Chapter 1 ~~Kia remembers ~~
Kia had been in foster homes for over 10 years of her young life, going from one home to another, after her parents had been killed in a car accident when she was only 7 years old.
After spending almost a year in the group home with the hope that either a relative would come forward or someone would want to adopt her, the placement agency had finally found a temporary home.
The first home hadn’t been that bad. An elderly couple who only took older kids whom it would take a while to find a permanent home for but it was strictly for the check they would get from the state.
None of the children staying there were ever abused, that Kia knew of, but they were not lavished over either. Zero affection, minimal meals, they had to help around the house and yard and a strict bedtime of 8 pm were the main rules.
There were 4 other foster children living there besides Kia. Two older girls and two boys, one barely older than Kia. Then, after about a year, the old man had a heart attack and the old woman couldn’t keep up with it so the state had placed Kia with another family who wanted a playmate for their autistic son.
Kia couldn’t figure out why he didn’t like her but he refused to have anything to do with her and would pitch fits anytime she was in the same room as him. It was as if he sensed something about her that was different and it made him afraid of her. After a week of that, she was placed with one family after another and it went on like that until she hit puberty and started to rebel.
Some places were better than others. Most of the foster parents were just doing it for the check they could get and others were supposedly looking for that one child that they could love and adopt but Kia had never been their choice, saying that there was something “off” about her. Some people treated their foster children like they were babysitters or unpaid labor.
Kia had never really made friends with any of the other foster children or school mates, preferring her own company to most of them. Why make friends when they could be gone the very next day and then she would be alone again.
Alone except for her “inside friend”. That's what she called Tia. If she told anyone about Tia, they told her that she was just imaginary, which when Kia was little she didn’t understand what imaginary meant but she was told she would outgrow it one day.
But Tia never left her and was always there when she was her loneliest. For a long time, Kia believed that Tia was just her subconscious helping her to learn who she could trust and who to stay away from. Tia didn’t trust anybody and many times had scolded Kia for telling people about her. Why Tia felt like she should be kept a secret Kia never understood and Tia wouldn't explain anymore than just to say it was for Kia's safety. Kia hadn't really pushed the issue because at least Kia didn’t have to actually speak to be able to “talk” to Tia.
When she was in the sixth grade, the school bully had caught Kia talking to Tia out loud and had told her talking to herself meant she was crazy and had pushed her down and made her cry. Tia had scolded her about telling anyone about her and now she knew why. So from then on Kia stopped telling anyone about her and made sure no one was around when she needed to voice her feelings to Tia out loud. No one but Tia ever knew her deepest, darkest secrets and since no one else could hear Tia, no one would ever “accidentally” find out.
Some of the foster homes were better than others, some of the people were nicer than others, but Kia had never found a place where she truly belonged. As she got older, people started to expecting her to do more for them. They wanted a babysitter or a maid but refused to pay her.
Eventually, she got smarter and began learning her legal rights. She had to remain at the homes where she was placed unless she was being mistreated. But she was not required to allow herself to be treated like a slave for these people. A lot of people took in older foster children because they just wanted a maid or a built-in babysitter that they didn’t have to pay. That was not the reason she was there. They were supposed to take care of her, not the other way around.
This latest couple were middle aged and on paper had checked out well. In fact, there had been a boy placed with them before who had never really complained about his treatment there. Sally and Doug Cooper would hopefully be Kia's last foster home. Doug had given her the creeps from the very first day from the way he kept looking at her with a smirk on his face.
They had played their rolls well by being friendly and welcoming in front of Ms. Kay. Their house had been fairly clean the day the lady from the placement agency, Ms. Kay Endwright, had dropped Kia off at their house. Ms. Kay had been shown the room where Kia would be sleeping, a family bathroom and the kitchen had been well stocked with food. It was only 3 blocks from the local high school where Kia was already enrolled and had been attending for the past year. In fact this was her senior year!
Ms. Kay had dropped her off on Saturday and at first they had seemed OK. Kia had been there for a week so far and during that time they really didn't bother with her much. They left her to her own devices most of the time. But eventually Kia learned that Sally was a lazy slob when it came to housekeeping, doing nothing herself but constantly dropping hints about Kia doing the cooking and cleaning while she sat on the sofa and either gossiped on the phone or watching soap operas.
