Free to a Good Home, Book 2 of the Heartbeat Series

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9. Wasteland

Maia stared at the ceiling for most of the night in the barrack style dormitory in downtown Chicago. There were kids of all ages with her, boys, girls, teens and children, and Maia felt as though she stepped into a bad off-Broadway production of Annie as she laid there. Contemplating the belting out “Maybe” and hoping that just maybe Jimmy and Jonny would arrive home and find out what Marty had done and come running for her. Maybe.

Maybe they did what Marty had said and found a better life in France. Maybe the University where Jonny had been doing his sabbatical decided to hire him. Maybe Jimmy decided to stay with the traveling actor’s troupe where he was staring in Macbeth, his favorite role. Maybe the social worker will locate her father who would lead her to her rich and famous half-brother. Then again, maybe not. The trust fund was set up so Paul Lenci didn’t find out about her and disown the old man. Maybe the old man was dead. Maybe no one will want her. Maybe she could make it on her own if she just tried. Maybe.

It had been a long day of paperwork and discussions with multiple people that she told the same story to repeatedly, and all of them couldn’t get the simplistic idea that she was Paul Lenci’s half-sister. No, they all laughed, or smirked, or said, “yeah, kid, that’s rich, dream on, whatever…” but none of them said they’d help her locate her family. She was a kid full of shit as far as they were concerned.

The office was full of desks pushed together in stations of three and four, mounded in manila folders with papers sticking out of them. The two sides of the office were only separated by a row of scratched and dented filing cabinets that had one dead plant on it and more mounds of manila files that looked as if they would topple over at any minute if a drawer was shut hard enough.

By three that afternoon, she was hungry, tired, and wanted to go home. She thought of escaping, and she could while they left her in a waiting room during their lunch hour. When she went to the bathroom, she took her backpack and had her coat on. If it weren’t for the security guard at the front door, the same one who was sitting there when they ushered her in, she would have taken off then. Why didn’t she just run when she had the chance? Just rush by him while he read the betting papers or while he filled out his lotto slip, darkening the circles with the short pencil with little lead and no eraser. Maia gave up though and just went to the bathroom. If Jimmy and Jonny came home and were looking for her, at least the social workers would know where they put her, whereas if she was on the street by herself, they wouldn’t know where she was or how to find her. Maybe it would be up to Maia to find them.

Before the social worker took her to the group home for the evening, they stopped at a local soup kitchen and Maia got in line to eat while the social worker talked on her cell phone. The young twenty-something seemed to be planning her evening with happy hour at a local dive and then a movie with a friend that she was meeting there. All Maia wanted to do was to go home and play her piano. That’s all she needed to do right now. What would become of her piano, her CD’s, her clothes, her skateboard?

All she had resided in that apartment. She should have grabbed her skateboard and run. That’s what she should have done. Now she stood here in a food line, getting government surplus food dished out by people who were either doing community service hours for misdemeanor crimes or those who felt they were doing some good as they dished out the Spam slices, boxed mashed potatoes, canned peas and canned peaches. At least there were bread and butter. Maia grabbed a couple slices and some pats of butter then made her way to the drink stand where she poured herself some coffee from the urn and poured some powder creamer into it.

“Wouldn’t you rather have chocolate milk, kid?”

“No thanks, the coffee’s fine.”

“Little girls who drink coffee get their growth stunted.”

“That’s an old wives tale that has absolutely no medical evidentiary of being even close to the truth.”

“Whatever. Get a milk.”

Maia grabbed a carton of chocolate milk and walked away, taking a seat at an empty table near the drink stand. The social worker still gabbed on the phone, this time pouring herself a cup of coffee and sitting across from Maia as she talked. Maia made a Spam sandwich with the bread and covered the potatoes in butter and pepper.

