--This story was inspired by a photographer we knew years ago. If we ever find the picture that sparked the inspiration, we'll put it up.--
(Due to tapas 15,000 word limit, the story will be posted in four separate episodes.)
Erica stares out the window at the landscape as it goes by, and tries not to wonder what this new “home” will look like. Tries not to wonder what the new “family” will be like, how they will treat her…how they will view her. She tries to convince herself that she doesn’t care, that this will be just another place out of the cold, and a place to relax for a while before she moves on…
Unsuccessful, she glances over at the man sitting next to her; her parole officer. He’s in his early forties, late thirties, and the bags under his eyes are huge. She likes to take pride in the fact that she caused them.
The man glances back at her, and glares. She grins at him, and he snorts and looks away, not wanting to acknowledge her existence. She laughs to herself, and turns her music up as loud as it will go, just to piss her P.O. off. She knows he hates ‘that German crap‘ she‘s currently stuck on, but he would rather suffer through an hour or so of listening to it than listening to her whine at him that he’s “old and a jack-ass”.
Erica kicks her feet up on the seat in front of her and cranks her own seat back, closing her eyes to enjoy the music and the ride to a free house. She smiles to herself, knowing she’s got a cushy ride for at least a few more years, and the system, as much as it sucks, will take care of all her problems for as long as it has to. Well, she thinks to herself, I plan to give them their money’s worth of problems.
Three hours and twenty minutes, or by Erica’s count, about nine times through her play-list later, the bus pulls to a stop and her parole officer nudges her, then yanks the head-phones off her head, muttering, “We’re here.” She glares at the man, but turns off her mp3 and puts it in her bag along with the head-phones, and gets up, trudging off the bus with a charm like only she can manage. Her P.O. slaps a pair of hand-cuffs on her as soon as they‘re off the bus, and Erica resigns myself to being led around like some kind of lost dog until they’ve find their ride. After about three trips around the station, (which Erica knows are just stalling trips; she is sure her P.O. saw that sign at least twice, if not all three times they’ve passed it) the P.O. finally stops and greets the man, then pulls Erica along to the car. She makes the best of being pulled along like a convict by frightening little kids that get to close, and kicking at their parents when they try to soothe their children. She gets glares and angry stares, and one kid tries to spit on her. Being a much better shot, Erica gets the last laugh.
Her things tossed unceremoniously in the trunk, Erica’s finally un-cuffed, and climbs into the back seat of the hunk-of-junk car that the man drives, with the parole officer right next to her, his hand clamped onto her arm. She laughs and looks at her P.O., then pretends to blush. “Oh, my, so fresh! And I thought you would have better manners…” Her P.O. throws her a look that could kill, and she smirks and leans back, gazing out the window for the remainder of the ride.
Thirty four minutes later, Erica, her P.O., and the driver, arrive at an apartment, and Erica groans inwardly. ‘This is where they expect me to live? Hell no. I ain’t gunna be here more then ten minutes after this guy leaves before I’m out the door and on a train for Miami…’
Her P.O. grins at her obvious discomfort, but only for a moments before he grabs her arm once more and roughly leads her up to the steps, leaving the driver to grab the bags. The driver flips him off behind his back, and Erica grins. The driver gives a small wave, and sticks a pack of cigarettes in one of the bags, feeling sorry for the poor kid. Erica turns to the door and grins wider.
As Erica and her P.O. officer wait on the stoop for whoever lives there to open the door, he faces her and looks her over, wondering if she really thinks she looks presentable. Her thin frame is loosely covered by pants three sizes too big, and held up by a metal studded belt. A male’s under-shirt covers her torso, and she’s wearing a man’s watch and a necklace made of complicated inter-locking rings of silver.
Her short-cropped hair gives her a rebellious appearance, and her lean physique combined with her better-back-the-fuck-off swagger gives her a dangerous look that only the stupid or very secure would mess with. All in all, even her P.O. was a little wary of her at first, using the cuffs whenever she was in a position to use anything dangerously, which, for her, was really anytime. After a while, however, the P.O. began to loosen up. Until one day he left her cuffed to a soda machine with no money, and went inside the store to buy himself a much needed cup of coffee, and came out to see her on the corner with the cuffs in her back pocket, dancing to raise money for a soda. After that, they’d had an understanding: he’d never leave her with less than twenty bucks in her pocket, and she’d never take off on him. So far the bargain had kept, more or less, solid.
After what seems like hours, the door finally opens and a very over-weight young man stands in the door way, staring at them and picking at something in his ear with his pinky. Erica throws her P.O. a disgusted look, and he shrugs, pretending not to know what’s wrong. From deep inside the house they hear a woman scream, “Who the hell is it, Clarence?”
The boy turns around and leaves the door open to go shrug at the room which the voice came from and wander into the back part of the house, still picking at his ear. Erica and her P.O. hear a loud thump of something being deliberately thrown to the floor, and they hear muttering as an even more over-weight woman in a bright pink housecoat and hair in brown curls on top of her head comes storming out toward the front door.
“…stupid little….swear to god if he wasn’t my sister’s son…should’ve sent him to live with those cousins of his…” The woman stops dead in her tracks as she realizes who it is that has arrived, and she straightens her hair and smoothes her dress before advancing upon the two like a spider going in on it’s prey.
