I stretch out my stiff, sore body and hurry to my rucksack to grab a change of clothes. There's not much clean left. Looks like I'm going to the laundromat today. Once dressed in ripped jeans, a black t-shirt, and my favorite giant black hoodie I found in a lost and found I am ready to fight another day. I pack up my stuff. Blankets, flashlight, and my knives, and heave my rucksack over my shoulder and abandon the abandoned building I've been staying at for the last few weeks. I comb my long dark hair out with my fingers and step out into the morning.
The sky is still that clear empty blue of early morning just before sunrise another day to survive.
I make my way downtown maybe I'll hit up the shelter for some food. I cut down an alley that will take me where I need to go. I make sure one of my knives in my pocket is ready for whatever may come. I feel eyes on me. I focus my awareness around me. The last thing I need is to get jumped first thing in the morning.
I keep walking down the alley. Nothing happens but I know better than to let my guard down. I'm almost to the street on the other side. Almost safer. Never safe but safer.
A large dark figure steps into the alley in front of me and I grip my knife harder as I go to walk past him. As I get closer I see it's just Ray.
"Hey, man." I greet him with a smirk.
"Hey, little mama. Where you headed?" He asks. Ray is a good guy... I mean not a good guy but he's a good guy to have at your back when shit goes down. It doesn't hurt that he's nice to look at too. He's also my best friend.
He's in his late twenties, tall and lean with mocha skin and buzzed dark hair. He has a jaw that could cut glass and a killer smile. I mean he's totally not on my radar but you would have to be blind not to realize he's attractive.
"I'm going to the shelter maybe I can grab some breakfast. You?"
"Early morning drop off." He shrugs holding up a small black duffle bag. I nod.
"You need a second?" I ask.
"Sure. I'll never pass up hanging with you." He grins. "You armed?"
"Do I look stupid?" I ask making him chuckle as we start walking down a side alley.
"Good girl. I'm hitting the gym after this wanna come?" He asks.
"Depends on what time we get done. I still have school." I remind him.
"I don't know how you do that." He shakes his head. I shrug.
"How's Shay?" I ask changing the subject.
"Aw man, I'm sorry." He chuckles. He knows I don't like Shay. I never did. She's a duplicitous bitch. But I keep my thoughts to myself because I don't need the bitch after me with all the other bullshit I have to deal with.
We continue chatting and talking shit until we reach a blue shipping container. I stand guard for Ray making sure he has his back covered.
I hear him knock twice. The door screeches open revealing a big scary dude with a trim beard and shiny black shoes that don't match the rest of him. He's wearing dirty paint-splattered jeans and a white shirt riddled with holes and stains. What did Ray get into?
Big Dude connects eyes with me and huffs a laugh apparently amused by the tiny girl protecting the runner's back. Bitch, try me and see what happens.
I ignore his reaction but keep him in my eyesight. I don't trust him. Judgemental, yes but I'm still alive. I've learned to trust my gut. I'm rarely wrong.
They talk for a bit and money and product exchange hands. Next thing I know Ray is beside me hurrying me off.
"Dude made me an offer for you," Ray mutters disgust clear in his voice.
"Ew. I knew I didn't like him." I mutter as we walk. I don't let go of my knife until we get to the gym.
I send a wave to Rudy, the owner of the gym, and head to the changing room. Rudy is a genuinely amazing person. He's an old war vet with a soft spot for chicken wings. I've been cleaning and training at his gym for five years now. It's one of my favorite places and Rudy is a big part of that.
I run through my circuit with Ray for an hour until I have to go to school.
At school, I try to keep my nose clean. The key word is "try". It's not so easy when bitches be crazy and assholes be perverts and I may have some anger issues.
So far, my grades and attendance are great. My behavior... not so much. I've been applying for scholarships hard. I mean I'm saving up but really, who's going to turn down a free education if you can get it?
I close up my locker when I see my guidance counselor waving me over.
"Hey, Mrs. Brown, what's up?" I ask.
"The principal wants to see you." She hedges. Oh boy. I follow the plump and friendly Mrs. Brown through the crowded halls to the main office. She holds the door open for me but I stop in my tracks at the sight of two police officers.
I shouldn't be in trouble. I don't think I did anything too illegal lately. I mean, carrying a weapon, sure. Backing up Ray for a drug run, ya... that might be it. Oops.
I put on my patented "cop mask" vapid and innocent. Playing up my big green eyes and small frame. I tilt my head in curiosity. Why in heavens are two upstanding police officers here?
"Ah! Ms. Jacobs! Come with us." Mr. Douglas says bringing me into his office. I smile curiously and follow. I take note of the name tags on the two officers as I pass. Torrez, and the ever lovely Officer Powers.