They both chain smoked and the house reeked of it. There were burn marks all over the furniture and floor from where they would prop their cigarettes and let them fall on the floor if there was no ashtray handy wherever they were sitting at the time.
On the second Sunday that Kia was there, Doug went somewhere with his men friends and Sally was on the phone almost all day, leaving Kia to entertain herself, which was fine by her. She had studying to do for her finals test on Monday. It was the last test she would have before graduation so she wanted to be sure she got a good grade.
On Monday, she was up before either of them since she wanted to study before classes began so after grabbing a cup of coffee and couple of slices of toast, she quietly left the house and went to school. She took the last of her final exams, which were in math and history. Both teachers immediately graded her papers and she got top marks.
She had been doing well in high school and math had always been her favorite subject. The teacher told her she had a good chance at a scholarship but didn’t make any real promises. “Amazingly enough, there are several students who might qualify this year and unfortunately there are limited scholarship grants available.”
All of the teachers had told the students that so long as they finished their final exams, they would not be required to come to school, that classes would be extra circular. They would have to be sure to turn in school property, like their books and gym clothes, collect their caps and gowns for graduation and for those that had paid for them, their class rings and pictures. Kia planned to come one day this week to do that but she wanted to look for her outfit for graduation too.
On Tuesday night, Sally had made dinner of boxed mac and cheese and some leftover KFC and then they went out, telling Kia to make sure she cleaned up the kitchen before she went to bed and while Kia had resented being told to clean up their mess as well, she was glad that she had the house all to herself.
Since this was the first time they had gone out at night and left her home alone, she had taken a long, hot bath and allowed herself to soak for a bit. Then she shaved her legs with one of the disposable razors she found in a drawer in the bathroom and then stood up and showered so that she could wash her hair. She got out feeling the cleanest she had felt in months. Most of the time, she just quickly showered and dressed in the bathroom before Doug came home from work.
She was always leery of him and tried to make sure she was always respectfully dressed around him. She was really enjoying having this much privacy since, especially at the group home (they don’t call them orphanages anymore), you were lucky to get a cold shower in front of a bunch of other girls so this was a luxury and Kia took full advantage of it. She used Sally’s blow dryer to dry her long, dark hair which was past her bum now. Once it was dry, she quickly braided it to keep it out of the way when she went to sleep.
Once she was done in the bathroom, she tiptoed into the living room and found the remote. She watched TV for a little while but there wasn’t really anything on she wanted to watch so she turned it off, made sure the doors were all locked and then went to her room.
It wasn’t a big room but there was enough space for a double bed, a small dresser next to the tiny closet and a small table with a plain lamp and a clock that showed the wrong time no matter how many times she tried to reset it. There was a window that looked over the side yard that was surrounded by a chain link fence and Kia wondered if they had a dog at one point.
Kia hadn’t bothered to unpack her few meager possessions just yet and kept her dirty clothes in a plastic bag next to her duffel bag on the floor of the closet. She made sure the door was locked before she lifted the blanket on the bed and sniffed. She knew she was going to have to wash it before the cold weather got here as it smelled like smoke, which made her want to gag. She wasn’t going to need it tonight so she just kept it folded on the chair at the foot of her bed. At least the sheets smelled clean, giving off the faint odor of Gain. She had washed them after her first night here.
Kia laid down on the bed and tried to get comfortable but the bed was lumpy and hard, like it was really old, and the frame squeaked with every move she made but at least she wasn’t having to share it with anyone.
She had only been asleep for about an hour when she heard Sally and Doug come home. They were stumbling around and making a lot of noise. Kia laid in bed listening to them laugh and bump into things. She heard them stumble down the hall and a few lude comments about what Doug was going to do to Sally once they got to the bedroom, causing Sally to giggle like a young girl.
Kia just pulled the thin little pillow over her head and tried to go back to sleep but it was at least an hour before the noise of them having sex finally stopped and Doug started to snore, LOUD.
