As usual, I awoke twenty minutes before my alarm rang. I always do that- don't ask why. I can never sleep late, even on weekends. It's like I have an inner alarm clock that says, " Hey Cadence, daylight has arrived! Get up... you know you want to..." and I can't stand it- I have to get up. It's crazy, I know.

I got out of bed, switching on my lamp, and made my way softly over to the dresser I share with Allyn, my 13 year old foster sister. I tried to be quiet as I dressed so as not to wake her. An unnecessary precaution, as Allyn slept through anything, especially when she was messed up, as she usually was. She was sprawled out across her bed, on top of the blankets, her long blonde hair with its black dyed streaks strewn in a disheveled mess around her face. Her slender arms looked brittle in the dim light, and the many scars on her arms stood out where her sleeve had ridden up. Some were faint, barely scratches, but others were red and angry. Almost all had been inflicted by Allyn on herself.

Hey, I thought as I made my way to our door, at least she's home today. At least she didn't sneak out- that we know of...

You might of inferred by now that Allyn isn't the most well behaved and adjusted girl in the world. Not what most would describe as normal. Well that's certainly true- but in our family she fits right in. My family isn't exactly what you'd call normal either.

You probably caught that I said Allyn was my foster sister, not biological. She certainly isn't the first foster child we've had, and I'm sure she won't be the last. You see, my father, Dalton, and my mother, Rose, are both psychologists who are very successful in their field. In fact, Dad was the youngest person in the US to ever become a psychologist, only 21, just five years older than I am now. They didn't' marry until they were in their late 30s, and thought it too late to start a family. Both were thrilled when they had me eventually. However, soon after I was a year old, Mom had a miscarriage, and it was so traumatic to her body that she was told she could not risk having children again. My parents decided to become foster parents, working at home rather than in offices. They reasoned that because of their professions, they could better raise and even improve the lives of disturbed and abused children than most. They specially requested children who were hard to place because of behavioral or handicaps issues. Ever since, I ve been raised with foster brothers and sisters of all ages, races, and disturbances. Some we've kept as long as two or three years, others only a few weeks, before they moved on or went back to their parents. I've grown close to many, particularly ones close to my age, and we remain in contact with several. Over the years I've grown so used to living with troubled kids it seems expected and normal to me- almost nothing my foster siblings could do would shock me. Sometimes it can be trying or stressful- most of the time, in fact- but I think if I had a choice, I'd choose to keep our family the way it is- very extended and very chaotic. In a weird way, I like it. I'm a lot like my parents, I guess...

Right now I have three foster sisters living with me- Allyn, Danica, and Rory. Allyn was put into foster care because of the severe way her mother abused and neglected her. Her mother was 19 when she became pregnant, and Allyn was very unwanted. Allyn's grandparents didn't help her mother at all, and in fact disowned her. Allyn's mother, from the time Allyn was a baby, swung unpredictably from loving and caring for her to neglecting her horribly, locking her in her room without food for days at a time. When Allyn would cry or beat on the door, her mom opened it only to beat her until she bled, then would lock her inside until she decided to let her out. Allyn was put in foster care when she was 10. Before she was 12, she was completely out of control, smoking, stealing, doing any drug she could get her hands on, drinking until she puked, and letting any guy who wanted her have her. She was self-destructive and did all she could to hurt herself, even going so far as to cut herself. When anyone tried to stop her, Allyn would scream and swear and sometimes lash out in rage. She also snuck out at night often. Needless to say, she was very hard to place in foster care. Her social worker was going to put her in rehab or a juvie home but my parents offered to take her and try their hand with her first. Everyone thought they were crazy to take her, but they insisted they wouldn't give up on her before they even tried. So far, she hasn't changed much from what I can see, but then again, it's only been a few weeks. Who knows.

In many ways, my foster sister Danica is Allyn's opposite, but if you really get to know her, you can see their similarities. Danica is 17, and on the surface very different from Allyn- shy, quiet, placid and eager to please. However, all you have to do is look at her, and you can tell she is as deeply tormented as Allyn. Danica is a severe anorexic- 5-5 and 72 pounds. She is so thin her bones are visible all over, and her figure is as flat as a child's. Her eyes are sunken in her skull, and her hair is thin and brittle. One of the strangest things about her appearance is the soft fuzzy hair on her whole body- it's called lanugo- a symptom of bad anorexics. Danica has been in and out of hospitals continually in the year we've had her, and though she isn't losing weight- a huge step- she isn't gaining it either. She is very weak and fragile, and often faint and dizzy. I worry about her and Allyn so much, that one day they'll die from what they do tho themselves. I can only hope that we will be able to help them eventually.

