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Part Eight

If you missed Part Seven, click here.

Tash was familiar with the sinking feeling that lodged itself in the pit of her stomach. Mrs. Sinclair was an intelligent woman and Tash knew it wouldn’t take a whole lot for the principal to figure out what was going on. It was time to come up with a better plan. Something foolproof. Only she didn’t know what that was.

The end of the school day couldn’t come fast enough. Tash still had a six-hour shift to work at the dry cleaners, but Jim didn’t work on Mondays so she’d be safe from his watchful eyes. He was like a kind uncle who always looked out for her, but sometimes Jim was a little too curious about her life and Tash had been forced to invent fictitious circumstances to keep him from asking so many questions. She suspected that he knew she wasn’t being completely truthful, but that was that.

During the slow time that evening, Tash did her homework. She was an A student and she had to study hard to keep it that way. She wasn’t one of those naturally smart kids who could sail through high school without cracking a book. But she was smart enough to know that she would be nothing in life without a good education and in order to get that education, she would have to pull off stellar marks and earn a scholarship. There was no other way.

Yer not like me. Tash could hear her mother’s voice. Sometimes I think you’d be better off without the likes of me holdin’ you back. How many times had Barbie said those words? And how many times had Tash told her mom that she shouldn’t talk that way; that kids were always better off with their mothers.

Weren’t they?

Tash was just closing up the dry-cleaners for the night when the familiar jingle of the bell on the door caused her to turn.

It was Ginger.

“What are you doing here? It’s past your curfew.” Tash went about her tasks but she was glad – very glad – that her friend had come.

“I was at the library and I wanted to see you.” Ginger set her books down. “I think you’re in big trouble with Mrs. Sinclair.”

“You think?” Tash chuckled. “I don’t think. I know.”

“What happened? She was asking us all where you were after school.”

“I had to work.”

“I know that, but you don’t usually take off right away like you did today. You didn’t even wait for me.”

“Sorry. I was in a hurry.”

“You’re avoiding, Tash. I know when you’re avoiding. What’s going on?”

Tash looked at her friend. The best friend she had in the whole world. How could she lie to this girl who had stood by her and drawn her in and expected nothing in return?

She couldn’t.

“I think you better sit down.”

Ginger’s concern was evident in her expression. “Oh man, I don’t know if I want to hear this. I have a bad feeling.”

“Yeah, me too.”

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Part Seven

If you missed Part Six, click here.

“Did you finish that history assignment?” Ginger asked. “I started it, but I’m going to have to do some internet research before I work on it more because there is no way I have that kind of information in my head. I just wish Mr. Tanner would pick easier topics, don’t you? I heard Alicia and Chelsea stayed up all night on Friday and got the whole thing done, but I bet Chelsea’s sister helped them like she always does. Remember her? She graduated last year.”

Tash didn’t have the heart to interrupt Ginger’s chatter. If there was one thing Ginger was good at, it was talking. And Tash was an expert listener. All she had to do was nod or mutter a one-word response and Ginger was none the wiser.

An hour passed before Tash picked up her backpack. “I have to go.”

“But I just got here,” Ginger frowned.

“I know, but I have some errands to run.”

“For your mom?”

Tash didn’t want to lie to her friend. “Sort of.” It was partly true, after all. The things she had to do were because of her mother. With a promise to meet Ginger at the appointed place at school the next day, Tash walked away.

She made the long hike to the Wal-Mart store on the edge of town and shopped for a few necessities. Her pay would have to stretch like never before. A few non-perishable groceries, some personal items, and she was on her way home. At least what she would call home for the time being.

Tash spent the rest of the day in the old house cleaning the little room she had claimed for her own. She’d also managed to dispose of a significant amount of garbage in the rest of the house, adding to the pile of trash in the backyard. She didn’t know how long she’d be here, but she couldn’t stay at all if she wasn’t able to get to her room without stumbling over the junk. As evening approached, Tash surveyed her work. She smiled and nodded to herself; the place looked better already.

