As we pull into the driveway, the gravel path crunches under the tires of the green machine. Suddenly I do not want to get out. I want to stay in the minivan and drive and drive forever. Mrs. Smartly will be the pilot and I, her trusty navigator. We can see the world from our vinyl seats, and nothing can stop us from our life of adventure—and many, many convenience store hot dogs.
My Cruisin’-America dreams come to a screeching halt as I spot what must be the Scotts standing at the end of the drive.
Waiting for me.
The green beast lurches then shimmies to a stop, as does my stomach. Mrs. Smartly looks at me, shoving her
Here it comes.
I sigh. “Yes, Mrs. Smartly.” Tell me what’s on your heart. Just get the gooshy stuff over with.
“You have a french fry stuck to your leg.”
I swat it off. Couldn’t she at least manage one tear? One measly tear?
“Out you go. Time to meet the Scotts.”
I peel my legs off the vinyl seat and prepare to take my first step out of the vehicle and into who knows what.
“We could’ve been so good together,” I utter miserably to the van, giving the seat a final parting pat.
“Welcome! Welcome!” The woman who must be Mrs. Scott yells, waving her hands like she’s trying to signal a B-52 in for landing.
“Behave, Katie. Put your sweet-girl face on,” Mrs. Smartly whispers in my ear. So little time spent with her, yet she knows me so well.
Taking Mrs. Smartly’s cue to ignore my bags, I dutifully walk toward the waiting couple. They appear trim and tan and look to be in their forties, but I know from sneaking a peak at their paperwork that James and Millie Scott are both in their fifties. They are probably counting the days until they get their senior citizen discount at Gus’s Getcher Gas. Millie’s chin-length, highlighted blonde hair spirals and curls in various directions, and the slight breeze seems to make her hair dance all over her head. She is thin and slight, and her brown eyes look at me—expectant, hopeful. Like I’m a big surprise package unwrapping before her layer by layer. Don’t get too excited, I want to tell her. Katie Parker is just passing through.
This woman before me, who exudes kindness, has me wrapped up in her delicate arms before I know what hits me, before I can inform her of the Katie Parker no-hugging policy. My temporary mom smells of potting soil and fabric softener, and for a moment I allow myself the luxury of breathing it in.
“Your picture didn’t do you justice. You are just as cute as you can be. Isn’t she, James?”
Millie Scott takes a step away from me, keeps her hands on my shoulders, and holds me out for further scrutiny. I have to wonder what my new mom and dad (insert sarcasm here) are thinking about me. I’m not so unsightly that I need to wear a Tucker’s Grocery bag over my head, but I also don’t presume to be Miss Teen USA material, either. As I stand there in all my sixteen-year-old glory, I hope they see my overly-processed hair as strawberry blonde and not an unfortunate battle between red and yellow (with no clear winner). My Madonna T-shirt is vintage, not garage-sale castoff. I hope they know this morning I had some decent looking makeup on, but now it’s probably streaking down my face, all Gothic-like. I want them to look at my five-foot-nine frame and see potential, and I don’t mean for the
Oh, forget it. Enough of the “Let’s gaze upon our new teenager time.” Enough of the inspection. If they ask to look at my teeth, I’m so out of here.
Her husband smiles at me and luckily opts for a shoulder pat instead of a hug. James Scott stands at least a foot taller than his little wife and looks like the football player to her cheerleader. He is broad and solid, and there is something about him that gets your attention. I notice he has khakis on, and I’m proud to say he doesn’t have them pulled up and belted below his armpits. His short-sleeve polo shirt has an insignia over the left pocket, and I read In Between Community Church.
Mrs. Smartly mentioned he worked for a church in some capacity. Nice uniform, I want to say.
As he smiles at me, I notice his dark gray hair, eyes settled behind oval glasses, leather shoes that scream out “I’m comfortable, but stylish too.” But mostly I notice his caution. As I quit my assessment of my would-be dad, I stare straight into his face. His blue peepers meet mine, and in this moment I know. I know that, number one, James Scott is carrying around some hurt of his own; and number two, he’s not really sure he wants me around to see it.
