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Chapter 9

This had been the longest weekend of her life, Mikayla thought, as she pulled a baggy black shirt and skinny jeans off their hangers in her closet. She was going crazy. “House arrest” they called it. The walls felt like they were closing in.

She bent down and grabbed a tight white tank top from the heap of clothes on the floor. She’d go braless and let the shirt hang open. Probably no one would notice, as her small tits barely made dents in the tank top. She was her mother’s daughter, but she guessed she’d have to wait awhile to get her mother’s big boobs.

She held the white tank against her shoulders. The top half of her looked like a sparrow with short and springy black dreadlocks and a bony chest. But her jeans fit tight against her sharp hips.

She sat down heavily on her messed-up bed, clutching the clothes she’d chosen. Only four-thirty on a Saturday afternoon and she was already getting ready for school Monday. Bored out of my mind with nothing better to do.

Looking for projects they could do together, her mother had found a pretty mirror at a used furniture shop and the two of them hung it above her small dresser. They had laughed a lot, trying to get it straight and making faces into it. It felt good to laugh with her mother. It didn’t happen often.

Mikayla stood on the bed so she could see herself in the mirror, holding the clothes in front of her. She flashed a wide smile. She stuck the tip of her tongue into the gap between her two front teeth. They were pearly white and healthy. Once again, she was grateful that her mother couldn’t afford braces for those teeth.

She heard her mother in the kitchen, banging pots and pans around, cooking something up for dinner. She should go down to help her. Mikayla had been half avoiding her since release from detention, still ashamed for fighting with her last weekend and for picking up that butcher knife. She never meant any harm. Surely, Momma knows that. Things just got out of control. All over a stupid cell phone. A cell phone that didn’t belong to her mother, or even to her. It was Germaine’s phone. She was supposed to use it only to call Germaine.

He said he’d get her a phone of her own if things went well between them. What did that mean? Things going well between us? Adults were so hard to figure out some times. Why didn’t they speak plain English? What did her mother care about a cell phone that wasn’t hers? All she talked about was needing more money for the two of them. Now a free cell phone comes along and she fights about it.

My mother. Now there was a problem. Talk about complicated feelings. Mikayla missed her momma so much when she’d been placed in foster care. She remembered being forcibly led out of the house by a white woman who wore pearls. Her mother was dressed in an old tee shirt and ripped leggings, not entirely recovered from drinking herself unconscious the night before.

She’d cried herself to sleep that night. Isn’t Momma supposed to take care of me? But no matter, Mikayla lived for her mother’s visits, twice a month and only if her mother was sober. The case worker said her mother was close to getting her back, that she was close to going home, and then Momma got arrested for selling prescription drugs.

That got Mikayla transferred to a group home for girls. Wow, did she grow up fast. There was a lot of drama and some terrible arguments over clothes and boys, boys and men that hung around outside the home. Being in a foster home made her feel like a little kid; being in a group home made her feel like an angry woman. Nothing in between. No one to bug you about homework or care when you were sick. No one to take the time to talk about the monthlies, or what to take for those awful cramps. No one to talk to about sex, except the other girls, and that was all they talked about. She grew up fast in a group home.

Mikayla teared up when she looked around the tiny bedroom that she and her mother had decorated. A pink and yellow checked bedspread and matching curtains on the corner windows. They had picked them up at the Salvation Army store after a lady told her they came from an expensive catalogue. Probably second hand from some rich girl who wanted a new look. A pink throw rug the size of a toilet seat, covering a small patch of the scratched-up wood floor. Two Justin Bieber posters. All of it second hand, but to her it was special.

So she’d hugged her mother tightly and let tears of thanks trickle down her cheeks. Being

home with her mother was what counted. Having her own room, well that was frosting on the cake. It could have been a jail cell with bars and a stainless steel toilette, for all she cared. It was hers.

