4.5 – Still Here

Just wanted to let you guys know I’m still here. It’s been an interesting few months. Dirk and I are still friends but something’s different and I really don’t want to think much about what or why. He and Lil both think I’m acting weird.

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Anyway. This is just a mini-post, because I don’t have much to say but at least I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. My secret is still a secret, thank god. And recently I’ve remembered how much I like photography. This place still isn’t home, and maybe it never will be, but at least it’s not Bridgeport. We spent one ill-advised week on vacation there when I was a kid, and- well anyway, it’s way prettier here.

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Chapter 4: Thinkin’ Past Tomorrow

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So. Summer classes. Still not lovin’ it, in fact I’d rather try catching goldfish from the little pond at the winery. (Hint: There are no goldfish there. The frogs ate ’em all.)

Especially since one of the guys in my class, Martin Lopez thinks he’s the local casanova. He led off with: “Hey pretty lady, did you fall from heaven? Cuz you must be an angel.”

Yeah.

At least I got to duck inside quickly. Definitely wishing I could just go fishing more every day, but at least most of our classes are at different times.

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But we got a surprise today- a field trip to the theater to watch a local performance troupe’s rendition of Hamilton, a musical based on- wait for it- Alexander Hamilton. As in the founding father Alexander Hamilton. And it’s a hip-hop musical.

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On the bus, Consuela & Heather sat together like they always do. They’ve been best friends since they were toddlers, and they’re always sitting together and giggling over something or other. Sometimes I miss that feeling- having a good friend.

Rachael Burr was driving us to the theater for the performance.

“What are you guys seeing today?” She asked, a small smile on her face. She was quiet but always friendly to us. I realized I didn’t know anything at all about her except her name and that she drove on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“Hamilton,” Consuela answered.

A real smile graced Rachael’s face. “You’ll have to tell me what you think of it afterwards.”

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The Legado Theater is one of the historic buildings on the island- decades ago, when movies were young, it was part of what put Isla Legado on the map, as celebrities and starlets flocked here both to attend and perform shows. For a while, Isla Legado was the place to be if you were anybody who was anybody, and the classic style of the building was interesting at least.

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I started for the theater entrance, and after a few steps Heather appeared on my left and Consuela on my right, casting a wary glance at her brother Martin just behind us.

“Ignore Martin,” she advised. “He’ll follow you everywhere if you acknowledge him.”

“Yeah,” Heather agreed from my other side. “Thinks he’s a bit of a casanova.”

“I noticed that- he… uh, said hello earlier.”

“Oh god, did he use that angel line again? I’m so sorry,” Consuela muttered.

Heather rolled her eyes. “He’s fairly harmless just-”

“Don’t acknowledge him?” I put in with a smile.

“Exactly. So. You’re new here right?”

I’d already braced myself for the comments, but Heather just seemed curious, so I relaxed a little.

“Yeah. Just since the beginning of Summer.”

“Welcome to Isla Legado then!” Consuela answered. “Have you heard of this musical before?”

“I’ve heard the name but that’s it- musicals aren’t really my thing,” I answered.

“You’ll like this one,” Heather promised knowingly, as we took our seats inside the theater.

She was right, and I picked up a copy of the original recording from the counter on the way out.

Our school day was over after that, and we made some vague plans to meet up over the weekend, and parted ways. It was nice to do something normal though. And who knows, maybe we really will meet up this weekend.

The day went downhill from there though.

I stopped by the consignment store to sell some things I’d found, but the clerk running the store, a disagreeable jerk named Vaughn decided it was a good day to mock me.

“Aww, what’d the widdle girl bring to the stowe? Where’s your parents little girl? We don’t need your useless crap here!” He waved his fingers mockingly and continued a litany of insults of everything from my parentage to my hairstyle.

I dropped the stack of items on the counter. “Unless you’ve changed your policies, this is a consignment store. These are items I’d like to consign. And my parents are none of your business- you’re half the person either of them is.”

He grumbled and kept going, this time moving on to my morals or perceived lack thereof. “Well dressed like that I’m surprised your parents let you in the house- you look like a-”

I saw red when he brought up momma and daddy. As if he had the right.

