Stewart Falls Cheerleaders #1
Throw Away Teen
She’s disposable... and she knows it.
A survivor of too many foster homes, B.J. Larson is content living in a youth center where your status is determined by how long your arrest record is. And hers is lengthy. Then she’s placed in her 13th foster home in the small town of Stewart Falls, Washington - with foster parents who will “love” her, not just the money the state pays for her care. B.J. knows kids like her never get “real homes,” much less “real families.”
She's not stone stupid. She knows a scam when she sees one but if these new foster parents want to pay her for grades and trying new things, she'll get the A's... Ah heck, she'll even be a cheerleader!
BUY THE BOOK
Social Issues - Foster Care
Friday, April 6th, 2018, ~ 1:15 PM
Who cares if it’s a beautiful April day? The glare of the sun on the windshield killed my eyes. I wish Carol would hurry up and get her butt out of the youth center already. When I kept hassling her about this weekend, she sent me out here to wait in her Ford Escort that’s older than me. Whenever I bitched about the decrepit rust-bucket, my caseworker, Carol Peters just shrugged and said the would-be wreck was paid for.
I’d already checked out the collection of CDs in the shoebox at my feet. Gross. Carol’s taste in music seriously stinks. It’s nothing but country and something called blue-grass.
Gawd, I really want a cigarette. But I quit smoking at the last foster home. It wasn’t my idea.The baldheaded Nazi who ran the place like a boot camp washed my mouth out with soap and made me smoke a pack of Marlboros at the same time. It was supposed to make me sick, and it did. I puked for three days straight.
The jerk told me if he caught me with cigarettes again, he’d break two of my fingers and still shove soap in my mouth. He didn’t get the chance. I booked it out of there as soon as everyone crashed for the night. That was eleven months ago, and I still gagged whenever I smelled tobacco or Ivory.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d had my mouth washed out with soap. That honor went to the old bat I stayed with ten years ago. She decided a five-year-old shouldn’t swear. I learned real quick to consider the location and audience before cussing, but I still hurled insults with the best of them. And yes, I still had what the old biddy called my ‘potty mouth’. No point in changing that!
I’d made up my mind when I arrived at Evergreen Youth Center last year. No more living with weirdoes. Sooner or later, one of them would kill me. I just hoped Carol came to see things my way, instead of yapping that this is a “transitional facility,” and I’d more than overstayed my welcome. What else is new?
I’d been in twelve homes since I was two and that was only counting the ones where I stayed more than a week. No point counting the one-or-two-day places. I wasn’t there long enough to even remember their names. And since they spent most of their time hollering “Bertha Juniper” at me, I ignored them. I went by B.J. and if somebody tried to tell me the initials stood for “blow job,” it only happened once.
Which is another reason why I’ve been in so many homes—foster parents get excited when a girl starts kicking butts and busting heads every time someone makes fun of her name. It didn’t happen as often anymore because I didn’t share my “real” name with anyone. Being a fighter was one reason I got along so well in the center. My roommate, Irene Hancock, and I were tight. We’d lived together this time for the past eleven months and we always helped each other out. Of course, we’d known each other since we were little and ended up in some of the same foster homes over the years.
I stared at the hole in the toe of my Nike. Irene suggested spike heels, but those were impossible to run in, so I kept my regular shoes. I was wearing my worst outfit today, a skimpy bright red crop top that was so tight, it showed every inch of my boobs and the fact I wasn’t wearing a bra. My black shorts were tight, barely covering my butt. Irene and I talked about a belly ring, but I wasn’t stupid enough to let her do the needle and ice trick she’d used on my ears. So, I went for three earrings in each ear and one in my eyebrow.
I also slathered makeup around my green eyes and darkened my long lashes with extra thick black mascara. I put on tons of blush and lots of bright red lipstick. I have on enough make-up that I could work alongside my real mother, the whore from Aurora Avenue in Seattle. Not that I ever would, of course. I only dressed like a skank to get what I wanted. And that was freedom. The sluttier I acted and the more fights I got into, the faster I’d be sent back to the youth center.