On Wednesday morning, Kia woke up to Doug stomping down the hall and then he pounded on her door. “Get up! Get breakfast started. I don’t want to be late for work.” Kia just stared at the door for a minute and if she had a clue as to how he would react, she might have rebelled and yelled back for him to tell his wife to make his breakfast, that she was not his maid, but from the sound of his voice, thought better of it and crawled out of bed.
After a quick trip to the bathroom to relieve her bladder, she walked into the kitchen and started making coffee. She rummaged around in the fridge and came up with some bacon and eggs and started cooking. Doug came in dressed for work just as she lifted the last of the bacon out of the pan and said “I’m not very good with fried eggs. Is scrambled eggs OK?” She was trying to keep her voice civil even though the resentment of being ordered to make breakfast was eating her up inside.
“Sure, whatever.” Doug said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. Kia could feel his eyes on her as she cooked his eggs and her skin began to crawl. “If he dares to put a hand on me, he will be wearing this frying pan as a hat.” she thought to herself.
She put the eggs on the plate, added a few strips of the bacon and set it down on the table where he had sat last night. “Is Sally going to eat?” Kia asked.
“I doubt if she will be up anytime soon. I wore her out last night.” Doug said with a suggestive grin.
Kia turned quickly back to the stove to hide the blush that raced across her face and cracked another couple of eggs in the bowl to make some for herself. She made sure they were well done before she slid them on to the plate in an effort to give Doug a chance to finish eating before she sat down to have her breakfast. She knew she wouldn’t be able to swallow a bite if he was going to keep watching her like she was a tasty slab of prime rib or something. She made up her mind that once he was gone, she was going to find a sharp knife in the kitchen and hide it in her room.
Doug ate quickly, with one eye on the clock, left his plate and cup on the table when he stood up to leave. “I should be home around 6. Make sure dinner is ready.” Doug said as he wiped his greasy hands on the front of his shirt before pulling on a beat up old baseball hat.
“I’ll tell Sally.” Kia said defiantly.
“What’s the matter with you? There are no free rides in this house. Cooking and cleaning will earn you your room and board.” Doug said.
“You get a check from the state for my room and board. I’m not here to be your unpaid maid. I’m not here because I want to be but because I was forced to be.” Kia said, holding her chin up and looking him in the eye.
“And you can go straight back to the home for all I care. You either help out around here or else.” Doug said and stomped off, slamming the door on the way out.
Tia made her thoughts known by telling her “Good for you! You stood up for yourself and told him what for.” Kia couldn’t believe that she had stood up for herself like that when she had been shaking like a leaf inside but she was proud of herself. She was sick and tired of being a whipping board for these so-called “caring” people that took in kids. She finished her breakfast and cleaned up the mess she had made (she had made it so it was only fair that she cleaned it up) and went back to her room to get changed and get her day started.
Kia was really hoping to put in some extra hours at the pet store where she had been working since last summer after school and Saturday’s for almost a year now. She had a small savings account where she put as much of her earnings as she could. The first month she had worked there, her foster parents at the time had found out where she was going and demanded that she give them her paycheck.
They claimed they were going to open a savings account for her but had actually spent the money on themselves. When she demanded the account booklet, they laughed in her face and told her they had spent the money on buying her food and necessities. She had been so mad!
The only thing that had saved Kia was the fact that she had kept the pay stubs. She contacted the placement agency and told the worker in charge of her case. Kay Endwright had been furious at what had happened, thankfully she had immediately pulled Kia out of that house and demanded they return her earnings under the treat that she would charge them with theft if they refused, which thankfully they didn't. They were however removed from the list of candidates to foster children and Ms. Kay let all of the agencies in town know about them. After that, Kia had stayed in the group home until she had come to stay with Doug and Sally.
After getting dressed, then brushing out her hair Kia re-braided it, then made her bed. She took her time, wondering if Sally was going to get up any time soon or not. She kept her eye on the clock and knew she was going to have to leave soon or she would be late for school. Kia finally gave up waiting and wrote Sally a note.
“Your husband said he would be home about 6 and he expects dinner to be ready. I don’t know much about cooking, except the bacon and eggs I made for our breakfast. I should be home about the same time. See you later. Kia”.
