Green Flame Omnimedia
Copyright 1993, 1999, 2016 Cristina Salat
Printed in the United States of America
Fourth Edition All Rights Reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Living in Secret/Cristina Salat.
Summary: Amelia’s mother helps her run away from her father who has custody to begin a new life and identity in San Francisco.
1. Custody of children — Fiction 2. Lesbians — Fiction 3. Friendship — Fiction
4. Secrets — Fiction 5. San Francisco (California) — Fiction
First printing, 1993, hardcover edition, Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-08670-7
Second printing, 1994, paperback edition, Dell Yearling, ISBN 0-440-40950-0
Third printing, 1999, paperback edition, Books MarcUs, ISBN 0-916020-02-9
Fourth printing, 2016, Green Flame Omnimedia,
tradepaper deluxe ISBN: 978-1530749133, 1530749131
e-edition deluxe ISBN: 978-1310566080
Contact the author: http://creativecornucopia.miiduu.com
Your support is most appreciated. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author and publisher, except for brief excerpts to be used in book review.
Green Flame Omnimedia
Volcano, HI 96785
BOOKS BY CRISTINA SALAT
Gathering The Dreamcatchers companion novels:
(also available in combo, trilogy, + 4-book omnibus)
Living In Secret Deluxe Edition
The Skin of Water/Defending The Dreamcatchers
Illustrated Children’s Books:
Jade The Magnificent
Home Is Where You’re Happy
Community: The Complete Missing Manual
Green Flame Omnimedia Slims:
America The Beautiful
Community: The Missing Manual, Stage 1 onward!
Hawaii: Heaven or Hell?
I would like to thank all those who test-read this novel: teachers, librarians, writers, and especially my children’s book experts, Ellen Callaway, Malena Fitting, Gina Gutierrez, Annie Jupiter-Jones, Ruth Lima, Chris Newell, Karisma Thompson, Janelle Tsujiuchi, Camila Velasquez McCarthy, David Williams, and their friends. Extra special thank-yous to agent, Kendra Marcus, and editor, Susan Korman, for their perceptive insights and for originally securing this book a home.
Chapter 1 Gone
Chapter 2 The Sunshine House
Chapter 3 Turtles Don’t Need Anybody
Chapter 4 New Friends
Chapter 5 No More School, Ever?
Chapter 6 Secrets
Chapter 7 Sam
Chapter 8 Good Morning, Birthday Girl!
Chapter 9 Holiday Kisses
Chapter 10 I Wish I Could Live at Your House
Chapter 11 Nancy Thompson
Chapter 12 Just Put a Blue Peg in Your Car
Chapter 13 Fortunes
Chapter 14 Family
Chapter 15 Putting the Pieces Together
Chapter 16 Summer
Chapter 17 No More Secrets?
Chapter 18 My Real Name Is Amelia
And then what happens?
(Working Title) Esoterica…the long-awaited sequel!
About The Author
In the middle of the night my mother comes to steal me away.
I am still up, reading under my covers with a flashlight, half-listening for Daddy or his girlfriend, Rosa, when I hear a muffled bump outside my window. I peek out from under the blankets but don’t see anything except the faint glow from the streetlight. Then, all of a sudden, there she is. Mom puts a finger to her lips and motions for me.
I scramble out of bed and tiptoe across the room to unlock the window. We ease it open and it squeaks a little, but I don’t think Daddy or Rosa will hear. The cold October wind blows in and makes me shiver.
Mom is standing on a ladder. She is wearing jeans and a dark sweatshirt with the hood up.
“Are you ready?” she whispers.
I pull on a pair of jeans and a sweater. Mom gestures for me to hurry. She is nervous standing there on the ladder. Someone might see her and think she’s a burglar.
I don’t know who, though. No one on Clover Lane would be up at three o’clock in the morning.
I jam my feet into purple hightop sneakers. Then I drag my packed suitcase out from under the bed. I have all the things Mom said I should take: my favorite clothes, pictures of me from Daddy’s photo albums, and important papers, like my birth certificate, which I had to steal from Daddy’s desk drawer.
Mom goes down the ladder first, carrying the suitcase under one arm. I look around my room one last time, letting the flashlight’s glow flicker silently across the bed, the ruffled dresser, my TV and phone, the empty poster stand in the comer. It’s a pretty room, but I’ve never felt like it was mine. Rosa picked out almost everything before we moved into this new house three years ago.
I shut off the flashlight, place it on my bookshelf, and turn back to the window. Mom is at the bottom of the ladder, looking up, waiting for me. We have been waiting to be together for a long time. I climb out, feet first, and step downward, one rung at a time.
When I reach the ground, Mom hands me my suitcase, folds up the metal ladder, and turns it sideways so she can carry it. She scuffs away the marks the ladder made in the ground with her foot. I bend over, scoop up a handful of moist red and yellow leaves from under the big maple tree, and toss them around to cover our footprints.
We ease around to the front of the house and down the cement driveway. The street is dark and silent. I expect to see Janey’s truck with the white lettering on its doors:
HEROLDS & COMPANY
INSIDE & OUT
But Janey is waiting at the comer in a small U-Haul. She gets out and smiles at me. I haven’t seen her in a while.
Mom and Janey hoist the ladder into the back of the truck. It clatters a little and I look around, thinking someone will throw open a door and shout, what’s going on out there?!
But no one does.
