I snarled like an angry wolf. Then I cried, long and loud. My social worker drove us away from the tree-shaded cul-de-sac, and even further away from my almost-family. What a stupid, stupid, stupid end to my week! I felt myself grow hot, then kicked the seat in front of me and pulled at my seatbelt for no real reason. I had ruined all my hard work. I came so close to getting through unscathed, but the woman in Fox Hollow Circle ruined the rest of my life.
That week had started out so well; on Monday, it even gifted me with two new family members. Still, the woman in Fox Hollow Circle was never allowed to be one of them. Additions to the family tree were somewhat of a rarity and carefully chosen. I had fifty-six. It was a collection initiated in second grade when the foster thing started. Among the new family members that week was Carol Nimhart. I chose her to be my grandma- my British grandma. Then there was Guy Marcini. Guy was the first person I ever needed to create a new section for- Section Title: Boyfriends. In my collection, every family member position is open, except mother. I already have one, and one day she’ll take me back.
On that Monday I even decided there was a God, at least for all sixth graders. A storm knocked out the power and the principal announced half-day, so I proudly slashed my legs through the puddles down Mckinley Street on my way to the autism center to wait for Evie, until She came to pick us up. Since I had a good while to wait for preschool to end, I sat in the trailer’s office, eating my sack lunch and watching the kids who passed through on their way to the bathroom. Mostly, I watched for Guy. Finally, he did come through the open door, this time, holding the pale, porcelain hand of my sister. Evie always looked like a ghost, or an angel, depending on her mood. Guy spread open his handsome eyes out from under his thick, black eyebrows and shot me a sparkly smile. I stared.
“Evie! Who is that beautiful girl sitting in our office?” He jested. “It’s Shaaa-ane!” He teasingly accentuated in a deep, sing-song voice. “My girl! How are you, cute-face?” He said to me. His accent was Italian. I liked accents.
Evie grinned up at the ceiling and chanted repeatedly. “Hai! Hai! Hai!”
“Hey Guy,” I replied.
Smack! Smack! I made sure he noticed the fresh piece of gum in my mouth. This proved I was cool, calm, and not melting.
“Hi Eve,” I replied casually, rolling my eyes.
I blew a large bubble with my gum until it burst. Guy pretended the gust from the bubblegum pop blew him away. Toppling over, he insisted to Evie that they needed to flee for protection into the bathroom. That was the moment Guy Marcini became my boyfriend.
Once my boyfriend left for the bathroom with my sister, I discovered “CAROL NIMHART”, safely screwed onto a marble plaque, hanging on the wall. Beneath her name, was her picture-perfect white hair; bobbed around her pinched-nose, smiling face, and squinty eyes. The very eyes of Mrs. Clause! She was perfect! She was a holly jolly, cookie-loving lady. I could tell. I gave her an accent- British- and there she was: Grandma. Grandma number eight to be exact.
Just then the preschool teacher struggled through the doorway, shout-talking.
“Great job! You touched it!” She wrestled a girl named Mable backward by her wrists into the bathroom to rinse off the dastardly texture of mashed potatoes. Mable made a show of crumpling her face, grinding her teeth while morphing and contorting her body. It must be hard to drag a twisting body, I thought. Most kids did a nice job flapping or spinning, but Mable was top of her class. Watching Mable distracted me from my sack lunch and the remnants of my peanut butter and syrup sandwich. I took a bite. It was good, so I hated it. I could tell Her it was fine.
The time came at 3:30. She arrived with her shiny makeup-free face, and slim, toned figure. She wore her brown hair, darker than mine, tied tightly to the top of her head. Barbara Joe Matheny, my assigned nemesis. BJ was a ballet instructor. She was also new to this whole foster parent thing, so I told Evie to take it easy on her. I, on the other hand, was allowed to introduce BJ to the real treatment of a typical foster child.
“Hey, ladies! I’m so happy to see you! How was school?” She looked directly at me after we were both buckled in. BJ was perky today, but I wasn’t about to answer. She squirmed a little in her seat. “Evie! Did you have fun with Shane today?”
“ShA-Ane!” Evie shouted the name in two syllables. She was imitating Guy. We both liked him. It was one of the reasons I chose Evie- she got me. As much as I want to believe I chose this sister because she needed me, sometimes I needed Evie.
“That’s right!” The enemy said. “Sha-ane!” She flashed her white gum-pellet-teeth in my direction, but her silly look died off soon enough. She cocked her neck, ran her fingers along its length like a sore muscle, and deliberately smirked again, peering through the mirror at me.
“Did you like our Matheny family sandwich?” She urged.
I was going to say it was fine, but now she had referred to it as “our family sandwich.” Now she had gone too far.
“No.” I seethed, giving her a quick scowl, the crustiest I could make before turning my head.
