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Chapter 4

The next few days, Lilly spent almost all of her time in the room she shared with Sylvie. Sylvie would look at Lilly periodically, clearly unhappy with Lilly’s continued refusal to join the Fangs. She tried to persuade her, often, but Lilly continued to refuse, but only with silence. Lilly was becoming tempted, though, desperate to have a family, even if it wasn’t real.

Of course, that only happened when Sylvie was there, which was becoming more and more infrequent. When she was there, Lilly began recognizing the signs of drug use, having seen them in her mother. That was what strengthened her resolve, more than anything else.

Still in the summer. Still don’t know when. Sylvie tried to get me to join the Fangs again. She’s on drugs, and I don’t want to mess with that crap, and I think I would end up doing drugs if I join them. I’m tempted though, just to get this nightmare to end. I want a family, even if it’s them, but I don’t want to get near their drugs, no matter how good they might be. I don’t think they’re good though.

Lilly hadn’t realized how much of her free time was spent in the park, with Horace, until he was gone. Of course, school was about to start again, which would change everything for her.

“You goin to six grade?” Sylvie asked, that Friday morning, just before Lilly made it out of the room. Sylvie’s way of talking had become much more getto, over the summer.

“Yeah,” Lilly said, not sure why Sylvie was talking to her.

“It’s about time fo yo initiation,” she said, confusing Lilly. Sylvie could tell Lilly was confused, so she explained, “There’s an initiation when you become one of da Fangs.”

That was all Lilly could take. Although she didn’t completely understand what Sylvie was talking about, she was pretty sure it was bad. She walked out as Sylvie was talking, and went to the park. She kept looking over her shoulder the entire way. Her fear of being confronted by them was immense.

“What’s wrong, Lilly?” Horace asked, before she even saw him.

“Sylvie told me they want to initiate me into their gang. I don’t know what that means, but I think it’s bad. What will I do when they initiate me?” she said, moisture forming in her eyes.

“Not when, because it will not happen. Do you understand me?” he said, his voice forceful and clear. She nodded her head, but he put his hands firmly on her shoulders. “Do you understand me?” he insisted, lifting her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes.

“Yes,” she replied, but there was doubt there.

He then drew her to him, and held her tightly. “It’ll be okay, princess,” he said.

Eventually, she drew back from him, and with a curious frown, asked, “Why did you call me princess?”

“Because you are a princess, and if I would have been lucky enough to be a dad, I’d want to have a daughter, just like you,” he told her.

“Why do you normally talk like you’re drunk, or I don’t know, crazy, but then sometimes you talk perfectly normal?” she asked.

“Kids never mince words, do they?” he asked with a smile, then he got serious. “I talk like that because I don’t want people knowing I can be normal. I like my life, and if they think I’m normal, they might make me go back…’there’,” he explained, and there was pain in his expression, in his eyes. “But sometimes, you need me to be normal, and I want you to feel like you have a safe place, and someone you can trust,” he then said, the pain gone in a flash.

Sylvie told me it was time for my initiation into the Fangs. I’m scared. Horace told me to tell Mrs. Rafferty, and the principal, when I start school Monday.

Lilly hated when summer came to an end. She’d felt safe, and almost happy, for the first time since before her mother died.

Her first day of sixth grade wasn’t what she’d expected, or hoped for. Her friends seemed to avoid her, but she had no idea why. It wasn’t even subtle. They’d walk away when she approached them, looking disgusted.

Finally, she had enough and confronted Sarah at lunch. Although they weren’t as close as they had been before her mother became a druggie, they were still friends, or so Lilly thought.

“Hey, Sarah,” she said, only getting a nod from Sarah in reply.

“Why is everyone avoiding me?” she asked.

“Are you serious?” Sarah asked, in an almost snide tone. Realizing Lilly really didn’t know, she said, “You’ve started doing drugs. No one wants to be around you because you’re a druggie. You’re a bad person, Lilly.” After a long and almost nasty look at Lilly, she then said, “After what your Momma went through, I can’t believe you’re that stupid,” then turned and walked away.

