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I scribbled his name into my notebook for just about the hundredth time. Starr Asher... My father… Probably the only living member of my family who still gave a rat’s a** about me.
I shook my head, flipping the cover shut, and gazed out the cobweb-covered, finger-smeared glass of the rickety, creaky old school bus, letting a sigh of hopelessness escape my lips. What did it matter now anyways? I was alone – I’ve been alone for as longer than I could remember – longer than I wanted to anyways.
My ever-so-thoughtful mother decided one day she no longer wanted my older sister or me – that is, if she ever wanted us to begin with – and simply dropped us on some random lady’s doorstep, rang the doorbell, then left without even the slightest explanation, let alone a simple “good-bye.” And that would be the (ironically) short story of how my sister, Carissa, and I ended up in the foster care system of Raleigh, North Carolina.
I was only four at the time, too young, innocent, and naïve to understand the things that were going on around me. Carissa was only three years older than I was, but she immediately took the role of my care-taker, love-provider, and ultimately step-in-mom after our witch of a foster-mother refused to take any interest in our well-beings. My sister promised to do anything to keep me safe, happy, and well and strived to fulfill this promise – I only wish that I could have done the same for her…
I never understood why Carissa was constantly sick. She had suffered terribly from asthma, and the dusty, dirty, filth-covered building we lived in didn’t help in the least. But our foster mother couldn’t give a crap. It wasn’t until Carissa ended up in the emergency room one night that our foster mother decided to put on her fake oh-my-poor-child façade.
A few weeks later, I sat in a chair – dressed from head to toe in black – staring at the dark, chestnut coffin on the table that held the innocent body of my dear, departed eight year-old sister. And that is when I realized it.
Everyone eventually is destined – or doomed rather – to have to face the world on his or her own.
One time though, the illusion of hope almost broke me from the gravity holding me to reality – almost.
A few months after Carissa’s passing, and upon hearing of her death, a man by the name of Starr Asher appeared on my foster-home’s doorstep wishing to adopt me. I remember seeing him hovering over me like a skyscraper to a light post, his short, spikey black hair topping off his porcelain wrapped face and contrasting with his light grey eyes.
“I am your father,” he spoke when I asked him who he was.
“How do I know that you are my father?” I asked not taking into consideration the resemblances between our pale skins and contrasting features.
He pulled out two birth certificates, one saying “Carissa Mina Asher” and the other saying “Alyssa Adina Asher.” Then, he pointed to the names “Starr Jacob Asher” and “Avery Nicole Vizcaya” that were scribbled underneath “Parentage.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thin, plastic card – his driver’s license – and held it beside the birth certificates. Starr Jacob Asher; it was him – my father.
I packed up what little stuff I owned and took a seat in the front of his black Nissan that was waiting out front as he came around the other side, sliding into the driver’s seat. I remember I just sat there staring out the tinted, front windshield, my petite, little frame overwhelmed by the black, leather-bound interior. He seemed to be waiting for me to speak first, never starting the car; only keeping his hands on the steering wheel.
“Why did you come to find me?” I asked barely recalling memories of my own and the ones my sister would tell me of when our mother would cuss under her breath, cursing the undeserving, breathing life-form that was our father.
“I came to find you,” he spoke.
“Then why weren’t you there when I was a baby?” I asked, still refusing to turn to him.
He sighed, sinking back into his chair.
“Your mother…” he began not knowing how to finish. After a moment, he continued, “Your mother and I were never married, nor did we plan on having you or your sister. But a few months after you were born, your mother and I got into a huge fight, and she left me, saying she never wanted to see me again. She took the both of you away from me, and would never let me see or hear from or about you two.”
“If she cared enough to keep us away from you,” I questioned, “then why did she give us up when I was four?”
He sighed again.
“Your mother never liked the fact that you and your sister resemble me so much,” he explained as I gazed down at the black ribbons of hair cascading down my torso. “She wrote me a letter the day she gave the two of you up, saying this was the very last time I would ever hear of her or my daughters again. ‘I cannot bear to look at them every day and be reminded of you. They belong to the government now.’ Those were her exact words…” His voice trailed off.
