“Mother” was in the kitchen doing something. The acrid smell of burnt bacon assaulted him when he opened his bedroom door, and he heard cabinet doors and pans banging, mingling with the occasional curse word. Gershom shook Justin awake.
“Dude.” Justin clearly didn’t want woken up.
Gershom leaned down and whispered, “Abigale is in the kitchen, cooking. Something must be wrong—get up!”
Justin rolled over toward the wall with a wave at Gershom. “Leave me alone. I’m sick today.”
Gershom shrugged. Justin may not care, but he wasn’t going to loiter in the bedroom until Marcus or Abigale came in to investigate what was taking them so long.
Gershom peeked around the corner to see if “Father” was gone today. It was Friday, and he didn’t usually go to work on Fridays because he said the weekend always felt like it started a day early. Strangely, Gershom didn’t see him.
“Gershom! Come eat your food. Mother fixed you bacon this morning!” Abigale’s shrill voice made Gershom wince. One of these days…he let the thought trail off. Pasting on a smile, Gershom entered the kitchen and sat down at the table. He winced again when Abigale dropped a plate in front of him. She never made breakfast. She was never awake at this hour to make breakfast. And where was Marcus? Gershom looked around for him again, but he really wasn’t there.
“Thank you for the—bacon. Where is Mar—Father?” Gershom hated calling Marcus and Abigale Mother and Father, but he had learned the hard way that those were the only acceptable names for the adults in this house.
Abigale paused in mid-air, her hand halfway to brush her hair out of her face. Her eyes darted to the clock, then the door. “He, um, had an errand to run. Now eat your food before I think you’re being ungrateful!” With that, she stomped out of the kitchen—all three steps of it—and slammed her bedroom door. A minute later, Gershom heard her shouting, presumably on the phone with Marcus. He took that opportunity to dump his burnt offering out the back door. Maybe one of the alley cats would appreciate the free breakfast, he thought.
Gershom tiptoed to the front door, gingerly picked up his backpack and jacket, and gently opened the door. As soon as he had one foot out the door, Abigale flung open her door and yelled at him,
“After school today you’re both going back to that home! The state just don’t pay us enough to keep your sorry lot.” She slammed her door shut again and resumed yelling at Marcus.
Gershom stood frozen halfway out the door. Sent back? Already? He patted his jacket pocket just to make sure. He normally brushed his teeth in the bathroom before school, and he always kept his toothbrush in his jacket pocket. He prided himself on the fact that he’d managed to keep this particular toothbrush for almost five months. No foster kid ever kept their toothbrush that long if they bounced around as much as he did, but he’d learned the trick was to keep it on him at all times, so when his social worker from the Office of Children and Families Services showed up with no warning, he was ready to go.
Gershom shook himself and ran across the yard. When he got to the gate, he looked to his left. At the corner of the street three houses down stood a handful of other kids his age, waiting for the bus. He looked to his right. Across the street and two houses down lived another foster family who had his sister. Most of the time, they lived in the same school district, but this time they were lucky enough to be on the same street. Gershom looked back at the bus stop and saw that Jasmine wasn’t there yet, so he made a split-decision and turned right.
This was ridiculous, being shuttled from one horrid, rat-infested hole to the next with no warning. Last week he had overheard his social worker talking to her manager at OCFS about his mother—his birth mother—and that she still lived in Auburn. Auburn was just a couple towns up from Newman’s Corner, so it should be just a hop-skip-and-jump to there. With a determined set to his face, he jogged over to find his sister.
This weekend, Gershom and Jasmine were going to find their birth mother.
“Jaz, we’re not going to school today. Do you have your toothbrush?” I glanced around to make sure nobody was close enough to hear me.
Jasmine took a step back. “What do you mean, not going to school? Miss Hannah said it’s important not to cut. We don’t want to end up in the ditch somewhere!” She shook her head and tried to brush past me, but I grabbed her arm.
“We’re going to find our mother—our birth mother. She lives in Auburn, and if we catch the next bus, we can be there by lunch time, easy. I heard our social worker talking about it.” Even as I said it, I realized what an undertaking this would be. What if we got there and our mother still didn’t want us? Auburn wasn’t as small of a town as Newman’s Corner; how would we find her? It’s not like we could ask the police. They’d just ship us back here.
Jasmine broke into my thoughts. “You’re crazy! Running away is as bad as cutting school! Besides, the Whitmans are really nice people. They even let me stay up late on Fridays.”
I shook my head. “I’m not running away. Marcus and Abigale are sending me back today.” I thought for a second and smiled at my sister. “Actually, you will be the one running away.”
A little pout formed on Jasmine’s mouth, but I could see in her eyes that a little more convincing, and she’d come with me.
“We’re almost teenagers. Ten and twelve are old enough to find our mother and ask why we are here and not with her. It’s old enough to know the truth. Don’t you want to know the truth, Jaz?”
Tears welled up in her eyes, and I knew I had her. Emotional pleas always worked on Jasmine. She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear,
“You’re my brother; I can’t let you go off alone. Then where would I be?”
I patted her back and pulled away. “Good. Now how about that toothbrush?” I had taught her the trick of keeping her toothbrush in her jacket. She had said she wanted to leave one in her bathroom at the Whitman’s, so I made her get two—never can be too careful, I always said.
She pulled it out of her pocket and said, “Check! Oh! Do you have any money?”
“Not much, but it will get us to Auburn. Do you have any?”
“Nope. Where did you get money from? Please tell me you didn’t steal it, because that is worse than running away.”
I felt for the rip in my jacket pocket and pulled out my envelope of cash. Last time I checked, there was $50.56 in it. A quick peek ensured me that none of the coins were missing.
“I didn’t steal it. Twenty is from my birthday four years ago—remember Miss Hannah said an aunt or somebody felt bad and sent a card for me? And then every Saturday for the past three weeks, I mowed the lawn on the corner house. They paid me ten bucks each time. I was supposed to mow their lawn again tomorrow, but now that’s not gonna happen.” The fifty-six cents I’d had for ages. When I first came into foster care when I was three-and-a-half, they said that I had two quarters and six pennies in my pocket, and since it was such a small amount, the social workers decided to let me keep it. How generous of them.
A loud honk startled us. I thrust my money back in my pocket and whirled around. It was just the bus. The door was open, and the driver stared out at us.
“Any day now!”
Our bus driver was in a bad mood every day, but Fridays were worse. I wondered if he felt the weekend started a day early, too. I waved my hand at the bus and said in my important voice,
“Go on. My sister doesn’t feel well today.”
The driver sneered at me and closed the door, probably muttering something about stupid foster kids under his breath. Whatever. We had things to do and places to go, and we couldn’t let a nasty school bus driver deter us.
When the bus drove out of sight, an idea popped into my head. I took Jasmine’s hand and we started walking down the sidewalk toward OCFS. I knew how we would find our mother.