Lilly was too stunned to even think about defending herself, or ask who told them those lies. She had a good idea, though, and also knew there wasn’t much she could do about it. She actually thought she was lucky this was all they were doing to her. Unable to eat, she eventually returned her lunch tray and sat there until her class left the lunchroom. Her face was kept in her hands, tears leaking down her cheeks and onto her wrists.

“Are you alright?” a voice asked her. She lifted her head to see an older woman standing above her.

“Yes, ma’am,” she replied.

“What’s the matter?” the woman asked, sitting down beside Lilly, not convinced.

“They think I’m a druggie,” she said.

“Is it true, or is there something you might have done to cause them to think you are?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t join the Fangs and because I won’t join, they’re telling people I’m doing drugs,” she said.

“So, you have dealings with the Fangs?” she asked.

“My roommate in my foster home I think is one of them and told them that I’d be good to have in their gang, but I didn’t want to join, and she said no one tells them no,” she said, sobbing a little.

“So they’re spreading rumors about you to pressure you into joining?” she asked.

“I think so,” she said.

“Let’s go talk to the principal about this. She might know what to do,” she said, and led Lilly to the front office. By the end of the day, Lilly found herself in a rehabilitation facility, and was being removed from her current foster home.

I’ve been sent to rehab because I told them that the Fangs were trying to make me join them but I said no. They think I’m using drugs and stuff, but I’m not. Why won’t they believe me? Momma died from drugs. There’s no way I’d use them. Drugs suck! No one believes me! Sarah doesn’t believe me. Why!!?? If she wants to be that way, fine. I can live without her. Why does my life suck so much?

The group home, which all of the other foster kids called it, was horrible for her. They were all treated like criminals, which she could actually understand, but she wasn’t a trouble kid. Most of the other kids were part of one of the different gangs, and all of them knew about her, which didn’t make sense. She’d been offered membership and protection by all of them, before the end of her first week.

Rehab really sucks. Every gang I know of has tried to get me to join them, and they all know about me. I don’t know why they know about me. I’m nobody. I’m thinking about joining one, just to get the Fangs to go away, but I know that will just make things worse, so I know I won’t, but I want someone to care about me, again. I’m tired of being alone.

She just didn’t understand why she was there. She wasn’t in a gang, she didn’t do drugs, and she hadn’t caused any trouble. Yet, she was there, as if she had done something wrong. Her only mistake was telling a teacher that she’d been asked to join a gang, and she’d said no. For doing the right thing, she was being punished.

August, not sure the date. Do I really need dates? I’ve never used them before. Anyway...I’m still in rehab, and I still don’t know why. I’ve never done drugs, or anything else bad, other than I guess stealing money from my friends, which I still hate that I did it. Most of them don’t come around me much anymore. Of course, I’m in rehab. They can’t. Even Sarah has stopped hanging out with me as much, before I went to rehab. I miss being with her all the time, like we used to. I guess maybe they did know I was stealing from them. Why else have they stopped being my friends? More importantly, why didn’t they say something to me? Why won’t they make me confess? I would, if they gave me a chance, but I’m too scared to do it on my own. I’m ashamed of myself. At least, I don’t think I need to steal anymore. My foster home should give me the stuff I need, when I go back. I’m eating when I want, not that I want to much anymore. I guess I’ve talked to myself enough. Lot of good it’s doing me. My life still sucks!

Her time in rehab did give her plenty of time to make sure she stayed up on her schoolwork. Finally, it came time for her to get out.

I’m getting out of rehab today. It’s already more than a month into school. I hope I’m not too far behind.

Eight weeks after being sent to the facility, she emerged a different person. What she had learned, however, was definitely not what they had sent her there for.

“Lilly,” her caseworker began.

“I’m Priscilla,” she corrected the woman, not being incredibly nice, even if she wasn’t technically rude.

“Alright...Priscilla, what did you come away with, from your time in the Alpine Center,” she asked.

She debated her answer before giving it, and even then she wasn’t sure it wasn’t giving more than she should, but she was angry.

