*This material is the sole intellectual property of Marcia Young. Any use of it in part or in whole without prior written permission is illegal*
Vella sighed in relief when she entered her sparse apartment. Her head was pounding and she was beyond exhausted. She hadn’t simply gone through her physical but had a session with the therapist as well. She was sure they wanted her exhausted for the meeting so that she’d give more honest answers than she would fresh and alert. It was harder to lie or skirt the truth if you were exhausted.
Both exams had been grueling. She’d done a physical before but nothing like this. They took so much blood she wasn’t sure she had any left. Bruises were already on her arm from the needles; at least she didn’t have a matching hand print.
There was only so long she could go before having to confess to having two types of scleroderma. She was unsurprised that the doctor didn’t know what scleroderma was; however, she was surprised when she wasn’t dismissed out of hand when she showed him the extent of the damage. Even though autoimmune diseases could show up in different generations it was rare to pass the exact disease on: if a mother had Lupus the child could end up with Raynaud’s. They figured since most AIID’s weren’t life-threatening it wasn’t a concern if she was approved. They would be able to see how a hybrid would cope with the possibility of an AIID.
She was sure it was the stress test that nearly did her in. She didn’t run and being forced to was nearly too much for her out of shape body. By the time she was taken to the therapist she was sweaty and exhausted. Not to mention humiliated from a surprise pelvic exam. They weren’t leaving anything to chance. She supposed she couldn’t blame them since so much money was on the line.
Vella collapsed into bed after religiously checking the locks on the door and windows. She was too tired to even think about eating. She was, however, grateful that after her exams someone from New Horizons offered to drive her home. She would have been there even longer trying to convince a taxi to take her into town.
Succumbing to the blackness of sleep she wasn’t sure if she was praying to be accepted into the program or rejected.
Two weeks. Two weeks and she had not received a word from New Horizons. Staring out the window of her dingy apartment, at nothing in particular, Vella reassessed her situation for the umpteenth time. It seemed all she could think about anymore. The hospital had found her and resumed insistence that she pay them. No carefully worded letter from her explaining their error would make things right at this point. She was tempted to just ignore them. On the upside she didn’t have a phone they could call her on to harass her. The bills they sent were easily deposited in the trash once she realized what they were. She held out a sliver of hope that they’d say ‘paid in full’ one day after they realized their error. She desperately needed a lawyer to help her smooth things over. Not that she could afford one.
Getting out of bed was a fight on its own anymore. She just didn’t have the energy. Besides what was the point? She didn’t have the money to start the small web design business she wanted to. She hadn’t been able to find a job either.
Vella halfheartedly debated with herself if she wanted to get out of bed and eat. Honestly it seemed like it’d be a waste of energy. She wasn’t even sure if she had food anymore, or if she did if it was edible. Sighing she closed her eyes against the afternoon sun and decided to just go back to sleep, maybe she’d eat when she woke up.
Eventually the pressure of her bladder convinced her to get out of bed. Not that she bothered to get dressed. She wasn’t leaving her apartment and she had no one to impress. Vella stared at herself in the mirror contemplating her ashen skin and tangled hair. She had no idea how long she’d spent in bed, but from the state of her it was probably more than two days. Glancing at her tiny tub cum shower she wondered if she had the energy to bother with bathing. She probably should, maybe, then again she was tired.
Sleeping seemed a lot better.
Firming her resolve she forced herself to take a quick shower before heading back to bed.
The sound of something pounding woke her up. Snuggling deeper into her thin comforter Vella tried to ignore it. It was probably someone knocking on a neighbor’s door, sound carried easily in her building. It took her a few moments to realize that it was in fact her door being knocked on.
Oh, no, Vella thought. Stumbling out of her bed, her blankets piling around her feet on the floor nearly tripping her she thought frantically. She’d paid rent; her utilities were up to date. No one knew where she lived, did they? Pausing only to tug on a hat and gloves she stumbled sleepily to her door.
Leaving the chain snug in its track she flicked the lock and inched the door open. Two humans stood outside in the worn hall. The young man was looking at the door with such concentration that it looked as if he was attempting to will it open. The middle aged woman was darting looks around the hall with disdain, as if she expected to be attacked at any moment. Annoyance flashed through Vella. Her neighborhood was rough and poor but it wasn’t so depraved that someone would be attacked in the middle of an apartment building. She didn’t like being judged, she was all too used to it when someone caught sight of her scarred face or leathery hands.
“Yes,” she asked softly, her nerves making her stomach sour. As her stomach churned and she fought the urge to vomit, she vaguely realized that she couldn’t remember the last time she ate. “Can I help you?”
“Ms. Treanor?” asked the man. Vella wondered if his flirtatious smile was meant to reassure her. Whatever he had intended it made Vella nervous and caution clouded her face.
“I’m Jamie Roberts and this is Amanda Brown, we’re here from New Horizons,” he handed her their business cards. “You’ve been approved for the program and we’ve been sent to assist you in moving,” his teeth gleamed as he smiled widely at her.
