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Strangers at Home

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Karen was walking a few feet in front of her foster children, heading back to her car, ready to go home. After a few steps, she turned back towards the kids just in time to see them walking in the opposite direction. 

 

“Hey! Where are you two going?” 

 

What happened next made time stand still. Nancy and Mike looked at her, then, without even thinking, without even hesitating, they ran into the middle of the road. 

 

The screech of breaks shattered the peaceful afternoon. The driver of the blue car having slammed on the brakes, swerved also, in a desperate attempt to avoid hitting the children that suddenly appeared in front of him. 

 

Karen was unable to tell from her angle if her kids had been hit, and was already sprinting towards the scene. 

 

Mike had screamed when he saw the blue car barreling towards him and had hugged his sister so tightly Nancy couldn’t breathe. The girl remained frozen, in complete shock and terror of the whole situation. Tears of shock were rolling down Mike’s face as his heart hammered in his chest. 

 

The two kids turned and rushed back into the sidewalk. They were met with the sight of their foster mom running towards them. 

 

As soon as Karen reached them she hugged them so tightly, shushing them quietly and cupping their chin gently. Then in a flash, Karen yanked Nancy’s arm forward, sending Mike stumbling away. Out of pure fear, Karen applied eight hard unyielding spanks in quick succession. She was so scared, so angry, so confused. They could have been killed! 

 

Mike had already been crying from the shock of nearly being run over by a car, but once he saw his sister get hit it turned into full-fledged sobbing. 

 

Nancy yelped on the last one, whimpering from deep within her throat, desperate to hold back tears. When Karen released her arm, Nancy wordlessly stumbled over to Mike and flung her arms around him. 

 

“Hush Mike,” she whispered, moving one hand to stroke through her baby brother’s black wispy hair. Nancy remembered her mom doing that when she was upset and it always worked with her. 

 

After the thudding sound in her ear died down, Karen finally registered that the driver of the car was trying to talk to her and she tore her gaze away from her kids, her thoughts in a whirl, able to only grasp and hold onto one fact: Her kids were alive and unhurt!

"I'm so so sorry!" babbled the middle-aged driver.

Karen took a few deep calming breaths and forced herself to pull herself together. She glanced once more at the kids to reassure herself - they’re okay - before turning to the man and extending her hand.

"You have nothing at all to be sorry for. In fact, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you hadn't reacted as quickly as you did, my kids could have been badly injured." Or dead! She thought. 

After watching the male driver return to his car and drive off, Karen turned back to her kids and deeply regretted not having had control over her emotions. Still, she had no idea what possessed her children to just run off like that.

“I am sorry I spanked you,” Karen said after a long moment of silence, “but you scared me to death. Why on earth did you run away?” 

Well I can’t really tell you that, Nancy thought bitterly. 

“ I don’t like it at your house.” She blurted out, but winced at the pained expression that crossed Karen’s face because honestly, so far, Karen had been the kindest foster parent Nancy ever had. But that could change. According to Carol, that will change. 

“Well I’m sorry to hear that. But you can’t just go running away whenever you feel sad. You scared me, and you could have been seriously hurt by running out on to the road.”

“There’s no reason to be scared. Just leave me alone, I can take care of myself.” Nancy shouted, while backing further away from her foster mother’s towering form. 

“Don’t you go shouting at me.” 

Mike started crying again, unsure of which person to hide behind, he chose to bury his face in his hands. 

“I don’t know what kind of rules your other foster parents had, but when you are with me, you will be respectful.” Karen added feeling absolutely betrayed by the kids reaction. One minute they are shopping peacefully, pretending to like everything, and then when she turns her back, they vanish. Maybe this whole thing was a lie. Maybe this whole fostering thing was a mistake. 

“I DON’T WANT TO BE WITH YOU.” Nancy nearly screamed, breaths coming out in heavy puffs. 

At least that was honest. Karen could do honesty. She had some things to be honest about as well. 

“You don’t always get what you want in life, Nancy. I care about you, and I don’t want to see you hurt.”

The truth was out. 

Nancy’s heart nearly stopped. Mrs. Wheeler just said she cared about her, but two minutes ago she was screaming and hitting. Her foster mom was the most confusing woman she ever met. 

“I’m - I’m sorry. I won’t run off again.” Nancy stuttered, unsure of what else to say at the moment. But Mike was crying, and Nancy saw an opportunity to end this argument early. 

“Good. Because that was terrifying.” Karen felt like she could finally breathe. “Alright. Let’s actually go home this time.” She grabbed both of them by the wrist and walked to the car with them. 

Later that evening Karen sat on the couch and contemplated Nancy, who was laying on the other sofa staring glumly at the ceiling. 

Something was up with the girl. She hardly touched her dinner, just spent time pushing the food around her plate. She had been extremely quiet and subdued ever since this afternoon and Karen couldn’t figure it out for the life of her what had happened that made Nancy want to run away. 

Thing were going well at the stores. Nancy was talking and laughing most of the day. She and Mike seemed to be getting along and she even liked that Barbra girl. But something switched her behavior in a blink of an eye and made the girl want to run away. Was Karen a bad mother? Did she do something wrong? The thought concerned her so much, that she had a pounding headache. Of course, she told her husband nothing about what had happened, so asking him for advice would not be possible. 

