The Tattered Gloves – Chapter One
The lonely bus rambled on, rattling down the dusty road, as the idle passengers fell into a false sense of security under the dim lights above.
As others on the bus slept in awkward positions, curled around each other like wolves, leaning against the cold, dark window, desperate for a few moments of peace, I sat rigid and alert, keeping a lookout on my surroundings.
So trusting they were. So naturally inclined to lie back and let the world take care of them.
I pulled my duffel bag close to my chest and rested my head against the back of the seat, letting my eyes close for the briefest moment. My back ached from sitting and leaning back, so allowing myself one second of peace released a bit of tension that had been creeping up my spine.
The subtle jostling of the road never seemed to cease. Not since we’d left the city.
It was different — this road. I could feel it in the way my body moved back and forth as the miles rushed past us.
That was where I was headed. To live with an aunt I’d never known existed until yesterday. In a matter of days, my entire life had been turned upside down, and I hadn’t had a single choice in the decision.
The joy of being a minor.
Sitting upright once more, I looked out the window, noticing the sheer number of trees that passed by. Country roads seemed more constant than the city roads I was accustomed to. They were rough and rocky, but it gave the bus a kind of movement that reminded me of a baby carriage — gentle and even.
In some cities, there was no such thing as constant, and that included roads. With their deep potholes and quick patch jobs, they could take a passenger on a wild ride with no regard for the outcome. I should know. I’d grown up in the slums of Washington, DC, and I had the scars to prove it.
Looking out the window, I found myself smiling. Maybe a smirk was more accurate. Roads were sort of like people. There were those who were gentle, maybe a little rough around the edges, like the dusty road I was traveling down at this very moment in time.
And then there were the city roads. Patched and bandaged beyond repair. So full of holes and problems, it was hard to decide whether it was even worth repairing.
Which road was I?
I took a glance out at the darkened path that went on for miles ahead of us, and then I looked down at the bright red gloves that covered my hands.
I was the road that no one wanted to walk on. The scary alley everyone avoided.
Because there was damaged, and then there was just plain broken.
And I was one step beyond all that.
My mom had never been much for organization.
Unless it came to her business.
Yes, she actually called it that — her business. Even though she was paid in all cash and her wardrobe mainly consisted of… well, never mind. But, beyond her business, the woman couldn’t remember to stock the fridge with food, pay the electricity bill on time, or do any of those other pesky things adults had to deal with.
So, I didn’t know why I was surprised to find myself alone under a curtain of rain two hours after I was dropped off on the outskirts of a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. Did I even have an aunt, or was this my mother’s desperate attempt to get rid of me for good?
As fall hadn’t completely settled in Northern Virginia, the sticky air of summer still lingered, making me both cold from the rain and sweaty from all the humidity around me. Looking around for the tenth time as I huddled under the pathetic excuse for a rain shelter, I finally gave in, grabbing my phone and taking matters into my own hands.
With nothing more than a single lamp illuminating the tiny bus stop, I wasn’t about to let this place be my home for the evening. Using the prepaid phone I’d bought months ago with my own money, I fired up Google in a last-ditch effort to find a way out of this mess.
Within minutes, I found my answer.
And, soon, headlights appeared, and a tall, slender woman who mirrored my mom in her likeness — minus the fake boobs and horrible wardrobe — stepped out of a car to greet me. She looked younger, livelier, but still, it was all there. The baby-blue eyes, the flawless cream skin, and that megawatt smile. My mother only awarded it every so often, usually when it involved me doing something that benefited her. But when she did? I would feel like the most important person in the world.
It was probably why men always kept coming back for more.
I shook my head, rearranging my thoughts, and gave a stiff wave. My aunt — her name was Addington — seemed a little taken aback by me, her eyes briefly pausing on my covered fingers and my less than welcoming appearance.
I knew what she must be thinking. Who wears gloves in September in Virginia?
I was pretty sure I was the only one.
She waved back, once again giving that smile that set me on edge. It was too familiar. Everything about her was too familiar.
