Tabrett was driving her Toyota Corolla to the Family Court of Australia where her father worked for… She couldn’t remember him working anywhere else instead of this place since she was born. After all these years when her parents split up she has still had good relationship with her father and was proud of it. Yes, maybe he wasn’t the best parent in the world but the work that he did was honorable even though her mother had always been complaining of low salary and unpaid bills. Today it was the same. He wanted to see his daughter but unfortunately he was the last to present the case, so she thought to pick him up right from the courtroom and go eat out at any place he would like to.
Few minutes later she entered an air-conditioned room trying not to attract too much attention to her humble person. Tabrett made her way between rows of uncomfortable benches and sat near an old man in glasses.
“Hello, how is it going?” she whispered to the man taking off her sunglasses.
“Hi, sweetheart, very slow today, as you can see. I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“Don’t worry, dad. I’m in no hurry.”
A female judge dismissed a happy couple with their adopted newborn baby and Mr. Sanders took his place at the scaffold as well as Tabrett’s father. It was always amazing to watch Mr. Bethell feeling right at home.
“Your Honor, my clients want to put this girl back under shelter care,” said Mr. Sanders.
“On what grounds?” asked the judge. She seemed a little bit tired of the long day. She was dreaming of going home, having a good meal and spending time with her husband. Tomorrow she would be on vacation and this was the last case she had to deal with.
“She doesn’t obey the rules in this family and constantly runs away,” replied the lawyer.
“May you clarify, Mr. Sanders?”
“Florence doesn’t pray at the dinner table and when she goes to sleep. She’s permanently squandering Sunday school and misbehaves in church. Recently she has stolen 20 dollars from Mr. Swift’s wallet. The girl doesn’t get on well with other children in the family,” Mr. Sanders colorfully depicted the naughty girl who was sitting on a wooden bench with a far-off look on her pale face.
“Objection, Your Honor. Florence stole the money to buy an inhaler because of her medical condition. One of the children destroyed the previous one and when she told the parents about it they said she had to look after her stuff!” Mr. Bethell shot back.
“Is that right, Mr. Swift?” the judge looked the man up and down as if testing him. She needed the truth. The bald man awkwardly stood up.
“Ma’am, we have three children of our own and three we adopted including Florence. We believe in our Lord and always wanted only the best for the children we have, but Flo, maybe she doesn’t belong to this family,” the man confessed.
“I heard everything except the answer to my question. Did you tell this child to take care of the problem she had? You know with asthma it could be lethal if the person doesn’t have specially prescribed medicine with her.”
“Maybe we said so. We work from morning till night to provide these children with everything they need. Sometimes something can slip out in haste,” Mr. Swift gave a lame explanation.
“Yes, I see, Mr. Swift. I relieve you and your wife from the obligation undertaken three months ago. The New South Wales grants custody to Florence Brewster until another foster family will be found for the girl. As for the Swifts, I would like the foster care to monitor this family for a month!” The judge knocked with the gavel announcing the end of the hearings.
“Your Honor, I’m sorry but there is one minor problem. A social worker told me yesterday that there is no free place for Florence at the moment. The orphanages are full. She asked if Miss Brewster could still live for some time with the Swifts until she finds a home for the child,” said Mr. Bethell.
“I’m sorry, the decision is made. If there are no more options, then I’ll send her in the custodial institution for children for the period not exceeding 30 working days. I hope the social worker will find a foster family for Miss Brewster as soon as possible.” The judge closed the file with the girl’s case.
“But, Your Honor, to send a child to jail just because there’s no other place for her to go, aren’t we going too far with this?” Mr. Bethell didn’t want to give up. Florence was eleven and a half. To put the girl in jail at this age was ridiculous.
“You mean I’m going too far, Mr. Bethell, are you questioning my competence as a judge?”
Tabrett could hear angry notes in woman’s voice.
“Not at all! But…” the old man apologized before this conversation could get any worse.
“Maybe you, Mr. Bethell, are willing to adopt this child for some time?” the judge asked with an undisguised sarcasm.
“No, I don’t have any conditions for her.” He said softly but firmly.
“I can take her,” said the blonde woman standing up from her seat.
“You? Who are you, Miss?”
“She’s my daughter, Tabrett Bethell,” introduced the attorney.
“Please, come up to me, both of you,” ordered the woman. “So, Miss Bethell, do you have the appropriate conditions to take care of this girl for a month?”
The judge was asking the question and at the same time gauging the woman in her late twenties. She looked fresh, with good make up and stylish clothes, though, the judge didn’t trust people with tattoos and the woman had two of them. On her left wrist she had four stars tattooed in semicircle and a flying dove on her right shoulder. The daughter was like her father who also had some written symbols on the back of his left hand. The judge remembered too well that twelve or so years ago Mr. Bethell had had a great problem with alcohol. He had managed to get rid of the addiction and for years didn’t drink at all but who could say if the woman in front of her didn’t have the same habit.
