Ashley Lin Wong, BFR Staff

Let me tell you something about the Horsehead Nebula.

It’s what scientists call an interstellar absorption, a configuration of dust, clouds of effervescent smoke holding crystals in the air. It just so happens that those gas clouds managed to fold themselves over into something that, from 1,500 light years away, looks like a horse’s head facing right.

The Horsehead Nebula is what scientists would call a miracle. What shouldn’t be there is there. Billows of stars and light angled just so, 1,500 light years ago, that they managed, at one point in time, to resemble a horse. It probably doesn’t even look that way anymore, they say, because what we’re seeing now has been over 1,500 light years coming. Could be a penguin or a tree, but that’s for the next generation to discover.

The first time I went to see the Horsehead Nebula with my dad, I was seven years old and skinny, shivering in the wet grass and damp of the night from Dead Man’s Hill in Hines. My dad was two beers in, whistling softly as he set up the telescope.

“What’re we looking for, Dad?” I said.

He just kept whistling to himself, twisting the stand into the base.

“You want a beer?” he said, pulling a Bud from the cooler.

“Dad, I’m seven.”

“So?”

He stared at me and my silence, his eyes glistening, luminescent as the sky above our heads.

“You wanna see something amazing, Mikey?” he whispered, coming in very close. I could smell the beer and his 9 o’clock cheese sandwich on his breath. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen him this excited.

“Mikey, come look at this,” he said, his eye pressed fervently to the viewfinder, his outstretched hand beckoning for me. I pulled the viewfinder down gingerly until it met my eye level, and looked in.

He wrapped his arms around me like a python and guided the telescope in my arms until the stars went from pinpoints of light to flaming orbs of energy, whole other worlds screwed into the black canvas of the sky.

It was my first glimpse of the Horsehead Nebula, and it felt like all the air had whooshed out of me, like I’d hit the ground falling.

“One day, Mikey,” my dad whispered, his hand holding the telescope steady, “one day, we’re going to find a way to get there – humans are gonna find a way to get there – and then we’re going to be first in line to see. Just you and me, away from here, in space, and we’ll never have to come back.”

“But what about Mom? And Nick? Won’t we need them too?” I said, my voice high and reedy.

My father said nothing, the pupils of his eyes swimming in the starlight.

*          *          *

When I was twelve the teacher put a picture of the Horsehead Nebula up on the overhead.

“Does anyone know what this is?” she said.

I raised my hand and said yes, said that I had seen it before.

“Really? When did you go see it?” she exclaimed, her wide rubbery love-me smile painted firmly over gleaming teeth.

I said that I had seen it with my father, when we had gone stargazing a while back.

“How lovely,” the teacher cooed, raising her voice over the class’s rising snickers. “Has anyone else ever gone stargazing?”

“You fucking pussy,” Larry DeSoto snarled at me during recess, flanked by two of his rats. “Going stargazing with your daddy? You and daddy go stargazing a lot, drink tea, and play with little teddies and pony balls?”

They all hovered over me menacingly, only scattering when Nick came out.

“See you later, dipshit,” they laughed, grabbing my nipples and twisting hard.

“You okay?” Nick asked when he saw my watery eyes. I said I was fine, that DeSoto and his gang had just roughed me up a bit. I didn’t tell him how my dad had been out of a job for weeks, had been gone for days then returned like nothing happened and that now I could hear him yelling through the walls, both my mom and dad crying every night. They always began in whispers, harsh words passed back and forth under their breath, but inevitably one of them would snap and the argument would ignite until they were practically burning the house down with their charged insults. My father started sleeping in the basement.

I never asked why, never wanted to. I started seeing him every day in the parking lot of the Polish bar on the bus ride home from school. I knew how far gone he was, but I thought life could blot out reality as long as he didn’t say it.

*          *          *

The night before he left, my dad got drunk and spread himself out like a bear on my bed.

“Dad? What the hell?” I asked when I found him there around 1 am, still clinging to the sheets.

“Don’t complain, Mikey, I’ve had a long day.”

“Right, because every day’s a struggle when you’re unemployed.”

“Shut up.” My dad rolled himself onto his side so he could look at me directly. His eyes were so red and puffy that, for a moment, I wondered if he’d been crying into my pillows.

