Somewhere close to Detroit, Michigan. The silhouette of a busy harbor is rising out of the foggy surroundings. The large vessels queue to load and unload, the working crew’s shouts mixing with the blaring of misthorns and the consistent noise of large engines.
The bus stops on the outskirts of town, in a neighborhood consisting of brownstones, abandoned buildings and… a Starbucks.
Shasta perks up. Six hours straight on the bus has taken its toll and a latte macchiato with extra cream suddenly seems as vital as her desperate need of using the bathroom. Impatiently she waits for the other passengers to step off before ungainly getting to her feet and struggling to get the zip of her worn hoodie up over her belly. If it zips, it fits. You go girl.
‘When are we leaving again?’ she asks the chauffeur.
He pushes back his cap and scratches his forehead. ‘Leaving? This is as far as you get, ma’am, without buying another ticket.’
Shasta opens her mouth, but thinks better of it. It’s her own fault, really. She had used all her savings to buy a bus ticket out of Canada to start a new life back in the USA. Unfortunately her savings only took her as far as Portland. She really should have kept her head down until they arrived at least in Chicago, where she has relatives who can put her up and help her contact her mother. But she really needs to use the bathroom, and a cup of coffee would taste like heaven.
Without a word she steps out of the bus and collects her battered suitcase. It’s heavy to drag around the country like this, stuffed to the brim with size 4 clothes she can now only dream of wearing. Her pale green sweatpants and hoodie has been her standard outfit for what seems like an eternity now, but hope never dies, right? So she continues dragging her suitcase along.
The late October evening is frisky and she shudders a little. She wishes she hadn’t left her down jacket at the last place she stayed, but she had not really had a choice. She had ripped it on a nail when she snuck out onto the fire escape upon leaving the little rented room in the middle of the night so the landlady couldn’t ask her for the long overdue rent. She frowns at the memory of the cloud of white down swirling around like early snowflakes. Fucking belly is always giving her trouble.
She watches the new passengers get on the bus, and briefly thinks about hiding with the luggage. But then the bus coughs to life again and with a hiss the doors close and it swerves out onto the street. She stares after it, hesitant about what to do. She still needs to pee, but the coffee doesn’t seem as tempting any more. Her stomach growls. She’s really hungry…
A dog is sniffing around her suitcase and she tries to lift it up, out of the mongrel’s reach, before it pees on it or something.
‘Get lost, dirty mutt!’ she says angrily, but it doesn’t deter the dog that continues sniffing and whimpering around her feet.
‘Mrs. Wilson’s a mutt, all right, but she’s not dirty.’
Shasta turns towards the voice. A gangly young man her own age, with dirty blond dread locks tied behind his head looks at her with ill-concealed amusement.
She looks back at the dog. They both seem dirty to her, the scraggy dog and its master. The man’s torn jeans and hoodie look like something found in a dumpster. Which is probably the truth.
She decides to ignore him.
She nods curtly, letting him wait for her answer. He rolls a spliff, looking thoughtfully at her. ‘So… What brings you to Fort Warren?’
Fort Warren? Where the heck is that? Shasta thinks, but she decides to ignore the annoying hobo.
‘I’m not staying.’
‘Well, there aren’t any more buses tonight – we’re Sunday, mind you.’
She sighs and he continues, ‘I might have a place for you to crash.’
He has got her attention. She realizes she can’t sleep on a bench here at the bus station tonight. Not with the temperatures in the low 30s.
But what if he’s some kind of serial killer, preying on sweet girls like herself getting off the bus in the big bad suburbs? He seems harmless enough, but that’s typical of psychotic killers and rapists, isn’t it? She clears her throat. ‘What kind of place? Yours? I’m not that kind of girl.’
‘Yeah. I can see that.’ He chuckles, glancing up at her from licking the thin cigarette paper.
Shasta self-consciously tugs on her hoodie, unable to hide her swollen belly. Her eight months pregnant belly. Who is he to judge her? But what the heck. Even a rapist must surely think twice before assaulting a pregnant woman and it isn’t as if she had somewhere else to go…
She follows the amiably chatting Caleb on a rather long trek through streets lined with boarded up shops and filthy apartment buildings, down to the river. Right when she says that she can’t walk any further for the umpteenth time, he proudly gesticulates down the steep riverbank. Shasta is disappointed to see where they are headed. She had understood that Mike didn’t have much money, she’s not stupid. She had thought that he probably lived in a trailer or something, but she had not expected him to be homeless. A worn army tent, a cast away couch and a table littered with trash summons up what he calls his “residence”.
