Ruby got out of the car and pulled her backpack from the backseat that had been sitting next to her, flung it over her shoulder and put her head down while she waited for the social worker to open the trunk for her larger duffel bag. That was it, all her possessions were portable and had been for the past ten years.
“You’ll like it here,” Missy said. Missy Carter was her eighth caseworker. Seemed no one stayed at this job for long.
“Whatever,” Ruby said. Missy was young, she was eager, and she was clueless. Give her a year or so—maybe even six months—and she wouldn’t be so peppy dealing with her clients.
The two of them walked up the creaky stairs to a chipped white front porch that had seen better days. Out of place in the corner was one spray-painted black rocking chair. There was room for plenty more, but that solo one told her all she needed to know about this house.
While they waited for the front door to be answered, Ruby looked around the neighborhood. It was pretty much like most of the other ones she’d lived in. Not completely run down, but not nice pretty suburbia. Yeah, wouldn’t that be sweet? If ever!
When the door was opened, Ruby got a look at her new foster mother. She was probably in her fifties, tall, stocky and rough around the edges. That had to be her chair that no one was allowed to sit in while she escaped from the wards under her roof.
“Mrs. Wilson, this is Ruby Gentile. I’m Missy Carter,” she said, putting her hand out. “We spoke on the phone. I’m so glad you’ve got room for Ruby.”
“Always room for kids,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Call me Candy. Everyone else does.”
“Thanks, Candy,” Missy said.
“Come on in. Shoes off,” Candy said to Ruby. “You walk in the door, you take your shoes off. We’ve got rules here and I expect them to be followed. If you do that, we’ll all get along just fine. If not…”
Yeah, Ruby knew what the “if not” meant. It meant she’d be moving once again. All she wanted to do was find a place where she could stay long enough to make it through her last two years of school, which was starting in three weeks. Another school district she was changing to.
Ruby slid her old sneakers off and left them by the door where a few other pairs were taking up residence. Four that she suspected belonged to other kids by the range of sizes. She continued to stand there in the doorway, not making a move until she was told. Been there and done that and wasn’t about to assume a damn thing.
“Would you like to show Ruby around before we talk and fill out paperwork?” Missy asked Candy.
“Sheri!” Candy yelled at the bottom of the stairs that they were facing as they stood in the foyer of the older home.
Ruby remained until she was told otherwise, heard a door open above them, and a teenage girl close to her age came to the top of the stairs. “Yes?”
“Ruby is in with you. Show her your room and explain how we do things here while I meet with the caseworker.”
She couldn’t even call Missy by her name. Yep, Ruby knew how it was going to be here for sure.
“Come on up,” Sheri said, a smile on her face. Not even a forced one. Maybe Ruby was wrong. Most kids didn’t smile in foster homes. They just wanted to get by.
Ruby turned to Missy. “Thank you.”
Missy put her hand on Ruby’s shoulder. “You’re welcome, sweetie. I’ll be in touch.”
She nodded her head and went up the stairs and to her new bedroom. It was small, had bunk beds and one single in the corner. She’d never had her own room anywhere and didn’t expect that here either.
“I’m on the top bunk,” Sheri said. “I like it there. Suzie is in the single. She is out in the backyard playing. She’s ten. That leaves you under me.”
“No problem,” Ruby said, walking over and putting her backpack on the plain tan bedspread. They had different colored bedspreads, but they were definitely simple and cheap. At least the second-story room had an air conditioning unit in the window, even if it wasn’t on, though it would be nice if it were.
Sheri must have caught her gaze. “We are allowed to put it on for four hours a day when we go to bed. So we turn it on at eight and off at midnight. I’ve found that it cools the room down enough to fall asleep and then stays decent most of the nights.”
“It’s better than I’ve had at other homes.”
“They are strict here, but if you follow the rules it’s not so bad,” Sheri said.
“Who lives here?”
“Candy and her husband, Colin. He works construction and is gone a lot. He’s nice enough, keeps to himself for the most part. We are just people in and out of his house in his eyes.”
“How many kids?”
“You are the fifth. There are two boys in another room. They are set up for six and try to keep it three boys and three girls. The house is big, but they keep us in these two rooms.”
“It’s fine,” Ruby said. “Are you always this happy or told to be this way with the caseworker here?”
“I normally am. I’ve been in some bad places,” Sheri said, sitting on Ruby’s new bed. “This is one of the better.”
“So tell me the rules other than shoes by the door.”
“Meals are always the same time. She makes one thing and if you don’t like it, well, then you pick around it, but she won’t make you something different. If you miss a meal, then you are on your own.”
“We are allowed to get our own food if we miss it?” she asked.
“No. If you want to play a sport and miss dinner, then what you get is the nightly snack we all have around seven thirty.”
“Everyone gets the same thing there too?” she asked.
“Yep,” Sheri said. “But it’s food and I’ve been hungry before so I’m not complaining.”
Ruby had been too. Plenty enough times. “How long have you been here?”
“A year. I’m sixteen. I’m hoping I get to stay until I’m done with school.”
“Me too,” Ruby said. “I just turned sixteen. Two more years.”
“You’re lucky your birthday is over the summer. Mine is in April. Wherever I am, I pray they let me stay to finish school when I turn eighteen.”
The magic number when the payments stop and foster families normally want the bed opened up.
“Are we allowed to get jobs?” Ruby asked, knowing that was the first thing she planned on doing. There was a bus stop around the corner, perfect in her eyes.
“Yep. But you have to find your own transportation and still follow the curfews.”
“I’ll make it work,” Ruby said. She had to. She’d been doing that since her mother overdosed ten years ago and she started to get shuffled around.
All she wanted to do was have a home of her own someday. A family who was there for her or cared about her would be nice, but a home was her number one priority.