FWF – A New Beginning

It’s so hot in this car that I have to roll down the window. The hot desert wind shooting by my social worker’s speeding car is ten times better than the stagnant air I’ve had to put up with since her AC is broken. It broke last month and she still hasn’t fixed it.

“How much longer?” I ask, allowing the breeze to dance around my face, efficiently waking me up from my stupor.

Tina sighs. “For once, can you just be patient, Thora? We’ll be there soon.”

I feel like she’s asking too much of me. Usually a new home is in the city, but this time they are keeping me in the dark about it and a girl gets impatient, especially me. We’ve been driving for three hours. To where, I have no clue. There seems to be nothing but desert on all sides of us with no end in sight.

Choosing to not respond to my social worker, I stick my hand out the window. The bracelet my mom left with me–two woven bands separated by various green and blue stones, and one I distinctly recognize as turquoise–glints back at me. I’ve worn this thing as long as I can remember. It’s all she left behind before she disappeared. Because of this bracelet, I still think she’s alive. No one else does.

I wave my hand around, riding the wind, as though wielding a wand. If only I could magic myself out of this car and to wherever my mom is, then I wouldn’t have to be shuffled from foster home to foster home again. Unfortunately, magic doesn’t exist, I don’t know where my mom is and I wouldn’t know where to go. After a few minutes, my hand goes up and down with the wind without me really controlling it. Again, I’m lulled into a nap.

The jerk of the emergency brake jars me awake. I hate it when Tina pulls that stupid centerpiece. My fifteen years in the system never cured me from the uncomfortable stomach lurch that inevitably followed. I swear it is her lot in life to only purchase cars with a centerpiece E-brake. Don’t ask me why.

“All right, I couldn’t tell you before, but you need to brace yourself,” she says, turning toward me. My head rolls along the leather seat to look at her as I try to gather my foggy brain power. Sweat dampens the bottom of my hair against my neck and I welcome the brief coolness it brings. “This family is technically your biological family.”

My head and body snap forward. I thought I was the only one left of my family. As I wait for Tina to spill the details, my chest won’t let any breath escape.

“Apparently, she’s your mom’s cousin. Somehow we found her and she’s expressed interest in taking you in.”

I raise my eyebrows. No one ever wants me. I believe the words “more trouble than she’s worth” is a permanent fixture in the mouths of my many foster families. And it’s kind of true. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t listen to orders very well. When I want to do something, I do it regardless if they tell me explicitly not to.

“Now, before you go AWOL like you did last time, please just …” she searches for the words for a moment. “Be good. That’s all I ask. You only have a couple of months until you’re 18 and can do as you please. Until then, stay out of trouble, okay?”

I roll my eyes at her. That speech hasn’t held onto my conscience yet and I’m betting it won’t stick this time either. She does seem more serious than usual though.

It’s beyond amazing that any of my family could be tracked down, so we’ll see if I want to follow the rules or not. It all depends on if they’re crazy or mean.

Since we’ve obviously reached our destination, I look outside and freeze. A small brick house stands completely unoriginal from the others on the street. The only thing that distinguishes it from the other houses is a tree house in the tree in the backyard. Other than that, it has the same square-ish exterior, the same placement of the same white door and windows and the same chimney poking out of the roof on the right hand side–just like all of the neighboring houses. All of the grass is green even though it is early September. And as far as I can tell, there is no broken cement anywhere on either side of the street.

Kids scream through the sprinklers at a couple of houses. It was one of those neighborhoods: a place to raise a family. The last time I was placed in a neighborhood like this, I was ten. My distaste for it came from the fact that it made me think of how I likely would have lived with my mom were she still around. After that, I asked Tina to only put me with families in the busy city, a place where a traditional family life was a little more uncommon so I could avoid those feelings of misery. Apparently that particular request of mine is disregarded this time because a “blood relative” is involved. Just lovely. Note the sarcasm.

Welcome to suburbia, Thora.

Thanks to this week’s FWF prompt by Kellie Elmore, I was able to piece together a better beginning for one of my WIPS. I cannot express enough thanks that this prompt triggered such an inspiration for this story and I’m stoked to be giving it more attention now that a critical piece is now making sense. 