She was at school early the next morning, thankful for the showers in the girls’ locker room. When she’d finished, she twisted her long wet hair into a thick braid and rushed out the door to find Ginger before the bell rang. She was not expecting to see Mrs. Sinclair, the principal, standing there.

“Natasha?” The forty-ish woman raised her eyebrows.

“Morning, Mrs. Sinclair.” Tash blurted, already moving toward the stairwell leading up to the main hallway.

“Wait a minute. What are you doing down here?”

Tash hesitated.

“Your hair is wet,” the teacher observed.

Nothing like stating the obvious, Tash thought. “Yeah, I washed it this morning. Didn’t have time to dry.” She saw the suspicion in Mrs. Sinclair’s eyes. “Um – can I go? The bell is going to ring any minute.”

Katherine Sinclair nodded, but watched the girl as she ran up the stairs two at a time. Something was not right there.

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Part Five

If you missed Part Four, click here.

Breaking into an abandoned building wasn’t as easy as one would think. Tash was finding that out the hard way. Her first choice was a ramshackle apartment block that was boarded up so tight she decided she’d need some serious power tools to get in. The old house beside it was the same. But the next one had a loose nail or two in the plywood that covered a door leading to the cellar. After a bit of manoeuvring, Tash was able to squeeze in through the narrow opening she’d created and she found herself in a very dark space.

Not at all comfortable with the dank and eerie atmosphere, she rummaged in her bag until hand closed around the tiny flashlight she carried around for emergencies. This was definitely an emergency. Tash flipped the switch with her thumb and a narrow beam of light revealed a dirt floor littered with the trash of previous occupants. She shivered. Garbage was something she abhorred with a passion.

A simple wooden staircase to her right looked safe enough and Tash ventured up, hoping to find just one small room she could clean up and use for her own. But to her dismay, the main floor wasn’t much better than the basement.

What did you expect? It is an abandoned building after all. Full of junk people throw away. Discarded, just like you.

No! Tash stood to her full height and pushed her shoulders back. She set her jaw and said out loud, “I am not a discard. I am not junk. I am somebody!”

And she went to work.

In an upstairs bedroom, Tash cleared out enough filth to satisfy herself for the time being. A rain barrel outside was full from the recent wet spell they’d had, and she was glad for the water to wash the surfaces that needed it the most. Then she covered an old mattress with a large sheet of plastic she’d found wadded up in a closet. It wasn’t great, or even good, but it would do for now. At least she wouldn’t have to sleep on who knew what might be lurking inside the lumpy padding.

When she was done, Tash surveyed her work. She tried to see past the peeling wallpaper and the wires hanging from the ceiling where the light socket used to be. She tried to ignore the holes in the floor and the old chair with only three legs. She tried to smile, but choked back a sob instead. It just wasn’t home.

But then, what was?

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The Spreadsheet

I’ve had to take a little break from the business of writing because I am up to my eyeballs in spreadsheets – or, as some would say, real work. I won’t mention any names. Have you ever heard that kind of comment? You know, the one you get when you tell people you’re a writer and they say, “So what do you do for real work?” I have learned to tolerate such remarks. And I don’t kick them in the shins anymore.

Back to the spreadsheets. My recent pilgrimage into the management of a coffee shop is actually becoming quite enjoyable. I am in the process of organizing a myriad of electronic files and paper files and no files into something that actually spits out meaningful information. I’ve had to relearn a lot about Excel, since I haven’t used much more than the basics during the past few years. And I am actually having fun doing it. I know, I know, I’m weird. But the results are amazing and my boss is terribly impressed.

In the meantime, I am working on a blog story that is thus far untitled. You can scroll down and read the first four parts I’ve posted here over the past few days. Let me know what you think. I’m also mentally plotting and writing and editing the other two novels I have on the go.

Now if I could figure out a way to spreadsheet a story . . .

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Part Four

If you missed Part Three, click here.