“So how did you find me?” I asked.
“Carissa’s…passing…appeared in the newspaper and I traced it back to here,” he explained.
I paused for a moment; a million questions swirled through my head, anxious to pour out of my mouth. But one question won for “overall relentless.” I took a deep breath.
“Why did you come to find me?” I voiced.
“Because you are my daughter.” He turned to look at me and a slight smile of contentment spread across his lips. I turned to him, gazing through my naïve, five year-old, pale grey eyes, believing this was too good to be true.
And it was.
No more than three months after I stepped through his threshold, only seven weeks after my sixth birthday, I was greeted one night at around six-o-clock by a tall, dark-haired man dressed in navy blue polyester. With my nanny-of-the-night holding my hand, I followed the man outside to the black and white police car waiting on the side of the street, shaking my head in sorrow.
“You’re father has been arrested,” the solemn, dark-haired cop spoke, squatting to be at eye-level with my tiny form.
“Why?” I asked, my voice only a high whisper in the wind.
“For murder,” he told me.
The icy winter wind picked up for the moment, blowing through the black ocean of hair flowing from my head, and the dark-haired cop opened the cruiser’s passenger-side door and ushered me inside.
“Hey kid!” the bus driver called, snapping me out of my trance. “This is your stop.” He glared at me impatiently – his face aged greatly from stress as opposed to years.
I raised myself from the sticky bench and gathered my journals in my hands.
“Pay attention,” the bus driver muttered as I shuffled past him. “You kids make my job a lot harder than it needs to be.”
I clenched my teeth together, trying to control my anger as I bounded the creaky steps and squeezed through the jammed, half-opened doorway. I stood at the side of the road as the bus circled around the cul-de-sac and pulled off down the street, after – of course – the driver gave me an annoyed glare out of the corner of his eye.
I sighed, rolling my eyes, as I crossed the street to the two-story house with the dark wood porch that I had the unbridle joy to call my foster home…not.
The surrounding houses lay quiet and still behind me, their inhabitants probably whispering rumors about the three foster children – including me – who just so unfortunately lived across the street from them. I trained myself not to care – let alone pay attention to their snide comments, knowing I should get used to it as quickly as possible because I wasn’t getting out of here anytime soon.
“Hey Lyssa,” a mocking voice called.
There he was; standing in his usual spot in the shadows of the grand tree in our front yard, just waiting for me to arrive home. His dark-brown, caramel-highlighted hair that was only combed by whatever s*** decided to run her nasty, grimy little fingers through it hung down like ratty curtains on his forehead. But the shadows of the tree did little to mask those black, lifeless, and soulless eyes that sat, one on either side of his mocking face.
“It’s A-lyssa, you d***,” I replied to my very arrogant foster brother as I stepped onto the sidewalk. “You know that letter you’ll never see on your report card?”
He stepped away from his place underneath the large oak tree and began circling around me like a sly wolf trapping its prey.
“I might not get A’s in school,” he spoke, his hot breath causing the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up, “but I got an A in the bed.”
I shoved my elbow into his stomach as he doubled-over clutching his abdomen.
“Hey!” he called when he noted my break for an escape. “Where do you think you’re going?” He grabbed me by shoulder and pulled my back against him.
“Let me go, Hunter,” I demanded through gritted teeth.
He pressed his body against mine, ignoring my struggles to break free, and slipped his arms around my thin waist.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t like it,” he half-whispered into my ear in that snide and arrogant tone of his. His hands slipped underneath my shirt, making their way to my bra. His touch wasn’t physically cold, but it startled me, sending an icy chill down my spine. I jammed my foot into his jewels, causing him to loosen his grip.
“Get off,” I grunted back-slapping him hard across the face with my hand (I chose a good day to wear the only ring I owned).
He stumbled back, but regained his balance with the grace and swiftness of a witch familiar. The white of my handprint had disappeared quickly, but the red blotch from my metal ring did little to hide itself. A snarl formed on his lips and his eyebrows pressed down into a tense V, creating shadows around his obsidian eyes.