My suitcase joins two others in the back of the U-Haul. Mom motions for me to climb in front. Janey puts the gearshift in neutral, and she and Mom push the truck silently around the corner. I look back just once at the house I’ve lived in since I was eight.
Good-bye, Daddy, I think to myself. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.
Mom and Janey jump in. Janey starts the engine and drives us away. She doesn’t switch the headlights on until two blocks later.
My hands are cold and sweaty. I wiggle them down into my pockets to warm up. Mom puts her arm around me and I lean against her. She keeps checking her watch.
“Watch your speed,” she says to Janey. “The last thing we need is to be stopped.”
“I’m only doing sixty,” Janey says, glancing at the rearview mirror.
Eventually I see signs to New York City.
“We’re going to the city?” I ask, sitting up. That doesn’t seem far enough away. Daddy works there!
“We’re going to California,” Mom says, staring straight ahead. “You and Janey are going tonight. I’ll fly out to meet you as soon as I can.”
“You’re not coming with us?” I ask, getting scared. I thought we were all going together.
“They’ll look for us, Amelia,” Janey says. “And if they find us, you’ll have to come back and we’ll be in big trouble. Your mom is going to throw them off the track.”
Mom’s arm squeezes my shoulders. “Janey will explain everything to you later,” she says. I can barely hear her.
When we see the first sign for Kennedy Airport, Janey pulls over to the side of the road. Mom switches on the overhead light and pulls two hairy things in a plastic bag from under the truck seat. Wigs! Two black wigs!
Janey puts hers on. It is long and straight. My wig is gathered into a ponytail, tied with a red ribbon. Mom pins my real hair up with bobby pins and helps me put the wig on. She fastens it to my head with little wads of pink tape, which I know will hurt to pull off. The wig has bangs that tickle my forehead, but I don’t complain. Then Mom removes her makeup bag from the glove compartment.
“This will make you look older,” she says, fixing my face. She even puts a little mascara on my eyelashes. It doesn’t feel as great as I always thought it would. In fact, it feels like sleep crust.
“Don’t rub your eyes,” Mom says, taking a brand-new, folded-up windbreaker out of the glove compartment. It is one of those big, pull-over-your-head kind with the zipper pocket in front, the kind I’ve been wanting for a while, and bright red to match the hair ribbon in my wig.
I pull it on and try to smile.
We drive into Kennedy Airport just as the sun begins to rise. Planes are taking off and landing even at this hour. Everything is lit up for miles around. Janey pulls the truck into a parking lot and we get out.
Mom is crying. She asks me if I have the letter for Daddy. I get it out of the front pocket of my suitcase. She takes the letter out of its envelope and reads it silently. I wrote it three weeks ago, but I remember exactly what it says:
I am running away from home. I love you, but I don’t want to live with you anymore. You’re never home and Rosa is always on the phone with her friends. You don’t need me around. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.
Everybody calls me Amy, except Mom and Janey, who call me Amelia, which is my real name. Daddy says Amelia is an old maid’s name, so he started calling me Amy when he got custody. I was six then.
Mom puts the letter in her back pocket and bends over to hug me. She makes my neck wet.
“We have to go, Claire,” Janey says.
Mom holds me away from her. “Be good, Amelia.”
“I’m always good,” I say. That gets her to smile.
“Yes, you are.”
“Are you coming to California soon?” I feel a lump in my throat.
“As soon as I can, Pumpkin.”
We hug again.
Janey says, “Claire…”
Mom stands up and hugs her too. They kiss on the lips. Then Janey hands me my suitcase and Mom gets into the U-Haul.
Janey and I walk toward the American Airlines terminal. Mom honks once as she drives by. Janey drops one of her suitcases to blow kisses. I wave. We watch the orange and white truck disappear around the bend.
“Well, kiddo, we’re off . . .” she says, looking nervous.
“Are we doing something illegal?” I ask.
She looks me in the eye, and nods.
I think Janey must like my mother a lot.
We have tickets to Dallas, Texas. Janey gives them to me to hold while we are standing on line waiting to check our bags. I study the tickets. They are for two people named Megan and Julie Dreisden. Both are adult tickets, for the same price, so I guess I am supposed to look over twelve in the wig and the makeup.
We get boarding passes. No one seems to wonder why we are traveling at 6:30 on a Saturday morning. There are other kids around. I wonder if they are going someplace just for the weekend or if they will get to miss school on Monday, too.
I love airports!
Janey and I go into a souvenir shop that sells New York City snow domes and T-shirts, but we just buy magazines and gum. Janey hurries me along. She calls me Julie. I’m not sure if she’s supposed to be my mother or sister or what, so I don’t call her anything.
Our plane is already boarding at Gate 27. We show our tickets and walk right on. I have a window seat!
The captain announces a slight delay. Janey flips through her magazine, tapping her fingers against each page. I can tell she’s not reading a word. I start feeling scared again.
Daddy couldn’t be holding up the plane, could he? He never gets up until noon on weekends. He probably won’t even miss me until tonight. He’ll think I went to my piano class and then to Tina’s house or the mall like I usually do. I keep my face turned toward the window, just in case. I also keep my feet tucked under my seat. Daddy would recognize my purple hightops; he’s always trying to get me to throw them away because they have holes in them.
Finally the plane revs its motor and backs up. I hear Janey let her breath out. We rumble along the runway and swoosh! There we are, up in the sky.
