Becoming a Randal

by Lauri Robinson

with Isabelle & Hayley Robinson

Becoming a Randal by Lauri Robinson with Isabelle and Hayley Robinson When fourteen-year-old Samantha West and her younger brother, Tommy, are placed in a foster home, Sam feels as if she’s been thrown into a Hallmark movie, full of perfect looking people—actors. The only person not acting, is Spencer Randal, her sixteen-year-old foster brother who hates her. By way of a broken leg, getting hauled home by the cops, and a haunted house, Sam and Spencer each learn what it truly means to be a Randal—Do your best, don’t give up, set goals and work towards them, be a good person, and make things right whenever you can.

However, just when Sam’s life has become as perfect as a Hallmark movie, she and Tommy are returned to their mother, where nothing has changed. As the cycle of living on the streets returns, Sam decides it’s time to make things right.




Social Issues


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Chapter One

I’m sick to my stomach. Got that real nasty taste in my mouth. And I’m mad. Like crying mad. Which I won’t do. Every kid gets mad at their parents, but I have a reason. More than one. Mom knew better. She knew this would happen. She just didn’t care. Didn’t care about me or Tommy. Didn’t care what would happen to us. All she’s ever cared about is herself. She says it’s not that way, but it is.

Always has been.

I have to close my eyes to keep the tears inside. They hurt. Burn. And that makes me madder.

So mad I want to scream. Scream at Mom. If she was here, I’d tell her that I’m glad she’s in the hospital. But she’s not here, so I can’t tell her that, and I’m not glad. She’s the reason Tommy and I are in this car, being carted off to strangers. Because my mother’s fix meant more to her than her children.

“We're here!”

The cheerful chirp out of the social worker makes me want to puke. For real. That would put an end to the clean smell of her car and to her chirpy voice. I hate being this mad, but there is nothing to be cheerful about.


This is like one of the worst days of my life, and she’s all ‘We’re here!’ like we just arrived at Disneyland or something.

The air in my lungs burns as I huff it out. Disneyland is for little kids who think Mickey Mouse is real. He’s a mouse, and mice don’t talk or sing or dance. They make nests in your clothes and poop all over everything. That’s what mice do. I know. I’ve seen their little brown turds.

“Isn’t that a nice house, Samantha?” Mrs. Johnson, the chirpy social workers asks.

I look up from studying my worn-out white and blue Sketchers—the ones I got at Goodwill when Mom took me school shopping. Like she cared about me going to school. She never has. She’s never cared about me having clothes. The shelter had given her a voucher to get school clothes for me two weeks ago. Which was fine. I mean, seriously, who would want to pay fifty bucks for a pair of shoes that are just going to get dirty and worn out when they can get a good used pair for five? As long as they fit, who cares? Not me.

I don’t care if it’s a nice house, either, yet I turn to the window. It’s like some kind of stupid movie, the way the sun is shining on the house like some kind of spotlight, making it look all warm and sunny inside and out.

I’m not warm or sunny. My arms are shivering like it’s the dead of winter and I’ve forgotten my coat. Or never had one.

Been there.

Done that.

It’s not winter. It’s only September, and the big stupid white house looks like one that would be in a Hallmark movie. Complete with a smiling, perfect family. Of actors. They’d have to be actors. There are no perfect families. That’s make-believe. So are talking mice.

And houses that look too perfect to be real. With its bright red flowers in the boxes below the windows, the big red WELCOME sign leaning against the door and two rocking chairs sitting on the big front porch. The chairs are red. To match the sign, I guess. And the flowers.

And the roof.

Great. Welcome to the big candy-cane house.

I might as well be at Disneyland.

But I’m not. I’m at a stupid foster home.

That sign might as well say welcome to your new foster home, Samantha West.

Another shiver washes over me as I turn to the car seat beside me.

I’m fourteen, so I don’t need a foster home, but Tommy’s only one and a half, and the county says that I can’t take care of him by myself. I can. I have been since he was born.

My stomach sinks. He doesn’t know what’s happening. Doesn’t know that Mom overdosed last night and is in the hospital. He has no idea that we are here, at a foster home. He has no idea what a foster home is.

It’s only temporary. Mom will get out soon, maybe today, even.

We won’t be able to see her, though. The county says we have to go to a foster home for seventy-two hours. Three days. Then we’ll see her.

I shake my head, so my hair falls over my face, hiding my eyes, and the tears that are once again burning. Pushing to get out, but I’m not going to let them. I’m not going to cry.

