Ana sat on the last step leading up to her school chewing the same piece of gum she’d been chewing for an hour. It had been two hours and her mother, Nicole, had still not picked up her daughter. With a sigh, Ana picked up her torn up backpack.
The walk home took 30 minutes, but Ana liked to use the time to contemplate her life. In fact just last week, she wondered what it would have been like to be raised in the circus. She decided her name would be “The Golden Brain” on account of her golden hair and enormous brain. Later, she realized that being intellectually superior was not a big circus draw, and that if she was raised in the circus she might not even be top of her class. But on this walk she thought about her family.
Family was a very sore subject for Ana; she basically did not have one. Technically she did, her mother was 36 and had just recently received her fifth body piercing. Nicole spent most nights at Scrapes, the bar downtown, with her boyfriend Jerry who had a sleeve of tattoos, and was just as foolish as her mother, but he was twice her age. Then to make matters worse she didn’t even know her birth father’s identity. For most eighteen year olds to not have a father would have been their defining quality, when people walked through the hallways they would say, “oh look, there goes Ana, she doesn’t have a dad you know,” but Ana would not let people pity her due to the fact that her dad wasn’t in the picture. She was the smartest person in her grade and would always put more effort than all of the others. She didn’t believe that anything in life was handed to you; you had to fight for it. Still, what child didn’t want to see the world from on top of their father's shoulder, or come home to a mom making chocolate chip cookies from scratch? As far as the world was concerned, Ana didn’t want any of that; she appeared not to care. The mask she wore protected her from the harsh realities of life; it was the first thing she put on in the morning and the last thing she took off before bed.
Waiting for two hours to be picked up was ridiculous. As she placed one foot in front of the other she wondered is this all I’m meant for? Does my mother even care? Would she care if I left? What would my father say? Ana never thought about her father, not even for a second, and why should she? He left her before she was even born. Sparing even a second of her time on him was like forgiving him for all that he had done. Wasting a fraction of her brain on looking for him was a crime. Her mother might not be the best, but at least she was there… sometimes.
Seeing the brown cobblestone steps that lead up to her house meant that it was time to put on another mask, one that showed no emotion towards being abandoned. The house was falling apart. The paint was peeling all around the outside, the screen door was broken, and the roof over the living room couch was non-existent, but it was home.
“Mother, I’m home,” Ana stated, to which she received no direct reply just screams in the other room. The words were incomprehensible, but the anger behind the muffled noise was clear as a crystal. Ana carefully walked around the broken glass carpeting the kitchen floor. As she approached the living room, the howls died down, and her mother stared at her in a state of shock.
“I knew there was something I forgot to do today,” Nicole observed.
“And every other day,” Ana muttered to herself, but she immediately regretted it. She knew she just asked to get yelled at but she couldn’t help it sometimes, with a great brain comes a great need to be a smart ass.
“Just like your Goddamn father.” Her mother uttered.
“I am nothing like Jerry. I am going to get out of this town and make something for myself. Just you wait Nicole. My name’s gonna be on all the headlines and you’re not even going to be able to read it.” For an all too short moment in time Ana felt proud of herself, standing up to her demons wasn’t something she’d ever do but for some reason everything was different today. Then it all came crashing down with her mother opening her mouth.
“Not Jerry, and besides you should consider yourself lucky to have an influence like him, but he’s not who I’m talking about… The damn bastard’s your birth father. That c***y, arrogant, spends one magical summer with you then leaves, son of a-. Did I ever tell you about the time I told him I was pregnant? It was… umm…” Her sudden silence, her stagger back, and the dumbfound look on her face took Ana back. However much Ana didn’t like talking about her father Nicole hated it a thousand times more. But this wasn’t the look of hatred she normally held for Ana’s dad, this was a look of pure astonishment.
“What happened?” Ana questioned even though she was terrified.
“Listen here Ana Lou Johnson, but just remembered you asked for it… Your father doesn’t know about you. I didn’t tell him.”
In a moment her whole life had changed. All those days wondering about living a different life could have been true. How could someone, and not just someone, her own mother, have kept that from her? What if he wanted to raise Ana? What if he wanted to take her far away from Nicole and never look back? Ana would never know because her own mother had robbed her of that opportunity. With one million questions running through Ana’s mind only one made it’s way to her lips.
“What is his name?” For most people this would be a simple question, probably one that most kids who grow up without a parent ask as soon as they realize that they have one less parent than all of their friends. Not Ana. She did not want to know or have anything to do with her father, for the first 18 years of her life he was dead to her. Jerry rose from his chair and placed himself in between Nicole and Ana who each had steam pouring out of their ears.
“Why you wanna know champ? Your mother is the one who raised you and cared for you.” His sincere eyes pierced her soul, she could tell he was trying to help but he wasn’t. Where was Nicole when Ana needed a ride to Science Olympiad, or when she just needed someone to tuck her into bed and tell her a story? She was at Scrapes. One could have mistaken Ana for a fire truck at that point.