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sanity

It’s ten-thirty-two in the morning and I’m sitting on a bench. I’ve been waiting for what feels like hours. For nothing. A bird flies overhead. The bird doesn’t like you. The bird just wants to fly. I wish I could fly. There have been days where I wish wings could just burst out of my shoulder blades and take me into the skies. You’ll never fly.My brother said he’d meet me here. It’s three minutes past the time he said he’d be here. He’s not coming. Maybe he ran into an old friend. Maybe he thinks you’re crazy. Maybe he forgot he was meeting me. Maybe he thinks you’re not worth meeting. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to be outside. I don’t get to do this very often. Usually I sit in my house. Alone. with nothing to do but watch television. Only more voices to add to your head. He said we’d get coffee. Coffee makes you sick. Coffee is bad for you. I think I’d rather get tea and a scone. You pansy. You’re not worth meeting. You would think my brother would be here by now. But he’s not coming. He said, “Come on, Lucy. Just come outside and meet me tomorrow. You won’t regret it.” Yes, you will. So far I don’t. It’s beautiful out here. That’s because you’re uglier than everything else. The sky is blue. How your skin should be.The flowers are in bloom. Like you never were. And I know that my brother will come see me for the first time in years. If you only knew…

{from Jan. 2011}

Paying Respects

A young redhead swinging, laughing in the glare of sunlight as a man’s hands reach for her. A father rolling in the grass with his daughter. A glimpse of a guitar in his hands, teaching her how to strum. His rich, husky voice says, “You can be… whatever. Whatever it is you want to be.” The hiccups of her childish giggles fade into darkness.

My eyes snap open to the morning sun barging in through my window as if it were invited in. Birds chirp outside, singing a song that I don’t even wish to sing along to.

No alarm clock this morning just like the last four days. It’s hard not to count.

I reach up to cover my eyes, feeling wetness on my cheeks. Again. My one source of sunshine is gone for good, and this sunlight is merely warming my cheek, not filling the gaping hole that I can barely breathe through.

I don’t want to face today. It’s too late to say goodbye, too early to say farewell, so why say it when it will just make this more real?

Someone knocks at my door.

“Emery?”

The pity in her voice makes me roll over, not wanting the tears to have a witness. The weight of her sinks down the side of my bed, and I suppress the urge to shove her off. On any normal day, I’d welcome my aunt’s presence first thing in the morning. Now she’s just a reminder of what I don’t have.

“It’s time to get up, sweetie,” she says, rubbing her hand on my shoulder. I shrug her off, grunting, hoping that was invitation enough for her to leave me alone. “We have to be there in an hour.”

That doesn’t make me want to get up any more than the sunlight does.

All too late, my aunt leaves my room, taking with her his eyes, his chestnut hair and his generosity.

I don’t want to face today. Facing it would mean that I would have to accept that my dad is no longer here, and that’s not acceptable.

When I open my eyes this time, it’s with a new determination. I throw on the closest pair of jeans, and covertly slip on my bra underneath my Eagles tee that I wore to bed without actually taking it off. From the floor, I snatch up my Ogio school backpack and dump its contents onto my bed. A math book, geography binder and all of the pens that I could never find scatter and bounce off each other.

Walking around my bedroom, I swipe several key items into my now-empty bag. Deodorant, bobby pins, a photograph of me and Dad, floss, toothbrush, my backup case holding a handful of guitar picks, pitch pipe, and my wallet. My guitar case rests against the wall plastered with all of my signed concert posters: AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Heart, and others that I’ve covered up with ones that left more meaningful impressions. I swing the case around my shoulder and take one last look around the small bedroom Dad and I used to jam in.

This time I won’t let any tears fall.

I’ll pay respects to my father the way he’d want me to–to be whatever I want to be. And that means leaving this town.

Hidden Away

When I stop to think about it, I realize that I have never seen a window. I see the word in books, but the lack of real, concrete description often has me wondering of what a window truly looks like.

In one of the books I’ve read, a maiden throws her hair out of a window whenever her mother calls for her to let her up. And in others, people see the world outside through glass and window panes, sometimes catching their reflection in them. They can be small or big, square or round, and sometimes spanning stories of a home in elaborate fashion. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen my reflection either.