“Hey, let’s get your bags, young lady, and we’ll show you around, get you all settled in.” James drops his hand from my shoulder and walks to the van to collect all my worldly possessions.
Mrs. Scott’s arm snakes around me as I’m led toward the house. We walk up a cobblestone path with flowers on either side. The house in which I am now to live looms before me. It doesn’t look scary, but my stomach does a triple flip anyway. The cream-colored house is anything but new. My new digs have obviously been around for a long time and have seen much TLC and restoration, unlike a certain girl’s home, which will go unnamed.
Aside from some pretty scary looking yard gnomes, my own mother never really got into home maintenance, so I am reluctantly impressed by the Scotts’ home. Black shutters hang at every window, and the two-story abode is topped off by a tall brick chimney. I’m sick at the thought of staying here, but I’ve been in the system long enough to know things could be worse.
“We’re so excited you’re here, Katie.” Mrs. Scott gushes with enthusiasm, and I wait for her to add a sporty “Yay!” I offer the woman a weak smile but find I don’t really have anything substantial to say.
With a brief look at Iola Smartly, Mrs. Scott tries again. “We have a room for you all set up, but it needs a teenager’s touch. So later in the week we can go shopping for things to make you feel more at home, okay?”
She’s trying really hard. I’ve got to give her that.
Mrs. Smartly clears her throat and jerks her head, signaling me to acknowledge Mrs. Scott.
I shrug a shoulder. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Mrs. Smartly’s eyes roll around and she shakes her big, poofy head.
Look, until I know the Scotts’ motivation, until I know I’m here for upright reasons and not to clip their dog’s toenails on a daily basis or be the resident toilet scrubber, I have got to play it cool. Sure James and Millie look like nice people, but I hear a lot of psychopathic serial killers are quite charming, too. If there is one thing I learned from Trina, the Knife Wielder, it’s always be on your guard.
We enter the house, and I instantly get a whiff of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Do these people think they can woo me with cookies? Do they really think I’m that weak?
I hope they don’t have nuts in them.
Various antiques surround me, but surprisingly not in a “don’t touch me” sort of way. The Scott home is cozy, with overstuffed furniture, walls adorned with decorative plates, the occasional botanical print, and family pictures spanning decades. I scan the perimeter to make sure the heart of any home is here—the television. Luckily, it’s not an antique, but it’s not exactly a sixty-inch flat-screen either. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for cable. That’s right, I hope these people don’t do me bodily harm, and I hope they have VH1.
Mrs. Smartly is looking this place over like she’s committing it to memory. I hope she’s doing this for caution’s sake and not with the thought that I’m gonna steal that blue and white platter hanging over the fireplace.
“So, Miss Katie, you’re awfully quiet. How are you feeling about all of this?” Millie Scott asks.
Mrs. Smartly looks at me with such intensity I’m afraid her eyes are going to laser through mine.
With a bored (yet artfully haughty) glance at the house I mutter, “It’s okay.”
I know my face is speaking volumes, though. I know my face is saying, “You people don’t impress me. I don’t want to be here. Your efforts are useless.” Apparently, I need to come up with a “Yes, I will take milk with my chocolate chip cookies” expression too. I mean, seriously, when is the woman going to break out the baked goods?
“Maybe we could see Katie’s bedroom?”
A light enters Millie Scott’s eyes at Mrs. Smartly’s suggestion, and you can tell she thinks that’s a grand idea. My room had better not be upstairs. If I need to make my great escape, I don’t know how I would get down. Let’s be realistic. That bit of tying a bunch of sheets together can’t possibly work in real life. “Girl falls to her death--insufficient thread count to blame.” Plus I am not hoofing it up and down stairs all the time.
“If you’ll follow me upstairs, I’ll show you your room.”
Sheesh, can’t an underprivileged, displaced ward of the state ever catch a break?