My red hair was a tangled, nasty mess since I hadn’t washed or brushed it for three days. Between the hair, the cosmetics, and the skimpy clothes, my new foster mom should take one look and send me straight back to Seattle. Yippee!
My legs were sticking to the car seat. I lifted one, and it peeled away from the vinyl. What is taking Carol so damn long? She probably felt the need to brag to the other do-gooders about this home visit. I didn’t even want to go. I was only sitting here baking in her car ’cause she beat me at our weekly game of poker. We opened on guts and played for truth.
When I won, I didn’t have to answer Carol’s sappy, dumb questions or do what she told me to do. Her favorite question had to be one she stole from a counselor—the old “And how does that make you feel?” It was nearly as bad as the one from Doctor Phil. “And how’s that working for you?”
Our last bet was about spending a weekend with two senior citizens who claimed they wanted to adopt me. Am I supposed to believe that crap? I never reneged on my bets, so now I was on my way to Stewart Falls, a small town in podunk Washington State. I was pretty sure Carol cheated this time, though. She’d hardly ever beaten me before and I had a full house.
It was hot today, unusual for spring in Seattle, even with climate change and global warming. I eased my arms away from the back of the seat. I’m melting out here. The only good part about this visit is no school today. I won’t even have to go on Monday. Carol had promised me a long weekend in the country. Not my idea of a vacation, but what can you do?
I looked back at the red brick building again and finally spotted her sauntering toward me. Even though I knew the truth about caseworkers, I occasionally liked her. I never shared that. Carol was my fifth social worker, and she might act like a rebel, but it was a scam, or she wouldn’t have lasted at Evergreen this long. She wore loose jeans and sloppy T-shirts, despite what her bosses said. Her long brown hair always swings free, the same way she does.
Most important, she talked to us kids like we were real people who actually knew stuff. Definitely a scam. My last social worker spent all her time talking loudly and calling me “dearie,” as if I was half deaf and stone stupid. She was majorly irritating, but not as bad as the one I had when I was little, who constantly lied to me.
Carol even spoke to Gabe Abbot like he was human. All the kids knew about Gabe. He was super good with a knife and ran with a gang downtown. When summer arrived, he’d head back to the streets. He always said the group home was just a nice, warm place for the winter and staying there kept him out of juvie.
Granted, Gabe didn’t care much for Carol. He’d warned me more than once she had her own agenda. Getting rid of me, my roommate Irene, and him were at the top of Carol’s list. And yeah, I knew he was right. Then again, I didn’t have “stupid” tattooed on my forehead. I didn’t have to get into a big pissing contest with Carol, so she showed me that she was the boss and wrecked my life even more. I learned a long time ago that caseworkers always pushed us around like pawns on a chessboard, but Gabe had to fight the system and authority figures. It was why he’d been arrested so many times.
* * *
“Ready for your new home, B.J.?” Carol smiled as she climbed into the car. She wore cut-off jeans today and let out a yelp as her bare legs hit the seat. “Ow! How can you stand this?”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Yeah, it is.” Carol stuck the key in the ignition and ground the motor. “As soon as I can, I’m turning on the air conditioning.”
“Does the AC even still work in this heap?” I shrugged. “Whatever. Either way’s fine. I can handle it.”
“You’ve been telling me that for the past eleven months.” Carol kept grinding the motor. “I’m never sure whether to believe you or not.”
“You’re still making hamburger. Want me to drive?”
“How about you wait until you have your license next year?” Carol tried again, and this time the car started.
“I already know how to drive, though.”
She frowned and drove out of the parking lot in the direction of the freeway. “When are you planning to tell me about that stolen car incident, B.J.?”
“Never.” I shut up. The car thing got me out of my last foster home with the control freak, aka Soap Nazi. I hadn’t stolen the car. I just took a ride with the kids who did. I knew better than to rat on them. Snitching got a girl hurt. I was fifteen and I’d bounced from foster home to foster home forever. It hadn’t taken me long to learn to keep my mouth shut about what my “sisters and brothers” did. I didn’t know what happened to my actual siblings who I’d heard about, but hadn’t met. All I knew were the other kids who rotated through homes as often as I did.
