Maternal Absence Sweet Dreams Chapter 1

Piper lived in a ghetto neighborhood in Pittsburgh. There, she and her mother shared a dirty old apartment. Mom spent most of her life on welfare. Occasionally, she took jobs, but they never lasted. Most recently, she’d been working as a phone sex operator. She probably didn’t think Piper knew, but she heard nearly everything through the walls.

The jeans she wore were more than three years old. Not such a big deal for most people, but when you’re growing, it looks a little odd. Looking down at herself, she felt shame set deep in her skin and bones. It was her only pair of pants. She knew she looked terrible. Kids at school were happy to remind her every day. The inseam fell more than 2 inches above her ankle. In the summer, they could have passed for capris, but now, in the cold early autumn, she looked ridiculous. The apartment was barely 1200 square feet. Mom used to sleep in the living room while Piper and her other siblings, Mandy and Bob, slept in the only bedroom. Then, almost five years ago, Mom sent them to live with her grandmother. Now, Mom slept in the bedroom while Piper slept in the living room. Piper didn’t know much about Mandy and Bob because she was still relatively young when they left. Also, she didn’t know much about her father or his family. Her mother was very secretive and refused to talk about them. Only short memories of interactions and phone calls were what she had of them, and they faded more every year. The one time she spoke, more in depth, to Piper about their family was when she told her they were a bunch of assholes; that her own mother beat her and brought home men who touched her. But the couple times Piper spoke

with them on the phone, she found that they were actually really nice. She flipped through the channels on the cable-less television as she recalled a brief conversation she had with her grandmother once. “Where are you? Are you in Pennsylvania, still?” She would have said yes, but her mother had listened to the entire conversation. When she asked about where they were, Mom gave her a death stare, grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back, painfully. “No, Grandma.” She hated to lie to her. More than anything, she wanted to scream for her to come and get her, but she knew her mom would make her regret it. Piper was anything but short for fourteen years of age, but she was also skinny like bamboo. Mom was the size of a panda, so there was no fighting back. After a few more conversations like that, Mom stopped calling Grandma all together, except when she needed money. She knew that putting young Piper on the phone would make Grandma go soft. Piper felt guilty for being a part of her mother’s manipulation. She always promised that Mom would send money or gifts for Mandy and Bob, which she never did.

She never understood why her grandmother put up with it. Every time she called, she sent money despite everything. But if it were her, she’d tell Mom to get lost. A day in Piper’s life was a walk through hell. Never did she get any breaks. Most kids go to school and get bullied, and then go home to a safe place to recover. Not Piper, for her mother was the biggest bully of them all. Day and night, she fantasized about going into a rage right at the point when she’d badger her. Temporarily insane, she’d kill her in a most brutal way. Sometimes by stabbing her multiple times with a blunt knife; blood would spray her face and eyes as well as the walls, like in some horror movie. Other times she’d kill her in pretend self-defense. Mom would be pummeling her, and she’d bite her hard on the neck and then spew her bloody flesh on the floor. She’d watch her clutch her neck as she reached for the phone, but Piper would never let her get it. In the end, she’d always claim insanity and the judge would let her go free. Strangely enough, she only had fantasies, like these, of her mother. Never did she imagine doing these things to any of her tormentors at school. She supposed because she understood bullying and how it happened; why they’d chosen her. What she didn’t understand was how her mother could turn on her.

Piper’s fantasies weren’t always quite so brutal, though. Usually they were like this only during or after her mother had gone off on her. The fantasies were a release; the only way to work out aggression. Most of the time, she just wished she’d get lucky, like maybe Mom would accidentally wind up a victim of a speeding car or a heart attack. Maybe she’d be walking outside and accidentally get shot or something; after all, it was a bad neighborhood. There was one occasion where she did come close to trying to murder her mother. She’d got home late, and Mom wanted dinner an hour ago. Mom pinned her to floor and punched her, repeatedly, in the head. After the cops came and went, it seemed like Piper had no other way out. She’d stab her, spend a couple years in jail, and hopefully, get out sometime in her twenties. It happened all the time; she knew because she saw it on the news. It was about 9:30 in the evening when she finally passed out from the whiskey she’d been drinking since noon. Canadian Whiskey and V’s cigarettes suffocated the bedroom, as all the windows were closed as was the door until Piper had opened it. She held her breath and closed her mouth against the odor. Piper stood in the doorway, stiff like a statue, with a knife raised in her hand for some time. She was brought back to sense when her lungs, of their own accord, suddenly inhaled the

putrid air. Her eyes watered as she hacked and gagged. She closed the door, went back to the couch and seethed. Piper was just a coward, and she knew it. So she sat and imagined coming home to find her mother lifeless, lying in bed and covered in maggots; the stench of her loosened bowels, and the infestation that could swarm the room in just a few hours’ time, especially in summer heat.

The day after this incident, Mom specifically said she wanted her home, and that she was to have dinner done by 5 pm. She hurried up the stoop, threw her book bag on the floor and got to making boxes of macaroni and cheese. There was nothing to drink, so she put ice cubes in a glass and filled it with water. From the other side of Mom’s door, she heard voices. That’s just how thin the walls were. Muttering traveled through the phone and through the walls. It was probably the same woman she always talked to; a woman she’d met on the phone one night. Piper always knew when it was the woman because Mom always talked differently to her, like they were friends. There was never any sex talk involved. Since she could already hear everything through the walls, she didn’t think it a big deal to bring her dinner, real quick, and leave. With

any luck, she wouldn’t have to see her for the rest of the evening. She opened the door, and quickly, ran across the room and put down the tray. Mom held up her index finger in a motion that told her to stay; then she, calmly and charmingly, said into the cordless hand set, “Can you hold on a minute?” She lowered the phone and screamed, “GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE! WHEN THE DOOR IS CLOSED YOU STAY OUT!” Shocking as it may be, this was often the way she talked to Piper. She loved to scream as loud as her voice could go. Kids on the street would often quote what they’d heard, and this really was a feat, considering that her voice had to carry over 600 square feet, down a hall and through the brick outline of the building. One would think that Piper would just get used to it, but the truth was she only ever got angrier. Mom wasn’t an average ornery, she was insane. When she wasn’t fantasizing about killing, she’d imagine a life where she could start over. Often, she had no family and was completely alone. On television and in movies, people were always shown to yearn for normal families and love. Piper was different. More than anything, she wanted peace and quiet, by herself.

Killer Clowns Chapter 2 Mercy was mom’s name. Everyone who met her didn’t like her. She was belligerent and abusive, like a dog with rabies, foaming at the mouth and eyes full of crazy. She could deal insults like one who deals cards. But what was most embarrassing was when they’d look from Mom to her. In her eyes, she saw the pity and concern. They felt sorry for her and wondered if they should call child social services. They never did anything, though. Most people would rather not be bothered. Mom’s appearance was often bizarre and reminded her of a sinister clown she’d seen on television, once. They, both, wore horribly fake wigs, huge sun glasses that covered half their faces, and on their heads, enormous hats. Mom’s clothes would have been just as baggy as the clowns, if not for bulges that were barely contained within them. On more than a few occasions, people pulled Piper aside to ask if she’d been abducted, and if the strange woman was really her mom. Oh, if only it were so. She was extremely reluctant to leave her apartment, which made for much talk with the neighbors. Whenever people came to call, Mom would stay hidden in her room. Piper’s job was

to learn names, what he or she wanted and send them away. On a few occasions, she did get a wild hair and answered the door. That’s when Piper, in turn, would hide in her room, like the time her friend’s mother came by to offer her some used clothes. “Well, who the hell is at the goddamn door, now?” she heard. Piper, who’d just finished a shower, cracked the bathroom door and looked out. Mom stood at the front door in her underwear, and a shirt that barely covered her stomach. The woman, who was a rosy cheeked blonde lady with a box in her hand, said, “Hi, I’m Jo. I live down the street. Your daughter and mine play together.” “What the hell do you want?” Not wanting to be humiliated by her mother again, she lingered inside the bathroom. “I thought that maybe Piper could use some clothes. I need to get rid of some things.” “Thanks.” Piper heard her mother say, and then the door closed. She didn’t even say thank you or goodbye. Then she heard the door reopen and her mother say, “Do you have five dollars that I can borrow?” “Uh,” Jo stammered. “Sure.”

The door closed again. “Piper!” She couldn’t keep hiding any longer. Gently, she pulled back the door and walked the few paces into the living room, expecting to get blamed for the woman knowing where they lived. “Yes?” “Get your shoes on and go to the store. Get me a pack of cigarettes!” She handed her the five dollars, walked into her bedroom and slammed the door.

Morning Rage Chapter 3 “Get out of my house!” her mother screamed. She grabbed her backpack and jacket, and slammed the door behind her. To school, she went as usual. There, no one spoke to her, and that was good. She was close to blowing, and the last thing she needed was another suspension for fighting. Piper kept her head down and pretended she were someone else and somewhere else. Mom made Piper wash, both, their clothes in the tub. Over the weekend, she forgot to scrub out the ring of residue that was always left behind. She didn’t understand why this made her mad because she didn’t bathe or shower much. This was something that many others had noticed. In fact, her body odor had a strange scent that reminded her of cheeseburgers with onions. Combine this with her cheeriness and dragon breath and you can see why most people wanted to get away from her. Once, in a movie, they called this place a bog of eternal stench; it reminded her of her mother. Mom just liked rage. There was no other explanation. There was always satisfaction in

her eyes after having an episode. The more she hurt Piper, the more elated she seemed. School was dreadful, but none of them were nearly as mean as her mother. Sure, she was constantly harassed by other students for her appearance, especially during lunch time, like the other day when kids flicked bits of mashed potatoes into her long, brown greasy hair. But that was just nice; they hadn’t a clue about real cruelty and how to go about it. Piper got home at about 4:00 pm. Her feet made scratching sounds as she walked up the five steps of the stoop. She twisted the cold, silver knob, but it hit metal and flipped back. It was strange because Mom didn’t want to have to get out of bed to let her in the house, and she didn’t want to bother with getting her an extra key, so the door was always unlocked. She knocked on the door several times; then she banged and pounded. “Mom… MOM! I can’t get in.” After a few minutes without reply, she turned and sat on the stoop. They hadn’t had a car in years and she hated taking the bus, so she couldn’t have possibly gone far. She wanted her dinner at five ‘o’ clock every day without exception. Mom would be back soon, she told herself.

But when the sky had become dark blue, Piper started to worry. Mom locked her out of the house before, but usually just on the weekends. She didn’t want her around in the day, but no matter what, she wanted her home in the evenings. Had she finally gotten her wish? Was her mother in a fatal accident?

