Here are my first five again. I appreciate all comments! Thanks and Karma to all who offer advice!!
Chapter One – New Beginnings
With exactly the right combination of endless blue water and calming sunshine, today was best described as perfect. While I drove home along the Pacific Coast Highway, I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road and not on the outside scenery. The ocean swelling up next to the highway was stunning. Seeing the waves crash onto the beach, I felt a sense of peace and belonging. A feeling that was practically a stranger. I was happy Westmont, California was the place my parents finally decided to settle.
Both of my parents worked for a private company that specialized in advanced technology. Their work kept us moving from city to city. Since the time I was five, I’d been educated in nine different schools. It felt good to finally live somewhere long enough the term home sounded right instead of wishful.
As I neared our home and drove through the security gates guarding our front driveway, I was suddenly gripped by fear. Parked in front of our home was a red and white ambulance. Pulling to a stop, I barely remembered to turn off the engine before I went flying up the front steps.
Inside, my father was curled-up on the bottom of our winding staircase, looking like he’d been sucker-punched in the gut. His blond head hung lifeless between his legs, and his body trembled with uncontrolled sobs.
Almost tripping in my hast to get to him, I was finally at his side. He looked up. His blue eyes were rimmed red from crying. His face, which normally looked rather young for his age, looked older now, with deep lines of anguish pulling at his features.
“She’s gone,” he said in a low choked whisper.
If I wasn't already confused by the turn of events, I probably would have been on his same plane – curled up in agony.
“Who’s gone?” I asked fearfully, regretting knowing the second I asked.
“Your mother…she’s dead.” I had to strain to hear his last words, which sounded as lifeless as their meaning.
With my father’s words came a feeling…a feeling, which up until that day, I had never experienced. I felt all my blood draining, like it was being sucked from my body. The world, which had been so bright that morning, suddenly turned cold and dark. My gut pulled in strange directions, making me feel ill. I stood on the marble step unsure which direction I was headed; only knowing I needed to escape.
I quickly learned standing was a huge mistake, as my head began to spin and my vision blurred, turning into splotchy white and black dots. The blackness was quickly winning over the light, when suddenly I was held steady by a mysterious firm hand. As my vision cleared, I found myself staring into a familiar face, the lean, slightly angular face of my older sort-of-adopted brother, Joshua. He wasn’t crying, but his soft brown eyes held a mixture of rage and anguish. Joshua continued to hold me steady.
“I’m so sorry.” He said in a choked voice.
At the sound of remorse in his raspy voice, my body began to tremble. Noticing my fragile state, he immediately pulled me close and held me while the tears came rushing out. I cried for a long time. It was like I was part of some horrible nightmare, and at any minute, I would wake up to a brand new day – a day in which my mother still lived.
Through my sobs, I was able to choke out some questions that were rapidly swimming in my head. “How did this happen? Who would do this to her?”
Before Joshua could offer what little information he knew, two policemen interrupted us. The heavier of the officers, held a pencil and pad of paper and was preparing to write, when he approached us. He asked our names, and a few other minor details. He didn’t interrogate us for long, knowing my father was the only one to find my poor mother, and from the look of it, another man in a blue suit was already questioning my father.
The police stayed at our house for a few more hours, talking with my father and looking for any signs of a break-in. By the time the police left, it was dark outside and Joshua and I had moved to the living room couch, where we both sat silently, sharing identical grim expressions.
When my father finally approached us, he was furious.
“I can’t believe the police came to the conclusion Eva killed herself.”
My face flooded with shock. I knew my mother would never kill herself. She was the definition of happiness, the essence of joy. Her entire being radiated life. I knew without a doubt, my mother didn’t end her own life. Then it dawned on me; the police conducting the investigation weren’t looking for my mother’s murderer. They asked very little questions. They figured my mother was just another victim who succumbed to depression. I could see from the look on my father’s face, he also knew there was no possibility my mother would have killed herself.
My father sat down next to me and placed an arm around my slumped shoulders. The physical contact put me on verge of crying again. I tried to focus on something apart from the day’s events. My eyes wondered around the familiar furnishings: the paintings, the family photos, all of which felt empty now. My father’s grief-stricken eyes were fastened on me when my gaze returned.
“Honey I love you so much and I promise you, everything will be okay.” He sounded like he was reassuring himself as well. From the broken look in his eyes, I could tell everything was far from being okay.
He stood and summoned Joshua to follow him. They both headed in the direction of the study. I hated the thought of being left alone, so I followed. My father looked at me apologetically.
“I need to talk to Joshua alone. I’ll explain everything later.”
Before I could come up with a response to argue, they were gone. Irritated they would leave me out of their conversation, especially on a day such as this, I moved closer to listen.
The conversation was short because by the time I was within hearing range, the door opened and my father hurried out. His voice was urgent. “We all need to disappear.”
My father had Joshua help me pack my belongings and the next day we headed for the airport. Somehow, in a twenty-four hour period, my father was able to get us all new passports and new identities. Joshua and I were both supposed to go and wait in Montana’s capital, Helena, until he contacted us with further instructions.
Arriving in Helena, we rented a small car and drove to a dingy hotel, which I thought was strange. Why would Joshua pick the most rundown place in town, it wasn’t as if my family couldn’t afford a nicer place.
Joshua rented a room for two. Another surprise. Besides his kindness on the day of my mother’s death, Joshua and I typically don’t like spending time together. We were like magnets, only flipped over, the opposing forces, pushing us apart. Staying in the same room was sure to be a challenge.
We spent two miserable weeks in Helena until my father finally contacted us, to let us know he found a new place for us to live. He said he would meet us at the hotel the next morning.
As promised, my father arrived early the next day. I opened the door and he hurried inside carrying with him a small brown bag. Looking anxious, he quickly closed and locked the door behind him.
Once inside, my father dumped the bags contents and to my surprise, a pair of shinny-metal scissors and a box of hair-dye tumbled onto the counter.
“Sorry honey,” my father’s eyes pulled together sadly, “We’re going to have to change your appearance.”
I stroked my long honey-colored hair, knowing I would miss it. I didn’t understand why my father thought it necessary I change my appearance. I was used to his many strange conspiracies, but skipping town and being forced to change identities was reaching a new level of crazy, even for him.
Seeing the desperation in my father’s pleading eyes, I gave in, and snatching the scissors from Joshua’s eager hands, I headed for the small hotel bathroom. If my father thought it absolutely necessary I change my look, there was no way I was allowing Joshua the pleasure of destroying my hair.
Inside the bathroom, I regretfully tore open the box of brown dye, and tearfully applied the thick goop. The smell of chemicals was strong as the color took to my hair.
After about twenty minutes, I rinsed out the color and watched as the murky water ran down the drain. When I stared into the mirror, the image that looked back at me seemed so foreign, the blond haired girl was gone and was replaced by a girl with a thin, oval face framed by chocolate-brown hair and sad blue-green eyes. The darker hair contrasted against my pale skin, making me look more insipid. Pulling a thick fringe of hair forward, I grabbed for the shinny scissors and chopped bangs, but left the back long.