An excerpt from
“Come on, Kayla. This is total bullshit. I didn’t do anything!”
I look up from my phone to see Logan Davidson with a scowl on his face. “Just shut your mouth and get your stuff,” I order, annoyed.
I hold my hand up in front of me and glare at him. My patience is running thin, and if this boy pushes me any further, I will snap. Seventeen-year-old Logan isn’t a bad kid, he’s just a little misguided. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. It usually keeps me from banging my head against the wall when he acts up. He enjoys causing trouble and getting into fights. He’s a big kid, too, which doesn’t make things any easier. At six foot two and around two hundred pounds, his size—in addition to his behavioral issues—makes him hard to place. He has a good heart, though. I can see it in the rare moments when he lets his wall down to take care of his little brother, Matty.
Grumbling and swearing under his breath, Logan violently shoves clothes into his makeshift suitcase. The state of Minnesota gives kids in foster care glorified trash bags to act as suitcases and thinks that by dressing them up with a nice, plaid pattern, the kids will forget what they really are—a way to cart their stuff from temporary home to temporary home. Logan and his brother are on their eighth move.
When I graduated from college with my degree in social work, I thought I could save the world, change lives, be a part of something amazing…but over the years, I’ve realized how naïve I was. Life doesn’t work that way and neither does the social welfare system—it’s not that simple. There are rules, bureaucracy, and red tape creating barriers at what seems like every turn.
The Davidson boys entered the system when Logan was eleven. Matty was nearly eight. Their mother, a meth and heroin addict, tried to sell Matty to support her habit. When the guy came to pick up his purchase, Logan stabbed him with a steak knife, grabbed Matty, and ran. It was the middle of winter and neither one of them was appropriately dressed for the frigid weather. For nearly a week, the boys hid out in all-night laundromats and at the bus station. Eventually someone reported them to CPS and they were taken into care, albeit not without a fight.
Their case was my first when I joined Minnesota State’s Department of Human Services. I chose to go into foster care, not child protective services, so there was no reason for me to be out on a call. I was simply tagging along to see how intake did their jobs before I got any cases of my own. I saw the state the boys were in—dirty and hungry. They looked so small. A few weeks later, their case file landed on my desk. Sometimes I wonder if it was fate—if, for some reason, I was meant to be their caseworker. And then I laugh and remember there’s no such thing as fate.
Matty is waiting with his own bag at the bottom of the stairs when Logan and I descend.
“You know you can stay, Matty.” Sandy Barker, one of my favorite foster mothers, smiles at him. She places her hand on the back of his head. “We just can’t have Logan fighting with Steve anymore.”
Matty pulls away from her. Without a word, he picks up his bag and walks out the front door. Logan follows. Matty is fourteen and almost the exact opposite of Logan. He’s small for his age and stick thin. He’s also extremely shy and doesn’t talk much. I worry about him all the time. There’s a fine line between being okay and completely losing it. I think Matty’s walking that line.
“I’m really sorry, Sandy,” I say sadly. I hate that this has happened. Sandy and her husband, Steve, have always come through for me in tight situations. I was thrilled when they agreed to take the boys in five months ago after Logan blew their previous placement. I thought that maybe it would be the final move; that Logan might realize how great they are as foster parents. I thought wrong.
“It’s okay, Kayla. It’s not your fault. I’m just sad Matty feels like he needs to leave, too.”
“Those two are thick as thieves,” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t think either of them would survive anywhere without the other.”
Exiting the Barker house, I unlock my car for the boys. Logan climbs into the front passenger seat, while Matty ducks into the back.
“Can I drive?” Logan asks as I slide in behind the wheel.
“Come on, Kayla, please?” he begs, flashing his irritatingly adorable dimples and batting his long, dark eyelashes.
“First of all, you don’t have your license—”
“I’ve got my permit.”
“—second of all,” I continue. “Why on earth would I give you the privilege of driving my car when I was just called, while on my way home, to come pick you up for punching your foster father?”
Logan looks sheepish for a split-second before frowning. “He pissed me off.”
“Yeah, and that’s a good excuse,” I snap. “Besides, I thought you said you didn’t do anything.”
