Chapter Two: Four Days Till Deadline

We've learned to run from anything uncomfortable, we've tied our pain below and no one ever has to know that inside we're broken. I try to patch things up again to calm my tears and kill these fears. ---Paramore: Miracle

Considering how far from home I was, I got there in record time. I lived in the decent part of Long Beach, not the rich part but not the poor part, basically the middle class. A person probably should not walk home after dark fell but, I had pepper spray and I knew how to take care of myself. Hah! Besides, what was a girl to do? I had to make money for my family's survival and that entailed staying out late some nights. I had a car, a 1965 mustang coupe, but I never drove it around when I was taking part in a boost because if I had to leave it behind, I would be caught in an instant due to registration.

I entered my three bedroom house and noted that the television was on, I looked around, and I saw my dad slouched in our recliner, passed out. I started walking over to him and shook him awake. "Dad" I whispered, not wanting to wake my sisters and uncle who were sleeping in the bedrooms. He didn't budge at first so I shook him harder and spoke a little louder "Dad!"

Finally, he started awake with a groan and then squinted as if trying to make out who was bugging him. "What?" He finally mumbled.

"I-I you should go to sleep."

"I was sleeping until you woke me up." He grumbled. My father and I did not get along very well. He blamed me for my mother's death and I blamed him for us having to rely on my asshole of an uncle.

I sighed angrily and mumbled under my breath about my father's stupidity. "Yeah, I meant you should go sleep in your room."

"Oh" he said. He started getting up then. He was a tall man about six feet tall. He had blond hair and pool blue eyes. He used to be muscular but after my mother's death, six years ago, he had sort of let himself go, he wasn't fat but he had a little pooch. He started making his way towards his room; he didn't even turn around and say good night.

I rolled my eyes in anger and frustration and then walked towards my own room as well.

My dad blamed me for my mother's death because my parents were supposed to pick me up on the day she had died, but they had been late. I was pissed off when they ended up coming, my mom had been driving and my anger had been directed at her; we had been so into the argument that my mother had missed the light turning red. We got hit by a Chevy truck and my mom ended up being declared DOA(dead on arrival), I was in a coma for a couple of days.

After the accident things had changed between my father and me. Before the accident we had been best friends, after, he could barely stand to look at me let alone have a conversation with me.

I got to my room and silently opened the door, hoping not to wake my two younger sisters. After my mother had died, my father, my two sisters and I had come to live with my uncle Steve, my dad's older brother. He had a three bedroom house which meant that my sisters and I had to share a room.

I got into my room and I noticed that Allie's, my fifteen year old sister's, side of the bed was not occupied. I was a little annoyed by this figuring she had gone to her boyfriend of the week's house. Since I wasn't too bothered by my younger sister's absence I started changing out of my normal boosting outfit; tight black jeans, lavender tank top, and a black hoodie. It was the most comfortable outfit I had and the most inconspicuous. It could do without the lavender but lavender was my favorite color and I hated wearing outfits that were completely bland.

When I was completely undressed and in my pajama's; a light pink shirt with black lace and night pants with black puppy paws, Charlotte, my youngest sister started to stir. I stopped everything I was doing to no avail, her pool blue eyes opened and she looked straight at me.

"Arie?"

"Yeah baby?" I asked softly, as if talking to her like that would lure her back to sleep.

"You didn't pick me up from school today."

I inhaled deeply; I had promised her, even when I had started boosting, which she knew very little about, that I would almost always pick her up. She had this strong attachment to me; I was the mother she didn't have. It was a burden and a gift all wrapped up in one. "I know baby but I had a job to do. Someone has to make the money right kiddo?"

She looked at me skeptically. "Daddy has a job." Charlotte, Charlie for short, still had a deep admiration for our father. She was six years old and the admiration she held for our father was reasonable. It would end soon; at least I kept telling myself that. It would be so much easier when she quit looking to dad for help and love and everything else fathers were supposed to do. I mean, it wasn't that dad didn't give Charlie and Allie attention and love; he just didn't give it to them all the time, like they needed. So, it was always left to me to explain to Charlie that "daddy wasn't feeling good or Daddy was late because he was having drinks with friends." I had done the same for Allie but she grew out of her admiration for him a couple years ago, now she was just a pain in the ass. But, to be fair, the past year or so, dad had been around for Chalie and Allie more.

"I know girlie, but dad doesn't make enough, so I have to go out and make the rest." Tell her some truth, that was my style, not the whole truth because I didn't want her to become a loser like me, but I didn't want to lie to her because I didn't want her to hate me. Like Allie?

"Doesn't Uncle Steve make the rest of the money?"

I looked at her. Damn this kid is so inquisitive. I thought to myself. "You know, Uncle Steve only makes enough to pay for himself, not for the four of us too." I was smoothing over the truth, only telling her a little of it. The truth was that Steve made enough money, combined with my father's income, to pay for us all but he wouldn't. From the minute I had come to his 'quaint' little home he had made that quite clear.

Flashback:

My mom died in December and by February things were falling apart. My dad was drinking more and more and all the 'motherly' duties were left to me. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of my sisters, who at the time were very young; Charlie was only a couple months old and Allie was nine years old. I tried my hardest to make things work but I failed miserably. Eventually, reluctantly, I called our only living relative, Uncle Steve.

