Chapter 18

Avril was quiet for a while, clearly sensing that I was in no mood to talk. Eventually, however, she said, "I think you'll like your new family, Nicaela. I checked this one our very thoroughly, so don't worry. The Jordans are very nice people. They've been foster parents for eight years, and always had positive reports. They've even adopted two of their foster children- an eight-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy. They're regular church goers, and I've spoken with them and several who know them. I really think it will be different for you this time. I'm sorry you had to leave those girls, but I really think you'll be able to have a good experience with the Jordans."

I didn't respond- how do you answer to something like that? I didn't want to hear about the Jordans- I didn't want to like it there.

"We'll stop by the Demarcos' to get your things, and then we'll be on our way."

That hadn't occurred to me, that I would need my things- I'd been too preoccupied thinking of other things.

As we pulled into the driveway of the Demarco house, I saw that a police car was still parked outside it. I did not want to go back in there again, to step inside our room, a room that still held all the memories of Doral and Alex and I, all the times we had spent together… but I had to.

Seeing the apprehension twisting my features, Avril asked quietly if I wanted her to go in with me. I nodded, and together we walked up the driveway and opened the unlocked door. I thought to myself how strange it was to just walk in there, into a house that seemed so empty, and yet so crowded, suffocating, with memories…

I hurried past the living room, the kitchen, the doors to Penelope's room, the bathroom, Anton's bedroom, Keegan's… I didn't want to stop, didn't want to remember. I just wanted to get my stuff and leave as soon as possible. My throat felt as if something large and bulky were blocking it so I could not swallow…

Avril followed silently behind me as I pulled open the door to the room that had basically become mine as well as Doral's and Alex's. I had even moved most of my clothes into there by the end, and shared their clothes as well. Everything inside seemed to mock me, taunt me in my sadness, scream to me that I was leaving, I would never see any of this again… their pictures, their clothes and makeup, their artwork and notebooks and school stuff, little parts of their lives.

I gathered my things as quickly as I could, into the very same two trash bags I had arrived with. I didn't have very much to add to it, for I'd never been one for makeup or clothes or CDs. I handed Doral's notebooks and Alex's drawings to Avril, not wanting them to be crushed in my trash bags.

As I exited our room, holding my trash bags in my arms, I cast one last glance at my old bedroom, the one place in the entire house I had been able to forget myself enough to be happy. I scanned it slowly, burning the image in my head, so I would never forget…

Epilogue

It's been a few months now, and I've adjusted to how things will have to be from now on. It isn't as bad as I thought it would be, and in many ways, it's much better.

Avril obviously did her homework this time- the Jordans are as nice as she said, and they really do seem glad to have me. Even my little foster brother and sister, Justin and Fiona, are okay- they're normal kids, loveable one minute, so annoying you want to strangle them the next. No signs of homicidal tendencies from either of them yet-and none of insanity from Mrs. Jordan or perversity from Mr. Jordan. I was wary of all four of them at first, of course, waiting for their normal exterior to crack and their true colors to show through- but as this hasn't happened, my suspicions have gradually faded. They've asked me to call them Mom and Dad, as Justin and Fiona do, but I can't do that. Still, I can see myself starting to like these people.

Avril checks up on me rather frequently now, calling every few weeks to ask how I'm getting along. I guess another good thing that came out of this is the way our relationship has changed- now that I can see other sides to her, see her more as a full person with emotions and concerns, I respect her, even like her. Sure, I still like to mess it her, but it's a lot less out of hostility and a lot more just out of fun.

It was through Avril that I learned what became of Keegan and Penelope, and what had apparently happened. I know she must have done some digging to find out what she did- it was all pretty hushed up, none of it even in the paper except a few ambiguous articles not mentioning names. Apparently it came out, between the autopsy and Penelope herself, that Penelope had indeed slipped half a cup of cyanide in everything Anton drank or ate all day long on the day of his death. Her reasons for doing this are still pretty vague.

Keegan apparently underwent trial in family court and has been sentenced to spend her remaining years as a minor in a very strictly surveillanced juvenile center, where she will also receive psychiatric help. As for Penelope, she was charged with attempted murder and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Apparently she is schizophrenic, a possibility that had never even occurred to me. She is in some mental hospital now as a result of her sentence.

The only thing about my life now that keeps me from really being happy is that I can no longer see Doral and Alex every day, whenever I want to, although thanks to Avril, we have managed to stay in touch. Both of them called me once they got their new homes, and we had long, tearful conversations in which we described our new situations. They gave me their new personal information, and I passed Alex's info to Doral and Doral's to Alex. We keep in touch daily in some way- letters, phone calls, e-mails- but isn't the same thing as being there with them.

It's only a few more months now until Alex turns eighteen, until she can finally leave the foster care system and set out on her own. Believe it or not, she actually has it set up where she can go to college, completely for free… something none of us would ever have dared to think possible. After her, it's only seven more months until I turn eighteen, and then two more until Doral does… and when that time comes, when we're all eighteen and on our own, we can finally be together again. We don't know how we'll manage it or what we'll do, but we'll find a way, I know it. Less than two years until then… and when that day comes, the world better watch out.