Author's Note: This story is rated (M)ature due to content. It was originally posted in 2009 as a mix-match of other stories, and new material has been added to it since October, 2013. It has continually been one of my top rated stories and it is on the favorites list of well over 100 readers. Much of the story was inspired by actual events in my own personal life, as well as character arcs are based on a blend of several independent film and TV characters.
When I was a little girl, I watched my father die.
My mother killed him while on a crack high. Even after the police came, Mom failed to fix her sweat ridden tank top that had moved to one side and was exposing her sagging left breast.
When the police asked her why she did it, she simply replied with slurred speech while she held an unlit cigarette in one hand, "He was going to tell everyone that I am a lesbian. I'm not a lesbian!"
She was still screaming mercilessly when they dragged her to the police car in handcuffs. The bottoms of her feet were black from kicking the ground and her hands were filthy from shoving dirt in the older officer's face while he tried to keep her from hurting herself. Only when she was locked in the backseat did she bother to look out the back window to see me standing on the porch in my blue floral nightgown, holding Teddy and crying my eyes out because two very large and scary men dressed in blue were forcefully taking my mother away.
I could see her mouthing the word, "Don't," and I knew she was trying to communicate to me not to tell the officers anything. The older officer came back and reached out his giant, calloused hand for me to take, saying with a big smile and soothing blue eyes, "Come on, young lady. Let's get you to a place where you'll be safe."
Turning my head to one side, I considered running back into my house and hiding underneath my bed until the strangers left. When I gazed at the living room just beyond the front door, I could see the walls were painted with red blood and a gel like substance that I would later understand was brain matter. Then I remembered that my father's body was still on the floor. He would've looked like he were sleeping if it weren't for the hole in his neck where the bullet went through. I wanted nothing more than to escape, and these strangers were the only ones willing to take me away.
I reached out and took the officer's hand, and I took one last look at my mother in the police car. She was shaking her head and looking at me with an expression of overwhelming disappointment. I had betrayed her by taking the hand of the law. I wasn't her daughter, anymore.
"Amber, please come with me. Your foster parents are here."
Mrs. Chin smiled warmly and her almond eyes crinkled as she motioned with the file folder in her hand for me to follow her. She looked petite and pretty in her crimson business suit, much too studious for an adoption agency, in my opinion. She walked with a sense of confidence and she was so kind, I had my suspicions that she was actually a lawyer or a doctor and this was just some kind of community work that she did on the side to help people less fortunate.
People like me.
I walked with my head down. I wore a stained gray t-shirt and a pair of tattered jeans. My shoes had a dozen holes in them. My broken red backpack had my Teddy and a discarded romance novel I'd read forty times but didn't know the title of because the cover had been torn off. My small and delicate features, passed down to me by my imprisoned mother, could be easily hidden behind my mane of long, straight blond hair. I would have probably looked hot in the 70's as a hippie flower child, but in today's world, I was pale, formless, and boring. Maybe some part of me wanted it that way. If I didn't like my new foster parents, I could easily escape.
Mrs. Chin opened the cherry colored Oak door to her office and stepped aside to guide me in. I felt an instant tightening in my chest. I hated when people expected me to walk through first. The first guy always dies in the movies. Why would I want to be first?
I walked slowly past her, and I met eyes with a couple who stood when I entered the room. They were similar to the fairytale perfect parents, the wife being a giver, holding her arms out to hug me even though she had never met me before, her eyes showing signs of crow's feet, her dark hair tied back in a ladies' bun, her soft brown eyes taking me in like I was really something to be inspired by. The husband was the tall, lean, handsome fatherly type; one of those guys you see working a dream job during the week, golfing with his buddies on the side, but always finding time for his kids, whether they're his or a bunch of foster teenagers who haven't been adopted and need a home until they're old enough to move out, such as in my case. His eyes were green, friendly, and he seemed legitimately happy to see me. How quaint.
"Amber, this is Joy and Timothy Lambert. They will be taking you to your new home," Mrs. Chin stated the obvious.