I grabbed my mother's phone book which consisted of only a couple of names. She kept uncle Steve's name under R, which I always found strange but she explained was easier because "he was our only relative". I flipped to the R section and I saw the name F. I had asked my mom about it once but she had evaded my question, hurt clearly written on her face. Right under the name F I found Uncle Steve's number. I prayed silently that the number would work and reluctantly dialed his number.

I had always disliked my Uncle, he gave me this weird vibe, but I didn't want my family to fall apart any more than it had and I figured he was the only person that could help. When I called him, he seemed very surprised, which wasn't odd considering my mother did not like him either. My uncle and I talked about little things at first, the weather, school and then he had asked how things were. I was reluctant to tell him but if I didn't the phone call would have been pointless.

"Things are…not so good right now." I finally managed to spit out.

I heard my uncle sigh into the phone. "I knew your dad would take your mom's death hard, she was the love of his life. What exactly is going on?"

I hated ragging on my dad, I didn't want to tell my uncle that my dad was drinking all the time, he had taken a leave of absence from work which was almost up and it didn't look like he was anywhere near ready to go back. However, I remembered the reason I called him was to get some type of help so I knew I had to speak up. "He's drinking more than usual and his leave of absence from work is up soon and I don't think he has made plans to go back."

A long silence from my Uncle, a heavy sigh and then "Hang in there okay, I will come down right away." My uncle lived in Long Beach, we lived in Fresno. It was quite the ride.

I nodded my head and then remembered he couldn't see me "Yeah, alright. I-I do you have the address?"

"Yeah, your dad gave it to me when your mom passed. Sorry I couldn't make it to her funeral by the way."

"Huh, oh no problem," I sighed, that definitely was not the right thing to say "My dad missed you, but he understood, works important."

"Yeah." Was all he said. "Look, I have some vacation time so I can drive down tonight, if all goes well I should get there in six to eight hours."

I looked at the clock on the stove, it was five pm, I counted in my head "So between 11:00pm and 1:00 am?" I asked "You don't have to do that; you can wait till morning to come."

He laughed "No, that's okay; I would like to see you guys any ways."

I nodded my head in understanding "Okay, see you later."

"Right." Then he was gone.

I put the phone down, wondering if I had done the right thing. My mother had never liked Uncle Steve and I always felt somewhat uncomfortable around him but he sounded nice enough. What else was I supposed to do?

My family was falling apart. My dad was spending most of our money on booze barely leaving enough for food. I was pretty sure we were behind in the mortgage on the house and if he didn't go back to work things would be even worse.

I didn't have much time to dwell because I heard Charlie crying; obviously she had woken from her nap. I waited a couple minutes, hoping my dad would get some type of epiphany and go pick up his baby daughter who desperately needed some parental love. No such luck, I walked into the room, which Charlie and Allie shared, picked up the baby and rocked her back and forth. Whether or not I did the right thing doesn't matter, I cannot keep living like this.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Just as my uncle had said, he arrived later on that night, around 12, I guess that would be considered earlier the next morning. Anyway, I waited up for him; I didn't want to appear rude, my parents had taught me better than that. When I saw his car pull up I got really jittery and I started biting my nails, a nervous habit. I had decided to keep my uncle's visit a secret from my dad so that he would not make me call my uncle and cancel. I needed help my dad and I both knew it, we both hated accepting help; only problem was, I was tired of living the way I was.

I had no life at all. My life consisted of going to school, picking Charlie up from the babysitter and Allie up from daycare. After that we would come home, Charlie would take a nap and Allie would do homework or watch T.V., I would prepare dinner and do homework. At about five, I would serve dinner, Charlie would be up from her nap so she would need to be fed and have some attention given. From about 5:00pm-8:00pm I got the girls ready for bed and at eight I put them to bed. Usually, neither girl stayed asleep the whole night; Allie had nightmares about mom and Charlie was a baby and baby's wake up all the time. In between all of that, I had to do homework so I never had time for anything else. I usually spent the weekends doing makeup work.

I was hoping that with my uncle in the picture, maybe he would give us some extra money and we would be able to afford to have the babysitter and daycare provider care for the girls longer in the day, maybe till 5:30 or 6:00. I also hoped that my uncle might be able to help my dad overcome his grief and depression and start being the father I knew he was and could be.

I heard my uncle's car door slam I jumped up from the table where I was doing some homework, groggily yet jittery, it's a horrible feeling; it's like your mind is tired but the rest of you won't calm down. I walked to the door, waited for him to ring the doorbell or knock; when he did I answered it. Obviously, I had answered it way to quickly because my uncle had a knowing smirk on his face, as if he knew I had been waiting right by the door for him to knock. My face flushed red, one of my worst qualities, I turned away quickly so he wouldn't see and ushered him in.

He came in slowly and I finally had a chance to look him up and down in the light. The last time I had seen him Allie had been three, so I had been about six years old. He was a well built man just like my father, he had green blue eyes and his hair was a dark shade of blond with some gray specks thrown in, my uncle was a lot older than my own father which accounted for the graying. He wasn't as tall as my dad, probably an inch or two shorter, 5'11-5'10, even though there were strong dissimilarities between my father and his older brother, anyone would be able to tell that they were closely related.

He smiled a smile I hadn't seen in a long time, it was almost identical to my father's smile, happy go lucky, toothy, charming, and a little bit seductive. There was something different about his smile but I wouldn't figure out what that was until later on. I was so glad to see someone who was sure of himself, happy and had my father's smile, a smile I had been missing for two long month's now.

