Never call 911. That's something I learned the hard way that fateful January. If there's ever an emergency, dial 411 and ask directly for an ambulance. Otherwise everyone'll come running for you, and that's not a position you want to be in. A mob of people never really wants to help you. If they say they do, they're lying through their teeth. Trust me on that.
Never before could I expect a day off from school to turn so south. South of South. It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to be precise; I wish I could apologize to the man for causing so much trouble during his twenty-four hours of honor. Sorry, dude.
Dad was working about an hour upstate, so the ranch house was host to solely me, my little sis, and our mom. As on most Mondays... or days, Mom was drunk and passed out on the sofa in the living room, so the two of us were left to our own devices in my pigsty of an end bedroom. A co-op game here, a bad movie spinoff there; just another day where we were free from the toils of school life. I was a Junior, while she was a Freshman; every day off counted.
All was good, until one o'clock rolled around. Dad left us $40, so we were about to call up for a lunch delivery, when we heard Mom shout our names like bloody murder. "Petra, Sofia! Get over here!"
Strained slurs. That couldn't be good. Sof blitzed from the bed and I tailed her in a hasty pursuit, and we found our dazed mother on her back, watching the ceiling for any sudden movements. Her fists flanked both her sides, struggling to push her body up. Her legs, meanwhile, rested on the arm of the couch, swollen red and still.
She didn't even turn to us. "Guys, I can't get up. Can you help? Pull on my arms."
So grab her clammy, somewhat-moist arms we did. But pull as we might, she just wouldn't budge. She held her hands out, we grabbed hold, yooooooink, and she grimaced and swatted us away.
This lasted for a good ten minutes.
"No use," she groaned, her unwashed hair looking like the mop we hadn't owned since middle school. "Not budging. Need more help."
I asked her how long it'd been since she stood, really more so she wouldn't get mad at my silence than sincere wonder. I knew the answer already: it had been precisely a week and two days. During that time, we brought her food, water, and, most importantly, booze. $27 bottle of grape-smelling vodka. After awhile, it began to smell like a certain bodily fluid, but I'd rather not go into that. I can't even begin to mourn all the socks I lost over the years to improper footsteps.
Through half-lidded eyes, she considered my question while Sof and I hovered around her hands, taking care to avoid the damp spots on the carpet so as to not send any more innocent socks to the grave. "Dunno," was her initial response, before adding, with a shake of her head, "Need the ambulance. Only way."
'Oh God,' I groaned. Need the ambulance, AGAIN. First time this year, at least. That'd be much more impactful if it wasn't still the flippin' first month. Dad would be pissed; always was. Just four months ago, we went through this same old song and dance, and a few months before that. Mom'd drink herself silly, her legs would become thick tree trunks, she'd call the ambulance to take her away, we'd visit her in the hospital for two-to-three days, and a hearty bill would be waiting to bite before the next inevitable visit.
No matter how much we'd try to protest, the result would be the same: Sof or I would have to hand her the cordless house phone as if it were more booze, and Mom would call the paramedics.
That's how it used to go, anyway. "I can't see the numbers," our mom passively sighed, her voice carrying a hint of disappointment. Almost like we should've expected that. "Can you call them?"
Call... them? Sofia looked my way and I could only shrug my neck. We never had to talk to trained medical professionals before; Mom usually did all that dirty work. What the hell would we even say? How do we word it?
But in my trepidation, my little sis took control. As she always does in these situations. She's not as afraid of killing socks as I am, after all, so it's only natural she was better equipped to handle this sudden development.
"Okay..." was her defeated peep before the phone wound up in her dry clutches. She appeared to snarl at the device; we both hate calling people. "Wanna text Dad?" she next directed at me, and I wordlessly complied. Anything that'd get me out of this room faster.
The two of us proceeded to flee to our rooms, Mom absentmindedly shouting for us to get back there, but we ignored her. Sof dialed for help on the other side of the wall, while I told Dad the news.
"Mom's asking for an ambulance."
He took his time to respond, no doubt tempted to punch a hole in a wall somewhere. Didn't even have to be his wall. "Lovely. I'll be home soon."
With all the dominoes in play, us two non-stuck siblings retreated back to my room, where our game console remained. It was difficult to concentrate over the drunken hollers coming from the front room, but we did our best. Nothing'd be more distracting than the shouts from three Christmases ago anyhow.