Danica was placed in foster care because her father sexually abused her and her sister. Though she has not said so to me, I am sure that is why she is anorexic- she believes the abuse was her fault, that had she not tempted him but being pretty and sexy, he would not have raped her. I think her anorexia is an attempt to make herself unattractive.

My last and youngest foster sister is Rory. Rory is only four, but she is very deeply disturbed as well. Rory's father was a violent, easily angered man who abused both Rory and her mother. When Rory was almost four, she witnessed him stab her mother to death, then shoot himself. Ever since, she's been nearly catatonic- not speaking or moving without someone making her. And yet at the slightest thing sometimes, she bursts into a rage, shrieking and lashing out furiously rather like Allyn. She also often draws disturbing pictures with crayons- angry red and black scribbles that cover pages and pages. They really don't look like anything but they are kind of scary anyway. Mom and Dad think because she is so young, she has the greatest potential to be improved. I hope so.

As I walked down the hallway toward the kitchen, guided by the dim light of a hall nighlight, I saw Rory slip out of the room she shared with Danica. She stood before the doorway, mouth slightly open, looking at me mutely with her dark, shadowy eyes. Her long dark hair hung to the small of her back, free from the ponytail Mom had put it in last night. She looked at me intently, but did not speak. This didn't bother me at all- I was quite used to her silence.1

" Morning, Rory," I said softly. " You're up early." She remained motionless, eyes wary, alert, as I stepped toward her. I stopped, not coming closer. Rory could have very unpredictable reactions to being touched. Sometimes she was very placid about it- even seeking to be touched, climbing on Mom's lap to be held and hugged. But sometimes she would explode in rage at the slightest brush, lashing out at whoever had touched her. I didn't want to risk that this early.2

As I looked at her, I noticed the dark stain on the front of her nightgown and sighed. She'd wet the bed again. Rory wet the bed at least a few times a week, so this was not surprising. If she wasn't wetting the bed, she was having nightmares that made her scream and thrash. I preferred her to wet the bed- at least everyone could sleep uninterrupted when she did.3

" Stay right here," I told her. " I'll go get Mom and Dad up, and they'll get you changed, all right?" Of course she didn't answer me, or even acknowledge I'd spoken, but I knew she heard. Turning away from her, I walked two doors over to my parents' room. Opening the door quietly, I tiptoed up to their bedside, where they lay sound asleep. I didn't feel too bad about waking them- they'd get up in another five minutes anyway. 4

" Mom," I whispered loudly. " Dad. Rory wet the bed again. She's standing in the hall."5

They both stirred. My mom made a funny noise, and my dad opened his eyes squintily.6

" Cadence? What time is it?" he muttered.7

" Almost six. Sorry to wake you, but you'd have been up in a few minutes anyway," I pointed out. 8

" Be up in a minute," Mom muttered, rolling over and pushing off her covers. " I'll change her this time, Dalton. You do the sheets."9

" We need to get her some rubber ones," Dad mumbled.10

I followed as they padded out of the room toward Rory's and Danica's. Mom squatted before Rory and spoke to her softly before extending her hand to take Rory's. When Rory didn't attack, she picked her up and turning to me, said, " Your dad will get Danica up today- will you try to wake Allyn? You know how hard it is to get her moving- it won't kill her to be early today."11

I nodded reluctantly, not relishing the task. Allyn is an absolute monster in the mornings. Not that she's normally so easygoing, but in the morning she is hell to deal with. I wasn't looking forward to being verbally, possibly even physically, attacked.12

Maybe I should have cleaned up Rory after all, I thought wryly, but it was too late. I opened the door to our room and stood silently beside Allyn's head, gazing down at her. She remained unaware that I was watching, dead to the world. Heistantly, I reached out and shook her shoulder. 13

" Allyn. Time to get up."14

She gave no sign that she had heard or felt me. I bet she was still messed up from whatever she'd taken last night. She was always sleeping hard after a night of heavy using. I shook her again.15

" Allyn."