We are stuck here at this temporary home for our temporary lives, and I don’t like it. Even though a part of me knows our lives will be temporary wherever we are. That’s how it’s always been.

‘It’s just temporary, Sammy,’ Mom has said to me every time we’ve entered a shelter, every time we’ve gotten kicked out, every time we’ve moved in with some guy she’s having a thing with and Tommy and I have to sleep on the floor. Too many times to count. That’s how many times I’ve heard her say that.

“Isn’t it a lovely home?” Mrs. Johnson looks over the back of the front seat, smiling like she’s in some toothpaste commercial.

Lovely? No. It’s not lovely. It’s a stranger’s house, and Tommy doesn’t like strangers.

Neither do I.

Even her.

I hate how dark and ugly I feel inside. Hate my life. But there’s nothing I can do, and that makes me feel sick, like puking again.

She’s trying to be nice. The social worker. I get that. Delivering kids to a temporary home for their temporary lives can’t be a fun job. Not one I’d want, that’s for sure. I’m going to get a job at Taco Bell when I turn sixteen because Tommy likes tacos better than chicken McNuggets. I have to pick the lettuce off the tacos for him, but he eats the rest. Soft shelled ones. He almost choked on a hard shell one once.

“The Randals are really nice people, Samantha,” Mrs. Johnson says quietly, still smiling.

She’s pretty. Sort of. If you like pink stripes in blonde hair. I bet she thinks that pink hair will make the foster kids she’s assigned to putting in homes like her more.


Nothing will do that.

“I know they will take very good care of you and Tommy.

I take care of Tommy. 

I don’t tell her that because she’ll use it against Mom, which makes me angry. It makes me angry that Mom overdosed, too. We won’t be able to go back to the shelter now. Drug use of any kind is prohibited. Mom knew that. But it didn’t help.

This won’t help, either, but I’ll stick it out, this temporary foster home, because of Tommy. He needs me, and this is the only way we can stay together.

I reach over and gently tickle him under the chin. He likes being woken up that way. Always smiles.

That’s what he does right now. Gives me a great big grin. I try to smile back at him but have to squeeze my eyes shut again because if I don’t, I’ll cry, and I can’t cry. I can’t let even a single tear slip out. That could scare Tommy, and I don’t want him to be scared.

Once I know for sure that no tears will escape, I swallow, which hurts because my throat feels like I ate a packet of hot sauce and open my eyes.

He’s still grinning. I unbuckle my seat belt so I can get him out of the car seat.

“I’ll get Tommy.” Mrs. Johnson opens her car door. “You can get your backpacks.”

They aren’t our backpacks. They were given to us at the police station, where we’d spent most of the night. Ever since the ambulance had driven away with our mom on a stretcher in the back. The officers took us to the copshop when the shelter said we couldn’t stay there. Not without our mother. I guess I should be thankful they didn’t fingerprint us, take mug shots, and stick us in a cell.

Bad joke. Even if it was only in my mind. But a joke is better than remembering why and how we ended up at the police station. They could have taken Tommy to the children’s crisis home, but I’m too old. They only take kids up to age twelve.

I know.

I’ve been there before.

Tommy hasn’t and as long as I can help it, he never will go there.

“I’ll carry Tommy,” I tell Mrs. Johnson when she opens the car door next to Tommy. “He’ll cry if you try.” I tickle him in an armpit so he’ll giggle while I’m unbuckling the straps holding him tight in the seat.

“All right.” She reaches in and picks up the two backpacks, one pink and one blue, off the floor.

Real original. Pink for girls, blue for boys. Some girls don’t like pink, and some boys don’t like blue.

Some kids don’t like foster homes, either.

I can’t remember much about the last one I was at. It was eleven years ago. I was three. Mom said it had been my fault that I’d had to go there. I don’t remember that, either.

But we are here now, and I hope Tommy won’t remember any of this. This foster home or anything about how we ended up here.

I will. I already do. I’ll never be able to forget my first look of the candy-cane house. The house I don’t want to be at. The temporary life I don’t want to be living.

I lift Tommy out of the car seat and climb out of the car on my side.

“How was the drive?”

I turn at the sound of a woman’s voice and the idea I’ve had before, of just taking Tommy and running, strikes again, but I have nowhere to go, no way of providing for him. I hate being a fourteen-year-old kid.

