THEY SAY IT'S HOME- CHAPTER ONE

212
4
Submitted Date 04/05/2019
Bookmark

I could hardly see for all the yellow. Blinking awkwardly, I stepped out of the taxi and into the sun. Buttery light spilt out from a crack in the clouds, melting over my skin in unexpected warmth; I could almost forget it was winter.

“I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes, if you can please wait until then,” Evelyn said to the cabbie as she pulled out my battered duffle bag.

The cabbie gave a noncommittal grunt and Evelyn replied with a satisfied nod, as if she spoke the guttural language of the cab-troll, and turned to face me. “Are you ready Charlotte?”

I stared forward into the sun, eyes beginning to water and burn. I heard her sigh. “I said, are you ready?” I nodded briskly, trying to let her frustration wash over me. It was no use getting caught up in the waterfall emotions of this woman. I needed to stay stoic and unaffected; I’d learned that lesson a long time ago.

Her heels clicked determinedly against the pavement. “It was hard finding someone to take you in at such short notice,” she reminded me, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. I dodged and she sighed again in exasperation. “I don’t know why you had to insist on running away from the Morrison’s. Again.”

“I told you, they were racist,” I replied sulkily, crossing my arms over my flat chest. “They didn’t like having to feed a little Indian girl. They made me do all the chores on the farm and always complained I didn’t do them right.”

“Oh Charlotte, they weren’t racist,” she said. “Every kid who stays at the farm has to participate in the family chores. It’s character building.”

“You weren’t there,” I said loudly, letting the anger that was building up inside of me out. “You didn’t hear what they said when they thought I wasn’t listening.”

Evelyn put her hand on my shoulder and stared at me in that unnervingly calm way she had, cherry lips pursed together tightly. “Listen dear, this isn’t the first place you’ve run away from, so sorry if I don’t necessarily believe everything you say. There’s always some sort of excuse for you to run off, isn’t there? Just do me this one favor, and give this place a chance, please. Try to make yourself at home here.”

I took a deep breath and looked away from her liquid gaze, letting the muscles in my shoulders loosen a bit. Evelyn wasn’t right this time, the Morrison’s had been a family of racists, but I’d cried wolf too many times. Every family I’d stayed with the past three years had been horrible in different ways, but I could understand why she might be a little fed up. Evelyn was the closest thing I had to family, and it did hurt to see the disappointment in her eyes. “Alright, I’ll try.”

Evelyn’s smile settled the heaving that was in my stomach. It was hard meeting people and hoping so hard that you could fit in and being disappointed every time. I wasn’t sure how many tries I had left in me.

“Thank you Charlotte.” She reached out again to fix my hair, and this time I let her. The harsh chopping off had been a spur of the moment decision, and I knew the dismay she had felt at seeing my miles of dark, lustrous hair gone. I actually liked it though, my head had never felt so light before. I’d never really felt so me.

As Evelyn turned to face the door I shook the bangs back into my eyes. She wasn’t going to win every battle today. The doorbell chimed loudly, more of a screech than a ring, and Evelyn raised an eyebrow at me so that I giggled and looked at the ground.

We stood in silence on a plain green door mat. She tapped her foot impatiently and glanced at the watch adorning her slim wrist before ringing the bell again. “I do hope they’re home, I have a schedule to keep-”

The door swung wide open and she stopped mid-sentence. I glanced up and saw why. The girl stood there silently, almost furiously, as if daring us to say anything wrong. Somehow Evelyn found her voice, faltering slightly before evening out.

“Oh-you, you must be Lauren, right?” she sputtered.

The girl glared back openly. “Yes.” I blinked.

“Oh, well it’s- it’s nice to meet you isn’t it?” She bobbed her head between the door and the inside hallway of the house like a bird. “Is Mrs. Allen home?”

The girl slowly ran her eyes over us, casting judgment, before she swung the door open wider to admit us entry. “Yes.”