New York City looks very tiny as we leave it behind.
The flight attendant brings me a 7UP. Janey has orange juice. In between sips, she takes a notebook from her leather handbag, writes in it, and passes it to me. Her note says:
We are going to San Francisco. I’ve rented a house for us. It has a backyard. Your mother said you can get a cat or a dog, if you want. Do you have any questions?
I chew on the end of Janey’s pen for a minute. I have so many questions, I don’t know which ones to ask first.
Do I have to have a fake name in San Francisco? Will I go to a new school? What is Mom going to do with my letter to Daddy?
Janey writes back:
1) Yes. Your mother and I chose the names “Kathy, Megan, and Julie Dreisden” to use in setting up our plan, but you can pick a different first name for yourself if you want. 2) Not right away. 3) Claire will mail your letter from Manhattan. She is going to pretend she knows nothing about your running away and will act frantic and angry when your father tells her. Then she’ll quit her job to go “looking” for you, and eventually come to live with us!
That’s a good plan.
Janey takes the notebook and draws a smiley face as the flight attendant comes by with the breakfast wagon.
The scrambled eggs look more like egg soup. Janey doesn’t touch hers, but I try mine with a spoon while I think about what name I want to have in San Francisco. I think I want a pretty name like Heather or Nicole. Or maybe an unusual one. There’s this girl, Phoenix, in my class. I’ve always thought that was the greatest name.
I can’t believe this is finally happening. Four months ago, it was only an idea. Mom drove out to see me at the end of June. Daddy had just enrolled me at this art camp in Connecticut, after promising me he’d think about letting me spend the whole summer with Mom at her apartment in Rockville Centre. Any other time I would have loved to go to art camp, but not this summer! Mom and I had already made lots of fun plans. When I told her our summer was off, she got really upset. I did too. Ever since Daddy bought a new house and we moved to Greenport, which is at the very tip of Long Island, my mother and I hardly got to see each other anymore.
That day in June, Mom parked her car at the docks, and we talked about how lousy it was being apart all the time. As we watched the Shelter Island ferries rumble in and out of the wooden docks, Mom told me that maybe she and I and Janey could all go away somewhere and live together if I wanted to.
Janey is Mom’s girlfriend. They’re lesbians. That’s why a judge said I had to live with Daddy after he and Mom got divorced. I wanted to live with my mother, but Daddy and the judge said it would be better for me not to grow up around Mom’s life-style. I’m still not exactly sure what they meant, but it has to do with Mom being with Janey.
Daddy can’t stand Janey, but I think she’s nice. A lot nicer than his girlfriend, Rosa.
I didn’t even have to think about Mom’s idea. Some kids don’t care which parent they live with after a divorce, but I do. My mom and I really get along. And my father is hardly ever home. So it makes sense that I should live with my mother.
Mom wrote me every week while I was away at camp, but none of her letters said anything about our idea because it was a secret. I didn’t know if it was really going to happen or not until just a few weeks ago when my teachers had a Conference Day. I didn’t tell Daddy about school being closed so I could take the Long Island Rail Road to Rockville Centre and surprise Mom. I walked into the bank where she works and went right up to her desk before she noticed me.
Mom was so happy to see me, she took the rest of the day off. We got sandwiches at a deli and spent the after noon at a park. She asked me all about art camp and we talked about how great it would be to live together again.
She said she was making plans, but didn’t want to tell me too much because then I’d have to lie to my father. The next time I saw her, she told me what day to be packed and ready. And now here I am, on my way to California.
What will Daddy do when I don’t come home tonight?
He’ll probably tell Rosa to call Tina’s house, but Tina won’t know where I am. I hope he doesn’t think I’ve been kidnapped or anything. When he gets my letter on Monday, he’ll know I just ran away. I bet he’ll be mad, but he won’t be able to figure out where I am because no one knows about the plan except Mom, Janey, and me.
The plane begins to descend over Dallas Airport. I chew two sticks of gum to keep my ears from hurting.
After the plane lands, Janey and I file off with everybody else and go to the metal baggage carousel.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I tell her. My stomach feels kind of queasy. Janey was right not to eat those eggs.
As I wash my hands, I catch a glimpse of myself in the long mirror over the row of bathroom sinks. For a second I don’t recognize the skinny girl with black hair and long eyelashes.
“Hi, Nicole,” I say to my reflection. “Hi, Phoenix.” I look different, older…but I don’t look like a Nicole or a Phoenix.
The wig feels tight and my face is sticky. I want to wash off the makeup, but I don’t.
Janey and I take a shuttle bus from the American Airlines terminal to the Northwest Airlines terminal. She has two tickets for us, under another set of names, from Dallas to San Francisco. Our flight doesn’t leave for three hours. We find two seats together in the rows of plastic chairs.
“Where are you going?” Janey asks, as I start toward the magazine shop. “Are you hungry?”
“Sit down then.”
“I want to look around.”
“Not now,” Janey says in a stern voice. “I don’t want to have to worry about where you are.”
The Northwest Airlines plane is not much different from the American one. I don’t even bother to look out of the window as we take off. When the seat-belt sign blinks off, I lean my seat back as far as it will go and try to sleep. It isn’t easy; my back hurts from sitting in those dumb plastic chairs for three hours.
Later Janey gently shakes me awake. The captain announces that we are approaching San Francisco International Airport.
“Almost there,” Janey says.