The woman is wearing cropped white jeans and a red and white shirt and walking down the steps of that big front porch. Great. A candy cane foster mother to go with the candy cane foster home. 

I don’t need a foster mother, and neither does Tommy. He has me. If only I was a few years older.

“It was fine,” Mrs. Johnson replies, shutting my car door. “The road construction wasn’t bad at all.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” the candy-cane woman says. “We are hoping it’s done soon. Some nights it takes John over an hour to get home from work.”

They can’t blame that on road construction. That’s what happens when you live in the suburbs. I watch the news. There are always traffic jams. I remember them from when I lived with Grandma. She had a nice house in Corcoran until she got sick, and the state took her house so she could move into a nursing home. She died there, at that nursing home, and we’ve been on the streets ever since. Five years of couch surfing, shacking up, shelters, and anywhere else Mom could find for us to spend a night or two.

“Hello, you must be, Samantha,” the woman says. “I’m Charlotte Randal.” 

I read a book about a Charlotte. She was a spider. I don’t say that aloud, for Tommy’s sake. I don’t want things to be any worse for him than possible. I settle him onto my hip and try to respond, but it’s as if my throat is locked up. I cough and try again. “Hello.” That was weird, having my throat not work. I sounded weird, too. 

“And this must be Thomas,” she says, tickling Tommy under the chin.

He smiles.

I should be happy that she didn’t make him cry, but I’m not happy because I’m the only one who tickles him under the chin. The only one he smiles at. 

I twist sideways, blocking him so she can’t tickle his chin again. “Tommy. His name is Tommy.” 

“Okay.” She slides both of her hands into her back pockets. “Tommy it is. Do you like to be called Samantha or Sammy?” 

I shake my head again, so my hair is over my face, and shrug. It doesn’t matter what she calls me. Why should it? This is all temporary.

“Well, you can call me Char.” She smiles and shrugs one shoulder. “If you’d like to. Mrs. Randal sounds so...” She wrinkles her nose into a grimace. “Formal.” 

I shrug again. It doesn’t matter what I call her, either. 

Still smiling, she nods. “It looks like you have Tommy, so I’ll help Mrs. Johnson carry your things.”

Like it’ll take both of them to carry two backpacks. 


At least she doesn’t have pink hair. It’s blonde and pulled back in a ponytail. Neatly. That makes me reach up and run a hand through my hair. My fingers get snagged on a mass of snarls. I pull my hand out, flinching at the hair that comes out. I flick off the hair and use both hands to hold on to Tommy. Who cares if my hair hasn’t been brushed since yesterday?

Not me.

I don’t have a comb or brush. There wasn’t one in that pink backpack. There is a Minnie Mouse toothbrush in it. A pink one. I used it this morning, and the toothpaste. There’s also a mini bottle of shampoo, a coloring book and crayons, and a stuffed toy. The blue bag has the same, except the toothbrush is blue, Mickey Mouse. I used it to brush Tommy’s teeth before I’d brushed mine with the pink Minnie Mouse one.

“Have you had breakfast?” she asks.

“They had donuts and milk,” Mrs. Johnson says. “But that was several hours ago.”

“Does Tommy still use a bottle?”

“No,” I answer. I don’t know if she was asking me or Mrs. Johnson, but I’m the one who knows the answer. “He hasn’t had a bottle since he was nine-months-old.” I don’t bother to explain that he’d bitten the nipple off his bottle and Mom never bought him another one. Even though I kept telling her he needed one.

“I see,” Char says. “How old is Tommy, Samantha?”

“He’ll be two in two months. November eighteenth.”

“And you are fourteen.”

I nod, but she already knows that. Mrs. Johnson would have given her that information over the phone, while asking if she’d take in two foster kids. One boy and one girl. Brother and sister. For seventy-two hours.

“When is your birthday?”

She’ll know that once she reads the placement report. I sigh. “June.”

“June what?”


“No way! My husband, John, his birthday is June sixteenth.”

Great. Wonder if he dresses like a candy cane, too. For a brief moment, I wonder when her birthday is. Char’s. Christmas Day? That would be fitting.

“Oh! Here comes John, now,” Char says. “He decided to wait until after meeting you to leave for work this morning.”

Am I supposed to be glad about that?


I look over, glad to be out of the whole birthday conversation, and see a man walking towards me, smiling. His blue shirt and black pants don’t have a wrinkle on them. He’s wearing a tie, too, a black one. This really could be a Hallmark movie. Which I’m not trying to diss, some can be pretty good, but seriously, who lives like this? In this perfect looking house, with a perfect looking yard, and perfect looking clothes. Sheesh, I bet their bathrooms are always clean, too. No toothpaste stuck to the edge of the sink in this house.