Still she did not answer. Giving up on that approach, I strode over to the light switch and flipped it on. As the bright light hit her eyelids, Allyn yelped and jerked indignantly. 17

" Hey! What the hell- turn that damn light off!" she hollered. I didn't move.18

" Time to get up, Al."19

" Leave me the hell alone, Cadence," she growled. " My head fucking hurts." Her eyes were slitted in pain and anger, and they looked red and bloodshot. Her face was pale and tightly drawn.20

" What did you take last night, Ally?" I asked quietly. " That's what's making you feel so bad."21

" None of your damn business!" she growled. " God, why can't you just leave me alone! None of you know when to back off! Get off my fucking back, Cadence!"22

" Okay," I said, holding my hands up in mock surrender. " Whatever you say." Not replying, she buried her face in her pillow, arms loosely at the sides of it. That was when I noticed the bloody stain on her sleeve.23

" What's that on your sleeve, Allyn?" I asked. " Did you hurt yourself again?" Allyn abruptly bolted up in bed, my words apparently bringing her awake immediately. Hugging her arm to her chest defensively, she glared at me hatefully.

" Leave me the fuck alone, Cadence," she hissed. " You think you're so smart- that you know everything about me- well you don't know shit, Cadence, you don't know shit!" And with that, she leapt out of bed and pushed past me out the door. A few minutes later I heard a slam and knew she'd locked herself in the bathroom. Damn. I shouldn't have said anything. I knew better. She was probably cutting herself again. Great job, Cadence...

Sighing, I went into the kitchen, both to look for my parents and to get some food. Apparently they'd both finished with Rory, because I could hear the washer going from the laundry room. As I stepped into the kitchen, I saw that Mom, Dad, Rory, and Danica were already sitting at the table with their breakfast in front of them. Dad was sitting by Rory, encouraging her to eat her cereal. She was more inclined to play with food, flinging it at people or on the floor, than to eat it. Mom was sitting similarly by Danica, trying to convince her to drink a large, high calorie milk shake. I could tell from Danica's tearful, defiant expression and her tightly cinched lips that she wasn't giving in any time soon.1

" Dani, honey, if you lose any more weight, you know you'll have to go back to the hospital. You know it's much more unpleasant to gain weight in a hospital, by a feeding tube, than here at home, of your own will. Think about it. You know it's true," Mom coaxed.2

Danica shook her head rapidly, a few tears spilling over. I saw that she was trembling.3

" Nooo, don't Rose, I can't. I can't, don't make me, I can't!"4

" Morning, everyone," I said, sitting on Danica's other side. Reaching for the cereal and milk, I poured myself some and began to eat. With my free hand, I squeezed Danica's bony shoulder.5

" come on Dan, you can get up as soon as you eat. You know she isn't going to let you get away with not eating. "6

" But I can't..." Danica whispered. " I can't, I can't get fat..."7

" Did you wake Allyn?" Mom asked me, not taking her eyes off Danica. Not unlike Rory, she is known to knock over food to avoid eating it.8

" She's up, but she locked herself in teh bathroom... she cut herself again, Mom. You should probably go check on her."9

' Oh no, again?" Mom said in concern. " Did it look deep, Cadence?" 10

" I didn't see it, I just saw the blood on her sleeve," I explained. " I don't know... I doubt it, she looked okay- for Allyn, anyway."11

" I'll go check on her, Rose," Dad said, rising from his seat. Rory made a harsh noise in her throat, holding an arm out to him as if she wanted him to stay. Looking over at them, Mom said, " No, Dalton, stay with the girls. I'll get her." She stood up, but not before putting her hand on Danica's hair and telling her, " Don't think this means you dont' have to eat today, Dan. One way or another, someone will see that you do. We're not letting you push us around like you do everyone else." Despite her scolding words, her tone was gentle. Danica remained rigid in her seat, staring down at her milk shake with tearful disgust, as if it were an ugly insect ready to strike. I watched her as I ate. I still could not comprehend how she could stand to starve herself, how she could get to the point where she was actually afraid of food. I couldn't handle going even a day or two without it, and I weighed almost twice as much as her. Food was way too good- I would never willingly give it up, I simply did not have that kind of willpower.12