I rub my eyes. They sting. I look at my watch. It’s 4:08 P.M. in New York.
“You missed the Grand Canyon.” Janey leans past me to look out the window. “I can’t imagine heading west in a covered wagon across all those miles and miles of nothing.” She settles back in her seat. “Well, we’re pioneers in our own way.”
I turn my head and look out of the window. We’re really in California?
The plane lands. We go to find our luggage again. There are lots of people. They all seem to know where they are going. I stick close to Janey. I don’t know about this.
What if my mother never comes here?
Back to Table of Contents
THE SUNSHINE HOUSE
We take a taxi-van from the airport to our new house, whizzing along a freeway, and then veering through a series of curved streets.
“Is this your first time in San Francisco?” the driver asks, glancing over his shoulder at us.
“No,” Janey says, clutching her handbag on her lap.
“Sort of…” I can tell she wishes he would stop being friendly.
The van creeps up a steep, winding hill and stops in front of a crooked yellow house. “Here we are!” the driver says, hopping out to get our luggage.
As soon as I get out of the van and look up at our new home, I name it the Sunshine House. That’s what it looks like, sunshine yellow with bushes of bright pink flowers by the front steps. I start feeling like this is an adventure again.
Janey takes a key out of her handbag and unlocks the front door. We carry our suitcases into the house, which smells still and musty, like no one’s lived here for a very long time. She opens the first door on the left and flicks on the light.
“This is the bedroom Claire and I will share,” she says.
It is a large room with one piece of furniture in it, a gigantic, hand-carved bed. “But you and I will sleep in here for now.” She hangs her trench coat in the empty closet and kicks off her shoes.
I explore the house. My sneakers slap against the hardwood floor as I walk down the dusty hallway into the kitchen. The kitchen’s overhead light is dim, filling the room with shadows, but I still notice large spiderwebs over the stove.
Glass doors lead from the kitchen into the empty living room, where I peek through a smudged window into a sunny, wild grass yard out back. Upstairs, I find two smaller rooms and a tiny second bathroom with slanted ceilings, sort of like an attic. This house is smaller than Daddy’s house, but much bigger than Mom’s apartment.
I go back down the crooked staircase and find Janey pulling sweats and a towel out of her suitcase.
“Fourteen hours on the road. I am so beat.” She heads across the hall.
I unzip my suitcase and dig around for my nightgown and my stuffed monkey, No Name, the one my mother gave me when I was five and the divorce started happening. This monkey has slept with me in each place I’ve moved to since then.
“The bathroom is all yours,” Janey says, coming back into the room. “Do you need help getting your wig off?”
“No, I can do it,” I say, setting No Name on the bed.
Janey drapes her clothes at the end of the bed and tucks her money belt under the mattress. Then she unpacks an orange and red afghan from her suitcase. “My favorite granny left this to me,” she says, unfolding it carefully.
She bunches up a clean shirt for a pillow and lies down, spreading the afghan over herself with a contented sigh.
I head for the bathroom. It hurts to take the wig off, just like I thought it would, because the pink tape sticks to my pinned-up hair. I work at it very slowly. Then I scrub the makeup off my face and reach for Janey’s damp towel.
“Hi, Tanya…hi, Heather…” I whisper to my reflection in the bathroom mirror, removing the bobby pins. My reflection makes a face at me. I don’t look like a Tanya or a Heather.
I click off the lights and climb under the afghan next to Janey. She is breathing heavily. Sunlight filters through the bedroom window. It’s 5:39 in the afternoon on Long Island but only 2:39 here in San Francisco. I wonder if Daddy has figured out I’m gone yet. And if he has, has he called Mom to tell her? No, he’d want to wait and be sure.
Mom is probably eating dinner now unless she is too nervous to eat, thinking about me and Janey moving into the new house all by ourselves.
I hug No Name tight and move closer to Janey. It’ll be all right. Pretty soon Mom will be here and we’ll all be together, just like we planned.
Sunday morning, around seven o’clock San Francisco time, I find Janey doing stretching exercises beside the bed. I’ve already been up for hours, showering and looking around the empty house again, trying to picture me and Mom living here.
“Morning.” Janey yawns. “How’d you sleep?”
“Fine,” I say, sitting down on the bed.
“We’ll have to paint this place before your mother gets here,” Janey tells me, twisting from side to side. “I know it’s not what you’re used to, but once we fix it up, it’ll be nice.”
“I like it. It looks like a gingerbread house. Can I have both rooms upstairs?”
“Can I pick out my own furniture?”
“Of course. Who else would pick it out?”
This is going to be great. The whole top floor will be mine. It’ll almost be like having my own apartment! I’m going to make one room my bedroom and the other one like a fun, hang-out room. And I’m going to put my whole poster collection up, which Daddy never let me do because he thought it would ruin the walls.
“But that comes later,” Janey says. “Why don’t you start a shopping list for us while I wash up?” She hands me her notebook and pen.
I go outside and sit down on the front steps. It’s warm. I don’t even need a jacket.
A group of kids are skateboarding on the street. I watch them zoom down the hill. Some of them are very good. They jump their skateboards from the street, over the curb, onto the sidewalk. Gary Halstead, this boy in my class, could do that.