Before I could blink, the cheap smell of Axe engulfed my surroundings as he pounced towards me like a predator. He slammed my journals to the floor, shoving me to the cold, damp pavement not even a second later. A sharp sting of pain shot through my left wrist, as my body awkwardly fell on top of it in an attempt to catch myself.
“You better watch yourself, b****,” he voiced through gritted teeth before turning and storming back into the house.
I cleared the hair from my face, the pain in my wrist returning in brief tinges as I moved my hand in different directions. Rising to my feet, I noticed Old Man Peleh paused from his weekly process of washing his tin garbage cans in the next yard over – hose in hand – to stare and watch the scene that passed between Hunter and me with a curious eye.
I dropped my gaze to the rain-puddle-covered road, still feeling his intense gaze on my back. My journals lay, pages exposed and half-sunken in water.
“Aw man…” I grumbled rolling my eyes.
All three of my notebooks were slowly being ruined by the ink bleeding and tearing all over the pages. The only escape that I had to my world…gone…ruined…
I shook my head stooping down to retrieve my soiled gems. Unexcitingly, an old, scraggily hand with bright blue vein coursing down its pale skin that was as thin as a piece of cling-wrap reached down in front of me and grabbed my grey spiral.
I forced myself not to react by violently snapping my journal out of the stranger’s hand when I glanced up and saw Old Man Peleh leaning over me. He watched me curiously – blatantly obvious that he had seen my not-so-inconspicuous attempt to hide my trained reflexes – with an almost understanding and nurturing gaze.
“Thank you, sir,” I spoke after picking up my other two spiral journals as the scent of charred firewood danced underneath my nostrils.
He never acknowledged my gesture of appreciation, but began flipping through the water-stained, ink-drained pages. I wanted to snatch my journal from his hand so quickly he would have thought lightening had struck and instantly disintegrated it in his hands, but he didn’t seem to mean any harm…
“Miracles aren’t real?” he read from one of the pages. “Reality hurts? You can’t spell ‘miracle’ without the letters ‘L-I-E’?”
I waited for him to speak first.
“Is this truly how you feel?” His voice held a wise sense of mind hidden in his slightly raspy vocals.
“They’re just…um…” I began not knowing how to finish.
He turned the page to reveal probably the most damaged and ink-stained page of all.
“Starr Asher,” he read noticing the many times I had repeatedly scribbled his name in black ink. “Who is that?”
“He’s just…a guy…in my class that I like,” I lied.
“Judging by the amount of times you have written his name, it is obvious this man is more important to you than a simple crush,” he spoke like a wise savant, looking – or rather searching – my eyes for an answer.
I just barely caught the almost invisible smile of satisfaction that tweaked at the corner of his lips as if he had found it.
“Well, um,” I began, breaking the almost hypnotizing gaze his eyes held on mine while taking back my notebook from his calloused grip. “I have chores to start, so, if you will excuse me…”
I nodded in respect and turned, walking quickly to the worn, wooden steps lending onto the porch, never glancing behind me but feeling his eyes watching my back all the while. Closing the front door, the familiar and rather unpleasant smell of marijuana greeted me, and I quickly made my way through the front foyer and into the narrow and short L-shaped corridor that my room branched off of. The smell of pot grew stronger as a thin blanket of smoke secreted in fragmented segments from underneath the crack of space between the base of the beige, wooden door and the rough-up and scuffed, maple wood flooring – my second brother’s – Trey – bedroom.
I shuffled through the door to the right of Trey’s, into the only semi-safety zone in the house for me; my bedroom. The old, worn, and scuffed wooden floor continued throughout my room, lying underneath my simple pieces of furniture. I threw my journals onto the wooden desk along the back wall, then flopped down onto the country-style patchwork quilt that topped my rickety, wrought-ironed famed bed for my daily five seconds of relaxation/pondering time before beginning my seemingly endless list of chores.
I was about the only one keeping the house up and running. Our foster parents spent countless hours out of the house whether they were actually at work or out drinking into the late hours of the night and/or early hours of the morning – come to think of it, I don’t even remember seeing them for more than an hour or two a day. Hunter, on the other hand, was, first of all, too lazy let alone selfish to care, plus – in his perverted ways – he often snuck out to go hook up with s***s and prostitutes or snuck into nightclubs with the nasty, slimeballs he calls “his Boyz.” Trey mainly sat in his room, eyes staring off into space, getting high off of whatever he could get his twitching fingers on. His eyes have changed since I first met him four years ago. But there was one difference between Hunter’s eyes and Trey’s eyes; Trey held a soul trapped behind his.