The drive to the Lambert Getaway was longer than I expected. I told them I wasn't hungry when we left the agency, but my stomach grumbled under my t-shirt and I cursed myself for lying. Timothy, who told me when we got into the car that he would rather be called Tim, was trying to give me what he believed was information vital to making my stay pleasant at their country home. It was like being given a list of formalities for a fancy hotel.
"There's a shed out in back, but no one is allowed in there. It's usually locked, but if it's opened for any reason, please come and see me immediately."
Why? Are there bodies of the other foster children in there?
I wanted to say it, but I didn't. Timothy...sorry, Tim...did not seem like the kind of guy that likes sarcasm.
"Your room will be upstairs. There's a boy's room to the right on the first flight of steps, and there will be a separate girl's room to the left. You will have the room at the top of the stairs all to yourself for now, unless we find another straggler."
Joy reached over and patted her husband's shoulder, scolding him kindly, "Tim, don't make the girl feel unwanted."
Tim chuckled. I just stared out the window at the miles of nothing all around us. Kentucky's backdrop was obviously not the scenic route.
"I'm just teasing. We really love all of our stragglers, and we're hoping you'll be a part of our team," Tim smiled at me with his eyes from the rear view mirror while he spoke, his terms sounding more like a basketball game plan than a family.
He suddenly turned off down a dirt road I hadn't even noticed was there, and a few awkwardly silent minutes later, we pulled up to a decent looking faded yellow house with white trim. There was an old wooden fence out in front that needed some work, and a mailbox threatening to fall off of its post, but no black lab coming up to greet me and no tire swing like the good stories described.
Just a teenage kid sitting in an old rocking chair by the porch with short black spiked hair and the meanest dirty look I've ever seen in my life.
Tim opened the door for me. Joy pointed at the boy and explained to me as soon as I stepped out, "Amber, this is Taylor. He's very weary of people so please let him have his space."
I heard what Joy said, but I guess it didn't really register, because automatically I stepped up closer to Taylor and reached out to shake his hand. I mumbled shyly, "Hi."
He jerked away from me and sprinted to his feet so fast, I barely had time to get out of the way as he threw his arms out in front of him to shove me off and shouted angrily, "Don't touch me! Don't fucking touch me!"
Tim put his own arms out and replied calmly, "Taylor, there's no reason to be upset. Amber doesn't know your limits, yet."
Joy took my shoulders into her fragile hands and squeezed them sympathetically. I felt like I had just committed a crime before I had even stepped inside. Guess Tim was going to have to dump me in the reject pile with the other kids in his special shed out back.
"Taylor, sit down," Tim spoke like a coach, sternly but not forcefully.
He did sit down again, but Taylor glared at me before he returned his gaze to the grassy front yard and he didn't look up, again. Tim brushed the situation off easily and acted as though nothing had happened, gesturing me to follow him as he said happily, "Let's meet the others."
Oh yeah. I'm so excited to do that after what just happened.
Joy tenderly pushed me toward the front door. It was also red, but painted, not the fancy Oak like at the agency. The door had a glass middle with a diamond shape in it. I admired it until I realized that Tim had opened the door and stepped aside to wait for me to walk through. I seriously hate being first.
I walked quietly past Tim, and I immediately picked up on the laughter of teenage girls. I peeked around the right corner opposite of a living room with a couch and a television on the left and I saw a brightly lit kitchen with a wooden dining set occupied by two girls about my age in tank tops and jeans. One of them had long red hair that went down to her hips, and when she turned to face me, she had captivating blue eyes that contrasted perfectly against her porcelain white skin. The other girl next to her had more olive colored skin, long blond hair that went down to her elbows, and she had a pair of big green eyes that complimented her small lips, but made her nose look slightly off angle. She was not as pretty as the red head, but the blond looked like one of those young street hookers I would see on reality shows, and her demeanor made me wonder if she were really as innocent as she looked.
"Amber, that's Donna and Staci," Joy pointed at the red head first, then the blond.
"Hello Amber!" Donna and Staci both spoke and waved in unison.
I said, "Hi," back and looked away. I had the distinct feeling these girls were bound to get me into trouble.
"Let's go upstairs and meet the boys," Joy gently urged me on.
