Mary sat behind her desk, hands clasped together before her, resting on the desktop, head lowered, eyes closed, and she sighed. After a few moments, she raised her head and looked at the boy sitting across the desk from her. "What was it this time?"
"The asshole hit his wife."
She paused, now, momentarily unsure how to proceed. "Once?" she finally asked.
"An isolated incident would be wrong, of course, but forgivable. Everyone has a bad day. Not everyone handles it like that, but we're only human, after all. Sometimes we're not ruled by our heads. No, he'd do this fairly often. And I'd have to lie in my room, behind thin walls, listening. Made it pretty hard to get to sleep, sometimes. I couldn't put up with it any longer."
"Have you talked to your foster mother about this?"
"She denies it. She sits there and denies it to my face, though looking into her eyes, she knows I know. It doesn't matter. She won't ever report it. She'd deny it to the cops or the court. And she loves him. Pretty damn sick, if you ask me. But it's her choice. My choice is to get the hell out of there before he raises a hand to me. Plus, I really need to catch up on my sleep."
"So you ran away."
"What was it the first time?" Mary asked distractedly, riffling through her papers.
"The first couple were intimidated by my intellect. And frankly, I was annoyed by their stupidity. Not bad folks by any means, but I could try to converse with them on my own normal age level, not even trying to use my full brains, and they still didn't know what I was talking about half the time. I see it as a sad commentary on the state of our educational system that they ever graduated grade school, let alone high school or college."
Mary sighed again. "Okay. So you want people more your intellectual equal..."
"Not necessarily. I had a higher IQ than my own parents, you know. But they weren't idiots. Some people of normal intellect should be fine."
"Most kids don't get to choose their parents, you know. They just have to live with them. They don't have to like them or have anything in common."
Jimmy squirmed a bit. "Yeah, I know. I try not to be too picky..."
"And the second home we placed you in?"
"Yeah, well... they claimed to be environmentalists."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing at all. If it were true. But for them it was just a cover story. The truth was they're just dirt poor. And there's nothing much wrong with that. My own parents never had much money, either. But they were never so ashamed they had to lie about it, like these people. Dammit, they told me we couldn't have a Christmas tree because they didn't believe in clear-cutting! I ask you. No one clear-cuts fir trees for Christmas! The very idea is absurd. People plant whole lots of trees specifically for the purpose.... they don't need to go cutting down wild ones.... The truth is they just couldn't afford a real one. If they'd just say that, I'd be fine with it."
"That's not much of a reason-"
"It's just an example. A day doesn't go by where they're not making up some kind of excuse for the way they live. It's annoying."
"Have you confronted them about it?"
"They denied it. In fact, they sent me to bed without supper for daring to question their integrity. I'm sure they saved a couple dollars on food, that night."
Mary sighed again. "Fine. But the third couple..."
"They didn't like me."
"And how well did you like them?"
"Oh, I loved them with all my heart."
"Look, I didn't mind them. I thought they seemed okay. There was probably something wrong with them, I just have no idea what it was. If you'll recall, they were the ones who sent me back."
Mary found the paperwork and read it again. "Yes..."
"What does it say?" Jimmy asked.
She considered telling him, but thought better of it. "It's not important. Let's just say you're right, they didn't like you."
"Well, after them came the wife-beater and the enabler, so if that's all the questions you had..."
Mary rubbed her face and sat in silent contemplation for a few moments. Finally she asked, "Jimmy, do you believe you would ever accept any foster parents? And if not, how could you ever hope to accept adoptive parents?"
"I think... I could accept the right people. I just haven't met them yet. Maybe I never will, how do I know? I'm willing to keep trying, but at some point I suppose I'd get fed up with it, if no one better than these others come along. I mean, you don't want me to be miserable, do you?"
"Of course not, Jimmy. But you may have to lower your standards, a bit. Of course I agree you shouldn't be with anyone who doesn't like you or who might endanger you. But you have to realize that no one's perfect, and you'll never be entirely happy. It's a harsh reality of life, but I think you're smart enough to get that."
"Oh, I do, believe me. And that's where my head's been at all along. I'm really trying to fit in, every time I am. I just don't. I'm sorry."
She sighed again. "I'm sorry too, Jimmy. But you're really not making my job very easy."
"I said I was sorry. I appreciate all you've done for me, and all you continue to do. But no matter how hard either of us tries, sometimes things just won't work out. Just as no family is perfect, no job is perfect. It's a harsh reality of life, but I think you're smart enough to get that."
Mary grinned, almost laughed at this. Jimmy was glad; he'd worried she might take it the wrong way. "I know," she said. "Look, we'll keep trying. Meanwhile, you can stay here at the center... for a little while." They both sat in silence for a few moments, then she added, "You can go, now."
"Thanks." He got up, turned, and left the room.
Transition part 2