Chapter One -The Beginning
Six Years Later…
Sloan hated this feud between her two families. She preferred to stay with her grandmother in the field of the Kenyan Mara, but her estranged uncle wouldn’t hear of it. After she’d lived six years among the Masai people, her uncle Edwin came for her. She was only sixteen years old, and her old grandmother was no match against her powerful corporate lawyer-uncle.
She sat quietly on the plane ride back to the States, saying goodbye to the happy, simple life she had lived as she headed to the unknown. But the first thing she wanted to do when she got there was to visit her parents’ grave. She missed them. It had been six years since they died and she still hadn’t been to their graves, except for the day they were buried.
“This is where you belong,” Edwin muttered as they hauled their luggage from the conveyer belt to the trolleys.
“If you say so,” she responded as she tossed her duffle bag on the trolley.
“You let your hair grow out…it looks beautiful. It must have taken a lot of work.” It seemed he was trying to connect with her and idle hair-talk was all he had at the moment.
“Grandma took care of it. She said that I look like Mom with long hair. I guess she was just trying to bring back a piece of her daughter.” She didn’t mind that her grandmother was trying to reinvent her into her mother. She liked it. It was the only thing she identified with.
Chemtai was her only daughter wedged in between nine boys. She was her pride and when Sloan’s father had come to ask for her hand in marriage it was difficult for her to let go. Sloan was sure that her grandmother regretted that decision. Because of it her daughter was dead.
They met on one of the mission safaris her father’s American University often had. Their purpose was to educate the African nomad tribes and her father had ended up visiting the Masai tribe of Kenya. It was the textbook love story: boy meets girl, girl falls in love with boy, girl and boy get married.
Although it wasn’t simple to get married in the African community, her father endured it all so as to be with her. He had to be circumcised and challenged. A test of bravery had to be completed for him to be converted into a Masai warrior. It took her father six long months, but he endured it because he loved her.
And because of that love and sacrifice, Christy Moss Sloan was born. For a while, when she was younger, she went by Christy, her mother’s favorite English name. Now she never let anyone call her that, so to them she was Sloan, but to her grandmother she would forever go by her ethnic name, Moss.
“Sloan, I bet you are looking forward to running hot water?” Edwin chuckled.
“I must admit I missed that at first, but after a while I didn’t mind taking a bath in the stream.”
Edwin Sloan, her father’s younger brother, had taken upon himself to take care of her, for some reason she didn’t know. He resembled her father in only one way, their dark chocolate skin. Other than that, they were as different as water and oil, never mixing, never getting along.
“Why exactly did you come for me? I was perfectly happy where I was.” She groaned.
“You need to get a proper education, and tracing on the sand with a staff isn’t it. Your father wanted this for you and I am only fulfilling his wishes.”
“Six years later.” Something didn’t add up.
“Don’t call me that!” Sloan chewed out.
“Sloan, I thought it would be good for you to get to know the other side of your family. A change of scenery is very important for your state of mind.”
“My state of mind, that’s funny. I lost that when I saw my parents get butchered.” Sloan laughed. “You’d better check me into a mental institution while I’m still lucid.”
“You need to stop dwelling in the past. That happened over six years ago.”
“Thanks for the newsflash, now tell me something I don’t know.”
“How long are you going to continue with this bratty attitude?”
Sloan dipped her head to the left then smiled at him. “I don’t know, you tell me.”
“Sloan—” he began, but she immediately cut him off.
“Can we just go? I’ve got places to be and people to see.” She pushed the trolley toward the door.
“People to see and places to be? I thought this wasn’t your home and you didn’t know anyone here?” he jeered.
“Unfortunately, I know you. So are you just going to stand there and tell me what I did or didn’t say or are you taking me to the cemetery?” She rapped the word quickly, hoping the painful emotions would pass as fast they did.
“The cemetery? Why would I want to take you there?” Edwin asked, surprised.