“I will ask you again, Nicole, what is his name?” she demanded an answer, and for once in her life Nicole did what Ana asked her to.
“Fine, Timothy Valencia… Happy?” She was ecstatic but instead of answering, and asking any of the other thousand questions she had, she turned her heel and strolled out of her house.
If Ana wasn’t at home or school she was at the local library, all of the librarians knew her name, favorite genres, and her home life. Two pitiful faces greeted Ana. Normally she would sit down with Nancy and Karen, telling them of all her recent accomplishments and downfalls, conversing like a mother and a daughter should.
Today she dashed towards the computer section and sat down at number twenty-six. Pulling up a new web page she typed into the search engine “Timothy Valencia”. Before she pressed enter her mind was spinning. What if he’s worse than Nicole? What if he doesn’t want anything to do with you? Taking all of these into account she slammed her index finger on the enter button.
Ana didn’t know what she was expecting, but she could not have been more wrong. Timothy Valencia was a dream. A world-renowned scientist, Nobel Prize winner, and a millionaire. If this truly was a dream she didn’t want to ever wake up, but like all good things it came to an end. He lived in New York City, that was at least a full day's drive and there was no chance Nicole would have driven her. If she walked the distance there was no guarantee she’d even make it.
“He looks nice.” Blurted out Nancy, peeking over her shoulder with Karen to her right. “Who’s your handsome, gentleman friend?”
“Oh it’s just… you know... my birth father” Ana mumbled. The ladies eyes grew to three times their original size. “It doesn’t even matter guys, he lives in NYC there’s no way for me to get to him.” Ana explained to them everything from Nicole forgetting her at school, to finding out her father didn’t even know she existed. The librarians sulked away back to the counter. Ana just stared at the screen, looking through the millions of pictures they had of him, reading articles and internally cursing out her mother for denying her the chance to meet him. As Ana’s face turned from its natural color to the shade to a ripe tomato, she felt two fingers on her left shoulder. Nancy and Karen were grinning as if they were taking someone to their surprise birthday party.
“As you know, the two of us don’t have much. The glorious life of being a librarian does not pay as well as it should,” Nancy started. “But for the past few years, we’ve been saving up for a trip to the city. Just a little girls day, shopping, walking in the park, and maybe even see a show. We’ve put aside $549 and we want to give it to you. Before you say ‘no’ and ‘I couldn’t possibly accept’ you don’t have a choice.”
Ana’s jaw hit the floor as Karen placed a white envelope in her hands. Before this the nicest thing someone did for her was when Jessica Greenfield picked her first for her kickball team in fifth grade.
“But what about your girls day, you two deserve it after everything you’ve done for me.” She pleaded.
“We’d rather you get to meet your father, besides when are you gonna get another chance? To be brutally honest kid, you don’t have a lot of friends who’d be willing to put up this kind of money for you” Karen argued. A dream come true was not a fair description of the opportunity Ana was just presented with.
“I promise I will pay you back one day.” She swore.
“Just don’t get your hopes up too high, we don’t want to see you hurt.” Karen warned. The three girls embraced as if for the last time, but Ana promised herself she would be back for them. She walked to the door, turned and gave them another wave. Then she ran.
Ana reached the bus station as the sky turned from baby blue to carrot orange. A woman with three children-two toddler boys and a baby girl, a man without a blanket but with a sign saying ‘I just want to go to the city to visit my family’, and a ticket salesman who must have been in his mid forties were the only people at the bus station. While the salesman intimidated her, she approached him.
“One ticket for the soonest bus to New York City.” she proclaimed, which was met with a scowl.
“Next bus is in twenty minutes, does your mother know you’re here?” The attendant questioned. Ana didn’t know how to respond but she did not come this far to be sent packing.
“She is… in… the bathroom. I actually need two tickets, sorry, I forgot.” The corners of his mouth were drawn inwards, implying he did not believe a word out of her mouth, but the dark purple bags under his brown eyes counteracted it.
“Alright then, that’ll be $30 each.” Ana grabbed the cash from the envelope and received two tickets. What’s the point of two tickets? Ana wandered around until she saw the man without a blanket again. She knelt down and handed him the ticket.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. God bless you ma'am!” His eyes lit like a Christmas tree, and he smiled in a way that made you think there were no wars or any faults in the world. Ana nodded and walked towards the bus, and she thought she heard hushed sobs.
Eighteen minutes later the bus arrived and Ana got a window seat towards the back. The electronic, luminescent sign at the front of the bus said that it was a straight trip to NYC, no stops. Ana leaned her head against the window; she counted all of the streetlights that they passed under.
4- then she passed out.
