Burning flames was all she could remember on the day of her parents’ death. If she knew her parents had any enemies, she might’ve had an idea, but she was four years old. What would she know?
It was just an accident according to the fire department. A stove left on by mistake. Even as she remembered that important piece of information, she had no will to put blame on any of her parents. She was too young to even remember what her last name was if taught it at all. The only things she had left were her first name, the clothes on her back, and the last image of her parents pushing her out the front door before the flames engulfed their bodies.
It was about two o’clock in the morning. It was far too early for the sun to break the eastern horizon. Four-year-old Shanna was standing outside her old house, watching it burn for hours before emergency arrived. She just stood on her lawn frozen in a world of heat. She gazed at the flames as if she was looking at the stars in the midnight sky. Not a single sound came out of her mouth until sirens approached from behind.
The police found her staring at the fallen, burning home she had once existed in. They rushed her into their car to shield young Shanna from the heat. Shanna didn’t seem to mind any of it. She watched the firemen spray gallons of water onto the building. The smoke fogged the car window from Shanna’s small yet innocent eyes. She leaned forward to the nearest officer in the car and asked where her mommy and daddy were in the tragic scene.
The policeman just shrugged.
Poor Shanna stared out the police car window, watching the flames from the house, sparkling like fireworks. She knew somehow that as soon as the police car drove away from the burning house, she was never going to see her mother and father ever again. She knew, she would let it be known, everyone will know about this tragedy of a four-year-old girl. What was worse, she never got the chance to say, “I love you,” or “Goodbye.”
She was assigned to her first foster family when she still lived in the suburban area of New York. Little Shanna was seven years old by that time. The family’s name was Downy. The family consisted of the father, Roger, the mother, Marta, and their eleven-year-old daughter, Sally. Shanna only lived with the family of three for two months. Shane felt that those two months felt like another year in the foster care center she was already tossed in after none of her living biological family member came to claim her at the police station.
The first thing she heard Sally Downy say to her, after a full week of being mute around her new sister, was, “You’re not one of us, you cockroach.”
“My name is Shanna,” the little girl countered, stomping her foot onto the wood floor.
Sally scoffed. “Shanna? What kind of name is Shanna anyway?”
Poor Shanna felt defenseless against her older foster sister. She went to her foster parents for help, but they just shooed her away as they continued to talk about their latest work projects that Shanna didn’t understand. Every time Sally bullied her, they did nothing about it. They thought it was just little girls being little girls. If Shanna knew one thing for sure in that house, she was not loved. If anything, she was probably hated. Hated for dear life.
On the second month of living in that house, Shanna had enough hatred. She had enough of the lies, which were more than noticeable in the eyes of a eight-year-old. She had enough of ugly words. While Sally was still at school and Marta, her foster mother, was at the sewing club, Shanna grabbed a red marker from Sally’s coloring box. She ran to the master bedroom and had the door shut for a half an hour. After her business, she ran to the living room; her hands were cherry red. Shanna told Roger that she drew a picture while she was busy. Roger gave a small grin and asked if he could see it. She guided Roger to the bedroom. The seven-year-old pointed to the wall as if she really wanted him to look at it. If he didn’t, she might’ve pushed him towards the wall like a cop to a suspect.
“You like?” she asked.
“Shanna!” exclaimed Roger Downy, “We just painted the walls!”
“They looked boring.”
She was out of there. Roger pushed her into his car and placed her back in the foster care building. She left a mark on the Downys that day. On the right hand bottom corner of the picture of the “X,” there read a name that Shanna was going to use for the rest of her life. “Shane.”
Her second family wasn’t much better. The Tanners already had three kids of their own, and as far as priorities went, Shane was the last to receive any loving attention. However, if there was one thing Shane was thankful for, it was learning about a special place called the beach. The Tanners took the kids to Long Island. Though Shane hadn’t been there for as long as she could remember, she recalled what it looked like as if she went there the day before. Never had Shane seen anything cleaner and fresher than the soft sand and salty water that stretched into the great beyond known as the ocean. The moment she dipped her right big toe into the settling wave, a chilling yet cool sensation tickles her spine. She jumped into the next crashing wave, coating herself in the east coast ocean water. Shane could’ve swam in it all day if it weren’t for human skin becoming as dry as cooked shrimp after a half an hour.
The beach was a perfect place to be alone despite her foster parents playing with the children they conceived. If Shane had a favorite spot for any beach at all, it had to be where the was either a pier, a dock, or a line of giant rocks to sit on. That was where the wind blew the most. Despite the salt smell forcing itself up her nose, sitting there was the equivalent to laying in a field of grass and flowers but in a city environment. She never wanted to leave. If she could create a whole new world to live in just to get out of the one that tortured her, anything with the shore and water was it. Her happy place was the sound of waves crashing onto the sand and rocks.