Even still, the writers of these books assume that everyone knows what a window is. The only impression I get is that it is a hole, either covered by glass or not, that is in a house, a cave or some other structure. People can see beyond the hills that surround where they live, a garden, or even oceans as far as the eye can see. The problem is, I don’t see, not really.

You see, there are no windows where I live. For some reason or another, the builders of my cottage neglected to put any windows in. If I want to see outside, I physically have to open the front door to see the narrow stone pathway, lined with daisies, that leads to a thick wood that surrounds me on all sides. It’s like I live in a perfect circle of the forest, even though I noticed one summer that one edge of my little circle is completely flat. I guess you could call it a half circle, but it’s a little more, making it the shape of a wheel of cheese that has only been partially sliced with a sword.

Though I may not know what a window is, I know these neck of the woods better than anything else. However, I don’t know what lies beyond them. I threatened to run away when I was twelve and intended to make good on that promise. Only I got horribly lost after traveling for nearly seven hours in a direction I wasn’t even sure of. Luckily my best and only friend was able to track me down before I could reach any animals that could easily stalk and hunt me in the night. Sometimes I hear wolves howl at the full moon, but I’ve never seen any with my own eyes aside from those drawn in the books Dyna brings me.

The woods seemed just an endless expanse of trees, though I know at some point they must end. I will get beyond that barrier at some point, but until then, I’m following my father’s orders by staying put. Then again, I’m practically forced to follow orders. He is, after all, the King.

FWF ~ Where I Will Be…

 

Each door calls my name, each for different reasons.

In Narnia, there are Animals and a vast land protected by an awesome lion that happens to have magical powers. Not to mention a sexy voice to boot. There are mermaids that swim in the seas, gorgeous beaches, woods that provide both shelter and a thrill, and such thing as magic. There are different sides–a constant battle over who should rule. Should it be a child or four? A young man who’s race practically wiped out all others? Or an evil witch? But at the end of the day, it’s hard to go back once you leave…

Neverland is another story entirely. Neverland is on a star. To be specific, the second star to the right. Like Narnia, there is magic but this time in the form of pixie dust. Mermaid Lagoon is home to mermaids, some nice and some not so nice. These mermaids like to poke a lot of fun. Pirates roam the seas, captained by the malicious and devilish Captain Hook. The crocodile in which Hook’s hand is trapped tails the ship, just waiting for Captain’s other hand to drop. The Lost Boys like to cause trouble, but they do it in good fun, until they get caught by the Indians who don’t really like the Pale Faces. I’m a pale face. Maybe Peter Pan can come to the rescue…

Sometimes I think I’d like to go to Wonderland. To a place where hardly anything makes sense, like a hookah-smoking caterpillar and caucus races in the tide, yet everything seems to work together. Frabjous Day is always cause for a celebration and a special dance. You never know if you’ll be big in a small world or small in a big world. A Cheshire Cat smile is guaranteed to get one in return. In Wonderland, no one seems to have a concept of time. Flower beds serenade you and a pair of twins won’t stop with the riddles and rhymes… which supposedly seem insane. Beasts are much more dangerous, but at least they have cool names like bandersnatches and jabberwockies. Sometimes you won’t know your path until you get somewhere. But as soon as you start to sing “Twinkle Little Bat,” an evil queen will scream, “Off with your head!” while tossing her decks of cards at her henchmen. I’ll need to be careful unless I want to lose my hat.

Now Hogwarts… that’s a cool place. A castle filled with learning and magic, secrets and mysteries, ghosts and wizards. Owls fly about delivering mail over a breakfast that’s made by elves. Students wield wands as tools in learning spells and their craft, while earning points for their houses. They have the most unique candy you’ll find anywhere, like Sugar Quills that you can suck on, pills that can make you puke then stop, and Chocolate Frogs that come to life before your eyes. There’s a ghost who cries in one of the girl’s bathrooms at all hours of the day, and another that likes to cause trouble by pulling pranks. Quidditch is always a good time as it pits the four different houses students against each other in good sport, as they aim a quaffle from the seat of a flying broomstick for three golden hoops while someone seeks out the elusive snitch. Most of the teachers are cool, but there are a couple who either have a few screws loose or have a hidden agenda. There is even word of a Dark Lord who wants to take over the school and the entire magic world. Now I’m not so sure…

