"A friend's house? That's great sweetie, of course, you can go. It’s uh. . . what was her name again?”
“Zoe! Right, right. Well just make sure you’re courteous to her family and everything will be fine.”
“Tonight? Uh, I don’t know, we were going to order some new equipment and I need to make sure the grid can handle it, calculate the voltage, run the numbers on backups, check system compatibility. . . How about this, I’ll come pick you up from her house tomorrow and we can spend the rest of the day together?”
“Thanks sweetie, now be sure to get to bed early, don’t want to be a mega grump when you go to your friend’s house.”
“I love you too Dina. See you tomorrow.”
“Uh, thanks again for inviting me over Zoe.” Dina said from within her hood as she followed Zoe along the rough path.
“Don’t worry about it, Dina. Me casa es tu casa.” Zoe said with a smile as the lead the way, “Besides, my grandies are always happy to see my friends.”
“- just make sure you’re courteous to her family and everything will be fine.” Her father’s words echoed through her head again.
Dina had been a bundle of anxiousness since yesterday when Zoe, completely out of nowhere, invited her over to her house. At the time Dina thought she might throw up from just the idea of going to someone else's house and meeting their family but, though timidly, she found herself accepting the invitation. She secretly prayed for the caveat of her dad saying she didn't have permission, so it'd be called off, but of course what type of father would ruin his daughter chances at making a close friend in a new place. Now here she was, walking along with Zoe, a few hours of nightmare-ridden sleep powering her and a mind churning with worrying thoughts. Zoe's a sweet girl and Dina knows she doesn't mean any harm in this, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
“What if Zoe actually has a strict family and her carefree nature is her rebelling against them, and bringing me home is a part of it? What if they're actually even more carefree then Zoe and think I'm uptight and oppressive? What type of house do they live in? What type of rules do they have? What would her pet turtle think? What if they have more pets? Are her grandparents going to be the only ones there? What is a neighbor stops by? What would their neighbors think? What would my neighbors think?” Dina’s brain was a tempest of worrying thoughts.
“Here we are!” Zoe announced, snapping Dina back to reality.
It had only been fifteen minutes since the girls left Dina’s house, though to Dina it felt like an eternity. Didn’t help that they crossed through a variety of settings from the suburbs, through the town, and towards the shore before exiting the main road to the path they were now on. It appeared to be an old access road, lined with tree and plants, though between its condition and destination being a picket fence it's safe to say only Zoe's family and their guest use it. The fence itself was a clear labor of love. Most fences are a single uniform color, whether white, green, or even just wood grain, but this one was a mural. Flowers, vines, and buds painted across the boards, in vibrant eye-catching colors, and stunning detail. If it weren't for them all converging into a single point of a large sunflower on the gate, you could mistake them all for real from far enough away.
“C’mon in.” Zoe said, snapping Dina back once more, before opening the gate and stepping in.
The moment was finally here. The point of no return. Fight or flight. Would Dina follow Zoe in, accepting whatever fate that lays beyond, or would she turn back and run, throwing it all away including her chance at a friend. Only those choices existed as Dina’s mind sank into the metal void of anxiousness and the physical void of her hood as her hands instinctively pulled it over her hear to separate her from this reality.
“There’s no need to be nervous.”
Dina glanced up, seeing Zoe taking one of her hand, shining her usual beacon of a smile dispelling the anxiety from. The light at the end of the tunnel is normally reserved for the dead, but Dina knew exactly what it must feel like as Zoe guided her out of the tunnel of anxiety and into the light of. . .
“Uuuuuuuuhhhhhh. . .” was all the left Dina’s lips
What was beyond the colorful picket fence, was not the house Dina expected to see. She came with no expectations of what Zoe's house would be but was still surprised by the house that was before her. Though even with that, when Zoe’s invited her over to her house, she did at least expect a house.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Zoe asked with a smile as she shut the gate behind them.
“It’s uh. . .” Dina paused as she took in what was before her.