The old bat I’d stayed with when I was five made sure to remind me that my real mom was a whore whenever possible. And my mom didn’t just sleep around. She sold herself to whoever had the bucks, which she spent on drugs.
My second caseworker told me my biological father was just one of her customers. Now he was in prison for murder. It happened when he tried to rob some guy and the guy fought back. It wasn’t my old man’s first robbery, but this was the one that went south. Murder meant “game over” and he was going to be in jail forever. As far as I knew, my mother was still a prostitute, unless she’d died of an overdose, or STD. Nobody talked about her, and I didn’t ask. Both of my parents lost any rights they had to me when I was a short shot, about two years old. I was pretty sure the same thing happened to any other kids my mother had.
I was still short, five-feet-two. Like Gabe always said, “Dynamite comes in small packages.” He was the one who taught me to kick butt. The cops took me away from my mother when they busted her for drug use. If she’d cleaned up her act and told a good sob story, she could’ve gotten me back. Judges always wanted to reunite families, but apparently that was too much trouble.
I was dumped on the system. Thrown away. It used to be easy to get a home when I was a cute, little kid. Not anymore. It didn’t take me long to learn kids were taken for the money. The foster parents would rather keep the state’s money, not me. Whenever it seemed as if I liked a place, I got moved extra quick. And every time my first caseworker would say, “It’s better if you don’t get attached, sweetie.” The kids who survived were the ones who didn’t feel anything. After my first six homes, I got to where I no longer cared, and I’d tell anyone who asked that in a heartbeat.
The best place I ever lived was the youth center. We had three meals a day with snacks. Nobody beat us. Hardly anyone bothered to yell at us, except for the director, Dr. Herbert Murphy, not that we called him that. We referred to the old buzzard as Herphy Murphy and pretty much ignored him.
I did great at the center until Carol was assigned to my case. I had the worst record for any of the girls. And it gave me status. I’d been arrested for lots of different things, occasionally for stuff I’d actually done. I wasn’t leaving the center without a fight.
We headed north on the interstate toward Stewart Falls, so it wasn’t too late. If Carol took the next exit, we could return to the center and civilization in no time.
“This won’t work, Carol. You know they won’t keep me.”
“Settle down, B.J. You met Liz and Ted Driscoll last month. They’ve visited every week since. They’re great people. They even took you out one night.”
“Right,” I said. “Who wouldn’t want to go for burgers and a movie? That doesn’t mean I want to spend the weekend in the country with a couple of old geezers.”
Carol sighed and kept driving. “You’ll get used to it.”
The Driscolls were a paradox. Liz was short and fat while her husband, Ted, was tall, and lean with golden-brown skin, part African-American. He had white hair. She had long black hair with silver streaks. They both laughed a lot, and you could actually see the laughter in their eyes. They were older than any of the other foster parents I’d ever had, almost like what I thought grandparents would be like. Only they were nice.
I already knew it would hurt when they told Carol they wouldn’t keep me. Who needed the rejection? Not me. Not again.
I had plans for a good life and a real future. As soon as Irene and I turned eighteen and aged out of the system, we’d head south to Vegas. We’d deal cards in a casino and make major bucks. We’d share a place and live great, with a fully stocked fridge, new furniture from a top-of-the-line store and designer clothes.
For now, I had to do whatever it took to get back to Irene, Terry, and Gabe. When Gabe had found out about my home visit, he’d loaned me his black leather jacket. And if the makeup and clothes didn’t do the trick, he planned to call tomorrow night. Nothing like an offensive phone call to scare off some old geezers.
Oh yeah, I was so winning this round.
But there wasn’t any point in dragging it out that long. I tried again to make Carol see reason. “You know I’m right. This isn’t going to work. Besides, Doc Murphy told me I’ve got ‘Alphabet Soup’. Attention Deficit Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Anger Management issues and that’s only the A’s. I’m a complete mess. There’s no way I’ll ever fit in with a normal family and you know it. If they want a pet, get them a freakin’ puppy.”