I averted my eyes from her poisonous gaze and pretended to study my feet as I followed Evelyn in. The door slammed shut and she marched off in front, leading us forward.

The girl had a vicious red burn scar twisting down from the left side of her jaw to her right collarbone, disappearing into the top of her black tank top. I couldn’t begrudge her acrimonious attitude; she either faced the world daring them to say something or let the whispers overcome her. I could relate to that. I was always the one little desi in a white, white world.

I watched her brassy orange ponytail bouncing against her shoulders, and felt vividly that I knew her. I couldn’t place it as my eyes traced the back of her neck and freckled elbows, but something about this girl was achingly familiar. I let those thoughts fall away as we approached the kitchen; if I’d met her before I definitely wouldn’t have forgotten.

We entered the kitchen to see a tall blond woman stirring something on the stove.

“Denni, they’re here,” the girl said, and the woman turned around in surprise.

“Oh crap, already?” She smiled at us, a little frazzled, and wiped her hands on her apron.

“Hello Mrs. Allen,” Evelyn said smoothly, as always. “I’m sorry to have to intrude upon you at such short notice, but we really appreciate you welcoming us to your home, don’t we Charlotte?”

I looked at her to nod, and saw the girl behind her stiffen suddenly. I tilted my head at her quizzically and she stared back. I took the moment to openly look her over, the puckered pink and red scar marring her face and neck, the soft freckles sprayed across her skin. Her eyes were an intense blue, and I knew she was searching for something in my own, but I didn’t understand quite what.

“Oh, it’s not a problem. Erin just moved on to her next home and we have the bed open. A little sooner than we thought, but not too much trouble at all, is it Lari?”

I felt the force of her name from my throat to my toes like lightning, bristling through my veins and electrifying my fingertips. Had I forgotten that scars are sometimes new?

Evelyn paused and looked at the girl, really looked at her for a moment, then back at me. “Well, I really must get going Mrs. Allen, I’m leaving the paperwork with you and if you could just come drop it off when you get a chance it would be much appreciated.”

They continued in that vein for a few more minutes while Lari and I stared at each other appraisingly. She no longer looked quite so angry, instead her eyes took on the look of the lost little girl I remembered. I felt my heart beating in my chest so hard I heard nothing else but that staccato rhythm.

“Charlotte?” Evelyn’s voice jarred me back to the present. “Walk me out?” I scrunched my face up in confusion but did as she asked, still thrown by the fact that Lari was here, right here with me.

When we got to the door Evelyn’s eyes darted quickly to make sure we were alone, then she put her hands in a comforting grip on my shoulder. “Charlotte, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that this Lauren was Lari, from back then.”

“What do you mean?” I asked in surprise. She was saying this like it was a bad thing, something I wouldn’t want to happen.

“I didn’t case the other occupants the way I usually do, so this is my fault completely. But you need to realize that things change, and people aren’t always who we remember them to be.”

Her hands suddenly felt less pleasant and more like a trap, nails digging into my shoulders. I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t think I understand.”

She stared searchingly into my eyes, then released my arm to touch my face. “I just don’t want you to get hurt Charlotte. Lari has been through a lot since you two were last glued together at the hip.”

“I mean, that’s a little obvious,” I said, even more confused. Lari had a giant burn twisting her flesh, did Evelyn think that was something I could possibly overlook? I didn’t expect for us to fall into our old ways, we weren’t little kids anymore.

Evelyn ran a hand through her short hair and sighed, something I seemed to cause her to do a lot. “I just worry about you is all.” She gave me a hug and I stiffened slightly, we weren’t usually the touchy type. After a few seconds I reached out tentatively to return the embrace. Even if I couldn’t find words for it I knew that Evelyn had been going above and beyond for me since we’d first met eight years ago, and that she had fought to keep me as one of her charges, as difficult as I could be.

She patted me on the shoulder one last time and then left, so that I had to turn and face my new home.