Desperate and Confused Chapter4 It was dark and chilly; Piper shivered uncontrollably. Just like in a cartoon, her jaw quivered up and down. “Keep moving,” she told herself. “You’ll stay warmer that way.” She walked around the block as quickly as she could, hoping to get her blood moving. Instead, she became extremely fatigued. Spotting a stone bench at the corner of Main Street, where all the city buses stopped, she hurried over. Cold traveled up from the stone, though she tried to ignore it and pulled her shivering legs into her chest. Piper didn’t have a watch or a cell phone so she didn’t know what time it was. However, all the night lights were on and the moon was full. When she couldn’t take the cold of the bench anymore, or the rushing of air as the cars drove past, Piper walked home again. Still, no lights were on in her apartment. “Where the hell did my mother go? It’s late and I am damn hungry and cold.” Despite her cold, trembling hands, Piper tried to keep busy by doing her homework.

Then she doodled on a blank piece of paper while watching the neighbors, across the street, sit down to dinner. Her stomach rumbled. ~~~ Some hours later, she woke with a start. Her heart pounded the way it did when she had bad dreams. The neighbor’s lights, across the street, were out. All up and down the block, people had settled in for the night. The moon had moved from its earlier position, over the buildings, and now sat right in the middle of the street. This meant that she’d been asleep for quite a while. Despite the cold, she started to sweat. Had her mother finally abandoned her, as she’d threatened to do so many times before? She should call the police, but if her mother had abandoned her, they’d never let her stay the night, alone, in the apartment. And with no other family or friends, who knows where they’d put her. She turned to the door again and knocked. “Mooom! I know you’re there! Let me in!” That was it! She was tired and cold! The glass was thin and she could easily break it. She’d just do like others in the neighborhood and cover it with cardboard.

She balled up her hand and smashed it into the glass. Shards sprayed all over her. There wasn’t enough room in the glass for her climb through. She needed to break out more, but first, she looked around to see if any neighbors noticed the noise. No one stirred. Then as she was about to re extend her fist, a car, a few blocks down, flashed its bluish lights along the street. Piper didn’t hesitate. She bolted to the street corner and went right, and right again, until she reached an alley she’d never seen before. Against the wall was a large green dumpster. She walked to the other side of it, so as to obscure her view from the street. Heart still pounding, she slid down the wall until her butt hit her heels. Now, there was no way she could go back to the apartment. What if the cops continued looking for her? Standing up and looking into the dumpster, she noticed several ripped up pieces of cardboard boxing. She pulled them out of the can. Just as she was about to arrange them on the ground, so she could lay down, she caught a glimpse at the bottom of the dumpster. There was two feet of space, which was enough room for her to squeeze under and sleep, providing a barricade against the wind. Best of all, she’d be invisible to passersby.