Carol shook her head as the traffic slowed to a crawl, then a stop. Her mouth tightened, and she tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “You don’t have Attention Deficit Disorder any more than I do. You’re able to sit still.” She gestured toward me, as though illustrating her point. “You focus on things when you want to and yes, your share of your room is a mess, but you organized it the other day when you wanted to go for burgers and a movie.”
“Hello? I traded off with Terry to get the damn room clean because it was such a big deal to you and she’s a total neat freak. That’s the only good thing about having a third person in our room. And, by the way, I’m not hyper. It’s ADD, Carol, not ADHD. It doesn’t mean I can focus on stupid crap. Why don’t you read your own textbooks? You might learn something. The counselor at Evergreen told me girls are more prone to ADD without the hyperactive component.”
Carol sighed again and changed the subject. “I know you’ve been treated badly in the past, B.J., but not everyone is like that.” She was going for the voice of sweet reason and completely ignoring my sound argument. “All I’m asking is that you try. Give them a chance. No running away. Liz told me you could use the phone anytime. If things do go bad, call me, okay? But if you run off, I’ll send the cops after you again.”
“Like they’ll bother looking for some foster kid,” I sneered. Maybe, if I got more obnoxious, she’d get pissed and turn the car around. “Grow a brain, Carol. They can’t tell us ‘throwaways’ apart. And I’m not scared of them either. It’s not like they do Amber Alerts for the likes of me or my friends.”
“They’ll look if I raise a big enough stink.” The cars around us began to move slowly again, and Carol turned her attention back to driving. “You’re not afraid of anything, are you, B.J.?”
“No,” I lied. If only she knew the truth. But I wasn’t going to let her start probing now. “I’ll bet Ted and Liz don’t know about my criminal record. They’ll probably freak when they find out.” I chuckled. “I’m so going to tell them. It’ll be awesome.”
“You don’t need to because I already did.”
“What?” I gaped at her. “And? It didn’t matter to them?”
“No.” Carol signaled and inched her way over to the exit lane. “The Driscolls are different, B.J. I’ve told them everything I know about you. Sugar-coating the facts doesn’t work when I want to find a good home for you, so I haven’t held back anything.”
Great. This was all I needed. Carol always claimed to be on my side. And now she was ratting me out to foster parents. Why didn’t she just slap a Post-It on my forehead that read Loser?
“You don’t know that much. You suck at poker, Carol, remember?” I leaned back against the seat and gazed out the window at the stream of cars around us. “But they still want me to visit? Even after knowing my record. What are they? Crazy?”
“No, just decent people who believe in giving back to the community.” Carol kept driving.
I kept my eyes fixed out the window and stared at the row upon row of stacked buildings that made up the city of Everett. It was a good-sized town that buzzed with a major party vibe. I’d been stuck in a foster home here once when I was twelve and the kids I hung out with were all street trash like me. We partied every night and even on weekends. It took less than a month for me to get moved and another week to sober up afterwards. There’d been plenty of whisky at those parties and man, did I love that stuff. It warmed me all the way to my toes like nothing else could.
Gabe had a raging fit when he got wind of that little incident. He made me promise not to drink more than I could handle, so I wouldn’t be the guest of honor at a “gang bang.” I couldn’t say how many times he’d told me, ‘Bad things happen to girls who pass out at parties.’ They weren’t able to look out for themselves and I rarely had anyone to watch my back as it was. So, I promised him I’d leave the booze alone unless he or Irene were around.
As much as I disliked being forced into a weekend at a nursing home, it wouldn’t last long. They’d call Carol and beg her to come get me before noon tomorrow. I’d be back in Seattle by Saturday night, just in time to hang out with my friends. This would be a piece of cake. I was B.J. Larson, after all. I could totally handle a couple of old people.
Carol took the next exit and headed further into the sticks. More trees lined the road. The only signs of life were the rows of “McMansions” perched on top of the hills.
I shuddered. “You said they lived in the city, Carol. This is not the city.”
“You’ll get used to it. Did Liz tell you about her 4-H club, B.J.?”
“No. What kind of club is it? Like bingo or something for senior citizens?”
Carol laughed and made a right turn onto the road for Stewart Falls. “I’ll let her tell you all about it.”
