Free to a Good Home, Book 2 of the Heartbeat Series

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8. Limbo

The droning rhythm of the monitors with their endless beeping and the whistling of the ventilator attached to her face, kept Maia alive while her life teetered on the fence of uncertainty. Light kept flooding her from time to time as vivid pictures of the last months grounded her against the hospital mattress whenever her soul felt free enough to float away. From time to time, she would be close to escaping the sounds of the machines, the squeezing of the polyester cuff about her forearm and the burning of her throat, when she’d hear a cacophony of voices in different languages and volume near her.

Every once in a while, Maia was certain Jimmy was with her. She’d hear his lullaby in her ears, very soft, a warm hand on her forehead, its fingers combing through what was left of her chopped brown hair. However, she knew that it wasn’t Jimmy. The voice was lower and flat, not like Jimmy’s perfect pitch tenor when he sang it. After all, he had sung it on stage, in Sweeney Todd, so he knew it by heart.

Whoever this was, it wasn’t Jimmy, but he knew the song—maybe he knew Jimmy—maybe Jimmy sent whoever it was to her. She had to open her eyes and ask. She had to find out. As she struggled to waken, her pulse quickened, whoever was singing would stop and his cool hand would lift away from her until she calmed again and quit struggling against the state of limbo she felt and relaxed again there on the mattress.

Maia struggled to hear the voice, to recognize it, just hoping that it was Jimmy. The return of Jimmy and Jonny were all that she had wanted for months now since she had been out of touch with them. She just wanted them with her, to take her back home to their brownstone on Acorn Hill, to let her sleep in their bed between them when she missed Cat the most, and to let her go back to school and finish her classes at the University.

Maia dreamt of what it would be like to return home there, the first time back in the brownstone, to stare at the door across the hall from Jimmy and Jonny’s apartment and remember the day social workers and cops forced her from there. How could she walk past that door every day and resist going inside? How could she stand to see someone else walk in and out of that apartment that should have remained hers and Cat’s always? How could she look at that door and forget that day—

As Maia attempted to forget those thoughts and erase the nightmare that she could not wake up from, her eyes flooded with the flash of bright light again. She strained to hear the voices who sounded as if they were speaking beneath the water. A warming sensation came over her again, and Maia longed to float away into it if that meant she could evade the nightmare altogether. She was so close, so very close that she could feel the warmth emanating from the light as if it were the sun on a cold spring morning. Suddenly, the loud and robust sounds of men talking made her collapse back on the mattress again as if her spine was magnetized to the bed frame and couldn’t leave as the light lessened like the sun dipping behind the clouds and the shrouding of darkness and shadows loomed over her. As if she had slipped back into the nightmare again, the sound of knocking on her apartment door flooded her as it increased in volume.

“Maia, open the door,” called Marty, the landlord who lived on the third floor. His knocks became bangs. “Look, kid, I can’t help you. I don’t know when those queens are coming back, your mom is gone, you got to go with these people. I ain’t sticking my neck out for you. I can get in a lot of trouble—” Marty’s reasons for his betrayal poured from his mouth as Maia stepped back from the door, unable to believe that the man she revered as an Uncle since she was a baby would let social workers take her away.

“Go away, Marty.”

“Maia, open the door or I’ll let them in myself.”

“I can’t go, what if…what if Jimmy and Jonny come back? They’re supposed to be my guardians.”

“Those queens probably found a better life with those froggies in Europe. Probably with ones who are as gay as them. Let’s go, kid, I ain’t got all day.”

Maia grabbed her yellow backpack from the hook near the door and dumped its contents onto the floor. Books, pencils, a calculator, gum wrappers, a pen that didn’t work and her journal fell out into a pile in front of the doorway. She rushed about the room grabbing her piano books from the old piano that was painted puke green, had chips of paint that showed a red layer beneath, and in one place a blue chip that it had been painted probably years before the red. Maia took the clamshell-framed pictures of Cat and her, each time when Maia had a medal about her neck.

As the knocking stopped, Maia remembered her competition medals and rushed to the bedroom for them, sliding them off the side of Cat’s old dresser mirror, counting to make sure all five were there and stuffed them in the bag as well as the three five-year journals that Cat had stacked up on her dresser. Maia hugged them to her chest briefly before she put the records of her life into the backpack, awakened again by the sound of keys in the door’s lock. Thank goodness, she had remembered to put the chain lock on the door earlier.