“You know what adulthood is, Mikey. It’s not getting wiser, or more mature, or any of that shit. It’s waking up in the morning and it’s twenty years later. And you’re married to your first girlfriend with two kids, and the job at the Ford plant you got junior year of high school is the only job you’ve ever had.”

I pulled off my shoes and socks, half-attentive, waiting for him to pass out so I could sleep.

“Remember what I said, Mikey? About the moon?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“We’re going to be first in line, you and me. First in line to leave.”

I guess some seven-year-old part of me was dumb enough to think he’d actually take me with him. Wherever he ended up going, whatever would happen between him and Mom, I never believed that he would leave without me.

*          *          *

When I was sixteen, my dad pulled his truck out of our driveway and never came back.

*          *          *

The Horsehead Nebula is what some people refer to as a miracle.

I say it’s just fucking clouds of gas, people, get over it. You can make that stuff at home.

*          *          *

Let me tell you something about miracles: they don’t exist.

Sean Dennison, BFR Editorial Staff

            Robert,

                        Another day, another hundred errands. Could you please take Robbie to the beach? I’ve packed some snacks for you. For dinner I’m thinking pizza. Call for trouble. xoxoxoxoxo

                                                                                                Mathilde

*

Robert thought of paintings on the drive to the beach. The sunny day expressed every detail in his sight with loving focus. Robbie rolled his window up and down, stealing highway breezes that kicked up his hair. Another day, another Mathildeless venture. The hours and the errands she said she did didn’t match. Neither did her car’s odometer.

“Dad, are we gonna catch fish?”

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said.

Robbie started clapping his plastic shovel and bucket together. Robert let the hollow sounds soundtrack his thoughts. Would Amy be there? He’d told her last minute, but figured they were both used to it by now. Mathilde only smiled at Robert’s complaints about working on nonexistent work projects. As for “getting to this point,” he’d long since gotten over it.

“Maybe, buddy,” Robert said again.

“Huh?” Robbie asked, but they were already pulling into the beach lot.

**

The woman walked up and down along the bottom of the sheer cliff face that overlooked the jetty. What was a jetty anyway?

We’ll be at the jetty, he said.

The what?

Just meet us—me—at the beach, near the cliffs.

Us. He was being sloppy again. She kicked away a spinachy pile of seaweed. Seagulls flew overhead, and she resolved that, if shat on, these meetings would stop. She found a small pool where she chased crabs with her finger. It was easy to disrupt them, or anything, really. Hell, she’d let him disrupt her life after a chance meeting at a coffee shop.

“Hello,” she finally heard.

She worked up a smile before looking at him.

“I’m not doing it here, in public, with your son here she said,” pointing to a small boy with a plastic bucket and shovel, running to the tide pools with his back toward them. “Lotta fucking nerve bringing him here.”

“I just wanted to see you, Amy,” he said. “It couldn’t be helped.”

“Well, you see me Robert,” she said. “Now, what can be helped?”

***

The starfish looked like his Mom’s jewelry. He liked to watch her put it on for big parties, a five-pointed sunset red necklace. He reached in the tide pool to pull the ocean gem out. Saltwater wetted and weighted his clothes, but the starfish felt as light as the paper masks he made at school. He couldn’t wait to show Dad.  They could take it home to Mom, who wasn’t really with him and Dad anymore except at dinner and maybe breakfast. Mom would love the starfish.

“I’m gonna take you home,” the boy whispered, stroking its five limbs. He ran back to where Dad was.

Dad had his arms around a lady. He’d seen Dad wrap his arms like that around Mom. The lady smiled, and now Dad kissed her. He did that with Mom too. He never saw Dad do that with anyone else. He clutched the starfish tighter. He didn’t know he walked to them until he was right next to them. The lady noticed first.

“Robert,” she said.

Dad quickly unwrapped himself from the lady and took a few steps back.

“Got a fish, buddy?”

Robbie nodded and held up the starfish. He touched his thumb to the center. He imagined a magic button on the starfish’s center, and when you pushed it the ocean would rise, higher and higher until it turned the world into a pool.

“It’s beautiful,” the lady said.

****

Mrs. Robertson noticed Robert and his boy pull up in their driveway while she watered her plants and went to say hello.

“Why, hello there, handsomes!” she said.

“Hi,” Robbie said without looking at her, and headed straight for the house. He threw a plastic shovel and bucket set on the grass.

“Hold on, buddy,” Robert said. “Hi Mrs. Robertson.”