The two speeding hedgehogs on the screen were just about to conclude their journey through the inside of a massive pyramid, when sirens reached our humble home. Right away, I should've known something had gone wrong when police cars and fire trucks joined the ambulance, but I wasn't in a thinking mood that day. Again, no school. Heck, Sofia went to answer the door while I kept to the mattress, so I didn't even care enough to see just how many people were waiting on the other side.
I won't bore you with the details, but my sis and I sat in silence as we listened in on the noises coming from the living room. We didn't bare witness to the proceedings directly, but it sounded like a whole team of expert engineers had to work together to lift Mom off the couch. Maybe they summoned their Megazord or something, that'd be cool. We heard shouts and incomprehensible mutters throughout, but eventually they all died down and we heard the ambulance's doors slam shut. The trial was over. Again.
It's always an awkward aftermath for sure, what with us sitting in silence for another few extra minutes, but on all the other occasions, life would soon return to normal and we'd order lunch or whatever meal was closest.
Not today, though. Since we didn't pay attention to how many visitors we received, we had no way of knowing that someone lagged behind. Nearly died when a tall firefighter appeared in our doorway.
He took a glance around my room, a look of disgust prevalent on his features. "You two... live here?" he questioned, his tone beyond belief.
It was then that I felt shame at how disorderly my room was. Frankly, every single step was covered by either discarded trash, school stuff, piles of clothes, or mountains of junk, old toys, and various technologies. A scrap heap to anyone else, but to me, it was my base of operations. I knew where absolutely everything was. Well, not absolutely everything, but all the important stuff anyway.
If I had known beforehand that we'd have guests, I would've tidied up the place at least a little bit. I couldn't even imagine what the man was thinking as he scanned the rectangular cave, but it sure was embarrassing, I can tell you that.
I chuckled away my nervousness. "Oh, yeah, this is my... room..." A little shaky on the landing there for sure, but I was dressed like a slob and sitting in a room fitting for one, so it was only natural. Maybe a little joke would provide some much-needed levity? "I know where absolutely everything is, eheh."
Alright, so I'm not much of a joker at home.
Either way, Mr. Fire Combatant continued his eye-balling ways. "Ehuh... And how old are you?"
I couldn't lie. I flattened my palm to my chest and squeaked out "17," immediately shrinking behind my shorter sister afterward.
She, in turn, revealed "14," in between a half-sneeze. A cold had been going around her Algebra 1 class.
All he responded with was a trailing "Ehuh..." before backing away and thankfully leaving our house.
Woo howdy, were we glad that was over. Heartbeat slowing to a healthy pace, the two of us went back to playing our game, expecting the day to be over until Dad got home.
Boy oh boy, were we wrong.
It couldn't have even been twenty minutes later when another knock came. Whoever it was probably wasn't too thrilled to find the doorbell was long busted. Ah, and the porch light still had remnants of old decaying beehives within. Not the most impressive sight, I'm sure.
"Hi there," an unknown frazzled-haired thirty-something man in a business suit greeted us. Behind him were two blank-faced associates we'd also never seen before. This spelled trouble. Didn't look to be the types you'd invite to a party. "I'm Carl, from DCF. May we come in and look around please?"
DCF? We had no idea what that was, but I'd never been a fan of acronyms, so I was on my toes. Literally, I realized. I'm no good at unexpected stressful encounters.
What else could I do but comply? My sis and I stepped aside and allowed the mystery men entry. Without skipping a beat, Carl looked up the stairs from the landing and clasped his dry palms together with an audible popping snack. Reminded me of people who crack their wrists. Already this guy skeeved me out.
The men behind him took out tiny little notebooks, and the main dude smiled. "Which way to the living room? Ah, and I'd love to see your rooms. The kitchen? The bathroom? How's your shower?"
Geez, he sure got to the cryptic point. Simple task, giving him a tour of the only home I'd ever known. So, naturally, I said "Sure, um, okay. This way."
He met the living room as soon as we climbed the staircase, and I cursed myself for not picking up the trash lining the carpet. Old wrinkled chip bags, burger wrappers, empty vodka bottles, half-filled cups, and whatever the hell that inhuman stain on and around the couch's cushion was. The sight would be bad enough on a glowing day, but the two men silently scribbled into their palm-sized memo pads all the while. Eyes inched up, back to the paper. Up, couch, down, paper. Come on, there couldn't have been that much to write about.
