I haven’t done a lot of promotion for Defining Home. I’ve been busy and caught up in other projects. My social media director (Lori) says I need to start promoting my books here. So, today, I’m sharing the first chapter for FREE. Right here. Right now. The truth is I’m almost finished with the first draft of sequel to this novel. Soon, I’ll be busy with revision meetings and editing, so I’d better get busy and let you know this one is out there!
“Discombobulate-to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate,” I said to myself.
“Where is the pink sweater?” I yelled. I needed the pink sweater.
“Calm down, Adelina, we will find something for you to wear. Stop throwing stuff. The littles are watching!” Daria answered as she picked up the clothes I had thrown on the floor. She gave me a warning look as she hastily folded them.
“I have to look perfect! This is my first meeting with my prospective parents.”
“It’s okay, you know how these meetings go!” She smiled.
“No, I don’t. I’ve never had one.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. Sorry.”
“Hey, don’t, Daria. I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. Smile. You just have one more hoop to jump through before your adoption. Our dream come true!”
Then I saw it, out of the corner of my eye, the pink sweater walked by on a blonde-haired girl. I stuck my head out in the hallway.
“Hey, I need that sweater!”
Blonde girl did a one-eighty and walked toward me. “What?” She smiled and showed a row of perfectly white, straight teeth. Her blue eyes glowed. Her hair shone.She tucked a strand of her shoulder-length bob behind her ear and tilted her head to the side. Who was this girl?
“Oh, I see you met the new girl. This is Cecylia, girls,” Sabilia, our caregiver, said as she passed us, “She’s interning here this semester. And hurry it up. Breakfast and then, Adelina, you have an important meeting, right?” And she kept going down the hall.
meeting-a coming together of two or more people, by chance or arrangement. The definition popped into my head.
“Redheads shouldn’t wear pink,” Cecylia said. “Try the green one,” she added as she thrust a sweater at me. “It will bring out your freckles.” And she was gone.
“We need to get the littles ready,” I said as I shoved the sweater over my head. “I love this sweater. It’s so soft.” I glanced in the mirror, licked my hands and tried to flatten my frizz. It wasn’t working. But, the sweater really made my eyes look blue. I’d have to thank Cecylia later. Communal closets were the way of the Children’s Home. First come, first served was the rule.
I ran across the hallway into the closet full of cubbies and clothes and grabbed some outfits. “How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail,” I quoted and the littles squealed in their beds. Daria joined me, “And pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale.” She yelled the last verse and four five-year-olds shot out of bed and ran all directions. We were just warming up….Together we yelled the last stanza, “How cheerfully he seems to grin, How neatly spreads his claws,” as we spread our arms. “And welcomes little fishes in With gently smiling jaws.”1 Daria and I each caught a little and wrestled some clothes on them while they laughed. After chasing and clothing everyone, we headed down to the cafeteria for breakfast.
Daria and I had been through a lot together. I was glad to see her laughing and helping with the littles. Lately she had been acting so strangely. She had a boyfriend and she was sneaking out to see him at night, which wasn’t like her at all. She didn’t seem focused on her own adoption. It seemed as if all her efforts were going towards this guy. And why? When I came to the orphanage as a little myself, she took me under her wing and we became inseparable. Today was the beginning of our dreams. I had prospective adoptive parents and she had parents ready to sign on the dotted line. Why wasn’t she more excited about that?
My reverie was broken by a spoonful of oatmeal splatting right in the middle of my sweater. Could this day not behave? I needed to go clean up. I had half an hour before my prospective parents came. Prospective Parents- or PPs- were always a big deal for everyone in the orphanage. Even the staff dressed up. The cleaning women stayed extra long the day before with the windows open to blow out the harsh chemical smells. On those days it was always extra chilly in the Children’s Home. It did feel fresh and clean with the wind rushing through the huge glass doors. The floors shone. We all put on our best faces. However faded our clothes were, they were clean. Today was extra special. Not only were there PPs here, but they were from the United States., a first for our small rural orphanage. I wiped away the glob and forced a smile and swallowed my irritation. “It’s okay. It’s just food,” I reassured her. She smiled and went back to eating.