As Ana fluttered her eyes open, she barely caught a glimpse of the green Billboard that screamed ‘Welcome to New York City’. Her heart skipped a beat and she knew that she was close to finding something important. After hurling forwards and backwards it was finally time to get off of the bus. Ana was like a baby calf learning how to walk for the first time. As she picked a map off of a street vendors cart she headed towards 56th street.
She acted like a carousel, but when the ride finally ended when the sky had turned from a vibrant blue to a fiery orange, she had made it to apartment building 103 on 56th street. Paralyzed, she stared at the building. Not at its sleek and modern design, its windows that seemed to go on forever, or even the sundeck that looked over the whole city. Ana was frozen because she couldn’t imagine how this could play out. Am I am idiot? Who doesn’t email or anything when they're about to drop by? Am I just going to go up there and tell him I’m his daughter? What if he calls security on me? Thousands more questions were piling up in her head as a wave of people washed her away. Fighting all of the currents pulling her away she charged through the mass and entered the building.
There was a doorman sitting behind a counter, he looked like he had just won the lottery when he started cackling, “You had better be careful little lady, this city’s an unforgiving one. First time here?” Upon inspection of his velvet suit she discovered his name was Gary.
“Is it really that obvious?” she inquired, but clearly it was. “You know what, don’t answer that. My name’s Ana Lou Johnson and I need to know what apartment Timothy Valencia is in.” She proclaimed. Gary raised his eyebrows and dropped his jaw; he had never seen someone so bold in their requests.
“Listen kid-Ana- I like you well enough, but I can’t tell you that it’s plain illegal, sorry.” He seemed genuinely upset that he couldn’t help her but it did not matter to Ana who just wanted to meet her father, so she sulked to the couch in the corner of the lobby. This was it, the end of her journey. Ana couldn’t go back to Nicole, not after everything she had done to get away. Maybe she would stay in New York City, it was the land of opportunity, she could make a name for herself here and she had enough money to stay in a cheap motel for at least a month. Just as Ana began to accept her new life plan, a man strutted into the building. He seemed familiar to Ana; he held his head high, with light hair to match a light scruff. His eyes were like a melted chocolate bar, and his suit of grey linen told the world that he didn’t fool around. All of a sudden, she realized where she knew him from, this was the same face she studied off of a computer screen just yesterday, this was the person that she dreamed about to rescue her from the horrors of her life, this was Timothy Valencia, this was her father.
Ana was acting as if all of the air in the room had just been sucked out and she was gasping for any oxygen. Timothy waved to Gary, and then walked through the lobby and headed straight for the elevators. Without realizing it Ana had begun to follow him. As she reached the elevator she stood next to him like it was winter and she didn’t have a coat, shivering with anticipation she worked out a whole monologue in her head Hi I’m Ana and I’ve traveled so far to finally meet you and tell you that I am your daughter. She realized she was crazy and obviously couldn’t say something like that to a man she just met. But before she could revise her speech the elevator arrived and they got into it together.
“What floor?” Timothy asked as he lit up the penthouse button.
“T-the penthouse, p-p-please.” Ana hated herself for stuttering so much but he didn’t really seem to care. He was on the phone and getting redder by the second.
“What do you mean my intern quit? Well what am I going to do now? I need someone up at my apartment by the time I’m there or so help me God I will have you fired, Mark… No not just anyone someone with a science background… Yes to replace the intern, God damn it Mark, you really don’t know up from down do you?” He slammed his finger on the end call button, and Ana was shocked that someone could be so rude over the phone, but this also gave her a perfect in. She could be his new intern then she would be forced to spend time with him and get to know him before dropping the bomb on him that he is indeed a father. As the elevator reached his floor, and the two got out, Ana mustered up all of her courage and tapped him on the shoulder.
“My name is Ana Johnson and I would love to apply for your new internship.” Timothy scrunched his eyebrows together and stared at her.
“I like your guts but do you have a background in science? Do you even know what the job you’re applying for is?” Timothy scolded.
“I do have a background in science, and an IQ of 167 which makes me a high genius, and while I’m not entirely sure what position I am applying for, I know that you are Timothy Valencia, world renowned genius and scientist, so I know that you are the type of person I want to work for.”
“You’ve got guts kid, I’ll give you that. Come into my apartment, we’ll see what we can do with you.” With that Mr. Valencia lead Ana down the hall and she finally breathed again. This is perfect, he thought, this is the perfect way for us to get to know each other. She couldn’t believe it was happening but as he opened the door to his apartment she knew it was real, even if his apartment was something out of a dream. The ceiling must have touched the clouds and the windows must have been four times her height. Everything was modern, metallic, and sleek. Her jaw was on the floor.
“I know, isn’t it amazing?” Mr. Valencia asked.
“It looks like a dream,” She responded.
