Chapter 1

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1

Modern Day Alabama

Avery Koptis strode out of Razorback High. A green pep rally flyer fluttered past. This was the fifth school she’d been kicked out of. One in Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and now Alabama. She school system in America was set for her to fail. The teachers all hated her, the students excluded her and the work was always over her head. A warm June breeze air ruffled her hair. After being at Razorback High for three weeks she was already gone. That had to be some kind of record. This time they didn’t have a valid reason, unless many lateness and getting into one measly fight merited expulsion, they just wanted the problem kid gone. Once a failure always a failure.

The early summer sunlight illuminated her black hair like a dark halo, the laces of her combat boots click along the pavement. Her eyes were like dark African violets. People loved to tease that she was born with out irises. Sometimes they were right all her eyes looked like were black holes but at other times they were dark blue or even purple. No matter what color they looked there was always purple veining near the pupil like someone spilled purple ink on a towel.

She jogged the two-block walk to her foster home. It was an apartment building, all the windows barred and covered in dirt from years ago. All her foster homes sent her away after being expelled. They always talked about the “tough cases” that they had cracked and she’d be a piece of cake.  She knew this one would be no different. Most of them had just taken her in for the money the government would pay them for taking her.

“June, I’m home,” she bellowed to the empty house. Murphy the family dog limped over to her, “Hey Murphs have you seen June around?”

June stormed into the room curlers falling out of her hair; robe untied, an unlight cigarette hung out of the corner of her mouth. The noise of CNN played in the background. Rotten food covered the counters, the lights covered in a thick layer of smoke and dirt. She reeked of alcohol and although it was only ten thirty she was drunk. This was one of her good days.

“Never mind,” she murmured to him.

“Why are you home so early,” her words slurred into a jumble of vowels and consonances. Luckily Avery spoke drunk.

“There was a matter of conflicting personal beliefs between me and some cheerleader that principle Nesmith felt inclined to join. I may or may not have clipped his chin while teaching the girl a long deserved lesson.”

“In English girl, I’m not a rocket scientist.”

“No doubt there.”

“What’d you say to me?”

“I said a girl and I got in a fight Principle Nesmith tried to break it up and I hit him in the face.”

“So you’re suspended?”

“No, expelled is the word he used.”

“Mmmm,” she studied Avery,  “Excuse me, I have to go make a phone call,” she mumbled and shuffled out of the room.

“Of course you do,” she said to the space where June had been standing.

Avery walked to the spare closet that had been turned into a bedroom for her. The mini blinds permanently stuck shut making the unpainted room even more unpleasant. A single bulb hung on the ceiling. She pulled out the shoebox from under her bed and dumped the contents on the floor. Smiling faces greeted her. All her old foster families and friends. Little trinkets and memories from times when she had stayed in places for more than a month. A movie ticket, a flyer from an aquarium, a craft project from a family fun day. The very last picture was of a smiling baby in her mother’s arms. That was her only memory of her real family.  She pulled out of the picture of June she took from the picture frame in the hall and put it on top of the pile of pictures. Slowly she put them all away and curled up in her bed. She heard snippets of June’s conversation.

“She’s trouble…not worth it…when you said bad you never said that bad…okay thank you, bye.”

A single hot tear trickled down her face leaving a wet path behind it. She was sad and angry at the same time. No one had been around long enough in her life to actually know her. June was so spineless. A waste of space. Fuming she gathered all her belongings in her trunk, pulled on her trench coat and walked to the kitchen. From the second draw from down on the counter Avery took all the “emergency cash” and pocketed it. With her suitcase wheel squeaking behind her Avery walked out the door. The cold air kissed her face she walked away leaving another part of her past behind. The sound of Murphy’s howling following her as she went.

THE neighborhood orphanage was a dirty orange color, a cross between burnt sienna and tangerine. Abandoned swing sets and monkey bars covered in ivy sat in front of the decaying building. The shadows of the night flitted around her. She walked up the crumbling stairs to the front door. She turned the handle and strode to the front desk. Delicately she reached out and rung the old rusted bell perched on a large pile of papers. An old silver haired woman hobbled out of the back office. A long gold necklace hung around her neck. Avery craned her neck to get a better look. The woman gingerly tucked it into her blouse before Avery could get a good look; it looked like a bird of some sort.

“Ah, Ms.Koptis we’ve been expecting you.”

Avery quirked an eyebrow, “You have?”

“Yes your foster mother June called your social worker earlier. We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

“Yeah well I’m here now.”

“As I can see.”

“So I guess I’ll be staying here for a while. I know the relocation process takes a long time.”

Her clear eyes bore into Avery, “You have been though a lot haven’t you. Abandonment, abuse, exclusion, they are written all over you face.”

“Okay?”

The woman sighed, “I have just what you need,” her frail hand reached into one of the many stacks of paper on the messy desk and pulled out a manila folder, “I’ve been saving this location for a special case. I think you’ll fit in perfectly here.”

“You have a place for me already?” Avery asked surprised.

“Yes my old friend Jane Jones. She has one foster child and has been wanting another,” she handed Avery the envelope.

Avery lifted the flap and found a set of keys and a train ticket to Alabama, “The train is arriving in twenty minutes."

“Than I suggest you hurry.”

“How’d you know I’d be here?”

Her lips tilted upwards, “Call it a woman’s intuition, now hurry you don’t want to miss that train.”

Avery looked at the ticket, “Thank you.”

The woman gave a slight nod and Avery took off running.

WITH two minutes to spare Avery arrived at the train station. Her giant case clicked along the pavement, every so often one of the wheels would stick and she would carry it over her shoulder. Finally the rumbling of a train stopped her brisk walk. The train pulled in the station. Avery took a deep breath and took one last look over her shoulder of her home for the past three weeks. She had no ties or friends here. With her head held high and eyes locked ahead of her she stepped into the train on to her future.

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