A fat woman is chewing gum while going through some stuff in a stolen supermarket caddy. Her dyed red hair is showing off dark roots and her clothes look dirty and smelly. A bag lady. She’s spending the night with a bag lady under a highway bridge.
As if she has felt Shasta’s thoughts, she turns around and waits with her hands on her large hips. Shasta fakes a nervous smile. There’s no way she’ll be staying here, even if it’s only for a night. God knows what could happen to her – the news are filled with horrible stories about disappearances and murders and drugs and… She takes in her surroundings, ostentatiously ignoring the fat lady while Caleb throws himself into an animated explanation of where he’s been and why he has brought Shasta to their place.
‘Err, excuse me?’ she interrupts.
‘Excuse me?’ the fat lady mimics and pops another gum into her mouth. ‘Excuse me?’
Shasta doesn’t let herself be intimidated by the openly aggressive woman. ‘I don’t want to intrude. Just point me to a motel or tell me where I can catch a bus to one.’
The woman stares at her. Then she returns her attention to Caleb. ‘She can have the couch.’
‘But she’s pregnant-’
‘You don’t need glasses to notice, but the hell I’m giving up my bed – our bed – to her. Knocked up or not.’
‘It’s all right, I’m leaving anyway.’
None of them listen to her. The bag lady starts pushing Caleb who backs away, trying to fend the angry woman off. Both dogs start barking excitedly. Shasta backs away, leaving Caleb and the bag lady to their screaming match, their voices following her as she climbs the steep hill up onto the highway again. There’s a lot of traffic. Maybe she can catch a lift into town.
It is already dark when the old man who helpfully has picked her up slows to a stop in front of a seedy hotel. She thanks him profusely, just wanting to get inside, use the bathroom and sleep in a real bed. She has enough money left for a night, but that’s about it. She has to find a job tomorrow, or she won’t even eat. She needs new clothes, too. And shoes. The sneakers she is wearing are slightly too big and since she scrambled up the slope they are full of gravel and dirt. She stops at a distance from the entrance and takes them off. Better clean them up a little. The hotel doesn’t seem to be the kind of establishment where the appearance matters, but she empties them anyway before putting them back on again.
She notices a beggar sitting on the ground, his back to a closed shop next to the hotel entrance. A worn guitar case is resting against the wall and he’s sipping from a steaming cup of coffee that he puts down when she approaches. He blows on his fingers and holds out a plate with some loose change, rattling the money.
She smiles to herself. She can’t look half as bad as she’s feeling if he thinks she has enough money to spare for charity.
Feeling his gaze on her she musters what dignity she has left and tries not to waddle past him, but walk purposefully.
‘As beautiful as coldhearted,’ he mutters.
She stops. ‘What?’
Is he drunk? From the look of him he’s probably under the influence of something.
He pulls up his collar and purses his pierced lips. ‘For a starved musician, ma’am.’
His ears are also pierced, and his right eyebrow and his nose, too. He is rather handsome, in a rugged, dangerous way. Why is a guy like him begging in the streets? To get money for drugs, probably. She decides she doesn’t like him one bit.
‘Get yourself a job,’ she hisses and pulls open the door, struggling with her suitcase.
‘Right. And then you can just move in and we’ll be a happy family.’
She doesn’t answer, just pushes through into the welcoming warmth of the lobby.
The paneled walls are covered in cheap landscape prints. There’s a worn sofa and a little table with rings left from coffee cups on the tarnished surface. A lamp with a dirty shade on the counter is the only source of light. There doesn’t seem to be anyone manning the desk, but when she approaches she can see the receptionist sleeping on the chair behind the counter, a sliver of drool escaping his gaping mouth. He could have passed for dead if he wasn’t snoring. She clears her throat, but he doesn’t stir. A box of Chinese take-out smells divinely. She vaguely considers grabbing it and leave but just as she musters up the nerve to reach over the counter, he opens an eye.
She forces a smile, trying not to look at the tempting box.
‘I’d like a room for the night, maybe longer. Err… Single, but with a large bed. If possible, of course.’
The man tells her the fee, pockets her two wrinkled twenties and hands her the coveted key.
‘Second floor, to the right,’ he mutters, leaning back to resume his nap.
She picks up the suitcase and heads towards the lift.
‘Don’t – it’s out of order,’ he says without opening his eyes.
She looks expectantly at him but realizes he won’t help her. With a sigh she starts hauling her suitcase up the stairs.
