"I have permission from Child Services to release you into his custody."
"So we have no choice?"
Mrs. Haskell sits down next to me, lowerin' her voice.
"You have a choice, Carey. If you refuse to go with him, we can place you in foster care. Two foster homes. Our families are pretty full right now, and we can't find one that can take both of you at present. In light of your sister's condition"
"She's not retarded or nothin'. She just don't talk."
"Even so, her, um, issue requires special placement. We found a home for Jenessa, but they're just not equipped to take two children right now."
Nessa's thumb finds her mouth, and her hair, soaked with sweat, falls in a curtain across her eyes. She makes no move to smooth it away. She's hidin' in plain sight.
"I can't leave my sister alone with strangers."
"I don't think it's the best idea, either. We like to place children with relatives whenever possible. Taking into account Jenessa's bond with you, I think it would be detrimental to her emotional well-being to separate the two of you. It's already going to be a big adjustment as it is."
I glare in the direction of the man on the bench, this man I don't know and barely recognize. I think of runnin' away, like maybe we should've done as soon as we saw them comin'. But we have no money, no place to go. There's no car to pull the camper, since Mama drove off with it, and we can't stay here. They know where we are now. They know everythin'.
I think of tellin' her what Mama told me about him, because there's no way she'd make us go with him, if she knew. But I look down at Ness, disappearin' before our eyes.
I can't leave my sister.
"How much time do we have?"
"Enough time to pack up your things. You'll need to pack a bag for your sister also."
She leaves us sittin' there, with the late-afternoon sun dapplin' the forest floor as if it's any other day. I watch her reach into the bin by the foldin' table, then walk back over. She hands me two of the shiny black garbage bags folded up like Mama's letter. I slip out from under Jenessa, balance her on the tree, and proceed to shake each bag into its full size. We all stop and watch the birds scatter into jagged flight at the unnatural sound of plastic slappin' the air.
"Just take the necessities. We'll send someone back to pack up the rest."
I nod, glad to turn my gaze toward the camper before my face melts again. How could Mama do this to us? How could she leave us to fend for ourselvesleave us at allwithout explainin' or sayin' good-bye?
I hate her with the fury of gasoline set on fire. I burn for Jenessa, who deserves better than this, better than some screwed-up, drug-addicted mother, better than this chaos that always seems to find us, rubbin' off on us like some horrible rash.
Ness is my shadow as the camper door creaks on its hinges, this old piece-of-crap ve-hic-le we've called home for almost as long as I can rememberdefinitely as long as Ness can remember.
I glance around, absorb the mess, the clothes strewn about, the plates dribblin' crumbs or caked with dried bean glue, and begin to pack Ness's bag first. She sits on the cot, unmovin', not even jumpin' when I grab the nearest book, one of her Winnie-the-Poohs, and slam it down on a cockroach scuttlin' across the tiny stainless-steel sink; without runnin' water, it was as useless as a dollhouse sink, until I'd turned it into a place to store plates and cups. Mama never hooked the camper up to water because water sources meant campgrounds, sites out in the open, and judgmental strangers with pryin' eyes.
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