The small dry cleaning outlet where Tash worked every day after school and on weekends was busy. She was glad for the distraction because having time to think about her life wasn’t something she especially wanted to do at the moment. She greeted regular customers with her usual smile and a few comments about the weather or the news or to inform them that the spot on their favourite dress was gone. Tash wondered what they’d say if they knew that the girl behind the counter was homeless.

“You might as well go now, Tash,” Jim, the owner, came out from the back room at the end of the day. “Only ten minutes till closing and there’s not going to be much more happening.”

“Thanks, Jim,” Tash removed the green vest with Kwik As A Wink Dry Cleaners embroidered on the pocket, hung it on a hook behind the door and grabbed her backpack. “See you tomorrow.”

“Don’t forget your pay,” Jim called to her as she was on her way out. He waved an envelope in her direction.

Tash smiled awkwardly. “My brain must be somewhere else.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

Tash shot her employer a glance. She didn’t think her turmoil had been obvious.

“You okay?” Jim asked.

Tash nodded. “Just a lot going on. You know, homework and stuff.” She headed to the front door of the shop. “Thanks again.”

Outside, Tash took a quick detour into a nearby alley. She had hidden her suitcase there before she’d gone in to work and now, as she retrieved it, she took a deep breath. It was time to find a place to stay for the night.

She knew she had to stay under the radar. It concerned her that she’d drawn Jim’s attention to her dismal state and that could not happen again. All she needed was for some well-meaning person to report her to the authorities and she’d be popped into the foster care system faster than she could blink. She didn’t need that. She could take care of herself.

Tash knew of several abandoned buildings located a few blocks away. She’d walked past them every day on her way to and from school, and she’d kept an eye on them as possible options for shelter, should the need ever arise. She’d never considered living there on her own, though, since her plans had always included her mother. She wondered where Barbie was now. Did she have regrets about what she’d done? Tash doubted it.

But she wished she didn’t.

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Part Three

If you missed Part Two, click here.

Sleep would not come that night. Tash lay on the bed fully clothed, her backpack and a small suitcase on the floor beside her. The two contained everything she owned. As soon as morning came, she would leave this place and never come back.

Tash was glad that tomorrow was Saturday. She would go to work, put in her eight hours and still have enough time to investigate a few potential housing situations. She was good at keeping her eyes and ears open. She knew things. And if nothing panned out for tonight, well, it wouldn’t be the first time she had slept in the park. She’d found some good hiding places there on the nights Barbie entertained men.

Tash buried the memory and focused, pushing away the fear that wanted to rise up and smother her. You can do this. You are not a kid anymore.

The darkness was just beginning to wane when Tash gave up. Barbie wasn’t dead, she knew, but she might as well be for all Tash was concerned. That one word scribbled on the napkin said it all. Mom was sorry. Sorry she couldn’t stay. Sorry she didn’t care enough to get help. Sorry that Tash wasn’t enough.

The girl on the bed cried then. Cried as if her heart would break.

But when the first rays of sunlight appeared in the east, Tash was already outside; the pack slung over her shoulder and the suitcase with one loose wheel dragging behind. She walked with purpose, her head high and her jaw set. She had a plan. And nothing, nothing would stop her.

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Blogging a Story

In case you haven’t noticed, I started blogging a story this past week. I got the idea while I was at work – yeah, I was more than a little bit bored – and thought it might be fun to give sixteen year old Tash Campbell a tryout on Inside the Writer. I’m not sure how this will unfold, as I have only the barest of minimums when it comes to the whole story. In fact, I don’t know much more about what’s going on than you do. But Tash is taking form in this strange brain of my mine and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I do know that Tash is a survivor. She is determined. And she is smart.

But oh my goodness, the hurt and rejection she must feel at being abandoned by the one person no one should ever have to be abandoned by – her own mother. And now Tash has to find a way to do whatever it is she doesn’t yet fully comprehend she has to do.

Alone.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

 

 

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