Eventually, the Tanners returned Shane to foster care after Shane overheard the mother saying that she was “bored of playing mom to a momless kid.”
Shane moved from state to state for years (though most of the moves were on her own accord). She went from New York to New Jersey to Delaware to New York again to New Jersey a second time to Maryland to New York for the third time in her life. So many houses, but none of them felt like home. Shane couldn’t even remember what home even meant. When she was asked at school about home, Shane couldn’t even tell her class. They said it was Shane being snarky, but for Shane, it was the truth. What was snarky about the truth?
Her last family out of the thirteen she had to live with was with the Petersons when she was fifteen years old. The Petersons were the most brutal, and Shane couldn’t be more miserable than she was in the other twelve families. For a family who was so abusive to Shane, they decided to keep her for two years, the maximum time anyone had kept the girl. They never sent her back for whatever Shane did or didn’t do. They were too busy smoking, drinking, getting high, or spending Shane’s welfare money to notice their only daughter around the house. They didn’t even call her “Shane,” but they didn’t call her “Shanna” either. The father would only shout, “Hey!” and Shane automatically knew that was her calling cue. That word could mean anything, and Shane always reacted to it as if it was the end of the world for her. The mother was mute. The only way she could talk was through her binge drinking and hiccups. Not even Shane could understand, but she didn’t even care either way. She already had been through a life of rejection and hatred. It was about time she’d spread her wings and fly away on her own.
On the night she turned seventeen, she kicked her bedroom window out of the frame, watching it fall into the dead rose garden. Before she put her foot out, she realized she needed cash to fulfill her escape plan. She snuck into the bedroom while her foster parents (though parents wouldn’t be the proper word at that point in time) were laughing their heads off before touching their wine glasses together, pretending to be the rich ******** that they were through the welfare cash. Shane ripped the zipper of her foster mom’s gold Gucci wallet until it broke. The fifty dollars she kept for a night with the girls at the bar was now Shane’s for a train. She went over to her foster dad’s coin chest, cracked the lock, and made the chest empty with one knock over. After sneaking back unnoticed, Shane reached her broken window again, and she jumped.
After walking ten, long miles, she arrived at the train station, which was quiet. The early summer wind pushed her hair back from her pale, flat face as she glanced up at the sign of freedom. If the girl had to be honest with herself, she had no idea where she wanted to go, but all she knew was that she wanted to go as far away as the train station was able. She stared at the station’s schedule and saw that there was one line going to a place that ended farther than all the others.
“Providence,” Shane said as she approached the counter.
The ticket person scanned the girl from head to thighs and gave her the price for adults, which mean thirteen years plus for the station. The teen hated the thought of looking like some side hoe without makeup waiting for her next John on the street. However, the Petersons didn’t give her much choice of clothes. In fact, Shane didn’t have any say. She only wore what she was given…even if those clothes made her look like an adult ******.
Shane handed fifty dollars, and the attendant handed Shane the train ticket and the change with a shove. She rushed down to the track to catch the final train on track five for the night. She was on her way for sure as soon as she got on board.
The eastern coastline seemed more beautiful than what Shane remembered as the train left the New York Station. Of course, as each state passed, everything started to look the same to her, which didn’t matter regardless. The shore reminded her of all the families she had been with from age seven to present. Oh, how she felt blessed going to the beach on those warm summer days, sitting in the sand, digging into it with her toes. She missed swimming in it with the waves crashing on her. On second thought, being alone gave her peace as she also sat on the rocks and stared out into the sunset, her absolute favorite part of her beach adventures.
But then, it all came back to her again. Parents, siblings, attention. Parents, Shane, no attention. Shane wanted nobody after all the hell she’d been through. Who needed anybody if all they were going to get was nothing in return?
She only wanted to focus on one thing and one thing only, and that was surprisingly not the beach that time around. Shane opened her bag and searched for her old dance shoes, which she always brought with her no matter where she went. She had been with the shoes since she found them along the side of the road when she was thirteen. Though she hadn’t danced in a while, the precious memories of learning how were the only precious ones she had.
The moment she got the perfect glimpse, the perfect daydream came to her on that train ride. She was in darkness except she felt light as a feather with the limelight shining onto her. Shane could hear the crowd screaming and cheering as she was praised for doing something that she loved most. She wanted to be taught how to dance again since the last time she had an official lesson was when a teacher came to visit her old foster care center in New York when she was six. Shane couldn’t remember the official name of the style she learned at the time, but if there was one thing that stood out to her, it was that she had the time of her life since her parents’ death.