She propped it next to the coffee pot where she was pretty sure Sally would see it and then left the house. She walked down the street towards the high school. School was very uneventful and thankfully today was only a half day for Kia so the day went by pretty quickly. As soon as the bell rang for her last class of the day, Kia walked out to the bus stop on the corner for the bus that would take her very close to her job.
Kia sat on the bench under the plexiglass cover as she waited for the bus, looking at the bus schedule just for something to do since she had been doing this route for the past year. She would have to make a transfer to be able to get to her job but thankfully, she would be able to get there in time to put in at least 3 hours today. Normally she would only have 2 and only on the days when Lydia, her boss, would say she needed help. Lydia normally let her manage the shop almost by herself on Saturday since it gave Lydia a chance to do things she couldn't do during the week.
Kia was also hoping that she might be able to collect her paycheck and make it to the bank before catching the bus back to the house before 6. She kept an eye on the time as she played a game on her phone while she waited for the bus, which thankfully was right on time.
Lydia, the lady who ran the pet shop where she worked, smiled at her as she entered the shop. “Hey, Kia. You’re early today.”
“Yes, ma’am. Today was a half day at school. I’m hoping you might need some extra help today?” Kia asked hopefully.
“Can’t promise you any extra hours right now but if you want to watch the shop while I go to the bank and run a couple of errands, I’d really appreciate it.” Lydia said.
“Sure. Can I get my check today? I want to get some new clothes. Graduation is almost here and I don’t have anything appropriate to wear.” Kia said.
“Sure, so long as you wait to go to the bank till after I’ve had a chance to make my deposit. Business has not been that great lately but I've still got more bills than I do money.” Lydia said. She didn’t want to upset Kia by telling her that she may not be able to afford to have her work for much longer. As it was, she was just barely keeping the bills paid and feeding herself lately. Having Kia come in some days at least gave her a chance to get errands done that would take longer than she could normally take on a lunch break. She hated having to close the shop so that she could go stand in line at the bank.
Kia knew that this job wasn’t going to last much longer and she would be sad when she didn’t work here anymore. She really liked Lydia and taking care of the animals. Kia went into the back room to put away her purse, punch her time card and to put on the shop coat that she always wore when she was in the shop. Lydia said it helped customers recognize shop help from other customers as well as helped to keep her clothes from getting ruined. “Puppies don’t know that they are not supposed to pee when they get excited and birds will poop anywhere they happen to be so the shop coats help.”
Lydia didn’t sell cats or kittens because she was highly allergic to them but she did carry supplies for them. Otherwise it was mostly puppies, fish, birds and even an iguana that they had named Rango, after the children's cartoon movie. He had become more like the store mascot since he had come in just barely 6 inches long and was now almost 2 feet long. No one seemed to want him but Lydia would not just turn him loose because he probably would not survive in the wild after having been raised and very pampered all of his life.
Kia had put in her normal two hours, collected her check and was disappointed when Lydia said she wouldn’t need her again until Saturday, which meant Kia had two whole days to fill up. She hoped to spend at least one of those days looking for a new outfit for graduation, which was in about 2 weeks. She had long since given up the hope that someone might ask her to the senior ball that was to be held next week on Friday night.
Kia left the pet store and went straight to the bank. She had learned a long time ago to put the majority of her pay in the bank but today she decided to keep some so she could go eat somewhere and she would also need bus fare.
As soon as she cashed her check, she checked the balance on her account with a big smile on her face as she stuffed the cash she had held out in her back pocket and headed out of the bank. Her bank balance after that deposit showed four hundred eighty six dollars and fifty nine cents. While it may not seem like a lot to some people but to her it was a small fortune. One that she had worked hard to save. She stuffed the deposit receipt in her purse and since she hadn’t had lunch today, she took off down the street to one of her favorite places to eat.
After a hearty meal of fried rice, beef broccoli, orange chicken and spring rolls, Kia gladly left a dollar bill on the table as a tip, paid her bill and left the small Chinese restaurant. She wandered down the street, looking in the shop windows, dreaming about the outfits she wanted to buy for herself when she started looking for a full time job after graduation. She hoped to find something that would pay well enough to help her out if or hopefully when she started college in the fall.
She had less than two weeks of foster care left before she would finally be free to live her life on her own. She would be turning 18 next week but Ms. Kay had arranged with whoever took her in to agree that she would be able to stay until she graduated from high school since it was only one extra week.