I flip open Janey’s notebook. It is full of crossed-out lists. One says:
give away fish
tickets to SF
house, no references
I find a blank page and write toilet paper, food, blankets, pillows, practicing calligraphy letters. Toothpaste, soap, better light bulbs, soda. The letters would look much better if I was using a fat-tipped pen. Mom taught me how to do calligraphy. Every time she takes up a new craft, she teaches it to me when I visit her because she knows I love art too.
I chew on Janey’s ballpoint pen and stare at my feet, thinking about what else we might need for the new house. I can hear the shower running inside because I left the front door open. There is a gray metal gate in front of the door that you can lock with the house key. Almost all of the other houses on the block have a gate too, but in different colors, and some are much fancier than ours.
I think it’s a pretty cool idea. People can let fresh air into their houses without worrying about robbers. I wonder why no one has thought of this on Long Island.
Janey and I stroll down the hill. There is a Safeway supermarket a few blocks away. We pile food, cleaning supplies, and stuff for the bathroom into the cart. In the health and beauty aids aisle, Janey stops to look at the hair dye.
“We should color your hair so you’ll look different,” she says in a low voice. “What do you think?”
“Blonde,” I say immediately.
“I don’t know.” She looks doubtful. “That’s kind of drastic. I was just thinking of a different shade.” She runs her hand through her own short brown hair.
“Please, please,” I say. She doesn’t say no, so I point out some colors I like. “How about this one…or this?”
“This will ruin your hair,” she says, reading the back of one box.
“Okay, how about this?” I hand her a hair-frosting kit. “It just adds highlights, but we could add a lot of them.”
“Well, at least we wouldn’t have to strip your whole head with peroxide.”
“That means yes, right?”
“Are you sure you want to do this? It might not come out the way you think it will.”
“It’ll be great,” I say. “Okay?” I want to grab the kit and run to the cash register before Janey decides that dyeing my hair is not such a good idea after all.
“All right,” she says, tossing the box into the cart.
I can’t wait to highlight my hair, but we don’t do it right away. When we get back to the Sunshine House Janey makes us sliced turkey sandwiches. We eat off of paper plates, sitting on the kitchen floor. I have mine with Swiss cheese and extra mayonnaise. Janey piles her sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, carrot sticks, and slices of green bell pepper. Ugh.
Then we start cleaning. I get to sweep the floors and mop. It’s not hard, since there’s no furniture to bump into.
I sing my favorite songs softly, because all the windows are open and I don’t want the skateboarders outside to hear. I empty buckets and buckets of dirty water into the toilet.
So does Janey. She’s washing the walls, scrubbing as far up as she can reach with a sponge and then with the mop. She leaves the spiderwebs over the stove untouched.
“The spiders were here first,” she tells me. “Besides, they eat flies.”
After we finish cleaning the downstairs, we take a break. Janey fixes herself a glass of iced tea and I open a can of Coke. We take our drinks and sit outside on the front stoop.
“We should talk about things,” Janey says. “I want you to know what’s going on.” She looks at me. “The reason we’re going to dye your hair is so you won’t look like the description your father will give the police.”
“You think he’ll call them even after he gets my letter?” I ask.
“Yes. He’ll want you back even if it was your choice to run away. And technically, Amelia, what we’re doing can be considered kidnapping because you didn’t just run away. Claire and I set the whole thing up.”
“So, you could go to jail?”
“If we get caught. We’ll have to be extra careful about everything. Have you thought of a new name for yourself yet?”
“Well, try to come up with one soon, okay? And call me Megan or Aunt Megan.”
“What about money?” I ask.
“I’ve got the money from a trust fund my grandmother set up for me, and your mother has some savings. We’ll be all right for a while.”
I have that scared feeling in my stomach again.
What if my mother and Janey have to go to jail?
Daddy wouldn’t do that, would he? Even if he found us, he wouldn’t have Mom put in jail! But maybe the police would make him. They couldn’t just let kidnappers go, could they?
I look up and down the street for anyone suspicious.
Stop it, I tell myself. We’re in California. No one is going to look for us here.
“Are you ready for a second round?” Janey asks, polishing off her iced tea.
As we clean the upstairs, I keep picturing how great the rooms will look with my posters up and that helps me not think about how tired of mopping I am.
“Now it even smells like a Sunshine House,” I say, rubbing an itch on my nose with a soapy arm.
Janey smiles. “Your mother is going to get a kick out of that name.”
“Don’t you like it?”
“I’m not very big on cute nicknames. Like Pumpkin. I never understood why Claire calls you that.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Not a thing. It just doesn’t make any sense. Why Pumpkin? Why not Brussels Sprout?”
“Brussels Sprout?” I shriek.
“Why not? One vegetable is as cute as another.”
“Brussels Sprout!” I fall over, laughing.
By eight o’clock that night, California time, all the floors and walls are spotless and we are both too tired to highlight my hair.
“First thing tomorrow morning, okay?” Janey promises.
“Okay,” I say, falling into bed.
“At least take your dirty clothes off.” She hands me my nightgown.
I sit up and change, dropping my dusty jeans and T-shirt onto the floor. Janey rustles through her suitcase and takes out a leather pouch.
“What are you doing?” I ask sleepily.
“Setting out my crystals,” she says. She walks over to the window and places all these different-colored rocks on the clean windowsill.
“What are they for?” I ask, pulling the afghan up to my chin.
“Good luck and protection,” she says. She goes to the bathroom and I am asleep before she comes back.
Monday morning I wake up hearing scratchy sounds coming from the kitchen. I get up and find Janey cleaning the oven.