She kept that thought in her mind while gazing down at her sneakers while the train entered Providence, Rhode Island, her new destination and hopefully, home. But who was she kidding? Home hadn’t been a word that made sense to her since the day she was sent away from her first foster home.
Since then, her only escape besides the beach was to run into the backyard and wave her body around, pretending that she was onstage, pretending that she knew which dance was doing, pretending to hear applause of approval in front of her. Approval, love, achievement. The things she always wanted but never received.
The past is the past now, she thought. On that train, Shane could prepare to start her life over. She imagined that being the age she was, she could finally make her own decisions and fix up herself in her way. No one else knew how to do it. As Shane stared out the window, her brain was tickled by the thought of she had no clue where to start.
Providence? Why that city?
It’s far, she told herself. No one would notice me, so no more being put in places where I didn’t fit in the first place.
Like she hadn’t been noticed for the majority of her life.
But she was going to be mistaken.
Shane got off last after waking up to the screech of the train’s engine. She didn’t notice the demographic of the other customers on the night train earlier, but she was stunned at how many young people took the evening time to travel. She was even slightly more intrigued about how many of their family members were waiting at the pick up door, which was located to the building’s right from her point of view. So many hugs and kisses that it made Shane’s stomach churn like butter. So much butter that she gagged.
The evening city wind pushed her shoulder-cut hair to the side and out of her face, so she could get a perfect glimpse of the area she had no direction for yet. It was the pitch black of night, there were so little stars, and some of the building’s lights were dim at best. Closing time for the shops created a haunting atmosphere.
Shane checked the clock that hung above the line’s waiting dock, and it read a quarter after midnight. Shane was too weak, tired, and oblivious to care about the time and day. Her first thought in mind was where she could sleep in peace. All she wanted was to sleep, and she couldn’t care less about how long she wanted it to be, but she wanted her strength back for the new day. All that escape and train riding brought more pain to her body than she could even imagine.
Shane always had the feeling that she was being watched. Though the whole world never knew about a poor seventeen-year-old with long, dark hair, foggy eyes, who wore mostly dark-colored clothes and chokers, yet she loved to do the things the normal teenagers loved to do. Still, if she were to say it, it would be speaking a foreign language. Even when no one would ever bother with the poor, scummy creatures, society still had silent, high expectations Shane wasn’t going to meet on her own. Alone in that new city. How would Shane do that time?
Providence was the capital of Rhode Island, so it would make sense that it would be as lively as the other cities in the country. As Shane exited the station, she saw that the city area was on her left, and the pier was on her right. The sea breeze chilled her shoulders, which to Shane, was a good feeling for the beginning of a warm season. Providence was colder than New York, much colder due to Providence’s northern location. It was summer for the northern hemisphere, but the chill was normal to the state at night as Shane should’ve expected since learning about it in school.
The other passengers on the train met up with somebody else, and they would drive away in their cars to their next destination. Shane, of course, walked her way into Providence with no one expecting here, which at that moment, was a good thing unless she wanted the cops to take her back to her drunk foster family. She had no friends to meet up with or license to prove that she could drive any vehicle (like she wanted one otherwise).
Inside Providence, Shane strolled through the town, looking through the closed antique shops and restaurants that are waiting to open in six hours or more. Every time that Shane spotted a sign with a bagel plastered on it, her stomach gave her a punch to let her know what she hadn’t eaten for hours since the last night (only because meals at her old home were not scheduled). Her head pounded every ten seconds, causing her to sometimes lose focus. There must had been something that Shane could ****** off a cart with the change money that she had left in her pocket.
She gave a loud sigh as she trudged on. A whiff of soup smacked her tiny nose a few feet into the walk. Shane’s stomach punched her again, so she had no choice but to follow the delicious smell. Across the street, Shane spotted a soup kitchen. Some people in rags entered through the white door for a bite to eat in the middle of the night, torn bags of clothes and other things in tow. Shane looked down at her muddy sneakers and thought a couple of reasons why couldn’t she go in with those covering her feet?
The soup kitchen felt cramped for the building’s size. A couple of nighters sat at separate tables, dripping spoonfuls of soup down into their throats. Shane passed by two tables. One contained an Indian man with fingerless gloves, and the other held a white man with a growing beard. Shane knew that the second man could not afford a barber, nonetheless shaving supplies, in order to get rid of the hair on his chin. He didn’t seem to mind it though. She walked up to the serving counter and pressed her stomach against it to make the growling stop for the next couple of seconds. It that point, the growling turned into cramps.