He shrugs. I watch in the rearview mirror as Matty pulls his iPod out of his hoodie pocket and puts his earbuds in. Sandy and Steve gave both boys iPods for Christmas this past year. While Logan scoffed that iPods were stupid and outdated, Matty seemed to cherish his. It gave him an escape when he wanted to pretend he couldn’t hear the conversations around him.
“Have you ever thought that maybe your constant fighting and troublemaking might be hurting your brother?” I ask quietly as I drive toward my office.
Logan looks behind him and then turns to face forward again. “He’s fine.”
“Really? You really think he’s okay with being uprooted every few months?”
“It’s not like I do it on purpose.” He scowls.
“You’ve got to control your anger,” I say with a sigh. “You’re going to be eighteen in less than six months. If you keep doing this shit, you’re going to land yourself in jail. Where will Matty be then?”
“Can’t I adopt him or something?”
“If you’re in jail? No!” I scoff. “Even if you’re not, you can’t even take care of yourself. How are you going to take care of a fourteen-year-old?”
He looks at me and frowns. “Shit, Kayla, I don’t know. I just assumed they’d let me do it. He’s my brother.”
Shaking my head, I can’t help but feel for Logan. He loves his brother, but his impulse control is nonexistent. He’s not thinking about either of their futures.
“They’re not going to let you take care of him if they think he’s not safe with you.”
“He is safe with me,” Logan barks. In the mirror, I see Matty look up from his iPod, briefly meeting my gaze before looking back down.
“Logan, I know you love him, but you have to grow up. Stop fighting, stop lying, stop smoking weed, stop tagging neighborhood garages, stop screwing around with random girls, and stop stealing everything you can get your hands on.”
Again, I lift my hand. “Don’t even try it. I know exactly what you’ve been up to. I’m not going to scold you. I’m trying to let you know where it’s going to land you,” I look over at him, “and Matty.”
Logan doesn’t say anything else for the rest of the thirty-minute drive. He sits with his arms across his chest and his eyes closed. I wonder if he’s thinking about what I’ve said or if he’s already moved on. My guess is the latter. When we get to the DHS building, I get out of the car and the boys follow.
“Leave your bags,” I instruct. “Hopefully we won’t be spending the night here, but if you need them, you can always come back out.” I slide my ID card into the front door. “Hey, Xavier,” I greet the night shift security guard.
“Hey, Kayla. Late night tonight?” Xavier offers me a smile, allowing me to slip past the metal detector. The boys know the routine. They have to empty their pockets before coming through.
As he digs through his pockets, Logan complains, “I don’t understand this shit. Do they really think I’m going to come in here and shoot up the place?”
“There are some desperate people out there who will do just about anything when it comes to their kids, Logan. It’s better safe than sorry.”
“That’s fucked up.”
I don’t bat an eyelash at Logan’s foul mouth anymore. I used to get on his case about it, but it didn’t do any good. Now I’ve gotten used to it, and, in all honesty, I have to pick my battles when it comes to him.
We make our way through the maze of hallways back to my office. The place isn’t as deserted as the evening hour might suggest. Tired and frustrated workers sit with phones plastered to their ears while kids hang around them, bored and complaining. Winter is hard on the foster care system. Maybe it’s because the kids are stuck indoors with energy levels that irritate parents, who have little or no coping skills. Or maybe it’s because they’re in school and the schools are required to file reports when children are habitually underdressed or underfed. CPS tries to keep kids in their homes as much as possible, but, regardless, the system is overwhelmed in the winter. For that reason, I now expect to be sitting in my office with the Davidson boys for a long time.
“Sit!” I say firmly as I set my purse and keys down on my desk. The boys flop down in the hard plastic chairs next to it. I rub my eyes and look at the clock on the wall. Seven fifteen. “Did you guys eat dinner? Do you want anything?” I ask. Matty shakes his head.
“I’m still hungry,” Logan whines.
“Of course you are,” I snort. Logan is always hungry.
I order a pizza from the Italian eatery down the block and hand Logan a twenty. “I want that pizza back here whole. And I want my change,” I call as he walks out with a wave and a cheeky grin. Blowing out a heavy breath, I turn my attention to Matty. Our eyes meet, and I see him chewing on his lip. “Are you okay?” I ask. He nods. “Is this a no-talking day?”