“Robert, how are you? Father-son outing?”

“Yah, beach day today,” he said. Mrs. Robertson smiled at him. His face was red, and he kept tugging at his collar. He noticed he had missed a button on his shirt and fixed it. “Robbie found a starfish,” he said after some silence.

“I hope the next time I go to the beach I find one,” she said. “Take care.”

“You too.”

She thought of Robbie and Robert. They looked exactly like each other. But Robbie had Mathilde’s eyes and nose. The mother’s car wasn’t there. She’d be back later this evening, then, to cook dinner. Robert, Robbie and Mathilde sometimes ate dinner with the drapes open, and every now and then Mrs. Robertson would see them eating together.

What a lovely family, she thought, and continued to garden.

Ilana Pessah, BFR Staff

When I was twelve, I began to write my first book since my debut novel, Ilana Showshanah, which I wrote in the first grade — the story of a girl who overcame the perceived obstacle of her short height in order to achieve her dream of becoming a famous singer. Needless to say, I had set the bar pretty low for myself. With fresh motivation, I scribbled the new story across a multicolored pocket-sized notebook for the better half of a summer. For a time that scrappy notebook was my pride and joy. The storyline needed a bit of work and the overuse of profanity that I thought made me sound older didn’t help, but all in all, I was content with my work.

Of course, when one twelve year old finds out that another twelve year old is writing a book, news spreads quickly, and for a few weeks my work-in-progress floated from friend to friend. As I continued my work, I wrote openly, and my friends didn’t hesitate to recommend changes to the storyline. I tried to accommodate everyone’s wishes, because even if I didn’t necessarily agree, they had to know what was best. It didn’t matter if I liked it; it just mattered if everyone else did.

By the end of the summer, I still hadn’t finished my book. The high of my fifteen minutes of fame eventually wore off and I became frustrated with a book that was no longer my own. I didn’t recognize my own writing and, in the end, I decided that writing books wasn’t for me. I threw the notebook in a drawer and never picked it up again.

Then, during my eleventh grade year, I had a core group of incredible teachers who inspired me to re-evaluate my relationship with myself and how I viewed my self-worth. For some reason, as I was doing this extensive self-reflection, I began to think about the book I had tried writing four years earlier. With a few additional years under my belt, I began to examine my disenchanting experience, trying to figure out what had caused me to resent something that once was my passion. With fresh eyes and the continuing support of my educational mentors, I found where I went astray.

I had loved my book when I was writing it for myself; I wrote what I wanted to and found joy in the process of doing so. But, due to my lack of self-confidence, I tried to please everyone else rather than staying true to the story I wanted to write. I had such a low opinion of myself that I didn’t trust my own judgment about the thing I loved most. I was too afraid to embrace myself, quirks and all, to allow myself to fully open up and write with confidence. Even in Ilana Showshanah I had made my character grow a few inches taller instead of embracing her shortness and loving herself for who she was.

With my new perspective, I sat down in November of 2013 and began a new book, this time committing to writing it for me; nobody else. It took seven months, but I eventually finished my first book since Ilana Showshanah, and this time I did so with confidence. I love my book; it’s quirky and complex — just like its author. My manuscript is currently sitting in some cubical at a branch of Penguin Publishing waiting to be evaluated by a member of the firm. But while it would be nice to be a published author, whether or not I hear back won’t change how I feel about the experience. For the first time I created something that was completely mine, and that’s a gift only I had the power to give myself.

Hannah Harrington, BFR Managing Editor

After traveling through four countries for fifty-plus days, it is safe to say that I miss the comforts of my California home. I miss my bed and not having to consult my suitcase every time I need a pair of underwear. If I sound like I’m complaining, let me rephrase my sentiments: despite the fact that I have seen some incredible things and spent time with people from all over the world, traveling is not simply the romantic, beautiful pictures I’ve put on Instagram. At the moment, I have three countries left to visit, but would gladly change my flight home if my plans were not set in stone. I have begun to ask myself, why it is that I traveled here, and why it is that we travel at all. I have come to the conclusion that travelers of the twenty-first century, particularly millennials, are pilgrims of a sort, searching the world and its monuments for some shred of truth about themselves and the world around them. I remain unconvinced as to whether we can find truth at all. I have been left with a lot of questions instead. What is it that makes travel so widely popularized? What gives us the idea to travel in the first place? The phenomenon of travel has gained speed over the last century, and we are able to see so much thanks to the wonders of technology. The biggest fear I have about my own travel is whether I’ll be able to find anything truly authentic.