“You know what? I’ve had it!” I cut him off. “I came to your store to sell stuff and instead I’ve suffered a personal attack on my character, that of my parents, and my morals, and I’m done.”

Fist clenched, I was just about ready to deck him, when my mother’s words floated through my mind. Ugh, that was getting annoying. But she was right.

“I’m done.” I repeated, taking a deep breath and letting it out. Punching somebody had never sounded so good. But what good would fighting him do? I’d probably lose and he was just the sort of jerk to wind somebody up and then press charges when they lost it. “I’ll be lodging a formal complaint, if this is how you treat your patrons.”

And I walked away, fists still clenched and trying not to feel like I’d wimped out.

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Hands still shaking, I went by the lot to mail off another payment on the bank loan for the land and left just as quickly. As I left, I took a deep breath and tried to release some of the tension.

Near the campsite I found a cute little snake that I named Clancy. I can’t keep him right now but I left him with a herpetologist who’s going to care for him until I have the space.

I talked to Dirk by phone for a while, relaying the whole story about the consignment shop.

“I feel like I should’ve done something,” I sighed defeatedly, having finished the tale.

“Well point me in his direction and I will,” Dirk answered, and I could hear the cocky smirk in his voice. I’d be lying if I said the confidence wasn’t attractive, but he was seeing a girl named Lillith and both of us respected that line.

“Yeah, cuz that’s the last thing you need- getting in trouble on my account. Your folks would kill you.” Hopefully he could hear the massive eye roll that just happened. “And besides that, I’m no damsel in distress.”

“Well.. I mean they’d be pissed but-” He trailed off the way he sometimes did, awkwardly, when he was worried if I was actually alright. “Yeah, I know. You can take care of yourself, superwoman and all that.”

“It’s okay, jerks aside today was actually almost good,” I reminded him. “We saw an awesome musical.”

“Ugh, pass,” he muttered. “Last thing I need is watching folks dancing around with umbrellas and vegetables.”

“No- you’d like this one, I promise. I even got the recording.” I answered, staring at the digital download card I’d purchased.

“You sure you don’t wanna come over and crash?”

“I’m good, I promise. ‘Sides, what’d your parents say? Or your girl for that matter. You know I like Lil.”

There was a beat of silence. “I’m not trying to- Look, I just worry- you really wanna spend the rest of your life camping?”

“What else can I do? You’re the only one who knows and I’m counting on you to keep it that way. I can’t go into the system D, I just can’t.” I hated the pleading note in my voice, but it was the truth. I couldn’t do that.

“I know, I know. Secret’s always safe with me El.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”

15

Chapter 3: We Go High

I remember a time when I was little, seven or eight maybe, I got distracted during recess and didn’t go back in when the bell rang. I missed a test so my teacher made me stay late to retake it and sent me home with a note. I was so worried- I just knew I was gonna be in a world of trouble. I remember daddy sat me down in one of the big armchairs in our living room by the fireplace and took the one across from it for himself…

He leaned forward and met my gaze, his brown eyes so like my own quiet and serious.

“I hear you got into some trouble today at school.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled, eyes darting back and forth between him and the window. If I made a run for it I could probably reach the tree house before he had time to ground me.

“Ellie, you’re not in trouble, stop trying to figure out how to get out of here,” he chuckled. “Besides, we both know neither of us can outrun your mother,” he added, rolling his eyes toward where momma made dinner in the kitchen. Momma loved running, and more than that, she’d been a champion sprinter in high school.

“Anyway, you’re not in trouble because I know this isn’t going to happen again. Do you know why?”

“Uh uh.” I shook my head, but I was curious, leaning forward to meet his gaze head on.

“Now listen babygirl, I hate that the world is like this, but you need to know that some people are gonna judge you for the color of you skin, or because you’re tall, or because you’re going to be a bright, intelligent woman, or any number of things.” He paused, making sure I was still paying attention, and I couldn’t help the question that burst out of me.

“But why? That’s so dumb!”

“It’s not right, but it is real. Some people are prejudiced. Do you know what that means?”

I nodded. We had covered it in my vocabulary class a few months prior.