I had no clue what to say to this 'familiar' stranger so I just stood there, he was the one who broke the silence. "So, where's my little brother at?"

I looked at him, something about the way he was asking implied to me that he knew that I hadn't told my dad that he was coming. "He's sleeping; he does that a lot now. You know since the-uh-accident."

My uncle nodded his head. "He doesn't know I am here does he?"

I looked at him in horror, embarrassment, anger and amazement. How had he known? "I didn't get the chance to tell him."

My uncle smirked. "Well, you better wake him up, I didn't come all this way for nothing now did I?"

I shook my head in agreement, not sure what more I should say or do. Then I slowly made my way to my dad's room. My father is going to kill. No, scratch that, first he is going to chew me out and then he is going to kill me. He is then going to chop me up into little pieces and scatter me throughout California. I sighed more out of embarrassment of what was to come than anything else as I entered my dad's room. The only time my dad ever looked like his old self, peaceful and happy, was when he was asleep. Sometimes I would look in on him while he slept; it was the only way that I could see my old dad, the dad I missed, the dad I so desperately wanted back.

I got to my dad's side of the bed, I was a little disappointed to wake him because gone would be his old self, just like that; kind of like the way our old life had melted in to nothing in five seconds. I shook my dad's shoulder gently and he woke up, I was startled because usually he did not wake up that quick.

"Is he here yet?" He asked in a groggily irritated voice.

I didn't know what he was talking about. He couldn't be talking about my uncle could he? He must still be dreaming. "What?" I finally managed.

"You heard me" He said getting out of bed and pulling on his robe. "Is your uncle here, is Steve, my brother here." He was talking to me like I was slow or something and it stung but I was not going to let him know.

"Why don't you come see for yourself?" I said with as little emotion as possible.

He sighed, pushed his blond hair out of his face and started walking towards the living room. I got to the living room before my father which was a good thing because I was able to melt into the furniture, at least for a little while.

My dad came out and I could tell by his face that he held anger towards my uncle. "What are you doing here?" My father said somewhat angrily.

"Your daughter, Arriella," The way he said my name made me cringe, he spat it out like he hated speaking it, like, if he kept it on his tongue too long it would burn him like hot metal. "called and asked me for help."

I saw my dad look over at me something like disgust was present on his face. At his look, I wanted to protest to what my uncle had said; I hadn't asked for help, he had just sort of assumed that I needed it. I hadn't asked him to come here either, even if I needed his help, I hadn't expected or wanted him to come here. I decided against protesting though because the truth of the matter was, I did need my uncle's help, I needed someone to intervene on my behalf and I didn't want it to be the county or the state.

"Well, my daughter, Arriella," He said it mockingly and with anger and disgust. I wasn't sure who it was directed at; my uncle or me. "was mistaken, we are doing just fine."

Why was he lying? We needed help; we needed money or an extra hand. Why wouldn't he just admit it?

I was angered by my father's denial more than anything, he could deny it but the proof was pretty much everywhere. The house for example, was a mess, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep everything clean. When mom had been alive each of us had had chores that we did every day during the week and then during the weekend we had extra chores, chores that didn't need to be done every day. I tried keeping that tradition up but it failed. My father didn't seem care and Allie didn't like chores when mom was alive so when I was in charge, she simply refused and I couldn't do it all by myself.

My uncle laughed at my father's comment. "It doesn't look like she is mistaken. Look at the house, look at her," He pointed to me than, he was right too. I was pale and I had lost weight, people at school commented on it but everyone figured I was still grieving over my mother's death. "Sophia would not have wanted her kids to live like this."

My dad flipped out when my uncle said that "don't tell me what the fuck my own wife would have wanted. You don't know a thing about her; you did not give a shit about her. I don't even know why you came here; you don't do anything that doesn't help yourself!"

I cringed at the words coming out of my dad's mouth; they were dripping with anger and hatred. I had never heard him talk or yell to anyone like that before. When him and my mother got into fights, he didn't sound like that, he was mostly just exasperated and frustrated.

My uncle must have noticed his anger too, because he flinched a bit. "Look Jay, I came because my family is in need. If you don't want to accept that, fine, but you need to think; look around you, look at your girl, look at your house, look at you, eventually CPS is going to get involved and I know that Sop-you don't want that." My uncle didn't wait for a reply, he turned towards the front door and started walking out, before he did though, he threw down some money on the coffee table. "Get some food." Was all he said as he left.

I couldn't believe my dad had done that, I was pissed. I turned towards him, because I had been watching my uncle depart, and I saw him slouching on the black couch, he looked like a defeated man. He put his face in his and rubbed his hands up and down his face as if he was trying to drive away the shame or pain.

"Dad I-" I stopped. What was I going to say, sorry? I wasn't sorry though and telling him that would only make him think that I was okay with how things were heading.

He looked up and our eyes met, "Ella, I- I think your uncle is right. You have been doing a lot. I don't want my girls being taken from me and that might happen, I have seen it happen before." He sighed the realization of what he was about to say setting in. "I don't know what kind of help your uncle is willing to offer, but I think I will take it."

I smiled a bit. My dad must have caught it because he said "Your uncle isn't good news; don't think that this will come without some type of price." After he said this he got up from the couch "I'll go call him, he doesn't have a home phone just a cell phone so the number you used should reach him." He walked off and just before he reached his room he said "Elle baby, maybe you should get some rest, you look tired." He entered his room and shut the door.