The room is sparsely furnished in dirty shades of gloomy brown. A queen size bed, two bedside tables and an armchair. The lack of furniture gives a false impression of space. She’s only there to sleep anyway so she’d better get down to business if she wants to get as much out of her 40 dollars as possible. She puts down her suitcase and pulls away the blanket to inspect the sheets. They seem clean enough, but she knows she can’t be too picky anyway. She has seen worse.
There’s a full length standing mirror in a corner and she stops on her way back from the bathroom on the landing, looking at herself.
It’s strange. She doesn’t recognize her image. Pregnancy glow? Overrated. Her skin is a drab pale and there are blue shadows under her eyes from lack of sleep. Her usual shiny curls are but a tangled mass. And her body is even worse. She lifts her T-shirt and looks at her swollen belly. Eight months pregnant. She has calculated the baby is due for Christmas sometime. It’s still a month and a half away. Long enough to get settled.
She follows an ugly stretchmark with her finger. The baby moves towards her hand and she grimaces. She hates what it has done to her body. Hates the fact that she is ugly and bloated and probably never will get in a size 4 again. A wave of nausea overwhelms her and she quickly pulls the T-shirt back down again. She closes her eyes and tries to fight the urge to throw up with sheer willpower.
No use. A few seconds later she is hugging the toilet, her empty stomach cramping. Eight months pregnant and she still can’t keep the little food she’s eating. Wasn’t the nausea supposed to vanish after a couple of months? She pulls off some toilet paper and wipes her mouth. Maybe it’s some psychological side effect. She never wanted this pregnancy and her first reflex was to head to the hospital for an abortion. But it was too late. She struggles to her feet and turns on the water in the shower. It splutters and coughs, but soon a steady stream off steaming hot water washes over her.
Back in the room, she turns up the heat and staggers to bed. She is hungry, but who sleeps dines. She lies down across the bed, too tired to pull the blanket over her.
It can’t be too late to get it adopted… They must have counselors at the maternity ward who could help her. She’ll go there tomorrow… But then again, why give it up for free? Her mind toys with the idea. A surrogate mother gets paid, doesn’t she? Probably a lot of money. So why give the baby up for free when she can get paid? It’s all moral, she’ll actually help a couple in need, and it would solve her predicament with money for a while. There might even be enough to splurge on some new designer shoes.
But not even the exciting prospect of a shopping spree with unlimited funds on a black Amex card can keep her awake. She falls asleep, the blinking light of the hotel sign lighting up the room in regular intervals.
The next day dawns on a purposeful Shasta. She checks out after yet another shower and the usual morning nausea. She doesn’t have much money left, so she decides to walk. If she remembers right, there was a Starbucks across the street from the bus terminal, and maybe they hire. She could wait tables, or write names on paper cups or whatever Starbucks people do. She locks her suitcase in one of the terminal’s lockers, she can’t do an interview hauling her luggage along.
They do hire, they are actually looking for a waitress. Unfortunately Shasta is too pregnant. The manager takes one look at her and shakes his head.
‘We need someone reliable, someone who-’
She doesn’t need this. Angrily she stomps out again without letting him finish his sentence. Still hungry and still without a job. She might just as well go to the hospital and get the paperwork done. And get an advance on giving up the baby, or something…
The hospital is a large complex consisting of several buildings. The all new maternity ward is situated across the street from the older, seedier high rises, and is surrounded by a little park with a fancy modern art statue that nobody knows what it actually represents and that must have cost the taxpayers a fortune. Shasta stops and contemplates the circular object, mostly because she’s out of breath, not because she thinks it’s particularly see worthy. The air is saturated with fumes from the steady flow of cars and the nearby parking is jam-packed. Two buses have already passed since she arrived, letting off a flow of harassed people that probably work here. She turns away from the pristine statue. It won’t stay fancy like this for long, judging by what she has seen of the city so far. Every surface seems to be tagged, even the high bridges and official monuments.
She pushes through the revolving glass doors and takes in the large reception area. The decoration goes in different shades of light blue and she shudders, suddenly feeling cold. Aren’t you supposed to feel warm and welcome in a maternity ward? This place feels like a fancy Finnish ice-lounge.
‘Can I help you, Ma’am?’ The receptionist looks her over with a slight frown.
‘What do you think?’ Shasta looks down at her protruding belly and shrugs.
‘Do you have an appointment? Is it your first time? Because then we have some paperwork for you to fill in…’ The receptionist busies herself with some papers and a glossy brochure. ‘You do have insurance, don’t you?’
‘Excuse me?’ A harassed man comes rushing through the door. ‘We have an appointment with Dr. Sanders, it’s urgent.’