“That I should never trust anyone again,” she replied.

“Why do you feel that way?” she asked.

“Because I told you about my problem and I was sent to prison,” she said, allowing her anger to come through.

“It’s not prison,” the woman argued.

“Yes it is. Everyone I met there is a criminal,” she replied.

“And didn’t you do some bad things, which made it so you needed rehabilitation?” Meredith Rafferty asked. Lilly didn’t respond at all, knowing this woman wasn’t listening, and didn’t really care.

“So, you’re not going to talk to me anymore?” she asked, when Lilly had obviously gone silent. After a while, the caseworker sighed and said, “Well, you’re going to a new foster home. Please try and be good this time,” she said, which infuriated Lilly.

“You’re a bitch!” she couldn’t stop herself from saying.

The car came to a sudden stop, and the caseworker turned to Lilly with a very unpleasant expression, “Your life is in my hands. I decide where you go and how you go there. Don’t push me, Priscilla.”

“Or what, you’ll send me back to prison?” she asked, the sarcasm dripping from her words.

“You haven’t seen a real prison, but you can, if you really want to,” she threatened. Lilly suddenly realized, she might be going a little too far, and this woman might really be able to do what she said. However, Lilly was so angry, she couldn’t make herself be nice, either. She settled with returning to silence, not that she’d been silent for very long the last attempt she made.

“This is the Bazemore family. They don’t have any other foster kids, and their natural born children are all grown. They didn’t want a troubled kid, so please be good,” the woman said, finally phrasing her request nicely.

“I’ll try,” Lilly conceded, willing to make amends, if the caseworker was.

“This is in the same school district you were in before, so you won’t have to worry about changing schools,” she continued.

“Can I go to a different school?” Lilly asked.

“Why? Don’t you want to see your friends again?” she asked.

“I don’t have any friends,” Lilly said. “A new school wouldn’t know anything about me, and I could start over,” she said, when the caseworker didn’t reply to her previous comment.

“Are you sure? I can make that happen, if you really want, but these people are really nice. I think you’ll like them,” she said.

Lilly thought about it for a little while. What finally made her decide to stay there, was that she’d like to see Horace again, and that was only possible if she went to the same school. She wasn’t entirely sure it would be possible then, but she knew it probably wouldn’t be at a new school.

“I’ll stay here, I guess,” she finally said, very softly.

“Are you sure?” the woman asked.

“Yeah,” she confirmed.

Meredith Rafferty actually helped Lilly out of the car, taking Lilly’s bag, such as it was. Once on the porch, she looked at Lilly a moment, then pressed the doorbell.

“Sherri and Leonard, this is Priscilla,” she said, when the older couple answered the door.

“It’s a pleasure,” the woman said, extending her hand. Lilly put her hand in the woman’s hand and shook.

“Whatever,” Lilly replied, unable to hide her disdain for the situation.

“Where are your belongings?” Leonard asked, ignoring the attitude.

“Here’s her bag,” Meredith said, extending all of Lilly’ worldly possessions to the Bazemore’s. She darted a glance at Lilly, who remained impassive.

“Priscilla,” Sherri began, then looked into Lilly’s eyes, “Or do you go by another name?”

“Just Priscilla,” Lilly replied.

“Alright, then. Priscilla, our expectations I think aren’t too bad. We’re going to treat you just like we treated our children, and we expect you to treat us like they did. First, we require that you ask before going anywhere, which will include a curfew of 8:30. Second, there will be no drugs, alcohol or boys in our home. The boys might be allowed an exception under special circumstances, which we’ll discuss when it’s needed. You will always respond to us with respect,” she said and paused, but only a moment. “And we’ll do the same with you. Dinner is at 6:00 to 6:30, every day, so we expect you home, as we eat as a family. On Sunday, we go to church, and we would like you to go with us, since you’ll be a part of our family. If you don’t want to attend the service, we’ll find a way to accommodate your wishes, including whatever church you might already attend. We do pray over every meal. As with church, we won’t force our beliefs on you, but you will be expected to be silent and respectful during prayer. Are you willing to accept these rules?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Lilly replied, without hesitation. The rules were completely reasonable to her, so she had no problem going along with them. The only thing she wasn’t real sure about was church, but she’d been to church a few times when she was little.