“No,” he mumbles.
“Then talk to me.” He shrugs and starts picking at his fingernails. “Do you want to go back to the Barkers’?”
“Seriously, Matthew,” I say firmly. “You need to give me more than these one syllable answers. Otherwise, I’m going to assume you want to go with Logan regardless of how it affects you.” He shrugs again and I let out a frustrated growl before picking up my phone to begin searching for a placement for the night.
Twenty minutes later, Logan returns with a supreme pizza. He has a half-eaten slice in his hand.
“Sorry, couldn’t wait,” he says, mouth full. He hands me five bucks in change and sits the box down on my desk. Despite saying he wasn’t hungry, Matty eats two pieces. I eat one and Logan eats the rest.
At eleven o’clock, I’m about to give up and have the boys crash in the break room when I come across one last option. It’s tucked into the back of my Rolodex, which I rarely use anymore because it’s much easier to just plug contacts into my phone or computer. But desperation led me to flip through it. I lift the card.
Wyatt House is a group home for boys ages eleven to eighteen. I’ve never placed any children there, but some of my coworkers have. I would always rather avoid group homes if possible. They’re meant for higher-risk kids and teenagers, and tend to be a little more like an institution and less like a home. But right now I don’t have much of a choice.
Matty and Logan are both fed up with waiting. Matty closed his eyes and seems to have fallen asleep sitting up with his chin tucked into his chest. Logan is restless, fiddling with papers and pens and paperclips, rocking his chair back on its hind legs and trying to balance.
“One more, guys, and then I’m done for the night,” I say, running my hand through my hair. I dial the number.
“Wyatt House, this is Emily. How can I help you?” a female voice answers, sounding far too awake.
“Hi, this is Kayla Brooks with DHS. I was hoping you might have availability for the night…maybe longer.”
“Give me just a second.” She puts me on hold, and I smile. The song playing is “Highway to Hell.” Less than a minute later the line clicks.
“This is Dean.” The new voice on the other end of the phone is surprisingly attractive. I swallow dryly. Goose bumps appear on my arms, making me shiver.
“Hello?” the voice repeats.
“Oh. Hi. Sorry. This is Kayla Brooks with DHS. I was hoping you might have room for an emergency placement.” There is a significant amount of hope in my voice, but, at the same time, I’m not expecting anything.
“Yes, we do,” he answers.
“Really?” I practically squeal. I cover my mouth, embarrassed.
“How old is he?”
“There are two of them, actually. I probably should have said that before, but it’s late, and I’ve been doing this for four hours and—”
“I’ve got room. Names and ages?”
“Logan Davidson, seventeen, and Matthew Davidson, fourteen.”
“Reason for placement?”
“Logan was reprimanded for fighting with his foster father, and it was requested that he be removed from the home. They’re brothers. They come as a package deal.”
“Is this violence typical behavior for Logan?” he asks.
“It’s not…unusual, no.” I hear the panic in my voice. I have to assume that Dean can hear it, too. “But it’s not extremely common, either. If that makes sense,” I rush out, praying he doesn’t immediately say no and hang up.
“What about Matthew?”
“No. No violence at all.”
The line is quiet for a moment and I prepare myself for rejection.
“Okay. That’s everything I need for right now. Just make sure you bring me their paperwork. Do you have our address?”
“Yes.” I breathe out in relief. “I’ll have everything ready. Thank you so much, Mr.…”
“Dean,” he says.
“Thanks, Dean. I should be there in,” I look up at the clock on the wall, “probably twenty-five minutes.”
“That’s fine. I’ll be here.” His words are abrupt and professional, but his voice is sexy, smooth, and gravelly.
When I hang up, I bring my thumbnail up to my mouth, flustered. Raising my eyes, I see both boys staring at me.
“What the hell was that?” Logan bursts out.
“That. The whole…” He swirls his hand around his face and bites on his thumbnail, mocking me.
“That was me finding you guys a place to stay. Now zip it and come on.” I stand up, grabbing the paperwork for placement and their files. “Let’s go.”