 

* * *

 

Footsteps approached the room that Denni had shown me to, and I knew that in a moment I would no longer be alone. It was a bunk bed after all, that meant Lari and I were sharing. Evelyn’s warnings rang heavy in my mind, and I wondered what this new Lari would be like, this girl with freckles and scars.

“Charlotte Bhatti,” she said as she entered the room, looking me over slowly as if assessing the me who I was now and comparing it to the me I was back then, just as I was to her.

“Lari Kent.” I gave her a half-smile. She didn’t return it.

“I like your hair.” It was deadpan. No twinge of a smile or twinkle in her eye. She was as stoic and unmoved as a statue.

My hand found itself buried in the short mop self-consciously. “Felt it was time for a change.”

The burn on her skin was an angry red, mashing up flesh like tight strips of tissue paper, and I wanted to reach out to touch it. I wanted to feel the pain she had from however she had received it.

“It suits you.”

There was an awkward silence because the most obvious difference about Lari, her scar, wasn’t something I could comment on. I could hardly say it suited her, even if this icy new demeanor brought that thought to the forefront of my mind.

“Was Mrs. Allen cooking dinner?” I asked, attempting to forward the conversation into something more amiable.

“You mean burning it?”

“Well yeah, I guess.”

“She’s a mediocre cook at best, we’ll probably just order pizza. A waste of our allowance if you ask me.”

“Allowance?”

“You know, the money they get for holding us hostage.”

One of the perks of foster care for the foster parents was the monthly stipend they were given so that they could afford us. It usually amounted to about a dollar an hour, or twenty five dollars a day. It might not seem like much, but for a lot of foster parents that was the reason they signed up for this.

Some parents would collect three or four children, and you could bet that extra hundred dollars a day didn’t go to the kids. Finding a foster parent that actually used the money to buy the kids clothing wasn’t something you often found. That’s why I ended up with one bag of ill fitted shirts and pants. Most of them were hand-me-downs.

I shrugged. “They’re the ones getting paid. They can figure out what to do with that.”

Lari gaped at me incredulously. “Seriously? You don’t care that we get treated like second class kids?”

I shrugged again noncommittally. “As long as they don’t use it to buy drugs or liquor, then I guess I’m okay with a roof and some food.” At the Morrison’s it actually hadn’t been so bad. They’d had five kids of their own, so I was definitely the outlier.

The chores were excessive but they churned out food, so it didn’t matter quite so much how exhausted I was at the end of each day. It had felt like I’d accomplished something. That might have been one of the better homes I’d stayed at over the years if they hadn’t pushed all the chores onto my shoulders by the end.

“You’re not really gonna go far in life with that kind of attitude, are you?”

I’ll admit, that comment hurt. “I’m just used to it, you know?”

“Yeah I know, there are a lot of things I’m used to.” She crossed her arms. “That doesn’t mean I’m willing to let people take advantage of me.”

“I’m not letting people take advantage of me,” I protested angrily. My hands curled into fists at my side. “Why do you think I’m here like this and everything’s so unprepared? ‘Cause I left my last home when I knew they didn’t care either way!”

“Sure, little Charlotte with her one bag of clothes, and ugly haircut,” she said contemptuously. “Such a rebel.”

“Why are you being like this?”

“Like what?” There was a dare in her question.

I knew I shouldn’t fall for it, she was trying to rile me up, but it was working and I was never one able to bite my tongue. “Like such a bitch!”

Lari seemed satisfied at the answer. “Is that it?”

“What else do you want me to say? That I haven’t seen you for eight years and you’re treating me like crap? That you think that scar on your face gives you a right to judge everyone before they can judge you?” She stepped back like I’d slapped her, then narrowed her eyes.

“I guess that’s something you could say,” she said coldly, and stepped out of the room. I stared after her wordlessly, the anger in me deflating like a balloon that had been released. Evelyn had been right, Lari wasn’t who she’d used to be, and I guess neither was I.

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

Related Stories

Comments

Please login to post comments on this story