“Can we do my hair now?” I ask.
“As soon as I’m done here,” Janey says. “Why don’t you get the Windex and do the windows.”
“Do I have to? We cleaned all day yesterday.”
“There’s plenty more to do.”
“We could hire somebody,” I grumble, going over to the cabinet under the sink to get the Windex. Daddy never makes me clean, not even my own room. Someone from the cleaning service comes over twice a week and cleans everything.
“What?” Janey asks.
“Nothing,” I say, going into the living room and spritzing the window glass.
Hair frosting turns out to be a very easy process, when we finally get around to doing it. First we mix the cream, and then I paint strands of my hair with this little hard brush. After fifteen minutes, Janey helps me wash out the cream with a special shampoo. Simple.
I stay in the bathroom, brushing my hair until it dries so I can see what it looks like, while Janey goes back to the kitchen to clean the refrigerator. My hair comes out perfect, sort of light brown with blond streaks. It looks very natural.
“Nice,” Janey says when I go into the kitchen to show her. She stands up and stretches. “Oww, my back. I think I’m about done for today. You want to go for a walk?”
The neighborhood streets are empty. Everyone must be in school or at work. It feels like vacation. We discover a playground, a pizza place, and a library.
“Can I get a library card?” I ask. “This isn’t very far.
“I could come here by myself and take out books.”
“I guess…” Janey stops by the front steps to think it over. “Your mother and I were thinking about getting fake birth certificates for all of us later on, but if we got you a card now it would have to be in the name of Dreisden. Our lease is the only ID we have to show. Have you thought of a first name yet?”
I’ve been thinking of names since Saturday, but the problem is nothing sounds like me when I say it out loud.
The name that Janey was calling me at Kennedy Airport pops into my mind.
“I guess Julie is okay,” I say.
The library smells old and disinfected. We fill out an application form at the front desk. I get to sign it. I write: Julie Dreisden on the line. Janey shows our lease for the Sunshine House and the librarian smiles at me.
“I bet you’re a voracious reader,” he says, typing information into his computer. I smile back. “It takes a week to process new cards, but you can take out two books in the meantime.”
“Whew,” Janey whispers as we walk toward the back where the Children/Young Adult section is. “I’m glad that went smoothly.”
I look up at her, surprised. What could go wrong just getting me a library card? How could anyone prove I’m not Julie Dreisden?
After the library, we take an odd-looking bus downtown. Buses here run on electricity, so they have long cables hooking them up to wires that run right over the middle of the street. Colorful houses flash by outside as the bus winds through unfamiliar streets. We get off at Market Street. Lots of people are rushing around. I don’t take my eyes off Janey. What would I do if I got lost? I don’t even know the address of our house.
We go into a card shop that has a row of mailboxes along one wall.
“This is ours,” Janey says. “Number 979. This is where your mom will write to us.” She opens up the little metal box with a key.
I bite my lip. For some reason, I feel like crying.
Our next stop is a paint supply store. We buy paint, brushes, rollers, pans, and a collapsible ladder. I pick out this pretty shade of turquoise blue for my rooms. Janey decides we will paint the kitchen and bathrooms yellow, and everything else off-white.
That evening, Janey ties a folded red bandanna around her hair and puts on her painting overalls. She says we can paint my rooms first, since I don’t sleep upstairs yet.
I start feeling better. It’s stupid to be scared, I tell myself. Everything is going to be fine. I have two whole rooms of my own and I’m going to fix them up just the way I want.
We lay newspaper all over the top floor. Janey climbs up on the ladder to paint the ceiling while I do the walls. I swish the roller up and down, up and down, covering the cracked white boards with brilliant blue.
I thought painting would be fun, but one hour later I’ve had enough.
“Can we stop soon? I’m tired,” I say, rubbing my sore arms.
“Who wanted to paint both of her rooms by herself?” Janey says, laughing.
I didn’t know it was going to be so much work. I can’t believe she wants to paint the whole house!
But the worst thing is the turquoise blue doesn’t look the way I thought it would once it’s on the walls. It makes the room seem dark. I don’t say anything to Janey, though, even when she asks me what I think of it. I don’t want to hear her say, I told you so.
“Maybe we should save the rest of the blue for the doorjambs and paint your other room off-white,” Janey suggests, carrying the ladder over.
“Where are you going?” she calls as I head downstairs.
“To take a bath.” I know we’re not finished painting yet, but I don’t care. My arms are killing me.
I run water in the bathtub. The tub is huge. When I get in, I discover I can lie down and be totally underwater. At my house — I mean, at my old house — my knees always stuck a little way out no matter how I scrunched up my legs.
The water is just hot enough to sink into and relax, but as I gaze at the chipped green bathroom tiles, my mind is racing. Having a fake name and hiding from the police feels like being in a movie. In a way it’s exciting, but it’s weird too. Part of me just wants to go back. I don’t know anyone here except Janey, and I don’t even know her that well.
I turn over onto my stomach, hold my breath, and lower my head. Under water everything looks hazy. I blow a few bubbles, pretending I am a big, lazy fish hiding in a rock crevice, just waiting for my dinner to swim by.
Back to Table of Contents
TURTLES DON’T NEED ANYBODY
Tuesday I lie in bed all morning reading one of my library books. It’s about a boy who learns an invisibility spell. He just says the spell and disappears. And when he’s invisible, he can wish himself anywhere he wants to be. How cool.