First, she slid the cardboard under and then slid in, feet first, herself. Although she was still cold and shivering, her heart and muscles relaxed and she fell asleep.

~~~ She woke with another jolt. Forgetting where she was, she banged her head into the bottom of the dumpster, causing a loud gonglike noise. Her body ached from shivering all night. Her clothes were moist with dew, and her skin was clammy. The sky was a bright dark blue, as it looked early in the morning. Stiffly, she pulled herself from under the can, and though she told herself not to, she went home again. As she approached the street on which she lived, she looked ahead to see if there were any cops. All the glass was still on the steps. The broken window had not been touched. Maybe the cops didn’t see her break the window, after all. What should she do next? It was almost morning, and a school day. She was dirty and wearing the same clothes as the day before. Not that this was unusual, but she always tried to, at least, change her shirt and shower. Her stomach rumbled. That answered her question: she should go to school and get breakfast.

At the corner of the street, there was a pay phone. What if Mom had a heart attack and was still inside the apartment? Wasn’t it awful that she hadn’t called anyone? She walked up to the metal box and put her shaky index finger to the number pad. “Hello, this is 9-1-1.” For the briefest moment, she was going to hang up, but the woman answered the call on the half of the first ring. “Uh, my name is piper and my mom is missing. She’s been gone all night.” “When did you see her last?” “Um, yesterday before I went to school.” “When did you notice that she was missing?” “Yesterday, when I came home from school.” “Well, you have to wait until she’s been missing twenty four hours before you can file a report. Is there any evidence that something bad happened? Something violent, perhaps?” Immediately, she thought of the broken window. “No.”

“Okay, then call back later in the afternoon. If she hasn’t turned up, we’ll a send a cop.” Piper hung up. She should have explained that she was a kid who spent the night under a dumpster. But for some reason, she clammed up. Piper knew what happened to kids who didn’t have homes. They had a few kids, like that, at school, and though, contrary to belief, they were treated well, the kids were very mean to her, too.

Learning Homeless Chapter 5 Two days had passed since her mother’s disappearance. She called the lady back, at 9-11, but made sure not to be home when the police came. During the two days, Piper frequented the alley with the dumpster, under which she continued to sleep, until she was woken abruptly. She hadn’t anticipated the servicemen. HONK! Suddenly, brightness shined down on her. She jumped to standing position, raising her hands to her eyes. The sun light, blinding, gleamed off the mirror of the dump truck. Several feet above her head was the dumpster in the truck’s clutches. “Get out of here, you rat!” She ran, fast. Tears sprang to her eyes. In all she’d ever been subjected to, she never felt lower than she did at the moment. Hearing the men yell at her, as if she were just trash. How could Mom do this to her? She sat on the stone bench she visited the night before, when Mom first went missing. It was a bus stop bench. She stared straight ahead and willed herself not to cry again.

People, behind her, walked past. In the air, a scent of sweetness and bread baking lingered. As Piper took a deep breath, she looked up and spotted a man in a long black coat standing next to her, staring. A look of concern was on his face and in his large dark brown eyes; it made Piper even more self-conscious and irritated, which made it harder to control her emotions. She continued to look straight ahead. When the man turned and walked off, her chest lightened. A few minutes later, the same man returned with a large cup of coffee in one hand and two donuts in his other. Placing them in her hands, he asked, “Are you okay?” She looked at him and could no longer hold back. The man looked surprised and he handed her a napkin. “What is it? You look so sad.” “Yes, I’m just a little upset right now. I’ll be fine, though. Thanks for the donuts and coffee.” She tried to smile. “Do you want to come in for a bit and warm up?” “No, I gotta go to school.”

“Well, I need to start work, but if you need anything, come in and see me.” “Okay.” She turned to see where the man would go. He disappeared through the glass door behind the bus stop. Then it dawned on her: the smell of sugar and bread. The man ran a donut shop right behind her. Piper started to eat her donuts and drink her coffee. The warmth and the sweetness filled her and immediately she felt a degree of relief. As she sipped her coffee, she heard a grinding noise and looked to her right. A small, white, truck stopped some feet ahead of the bench. Feeling that the truck was uncomfortably close, Piper stood up and walked to the opposite end of the bench. The armored truck men went into the small grocery store next to the donut shop. Moments later, the same two men carried brown bags to the truck. Guns were displayed on their hips. She sipped, ate, and watched. ~~~ Over the next few days, Piper maintained her independence by going to school and then hiding in the alley. Her hygiene became questionable rather quickly, which is why she began showering in the girls locker room. Although she tried to remain inconspicuous, her

emotional state must have been apparent in her face, because she found herself constantly being questioned by teachers. “How are you” and “Are you okay?” and “Why are your clothes so dirty?” It wasn’t long before Piper decided that it wasn’t safe to return to school.

Can’t Stay Chapter 6 Fourteen days had passed. There was still no sign of her mother, and she was still sleeping under the dumpster in the alley. She’d expanded her wanderings to places where she could spend much time inside, where it was warm, such as the library, coffee houses, and fast-food restaurants. She hadn’t returned to school. Instead, she spent her days reading and pan handling on Main Street. A couple of times, older men approached her, but she knew too well about their kind of business. She didn’t waste time talking to them, but she just ran. There were too many stories of abductions in her neighborhood. Her teeth became gritty and yellow. It was the worst thing to walk around feeling an unwashed mouth all day long. The taste and feel affected her just as badly as the sight and smell to others. A few times, she gagged on her own putridness. This was how and why Piper managed her first feat of thievery. She stood in the aisle of the convenience store, staring at the rack of brushes; across from them, tubes of toothpaste. She was in a zone, almost like someone else had taken over her body. All she could hear

was a buzzing that was only in her mind. She raised her hand to the brush, and while it was still hanging, slid the length of it down her sleeve; with her fingers, she pushed the plastic off the metal holder. The she did the same with toothpaste, raising her wrist to the tube and pushing it in her sleeve. Calmly, she left the store. The toothbrush and toothpaste now rested in her backpack, which no longer held school books, but instead her paper, pens and rentals from the city library. She never thought the simple act of brushing her teeth could bring her joy. Piper found the closest coffee house with the intent of just that when all of a sudden, her stomach violently rippled. Pain spread up to her neck and down to her knees, causing her to buckle. Inside the coffee shop was even worse, as she pulled back the glass door and warm air scented with bread and croissants hit her face. It had been two days since Piper had eaten. At the library, she read a person could survive weeks without food, but never did the book mention how painful it was; that she’d be faint, sickly and have vision problems. She’d have given anything for a coffee and a sandwich. Briefly, she considered returning to school for lunch, but knew she couldn’t. They’d know something was up. She walked to the register to ask for the bathroom key. No one was there. On the

counter, a clear cup half way full of dollar bills and change sat. She considered taking it and running. No, she said to herself. It would be bad to become known as a neighborhood thief. Piper continued to the back of the café. The bathroom door was unlocked. Inside, she dropped her back pack and locked the door. Over the sink, she covered the entire length of the bristles with the white paste. “Aaaahh,” she sighed, as the bristles removed a layer of grime. After a few minutes of brushing, she spit out the paste, rinsed her mouth and the bristles, and went for second round. Feeling orally refreshed, she stared at herself in the mirror. The reflection was of someone she’d never seen before. She was never a beauty queen, but the girl in the mirror was a horror. Sunken eyes and a line on her forehead and the sides of her mouth, probably from being tense all the time. Her skin was papery white, and oil glistened on her scalp. Once more, hunger ripped through her insides. It took all her strength not to cry out. Her hands gripped the porcelain sink. Tears leaked out of her eyes. Finally, the pain lifted. Like a zombie, she picked up her bag and exited the bathroom. At the front of the café, the counter was still unoccupied. She walked up, grabbed the cup, and then ran out.

For many blocks, she zigzagged through the neighborhood, fearing that she was being followed; that someone saw her with the plastic cup in her hand. She slowed to walking when her stomach grumbled, like an earthquake again, bringing her to her knees on the cement. Across the street was a fast food burger shop. The grease permeated the air. Weakly, she pushed up from the ground and stumbled across the street as though she were drunk. Her stomach gave a mighty lurch when she walked through the door. People milled about everywhere, so she decided to go the bathroom first. In the stall, she pulled the cup out of her backpack and began counting. The cup had almost $25 in it. She was so happy that she cried again. She put the money in her pocket and dropped the cup in the trash; then swayed her way to the line. At the counter, she ordered a huge burger meal with chicken strips, coffee and two hot apple pies. The man just looked at her as though she was crazy, but Piper was too busy anticipating food to care. The guy gave her a large coffee and she moved aside to wait for the food. Before, she never liked coffee. Now, there was nothing she loved more, especially after being outside all day long. She sighed when the man set her tray on the counter. Quickly, she grabbed it and sat at the nearest table.

Only a few minutes passed before a different kind of pain set in: the pain of eating after being hungry. She’d read it could kill, and so could drinking too quickly after being thoroughly dehydrated. “Slow down, slow down,” she mumbled. Despite the new pain, her mind cleared. She felt better than she had in days. She dipped her fry in ketchup and brought it her mouth and chewed, slowly. She needed a plan. Piper couldn’t spend the rest of her life wandering the streets and stealing tips. For days, Piper considered that she needed to figure out how she would get off the streets, but no ideas came to her. The pain in her stomach started to mount, just like the book said it would. She packed up her leftover burger, strips and pie. Thinking about a nap on the partly concealed soft couch at another coffee house two blocks over, she headed in that direction. ~~~ Several hours later, a man shook her awake. “I’m sorry but you’re gonna have to go,” he said meanly. “Sorry.”

She got her backpack and left. The night was even bitterer than the previous, and it would only get worse. Fall was here. Tomorrow, the service men would be back, so she couldn’t hide in her alley. She settled on the stone bench of the bus stop. Piper didn’t know if it was possible to die from shivering, but she sure wished for death, at that moment. The wind threw daggers in her ears and tried to peel her clothes from her body. She looked behind her to see if anyone was in the donut shop. Nope, it was dark. Her ears felt as though they would explode. She pulled her jacket up over her head and rested her chin between her knees. She sat like that a good while until a loud grinding noise took her by surprise. Piper looked over the top of her collar. The armored truck was back; it was parked mere feet from where she sat. A guy in a security outfit exited the side door and walked straight into the little grocery store. He didn’t seem to notice her sitting there. Was he alone? She got off the bench and walked to the passenger side: it was empty. Without thinking or even contemplating, she walked to the back of the truck, wondering if it really was loaded with money, just like in

the movies. As earlier, it was like an animal inside her had taken over, only this time her conscious mind didn’t try to object. This time, there were no feelings of fear of guilt, and no buzzing in her ears; there was only the hope and desperation. Someone else had decided that she should put her hand up to the silver clasp door opener and give it a tug. Unfortunately, it didn’t open. She gave it a second stronger tug, but nothing. Finally, she yanked it several times, as hard as she could, while shrieking under her breath. The handle clicked backward, and the door was released. She looked inside and saw organized leveled pillar like piles of bags in every color; some black, some brown, gray, green. Then there were suitcase sized bags in every color that lined the floor. She picked up a bag and unzipped it, hurriedly. Her hands shook so hard that the zipper got caught as she pulled it, but when she looked inside, her breath stilled. A two inch wad of money was inside. Clipped to it was a length of receipt. Behind it were checks and more receipts. Quickly, she stuffed the bag in her backpack and reached in two more times. She only had time for a third grab at the bags when heard the man running up to the truck. Not bothering to close the door, she ran across the street and down an alley. The guy screamed at her to stop.

Escape Chapter 7 Lying under another trash dumpster, on the dirty disgusting ground, Piper managed to hide from the security guard. She estimated that it had been about an hour since she last heard footsteps, police sirens, or talking about the girl who got away. All they knew was that she had long brown hair, wore a shabby blue jacket, short jeans, and had a blue backpack. Lucky for her, that could have been any kid in the neighborhood. Despite her urge to keep running through the neighborhood until she got far away, she stayed under the dumpster, afraid to sleep and afraid to move. What if she left her spot and walked right into someone who would turn her in? At the same time, she realized that she would need to move at some point. Police patrolling the area would make it difficult for her to live in the neighborhood the way she had the last few weeks. No panhandling or moving from café to café, trying to escape the cold. After debating with herself for a while, she decided it was best to stay until morning. She lined the garbage can as best as she could, with cardboard, and tried to relax. ~~~

She woke feeling as though she had never gone to sleep. Deep in slumber, vivid dreams of going to jail played in her mind. Piper jerked her head up, banging into the garbage can again. Some feet away, she heard people moving about and talking. She lay there, waiting for them to pass. Finally, it was quiet. Piper pulled back the cardboard and slipped out. It was an even colder morning. The sky was bright blue but with a glass-like appearance. Immediately, she left the alley and went right, down the street, looking out for cops. Piper picked up her pace, as up ahead she saw a bus stop. The people she passed didn’t look or stare at her. Wondering if she had enough change from the tip cup, she ran to the bust stop and, not paying any attention to the number of the bus or where it was going, she stepped on. After riding the bus for about 30 minutes or so, Piper drifted off to sleep. She tried to stay awake but the warmth of the heater and many people all together made it difficult. Her muscles ached from shivering all night. In the heat, they relaxed, making it even harder to stay awake. An hour later, the bus pulled into the main station. “This is the end of the line,” the driver said into her speaker system.

Inside, the station was old, bright and dirty. The people were just as sad looking. Lines of people waited at the attendants’ windows. She picked one and waited. An hour later, she learned that a bus would take her to the train station. That she could leave the city whenever she wanted. She bought a couple tickets, and left. Piper knew it was a good idea to leave, immediately, but she needed to take care of some things, first. She needed to make sure that she’d be able to travel without getting stopped because of her appearance. Further, she needed to figure a better way to hide the money and bags. One sight of them and anyone would instantly know she should be turned over to authorities, so she left the station unsure of where to start. Down the street, she went for a few blocks, trying to see where she could buy some clothes without people questioning her. After all, it was a school day and, with the way she looked, no one would want her in their shop. One look and they’d think she was going to steal. Then she approached a cheap clothing shop and looked in the window. An Asian lady came out and talked, fast, to her. She realized that she was in China Town, a perfect place to go unnoticed. They were known for minding their business.

The woman beckoned her inside all the while speaking so fast that she couldn’t understand her. She only seemed keen to sell her merchandise. Piper smiled and pointed at a couple pairs of jeans and a few sweaters. Then the woman showed her to a dressing room. Immediately, she opened her backpack and one of the bags of money. She pulled a few hundred dollar bills and stuffed them in the front pocket of her jeans. The woman placed a couple more sweaters under the dressing room door. She paired a soft black cardigan with some black jeans. Perfect, she thought, for contradicting the shabby appearance of the girl who was likely wanted, back in her neighborhood. She walked out of the room, wearing the clothes and stuffing her shabby ones into her backpack. “Looks good! Much better!” said the woman. “What about this?” She held up a couple different sweaters in different colors. “Yes.” She pointed at the red and the pink, and the dark blue. Piper walked around the shop a little longer, pointing at other things. The woman hardly noticed as she picked up a hair

brush and ran it through her hair a few times before throwing it up on the counter. Twenty minutes later, Piper walked down the street with a new backpack, filled with a few new outfits. The woman was so friendly and uncaring that she decided to press her luck and see what her chances were of finding a motel for the night. She walked along the street and already spotted one up ahead. It was extremely shabby but it would do. Inside the lobby, the man spoke in just as hurried speech. He hardly noticed or cared that she was young and on her own. Like the woman, what he cared about was doing business. He charged her a hefty deposit, and then picked up a key and led her to a room on the third floor. Despite the shabbiness of the halls, the occupants were quiet and much more respectable than in her neighborhood ghetto. He opened the door to her room. The walls were cracked, yellowed and peeling and the bed was sunken in the middle. A layer of air separated the carpet from the actual floor, and made a poof-like noise with every step she took. It was the worst room she’d ever seen, but the fragrance of bleach and ammonia and detergent led her to believe that it had been cleaned. “You need anything, call downstairs.” “Okay,” said Piper.

She sat on the bed and stared at the wall for a good fifteen minutes. There was no reason for this, except that she wanted to rest but she didn’t want to sleep. Piper was simply too overwhelmed and it felt good to just sit there a few moments. Finally, she told herself just a little bit more, she needed to push herself. Her survival depended on it. She took off her backpack and unzipped the back. Inside, she hadn’t realized that she had grabbed that many bags. There were seven, in total; three green and four brown. Hoping none of them belonged to the nice man from the donut shop, she emptied them all on the bed. At first, the money didn’t look like a lot, seeing how they were clipped and wrapped with rubber bands, but as she unwrapped one of the wads, she realized that there was possibly tens of thousands of dollars. She examined the checks and the lengths of receipts. Just a bunch of numbers, but it didn’t make any sense to her. She couldn’t tell which totals were what. So she’d just have to count. First, she set to destroying the checks and receipts by ripping them up to tiny shreds and then flushing them down the toilet, and washing them down the sink and tub. In her own apartment, just paper towels were known to clog the pipes. Hopefully, spreading the paper about would make it go down easier.

Then she set to counting the first wad. “1,2,3,4,5, 6, 7,8,9, 1000, 11, 12, 13…” After a few minutes, she realized she couldn’t continue counting that way, not with how much money was there. So she began to count them into different piles. This part was really tedious and Piper thought she would never get done. Two hours later, she contradicted herself and finished counting. She stared at the pad of paper, onto which she’d written the numbers of each pile of money. Now, she added them up into a few smaller numbers, and then added those numbers into a grand total. Piper felt a little confused, like the numbers couldn’t have been right. She went through the piles once more to make sure all of her counting was correct and when she realized that she had not made a mistake, she just stared at the pad in disbelief. “I don’t believe it,” she muttered. “$250,000.” A mixture of feelings enveloped her: happiness that she wasn’t going to starve again, at least not for a while, and sadness that if she got caught, which was highly likely, she’d spend a lot of time in jail. She learned about larceny and the penalties from one of her play pals, whose own brother had gone to jail. No time to fret about it. What’s done is done, she told herself. She gathered the piles of

money into one, large, neat pile. Then she tried to tie one of the rubber bands around it, but that didn’t work. Well, she couldn’t very well carry seven wads. She needed to condense the pile. Next, she tried taping the money to her legs and walking about the room, but the wads simply fell off. They also pulled, painfully, at the little hairs on her legs. Perhaps she could put the money into something, like a toy. She’d seen it done on television. Money stuffed into teddy bears, but teddies could be lost. People and kids might want to touch or admire them. She turned on the television. She sat there a few minutes when a commercial came on about mattresses. If only she could travel with her own personal money bed, she laughed to herself, and then it came to her. “The pillow!” She turned on the spot, walked over and picked up one of the lumpy, old stuffings. Perfect! People traveled with pillows all the time! It was big enough to hold all the money. If someone noticed the weird consistency, once it was stuffed with money, she’d simply say it was an old pillow. Piper opened the top drawer of the desk and found a complementary needle and thread.