“What is on your sweater? That’s a new look for meeting PPs!” Cecylia appeared with a wet wipe and scrubbed the oatmeal off. “There you go,” she said.
“Hey, Kasia! You’re late for breakfast,” I said.
“I lost something important.”
“What did you lose this time?”
“I’ll tell you later. You’d better get to your meeting.”
“I promise I will help you find it, after my meeting!”
Kasia was always losing things. She lost T-shirts, toys and trinkets, all in an institution where essentially there was no ownership. Once a resident hit the teen years, she could squirrel away some money or a few belongings. It was never much or valuable or it disappeared. It seemed like my full-time job to help her find whatever she lost, but I didn’t mind. It gave my brain a challenge. I think that sometimes, she didn’t lose things at all, but rather just wanted to make sure I knew she existed.
With a fresh, clean and slightly wet sweater, I headed to the common room to wait for the American couple.
Parent-a father or a mother. a protector or guardian. Another definition. I could see it on the dictionary page in my mind’s eye.
The room was empty and I headed toward the long bank of windows at the front of the orphanage to watch and wait. The leaves swirled around in small circles as the school bus pulled up and the kids filed out the front door to go to the village school. In rough October, Earth must disrobe her, I recited. I held my breath and clenched my fists until I felt dizzy. I exhaled and sucked in a long slow breath. Waiting sucked.
What if they took one look at me and bolted? I took another breath and looked around. They could be my ticket out of here. I hope they live in New York City. The best place in the world. No village school where I stuck out like a sore thumb. A school where everyone was an individual. My art would be an accepted gift, not a curse. My red hair and freckles wouldn’t be weird among a sea of blonde beauties like it was here.
“Your parents are here. They will have coffee with Director Josef before they come up,” Sabilia informed me as she joined me at the window, “See there?” She pointed towards a car. Four people got out. “They have with them a lawyer, an interpreter and oh! There they are! Remember your English!”
A thin average-looking woman, wearing a chartreuse pea coat and matching hat and scarf, walked toward the building. Her long red hair scraped her shoulders. A tall brawny man with wide shoulders wrapped his tan coat around himself more tightly and took long strides towards the door. They were talking to each other, but I couldn’t hear them.
“She has red hair,” I said quietly. Was it a sign?
“Yes, she does. They look like a lovely couple. Come away from the window. We don’t want them to think we are spying on them.”
Sabilia and I sat at the table on the farthest side of the room from the windows. She poured me some tea and I tried to drink it. My hands were shaking. This could be it. All of my dreams could be coming true. I could be adopted. There was a giant lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow. I could go live in New York and have my own room. My own things.
“Sabilia, I’m super nervous! What do I say?”
“You just be yourself.”
Nervous-highly excitable; unnaturally or acutely uneasy or apprehensive, I recited in my head.
No, myself was the worst person to be. I needed a few minutes to think. I needed to be someone else. Someone nice and lovable. Someone like Daria.
Just then, the door opened and Director Josef stepped in with the couple and two men in suits. She had taken her hat off and her red hair cascaded down to her shoulders. She smiled at me.
“Hi. I’m Marge. You must be Adelina.”
“Hi. I’m Jim. We’re the Hunters. Nice to meet you, Adelina.”
They looked to the interpreter and waited. “That won’t be necessary,” Sabilia interjected, “Adelina speaks English well. Hello. I am Sabilia, a social worker here at the orphanage and her legal guardian.”
What?! Why did she say that? I had only spoken English with the professor and at school. I practiced with partial books in the library like Favorite Poems Old and New. Suddenly, my head was reciting “The Months” by Christina Rossetti. January cold and desolate. February dripping wet2…..My mouth took over and I heard myself say,“Hello, it is nice to meet you, “ I thrust my hand out towards them and Marge took it. “Would you like some tea?” I pointed toward the tea and we sat down. I felt detached from myself, as if someone else had taken over my body. Someone polite with steady, calm nerves. It was as if I were an observer, watching another girl interacting with the Hunters.