If Dina had to describe what she saw in only a few words, she’d call it a set up for a festival of sorts. No concrete foundations. No front lawn, No four walls, No one roof. Just many, many trailers. Well, not that many. This was no trailer park, but still far more than one would regularly expect. It was a flat lot like you expect to see in an area where construction was due to take place or demolition had just finished, that held five decorative trailers of varying sizes and the mystery machines retired uncle, making forming a circle around a central area made of stone. What looked like a handmade cobblestone path formed a ring along the interior connecting the trailers to the center. At certain points, the path would split of out of the ring. One of the splits led to the gates where the girls stood, while the other two led off elsewhere. One of which, seemingly leading to two buildings just outside, past the trailers that seemed to be made of wood and some sort of glass respectively.
Baffled, Dina just stood there, studying every detail she could trying to make any sense of connection between what was before her and what she came here for. The trailers all varied in sizes from fairly large, to small. Each seems to have different equipment and parts such as one that had a roof exhaust where some sort of smoke or steam as actively following from. The van had a flower bed around it, making her guess it was no longer mobile. The only piece of any of this that fit together were the color paint jobs that covered everything.
As she scanned Dina’s gaze eventually met two blue eyes softly gazing back. In all of her analysis, Dina had completely forgotten both where she was as well as the fact that Zoe had asked her a question and was patiently waiting for a reply. “It’s uh. . . it’s uuuhhh. . .” Dina stammered
“What the heck am I supposed to say?” she thought to herself, “I mean what is all of this? Are they poor? No that’s not right, Zoe told me her grandparents own their own shop on the by the beach and are a part of the town council. Do they like to go camping? No that can’t be right either, this set up is too permanent and some of these things don’t look like they’ve moved in years. Come on Dina think, you’re smart and Zoe is your first friend. Don’t blow this!”
“It’s umm, very, spacious?” Dina said in a very unsure manner, earning a smile from Zoe.
“Indeed, it is. Plenty of open air, room to move and work, and all without sacrificing the basic amenities of a good home.” A man’s voice said.
The girls turned toward the source to see an older gentleman waving at them as he walked over to them through the trailer ring. He looked to be in his late fifties at least his hair and beard were both long and brown with speckles of growing grey, and his skin was tan, not unlike Zoe's, along with her sparkling blue eyes. He was dressed in a green tye-dyed dashiki shirt, faded jeans, sandals, and a small pair round rimless glasses that sat on the bridge of his nose. The expression he wore was a relaxed one with a friendly smile, but despite how soft it seemed, somehow beamed with energy.
“Peace and love to you, little Dahlia.” He said to Dina when he reached them.
“It’s Dina, not Dahlia.” Dina quickly and bluntly, as if correcting people about her name was a reflex.
Dina quickly covered her mouth as the man and Zoe stared at her.
“U-uh, erm, s-sir...” she stammered praying to correct herself.
The man and Zoe simply looked to each other and started to laugh, causing Dina to instinctually pull her hood up.
"Woah, Woah, sorry, Dina. I didn't mean any disrespect. Though being called sir does make me feel your feels.” The man said chuckling, holding up one hand while the other was at his side.
“Sorry about that Dina. Probably should’ve told you granddaddy-o likes to give people nicknames.” Zoe said giggling.
“Yeah, I’ve never been a formal one, and when I saw that bright pink hair of yours the first thing that popped into my head was dahlias.” He explained, before offering his hand, “Even so I should mind my manners. I’m Carter Smith, proud granddaddy-o of this little chrysanthemum.”
Dina paused for a moment, before taking one hand off her hood to shake Carter’s hand.
Carter gave a soft, yet still bright smile in return, before turning to Zoe.
“Hey Chrysanthemum, why don't you show , friend, around. I've got to take these to grandmama, so she can finish making lunch.” He said holding up a straw basket of what looked to be fresh picked veggies and herbs. “I’ll also be sure to tell her our guest of honor has arrived.”
“Can do granddaddy-o!” Zoe said with a salute.
“At ease.” Carter chuckled patting her head.
He gave one final wave to Dina before walking off towards one of the larger trailers, specifically the one Dina noted with the chimney.
“Come on Dina, I’ll give you the grand tour.” Zoe said taking her hand, “My friend Joe once said each trailer is like a room so if it helps you can think of it that way.”
Zoe led Dina along the cobbled path into the ring and to the first of first and closest of the trailers.
