Everything is big in Texas. So the saying goes.
The cars are big.
The cowboy hats are big.
The boots are big.
Even the steak dinners at the restaurants are big.
So it shouldn’t have made much of a difference that the McDonald residence was a colossal mansion at the end of a development cul-de-sac, looking as if everything landscaped around it had been constructed as a complement to the tasteless display of the mansion. There were other houses in that development, but they looked like doll houses compared to the grandeur of the McDonald home. To drive into that street was to look around and suspect that the more modest homes nearby were the residences of the servants and grounds people who kept up the McDonald property. That wasn’t actually true, of course, but this was one reason why Paloma did not know her neighbors and was completely fine with never knowing them.
The house had 10 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. There was a marble staircase and heavy red drapes with gold braid. There were fountains, tennis courts, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a ballroom, and Greek columns. There were tapestries, stained glass, chandeliers, Ming Dynasty vases, and libraries of old books in eight different languages.
As for her classmates, no one saw the McDonald home, ever. And if she had anything to say about it, no one would. Ever.
“You’re being ridiculous,” her mother scolded. “I hire a driver to get you to school. You could just have him bring your friends back with you.”
Paloma did not answer. She never bothered to answer questions for which she knew there really was no answer. It wouldn’t accomplish anything to tell her mother that she didn’t have any friends at school. She’d only been at this school for a year, and a year wasn’t long enough to make friends in middle school, to penetrate those girl groups that had been begun years before in elementary school, with playdates and birthday parties and sleepovers. Her mother simply would not understand, and that would be the start of a long, tangled, frustrating discussion that went nowhere.
Her real friends were on the swim team at the community center, and none of those kids lived anywhere near this upscale neighborhood. In fact, Paloma knew that there were kids who lived in her neighborhood who were swimmers…but they didn’t swim at the community center. They swam with an expensive, elite swim club out of the University.
It was a dual life. Her real life was at swim, and her fake life was at school. Her home life—well, it was a weird life, although Paloma hadn’t decided yet whether it was “fake” or “real.” And even though the only place where she felt comfortable and accepted was at swim, the truth was that no one at swim knew that she lived in this crazy mansion.
She had moved to Texas the previous year after two years in California, and before that they had lived in Miami for awhile. Before that they lived in Singapore, and before that, Australia. The Texas house was not really their house—it was a rental—but it came with furniture and a staff of 16, so it seemed to be the most practical choice for a wealthy artist who hung out with the rich and famous. Her mother needed a place that was massive enough to entertain the crowds that typically frequented her parties, and convenient enough so that she could leave her 12 year old daughter while she traveled on business. With a live-in housekeeper, nanny, and driver, they could leave at the drop of a hat, knowing that her daughter’s daily rhythm need not change.
But Texas had been one of the more difficult adjustments for Paloma. The kids at her exclusive private school weren’t terribly friendly. Fortunately, they weren’t terribly curious, either. Paloma managed to glide through her classes without being noticed. She did her work, turned it in, was polite to the teachers, and more or less lay low.
Her love of the water saved her from sheer boredom and deep loneliness. She had learned to swim in Australia, a country that loves swimming and swimmers, and she never forgot the sheer joy of barreling through the water of the shallow teaching pool and hearing her Aussie nanny cheer for her from the bleachers as her swim teacher applauded. “We’ll make a swimmer of you yet!” her nanny called, hurrying over with her towel. Paloma was very young—perhaps three, perhaps four—but she never forgot how it felt to do something that made people so happy, so proud of her.
Paloma’s mother caught on, and at every new home, she found the closest pool and sent her daughter off with the nanny to swim, swim, and swim some more, while she went to her dinners, dances, and receptions, wining and dining the rich and famous who might give her a high-priced commission. Paloma’s mother was trained as an architect, but landscaping and sculpture were her passion, and she found herself doing anything and everything in order to design beautiful grounds where she could place her spectacular marble fountains and sculptures. This meant wooing wealthy patrons and trying to convince them to let her have a go at creating their dream homes.
Paloma’s father was not in the picture. She had never met him, and she knew nothing about him. Her mother didn’t want to talk about him, except to say that he was a lout who wasn’t interested in a family.
It was during their stay in Texas that it occurred to Paloma that her mother wasn’t interested in a family, either.
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