One of my favorite parts of my month long stay in Paris was visiting cafes and restaurants owned by foreigners. Many of these cafes, mostly run by young, hip Americans or Australians, have opened in the last two to three years. If California borrowed the Parisian cafe lifestyle, then Paris certainly borrowed the California aesthetic. What is most alluring about these cafes, my favorites being HolyBelly, a brunch haven in the Canal district, and Ob-La-Di, a small hideaway in the Marais district, is that there is a community of expatriates who visit them on a regular basis. Though my stay was only four weeks, I managed to become a regular at the cafes and become familiar with their community. A common question that goes around is what these young people are doing in the city anyway—why abandon home for a place that doesn’t even speak your language? There is a sense that expatriates are constantly searching, be it for adventure or self, and they are convinced they will find it outside their own communities.

This spirit of wanderlust defines our generation. We are disillusioned by our culture, and we can temporarily escape it by traveling. We search for authentic experience somewhere outside our own familiarity, but can we find it? What we have left are flocks of twenty-something travelers all backpacking across various locales. Do we find what we’re looking for? What is both alluring and troublesome about travel is the sense of restlessness, that settling down somewhere must be avoided. However, it was only when I settled into a routine in Paris that I was able to appreciate it fully. The fear of settling down, I think, is similar to our fear of oncoming adulthood; we have to see all that we need to see before resigning ourselves to the deep dark dungeon of cubicles and bills. We had better get it in while we can.

Despite my qualms with modern-day travel, traveling has been, for lack of a better term, life changing. What I did not expect when I boarded my flight two months ago is that I would come back with a better understanding of my own country. I have become more in-tune with my own fears, desires, and insecurities. I understand why I was encouraged to travel by older friends and family. You can bet I’ll return home with a suitcase full of gratitude—and a whole lot of Eiffel tower keychains, too.

Sophia Zepeda, BFR Editorial Staff

The first time River Valentina Hernandez watched The Wizard of Oz, she didn’t understand Dorothy’s desperate desire to return to Kansas. The madness of a land over the rainbow had to be better than the sepia existence of the farm.  This came to mind as River walked out of the downstairs bathroom with her head held high, displaying her newly bleached hair. At the beauty supply store, she had trouble deciding between black and platinum blond, but ultimately chose bleach blond as it was the color most likely to aggravate her mother. It was distinctly not natural and would appeal the least to a new age hippy.  Upon entering the living room, her mother looked up from her seat on the couch. Mom had covered the coffee table with newspaper and was attempting to mend a chipped vase with glue and intense determination. River’s father won the vase at a boardwalk carnival game and gave it to her mother ages before he abandoned them for a massage therapist named Frieda.  The vase was shaped like a mermaid and had always been dear to her mother.  It fit right into their hippy home. At the sight of River, her mother narrowed her eyes and said, “River, again? Your natural color is so beautiful.”

This was the response River expected, feeling a mix of irritation and satisfaction. Her mother, Claire Hernandez, who had not changed her last name after the divorce, held the belief that the only way to truly live was to subscribe to a life of holistic remedies and natural substances. River, who made it her mission to become the exact opposite of her mother, wore only the latest fashions and followed the most popular style and makeup blogs on YouTube in an effort to show her mother how ridiculous it was to shun everything but tofu and hemp.

“Everyone’s doing it, Mom,” River replied, “besides you’ll only have to look at it for a week.”

“Are you sure you still want to visit your Aunt and Uncle? I don’t think you’re going to enjoy yourself as much as you think. Los Angeles isn’t anything like Santa Cruz.”

“And that’s why I’m going,” River said, walking to her room to repack the suitcase she had already repacked multiple times that week.

River had not seen her Aunt Rosa, her father’s sister, since her father left, and the only distinct memories she had of her were finely manicured French-tipped nails and highly-perfumed hugs that lasted longer than necessary. Spending the summer with her Aunt Rosa and Uncle Luis in Los Angeles would be a welcome escape from the commune-like environment in which her mother forced her to live. Claire had a bad habit of picking up stray people and allowing them to live in the house, something River had been protesting for years. In Los Angeles, River could tour the universities to which she had applied and immerse herself in a life of glamor and freedom. Her land over the rainbow was just 350 miles and a plane ride away.