“Oh, how wonderful it is to have you finally here, Erica! It is just so delightful to finally have another girl in the house! O, I just know we’re going to be just the best of friends!” the large woman exclaims, sweeping up Erica in an excruciating bear hug. Erica grits her teeth and utters a muffled groan as the P.O. clears his throat, pointing out that he’s handcuffed Erica to his own arm, and the woman is about to sever both Erica and his own limbs. The woman gasps and drops Erica, who scrambles to her feet, coughing and glaring at her.
“Oh I’m so very sorry! It’s just, I’ve so looked forward to meeting you finally, Erica, and I was just overcome with joy!” The woman reaches to help dust her off, but Erica quickly side-steps the approaching hands and mutters, “One: I‘m having a bad day, so sorry if I don‘t return your enthusiasm, and two: I reeeaaaallly don’t like being touched. At all. Ever. By anyone.”
The woman seems appalled by this new prospect, but then turns all her attention on the P.O. instead. As she leads the him into the kitchen so they can sign the papers and finalize everything, Erica tugs on the P.O.’s still-attached arm with a grunt, and, once the lady is around the corner to the kitchen, she slips out and hands her end to the P.O. He nods to her, and she walks into the interior of the house to explore, and scout out possible escape routes.
Erica looks down the hallway, and wonders which way to go first. The first door on the left holds nothing but a broken sink and what looks to have been a shower or toilet at one time, but is now just a wall of mold and a hole in the floor. She shrugs, seeing only one window, and it, not being big enough for even her to fit through, isn’t even worth a second glance. The first door on the right, however, looks promising, but instead only holds what Erica surmises to be the woman’s own bedroom, with only a huge canopy bed among the clutter and a shitty closet that holds no opening to the attic.
Back in the hall, there are only three ways for Erica to go, and only one plausible direction, the end of the hall. It curves to the right, and doesn’t seem to lead to any parts of the house that the woman would actually visit. The second door on the right holds a linen closet with nothing but rat-shit inside, and the second door on the left holds the kitchen with the woman and the P.O., pouring over papers. So Erica sees only one choice; down the hall to the right.
Once she rounds the corner, Erica sees why the woman doesn’t ever venture this far. Erica herself has to pick her way around the messes, unsure of what is safe to step in or not, and she finds that the hall ends soon after she rounds the corner. To the left there are two doors, one holding the boy who she encountered at the front door and what seemed to be his lair, and the second an empty room with a bed and closet. ‘My room,’ she thinks, and glances at the window. Bars! Damnit!
The door on the right side of the hall held a small bathroom that was disgusting. ‘More disgusting than even the bathrooms in juvy!’ Erica thinks. ‘At least those get washed once every two weeks…’ The only redeeming quality was the fact that the bathroom window was wide enough for her to get through. ‘Wide enough for even tubby back there,’ Erica thought with a grin.
After her tour of the apartment, which, although very short, was far too informative, Erica wanders back to the kitchen for her portion of the interview. Her P.O. glances at her with a raised eye, silently asking if she’s found anything of interest. He’ll check later, no matter what she tells him. It’s just a test of honesty. She nods, and he nods back, with a slight smile, and a silent promise of twenty to fifty extra dollars before he leaves, depending on how big of lie she could have told him. She grins, knowing she’ll have seventy dollars before he leaves.
“So, Erica, I guess this is the part where you’re supposed to ask me things about this environment to kind of make sure you think you’ll be safe or content here, huh? Well, fire away, sweetie, I’m an honest lady!” The woman laughs at she says this, then quiets down as Erica doesn’t say anything or smile in response. Erica stares at her, and the woman becomes uncomfortable, and starts to writhe in Erica’s gaze. Finally, the P.O. decides to be merciful, and nudges Erica, to get her to talk.
“Ok, ok, chill…I’m gettin’ to the questions, ok? Sheesh…ok. Uh…” Erica hesitates, trying to think of a few lame questions she can use to cushion the more serious questions she’ll ask. The woman coughs, and the P.O. gazes intently at Erica, and points to the clock above a very old stove which seems to not have been used in a century at least. Light bulb, Erica thinks.
“Do you cook all the meals your kid eats, or do you order out all the time like some spoiled little bitch?”
“Hey!” her P.O. yells, giving her a look of complete shock, “You watch your language, or I swear…” He glares at her, his face now contorted with anger.
“I was just asking a question, like I’m s’posed to…sorry, lady…” Erica mutters, sinking into her chair, stuffing her hands in her pockets, trying to avoid the glare of her P.O..
“Oh, no, please, don’t yell at her…really, it’s ok! Although, young lady, we do not allow any language of that kind in our house…” she winks at Erica, and Erica notes how she refers to the house as ‘ours’, instead of ‘mine’. The P.O. looks at the woman, slightly startled that he reacted like that, and very surprised that the woman came to Erica’s rescue so quickly.
“I apologize, Mrs. Evans, for that outburst…but you have to understand, Erica here will take a mile if you give her an inch. And besides that,” he mutters, swinging to face Erica, “You’re supposed to be trying to become a functioning and contributing member of society, remember?”
Erica glances at her P.O., and picks up on his apology through his words, and nods slightly, then looks at the woman once more, and waits for an answer. The woman stalls for a moment, then says, “Well, we do order out, more often than we should, I suppose, but when I and my husband both have to work, Davey usually cooks himself something from the freezer…I suppose if it made you more comfortable, we could eat at home more often…you and I could even cook together! That could be a fun way to get to know each other, don’t you think?”