“Wait until you hear this one. This kid I’m with, she says she’s Paul Lenci’s half-sister. I know, can you believe it? Her last name is Lenci, we looked at the birth certificate and looked it up on the ’net. His dad has the same name as her father, but what are the odds in that, you know? Nah, she’s lying, just trying to get out of going into the system.” Maia was aghast that the woman would talk of her case in a public place with a stranger. What about confidentiality? Wasn’t she owed some kind of privacy? Maia supposed that since she’s the laughing stock of the department of children and youth services, she’s not afforded any privacy or rights. The woman cackled and then sipped her coffee as Maia finished her peaches, wishing she had a fresh apple instead of canned under ripe peaches covered in heavy syrup just to make them taste sweet. To her mouth, they were like pears without the texture.

Maia drank her coffee and put the milk in her backpack for later. She put her Styrofoam tray and plastic silverware in the garbage then walked to the bathroom line where others were standing and waiting for the toilet.

“Hey kid, I ain’t seen you before,” said an old woman with scraggly matted gray hair. She wore a long coat covered in stains and smelled of urine.

“Yeah, I’m new.”

“What’s your story?”

“My mom died.”

“Sorry to hear that. Where you going?”

“Foster care.”

“You’ll be all right. Keep your nose clean and stay away from drugs.”

Maia nodded and the social worker walked up to her.

“We’re only five minutes from the home. Let’s go, you can pee there.”

When Maia arrived at her new group home, she was shocked that it was so dirty. Cat wasn’t the best housekeeper in the world, and twice a year, Jonny paid a cleaning crew to come in and give their apartment the once over because of it. She stood at the base of the staircase staring into the sight of what was supposedly a kitchen as the two adults stood near her chatting away. Even in month six, their apartment wasn’t as dirty as the kitchen in this house. The tile backsplash behind the sink that was probably once white was covered in brown smears and splatters as grease stained the wall behind the stove. The stovetop had hair and dust stuck to the grease and cobwebs hung from the corner of the kitchen ceiling were even covered in grease and dust.

“Your room is up there,” said the rotund man with the day’s growth on his face, the yellowed jaundice of an old tan deep into his wrinkles and he smelled of cheap aftershave. Maia didn’t like the looks of him. Mr. Simpson was balding on top, had tattoos that were blurred from age and the long hair on his arms. He wore rumpled t-shirt and nylon sweatpants with an elastic waistband that barely stayed upon his waist for his belly that hung over.

“Ms. Johnson says you’re a smart girl. That’s good because if you’re smart, you’ll get along fine here. Once you realize that I’m the boss and you do what I say, then we’ll get along just fine, there Mary.”

“Maia. My name is Maia.”

“Right, May.”

“Maia,” replied Maia again. “My-ah,” she repeated for him.

“Oh, I see My-ahh. This here is your room. It’s small, but it’s got a bed and a dresser. You got a lamp there to do your homework. The bathroom is down the hall and to the left.”

“You’ll be fine, here, Maia. Mr. Simpson will take you to the local middle school here in the morning and get you registered.”

“I go to the University of Chicago and The School Without Walls."

“Well, for now, you’ll have to go to this school until your IEP gets transferred and that’s just how it has to be.”

“But I take classes at the University.”

“Well, that’s just going to have to wait, now isn’t it?”

“But I’ll lose my tuition and credits.”

“Maia, it’s not our fault that your mother didn’t plan better for you before she died. She knew she was going to die and she should have arranged for you so we didn’t have to step in. We’re the last resort, kid. The next step lower is jail, so you better keep your nose clean, because if you land yourself in jail, no one’s going to bail you out of it in a hurry, understand?”

Maia nodded.

“Good, take care of yourself. I’ll check up on you later in the week.”

Maia sat on the bed as Mr. Simpson led the social worker out of the house. The two laughed and joked as they walked down the staircase and Maia hugged her backpack to herself, wishing she had clothes of any sort right now. Maybe the social worker would bring those to her that week. Maybe Maia would end up at the Goodwill or the Salvation Army with a voucher. Whatever, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but that she was alone—on her own, and it would be that way for a long time. Maybe.


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