River found herself unable to sleep the night before her flight. She spent the drive to the airport ignoring her mother, and the hour-long flight listening to music in order to distract herself from her nervousness. As River walked down the stairs to the airport baggage claim, she saw her Aunt and Uncle standing side-by-side waving at her.

Mija!” her Aunt exclaimed, “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.” Her Aunt commenced to hug her for a period approaching a full minute, smothering River against her bosom while rocking her from side to side. Her Uncle, who stood off to the side, briefly wrapped one arm around her, told her she had grown into a beautiful young woman, and then disengaged.

They did not live in Los Angeles proper as River had thought.  In the long car ride to their house in a suburban town called Whittier—which was most famous for housing a college of the same name—her Uncle Luis explained the rules of the house. These included no staying up past 10 PM, church on Sunday morning, dinner at 6:30 PM everyday with no exceptions, and no back-talking any adult visitors.  River, who had never lived in a house with such strict rules, thought them ridiculous, but promised she would follow them to the best of her abilities.

Their house was a beige cookie-cutter two-story affair with a typical walkway leading to the front door. It blended in with all the other houses in the neighborhood and was nothing like her mother’s forest green old Victorian. River’s Uncle walked her to the beige room in which she would be staying; it was spartanly furnished with only a bed, desk, and a small dresser. Then, he told her to put her things away and get ready for dinner. In the room, River began to unpack and think about her plans for the month she would be there. First, she would go to the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the one that had the hand and footprints of all the stars imprinted in concrete. Then, she would walk down Rodeo Drive, exploring all the shops that sold items she couldn’t afford yet, wearing her most expensive clothes and movie-star sun glasses in an effort to blend in. She also had plans to sunbathe on Venice Beach and take a picture next to the Hollywood sign, all with the sole intention of making her friends jealous.

However, within two weeks, River concluded that she would not be seeing any of the tourist sites she planned on visiting. The only places she toured were a local church and the University of California in Los Angeles. Her Aunt planned to take her to the University of Southern California the following Saturday. When River asked if they could at least drive down Hollywood Boulevard at some point, her Aunt replied that they didn’t have time for that sort of thing but perhaps they could squeeze it in later in the week.

Living with her Aunt and Uncle proved to be nothing like she expected. Her Aunt, who took over two hours to get ready each morning, seemed to naturally accept that hair, clothes, and makeup were meant to consume vast chunks of one’s day (and everyone’s else’s for that matter) while her Uncle, who never smiled, watched hours of Fox News every night after dinner, as religiously as they attended Sunday mass. When River mentioned that her best friend was gay, they gave her a two-hour lecture on hating the sin but not the sinner and not associating oneself with such unscrupulous people. This was not the only lecture River received. On the Monday of her third week living there, her Aunt told her to change her shirt because it was indecent to have her bra straps showing. On Tuesday, they sat her down and asked why she hadn’t brushed her hair, as it was already lunchtime. On Thursday, her Uncle took forty-five minutes to explain why she couldn’t wear slippers outside the house to get the mail because someone might see her, and what would they think of them as a family? By Friday, River officially had had enough and she began to count down the days until her return home.

Sunday, before church, Aunt Rosa asked River to go in the garage and help her retrieve a vase from a topmost shelf. Aunt Rosa explained that Great Aunt Anita was going to be visiting after church, and she had bought Aunt Rosa the vase for Christmas last year. It needed to be put on the side table in the foyer before Aunt Anita arrived.

“I hate it,” Aunt Rosa said, “It doesn’t match the house. Who buys someone a vase that doesn’t match the house?”

“Then why are you displaying it?” asked River.

Aunt Rosa looked at River in disbelief, “Because she needs to think I like it. What will she think of me if she knows it is hidden away in the garage?”

River stood on a stool and reached for the vase and as she turned to give it to her Aunt, the vase fell from River’s grasp and crashed to the floor. Aunt Rosa screamed and dropped to her knees, attempting to pick up the pieces.

“What have you done?” Aunt Rosa yelled, “You’re so careless!”

“I’m so sorry,” River said, “but at least you don’t have to display it anymore.”

“No!” yelled Aunt Rosa, “We have to go to the mall to replace it. I think she got it at Macy’s.”

