Find My Way Home

Chapter One

"Nina?"

Vanessa shoved her hair behind her ears distractedly and stared. She hadn't seen Nina since the previous summer, before she left to go back to Stanford. Nina had cut her hair chin-length at some point, and right now the short curls were a chaotic, frizzing mess, studded with raindrops. Her face was streaked with water, too, but Vanessa didn't think that was just the rain; she was pretty sure Nina had been crying. She was carrying a gym bag and she looked like hell.

"Vanessa, I... I'm so sorry, it's so late, I know, I just..."

I need a place to stay.

"Can I use your computer?" Nina asked instead. And burst into tears.

"He kicked you out?

"Sort of... not really. I mean, I left, but I just couldn't -"

"Didn't you just get home yesterday?"

"Yeah. But..."

Vanessa had never been the most patient person in the world. "But what? What the hell is going on, Nina?"

"It's..." Nina looked down at the couch, charcoal-gray and pretty nice for secondhand. "I'm sorry I'm so wet. Am I ruining your couch?"

"Nina!"

"Okay! Okay, fine. What happened… so I was unpacking, and Dad came in. I don't know why he didn't knock – maybe he knocked and I didn't hear him. Unless I left the door open a little or –"

"Who cares? What happened?"

"Right – well, so I was going through a bunch of notebooks and stuff and there was this, um… a brochure I had. And Dad picked it up." Nina let herself slide to a stop for a second, picking at the bottom of her shirt with her fingers.

"A brochure? What are you talking about?"

"So…" Nina bit her lip. "It was a brochure for the QSA."

"For the what?"

Deep breath. "The Queer-Straight Alliance."

Vanessa sat perfectly still, face blank.

"Vanessa, I -" Nina choked back a sob. "Please don't -"

"No, I'm not," Vanessa said quickly. "It's cool. Sorry, I just -"

Nina could feel the weight of things unsaid balancing in the rafters.

"But, okay, wait -" You just what? But Vanessa had already brushed past it. "He just found a brochure for this thing and kicked you out?"

"No. I told you, he didn't kick me out exactly, it's just that... okay, so I'm one of the community outreach organizers in the QSA, Vanessa. The officers are all listed on the brochure, right on the back cover. I don't even know why I brought the stupid thing home – what was I thinking? I should have known something like this was going to happen, I should have -"

"Hey. Chill. Take it slow, okay?" The words were gentle enough, but Vanessa wasn't looking at Nina anymore; her eyes were trained on the window beyond Nina's head, tracking the little trickles of raindrops racing down the pane. "I didn't know you were doing that," she said eventually, her voice neutral.

"Yeah, well. Neither did Dad."

"So what did he do?"

Nina knotted her hands together in her lap. "It was just a huge fight. Of course he kept pretending it had nothing to do with me being queer. Not that he could even say the word," she said, voice laced with bitterness. "I made three A's and a B this semester -"

"Whoa. Congrats."

"- and all he could talk about was how he wasn't paying for me to waste my time on 'this nonsense'. He kept saying it was his money, and he didn't sell out the business for this, and next thing you know it's that he didn't raise me to behave like this and he... oh, shit." She swiped a tear out of her eye in a fast, savage movement.

"Where was your mom during all of this?"

"Out at first. Then by the time she got home she couldn't get a word in edgewise. Not that she tried too hard –"

"That doesn't sound like her."

"Funny. That's what she said about me." Nina let out a weird noise, halfway between a laugh and a sob. "She thinks I was lying to her, and, God, I swear I wasn't, I just didn't know how… But... but she was pretty mad too, I don't even know if it was because I didn't tell her or – whatever - but then Dad said he wasn't going to pay for me to go back to college if I wasn't going to drop "all of this" next semester -"

"What the hell!"

"- so guess who's a dropout again?" Nina's voice was thick. "I grabbed the bag I was in the middle of unpacking, shoved a pile of laundry into it, and blew out. I can't go back." She cleared her throat. "And I didn't know where else to go... but if I can use your computer I can just... there's housing assistance -"

"At 10 pm on a Saturday?"

"Okay. Shelters. There are ones for queer youths, I know -"

"A shelter? That's bullshit, Nina!"

"You think I'm kidding? Vanessa, I have nowhere else to go! I can't go home. I'd rather sleep in the park than face Dad again -"

"That is the most ridiculous -"

"It's not!" Nina snapped her head back to face Vanessa again, eyes blazing. "You really have no idea, do you? What it's like -"

"I don't have any idea! Are you shitting me?" Vanessa jumped up from the couch, starting to pace in agitation. "Seriously, like I never dealt with fucked-up parents? You were there when I was in high school – how many times did I run away? But I never -"

"You never had nowhere to go! There was always Abuela, V –" Nina was sobbing in earnest now. "— I need her so much now, how can she be gone? She was the only person I ever knew who always understood and now there's nobody and -"

"Nina, hey. Hold on." Vanessa sat back down. "All those times I took off when I was a kid, yeah, there was always Abuela, but she was never the only one. Because there was always you." She put a hand on Nina's knee. "Come on. How many times did I crash at your place?"

"I don't know." Nina shook her hair out of her face, looked away.

"Yeah. I don't either. So don't even try to sell me on this shelter thing, okay? What are you even - seriously. You're staying here."

"Yeah?" Nina's face hardened. "You sure? Because last time I wanted to stay, the place was too small."

There was a second's pause. The weight above them tottered, almost fell.

"Cut it out." Vanessa rose from the couch. "I'll take the floor tonight, it's fine. Just - give me a minute, I got to get the mail from downstairs." She put a hand on Nina's shoulder, hesitated for a second, then left.

"At 10 pm on a Saturday?" Nina said to the closed door.