Sighing, Karen stood up. “Nancy, do you want to say goodnight to Michael? He’s done with his bath.”

The girl nodded, as Karen had expected and together they climbed the stairs towards Mike’s bedroom. 

“He’s going to try to sleep alone. But if he gets scared, he is more than welcome to come into your room, or mine.” Karen explained to the girl as she tucked Mike into his bed. 

“Jumpers and Carrots finished putting away my clothes today, and they are really excited to play with our new game Guess Who.” Mike said as he tucked his stuffed animals into bed next to him. 

“I’m excited to play that too.” Karen smiled,  leaning forward and kissing Mike on the forehead. 

“Can you kiss Jumpers too. He gets lonely.”

Karen nodded and kissed the frog toy. Nancy leaned forward and kissed Mike’s cubby cheek. 

“Night jerk.” 

“Night Nancy,” he murmured, focusing on his toys. 

She whispered in his ear something Karen couldn’t hear. The boy nodded at his sister and then rested his head against the pillows. 

“Goodbye.” He told Karen as she and Nancy got up to leave. 

“Bye sweetie.” She closed the door behind her, then she followed Nancy to her bedroom. Once Nancy was sitting in bed, Karen sat beside her. 

“Okay. I want you to tell me what’s bothering you. I can’t fix it, if I don’t know what it is.”

Nancy didn’t answer, she just stared at her hands in her lap. Karen placed a gentle finger under her chin and tilted her head up, forcing the child to meet her searching gaze. Nancy’s blue eyes were swimming with unshed tears. 

“Oh Nancy. Honey, I love you. You can tell me anything, anything at all.”

“You are going to abuse me.” 

Karen wasn’t sure what response she had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. 

“Wha - where on earth did you get that idea?” 

“Carol told me all about it. She said you abused your own daughter... and that... if I ask for more food or invite friends over that you might kill me like you did to her. I mean, I know you had a daughter. The social worker told me. And I know she died. But I didn’t know you killed her.”

“I didn’t.” It was harsh, and Nancy flinched with fear. Maybe this was it. Now that Karen knew she knew, maybe it was all over for Nancy. 

“Look, if you want to kill me, that’s fine. But please, please, I’m begging you, don’t hurt Mike. He’s a good kid and he’s got so much life left to live -“

“Nancy.” Her foster mom grabbed her hand gently. “Sweetie, there are so many things wrong with what you just said. First of all, your life does matter and it would most certainly not be okay if I killed you.”

Nancy rolled her eyes. Yeah whatever, the point is don’t hurt Mike. 

“Secondly, I never killed anyone. I loved my little girl so much and it hurts me everyday that she’s no longer here.”

There was something about Karen’s voice and her brimming wet eyes that told Nancy she was telling the truth. 

Nancy was shell shocked. “I’m so sorry.” She whispered. “Carol was lying, wasn’t she?”

“Yes. She was. Because I would never abuse you or Mike, just like I never abused my daughter.”

A tear slide down Nancy’s face as she reached over and hugged her mom. “I’m sorry I said I didn’t like it here. I was just scared. Truth is, this is the best home I’ve had in years.” 

“Glad to hear that.” Karen smiled, “because it did hurt when you said you didn’t want to stay. But if that’s really how you feel - I can call your social worker and you can be placed with a different family.” 

Nancy shook her head, pulling away. “I - I like you. I like it here.” 

“Are you sure. I don’t want you to be unhappy.”

Nancy nodded. “I’m sure. I want to stay... with you. I want to stay with you.” 

“Well that’s good to hear, because I want to stay with you too.” Karen grinned, “Now get under those covers and get some sleep.” 

Nancy pulled her cool pink covers over her shoulder and snuggled her head against the pillows. She was really tired. Sleep hit her fast, and the next thing she knew, Mike was shaking her shoulder, waking her at 2am. 

“What is it? Did you have another nightmare.”

“No. You told me to come in your room, remember?”

“Oh yeah.” Nancy muttered sleepily. “Sorry. I thought Mom was abusive.”

“Mom?”

“Mrs. Wheeler. You know what I mean.” 

Nancy couldn’t see, but she could tell Mike was smirking at her through the darkness. 

“Well go back to your bed. She’s not abusive so you’re safe.”

A few seconds passed and Mike remained in the same place. 

“Can I sleep in here anyways?” He finally asked. 

Nancy sighed and pulled back the covers, inviting him in. 

“How do you know she’s not just lying?” Mike asked as he laid down against the soft blue pillows, resting his eyes. 

“Because... I just know. There was something about her daughter, something about they way she spoke about her. I could tell she wouldn’t have ever hurt her. I don’t think she’ll ever hurt us.”

“I hope your right. But she seems strict. I’m scared to do anything wrong because I don’t want her to freak out like she did today, ever again.” Mike mumbled groggily. Sleep was starting to take over so Nancy brushed his bangs out of his eyes and shushed him. 

“Don’t be scared.” She whispered as he dosed into oblivion. “We’re going to be okay.”