I nodded in response to his question but I knew he hadn't seen it. Should I go in and tell him that things will be okay? We can make it? We will just get help from Steve for a bit and then we can do things on our own again? Once dad got back on his feet again things would definitely be okay. I finally decided against it, he wouldn't want to hear my words of comfort, they wouldn't mean anything to him.

I walked back into the kitchen, where all my homework was, I was going to do some more but I decided against it, I put it and went into my room. It was a beautiful bedroom, the furniture was a cherry oak which had been my mom's favorite and mine too. There were ornate designs on it; designs that made the furniture appear really old fashioned. The furniture consisted of a headboard, a desk, which I used on occasion but it was easier working in the kitchen, a dresser and a night stand.

My parents had bought the furniture for me when I had turned twelve. Mom had said that every maturing girl needed nice furniture. Mom had been impressed when I picked this set out "It will grow with you." She said.

The bedding consisted of white sheets and pillows, and a white comforter with lavender flowers. I jumped into bed, not even bothering to take my clothes off, and fell right asleep. I dreamed about my mom. That night would be one of the last nights that I dreamed about her.

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

I awoke the next morning to a low noise coming from my sister's room. I looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember what had happened. When I finally did the first thought that came to my mind was things were about to take a turn for the better, after two long months of bad, things were going to get better. I got out of bed, my body protesting the whole time, looking at the alarm clock on my nightstand I realized it was only 8:00am, which was the reason my body was protesting, I had only gone to bed 6 hours before.

Wow, this is the first time in a long time that Charlie and Allie have both slept in so late. At this thought I began to worry. What if something has happened to them? What if some freaky man had broken in last night and taken them or killed them? I practically ran to my sister's room, opened their door and saw something I hadn't seen in a long time; My dad was in the rocking chair, Allie was sitting on his left knee, his arm draped around her, and Charlie was cradled in his right arm and he was singing a song to them; both girls were asleep. I was happy to see this but a pang of jealously stole through me. I was too old to sit on my dad's lap but before mom had died he used to bring the girls into my room, he would sit on my bed and we would all cuddle while he sang. Get over it I finally said those days are over.

My dad must have heard the door creak because he looked up "Hey Arriella, I made breakfast, eggs Benedict and orange juice. After I was done I came in here since there was nothing else to do, thought I would let you sleep." He smiled at me; it wasn't with his eyes though so I knew it was a forced smile.

"Oh" Was all I could muster. I missed my dad so much. I wanted him to wrap his arms around me and hold me, sing to me, and tell me it would be okay; but he could and never would be able to bring himself to comfort his wife's murderer.

I walked out and into the kitchen; I made myself a plate, I hadn't had eggs Benedict in ages. I knew how to make it, I loved making it, I loved cooking in general but these days I made things that were easiest, cheapest, and would please everyone.

I sat down at the kitchen table, more out of habit than anything, most of the time the girls and I would eat wherever we felt most comfortable, mainly the living room in front of the television. Every time we did I thought of my mom and what she would have to say "Arriella, did I raise you to be a T.V. fanatic? Gracie Bear the destroyer of the American family"

I sighed and started eating. Gracie Bear had been my parents, especially my mothers, nickname for me. As I got older I hadn't liked her calling me it but she still did it, occasionally we would get into fights about it; I would give anything to hear her sweet, rich voice call me Gracie bear one more time.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see my father standing behind me. "What?" I asked a little sharper than I had intended.

"Right" My father said. "Look Ella, I may have been a shit for a bit but I am still your father and you will treat me with respect."

I nodded my head "Sorry" I mumbled.

"Yeah, look, I will clean up here, you go get changed or whatever and then I want to talk to you about what your uncle had to say."

"You can tell me now." I said eagerly.

My father looked at me as if he was searching for something and then shook his head "No, go get changed and then I will tell you."

I put my dish in the sink and went to my room, grabbed everything I would need to get dressed. I pretty much ran to the bathroom, took a shower as fast as I could, dried off, combed my hair, put on my clothes and then walked into the living room.

My dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in his hand, waiting for me; obviously I had taken longer than I had thought. I walked to the table and took a seat across from him. I then looked at him expectantly; he was supposed to be the bearer of good news, who would have expected that his news would be bad.

"Well," He said slowly, as if he was trying to mold his words carefully. "Your uncle will definitely help us but like I said, he won't do anything that doesn't benefit him somehow," He said this with a sardonic laugh.

My heart fell to my stomach, I didn't know what my dad was going to say but I could tell it was going to be bad. "yeah." I whispered.

I don't think my dad even heard me because he didn't look up from the coffee mug that he was staring at, as if it would give him all the answers he was looking for and bring back his dead wife. "Your uncle wants us to come live with him in Long Beach. He says it will be the best way for him to help out. He can help me take care of you guys and at the same time he won't have to take time off of work or anything. Basically, he will have an infinite amount of time to help us; any other way would be limited."

I looked at my dad in complete shock; tears were threatening to pour forth from my eyes. "I-but-I this is the house where all our memories of mom are." This was true too. We had moved into this house when I was two or three and had lived here ever since. It was the family house; I could go to any room I wanted and remember my mom, every room had a story to tell about my mother. Without it I would forget her, I wouldn't have the constant reminder.

My father looked at me with an iciness I had never seen him direct towards anyone except maybe his brother, last night, "You called, you deal with the consequences, that's his offer."