If I wanted a little history, I would choose Camelot–the place where honorable King Arthur reigned and Merlin held all the magic. The knights of the round table would be handsome and follow the Old Knight’s Code of Honor. But then again, that could get boring after a while. Chivalry may not be dead, but chivalrous knights don’t really exist anywhere else. Sometimes a girl wants a little danger…

Then comes Middle Earth. The place where different kinds of people roam, including hobbits with hairy feet, elves who can sense the future, dwarves who live in caves and man. Usually kept separate, they rely on each other in times of need. With expansive and diverse landscapes, from towering snow-covered mountains, to the valleys with pretty creeks, swamps where the dead lie, and castles built into mountainsides, no part of Middle Earth looks like another. Magic and wizards exist, but bad and good are in a constant battle. Like Hogwarts, a Dark Lord is gathering power to take over the Middle Earth once more, pitting orc against the friendlier races. If good can reign supreme then maybe a new ruler can rise and lead in peace…

Westeros, however, is a world I know not of. So the idea of a mystery? Certainly my imagination peaks.

My hands twitch, itching to open all the doors. But then I take a closer look at them, and realize that these worlds, of magic, of wonder, of nonsense and darkness, would only make me miss the world I’ve come to grow and love. It may not have magic in the sense that these seven doors would take me too, but it’s magical because it’s beautiful and the battle between good and evil isn’t so prevalent. It’s a place where you can experience all of these worlds without ever really venturing into them, but from a place of a book in safety.

Instead, the question that arises is not where you are… but who you are and who you will be.

Death of a Fish

“Mommy, what’s wrong with my fish?”

Gretchen called me from the other room. As I walked in, I could already predict what the fish is doing: floating on its side at the top of the tank.

“What’s it doing?” I asked, feigning curiosity.

“It’s just floating and not moving,” Gretchen said, tracing her finger along the glass bowl. “Is she ok?”

How on earth do I explain to my three-year old daughter that her fish has died and won’t ever swim again?

“Um,” I say, struggling to find that right words to make death clear to her. I kneel next to her, hoping this story will help. “Do you remember Grandma Jamie?”

She looks at me utterly confused. “I thought there was only Grandma Natalie and Grandpa Daniel.”

“Well, now there is. Grandma Jamie died when you were just a baby, so I don’t think you would remember her.”

She continued to look at me, “She died?”

“Yes, Gretchen. Do you know what happens when you die?”

She shook her head. I took a deep breath as I try to figure out a way to explain this. I grabbed Gretchen’s little hand and placed it on her chest.

“You feel that?” I asked, trying to smile as I feel her tiny, pulsing heartbeat. She looked down at her hand.

“Yes! What’s that mommy?”

“It’s your heart. I have one too,” I said as I took her hand and put it up against my chest. “Can you feel mine?”

She smiled even wider. “Yes.”

“Well, when you die, your heart doesn’t do that anymore,” I said, hoping to see some kind of understanding in my daughter’s eyes.

“It stops?” she asked, tilting her head to the side like a puppy.

“Yes, it stops. And when a heart stops, then the body becomes very still and won’t move again.”

“Is that what happened to my fish? Her heart stopped?”

“Yes, honey.”

“But why?”

“Well, heart’s are very powerful things. Sometimes they work too hard and that makes it so they can’t work anymore. Or in Grandma Jamie’s case, her heart was very old so it stopped because it had been beating for so long,” I said.

“What does that heart do after it stops?”

Finally a question that is easier to answer.

“It waits until it is time to go to heaven,” I explained, relaxing now that it seems to be making sense to her but without making her scared.

“Is Grandma Jamie’s heart there?”

“Yes.”

“Then how does my fish get to heaven if her heart stopped?”

“We will have a funeral for her. Funerals pass on those who die to heaven.”

With that, Gretchen picked up the fish bowl and asked me where the funeral would be.

“For fish, the way they get to heaven is through the toilet.”