Kia had hopes for a scholarship for at least a year of college where she wanted to train to become an accountant. Kia had a natural knack for numbers and math. Her teachers and the counselor at school had advised her that accounting would be a worthwhile field for her to concentrate on for the future.
That was another reason she was so set on saving every cent she could. She knew she would need money for things the scholarship didn’t cover and even though her meager savings looked like a lot right now, she knew she would need a lot more than that if she wanted to find an apartment. She dreaded having to share a room in the dorms once she was “of age”.
A quick glance at her watch told her that she had better start heading back to the house. It was already after 4 o’clock and something told her that pushing Doug’s patience, especially if he’s been drinking, might be dangerous.
It was barely 5:15 pm when Kia walked up the sidewalk to the house where she was currently staying. She could hear the TV from outside and the smell of cigarette smoke was almost overpowering when she opened the front door and stepped inside.
The house looked like a tornado had gone through it and it was almost as if a heavy fog had filled the house from the amount of smoke in the stagnant air.
“Where the hell have you been all day?” Sally said from her position on the sofa. The ashtray on the table next to her was overflowing with cigarette butts and there were cigarette butts sticking out of the coffee cup next to it. Also on the table was an almost empty highball glass with about a half an inch of a pale yellow liquid in the bottom sitting next to a bottle of tequila. Sally was already well on the way to becoming drunk. Kia just looked at her in disgust for a second before answering.
“Well, I had school for half the day and then I have a part time job at the pet store on 4th street. I worked there part of the day then went looking for clothes for graduation.” Kia said as she held up the small bag that contained a shirt she had bought as proof.
“A job? No one told me you had a job! So when are you going to be able to find the time to do the housework around here? Who’s going to be doing the cooking?” Sally demanded.
“Like I told Doug this morning. You get a check from the state for my room and board. I’m not here because I want to be but because I have to be. I’m not here to be your unpaid maid and cook. I’ll keep my own room and my own laundry clean and I don’t mind helping out in the kitchen but I don’t know much about cooking anything more than scrambled eggs and bacon and boiling hot dogs.” Kia said and watched Sally’s face grow redder with every word.
“You can read a recipe can’t you? If you can read then you can cook and since you have a job, you can do the grocery shopping and make whatever you want. Doug is not a picky eater but he does like to eat as soon as he gets home and he’s not a pleasant person if he’s kept waiting so I suggest you get in there and get cracking. There’s a cookbook on the shelf over there.” Sally said, waving her hand at a bookshelf by the kitchen door.
“I told you, I’m not here to be your unpaid cook or maid. If your husband wants dinner then I suggest you get cracking and cook for him. He’s your husband, not mine.” Kia said, standing her ground. Tia was puffing up and quietly growling at the slob of a woman as she began yelling at Kia.
“Look here you little brat!” Sally yelled as she struggled to push herself off the sofa and stood swaying on her feet. She was a tall woman, slightly heavy set with dirty blonde hair and too much makeup. She wore a dress that was a little too small for her which showed every curve and bulge, from her large breasts to her wide hips.
“You will get in that kitchen and get to cooking dinner or I will thrash you within an inch of your life.” Sally glared at her with clenched fists as she took a step towards Kia, who was trying desperately not to show any fear. She had learned a long time ago not to let anyone see that she was scared of them or they would make her life hell.
“No. That’s supposed to be your job. Not mine.” Kia said. Tia was getting very agitated and irritated with Kia for trembling.
“I’m not going to tell you again.” Sally said as she stumbled towards Kia. She lifted her hand and swung at Kia but she was so drunk, she misjudged and her swing went wide causing her to lose her balance and spin around. She stumbled a few times and then fell into the recliner. “Doug is going to be home soon and believe me, he’s going to be pissed if you don’t have dinner ready. He’ll fix your uppity attitude, real quick.” Sally laughed drunkenly.
“Whatever.” Kia said with false bravado before turning and going to her room, locking the door once she was safely inside. She took the shirt she had bought out of the bag, folded it neatly before putting it in her duffel. She wasn’t going to bother to unpack because she had a feeling she wouldn’t be staying here much longer.