The fog that had clouded her mind for weeks slowly dissipated a little leaving her to think a bit clearer. “Move? Wouldn’t they have given me more warning? Or sent a letter or something?”
“Normally you are correct we would have done so,” the woman replied, her voice tight. “The director of the program, however, felt that in your case it was best to come in person. He was concerned about the riots here in Savannah and the difficulty of getting in contact with you. The movers will be here in about an hour.”
“Movers?” Vella felt horrifyingly slow, everything they were saying was jumbled and thick in her ears. “What about notice and my lease and, and,” Vella trailed off as panic started to burn away the cloudy thoughts that had been plaguing her for weeks.
“We’ll pay any breach of contract that might incur,” The woman replied cutting her off.
“Um, okay, alright, I’ll just pack and,” feeling adrift she struggled to grasp a coherent thought. “Would you like to come in and wait? You’ll be staying right?”
Ms. Brown looked relieved to be invited inside the small apartment instead of loitering in the hallway. She slipped passed Vella as soon as the invite was given to stand uncomfortably relieved in the sparse living room. Mr. Roberts smiled apologetically before following his coworker.
Vella wasn’t sure what her response should be as her emotions bubbled just under the surface of the ever present fog. She was fairly certain she should be angry, or at least insulted, by their reaction to her home, but she couldn’t seem to find the energy. She’d been tired for week; so tired it was hard to muster the energy for much of anything much less anger. The emotions that had begun to bubble and threatened to break her apathy withered away before she truly felt them. Closing the door she tried to gather her thoughts. Mumbling out something about being right back she went to her room to get dressed.
Stumbling into her room she didn’t bother with finding an outfit more than she just grabbed something clean and put it on. She spent several long minutes debating the merits of just leaving her hat on verses brushing her hair then putting it on. Eventually she managed to fumble with a hairbrush long enough to brush it. Her fingers ached from the strain and her joints were so stiff from the disuse of several days that they were barely able to grip the brush. After several long minutes that it took to finish she fetched out a suitcase from under her bed frame before piling in clothing and her laptop haphazardly.
Still tired but feeling more human Vella made her way back into her living room where Ms. Brown was whispering to Mr. Roberts an urgent look on her face. The woman kept glancing out of the window as if she was expecting an attack.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Vella, worry peeking through her tiredness.
Mr. Roberts snapped his head away from his coworker smiling brightly. “There is nothing to worry about,” He replied firmly cheerful while cutting a glance at his companion. “Now, Ms. Treanor, there is some paperwork that needs to be signed before we head out.”
Ignoring the feeling that they weren’t telling her something Vella nodded her head. The three of them began to peruse a stack of papers comprising her contract. A niggling feeling of doubt assailed her as she wondered if she was doing the right thing. She was just too tired, however, to worry overly much. She needed the money and she even got a child in exchange for letting New Horizons run a series of tests on her and the baby, if there was one. The contract was fairly detailed explaining what rights each party had. New Horizons had a final say in what medical treatments were performed but could not deny any treatments that were for the betterment of the patient’s health. Vella was required to attend therapy sessions with their in-house psychiatrist once a week due to her frequent bouts of depression.
The only part that had irked Vella was the fact that she had to live on the premises, but even she didn’t want to continue to live in a poorer section of town during riots. Squashing her independent streak she agreed. The riots had avoided her section of town so far but it was only a matter of time if they continued to escalate. She feared that no area of town would be spared if things continued to grow worse.
Mrs. Brown continued to dart nervous glances out the window as they finished up the paperwork. Not an hour into the proceedings the packers showed up. From there everything seemed to move in a fog around her. Her scant belongings were packed and moved into a van before she had time to breathe.
Sitting in the back of Mr. Roberts’ sedan Vella chewed her lip as she watched Savannah fade away street by street. The thick green of the trees was interspersed among the buildings. Sometimes it felt like there were more trees than buildings. She willed herself to relax and let her eyes lose focus as she watched the kaleidoscope of nature and buildings blur before her.
Gasping Vella sat up ramrod straight, eyes wide in horror. Her breath caught in her throat burning as her chest ached. Blackened and charred the trees and grass resembled something dark and twisted. The once beautiful park they were passing was barely recognizable. Trees had twisted from the heat of the fire, blackened soot climbed and curled around trucks decades old. The ground was a charred mess, the brown earth below it peeking through the blackened grass in dark slashes. The gray walkways were cracked and littered with debris and soot stains.
“What happened?” she breathed. Vella twisted to watch the cleanup crews until they were out of her sight.
“Riots,” Mr. Roberts breathed.
Vella’s eyes burned as tears threatened to fall. “How long ago?”
“Last night,” Ms. Brown responded her voice laced with nervousness.
Swallowing thickly Vella didn’t respond; she couldn’t. Savannah had been her home for half a decade; since her father retired from the military. Glass littered the street where storefront windows had been smashed. Street lamps were upended in places, some even twisted around into messes of metal. Gouges looked ripped out of the street and sidewalks.
Home didn’t look like home anymore. And she could finally understand the older woman’s unease.
Maybe moving outside of town wasn’t as bad as she first thought.