“I don’t know, maybe because your brother and sister-in-law are buried there? Remember my parents, the two people whose child you have standing in front of you?” Each word was laced and coated with sarcasm, and her tone dripped with disdain.
“You need to learn how to talk to me in a respectful manner.” Sloan met his attempt to assert his authority with implacable coldness. Finally he had to concede that the stare-down was getting them nowhere. “Fine, I’ll take you there.”
Sloan rolled her eyes at him and turned back toward the large exit sign that hung above the automated doors.
On the ride to the cemetery Sloan remained silent, only answering her uncle’s questions with sighs and grunts. She wasn’t in a talking mood, especially when the conversation was with him.
She jumped out as soon as the cab pulled up in front of the creaking cemetery gates. It took her a second to collect herself as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. When she finally felt she had it all together she marched into the silent place, one step of strength at a time.
Sloan hadn’t been there for over six years but she had the layout of the place etched into her mind. She knew how many rights and lefts she should take to get to the place where her parents rested.
The black marble headstones gleamed in the sunlight. Her fingers smoothed into the engraved letters, spelling out her parents’ names. She sat in between the two graves. “Hey guys, how’s it hanging?” she joked. “I’m just chilling—you know how boring life is among the living. So Uncle Ed yanked me out of Kenya. I was so happy at Grandma’s but it seems I’m not allowed that…” she sighed, “...happiness.”
“Why would you say that? I’m only doing what I think is best for you,” Edwin protested.
“Correct, what you think is best for me. Anyway this conversation is just among the three of us, so if you don’t mind…” Sloan remained silent until she could no longer hear Edwin’s departing footsteps crunching in the leaves strewn on the ground.
“Where were we? Oh yes, Dad, your brother is a pain. Mum, your mother is awesome. Sure, life was hard, but I was at peace there. But now I’m back here, in the city where you were murdered. I’m back to the nightmares and the torment. I’m sure people are just going to stare at me and wonder how I survived and you didn’t. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say, but I’ll come up with something.” She sighed.
“Well, folks, I have to go. Edwin must have his knickers in a twist right about now. I love you guys and I hope someday I’ll be able to find out what really happened.” She spoke as she backed away from them and with one last, longing look, she turned around and walked to the gates.
“Let’s go,” Sloan instructed when she finally settled into the cab. The cab driver pulled away slowly and she buried her head in between her knees, willing herself not to look back.
“Are you all right?” Edwin asked.
“Awesome, just awesome,” Sloan mumbled.
“Chri—” He swallowed the last part. “Sloan, you know I’m just here to help you.”
“I hope you feel good about yourself. Taking in this charity case who, by the way, was perfectly happy where she was. That’s really cool of you, Uncle Edwin,” she reproved him sarcastically.
Edwin didn’t speak again. He waited until they got to his house before he patted her on the shoulder. “We are here, Sloan.”
He got out and offloaded their luggage. She stood outside the door and looked at the bungalow she was soon to call home. It was a step up from the thatched manyatta, but she was sure that it would never be filled with the same love.
“This is it, the last stop on the gravy train.” She sighed before walking through the door. She turned and closed the door behind her, unaware of what waited for her inside.
* * * *
“Oh my word, you are so big.”
Sloan stood rooted to the spot as she watched her uncle’s wife ooh and aah about how much she had grown.
“You are so tall,” Diana echoed.
“That’s what they call growth. It’s something that we all have to experience,” Sloan said sarcastically before she began chewing down on her lip. She didn’t mean to be rude to her, but sometimes she just couldn’t help it.
“We set up a room for you upstairs. Actually, you will have to share it with your cousin,” Diana said nervously.
“I don’t mind. I like sharing.” Sloan could see the effort she was making to make her feel at home and it made her feel obliged to make an effort to be nice to her.
“Good, good. Chantal is in school right now, but when she gets back I’m sure the two of you will get along.”
“I’m not so sure about that. I tend to rub people the wrong way when they meet me. I’m bad at making good first impressions.”