This was noticeably the smallest out of all of them, but it was also the most decorated. It was so adorned with painted on flowers and colors that Dina couldn’t make head or tails of where the door was or if it even had any windows.
“This is our storage trailer. We keep extra supplies, paints, bedding, tools, and tons of other stuff inside. I guess you can say it’s like a combination attic, closet, and crawlspace.” Zoe explained
“Huh, that explains why it’s so small and over decorated. If it’s just going to sit and hold stuff, might as well make it look nice.” Dina thought to herself, while only nodding on the outside.
As the girls continued along the path to the next trailer, Dina noted an aroma in the air that made her mouth instantly salivate and her stomach rumble.
“Wow, something smells great.” She blurted out as they approached the next trailer.
“Heh heh, yeah, that’d be my grandmama’s handy work.” Zoe said, “The next trailer is out kitchen and dining room, but I think of it more like my grandmama’s studio cause it’s where she makes her edible masterpieces.”
Now closer, Dina finally noticed all the other details. This trailer was the largest, though not by much, likely due to having to hold all of the necessary cooking appliances as well as some sort of water reservoir and sprinkler system. Looking around the sides she noticed a cage at one side that held a few propane tanks, and around the other, a running generator that likely helped in powering everything inside.
“I don’t recall ringing the dinner bell, so I hope Zoe isn't trying to get you to help her sneak a taste like she normally does." A woman’s voice said from just above them.
Dina looked up towards the source to spot someone leaning out the window looking down at them. She would swear she was gazing through time itself decades into the future as aside a few errors the voice’s owner was the spitting image of Zoe. From the bronze skin to the long blonde, though graying, hair, they were the same. The biggest differences between them brown eyes instead of blue and pink hair tips instead of green. Though only her upper half was visible her flower print top under a blue cooking apron even mimicked Zoe's style of dress. Though expression wasn't the same. Zoe's face is usually softer, like Carters, but this woman’s were beaming and full of energy.
"Oh, uh, hello ma'am," Dina said blushing a bit realizing she had just been staring at her without speaking.
“Ma’am? I much prefer you call me Allison dear.” She said with a soft giggle, before turning to Zoe. “Always bringing home formal ones, aren't you? Well, I at least hope she loosens like Alex. No offense to Joseph.”
“Oh, sound like lunch is almost ready. Better wrap up the tour Zoe.” She said before turning back to Dina, “And you and I can chat more over my edible masterpieces, Dina.”
With a wink, Allison pulled herself back inside.
“Well you heard grandmama, let's hurry and finish the tour so we can have lunch," Zoe said in an excited almost impatient manner, Dina had never seen before in her. “Don’t worry there are only a couple of rooms left.
Zoe led Dina, past the next trailer in the circle and instead stopped at the one next to it, before throwing her arms out to mention to the skipped one, the one they were at, and the next one.
“And these are the bedrooms and bathroom.” She said, “The one on the left is my grandies room, this one is the bathroom, and the one on the right is my room.”
As Zoe explained Dina took her mental notes. All three trailers were pretty nice sized, though when each one is a single room one would guess everyone room is a master room. Each trailer also had its own distinct decorative paint job. The grandparent's trailer seemed to be a mural of different elements, from flowers to music to animals, to simple human shapes all seemingly mixing together is into a single harmonious piece. The bathroom trailer was just as detailed, though far simpler to understand since it was simply a moon and starry sky over a calm ocean setting with dolphins jumping out. Zoe’s trailer was the simplest as it was a tye-dye like backdrop polka-dotted with big colorful flowers. Dina couldn't help but think about how much time Zoe's family had spent paint each trailer with such intricate designs and at such a fine, yet simple detail. "It must've taken at least a week for each one, and who knows how much work it takes on upkeep to maintain them all in such great condition. As Dina thought about it something on the edge of her mind and vision took over focus.
“And what about that one?” she said point to the old van past Zoe’s trailer.
“Oh that. That’s where it all started of course.” Zoe said walking over to it, “When my grandies first came to the Island this van was all they had. It’s where they slept, ate, worked, and raised my dad. Though it broke down for good years ago, so now it kind of just serves as another storage area slash guest room for my dad when he’s on leave. “
“Huh, so I guess it’s kind of like a memorial to your family’s little legacy huh?” Dina said approaching it, letting her hood down.