“Well that’s prejudice. It’s not right, and it’s not logical, but it’s there. Not everyone is like that, but some people are. And because some people think that way, you have to prove them wrong,” he finished with a heavy sigh. “You have to be better than just good. Some people will be able to get by on good enough. You have to do better, because good enough won’t be enough for some people.”

He took a moment to look out the window, a faint smile on his face. “Maybe it won’t always be that way, but for now it is. You can’t give people anything to use against you. So is that gonna happen again?”

“No daddy, I promise.”

And I’ve kept that promise for a lot of years. Remembering it made me ashamed that I drank at the winery. A lot. All that trying to forget and I just woke up with a headache and a bad taste in my mouth. Not to mention the dreams.

I dreamt my parents were ghosts. They were thinking about me and waving at me, but I couldn’t talk to them. Daddy was pink and kept mouthing that everything was okay. Momma was blue- I think she was sad. She was trying to talk to me and I couldn’t hear the words, but I could read them on her lips. We go high, she said, and then vanished.

I woke up in tears as the sun was starting to rise, imagining momma’s voice wrapping around the familiar words- one of her favorite quotes: “When they go low, we go high.”

I felt like such a failure- I know they would hate the idea of me getting drunk like I had the previous night, and skipping classes like I wanted to that morning.

It was the first morning of summer classes – I don’t have to take them, but they’re AP classes that will give me a leg up on college. I still didn’t want to get out of the sleeping bag I’d found in the dumpster behind the sporting goods store but the memory of that conversation made me.

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Momma and daddy were big on education- they always wanted more for me, and anyway, it’s something to do. And I keep thinking of momma’s words- they’re becoming my mantra.

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Getting back to school actually made me feel better than anything had so far. Learning is familiar, and if I’m being totally honest, something I’m good at.

After school, Dirk Dreamer invited me over to work on our homework together.

“Hey,” he grinned. “Wanna see my muscles?”

I gaped for an awkward half second and blushed. He was cute and all, but I haven’t felt much like my usual flirty self in a long time.

“Maybe later. How about applying some muscle power to figuring out this equation?”

“Huh? Oh, seriously? Brain muscle?” He rolled his eyes and smiled. “Nerd.”

“Jock.”

For a moment, things felt normal again, like I was just hanging out with a friend after school and mom would be waiting with dinner on the table when I got home.

But then Dirk’s father Darren came home, and seeing anybody’s dad, let alone one wearing a silly hat with his uniform just because he knew it would crack his son up- it was too much. I ran to the park where I’d left my tent, and even seeing some of mom’s favorite flowers growing nearby didn’t help.

So I crawled into my tent. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry myself to sleep, but for the first time I let myself feel it. I didn’t tell myself to stop being a crybaby, and I didn’t tell myself this much grief was abnormal.

Sometime late that night, I fell asleep, and for the first time since momma and daddy died, it was peaceful.

Chapter 2: The Cost of Living

I guess some people back home in Twinbrook worried after my last post, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m still here.

I don’t have an address right now, but you can forward my mail to the general post at City Hall, and I’ll get back to you eventually, or you can email me. I’ll try to stop by the library at least once a week.

Some of you have asked if I have family I can go to, and the simple answer is no. I do have relatives, but not ones that I know or care to meet. If the letters I found in momma’s portfolio of important papers are true, she’s a Landgraab by blood, if not by family ties. The subtly menacing letter from the Landgraab family’s lawyer suggesting she leave Sunset Valley without drawing attention to any unfavorable questions of genetics seems pretty conclusive. The photocopy of a check for twenty-five thousand simoleons doesn’t hurt, either.

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So I guess that explains why momma never mentioned relatives. If she has family, they either aren’t speaking to her or don’t know where she is. Once, when I was very young, I remember seeing her flipping through a book of old photos- among them, one of two young girls, arms linked and smiling widely into the camera. I always wondered about that image, but I asked her once and she looked sadder than I’ve ever seen. She told me it was from a lifetime ago, and that was that.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to go through their trunks yet other than grabbing momma’s portfolio, the rest of the trunks are in one of those storage units where you pay a dollar for the first month. I’ll figure out what to do with them after that I guess.

I haven’t really said anything about what’s going on, I know.

I’m still trying to figure things out, honestly.

