This story is by Betsy Rodriguez and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Today is the day I get to see Destiny. I woke up just before five, wide-awake all at once like how you get when there’s something big happening. Today was the first step toward bringing her home. I’ve had a few of these first steps and I’ve never been able to make it work so that I could get to the second step, which is more visits. So I am determined to do a good job because I’m not really sure how many tries you get. I kind of feel like this might be my last try.
I figured no one else would be up yet, but Brenda, the lady who runs the house, was already at the kitchen table, drinking instant coffee with powdered creamer and reading the newspaper. A lot of the women here complain about the coffee but what I say is, at least they have it. I sat down with her because she is the type of person who has a calming effect.
“Big day today,” she said, looking out the window, which was open a little. She likes to listen to the city waking up.
“Yeah. I wish I didn’t look so bad,” I said. I have a lot of deep wrinkles on my face that don’t match my age, 32 years old. Also I am missing several teeth on the left side, which makes my cheek sort of sunken in.
“Oh, honey. That face is there to remind you where you’ve been. Don’t ever be ashamed of it. Besides, that’s the face your girl knows, face of her mama,” Brenda said. I felt a little better but I do think that it’s easier for people who are nice-looking to disregard the worries of people who are not. She was at least twenty years older than me and still had her smooth brown skin.
“How old is Destiny now, ‘bout thirteen?” She leaned forward, took my hands, and looked right in my eyes in that way she has, like she really gets you. “Now listen. Kids that age, they start pulling away from their mamas. It’s just the way of nature, her getting ready to be on her own, so don’t you get upset by it.”
Brenda went out on the porch to hug me goodbye when I left a few hours later. I was wearing a blue flowery dress one of the other women loaned me and my jean jacket to cover my arms. I looked back once at her and the house as I walked away, and I realized I’d been wrong about that place. I used to think it was like an oasis in a storm, a place to ride out the bad weather, but now I think what it is, is a passageway. Like a tunnel from my old life to the main world that I want to get into because that’s where Destiny has gone and that’s the only place we can be together. I just have to figure out how to get through it and not go back.
There was a woman sitting across from me on the bus. You could tell she didn’t have to ride the bus but was taking it to save the planet from pollution or whatever. How you could tell is that first of all she was wearing workout clothes, which only rich people do. The other thing was she had a nice purse, this big bag in a lavender crocodile pattern. I think I could live a hundred more years and never have a purse like that. There was a thin gold necklace with a sparkly pendant hanging out of it that caught the light as the bus made it sway back and forth. In my old life I would have stolen the necklace and sold it. I thought about stealing it anyway to give to Destiny for a present. It would look beautiful on her, and it would be a way to break the ice since I haven’t seen her in so long. The woman got up at my stop and I got up too and stood behind her. I watched my hand go up to that necklace and I didn’t even really have to pull on it. It was practically already lost, not stolen. It was a four-leaf clover, thin gold rim outlining diamond and mother of pearl leaves. A ten thousand-dollar good luck charm. She went down the steps and started to walk away, her blonde ponytail and that lavender purse bouncing behind her. I just stood there on the sidewalk because what ten thousand dollars meant was a new start. I heard my voice calling though, and it sounded dim and far away, like it belonged to someone else.
“Ma’am, you dropped your necklace,” I said. She turned around, a suspicious look on her face. But then she saw what I was holding and smiled, showing all her white, straight teeth.
“Oh my goodness. Thank you so much,” she said. “I took it off for my exercise class. You know how that goes.” She left and the bus pulled away and I realized that I’d gotten off at the wrong stop. This was my old stop, mine and Destiny’s.
I had some time before the next bus so I walked to our old bridge. For a minute I was a little homesick, which sounds crazy for a place under a bridge. I scrambled up the bank and went behind the scrubby trees on the side. The ground was still bare hard dirt, no grass grown back. I sat down and looked down at the road and pretended she was next to me again, her small body folded up into the red sleeping bag. The big neon sign was still there. That thing tortured us some nights with its bright blinking but today it was dark. I got a little sad thinking about those days because even though I didn’t have much, I had her. But I reminded myself that I was going to get her back. I’d given that woman her necklace, so that was proof right there.
Destiny’s foster family lived in a regular house, nothing fancy, on a tree-lined street. There were a few kids riding bikes and people mowing lawns. It was about as far from the bridge as you could get, metaphorically speaking. I had a nervous sweat going on because I didn’t belong in a neighborhood like this, anyone could see that. But her foster mother answered the door and said hi in a nice way and let me in, and then there was Destiny. Impossibly tall, beautiful long brown hair, big brown eyes. She looked so different. I walked over to her and said I missed you so much and held out my arms, but she took a step back and held out her hand to shake instead. I wished I had that necklace to give her because all I had was myself and it seemed like that might not be enough.
Her foster mother left us in the kitchen with a plate of cookies. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I told her how I had gotten off at the wrong stop and visited our old home. We were okay there, weren’t we, I said. We had some good times. And she said all I can remember is being cold and tired all the time. I was always worried I’d need to pee in the middle of the night. So I said well sure, the bathroom part is tough, but we hung out together a lot didn’t we? We played cards and stuff. Then she got kind of mad and said I was scared all the time. Do you know how many times I couldn’t even wake you up? So I said I’m better now. I’ll be coming back for you as soon as I get a place. And she said: if you love me, you’ll let me stay here.
On my way back I thought of Brenda waiting for me at the house. She’d told me to come right home. I guess she knew how it would go before I did. I got off at my old stop instead and sat down on the hard patch of dirt by the bridge. There was a new yellow line painted across the road in front of the neon sign. I lit a cigarette and watched as the sun went down behind the city. When it got dark that old sign buzzed to life, flashing its latest message: Stop Here. Which was so funny to me because I realized I’d been exactly right that morning: today was the day I’d see my destiny.