It was just as Terry Wilson said, Foster Care was back to Molly in less than a week. Only thing was they hadn’t alerted her that a social worker would call and then show up at the apartment in the same day, and with a foster child in tow.
Mrs. Robertson was an imposing figure of a woman, very tall; Molly estimated she was near six feet, with linebacker broad shoulders. She wore a stylish electric blue dress with matching sweater, and her linen shoes were chosen for the closely matched shades of blue threads interwoven through and closely matched the dress ensemble. She wore her abundant hair straightened, but it was already very silky. Her face was broad with sharp features, and she was very dark-skinned so the vibrant colors played beautifully off her equally beautiful skin. She wasn’t a health club enthusiast, which made the trek up the backstairs of the apartment house a workout. Molly saw that her skin glistened. The boy was very thin and jittery. His large dark eyes did not meet Molly’s, though she tried to engage him because the conversation was openly about him much like the conversation had been about poor Dantel, the boy on the bus.
“Say hello to Miz Morris.” Mrs. Robertson let go of the boy’s hand as she spoke.
Molly offered her some lemonade, which she hastily prepared when she received the call along with a whirlwind lick-and-a promise cleanup to the apartment. Everything was in place, he would sleep in the small extra bedroom, planned as a nursery for Stella. There was a twin bed with a nondescript blue and yellow comforter that could not be classified for boy or girl.
“Would you like a cookie?” Molly took hold of the boy’s slim hand and gently shook it, telling him her name, dropping the Miz Morris and telling him to call her Molly.
“He just came in from intake yesterday. The boy was staying with a neighbor of his father’s at Pendleton down there in Oceanside. The father passed on and the mom, well, she’s been gone for some time. They think she’s down in Mexico with some boyfriend or whatever.”
Molly watched the boy. Surprisingly, his curious eyes were roaming the kitchen and into the living room. He seemed not to care, or at least didn’t register emotion, at the woman’s remarks.
She considered that he didn’t know he should be bothered or ashamed, and Molly took him to be naturally quiet and shy. Although he was slight, she figured his height at the top of the percentile for his age. His father must have been tall. The boy had Anglo features and medium- dark skin.
He was wearing jeans that fit, not the baggy pants she could tell he’d prefer. His Lakers cap was in his hand but she noticed he wore it backwards. His sneakers were untied, the dirty laces trailing alongside, the shoe opened wide so that he made a clomping sound, the heels of his feet awkwardly coming out of the shoes as he walked. Nugent would fit right in with the boys in this barrio, though they all called it the hood.
“Boy, answer Miz Morris when she speaks to you.” Mrs. Robertson snapped at the boy, who stood straighter. She looked to see Molly’s expression which must have registered a frown and disapproval, and so softened her own to match.
“Tell me your name.” Molly handed the boy a cookie.
“My name is Nugent Alvarez.” He took the cookie but did not immediately bite into it although Molly was sure it was tempting; it was a big Amos’s Famous Chocolate Chip. Molly poured a smaller glass of lemonade and ushered Nugent into the living room, put the glass on the coffee table with a napkin serving as a coaster, and showed him the sofa to sit. She turned the television to the Disney channel.
“Mrs. Robertson and I are going to talk in the kitchen. If you want anything just come in.” She had not left the room when she heard the remote expertly clicked to a sports channel where a rerun of a Lakers game was playing. “So, do you think Shaq is the best?” She called over her shoulder.
“Him and Kobe. They a real team.” His words tumbled out as his head snapped to look at her. He almost smiled.
Mrs. Robertson was waiting at the kitchen table sipping her lemonade and brushing some cookie crumbs off her paperwork. Molly had the impression that she devoured the cookies quickly feeling it unseemly for a professional to eat in the client’s presence.
“Some general information for you about the boy.” Mrs. Robertson handed Molly the intake form, a blur of names of others the boy was assigned to after he was picked up, including a street not too far from her own. As she read, Mrs. Robertson handed her the next sheet, and the next, slowly, the only sound came from her heavy costume jewelry bracelet.
“Like I said, the authorities think his mother is in Mexico with her boyfriend.” She looked through her papers. “A Mr. Rayford Chandler. He’s wanted in Nevada for a meth lab he started there that blew up, killing ten cookers and three children.” She was frowning as she read. “This boy here is sure lucky to be away from her and her friends.” She must have sensed that Molly wanted to know more about the boy and his family. “His mother’s name is Ana Alverez, she had Nugent when she was eighteen. The father was a Marine at Camp Pendleton, lots of violence between those two. He was African American, died in a fight, they think with another dealer, from gunshot wounds. They never married. The boy has his mother’s last name.”
“How long has he been in Foster Care?” Molly sat down and refrained from lighting a cigarette, accurately sensing that Mrs. Robertson was not a smoker or a drinker, but someone who attended church regularly and who, with her husband, was raising two boys who attended a private school.
Mrs. Robertson gently lifted one of the papers she gave Molly and turned it over, placing her well-polished nail on the line for her to read. “Nugent Alverez, age six, fostered through kinship program for one year, however unsuccessfully. The Alverez family voiced opposition to his biracial status and returned him to the county for Foster Care.”
“He’s been in Foster Care for three years?” Molly was surprised. “He seems to be pretty normal.” She knew as soon as she said it, it might have been the wrong thing to say. “I mean, that’s a long time for a kid to be with strangers.”
“I know what you’re trying to say.” Mrs. Robertson placed the paper neatly on the stack in front of Molly. Molly wished the house were cleaner, this woman was way too tidy. “I’ve known Nugent for the three years after kinship didn’t work out. He was lucky. The family he lived with had two children, one a boy near Nugent’s age. They were ready to leave for assignment in Germany. They knew Nugent’s father before he got hooked on drugs. They couldn’t take the boy out of the country and couldn’t afford to adopt him.” He’s been back with us only two weeks. Not long enough for it to take hold if you know what I mean.” She reached into her briefcase for a large manila envelope, and opened it, leafing through its contents. “His birth certificate, his food stamps. You’ll get the stipend by mail tomorrow. Go online to have direct deposit if you want. That usually takes two weeks, sometimes more.” She handed the envelope and its remaining contents to Molly.
“I don’t understand.” Molly stuttered the words out. “You mean that’s all?” She stood also and walked quickly to the door before the woman, who was fairly sprinting to leave, got out. “Wait, I mean, is that all?”
“Ms. Morris, there isn’t any more to say. You seem like a decent woman, you have a place for him to stay. You were a teacher? If you could see the places he isn’t going to be sleeping tonight.” She smiled in earnest and patted the hand she had been shaking. “It’s going to be fine. Any questions, you can call Terry Wilson.” She handed Molly a card with Terry’s office number, and a neatly printed home phone number underneath. As she opened the door, she leaned out to heft two plastic garbage bags, Nugent’s worldly goods, and placed them inside the door.
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