It took a few minutes for me to loosen up and ask some real questions. I finally got the guts to do it when I saw a blonde head peeking in the doorway, then another, then another. The littles and Kasia. “I haven’t found that thing I lost, yet,” she mouthed.
“Excuse me.” I walked over to the entourage. “What are you doing here? You are supposed to be in school! And where is the littles’ caregiver?”
“She wasn’t feeling well. I told her I could handle them. I couldn’t go to school. You had this meeting thing. I needed to make sure it went okay and besides, I lost something.” I bit my lip and pasted on a smile.
The kids pushed their way into the common room and wandered over to Marge and Jim. This wasn’t going well at all. I didn’t want them to see the littles, then they might want one. They were all so curly-haired and cute. Next thing I knew, Marge was holding one on her lap and laughing. I looked towards Sabilia for some help, but she was laughing too.
disaster-a calamitous event, especially one occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, as a flood, airplane crash, or business failure.
“What’s this one’s name?” Jim said. I knew it. It was all over.
“Ania,” Sabilia offered. And I thought she was on my team.
“Kasia, get these kids out of here!” I hissed. I felt like a snake chasing the littles out of the garden of Eden, but this was my chance, my last chance. Not theirs.
“Hey, are you mad at me?” Kasia whispered.
“No. Sorry, kid. I just need to finish this meeting so I can help you find that important thing you lost.” I was mad at her. Mad as a rabid fox in a hen-house. I couldn’t stay mad though. It would pass in a few minutes. It had to. I couldn’t show the angry side of me. Not during this first meeting.
She rounded up the littles and she was gone.
I walked back over to Marge and Jim. The two suits were at another table drinking coffee and talking. Finally, I had them all to myself.
“Where were we? Oh yes, where do you live, Mr. and Mrs. Hunter?”
“Oh, didn’t we tell you? We live in West Virginia. You will love it. The four seasons are beautiful.”
“I think the weather is similar to here,” Jim added.
West Virginia. Where was that? I wasn’t super solid on the unimportant states. I knew the big ones -Texas, California, New York and of course the Polish capital, Chicago, Illinois.
“Yes, we have a bit of acreage. You will love it!” Jim pulled out his phone and scrolled through some pictures of a suburban looking home with white columns, a wooded back yard and a pool.
Not….New York City. Not…
I smiled and said the right things. At least I think I did. I just wanted to get out of the meeting and think. Did I want this? Did I want to go to West Virginia?
“Adelina, they’re leaving. The Hunters are leaving. You need to walk to the front door with them and say goodbye,” Sabilia said as she took me by the elbow.
I walked down the stairs and we chatted about our plans for the next day.
“Would you show us around the village, Adelina? Would you like to see the castle we are staying in?”
“Oh, yes, sure. That would be nice. Goodbye!”
“What is going on with you, Adelina? You should be on cloud nine. Those are wonderful people. Did you even hear a word they said?” Sabilia asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. They are just not what I expected.”
“They are a dream come true for a girl your age, or any age. She is an author and he is a business owner. You will live in a nice house and have siblings.”
“Siblings? They already have children?” Boy, I wasn’t paying attention. How did I miss that? That wasn’t part of my plan.
“Yes, they have three children – 16, 18 and 25. Rob, Anne and Laura. You need to get your head in the game. Get some rest before your next meeting. That’s an order.”
I trudged back up the stairs, my bubble burst. Siblings. No traipsing on the subway around New York City and going to art school by myself. I probably wouldn’t even have my own room. Did West Virginia have art schools? Did it have schools at all? And who was Sabilia to tell me what to do? She had only been here a month. She probably had some fancy degree and …
“Adelina! You said you would help me!” Kasia yelled from the top of the stairs.
“I’m coming. I’m coming. What did you lose?”
“I lost my stuffed Teddy, the one my dad gave me.”
