I played with my anklets all the way to the new foster home. The seatbelt made it hard to sit cross-legged, but the comforting tingles sang to my hidden heart.
“We’re here, Mari.” Elizabeth, my social worker, came to open the door. She fussed over my stringy hair and wrinkled outfit. “I wish you’d wear shoes! Didn’t you have any color besides black to wear?”
She hustled me up the front steps and rang the doorbell. “Now remember, her name is Mrs. Joni Wheeler. She’s offered to take you-no one else did. You’re getting too old and this is your last chance. Be nice.”
The door opened into a world of chaos.
Shrieks and squeals spilled out, showing happy, running, children. Barking and thumping announced the arrival of a huge, golden-colored dog-that barreled straight towards me.
I winced, squeezing my purple, heart necklace. There was a yelp, followed by a whine.
When I chanced to look again, my new foster mother stood in the doorway. Her fiery hair stuck out in all directions, with various hairclips, pencils and jellybeans embedded throughout.
Her eyes were bright aqua, red lipstick highlighting her permanent smile. “Elizabeth!” She gushed, swooping down from the doorway to smother the victim in a bear hug. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again!”
Elizabeth mumbled something I couldn’t make out as she retreated to the safety of her car, leaving me to the kindness of this stranger.
“Mari!” Mrs. Wheeler squeezed me in a hug. “We’re so glad you could come. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.” She winked. “Let me show you around before I have to start lunch. We’re having haystack.”
The prospect of hay for lunch was not very appetizing, but I kept that to myself as Mrs. Wheeler pulled me down the hallway.
Her voice was…fast. “Janice and Janet will be sharing their room with you. Kaylee gets her own because she’s nineteen. If it wasn’t that way, we’d have a world-war on our hands! She’s a darling, but moody sometimes. The boys have their own wing, but we won’t venture there today. They’re supposed to be cleaning. Bryan!” Mrs. Wheeler barked. “No tying sheets to the dog!” She let go of my shoulder to sprint down the hall after the pet. “And not on the cat either!”
Kaylee was a neon-streaked blonde with an eyebrow ring. “Hey, you’re the new kid, right?” She linked one arm through mine, leading me through a wide doorway, with wooden steps. “The house has three stories, kitchen’s downstairs. Janice! Janet! Come help make lunch!”
“Do we have to?” Identical faces appeared at the top of the steps. “Why can’t mom do it?”
“Mom’s chasing your dorky brothers-besides, it’s haystack.”
“Can we do the cheese?” Janet slid down the banister, her twin right behind.
“Wow!” Janice stared at my feet. “Are those real?”
I looked from her crooked pigtails to my jeweled feet.
“Guys!” Kaylee scolded. “Come on-or I’ll tell mom you were riding the banisters again!”
Janet made a face. “Never mind them, Mari, I’m the smart one. We’re foster kids too-you’re gonna love it here! Mama J is so cool!”
Haystack turned out to be an interesting meal of chips, beans, salsa and whatever other things Mama J could find in the refrigerator.
Mr. Wheeler, a typical working dad, came home in time for dinner and read family devotions before bedtime. His welcome was a smile and promise to see about an allowance.
I felt like I belonged. Each family member, no matter how unusual, went out of their way to include me in every activity.
By nightfall, I was exhausted. The twins chattered nonstop as I followed them upstairs to their room. I had a bed in the corner, my own dressers and curtain for privacy.
As the twins safely snored, I tip-toed out to the bathroom. Once inside, I kissed the purple, heart medallion and touched it to the matching anklet. It glowed, a green holograph popping open.
“Mari.” Watasa frowned. “You’re late. Report!”
“I was sent to a different home today, my apologies.” I bowed my head. “My report on earth has changed. It is flawed, yes, but can do without our presence. They have families and homes. It is not in our choice to destroy that.”
“That is for the council to decide, youngling.” Watasa’s image flickered. “Do you wish to return now?”
I hesitated, thinking of the day’s events. “Actually…could I stay for the week?”
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