Foster Care with Javier
Javier wore a suit jacket that didn’t quite match his pants, but his shirt was clean and he looked overall presentable. Molly chose to dress slightly down, sandals and a jean skirt. The two of them drove north on the 405 to one of a dozen L.A. county foster care offices. She had spent a day researching the internet, and speed reading every one of the independently owned agencies to find one that was near, but not too near. She defended her decision not to be scrutinized. She told herself it would interfere in any bonding that could occur between her and the little stranger. Always in her mind, it was some Mexican kid or some biracial mix. Always the child had to be a boy, and never a baby. Besides, she reasoned, she couldn’t have a job and a baby and live alone. Javier was glancing at her as she adjusted the vent to blow some cool air her way.
“Please watch the road. I hope you haven’t been drinking today.” She turned as he quickly looked back to the road.
“Nada.” His lips were tight as he squeezed out the word. “I do this for you, Querida. Not for me.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Have you had something to drink?” He had layered the sarcasm as he would have spread butter on bread.
“It will give me some money.” She ignored his remark about drinking, and left off her temptation to say she needed the money because he’d jump at the chance to wiggle himself back into the apartment. She figured he was staying with his brother and didn’t want her to know.
Molly began to read through the information she had downloaded from the website, fumbling with the papers while she searched for her birth certificate. She found the battered piece of paper and clipped it to the forms along with the copy of the lease on the apartment, their names enshrined, and worried that someone might challenge that she had a different last name. She was almost sure that none of the women at such an agency would have a difficult time understanding her desire to keep her maiden name. With Javier’s job, and she, the stay at home mom, she reasoned they were in a good place. Nonetheless, her hands shook. Thank God she didn’t have to wear the sling and the swelling under her eye was all but gone. She had to apply a few dabs of concealer here and there. Somehow she didn’t hold it against him; maybe it was because she couldn’t remember much about that night, just the inherent aftermath in the form of breaks and bruises.
“God, I need this twelve hundred.” She whispered her unholy prayer.
Javier had not spoken since his remonstrance at her rude questioning of his sobriety. Now he spoke, still sullenly, “You get the baby today?” He looked more fully at her as the traffic in L.A. slowed to the inevitable crawl. She saw all over again what had drawn her to him, the fierce animal fire in his eyes. Christ, she thought, I’m beginning to sound like a goddamned romance novel. He was biting his lip nervously.
Molly placed a placating hand on his arm, which he pulled away from as though it were a lighted torch. He was still clearly harboring anger or hurt feelings or both from the last time they were alone together. She knew he didn’t remember too much about that night either, and that was okay with her.
“It may not be a baby.” She left out the fact that she had already pointedly told the agency she did not want to take care of a baby. Javier would consider her not wanting a baby a reproof against what they had together with Stella, and curiously she felt the opposite.
“They give you what they have and babies are very popular.” His knitted brow signaled that he did not understand her. “Everyone wants a baby. They need homes for older children.”
That seemed to mollify his machismo, which was not characteristic of him. Javier was handsome, and intelligent. She knew he had left school in Mexico with good grades, but language was a barrier as he had come to L.A. and to school late. It was almost a badge of honor among the family of men, his own and his barrio’s, to keep with the old ways, staying close to Latino friends. She knew he did not personally know one white person, or for that matter, one black person either. What if they gave her a black kid? What would he do? For that matter, she hadn’t thought about white, black, Hispanic. What about Esther who was threatening to show up anytime now?
They were exiting the freeway. The trees on this side of the road were scraggly, with evidence of the desert that is L.A. surrounding them in scrub brush, stunted trees and lack of the red flowers of bougainvillea. They parked the Camaro under a fichus tree thick with leaves. It would stay cooler. Javier entered the tall, white building ahead of her. She admired the Art-Deco- tinted-blue- windows look to it. Molly remembered seeing this building in a 1930s movie. They were always shooting in certain neighborhoods; she couldn’t count how many times she saw the cameras and trucks in San Pedro for a movie meant to look like the 1930s. Inside there was a tiny elevator that held two uncomfortably, so they took the stairs to the third floor. Javier climbed two at a time only to wait on the landing each time for Molly to join him. Now that they were here, he seemed eager, which bewildered Molly.
They walked into the agency together, holding hands. Suddenly she had become nervous and Javier was offering her his support by lightly cupping his hand under her elbow. The intake person was a woman in her fifties, gray showing at the temples through her blonde bob hairdo. She was California-tanned, and a set of deep creases and wrinkles were stretched into a smile as she spoke to them. Molly had prepared the paperwork in advance and had faxed it to Mrs. Terry Wilson.
“I’ll copy these and give you back the originals,” Terry said as she held up the birth certificates, the lease on the apartment under their names jointly, and their driver’s licenses. Molly was right; Terry Wilson showed no concern over Molly’s use of her own last name. Terry, dressed in a white skirt and navy blue and white striped tight little tee shirt, was back in a flash. She sat down across the table from them.
“Now, it won’t take too long. In fact, we’ll have someone for you right away, as soon as we have our agent visit your home.” She smiled her bright smile again. “Any questions?”
Molly had heard all sorts of stories. Her friend Sarah had mentioned babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome, and that the children may only begin to exhibit symptoms as they neared puberty. “Is there a chance of a child older, no younger than pre-school?”
Terry’s face went back to its resting stage, no furrowing of the brow, the eyes bright and shiny. “The age groups come and go. I couldn’t begin to tell you what age child we have now. Although we try to place these children as quickly as they come to us.” She filed through some papers, her French-manicured nails clicking on the computer for a few moments, then turned back to Molly and Javier, this time looking at him while she addressed them both.
“Mrs. Robertson will be the visiting agent. She’ll call tomorrow for a time to meet with you.” She smiled again. This time Molly saw fatigue and a sadness, perhaps for the eager foster parents who didn’t have a clue what they were about to encounter, or maybe it was for the children who, with luck, might reap a cornucopia of warmth, food, love, or the whirlwind of a monster posing as a real parent.
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