God, why did we have to be subjected to this again so soon? Just three days ago, those same sort of notepads were judging us inside the guidance counselor's office. People should keep their notes to themselves.
The kitchen, with its cluttered counters and crowded, malfunctioning sink, was the next natural spot on our wilderness tour. Every drip of the rusted faucet made me wince. The floors needed a good mopping, but remember, we didn't have one. Maybe Dad would be able to get one once his work stopped hounding him to do seven jobs a day.
And Carl just nodded as his cronies did their writing assignment. Was he going to be this silent the whole way through?
Well, no; one look at our middle bathroom inspired his tongue to take action. The bathtub was rotted after years of disuse, the toilet was in need of a plumber decades ago, and the bath curtains had enough hidden mold growing to make Gordon Ramsey pass out. This was humiliating.
"Dear Lo— Is this where you bathe?"
Sofia bit her lip. "No. There's another bathroom in Dad's room."
More notes. "You really shouldn't bathe in a room so filthy."
"But we don't—"
But Carl waved us to continue on, not interested in hearing our part. Sensing she was on the verge of violently seething, I pat Sof's shoulder and headed for our rooms. Three guesses how well that went.
"Okay," the frazzled suspicious man concluded, "that's all we needed to see. We'll be going now."
The rest of our home 'show-and-tell' had seemed mostly unimportant. Our rooms were mazes of clutter, but what teen's wasn't? The carpet throughout the house was old and ragged, but so was his hair, so it didn't seem to be a big deal. And what normal human being living in Connecticut didn't have to head down to the damp basement to turn on the hot water just so they could shower?
For all its faults, this was my home. OUR home. Sure, it could be a bit more appealing to the eye... and nose, but this was our sanctuary. Besides, one parent was a workaholic, and the other's been... laid off ever since our restaurant business fell apart and her sister passed about seven years ago. Only in a perfect world could there be enough time to spruce things up.
At the time, we could only hope that message got through to them. We didn't suspect anything else would come of it, let alone the absolute unthinkable.
Once we waved the privacy-murderers goodbye and shut the door, the two of us crashed down on the stairs and released the captured sighs that had been bubbling in our throats. We didn't lock the door because Dad'd be home soon, and after a long, hasty trek, no one wants to fumble around their pocket for the keys. Besides, we were too gobsmacked to even consider the possible ramifications.
"What the hell was that about?" Sof moaned, rubbing her freckles. Probably mentally playing 'connect the dots' with them.
A whiff of booze and... something assaulted my nostrils, so I motioned for her to get up and follow me again. Time to get back to life. For good this time. "No idea."
"Those guys were creepy."
"Yeah... Don't worry about it, though."
If only 'Petra' knew what she was talking about.
"Give me the codes, Ieyasu!"
"Why, Chikane? You'll never stop the bomb in time, ah-gegegeh!"
"Grr... Not if I scale this gravitational tube first!"
Within no time at all, the day had returned to normal... er, or whatever sane people would call *that*. Sure, our hearts were beating a mile a minute, halting our plans for lunch, but we at least returned to our racing spiked humanoids. A common stress relief for us involved role playing as certain characters and projecting them onto other unrelated characters in video games while we're, well, gaming. Helps up my improvisational chops, really, for my after-school club. You know, basic student stuff.
So, while two recolored hedgehogs raced on an 'Aidrey-Arfoire' 'Crucial Codes' gaming console, today's acting session told the epic narrative of Ieyasu Tokugawa attempting to blow up the Earth, and only Nobunaga Oda's league of beautiful blue-and-purple-haired ladies could save the day.
Eh, if that makes me sound insane, blame the many years I spent reading fanfics. Almost lost touch with the activity upon entering high school, but recently read one that involved Cao Cao fighting Joan of Arc, and lemme tell you, I was once again hooked.
Better yet, we now had the house to ourselves! For the next indiscernible amount of time, we'd be free from embarrassment or questioning voices coming from the other rooms as our verbal stage voices raged wild! It was nice to be able to let loose with no shouting stuporous mothers or creepy men in black hanging over our shoulders. The situation leading up to this moment was... well, rough, but we'd long learned to take what we can get. Can't be picky with twists of fate. I'd never become an actor if I waited for everything to align perfectly.