~~~ Sometime later, Piper had a heavy pillow ripped and re sewn. She’d pulled out all the stuffing and broke it up and re fluffed it, and then put it back in with a mish mash of money. Then she shook it, and it made a funny whooshing and scratching noise. It was too loose so she ripped up the other pillow and added that stuffing to it, too. Now, when she shook it, the stuffing hardly moved. The weight was still a problem, but she didn’t think anyone would think much of it. It was such an obscure and unheard of idea that she doubted even most authorities would consider it. “Unless they were narcotics police,” she mumbled. Okay, so her plan wasn’t totally fail safe but it was the best she had. She stood up and walked into the bathroom, feeling kind of sick with worry. She turned on the water and ran a bath, and peeled off her clothes. A few moments later, she sat in the water and realized that she’d forgotten to consider one large detail: Where she wanted to go.

She’d always wanted to visit New York City. In the movies, it always looked so busy and fun. People liked to dress up and go to fancy restaurants. She’d like to do the same. And what better way to hide, than to be something she wasn’t, which was fancy and dressed up all the time. The hotel had only given her a tiny soap, but she did her best to clean herself with it. She’d never appreciated the scent of the soap as much as she did at that moment, and sighed happily as layers of dirt and oil was released from her skin. The tub, a dark color now, she emptied it a refilled it. She never, ever wanted to be without hot water again. Seeing they hadn’t left any shampoo, she rubbed the soap on her scalp and down through her long strands of hair. After she’d cleaned herself, she re ran the water once more and just enjoyed the steam. She lay back and tried to imagine where else she would like to get lost in. Los Angeles? Boston? Chicago? Nahh… She didn’t want to go someplace that she would not be familiar with. New York, she had seen so much on television that she was sure she’d recognize it when she got there. What about cost of living? She’d seen a listing of apartments in a newspaper. She’d heard that it was one of the most expensive places to live.

Yes, but it was always her fantasy place. Besides, she didn’t have to live right in the city. Whatever the case, she needed to leave immediately because she didn’t fit in there. It was a nicer neighborhood than hers, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t still get caught. She’d heard her mother speak of taking a train to New York’s Penn Station. It was practically nonstop all the way. “So that’s it, then. I’m going to New York.” She got out of the tub, dried herself, and climbed into bed.

New Day Chapter 8 She woke up when the phone rang hours later. Apparently, she was about to sleep through her check-out. The man wanted her out of there. “Okay, sorry. Can you give me ten minutes?” “Yes, but after that and I’ll have to charge you.” “Okay, bye.” Quickly, she got out of bed and put on her new clothes. She brushed her teeth and her hair, and then did her best to shove as much of the pillow into her bag as she could. She walked to the bus depot. Inside, she confirmed the bus she needed to get her to the train station that would take her out of the state. After, she walked to nearest stand, bought a pretzel bread, and then found a seat and waited. ~~~ At noon, Piper found herself in the famous Penn Station. Starving again, she walked over to a vendor and grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda. She ate as she sat and watched people while thinking about how to find out where to

get a room. Then she noticed the information board with lots of touristy information. The sign said hotels, rooms, shows, etc. She finished her pizza and then walked over. Piper picked up a map, but out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a kiosk that said “Press Ready to start to book your reservations,” so Piper pressed ready and 16 minutes later, she’d booked a room with a hotel on the West Side. Amazingly enough, when the kiosk wouldn’t accept her made up seventeen digit visa number, she was able to call the hotel from the kiosk and book a reservation anyway. Feelings of elation made her skin warm! She was going to spend the night in a four star hotel, and not on the cold streets of Manhattan. She ripped her ticket out of the kiosk and stood in line at the help desk. A few minutes later, a lady showed her which train to take. She followed the signs and waited ten minutes, and then her train finally roared its arrival and slid to a stop on the tracks. Exiting the station, a few minutes later, Piper held her breath. It was so much bigger and more majestic than she’d imagined. People whooshed by her, left and right, ahead and behind, trying to get to where they were going. She walked to the end of the street, and caught up to a crowd of people who, without waiting for the light, hurried across the street.

In a way, she felt like a duck in a herd, walking face forward, trying to keep up the pace. It was exhilarating but it made her heart race.

New Diggs Chapter 9 Piper walked into the ample yet dim lit hotel. The entrance was enormous with cream, multifaceted floors. People sat about the lobby in the couches and chairs while reading newspapers and drinking coffees. To her right, a line waited to get into a restaurant while up ahead, another line of people waited to checkin. After a twenty minute wait in line, she handed over her ticket and security deposit. The desk clerk hardly paid attention to her young visage. She asked for identification. Piper handed over her Pittsburgh library card. The woman printed off two security cards and gave them to her. Piper walked to the elevator and took it up to the eleventh floor. When she opened the door to a soft carpeted room with a brand new flat screen television and a posh looking bed, she smiled. She set her bag on the floor and fell back on the bed, bouncing. The sound of air across the shaft roared like ocean waves, and from below, she heard honking. Lying there, she wondered what to do next. She knew she couldn’t stay in the hotel too long because people would begin to notice

her; that and it was too expensive. She needed a place more private but it would do for a few nights or weeks as she became familiar with her surroundings. For the first time since taking the money, she was excited. She felt like it was possible that life, for her, was going to change, and for once, she was going to be well. Living in New York City was going to be the biggest adventure she’d ever had. She got off the bed and went to the window. Pulling back the curtains and pressing her face against the glass, she looked leftward, out of the air shaft. Down below, she finally saw what people meant when they said the city ‘bustled.’ Never in her life had she seen so many cars, so many people and so many buildings in a setting. With her excitement came a feeling of fear, though. What was going to become of her? Sure, she was going to have lots of fun, but was she just going to hang out until she was eighteen? What would she do for the next three and a half years of her life? That’s when she decided that she needed to go back to school. Besides, life was boring enough, every day on the streets of Pittsburgh. New York, though adventurous, could turn out the same way, she figured. She needed something to occupy her time.

Then she felt lonely as she looked down at all the people going off to do something. Whom would she share her adventure with? And whom did she have to talk and laugh with when things were bliss? Funny, because she always imagined being alone, but now, more than anything, she wished she had someone to share the moment with. Then she thought about her mother, again. Would she ever know what happened to her? Or would it be a lifetime of unanswered questions? She lay on the bed and watched television for hours until she was anxious. She needed to go for a walk, or to do something. So she took a quick shower and brushed her hair. Then she changed into warmer clothes and left the hotel room. A few guests passed her by as she went down the hall. Never had she seen such nicely dressed people, and it was hard to imagine that she was staying in the same hotel as them. She stepped off the elevator and into the dim entrance hall. Across the lobby, an older, but still young, man stood behind a thick wood desk. He smiled at her. “Please don’t talk to me,” she muttered. She tried to walk past and ignore the man, but he asked, “Can I help you?”

On a rack beside his desk was a ton of maps and little books. “Where’s a good place to eat?”

Outside, she noticed things she didn’t when she arrived. Everyone looked so serious and determined to get to where they were going. Strangers flew by each other as if they were walking on treadmills. Big grey buildings towered over her head. Across the street was Central Park. Down from there, many cars and taxis circled around an intersection. The sun made the buildings look golden. Catching her breath, she walked to the end of the street, made a right and found the café the clerk told her about. ~~~ Three days later, Piper sat in a coffee shop and looked at the Village Voice newspaper. She got queasy at the thought of actually calling some of the numbers. What would she say? How would the conversation start? Her options looked like few, as many places had a lot of requirements that she was sure she wouldn’t be able to provide. They wanted things like proof of income and such. The rentals that had fewer requirements gave her the impression that they were possibly in

lesser neighborhoods. However, there were many advertisements for live-in motels, and they were already furnished. She decided to try for an apartment, first. A motel might offer less privacy. Less privacy might mean she’d have to move around a lot. Piper took a bite of her egg, cheese and bacon bagel and chewed, thoughtfully. Then picked up the little prepaid cell phone she purchased and dialed the first number she circled. “Village Rental Agency; this is Jackie.” The woman had a strange and annoying accent. “I - I,” she stammered, “I’m calling about the one bedroom apartment?” “What listing number?” “I don’t see, uh, oh yeah.” She read the number and waited, hoping she’d say something. “I have an opening at 1 pm and at 3 pm, tomorrow. When can you come see it?” “3 pm sounds good. How do I get there?”

The woman gave her directions. Piper hung up feeling relieved and hopeful. Maybe apartment searching wasn’t so bad, after all. The next day, she walked up the stoop of a scary looking building. But like many other places in the city, once she got inside, the décor was much friendlier. The walls were freshly painted and clean smelling. In the corner of the lobby and mail room, a man watered some plants. He looked at her and said, “Please sign in.” He nodded his head at the desk. Piper did as he asked and then walk up the steps to the third floor. She knocked on the door and the woman, Jackie, appeared. The place was small but clean. It had wood floors, white walls and a nice big window in the living room. Piper felt a little excited as she looked around. She’d always fantasized about having a place of her own; the place she saw in her head looked a lot like the one that she stood in, now. No, it wasn’t the richest home in the city, she was sure, but it was nice, neat and clean. Best, she didn’t have to be embarrassed about living there. But then she went into the kitchen and saw a cockroach in the sink. Jackie must have noticed her shock, for she said, “It’s hard to avoid some pests in the city. You get so many people living here for so many years. The walls never really get re built. The best one can hope

for is quality control. You’re not from the city are you?” She shook her head. Despite the lovely living room, the kitchen was a different story. It had an old, ugly stove, the sink was yellowed, and the refrigerator must have been from the ‘70s. They made their way into the bedroom, which had a nice big closet. The bathroom had an old toilet, sink and tub. For some reason, it was particularly chilly. “What do you think?” asked Jackie in an anxious manner. It seemed she had some other place to be, as she looked at her watch, repeatedly. “It’s nice,” she said uncertainly, wondering what would happen next. “And would you like to apply?” “Apply?” “Yes, here,” she said, handing her a stapled stack of papers and looking at her peculiarly. “Fill this out. How old are you, do you mind me asking?” Piper didn’t hear the question because she was shocked by the amount of information being requested on just the first page.