“Yes, Mrs. Johnson,” replied Tabrett.
“You know me?” The judge was surprised because nobody presented her to this lady.
“Dad told a lot about you. According to his description I think you’re the one he respects the most,” The young woman smiled her most charming smile.
“I don’t want to put this girl into custody of any kind still, Miss Bethell, I’m not sure about you. Nevertheless, I know your father for decades, so, from now on you and Mr. Bethell are responsible for the child until the foster family is found.”
“Thank you, Abigail! I’ll keep an eye on both of them,” assured the attorney and took the documents signed by the judge.
“Are you sure about it?” the old man whispered to his daughter while going back to the benches.
“Dad, I’m not sure about anything. It is nonsense to put a child in jail only because there’s nowhere for her to go.”
“What about James?”
“I’ll take care of that. All in all, he lives in my apartment.”
“An unexpected dinner we’re having today,” the man chuckled.
“Are you still going to have a dinner?” she asked surprised by the comment.
“Of course, besides, Flo has been sitting here from lunch. She should be hungry by now.”
“Ok, let’s have dinner then.”
The father and daughter approached the girl who was sitting on the bench moping about. In this world of adults she didn’t have a chance to speak, therefore, she kept quiet and went with the flow. Now Tabrett could finally make thoroughly out the appearance of the girl. The child was slim and looked really clumsy. If Florence was two inches thinner any self-respecting doctor would put her on nutrition diet because she would have been completely anorexic. The girl had long, wavy, ginger hair that was clumped in a tail. This made her square face with big, downturned, dark green eyes, long, hawkish nose, thin lips and rather heavy, lower jaw either noble or ugly Tabrett hasn’t decided yet. Florence was the exact opposite to Tabrett. The blonde woman’s body was curvy and appealing. Her soft, face with marble skin, eyes, where any man could get lost in a second, and plump, passionate lips that screamed of kissing them looked adorable. She was extremely feminine whereas the girl seemed to be an ugly, clumsy frog.
“Come on, Flo. Let’s go,” called Mr. Bethell.
“Can we take my suitcase and backpack from Mr. Swift’s car or they take away my personal things in jail?” asked the child innocently.
The sound of teen’s voice amazed Tabrett. She has never heard anything like this before. It was a ticklish gust of a spring breeze, tender and warm. The sound hugged you in gentle arms and cradled to sleep. The girl’s voice contradicted with generally accepted idea of her pure unattractiveness.
“Oh, Flo meet Tabrett, my daughter. You’re going to live with her until they find you a proper home.”
“Nice to meet you, Florence,” Tabby smiled shaking small hand with thin but very long fingers.
“Pleased to meet you too, Miss Bethell,” the girl murmured shyly barely squeezing the outstretched hand.
“Let’s go grab your things and eat something. I’m starving,” said the old man.
“Is this a permanent or a temporary tattoo?” was the first question the girl asked when three of them sat comfortably at the diner table.
“What?” Tabrett couldn’t still get used to the difference between the voice she heard and the look she saw.
“The flying dove on your shoulder. Is it permanent?”
“Oh, this one! Yes, it is,” the woman nodded. “Do you like it?”
“How come, you don’t have it on the poster outside?!” Florence showed a huge poster outside the window on the opposite building from the diner.
It was an advertisement of a car salon showing the woman near the latest luxury vehicle.
“It’s the magic of Photoshop I suppose. What do you want to eat?” Tabby didn’t feel like talking about her modeling right now.
“I’ll have fries with sweet and sour sauce and a bottle of Sprite,” announced the girl putting down the menu.
“That’s it? How about some chicken or fish? Are you a vegetarian?” asked the woman. She wasn’t against the junk food the child ordered but to eat only carbohydrates with sugar wasn’t healthy and enough for an already skinny teen.
“No, I’m not. I like fries and sugar in Sprite is enough for my brain to function,” Florence explained simply.
When finally the waiter arrived with their order Florence was surprised to see some chicken-nuggets in her plate.
“They’ve mixed up the order. I hadn’t ordered chicken!” The girl said frustrated.
“No, everything is ok. I ordered it when you went to the ladies room. Eat, because I’m not quite sure that James hasn’t emptied the fridge yet.”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Yes, I have. Why a long face?” Tabrett couldn’t get the sudden change of child’s expression.
“Nothing, I can live in the street until they find me some kind of a family. I just leave my suitcase at your place. I don’t need so many things. Don’t worry, I’ve already done it before,” assured Florence.