Still, focusing on our imagination was proving to be a teensy bit irksome. Carl's too-happy grin was stuck in my head, along with the sounds of Mom being carried out by the police, firemen, and paramedics. Again, this was far from the first time she'd been carted away, but no other time involved more than ambulance crews, and Carl had never existed before today.
Troubling, to say the least. More so when I texted Dad about the unplanned visit, and he simply wrote back saying how he'd be home soon, and not to open the doors if the guys came back. I could definitely sense he was pissed and thrown-off like never before. This is why he hated working so far upstate: disaster always chose to strike then. It's like the curse of Avon, as he calls it.
"You okay?" I heard Sof ask during a load screen, and my thoughts parted in time for my mind to return to orbit. I realized I had been staring at the screen without blinking for a good minute. I'd really like to see footage of that, because I'm one of those girls who can never really stop blinking. Maybe it's allergies, I don't know.
I, what else, blinked, and nodded out "Yeah, I'm okay," though who was I kidding?
So we went back to our game, this time playing as two onion-headed adorable creatures piloting gun-toting mech walkers, our script leaping over to a side story involving a man by the name of Liu Bei summoning forth an ancient evil hellbent on eating galaxies. And pants.
Mechs shooting in space, shooting in space. Shooting, shooting, shooting, knock, knocking, knocking on door?
Oh no, someone was knocking on the door again! Criminy, what the hell did Sir Carl want now?!
The two of us tensed up and paused the game. "What... do we do?" I asked, suddenly feeling like I just failed the mile run again.
Sof held up a lone index finger; keep absolutely quiet! "Dad said to ignore them. What can they do?"
Yeah, she was right. No biggie. Nothing to get hung about. What, would they just barge in? Tough chance, they didn't hold authority over this house. Sure, the entryway was unlocked, but them turning the doorknob and slamming open the door would have had to have been illegal. So, I felt secure, if not a bit on edge.
But when I heard a loud crash smack into the wall, my entire world came crashing down. There was no more edge to speak of. I was already falling.
Millions of voices barged into my sacred domain, talking, yelling, screaming at us and each other. A few police officers, several people in spiffy suits, a couple lowlifes taking pictures with old school flash-photography cameras; the ranch house became a public market.
From all angles, questions lunged at us like rapiers.
"Why aren't you two at school?"
"How long have you been living like this?"
"Has your shower ever worked?"
"Is it true you both are alcoholics?"
I was panicking. We both were. Before we could utter out perplexed peeps, another accusation blocked us. Judging adult eyes; rookie cops treating us like demon children carrying the Plague; stoic cameramen thrilled to have a brand spanking new scoop.
And marching from behind, splitting the sea of the masses with his hands, came Carl, smiling like he owned the place. As we'd quickly find out, he essentially did.
"Hey again, kids," he taunted, "we have some great news for you!"
Walking straight into his trap, I asked "Great... news?"
"Yep: you're not staying here anymore! We're saving you from this awful place!"
It took a moment to even realize I heard his sickening voice. "What?" was the best reaction I had.
Two yes-men handed Mr. Hair-Frazzle a set of empty garbage bags, and he nodded at us; first Sof, then myself. "You two can't live here anymore. This isn't normal; kids need to go to school and take showers and not drink alcohol or eat junk food off the floor. You have to go."
At once, Carl's same ass-kissing friends stepped forward and hoisted me off the bed by the forearms, and I yelped in surprise. A miracle my senses weren't dead yet. They set me down on the carpet and did the same to Sof, violently lifting her despite her rabid protests of "Let go! We don't...!"
The man continued smiling. "Come on, this is exciting! You guys no longer have to live like animals!"
"The hell are you—" I began, before two garbage bags found their way into my clutches.
"Now, you have five minutes to pack up your belongings in these trash bags and meet me outside. Hurry hurry, we can't stay in here for long!" And before we could swear up a storm, he gleefully trudged back down the hall, several henchmen following him but not enough to leave us alone.
A bug-eyed young officer sneered at us, ogling the circus freaks. He didn't speak, but we could tell he was demanding us to make haste. He and the men taking pictures of my room.
Sof being near tears almost set my waterspouts flowing, but I held up best I could. Really only so I wouldn't debase myself in front of the jerks. "Just stay strong," I said, not too sure what I meant or even how to do that.