“What does this mean?” She pointed at a line on the page. Jackie leant over and said, “Credit references. You need to provide at least three credit accounts that we check up on, you know, to verify who you are and that you make your payments.” Not only did it ask for credit references, but it wanted work detail and bank account numbers. The lady handed her a pen. “What if I don’t have all of this information?” “Then I’m afraid you won’t be able to rent with our agency. Take the application to your parents. Ask them to cosign for you. Don’t worry; most kids don’t have all the requirements to rent. Unfortunately, I can’t hold the apartment for you, though.” Crestfallen, she walked down the three flights of stairs. If this was what she needed to get an apartment, then she was out of luck. She was going to be back on the streets, eventually. No doubt about it. She went back to the motel, feeling worse than when she first became homeless. The next morning, someone left another paper outside her door. Despite the total hopelessness she faced in finding a place, she

opened it and looked anyway. This time, she found an advertisement for a place just north by a few blocks. It said all she needed was a security deposit and identification. Immediately, she put on her shoes, grabbed some money and walked over. The hotel was much shabbier than the one she was, currently, in. The lobby smelled like pine cleaner and the desk clerk was dressed in plain clothes. She walked up and placed the section of the paper on the counter. “How long you plan on staying?” asked the man. “I don’t know.” “Rent is due every month on the 5th. You get a three day grace after that, but if you’re not paid, and you’re still here, you’ll be removed. Sign here and here.” He set a couple different documents down; then took her security deposit and led her to a room. “You got any stuff?” “Yeah, just not with me. It’s in the other hotel.”

The halls were dank and smelled of cleaners, too. He opened the door to her room. It was much older than hers. It was only the third floor, so she could hear the traffic constantly going by. To the right was a bed with an old comforter. On the left was a small table with two chairs, and a television on a dresser. There was a large closet and a microwave and coffee machine atop a refrigerator right across from the bathroom. “Housekeepers come through once per week. You can put your valuables in that safe there. Be careful, if you forget the combination, there’s $150 fee to open the safe. If you need anything, call downstairs.” That very day, she checked out of the hotel and into her new room. Although she loved her upscale room and view, and could have stayed much longer, she was tired of being uprooted and moving around. She wanted to get settled as soon as possible. The only down part to her new place was the noise. She could hear people talking in the halls and down below. Still, it was a relief to have someplace to call home for a while. She knew she could live there, comfortably, and without questions for a long while. That night was a cold and bitter one. Fall was settling in, but she slept better than she had in weeks because her biggest worry was done for now.

Just Hangin’ Chapter 10 Over the following weeks, Piper hardly thought of her mother. Instead, she indulged in all that she’d never had before. Although keeping in mind that she needed to be careful with her money, she managed to buy a new wardrobe, and when she wasn’t hanging out at the movie theaters or playing around on her new netbook at the café, she was hanging out at a cool makeup shop in Times Square. There were times when she was lonely, but she kept busy by doing all the things tourists did when they came to visit. When she wasn’t shopping or acting like a tourist, she’d go to the park and read for hours. Today was to be the first day of class for Piper. Although obsessed with spoiling herself, she’d made time to carefully go about getting her old high school records, and enrolling at the West Side Learning Institute. After all, she couldn’t spend the rest of her days shopping. Besides, she was determined to try to lead a normal life, no matter what. The most normal thing she could do is finish school, but this time, she promised herself things would be different. Back home, she’d been miserable because of her crazy mother, hateful peers at school and her shabby appearance. Now, she had the ability to be a whole new person, not just because she, now, had money, but because

being on her own gave her new confidence. As she thought about everything she’d been through, in her entire life, it occurred to her that fate might have intervened; that on some karmic level, she was getting her chance to correct all the wrongs in her life. There was no way that she’d let the chance go to waste by sitting around until she was eighteen, and fretting over what happened to her irresponsible and abusive mother. That morning, however, butterflies filled her stomach. She lay in bed hardly able to breathe for fear of what school in the city would be like. So far, just in the streets, people were short and abrupt, borderline rude. If the kids were like that at school, would she have the strength to stand up to them? Back home, the answer was no, but now, she had to change. Somehow, having to stand up for herself frightened her. What if she made a fool of herself? Or found that she wasn’t strong, and her enemies, like before, easily squashed her? Oh well, she couldn’t think about it anymore. She had an hour until her first class and hadn’t even eaten breakfast. She got out of bed and took a quick shower. As she rushed down a bowl of cereal, she slipped into her dark blue jeans and a pink cardigan. Standing in front of the mirror, she ran her hairbrush through real quick.

She stood, still, looking at herself in the mirror. How she’d changed in just a matter of weeks. When she first arrived, she was starved, gaunt and looked every bit the homeless person she was. Now, she looked healthy, her skin was bright, and for a moment, she thought she looked pretty. She exhaled, grabbed her new backpack and ran down the steps onto the sidewalk. She pulled a map out of the front of her backpack and walked along the street, trying to figure out where the school was, as she’d registered over the phone. When she bumped into someone, knocking the map out of her hands; it floated on the air, down the street. “What the hell?” asked the girl. “Watch where you’re going, idiot!” The girl walked off, her long blonde hair bouncing on the air. Muttering, “Sorry,” Piper looked down the street, watching her map fly away. How was she going to get to school, now? Then she decided to try and find it on her own. She remembered which street it was on, and its number was four-thousand or something. So she kept on until she realized that she and the blonde girl were likely headed in the same direction.

Careful to keep a few paces behind, Piper noticed more kids were on the same block as they were. Some walked together while others walked separately. As she walked, she couldn’t help but notice the caliber of students they were. It was like they all could have been fashion models, what with the way they were all dressed like walking advertisements. Their attitudes were also different. Unlike the brooding, tough gangster thing she was used to seeing, these kids were loud, boisterous and smiling and laughing; although, at the same time, some of them were still menacing, but just in a different way. She didn’t know how to interpret it, except that their menacing wasn’t menacing-thug but rather menacing-fun. In that moment, it became clear to Piper that she was not only going to some school on the West Side, but that it might be a school for middle-to-upper class kids. As she thought about this, her stomach became unsettled again. She’d never been around kids from good families. Would they be nicer or meaner? At the corner light, they were joined by even more kids, making her feel claustrophobic, for a moment. The girl whom she ran into was right in front of her. Piper was self-conscious because two boys stood very closely behind her. If she could have, she’d have walked away, but she was closed in by bodies on her left and

right as well. She just wasn’t used to having so little space to herself. Sure, there were times when she found herself walking through rush hour back home, but it was nothing like this. She almost stumbled, trying to keep ahead of the two boys when she accidentally stepped on the back shoe of the blonde girl. “Ow,” she screamed and tripped across the street. Then she turned around and pushed Piper who stumbled to the ground. The boys simply walked around her with smirks on their faces. The girl kept walking while the rest of the kids just went around her. Cars beeped at her to hurry up and get out of the street. She stayed far back behind the crowd. She was so embarrassed; it was not how she wanted her first day to start. Up ahead, a tall grey building appeared. In front of it, teenagers milled about. Cars rode up and let kids out onto the sidewalk. They said goodbyes, slammed their doors, and then the cars sped off, only to be replaced by others. Red faced and still humiliated, Piper walked up the steps into the long hall. Before her were hundreds of lockers. Kids were standing about talking. To the right was the principal’s office, and to the left were the nurses. She went right.

A few minutes later with a new schedule in hand, she walked up several sets of stairs and found her assigned locker. Even though she planned to download all of her books that year, she still set a combination lock on it, and then went to find her class on the same floor but around the corner. The school was much nicer than back home. The walls were fresh white, and the lockers weren’t marked up, rusted or beat in. It didn’t smell like urine and bleach in the halls, cigarette smoke didn’t emanate from the bathrooms, and people weren’t screaming and yelling at each other, but rather laughing and talking. Girls put on makeup and brushed their hair, and showed off their outfits to each other. Boys watched the girls, talked and laughed. She found her class. The teacher wasn’t in, yet, so she sat in a seat midway into the room. A group of boys over in the corner watched her, their eyes going up and down, making her nervous. Right as she sat, the same voice she’d heard earlier that day yelled, “That’s my seat, idiot!” The blonde girl’s face was fuchsia. “Sorry,” Piper muttered. She stood up and found a seat even further to the back of the room.

Although she’d managed to make a fool of herself that morning, she left class feeling slightly relieved. She worried about what it would be like attending a school with kids from good families, but it wasn’t all that bad. In fact, she found that, unlike back home, the teachers and the kids were much calmer, more polite and respectful. The teacher made requests, and the kids obeyed, only rarely causing problems. Then the teacher asked for the prior week’s homework, and every single student turned it in without a fuss. In her old school, it wasn’t uncommon that within the first thirty minutes, the teacher would have assigned half a dozen detentions as well as kicked at least one kid out of class. And, homework? Forget about it. Even the blonde girl, whose name was Anna, wasn’t as threatening as she thought. Yeah, she pushed her down in the street, but she was just as normal as the other kids. When class was over, and Piper walked past her down the hall, the girl pretended like she didn’t even exist. Back home, a girl like her would have tried to put her in the hospital already.

On her way home, after school, there seemed to be fewer kids than in the morning. She was glad because she didn’t want to have to follow Anna home. But there was one girl she’d seen in the cafeteria at lunch time. She

had her hair tied up in a tight bun and wore thick black glasses. Piper walked behind her for a while. She was extremely annoyed because the girl kept looking back at her, and then staring her up and down. She wanted to ask her what her problem was, but instead, she hung back, taking smaller steps so that the girl got far ahead of her. When she got to her corner, the girl turned left. This frustrated her because she was going the same direction as her hotel. The last thing she wanted was for someone, like her, to know where she lived. It might look strange, especially considering the kind of school she went to. When the girl turned her head back once more, Piper flipped her the bird. Briefly, her eyes widened, she turned forward and kept on. Her motel was approaching. While her head was forward, she took the moment to run as quickly as she could through the glass doors. “Slow down!” said the man behind the desk. Piper walked up the stairs. In her room, she threw down her bag and went to the window to see if the girl had gone. She pulled back the curtain and there she was at the light. She turned her head back and looked up at the hotel.

A buzzing feeling erupted on the back of her neck. Did the girl see her run inside? She had to be very careful. Next time, she wouldn’t return to the hotel, if she were being followed. She’d keep walking until she lost her stalker. The most important thing was for her to protect her secrets.