My mom and I know that family things always rot, and they rot slowly. Family things are sneaky. Their stink only grows in secret. Family things seem fun, at first, but then they sour. They decay- like my dad’s bowling shoes. He would wear them when he took Mom and me to Ozark Lanes. It was a “family tradition.” A short time after Dad left us, Mom found his old bowling shoes in the closet. She said they stunk. She said they were rotting, so we had to purge the toxins by burning them in the yard. We had a ceremonial bonfire and Mom cried. I think the toxins absorbed into the house. Sometimes I can smell melting leather in her room.
I felt a ping of pain. That was probably because I knew I wouldn’t get another Matheny family peanut butter and syrup sandwich. But I was still racking up points, and I was winning. I always won.
Time went on like this forever it seemed, until that Friday. Most Fridays I got out of the car to raid the kitchen leftovers, and Evie followed BJ around the house. But this Friday was different. This Friday I found myself sitting down with a bag of potato chips, watching Evie during a commercial.
Evie’s snow-blonde pigtails mimicked the bobble of the tutu twirling around her swimsuit, as she hopped at the elusive, billowing blur of a tail. Fondu, the cat, continued to escape, leaving Evie grabbing and pinching at the air. Fondu was named after some ballet step BJ said meant “sinking down”, which is exactly what the cat did when she was ready to pounce at you. This was gonna be good. Just then, she got him! The victor, Evie, stood with tresses of white and gray hairs in her clammy hands. But her giggles turned to screeches that flared from her tongue like dragon’s fire. The cat had slinked down from the windowsill, and surprisingly, only pawed away, with an air of superiority and a sultry gait. Evie instantly stopped crying and took her turn on the catwalk. On all fours, with her butt sticking up in the air, she patted the floor with her hands, gently, while exaggeratedly pounding her hips from side to side.
I laughed lightly, only to notice BJ resting on her stomach alongside me. Before I could protest, she bubbled up a laugh much harder than mine. “Come on Shane! You’re next!” All at once, BJ was following Evie and Fondu out to the garage in the same butt-extended swinging motion. I walked behind. This was hilarious! We all snorted ourselves into the garage and gathered next to the cat in his litter box. Fondu had just begun doing his business when Evie stepped into the box and squatted a little too low.
With that, BJ swooped Evie out of the garage, up the stairs, and surely into the tub, to wash off the cat poop. I followed slowly to the bathroom, reminiscing gleefully, and eager to see the ballerina deal with the mess. Peering around the bathroom door, I saw BJ talking on the phone from the toilet seat. I stopped to listen in unseen.
“…litter box!” she laughed, talking about Evie. “Oh, Shane? Well, I think she is finally starting to like me, Dave!”
I nearly gasped. I reeled and shrunk away from the doorknob like it was hot metal. “…starting to like me”. “…starting to like me”? I paced in my room. All the points I hadn’t awarded BJ hit me, unforseen, like a dizzying punch in the head. She thinks she’s been winning! Was I losing? No. Never! She couldn’t think I liked her! I hated her! I hated her dancing in the kitchen, I hated her fancy house, I hated her suburban, I hated how she treated Evie, and most of all, I hated Matheny Family peanut butter and syrup sandwiches. So, I locked my door.
The next morning, Evie was slapping her palms against the sealed entry. “ShAAAane!” she pronounced. I wasn’t going to come out no matter what BJ said. I was not coming out.
“ShAAAane! ShAAAane! ShAAAane!” She showed no signs of stopping.
The door opened. I snatched my world history book from my backpack and chucked it straight at the opening. Evie went down hard. I was more shocked than Evie was. The book had flown right out of my hands. Worse, the book had hit her smack in the socket of her right eye. There was blood on the carpet now and a bit sprayed on the book next to her. Finally, I noticed that Evie hadn’t opened the door at all, but BJ, with her long vertical figure and screwdriver in hand. The lockpicker!
“SHANE!” The ballerina bellowed in slow motion. She looked like a troll. A scared, yet furious troll. “What did you do?!”
I didn’t know, so I ran. Hard.
“NOTHING!” I retorted stupidly, sprinting for the front door.
I ran until I got lost.
They didn’t find me until evening- BJ and my social worker. The social worker yanked and yanked at me, pulling me into her car. I went in slow, kicking and screaming. Then I ruined my whole months work against the enemy:
“MOM!!!” I shrieked the word pitifully, reaching for BJ. I lost every point I ever gained, and she won. She won them all. Years of my winning, all my points, piled up on her side. I surprised myself at how desperate the word sounded. It was pained and choked. It rattled my throat as if they came from deep inside my belly.
“MOM!!!” I cried. “MOM!!!”
The woman at the end of Fox Hollow Circle cried on her clean, shiny face. Evie looked curiously at me being shuttled away in a long black car, while she held hands with the enemy.