I wanted to scream at my father then comfort me, hug me like when I was a little girl, tell me it will be all right, tell me we don't need a stupid house to remember her, tell me we just need each other and our love for her. Tell me something, don't hate me, and don't turn away from me. Let me be your little girl again. The little girl that you greeted with a hug after work and would tickle with your mustache just because you knew it annoyed me and made me laugh at the same time.

"What about work, for you?"

My father laughed at this. "Don't worry baby daddy won't be a loser if that's what your worried about. Your uncle told me and I already knew; that the Long Beach police department is hiring detectives, I guess one of their detectives decided to retire, Steve seems to think I can get the job."

I looked at my dad and I smiled sadly "I guess we have to do it then don't we? You obviously can't take care of us and I am only a child?" I saw something like hurt flash through his eyes. Good I thought maybe you're feeling a little bit of what I have been feeling. Then I said something that I will always regret "I wonder what mom would think of you now?" I cringed inwardly when I said it, I knew it was a horrible thing to say but I wanted to hurt him like he hurt me and I knew mentioning mom, especially mom's possible disappointment in him, would hit the spot.

I didn't take the time to see how badly I hurt him; I got up and started walking to my room "When do we leave?"

"Were still discussing it." My dad said in a defeated voice.

I nodded my head, walked to my room, lay down on my bed and cried silent tears. I hurt my father and I hated it, but I hated him more for hurting me. Why couldn't he just forgive me? I had killed my mother, I knew that and I would have to live with that, wasn't that enough? Did I also have to live with losing my father?

ooooooooooooooooooooooooo

I cried so long that day, dad took care of the girls, which was a plus, and for the first time in around two months I got to spend time alone. The time I spent alone wasn't the fun I imagined my 'freedom' would be, but at least I got to grieve. I grieved for all the wrong things though. I grieved for the loss of a house, the loss of memories and the loss of 'life as I knew it' but at least I grieved for something since my mom's death.

After an hour of sitting and crying in complete silence, I grabbed my portable CD player/walkman and put in a CD. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of the best bands in the world, definitely not the best but close enough. They happened to be my mom's favorite band; her and my dad used to 'argue' about that, he used to say 'hands down Led Zepplin was the best band' she would laugh, muss his hair, which he hated but tolerated from her, and say 'nah baby, I gotta say Skynyrd is the best."

I used to laugh at my parents antics when I was younger but as I got older I started putting in my own two sense 'mom' I would say in a mock annoyed voice, "Zepplin is by far superior to Skynyrd.' My dad would high five me and my mom would mutter 'traitor'. That always caused us to laugh hysterically; sometimes we would laugh so hard, that, if we were in the car, the people next to us would look at us as if we had all just escaped from the loony bin. It was great.

My parents had bought me Lynyrd Skynyrd's greatest hits for my twelfth birthday. It had all their best songs on it; song's like Sweet home Alabama, Freebird, Call me the breeze, and so many more. I put in one of the three CD's and skipped ahead to one of my all time favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. Freebird.

The melody was great, yearning and sadness all rolled up into one. It reminded me of how I felt every day of my life. The words drifted out

If I leave here tomorrow

Would you still remember me

For I must be traveling on now

'cause there's too many places I gotta to see

Even though the song was basically about a guy that wanted to get out of a relationship because he wanted to be free and travel the world it reminded me of myself. I so desperately wanted to be free. But, if I left would my sisters remember me? Would they hate me? Love me? Have mixed emotions? I had always dreamt about seeing the world and on days when I was so stressed out, I just felt like walking out of my house and never coming back. Cause there's too many places I gotta to see.

But if I stayed here with you girl

Things just couldn't be the same

Cause I'm as free as a bird now

And this bird you cannot change

Lord knows I can't change

Ohohohohohoh

And the bird you know cannot change

And this bird you cannot change

Lord knows I can't change

When my mom had been alive I had tasted freedom and loved it. I did not have to take care of my sisters, I always helped my mom because I wanted to, because I loved her and I knew at times she got stressed having three kids so I wanted to help lighten the load. I had had dreams when she was alive though, I had wanted to go to college and do something good with my life, neither of my parents had gone to college and I wanted to make them happy. I had other dreams too. However, my mom died and I am caged now, without her things cannot be the same, but all the dreams I had haven't gone away, lord knows I can't change.

Bye Bye, baby it's been sweet love, yeah, yeah

Though this feeling I can't change

But please don't take it so badly

'cause lord knows I'm to blame

I knew, eventually, I would leave my family and it would be a bittersweet moment, it was inevitable, every child left home eventually. My concern, however, was whether or not I would leave on good terms; as time went by my heart grew colder and colder towards my father and I knew, if I left home on bad terms with my father I would hardly see my sisters and the truth of the matter was, my sisters were the most important people to me. If I ended up losing contact with my sister's I would be to blame because I had killed my mom, I was selfish, I couldn't give up my dreams and just let what was to happen, happen. Every single day of my life, the one thing that kept me going was the fact that soon enough I will be out of here, away from dad. I am a restless soul who wants to experience the world and not even the fact that, if I leave my sisters will be without a mother, has quieted that.

But if I stayed here with you girl

Things just couldn't be the same

Cause I'm as free as a bird now

And this bird you cannot change

Lord knows I can't change

Ohohohohohoh

And the bird you know cannot change

And this bird you cannot change

Lord knows I can't change

Lord help me I can't change

Lord I can't change

(I do not own this song or anything that has to do with it…)

The song ended and I had tears in my eyes, that song had never effected me so much but I guess I never really understood it. Even though the circumstances were different being caged is never fun, and a person does not like it and the thoughts of freedom that plague their mind never leave the person completely.

