but in the kitchen light I saw she was multiracial, like the rest of the “white” kids. This made me feel more alone. I did not feel that I fit in. I was a freak, and I stood out like a lit candle.
My attention kept going back to Papa. He had big strong hands and he was eating like this was the first food he had ever tasted. He worked hard all day and was starving. He cleaned his plate and dabbed at his mouth with his napkin.
I slowly and cautiously pushed my plate over in front of him. I had no idea how this was going to go over at the table, having never eaten here before. He stopped dabbing his mouth and looked at me. I nodded.
“Are you sure?” he asked. The room went quiet.
“I can’t eat,” I said and tried to smile, but a tear fell. “May I be excused, please?” Mama nodded. “Mama, call me and I’ll help clear the kitchen.”
“She sure is a sweet girl,” Papa said as I walked out. Everyone giggled. Mama slapped the table and then there was silence.
I washed the dishes while Andre dried, then Penny put them away. We worked without saying anything, just concentrating on getting the job done. Jazzie wiped down the table and the counters, then Charisse and Bart swept the floor. Deandra got the mop and waited on them to finish sweeping then all three would mop. The kitchen cabinets were wood painted white, and the floor was linoleum with a stripe and floral print. It was nicer than what I was accustomed.
“Has Mama given you the speech yet?” Andre asked me as I handed him a dish. Andre was the oldest. He was sixteen, tall, thin with glasses. He looked the studious type.
“I haven’t gotten a speech,” I said. “What is it about?”
“Us, well us having a relationship with each other. If that happens then we go to juvenile jail. ‘Juvey’ we call it. We violate some rule and then they put us in lock up.”
“Like, say, if you have feelings for Penny.”
“What? How did you know?” he asked softly.
“I see the way you look at her. Don’t worry. I won’t say anything, especially to her. She’s too…intense.” I looked up at Andre. He was handsome with his black wavy hair. I looked at his hands, at his long fingers, and I got tingles. I wanted to shoulder flirt with him, but I thought better of it. I remember the last time I tried to flirt. I got my face slapped.
“You’d better not,” he said. “I’ve only got two more years and I’m out. There’s something else. It’s the hot water. There’s going to be problems adding in one more person here,” Andre said. I found out later that since he’s sixteen, he would age out of the foster system in two years, when he’s eighteen. That’s what he meant. He puzzled me about the hot water.
Mama yelled from the living room. “Everyone! I need to speak with everyone when you finish in there!”
We finished, Deandra and Charisse took the mop bucket out and dumped it and they hung the mops out back on the clothesline to drip. We all marched into the living room and sat wherever we could find. The living room was normally off limits to us.
We settled and Mama spoke. “You all know Ronni King by now. But he doesn’t know you. So, go around the room and introduce yourselves, first and last names.”
It started with Penny Jenkins, Bart Waverly, Andre Jones, Kevin Stout, Charisse Johnson, Deandra Kennedy, and Jasmine Bonifer.
“He comes from a small town in southern Indiana,” Mama continued, “His Mother recently died and left him an orphan. As you all know, the state has phased out all the public orphanages and everyone goes into the foster system now. There are still some church run houses, but those are for rich white kids,” she said and laughed. I tried to imagine a rich white orphan. I couldn’t.