“Again?” Kasia’s dad hadn’t given her anything. It was a game that Kasia played with herself. Every time there was a new shipment of toys to the orphanage from some well-meaning church organization, Kasia attached herself to one of the stuffed animals and spread the rumor that her dad had given it to her. This month it was a scruffy teddy bear. Last month it had been a bright red Elmo plush doll that laughed. I played along with her because I knew the pain in being abandoned. I had fuzzy memories of my parents. They were noisy and angry most of the time. Noise meant someone was going to get hurt. My dad threw me across the room once, breaking my arm. Mom stuffed me in a moldy closet for hours on end. I peeled the paint off the walls to pass the time. I found a pencil in the closet and started drawing on the walls. By the time I was removed from the home, I had covered every inch of the closet walls with my sketches. I had flashbacks that showed up at the most inconvenient times. Kasia didn’t seem to have any. She was an infant when placed in an orphanage in Piotrkow. So, she made up memories and I played along.
“Here it is! I found it!” It was stuffed under one of the littles’ pillows.
“Oh, so glad you found it. My dad would have been so disappointed if he knew I lost it.”
Her items were never hard to find. Sometimes I think she hid them herself.
“Let’s get the littles and go to dinner. I’m starving!”
Kasia and I walked back down the stairs to the main foyer with the littles following us like ducks in a row. The foyer was bursting at the seams with the rest of the kids fresh home from school, noisy and hungry. I held a child’s hand on either side of me. Kasia did the same and I scanned the crowd for Daria.
“Hey!” I shouted her way, but she didn’t respond. Her eyes looked red and puffy like she had been crying. What’s going on with her? The only time I really got to see Daria anymore was on Sundays. We’d meet after church and talk for an hour over coffee and then she made excuses. She had to go see this new guy in her life. Everything was so secretive. He was great, she said, good looking and he really understood her. All the while, she was edgy one minute. Euphoric another. Weepy the next. I couldn’t read her anymore. Why was she pushing me away? Because the adoption was going to be final? She’d be leaving the orphanage for good. Maybe that was it. We pushed our way through the crowd and to our table. Daria will join us, I thought. I was too busy handling the littles, getting them food and thinking about my dreams going down the tubes. I hadn’t even noticed until halfway through the meal that she wasn’t there.
“Where’s Daria?” I asked Kasia.
“I don’t know!”
“I’ll tell you where she is,” Cecylia said from the next table. “She is upstairs crying. She wouldn’t tell me what the deal was. Maybe she would tell you.”
I couldn’t leave the littles. I would catch up with her later.
After the littles were in bed, I joined Daria in our room. She was under the covers, head and all.
“Hey, you!” I said.
“Oh, Adelina. How did your meeting go?”
“It was great. Fine. Good. I don’t know. They don’t live in New York. They live in some place called West Virginia. And, get this, they already have three kids. Bummer. I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“What?!” she yelled. “I mean, what?” she said softer this time, “Adelina, this is your chance. Don’t mess it up because of your perfect dream of living in New York City. It’s not worth it.” Then she sniffled and pulled the covers back over her head.
I pulled myself up on the top bunk and snuggled under the covers. “I am not sure. I want to give them a chance. This is our chance, remember. Hey, how did your psychologist meeting go today?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Goodnight, Adelina! Accept the parents. Don’t mess this up!”
“I’m going to get a drink. Goodnight.”
I padded to the teen kitchen and pulled the strawberry juice out of the fridge. I poured a glass and sat down. I needed to think. Was Daria right? Should I give up my dream and accept reality? I headed to my favorite spot in the orphanage, the library. The shelves weren’t lined with books, but contained just a few donated from the States from well-meaning churches, all in English. All with multiple pages missing because the teens used them to make homemade cigarettes. Today, the walnut shelves shone for my PPs. A massive ancient cassette tape player sat in the corner on a table with a small stack beside it. Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Handel. Most had whole songs recorded over. Another practice of the teens was to tape a rap song and play it until the tape wore out. I knew where the classical music still existed. I could fast forward past the rap by eyeing the tapes. This was my sanctuary. I pretended this room glistened like the library I had seen on TV. It was the antithesis-opposition; contrast (I found that word in the dictionary) of the rest of the orphanage. I could imagine it was homey, with rich woods and a colorful rug instead of stark and cold. I could listen to the few tapes, study my English, sketch on the few book covers or scraps of graph paper and sometimes get a few minutes of peace. Not often. The other teens came in and scavenged for whatever they needed and taunted me. They called me bookworm and ripped pages out of the only poetry book.
