Chapter 1: Home
The cab door opens and a young woman steps out. She has dark blond hair wrapped in braids under a baseball hat, wearing a baggy sweater and comfortable pair of jeans. She slings on a back pack and throws a duffle bag over her neck at the same time. She tapped the trunk of the cab and it popped open as the cabbie pulled the latch. She continued to pull out two large suitcases then slammed the trunk shut. She waved to the driver, and he pulled away from the curb.
Burdened with her bags, she turned to the apartment building she knew so well.
“Back again,” she sighed.
She climbed up the front stairs and skillfully maneuvered herself and her bags though the doors, skipping in so that the door doesn’t hit her on her way in. It wasn’t the best kept building in New York City, but it was where she grew up with her brother and it held many fond memories.
She let herself into the three-bedroom apartment on the second floor and set her suitcases down with a thud. They were heavy, but she didn’t mind. She’d always been telling herself that she should be getting more exercise. She stretched her arms and cracked her neck as she threw the duffle bag on the couch which was followed by the back pack.
Her mother wasn’t home yet, but it was only five o’clock and she knew that her mother always picked up extra shifts at the diner, filing in whenever someone was ill or couldn’t make it. It wasn’t just out of the kindness of her heart that she worked so much, she knew that cash was tight ever since dad left. Not that her mother wasn’t a kind person, she was, in her own strict motherly way.
She always had a smile on her face whenever the two video chatted, even after dad left she kept her spirits up for her son who still lived with her. Her daughter had moved out to study abroad and she was so proud of her for sticking to school. She would tell her how she wished she had never dropped out. She would laugh and smile as she prodded her son to study more, try to be like his big sister, but he was still young and she always said that he needed to express that overzealous imagination of his.
Looking around the apartment, the girl could see the mess that had been left. Dishes left in the sink, food left out to spoil, dirt and garbage littering the floor. She frowned, remembering the spotlessness that once encompassed the rooms.
She lifted up her backpack again and went into her old room. She hadn’t left much behind, but what she did still remained. The old blue and yellow copies of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books lined the bookshelves along one wall along with other, more mature mystery books and sci-fi series. Reading had been a passion at one point in her life, with weekly trips to the library and used book store, looking to collect all the old time favorites; although she never did find a copy of the Hardy Boys #4, The Missing Chums, to buy. In another bin lay balls of wool and crochet hooks along with both finished and unfinished projects she had deemed unable to make the trip with her. Her walls were littered with magazine cut outs of tropical places and amazing scenic shots followed by family pictures and some doodles she and her brother had made long ago. She looked at the little wooden desk on the wall opposite to her bed and eyed it critically. It was flimsy and small. It’s not going to do. She made a mental note to get a bigger one.
In the meantime, it was time to unpack. She dragged in her suitcases and started emptying out files and equipment that was carefully packed inside, making piles on the bed, rickety desk and floor. When one was empty, she started systematically moving her book collection into the suitcase. When that one was full, she did the same with the other. The last of her books barely fit into the second suitcase and she shoved them both under her bed. No distractions.
She then started filling the newly emptied book shelf with her files and notes from her classes and various projects that she had been involved in at the university. The equipment she brought consisted of basic lab stuff such as a microscope, table top microcentrifuge, a low grade spectrophotometer, bottles of various chemicals, etc. It wasn’t much, but it reminded her of what she could do and it helps to stave her curiosity at times. With her files unpacked, she moves onto her duffle bag, which was still on the couch.
She goes back into the main room to grab it from the couch when she notices the mess again. The clock read 5:45. Which means that her mother either took a cab instead of the subway, for whatever reason, and traffic was real bad, or she’s agreed to stay late again to rack in more hours and probably won’t be back until eight or nine. The girl sighed, thinking to some of the equipment in her room and how some of the pieces are worth at least a few shifts at the diner. Guilt nags at her, but she pushed it down.
Mum wouldn’t want me to anyways, she thought to herself.
“In the meantime,” she said aloud, duffle bag forgotten. She skirted to her room to grab her headphones from her backpack and spun around as she plugged them into her iPhone and turned up the tunes. She set to work cleaning the place up. By the time six thirty came around, the apartment was back to its former glory and completely grime free. She was singing to her music as she wiped off the last counter and threw the rag in the dirty laundry bin, which was overflowing. Consenting herself to run a few loads later, she grabbed her duffle bag and returned to her room. She placed the bag on her bed and was just about to unzip it when she door opened.
