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1. The Hidden Me
The silence in my bedroom stretched so thin, I could have sworn there was no one else in the world but me. But with one click of my computer mouse, I would share my deepest secret with millions of strangers who surfed the web.
And I would do it anonymously.
Not written by Kara Martinez, a girl who did her best to appear normal, but the hidden girl who was far from normal and who no one else got to see.
The digital clock at the top of my screen read: 5:22 P.M. Mom would be home any minute.
I wet my lips and clicked "publish." Wiped my damp palms on my thighs and navigated to the homepage. I stared at my blog entry, reading it as if for the first time. As if I hadn't already agonized over every word, every sentence, a hundred times.
Above the blog, my website logo flowed in a thick, curving white font -- "Secret Fates: The Sign Seer Blog" -- against a black background. Next to the title was an ancient mirror with an image of a city scene in the center of the glass. A simple, clean design.
My straight hair fell forward like a veil on both sides of my face. I hooked the strands behind my ear before clicking to the browser homepage, clearing the history and the cache. Since launching the website two days ago, I'd taken every precaution to not leave any obvious connections between me and the website.
Thanks to plenty of online articles, I was as secure as I was going to be keeping my identity secret, unless I became the victim of a very determined and experienced hacker. At the moment, I wasn't on anyone's radar and was protected enough by security software that if someone tried to follow my ISP, I'd know it. I'd even gone a step further and signed on to an anonymous proxy by a software program that replaced my real IP address with a fake one, so that if anyone read my service logs, I'd be technically camouflaged. Being this cautious was the only way I would allow myself to have this website.
Just hoped I wouldn't end up regretting it.
I grabbed my now warm coca-cola cherry soda, and took one last swig to finish it off. Tossed the can in my garbage tin and rolled my shoulders to stop the annoying itch at my back.
Done. No going back.
Standing, I pulled off my fitted black tee and threw it on my bed, then picked up the pink top laid out on my pillows and slid it on.
The sudden low hum of the garage door from downstairs had me picking up speed to the oak-trimmed mirror above my dresser. My dark, shoulder-length hair was limp as usual. The soft beige of my complexion a little pale. Damn those dark circles under my eyes.
Tools of disguise were lined up across my dresser.
The brush came first, to quickly run it back through my tangled strands. A few dots of cover-up to smear on the darkness below my eyes. The gloss stick next -- a swipe of pale pink across my mouth. I'd always wanted to try a darker maroon, but then thought better of it.
With my right hand, I smoothed down the soft material of the pink top. One of the many things Mom brought home after a trip to the mall.
I saw this at Mervyn's and knew it was you. You love pink.
I hadn't loved pink since the fourth grade.
Grabbing my discarded tee, I stuffed it in a plastic bag that I kept in my closet. My other laundry bag. The clothes I washed myself when Mom wasn't home. Then I grabbed the tall, thin silver thermos from my desk, the heat a comfort against my palm, and stashed it in a sandal shoebox.
One more quick mirror check -- yep, the daughter my mother wanted me to be -- and I headed downstairs.
The television was already turned on in the front room. A newscaster murmured the latest story at low volume. I strolled past, catching flashes of policemen and crime scene tape.
Another murder, gang related.
In the last three years, gang violence in Valdez, California (population 103,000), had boomed on the city streets. Even though an antigang task force had been formed in an attempt to stop street violence and schools were locked down when a gang rumble erupted, the task force hadn't stopped the gangs from retaliating against each other. After a while, you learned to live with the violence on the streets. Avoidance and playing it safe was the best defense, or so the police chief informed the public.
Safety was just an illusion maintained so that people could go about their lives. Danger and even death lurked behind every facet of life. Sad, but a reality I knew firsthand.
In the kitchen, Mom leaned against the gray stone counter, humming, while flipping through the mail. A brown leather briefcase stood at attention on the tiled floor. Her hair was styled in a simple yet elegant French twist, revealing her earlobes, dotted with the tiny diamonds. A tailored light gray skirt and jacket fit her to perfection. Her blouse was white, and simple black two-inch pumps graced her petite feet. This was her business attire as a legal secretary at Stewart, Gerber & Mason Law.