I grabbed the broom from the pantry in the kitchen and began my work, beginning with the black and white checkered linoleum flooring of our outdated kitchen, and then moved to the wooden flooring of the dining room. After emptying out the generous amount of dust I collected from the floor, I transitioned to the front foyer, innocently minding my own business like a modern Cinderella.
“You know, it’s kind of fun to watch you act like my servant.”
I turned around quickly, startled by Hunter’s voice, but anticipating seeing his sleazy form relaxing back into the wooden stairs as if it were his own personal recliner.
“I’m not, and I will never be your servant, Hunter,” I retorted.
“You’re right,” he spoke, a sly smile brewing on his face. “You’re more like my slave.”
“Never,” I repeated turning back to my work and hoping he would disappear, but knowing my hopes were far too fantastical.
His arms suddenly came around my waist and slipped themselves underneath my shirt again before I could resist or defend myself.
“You could be my sex slave,” he scorned, that slimy smirk still spread across his lips.
“Get off!” I yelled, thrusting my hips backwards.
Hunter’s body slammed against the wall causing the hanging pictures to shutter, and his grip around me loosened. I took the liberty I had and ran off down the hallway. But just as I was about to rush into the safe haven of my room, his hand grabbed the back of my shirt, pulling me back. Hunter slammed me back against the wall, pressing his body up against mine.
“You know I like a chase,” he snarled with that ever-present smirk of his.
I cringed back against the wall, struggling to break free.
It’s still the day time, I thought with false reassurance. It’s only upper during the day. It was – what I considered – to be a calming thought, but I still didn’t enjoy any part of it.
“I’m like a predator,” he continued, “hunting a poor, helpless deer.”
“Hunter,” I struggled, “let me go.” But he couldn’t care less.
“You know, it kind of turns me on when you struggle like that.”
“Let her go.”
Hunter’s grip eased up and I broke away, stumbling into the center of the small, L-shaped corridor to see Trey’s hunched-over form clinging to the paneling of his doorway.
“What’d you say to me?” Hunter demanded stepping closer to him.
“I ssaid…let…her-go,” Trey repeated, his speech patterns slurred and stuttered by the drugs.
“What are you going to do about it crack-head?” Hunter retorted.
“You-you’re a…d***,” Trey stated as he clutched the door frame more tightly in an attempt to keep himself from swaying. “You’re an-an a**. Th-that’s…wh-why…you can on-ly get whor-w****s.”
Hunter stormed towards him, slamming his palms against the poor kid’s chest.
“Shut your a** up,” Hunter called as Trey’s head smashed against the wooden door, and his body collapsed to the floor.
“No…” Trey began meaning to continue.
Hunter charged at him again.
“It’sss true,” Trey breathed, forearms up in protection.
“Hunter, stop!” I called thrusting Hunter’s body from Trey.
“I’ll be back for you later, punk,” Hunter growled at Trey. “And you,” he snarled turning to me, “Boyz are coming tonight. Better lock your door.” The smirk that haunted my nightmares reappeared making me sick to my stomach and sending a chill down my spine.
I waited until Hunter’s footsteps disappeared upstairs before I helped Trey back to his feet and gently placed him back on his bed. He never resisted, but rather clutched onto me – not for support, but almost hugging me.
“Thankk y-you,” he spoke roughly.
“Trey…”I sighed running my fingers through his maroon hair and gazing into the dilated pupils that were attempting desperately to engulf his golden-green eyes entirely. But even with his addiction, he still fought against it.
I glanced at the little, tin dish on the night stand with the dark, brownish-green scraps that was sitting next to a lighter. Shaking my head, I grabbed his hand.
“Trey…”I repeated. “You have to stop.”
