Every morning began with the sound of clashing pots coming from the overloaded kitchen cabinet and a cry from Teresa that was heard by everyone on their street.
“Valería, ayudame por favor! Valería! Valería, ahora!” her mother called out in a strained voice.
Valería tossed and turned in her bed, eventually kicking her blanket out from under her and tossing her pillow on the ground. She then stretched her arms out, like they were ready to pick oranges from her grandmother’s tree. Once she sat up, she leaned over to look out the window when a white van struggled to drive up the driveway. The side of it said, “Myers Construction”, and out came an older man dressed in jeans and a gray shirt. Valería squinted at the younger man who exited from the passenger side, wiping sweat from his face. However her eyes widened when they suddenly brought out tools, causing her to throw on her fleece bathrobe and rush down.
The sound of heavy boots coming through the doorway hastened her pace down the stairs, as she ran her fingers along the wooden railing, remembering how she would trail behind her abuela while playing follow-the-leader. This house was her childhood- it was her abuela.
She halted at the bottom of the staircase upon hearing the exchange between the two males and her parents through the thin walls; “remodeling”, “accent wall”, “molding” and more heartbreaking terms were thrown back and forth. She shuffled back towards her bedroom, knowing that if she were to join the conversation, tears would rush out.
Once she splashed water on her face- pretending that what she heard wasn’t real-, dressed up, and braided her hair, Valería went to eat breakfast. To her dismay, the younger man was there, loudly chewing on an apple. She cleared her throat, before saying, “Excuse me”.
“Oh,” he coughed out, choking on the apple bits. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t know there was anyone else in here.”
Valería ignored him and instead focused on spreading cream cheese on toast.
“Um, I’m Liam Myers.”
She dropped the knife in the sink, the sound causing Liam to shift. “Shouldn’t you be working?”
“I’m really just helping my dad, not exactly working. He’s discussing blueprints with your parents outside, so I came in here.”
The awkward silence between the two was broken, when Mr. Myers entered, laughing alongside Valería’s parents.
“Liam, stop eating all of their food, would you?” he chuckled heartily, punching his son’s shoulder.
“Please take as much as you want,” Teresa interjected. Valería continued to eat her toast, slowly turning her back towards the others. “Hija,” she whispered. “stop being dramatic.”
“¿Puedo hablar consigo?” Valería asked very quickly, in fear that Liam might know some Spanish. He was clueless, which wasn’t a surprise to her.
“Thank you for joining us finally, hija,” Teresa groaned, as her daughter pulled her away to the bathroom.
Valería rolled her eyes. “Why are we changing Abuela’s house?” she demanded.
Teresa sighed and explained slowly. “Your Papa just got a raise, and you know we’ve been wanting to remodel-”
“‘We?’ No, Mama. Just you.”
“Don’t play this game with me. Abuela’s house was built decades ago, it’s time for some change, no?”
“But I grew up here- you grew up here! How you just change everything?!” Valería felt herself screaming, so she immediately quieted down.
“Mija, this house is falling apart, can’t you see? I want to be able to cook in my kitchen without having to look up at the the cracks in the ceiling, or walk around without constantly feeling like something is going to break. Okay? Let’s go back out, you can’t just pull me to the bathroom like that when we have guests,” she chuckled, dragging Valería like a stubborn puppy.
When they came back to the kitchen, Valería heard Mr. Myers say, “We can start renovations today, if you would like that, and work until the afternoon.”
“That sounds very good, thank you,” her father said, shaking Mr. Myers’ hand.
“You’re very welcome, sir. In that case, can you run home and get my ladder and power drills, Liam?” he asked.
“Got it, Dad.” Liam quickly replied, ready to go outside, when his dad stopped him.
“You might want some help,” he suggested.
“Valería!” her father called. “Can you go, so we can make some final decisions? Por favor.”
“Yeah, mija. Make a friend,” her mother whispered, causing Valería to roll her eyes again.
She was about to scoff, when she noticed all eyes were on her. “Okay, fine,” she complied. She stomped through the adults and out of the door, as Liam followed.
She stopped in front of the truck and crossed her arms, squinting at Liam ahead, who was trying to close the front door.
“Uh, it won’t-”
“Close?” she finished for him. “Yeah, it’s been like that for years. You have to put in a certain amount of force. It takes practice, you know.” She walked over and closed it with ease, but she let her hand linger on the faded doorknob that her grandmother once painted gold. Her eyes moved up the rusted door frame, as they travelled along the worn down stone walls and stopped at the chipped address plaque. The numbers “265” were chipping away with only certain parts of the actual numbers remaining, like a malfunctioning LED sign.
Liam then ran his fingers over the wall. “I could easily fix this, if you want.”
“No, I would not want that.” she said, turning away from him and towards the truck.
“But you can’t even read the numbers anymore, so it’s kind of useless.” he admitted, trying to offer some help. “I would also fix this portico. A lot of houses nowadays have a flat roof instead of…this.” He gestured cautiously to the white wood splinters sticking out of the side facing them. Valería held her cold expression, but she turned to see where Liam pointed. “It would look really cool. Oh, and that would allow for a nice contrast in the walls. You could change the stone to a sleek wood pattern.”