She spun around, turning off her music. Here it is, she thought to herself as her heart started to beat faster, it’s just mum. Just go out and act normal. She took a deep breath and stepped out into the main room. Her mother had stopped in the doorway and was staring at the clean apartment in shock. Her eyes moving around until they fell on her daughter, standing sheepishly in her bed room door way.
“Surprise,” she said meekly as she walked up to her mother. She looked thinner and her eyes were tired and a little red. She looked at her daughter with love and her eyes filled with tears.
“Laura,” she sniffed out pulling her daughter into a hug, “what are you doing here? What about school, your projects, your job? And the house is so clean.”
“Can’t live in a pigsty,” Laura laughed, quoting her mother’s words for whenever she or her brother had made a mess and tried to sneak away from it. Her mother pulled away and gave her a motherly disapproving look that only mothers can get just right.
“I’m taking some time off. My Profs understand, and I thought it would be nice to just come home for once, what with everything that’s happened,” Laura said looking down at the clean floor, not meeting her mother’s eyes.
“Oh, Laura,” she said, eyes saddening, “I think we both know why you’ve really come back. And I have to tell you to let the police handle it. They’ve got everything under control.”
“No they don’t!” Laura raised her voice back her head snapping up, “It’s been four months already and they haven’t found anything! Do you know how many missing person cases go unsolved?” Her eyes started tearing up like her mothers. “They’re not going to find him, mum. They’ve probably given up by now. This is New York, they have more pressing cases than some kid who went missing four months ago. And let’s face it, he isn’t really a kid anymore, and it’s not like we know if he was kidnapped. He probably left on one of his deluded adventures. The police don’t even have a case. He’s at a point in his life where he’s old enough to leave home. Sure they’ll keep an eye out for him, but they’re not gonna be searching for him like I will.”
Tears were flowing down both of their faces now. Laura’s mother pressed a hand to her mouth as she stifled a sob, she knew her daughter was right.
Seeing her mother’s anguish, Laura relented, “Sorry mom, if it’s too hard, I can find another place while I’m here.” She turned to leave but her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her into another hug.
“Don’t you leave me too,” her mother whispered into Laura’s shoulder.
Laura returned the hug, and let her tears flow into her mother’s hair. When had she grown so much taller than her? It had been too long since she’d been home, and she wasn’t about to leave her mother like all the men in this family seem to be doing. She steeled herself, and pulled away from the hug, looking her mother in the eyes.
“I will find him and bring him home.”
The love in her mother’s eyes renewed the determination she had been feeling these last few months. She had been planning this for a while, but was hoping that her stupid brother would come home on his own, as he had so many times in the past. But not this time, he had let her down, let her mom down, just like dad had done and Laura was gonna find him and knock some sense into him if it was the last thing she did.
“Go take a shower, I’ll order pizza. I’m buying,” she added as her mother began to protest that such expenses could not be spared. Laura pushed her mother into the bathroom and picked up the phone, dialing Antonio’s number. She ordered two large pepperoni. The two of them could never eat that much by themselves, but it was like a family ritual to buy more than needed so that cold pizza could serve as snacks for the following few days.
The pizza came just as her mother was getting dressed after her shower. The delivery kid sported a red helmet over an afro and a red and white Antonio’s T-shirt. After being paid, he hopped back on his motor bike and drove away. Laura watched through the window as the kid disappeared down the street. Moving her eyes up to the skyline she looked for the stars that were so familiar.
Movement from the building across the street caught her attention. There were two figures on the roof; one was pointing in the direction of the pizza kid and the second just shook their head and whacked first one over the head. The first rubbed his head as the second dragged him off out of site. Laura smiled to herself. No doubt some kids out past their bed time, one wanting a late night snack. She thought back to when she and her brother would sneak out to the roof past their bed times and have adventures; they would bring up their favorite action books and act out the scenes, most of the time making up their own stories as the night wore on.
“Something on your mind,” her mother inquired as she came out in her pyjamas.
“Just thinking of when we used to sneak up to the roof,” Laura replied opening one of the pizza boxes, the steam wafting up in spiral from the air currents made from the cardboard.
“Ugh,” her mother scoffed, “you brats thought you were so sneaky, and ended up with the sniffles half the time. Staying out too late, what were you thinking?” Despite her words, her mother smiled at the memories of scolding her children and wiping their running noses.
Silence filled the gap, but it was a nice silence, full of fond memories. The more she thought, the more her determination grew at the thought of seeing her brother’s goofy grin again.
“I promise mum,” Laura said looking out the window again, “I’ll find Timothy and bring him home.”