On the way they stopped at St. Thomas and let Emmy get her things. Mr. Case talked to Stephanie while Rachel, who’d come in just to see Emmy off, helped her. All of the belongings she had fit into a paper box. The majority were clothes and school stuff.
“Is this it?” Coach Miles expected more. Emmy shook her head.
“OK let’s go. The boys are getting antsy. They’ve texted me five times wondering when we’ll be there.”
Mr. Case shook Stephanie’s hand “thank you again.” Stephanie just nodded.
“Emmy, this is a great opportunity for you.”
“I know sir, don’t screw it up.”
“No Emmy, I was going to say stay healthy and keep fighting and you’ll get through this.”
Stephanie slid the box into the back of her SUV and couldn’t help but wonder how a child’s entire childhood could fit into one box. As they got back into the car Stephanie asked. “Emmy do you have anything from before you were in foster care?” Full disclosure Emmy thought it was time to be honest.
“No one day I went back to the trailer and it was all gone.”
“Did your Mom take it with her?”
“I don’t think so. She’d been gone a long time when all our stuff disappeared.”
“So you were living in the trailer by yourself?”
“For a while.”
“How long is a while?”
“Well, she left right before Christmas and the stuff was gone in July.”
“What happened after your things disappeared?”
“I went live in the park.”
Stephanie was getting the impression that Emmy was telling this for the first time, and Mr. Case couldn’t have known all this. “Emmy how long did you live in the park?”
“Until it got cold and Mr. Rogers caught me staying in the school.”
“Emmy I’m trying to wrap my mind around this. Your Mom left for work and didn’t come home in December?”
“Yes December 23rd.”
“Then you just kept going to school like everything was OK until when?”
“Well school let out for the summer and then while I was on break the trailer was cleaned out and someone else moved in. So I went to live at the park.”
“While school was out where did you get food?”
“Margaret, this really nice lady that lived in the alley by the bowling place showed me all the places that offered free meals. Once school started I ate there.”
“And when it got cold?”
“Margaret had given me an old sleeping bag she’d found but in November it got colder so I tried to hide after school and just stay there. It worked for a couple of weeks but one night the janitor came into the gym after I thought he left and he caught me playing basketball.”
“He called the principal and the principal called CPS.”
“Did they look for you Mother?”
Pulling up to the house the boys and Brett came out. “Well welcome home.” Brett grabbed her bag and Taylor the box.
Emmy looked at the house. A modest one-story ranch style house. She immediately saw the most important thing right out back. On the garage just above the doors was a basketball goal. On the driveway were all the lane and 3-point markings.
She followed them in the back door. “So you want to see your room?” Brett hoped she would like it.
“Sure.” He led her down the short hall and showed her. The walls were light grey and there was a grey and yellow bedspread with some fluffy pillows on the bed. A dresser with a TV on top sat on one wall and a desk sat facing the window. Emmy walked to the window. It looked out over the backyard and the beautiful trees that had already changed colors and were beginning to lose their leaves. “So what do you think? I picked out the bedspread.” Tyler was pretty proud. When they ran to the store he looked for something he thought his girlfriend would like.
“Its beautiful, but this is too much.” She looked up at Stephanie and had tears in her eyes. Brett noticed too. Afraid they were moving too fast he quickly gave the girls some space. “Alright lets give Emmy some time to get settled you boys outside and get the grass finished.”
They had seen the tears too and turned to go when Jake turned back “Emmy, its really good to have you here.” Emmy smiled back at him.
Stephanie sat down on the bed. “Emmy, this isn’t too much. This is what every 12 year old should have.” Leaning against the desk Emmy finally looked coach in the eye. “It’s just been so long, what if I screw it up.” Emmy slid down and took a seat on the floor. Covering her face when she couldn’t control it any more. Stephanie quickly joined her on the floor and pulled her into an embrace. They sat there for a while and it felt like four years worth of tears fell from Emmy’s body.
When she seemed to have gotten it all out Stephanie spoke “Sweetheart the only way you can screw this up is to not be honest. We are all going to mess this thing up, but all we ask is that we are honest with each other.” She pulled Emmy back so she could look at her. “Part of being honest is full disclosure like Brett said earlier. If something happens, or feels wrong you have to speak up. Remember we are used to dealing with big babies that can’t even take pills. What’s seems ok to you might not be. So promise me right now that you’ll be honest.” Emmy nodded.