The clock was rapidly ticking for no reason we could particularly fathom. It all felt like a bad dream; some sick joke only jaded Internet 'free spirits' would deem amusing. In fact, I would've laughed off the absurdity of the situation and ignored everything if police officers didn't constantly bombard us with orders to move our asses. Oh well, at least Mr. Bug-Eye went outside for a spell.
So we were left with the undesirable choice of what to take with us, to wherever we were going for however long we'd be gone. It's like a mother having to choose which child to save... Okay, that's a bit too harsh. But we truly had no grasp on ANYTHING happening around us, so for all we knew, we'd never see anything in our house again, and we had what felt like seconds to figure out a plan. How are you supposed to make any decision under those circumstances?
Ultimately, we crowded our trash bags with as much we could: clothes, schoolwork, video game consoles, and a few books... though really, who reads anymore? Even took to sneaking a few games into my backpack, since this was getting impossible to carry as things stood.
I was ready before Sofia was, so I stepped into the hall first. Tried to open the fridge to get a sip of water to calm the fifteen heart attacks I was enduring, but our good pal Carl clutched my hand before I could grip the handle.
"No no no, Dear, it's unsanitary in there."
I wanted to ask how he knew that if he hadn't looked — and I knew no one looked — but I was afraid I'd begin sobbing if I spoke on my own.
Sadly, he wasn't about to let me go without forcing words out. "What do you have there, Dear? That's an awful lot of bags you're carrying. I suggest you leave a lot of them behind. You don't need so many filthy things."
Could he stop calling me 'Dear'?! "It's a few games, books. School stuff."
"School stuff?" he questioned as if he truly didn't believe me. Never a good sign. "Well, why aren't you in school today?"
Lord help me, I think I rolled my eyes at him. "Um, it's a day off? MLK Day?"
You know that response people will usually give you when you tell them that a cat told you to eat the planets before the next solar eclipse? Where they simply deadpan a fake grunt of understanding, when they not-so-secretly think you're the biggest liar this way to Red Cliff? That's what Carl gave me. One "Ehuh" after another.
I'd tell him I was in the top ten of my class: "Ehuh." I was only absent three days this school year thus far: "Ehuh." I've never been to detention: "Ehuh." Eventually, I finally got savvy and gave up all hope of convincing him I was anything but an uneducated, uncouth moron. That lesson wouldn't gel well with what he was champing at the bit to tell us a minute later anyway.
Sof and I stood before the front door, bags in hand and sniffles locked tight in our noses, ready to not be ready and head out of our home, presumably for the last time. Carl wasn't yet content with our meager suffering, however.
Motioning as if he were narrating a Will Nood video for infants — so every Will Nood video ever — the proponent of the DCF explained our ultimate fates, along with instilled in us a few final words of wisdom, like "Brushing your teeth is important," "Remember, it's important to bathe regularly," and "Only animals eat off the floor." How thoughtful of him.
And all the while, he smiled, adding an occasional nod to remind us he wasn't a robot. Or reaffirm our suspicions, hard to say.
"Well, if you two were any younger, you'd be receiving an all-expense paid ticket to the Boys and Girls Village. But since you're—" He paused to glimpse one of his colleagues' novel-length notes. "—14 and 17, they'd prefer you stay with a family member other than your parents. Who shall we contact?"
Without skipping a beat, my sis offered "Our aunt. She lives ten minutes away." Ah, makes sense; she was most certainly the least likely to screw with our lives.
This pleased the creep, and he took down the phone number we recited. Bet he was surprised we could remember so many digits.
Finally, it was time to head out and face the music. Bet it'd be accordion music too; my lucky day. Carl stayed inside to call our aunt, leaving us to walk out alone into the cloudy January afternoon. The sight was beyond overwhelming, even after all our expectations had been thrashed.
All over our cul-de-sac sat parked police cars and black sedans, and our lawn was more crowded than our backyard back during the years we used to host family get-togethers and restaurant staff parties. Back before Mom got sick and needed an ambulance every few months.
"How did this...? What's happening?"
So many unrecognizable and unwelcome vehicles... save for one. "Dad!" I cried, catching sight of his van down the block. Indeed, it seemed he had finally returned home from Avon, just in time for us to get evicted. Surely he'd be able to convince all these strangers how crazy this whole scene was!
But then I overhead shouts coming from a few feet away, and finally saw Dad in person... and all hopes were dashed.
