If people were houses, Lola Celina, my grandmother, would be a hot-pink Painted Lady—one of those fancy San Francisco Victorians tourists love, with intricate stained glass that casts rainbows onto the sidewalks. She’s colorful. Right now, we’re strutting around the living room in summery folk-dance dresses. Mine’s bright yellow. It feels light and airy, and when I’m jumping around in it I wish I could fly.
I spin as fast as I can. The skirt flounces up and Lola joins me, twirling and twirling, while Mom takes our picture from the couch. We finish and stand shoulder to shoulder, trying not to wobble. Laughter pours out of us.
“Ay nako!” Lola says. “I haven’t danced around this much since I was—”
“—crowned Miss Sampaguita in your village for three years in a row, we all know,” Mom says, and Lola cracks up. My cousins and I have heard this story a million times; it’s one of my favorites.
Lola and I put our arms around each other. I’m taller than she is now. I’m only half Filipina, so we don’t look exactly alike, but our family says we have the same smile. Definitely the same crazy laugh.
I plop down next to Mom, out of breath.
“Lou, we should get you a pretty dress to wear on your birthday,” Mom says.
“Actually, what I think every new thirteen-year-old needs is a circular saw,” I say, even though she’d never go for that. Too dangerous.
“Nice try, kiddo.”
“Don’t you want to wear something beautiful on your special day, anak ko?” Lola says. Anak ko. My child. Even though she calls all the grandkids that, it still makes me feel special.
My birthday’s coming up, but I don’t care about wearing some silly dress or having a huge Sweet Thirteen like some of the kids at school. There’s only one thing I want—my own house.
I just have to build it first.
The idea started off as a daydream, a dare to myself: What if I made something no other girl has? Because here’s the neat part: I own some land. Trees and shrubs and everything. I inherited it from my dad’s family after he died, and that’s where my house will go.
I’ve been planning this for a while, and I’m ready to do something about it. If I keep thinking and brainstorming and watching how-to videos—instead of doing—it’s never going to happen. Lolo, my grandfather, used to say, “That’s how dreams work. You just have to do them.”
“Okay, scooch over,” Lola says, sitting next to us. She starts folding and piling up costumes she sewed for Barrio Fiesta.
Barrio Fiesta is a neighborhood celebration. Villages in the Philippines throw them every year. It’s our big fund-raiser for the Filipino American Community Senior Center, with dizzying rides, tasty food, and all my friends hanging out. The festival ends in a show, and my whole family pitches in. This time Lola’s sewing, I’m making sets, and Mom’s organizing the rummage sale. I’m dancing, too. We only practice a couple days a week, so that leaves me plenty of building time.
Mom tilts her head against mine. She’s quiet.
“What’s wrong, my dear Minda? Is this about your job search?” Lola asks.
“I haven’t gotten any offers yet. I applied all over the area,” Mom says.
“It’s okay, anak. Try to be patient. And you should feel proud, too. It’s not easy to put yourself through school. It’s all right to take things slow.”
My mom’s a medical technician, but she just got her nursing degree by going to school at night. Now she’s looking for a new job as a nurse, and works a lot of overtime to pay off student loans—and because we’re saving up to move out of Lola’s house.
Mom’s face brightens a little. “The good news is the hospital I interviewed with in Washington State scheduled a follow-up call. Cross your fingers.”
Is she serious? I sit up. “Are you talking about moving?”
Mom smooths my hair. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, honey, and it’s the perfect time for a change.”
“Not that kind of change.” I can’t imagine anything worse.
“San Francisco’s so expensive. If we lived in Washington, we could find our own place and save up for your college fund.” She smiles at me like she hasn’t just said the wrong thing.
I give her a big smile back. “We’re. Not. Moving.”
Lola rubs small circles onto Mom’s shoulders, the way she and Mom do with me whenever I’m feeling bad. “You’ll find a job soon, anak ko. Though I cannot imagine you and Lou moving so far from home.”
“Well, something good will come our way, I know it,” Mom says. She turns to me. “Okay, young lady, if you’re done parading around like Miss Preteen Sampaguita, then it’s bedtime. Last day of seventh grade tomorrow!”
I lie in bed, staring at glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. I wish I was looking at real stars on my land, where at night they fill the sky. The thought of moving has me wide-awake. I can’t believe Mom would want a job in another state.
Most people count sheep to fall asleep. Me? I like to think about houses. It cheers me up. And it’s easy, because there are hundreds of types of houses in the world.
Some I like just for their names: the barndominium, the geodesic dome, and the Queenslander; a saltbox, a snout house, or a Yaodong.
Others have fascinating details, like:
The yurt—a round, portable tent pulled in carts by yaks.
The houseboat—part house and part boat.
The mansion—everybody knows this one. It’s what I used to want to live in, but now I think they’re obnoxious, too big and glossy. Not my style.
Then there’s the opposite: a tiny house.
These houses are garage-sized small, but they can still have a kitchen and a bathroom and a secret cranny for brainstorming ideas.
People all around the world build and live in them. They don’t cost as much as a normal house and certainly not as much as a mansion. But the best part? A tiny house fits everything anyone could ever need—a bed, a table and chairs, a toilet, a sink with running water (which a lot of people in the world don’t even have). If you think of it that way, a tiny house isn’t tiny at all. It’s just right.
Copyright © 2018 by Mae Respicio. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.