“What?! Don’t even think about it, young lady!” Mr. Bethell looked at the girl sternly. “From now on you listen to Tabrett or me. If you are going to misbehave or run away, just say it and you’ll be in that custodial institution for children in no time. I’m presenting you in the court for the third time in these two years. If you play any tricks, I won’t give a damn about you, understood?” the old man raised his brow.
“Understood, sir,” the girl answered with that soft, sweet voice of hers.
“Don’t worry, dad. Everything will be fine. A month isn’t a very long term.”
“Don’t underestimate this girl. She’s as sly as a fox!”
Tabrett once again looked into girl’s eyes but didn’t see anything special except childish innocence, deep sadness and apathy. It seemed to the woman the girl was indifferent to everything around her.
“That’s why she has foxy hair,” Tabrett meant the color not the cunning of the animal, the girl didn’t get the joke.
Flo rolled her eyes when she heard another comment about her hair. Thank God not her face. She was fully aware of it. At school only a bone-idle fellow didn’t joke about her looks. The girl wasn’t too talkative and Tabrett switched attention to her father. She hadn’t seen him for a while and would like to know what new events happened in his life. They’ve chatted for an hour speaking about things they both had in common and then Mr. Bethell waved them good bye at the parking lot.
“Hello!” the greeting was partially cut with an immediate kiss James planted on her lips.
“Missed you! How did the dinner go?” the man asked noticing a strange girl following Tabrett in the apartment.
“Nice! …James, have you drunk?” the woman smelled the odor of beer coming from the man.
“Only three beers!” he admitted.
“Oh, James, this is Florence. She’ll stay with us for a while. Can you, please, take her suitcase to the guestroom?” Tabrett hid the awkwardness with a grin trying to show the boyfriend with her eyes that they’ll talk about it later.
“Sure, Tabby.” He took the suitcase. “You owe me an explanation!” the man whispered just with his lips for the child not to hear it.
“Ok, Flo, let’s put the pizza in the kitchen.”
Then Tabrett showed Florence the room she would be living in, left her to unpack things and the show began.
“What is this all about?!” James shouted angrily at his girlfriend when the door to their bedroom closed after the woman.
“Hey, take it easy. It’s just a little girl. Dad had a little problem, so I thought I could help.”
“Is she an orphan?!” James continued interrogation.
“Yes, she is. Listen, she’ll be here only for a month, there is no need to throw a strop!” she also started getting angry a little.
“A month! She’ll be here for a month! I had enough when your crazy friend stopped by for a week. Now you bring a vagabond child in our apartment! What will be next?”
“She’s not a vagabond! She’s an orphan and Lisa was nice too. It’s you who are always getting irritated when somebody comes and interrupts you from your stupid games!”
Tabrett took out anger on the man in front of her. She was sick and tired of babysitting him. Maybe their moving in together two months ago wasn’t such a good idea. He worked as a lighting man at the modeling agency. James was funny, handsome and pretty good in bed, but Tabrett started regretting about the stupid decision she made because very often he left a mess after himself and his addiction to Xbox was quite annoying.
“Now my games are stupid! Let’s talk about last week when you came home after midnight drunk as hell! Did I ask you anything? No!” he shouted.
“I worked at the international car salon and you know about it!” She yelled back.
Florence was sitting in an arm-chair in her room trying to concentrate on reading or pretending to read a book. The walls in this kind of building were made of the cardboard as she called it. She heard everything as well as the slamming of the entrance door when James left. The girl hated it. She was relieved when she saw that the door of her room could be locked from the inside. The moment she heard enraged adults fighting with each other she locked the door and checked if she could escape from the window. Unfortunately, they were on the fourth floor, the nearest tree was too far for her to reach and the cornice was too narrow to get to the escape stair. The girl decided to wait when the storm would rave itself out.
“Florence, have you unpacked your stuff?” Tabrett knocked on the door and turned the knob but in vain. “Flo, are you alright?”
The girl immediately jumped from her seat and opened the door.
“Why did you lock up the door?”
“Just in case…” the girl replied.
“In case what?!”
The girl shrugged her slim shoulders without answering the question.
“Listen, nobody is going to hurt you here. You can go in every room whenever you like or need. The only exception is my room. Please, knock when you want to enter it. Let me show you everything because as you’ve heard sometimes I work till midnight, so you should take care of yourself if I’m not at home. And, please, don’t lock the door to your room. As I remember you’re an asthmatic. I don’t wanna break the door if you feel bad. Got it?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Florence said looking at the floor.
“Don’t Ma’am me, my name’s Tabrett. Ok, let me show you the place.”