“Is there anything you’d like to ask, before we all commit to this arrangement?” Leonard asked her.

“Is it alright if I go for walks in the park when I get back from school?” she asked.

“I think that would be alright, as long as you get your homework done and keep your grades up,” he replied.

“My grades are good,” she stated.

“She did very well with her studies while in the rehabilitation center,” the caseworker told them.

“Priscilla, would you tell us what happened, that you got in trouble? You seem like a good, intelligent young lady,” Sherri asked. Unable to stop it, tears formed in her eyes, and all of her anger and bitterness bubbled to the surface, unbidden.

“A gang wanted me to join and I said no. I got scared,” she started.

“Priscilla, are you going to blame someone else for your mistakes again?” the caseworker said.

“Leave me alone!” she yelled at the woman. “They asked me and I’m telling them,” she said, forcing herself to calm down.

“I’m sorry,” she said, tears running down her cheeks. It was the first real sign of respect for them, but it was a lot.

“I was told I’d be one of them whether I wanted to or not, and I told my teacher about it, and I was put in the rehabilitation center,” she finished.

“She was known to be using drugs, and possibly doing...other things, but she’s cleaned up now,” the caseworker tried to explain. They all saw the look of hate Lilly shot at the caseworker, and she made no effort to hide it.

“I’ve never used drugs, and I never will!” she again yelled. Her emotions overwhelming her, she ran. Not very surprising, she found herself in the park she’d become very familiar with.

“Where you been?” that familiar and longed for voice asked her.

“They sent me to a rehab place,” she said, as she almost tackled him.

“And why’re you so upset now?” he asked.

“Because my caseworker told my new foster parents that I was on drugs, and did other things, which is why I was sent there,” she said.

“And since I know you haven’t, it obviously upset you, and probably made you angry. Am I right?” he asked. She nodded, not lifting her head as she did.

“If you don’t go back, they’ll call the police to search for you, and they’ll probably send you to some kind of detention center. That’s kind of a jail for kids,” he told her.

“You’re probably right,” she admitted, lifting her head to look up at him.

“Come back whenever you can. I’ll be here, and I’m very glad to see you’re alright,” he assured her. “I was worried about you,” he added, as she started walking away. She smiled at him, then started running.

She ran back to the Bazemore’s house, slowing down only just before she could see it. Outside was a couple of police cars, the caseworker’s car, and a lot of adults. Ignoring most of them, in spite of their attempts to stop her, she walked straight to the Bazemore’s.

“I’m sorry I ran away. I got really upset,” she said.

“Come inside, dear,” Sherri said, and led Lilly inside. The caseworker maneuvered her way through the police as the family went into the house.

Once they were inside, including the caseworker, Leonard asked, “Are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, sir, a little,” she said, reverting to a very polite tone. It was how she used to be, before life had altered her.

“Good. It’s about dinner time, so why don’t we get some food into you, and see if we can get some kind of normal routine going. Alright?” he then asked, and she nodded.

“May I speak with her first?” the caseworker asked.

“Mrs. Rafferty, I think she needs to be given some space. Don’t you?” Leonard said, a firmness to his voice.

“I suppose,” she said, resigned to the situation.

“I thought you’d send me away, when I came back,” Lilly said, once everyone was gone, and they were sitting at the table eating dinner. The prayer had been something new to her, but she got the idea really quick.

“Sweetie, you’ve had hardship in your life, and we know it. If we sent you away the first time you have an incident, we wouldn’t be any good as parents, would we?” Sherri asked.

“And I think Mrs. Rafferty went a but further than she should have, whether she’s right or not,” Leonard said.

For some reason she couldn’t explain, she felt like she could trust this couple. It wasn’t her own thoughts, and she knew it, but it was there. Then she saw why. Two small dogs came into the room, and looked directly at her, their tails wagging enthusiastically.