I take a seat and hate that I have people at my back that I can't see let alone a door.
"Gracelyn, we have some bad news." Officer Torrez says with a wince. "Um... we found your parents last night." I blink. What about the bastards? Clearly, I'm not getting it.
"Their bodies." Torrez continues. What? "We need to find you a replacement guardian." I can't help it I snort a laugh. Now I need a guardian? After all, they did to me? After all my reports? I've been on my own for three years and no one has noticed.
They all look at me like I'm unhinged. I mean I am but they don't need to know that.
"Miss. Jacobs? Are you alright?" Mr. Douglas asks looking at me like I might explode. I blink myself out of my shock.
"Yes, I'm sorry. I just... I don't really know how to react to that." I admit honestly. They all nod their understanding. I don't know what they think they understand but ok.
"We need you to come down to the station with us to contact your next of kin," Torrez says pushing through his speech. Holy shit, they're actually going to go through with this? Ok, I can always bail later. Maybe I'll get food out of the deal. I nod and follow the officers out to the squad car.
I find myself sitting on a bench reading in a hallway for what feels like hours. On the bright side, Powers keeps sneaking me food, so I'm not about to argue.
Torrez sits beside me with a pitying smile. I wonder how my parents died. I've been getting these smiles all morning. Probably overdosed. That's where my money is.
"So we got a hold of your uncle. We're just making transportation arrangements." He says gently.
"I have an uncle?" I ask surprised.
"Uh... ya. Andras Van Doren." He says his dark brows pulling down. I just shrug. I've never heard of him before. Van Doren is mom's maiden name so it's her side but as far as I knew, she didn't have any family.
"Well, you do. He's a really big-time lawyer." He explains. Ah, there it is. If he's big time mom probably got strung out too many times. That makes sense.
Torrez leaves me to mull over the new information saying he will be back with someone to take me to the Van Doren Estate. That's right, estate. Those were his words! What the hell am I walking into?
I have to admit, this might be a good opportunity. If I don't have to worry about where to sleep or if I'm going to eat I can concentrate on school more and be better. Alright Grace, just don't fuck it up!
Sooner than I expected, Torrez comes over again and leads me to a cruiser. This time I get to sit in the front. It's weird.
We drive in silence for about half an hour. The landscape changing from derelict and grey to neat and tidy and green. Soon the landscape changes again. Everything gets bigger, more spread out, and even greener still.
The houses are giant. I'm talking like five families could live comfortably in one. Estate my ass if my uncle lives in one of these he probably owns a damn island.
We pull up to a massive wrought iron gate with a guard house in front. What. the. fuck? We have to give identification. I hope the guard likes fake IDs. I smile sweetly as I hand mine over.
He takes one look at it and he has to mask his smile before nodding and handing it back. I mean what would a twenty-two-year-old want to be living with a long-lost uncle for anyway?
Torrez sees the guard's amusement and takes a look at my ID and frowns like a disapproving parent. He sighs and gives it back to me shaking his head.
"Where's your real ID?" He asks.
"I don't have one," I admit.
"Why?" He grinds out.
"My parents weren't the most responsible people." I shrug. Torrez sighs and drives forward. "I'll let your uncle know." We pull up in front of a big wooden door with topiaries on either side.
My god, this house looks like it's straight out of a magazine. It's immaculate white and almost looks like a plantation. All columns and balconies. Torrez gets out and runs to my door but I'm already out swinging my rucksack over my shoulder. I see his hands fist at his sides. Odd. Why would a cop be frustrated by that? I file that away in my mind and follow him to the door.
He rings the bell that echoes through the house. The door opens to reveal a tall balding man in a dapper black suit. I smile awkwardly as Torrez asks for my uncle.
The man, who I assume is a goddamn butler, leads us to a living room. Well, I call it a living room it's probably called something else. He leaves us alone in the most awkward silence ever. Everything echoes here. I hear everything and don't know where any of it is coming from. I hate it. My nerves are already shot let's add in nebulously located potential threats. Why not?
"Nervous?" Torrez asks like a moron. They can hear everything!
"A bit." It's easier to seem nice at first. Honey instead of vinegar and all that.
"You'll be ok. He's a good lawyer." He smiles but it doesn't reach his eyes. Interesting choice of words. Not he's a good man or a good person. He's a good lawyer.
I look at the art on the walls. It's a collection of messy-looking splotches of colors and hidden security cameras. I make my eyes slide over them playing dumb. I look at the books on the far wall. Art of War, The Rise, and Fall of the Roman Empire, Nietzsche, Orwell. An interesting collection. Then I see Jules Verne an adventure novel amid war and strategy tomes. I file that away too. I hear footsteps against tile floors. It's a brisk clip almost ominous. Like Darth Vader. I can practically hear the imperial march.