Chapter 1: An Ending and a Beginning

This is stupid….

"Hypocrite! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother's eye…"

There she goes again…I know she's mad, but she doesn't have to keep shooting me those looks…

As soon as she saw me staring, Hanna's eyes resumed gazing at the man preaching in front of the room. Hanna and her husband, Max, were the second couple to take me in as their foster child this year. They were just two more people in the long string of couples who had tried to make me "a part of the family". The only problem was that I, for some reason, just wasn't able to fit into their families. I wasn't sociable enough, or I wasn't polite enough, or I talked back too much, or whatever. I had given up on the foster care system a long time ago.

Hanna, however, had yet to give up on me. I wasn't even trying to impress her and make her like me. I just wanted her and Max to leave me alone. She could probably feel this, and was dealing with it by picking fights with me constantly, usually about the littlest details. This morning before church, it was about my clothes.

"I just don't understand why. Those clothes make you look like a bum. They're so baggy, you look like you're carrying around fifteen extra pounds," she had nagged from the bathroom doorway this morning.

"I dunno, it's just more comfortable than wearing tight clothes. Would you rather I went around looking like a hooker?"

"Please don't use that word. There is quite a difference between wearing clothes that fit you and looking like a…prostitute."

"Just drop it, Hanna, please?" In my defense, orphanages aren't rich, so I couldn't exactly shop at Abercrombie and Fitch. That didn't mean my clothes had to be as baggy as they were, but still.

"I don't care how self-conscious you feel, you're not going to my church looking like some sort of vagrant in front of all my friends. Put on something nice. Something that fits," said Hanna, walking out of the room.

Now I could see Hanna eyeing my clothing choice reproachfully. When we had arrived, she'd ushered me into a seat as soon as possible. I had to agree that I was rather underdressed. To mollify her, I had in fact changed my baggier pants for some skinny jeans. However, my clothes still apparently didn't qualify as "Sunday best", as I had been getting disapproving looks from most of Hanna's fellow churchgoers. I made a mental note not to wear jeans to church again.

"Amy. Amy." I was shaken out of my reverie about pants by Max tugging on my arm. Around us there was a general ruckus as people began to leave their seats, murmuring amongst themselves. Behind Max stood Hanna, glaring down at me. Hanna was a good six inches taller than me, but while sitting down that difference made her glare look positively terrifying.

During the ride home I had to endure a frigid silence. Hanna was pissed. Max kept glancing from his wife's icy face to my own sullen one. I felt bad for the guy, as he seemed pretty nice. Unfortunately, he was also a huge pushover, a perfect match for the exceedingly controlling Hanna.

This was one of the reasons I hadn't had high hopes for the couple when I first met them. I don't like being told what to do. I can endure it, of course, but I have my limits. Hanna's crusade against my clothes, among other things, was severely testing them.

If Hanna thought her silent treatment was going to bother me, she had another thing coming. I can space out during any situation.

Pulling into the driveway of Hanna and Max's home was always an experience. Their house was a suburban castle. Three stories high, it held four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two living rooms, a dining room, a kitchen, and a study, most of which were large enough to have enclosed my previous foster parents' entire house.

As soon as we got through the eight foot oak door, Hanna started in on me.

"You completely embarrassed me in front of my friends! I told you that those clothes were inappropriate! Didn't I tell you those clothes were inappropriate?!" She yelled, her voice rising in pitch as she went.

There's lipstick on her teeth. Should I say anything?

"I knew bringing you home would be a bad idea! The moment I saw you I knew you would be trouble! But did I listen? No, because I'm too soft. I told myself that God wanted me to show you the way, and ever since I've been trying to do just that! But do you listen?? Do you even care?!"

Nah, I'll keep my mouth shut. Let her walk around like that all day.

"Oops, look at the time. I have to be at work in ten minutes. We can talk more when I get back, ok?" I practically ran out the door and out into the suburban neighborhood. I really don't like confrontations.

I didn't really have a job. Hanna had thought I should get one to "keep me out of trouble", but I thought I could do that easily enough myself. I told Hanna I had gotten a job bussing tables at a local diner, and so long as she never visited the diner during the four hours every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I was supposed to be working there, she'd never need to know it was a lie.