“Call me Addy,” she said, her voice smooth like silk.
My mother’s voice was rough from years of smoke. Addington’s — or Addy’s rather — was different.
Different was good.
“Why don’t we get your things into the car?” she offered in that velvety voice once more.
I gave her a long, hard stare before looking down at the modest bag of belongings I’d brought with me.
Finally, I nodded.
I didn’t trust her.
I didn’t trust anyone anymore.
But I guessed a woman who looked like my mom but didn’t sound like her was a better alternative than sleeping on a bench in the pouring rain.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to pick you up, Willow,” Addy said as the car traveled down the darkened road.
I held my hands tightly together before wrapping my arms around my waist as I tried not to reach up and flip on the interior light.
It’s too dark.
I could feel sweat beginning to bead around my temples, mixing with the leftover rainwater. Both trickled down my face as I stared into the lights of the oncoming traffic.
If I were in the city, it would be bright.
Even at night.
The sky would be alight from buildings, cars, and stoplights. The city never slept.
Out here, in the country — or what I considered the country — the only light in the sky was from stars. For most, it would be a welcome sight.
But, for me, it was just darkness.
My mind began to backtrack. Back to that night… back to that room.
“She didn’t tell me what time to pick you up,” my aunt chimed in again.
I thought she was trying to apologize, but I couldn’t seem to pay attention. Not when the black of night was closing in on me.
Finally, we pulled into a driveway, and she pushed the car into park. The overhead lights came on, and I exhaled, relaxing, before the breath returned to my lungs, and the memories faded.
“It’s okay,” I finally responded. “It’s not the first time she’s forgotten about me.”
And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Addy offered to help me with my soggy bag of clothes, but I declined, grabbing it out of the back of her rusty hatchback. Looking around, I noticed she lived in a small, well lit neighborhood. It appeared dated but well kept, nothing like the filthy apartment building I’d come from.
Following her toward the front door, I took note of the many plants and shrubberies that lined the walkway. There was even one of those dumb little gnomes you would see on TV. Hers was dressed like a ninja, making it hard to see in the dim light, but the pointy little hat was hard to miss.
I waited for her to unlock the front door, taking my time to absorb every little detail — from the hand-painted single initial F on the door to the tidy doormat that matched the season.
Who is the woman?
And how did she and my mother share a womb?
Although my aunt might look younger, it was only because, while my mother had been busy growing her business, my aunt had been buying garden gnomes and planting flowers.
But they were, in fact, identical twins.
Or at least, that was what I had been told two nights ago when my mother informed me I was being shipped off to Sugar Tree, Virginia, to live with the woman. I didn’t know much about my elusive aunt, but as I stepped into the house, I realized she couldn’t be more different from the woman I’d just left.
“I know it’s not that much,” Addy apologized, looking around, “but it’s cozy and all mine. There are only two bedrooms. One I was using for a craft room, but I’m going to clean it out for you. I just need some time. So, for now, I’m going to have you sleep here.” She pointed to the couch. “I hope that’s okay. This was all a bit sudden.”
I looked at the cozy couch, pausing briefly before turning back to her. Swallowing nervously, I nodded.
“Okay!” she exclaimed. “Let me get some bedding. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable?”
As she scurried off to find linens, I moved around the room from one corner to the other. Knickknacks and random little pieces of art were everywhere. Thinking of that song Ariel sung in The Little Mermaid about gadgets and gizmos, I swore, in that moment, I felt like I’d stumbled upon her underwater cave, only it was in my aunt’s living room.
Who in their right mind collects this much crap?
“I’m a bit of a crafter,” Addy spoke up.
I turned around to see her with her arms heavy with blankets and pillows.
“I’ve been single for years; decades, it feels like.” She laughed. “And I guess it gives me something to do in a town where there are literally no single men. Kind of pathetic, right?”
I looked back at the display shelf that housed everything from crocheted animals to stained glass before glancing back at her silently.
Because I had no words for that.
A life without men?
It sounded like heaven to me.
Copyright J.L. Berg 2017