“Uh, okay, sure,” I mumbled, looking anywhere but at Cecily.
Cecily’s my foster parent. She lives alone in a small, cozy cabin in the middle of the woods.
Oh, right. My name is Opal Sahanni, and I’m fourteen years old. I plan on moving to South Carolina when I grow up, so that I can meet my daddy.
My daddy divorced my mom when I was just a baby. Mom said that he moved to South Carolina to start a new family. He called me one day, only once, and told me that he’d visit me one day.
But he never did.
Now, my mom was probably in her creaky old bed, drinking Orange Crush and eating pizza in her nightgown, not turning on any lights, and, also, she was probably not even wondering how I was, nonetheless where I was.
She had stopped working completely, stopped earning money. In the middle of seventh grade, I had to stop going to school because Mom couldn’t pay for it. I had to teach myself.
Until one day, an officer came to our house when I was eating Cheetos and watching TV. She had asked me a lot of questions.
“Why haven’t you been going to school?”
“Umm… my mom is… sick.”
“So? You’re old enough to walk to your school.”
“I know. I do. She doesn’t have enough money–”
“What do you eat all day?”
“Umm… sometimes I make a grilled cheese sandwich, or else I’d eat Cheeto Puffs.”
“How much money does your mom have?”
“How am I supposed to know?!”
“Do you have any close relatives?”
“I don’t know any of my relatives.”
“Alright. You’re coming with us. You’re gonna have a foster parent.”
I was heartbroken just with the thought of it. My eyes started to tear up.
And there I was now, standing in Cecily’s ol’ cabin, answering everything she asked me. No, like, literally; she asked me whether or not if I wanted to have my clothes washed (you saw my answer in the beginning of this story, right?!).
“Cool. I’ll take these down to the laundromat, and in the meantime, you can go checkout your room.”
Cecily laughed. “My washer broke down. Poor thing suffered through so many washes.”
“Wait! Where’s my room?”
“Upstairs, second one to the left.”
I went upstairs and zoomed into my room. Wow. Well, it was empty, just a big ol’ canopy bed in the front. But the room was double the size of, like, my kitchen and bathroom combined (you would think that since there was a bathroom)!
There was even a skylight window above my bed. I loved it!
I was also hoping to decorate this place up.
Suddenly, I dropped to my knees.
“Aww, I didn’t know she had a–” I started as I reached down to pet a brown labrador puppy.
I took out my phone and dialed in Cecily’s number.
What if the dog had came in when she had went out?
“Hello?” a muffled voice in the speaker asked.
“Oh, um, this is Opal.”
I hesitated. “Do you… have a dog? ‘Cause I think maybe this one came in when you left.”
“Is it brown? If it is, then it’s the dog that I bought you. You can name it.”
“Yep. Okay, sorry, Opal, but I have to go.”
I heard a man’s voice nearby her.
I hung up.
“Hmm,” I whispered, scratching the dog behind his ears. “How ‘bout… T-Bone.”
I blurted it out so fast that I thought I said a mistake. But, that actually sounded good!
T-Bone wagged his tail, his tongue lolled out. He licked my face.
“Well, don’t you beat all?” I whispered as he rolled over on his stomach. “Sit.”
And so he sat.
“You a trained lil’ dog?” I asked, looking at his small blue leather collar on his thin brown neck. You could see his ribs from the moon and back. “Let’s fatten you up.”
I went down into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Man, Cecily’s, like, a carnivore. There was nothing but meat in this darn ol’ fridge.
No… actually, there was a lot of fruit and ice cream.
But, mostly, the fridge was filled with bologna and salami and chicken and pork chops. I guess, for dinner that night, we’d be having a meat party.
Without thinking, I took out myself an ice cream sandwich bar. Then, I took out a bar of bologna for T-Bone.
“Here,” I said, throwing the bar at T-Bone. He caught it in his mouth and gulped it down. “Want more, T-Bone?”
He cocked his head and wagged his tail at me. I tossed him a slice of salami and a bit of a pork chop. Then, I sat down at the kitchen table and unwrapped my ice cream sandwich as T-Bone dug into paradise.
“I wonder what she does all day,” I thought aloud as I bit off a chunk of the sandwich. Deeeelicious!
I heard the garage door open.
“Oh, your snackin’ with the dog? Whatcha name him?” Cecily asked as she came strutting into the kitchen. She sat down in a seat across from me.
“T-Bone,” I replied, taking another bite. Cecily nodded.
“Maybe tomorrow I can take you shopping with T-Bone,” Cecily muttered, scratching T-Bone behind the ears. “Howd’ya like that?”
That was all.
No ‘Nice name’.
No ‘What do you want to do today?’.
She just made plans all on her own. Not checking in with me if I even wanted to come with her.
“You’re not my mom,” I blurted. But suddenly, I wanted to hurtle back those words. This lady got me a dog, she let me have ice cream, let me live with her… and all she wants in return is a little shopping spree?! Shoot, it wasn’t even just for me, she was hoping to go with T-Bone, too.
“Well, I just said ‘maybe’.” Cecily got up and went to a coffee maker. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. Just… I’ll have to invite a friend to go along with me.”
“Hey, no, I didn’t mean it like that,” I exclaimed quickly, making Cecily jump. “I’d love to go shopping with y’all.”