Instead of working, I usually spent my time in the children's park about a mile away. It had a nice grassy field for dogs, and a trail that went into a quaint, little forest for joggers and bikers. In the middle of the field were swings, a slide, and a merry-go-round. My favorite was the swings.

As I sat on the swings now, I mulled over what was going to happen to me when I got home. I knew I had completely insulted Hanna when I walked out like that, but that wasn't what bothered me. I wasn't looking forward to going back to the orphanage. I was sick of how the social workers looked at me every time I was sent back from a foster home. It was that stupid mixture of pity and disapproval in their eyes that got on my nerves. I could hear them thinking, what's wrong with her? Why can't she find a family?

It wasn't my fault. It was the way this stupid system was set up. Once a child is over the age of a toddler, their chances of actually finding a home are severely diminished. Of course, I had known many older children who had been adopted by perfectly happy families. For me, and unfortunately many other kids in the system, this was not the case.

Unlike babies, which are so pure and easy to love, older children like me have already been heavily influenced by the world around us. Parents go into these sorts of adoptions not with an open heart but with a guarded one, one prepared to fix all the things that, according to them, are already wrong with you.

What doesn't work about this is the lack of the sort of unconditional love a family is supposed to feel for each other. It's the kind of love that makes any member of the family sure that, no matter what they do, the others will still love them. Without this love, there can be no trust. Without this trust, there can be no family.

I can vaguely remember feeling this sort of love for my mother. After she was carted off to prison on the three strikes rule after being found running a meth house in Los Angeles, however, it has been one failed attempt at a family after another. I could always feel that guard my foster parents would put up against me, along with their not-so-gentle pushes towards becoming the sort of person they thought I should be. While I may have many issues, I'm not going to change just because a random couple feels I should. I don't want to be in their family that badly.

All I was doing now was waiting it out. I waited impatiently for the day I turned eighteen and could cast out on my own. I wanted to find that unconditional love that had been so elusive all these years. This had often lead me into the arms and beds of boys that, while at the time seemed as if they could love me, I now knew never had. These boys had also given me quite a reputation with the girls in my area, leading to my sad lack of any close friends. Sure, I had people that were fun to hang out with, but no one I could really talk to. Lately, I had been feeling more alienated than ever. Maybe it was PMS...

Sitting there on my swing, lost in thought, I didn't pay any attention to the discreet brown van that pulled into the driveway next to the park. If I had, I would have seen the two men that hid themselves behind it. But I didn't, so when the third, older man called out to me, the warning signs that should have been going up in my mind didn't show. It was my incredible skill at spacing out through anything that started my involvement in the huge disaster this would eventually become.

"Miss? Excuse me, Miss?"

I jerked my head up and turned to look at the man standing a couple yards away from my swing. He was probably about fifty, with a thinning hairline and the slightly pouched stomach many older men tend to have. He seemed innocent enough, so I politely answered, "Yes?"

"I'm sorry to bother you, but some I think I ran over something sharp and one of my tires is flat. Would you help me put on a spare?"

"You can't do it yourself?" I knew that was sort of rude, but I had always been taught not to go near a stranger's car.

"I've got terrible arthritis in my wrists, and screwing on the wheel will make them ache very badly. I suppose I could, but I'd really rather not."

"Oh. Well, okay then. Sure," I answered him, even smiling a bit at him out of pity for his disease. Even jaded as I was, I was terribly naïve.

The man led me down to his van. It was painted a simple brown, and the windows were tinted to the point that I couldn't see its interior. Still I remained unworried. I followed the man to the other side of the truck, the side that blocked my view of the park and the children inside it. This was the side that had a sliding door, upon which was a sign that read Marvin and Son Plumbing Service followed by an address and phone number. I wondered if he was Marvin.

"If you bend down a bit, you can see a pretty big hole in the tire. Just a minute, I'll grab the jack," the man said, turning and opening the front door of his car.

I obligingly bent down to look at the hole in the tire. I couldn't find it. I looked all around the tire, but it seemed perfectly intact. In fact, it didn't even look flat.

"Sir, I think this isn't the right tire," I said, standing up and turning to look at him. "There's nothing wrong with-" But instead of the old man I saw a taller, younger one. In his hand was a crowbar. I opened my mouth to let out a scream, but all I was able to let out was a tiny whimper before I was knocked unconscious.