04 Steward of the Stewarts

Mrs. Rose came into the room with her strawberry cream cake, eight lights shining brightly on top of it. Roberta poked Dawn in the back, and Dawn gave out a cry. Sharon sat quietly in a corner, pretending not to notice what was going on. Kate smiled as she saw the cake. She loved strawberries, and Mrs. Rose was a good cook – from time to time.

– “Make a wish!” shouted Evie, the new five year old girl with blond pigtails and freckles all over her face. Kate closed her eyes for a while. What should she wish for? All the money in the world? Her very own family? Or simply that she wouldn’t end her life like poor Tanya the year before? Mrs. Rose lifted her voice.

– “Come on, Kate!” she boomed. – “We haven’t got all day!”

Kate opened her eyes after deciding to wish for being adopted like Aisha. Then she breathed deeply and blew out all the candles. Another new girl called Pamela was sitting in Mrs. Rose’s recliner. She was skinny and tiny, even smaller than Kate even though she was ten years old. Her hair was hazel brown like her eyes, and she had a lost expression in her eyes. She wore a pink dress that just didn’t look right on her. Pulling her feet up into the chair, she had started playing with her toes.

– “Is it time for the for the barbeque now?” she said softly, still staring her toes.

– “Yes!” puffed Mrs. Rose. – “We’ll take the cake with us out!”

The sun was shining from the bright blue sky, and the barbeques was already started up in the backyard of the girls home. It was the 4th of July. Kate was lucky enough to have a birthday that was easy to remember. Her eighth birthday was actually quite nice. There were hot dogs, burgers and all kinds of salads. The girls could eat as much as they wanted, and some ended up feeling sick after eating too much. Mrs. Rose’s strawberry cake was the perfect dessert, and they all enjoyed some. Then, they played some games. First they played tag. After that, they sat down, playing spin the bottle. Then some wanted to play cards whilst the others gathered round the bonfire at the back of the garden shed. Mrs. Rose took out her guitar and played some songs. She didn’t play very well, but good enough that they could all sing along to some of the old familiar songs that Mrs. Rose knew. They all went to bed, feeling stuffed and content with the long and sunny day that they had had. Kate helped Evie sort her hair out before bedtime.

– “Evie?” she whispered.

– “Do you have any folks?”

Evie fixed her big, blue eyes on Kate.

– “You mean parents? No! They died in a car crash not long ago. That’s why I came here! They couldn’t find any relatives, so I’m supposed to stay here till they can find me a new home.”

Kate smiled as friendly as she could.

– “I hope they find a home for you soon!” she said quietly.

– “Good night!”

Evie jumped into her bed and climbed under her blanket,

– “Good night, Kate!” she yawned.

– “I hope you get a family too!”

Kate went into her own bedroom and curled up in her bed. She was wondering if she would get herself a family soon. After all, Aisha and Curly had got themselves a new home. It was hard to go get to sleep that night. She thought of her mum, and of Tanya. Then, she found herself dreaming of getting adopted by a perfect family where she would live happily ever after, just like they did in the fairytales that her mother had told her. She had often thought about her mother, but somehow it seemed like the picture she had in her head of her mum was fading more and more. Kate started tossing and turning, and it took a couple of hours before she finally fell asleep.

– “Happy birthday, little Katie!”

Mrs. Rose came smiling into her room, but Kate could sense that it seemed like a painful smile, kind of like Mrs. Rose was expected to smile, but didn’t really want to. Kate sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes.

– “What?” she said, half asleep.

– “My birthday was two weeks ago!”

Her deep blue eyes were wide open now.

– “And please don’t call me Katie,” she almost whispered. – “My mum used to call me that!”

Mrs. Rose’s smile was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

– “Anyway,” she breathed heavily.

– “I presume I got good news for you. Mrs. Jones has found some people who want to foster a little girl like yourself, but they live near Boston. Are you interested?”

Kate looked bewildered.

– “I thought I was going to be adopted, like Aisha…” she said with a sorrowful expression on her face.

Mrs. Rose sat down at the end of her bed, giving a deep sigh.

– “I know,” she exclaimed, – “But adoption takes a lot of time, and there are many rules. Fostering is easier!”

Kate didn’t know what to think.

– “How long would I stay with a foster family?” she asked.

Mrs. Rose grabbed a hairbrush and started brushing Kate’s hair.