‘Sir?’ The receptionist looks expectantly at him.
‘Yeah, just a sec!’ He turns and opens the door for a very pregnant woman who waddles in, flanked by a little girl and carrying a toddler on her hip that she immediately puts down with a groan. Her husband fusses around her, taking her handbag and returning to the reception.
‘Err…. No and yes and no – in that order,’ Shasta mutters, on the defensive. She can’t help but feeling a little jealous. She’s just as pregnant as that fat woman, but there’s no one to fuss around her, no one stressing out in the prospect of – yet again – becoming a father.
The new arrivals take up all the place and occupy the receptionist. Shasta grabs the papers and a pen and heads into the waiting room. It is large and as cold and luminous as the reception area. She hesitates. There aren’t as many people in there as expected after seeing the full parking lot and most of them don’t even seem to be pregnant. It’s rather hopeful, actually. Maybe they are childless couples having interviews for adoption, or even better, looking for surrogate moms.
She crosses the waiting room, discreetly looking at the people she passes. She takes a seat with her back to the huge bay windows. It gives her an almost unobstructed view of the whole room.
An anxious woman is talking to a doctor who is patiently listening to her description of early contractions.
‘-so I’m terribly worried, Dr. Neuman.’
‘You are scheduled for your three months check-up next week, Mrs. Stevens. I’m sure it’s just Braxton Hicks. A little early on, as they usually don’t show until the second trimester, but-’
‘-I’ve already had a miscarriage, doctor.’
‘I know. I’m familiar with your medical history, Mrs. Stevens, and I will see you to make sure everything is all right. Just check with Rosalie in reception if she can squeeze you in this afternoon…’
Shasta tunes them out. If she had rushed off to the hospital as soon as she had cramped, she would have spent the last two months at the doctor’s.
She is distracted by a commotion across the room. A toddler is unsuccessfully trying to tear a magazine from its mother’s hands and is howling when the mother strictly refuses to let go. Shasta sighs. It’s a waiting room for Christ sake. It’s supposed to be calm and hushed. She glares at the parents. Why don’t they do anything?
The mother grimaces and picks the screaming child up. Distressed and embarrassed about her offspring’s tantrum, she bounces the child on her knee. The father tries to make her laugh, playing peek-a-boo.
Their technique seems to work, the child goes from screaming to giggling joyfully. Still not silent, but at least it’s better than the howling.
Maybe it gets better when they grow up. Or not.
Another little girl giggles on her left. She seems to be around eight years old and Shasta overhears her telling her parents some annoying facts about school. Will she have to fake interest like them? Or maybe they aren’t faking. She rolls her eyes. She has never been fond of children in general. Such annoying creatures. Demanding and disappointing and oh, so boring. Gosh, she needs to pee. She rubs her knees and squirms on her seat.
It should be her turn soon. Better stay put, it’s more prudent.
‘You have to take care of that first.’
‘Huh?’ Shasta turns to the pale, elegant woman next to her.
‘You have to fill in the form and have it registered before they’ll see you.’ She nods to the paperwork on the chair between them.
‘Oh. Yeah, right.’ Shasta smiles and picks it up. The woman doesn’t smile back. She crosses her arms and her legs, showing with a clear body language that she doesn’t want to talk. Better get this over and done with then. So what’s there to fill in? Usual things about name, birthplace, social security number and-. What’s that? Insurance? She knows she doesn’t have one. And her social security number is fake.
Shasta can feel the woman looking at her. She uncaps the pen. Better do this from top to bottom and worry about the questions as they appear.
Due date. Well, around Christmas, if her maths aren’t completely off.
Family doctor. Easy. She doesn’t have one.
Name and home address. She starts filling in her address in Bigwood Falls, then thinks better of it. She’s not supposed to leave a paper trail. Her mother had been very clear about that. But could this Council business be as serious as she had let on? Probably. She had been adamant about it. No one must know her real name yada, yada. She quickly scribbles down an address in Chicago. She has planned on visiting Auntie Berta, who surely won’t mind…
SSN. She takes down her fake number, hoping it won’t set off an alarm of some sort.
Phone. She doesn’t even know the number of her actual cell. Advantages and disadvantages of burner phones. She resolutely marks “none”.
Occupation. Jobless is not very glamorous, and she is too self-conscious to admit it. She chews on the pen, looking at the ceiling for inspiration. She has always dreamed of being famous, but that’s not what is asked. But “actress” sounds good, so actress it is.
