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The Broken Rituals Part I
Brand New Day
Alice scanned the sprawling, clean campus. She didn’t fit in, that much she knew. Everyone looked like they belonged in one of the glossy magazines that Grace had given her, not at all like anyone she had ever met before. She wondered if she would eventually fit in, if she would stay with the Sterlings long enough to assimilate into a new identity. She glanced at her watch, realizing that she had another ten minutes before first period would start. She decided anything was better than standing, watching the world but not being part of it, and decided to find room 16 C.
The classroom was in a tall, brick building with long marble hallways. When she entered, there was only one other person there, sitting in a chair by the window. She sat down in the back, hoping to remain unnoticed, but the boy in the front approached her. She leaned into her backpack, pretending to be searching for something so she wouldn’t have to talk to him.
“Hi. I’m Charlie, Charlie Grey.” He said, looking at her with an interest that no one had ever had when looking at Alice.
“Oh. Hi. I’m Alice” she replied quietly
“Well, hello Alice.” he said smiling. “Are you new this year? I’ve never seen you around campus or anything” he added.
“Yes. I....transferred” Alice answered hesitantly. He was handsome, he was nice, and still talking to her. She had no idea what she was supposed to do.
“Tell me a little about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?” she looked up at him from under her eyelashes. She felt herself starting to flirt with him, easing back into an old routine that felt like getting back on a bicycle after spending a summer away from home.
“ Anything and everything.” he answered with a laugh. The bell rang. “ I guess that’s my que.” he walked up to the front of the class.
“Hello everyone. This is Advanced English 3. Everyone supposed to be here?” He paused “Okay. I’m Mr. Grey, I recognize a lot of you from ninth grade english , a few of you juniors that are repeating this class, and some new faces. So, today, I’m going to conference with the students I don’t know yet about where they are in English so I can help you all get your coveted A’s by the end of the year.” He laughed. She smiled back at him. She wanted him to like her. She wanted him to adore her. She unbuttoned the first four buttons of her white blouse, revealing the tops of her white breasts. She felt him staring and she looked down, pretending to be shy.
“So, how was your first day Alice?” Grace asked.
“It was good, thank you for asking.” Alice answered, uninterested in giving Grace any details. After her third foster home, Alice had decided that she would never again get close to a family, because they were all temporary, and it only made it worse to leave. She had made an exception for Rose, she had believed Rose really loved her. Rose had helped her, gotten her sober after two years of alcohol abuse and self hatred. But then Rose had lost her job, and she was placed with the Sterlings. So Alice would never make another exception. Everything was temporary.
“Well.” Grace breathed. “ Thats fine. What would you like me to have Linda make for dinner?”
“Anything is fine, thanks. If its okay with you, I think I’m going to go upstairs and do my homework.”
“Yes, thats fine. I’ll call you when its time to eat, okay?”
“ Sure, thank you Grace.” Alice answered, already turned to leave. When she got upstairs she sat at the white antique desk that the Sterlings had bought for her. Since it was the first day, she didn’t have any homework. She reached for the remote and turned on the TV. First there were advertisements for beauty products and car loans, then the news came on.
“Wild fires are uncontrolled through northern California. 65 homes have been burned, but no one has been injured.” The announcer said. Then there was footage of the fire. Alice felt her body start to tremble, and she closed her eyes.
Suddenly she was six years old again. She was outside and she was cold. Her mom had put her out of the house for the night in a drunken rage. Alice knew that in the morning, Kendra would be there, hugging her and telling her it was all okay, saying sorry for being mean. But Alice wished she was inside. She looked up at the dark, clear sky, through tear-filled eyes, waiting for sleep to come. She wanted to be up there, in the stars, where everything would be happy and safe. She imagined that she was somewhere nice, where she wasn’t cold or hungry, and where she lived in a big clean house with a white fence and a pretty garden that wasn’t covered in dirt and weeds. With a mommy that didn’t turn mean whenever she drank out of glass bottles, and didn’t get scared whenever she had white powder. A mommy who didn’t bring ugly big men into the house and laugh at the jokes that even Alice knew weren’t funny, and let them into her messy room. Eventually she fell asleep.
When she woke up, the first thing she noticed was that it was warm and her throat hurt. Then she heard her mother screaming.
“Alice! Alice!” and her arms were around her, dragging her outside. As she looked around, Alice realized that the tiny house was being devoured by angry flames.
“Oh my God! Alice, are you okay?” Kendra asked her. “My God! You’re burned so badly! Someone help me. Someone help my little girl!” She yelled. “Does it hurt sweetie?” she asked, her voice quivering. Alice looked down at her legs, her right thigh was covered in a huge red spot that was starting to blister. Then the pain came.
“Mommy, it hurts!” She cried, fat tears welling up.
Then there were policemen everywhere. The tall one with blonde hair picked her up and asked her what happened. She told him she didn’t know. He asked her if her mom had started the fire. Alice said she didn’t know, because she was outside when it started. He asked why she was outside. She told him that it was because she was bad, then he looked upset. He asked her a lot of questions after that, and then a nice lady with a yellow dress asked her even more questions. That night, Alice stayed with the lady in the yellow dress. Her name, she told her, was Jane. After that, Alice stayed with a lot of different families, they told her she was in foster care, but someone would adopt her soon. So she was surprised, because grownups weren’t supposed to lie.