I felt weird saying it, but it’s true. Gretchen walks over to the bathroom, holding the tank very carefully. I followed, making sure Gretchen didn’t dump the tank into the toilet along with her beloved fish.

“Let me help you, babe.” I slid my hands around the tank until I could easily scoop the fish out of the bowl and dropped it into the toilet. “Would you like to say good bye?” I ask Gretchen.

She waved at the unblinking fish and yelled, “Enjoy heaven, Dory!”

Then she promptly, and delightedly, flushed the toilet.

Gifted

The bullet didn’t seem to faze him. It hit him square in the arm yet he didn’t flinch, didn’t budge an inch. It is like nothing hit him at all.

Now the two guys standing in front of me are panting. They’ve been fighting for ten minutes, throwing punches, knocking each other down only pick each other up to give a knee to the gut. It looks painful.

Then the one whose face is familiar to me somehow pulled out a gun and shot his opponent. Only it didn’t do anything. Now they both look angry.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why they are fighting. The only thing I can tell is that they are fighting over me; but I don’t know why.

The guy I thought looked familiar is the first to speak.

“So who is it?”

His voice is thick with heavy breaths and his hands are now resting on the tops of his thighs.

The question throws me off. Of anything that could be said after a fight, he says that? Boys are weird sometimes.

“Who is what?” I ask, finally ungluing my tongue from the back of my throat. The intensity of the fight had me practically swallowing it.

“Your Protector, Gracie.”

Protector? Why would I need a Protector? You’d think I would know if I was one of the Gifted. My whole life up to this point has been relatively tame, with no hint of special abilities–abilities while remarkable, weaken the Gifted so they require Protectors to keep them alive and safe. The Gifted tend to be hot targets for threats and kidnapping since their powers can be unpredictable, highly desirable, and sometimes downright damaging.

Just the thought that I could be Gifted makes me shiver. I never wanted that. The last Gifted in my family was my grandmother and she passed away when I was little. Neither of my parents are Gifted. This can’t be true. But I did just turn 19, the age where the powers of the Gifted start to manifest.

The hazel eyes are what get to me. I know I’ve seen his face before. It has a boyish look to it but somehow still grown up with some subtle scruff. And the other has darker hair and dark eyes that seem to see right into me. So I look away. It’s making me uncomfortable.

A voice behind me makes me jump.

“You’re both Protectors now. How else do you think you both survived this altercation?”

When I turn around, there’s an older man walking towards us. The street glistens under the subtle curbside lights. His steps seem to echo off the brick buildings surrounding us.

“One of you attached to Gracie here,” the man says, gesturing at me. He has a thick goatee and a scar slicing through one side of his upper lip. “The other attached to another Gifted close by, one we didn’t plan on.”

There’s another Gifted in my neighborhood? They are never that common.

And I thought that one would be able to feel it once an attachment is made between a Gifted and a Protector.

If I’m Gifted and have been attached to someone, odds aren’t in my favor to not fall in love with them. That usually ends up happening since they spend so much time together. It’s weird, but I feel different kinds of tugs to both guys. Dark eyes is intriguing, and truly gorgeous. Baby face is familiar and I wish I could pinpoint where from. Either way, I think both of them could be decent Protectors. One of them did, after all, repel a bullet with his bare skin.

Not a moment, a spark of shivers travels down my spine and I find myself looking at the guy with dark eyes. Could it be him?

“From what I can tell,” the man with the scar on his lip goes on, “Gracie, your Protector will be Graham. Liam, your connection is in one of these apartments. We must go track them down. I’m surprised we didn’t know about this Gifted one. We track all of you very closely.”

He nods pointedly at me and extends a hand. “Nice to meet you finally, Gracie. My name is Caine. I expect we will see more of each other very soon. We are expecting great things from you.”

Liam, the one with dark eyes, avoids my gaze completely as he heads off with Caine. A part of me is disappointed. But at the same time, I’m happy that Graham, who I now recognize as a preschool playmate, will be able to share more about all of this with me. At least we have a somewhat background already, so that should make a relationship–friend or more–easier. My stomach squirms at the thought but not in a good way.

But if I’m Gifted then I very well may be a danger to everyone here without even knowing it, and then where would we be?