I read the invisibility spell out loud and squeeze my eyes shut, wishing myself into English class. I concentrate on how the classroom looks and the feel of my wobbly desk, which is right behind Tina’s. I can picture her long dark hair and denim jacket. But when I open my eyes, I am still lying in the big wooden bed in San Francisco.
Just for fun, I give it another try, reading slowly, and wishing myself into my father’s house. The spell might work better with someplace more familiar.
I peek open one eye. Nothing.
It would be so great to know what’s going on back in Greenport. Daddy must have gotten my letter by now. I picture him putting on his glasses to read it. I hope he understands. It’s not that I don’t love him anymore, I just didn’t like living with him and hardly seeing my mother.
I know he’ll miss me, but maybe not too much. He is very busy.
My father only comes home from his Manhattan apartment on the weekends, so most of the time I’ve lived with Rosa, and we do not get along. When she first moved in with us, she kept buying me frilly clothes I never wore and she wanted me to call her “Mommy,” which I never did.
I’ve told my father that Rosa is wrong for him. She’s twenty-five and he’s forty, for one thing, and all she does all day is shop and talk on the phone! He chuckles when I complain about her. But I’m dead serious.
“I’d like you to start painting the upstairs bathroom,” Janey says, coming into the bedroom doorway. She has fresh yellow smudges on her face.
“I don’t want my bathroom painted,” I say. “I like it the way it is.”
“Stop being lazy,” she says, frowning.
“Why do I have to paint it? It’s my bathroom.”
“I put the tray and a brush upstairs for you,” she says, ignoring my question. I glare at her back as she leaves. I don’t have to do what she says! She’s not my mother. And she said the upstairs was mine anyway. I’d rather look at cracks in the bathroom wall than have to paint anymore.
I prop my library book back up on my chest and try to continue reading, but I can’t concentrate so I stomp upstairs to paint the stupid bathroom.
Janey calls me for lunch at two o’clock. I haven’t even finished one wall. I drop the brush into the paint tray and go downstairs. She puts a tuna fish sandwich in front of me. I lift up a corner of the bread. There are bean sprouts on the tuna fish. Ugh.
“I can’t eat this.” I push my plate away. “Can we go out?”
“There’s nothing wrong with your sandwich,” Janey says, taking a bite of hers. Some sprouts fall out of it onto the paper plate. Just watching her makes me feel sick.
“I don’t eat these.” I point to the sprouts. “You could at least make something I can eat.”
“A couple of bean sprouts aren’t going to kill you. In fact, they’re very healthy.”
I could just scrape the sprouts off the tuna fish, but I don’t feel like it. “I can’t eat them,” I say.
“So, fix yourself something else,” she says, sounding irritated.
I make myself a bowl of cereal and carry it outside. I can’t wait until my mother gets here and finds out her girlfriend’s been starving me. Janey’s going to be in big trouble. And I’m not painting the rest of my bathroom either. I don’t care what she says!
I look at my watch. It’s almost three. I leave the cereal bowl on the front steps and walk over to the library.
The library has people in it: high school kids studying, old men reading newspapers, kids doing homework. I feel better just seeing them. I go to the kids’ section and look through the revolving rack of paperbacks, but I’m not in the mood to read. What I feel like doing is talking to Tina. I wish I could have said good-bye to her.
She is probably mad that I didn’t run away to her house. We’ve been best friends since fourth grade. When she ran away last year, she came to my house. I hid her in my room and sneaked her fried chicken under my shirt.
Of course, her mother called my house and Rosa made Tina go home.
She didn’t even get to spend the night.
I walk over to a boy who is doing his math at an uncrowded table, borrow a pen and some loose-leaf paper, and sit down.
You’ll never guess where I am. San Francisco! There are trees here, just like in Greenport. Also beaches, but I haven’t seen them yet.
How’s school? Did you finish our Social Studies project without me? I hope you didn’t forget to put the clay on our map for mountains.
1 don’t know anybody here yet, except Janey, who is my mother’s girlfriend. I never told you about her.
As soon as I write that, I know for sure I won’t send Tina the letter. I keep on writing anyway.
The reason I lived with my father instead of my mother isn’t because he’s richer, like I told you. I lived with him because a judge said I had to. Daddy didn’t want me to tell anyone about my mother being a lesbian because he says it’s private family business. He thinks my mother is weird, but I think he’s still mad about the divorce.
Are you hanging out with Diane now? I hope you don’t forget about me! Has anyone beat Gary Halstead in a race?
“Hi,” someone says.
I jump and cover the page with my arm.
A girl is standing right next to my chair. She has lots of black braids with beads on the ends that click together when she moves her head. She looks taller than me.
“Hi,” I say uncertainly.
“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to read your papers.” She laughs, moving away. “I’m here to pick up my brother Brandon.” She points to the boy who lent me paper and a pen. “Are you new? We’re here almost every day after school, and I’ve never seen you.”
“Yes,” I say. I want to turn my letter over so she can’t see what I wrote about my mother. She pulls up a chair.
“I’m Elizabeth. Who are you?”
“Julie.” I’ve been practicing saying this to myself, but it still sounds strange.
“We’re pretty new too,” Elizabeth says. “We just moved here this summer, from Texas. How old are you?”
I like the way she talks, jumbling everything together. It makes me smile, but she asks a lot of questions. I have to be careful.