I’ve spent a few muggy summer days wiling away time with fishing, capturing and cataloging wild animals, and volunteering at the winery’s community garden. I think they must not know my age, or maybe they’re just that desperate for help. Either way, they don’t mind if I munch on  the produce as long as most of it gets to the stomping room.

I try to stay busy, because when I don’t, I drown.

The crowds at the winery are insane- they’re famous for the Casa de Legado brand, and visitors are always there at the evening tasting events. It’s easier to just blend into the crowds and disappear- like I said, they either don’t know or don’t care how old I am.

But staying busy only helps for so long, and sometimes I just duck and run for wherever I can find a space to be alone. I wish I knew how long this horrible feeling would last, but I’m starting to think it’s just not going to go away.

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There’s a little campgrounds not far from the winery where I spend some evenings. It’s restful, I guess.

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There’s a species of insect there I’ve never seen before, and sometimes interesting people stop by. Tatyana Burkhart is one of them. We met by accident- I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep- she was just getting ready to leave after hanging out with a friend there. Somehow we started talking…

“Hey, are you camping here?”

“Umm… yeah, just for a day or two,” I mumbled, not willing to admit that the campgrounds were likely home for the forseeable future.

“Oh, awesome! Tatyana Burkhart, I’m doing a piece on the hidden gems of Isla Legado,” she answered, grinning brightly.

“Oh.” My heart sank. Wouldn’t that bring all sorts of visitors? Visits from social workers were a concern, it was why I hadn’t been by our plot of land in a while, even though it was the only place where I felt close to momma and daddy.

“…this place is totally among them, it’s an amazing staycation spot, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” she rolled on, seeming not to have even noticed my tone. Oh well, I thought, I can always move on.

But her questions seemed really sincere, and more about my experience here and why I chose this campground. With a bit of on the fly editing of the facts, I think I gave her good enough answers that won’t draw too much attention.

Plus, she was nice enough to help me with my math homework as thanks. Apparently she majored in mathematics but enjoyed writing more- who knew?

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So… I’m managing. Just one day at a time, I guess.

Chapter 1: Any Given Sunday

 

So… my name is Ella Raggs. I’ve started writing this three times now and still, none of the words are right. How you say goodbye to the only people who’ve ever really loved you? The only pillars you’ve ever known in your life?

We moved here to Isla Legado just a few weeks ago, full of dreams. Mom and Dad are the only family I’ve ever known, and they’ve always been all I needed, and for a while, everything was perfect- or as perfect as we needed it to be.

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Isla Legado was all we imagined it would be, blue skies and endless ocean as far as the eye can see, and full of opportunity. It was going to be our own little happy ever after, and as soon as we picked out our plot of land and made the arrangements with the bank, Mom and Dad and I rushed over to see it. We spent all of our savings on the down payment, and we had the plans for our dream home. Dad was going to have an office to develop his software and mom would have a small cabin at the back for her readings, I was going to go to school and learn how to run Dad’s software company once he got it off the ground. It was going to be amazing.

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All those dreams died so suddenly.

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We lost dad to a parasite he’d picked up unnoticed, during the boat voyage here. The only sign there was even anything wrong was a light stomachache he had one night, which seemed more like a bad order of calamari than anything. Mom was heartbroken- Dad was her highschool sweetheart and they’d known each other since childhood. She tried to make things work- to hold on for me. But then she started complaining of chest pains.

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The doctors say it was a heart attack, but what they call heart attack I know was a broken heart. Her spark just went out.

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There wasn’t any money left- we had planned on living rough for the first few weeks while we got situated, but dad had taken out an insurance policy on himself, just in case anything ever happened. Mom died before we even finalized the funeral plans, and so I decided to use a bit of the land we bought instead of leaving them in the local cemetery. I know they’re gone and don’t know one way or the other, but I couldn’t bear to have them so far away, and this way at least they’re together. I don’t know if I’ll ever like Sundays again, let alone bright, sunny ones like this.

I don’t know what to do without them- I’m only sixteen next month. I had so much more to learn from them. It’s not fair.

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I guess that’s my first lesson: life isn’t.


A/N: So… yes. My first chapter. I haven’t written much in ages, but here we go. And no, it won’t always be so horrible.