“Yep yep. We’re not much for material things, but this old van has a lot of sentiment and memories for us.” Zoe explained with a smile.
Dina returned it with a small smile of her own. “So, do you guys not have a living room or is the world your living room?”
"Oh, we do, it's the fire pit in the center," Zoe said pointing to the stone central area they had been walking around this whole time. "C'mon, we were going to eat lunch there anyway."
As the girls headed toward the center, Zoe spoke again.
“So, what do you think of the Smiths?” she asked, “I know we’re not the most normal family, but we’ve got as much love and heart as any other family, right?”
As they walked Dina began to reflect on everything she had experienced since walking through the gate. Admittedly her first opinions were, far less than flattering, but in only a few minutes, a few short words, and the bare minimum of a tour, all of it had grown on her. Like Zoe herself, her grandparents are probably the warmest, most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. Though unorthodox, Dina had to admit that a family growing their house as they themselves grew was actually pretty cool. She could really do without all the bright colors, but nothing’s perfect. A gentle breeze flowing through her hair instead of bouncing off her hood proved that she had already become more than comfortable here, even is she was still out in the open. There was no question that this place felt just as much like a home as the real one she shared with her dad.
“Yeah.” Dina started, “It may not have the basic four walls, but this place is more of a home then any building could ever be.”
Though she had seen it many times today, Zoe’s response of her usual beaming smile still had as strong an impact as it did they day Dina first met her.
"Oh, by the way. Do you guys have a garage or something?" Dina asked recalling something, "I saw your grandpa had a basket of fresh produce, but I didn’t hear a car or anything. Did he walk all the way to the market and back?
“Oh, yeah, I guess I missed a couple of things.” Zoe said, “Well we do have a garage, but he didn’t get them from a market, he just got them fresh from the soil in his greenhouse.”
“Wait, you guys have a greenhoooo-ow-ow-wo-“
Dina's word trailed and stuttered as she wobbled to regain her balance before falling forward, causing a soft thud, and a cloud of ash to shot up.
"Hey girls, lunch is read- Oh," Carter said stepping out of the dining trailer carrying a tray of food.
“Oh? What oh?” Allison asked stepping out after him. “Oh.”
“Dina are you okay?” Zoe said reaching out to her with a slightly worried expression.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Dina said taking her hand, “I just tripped on a stone. Thankfully the pile of ash broke my fall.”
“Carter, I thought I told you to clean up the fire pit before Dina got here this morning.” Allison scolded him
“Whoops, sorry dear, guess it slipped my mind.” Carter said rubbing his head.
As Dina started to get to her feet, patting away the ash and soot on her.
“Oh no, no, no, don’t do that.” Allison said giving Carter her tray and rushing over. “Patting will just trap ash and dust between the threads.”
Allison grabbed Dina's arm helping her up and looking over the ash and soot-covered girl.
“Hmm, Zoe go get a towel and change of clothes and meet us in the shower.” Allison said
“Right away grandmama," Zoe said with a salute before running off towards her room.
“W-wait, change of clothes? Shower?!” Dina said confused and slight panicked.
“Well yes dear, we certainly aren't going to leave you dirty like that. Don’t you worry though. I've dealt with plenty of ash stains. I'll have your clothes nice and clean again by tomorrow." Allison said pulling Dina towards the bathroom.
“T-Tomorrow!? Wait, I don’t-“ Dina began to protest.
“Don’t dawdle, we’ve gotta get you clean before the ashes make you itch.” Allison said as she dragged Dina over to the ocean themed trailer.
Some hours later. . .
“So, sweetie, how was your day at the Smith’s?” Mr. Romale asked as they walked down the sunset lit path.
“. . .”
“Dina?” he asked again
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Dina said flatly.
"Oh, come on Diana, I know you're a bit upset about your clothes, but that shouldn't spoil the day. Zoe's grandparent said they'll have those stains out by tomorrow, and besides, they even gave you that," he snorted trying to stifle a laugh, "Groovy dress to wear."
Dina simply glared at her dad. After Allison took her clothes to be washed, Dina had no choice but to wear a large flower print dress that Zoe lent her.