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Lost Girl Found
Eliza lept the fence in one solid motion. Looking back, she saw her pursuers, hastily pumping their arms and legs flinging wildly, trying to capture the escapee with the prize sleeping soundly in her arms. There were two followers of Eliza: one a plump teenage boy with sandy blonde hair and bright green eyes; the other a thirty-some woman with dark black hair, a tan complexion and an angry mouth.
“Come back!” she screamed. “We will catch you, bring you back, and you won’t be allowed a second chance.”
But Eliza didn’t stay to chat. She sprinted as fast as the adrenaline could carry her, through the deep woods she had gazed at all her life, and through the swamps filled with messy cattails and ankle-high muddy water. She jumped over fallen tree stumps and wooden fences with bright NO TRESPASSING signs like they didn’t even exist. Not only did her life depend on it, but the little girl’s in Eliza’s arms.
After what seemed like eight months—realistically, four hours—Eliza finally found the first city she had ever visited in over five years. Civilization had changed, and it made her mad. Five years of her life had been taken away, but she knew she wouldn’t let the little girl’s life be taken advantage of the way Eliza’s own was taken.
“I’d like to reserve a room,” said Eliza, speaking in her most mature voice in the Discount Motel.
“What is your name, miss?” asked the caretaker, an elderly, gray-haired man with reading spectacles that were so huge Eliza couldn’t take her eyes off them.
“Quinoa,” Eliza said quickly.
The caretaker’s eyes widened. “First name, and how many in the room?”
“My name’s Elizabeth, and this Hanna.”
The caretaker allowed her to stay in Room 11 for $34 dollars a night, seeing that she was a young “mother” and didn’t have any personal belongings nor truck. To the caretaker, Eliza had come from out of the blue, as to just appear.
Eliza had partially told the truth to Harvey, who she found out was the caretaker’s name. Elizabeth was her birth given name, though Margaret Hemingway always called her Eliza, for short, at the Facility. The baby, on the other hand, was Sophie, not Hanna. She needed to be protected the most from Margaret and her son, Jacob. These two characters were the ones trailing Eliza when she was jumping the fence. These were the people Eliza was running from.
Eliza spent three days, hiding and plotting where to go, what to do next. Sophie, unfortunately, was very demanding; always hungry, and cold, and needing attention. She was ten months old, and yet always in need of things. Being sixteen and an only child, Eliza didn’t have much experience with babies, besides the ones she was forced to watch back at the Facility. Eliza shuddered every time she thought of that wretched place.
Finally, at four in the morning, Eliza got up, paid, and sprinted in the forest along the highway, where no one could spot her and yet she could see all of the road and city signs. She knew her destination now: Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Now, it’d be a trek from Greenville to Elizabeth City, but not near as bad as it was from Raleigh to Greensville. Any destination was worth the bus ticket or walking pains to get away from the Facility.
After about eight hours of off-and-on walking, with a few stops here and there because of Sophie’s sporadic moods and need times, Eliza finally made it to Elizabeth City by seven in the night.
The first thing she noticed was the Blackwell Memorial Baptist Church, with its huge bell swinging in the bell tower, and the lights lit up from inside. Eliza didn’t know why she decided to go to the particular city—the only reason was it was said that Eliza had been born here, before her mother died, and her father gave her up to the Facility. But even that was just a ghostly rumor, it was something she hoped was true. The city was quaint and quiet, the perfect place to lay low and enjoy freedom.
Eliza walked the pier, with Sophie tight in hand, watching the fishermen eagerly pull out big clumps of cod and salmon. She saw a sailor, with the jumpsuit, hat and all, knock on his oceanfront house, and a young lady, maybe in her mid-twenties, scream with joy. Four little children, ages ranging from about seven to three, ran out after the woman, all of them crying gleefully. She wished she was that kind of child, raised in such a happy family. Here she was, alone, taking care of a misfit just like Eliza.
Just then, the lady who answered the door to the sailor, with blonde curly hair and wearing a cooking apron, ran to Eliza. “What is your name, miss?” The lady seemed kind, and caring, but the question felt odd.
“You aren’t from around here, are you? I saw your clothes—they’re old and ragged. Your accent is unusual, too, though you seem like you are from a neighboring town. Why don’t you wash up and sit down, take a bite to eat? Oh, how adorable is she? Are you the mother?”
