I picked the phone up, but I didn't grab the lifeline. Instead, I pressed the hang-up button.
If the police came, God knows where it would end.
I know they try to keep families together when they take kids into care, but you can't count on it, can you? And who wants a teenage boy with attitude when they could just have a lovely little smiley girl? But for sure I wasn't going anywhere without Julie.
"Under your roof," I said, "but not under your care, and not under your orders either. From now on, I am in charge in this house. You will bring me your money every week and I will buy the food for us all, and I will cook it and serve it, and you can do the washing and cleaning."
Nah, of course I didn't. (Come on, you didn't really believe that, did you?)
I did press the hang-up button, but I didn't make the speech. I just hauled Julie to her feet and walked her out of the room. She'd stopped wailing by now, but she was still choking on her tears.
I put her up on the kitchen table and washed her face. I clucked over her, and she went on sobbing and sniffing. I tried to dry her face with the kitchen towel, but she said, "Aagh! It stinks," and pushed it away, so I got a tissue and dabbed at her face with that. All along the cheekbone on one side it was swollen, but the skin wasn't broken.
"You'll be plum-colored tomorrow," I said. "Miss Plum, the Grocer's Daughter. That's you."
Julie loves Happy Families. I hate all card games, but I especially hate Happy Families. Still, I play it with her sometimes, like when she is sick.
"Master Plaster, the Doctor's Son," she said, with a snivel and a little grin.
"Nah, you don't need a Band-Aid," I said. "You need an ice pack. Which we don't have. Or a packet of frozen peas, which we even more don't have."
"Peas!" she murmured, as if she was talking about some fabulous, exotic, unattainable fruit. "I'd love some peas. And mashed potatoes."
"Don't!" I groaned.
"It was because of the apples," she said. "I was crying because apples make me hungry instead of filling me up, they make my tummy water, and that was why she "
That wasn't why. It wasn't Julie's fault. But I just said, "Listen, I have some money. You and I are going out for a bag of chips, and then I will tuck you up in bed, and you don't have to go to school tomorrow, because of that face. How does that grab you?"
She brightened up at this. In fact, she lit up like a Christmas tree.
"No school?" she sang. "Really? Are you sure?"
"School's not so bad," I said.
Her face dropped.
"But I'm sure. You don't need to go. In fact, you can't go to school looking like that, you'd frighten the children!"
It was touch and go. Was she going to burst into tears again, or would she think it was funny? I grinned like a lunatic to indicate that humor was the correct response.
She got it. "Yay!" she said, and smiled.
She put her fingers very carefully to the tender place. The nails were all bitten down.
"Don't touch it," I said, lifting her down off the table. "You'll only make it worse."
"I wish " she said, and then stopped.
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
I knew what she wished because I wished it too. We wished we could go to Gramma's.
Excerpted from Long Story Short by Siobhan Parkinson. Copyright © 2011 by Siobhan Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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