Then the arguments started. First, it was clothes. Her mother treated her like a little kid. Mikayla had to remind her that she was fourteen now, not ten as she was when she’d been taken away. So Mikayla met the garbage men early one morning and gave them two bags bulging with the clothes she’d worn in foster care. She never wanted to see them again. They were hand-me-downs to begin with. Her mother was hopping mad. She had to use half a paycheck to buy Mikayla more clothes. But the two of them giggled like girlfriends as they hung them in the small closet.

Then there was school. Sure, she skipped school sometimes. Who didn’t? Sure, she had a few boyfriends her mother didn’t like. Who didn’t? Her mother couldn’t even keep a man. They came and went fast as anything. She didn’t even know who Mikayla’s father was. How’s that for a start in life?

How many times was I asked about my father? She couldn’t even make up stuff because she didn’t know who he was, let alone where he was or what he did. Like he was a fireman who died a hero, saving a baby, or he was really innocent of the crime he’d been framed of. But not to know at all? Shit, what did that say about her mother? She didn’t want to ask.

That was never gonna happen to her. She would get a man, a real man to love her, not a boy, and she would keep that man. He’d never want to leave her.

In their arguments, Mikayla said some terrible things, calling her mother a “druggie” and “a loser.” She knew it was wrong, but she just got so angry, mean things came out. She deserved the hard slap to her face. Her mother was trying so hard. She stayed sober, she held onto a job in a school cafeteria. She cleaned the house and cooked for them. Mikayla was starting to respect her. It would just take time. But, she couldn’t shut out the new people in her life, like Germaine.

What did Dr. Visconti say about a safety plan when Mikayla was released? No loud arguments. Time outs. Cool off. Leave the room. Call a friend or relative. Easier said than done. She should have said “no going in the kitchen.” That’s where the knives were. Then she wouldn’t feel so guilty about not helping her mother cook dinner or clean up.

Maybe feeling guilty was a good thing. She felt guilty when her mother stopped by the school on Friday and talked to her teachers about her absences and missed homework. She felt guilty when her mother skipped her favorite TV shows to help her catch up on that homework. She had to admit she was proud of the homework she’d made up when she packed her school bag today. But she wouldn’t have done that unless she was bored…out…of…her…mind. Oh, it was all so confusing, these different feelings.

“Fu…. oh, fiddlesticks,” she heard her mother shout from the kitchen. Caught yourself in time, Momma. Mikayla smiled. Might be a good time to join her in the kitchen.

“Mikayla, you’re here just in time. I was fixing to fry up this tilapia that I got on sale at Walmart, but I forgot to get bread crumbs. It’s such a thin fish. It only tastes good fried.

“I know the Judge said you’re on house arrest, just home or school. But can you just run up to the corner store on the next block for some bread crumbs? Here’s a couple of dollars. Come right back, mind you. The thought of this fresh fish is making me real hungry.”

Freedom. Freedom at last. Who knew that the key to the jail cell would be a naked little fish needing bread crumbs? Mikayla grabbed her flip flops, stuffed the money in her shorts and slammed the screen door behind her, nearly taking the head off their orange tabby cat, who was only interested in the fresh fish.

Mikayla left the corner store with the bread crumbs and a favorite candy bar she bought for her mother. In front of the store she ran into Tonya, an older white girl from the group home. She was fifteen, with purple and blue streaked hair wearing tight black denim shorts and a set of cheap falsies that made her breasts look square. She was snapping and cracking her chewing gum. It made Mikayla want to buy some bubble gum and blow a huge bubble in her face.

“Whatcha doing way over here?” Mikayla asked.

“Lookin for people,” she replied. “I was asked to.”

“Like who?

“Like you, maybe. Like others, too.”

“Who’d be lookin’ for me, now?”

Mikayla heard a cell phone ring. Tonya plucked a phone from her purse, pressed the green button and looked to her right, towards the street. Mikayla knew that ring tone. She guessed that Tonya’s phone was identical to the one her mother had taken from her. She didn’t have to look to the street to know who was calling from that car.

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