Fake news! Everyone has toothpaste stuck to the side of their sinks.

“Hello, Samantha. I'm John Randal.”

Okay. He’s holding his hand out, all business-like. I hold mine out, and feel a tremor race up my arm as he takes a hold of it. I don’t like men. Any of them.

“It’s nice to meet you,” he says, and sort of squeezes my hand.

“Um...Yeah. Hi,” I reply. Why does he act like that? All like...Formal. That’s it. Like Char said. Because he’s an actor. They are all actors. Acting like they want to help two kids whose mother overdosed, and they don’t have anyone else who’ll look after them. I don’t need anyone to look after me, and Tommy has me to look after him. This is all a joke. A big rotten joke.

“I do hope the ride was pleasurable,” he says, letting go of my hand.

My hand is tingling, so I rub my palm against the side of my jeans. Pleasurable? Who talks like that? No one. Just like no one would believe a ride to a foster home would be pleasurable!

I nod and turn to Mrs. Candycane, er... Char, preferring to listen to her cheerfulness than having to suffer through a conversation with him. Guys are creepy. Flat out creepy. And gross. I’ve seen too many of them stick their tongues down my mom’s throat. That is so gross. So gross!

“John, dear, look at Tommy,” Char says softly. “Isn't he adorable?" 

“Yes, he is. Would you like me to carry him inside, Samantha?” John asks.

“No, I've got him,” I say, tightening my hold on Tommy. The way they look at each other makes me add, “He cries when anyone else holds him.”

“I see,” John says.

I see? What does he see? What does that mean? Why would they want to hold him? It's not like we'll be here long. This is just in and out. Seventy-two hours. By then, they’ll have pumped Mom’s stomach and released her.  

Plus, why would someone in a tie want to hold a baby? What if Tommy drools on him? It makes no sense to chance that. It is a chance. Or worse yet, he could puke. I’ve seen him puke clear across the room. That was a while ago, when he was still drinking from a bottle, but it happened. I witnessed it. And cleaned it up. 

“Are you sure, sweetie?” Char says, looking at me and rubbing her hands together subtly. “You're not tired from holding him? He looks pretty heavy.”

I hoist him up on my hip. “He’s not.” And I’m not anyone’s sweetie.

Mrs. Johnson clears her throat quietly while looking at me. Disappointment is etched in her eyes and her smile isn’t as bright as earlier. In fact, it’s fake. She’s trying hard to keep that smile on her face. What does she expect? For me to be all like, hi, I’m so happy to meet you. I love your house.


Furthermore, Tommy will cry if someone takes him from me, and stopping that crying is not easy. I know from experience.

She gives me a little nod and a full set of puppy dog eyes. Sheesh! Dogs and kids use puppy dog eyes. 

Not adults.

She still staring at me.

Fine. Let them try and hold him. They’ll give him back and not try again. I guarantee it.

But if they need proof, I’ll give it to them.

“I guess you could try and hold him,” I mutter to Char, and cast her a look that says she better not drop him. Her arms look about as thick as toothpicks.

As I carefully hand Tommy over to Char, Mrs. Johnson casts me a grateful set of puppy dog eyes. That look won't last long. Not once he starts crying.

I stand there, counting the seconds and bracing myself for the screams.

That don’t come.

Tommy even cries when mom tries to hold him.

I stand there in disbelief. Why isn't he crying? He cries when anyone tries to hold him other than me. Always has.

He twists, looks at me over one of his little shoulders, then turns back to Char and lays his head on her shoulder. 

No way.

This can’t be happening. 

I ball my hands into fists to keep from reaching out and grabbing him. 

Char is bouncing him up and down gently, and John is bent down, talking to Tommy in baby talk.


I sure didn't see this coming.

I guess I don't see a lot of things coming though, or else I would have been able to help Mom.

I had other times.

Too many times to count.

I didn’t even know she was using again. Yet should have. Once school had started, I wasn’t at the shelter all day. She’d handed me Tommy as soon as I’d walked in yesterday, telling me to shut him up. I should have known what was happening when she was in the bathroom for so long last night. I should have checked on her. I could have stopped her. I know I could have.

