Melissa had a very hard night. She did fall asleep eventually, but not until after many hours of crying and talking with Maria. It was finally quiet upstairs around 11. Mary and I cleaned up the kitchen then sat and talked about the situation.
Daria came home from her camping weekend around 11:30. She scavenged in the fridge while I explained what happened. She had taken 4 plastic containers, opened each one and taken one bite out of each thing before she said anything. “Is she going to stay with us?”
“I don’t know, but I am thinking we should at least offer to let her say until some permanent arrangements can be made” I said.
Daria put the food away and said, “That’s cool, as long as she isn’t really weird and doesn’t steal my stuff like Maria does.”
I promised her she was quite normal and that we would have another talk with Maria about her stuff being off limits.
Daria laughed, “Fat chance that will help. But it’s cool; I don’t mind another person around. It might keep Maria from bugging me so much.”
In spite of the sarcasm I could tell she was taking it in stride and wouldn’t freak out about it, at least not in the short term.
Daria was still hanging out with us around midnight when Melissa came quietly downstairs and asked if she could have some water. I introduced her to Daria. She looked at her and said, “Hi. You’re really pretty. I like your hair.”
Daria smiled and said, ‘I haven’t washed it all weekend but thanks.”
I got Melissa a cup of water and asked her how she was feeling.
She started to talk but only a bit of crying came out. We consoled her and told her things would work out. She stopped crying and looked at me. “People tell me that a bunch but bad things keep happening. Angus told me that.”
Mary spoke softly, “Well, Melissa. Bad things do happen, for sure. They happen and good things happen too. You are here safe tonight with friends and we will do the best we can to make sure something good happens tomorrow, ok?”
Melissa sniffled, “Ok, I guess that’s what we will hope for.” She drank her last sip of water and went back upstairs.
Daria went to bed and Mary went home shortly thereafter. I stayed up doing some painting. I painted a little watercolor sunrise just to occupy my hands while my mind raced. I had negotiated the terrain of my daughters’ adolescence in pretty good shape. It hadn’t been perfect, but I had enjoyed the first two as teenagers so far and expect I would enjoy it with Maria as well.
I wasn’t worried about if I could handle another kid in the house, I was worried about whether Maria and Daria could. Initially Maria would love having Melissa around, I knew that. But it was a big shift to bring in a new child. The family equilibrium was stable, but it was floating on a relatively calm ocean of hormones, not truly on solid ground.It was sunrise when I finally got a bit of sleep.
I called Velma’s sister, Violet, as soon as I thought it reasonable, around 10 am. She said Velma had a dizzy spell when she got home and had been in bed ever since. She said that they were going to have to travel to Mississippi for the funeral since that is where Angus had been raised and where all his folk were buried. There was a good chance Velma would move back there in the not too distant future.
She asked, “Are you interested in taking her in?” I responded, “She can stay here for a few days. What about her brother in Alabama, can he take her in?”
Violet explained, “No, he is in the military and will be for another 2 years. He loves her but he isn’t in any position to take care of her. Her parents are both dead so she has no where to go but into foster care, at least until she gets adopted, which isn’t all that likely given she is already 10 years old.” It all sounded so harsh. “She can come back to say goodbye to Velma and get her stuff, but she won’t be able to live here anymore.” I made arrangements to drop by Velma’s with Melissa later in the day.
Mary, Melissa, Maria and I all went over. Velma was sitting at the kitchen counter when we got there. Melissa went over to Velma and hugged her. Velma started to cry. Melissa said, “I’m real sorry about Angus. I liked him a lot.” Velma pushed her back a bit and apologized, “I am really sorry too, Melissa. I am also really sorry that I won’t be able to take care of you anymore. I like you bunches. You are a great young girl, one of the best kids we have ever had live with us. But I have to deal with a lot of stuff now that Angus is gone and I am not feeling very good at all. We will get all your stuff and make sure you have a new place to live, ok?”
Melissa put her head down and just nodded. Just then there was a knock on the aluminum storm door. Violet answered it and in came a short woman with long black hair. She was made up with a lot of mascara and blush. She said hello to Velma, gave her condolences then turned her attention to Melissa. “Hi Melissa.” She said. “Sorry this didn’t work out for very long. “ She said. “Who is your friend?” she asked, looking at Maria.
“This is Maria. That’s her father. I spent the night there last night. They are really nice.” Melissa exclaimed.
“Can you go start to pack while I talk to Velma a little bit?” Jan asked.
When Melissa and Maria disappeared down the hall and she heard the door close the woman addressed Velma. “So, you are sure you can’t keep her at least for a while? I don’t have anywhere to put her right yet. There just ain’t enough people willing to take in a kid right now. She would likely have to go north up to the city to find a home for her and even that would be really short term I think. That family already has 5 other foster kids living with them.”
Violet spoke up quick. “Jan, this is Art, Maria’s dad. He was nice enough to let her spend the night at his house last night. He said he could put her up for a while until a permanent place could be found for her. Art, this is Jan. She is the case worker for Melissa.”Jan looked at me. “You got a wife there?”
“No.” I said. “She left about 7 years ago. I have raised my 3 daughters by myself since then. Maria is Melissa’s age, another who is 15 and another who is 19, off at college.”
Jan shook her head. “Wow, you should have a lot more gray hair if you raised 3 girls and 2 are teenagers.”
I laughed and said, “No, I just went bald instead.” Lifting up my cap to show my lack of hair on top.
She returned to the issue at hand, “Well, I have to check you out in the system and all that stuff but in an emergency I have some leeway. I have to come over and see where you live now though. My boss won’t like that you are a single dad.”
“I can vouch for him. He’s a great dad.” Mary spoke confidently. She looked at me and smiled.Jan responded quickly, “He may be a great dad, but my boss thinks all guys are perverts. She won’t like that there is no woman around. Who are you?”
Mary smiled at Jan, “I am his next door neighbor. I have lived next to him for 10 years now. I have seen him do all the stuff a mother and father would do and he does it really well. I am around a lot.”
I smiled at Mary. Jan looked hard at me again. “I’ll call the office and they’ll check you out. You cool with that? While they check we can go see your place.”
“Yep, no problem.” I said.
Jan didn’t spend much time at my house, or ask a lot of questions. She looked at the rooms, the kitchen, and the living room. She asked what I did for a living and I told her I was an artist. She looked at me funny and said, “You make enough money from that?”
I told her I did. I showed my studio to her, explained my commissions and contracts, and she seemed satisfied.
Her cell phone rang. “Hi Dot. Yea, I am over at his house now. It looks ok considering no woman lives here.” She explained. I looked at Mary. She was trying to keep from laughing.
Jan walked outside and closed the door. I could hear her talking but couldn’t hear what she was saying. She raised her voice a bit at one point. Finally she came back in and said, “She says you check out so far and Melissa can stay with you on an emergency basis for the week. What happens after that, who knows?”
We called Melissa and Maria downstairs. I sat down and brought the two of them close. “Melissa, if you want to, you can stay here for a while. Maria, would you mind having a roommate for a week? I know it doesn’t sound permanent but it’s the best we can do for now, ok?”
The looked at each other and out came a harmonized squeal that made everyone in the room smile and put their hands over their ears at the same time. Even Daria was smiling. They jumped around in circles laughing and whooping it up for a few minutes before stopping on a dime. Maria looked at me. “Can we go upstairs and rearrange our room?”
I looked around at all the smiling faces and said, “Go do your damage!” and off they ran.