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I continued listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, I had been listening to them a lot lately, just to be reminded of my mother. When the song Sweet Home Alabama came on I started thinking about my new 'home'.

Both my parents had originally come from Long Beach but neither of them talked about it much. Whenever I had asked what it was like they would say "Oh it was nice but Fresno is way nicer" and quickly change the subject. I never really understood this because everyone knew Long Beach was a pretty nice place, in some places at least.

I knew my parents were trying to hide things about their past from me but I never knew what. Both my parents seemed pretty square to me. My dad was a cop and my mom worked at the supermarket when we kids were in school. Neither of them did drugs, of course, they occasionally had a glass of wine but they had never abused it until my mom died I thought to myself then dad became a closet alcoholic.

It was a known fact that they had had me before marriage. Oh my. I thought sarcastically. But I couldn't think what they wanted to hide from me. They would never take me or when Allie came along, anywhere near long beach. We lived in California all our lives and we never once had been to Disneyland. What a shame I thought sadly. Mom had been trying to talk dad into taking us she had said "Gracie is almost 14 and she hasn't been yet, if we lived in another state that might not be a big deal but come on baby we live in the same state and we live Six hours away."

Dad had always been a sucker for mom, especially when she gave him her puppy dog look, I had actually mastered that looked over the years, "Soph baby I- What about all the shit that happened back then?" My parents hadn't known I was there or they wouldn't have been talking about it.

"Baby, Disneyland is in Anaheim and Long Beach is a long way from there. We don't have to worry about it. Besides, dad called and said all that shit is over." That had surprised me because I had always thought my parents didn't have fathers, neither talked about them.

"Okay, this summer, since Ella is going into high school we will go." Mom had clapped her hands together like a little girl and jumped up and down on the bed, I smiled too, I was finally going to go to Disneyland. Of course that never happened and it never would. Oh well, shit happens.

I sighed and rolled over on my side Maybe I will finally figure out what my parents were hiding from me?

Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

I must have fallen asleep because I awoke to a small hand shaking me awake. I rolled over, opened my eyes and looked at my sister, Allison Bianca Schroeder, Allie for short. She had dirty blond hair just like my father, she was chunky, she got made fun of for being fat and I told her "One day you will show them Allie, you are going to be gorgeous and they are going to wish that they hadn't said anything to you." She didn't believe me but I think it's true, my dad was a chunky child and one day he lost all his 'baby fat' and became one of the handsomest men around; or so sayeth the other mothers. She was basically an exact replica of my father except she had my mother's beautiful golden brown eyes.

I looked at her for a minute not comprehending why she was waking me up. "What?" I finally choked out.

"Daddy told me to come wake you up. He said we are going out to dinner with some man to talk about the future." She said everything so precisely that I knew she had rehearsed my father's exact words the whole way down the hall.

"Okay." I said. "What should I wear?"

She shrugged her shoulders, pointed to her own casual outfit and said "We are just going to that Chinese place."

I nodded my head in understanding and she left. I got out of bed, went over to my closet, searched around for an outfit, found one, a black tank top with fake jewels in the back that were shaped like angel wings and khaki pants. I combed my hair and put on some makeup; I put my makeup on just the way my mom taught me, just enough so people knew you had some on but not too much so that you appeared as though you didn't know how to wear makeup. After mom had died, I had sort of taken over her make-up at first it had been weird but then I got used to it and I felt like I had even more of her close to me.

I looked at myself in the mirror real quick just to make sure everything was okay, it was, and I looked again, stuck my tongue out at myself and mumbled "Ugly" and walked out of my room into the living room.

When I got into the living room I saw my dad take in a deep breath and I realized he still hadn't gotten over what I had said this morning. I shrugged my shoulders and said "Ready?"

My dad nodded his head "You look good Elle. I-uh you look so much like your mom."

I laughed inwardly at that, I couldn't look like my mom could I? There was a floor length mirror in our living room, it was supposed to go in my parents room but dad never got the chance to put it in there; I tried to, as inconspicuously as possible, glance at myself in the mirror and when I did I saw my mom staring back at me. My breath caught and I couldn't breathe. Last time I looked at myself in the mirror all I had seen was an awkward teenager, now I saw my mom. Thick, luscious, beautiful, dark chocolate brown hair, naturally tan skin, and full lips that a lot of girls would be jealous of. Of course, I was still in that awkward teenage stage, my body was a bit gangly but I was slowly beginning to see the curves that I had so desperately wanted. The only difference that existed between my mother and I, and would never go away, was our eye color, my mother had beautiful golden brown eyes whereas I had my father's pool blue eyes.

For a minute I didn't know what to say, everyone had always told me how similar I looked to my mother but I had never believed them but obviously it was true. Finally I spoke "She was way prettier but thanks. Are we ready to go?"

Dad smiled, held up baby Charlie's car seat and said "Yep."

oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

We arrived at the restaurant twenty minutes later. It was a beautiful restaurant with ornate Chinese designs; it was one of the only restaurants that was extremely beautiful and at the same time it was acceptable to dress casually.

My dad grabbed Charlie out of the car seat and I helped Allie out of the car. We all walked into the restaurant, with the exception of Charlie, and ran straight into my uncle.