Over the next few days at school, Piper would continue to run into the mean girl, Anna. Anna was always in the company of her closest friend, Terry. They were in the same year as Piper, and extremely well liked. Anna was always dressed the best. Terry wasn’t so much but she was a devoted underling. All the boys admired Anna. They watched her as she walked by, and they talked, feverishly, about her when she’d gone. Although she was the most admired in the year, it seemed that there were different kinds of popularity. Some kids were popular for how they looked while others were popular for how smart they were, and how much recognition they got for it. This was another difference between school and back home. Back home, people weren’t ever respected for doing well, and they never would have been admired if they dressed like Anna. Yes, she was nice with her cashmere argyle sweaters and Seven jeans, but in Pittsburgh, she would’ve never been accepted.

Anna didn’t say anything more to Piper, until one day after lunch. In the bathroom, she found her arguing with a pale faced girl she’d seen in the cafeteria at lunch times. She sat with the same girl she’d flipped off the other day. She had no idea what they were arguing about as their screams were deafening the way they vibrated off the bathroom walls. Normally, she would have turned around and came back later but Piper really needed to go. She tried to walk around the two when suddenly a hand flew out and smacked her right in the back of her head. Nails scratched across her ear and cheek. Piper was stunned. It occurred to her that she meant to hit the pale faced girl, but she expected an apology all the same. “What the hell was that for?” She dabbed the side of her cheek, which was bleeding. “Why don’t you mind your business and get the hell out of here!” Anna screamed. Piper didn’t know what got into her at that moment. All she knew was that she’d put up with a lot from way tougher girls than Anna. She wasn’t going to let her intimidate her because she was, in a way, beneath her.

She grabbed Anna by the neck of her red sweater and swung her around and into the sink. Then she extended her fist into her face. The pale faced girl ran out. Anna swung her open hand at her, in an attempt to smack her. Piper caught her by the wrist, and smacked her on the cheek instead. Her face was flushed red and livid. She stood, stunned for a moment, and then violently pushed her to the ground. Then she made for the door, but Piper wasn’t going to let her get the last attack. She stood up and grabbed her by the collar again, and swung her into a bathroom stall. The neck of her sweater ripped and the sound of her splashing into the toilet echoed off the walls. Some water even sprinkled Piper in the face. Suddenly, there was a lot of laughter. She hadn’t realized it, but the word that there was a fight spread fast. Now, there were a dozen students in the bathroom, watching, and some boys, too. Anna tried to run past Piper and head for the door, but the pale faced girl had returned. She stuck out her foot, and Anna fell to the floor. The crowd roared again. Then Anna’s friend, Terry, entered the bathroom. Right behind her was a teacher who

told them all to go to class or face punishment. Then she forced her and Anna to the principal’s office.

Needless to say, Piper and Anna were both suspended for the rest of the week. Piper didn’t really care because she felt the girl got what was coming to her. No, it didn’t look good for her, especially being only her second week at school, but she was glad that she stood up for herself. And as she walked home that day, feeling good, she promised herself that she’d live up to the reputation of the fierce tigress that came out of her that day in the restroom. There would always be someone stronger than she, but let those worthy of bullying her put her down. Never, would she allow someone like Anna to get one over on her. Not ever again. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the girl coming up, behind her. “Hey, that was pretty funny how you got Anna in the toilet bowl.” The girl whom she flipped off was walking beside her. Dressed in her usual black, and looking like a mysterious librarian, she smiled wide.

“My friends were laughing about it all through class.” “Oh, you know, it’s really not funny, though.” “What do you mean?” “Well, laughing at another’s misery.” She looked at her a moment, and then said, “You take things really seriously, don’t you? You look like a serious type.” They walked a bit in silence. Then she said, “It’s not that we want to laugh at people’s misery, it’s just that girl is a mean girl. Sometimes, you can try and try to talk but people don’t hear you. Sometimes, you have to fight. Well, today, that’s what you did, right? I know that girl was harassing you on your first day. We all heard the stuff she was saying about you.” “Really,” she said sounding surprised. “I didn’t know she was talking about me.” “Don’t worry about it. We hardly listened. Everyone knows what a no brain that chick is. Yeah, she’s got a rich dad and all, but she’s not that cool. She even almost flunked out of statistics.” Piper laughed to herself.

“Yeah, I think it’s funny, too. If she doesn’t marry well, she’ll be on welfare for sure.” Despite learning what kind of kids she went to school with, it was still appalling to hear the girl speak that way of Anna. Back home, a kid would be made fun of for passing statistics, not failing it. No one cared if people were smart and in fact, it seemed like it was cooler not to be smart. “My name is Linda.” “Piper.” “You live in that hotel, huh? It’s not a very nice one. How come you don’t have a house? You’re not poor, are you?” Piper didn’t know what to say. Her face got hot and her eyebrows furrowed, involuntarily. “What? Am I being rude?” she said mockingly. “Go away,” Piper walked ahead of her. “What?” she said, running to catch up. “I’m just kidding. I don’t care where you live. Hey, invite me up and we can do homework together. I don’t want to go home. I hate my mother. She drives me crazy.”

She looked at the girl. Eagerness was in her eyes. “I can’t. I have to do chores and homework. Plus, I’m not allowed to have guests.” “Want to come over to my house, then? We could do homework there?” “I’m really sorry but I can’t. Not today, my mother would say no.” “Oh, okay, well bye, then.” Piper ran up the steps of the shabby hotel. Ignoring the clerk, she ran up the stairs, into her room, dropped her back pack and ran to the window. There she was, down below, waiting at the light. Briefly, she turned her head and looked up at the building. Piper jumped to the side of the wall, heart pounding and breathing hard. ~~~ The next week at school, all eyes were on Piper wherever she went. People stared and whispered and pointed. She didn’t let it get her down. Anna had lots of friends but she wasn’t going to let anyone intimidate her anymore. Let them talk, she decided. Besides, she had more important things to worry about, like school

work. She was having trouble keeping up with all the assignments. Never had she been given so much to do, and she seemed to have a learning gap, too. It scared her more than Anna and her friends. What if she got labeled an idiot, like Anna? At lunchtime, Piper walked into the cafeteria, tray in hand. Linda was sitting in a corner at the far end and waved her over. First, she hesitated, but then, something made her go over anyway. Though Linda could be cruel, it was nice having someone to talk to, that day on her way home. Sitting across from Linda was the pale faced girl from the bathroom. She smiled as Piper came and sat down. “This is Molly.” Both Linda and Molly loved to wear black, but Linda was trying to look sophisticated while Molly had an emo-scene thing going. They were both pale skinned with dark hair and pale blue eyes, although Molly’s hair was shiny black and Linda’s was very dark brown. Despite their fashion differences, they looked like they could have been sisters. They both liked to wear classic red lipstick and their body language was elegant. Watching them made her self-conscious. What if she acted like a street kid?

But they were actually pretty nice, she soon realized. “Hey,” Molly smiled. “Sorry you got suspended because of me and Anna. She actually didn’t mean to hit you.” “Yeah, I figured that, but she just made me so mad. Ever since the first day of school, I’d wanted to get back at her.” “Well, everyone’s talking about. Everyone was rooting for you,” Linda said as she motioned to the room with her hand. “Me? Why?” “Because nobody likes her,” said Molly. “She’s just a rich, dumb blonde only good for taking beef and buying beer.” Confusion at Molly’s words must have shown on her face because Linda said, “It was joke.” Then she laughed. “Well,” said Piper, trying to be chipper, “you look like you’re both enjoying yourselves over here.” But Molly was distracted. “What are you looking at?” “That guy over there.” “Which one?”

Piper turned around while moving her head up and down. “Ah!” Molly exclaimed, and threw her face forward onto the table. “You looked! Now he’s gonna know we’re talking about him.” She lifted her face from the table. Linda laughed, hysterically. The whole table was, now, looking at them. “Hi!” Linda said, waving at them. The boy in question also turned red. Quickly, he looked away and continued talking to his buddies. “So who is he? Are you guys going out or something?” asked Piper. “Sort of, I think. I saw him at this pizza place we went to, last Friday. He came up to talk to me. We hung out for a while, and the he walked me partway home. We kissed in the alley for at least forty five minutes and it was so hot. See look, he’s looking at me.” Piper and Linda looked just long enough to see the guy dart his eyes away while jerking his head in a motion that clearly said he was embarrassed. If he really did like Molly, Piper thought he had a funny way of showing it.

But what did she know? Piper had never had a boyfriend. She’d had crushes before but being that she was always so ragged in appearance, there was never any hope for her to have a guy like her back. So she didn’t know exactly what to say in response to Molly’s obvious love of the guy who seemed to be snubbing her. She decided it was better to keep quiet for the moment. Throughout the rest of the lunch hour, they talked nonsense. Piper tried to smile and participate, but there were some things she was lost on. Linda smiled and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll bring you along next time. You’ll know people, here, in no time. Everyone will want to meet the girl who threw Anna into a toilet, haha.” When the bell rang, they walked to class, together.

New Friends Chapter 11 Walking home after school, Linda convinced Piper to stop for coffee with her and Molly. Along the way, they approached a cute little shop with an array of underwear in the window. “Let’s go in!” Molly said. The store was brightly lit with white walls that made Piper wish she wore sunglasses. Piper was blown away by the store. Never had she seen such sexy garments. Up on the wall was a cork board, and thongs in every color of the rainbow were nailed to it. Some were fine like gauze while others were shiny like silk. A woman behind the counter, reading a magazine rolled her eyes at them as they walked in. “Can I help you?” she asked nastily. “No, thanks,” said Molly. The woman eyed Piper and her friends as they looked around. On a table was a pile of lacy camisoles. Fascinated, Piper picked one up, and when she saw the price tag, her jaw dropped. Feeling a bit intimidated by the atmosphere, Piper hung back and observed

Molly and Linda walking about the store, picking up all kinds of merchandise. Could they really afford all that? When they appeared to be done, Piper followed them up to the register. They dumped their arm loads onto the counter. “You want to buy all these?” “Well, yeah,” said Molly in a funny voice. “Don’t you want to try any of this stuff on?” Then Molly and Linda burst into fits of laughter. “No, we don’t buy anything. We wanted to see if you’d roll your eyes at us and be as rude to us, as when we walked in the door, if we played a mean trick on you. Well, bye!” Molly said in an overly cheerful voice and then walked toward the door; Linda followed. Piper, shocked, looked at the lady a moment, and then followed them out, too. Outside, they laughed hard and clutched their bellies. Piper watched. She wasn’t sure how to interpret their behavior, as she’d never witnessed anything like it before. Sure, the store clerk was rude, but she’d never behave as they did.

Fifteen minutes later, they sat down in a coffee shop with mocha lattes; Piper with a plain hot cocoa. Despite Molly’s and Linda’s uncomfortable behavior, she enjoyed sitting there over drinks with two friendly faces. It was nice to be included.