“I gotta get a pair of bolt cutters, I’ll be right back,” muttered Marty. “Damn kid, got to make everything difficult. You should have been here the day her old lady died. She wouldn’t let the ambulance take her at first. It’s about time you people showed up to do something about her. I gotta clean up that apartment and get it rented. Her mother paid no rent for three months now.”

“Why didn’t you evict her?”

“The queens should have returned by now. They took care of everything for them. Those two are paid up through January for theirs. I figured when they heard, they’d be back for her…being’s that her old lady and they were like family and all. Just goes to show that people who profess to be family and ain’t by blood really ain’t nothing at all.

Cat was a dyke in the truest sense, but she never saw nobody. She gave up on men after the kid’s dad left her for his wife. It was like she had blinders on, ya know? She never saw men at all or anyone else.”

“Just because she’s celibate doesn’t make her a lesbian,” reasoned the social worker from the other side of the door.

“Hey, I offered plenty of times but she refused me. You tell me she ain’t no dyke?” asked Marty before he dipped down the staircase to his workbench in the basement near the washer and dryer.

“I think the woman probably had good taste,” muttered the social worker. The woman with the thin frame and short sassy hair highlighted two shades lighter than it should have been put her face near the door and looked through the gap made by the chain lock, realizing that Maia had heard their entire conversation and seemed shocked to have been spoken of as if she was a child or not there at all.

“Maia, come to the door and talk to me,” said the social worker.

“Go away.”

“Maia, look, we’ll do whatever we have to find your friends if indeed your mother filed papers for them to be your guardians.”

“They’ll be back soon. I should be here when they return.”

“You can’t stay here by yourself. You’re too young.”

“I’m thirteen—“

“You’re too young to be emancipated. Come on, quit making this harder than it already is.”

“You’re not the one leaving the only home you ever had. What do you know about this? Other than you have other things to do than to wait around for me to surrender my life over to you and the government wasteland of the foster care system.

“Government wasteland? That’s new, never heard that one before. Where’d you get that one?”

“I wrote it in a paper for school.”

“What school do you go to, Maia?”

“The School Without Walls for my biology and Illinois State History and the University of Chicago for Organic Chemistry, Composition, Communications, and Music Theory.”

“Ah, so are you one of those gifted kids?”

“I’m certainly not a behaviorally challenged one.”

The social worker smirked. “Come now, Maia, let me in so we can talk about this.”

“Go away. There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Maia, I am not going to go away. I will call the cops if I have to and I will have them remove you from the premises if you force me to do so.”

Maia reached for her navy blue down coat and slid her arms into it before she walked over to the door and shut it and locked both the lock and deadbolt again. The social worker pounded on the door, calling for Maia to open the door, calling for Marty to hurry up while Maia reached for the backpack and rushed to the window to open it. She remembered her journal and meds, rushed back to the pile of books and rummaged through them until she found it and stuffed it in her coat pocket on her way to the window as she heard the key in the lock and the social worker talking to someone on her cell phone.

“She’s on the fire escape,” she said, “do you see her?”

Maia looked down and saw the cop car down below and a uniformed police officer climbing up the fire escape ladder. She opted to climb up to Marty’s landing and heard the officer yell at her from below. He huffed and puffed while he climbed upon the first landing, as Maia got on the roof and reached for the roof door, only to find it locked and she had left her keys inside. She was trapped. Looking around the roof for a good hiding place, Maia went to the patio area that Jimmy used to tan and hid behind a few of the folded lounge chairs before the cop made it up to the top of the roof. Being small enough, she could fit behind them without detection, but the manner in which she did so with her leg kinked under her on the cold icy concrete made her slip and knock over one of the chairs, alerting the cop to her location.

“C’mon, kid, let’s go,” said the eager young cop approaching her as she struggled to get to her feet, the calf of her jeans wet from the snow on the roof.

“I don’t want to go to foster care.”

“Well, it’s a hell of a lot better than jail, so quit making this hard on all of us.”

“Hard on you? What in the hell, do you know about hard on you? Did you just lose the only family you ever had?”

“What’d she die of, AIDS?”

“Cancer, breast cancer.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, kid.”

“Would you be any less sorry if she had died of AIDS?”

“Well, for you, yeah, but if she got AIDS, then she probably deserved it.”

“Deserved it? Deserved it? What do you mean by that?”

“People only get AIDS by sinning nowadays.”

“Oh, I see,” smirked Maia, standing up and brushing the snow off her. Marty opened the roof door and the social worker pulled her gloves on as they stepped out into the frigid Chicago air.

“Let’s go, Maia, you’ve given us enough excitement for one day,” said the social worker as Maia walked away from the cop knowing better than to argue with an idiot.

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