"I decided to wait to get a table. I wasn't sure if you would bring everyone or what."

My dad grunted, Allie hid behind my legs, Charlie smiled up at him and I nodded my head and said "Thanks." I had no clue if that was the correct response but it was obvious it was the only response he was going to get.

My uncle motioned for the waitress, indicating we were ready to be seated. She came over and told us to follow her, which we did. We were seated by a window, which was good because it would keep the baby occupied; she loved looking outside at the birds and what not. The waitress set or menus down and left.

I pretended to look at the menu because I could sense the tension; it was obvious that my dad was still angry with my uncle, even though he had accepted the offer.

"Soooo" My uncle finally said, putting a stop to the silence that had been taking over.

I looked up from my menu, my dad did the same and Allie, who was intent on getting the lemon seed out of her water, looked up as well.

My uncle smiled "Well, I guess you talked to Arriella about the circumstances?" My dad shook his head and so did I. "Okay, and she obviously agreed. Well, we need to talk about our options, pertaining to when you all come to live with me."

I looked worriedly at Allie but realized her attention had fallen back to getting the lemon seed out of her cup of water. Neither my dad nor I had explained to her that we would be leaving our house. I knew she would take the news hard because after mom had died all she had said the first couple weeks was "at least we have the house and the memories that exist of her there." It was kind of a weird thing for her to say but doctors had said that sometimes young children cling to special things of their dead parent and the house had been extremely special to my mom.

My dad looked at my uncle like he was an idiot. "What do you mean? We wait till I sell the house and get the job."

My uncle looked at my dad with annoyance. "That's one option but then the kids will not be adjusted to life in a new community. It will take a couple months for the house to sell and you to get the job. I was thinking the kids could come live with me until everything gets settled and then when everything is settled you could come and stay with us as well."

I looked from my dad to my uncle, the look on my dad's face clearly showed that he thought this was a good idea, and I was in a state of disbelief. The longest I had ever been away from either of my parents had been one night, when I went to a friend's sleepover, and that night had been hell. I couldn't believe my dad was actually considering this; he had never liked being separated from us and now, all of a sudden he couldn't wait to get rid of us. If I went to stay with my uncle who was to say my dad would even come? Lately, he had been going out to bars and not coming home till morning, this might be just what he needed to abandon us for good.

"You can't be serious?" I finally stated.

My dad looked at me and a look of puzzlement, annoyance and worry crossed through his eyes. "I think it is a good idea. We will be living with your uncle for a couple months, at least, and it would be a good idea for you to get to know him. I originally wanted to wait till you finished school but your uncle brought up a good point, you not adjusting to your new surroundings would suck, this way you will adjust to everything and especially your uncle. You and your sister's won't be without me longer than a few months, three or four at the most."

I looked at him and then it clicked "This was all a show wasn't it? You knew I would call Steve, you knew I couldn't handle it anymore; you knew all this was going to happen. Why are you doing this? Why won't you just move on? People die and you have to get over it! Get over it, she is dead and she is never coming back!" Paranoid much? I thought to myself. Fuck, maybe I am a dissociative junkie, when I get out of here I really need to check my arms and make sure that they don't have any tract marks on them.

At my words anger flashed through my dad's eyes, the thing about having emotional outbursts is never have them when someone else is on the verge of having one too, especially when that someone is the person you are taking your anger out on. "You think that I haven't tried to forget? I have! But I can't and I don't think I ever will. I miss your mother so much and I am so tired of you and your stubborn ways. Damn it Ella, when you get like this I just think how fucked up it is that things didn't turn out differently. That she was the one to die and not-"

I looked at my father and I felt tears coming to the surface. He had finally said it; he had finally admitted that he wished I would have been the one to die.

"Ella," My dad said in a pleading voice. "I didn't mean it like that, I meant-

But I stood up and walked away. "It doesn't matter" I said over my shoulder. "We all know how you feel, we have all known it for a long time and it doesn't matter because it wasn't me and we can't change that." I said the last part in a whisper and walked out of the restaurant. I heard my dad calling my name but I ignored him, tears were streaming down my face and I couldn't bear to let him see them, he didn't deserve to see the pain he had caused me, he didn't deserve the chance to comfort me.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

I walked around town for hours, listening to my portable CD player/walkman. I had always known, deep down, that my father had wished that it had been me who had died. I knew that if my father could go back and change the events of that night he would have saved my mom instead of me. When the accident occurred, I looked worse off than my mom so my dad pulled me out of the car first; he had to do CPR and everything. Because of me he never got a chance to take a look at my mom, if he had, he might have been able to stop the bleeding, he might have been able to help her start breathing again.

When the sun started setting I knew it was time to go home. Fresno is a decent little town, but it is definitely not a place you want to be out at night, alone, especially when you are a young kid. The walk home took a good twenty minutes and I was dreading it the whole time. Part of me just wanted to never go home, become one of those statistics you read about in the newspapers, a run away, but I knew that was stupid and I was not into doing anything stupid; I was way too tired for stupid.

When I got to my block, I saw my uncle's ford explorer loaded up with all sorts of shit. Obviously today's events hadn't delayed my 'fathers' decision. I walked up to my uncle's ford explorer, looked inside and noted that some of Charlie's crib was inside the rest of her crib was on the top. I sighed heavily and walked into the house. My dad is probably going to yell at me for being gone for so long.