" Rory," Dad spoke up firmly. " If you don't eat your breakfast you won't be able to watch TV this morning. No Sesame Street unless you eat." He turned to Danica, and in an attempt to make her less anxious over the food before her, said, " You too, Dani. No Sesame Street if you don't drink that."13

She didn't even crack a smile. She continued to stare miserably at the shake, tears rolling down her cheeks. Turning from Rory for a second, Dad reached for her hands, twisting in her lap. He squeezed them soothingly.14

" Come on, Dan. Just drink it, and it will be over with. You can stop dreading it. You've done it before- you know you can do it. If you're scared afterward Rose or I will help you through it. Just drink it for me and I'll be off your back for a while."15

As he was saying this, Rory took the opportunity to lift her cereal and fling it against the wall. I flinched at the loud sound as milk and cheerios sprayed everywhere. Rory did not laugh, as you might expect, but just looked on with an empty expression. Dad stood up calmly and wiped up the mess, saying to Rory as he went to get her from her chair, " Ok, Rory, no Sesame Street this morning. I told you to eat, now, didn't I? But you threw your bowl, so you wont' be able to watch TV now."16

As he went to touch her, Rory shrieked, her body stiffening in rage and panic. She clawed at his arms, then reached up wildly in an attempt to scratch his face. He bodily lifted her into his arms and tried to pin her arms down without hurting her or letting her hurt him. Standing up, Dad said to me, " Cadence, sit here with Danica for a few minutes, will you?" as he left the kitchen with Rory flailing in his arms. I knew what he meant was for me to make sure she didn't throw the shake down the drain. I needed to get into the bathroom to do my hair and brush my teeth, but I guessed since Mom and Allyn were in there that wasn't an option yet. I'd just have to wait. When you have a family like mine, patience is a quality you quickly learn to possess, or you spend a LOT of time pissed off.17

I hadn't baby sat Danica for long before Mom came back into the kitchen with her hands firmly on Allyn's shoulders, pushing her forward. Allyn's eyes were red, and her head was down, shoulders hunched. She glared at me defiantly as she slumped into a chair. I saw that she had a fresh bandage on her wrist and made no comment.1

" You're going to have to hurry, Allyn; if you miss the bus again you're still going to school, don't think you're not," Mom warned. Allyn shifted her glare to her direction. Apparently any tender discussion she'd had with Mom had not sunk in and changed her, at least this morning. Allyn goes to high school with me, though at 13, she is technically supposed to be in the eighth grade. She had started school a year early. She is in a class for kids with handicaps, learning disabilites, and behaivoral issues, until she is more manageable and willing to learn. Her teachers watch her continually; she stays in one class all day without switching.2

Now that Mom was back in the kitchen, I could leave. I got up and went to the bathroom to get myself ready. I was putting on eyeshadow when I heard the tell tale sound of our bus pulling into the driveway, in that annoying beeping way it always does. Grabbing my 35 pound backpack, I ran down the hallway to the front door, yelling, " Hurry, Allyn!" as I raced down the driveway just as the doors of the bus opened to admit me. Rory is too young to go to school, of course, and Danica is on home bound. She is too weak and skinny right now for school, not to mention how someone has to watch her to help her if she faints and force her to eat every few hours.3

As I slid into my customary seat near the back, my driver yelled back at me, " Is Allyn coming or what?"4

" Yeah, she's coming," I yelled back, though admittably she was taking a very long time. I was sure it was not of her own will that she'd eventually board the bus. It never was.5

Sure enough, a few minutes later Allyn appeared on our porch with Dad right behind her, hand on her shoulder. I watched, amused, as he propelled her down the driveway to the bus as she twisted and spit curses, fighting to get out of his grasp. She absolutely hated when he did this. Not only did it embarrass her, it made her furious when anyone imposed their will on her.6

When they finally reached the bus and Dad shoved her aboard, the driver quickly and wisely closed the doors behind her. Allyn stalked down the aisle and flung herself into an empty seat, slumping practically to the floor and cursing violently. I sighed, relaxing slightly. This was nothing compared to some reactions Allyn was known to give. We were lucky today. Maybe we WERE helping her, somewhat, already...