Tim walked upstairs first, this time not moving aside to let me in when he got to the door on the right. Instead, he turned to me before opening the door and explained, "Now we've got ground rules for everyone in this house. Schedules for shower times and bedroom checks are done routinely. Boys and girls stay in their own beds, and take individual showers at separate times."
He was still using his coaching voice, making it sound like he wanted me to be inspired to be a good little girl. Tim went on with less seriousness, "Now Nathaniel is the youngest of our group. He has the dark wavy hair and he needs to be shown consideration because he does suffer from a learning disability and he is not to be left alone."
I noted Nathaniel's learning problem and Tim went on, "Cameron is our athlete. He usually has after school activities and he spends a lot of time on the field or in the gym, so you won't be seeing him much. He has the short blond hair."
Joy leaned in and whispered sweetly into my ear, "Cam's a bit of a ladies' man. We love him dearly, but please don't get caught in his charismatic trap."
I nodded and Tim continued, "Benjamin is our green eyed mystery man. He doesn't speak much and he doesn't like to be bothered, but he will show you around school when you start on Monday, and you can stay near him and he will be a great friend to you."
When Tim spoke about Benjamin, he wordlessly told me with his eye movements that this Ben kid would be my best bet for a buddy in this house. I made another mental note, and Joy finished Tim's description with, "Last but not least, we have Norman. He lives in the closet of the boys' room. He doesn't show his face but uses sock puppets to communicate. It's a little nerve wracking at first, but you'll get used to it."
She squeezed my shoulders again to reassure me. I mustered a slight smile and Tim and Joy both took it as a sign that I was delighted to hear about the boy with the learning problem, the athletic jerk, the enigma boy, and the sock puppet master. I let them believe that and Tim opened the door, but he went in first instead of stepping aside for me, and announced cautiously, "Amber is here."
His tone made it sound like he was warning the guys of my presence. I ignored the feeling of intensity I got from Tim's tone and walked into the room to take a look around. There were guy things everywhere. Posters of metal bands, a computer buried under boxers and text books in one corner, three beds lining every square inch against the walls, a half-open window with racing striped curtains, and a turtle on the floor that wasn't moving. I couldn't tell if it were dead or alive. As for the guys, Cameron, the athlete, was on the bed nearest to the door, wearing a jersey and a pair of athletic shorts. He was idly picking at a foam basketball and he smiled deviously at me when I entered. He was handsome, but definitely not my type. Nathaniel was nearest to the window and parallel to Cameron on the opposite side of the room. He sported glasses and a smile full of braces. He was holding up a Science text book like he had been reading it just before we came in. He was the geeky type, but he appeared cool to the touch compared to Cameron.
I saw Benjamin last. He wasn't looking at me. There was a ray of sunlight coming in through the window and it was falling right against his green eyes. He was really handsome in the light, but his interest was on a notebook he was writing in, and he looked like the type who had no idea he was good looking. He had some muscle frame on him, not as obvious as Cameron's but decent enough, and I knew instantly that I would like him because he was basically ignoring me.
Joy eased me toward a wooden task chair next to the computer desk and I sat down into it, then she said kindly, "Just wait right here, and we'll set up your room for you."
Tim added before they left me alone with the guys, "We're so glad to have you here, Amber. I hope you can see this house as your home from now on."
I was sixteen. It would only be my home for two more years if I lasted that long.
Once the door was closed again, I felt the tightness in my chest again. I always felt it when I was nervous, or when I would probably have to talk to other people, which in this case, was bound to happen, especially with Cameron still staring at me like I was fresh meat.
"So did Joy and Tim tell you to stay away from me?" Cameron sat up and looked at me more intensely as he waited for my reaction.
I glanced at him once and looked away, replying, "Yeah, I guess they did."
My voice sounded timid and faulty. I hated being put on the spot.
Cameron kind of breathed and clicked his tongue as he said, "They're right, you know. I am a player, but I'm not so bad."
I saw Ben shift on his bed out of the corner of my eye. I wondered if he disagreed with Cameron's statement.