They chatted about a number of things, namely Molly’s older brother who’d gone off to college. His father threatened to disown him when he refused to go to Yale and study law, and so he snuck off to Cornell while he was away on business to study art history. The conversation made Piper even more uncomfortable. What did she have in common with these girls? She didn’t know if anyone in her family had gone to college. Then they suddenly turned the focus of their conversation to her. “Piper, tell us about your family. What does your mother do, and what brought you here?” asked Molly. “Why do you ask?” “Well, you’re obviously not from the city,” Linda replied. She took a sip from her drink to stall and think of something to say. “My parents are divorced.”

Thankfully, Molly took over from there. “Oh okay, that’s why you looked so guilty, just now! Look, you don’t have to be embarrassed about divorce. We may be from reputable families but we have the same problems as everyone else. I live with my dad and his third wife.” “Yep,” said Linda, “and I live with my mom and her second husband.” “Does your mom work?” Molly asked her. Piper couldn’t think of a lie, so she decided to tell the truth. “No, she’s kind of lazy.” “Oh, tell me about!” yelled Linda. “Ugh! Your mom and my mom would get along great! My mother doesn’t do anything, be it in the house or outside of it. Shopping, working out and grooming; that’s her goal in life. She’s a house cat. No wonder she makes my step dad sick. She makes my dad sick, too! I never want to be like her. I’m gonna do something with my life.” Piper couldn’t help but smile. At that moment, she felt closer to them than she could have imagined. “What? Don’t look so shocked,” said Molly. “We got problems, too.”

Piper never thought they didn’t have problems. Simply, it was nice to hear that others hated their parents almost as much as she hated her mother. Maybe it wasn’t quite the same thing, but at least she could be honest about her feelings, and for that, she was grateful. “Does your mom work out?” asked Linda. “My mom might want to hang out sometime. She asks all my friends’ mothers over.” Prepared this time to deflect questions, Piper spoke over her. “Molly what does your mother do?” An hour later, they split up because they needed to get home. As she walked in the front door of her shabby hotel room, she sighed. Hanging out with Molly and Linda was the best time she’d ever had, and she hoped it didn’t end. Never, had she had real friends before. Usually, people would hang out with her, but only when they thought no one was looking. When she was a kid, no one wanted to play with her. How nice it was to have real conversations and be accepted, even if it was a bad idea to get close to others at the moment. But as long as she was careful, she’d be fine, she told herself. Then she reached into her book bag. She pulled out a turkey deli sandwich and soda she’d picked up on the way home.

She had fun with Linda and Molly, and that was great, but in the end, none of it would last if she couldn’t get a grip on school. So far, she’d gotten a failing grade on nearly every English paper she’d written, and math was just a mess. She was doing worse than failing; she might as well not even show up to class. Piper just didn’t understand it. She’d always done well at school back home. True, she got all C’s but she didn’t think that was all bad. A little extra effort and she should be getting A’s. But then as she sat back and chewed her sandwich, she realized that she never really even earned those C’s. Every day, and as most inner city kids know, school was not an active place of learning. Rather, every day, they’d go to school and the teachers would sit behind their desks and read their newspapers. No one was to talk. They’d write assignments on the board, and the kids were to do them. The teachers would read until it was time to go home. Every day, this was the extent of inner city school learning. So Piper may have gotten C’s but she realized that she hadn’t clue as to if she’d actually done well or not. For all she knew, it was just their way of getting her out of class. It was at that moment that Piper realized she was in more trouble than she thought. She was not fumbling over a learning gap, but she was paying for years of false learning.

She needed a tutor, and she needed one fast!

Socialite Chapter 12 Piper found herself caught up in a world of dates. Being Linda’s and Molly’s friend meant social gatherings of every kind. Back home, her classmates would hang out after school. However, West Side kids liked to meet at Joe’s Diner for dinner and talk about school, colleges, work and world events. Often, Piper just listened to their banter because she didn’t like watching the news, and she didn’t have any hopes, at the moment, for college. She couldn’t possibly look to the future when she could barely swim through the present. Piper was severely behind in every class. Her academic advisor warned her that if she didn’t do better, she’d have to go to their remedial school on the other side of town. Just like at home, she faced humiliation. Every day, she prayed her teachers wouldn’t say anything about the quality of her work in front of the class. When they handed papers back to her, she hid them away as quickly as she could so that others couldn’t see it. None of it mattered, though, as everyone knew she was the worst student of the year. Fortunately, Linda, who was a straight A student, decided to help Piper any way she could. Together, they spent many hours going over every particular of her assignments. She was ever so grateful to her because her school

assigned tutor, Mark, was terrible. Maybe he was one of the tops kids, but he couldn’t teach to save his life. He’d make her read every assignment and analyze every single detail. Minutes would pass in contemplation, rather than working and learning. Not that this was bad, but Piper didn’t have time to learn everything inside and out. She needed the nuts and bolts to pick up her grades right away. But Mark couldn’t work or speak fast, like she needed. He was a slow and methodical thinker, and so incredibly dull that all she could focus on, during their sessions, was trying to stay awake. Despite her troubles with academia, she was allowed to try out for choir and found that she could sing rather well. She was accepted into one of the more advanced vocal classes. Thank goodness, too, because it was the only class that kept her from registering with a zero point GPA. Piper even joined the drama department, which was an after hours’ class. Her academic advisor thought she should spend the time learning, but she was desperate and needed the extra points, now. Piper was going to fight for her place in school for as long as she could. Even if she never slept again, she was going stay with the West Side. More troubling than school was when Linda and Molly stopped by one Saturday. She’d gone out for breakfast and when she came back it was to find them sitting in her room. The housekeeper had let them in.

She stopped in the doorway. Her face burned with embarrassment. “Where does your mom sleep?” asked Molly. “On the other side of town.” It was only thing that came to mind. She expected they’d be appalled, and act like they’d found out something dirty about her. Instead, they were fascinated and envious of her. “I wish my mom let me get my own place!” exclaimed Linda. As she surmised, having friends was a danger to her situation, but she didn’t dwell on it long. She didn’t have time, with school pressing her every moment. In the end, it wasn’t so bad, though. She was happy to learn that she could trust Linda and Molly with at least one secret. “You’re not the only one at the West Side to be living alone, you know. Lots of rich kids get their own places. Their parents are unaware or don’t care; they’re too busy,” said Linda. Despite the shabbiness of her room, the girls loved hanging out there. Often, they’d stop by with junk food and movies, and sometimes friends and they’d spend the night and talk. It was fun; the best time Piper had ever had in her life.

One night, Piper and Linda were writing papers in her room when Linda got a call from Molly. “Oh my god!” she heard her exclaim. Linda pulled the phone away from her ear. “I met this guy at Cindy’s, and he’s really cute. We’re at his brother’s house, now: he’s even finer. His roommates just went to the store to get beer. You guys should come over.” Instantly, Piper recognized the tone in her voice; she’d heard it from her mother too often. She sat up from her paper and watch Linda. “Piper and I are doing research for our English papers,” Linda said sounding annoyed. Over the weeks, Piper had come to recognize a slight rift in their relationship; a tug of war, essentially. Both girls were rebellious, but in their own way. Molly wanted to rebel by having outrageous fun while Linda wanted to rebel by rejecting mainstream society and remaining in arrogant, intellectual seclusion. This caused them to bicker so much that, sometimes, Piper had to get away from them. “Oh, come on!” shouted Molly. “Think about all the times I went with you to visit your nerdy ass, book nosed friends when I would have rather been doing anything else in the world! If you don’t come over here, then you’re not my friend!”

“She’s drunk,” Piper whispered. “We should go over and make she’s alright.” Linda sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay, we’re coming. Where are you, exactly?”

An hour later, Piper and Linda were knocking on the door of a house somewhere in New Jersey. Linda fumed about Molly the entire way. “Unbelievable!” she said. “What the hell is she doing traveling all the way out here with some guys she doesn’t even know that well?” Then she cursed Molly under her breath. The door opened and standing there was a good looking blond boy whom Piper liked, immediately. He had a masculine jaw and his eyes were marble blue. “Are you here for Molly?” “Yeah,” said Linda. The boy stepped back and let them in. They walked into the living room, which was dark and dank-smelling. A haze of smoke hung in the air. Piper recognized the scent of it right away. Her mother liked to smoke, too.

On the wall was a 72 inch television. A movie played but the boys, sitting on the couch, were hardly into it. Instead, they sat with faces like zombies; they were so still that Piper wondered if they might be dead. The speakers were turned up way too loud. From somewhere in the house, a loud gurgling noise came, followed by a loud exhale. Molly sat at the other end of the couch, staring at the television with dead pan eyes. Like the boys, she looked as though she was in a trance. She turned her head to look up at them. Her eyes were red. Linda, looking disgusted, signaled for her to get up. She tried to stand, but then fell back down. “I’ll help her,” said the blond guy. He went over and put her arm around his shoulder. Then he lifted her up and walked her out. Piper held the door open for them, and then followed them out. “Where are you parked?” “We don’t have a car,” said Linda. “Can you just walk us to the train station?” “No,” said Piper. “She can’t be out and about, like this. If a cop sees her, or security,

they might arrest her or worse. Let’s just go to the café and sit a while, until she feels better.” She was glad when they agreed. The last thing Piper needed was to have a run in with authorities. As they walked down the street, Molly’s head lolled down onto her collarbone. Linda opened the café door for them. They found a table at the back while Piper ordered a round of coffees for everyone. When she returned to the table it was to find Linda badgering Molly. “Did you smoke, Molly? Is that why you’re so messed up?” When she said nothing, Linda turned to the boy. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t give her anything. Besides, she was plenty willing to get messed up on her own.” “What’s your name?” asked Piper. “Mike.” “And is this how you guys get girls, Mike?” asked Linda meanly. “Please, look at this face. Do I look like I need a vice to ploy women?”

“Tuh,” Linda said, and sipped her coffee. “Look, nobody forced her to do anything! In fact they didn’t even offer. Your friend wanted to be the center of attention. Unfortunately, she got too high and it was a real turn off. I’m sorry but I like a girl with…” “With what?” asked Molly, suddenly coming out of her coma. “Nothing, I’m sorry. I don’ mean to be rude to you. It’s just your friend was making me mad. All I was trying to do was help.” After about five minutes of silence, Molly seemed to fall asleep with her chin on her collar bone again. “What school do you go to?” asked Piper. “New England, you?” “West Side.” “My cousin goes there. She’s in the choir; she’s a really good singer. When we were kids, we used to go caroling together and sing at Mass.” Piper pretended to take more of an interest than she really did. “Oh that’s nice. I’m in one of the choir classes. What’s your cousin’s name?”