"We have proof you've been abusing them!" that young cop from my room screamed at my restrained father. Even through my shock, I could tell he was tempted to knock these jerks silly. The men holding him back no doubt suspected that too. "You're keeping them from school, you're making them eat food off the floor, you're not letting them bathe... This is THE worst situation any of us have EVER seen!"
Pop wasn't having any of that. "You're crazy! This is illegal!"
"No, THIS is justice. We're giving your daughters the life they deserve. The life they need."
The front door opened and closed once more, and I didn't even need to look to know it was Carl making his return. "The life they want," he interjected, reaching over to squeeze our shoulders like a creepy uncle. How'd he hear him? "They made that perfectly clear today. You did well, kids."
"What?!" Sofia, at long last, snapped, shaking off the parasitic palm. "We don't want this!"
A smile. A goddamn smile. "But why, then, did you call 911?"
At that, Sis' spine shivered. Back at the front door, an intrepid suit-clad woman taped a red sign right smack-dab in the center. It read "Condemned."
Dad continued resisting against the smug uniformed enforcers while Carl nodded resolutely. "You did a brave thing today, you two. We heard about your 'cry for help' a few days ago, so I'm happy it all turned out this way. Calling 911 was the best thing you've ever done!"
'Cry for help'? A few... days ago? Oh no... Son of a bitch, not that again!
Neighbors peeked out from their windows, interested as all get out in the plight of us doomed fools, and all we could do was eat their gapes up and wait for our aunt to get here, the knowledge of why this happened fresh in our minds. Both our minds, but especially Sof's.
The future was looking bleaker than bleak, but now the past of three days ago seemed even bleaker.
It was three days ago when the first 'cry for help' occurred. Friday, ten past noon. Wasn't exactly certain why, but we had an early dismissal that day, or a 'half day' as us students preferred to wrongly label it. On any standard Monday to Thursday, we'd have to take the bus and waste about 30 minutes getting home, but luckily our dad had most Fridays off. So, he'd be picking us up and then we'd all go to the pizza place his old friend ran.
Once the final bell rang, I hauled butt out of Electronics, and met him in the parking lot. Now all we had to do was wait for Sofia to pop out. She typically took a few extra minutes than I did, but in no time at all, we'd be homeward bound. Well, 'cheese fries and pepperoni pizza' bound, but semantics, semantics.
Well, five minutes passed, then ten. Thirteen was where we drew the line. "Okay, where is she?" Dad sighed, checking his phone. Mom sent him seven text messages in the past few moments, demanding more booze so she could endure her hangover. She was getting antsy, and experience taught us that nothing good would come from ignoring her demands. She once called the cops when Dad, Sis, and I went to the movies for two hours; things got stressful sometimes.
An eighth text dinged, and I opened the passenger door. "Dunno. I'll go find her!"
I recalled her telling me she ended Academic Fridays in English class, so I headed to the Freshmen halls first. But alas, the lights were off. No one was around.
From there, I scoured every classroom under the not-sun, but still, no sign of her. It's as if she had disappeared completely. I began to get worried, which led me to the Guidance office.
A peppy woman behind the counter greeted me, and I bumbled out a hello before inquiring about Sof's whereabouts. A minute later, the intercom system blasted out a search warrant for my lost little sister.
"Just wait here, I'm sure she'll show up," Ms. Secretary reassured me, and I had no choice but to thank her and sit by the old computers in the corner.
Tick, tock, tick, tock... Come on, Sof, where the hell were ya?!
I almost got fed up with waiting and planned to sprint out the door in search for her, when the desk's phone rang. One of those generic-sounding ones too that'd blare in your ear when you're trying to nap. Not fun stuff.
"Hello?" the lady answered, her generic drone showing she's been at this for years. "Hm? With Ms. Anita? Okay, thank you."
Ms. Anita? Oh, our... school's Social Worker? Yeah, she's the one who once talked to us about the PSATs coming up in May or something. Other than that, I'd never seen her around.
Which, of course, made finding her a chore. But I was helpfully informed that her office was situated in a small recess of the library, so I eventually made my way.
I politely knocked, allowed myself in... and found Sof sitting at a long tan table, surrounded by Ms. Anita and some other woman with a longer bob-cut than I had. She had a set of five notepads. She wasn't all there.
"Ah, welcome," the social worker drably exclaimed. If I had known at the time how much of an effect her long black hair and looped earrings would have on my life, I would've learned how to fly out the window. "We've been waiting. Is your father with you?"