist after a rain, the mountains, and canyons with clouds hanging in the crevices. This trip was not my idea. I should not have come.
“Grandma, Grandma, don’t be upset,” Jordan calls as we round the last step. “I’ll get it, I’ll get it. I’m in my coat and sticking my stocking feet in the boots right now. Just an armload till after we eat. That’ll get us through till I get dressed.”
“Lanakila, come on ovah heah and sit down. This hot cereal’s ready.” Grandma Dickerson set a pot over a hot-pad on the table and stuck a big spoon in it. “Heah you ah, help yourself. Lanakila, you want hot chocolate? There’s coffee too.”
Two places side by side at the table. I take one, hoping Jordan will sit next to me. “Coffee sounds lovely. No cereal for me though. I’ll just have the coffee, thanks,” I say.
Jordan comes in carrying a pile of snowy logs and stamps the snow off of his boots inside the backdoor. His robe hangs below the ski jacket, looking so…so…rural. It feels like I"m going to lose it, he looks so funny so I look away, trying to be in control. Not that I’d ever had to be controlled with Jordan before. I'm discovering a side of him I’ve never seen. The Jordan I've known is Mr. Charming, hot-stuff, speed demon on the beach, beer drinking partier, surfer dude. An only child. A mama’s boy, prince of the homestead. The man of the house since his father passed away years ago.
He wipes and wipes his boots on the welcome mat and real careful he opens the oven door and puts in the logs one at a time, takes off the charred leather gloves and his coat.
He says, “Lana, go ahead, don’t wait for me. You need anything? Mother? Grandma? Anyone need anything before I sit? Lana, don’t you want some food? I can make cinnamon toast for you.” He seems I don't know, happy and relaxed I guess is the best way to describe it. Grandma Dickerson mishandles a spoon and it clatters on the floor. Jordan bends down to get it. "Good lord, Lanakila, look at your feet," he puts his hand on my shoulder. "They're almost blue!"
"Well, deah why didn't you say somethin'? I have lots of warm foot coverins," his mother says. She hurries to a cabinet near the sofa and comes back with three sets of bulky socks. "Heah you ah, just take any one you want."
I pick the magenta, my favorite color and pull them on. Ah, relief. "Oh, thank you so much."
"Sure, you should have said you were cold. Tell me next time, will you?" Mrs. D said.
The sun was fully up now, making diamonds in the snow and showed dust motes through the kitchen window. My shoulders relax and finally I can breathe.
“Cinnamon toast? Oh, Jordy, I don’t even know what that is.”
“Ah, but my dear, you will love it. Just give me a few minutes.”
My dear? I look sideways at him.
Mrs. D chuckles, “Well, aren’t you sweet, Jordan. That’s very kind of you. It appears you ah a better host than I am.” She has this embarrassed sound in her voice. The wet wood had caught and hisses in the stove. I sip at the strong coffee and ask if they had creamer.
“Creamah?,” Grandma Dickerson asks. “What’s creamah?”
“Oh, Gramma, stop. She’s just messin’ with you, Lana. I’ll get it. But it’s not real cream like we drink back home. Just one percent milk.”
“Back home? Back home?” Mrs. D says. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you go off to Hawaii. You’ve been away two yeahs and now it’s home? I knew once you left heah, that’d be it. You’d nevah move back. Oh, Jordan.” She teared up.
“Mother. I didn’t mean home like home. It’s not home there. This, this right here,” he tapped the table, “this is my home. My home is here because you and gramma are here. My home is where ever you are. I only meant home in the sense that…”
“Jordan, nevah mind. It’s just that I miss you is all. Let me ask you somethin’ straight out.”
Uh, oh. Here it comes. Are you sleeping together? I had a feeling this would happen if I came here. They don't like me. A week isn't long enough to know a person. Told you so.
“What happens when you and Lanakila have a child? Am I ever going to see my grandbaby other than in pictures?”
I didn't see that one coming. I’m suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. We’ve gone from zero to sixty in under a minute. I had to sleep in the room next to him last night. And now this?
“Mother, it’s okay. I know you like to think ahead. But no one is having a baby. We aren’t even talking about marriage.”
Now I’m feeling rejected. It’s true we aren’t but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to.
“Here’s your taste of heaven,” Jordan says and puts a plate in front of me with two pieces of bread covered with toasted butter and caramelized cinnamon sugar. Eight squares laid out in a pinwheel shape.
“Aww, sweetheart, thank you,” I say. He does stuff like this at home too.
“Hurry up and take a bite while it’s hot, that’s when it’s best,” he says sounding like a little boy.
The crunchy sugar and warm butter on my tongue is truly a piece of heaven. The sweet cedar fragrance, the pure white silent scene through the window, the warmth in this cozy room, is as different from anything I’d ever had and I love it. Jordan sits next to me and puts his arm around me.
“Hey, Lanakila. Will you marry me?”
“Oh, Jordy,” I say, totally shocked. “But…”
He beams that wide smile I know so well. His mother and grandmother, at the same time, say, “But what?”
“But what about the distance? What about never flying?”
“Ah, that was just to throw you off,” his grandmother harumphs. “We figured Jordan would propose. Didn’t know it’d be right first thing in the mornin’ but that’s okay. Don’t think I could’ve stood the suspense for long.”
They both start towards me, I get up and we all hug. They're still a little stiff, not like my Mom. But maybe Mainers are stiff from the cold. “Oh, what a good egg you ah,” Mrs. D says. “Jordan told us all about you. Said you’re the best girl he’s evah known. Said he’d come back twice a yeah and we’d meet ovah Zoom in between, once or twice a month. Heck, that’s more’n we see him now.”
“Mrs. D, you’re a tricky one aren’t you?” I laugh, sort of feeling my way ahead.
“Oh no, no more of that missus stuff. You call me whatever you like. Matilda is my name, Tilly to some. Call me Tilly if you want. And do you have a living grandma?”
“No, Tilly, my grandmothers have passed.”
“If you want, you can just call me Gramma,” Grandma Dickerson says.
That was twelve years ago. I’m still marveling at the new snowfall out Tilly’s front window. It’s Christmas morning and I've remembered to bring my thick socks from Hawaii. Jordan, Tilly, and our two girls are still asleep upstairs. I’m snapping cleats onto my boots. Gramma is at the table waiting for me to bring in a few logs. I open the door, take in a deep breath and carefully step out onto the ice.