If you didn't know Katherine Martinez, it was pretty much impossible to figure out she was half Mexican, since her Irish heritage prevailed. She didn't speak Spanish, although she understood it. And with her golden skin that could be mistaken for a suntan and reddish brown hair, she looked white. There wasn't even a hint she had a mother who was born and raised in Mexico.
Dad had been another story. Besides his dark skin and hair, Mexican roots had sprouted from him like blooming flowers, because, well, it simply had been who he was. The deep-down-to-the-heart part of him. He'd shared his heritage with his family in the food he cooked, the Spanish he spoke, and the stories he told of his childhood surrounded by aunts and uncles. With him gone, it was Mom's perfect "American" lifestyle that we now followed in this household.
Whether we liked it or not.
Mom glanced up with a smile, her humming coming to a pause. Her dark green eyes made their usual quick inspection; if everything looked normal with me, then everything was surely okay. Mom needed okay.
"Hi, baby," she finally said with a relaxed smile.
I picked a red apple from the basket on the kitchen table, rubbing my thumb along the thick skin. Inspection passed. The tension in my shoulders eased. "What's for dinner?"
"Hmm. I'm thinking Chinese."
I'd been hoping for Mexican, as usual. I took a bite of the apple, chewed. "You read my mind. Beef broccoli sounds good."
"Heard from Jay?"
"No." A picture of him formed in my mind...a younger Jason, smiling. Happy. A time I remembered him best.
The lock on the front door rattled before Jason entered the house. I was used to the little occurrences of thinking of someone before they arrived or called on the phone, but that was as far as my "seeing" ability went with my family. I never came across signs that pertained to those I loved. Didn't know why. There wasn't exactly a Sign Seer Bible available for checkout at the local library.
Dark hair brushed the tops of Jason's brown eyes. He'd been blessed with these high cheekbones that made girls look twice, but the thick eyebrows and hard jawline he'd inherited from Dad stopped him from being too pretty. His clothes, worn a size too big, usually consisted of a T-shirt, faded jeans, Vans footwear, and a black zip-up hoodie.
"Hi, Jay," Mom said to him. "We were just talking about you."
He lifted his head in acknowledgment, his bangs clearing from his eyes, and loped his tall body straight to the fridge.
Mom turned and leaned against the counter, crossing her arms. "How was work?"
"Fine." Jason pulled out a soda can, shut the fridge, and popped the tab. The can retaliated with a quiet hiss.
"Good. We were thinking Chinese for dinner. Weren't we, Kara?"
"Yep," I answered, doing my part.
"What do you think, Jay?"
"Already ate," he managed before tipping his head back and chugging down the soda.
"Oh? What'd you have?" Mom's voice lost its cheerful tone. The forced smile she wore faded away. She knew we'd be having another dinner without my brother. It had been like that since he graduated from high school two years ago and started a job as an apprentice cameraman/errand boy at the local news station.
There were days I would have loved to yell, "Yo, Ma, wake up! Family dinners are history." But that wasn't who I was at home. I didn't express my opinions and did my best to keep the peace. Dad used to say Mom had a stubborn streak a mile wide. Oh, had he been right. Disagreeing with Mom was like going up against a brick wall bare-handed. You could hit at it, doing your best to break it down, but then you'd just end up with bruised hands, the wall still standing without a scratch.
All I knew about Jason's job was that he ran errands while he tried to learn about television. Not sure if that was what he wanted to do with his life. He didn't exactly share his aspirations with me. Well, the ass part of him came through just fine, actually.
"A burrito from a taqueria." He turned to leave the kitchen.
I sighed into my apple. Lucky dog.
"What are you up to now?" Mom wanted to know.
His shoulders slumped and he blew out a loud breath. I imagined his thick eyebrows lowering over his eyes in aggravation. "I'm grabbing a shower and change before I head out. Got an event to cover at the sports complex."
"When will you be home?"
He shook his head. "Probably around eleven. Don't know." Then he was gone, and all we heard was the pounding of his footsteps up the carpeted staircase and his door slamming us out of his life.
I glanced at Mom. A faint wrinkle formed between her eyes, the rare hurt she let show, before she turned back to the mail, a comforting daily task.
Moments like these, I wished Dad were still alive.
Copyright © 2008 by Kelly L. Callihan