“Mary Maloy.” “Oh, I think I know of her. She’s about this high with long blonde hair.” “Yep, that’s my cousin. If you see her, tell her I said ‘Hi.’ We haven’t spoken since school started.” He looked at his watch and said, “Well, it’s almost nine and I have to be home by ten or my dad will kill me.” He stood up. “Oh, we should go, too. My mom will kill all of us,” said Linda. “Molly, get up!” Molly was able to walk on her own, now, but she was still kind of wobbly. As they made their way to the train station, it started to rain. The sky slowly turned from dark blue to black, and lights from the street lamps glared off the street water and into her eyes. Through the moist sky, the stars glittered. Cars splashed water up as they drove loud and fast. Sleet fell down amidst the rain, turning into flurries and reminding Piper that the holidays season was about to begin. Suddenly, it occurred to her that she would be spending the holidays alone. Some would think it pitiable. This didn’t bother her. Naturally, her mother never cared about Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, either.

Often, she’d stay in her room, drinking and smoking twice as much as usual. Piper would sit on the couch and pray that she went to sleep early. However, this year would be different, she promised herself. She would buy herself real presents, and not the crap she usually got from her mother’s welfare charities. She was going to spoil herself rotten and have as much fun as humanly possible. The train finally arrived. Neither of them said much. Molly seemed to come, even more, out of her funk when they got on. They rode in silence. Right before Mike got off at his stop, he said, “So I’ll probably see you soon, if you’re going to be in the holiday choir show.” “Oh, yeah, I’ll be there. See you, then.” “Bye.” Mike hurried to get off the train and onto the platform before the doors shut. Piper watched Mike walk off for as long as she could. When the train picked up again, she realized Linda was watching her as she watched Mike. “What?” Piper asked, pretending she wasn’t staring.

Thanksgiving Chapter 13 A few weeks later, not much had changed in Piper’s life. Day and night she studied. Fortunately, it was starting to pay off. Slowly, and to her academic advisor’s surprise, Piper managed to write half a dozen A grade essays, saving her GPA for the semester and officially keeping her enrollment eligible at West Side. Math was still a struggle, but she no longer got zeroes on her work. In fact, she’d gotten straight C’s on everything she’d done. The principal said that as long as she kept trying, and showing leaps of improvement, he’d let her stay, no matter what. Linda was really proud of Piper when she learned she was no longer on academic probation. Molly, who’d been in a bad mood, lately, just sat rolling her eyes. Then again, Molly was often annoyed with Piper because they spent increasingly more time together, leaving her out. For Linda, it was a relief to have someone to hang out with who was more down to earth and actually wanted to do homework. Molly always wanted to goof off, to party and break the rules. The week of Thanksgiving, temperatures dropped dramatically. Everyone practically buried their bodies in sweaters and jackets. Students hurried to turn in their last minute

assignments so they didn’t have to worry over the holiday. Molly would be going to Connecticut for the weekend while Linda would be going to the Hamptons. Piper was invited to join, both, Molly’s and Linda’s families, but she turned them down. She told them she was going to spend the holiday with her family on the other side of town. They accepted her explanation without question, and told her to call if she needed anything. However, Piper never called because she was busy from the time school let out until the day it let back in. It was beginning to get tiresome, evading all the questions, like “Where are your parents?” and “Why didn’t they sign your slip?” She’d already been confronted multiple times about the Parent Teacher evenings. It was getting harder to come up with lies, and worse, keep track of them all. When a teacher became aggressively interested and persisted about Piper’s parents, she knew it was time to get emancipated. She did all her research in the library, one afternoon. It didn’t look too hard to do. All she needed was a lawyer and financial backing. So that following afternoon, Piper went to see a lawyer. The only problem, he told her, was parental consent must be given, but there were ways to side step that, and with her parents never showing up, she could plead neglect.

Seeing as that left proof of income, Piper opened up several bank accounts all across the city of Manhattan. She picked out banks with names that could easily be memorized in the order of the alphabet, in case she was picked up for her crime; that way she’d have several places to return for money. Then, each week, she wrote herself a check from one account into the other under the fictitious nickname of Bunny Collins, her supposed grandmother. After a few weeks of these transactions, Piper was able to present proof of income to the courts. Overall, it was a scary and delicate process. One mistake and she could have been caught, but it all worked out fine, it seemed. Now, all she needed to do was wait for the courts to approve her application for emancipation. The bonus of going to all that trouble was she felt safer knowing that the money was in the banks, rather than the hotel safe. As it was, one day she found that a bracelet she’d recently purchased had gone missing from her room. In the meantime, aside from pursuing emancipation, she’d gotten her first progress report from school, and though there was still room for improvement, she was stoked to see three A’s, two B’s, and three C’s. She was in with the West Side, and she didn’t need to worry anymore. The only thing she needed to work on was being as smart as Linda.

The weeks after Thanksgiving came and went just as quickly. Teachers were anxious to get as much work done as possible, and prepare them for mid finals. Piper spent many hours joined at Linda’s hip. Molly was meaner to Piper than ever. But she just shook it off. Piper didn’t want to fight with her, and besides, she had more important things on her mind. By the time exams rolled around, Piper was a neurotic mess, as was everyone in the school. But there was one thing that happened that lifted her spirits. After a city social worker surprised her by stopping by and performing an inspection, she received in the mail, the next day, an approval and temporary emancipation permit, which she took the DMV to get her official identification card. The card came two weeks later, on the day of her exams, which she officially and proudly carried on her at all times. After exams, which Piper knew she’d at least passed, they had a couple days of leisure time. During which, she practiced, constantly, with the choir for the Christmas Show; it was on the last day before their two week vacation. On that day as Piper was practicing in one of the choir rooms, there was a knock on the door. Seeing a girl with a baby face, blue eyes and long white blonde hair, Piper said “Yeah?” The girl opened the door.

“Are you Piper?” “Yes.” “Thought so. My cousin said that he met a girl who is new in choir. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello. See you tonight!” Then she closed the door and walked off. That was the first time she’d thought of Mike in weeks. Was he going to be there? She felt queasy, thinking about singing in front of him, not that she had a solo. She just hoped she didn’t make a fool of herself. Easily, a picture of herself falling, fainting or tripping off the stage played itself in her mind. Then, just as she was about to go back to her singing, the door swung open again. The blonde girl was back. “Oh and I think my cousin likes you! Bye!” The door closed again. Great. She tried to practice again but she was too nervous. News that Mike liked her made her throat tight. Finally, she gave up, grabbed her music and left.

She walked out of the choir room and down the quiet hall. Garland was taped to every square inch of the walls. Glittery balls hung from the ceiling, as did Christmas lights. Nearly everyone had cleared off for the evening. The show wasn’t due to start until eight ‘o’ clock, and she was starving, so she went home for dinner.

Concert Chapter 14 That evening she returned to school, for the concert. When she walked through the door and the vice principal asked, “Piper, where’s your parents?” There was no better feeling than, at that moment, honestly telling her that they weren’t coming, without fear of consequence. When she opened her mouth to further inquire, she whipped out her New York state identification card and showed it to her. “See?” She pointed to the red words on the top of the card. “I’m emancipated, so I can be here without them and without questions.” She smirked to herself all the way to the performance hall, where the show was to take place. A group of girls were in the corner of the backstage, applying sparkling makeup and trying, hard, to look like winter queens. Piper, who’d done as much as she wished, sat at a table and waited for the show to begin. The room continued to fill with people who were in the show, and with their friends and family who wanted to greet them before it started. Finally, the clock show five minutes until eight ‘o’ clock. The first class that was to go out on stage got into position, and then filed out in a line. A few minutes later, the sound of

the teacher’s voice could be heard muffled through the wall. When the choir started to sing, it sounded like one long, loud hum. Two more groups went ahead of Piper’s and then finally, she and her class filed into the hall and onto the side of the stage. They walked out onto the stage. Piper continued onto the fourth bleacher. In the back, someone waved to her. She thought it was Mike but then she realized it was Molly. The lights dimmed a couple of times which was everyone’s cue to get ready. The choir teacher walked back onto stage and introduced the class. She turned around and raised her arms. As she brought them down, they started to sing “Carol of the Bells.” After a few more songs, they filed off the stage. Next, Mike’s cousin, Mary, walked out and sang a solo. She was quite good. The audience stood and applauded. When she’d done, everyone filed out of the back and into the audience. People greeted each other and hugged, and told them how well they did. Piper, not having anyone really, just hung back and snacked from the table. Eventually, a guy approached from the corner of her eye. “Mike!”

“Hey, Piper. Good show, tonight.” “Yeah.” Piper tried to think of something interesting to say, but nothing to mind. “Are you going to Linda’s for the Christmas party?” “Yes, are you?” “Yeah, well, I’ll see you there.” Awkwardly, he walked away. She felt kind of silly but relieved. She wasn’t sure she was ready for a boyfriend right now. Over at the other end of the table, Molly stood beside her parents, who were talking to her sister. She had a scathing look in her eyes. Piper looked away, uncomfortably. “Piper!” someone called. To her right, Linda was screaming at her from the across the room. “Do you want a ride to my house?”

Linda’s home was gorgeous. They stood around an oblong table in a cream themed party room. A sparkling chandelier glittered above their heads. Piper, Linda, Molly and a fourth girl by the name of Leah ate sweets while

doing a poor job of hiding the champagne they secretly poured into their punch cups. Across the room, Piper noticed several adults poorly pretending not to notice. When Leah choked on her bubbly, several of them sniggered. They talked about school and the things they hoped to get for Christmas. The girls were enjoying themselves, and even Mary came over and hung out for a while. Molly, on the other hand, was the only one who seemed out of sorts. She stood with a glum look on her face, hardly saying anything to anyone. Piper heard a guy laugh, loudly. She turned and saw that it was Mike. He looked at her and nodded his head with a wide smile. Piper smiled back. It was then that Molly walked off and wasn’t seen for the rest of the evening. After a while, the champagne started to get to her. Piper had never drunk before. She excused herself because she thought she was going to be sick. She tried to walk as gracefully as possible to the bathroom. The halls were decorated with pictures in gold frames. At the bathroom, she found someone was already in it. A small sofa rested across from it. She sat and waited.

Piper thought she heard crying. Although she knew she might get caught, she couldn’t help herself. She stood up, quietly, and glided across the hall toward the bathroom and put her ear up to the door. Inside, someone was talking rapidly. She could barely make out a word. There was a minute of sniffling and then the voice said, “Fine, bye!” Next, the sound of a phone being snapped shut. Piper stepped back and waited for the door to open. When it did, she was surprised: it was Anna. Her eyes were puffy and red. She looked tired. She looked at Piper for a moment and then went off, down the hallway. Piper was glad Anna didn’t dare start anything in her friend’s home. She watched her briefly, and then stepped inside the bathroom.