(This story is actually the first of the cycle, preceding other published stories.)
The trip from the bus was short. This morning she’d gotten off the ship at the Port of Newark. A walk, a bus to Newark, then Greyhound to New York. An hour got her something American to eat (she’d learned to like Filipino food, but man, that first hot dog…), then to the next bus, to Boston. She walked to Downtown Crossing, then caught the Orange Line to Haymarket, then another bus to where she’d lived. She’d had enough money to afford the trip.
The pay for a dockhand had been okay, especially since it was mostly off the books, and the captain would be annoyed at her desertion, but also pleased to have “LilamataPurple-Eyes” (as he’d called her) off his ship, getting rid of the woman and the bad luck superstitious sailors thought women brought on board.
The neighborhood hadn’t changed all that much. A couple houses had been repainted, the street had been finally repaved, but that was it.
She finally reached her destination. One light showed in the window that had been – was – her room. Shouldering the small duffle again, she climbed the front steps and rang the doorbell: two rings, pause, two rings, pause, ring. Her mother had her do that if she’d come home late, so it wasn’t just a prankster.
She heard the sound of someone flying down the stairs. The porch light came on and the door opened. Her mother looked more careworn, but much the same.
Mellisa Flanagan herself knew how she looked. A little taller, a bit rangier, her hair cut with a knife. She was clean enough, but could use a shower. She had barely aged even with what she had gone through. She wore the international uniform of a merchant ship’s crew: jeans, boots and a blue shirt over a white undershirt. The bra – grey, Chinese knockoff of a Playtex sportsbra – was hidden underneath. Everything else she owned – what little there was – was in the little duffle slung over a shoulder.
“Hi, mom,” she said tiredly, and then she was hauled in and her mother was hugging her tightly and crying, and then Mellisa was crying too, now that she was home.
Twenty minutes had her sitting in the kitchen, a cup of cocoa and some shortbreads in front of her. And with uncharacteristic diplomacy her mother informed her that her grandmother had died, two years ago.
“She missed you,” Mom said, “and she swore you’d be back. ‘Out looking for truth’, was what she said you were doing. She left you her book of friends.” Which was contacts in the government, most of whom were dead or retired or completely out of favors to use.
“I’ll need to visit,” Mellisa replied. “Take flowers.” Her voice was a little fragile. She took an uncomfortable sip of cocoa and waited for the inevitable question.
And it came next: “Where were you?”
She took a deep breath. “I saw Dad, at the airport. He contacted me, asked me to meet him. We had seconds before he got dragged away by Russians. I went to find him. In Russia. I… made some bad choices in who to trust and ended up getting stuck in a Russian prison with a fake Russian identity. Whoever Dad has ticked at him, it was big.” She took a deep breath, blew it out. “I held my own. Even impressed some people with my fighting when I got jumped. Learned a lot of Russian. Got some tattoos, because when they offer them in a prison, you insult them if you say no.” Mellisa took a drink of cocoa to clear her mind.
“Now I need to get some paperwork in order, I guess.”
“The Russians said you disappeared. They said a lot of things, but they all seemed to think you were dead.” Mary Frances Flanagan bit her lip. “But I knew you were alive. I always knew. And now… we need to get you back. Will you go back to school, or….?” She trailed off, as if not sure what else might happen.
“I’ll see what I can do. Need my GED. Maybe some classes, get me college-ready. And…” The smile on her mother’s face started to slip. “Inventory and replace. Maybe a new suit. I think I can still help people. I’m better than I was. I learned a few tricks.”
“And if someone follows you home?”
“They’ll follow someone else. A Russian immigrant. I still have my Russian passport with a totally legal identity, just… not an American one.”
“Your grandmother, bless her, indulged you. And if she hadn’t you might not have gone to Russia.”
“And the Vulture might have killed a lot of people if she hadn’t. I can’t just sit back and let it happen.” For a moment, the old argument threatened to blow up in the kitchen. Then she let out a thunderous yawn, and her mother’s face softened.
“Take a shower and hit the hay. We can fight about this tomorrow.”
She smiled, tiredly. “Okay. Love you, mom. Good night.”
And she went upstairs, had a hot shower, and fell into the bed she hadn’t slept on in years. It wasn’t until 2 AM she moved to the now more comfortable floor.
She was shaken awake by her mother, who stared at her back. She’d been so tired she had fallen asleep wearing only panties, revealing her back.
“Those tattoos… do they mean anything?” Done crudely in black ink, the right shoulder blade showed a demonic skull, the left blade a stylized medal, and an image of a lighthouse was between them. Below the lighthouse was something that could look to be a boxing ring.
“Right is a grudge against the state, left is that I was there for political reasons, the lighthouse shows I wanted out of the place, and the ring showed I was a fighter. I didn’t kill anybody, but a few people got teeth knocked out when they messed with me.” She looked for the duffle, then got off the floor and looked around. “They wanted to put them on my chest, but I told them “Никто не видит моих сиськов, если они не платят в первую очередь.No one sees my breasts without paying first.” and they respected that, and the fact I could beat them up.
“Those didn’t get much larger,” Mom sighed. “I thought maybe you would get the family build, but no.” Mellisa rummaged in a drawer and found an old t-shirt, pulling it on. Her mother kept talking as she found jeans and sneakers. “And Mr. McGonnigle will see us at 3 to get you officially back and some papers signed. Your grandmother left you more money, so it needs to be in your name.”
“I’m going to need some better clothes.” Mellisa dropped the jeans, went to her closet and rummaged in it, things left years covered in plastic bags. Some coughing later, she’d managed to assemble a reasonably grown-up outfit.
“I got these for you, too.” Her mother handed her some print-outs of tattoo removal doctors, and a manila folder. Inside the folder were places to get pretty much all her crime-fighting gear replaced, along with sports equipment manufacturers. She looked at her mother, a little confused.
“What you said… I don’t think I’ll ever completely approve, but I think I understand now. You want to do good, and this is a way to do it. I’m behind you as best as I can be. I’ll still worry, but as least I know that you’re not throwing your life away. You’re living it, and helping people. A mother can’t ask for much more.”
“Thank you, mom.”
And then they were hugging again.
Now, she thought. Now, I’m home.
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