Eliza couldn’t help but chuckle for the first time in years. “No; we’re not even sisters. I’m taking care of her. I’m Eliza, and her name is Sophie; we’re from Raleigh.”
“Oh, city folks!” She brought us to the porch of her house. “Robyn, put another bowl on the table and heat up some of Robby’s baby food! We’ve got company!”
Before she knew it Eliza was sitting down with a strangely happy, southern family. She learned all about them. Captain Robert Westerly was a sailor for the navy, for three years, and had just finally gotten home for good. Rachel, the mother who invited Eliza and Sophie to dinner, was a school teacher for grades first through third. Robyn was the oldest; a brave, amazing seven-year-old girl; Reyna the second-oldest, also a girl, age five; Radley, the third oldest, a boy, age four; and Robby, the youngest, a boy, age three. Robyn immediately placed Sophie in a high chair and started spooning her a nasty-looking substance with “baby food” printed on the jar. Because Sophie didn’t protest, Eliza allowed the feeding, though didn’t know what ingredients were in the container.
“So, what brings you to Elizabeth City?”
Eliza shrugged. “My mother and I lived here.”
“Oh, we know everybody in this town!” Robert cooed. “What is her name?”
“Jasmine Quinoa was my mother’s name.”
All of their family’s eyes bugged out; apparently they really did know her.
“Your mom was Jasmine Quinoa?” asked Radley and Reyna at the same time. The others just starred with shock.
“Yeah—that was her, and I was her baby.”
“You mean, you are the infamous Elizabeth Quinoa, who was lost at sea after Jasmine’s death?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Except I was never lost at sea, but sent away to this place in Raleigh called ‘the Facility’ by my dad. It was horrendous, and…”
Everyone looked at Robert, who was blushing. “What?” asked Eliza.
“I used to be there, too, you know. I lived there for twelve painful years, until my best friend’s parents decided to adopt me. That place is ranked the worst orphanage in America; I wonder why.”
I gulped. “What do you mean, orphanage? My dad’s alive. He dumped me there!”
Rachel shook her head kindly. “I’m so sorry—he died about eight years ago, when I was still attending high school here. He was always drunk, Eliza; many predicted him to go much before that. He desperately missed you, and Jasmine. I think he felt alone in the world, and he didn’t want to be there anymore.”
Eliza shed only one tear. It was for all the pain she suffered for what her father started, and then, after escaping to the only place she knew outside the Facility, to learn that she could never learn his intentions, or ever see him again. If he felt so alone, why didn’t he just take me out of the Facility? wondered Eliza to herself. This didn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
“Going back to the myth about me being ‘lost at sea’…who started it? How did everyone believe it?”
“Well, I think it was because Jasmine was super popular. She was three years older than me. She was Homecoming and Prom Queen, always in the advanced college classes, and got a basketball scholarship to Princeton. There she met your father, Blake, who was popular back in his New Jersey hometown. It was funny, when Jasmine brought Blake back to town. He had the most outrageous accent, but the more times he visited—and by the time he and Jas bought a house here—it was long gone. When Jasmine was twenty-five, two years after marrying Blake, she gave birth to you, and well…That’s when Blake started struggling.”
“You mean—that’s when my mom died?”
Everyone looked at me like I had grown up in America but didn’t have a clue what an iPod was.
“When you were born, your mother died,” Robert said, simplifying all possible explanations.
This made me horribly angry, and sad, all at myself. Everything was my fault! My mom’s death, my dad’s death, me going to the Facility—all of it was me, and the guilt was suddenly tumbling down on me all at once.
“Now don’t fret over this,” Rachel added. “Please try to absorb the information, and move on. That’s what you’ve got to do. Now, we have to talk sleeping arrangements. Robyn, you and Reyna can share your room, okay? Eliza can take Reyna’s room, and…”
“No, no, no. You aren’t going to help me, got that? I don’t need help. Thank you so much for your hospitality, but—”
“You know, we were really missing our father, and desperately wanted him to come back,” Robyn said. “Now he is here, and I thought I couldn’t want anyone else in my life. But seeing you all lonely, and so young, mothering this little, orphaned girl, makes me want to give up my queen-sized bed and have you stay. You could help me with my homework, and I could do your hair for prom, and you can read to little Robby!”
