Losing Nuka (Litmus Book 1)

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Losing Nuka

By Kayla Howarth

Kindle Edition

 

Losing Nuka Copyright © 2016 by Kayla Howarth

 

Cover Illustration Copyright ©

Illustration : Erica petit Illustration

http://andromnesia.com

https://www.facebook.com/ericapetitillustrations

 

Edited by Xterraweb Edits

http://editing.xterraweb.com/

 

All rights reserved.

This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher.

For information regarding permission, write to:

Kayla Howarth - permissions - [email protected]

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

-1-

SAY MY NAME

 

 

The warm glow emitting from inside my childhood home casts an illusion of perfection. The light blue panelling is almost grey in the early evening dusk, but it still has that homely presence about it. The tyre swing in the front yard sits immobile, dangling from the large tree branch. Children’s bikes lie on the front lawn. A basketball hoop sits above the garage. It’s obvious the kids who grew up here never wanted for anything. They’ve been raised in a loving and nurturing environment.

But that’s the thing about illusions—they’re misleading. Who would’ve thought a simple two-storey house could hold so many lies?

I try to summon the courage to make my feet start moving towards the front door, but it doesn’t work. Locked in a trance, I stare at my home of the past … I start counting …
six, seven …
eight years.

How can I look Mum and Dad in the eye and accuse them of lying to me for
twelve
years—ever since they adopted me when my biological dad died? I was only six at the time and can barely remember him. To me, my parents have always been Lia and Jayce. I never knew my birth mother. I never even knew her name … until now.

Cadence Edwards.

Turns out
her
name isn’t the only thing Mum and Dad have been hiding from me. How could they have kept something this big from me? And what else have they been hiding?

Sure, they’ll probably use some excuses like “We were waiting for the right time,” or “We were waiting for you to bring it up.” But I personally would’ve preferred them to blurt out, “By the way, Nuka isn’t your real name. Just so you know”
while we were doing the dishes one night.

“Sorry. No record of a Nuka James born on that date. Or any other date for that matter.” The guy behind the counter at Births, Deaths, and Marriages delivered his words like they couldn’t possibly have life-altering consequences.
Boom
, everything you thought you ever knew was a lie.

Okay, so maybe that’s being dramatic—it’s just a name. It doesn’t mean anything, right? Isn’t there that old saying, “what’s in a name?” Does a name have any reflection on the person you become?

Would a different name have led me to lead a different life? Would I still be living with my adopted family and going to uni? Would my birth name have an impact on the way I behaved? Would I be more of a girly girl if I were named anything but Nuka? Would I be a tomboy?

People say there’s nothing in a name, but the list of what-ifs is endless.

I’ve been trying to rationalise why they would’ve changed my name, but I’ve gotten nowhere. What possible reason could my family have for lying to me for so long?

Now here I am, hours after the biggest bombshell had been dropped, still trying to make sense of the information I
did
manage to find at BDM. I guess there’s only one way to do that, and it involves going inside.

Sighing and standing up straight, I make my way to the front entrance with feigned confidence. Something I completely lose the minute I step over the threshold.

“We were about to start dinner without you,” Mum says as I dump my backpack on the ground near the hallway.

“Sorry. Study group went a little long.” I walk into the dining room, nervously running my fingers through my blonde hair. It’s a reflexive habit I have when I lie.

“You were probably too busy making out with Declan,” Will, my annoying little brother, says. He’s twelve with the attitude of a sixteen-year-old. He’s a smartass and know-it-all.

“Declan and I are just friends.” I slap him on the back of his head as I take the seat next to him at the table.

“What’s
making out
?” my sister asks, making the table laugh.

“You won’t have to worry about that for a few more years yet, Illy,” Dad says, reaching across the table to pat her on the head.

“Is it like sex? Because that’s totally gross, Nuka,” Illyana replies.

I bite my lip and try to stifle a laugh because both Mum and Dad are scowling.

“How do you know about …
sex
, Illyana?” Mum fumbles over the words.

“Please. I’m eight, not six.”

This time I do laugh. Will does too.

“All right,” Dad says in his most authoritative tone, “which one of you has been talking to Illy about sex?” He points his fork, waving it between Will and me.

“It wasn’t me,” I say, holding up my hands in surrender. Will’s suspiciously quiet though.

“Will told me.” Illy rats him out in an ever-so-casual tone, not even lifting her head from her plate. “It’s when two people lie down and kiss, and the boy grabs the girl’s boobs, and—”

“That’s enough, Illyana,” Mum says sternly, but I get the feeling she’s now trying not to laugh with us.

The rest of dinner is quiet … well, as quiet as a table of five people can be. There’s small talk about school, but I don’t participate. Will and Illyana do enough talking for the three of us. Will leaves the table first, dumping his plate in the sink and going upstairs to his room. Illyana is next to leave. I’m still pushing my peas around my plate when Dad gets up and starts doing the dishes.

“What’s wrong?” Mum asks, leaning over the table and grabbing my hand.

Looking into her brown eyes, I’m reminded of how young she is. Yes, she’s my parental figure, but the truth is, she’s only fourteen years older than me. She’s more like an older sister than a mother. She was only twenty when she took six-year-old me in.

It took a long time for me to call Mum and Dad, “Mum and Dad.” They were Lia and Jayce for a long time. When Will was five, he started calling them Lia and Jayce too. I asked them if they wanted me to call them Mum and Dad instead, not to confuse Will, but I was just looking for an excuse. I’d wanted to call them Mum and Dad for a long time but was worried they never truly saw me like that—like their actual daughter. Hearing them say they’d love for that to happen was still one of my happiest memories of living with them. They made me feel like I belonged. It makes their betrayal so much worse.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I reply, but even I can hear the upset tone in my voice.