Chantal was the couple’s eldest daughter. They had three children, one girl and two boys. Sloan was sure that her cousin loved having her own place, her sanctuary of solitude. And now she was here to disrupt that peace, they were bound to clash.
“I’ll just take these upstairs.” Sloan picked up her bags and stared at Diana who was staring back at her. “Where exactly am I going?”
“Oh! I’m sorry. It’s upstairs, down the hall the last door on the left.” Diana walked in front of her before she turned again and gestured at the bags in Sloan’s hands. “Do you want me to help you with that?”
“It’s cool, I’ve got it.”
“You don’t let anyone in, do you?”
With just one word, Sloan had described her character. She never trusted anyone, never let anyone in and made sure she never cared for anyone. Her grandmother was the only one who had managed to weasel her way into Sloan’s heart.
She followed the lean Asian woman up the stairs, down the hall to the last door on the left. As soon as she entered the room she could see that her bed had been squeezed in. Everything in the room made her feel like a stranger. There were posters of what looked like a boy band and maybe a couple of actors.
Sloan dropped her bags next to the smallest bed in the room which was obviously hers. The other had a bed cover with the face of a man imprinted on it with the name BECKS under it.
Becks…she had heard that name before and it was related to football. The men at the village would always shout it out whenever they listened to soccer matches on their portable radios.
“Chantal will be here in an hour. Get acquainted with everything and feel at home. This is your new home, Christy.”
“Sloan,” she mumbled.
“What?” Diana didn’t understand.
“My mother is the only person who called me Christy, so if you want me to answer when you call me, address me as Sloan.”
“But Sloan is your surname.”
“And your point is?”
“Okay, Sloan, feel at home.” Diana gave her a puzzled look before pulling the door shut behind her.
Sloan fell backward on the bed and, as much as she hated being uprooted from her grandmother’s hut, she couldn’t deny how good it felt to sleep on a soft mattress. She stared up at the ceiling and slowly drifted asleep.
* * * *
“She’s in my room right now. Uh-huh...she does look like she came from a bush. I don’t understand why my parents let her live here. I hate that they are making me stay in the same room as her.”
Sloan was awakened by her cousin’s droning voice. She sat up and watched as Chantal bashed her to whoever was on the other end of the line.
“I know, right...” Chantal went on.
Sloan cleared her throat when she’d finally heard enough. Chantal turned and saw that she was awake but that didn’t stop her.
“She’s awake... Uh-huh...”
Sloan rose from the bed and walked to Chantal, grabbed the receiver from her hand and set it down on her bed. “If you are so bugged out about my presence here, why don’t you tell your father to take me back to where he found me?” She stared into her cousin’s puzzled eyes and watched as Chantal turned three different color shades.
“I never thought that a black girl could turn red. I guess it’s because you have a large hint of your mother’s color in there.” With a curious frown on her face, she examined Chantal’s face as it turned to beetroot red.
Chantal fisted her hands at her sides and erupted. She began screaming at Sloan while stomping her feet. Then she ran out of the room, her shrill voice as loud as a siren.
Sloan followed her downstairs to the living room, where the princess was undoubtedly going to report her to her parents. She found her still stomping, with her hands now raised over her head. But she wasn’t saying a word, only making an angry noise.
Sloan spoke as she moved. “What she is trying to say is that I caught her badmouthing me to one of her friends and I took the phone from her and hung up.” She dropped into the chair beside Chantal.
“That was very rude of you, Chantal. You should be making your cousin feel at home and not unwanted. I’m very sorry, Sloan.” Diana’s apologetic face made her look timid.
“Don’t worry about it, I don’t bruise that easy.”
A new set of shrills echoed in the room, but this time they didn’t belong to Chantal but to her two brothers. They ran around the room until they noticed Sloan. Then they went and stood in front of her, staring at her with sheepish smiles on their faces.
“I’m Al and he is Cam,” the taller one shrieked.