My eyes start to burn again. I force myself to stop staring at Char and John and catch sight of Mrs. Johnson through the hair hanging over my eyes. She's still holding the blue and pink backpacks and is looking at the house. The dreaded candy cane house. I can almost read her mind.

‘Hurry up,’ she’s saying to herself. ‘I have other kids to deliver yet today.’

Mrs. Johnson doesn’t say anything aloud, but John does. 

“I need to get to work,” he whispers to Char while glancing at his watch.

It’s an APPLE watch. Those things are expensive. Mr. Arnold, one of our old landlords, said one of the other people who’d slept on his couch had traded him an APPLE watch for three months of rent. I know he was lying, though. People peddle APPLE watches on the street all the time, and they are expensive, but not worth three months of rent. Mr. Arnold was just a creep. One who kicked us out because he said he couldn’t sleep through Tommy’s crying.

He still wasn’t crying. I can’t believe that.

“Will you be all right?” John asks Char.

The way she smiles at him makes my stomach flip. It’s just like a movie. All lovey-dovey. But a real kind of lovey-dovey. Not the stick his tongue in her mouth gross kind.


“Of course,” she says. “We’ll see you tonight.”

He kisses Char on the cheek. “Bye. Love you.”

“Bye, love you,” she says in return.

He then pats my shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight, too, Samantha. Have a good day.”


I get a little nudge in the middle of my back. It’s Mrs. Johnson, with another pleading look.

I huff out a breath. “Bye.”

Mrs. Johnson smiles, and John waves as he walks towards the garage attached to the house.

“Do you need me to move my car?” Mrs. Johnson calls behind him.

“No need,” he replies. “There’s plenty of room.”

Duh. The concrete driveway is as wide as most parking lots.

John enters a side door on the garage and a moment later, the overhead door rolls upwards. I don’t know a lot about cars, but the one he opens the door on the driver’s side and climbs in is a sports car. A convertible.



The car starts up with a rumble that makes the ground tremble. He backs out, waves at us again, and then drives away.

If only Tommy and I could be so lucky as to drive away right now.

“Shall we go inside?” Char asks, still bouncing Tommy.

Who still isn’t crying.

That is so weird, but whatever.

He’s probably just tired. So sleepy he doesn’t realize it’s not me holding him.

“Do you need me to help you get Samantha and Tommy settled?” Mrs. Johnson asks.

“No,” Char replies. “I don’t think so. Do you, Samantha?”

I shrug.

“I do need to get going,” Mrs. Johnson says with a surprisingly convincing expression. “But can stay if you need me.” She actually looks regretful to leave.

She should be an actor.

She is.

They all are.

We all are.

Even me and Tommy.

Acting like being sent to a foster home is no big deal.

Mrs. Johnson sets the backpacks on the ground and then bends down in front of me as if I’m four, not fourteen. “You're going to be all right, Samantha,” she says. “So is Tommy.”

I nod. I’m always all right, and I always make sure Tommy is, too. No matter where we are. Couch surfing or shelters, Tommy knows that I’ll take care of him.

Mrs. Johnson then wraps her arms around me and pulls me into a bear hug. “They are good people,” she whispers in my ear. “Trust them.”

My stomach does a somersault, and I stiffen in order to stop myself from hugging her back. The only person I hug is Tommy. He’s the only person who hugs me, too.

When she lets go, I stepped back, and try to forget how warm her hug had been.

She then pats Tommy on the back and Char on the shoulder. “I’ll call you this afternoon, check in and give you any updates.”

My heart thuds. “On our mom?” I ask. “Updates on her?”

Mrs. Johnson nods, even as sadness flashes in her eyes. “Yes, Samantha. I’ll update you as soon as I know anything.”

Then, almost as if someone had lit a firecracker behind her, she hurries to her car, jumps in, and backs out of the driveway.

My stomach tightens, but I ignore it.

It’s not like I really knew her. I just hope she fulfills her promise and calls, tells me how Mom is doing.

“Samantha, would you mind carrying the backpacks?” Char asks, smiling. “Tommy’s almost asleep.”

Skeptical, I look at Tommy, who has his head on Char’s shoulder. She twists, so I can see his face. His eyes are closed and there’s a tiny smile on his lips.

He didn’t sleep much last night. Neither of us did.

Huffing out a breath, I pick up the backpacks, one pink and one blue, and walk towards the candy cane house, with the candy cane foster mom walking beside me. Carrying my little brother.

He might be the best actor out of all of us.


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