As Liam continued on about her house, she hated that every change he suggested became a reality. Suddenly, the portico built by her grandfather was torn down to become a smooth black flat roofed top. Blue tarps fell from the sky and slowly covered every inch of the ramshackle house. Dust from the construction site contaminated the air and the garden her grandmother took great care of. Then, she saw Liam emerge from the destroyed home and tower over the bits of broken pieces, like a dictator, as sounds of drilling and engines roaring filled her ears.
“Just stop!” she shouted, lowering her head to face the cobblestones. “You don’t understand at all. This house means something to me. It’s not just a building, it’s a home. A home that was built by my abuelos, and it reminds me of them and my childhood, so maybe to you chipped paint is a bad thing, but to me it’s beautiful.”
“Sorry,” he said shyly. “I guess I don’t exactly understand.”
“That’s because you work in construction,” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “All you care about is tearing down the beauty.” She stared Liam down, watching as he rubbed the back of his neck.
“Um… I don’t know what to say to that,” he awkwardly chuckled. “I’m sorry again.”
Valería heard the honesty in his voice and suddenly felt a pang of guilt in her chest- the kind that her mother would say precedes an apology. “No, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I just-” Valería paused and looked at the ground to fight back tears. “I’m not used to change. It makes me anxious actually.” When she looked up, Liam’s brown eyes met hers warmly and she felt even worse for snapping at him all morning. “I’ll go back inside, you don’t need me-”
“No!” Liam exclaimed, holding out his arm to stop her. “We can still go together- I mean, not “together” you know? Well, I do mean together, but not like… in a weird way, you know?”
Valería couldn’t help but laugh at how nervous he immediately got. She walked past him, gesturing to the van. “Can we stop by somewhere?” Liam nodded, clicking the car keys. Valería hopped in with a smile.
“Where is this place?” he asked after thirty minutes of driving and talking to Valería. “Even the GPS is confused.”
“Turn left over there,” Valería replied, her excitement growing, as Liam put on his turn signal. He then pushed the rusty brakes, causing both bodies to be thrown forward.
“This van is a little old,” Liam said as they both sat in silence. “The seatbelts barely work, and honestly, they’re only here because of the law.”
“And you don’t want to change them? Wait, I’m having a vision!” she said through fits of laughter. She put her hair behind her ears and dropped the tone of her voice to match Liam’s. “I think if you replace the seatbelts, I can get you new leather ones. Oh, and let me put in a new steering wheel while I’m at it.”
“Very funny.” Liam chuckled, when he turned to look at the open field in front of him. Valería could barely contain her excitement; she jerked the car door handle back and forth, cursing it for its stubbornness. “Por favor, abre, abre,” she muttered under her breath. Like a fuse, it was cut short when Liam leaned over from his seat, and in one swift motion, let the door fly open. Heat flooded Valería’s face as she jumped out of the car, avoiding all eye contact, but Liam was able to quickly glance at the pink patches on her cheeks.
“Why did you want to come here?” he inquired, stepping out of the truck and joining Valería on the grass. He was hesitant to sit, in fear of crawling insects, but she plopped down cross-legged on the earth with her back towards the truck. Valería couldn’t help but feel a new energy from the sun with hues of yellow and orange, the stalks of grass swaying, and the wind dying down from its rambunctious state to that of a soft melody. The loose strands of her plaited black hair danced to the song.
Liam’s voice suddenly filled her ears. “Wait,” he said softly, crouching next to her to tuck one of the strands behind her ear.
“Isn’t this so peaceful?” she sighed, resting back on her elbows. She patted the spot next to her, hoping he would sit down, but instead he stood up. “In the wintertime, the snow goes over everything like a blanket and the lake behind-” Before continuing, she got up to interlock her arm with Liam’s to pull him closer. “You look scared. Look, there’s a lake behind those trees.” Valería felt her heart beat faster, as she looked up at Liam, her arm still connected to his.
“It’s pretty,” he whispered. Before Valería could respond, Liam started again. “I know you think my dad and I want to ruin the world, so go on. Let the jokes out.”
“That was angry Valería talking.” she defended. “I’m not always like that…”
“I believe you. And, I want you to know that my dad and I are so different. Like black and white.”
“So, why are you working with him?” Valería unhooked her arm from his and sat down, hugging her knees to her chest.
To her surprise, Liam finally joined her on the grass, as he explained. “I want to make my dad proud that I’m following in his footsteps, that he raised a man and not another girl.”
“Not liking construction means you’re a girl?”
“Not wanting to take over his business means I’m a girl. I like designing, but not exactly using power drills and jackhammers. But, I work with him until the summer is over. Then, it’s back to school.”
Valería then decided on something she wouldn’t ordinarily do. She sighed, tipped her head to the side, and slowly grabbed Liam’s right arm.
“Uh, Valería… what are you doing?” he asked with a nervous tremor in his voice. She lifted it up and brought his index finger and thumb delicately together, as if holding a pen.
“Sometimes, I like to admire what’s in front of me. It helps slow down time for a moment, and I feel a little better. Imagine you’re drawing, like a designer.” Valería smiled, as Liam agreed and traced the outline of the mountains, the trees, the lake, and the stalks of grass around him.
“I’m sorry about your house,” he said to her, placing his pen down.
“I’m sorry about your dad,” she replied, placing her hand in his.