Nathan repeated and added with simple-minded ease, "Yeah, Cam's not so bad, he's just a professional."
Cameron half-smiled and opened his mouth to say something, then I heard the closet door open a couple of feet behind me. I turned to face it, and I saw a sock puppet pop out with two big googly eyes and pair of floppy leather straps that resembled ears on the sides. It looked like a dog's face, and the hand underneath it made it move so that it looked discouragingly at Ben. I bit my lower lip to stifle my laughter.
"It's not done yet, Norman," Ben responded to an unspoken question, and the hand changed the puppet from discouraged to more furious, then it flew back into the closet and the door slammed loudly.
I looked back at Ben, and he was now looking up from his notebook, but he wasn't looking at me. He was focused on the closet as he added, "Say hi to Amber, Norman."
The door rushed open again quickly, and the puppy dog sock popped out and nodded a quick and stern hello before disappearing behind the door, again. Another defiant slam took place. I wasn't completely sure if the slam was for me or out of frustration for something that had been going on since before I got there.
The bedroom door opened only seconds later, but it wasn't Joy and Tim coming back for me like I had hoped. Donna and Staci sauntered their way in, and I noticed a very obviously flirtatious visual exchange between Donna and Cameron as he asked her thickly, "You here for me?"
She snorted and replied, "No, we're here for the new girl!"
Cameron pretended to look upset, but he was still smiling. Donna focused her attention on me and asked an odd question, "So how come your ears aren't pierced?"
Out of instinct, I reached up to touch my earlobes, answering awkwardly, "Uh...I don't know...I guess I just never got them done."
I could feel everyone in the room watching me, even Ben. It was like they were waiting for me to jump up and run away from Donna before she lunged at me and tore me to shreds. A short sigh escaped Donna's lips, and she said with a twinge of cruelty in her voice, "What kind of a girl are you?"
My cheeks started to feel hot, so I looked away. Donna laughed suddenly and reached forward to nudge me in the shoulder, saying, "Relax, I was just kidding. I have a lot of jewelry and I love it. Maybe I'll let you borrow some clip on earrings or something."
"I don't really like jewelry that much," I said, and instantly regretted it.
Donna's face flickered with anger for half a second, then she was calm again. She answered simply, "You try my stuff for a couple of weeks, and you'll love jewelry as much as I do. I guarantee it."
I didn't want to ask her what would happen if I still didn't like jewelry after her free trial.
That night, it was hard to sleep in my new bed. There was a little waterfall setup in my new room, and the walls were a soft pink, complete with a large window and a good sized bed. Everything was fresh and new, and I even had my own little workstation and a lamp to use while I read my beat up romance novel. Still, I didn't really feel at home. All the years of moving from foster home to foster home had given me no security at all. I doubted I would be here long enough to reap the benefits before it was all taken from me, again.
I sat up after rolling around for several hours in the darkness and walked over to my window. I played with the latch and found that it opened vertically, which made the sound quieter so I could get my fresh air in peace. I leaned forward and breathed in the deep scent of the cool night air, then I stayed there a while and enjoyed the darkness before I observed the night view from my window lookout.
There wasn't much to see in the dark. I was facing the backyard, and I could see the shed easily, as well as a giant tree that had probably been there since before the house was built. I observed the tree a little longer, and then a spark like a flame lit itself at its base. In the moment of light, I realized it was Ben standing beside the tree, and he had a cigarette in his mouth.
At first, I thought he was just lighting the cigarette to take a drag where Joy and Tim wouldn't catch him, but while he smoked, I noticed the light on his hand didn't disappear, and he began moving his palm around and waving the small flame in different directions with fascination in his eyes.
The flame seemed to be too strong to be coming from a lighter, and if it were a match, it would've gone out in a short time, but Ben continued to move it around and play with the flame as if it were coming from a constant source. I narrowed my eyes and looked more closely, curious as to what he had in his hand that could create such a strong and resilient flame. Ben turned his back to me, unaware that I was watching him, and I caught sight of exactly where the flame was coming from.
It wasn't a lighter, or any other man made or natural device. The flame was being produced and coming from Ben's own bare hand.