Right when I dumped my backpack on the floor of the foyer, something felt wrong. I wiped my feet on the white rag set before me, and shut the door, bolting it with care. When I clicked on the light, I managed to smile a little, feeling comforted for a moment. Warm yellow light bathed the living room where Victorian-style couches were set against the wall, hand-stitched pillows propped up on their plush cushions. Behind the couch a large painting of angels adorned the wall. Little cupid hearts were pierced in the embroidery and the framing of the painting was golden, a little flecked from age. On the other side of the room stood a piano, still and lonely, probably dusty from the years of misuse. I put my cellphone and iPod on the glass coffee table before rubbing my shoulders and going to turn on the heat. Clicking on the shabby light bulb, dull shadows were cast across the carpeted floor, and a chill set into the room. I found the dial in no time, but as I tried to turn it, the knob protested. Outside, a storm was brewing, the wind howled like a madman. It banged a window open somewhere in the condo, the sound of shutters and glass clanking echoing through the otherwise silent house. Pulling my coat tighter around my body, I left the room and went right to lighting a fire in the fireplace. Kneeling by the hearth, I tried to figure out how to light the coals and logs placed there, clearly only meant for décor. After trying a whole bunch of matches that failed, I lit the newspaper from this week and watched as the fire licked the embers one by one. My eyes dancing from the flames, I saw as the logs caught on and a fire roared to life, calming my nerves as I peeled off my parka and draped it over a chair, hoping it would dry off by tomorrow morning.
The thought of tomorrow sent me uneasily to the kitchen, where I prepared a mug of hot chocolate. Padding my way to the TV room, I found my slippers cast by the white leather couches where I had last left them.
The quiet was deafening, something I didn't think I'd ever get used to. After my mother bolted, my sister did her best to swing by at least once a week, but never lived up to her word. She was too busy trying to find work and fighting with her boyfriend to keep me in mind. This was fine with me on a regular basis, except on nights like this. Just as I was about to settle down and watch a movie, the power blew. Cursing under my breath, I searched for a lone candle and a lantern, feeling like I was cast back 100 years. Fumbling in the now palpable dark, my hands struck numerous items and sent a lamp wobbling before I caught it mid-fall.
Over the years I thought to attribute my nimbleness to the great list of differences between my family and I. although there was no way to really tell, the bomb was dropped on me in seventh grade, just around the bend from the stage of biggest insecurities.
I was adopted.
It shouldn't have been that big a surprise, really. Where my mother had been tall, lithe and blonde, I was not as tall, a little curvier and had brown hair. My skin didn't tan very well so I had pale, almost alabaster skin, and hazel-green eyes. It was never really that clear how the adoption came around, but once I knew the truth, that was that. The one question over my existence was rooted in this answer, the unsatisfying explanation that I was, after all, different.
That I didn't quite belong.
Looking restlessly around, I picked up an Atlas and fingered through it gingerly, even though I had no light. By now, however, I knew my way around it like a blind person. The pages I usually flipped through were more worn than others, the shiny, sleek way they slid on my fingers familiar. I could make out the shapes of the continents in the dark, tell where the ocean began and ended. If only it were of any real use in life. My fingers skimmed over the stick-it notes I placed on certain pages, back when I was trying to locate my birth mother and family. It hadn't been too hard. After a few blood-drives the doctors could tell my origins, and then I wasn't right to searching. I never got too far, only to the point that I knew I was European. This was barely news; half the world was from European decent. Maybe I had siblings, I once mused, or perhaps I was kidnapped instead of actually given away. So much was unclear and became even more so when my mother had disappeared. It was as simple as that. One day she was up in the morning preparing pancakes on the burners, telling me how Tasha was always just a phone call away, and the next - there was no sign of her.