“Twelve,” I lie, folding up my letter.
“I’m twelve!” She looks pleased.
I stand up. “I’ve got to go home now.”
“Okay.” She smiles. “Maybe we’ll see you tomorrow.”
I nod, and say, “Maybe.”
Back at the Sunshine House, I find my cereal bowl still on the front steps. I guess Janey didn’t notice that I went for a walk. I go inside and find her sitting on the bed, looking through a photo album.
“Hi,” I say, trying to be friendly.
Janey looks up.
I can’t tell if she’s mad about the bean sprouts or not.
“Hi,” she says.
I sit down next to her. The photo album is full of pictures of her and Mom doing things together. There are some of me, too, when I was little.
“How old was I here?” I ask, touching a picture of me playing with blocks. I have this big grin on my face.
“About three,” Janey says.
“Did I always smile like that? I look like a rabbit.”
Janey laughs. “You were a very smiley baby.”
“I have some pictures,” I say. “Want to see them?”
I hop off the bed and rummage through my suitcase.
Mom told me to take all the clear, recent pictures of me from Daddy’s photo albums so he wouldn’t have any to quickly reproduce on flyers. I also took some pictures of Mom and Daddy’s wedding and some pictures of them when they were young.
“Your mother was a little charmer.” Janey grins, looking through the pile. She flips past the pictures of Mom with Daddy. “How are you feeling about everything?” she asks, glancing over at me.
“I wish Mom were here.”
“That makes two of us,” Janey says. “I wish we could call her and find out how things are going on her end.”
Janey shakes her head. “It wouldn’t be safe. She’s not supposed to have anything to do with your running away, remember? She’ll write to our post office box, though.”
“Soon, I hope. I know starting over must be scary for you.” She looks at me in this serious way. “I hope you realize it isn’t easy for me either.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so I change the subject. “I went to the library and guess what?”
“You went where?”
“To the library, and I met this girl! She’s twelve and I lied and said I was twelve too.”
Janey looks alarmed. “You left the front stoop without telling me?”
“I just went to the library. And I told the girl my name was Julie.”
“What else did you tell her?”
“Nothing.” Why did I bring this up?
“This isn’t a game, Amelia. If someone finds out—”
“I said hello and good-bye, okay?” Janey must think I’m really stupid…that I’d tell the first person I meet: Hi, I’m Amelia Monet. My mother kidnapped me. “I’m going upstairs,” I say, taking my pictures back.
I go to my blue room and sit on the floor by the side window, staring out past rooftops at the tall buildings downtown. I see a bridge in the distance. I don’t know its name. Why did I come here? The plan was for me and Mom and Mom’s girlfriend to run away together and be this great family who lived happily ever after. Things sure aren’t working out like that.
Eventually I go downstairs to take a shower. I undress, turn off the bathroom light, and step under the gushing stream of warm water. Shutting my eyes tight, I pretend I am a gigantic, hundred-year-old turtle relaxing under a waterfall.
I crouch down, letting the water stream onto my back. My soggy hair hangs down over my face. When I open my eyes and slowly turn my head, all I see is water dripping through seaweed into darkness.
A turtle doesn’t have to be afraid of anything. It just pulls itself into its shell and nothing can bother it.
When I come out of the shower, Janey is asleep in the bedroom, with the light on. I shut the light off and settle into the bed, pulling part of the afghan over me. I stay far away from Janey. Turtles don’t need anybody.
Wednesday morning I watch through narrow eyes as Janey gets ready to go jogging.
“I want a bed in my room,” I say, sitting up. Maybe once I start hanging out upstairs, this house will seem more like my home.
“Let’s not start already.” Janey sighs, wriggling her feet into sneakers.
“All I want is my own room,” I yell, before I can stop myself. “That’s not much!”
“What do you think—I have servants on call? It’s just us, and I can’t do everything at once! You have to paint a place before you fill it with new furniture.”
“My rooms are painted,” I grumble, knowing I should keep my mouth shut on that subject.
Janey glares at me. “I left my home and my business, and moved across country so that you could be with your mother. Does that mean anything to you?”
She slams out the front door.
I feel really bad.
Everything she said is true. I know I should be trying harder to make things work out, but I can’t. I miss my mother and my father and my old friends. I want my own room and don’t want to have to clean or paint anymore!
“I’m sorry for yelling at you before,” Janey says when she returns. “I know none of this is your fault. We’ll get you a bed today, all right?”
We take a bus to this home furnishings place and buy me a futon. A futon is a thin mattress that folds up. We stuff it into the trunk of a taxicab and take it home along with electric blankets, comforters, sheets, and pillows.
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Ever since Amelia's parents got divorced she has wished she could live with her mother and her mother's girlfriend, Janey. Finally, after years of living apart, Amelia and her mom decide there is only one thing to do. On a cold October night, Amelia's mother comes to steal her away from her father who has custody. For Amelia, living in secret means changing her name, not going to school, and pretending she is twelve instead of eleven. The adventure of beginning a whole new life, with brand new family and friends, is marred only by the shadow of a past that could shatter the present in an instant, should anyone find out who Amelia really is. "courageous, thought-provoking" Publishers Weekly "a viable mirror for children in rainbow families and as a window for other children and their families" Rainbow Family Collections "crafted with insight and skill" Kirkus Reviews "Once I started, I couldn't stop" and "read it 3 times...loved it every time!" online reviewers