“Even if it means that we run in to the hospital at 2 in the morning because something doesn’t feel right. It’s not too much. You being in pain, getting sicker, or God forbid something happening to you is too much. OK?”
Emmy nodded. Stephanie just continued to hold her. After a few minutes she pulled back and wiped her eyes. “I guess I should put this stuff away.” Emmy stood and began to remove the clothes from her box. Stephanie sat on the bed and watched. “There aren’t a lot of clothes there. Do you have enough for school?”
“Yes, ma’am. We all got five days worth of uniforms and then I have two extra basketball shirts from the spirit pack that someone helped me get. I never did get to thank anyone for that.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She’d been so embarrassed after the first practice there had been a team meeting for parents. Emmy stayed to listen even though she didn’t have any parents there. The coach talked about the tournaments they were going to play in that season and about uniforms and the spirit packs they would order. The packs had backpacks, for the sixth graders and new players, kneepads, practice gear, socks and warm ups. All the items had the Bruins logo and would be worn throughout the season. The team paid for half of the total price but the cost of the pack was still over $200 and Emmy’s heart sank. After the coaches talked the players were all given and size sheet and supposed to go around and try on all the gear so they would order you the right size. The other players jumped up and got to work. Emmy handed her sheet to coach. “If we aren’t going to order anything is it ok to go?”
Coach saw the look and thought that money might be the problem. “No go ahead and try everything on and write down a size. We usually get some extras.” Emmy wasn’t really sure what that meant but she did as she was told. She wrote down her sizes and then handed the form to coach. Coach added the backpack to the list and filed it with the others.
When they had the order together she added a check for Emmy’s gear. In the seven years she’d been coaching there were other times when the cost was just too much. She always found a way to get the kids gear. This year she took care of it herself.“ It was so worth it.
On the day when the gear arrived the coaches came early to practice and got everything organized. After practice they handed it out and of all the kids Emmy had the biggest smile. Especially when she saw the backpack with her name embroidered on it. “Coach thank you so much.” After practice all the girls headed outside to their waiting parents. Emmy’s ride was late and when Coach had locked up and came out Emmy was sitting on the sidewalk with the bag on her lap just looking at it.
“Taylor, do you have a ride?”
“They’re just running late.”
“OK I’ll be right over here.” She pointed to her car. “I won’t leave until someone comes.”
“Yes ma’am.” Coach sat there for a couple of minutes before a white van pulled in and Emmy had climbed in the back seat. Thinking back now Stephanie didn’t realize that it had been someone from St. Thomas coming to get her.
Emmy reached into the bottom of the box and pulled out a blanket and slid it under the pillow on the bed. Stephanie didn’t ask but knew that it was the one personal item the little girl had. It was dingy and tattered and she suspected that it had been a baby blanket. Opening the bag she’d brought back from the hospital Emmy removed the little bear that Brett had brought her and laid him on the bed against the pillow. Stephanie’s breath caught wondering when the last time Emmy had gotten a little gift like that.
“All done.” Emmy finished by laying her school backpack beside the desk.
“OK, well are you tired? What would you like to do first?”
“Could I shoot some?” Stephanie smiled she should have known that would be the first thing she thought about.
“Sure lets go.” Stephanie walked to the door and Emmy stopped to grab a hoodie from her dresser drawer.
Outside the boys were hard at work. Jake was pushing the mower while Tyler was using the weed eater around the flowerbeds. Stephanie leaned toward Emmy. “That’s one good thing about having older boys. No more yard work.” Emmy smiled as Tyler playfully stuck his tongue out at his Mom.
The door to the house opened and Brett emerged carrying a garbage bag. Stephanie stepped inside the garage and came out with a ball. She dribbled once and ball barely came back up. “It’s been awhile since anyone has used this one. Try this while I find the pump.” She tossed Emmy the men’s basketball and it was inflated just fine.
“Wouldn’t catch the boys using a women’s ball” Brett said coming back around from the garbage cans. He stopped and watched Emmy shoot a couple. Perfect form he smiled at the future this kid could have. Stephanie came back with the women’s ball and rebounded as Emmy continued to shoot.