I got inside and my uncle was the first one to notice me "Arriella," He said firmly "Your father wanted me to tell you to pack your things and not to make a fuss. You and your sister's will be leaving with me as soon as possible."

"I-I he isn't here"

My uncle looked at me with his smile that reminded me of my father but at the same time was different, "He thought it would be easier on everyone if he wasn't here. Now go get packed. You will need clothes, bedding and the like."

I nodded my head, more out of confusion than anything else. I walked into my room. I started gathering everything that I figured I would need. Clothes, makeup, nick nacks, bedding, shampoo, toothpaste etc. I was almost done packing I just needed to grab something out of my desk drawer. I reached in and sitting on top of everything was a package and on top of the package was an envelope. Scrawled in my father's handwriting was Arriella.

I reluctantly ripped open the envelope and read what my father had to say:

Arriella,

I wanted to wait till your birthday to give you this stuff but I decided that now was the best time. Your mother and I couldn't believe how fast you were growing up and we didn't want you to forget that you would always matter to us and you would always be our Gracie Bear. We got this specially made for you a couple months before your mother died and the jeweler called recently to tell me that it was ready. I debated on whether or not to pick it up but I knew that your mother would have wanted you to have it and I knew you would want to have a lasting memory of your mother.

Dad.

I opened the package and inside was a red jewelry box. I opened it gingerly and gasped when I saw what was inside, it was the most beautiful jewelry set I had ever seen. It was a white gold necklace with a heart dangling from it and on the heart was a small diamond. There was a matching pair of earrings, although the heart on those was much smaller, and a bracelet. I immediately went to put the bracelet on and I caught a glimpse of something on the back of the heart. I was a little worried because I thought it was a scratch but I looked closer and saw "Gracie Bear" had been etched on it. This made me extremely curious so I looked on the back of the necklace and saw "Always our" I smiled at this; it was a shortened version of what mom had always told me. "You will always be our Gracie bear, we will always love our Gracie bear no matter what."

I cried then and rummaged through the package because I realized there was more. There was another envelope in it which I opened. It was another letter from dad.

Arriella,

Do not let your uncle get his hands on any of the jewelry in the next package. I already told him he was not to take the jewelry you just received. The stuff in the next package is not so safe though. The jewelry that is in there is everything your mother ever wanted you and your sisters to have; it is separated by name and everything. I can't explain why I am giving you all of this stuff now but it is important that I do because I might not see you guys again.

You may not want to believe me, but I am not a horrible person, I am just lost and I do want what is best for you. I don't know if your uncle is the best thing for you but I know he will take care of you for the time being. Your uncle is not the savior you believe him to so please be careful of him, that is all I ask.

I will come to you and your sisters as soon as possible but as a sort of 'payment' for letting us live with him, your uncle has asked me to do something for him and therefore I have to go away for a while.

If I do not make it back and things get crazy with your uncle call this number 555-6262 and tell the person who answers that Jay gave you the number. Tell your sisters I love them and will not forget them. Ella, please forgive me and don't be too much of a freebird because I could never handle not seeing you.

Dad.

I looked at the letter; it made no sense at all. My uncle had asked him to do a job? What was that? The letter touched my heart because I knew in my heart my dad had been trying to apologize but why hadn't he said it to my face? I reread the letter and laughed a little at the freebird part because in a way it proved that my dad still knew me. It was kind of confusing though, what had my dad been saying? Was he telling me that it was okay to break free from the 'cage' I felt like I was in sometimes? But that I shouldn't forget who I was and where I belonged?

I folded the paper up and took the package my dad had given me and hid it as good as I could with my stuff, hopefully my uncle wasn't a snoop. While I was hiding the package, something slipped out of its folds and I looked and realized it was a wad of money; attached to the money was a note and all it said was 'just in case'. I felt really weird about all this but I couldn't protest to any of it now, my dad was gone now and I was now in my uncle's care.

I looked around my room one last time and wondered what would happen to my beautiful furniture and the house that had been a home for so long. I sighed deeply, turned the light off, was plunged into darkness and left.

I met my uncle at the front of the house and he had that familiar smile on his face and for the first time I realized what was different about it; it had viciousness to it and it was also calculating. It was all the things my father's smile was but it had a monstrous side to it that my father's smile could never accomplish. I shivered silently and walked with my uncle to the car. This is not going to be good at all.

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Okay, this chapter has gotten extremely long and I know I for one hate reading long chappie's. The next chapter will be up soon or I wouldn't have ended it here.

Anyway, I hope you people are enjoying this story. I know I am. I wanted to give background on Arriella and I figured this would be a good place to start. It wasn't supposed to get so extremely long. I hope it is somewhat gripping and cliffhangerish. Also, the next chappie will hit on the point of the whole flashback (which was not just to give some background to my character).

Also, this is supposed to be a romance but it is more than that so I don't know 100% when the romantic parts will come but I will try to add some flashbacks or something.

If anyone wants to see something specific in this story you can tell me and I will try to add it. I cannot promise that I will be able to add it but I will try. I mean, you might want to see some more interaction between Arriella and so and so or something like that (Etc) and I will definitely try to comply but sometimes things don't work out the way they are supposed to.

Please…please…please…review I love getting reviews and since this is a new story I would really like to get some reviews and see what ya all think. I don't know, right now I am really into this story so reviews won't make a difference on whether or not I continue writing but reviews are nice either way…so please…please…please…please…review!