It had been five years since Professor Wroblewski, a retired Literature professor from Warsaw University, had started my English lessons here. He volunteered his time every afternoon to teach anyone willing to learn. I was the only one willing. Fueled by my dream of going to New York, I learned the English language with him. He had died suddenly last fall, leaving me. Just one more person in my life to leave. I blamed him for having a heart attack. Why did he die? I needed him. After he died, his granddaughter came to the orphanage and handed me a small leather bound dictionary. She cried and I awkwardly patted her on the back. “He would want you to have this,” she said. “He spoke of you often. He was proud of you.” I thanked her and thought of his massive library which I had borrowed books from. Gone. My source of literature and language gone. I had offered her a weak smile and cried with her. I cried for the loss of books. She cried for the loss of a grandfather.
I plopped a tape in the player and switched it on. I could use some Vivaldi’s Four Seasons right now. I made sure the volume was low before I sat down to study.
“Hey, too bad about your friend!”
I turned around to see Cecylia in all of her glory, wearing pink PJs and smiling. She had her hands on her hips like some sort of superhero. I was beginning to like her. She was too preppy and happy, which was annoying, but she was also kind. I needed some kindness and some counsel right now.
“Yeah, her PPs pulled out. Sad. But, I’m sure you knew that, being the best friend and all. I can’t see her ever getting adopted, can you?” She sat down next to me and her shoulders slumped forwards as if she were sad. Was she? I couldn’t read her.
“I didn’t know that. She didn’t tell me.”
“Really, I thought she would have. Vivaldi, huh? My mom listens to that.” She looked as if she had swallowed a sour apple when she said that. Tears pooled at the corners of her eyes. “Ignore me. Homesick college girl. Tell me about Daria.”
“She’s been acting weird. It’s almost as if she wanted this adoption to fall through and now maybe she regrets it?”
“Why do you say that?” She picked up the dictionary and thumbed through it. I wanted to grab it. It was mine. As if she read my mind, she handed it to me.
“I don’t know. She has this boyfriend. It’s a secret. She sneaks off and meets him. She says he is amazing, but she seems so conflicted.”
“That stinks. I’m so sorry. I wish I could help.”
“Thanks for listening.”
“Get back to your studying. Your English is impressive,” she said in flawless English. “I heard you today. Speaking English will get you places.”
I started back to my room with a black cloud hanging over my head. How could I have been so stupid and selfish? Bam! I walked right into Sabilia because I wasn’t paying attention. She looked down at me.
“Oh, Adelina, good meeting today. Nice parents.” I guess she wasn’t paying attention either.
Daria was asleep when I got back to the room and I didn’t want to wake her. I would apologize in the morning. I had so much to think about.I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree3…. I fell asleep dreaming of apple trees and subways.
The next day dawned gray and cold. I looked out the window. The trees looked naked. All their leaves sat in wet mushy heaps in the yard, waiting for someone to burn them. No one would. They would sit in slimy piles rotting, stinking and advertising the poverty of the orphans inside. At least I didn’t have to go to school today. I got to show the Hunters around Sulejow.
“Hey, Daria, you awake?” I peered over the side of the bed at the rumpled pile of her under the covers. “Wake up. I’m sorry. I’ve been stupid. I will be nice to the Hunters. I heard about your PPs pulling out. I’ve been a jerk. Daria!” I jumped out of bed and onto her. Or not. She wasn’t there. I pulled back the covers to find a pile of stuffed animals. “Daria’s gone!” I yelled to anyone who would listen. Sabilia came running in. “What?”
“Daria. She’s gone! I think she ran away and it’s all my fault.”
Gone- departed, left.
Want to read more? You can find Defining Home here!
Want to know more about Human Trafficking? Listen to The Whole House Podcast, Episode 3, Human Trafficking Awareness and catch my interview on The UnCorked Podcast!