He stared at me, his eyes searching my face while he continued to hold on tightly to my hand. He was only fifteen, only a year younger than me – just barely at that – but he seemed to look up to me how I used to look up to Carissa…
I became his care-taker, love-provider, and ultimately step-in-mom just as my sister had done for me…
“I’m going to get you some water and candy,” I explained rising from his bedside.
“What for?” he asked trying to keep my grasp in his.
“You need to sober up.” I grabbed the tin dish on his nightstand and headed towards the door.
“Where are you…going?” he called lifting his head from the pillow.
“I’ll be right back,” I soothed.
Flushing the scraps down the toilet, I rinsed out the tray using as much soap as I possibly could to get as much of that nasty, repulsive smell out of it – or at least cover it up as best as I could – and threw it in the trash. Then, I scurried to the kitchen – making sure the coast was clear of Hunter – and filled a glass of water the give to Trey.
Back in my room, I had a stash of candy hidden underneath my dresser. Every year on Halloween, I would sneak out of my bedroom to trick-or-treat at the neighbors’ houses, slowly building a stash of candy specifically for this purpose.
Retrieving the bag of candy, I shuffle back into Trey’s room, along with the glass of water, all the while constantly listening out for Hunter. Trey lay in the same position as I had left him, blankly staring up at the ceiling. One of the saddest parts was that it became almost instinctual for me to automatically check to make sure his chest continued to move up and down, to make sure he was still alive.
Sighing with relief when I saw the breath exhaling from his chest slowly, I came to his bedside again.
“Here Trey,” I called soothingly while helping him to sit up in his bed. “Drink up and eat half of this candy. You need to flush out your system.”
Like a little child, he obeyed gulping down a third of the glass and shoveling out a handful of candy. I stayed to keep his company for a bit, making small talk with him to keep the mood a little lighter and constantly going to refill his glass.
I let out a silent sigh of relief when I saw his pupils decrease just barely in size and relaxed a little back into his forest green, smoke-scented, worn out, lumpy comforter.
“You have a problem Trey,” I spoke reluctantly as he shoved a cherry red lollipop into his mouth.
“I know,” he replied with shame in his voice that was masked by the effects of the drugs. But I could still detect it – I was probably the only one who could decipher the emotions he greatly wished to get across to people. “I…need help.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck pulling him close to me. He buried his face in my black hair, never wanting me to pull away.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured.
“It’s alright Trey,” I whispered to him rubbing his back to calm him. “It’s alright. I’m going to get you out of here, I promise.”
I pulled myself away from him, resisting his desire not to (and frankly, I didn’t want to either), but held onto his hands.
“I promise,” I repeated softly.
He dropped his gaze to my fingers resting in his.
“What’ss that?” he questioned, eyeing the silver band with the three ivy leaves connected by a single vine around my right hand’s center finger.
I laughed quietly to myself as a smile of sweet sorrow spread across my face.
“Funny you should ask that,” I half-whispered. “My sister gave this ring to me before she passed as a promise everything would be okay in the end.” I fought back the tears of remorse stinging from beneath my eyelids, and forced a smile of reassurance for Trey’s sake, shaking my fingers through his dead straight bangs. “I’ll come back to check on you later, alright?”
He nodded his head, grabbing another candy from the bag as I rose and made my way to the door once more.
“Thank you Alysssa,” he called before I disappeared into the hallway. His words were still a little slurred, but the appreciation hidden deeply in his eyes called out to me.
“You’re welcome Trey,” I smiled.
I slipped into my bedroom, no longer worrying about my chores. I would skip them for one day; it’s not like it really mattered anyways. Hunter was used to living in filth considering the trash-bags he called his friends, my foster parents probably never even take note of what I do, and my mind was way too preoccupied trying to keep Trey safe to even think about my chores.
I stumbled back in fright when I stole a quick, reflexive glance out of my bedroom window to see Old Man Peleh watching me with a careful eye from his kitchen window. Annoyed by his second appearance in one day, not to mention confused by his peculiar actions, I drew the faded dark fuchsia curtains a tad more vigorously than intended, and then collapsed onto my bed spread, exhaling deeply into the musty air.
I scribbled his name again on a new, half-water-stained page in my grey spiral.