I didn’t know what to say. Robyn was so innocent, with her bright blue eyes and curly brown hair, but she was a warrior, though tough, that needed to be protected. Then there was Reyna and Radley, who were both silent and loved to smile. At the smallest end of the table was Robby, who barely cleared three feet tall, and his chubby pink cheeks were irresistible. Sophie was the baby of the family, now; I was the eldest. Maybe we would fit in, here in Elizabeth City, somehow.
TWO YEARS LATER . . .
Three weeks away from graduation and her birthday, Eliza walked out of class happy. She just found out she was nominated for Homecoming Queen—probably because of her status as “Lost at Sea Girl Found,” and that her mother was it about twenty years prior. She even had a boyfriend, too, named Wyatt Jamison, who Rachel reported was from a “fair and loving family, with a couple of bucks left to spare.” He was smart, and headed for Penn State or Brown, though undecided. Eliza hardly even considered colleges, she discovered that five of her educational years had been much less than standard. But those years didn’t matter; she loved soccer with a passion, and was amazing at it, too. She hoped for a scholarship from Princeton, though with her grades, it was terribly unlikely. Sophie was now almost three and attended preschool classes. Life was good.
Until one week and six days before graduation someone broke into the Westerly house.
“Eliza, I’m scared!” whispered the four kids and baby Sophie, who Robyn was holding tightly.
“Don’t worry, kids,” Eliza replied dismally. “It’s Sophie and I that they want.”
Radley’s eyes lit up. “Why do they want you, Eliza?”
“Because two years ago, I escaped from a place called the Facility, a horrible orphanage in Raleigh. They’ve probably caught on about my whereabouts—you see I stole Sophie, too, because she was too adorable and precious to leave behind—and now I’m going to be taken away. But in one week and six days, I’ll be eighteen, and free. They can’t hold me for long. I’ll see you later, kids. Guard Sophie with your life. She, I’m afraid, isn’t so lucky.”
I joined Robert and Rachel, who were watching the door bang and pound down with a great big ax and a pistol. The intruder, indeed, was Margaret Hemingway.
“Who are you?” asked Robert. “Get out of my house!”
“I am here to collect my escapees, Sophia Lopez and Elizabeth Quinoa.”
“That was two years ago, Margaret! Besides, in one week I’ll be eighteen.”
“But Sophie won’t. I told you there won’t be any second chances, Eliza.”
I shook my head. “Fine, then I’ll adopt Sophie. When I turn eighteen, I’m adopting her.”
Margaret looked totally unsatisfied. “You know how long it took to track you two down? I had to ask a federal favor, look at recent security tapes, look up any suspicious purchases in each town in a four hundred mile radius. It was exhausting work to find two miniscule escapees! I wanted to let you slide, believe me, but corporate wouldn’t allow it. ‘Too much bad publicity,’ they said. Ha! But I have finally got you now.”
“You won’t get anywhere. I’m calling the police, and you’ll be arrested for breaking-and-entering.”
“Than you’ll be arrested for kidnapping!” she spat back.
“No, they won’t,” Eliza insisted. “They’re my family. Sophie and the Westerly’s are the only people I’ve got. Please, I’m begging you—bargain with corporate. Reason with them. Tell them that I am going to adopt Sophie in three weeks, and you can check up on us in a month. I cannot go back to the Facility, and neither can Sophie, for how long we both shall live.”
Margaret rolled her eyes. “All of this work for that? Man, you’ve grown up!”
“And she’s going to be crowned Homecoming Queen!” Rachel chirped in.
“Fine, I’ll see what I can do. I’m coming back here in a month to see if you’ve fallen through with the plan. If I come back and you are all gone, serious warrants will be charged, and every one of you will be arrested, plus Sophie will go back to the Facility. Is that understood?”
Eliza nodded, trying to suppress the amazing emotions she was feeling. For two long years she’d been hiding from Margaret. It used to be a personal thing; Eliza originally ran away for herself, and brought Sophie because she had always been her favorite kid in the Facility’s nursery. But now, seeing what was at stake, looking back, Eliza stayed hidden for Sophie.
A month went by, and corporate allowed Eliza to adopt Sophie. It became official on June 1st—one day after graduation and her birthday, and one week after being crowned Homecoming Queen. For Eliza, it was the biggest honor she’d ever been awarded by a long shot. It was a celebration of adopting a three-year-old, whose first word was “Eliza.” That made fighting for a little girl’s sanity worth everything.