Chapter OneAt 2:30 in the morning, my insomnia was peaking. I had just woken up from a short doze; I realized I was dreaming about nothing in particular, and I wanted nothing more than to fall back into that deep abyss of black. I wanted to be swallowed up, to become one with the infinite emptiness where time stood still, my thoughts remained frozen, and my feelings were borderline nonexistent.
But my insomnia had other plans for me. My hand hovered over the light switch alongside my bed for a few seconds, and then I turned it on.
I lifted my feet, swung them to the left side of my bed, and used all of my energy to stand up. My shoes were lying on the floor, below the foot of my bed; waiting for me.
After I slipped them on treaded into the living room, feet dragging against the floor, I picked up my History textbook from the couch along with a notebook and a dull pencil. I slammed the door shut as I left; there was no reason to be quiet anymore.
My path was illuminated by a small, yellow light on the wall; bugs lingering around it. I walked down two flights of stairs and by the time I reached the base, it was pitch black. I didn’t need any light, though; I had this route memorized by heart.
As I came around the apartment building, I crossed the street and began walking on the sidewalk. Moments later and a few blocks down, I was sitting in my usual booth at Kay’s diner; the one in the northeast corner, next to the fogged up, streaky window. My history textbook was resting on the sticky tabletop, unopened, next to an empty coffee cup. Kay’s diner was my favorite place; it was the only place that stayed open for twenty four hours in the small town of Perry.
“Hi, Gabriella.” Becky, the mid-forties waitress, approached my table with a pot of coffee.
I slid the unoccupied white coffee cup to the edge, for her to fill it up. “Hey,”
“How’s the studying going?” She asked me, glimpsing at the closed textbook.
I shrugged. “Not so good.”
Becky laughed. “When are final exams?”
She frowned. “That’s no fun. Well, at least summer break is just around the corner!”
“I’m not looking forward to it.” I stared into thin air as I twiddled my pencil in my fingers, wondering how Becky could be so enthusiastic at this time of night. She filled my cup, gave me an empathetic smile, and walked back, behind the bar, and started talking to another regular; a man in his late sixties, who always wore khaki pants that lay above his belly button, and long white socks peeking out at his ankles.
I let out a long sigh. A month before, living with my mother in our apartment at Clear Creek, the rundown complex just behind the mall, we shared one bedroom, overlooking the back entrance of E&K Cafeteria, where there was at least one employee with a hairnet smoking outside. Running alongside the complex was a small, murky creek that overflowed its barely existing banks and flooded everything three or four times a year. Since we were on the top floor, we didn’t get the water itself, but the smell of the mildew saturated everything. God only knew what sort of mold was in the walls. Suffice to say, I’d had a cold for two years straight.
No matter how far I’d push my mind back, I could not think of a time where it wasn’t just my mother and I. I had no siblings, no cousins, no aunts, uncles, and I can clearly remember asking her where my father was, and why he wasn’t here.
She didn’t answer my question; she simply said, “Your father and I never had a serious relationship, and after you were born, things just didn’t work out.”
I realized later on that my existence was probably just a last minute attempt to save a relationship that was already destroyed.
She wasn’t much of a people person. In certain situations, she could be friendly. If you put her within five hundred feet of a man who would treat her like s***, she’d find him perfect before you could convince her otherwise, and I knew, because I tried, a lot. On the other hand, my mom tried avoiding communication with cashiers, school administrators, ex-boyfriends, bosses… which was why she was lucky she had me. For as long as I could remember, I was my mother’s representative to the world. Whenever she pulled up to the store and needed a Coke but was too hung-over to go in herself, or when she saw a neighbor coming to complain about her late night banging around, or when the owners of our apartment building wanted her money, it was always the same. “Gabriella,” She’d say, pressing the can of beer against her head. “Please, just go talk to them.”
I did. I would make conversation with the girl in the checkout lane while waiting for my change, nod at the neighbor while he complained to me about the noise upstairs, and make up some lie when we were threatened to be evicted. I was always ready for some sort of explanation. “She’s at the bank right now.” I’d tell the owners of the apartment when they wanted their money on the other side of the half-closed door. “She’s in the shower.” I’d tell her boss when he called, wondering why she wasn’t present at work. And finally, the biggest lie of all, “Of course she’s living here. She’s just working a lot lately.” Which is what I told the cop that day I’d been called out of sixth period during school and found him waiting for me.
My mom and I constantly fought; whether she was drunk or sober. Most of the time, she was drunk. And when she drank, things got heated between us, even more than usual. Maybe it wasn’t the alcohol, maybe it was the lack of crack in her system at the time. Whatever it was, as soon as I’d tell her to get her life together, she’d smack me with a cold hand and spit nasty words at me, as if I compared to the drunks she’d argue with at various bars across the town.
Apparently, that life was completely ideal for her, and I didn’t understand why. Nothing my mother did made any logical sense to me. I couldn’t help but relentlessly think that I was nothing to my mom. I was just the one who would order her Diet Coke’s, the one who would talk to her bosses. I was her caretaker.
Warner Eagan was something more, though. At first, he was just one of her one-night stands; one of those loser guys she met at bars after her shift ended at three in the morning. Suffering from a terrible hangover, my mom would come back the next morning and rave about how amazing the “guy of the night” was.
But Warner stayed. For months, actually. Warner was just another loser who lived in a crappy trailer; another one of those guys who could somehow pay for booze but not something higher in importance; like soap, or deodorant, for instance. Having him around made the entire house smell. Neither I nor my mother had anything in common with him. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, he only talked about some weird sci-fi show he watched on TV the night before. I could tell that his relationship with my mother revolved solely around intimacy. They were always ready to hook up; whenever or wherever that was, even if it was on the couch while they assumed I was sleeping. Eventually, my mom decided that it would be better to spend most of their time at his house. He had no kids, which meant they wouldn’t be bothered. I didn’t see my mother much; but I was okay with that.
