Erika slung her bag over her shoulder, shrugging to try and find a comfortable spot. After the hours of hitchhiking, the wet and the cold, there wasn’t one. Every inch of her, inside and out, ached with exhaustion.
The rain had slowed to the northwest drizzle she remembered, so she kept her head down as she trudged along the road to her mother’s house. She remembered that walk too – the broken edge of pavement along the verge, the occasional trash thrown from passing cars, the straggly weeds that whipped around her legs. When she was in high school, she’d thought the weeds were there just to make her life miserable.
A smile flitted across her face – in high school she’d thought the entire universe had been specially designed just to make her life hard.
“Never thought it was hard for anyone else, did you Erika?” She could hear the tart voice of her deceased grandmother scolding in her head. Nana was always tough on her.
But Erika knew now that Nana had loved her. She knew now that love wasn’t so easy to come by. How many friends and lovers had it taken to teach her that? When she was in trouble, all those cool friends, the ones who made such extravagant promises had all disappeared.
Lindsay, who’d stood by her a little longer than the others before she booted Erika off her couch, told her to get herself together and go home.
“My family are losers,” Erika had declared indignantly.
“Then you’ll fit right in,” Lindsay snapped. “And try not to forget about the four hundred you owe me.”
Erika felt so sick. The baby stirring in her belly made her vomit most of the food she’d been able to get. After few days on a corner with a cardboard sign, terror won over pride and humiliation, and Erika began the long trek back home
“Baby,” Erika murmured, “your mama is a freakin’ idiot.”
Talking to the baby made her feel less panicky and a bit less alone.
“Hey look, baby. The folks in the grey house have a for sale sign up. And Hopkins have fixed their horse fence…” She ran her fingers along the cold wet boards remembering how she used to stop here and feed windfall apples to the horses. She’d loved horses then. Dimly remembered that she used to love a lot of things before the partying and drugs.
Why had she abandoned the nice kid she used to be?
“I hope your grandma will be as nice as you deserve…nicer than I deserve.” Even now, Erika’s face heated in shame. She’d stolen all the money that she could lay her hands on – even siphoned a few thousand from her mom’s savings. Why had her mother ever trusted her with passwords?
She’d thought her high school friends were idiots when they went on to college or got jobs. They could have had one long party, like she’d tried.
“You only live once,” she’d sneered repeatedly.
“And that was once…” The joke sounded stupid, even to her. Head cleared, with absolutely nothing left, her life over the past few years horrified her.
And then she was there. Standing on the edge of the sidewalk that led up to the small white house where she had grown up. Her mother had planted geraniums in pots around the front door, brilliant red and pink flags of color.
“Oh baby,” Erika murmured. Her stomach clenched and she vomited bile. There was nothing else left.
Her head was spinning and her legs shook. She’d been so stupid about people. What if her mom turned out to be like everyone else, only caring about her when she was good, or fun, or had cash…?
“I never had cash, baby…I wasn’t very good.” She simply stood in an exhausted stupor, unable now to take another step.
The front door crashed open.
“Erika!” her mother screamed. “Erika!”
She remembered the smell of her mother, as the warm arms went around her.
“Oh, mommy….” She leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder and cried.
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