She got out of her chair and knelt down. As the dogs came running to her, Sherri said, “Be careful. They don’t like many people.”

Lilly had no problem with them, though. They rolled on their bellies for her to rub their tummies, which she did immediately.

“Would you look at that!” Leonard exclaimed.

“Animals like me,” she told them, as she continued to pet and then began playing with the dogs.

“They’re acting like puppies again. They haven’t been that playful in years,” Sherri said, watching Lilly and the dogs with the same enraptured wonder as her husband.

That evening, the couple put on a family movie, and watched Lilly as she watched the movie with an intensity that surprised them. She laughed at the funny scenes, even some that the humor seemed below her. What really caught them by surprise was that she teared up when the normal scenes of family love were shown, scenes that weren’t meant to be that emotional. It didn’t take them long to realize that she had never really known a normal family life. They knew kids in the foster system had trauma in their lives, but this was the first time they’d really seen it on display.

Of course, they didn’t really know her background, either. Sure, they knew she’d had a drug addicted mother who had died of an overdose, and she’d just come out of rehab. They knew virtually nothing else about her, including how she interacted with people, how she got on socially in school, or what her interests were.

The stint in rehab was a big quandary for them, and one they needed to understand. They needed to know exactly why she’d been sent to rehab, after her earlier outburst. Based on what the caseworker had said, her grades seemed too good for her to be hooked on drugs, which then raised doubt about the caseworker’s story.

“Priscilla, can I ask you a question?” Sherri began, once the movie was over, and they’d allowed her time to discreetly wipe her eyes.

As soon as she asked that question, she could see the girl’s defenses automatically go on alert. It was immediate, and very obvious.

“If you’re not comfortable answering, or if you don’t like the question, you don’t have to answer. Alright?” she continued, hoping to assuage her suspicion.

“Okay,” she said, very tentative.

“Why do you wear the type of clothes you wear?” Sherri asked.

Although she was still wary, there was an obvious drop in her intensity. She looked down, and Sherri could tell she was embarrassed, which meant she didn’t necessarily like her clothing choices. She waited, thinking the girl wasn’t going to reply, but finally, she looked back up, and straight into Sherri’s eyes.

“Because I get what I can keep for a long time, so I don’t have to worry about not being able to wear it very long,” she replied, her answer a little confusing to them.

“Can you explain that?” Sherri asked.

“When my momma started taking drugs, she stopped buying me clothes, so I started sneaking money from her to buy some clothes once in awhile, and sometimes food. The clothes I bought were things that I could make last for a long time, and get real cheap. I knew I’d outgrow normal clothes, so I found stuff that would last longer,” she said, hoping that answer was better.

“I see,” Sherri said. After a moment, she asked, “And I assume you know stealing is wrong.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lilly replied.

“Very good. Would you like to get some better clothes?” she asked. There was a smile, barely contained on the girl’s face, as she looked at Sherri. Sherri actually saw a hint of hope in the eyes looking back at her.

Looking back down, the hope was gone as fast as it had blossomed. “I wouldn’t want you to waste your money on me,” Lilly said.

“First, it wouldn’t be a waste. Second, the state provides money to foster families to make sure you kids get what you need, including clothes. I’m guessing your previous foster families didn’t use that money to buy you clothes,” she said.

“I was only there maybe three or four months before they sent me to the group home,” she replied.

“How long have you been in foster care?” Sherri asked.

“Five or six months, I think. I’m not really sure,” she answered.

“Oh, baby,” Sherri said, looking very compassionate, but not going to her. She didn’t want to force the girl into a show of emotion she wasn’t ready for, but she so wanted to hug the girl. That answer let them know that their new foster daughter’s mother had been dead barely half a year.

“After school tomorrow, we’ll go shopping and get you some proper clothes. Would you like that?” Sherri asked, and Lilly nodded her head, rather enthusiastically.

“Now, off to bed with you,” Leonard said.