“I’m Sloan.” She shook their held-out hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“It’s so awesome that you’re here. You have to tell me all about Africa,” Al said as his little brother just smiled at her, exposing his missing tooth.
“Nice gap you have there,” Sloan teased. “Very retro.”
“I got a dollar for it,” he said.
“Expensive tooth, too.”
“Can we get back to the issue? She is invading my privacy. When you said that she was moving in you never said anything about her staying in my room.” Chantal was finally speaking through her angry grunts.
“Where else did you want her to sleep?” Edwin got into the debate.
“I don’t know…she has been sleeping in a hut, why didn’t you just pitch a tent for her in the backyard?”
Edwin shot out of his seat, his face radiating the anger he clearly felt. “Chantal, you are grounded. No phone privileges and no going out.”
“Just because I don’t want that urchin to sleep in my room? You aren’t being fair,” she whined, stomping her feet more.
“I am not being fair? She is your cousin and we are the only family she has here,” he half-yelled. It was very evident he was trying to keep his anger in check.
“Arrgggh!” She stomped her feet once more, then darted up the stairs.
“That was entertaining,” Sloan put in.
“Chantal always turns red.” Cam giggled.
“That she does,” Sloan echoed.
“Sloan, could you please not provoke Chantal? She has a short temper and this house would be much more peaceful if you didn’t poke at her all the time,” Edwin cautioned with the same attempt to stay calm.
Sloan saluted, then got up and started to leave but paused in the doorway. “Oh, by the way, don’t try that grounding thing on me. I don’t respond well to an imposed authority.”
“Supper is in half an hour, Sloan,” Diana chirped.
“Great, I’m starving.”
* * * *
Being the new kid at school wasn’t something she enjoyed, even as a child, and now it was worse. She wasn’t sure if what she learned with the natives was up to par with what they taught in the new school.
She walked down the hallways, armed with the school layout, her class schedule, and a prayer in her heart that she would be able to fit into this structured life. She avoided all contact with the other students. She walked into homeroom and waited for the teacher to introduce her.
“Sloan,” she said, when the teacher insisted on calling her Christy.
She made her way to the back of the class, avoiding the glances and stares. There were two empty seats and she would have to choose between sitting next to the chirpy girl beckoning to her or the gothic girl giving her murderous eyes and laying claim to her territory.
She opted to sit next to the gothic girl—she preferred to be stabbed to death rather than to be smothered with joy.
“I’m assuming you don’t talk much?” Sloan asked her.
“I’m hoping that you never say more than one sentence at a time,” the girl responded.
“This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Sloan.” She put her hand out to her, which the girl took reluctantly.
“Barbra. Don’t call me Babes, Barbie or Bra. BB is just fine,” she said.
“BB it is.”
They didn’t speak a word to each other until the end of class. The two girls ended up having similar classes throughout the day. They would save each other seats, not because they enjoyed each other’s company but because they didn’t want to risk sitting next to an insufferable person.
“So, BB, do you believe in fate?”
“Well, that is my one sentence quota for today. See you tomorrow, unless you get hit by a bus or you die from a drug overdose.”
“Those were two sentences.”
“Right, I apologize for that.”
BB began to talk when Sloan cut her off. “I guess that is my third and this is my fourth. My fifth is goodbye.”
Sloan left the school grounds alone and began the long walk from Huston Street to Soho. She didn’t bother catching a ride back home with Chantal and Diana for her own peace of mind. She wanted to postpone, or hopefully avoid, the fake interest in how her first day in a new school went.
Sloan scratched her lower back, the itch turning into a hot ache. She could feel someone watching her but the itch distracted her. She looked around and noticed a black Mercedes parked across the road. The back left window was open and a man was looking out. She couldn’t see his face but could feel his stare. Sloan could feel an icy chill run along her spine but she wasn’t going to cower away. She stared back at him until the car drove off.
“Pervert!” she shouted after it as it screeched away.