I glanced around the living room nervously. My eyes landed on the old quilt my Nan kept draped over the couch. The gaudy patch in the middle depicted Elvis the day he married Priscilla. They were cutting their wedding cake, her black bouffant was almost taller than the cake.
“Priscilla,” I said when I turned back to Miss Thornton. “Priscilla… Perkins.” The double P sound would make it easier for me to remember the lie.
“Where is this Aunt Priscilla?” She lowered her thick black glasses to the tip of her nose as she looked down at me.
“Um…she’s on her way back from Atlanta. She had to go get the rest of her stuff so she could move in here with me.” I looked past her so we wouldn’t make eye contact. Her eyes were like little lie detectors; I could almost see the needles jumping as my heartbeat sped up and slowed down. “She’s my mother’s sister. I just met her recently actually.”
I really needed to stop blurting shit out.
“Okay. So, when is your mother’s sister expected?” Miss Thornton was almost huffing. She was also sweating and not just a little. The beads that had started on her forehead raced down her face and pooled on top of her too-tight blouse collar. It drew my attention to the little yellow stain along the white fabric that grew larger with each passing moment she stood on the porch.
“Tomorrow afternoon,” I stated with as much confidence as I could. I faked a yawn to appear more nonchalant.
“Does anyone else know this aunt of yours? Anyone I could speak to?” She stuck her finger into her collar and pulled it away from the neck roll that puffed out above it. I swear I saw steam escape. I was sure she had a lot of kids besides me to go kidnap. I didn’t know why she was so worried about me.
“Sure. Everyone knows Aunt Priscilla. You can go ask at the corner store or at the motel up the road. They all know her.”
“Okay, Miss Ford,” Miss Thornton said. “Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m required to make certain you aren’t living alone, so I need to be sure that this ‘Aunt Priscilla’,” and she quoted the air with her fingers, “exists and is capable of caring for you. I intend to speak to the people you claim know her, by sometime this afternoon. If they do indeed know ‘Aunt Priscilla’ and can vouch for her existence, I will be back tomorrow afternoon to interview her regarding the process of becoming your legal custodian. In the meantime, here’s my card.” She handed me a generic white card with the Florida state seal in the corner. “If by chance she arrives earlier, please have her call me.”
I reached out and took her card as she turned and started down the steps.
She turned to me again. “And Miss Ford? If for any reason ‘Aunt Priscilla’ isn’t capable of your care, you will have to come with me.” For the first time since she’d rung the bell, there was something resembling concern in her voice, like maybe she’d cared about her job once, but over time had forgotten how to keep doing so.
The concern went away just as quickly as it had arrived. “Are you certain you don’t want to save me some time and trouble in this heat and just pack a bag now?”
I shook my head.
“Okay, then. I will be back, Miss Ford,” she assured me. She opened the car door and maneuvered herself behind the steering wheel of her much-too-small-for-her-body-mass silver Prius before pulling off down the road, in the direction of the corner store and motel.
I ran back into the house before the dust kicked up by her tires could settle. I opened my closet and pulled clothes from their hangers, opening drawers, and shoving as much stuff as I could into my backpack. It wouldn’t take her long to verify that no one knew this fictional Aunt Priscilla. I had to get the hell out of here before she came back and dragged me to yet another foster home.
Paid childcare, without the care. To me, that was what foster care really was. It funded drug habits and paid rents.
There was no way in hell I was going back in.
My experiences in the system varied between sharing a room with a boy who skinned cats—who I was convinced would suffocate me in my sleep—to listening to Greg, the older boy who slept in the bottom bunk of our four bunk room, angrily masturbating every night and cursing his parents when he came.
Then there was Sophie, the only friend I had ever made in foster care. She was small and quiet with dark hair and large brown eyes. Her skin always looked naturally tanned. She looked like a doll, from what I heard about them, anyway. I’d never actually owned one myself. Sophie shared the same vacant, hopeless look as I had. Her family history and her upbringing weren’t all that different from my own.