An elderly woman returned from the kitchen area to the counter once she spotted a customer. Her smile to Shane was a kind one despite missing a few teeth, and Shane was not bothered by it in the slightest. The expression of kindness was replaced by her looks, and it would any day of the week. “Some clam chowder, sweetie?” she asked as if it was the only thing she could serve. It seemed like it to the girl.
“Yes, please,” Shane replied.
The nice old lady, who introduced herself as Flora when she picked up the ladle from the huge pot of chowder, poured a large cup of the delicious smelling substance into a small antique bowl that the new girl assumed Flora got from a garage sale. “Careful, it’s hot as the pavement in the mornin’,” she warned.
Shane grabbed the bowl with her two hands anyway. “Thanks.”
“How old are you?” asked Flora, trying to start a small conversation before the girl would leave.
Shane snatched a spoon from the utensils box before deciding to head over to a table anyway. What did she want to say? Something that wasn’t going to lead her to a place she didn’t want to go if Shane had to be honest with herself. “Eighteen.”
“Ah. Ripe age. What’s your name?”
“Shane,” she replied.
“What’s a girl like you doing in a soup kitchen?” Flora asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be at home with your parents?”
She didn’t want to answer since the second question made her stomach turn even more than before, but she was speaking to an old biddy. What harm was in her for telling her something like that? “I just came to town, ma’am. I needed a change in scenery. I’m a free agent.”
“If you’re eighteen, I suppose you’re right. Young people can do whatever they want these days. But money don’t grow on trees, you know.”
Shane wished that her last family knew that. Then, they would’ve have spent so much money on themselves, and she wouldn’t have been living in a ******** for two years.
After her small meal at the soup kitchen, Shane left for the suburban part of Providence. She thought that the town was fun for an hour, but it was getting very late that night, and she had to be much to be deserving. The sun was about to come up soon, and she hadn’t even found a place to stay yet. Shivering, Shane headed over to a small neighborhood full of small pretty houses, not even one with the lights on. At the end of the road, with the border of the houses being pleasant fields of grass, there was a somewhat flashy three floor hotel with some lights still aglow. Shane bet that the place had the nicest view at the top from how far her head was leaning past her neck as she looked up. The place looked too nice for the little money that she had with her. It was best that she would go far away as possible before she would be found for soliciting.
Shane was used to having the streets be even as she walked, so she didn’t have to worry about tripping on some overflowing concrete, which she had tripped on three times already. Then, there was a fourth, and that time, Shane heard something snap. She rolled down her sock past her ankle. The end of her foot was red. Some of the red was turning purple. Every time Shane laid on her fingers on it, she cringed, resisting to scream in pain for the sake of those who don’t want to wake up thinking there was a murder going on.
She had to keep going regardless. She hopped a couple of inches on her healthy foot but tripped on the curb and landed on her sprained foot again. Shane whimpered, but she didn’t scream. The injured girl tried to get back up, but she couldn’t put the force on her foot. It felt broken like glass after a bar fight. She couldn’t move again once on the ground. Shane, once again, felt hopeless like every other time before. She was heavy as a rock lying on the side of the street. Not even a change of scenery would change her bad luck.
“Is someone there?”
Shane gasped. She tried to rush back up to standing, but the pain was too much to do that on an impulse of panic. She crawled only five centimeters away from her original spot before she was caught by a flashlight. She immediately raised her hands, assuming the cops finally got to her.
“Oh, Ed, look,” exclaimed a woman. “She’s hurt.”
Shane struggled to move. Even if she wanted to, her foot wouldn’t let her.
“Hey, take it easy, girl,” the man called Ed cooed, kneeling down to the injured stranger. He reached for her hand, but she pushed away like a disturbed pet.
Shane’s face was going pale the more she sat in silence. Her heart raced. Her life on the run was over, she had thought, and the next thing she knew was that she could’ve been going to juvi that night just for trespassing. (Even when she thought she hadn’t done anything wrong, it was just a walk to find a place.)
“We’re not going to hurt you,” the woman, who Shane assumed was this man’s wife, said. “Let me check you.” The wife got on her knees. Her brown shirt was getting dirty from the grass stains, but the wife did not mind it like any other woman. This surprised Shane even more than when she met the soup kitchen lady. The kind woman observed Shane’s ankle by touching it, which was the only way to know what condition it was in. Shane kept cringing, trying to even not to, but it was worthless. “Oh no, you sprained your ankle.”
“We better take her to the doctor,” Ed told his wife. “We can’t let her move.”
The wife passionately and patiently wiped Shane’s cheeks though the girl wasn’t even close to crying. If anything, the girl was only confused. “Don’t be afraid, sweetheart,” she whispered. “My name’s Susan, and this is my husband, Ed. We own this hotel down the street there. We know someone who can check this out for you.”