“Cool. I guess I’ll drop the idea with bringing a friend along.”
I kinda hoped that she would bring a friend, because then, she would talk to her friend the whole time and I wouldn’t get so attached to her.
“You want some sweet tea?” She asked, and T-Bone jumped in my lap.
And then, a thought struck in my head.
“What if Mom won’t let me bring T-Bone back home when she’s better?” I asked nervously. “I mean, she would hate such a measly dog, right?”
Cecily went quiet and turned pale at the thought of it. “Well… maybe you can visit some time to see him.”
“That’s a long way. I mean, man, I live in Georgia while you live in Nevada?”
Cecily thought it through. “Will think about this later. Your not leaving soon, are you?”
I wish I could nod my head and say, “I am,” but that would be a lie. So, I shook my head. “Not sooner or later,” I whispered.
“Well, of course, since I signed you up for the Hillary Park School for about a year or two.”
“What?” I jerked my head back at her. Mom in motion, I see. “Why would you do that?”
“I’m your foster parent. Now, back to my earlier question–would you like sweet tea?”
The Following Morning…
“Well, don’t you look splendid.”
I had taken a bath, wore Cecily’s old dress, threw all of my clothes everywhere to find my black leggings, made waves in my long, brown hair… and all she gotta say is that I look splendid?
“Sure, I guess,” I mumbled, slumping into my usual seat across from Cecily’s usual seat at the kitchen table.
Also, I was right. Last night, we had a bologna-salami stew. I was not a fan! I mean, what happened to chicken soup or beef stew or bologna bars? Maybe with some bread?
“You don’t look so good,” Cecily called from the counter. She was cooking up some sweet tea and bacon and eggs. “I mean, your expression.”
“I mean, we literally met yesterday and you’re already taking me shopping,” I explained, tracing the intricate designs on my pale pink dress.
“I was just thinking that… well, that you’d love to do something new with me.”
“Umm, you yourself is new.”
Cecily brought me a cup of sweet tea. I looked into it. There was a whipped cream swirl on top, some stuff that looked like chocolate sprinkles sprinkled on top of that, and it smelled like peppers.
“So much for sweet tea,” I muttered.
“Taste it,” Cecily urged as she brought two plates of eggs and bacon strips to the table. Then, she went back to the counter and brought her sweet tea cup and sat down in the seat across from me. “It’s really good.”
I watched her take a sip and smack her lips. “It’s not as bad as it looks! You didn’t even try it yesterday,” Cecily pointed out.
I took a fork and picked at my bacon strips. Then, I stabbed my fork into it and stuffed the whole thing in my mouth.
“That’s not how you eat it,” Cecily laughed, and cut a piece of bacon with her fork from the strip that she had. “Well, now drink the tea.”
“I’ve never had tea,” I mumbled, looking into the cup. The smell was also combined with a marshmallow and burnt scent. I breathed it in deeply.
The fireplace behind us crackled (it was winter).
“It tastes amazing,” Cecily sighed, raising her eyebrows. “I dare you to try it. It’s better that you’ve never had tea before.”
So, I took the cup up to my lips and took a slow, small slurp. It slid down my throat, warming it up in seconds. The taste of chocolate and milk and sugar and pepper and marshmallows filled my mouth, and I took two more sips. It was about the best type of drink I had ever tasted.
“Well, this is really something.”
“I told you.” Cecily kicked my foot from under the table, smiling.
We ate the rest of our breakfast in silence. T-Bone licked my ankle, waiting for some scraps to fall down. When Cecily wasn’t looking, I dropped him a piece of my bacon strip. And then, I dropped another, and another, until one whole strip was gone.
T-Bone wagged his tail and I laughed.
“Alright, let’s get going,” Cecily said as we put our plates in the sink. She wiped her hands on a dish towel. “Get in the small blue car, will ‘ya?”
I went out to the garage. Bikes and gears and steering wheels and tires were stacked on shelves. In front of me was a white speed boat and a bright blue car. I sat in the front seat with T-Bone in my lap.
“Hey, hey, good boy, now,” I shouted as he started to jump into the driver’s seat. I mean, the car was on!
“Whatcha doin’, naughty guy?” Cecily hopped into the driver’s seat and started telling me stories about her work as we drove past buildings and into town. “One of my friends worked there a long time ago, and all she ever did was drive them trucks down to Heaterville in Pennsylvania and not even put them pizza boxes in the right place. I mean, this was a pizza delivery company!”
I just said, “Uh-huh,” and “Yeah,” and “Right, right,” but I wasn’t actually paying attention. I was looking out the window for something to wish on.
And then, I saw it. Three birds on a telephone wire. I closed my eyes and made my wish.
When I opened my eyes, Cecily was staring at me.
“Makin’ a wish?” She guessed.
“Umm, no… I-I’m just… tired.” I made myself yawn to show her. I was sure that my face was redder than Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
When we reached the mall, T-Bone started barking. I laughed.
“Calm down, Boney!” I took his leash and dragged him out of the car.
“This is Four Birch Mall.” Cecily suddenly took my hand and led me into the store. I jerked back. “Oh, uh… sorry.”
My cheeks flamed bright red, but T-Bone, Cecily, and I went inside and had one big shopping spree.
And, trust me, it was one of the best times in my life.