The table in the room was wobbly. One leg was missing its bottom piece, causing the table to rock anytime someone put weight on it.There was a noticeable scratch down the middle leading to the half hook anchored in the center of the table. The wobbly table with the scratch bothered Misti more than the two-way mirror hiding the eyes that were watching her write. The table wobbled with every stroke of the pen, making her handwriting sloppy. She knew they were in there, discussing her fate. She stopped writing and looked at the mirror, hiding any emotion on her face.
“I’m done.” She dropped the pen and pushed the yellow legal pad away, hiding the scratch the best she could. She crossed her arms and cradled her elbows. The door to the room opened and Detective Sanders and Ms. Webb entered. Detective Sanders took the notepad and scanned what she had written. Misti watched him out of the corner of her eye, focusing on the stupid scratch again. She hoped he didn’t need her to rewrite it. If it was too sloppy, it wasn’t her fault. They needed a better table.
“Misti, do you have any family? Anyone in the city?” Ms. Webb asked, pulling out a stack of forms and dropping them on the table. She pulled out the chair on the other side of the table.
“No.” The table rocked as Ms. Webb waited, clicking a pen and writing in fine print on the first form.
“Do you know of any family? Anywhere? We really prefer to place children with family.”
“I have an aunt, down south. In Colorado. I haven’t seen her in a while.” Maybe ten years. Maybe less. Misti remembered the town. Remembered her aunt. She was nothing like her sister.
“Do you know her name?”
Ms. Webb wrote down the name carefully. She seemed to be oblivious to the table. Her handwriting was perfect. Misti turned her eyes away from the government forms and focused on the detective. He was on the third page of her statement. Had she really written that much?
“What’s going to happen to my mom?”
Detective Sanders looked up at her, his dark eyes sharp even with his graying hair and deep wrinkles. “She’s going to prison.”
“She needs to go to a mental hospital.” Both adults raised their eyebrows at her. “I’m not making excuses for what she did. But a prison isn’t going to help her.” Misti lost her voice and her eyes fell back on the table.
“That is for the court to decide.” Detective Sanders tucked the notepad under his arm and patted Misti on the shoulder. “The statement is great. I know it must have been hard.”
Misti didn’t look up at him, gripping her elbows harder. The clock above the door was hanging askew. Almost as annoying as the wobbly table. It was just after 4am.
Ms. Webb rose and followed him, saying nothing to Misti. Misti stared at the table, ignoring the sandwich someone had offered her hours earlier and the soda sitting in a pool of condensation. Outside, she kept her face neutral. Inside, she was plotting her escape. She didn’t need the state to take care of her. They hadn’t been concerned for the last seventeen years. Now didn’t seem like the time to be concerned. The clock kept ticking. First ten minutes went by. Then twenty. Finally an hour. Ms. Webb returned and sat down without a word. Misti couldn’t decide if she liked the woman. She lacked the empathy that most of the social workers Misti had dealt with had. She didn’t fawn over her, hug her, continually touch her. She just asked her an occasional question. Misti wanted to sketch her. Make her look like a witch; a misunderstood one. She kept children locked up in her house, but gave them everything they needed. Not to eat them or anything like that. Just to try to keep them safe.
“I can just stay here.” Misti felt the words bubble out of her. “I can just keep working and finish school. I turn eighteen in June.”
“Until you are eighteen, you need to be with an adult.” Ms. Webb stopped writing, pursing her lips at Misti. Misti knew she looked a mess. The two-way window was a great mirror. Her hair was disheveled and her dark eyeliner smeared.
“I got a hold of your aunt and uncle. They have agreed to take you.”
Misti felt like sixty pounds of weights had been taken off her shoulders and now put in her stomach. She did not want to be a burden.
“You called them at 4 in the morning to talk to them?”
Ms. Webb glanced at her watch. She seemed startled by the time. “I guess I did.” She sniffed, unconcerned.
Ms. Webb and Detective Sanders escorted Misti back to the apartment. The daylight had drawn a bigger crowd. There were two officers standing guard at the stairs, nodding a hello to the adults and offering sad smiles to Misti as they climbed the stairs past them. The music from the first floor apartment had been turned off for the first time since Misti had lived there. The stairs were bustling with people. On the second floor, the light had been fixed. Misti had been asking the super to fix that light for three months.
“It might be best to keep your eyes focused on me.” Detective Sanders stopped outside the police tape and accepted the blue shoe covers. He handed a pair to Misti. She put them on while the lab tech called for everyone to take five. Several people streamed past the tape, removing the blue covers before plodding down the stairs, some pulling out cigarettes as they went, talking about the Cubs and the hell of a mess they were stepping away from.
Misti gave one nod. Detective Sanders stepped in first and Misti followed, doing her best to keep her eyes on his back. He knew where he was going and took her to her little room in the back. Her things had clearly been rifled through. Misti dropped to the floor, dragging out well-used suitcases. Sanders shut the door, blocking out the mess in the living room. She grabbed her clothes from the drawer, and from the pile in the corner. Would she have time to wash them before she left? She usually did laundry on Saturday mornings, before work.
“Ms. Webb said you should be on a bus this afternoon heading for Colorado. Never been there. Heard the mountains are something else.”
Misti didn’t know if that was a question or a statement. She continued to gather her things, hurrying so she didn’t waste any more of the detective’s time.
“This isn’t your fault, you know.”
Misti glanced up from her task. Detective Sanders was focusing hard on her.
“She needed help a long time ago. I could’ve e gotten it for her.” Misti dropped the makeup bag into her pack. Would they at least let her shower before she got on a bus?
“You’re a kid. Should never have been your job to be working as much as you are, taking care of your mom. Should have been the other way around. You should have been out, doing teenage girl stuff. Driving boys crazy, going to dances, seeing movies.”
Misti stared at him, unsure of how to respond. Not her job? Of course it had been her job. Her mother needed her to be there. Without her doing all of this, where would they have been? Misti glanced around the room. “That’s it, I guess.”
Detective Sanders led her out and Misti glanced down once. The blood had ruined the carpet. The lazy building manager would have to replace it.
When they arrived back at the station, Misti asked if she could take a shower somewhere. They escorted her to the women’s locker room. A female officer waited outside while she showered quickly. She scrubbed her skin raw and cleaned up her face. She pulled out her makeup and was starting to apply eyeliner when Ms. Webb barged in.
“The bus leaves in an hour.” Ms Webb glanced at herself in the mirror, smoothing her bobbed hair. She turned her eye to Misti’s thick eyeliner. “Before you go, Misti, I want you to think of this as a new, fresh start.” Misti kept applying her makeup. “You could reinvent yourself. Be someone you have always wanted to be but couldn’t.”
Misti finished her makeup. There was no way to hide the dark circles under her eyes. Sleep would be the only thing that fixed that.
“Did you hear what I said?”
Misti nodded that she had. But really, did she need to take advice from Ms. Webb, the robot woman?
They stepped out into the hall together. Detective Sanders was talking on his phone. He ended the conversation and approached them.
“Do you want to see your mom? Say goodbye?” he asked her.
Misti shifted the messenger bag on her shoulder and looked from adult to adult. “No. I have a bus to catch.”