After about ten more shots Brett noticed something. Emmy was left-handed and over the past few weeks he had noticed Emmy using the thumb on her right hand more and more particularly late in games. It was a bad habit that a lot of kids came into the program with.
It usually started because kids weren’t strong enough early on to get the ball to the basket with one hand. So the other hand assists. As they get stronger they no longer need it but the thumb often continues to push. The problem with this is that the ball often has a funny spin as it leaves the shooter’s hand. The thumb throws off the rotation of the ball and often leads to shots that rim out.
Emmy didn’t have the habit at the beginning of the season. Lately, toward the end of games Emmy had been shooting with a lower percentage. He now understood that it was a product of the chemo and how quickly her body was wearing down. Brett said nothing but knew that now he could tell when she was getting tired, since she’d never tell them.
After a while the boys finished and joined them. A game of 3 on 2, the boys vs. Emmy and their parents ensued. The boys were amazed at Emmy’s play. She stole the ball from Tyler twice and scored two amazing layups driving past and around both of them. Then the kicker was the reverse move that all Tyler could do was watch.
Stephanie and Brett called it after they had the boys 24 to 12. The boys groaned but headed inside and to their room in the basement. “Could I take a shower and wash all the hospital off me?”
“Sure. Let me show you where everything is.” Stephanie got her set up and then came back out to the kitchen. “How can someone who just got released from the hospital play like that?”
“I’m not sure. I know with Mom the red blood cells and platelets really made a difference. One of the nurses told us its like infusing energy back into the patient. The doctors said not to hold her back right?”
“Yes, he said just to keep an eye on her. Any pain or fever to bring her in.”
“I noticed tonight that as she gets tired she starts to shoot with her thumb more and more. We’ll just use that to gauge how tired she is. You know she’s never going to tell us.”
Brett ran and got soup and sandwiches from a local deli. In case Emmy’s stomach wasn’t just right that would be a simple dinner for her. After finishing they all sat in the family room to watch a movie.
“So Emmy have you seen…” Jake started to name movies, that would be appropriate for a 12 year old, and Emmy hadn’t seen any of them.
“Really, you’ve never seen Cars, or Monsters Incorporated?” Tyler was amazed.
“What was the last movie you’ve seen?”
She thought for a minute “Last year at Christmas Mr. Case had a movie night and we watched the movie about the kid that wants a B.B. Gun for Christmas.”
“A Christmas Story.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“What about before St. Thomas?”
“Most of the foster family’s didn’t let us use the TV and at home we didn’t have one.”
Tyler smiled. “Well then we will have to introduce you to the world of movies. I think we should start here.” He pulled out the Little Mermaid. They had just about every Disney movie ever made for Brett’s nieces and nephews, who had long since outgrown them. Emmy sat between Brett and Stephanie on the couch and the boys took spots on the floor.
They watched for a while when Brett felt Emmy’s head on his shoulder. She’d taken some medicine after dinner and had been nodding off for a few minutes. He smiled when she finally gave in. “Guys, Emmy didn’t make it.” The boys turned and smiled.
“I’m really glad she’s here.” Tyler said.
“It’s going to be fun to have a little sister.” Jake had always secretly wanted a sister.
“Mom, she’s going to be OK right?”
“We sure hope, and we’ll do everything we can to help her through it.” Stephanie brushed a piece of hair back from Emmy’s face. Brett turned and slid his hands under her and lifted her up. She never stirred. Stephanie walked ahead of them and pulled the sheets back on the bed. Pulling the little blanket out from under the pillow she laid it on top so when Emmy woke during the night she’d find it. Brett laid her on the bed and pulled the covers up around her. Stephanie placed the little bear in her arms. Emmy had slept with it just like that at the hospital. Brett and Stephanie turned out all the lights and pulled her door careful not to close it all the way.
They both worked on schoolwork for a while and then told the boys good night. As they laid down Brett asked, “How many times have you checked on her?”
“I know she’s fine, but after seeing her at the hospital if she wasn’t we’d never know.”
“She’s a tough one. But now she’s got us keeping an eye on her.”
Stephanie snuggled against Brett’s chest and let sleep wash over her.