The Accidentals

The Accidentals

Sarina Bowen

Chapter One

I was in the third grade when I figured out that the man who sang “Wild City” on the car radio was the same one who sent a check to my mother every month. The names weren’t exactly the same; the checks said Frederick Richards, while the DJs called him Freddy Ricks.

But I had a good ear, even then. The sigh my mother uttered when she opened his envelopes was exactly the pitch as the one I heard as she switched off the radio.

She wouldn’t talk about him even when I begged. “He’s a stranger, Rachel. Don’t dwell on him.”

But everyone else did. Freddy Ricks was nominated for a Grammy when I was ten, and his second album stayed on top of the charts for months. Growing up, I heard his music during TV ads for luxury cars and while waiting in line at Rite Aid. I read interviews he did with People and Rolling Stone.

I memorized his Wikipedia entry. My name wasn’t in it. Neither was my mother’s.

Even so, my interest was undiminished. I bought his music with my babysitting money, and I saved every magazine article I could find. I was a rabid little fan girl, and I wasn’t nice about it.

Whenever my mother and I fought, I would hang another photo of him on my bedroom wall. Or else I jammed my ear buds in, ignoring the parent sitting next to me to listen to the one I’d never met.

I was so angry about her silence. Now I would give anything to see her face one more time.


But I’ll never have another chance to turn the music off and hear my mother’s voice. And the guy who didn’t bother to show up for almost eighteen years? Supposedly he’s waiting at the social worker’s office to meet me.

I feel sick as the van pulls up at the office for the Department of Children and Families. My hands are almost too sweaty to unlatch my seatbelt. After wiping them on my denim skirt, I fumble for the greasy door handle.

Every time I ride in this tatty vehicle, which is probably the same one that shows up to remove kids from meth labs, or whatever else social workers do, I think: This is not my life.

Although, since a week ago, it is.

Living in a state-run group home is horrifying. But it isn’t nearly as bad as hearing my mother’s oncologist tell me it didn’t matter that her cancer had responded to the chemotherapy, because she’d contracted an infection that might kill her first.

He was right. It did. And nothing will ever be the same.

“I’ll pick you up in half an hour,” the driver says as I climb numbly out into the sticky Orlando afternoon.

“Thanks,” I mumble. One-word answers are the only kind I have these days.

Tasting bile in my throat, I watch the van pull away. But I still have a choice. Although the State of Florida has recently made quite a few decisions on my behalf—and some of them are doozies—I’m pretty sure the legal code can’t force me to go inside this building.

I don’t have to meet the man who abandoned me before I was born. Instead of walking inside, I linger on the hot sidewalk, trying to think.

A thousand times I’ve pictured meeting Frederick Richards. But never once have I imagined it would happen under the fluorescent lights of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

I turn around, considering my options. The adjacent parking lot belongs to a strip mall. There’s a smoothie place, a video game store, and a nail salon. I could saunter over there and get a smoothie and a manicure instead of meeting my father. If I were a braver girl, that’s what I’d do. Take that, Frederick Richards! My life can go on without ever meeting him. I’ll turn eighteen in a month. Then my social-services nightmare will end, anyway.

He’ll sit there in Hannah’s office, looking at his watch every couple of minutes, while I sip a smoothie across the street.

Right. I don’t even like smoothies. Drinks aren’t supposed to be thick.

While I take this little mental trip through Crazytown, the Florida sun beats down on me. A drip of sweat runs down the center of my back. And across the way, I catch a man watching me from the driver’s seat of a dark sedan. A nervous zing shoots through my chest. But it disappears just as quickly as I realize the man behind the wheel is absolutely not Frederick Richards. He’s Hispanic, with salt-and-pepper hair.

I frown at him.

He smiles widely.

Creeper. I turn away, yanking open the door to the social worker’s office. A welcome blast of cool air hits me. But the functioning AC is the only pleasant thing about this place. Everything in the room is gray, including the cheap metal office furniture and the dingy walls, which have probably needed a fresh paint job for longer than I’ve been alive.

“Hi Rachel,” the wrinkled receptionist greets me. “You can have a seat, and Hannah will be out to get you as soon as she’s ready.”

I eye Hannah’s door. Is he really in there? I don’t ask, though, because my mouth is suddenly as dry as toast. Another wave of nausea hits as I steer myself into the battered chair just outside Hannah’s office.

Out of habit, I reach into my pocket for my iPod Classic. The steel edges felt cool against my damp fingers. Music has always been my drug of choice. In the palm of my hand, I hold the orderly world, arranged into playlists of my own design. Thousands of examples of prerecorded perfection can be cued up at the touch of my finger.

Some of it was written and performed by the man on the other side of Hannah’s door. I’ve been carrying my father around in my pocket for a long time.

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