“Come with me, dear,” Sherri said, leading Lilly to a room in the back of the house. It was clearly a guest room, but it was beautiful to her. She’d only been in one other foster home, where she’d been given a pallet on the floor, and her former bedroom wasn’t nearly this nice.

“Do you like to bathe in the morning or at night?” Sherri asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied, not used to taking regular baths either.

“Why don’t you go ahead and get a bath now, and we’ll see how you like it, as you get used to things. Okay?” Sherri asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. She picked up her bag and went to the bathroom. Her bath wasn’t very long, but it was incredibly nice. She wasn’t rushed by others, and actually got to bathe properly. Once done drying, she put her clothes back on, and returned to the room she’d been given.

“Where are your night clothes?” Sherri asked, as she walked in.

“I don’t have any,” she replied. She hadn’t had a nightgown, or pajamas that fit her, in well over a year, and she hadn’t been willing to spend any of her very limited money on something like that.

“I guess that’s another item to add to the list, then,” she said. “Actually, I think we’d probably be better off just starting over, if you’re alright with that,” Sherri said, with a tentative smile, worried she might hurt Lilly’s feelings.

“What I’ve got’s okay,” Lilly said.

“We’re more than willing to buy you clothes, but we won’t force you. It’s totally up to you, sweetheart,” she said.

“Can I get clothes like these?” she asked.

“Didn’t you tell me you get clothes like that because you didn’t know when you’d get more, and wanted to be able to make them last longer?” Sherri asked, to which Lilly nodded. “You won’t have to worry about that anymore. We’ll make sure you have new clothes when you need them,” Sherri promised.

“Why are you being so nice to me? I’m a druggie and a gang member,” she said.

“I don’t believe either of those things about you, and maybe, with time, you’ll learn to trust us, and rely on us. We really want you to have that,” Sherri said.

“But Mrs. Rafferty said I am, and she’s the grownup. Shouldn’t you believe her?” Lilly asked.

“She’s a good person and means well, but she has too many cases to really know what’s going on with each kid under her care. That’s where the foster family comes in. It’s us who really know what’s going on,” she said.

“My last foster family didn’t care,” Lilly remarked, with a tiny bit of her previous attitude showing through.

“Unfortunately, there are some that only want the monthly check they get, and don’t really do the job they promised to do. It sounds like your last foster home was one of those. This one won’t be, and I can guarantee that,” she said, with conviction.

Mrs. Rafferty, my stupid caseworker, took me to a new ‘placement’ today. She calls it a home. It’s not a home, because the people don’t care about me. No one does. These people are the Bazemores. I have to admit, they stuck up for me with her, though. Maybe they won’t be so bad, not that I know what bad really is, I hope. This is only my second ‘home’. They promised to take me to get new clothes. That will be a change, if they actually do it. I guess they probably will. They’re not momma, I guess.

Lilly returned to her school the next day, feeling much better than anytime since her mother died. Thanks to being given school while in the rehab center, she had no trouble catching up with her schoolwork, although she had a different teacher, and wasn’t in the special math class she started out in. She was a little surprised no one said anything to her about having been in rehab, but no one spoke to her at all, really. Of course, she wasn’t in the advanced class, with the kids she knew, either.

That afternoon, her new foster parents took her shopping, just as promised. Although they resisted at first, they finally agreed to her getting the clothes she wanted, but with some concessions to also get some of the things they wanted her to wear. That took some negotiating on their part, but Lilly did eventually agree. The one place they were really adamant was a couple of nice outfits for church, which she’d agreed to go to with them.

In addition to the daily clothes, they bought her several new nightgowns, and new underpants, something she’d been needing badly but was too embarrassed to tell them. By the time they were done, she came away with a completely new wardrobe, and having eaten one of the best meals she’d had in a long time.

“Priscilla, would you like to have your hair done?” Sherri asked, just before they left the mall.

“My hair’s alright,” she replied, but Sherri looked at her with a sideways glance.

“You, young lady, need a good haircut. I know kids like those color streaks in their hair, as well. You can have that too, if you want,” Sherri said.

“It’s too expensive,” Lilly immediately replied.