I liked being alone. I had a calendar in my room counting down the days until I turned eighteen. Not that it really mattered; I was basically living on my own anyways, but as soon as I turned eighteen, I would be moving out of the hell-hole and onto my own. I couldn’t wait for that; being alone and dependent on nobody but myself. I had no idea what I would do with my life; my grades sucked and I didn’t have any talents to speak of. I was just going to leave, on my own.
My dreams of being alone came true on April 2nd, when our apartment complex almost decided to kick us out because the rent hadn’t been paid in three months; thank God they were so lenient. I came home from school the next day to an empty house, my mother’s belongings gone and nothing but a note on the kitchen counter saying Gabriella, Warner and I are leaving town. Please don’t worry about me, I will
After years of hearing her complain about how selfish my dad was for leaving, she was doing the same thing. After months of wondering whether she loved her boyfriend more than I, I finally realized this was probably true. I will be fine, she’d written, and that was the truth. I knew she would be just perfect without me, without her baggage from another past relationship that didn’t work out.
But for once, it wasn’t about her.
It was about me. Will I be fine? Can I do this on my own?
I continued with my days the same way I did when she’d been there; taking the city bus to school, walking across the street to get food with the money I made bagging groceries. For months it was like this.
It wasn’t until two weeks ago that a woman who worked with the social services knocked on my door. The woman told me that an anonymous source had said there was a minor living in Indian Creek Farms, apartment number 219. She came into my apartment and inspected everything, and then concluded that I’d have to be adopted by a foster family.
When Tauna, the director of the social services read the report that had been filed, it was clear to me that it had been embellished to sound worse than it actually was.
Minor child is living without heat or running water in apartment abandoned by parent. Kitchen is found to be filthy and overrun with roaches. Minor child’s is non-functioning. Evidence of drug and alcohol use is present. Minor child appears to have been living alone for a while.
First of all, I had running water. Just not in the kitchen, because the pipes busted. That was why the kitchen was so “filthy”, the dishes tended to pile up because it was hard to truck in water from the bathroom to wash them. As for the roaches, we’d always had them, and I’d been spraying them on a regular basis. And I did have a heater, it just wasn’t on, I didn’t have the money for that. The drug and alcohol stuff- which I guessed was the ash tray and beer bottles on the coffee table- I couldn’t exactly deny. Lastly, I could not stand hearing her call me a minor child.
The entire time Tauna was reading the report aloud, her voice dreary and dull, I still thought that I could be able to talk my way out of this. If I explained myself correctly, with perfect details and emphasis, they’d just let me go back to the way things were. After all, there was only one more year until I turned eighteen, so none of this would matter, anyway. But the minute I opened my mouth to start about topic one, she stopped me.
“Gabriella, where is your mother?”
I didn’t know how to respond. It didn’t matter what I said, how I worded it, even if I used every tool of influence I’d mastered over the years, there was only thing I could say.
“I don’t know.”
Everything else was a blur after that. I remember her, going through my mothers’ old papers, pretty much raiding the house. After days of trashing it, searching it, she’d found what she was looking for.
Phone numbers, hidden in between unpaid bills in some drawer. They had no names on them, but Tauna could not stop praising how lucky we were that we’d found something. The stack of business cards and small pieces of paper was high; I’d assumed most of them were drug dealers.
They were. Tauna’s conversations with these people were short; I recognized a few of the voices, a few of the names. I was almost surprised my mother hadn’t taken these special numbers with her, wherever she was, wherever she’d moved.
During Tauna’s last few phone calls, she’d been communicating with families in other parts of the country; I’d wondered if I was related to them.
I sat in a meeting room for hours, picking at the chipping wood coming off of the table, listening to her conversations with people. This was ridiculous; this was a waste of time.
I knew something was going on when Tauna had asked me to leave the meeting room; for three hours, I’d sat outside the door of her office.
Tauna was ecstatic as she opened the door. I dragged myself off the floor, coming back into her office, plopping down into a seat.
“I’ve found one of your fathers’ old friends.”
Her description of this man lasted for at least another hour.
His name was George Bennett. He’d been a close friend of my fathers’ and apparently, he lived in some country across the ocean called Gallanica.
I’d never heard of it before.
Her initial intention of calling George was to find out where my father was; George had no idea. He did know about me, though. And after hearing my sob story, Tauna had convinced him to take me; the homeless girl from the US. She liked to call it “adopting”.
“You didn’t ask for my input?” I crossed my arms.
She frowned. “Are you opposing to this adoption?”
“Well, yes.” I said. “It’s not happening, so I suggest you call this guy back and-”
“Gabriella, I know this is painful for you, but you’re going to pack your things. George is willing to take full custody of you, and you should be glad we’ve contacted him. He’s a very nice man, he has a family, he’s got a wife, a nice house. Most teens your age don’t find foster parents this easily.” She said.
Glad? Glad that I was going to be forced to move out of the country and into a family full of strangers? What kind of girl did she think I was? How dare she think that I could be pushed around like that, forced to do something I didn’t want to do? I hated Tauna for finding this man. And although I didn’t know him, I hated my father for even inflicting this problem on me. I hated my mother for leaving. I’d spent so much of my life dealing with so many deceitful, two faced, lying people. It was safe to say that they’d broken my trust. So how could anyone expect me to trust these people?