I sat on my bed with my knees to my chest and pen in my hand. It was only a little after midnight, but, thankfully, Trey had passed out about an hour ago from the exhaustion of the aftermath of a sugar rush. I continue to keep an ear out for him, though, making sure Hunter left him alone.
Just the thought of his name sparked a wave of disgust through my mind.
I grabbed the red journal lying next to me, throwing my grey one aside, and flipped to a new page. My hand dragged roughly across the crinkled page, heavy with anger, as I filled the soiled lines with my bitter revulsion and animosity towards the sleezeball I was unfortunate enough to call my foster brother.
So many times I had filled the pages of that red journal with the same subject, using different words each time. That was how much Hunter made me sick; it was to the point where my loathing towards him could be expressed countless amounts of time, never using the same expression twice.
A creak echoed through the hallway outside my door followed by a heavy pause. My hand instantly froze and my head snapped up, eyes watching the door cautiously.
Another creak followed by a pause.
“Trey?” I called hesitantly, shifting in my bed. “Trey, is that you?”
Several creaks sounded.
It definitely wasn’t Trey; Trey was happily asleep in his bed. It wasn’t even one person – it was several, I could tell.
Panic overtook my body in a flash. It was Hunter and his pack; I could hear their sly breathing from outside my door and smell that cheap Axe body spray emanating from their pores.
I rose from my bed as quickly and as quietly as possible, grabbing my notebooks into my hands. I jumped when the semi-loose doorknob shook as Hunter tried it from the outside. The door was locked – I wasn’t about to keep it unlocked – but Hunter had nearly busted my door two weeks earlier, and I knew the lock wouldn’t put up much resistance.
I rushed to the window along my back wall, fidgeting with it to get it open. Behind me, a loud slam against the door caused the metal lock to snap. I jumped, spinning around quickly to see the lock hadn’t been broken – yet.
“Come on!” I grunted, fidgeting with the stuck window in frustration.
Another slam reverberated from my door followed by the sound of wood crashing against the wall. Before I could catch my breath, someone grabbed my hair and threw me to the floor. I crumbled to the wood and gazed up to see Hunter’s best friend, Rafe, hovering over me with that same smirk Hunter seemed to share with his friends.
“Long time, no see,” Rafe scorned lunging for me.
I pushed his hands away, rising to my feet swiftly, and followed through with a hand shove to his chest. Rafe’s body slammed violently into the window, creating a long crack in the weak glass.
No sooner had I turned to run, I was greeted by the malicious grins and stares of Hunter and his other three vultures for friends. The tall, brown-skinned one with the black and red colored hair and eyes to match, Ray, leapt towards me in the blink of an eye and aggressively shoved me back. I spun around, unable to catch my balance, feeling as useless and helpless as a pinball, and fell straight into Rafe.
Rafe’s body crashed against the wall from the force of me being thrown at him, shattering the already-cracked window. But he made no signs of injury; instead he grabbed my wrists so I couldn’t escape and eyeing me with that nauseating, flirtatious smirk that sent chills and tremors through my body.
Thinking quickly, I brutally jammed my knee into his gems, and when he doubled-over in pain, I grabbed him by the shoulders and thrust his body away from the broken window. Rafe crashed into Hunter, who has tried to lunge for me as I grabbed my journals and slipped through the jaggedly-cut hole in the window.
I ran and didn’t look back.
I took off into the woods, the growling and insults Hunter and his boys were screaming at each other for letting me get away fading into the silence of the night. I couldn’t tell if they had followed me or not, but I kept running anyways, the trees passing me in blurs.
My foot caught on a rooted twig, and I pitched forwards, rolling onto the dampened floor. I let out a sigh of relief when I heard nothing but the silence around me. It was then I felt a linear sting down the middle of my back. When I grazed my fingers over the area in an attempt to ease the pain, my skin was greeted by a sticky liquid.
Rivers of salt flowed down my cheeks then as I finally let the tears loose.
It was yet another scar to remind me of how many times I have had to escape from Hunter. Yet another memory of watching Trey suck down handful after handful of candy and having to tear him from the safety of my arms. Yet another aching time lying on the earth floor of the forest with only my journals for my company and the tears staining my face.