“That’s ridiculous!” River said, “It was an accident, she’ll understand.”

“No, we need to go now. I’ll tell Anita we couldn’t make it to church because you’re sick,” Aunt Rosa said, as she pulled River to the front door.

As River sat in the car staring out the window at the passing scenery, she contemplated her current situation. Instead of driving down Rodeo Drive, here she sat in the passenger seat of her Aunt’s Jeep Cherokee on the way to the mall to watch her Aunt buy a vase she didn’t even want. It didn’t make any sense to River why her Aunt cared so much about what another person thought. The entire trip wasn’t necessary; Aunt Anita probably wouldn’t even remember the vase.

At the mall, Aunt Rosa was pleased to discover that the vase was marked down for clearance in Macy’s Home Decor department for only $200, apparently $100 less than what Great Aunt Anita paid. The vase stood 15 inches tall with zebras and arrows garishly accented in 24K gold, all of which was set on a black Italian glass surface. In the dark of the garage River had not fully seen the vase. Standing in Macy’s, looking at the ugly prancing zebra’s, River contemplated destroying this one too. All she had to do was lean over the table and lightly brush the vase with her hand and it would crash to the floor.

“Aunt Rosa, you can’t buy this,” River pleaded. “It’s even more hideous in broad daylight. Why are you going to spend money on something you don’t even like?”

Aunt Rosa clucked her tongue at River, “Don’t you care what Great Aunt Anita thinks of you?” Then she exhaled a large breath and headed to the cash register.

“No I don’t!” River said as she grabbed her Aunt, “You’re being stupid. Nobody cares!”

“I care and you should too,” Aunt Rose huffed, “This entire week you’ve done nothing but embarrass me and your uncle and I’m ashamed at your behavior.”

A heavy weight descended into the pit of River’s stomach as she watched her Aunt walk to the register. Slowly, River followed her.

After paying for the vase, Aunt Rosa walked to the car, clutching the vase to her chest as if it were an ailing infant.

“When we get home,” Aunt Rosa told River, “I want you to sit down and not touch anything until Aunt Anita arrives. You’ve done enough damage.”

River watched television until she heard the doorbell ring. Her Aunt opened the door for Great Aunt Anita who immediately looked at the foyer table.

“Ah, it’s beautiful. I knew you would love it,” Aunt Anita said.

“Of course!” Rosa replied as she walked with Anita to the couch, “It’s perfect.”

“Unbelievable,” River mumbled.

Great Aunt Anita raked River with her hawk-like gaze, turned toward Aunt Rosa and said, “Charming,” before sitting herself carefully on the couch.

River watched as the two women began to discuss, with great disapproval, the strapless dress that cousin Benita Gonzalez’s daughter, Lupe, had worn to church that morning. River retreated to her room, took out her cellphone and called her mother who picked up on the first ring.

“River, honey, how’s everything going?” Her mother asked.

“I’m ready to come home.”

“Already? You sure?”

There were several seconds of silence. “Yes,” River finally replied, “Los Angeles is great, and I’ve visited both universities, but there’s just no point to staying any longer. Mom, I really want to come home”

“Okay, I’ll book your flight right away, honey,” Claire responded, “See you in a couple of days.”

“Thanks mom,” River hung up and hastily packed a day bag. Then, she looked up the directions to downtown Los Angeles on her cell phone, jotted down a few notes, grabbed a jacket and her bag, and headed for the front door.  As River passed Aunt Rosa and Great Aunt Anita, who were still seated on the sofa but now complaining about another family member, she paused and executed an old fashioned curtsy.

“Mother trusts me, I trust me, and I trust the bus and light rail system of your fine metropolis.”

Aunt Rosa managed a “What?” while Great Aunt Anita simply looked confused.

River continued, “I appreciate everything you have done for me. I won’t be back until after dinner. I’ll give your regards to Hollywood.”

With that she strode out the door. She expected to catch hell when she got back. She thought she had better call her Mom soon and explain to her what she had just done. Later she might even check in with Aunt Rosa. But at that moment, she had a bus to catch and a city to explore. In a few days she’d be back at her mother’s home. And for the first time in years that idea was okay with her. Her mother’s home wasn’t here and it wasn’t forever. She shook her full head of bleached blond hair in the bright Southern California sunlight and laughed a loud and welcoming laugh at whatever lay ahead.