– “It could be for a very long time,” she answered.

– “Or, if you or the family have some problems and don’t wish to continue, they could find another foster home for you.”

Kate yawned and stretched.

– “Can I think about it?” she said.

– “Is it my choice?”

Mrs. Rose smiled again.

– “Yes, it is your choice, but sooner or later you have to move on. You were not meant to be here for ever, you know!”

Kate screwed her eyes up.

– “Roberta and Sharon is still here,” she said slowly.

– “I know, sweety,” said Mrs. Rose, – “But they are so old that not many want to adopt or foster them. As soon as they turn 18, they will be leaving here anyway, and that is only about two years away.”

Mrs. Rose looked Kate deep into her eyes.

– “Your best chance for a good family is adoption,” she said.

– “Your second best chance is fostering!”

Kate slid out of bed to go to the bathroom.

– “I suppose I have to…” she mumbled, but there was no smile on her lips. For over two years she had had a pretty good life with Mrs. Rose. Mrs. Rose was not perfect, but she gererally seemed to care. When Tanya had died, she had been totally out of it for several months, and Kate knew then that she cared for all the girls. It was almost like they had been protected from the evil world, especially the youngest ones. Now, the uncertainty of a world outside the Black Rose actually frightened Kate. Still, like Mrs. Rose said, it was better to find a family before she turned 18 rather than being sent out in the world at 18 with nothing but a suitcase and hopefully a small apartment with bare walls.

It was hard to concentrate on the lessons with Mrs. Rose that day. The very next day Mrs. Jones come to visit.

Janet Jones arrived to the Black Rose about midday the next day. The red haired giant of a woman almost looked like a librarian, hair done up in a knot at the back. She had a different suit on now than she had worn last time she came, but her walk was still quick and firm, almost like a soldier marching off to war. Kate never saw that woman smile. She seemed really gloomy, and Kate was hoping the family she represented was not as gloomy. Mrs. Jones sat down in Mrs. Rose’s office and pulled up lots of paperwork.

– “Are you Kate Smith?” she said, peering over her round, black glasses.

Kate pulled her shoulders.

– “That’s what they call me!”

Mrs. Jones gave a sigh.

– “For heaven’s sake, child, is that your name or not?”

Mrs. Rose leaned forward with a weak smile.

– “Eh, we’ve never known Kate’s real last name, so she was named Smith by the court.”

Mrs. Jones raised her eyebrows like she was surprised that Mrs. Rose had stepped in. Then she gave a little cough, looked down at her papers.

– “So, that IS your name then,” she said shortly.

– “Born on the 4th of July 1979?”

– “Yes, ma’am!”  Kate replied promptly.

Mrs. Jones looked up.

– “Mrs. Jones will do,” she said, examining Kate’s face.

– “Well, as Mrs. Rose has already mentioned to you, young Kate, a family wants to adopt a little girl, aged 8 to 12. Their names are…” she looked down at her papers again, – “Mr. and Mrs. Stewart!”

Kate tasted the name in her head, a relatively normal name, hopefully a normal family with a normal life to offer her. Mrs. Jones turned back and forth in her paperwork.

– “They already have three foster kids living with them,” she said with a monotonous voice.

– “Adam, the oldest is almost 18, Amy is 16 and Frank is 14. Mr. Stewart, first name being Alan, works from home so he can help out with the kids. It is Mrs. Stewart, first name Mary, who is will be doing most of the caring in your case. They live on the western side of Boston in a town called Watertown. It’s a growing town with about 40.000 people in it. we all hope you’ll be happy there, Kate!”

Kate sat up.

– “Who is ‘we all’?” she wondered.

Mrs, Jones rolled her eyes.

– “Mrs. Rose, me, the police, the courts…everybody!”

Kate thought Mrs. Jones seemed a bit agitated, but didn’t quite know why. Mrs. Rose touched Kate’s right arm.

– “Do you have any questions for Mrs. Jones, Kate?”

Kate thought for a second.

– “Are they nice people?” she asked.

Mrs. Jones gave a big sigh.

– “How in heaven’s name should I know that?” she said, shaking her head.

– “At least, the other kids seemed to have wanted to stay there, so it can’t be all bad…”

Kate chewed on it for a bit.

– “I suppose…” she said, as if to herself.

– “What will happen if I’m not happy there?”