This happened on the first day of my second week at the local college. The college was small, with only a sparse amount of students. It was situated in an old building with a creaking staircase and glass classroom doors, all emblazoned with the name of Collins, Farrah. Who knew what that was. In any case, this gloomy school turned out to be quite contemporary, with electives and no guidance counselor, so that every student milling around could decide based on whim what classes to attend. I took numerous drawing classes and one oil painting one, opting for just one shading class. No frontal classes for me. This was because I like to do things my own way. As much as some teachers had to give, I just didn't want it, instead opting to figure out strategies and techniques on my own. One advantage to the college was the library. It was rare that someone would traipse through it, and this left me alone for hours on end, buried in encyclopedias and art directories. I carried my portfolio around with me at all times, consisting of sketches starting from the lady next door to the bird-feeding scene in the park. When it came to sharing my work, I had a few liable sources I really cared to hear form. One was my close friend, Katie, who was more into sculpting, but still had an impeccable eye for details. The other one was Shea, a quiet Emo in class who only talked when spoken to, and mostly replied with grunts and flat recognitions. But when he saw my drawings over my shoulder one day, he pointed and said,
"That's wrong." I had turned, surprised to hear his voice. (It had a rusty quality to it, like it was unused, which made sense.)
"Sorry?" I caught myself, uttering this clearly. No one was going to catch me stuttering. No one.
"That angle, of the neck. It's too… stiff." Here he pointed a finger at a smudged spot on the canvas, illustrating his point. He looked at me expectantly before I reached over to blot it out and start over. Only then did he look somewhat pleased.
"You're welcome," he summed up before I could say anything, already turning back to his own work. My mouth hung open from the thought of saying something in return, but I snapped it shut when I realized he was already immersed in his art. From then on, that was the way it was. He would comment on my work, I would try to sound intelligible over his. And so, somehow, I considered him a friend. Katie was easier. She was bubbly and fun, always planning girls' night and finding out where the best parties were taking place. Life, according to her, was easy. No abandonment issues. No secrets. No 'powers out, nobody's home'.
Entering the kitchen I stepped lightly onto a firm stool, placing my hands on top of the cabinets, trying to find a candle before nearly pushing them off the rim. The box was almost full, thankfully, and I retrieved one candle holder from a cabinet beneath the sink before fitting the candle in and lighting it. I was about to open the fridge but stopped when I heard another shutter slam shut upstairs. Climbing to my feet, I raced upstairs with the candle in my hand, ignoring its dripping wax on my fingers.
I walked through to my bedroom. The oak door swung open before me, no creaking hinges, just a smooth, muted sway. I could hear the raindrops falling heavily above, tapping on the glass desperately, trying to get in. I loved the winter, but not tonight. Normally I found condolence in the warm hearth of a home, curled by a heater, or on a beanbag, reading a book. But not tonight. Tonight I crossed the room, past the queen-sized bed and placed the house key flat on its surface. The front door was locked; I had nothing to worry about. Stripping down I slipped into sweatpants and gray tank top, pulling on a thick hoodie before turning to my bed.
Taking stock of my surroundings, I let out a big breath.
No one knew. My gaze drifted around the room, from the sweeping curtains to my comfy lounge chair and window seat. On it, a whole pile of clothing was mounted like pyramid, clean laundry I still needed to sort. And I needed to do it soon, before the draft would turn them moldy and I'd have to do them all over again.
That was happening a lot recently. Freshmen year in college was proving more difficult than I thought, and being alone wasn't the worst of it. Running my hands through my straight brown hair, I undid the unruly knots. My gaze fell on the pillow that was indented with the shape of my head. Blinking, I took a second look. No. Not my head, but a stranger's. Glancing around, suddenly frantic, I looked for proof to confirm my notions.
Sure enough, on the desk beside my blinking lap top was a note. Maybe it was weird, but I checked the computer first. Nothing happened. The battery was fully charged, but the screen was blank, not heeding to the codes I punched in or the files I tried to check.
Hard drive, I held my hand to my forehead, trying to grasp it. My hard drive was gone.
Only then did I grab the note, my own stationary with a foreign cursive on it. It was painfully elegant and certainly a man's handiwork.
'Thanks for the hospitality, love,' it read, and my heart began to race, sending it pounding against my ribcage.
'I'll be back soon.'