“You know, that was the exact vibe I was going for. I was always fascinated with dreams so I thought I’d bring them to life. Anyway let’s get a job for you. As you overheard my intern was just let go.”
“I thought you said he quit?”
“The details are unimportant, what matters is that there is a job available as my intern down in the lab, we will be working on answering the question, why do humans sleep? Normally we have a long application process that takes about two months, but I see something in you, a boldness and ferocity that I haven’t seen since… well, since myself.” Ana couldn’t believe what she was hearing, she pinched herself just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, she wasn’t. “Oh and of course you’ll have to stay here, I might need to call on you at any moment to help with an experiment or just for clean up duty.” At a loss for words Ana just nodded very enthusiastically. “Do you have a parent we need to call to make sure that this is ok?”
“Oh, my mom wouldn’t care, she lives out in the suburbs, and something tells me my dad’s really ok with this,” Ana chuckled at her own joke, but Mr. Valencia dismissed it.
“Great, there’s a room down the hall to your left. You start tomorrow.” At a loss for words, Ana nodded and walked to her room. She jumped onto the queen-sized bed and stared up at the constellations covering her ceiling, she thought to herself, maybe I finally found my place among the stars? And with that thought she fell asleep.
Over the course of the next few weeks Ana woke up every morning at 6:03 on the dot. She would pour herself a bowl of raisin bran and a cup of coffee. By 7:10 she was in the lab and ready to help with whatever Mr. Valencia needed that day. They realized they had a lot of similarities like both being left handed, both being allergic to papaya, both had a secret guilty pleasure of loving country music, and so many more.
One day when they were down in the lab and working with chemicals, Mr. Valencia asked her to hand her a vial from off of a hot plate. When Ana returned with the vial she handed it off to Mr. Valencia.
“If, hypothetically, I ever had a daughter I’d be glad if she was as smart as you and as devoted to science.” Mr. Valencia’s words echoed in Ana’s head and before she could stop herself-
“Well, you do.” Ana immediately covered her mouth with her hands, regretting everything from the moment she was born to right now, cursing the world for her being so foolish.
“What did you just say to me Ana?” His eyebrows furrowed together and nostrils flared.
“This wasn’t how I planned to tell you, but it’s true I’m your daughter. My mother, Nicole Johnson, told me so herself. She also told me that she never told you before you left.” Her vision blurred as tears began to form in her eyes, this wasn’t how she wanted it happen but the moment was here and there was no going back.
“Nicole… Damn Nicole. It was only one summer. How could this, how could you, have happened? No… This isn’t real… I’m being pranked aren’t I? Tell me I’m being pranked Ana!”
Mr. Valencia grabbed her shoulders and shook her before collapsing on himself, Ana had had weeks to come to terms with the fact that she had a father and now all at once this man's life was changing. He rose from the ground and sprinted out of the lab, Ana stayed back to clean up then followed him and heard him on the phone.
“Mark, could this be true… Well what do I do about it? A paternity test? What do I do if she’s mine? Ok… Ok… I’ll call you later.” His voice ranged from screams to whispers, but Ana was sure of one thing, he wanted nothing to do with her.
“Mr. Valencia, I’m sorry for not telling you sooner, please forgive me.” He just shook his head before coming over to Ana, then placing his hand on her shoulder.
“I apologize for reacting so poorly, I just have a very short temper, surely you do not want me as a father anymore, do you?” He joked, but he seemed genuinely disappointed.
Ana pleaded, “In the few weeks that I have been with you I had more of a parental figure then I had my whole life. I am sorry that you found out this way but I hope you’ll take me in.”
“Let’s go take the test before we do anything drastic, I wouldn’t want to get your hopes up” Then he muttered something under his breath, Ana was ninety percent sure he said “or mine” but she couldn’t be sure.
Over the next three hours the two had taken a DNA test and the results came back. Mr. Valencia was Ana’s father. The two of them went back to his apartment, and sat down of the white leather couch.
“Listen Ana, I don’t know how to be a father. I never really thought I ever would be one, and now that I am I’m scared, being scared isn’t something I do well with. I don’t know that much about you, but I’d like to learn, and you can get a chance to know me. I hope I can do right by you, but please don’t expect me to be the perfect father like in the movies. I don’t know how to be perfect, but, for you, I’m going to try. What do you think?” Mr. Valencia explained, and with his big brown eyes, looked like a he was the one who just found the family he was always looking for, and maybe he was, but he didn’t know it.
“I’d like that very much Mr. Valencia.” Ana’s smile stretched from ear to ear as Timothy started to chuckle.
“You can call me Timothy, and who knows, maybe one day, you’ll call me dad?”
The two of them started laughing and Ana hugged Timothy, and after a moment of hesitation he hugged her back, and for the first time Ana knew what it felt like to receive a parent's unconditional love. It was a wonderful dream, and it had finally begun to come true.