Mrs. Jones put her papers into a folder.

– “Then they will find you another home,” she barked.

– “Shall I proceed with the transfer?” She looked at Kate, then at Mrs. Rose.

– “What do you say, Kate?” Mrs. Rose wanted to know.

– “Okay!”

Mrs. Jones stood up suddenly and turned towards Mrs. Rose.

– I will be back shortly. There will be some papers to sign etc etc.”

Mrs. Rose raised her hands.

– “I’ll be right here, Mrs. Jones!”

Kate opened the window and put her head out of the car, feeling the strong wind in her face. She was going to meet the Stewart family today. She had packed a small suitcase. It was small because all she owned was the clothes that she had been bought whilst living at the Black Rose. Mrs. Jones was sitting beside her, suspiciously quiet. Now she looked at Kate with a stern look on her face, not that she had many other looks.

– “Please keep your head inside the vehicle! It would not be good to loose it altogether…”

Kate withdrew her head from the lovely air outside the taxi. She wondered if Mrs. Jones had ever been young. It didn’t seem that she understood the great feeling of the wind blowing through her hair. She also wondered if it was really possible to loose one’s head when one stuck it out of a car window. Kate had nothing to do but look out the windows. All the games she’d been playing at the Black Rose were games that belonged to Mrs. Rose. At times she would come home from shopping all excited, saying she’d bought herself a new game, and would they like to play it?

It took just over four hours to drive from New York city to Watertown. Mrs. Jones sat looking out her window at times, then, once in a while, she would produce a pile of papers and look at them for a while till she gave  a big sigh and put down the papers again. After looking out the window for another while, the same thing would happen over again. Kate got fed up of watching the world rush by, so she eventually fell asleep, producing all kinds of dreams of what her new family would be like.

Kate woke up as she fell into Mrs. Jones’ lap. The taxi had turned off the main road and was turning hard to the left.

– “Where are we?” Kate said, drowsily.

Mrs. Jones had put away her papers and was paying attention to where they were going.

– “We’re getting onto Galen street,” Mrs. Jones replied.

– “That will take us over the Charles River before we turn right and head down along the river. I believe the Stewart’s live real close to the Charles River.”

Kate didn’t think she had ever seen a river before, so she kept close watch out the window. As the road turned slowly towards the right, she saw the Charles River. Somehow, it seemed black, and she had thought it would be blue. They turned right again. Kate could see ‘Charles River Road’ on a sign beside them as they turned. Some way down, the taxi turned left into a side street and pulled up in front of a yellow house with a red roof. Some bicycles were laying on the grass outside, and a red pickup truck was parked in the drive. Mrs. Jones offered to carry Kate’s suitcase, and they both got out of the car. A redheaded boy came out the door. He looked at Kate and Mrs. Jones before he shouted “They’re here!” A small woman with an apron round her waist came out on the porch drying her hands. She came out, smiling from ear to ear.

– “Mrs. Jones! How nice to see you again! Is this Katie?”

Kate held her hand out.

– “It’s Kate, Mrs. Stewart, not Katie!”

Mrs. Stewart shook her hand firmly.

– “Okay, I’ll have to remember that! I have just made pancakes!”

She turned towards Mrs. Jones.

– “Do you have time to eat some pancakes before returning?”

Mrs. Jones looked as stern as ever.

– “I’m afraid not, Mrs. Stewart,” she answered.

– “If I could get your signature and Mr. Stewart’s signature, I’ll be returning in the taxi!”

Mrs. Stewart turned around.

– “ALAN!” she shouted. – “COME OUT NOW!”

A man wearing a red checked shirt and jeans came out the front door. His face was all red, but his hair was pitch black. It was easy to tell that he hadn’t shaved for a while, and he had a big, thick mustache smack in  the middle between his lips and his nose.

– “Coming dear!” he panted.

– “Don’t you have time for pancakes, Mrs. Jones?”

Mrs. Jones had produced the forms that needed signing.

– “I’m afraid not, Mr. Stewart! Could you and your wife please sign these forms for me?”

Mrs. Stewart was the closest. She asked where to sign, and Mrs. Jones pointed. As soon as she had signed, Mr. Stewart had arrived beside Mrs. Jones. He looked at the forms, signed his name, and nodded to Mrs. Jones.

