The adults spoke over my head like I was deaf and had no comprehension that I was again being returned into a foster care system that I’d long since accepted was a part of my life. It was like a dress that someone bought and quickly grew out of, so they put it in the back of the closet and forgot about it. But I was returned into places where folks were paid to pretend to care for me while I waited to see if someone else wanted a reject.
I might have only been seven years old, but I understood my life wasn’t anything like it was for other children. This was my seventh home in two years. I’d tried to be good, be the perfect child so someone would love me the way I wanted. The way I’d seen other girls and boys were with parents who were clean and didn’t smell of stale booze. My mother had decided I wasn’t worth her time or money.
“One hungry mouth is too many,” she’d said often enough. It made something inside me not settle for other folks’ crap. As much as I talked to myself in private about behaving, it didn’t work when someone tried to push me around.
A long heartfelt sigh from above me matched the one in my head. I really did want to find someone to be mine.
“She’s got everything she should need for now in the bag,” the woman who’d driven me to the foster home said. She had tired eyes, but they at least weren’t mean. I’d learned quickly to read those around me. And I’d acted up a time or two to get away from those with shifty eyes that made my stomach hurt when they looked at me when no one else was watching. Those men were the type who visited Mommy after Daddy died, and they brought nothing but trouble.
The woman she spoke to reached out and took the bag, giving me the once-over. I was sure she didn’t miss my torn dress or the bruises on my arms from the last fight I’d gotten into with the boy at school who thought I’d let him pull my hair. Because it was the son of the woman whose house I’d been living in, I’d found myself yet again back in the system without a family.
“What happened to her?” the woman asked.
“I hit the boy who yanked on my hair. He got his friends to push me to the ground, and he stomped on my arms,” I answered, even though the question hadn’t been directed at me. The truth was always best. That way, I couldn’t get into any more trouble.
Another sigh came from the woman who was dropping me off. “She’s had a tough time transitioning.”
What did that mean? Adults tended to talk in code, some of which I didn’t understand. I shifted and looked at the house in front of me, bored with the conversation. The house was at least welcoming and looked okay. It was small, but the garden was big enough to run around. And there were some toys on the lawn.
Movement caught my eye, and a small dark head popped around the doorframe then disappeared before appearing again. Big green eyes met mine. They were so big they took up nearly all the child’s face, and I grinned shyly, recognizing a soul mate. Someone else who had suffered and understood life wasn’t good to everyone.
The thumb in the child’s mouth popped out, and she gave me a small wave. Before the woman had stopped speaking, I was walking up the path, drawn to the child who had stepped fully into view. Her dress was clean, as was her face.
“I’m Storm,” I said as I stopped at the bottom of the steps, unsure if I’d get into trouble for walking into a house that I hadn’t been in before.
“I’s Delilah. I’s three.”
“That’s a big name. I’m seven, so I’m gonna call you Dee. We’re gonna be friends, you and me.”
Dee’s eyes widened. “Okay.” She glanced over her shoulder behind her before looking at me, chin wobbling. “I’s no friends ere. My sister is coming back for me.”
In my experience, family lied, but I didn’t say that. I shrugged. “That’s nice.”
Her chin continued to wobble. “She is. She promised.”
I walked up the steps and took hold of her hand. There was something about the chin that poked forward. “I believe you.” I’d long since given up hope of that happening for me, but I wished that it would work out for her.
One Year Later
The woman who’d dropped me off a year ago stepped into the room, and my heart hurt as I struggled to take a deep breath.
What did she want?
I stared at Dee and then at her big sister, Layla, who held her daughter, Cora, and followed behind the woman.
“Storm, it’s all right. You have nothing to worry about,” Layla said. Her smile was as big as the sun outside. I’d come to trust her. Dee had told the truth about her sister, or more, her mom, because that’s what she appeared to be to me. The way she cared for Dee while doing things I didn’t understand so that Dee could go and live with her and Cora. Deep down, I’d known that Dee would leave me, but I wasn’t prepared for it.
I sniffed and wiped at my nose with the back of my hand.
The woman indicated to Layla. “Do you think you’d like to go and live with Layla and Delilah?”
A tear ran down my cheek and plopped off my chin, then another followed until I couldn’t see. I hiccuped as I looked between both women. Did they mean it? “Really? You want me to come and live with you?”
Layla nodded her head while rocking Cora. “We do. It’s your choice, Storm. Mr. Harrison—Burt—has a big home with enough room for all of us. And I have legal status to care for Delilah. It also means that I could apply to care for you too if you want to come with us.”
“But nobody wants me.” The words popped out before I could stop them. They were the truth. This was the longest I’d stayed in a home, and it was all because of Dee, who had become my best friend while I’d become her protector. We were inseparable.
Layla came forward and crouched in front of me as Dee took hold of my hand. “We do. We want you to be part of our family, forever.”
The truth was there in the depth of emotion as I searched for the lie in the words. The hand holding mine squeezed tight. “We’s family now. You and me. We’s not leavin’ you behind.”
My nose ran as I swiped at my eyes again, trying to be a big girl. “You won’t give me back when you get fed up?” I needed to hear the answer, knowing Layla wouldn’t lie to me.
“Never. I can promise you that.” The sicky feeling in my tummy went away at the smile on Layla’s face.
Dee held up our joined hands. “We’s love you always.” A warm feeling filled me up when Dee said those words.
A smile spread over my face. “Okay, but that woman heard you say you aren’t returning me. Just so’s you know.”
The woman laughed along with Layla. “That’s fine. You’re stuck with us too.”
I hugged Dee to me. “I don’t see no problem with that.”