At step number 260 (okay, okay, it was step number seven) we are met by the largest dog I have ever seen in my life. I’m throwing mental daggers at Mrs. Smartly. She said nothing about a dog. I don’t like dogs. They slobber and they smell, and this one looks like a giant, mutant horse.
“Now get out of the way, Rocky. Oh, look, he’s excited to see you, Katie.”
We are forced to stop and observe the dog out of respect for Mrs. Scott, and the dog takes this moment to sniff me in ways I find totally inappropriate and surely should be documented in that file Mrs. Smartly is carrying around with her. Mrs. Scott watches me with her dog, hoping no doubt for a connection. With a polite pat on the head to her little snookums, I continue up the stairs. Rocky decides we are racing and darts ahead of me, taking the stairs three at a time. Their mongrel had better not be going to my room. A girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere.
“Here we go. This is your room, Katie.”
Millie Scott leads us into my bedroom, and for the briefest of seconds my breath catches and time stops. It’s like I’m a character in a Hilary Duff movie. I’m surrounded by pink walls—not a Barbie pink, but a spunky, rockin’ pink, with crisp white trim outlining the room. There’s a bookshelf, filled from top to bottom with books (I guess a bookshelf filled from top to bottom with People magazines was too much to hope for), a white shaggy rug stretched over the worn wooden floor, and a dangling crystal light fixture that boldly declares sophistication and class. (Granted, what do I know of sophistication? But I’m betting that light doesn’t respond to a clapper.)
In a corner stands a white wooden desk with an empty bulletin board hanging over it. On the opposite wall is a bed. My bed. It’s white and big and covered with various floral quilts someone with patience, skill, and a whole lot of free time must’ve pieced together and stitched.
“What do you think? I did the best I could, but it definitely needs a teenager’s flair.” Mrs. Scott fluffs a bed pillow.
The room is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never had anything like it. I would like to say I’m not touched by the effort Millie Scott put into creating this space for me, but I am. This bedroom looks, well, safe. I look at this room, and I think, I could make a home here.
But I’m not.
“Did you buy all these things for me?” I drag my hand across the desktop.
Mrs. Scott looks at the floor. “Ah, well, not all of it. A lot of this furniture we already had, and I just spruced it up a bit. A little paint and polish, you know.” Her eyes sweep the room. A hint of sadness steals across her face just before the serene smile returns. Interesting. I tuck this information away.
My attention returning to the room, I turn in a circle to make sure I’m taking it all in. Just for good measure, I twirl in another circle, seeing the paint, the fluffy bed, the big, fuzzy rug, my desk, the curtains, the lights, the pictures on the wall, the starched pillowcases, the—
The underside of a dog.
“Rocky! Get off her! Oh, Katie, I’m so sorry.”
I’m dying. This is it. I’m flat on my back with Rocky, the two-hundred-pound canine freak show on my chest, his tail wagging every three milliseconds and hitting my leg like it’s going to break the skin any minute now.
“Rocky, off! My goodness, he just came out of nowhere! Sweetie, I’m so sorry!” Mrs. Scott tries in vain to remove her dog. “Really, he’s never a problem, Mrs. Smartly. I hope you don’t think we would ever let Rocky endanger Katie.”
From my spot on the floor, I look up at Mrs. Smartly, my beloved guardian angel these past six months, and give her my best pitiful look. Please, oh, please don’t leave me here with Mr. Slobbers.
“I’m not the least bit worried, Millie. I think Katie’s going to be just fine.” Mrs. Smartly has the nerve to give me a wink, like I, too, think this is just a precious Polaroid moment.
The dog, apparently deciding we’re all playing a super-nifty game, plants his whole body on my legs, sitting patiently, waiting for what comes next.
“Yes, Katie’s definitely in the right place,” says Mrs. Smartly with a parting nudge to my leg with her orthopedic shoe.
Copied from In Between, by Jenny B. Jones, copyright 2007, by permission of NavPress, www.navpress.com. All rights reserved.