I saw sunlight glimmer off a lake through even more trees as we kept going for what seemed like forever. Finally, Carol pulled into a driveway, and we followed it up to a house that looked even bigger and older than most of the other places we’d passed along the way.
The house was ominous. It stood three stories tall with two sprawling porches, bay windows that resembled bulging bug eyes, and spiky towers on the corners. “Jeez, this looks like something from a horror flick, Carol. You know the kind where the killer hides in the attic and the walls run with blood.”
“Save it, B.J. You can’t shock me. But tell that one to Liz. I bet she’ll enjoy it. I won’t even mention the fact that you get sick to your stomach at the sight of blood, much less the fake stuff they use in Hollywood.”
How did she know? I was sure that question hadn’t come up the last time I lost at poker.
Carol pulled up beside a black B.M.W. and parked. “Nice scenery.” She pointed through the windshield at a guy mowing the front yard. Long blond hair curled down to brush bare, sun-tanned shoulders. He wore dark blue shorts and grass-stained running shoes. His blue shirt had been dumped on a rose bush near the front porch. The sight of him made me wish I hadn’t gone for the “skank” approach.
Well, maybe he liked sluts. And I could always play the part.
When he spotted the car, he turned off the mower and came toward us. At first glance, he seemed too tall and broad-shouldered to be a high-schooler, but on closer inspection, he was probably around sixteen or seventeen. I could see the man he’d become in the planes and angles of his face, and I suddenly wanted to paint him.
Having a love for art and drawing didn’t fit my image so I usually kept it a secret, from the other kids at the center, from wanna-be parents, from everyone. Gabe had sent one kid to the hospital for teasing me about my drawings. I kept them well hidden after that. It helped that Irene had a fierce rep around Evergreen, too. Nobody came into our room because she’d kick their butts and then lie about it afterwards.
But Carol knew my secret, yet she never teased me. I still didn’t know how she’d found out since I hadn’t told her, and I knew my friends wouldn’t either. But last Christmas, she gave me a set of oil paints and a special pad of canvas paper.
Still, I wasn’t going to give in. Did she think having a hot guy mowing the front lawn would make me change my mind? I’ll admit it was a nice touch, though, so I let out a low whistle.
Carol laughed again. “Come on, girl.” She opened her door and climbed out. “Hi there.” She flashed him her caseworker smile, and I rolled my eyes. “Are Liz and Ted around?”
“Liz is inside and Ted’s at work.” The hunk brushed his hand off on his shorts, then offered it to Carol. “I’m Ringo Taylor.”
Ringo? Not that I was one to talk, but what kind of name was that?
“Carol Peters and this is B.J.” She gestured toward the car.
That was my cue. I got out of the car, lifting my chin.
Ringo’s eyes were bluish, but it was a shade I hadn’t seen before. Silver, green, purple, and navy all rolled into one. Could I get the right color with my paints? Good thing I’d stuffed them in my pack before we left. Even with having Irene as a roommate, some of the kids at the center still didn’t understand the concept of private property. No telling what would happen to my art stuff or who would learn my secret if I left them there.
He kept staring down at me, not saying anything, and I had an odd feeling he saw straight through my fake veneer. His scrutiny made me nervous, but I kept my mouth shut. I grabbed my backpack off the floor of the car and slammed the door.
Carol winced, and I refused to feel guilty. She’d only been my caseworker since I got to Evergreen, but I already knew a lot about her. Like how she’d worked two jobs through college and the Escort was her first car, her baby. And how really lousy she was at poker.
Ringo came closer and tried to take my pack. I held onto it as tightly as I could, but he lifted it away easily. “I’ll take this inside for you.” His voice was deep. It matched his eyes.
“You don’t need to. I’m not staying long, anyway.”
Carol cleared her throat, shaking her head at me, but I ignored her. He eyed me again, and I felt even smaller than my barely five-foot height.
He grinned. “Well, aren’t you tough?”
“Yeah, and I’m serious, so give it back.”
He shook his head and laughed. “Sure thing, shorty.” Then he turned and walked toward the house, still carrying my backpack.