-“Well,” said Mrs. Jones. – “That takes care of that! Please call the office if you have any trouble!”

Mr. Stewart smiled a big smile.

– “Trouble? Here? You must be joking!” he laughed heartily as Mrs. Jones got back into the taxi.

– “Have a safe journey back!” he shouted as the taxi turned around and went back the way he had come.

Kate, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and the boy stood waving till the car vanished from sight. Mr. Stewart’s smile suddenly vanished.

– “Okay, Kate!” he boomed.

– “Get in the house right now, and do not pull any stunts, or you will be very sorry indeed. Do not speak unless spoken to, and keep your eyes to yourself. Grab a pancake or two, then we’ll tell you what we want you to do…”

Kate raised her eyebrows in shock and surprise. She felt a sudden urge to go back to the Black Rose.

The Stewarts had a printshop where the kids worked after school. If they did their chores, they were awarded with all kinds of stuff, like music and sweets. Kate didn’t care for the Stewarts very much. It was obvious to her that they had the foster children only to get the work done. The first week, Kate hadn’t started school yet, so she was taught what to do when she was to be working at the shop. One good thing about working was that the time flew by very quickly.  Every day but Sunday they had to work. then. On Sunday, they lazed about, listening to music and watching telly. If they had done really well, the Stewarts might take them to the cinema. Mr. Stewart was always loud. His face was very red, and he seemed to be under the influence of something – just what Kate could not tell. Mrs. Stewart was nicer. She was the one that took care of the kids, although the other kids were quite a bit older than Kate. Amy had told Kate that they had had another girl who would be 12 years old by now, but she had run away after getting in a fight with Mr. Stewart. The police had been brought into it, but the word was that they never found the girl.

On the first Monday, Mrs. Stewart took Kate to school. Since she had only been home-schooled before, Kate wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Her teacher was a miss Staples, something many of the pupils found hysterically funny. Kate was introduced to the class as Kate Stewart, but Kate said her real name was Kate Smith. Miss Staples looked down into her papers and said that was what her information said, so Kate didn’t mention it again. They were 25 children in the class, and there was only one available desk in the back of the classroom. Kate sat down, looking curiously around to see if any of the other kids looked nice. A large girl with red hair sitting in front of her turned around and gave an unnatural smile that seemed very false. She had braces on her teeth and a blue ribbon in her hair. On each side of her sat two boys. On her right was a small boy with the biggest brown coloured eyes she had ever seen. He wore a red checked shirt and dirty, blue jeans. On the other side was a dark haired boy with small green eyes. His clothes looked very expensive. His trousers were brown, and Kate could not tell what kind of material they were made of. His shirt was green with lace at the ends of it. It didn’t look like he ever smiled. He looked as grumpy as Mr. Stewart.

When the bell rang, Kate followed the others reluctantly out into the school yard. What would she say to her classmates? The redhaired  girl who sat in front of her came up to her.

– “Hi Kate! I am Priscilla!”

She was swinging gently from side to side, and several girls were standing behind her.

– “Hi,” said Kate, not knowing what else to say.

Priscilla leaned forward towards her and whispered.

– “If you will lick my boots, I will let you in my gang!”

Kate’s mouth fell open.

– “Lick your boots? Are you crazy?”

Priscilla’s smile vanished as quickly as a gun could shoot out a bullet.

– “Nobody calls me crazy!” she cried out.

Suddenly, there were a bunch of girls all around her. They hit her in the stomach and in her face. When Kate fell to the ground, they kicked her and pulled her hair. When one of the teachers came to break up the fighting, Kate’s face was full of blood, and tears were pouring down her face. The other girls scattered in all directions as if the bogeyman had come out to catch them. The teacher, a Mr. Carson, took Kate inside to miss Staples. Miss Staples in turn called Mrs. Stewart, and soon Mrs. Stewart picked her up from school.

– “What happened to you?” Mrs. Stewart said as she saw Kate’s bloody nose.

– “Nothing!” mumbled Kate.

Kate was upset, angry and sad, all at once. She refused to speak about it to Mrs. Stewart, and Mr. Stewart never asked her anything. He seemed to get a kick out of it all.

– “You need to toughen up and wise up!” was his advice.

Kate said nothing. She only knew one thing; she hated Priscilla, and she swore upon her mother’s grave that she would pay her back. She just didn’t know how yet.


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