“Nonsense,” Leonard told her. “You girls go get your hair done. I’ll go get some coffee and a danish, and see what’s going on in the world,” he then said, and walked away.

When they left the mall, Lilly’s hair was a little shorter, the ends needing to be trimmed and shaped. What made her the happiest, though, were the two colored streaks, one on each side. One was pink the other was purple. They weren’t too big, or too bright, but looked very good in her black hair. Although she’d resisted at first, she loved how she looked.

Leonard and Sherri took me shopping, just like they said. They got me all kinds of stuff, and took me to dinner. It was incredible. I was happy. And to top it off, they let me get my hair done, even letting me get purple and pink streaks put in it on each side. It looks really incredible. I love it!!

“Priscilla,” Leonard began, once they got back home. She’d been thinking a lot about this couple, in the short time she’d been in their house, and finally made her decision.

“Lilly,” she said, kind of looking down as she said it.

“Is Lilly what you like to be called?” Leonard asked, and she nodded, not lifting her eyes.

“Thank you for trusting us, Lilly,” Sherri said, giving Lilly a firm squeeze from the side.

“Lilly, I’d like to talk to you about your grades, and school. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what your background is, or at least not a lot. I know what Mrs. Rafferty said, but my guess is that your grades probably suffered while you were in that place. We can help you, if you want us to,” he offered, almost pleaded.

When she didn’t immediately respond, he continued, “If you want to have a good future, you need to do really well in school, and we want to help you. We want you to have a good life, and we’ll do everything we can for you.”

“I’ve always made mostly A’s, and they made sure we had school in the group home,” she said.

“Really?” Sherri asked, definitely surprised.

“Yes, ma’am. I don’t want to live like my Momma did, and I already know I need to do good in school to do better,” she said.

“What’s your favorite subject?” Leonard asked, trying to lighten the suddenly tense mood.

“I think math, but I also like science a lot. Science has been hard, because they taught it differently in the group home, and we were in a different place than we are in class now. I was ahead of where they’re at here,” she replied, seeming a bit shy about that.

“You’re already on the right path, it seems,” Leonard told her, giving her a very kind smile and a pat on the shoulder. “If you ever need help, let us know. Between the two of us, we cover a lot of subjects, and we probably know someone who could help in almost any we don’t know,” he said.

“Before I left, I took a special math with a different teacher than my class teacher, but now I’m only taught what the rest of the class is taught, and I already know it all,” she asked, then looked a little sideways at what she said. “I’m sorry, I think I was talking too big of myself,” she then said.

“It’s okay, Lilly,” Leonard said, with a comical and friendly smile.

“Sherri, do we have the authority to advocate for her classes?” he then asked.

“As long as we communicate with her caseworker, yes,” she replied. “What math were you doing before they sent you away?” she asked Lilly.

“I was supposed to be in Pre-algebra,” Lilly replied.

“You’re in sixth grade?” Sherri asked, and Lilly nodded. “And you were taking pre-Algebra?” she then asked, again getting a nod from Lilly.

After a short pause, the two thinking about that, Sherri said, “I’ll take her to school tomorrow and talk to the counselor and Mrs. Rafferty about getting her back into that special math class. There shouldn’t be any real problem with it, since she seems to have the grades to warrant it, along with the drive, and she was already supposed to be in it. To be honest, with what I’m beginning to believe, I don’t understand why they moved her out of it. I’ll know more when I see her records tomorrow.”

“Probably because they don’t like me, because I’m a bad kid,” Lilly said.

“You are not a bad kid!” Leonard stated, very loud and forceful in his response. He very deliberately calmed himself down, and smiled at Lilly. “Will Mrs. Rafferty agree to it? She doesn’t seem to hold Lilly in very high regard,” he then said to his wife.

“I’ll convince her of the benefits,” she said, then turned to Lilly, “Are you sure you’re still up to pre-algebra?”

“Yes, ma’am. I know everything they’re doing in my class and it’s boring,” she replied.

“Alright then. It’s settled,” Sherri said, slapping her hands together.

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