What’s this? Religion and race? Why do they need to know such things? Oh, maybe it’s in case of adoption. People surely would like to know what color their future baby will be… And “atheist” will do just fine.
Emergency contact information. Difficult, as she really has no one. Auntie Berta isn’t even her real aunt and she doesn’t know that Shasta is pregnant anyway. Oh… There’s a box to tick if the emergency contact information is the same as the patient’s. She smiles and ticks the box with an elegant gesture.
Insurance information. In red, no less. There’s another box to tick. It says “No insurance” next to it. Shasta hovers with her pen.
“If you are uninsured, you may qualify for a number of different financial assistance options.” What options? There’s a number to call. Maybe she’d do that-
‘I’m sorry to interfere, but if you don’t have insurance you should rather go to a public hospital.’
Shasta stares blankly at the woman next to her.
‘Just to say, birth is expensive and this is a private clinic. You’ll have to pay the gynecologist, the anesthesiologist, genetic consultants, labs, ultra sound technicians, a pediatrician and-’
‘I have insurance,’ Shasta lies.
The woman glances at her. She lifts a well-manicured hand and rubs away some imagined mascara under her eye.
‘I just can’t remember the policy number,’ Shasta explains.
‘Alicia Stone?’ An assistant in a white coat looks up from her clipboard, scanning the room. The woman next to Shasta stands up.
‘I guess that’s me,’ she says and without another glance at Shasta, she strides off in the assistant’s wake.
What had the woman said again? Genetic consultants? A pediatrician? Who needs all that stuff anyway? Her baby is perfect, she has no doubt about it – she’s a Grey witch for God’s sake. And, if the baby one day will need a pediatrician, it won’t be her problem because the baby won’t be hers anymore. And concerning the rest, it is totally superfluous. Women have given birth since forever without need of an anesthesiologist.
She snorts with contempt.
Who is she kidding? Of course she’ll need an anesthesiologist because she’ll need drugs. Lots of them. Actually, she wants access to all the painkillers they can offer.
She snorts again, making the nosy little girl who had been talking about school snort too, but with glee. Shasta stares her down and the father reprimands his daughter, telling her it’s not polite to make fun of people. The mother puts a finger to her lips and shushes them both.
‘Shh, who did they call? I think it was us.’
It was. The husband helps his wife get to her feet, and the little girl jumps around in excitement.
‘Will the baby see me? Can I pilot the ultrasound thingy on your stomach, mom?’
Gosh… Can it get more annoying than this? Probably. Shasta looks after the vanishing couple and shudders. The people who arrived at the same time as she did have apparently registered. They stop at the door, the woman clinging on her husband and their kids clinging to them. Shasta sighs again. She really doesn’t want any part of this. Not the over caring men, the cramping women, the annoying kids. Especially not the annoying kids. She needs to pee. She gets to her feet but a brochure in a wall mounted stand draws her attention.
She stops and starts browsing.
The daughter pushes up her glasses and sets eye on a boy her age who is lounging on a chair, seemingly bored out of his mind.
‘Mom, look! It’s Josh, from school! Hey, Josh!’
She lets go of her mother’s hand and pushes past Shasta over to where the boy is sitting with his parents. Shasta stares blankly after the child. Then she reads the short article in the brochure again, just to make sure she has understood it all right.
“The state of Michigan forbids absolutely all surrogacy agreements…” she brows the dense text, stopping at “It is a felony to enter into such an agreement, punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and up to five years in prison. The law makes surrogacy agreements unenforceable…”.
She folds the brochure and pockets it.
With a last glance at the girl trying to motivate the boy to play with the doll house, Shasta exits the maternity ward. If the hospital can’t help her because of some stupid laws she’ll have to do this another way. Preferably a way where she doesn’t have to pay a fortune to give birth only to adopt the baby off. For free. No way will she do that. She still has almost two months to fix this…
Part II – End of Chapter 50
I have chosen to use Galadrielh’s fantastic, gloomy urban world for this chapter in Shasta’s life. I decided to situate it not far from Lake St Clair and name it after two of Detroit’s suburbs.
“The Sims 3 Devil’s Port, the bad brother of Bridgeport, comes with a moody end time atmosphere. Violence, crime and corruption are in order of the day. The cityscape looks shabby and faced with ruin. Dense fog is in the center of the town.”
The good looking dude squatting outside the hotel is courtesy of Eden777. Her James McCabe was just perfect!
The Hotel El Mar is by Floraflora2 at MTS. “This isn’t the sort of place where people use their real name when they check in”. All her builds are just amazing – check them out!