A stick cracked in the distance indicating someone’s presence was near.
I gasped, silencing my sobs immediately, and crawled to the base of a tree. Footsteps neared, and I wrapped my arms around the tree’s trunk like a ring, cringing towards it like a scared, little child and letting the ivy leaves caress my skin.
It’s not them, I hoped silently shaking my head. I clenched my eyes tightly closed. It’s only you imagination…
A pair of calloused hands grasped me around my torso, gently pulling me from the bark I was frantically clinging to. Tears continued to stream from my shut eyes which I dared not open. The arms pulled me close, while one of the hands began to stroke my hair calmingly. I buried my head into the stranger’s chest, allowing my breathing to slow as I inhaled the aroma of charred firewood.
One Month Later
I turned around, glancing over the reflection of the pink scar lining the middle of my back in the mirror aback my dresser. Sighing at the recalled events of that night, I exhaled in relief – pulling my shirt back down over my torso in the process – that things didn’t go as terribly as they could have.
“Alyssa?” Trey’s sober voice called from the other side of my bedroom door.
“Come in,” I answered.
The door opened a crack and Trey’s solemn face appeared, his golden-green eyes in their normal state.
“There’s someone here to see you,” he stated. I could detect the sadness in his voice, but it was his own efforts that attempted to hide it this time as opposed to the effects of the drugs.
Curiously, I followed Trey through the main hallway and out onto the front porch where a powder-blue minivan waited at the side of the road, sitting in front of a black Nissan with heavily tinted windows. My foster mother, Erica, stood, with her poorly-dyed blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, at the base of the sidewalk speaking with a tall lady dressed in a navy blue business skirt and blazer to match along with ugly, black, business heels with her hair pinned back into a twist-bun.
The lady pulled a clipboard from the briefcase lying at her feet and handed it to Erica, and Erica nodded listening to the lady’s next words, taking the clipboard from her hand.
“What’s going on?” I asked Trey, watching curiously as my foster mother pulled a pen out and scribbled on the clipboard.
Trey shrugged his shoulders watching with a sullen grimace on his face. The lady turned to me and smiled, beckoning with her hand for me to come. With a hesitant glance back towards Trey, I descended the stairs, coming to a stop beside my foster mother.
“What’s going on?” I voiced, folding my arms across my chest.
“Mrs. Bedell here has brought the news that someone wishes to adopt you,” my foster mother explained.
“Adopt me?” I questioned slightly caught off guard.
“Yes, I just signed the paper,” Erica stated. “Everything is set and done.”
“I’m sure you are very glad to hear this news,” the lady – who by now I have figured out was a social worker – spoke to me with a light-hearted smile.
“Wait, whoa,” I started taking a step back. “Hold on; nobody told me anything about an adoption-”
Just then, the driver’s side door on the black Nissan opened and a tall man with short, black hair emerged, stepping onto the sidewalk. His light grey eyes, the exact median between his midnight hair and his porcelain skin, lit up with excitement and a bright smile of perfectly white teeth broke across his face when his eyes met mine.
“Dad!” I called instantly, tears on the verge.
I broke into a run, rushing into his open arms and burying my face into his chest. His muscles were a lot larger than the last time I saw him, but they wrapped around my tiny frame with the tenderness only a father could have. My tears of joy dripped onto his dark red shirt, but he didn’t care one bit…
“Wh-what are you doing here?” I asked looking up at him, hoping dearly this wasn’t just a dream. “I-I thought you were in…”
“I was,” he explained brushing the hair from out of my eyes. “But it wasn’t true. I was wrongly accused, and every day I cursed whoever took me away from you and locked me in that vial prison. But someone was on my side.” He smiled at me. “They proved my innocence and set me free. And the first thing I did was come to find you.”
“But how did you find me again?” I voiced searching desperately – and reluctantly – for something to tell me this wasn’t reality.
“Like I said, someone was on my side,” he smiled and added, “and yours.”
I stared up at him, continuing to look for any sign to indicate that this was only an illusion.
“Is it really you?” I finally breathed after some time.
“It’s me,” he replied hugging me again.
