On the tenth day the lady brought the foster family she'd told me about, the ones I'd been thrown to. The Grants. They had a son in college and two sets of twins; one set my age, fraternal, a boy and a girl. The identical boys were fifteen. One of the parents wrote science fiction and the other one taught philosophy at the university. I didn't catch which was which. Couldn't keep anything straight.
They trooped into my room, a sea of khaki and tweed and wool. The state lady came over, placed her hand on my bed, like we knew each other or something. I frowned. She smiled at me. I wanted to sink into the floor, a puddle of indigo.
"These are the Grants."
The kids looked everywhere but at me. I studied them, around the state lady, felt like an exposed full body wound. I still couldn't lean back with the burns on my back. I knew I looked like shit, paler than normal, dark circles under my eyes. I wondered what they saw when they looked at me.
Mrs. Grant came over first. "Hi, Violet. I'm Anna." Does she pity me? How could she feel anything but pity? "It's wonderful to meet you."
"Yes, I'm sure," I said, chastised myself. I knew I had no choice but to live with these people. Be polite. "Nice brood." Wondered if I could maybe cut out my tongue.
She half smiled, maybe as if she regretted the first choice that led her here. Was it marrying him? Giving birth? Being born? Saying yes to taking in some psycho bitch with burns on her back and arm? I fisted a hand under the thin blanket and sheet.
Mr. Grant stepped forward, put his hand on the small of her back. She visibly relaxed, without even looking at him.
I felt small and alien.
"This is Clay Grant," the state lady said.
He stuck out his hand. I blinked at it. His hand didn't waver. I looked into his eyes. Knew that he could see my fear, so I took it. And he just squeezed my hand, let it go. I could breathe again.
"Hello, Violet," he said. "I'd like you to meet the other kids."
Wondered how long he'd stayed awake the night before coming up with that one. He motioned them over. They shuffled in their spots. Were they reluctant? Horrified? Disgusted? I told my brain to shut up, tried to stop freaking myself out.
He pointed to the fraternal set. "Adam and Leah."
Adam stepped over, took my hand, squeezed. He was tall, rangy, good-looking in an Ezra Miller kind of way.
"Hey," he said. "Nice bed." Turned bright red. Could he perhaps be a human being?
"Huh," I said.
Leah sort of smiled, let her focus slide to the floor. Long honey hair, smooth porcelain skin, symmetrical features, wide green eyes. Beautiful. One of the lucky few. God, I hated perfect girls.
Mr. Grant frowned at Leah, which she totally ignored, then pointed at the other set. Adam nodded at me, stepped back. "And this is
You can tell them apart by the color of their eyes, see? Dixon 's are light blue and Cohen's are dark.
Later you'll be able to without looking at their eyes." Dixon
I could see no discernable difference between the two of them. They hung back, taller than the rest of the family, skinny as young birch trees.
"Hey. What happened to your hair?" Cohen asked.
“Cohen...” Mr. Grant said.
I brushed the eighth-of-an-inch stubble on my head. “Nothing.”
"You play soccer?"
Mr. Grant said. Dixon
"No." Curious fellows, these guys. I allowed myself to breathe. Not so bad, not so bad, not so bad. Shut up, brain.
Could I do this?
"Oh," they said together, nodded as if I'd just admitted to never hearing Mumford and Sons.
"They call it football everywhere else, you know," Cohen said. "In South America and
"Isn't that great?"
"Fab-o." I felt cut off, adrift as I looked at their tidy ensemble, their obvious unit.
* * *
They took me to their house after two more weeks in the hospital, loaded down with pain medication and creams and stuff. My things had already been dropped off.
The state lady sat in the living room with Mr. and Mrs. Grant and me. She talked about my weekly visit to see a therapist, monthly visits from her. At which point I faded out.
The house seemed so still. Not quiet. Four kids do not a quiet house make. Music filtered down from upstairs, some indie band I couldn't quite place, and Dixon and Cohen argued in the kitchen over the last banana. On her cell down the hall, Leah laughed. No, not quiet, but still. Like somewhere deep within the foundation a stone maybe transmitted a beam that repeated over and over, "This is okay. You're okay." I sat up straighter, ready to be vigilant, ready to fight off its effects. I'm not okay. This was not okay.
That night I stayed awake, waited for something awful to happen. I kept expecting one of them to maybe come down and do something horrible to me.
The set-up should've been totally amazing. It took up most of the basement and I had my own toilet and shower down the hall three steps. I could turn my music way up and hang my paintings on the wall. A smooth deal, right? All I had to do was go to school, do my homework, clean up after myself. Just so long as I tried to be a good girl.
A good girl. I didn’t know what that amounted to, or how to be that way. They said I could paint it however I liked. A challenge? A test? Because I could show them paint. Black with red and gray splashes. But I’d really rather do a scene from
, an adobe church against an oyster-hard blue sky,
I looked around the room, studied the boxes and furniture. I needed to fix it, right quick, and got to it. Mother gave me all of the plants. She always killed them. And the teapot and cups and my vast collection of loose leaf tea. A lot of the dishes. My laptop. All my books, sketchbooks, art supplies. My scrolled iron bed and bookcases, my iron and oak desk and night table and special hammock chair Uncle Stephan had given me. Everything. I should've felt pleased but I just felt empty. It was as if she had purged me from her life, like I'd never existed at all. I never was.
I ran down the hall and into the bathroom and threw up. I never was to her.
Was I really so bad? Hadn’t done much drinking. No drugs. No sleeping around. I was a freaking virgin, for god's sake.
I put Liszt on, lay on my back on the floor, until I couldn’t stand the pain from the burns. Stupid burns.
Mother and me had been making dinner. I was doing the rice, she was doing the teriyaki chicken stir-fry. Mother's a professional chef so she rarely cooked for me, but it was my seventeenth birthday. It was supposed to be special. I always felt this stupid need to get her to see me, to get her to love me. There could never be a more idiotic word than 'love.' What does it mean, anyway? She'd never told me anything that was important to her.
We'd both had a glass of wine; we were mellow. At least, I was. I let my guard down. I guess I'd maybe hoped she had too.
What I'd been wanting to ask her about was why she and dad had split up. What I actually said was, "So why'd Dad leave? Greener pastures?"
Which I had instantly regretted. Words can never be taken back. They stung like flayed skin, but unlike skin they refused to heal. Just got filed away.
Mother smacked me across the mouth. Which I'd deserved. But I wasn't gonna let on that I thought that way.
"Yeah," I said. "So's I got my answer." Which got me a harder smack and a shove.
Which ended me up in the hospital on account of the stove I landed on. Doctors all said it could’ve been worse. Yeah. Well. I suppose it could’ve been them. Least wise, it wasn't my hands. I needed my hands for my painting.
The third day in the hospital the cop and the lady from the state showed up, asking after my unusual circumstance. Nobody'd bought my fish story. Nobody'd listened to my protests, my promises.
Now here I sat on the slate grey carpet in a room I was supposed to feel comfortable in, surrounded by familiar things in a house that was utterly foreign. And maybe in the morning I wouldn’t be afraid. Maybe I could find a new life here, settled amongst these strangers.