“Did you and Declan have a fight?”

“We’re just friends.”

“Friends can’t fight?”

I shake my head. “This isn’t about him.”

“Is it about uni? Are the classes too hard? I’m sure you just need time to get into a routine.”

I shake my head again.

She stands and comes to sit in the chair next to me, grasping my hand on the table again. “Then what’s this about?”

I can’t bring myself to look at her. “What’s my real name?” I whisper.
So much for being confident.

She lets go of my hand, suddenly sinking back in her chair. “What did you just ask?” Her tone is rigid, but I can also hear a hint of fear in her voice.

“My real name. What is it?” I say louder but still have my eyes planted firmly on the table in front of me. That is, until a loud crashing sound comes from the kitchen as Dad drops a plate in the sink. He must’ve heard me that time too.

“It’s Nuka.” Mum’s voice breaks.

Dad appears in the doorway, leaning against the doorframe that leads to the kitchen.

“I wasn’t really studying this afternoon,” I admit. “I tried to get a copy of my birth certificate, but they had no record of me. How could I be here if I technically don’t exist?”

Mum sighs. “We knew you’d want to find out about your birth parents sooner or later. We just hoped you’d come to us first.”

Dad comes and sits on the other side of me.

My stare is glued to the plate in front of me. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I’m glad you’re my parents, but …”

“You want to know who you come from,” Dad finishes for me. I silently nod. “We completely understand you wanting that,” he says reassuringly in his soothing psychologist voice.

“Why couldn’t they find my name?” I ask.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see them glance at each other then back at me.

“Your birth mother …” Mum hesitates. “She gave you up, turned you over to the Institute behind your father’s back. He was against sending you there, even though you’re Immune.”

I roll my eyes at her using that term. It’s so politically correct, it’s so …
blergh
. Everyone still calls us Defective, whether we like it or not.

“So, you’re saying she didn’t want me?” My eyes start to fill with tears. I always thought that’s what happened, but a big part of me was hoping that it wasn’t her choice to give me up. I hoped she was forced to abandon me, to obey the law at the time, which stated all Defectives must live and receive treatment at the Institute—a glorified prison in the middle of nowhere, far away from “normal” people.

“You have to understand what it was like back then. The entire country was scared of Immunes because of what we can do. Because of our abilities, they didn’t see us as normal. They thought they had to segregate us to keep everyone else safe. Thanks to your biological father, everyone now knows that’s not true. He spent the last few years of his life convincing the world we’re just like everyone else.”

My dad took over as the director of the Institute when I was five, and he set everyone free. He found loopholes in the stupid law and used them to liberate us.

“Then why do we still have separate schools? Why is there a normal school and a Defective school? Why are there so many Institute Estates in the outer suburbs so Defectives can live in communities with other Defectives? You say it’s different now, but it’s not really.”

“There will always be hate and discrimination against those who are different. Especially when even Immunes don’t have enough pride to refuse using the word Defective.” She gives me a stern look. I roll my eyes again. “It’s a sad thing for the world to endure, but it seems to be human nature. I shouldn’t have to explain all of this, Nuka. I know you didn’t do great in History at high school, but come on—I’d like to think you at least listened to my public ramblings over the years.”

She’s right. With her being the most famous Immune activist in the country, I’ve had to listen to numerous speeches of hers. Not to mention the constant ramblings at home, too.

“I know,” I say dejectedly. “I just don’t understand it still.”

Mum purses her lips. “Many of us don’t.”

“It still doesn’t explain why they couldn’t find me in the system,” I say, getting back on topic.

“Your dad changed your name to Nuka after your mother sent you to the Institute, and then he sealed the files. You’ve always been known as Nuka to me, and we didn’t actually learn it wasn’t your real name until we tried to adopt you legally—long after your dad was gone.”

“What do you mean, ‘tried’?”

“Your father left you to me in his will. I know that sounds like you were some sort of possession, but what I mean is, he wanted me to look after you. I was worried your mother was going to try to come back and claim you, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. We looked into adopting you properly around the time Illy was born, around the time we moved into this house, but we needed your birth mum’s permission. So we dropped the whole thing. We knew opening that can of worms wouldn’t have ended well.”

“So I’m not yours?”

“Of course, you’re ours,” Dad says firmly. “We raised you, you’re our daughter. We’re your legal guardians.”

“Just not my legal parents,” I state.

“It’s only a title,” Mum says, trying to reassure me.

“So you never told my birth mother that Dad died?”

“She would’ve seen it on the news. He was a promising presidential candidate when he was…”

“Murdered,” I say without emotion. “You can say it. I do remember what happened to him.”

“If she wanted you, she would’ve come for you then.”

“How do you know she didn’t? She could’ve come but didn’t know where to find us.”

Mum and Dad look at each other again before Mum sighs and looks away. “Your father didn’t want that.”

“She had a right to claim me, and you kept me from her.”

“She could’ve come, but she didn’t,” she says.

Dad remains silent next to me.

“You don’t know that. Not for certain. What if I was never meant to be yours? What if my real mother was looking for me but was looking for my birth name? She wouldn’t have been able to find me.”

“Nuka,” Mum says, her condescending tone fuelling my sudden anger. “She wouldn’t have given you up in the first place if that was the case.”

“I still think I have the right to find that out for myself.”

“I suppose that’s true, you do have that right, but as your parent and the person who raised you for a lot longer than that woman ever did, I don’t want to see you making a mistake you could never recover from.”

“You kept my mother from me,” I say, proud of myself that my voice doesn’t waver.


I
am your mother,” she practically growls. “
She
abandoned you.”

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