After a few lasting moments, we separated and I ran back inside, throwing my clothes and little trinkets as quickly as I possibly could into the suitcases that were shoved in the back of my closet. I grabbed my blue journal and a pen from my desk and flipped to a new page. I hadn’t used that journal very much; the only times I ever remember writing in it was eleven years ago when my father had first come for me and four years ago when Trey had been added to our family; the only friend I had – the only person who I cared about.
Someone is watching over me, I scribbled and clicked the top of the pen to retract the point. My head jerked up reflexively, and I saw Old Man Peleh’s house lay still and quiet next door. Smiling slightly to myself, I slid my three journals into my school backpack and zipped it up, pausing to look at the ring around my right middle finger.
The slight smile grew larger as Carissa came to mind, and I almost heard her sweet voice say to me from up above, “I told you I’d keep my promise.”
“Thanks sis’,” I whispered throwing my backpack over my shoulder, grabbing my two suitcases, and heading back out to the front porch. My dad grabbed my suitcases and threw them into the trunk of his car.
I turned to see Trey’s sorrowful eyes watching me from the porch. He had never move, only sat there and watched the entire time. His body was stiff as he leaned against the skinny wooden column supporting the overhead roof, with his hands shoved in his pockets.
“Hey you,” I called coming up beside him.
“Hey,” he half-whispered not looking me in the eye.
I exhaled, feeling the tensions between the two of us.
“Trey,” I began placing my hand on his arm. “Listen, my sister made me a promise – a promise that everything would be alright.”
“I know,” he murmured. I could hear the disgust in his voice from the foggy memories of that night. “I remember…”
“And I made a promise to you,” I continued. I pulled the metal ring from my finger and placed it in his hand, folding his fingers over it, but never releasing his delicate hand from my grasp. “I’m going to get you out of here.” His eyes searched mine, trying to see if my words were true. “I promise.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck and he pulled me close not wanting to let go. I wanted to take him with me, knowing without me here…who knows what would happen to him. But I made a promise…and I would do anything to keep that promise.
“Thank you, Alyssa,” it seemed as though he had to force the words out of his throat, force them past the sobs, “for everything.”
I never wanted to let go, and I knew he didn’t either.
Finally, we pulled away and I shot him a smile of reassurance making sure my worries for him were held under lock and key. He forced a smile back, never able to hide the melancholy in his eyes.
I descended the stairs coming next to my father again.
“Ready?” he asked smiling down at me.
I stole a glance over to Old Man Peleh’s house, lying still and quietly along the street, letting a deep sigh escape my lips.
“One second,” I told him.
I walked over to Old Man Peleh’s gate, pushing it open, and stepping inside. Ascending the porch stairs, the familiar smell of charred firewood greeted me, emanating from the quaint and simple one story house. I pulled the three spirals from my backpack and laid them on the porch in front of his white-washed door.
“Thank you sir,” I whispered before returning back to the black Nissan.
I slid into the passenger seat as my dad came around the other side. He started the car and I gripped the handle along the door tightly as my father took off down the black road, hoping this was truly reality.
Two Weeks Later
Old Man Peleh shuffled down the stairs of his front porch and out to his mailbox, morning coffee mug in hand. With a creek, the metal, rusted panel fell open and he dragged out the few envelops that lay inside.
Back in the house, a fresh fire burned at the chimney’s wooden base, laying in the living room. With a sip of his coffee, Old Man Peleh began flipping through the mail, sorting between bills and junk.
One thin envelope caught his eye.
Placing down his mug on the kitchen counter, he slide the seal open where inside sat a single sheet of paper that read:
Dear Old Man Peleh,
I cannot thank you enough for how much you have helped me. Because of you, I have been reunited with the only daughter I have left whom I love dearly. Thank you for helping to prove my innocence and freeing me from my incarceration. My debt to you can never be repaid; my gratitude to you cannot be expressed through only words.
Smiling to himself, the old man rose from his chair and shambled over to the maple wood bookshelf standing in the far right corner of the room. Lifting the thin, water-stained cover on the grey spiral laying on top of two others, Old Man Peleh slid the letter underneath, and went back to finish his coffee.