An Orphan's Summer
By the fifth time around, I knew the drill by heart: stuff all my things in a plastic garbage bag, go outside and wait for a few hours, and then be taken somewhere new. See, I had this thing about never staying in one home for too long; I was always kicked out of foster homes in a matter of a year or two. But this time, it was different. This time, I knew I’d only be in my new home for a summer; apparently, some family in Washington had decided to take on a foster kid as a “summer project”. I frowned. I didn’t like the idea of just being someone’s “summer project”. Getting used to a new family and a new place only for a season was not the most appetizing idea to me. I’d done enough jumping around homes for only being fifteen years old; yet, here I was again.
I have been sitting on the front porch here for two hours. Where in the world are these people?! I sighed, purely exasperated, got up, and started kicking the dirt around outside the house. I’d never been to Washington, but I heard that it’s rainy, and quite different from Idaho. I had been in Idaho for so long, I didn’t quite know what to expect. City? Country? Sun? Rain? Who knows. Finally, I saw a gold sedan start to pull in to the long dirt driveway. I sat back down on the steps of the porch and scowled. Crreeaaakkk! My foster mom, Pearl, opened the old door behind me and came out onto the porch. She poked her head back into the house just long enough to call, “Mason! Ella! They’re here.” Pearl was a single mom whose husband died of cancer seven years back, and she had housed me for the past two years. Her two children, Mason and Ella, were twins and were four years younger than me. They could be real pains sometime.
“Are you ready for this, Miss Della Claire?” Pearl turned to me, “Should be a pretty fun adventure. A nice opportunity to get away from small Idaho and into a larger, more exciting environment.”
I remained where I was sitting and stared blankly ahead, until the car was just inches away from my face.
“Think of it as a- a journey. Your summer refresh button, so to speak. A chance to rest and relax, take a break, and discover new things about yourself and those around you.”
A refresh button? Doesn’t a refresh button just re-load the exact same page or place that you’re already at? I don’t really want a refresh button; what I want is more like a completely new URL. I’ve had enough of new homes for now; I want a permanent address.
The car’s headlights flashed, then out of the car came a young couple. The woman was tall and thin, with long blonde hair and warm, brown eyes. She was dressed simply but nicely, as if she was trying too hard to not dress and act wealthy even though she probably was. Both she and the man looked to be about thirty-five years old. The man was a little taller than the woman, built, and was dressed in nice jeans and a plaid short-sleeved dress shirt. He gave off the same deceitful air that the woman did.
I felt Pearl nudging my back with her foot. “Della Claire!” she whispered harshly to me, “stand up and say hello!”
I reluctantly did as she was told; I was never really the disobedient type. My real parents had taught me better than that, before their “accident”. As I stood up and extended my hand out to the woman, I greeted her saying “Nice to meet you, ma’am. My name is Della Claire Hopkins. It’s a pleasure meeting you and your, uh, your-”
“Husband,” she cut in with a warm smile, “that’s Jeffery, and I’m Rachel. It’s very nice to meet you, too, Della.” I smiled back and didn’t tell her that the only person who had ever called me “Della” was my Aunt Crystal, and that even she wasn’t allowed to call me that any longer.
Jeffery cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well…we might as well get going then, Della. It’s a pretty long drive, so we should probably try to get a head start. Is that all you’ve got?” he asked, pointing to my black trash bag of clothes. I nodded my head bashfully, walked over and slung the bag over my shoulder, and heaved it in the backseat where Rachel was gesturing me to sit. Jeffery walked around to the driver’s side of the car and got in. I stared at his reflection in the rearview mirror, and caught him eying me anxiously. There’s nothing to worry about, Jeffery. I said to myself, I won’t do anything bad. I’m just going to sit here.
I glanced out the window and saw Pearl and Rachel exchanging a hug, and Pearl waved goodbye. Next thing I knew, I was in a car alone with two strangers.
Do these people ever stop talking? We were probably a good quarter of the way done with our drive and they were still trying to spark conversation with the silent orphan in the backseat of their car. I crossed my arms at my chest and stared out the window.
“Pretty, isn’t it, Della?” Jeffery piped up. He and Rachel still made an effort to consciously address me by name, but they were kind of failing because “Della” was not my name.
“Della Claire.” I whispered under my breath.
“What did you say, Della?” Rachel asked hastily, turning around in her seat. Her eyes widened, as if she was in the middle of watching an action movie and couldn’t imagine what would happen next.
“Della Claire…” I said meekly. “You-you keep calling me Della, but my name is Della Claire.”
“Oh, dear! I’m so sorry, Della Claire. I didn’t know.” She chimed in again. I turned away and said nothing else. The rest of the drive was silent, all the way to their quaint little house in Seattle, Washington.
“Welcome home, Della Claire! This is where you’ll be hangin’ your hat this summer,” announced Jeffery, after he had parked and got out of the car. I followed him out and I quickly scanned the property. There was a little yellow house with a pointed roof, probably two-stories tall. They had a small yard and a picket fence, which enclosed gardens of tulips and chrysanthemums and every other kind of flower you could imagine. The neighbors were close enough that you could visit them often, but far away enough that you didn’t have to put up with each other all the time. I sat my plastic garbage bag down on the driveway and smiled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rachel and Jeffery were pleased at my approval of their home.
“You have a lovely home, Mr. and Mrs. Thiessen.” I said cordially. Honestly, I was a little surprised at myself and my manners; somehow, they had come back to me and here I was, being polite and friendly!
Rachel was genuinely touched and put her hand to her heart. “Oh, thank you, Della Claire! I’m so glad you like it. I have a feeling you’re really going to love it here. Pick up your bag; I’ll show you to your room.”
I sprawled out on my back, across the yellow floral bedspread, and looked up at the ceiling. I was on cloud 9 at this point; never been happier. I closed my eyes, sighed, and imagined life was perfect and that it could always be like this. But, I knew it was only for this summer. The lovely room, the nice family, the sweet pool, the new friends…they would all go away in a matter of a few months.
“Come in?” I said to the door, or whoever was behind it. In walked Rachel, with a smoothie in one hand and a pool pass in the other.
“Della Claire, are you alright?” she asked, setting the smoothie on the bedside table. She sat down on the edge of the lacey comforter and began stroking my hair.
“Oh, yeah. I’m doing great. I’ve never been happier, to be honest. But…but I just wish this could never end” I confided. I opened my eyes and sat up.
“You still have a few more months; enjoy them while they last. Come on, put your swimsuit on and let’s go to the pool. It’s a pretty hot day. You can invite Kendall to come, too, if you want. But, don’t just sit and mope around; I waited so long to have a daughter to call my own, or a little sister, and now that I’ve got one I am determined to make sure she’s happy.” She stood up and pulled me off of the bed, and I started to change into my swimsuit. Just a few more months…gotta soak it up while it lasts, right? Then it’s back to travel. A new home, a new life, another new start. Another push of the “refresh button”, as Pearl called it. Gonna start all over again. But what if I don’t want another new start? What if this is where I want to be for the rest of forever? What if I want to establish my brand-new, permanent URL right here in Queen Anne?
“Boy, swimming sure makes me hungry. I don’t know about you, Della Claire, but I could really go for some fish and chips,” suggested Jeffery.
“Sure, that sounds good to me!” I agreed.
Joe’s Fish and Chips was bustling with excitement, as it always was on a hot, summer day. When we finally had ordered and gotten our food, we sat at the table and scarfed it all down. I was deep in thought, when suddenly,
Gak! Wheeeeze! Huk! Huk! Agh!
I turned over and looked at Rachel, who was blue in the lips with her hands to her throat! Her eyes were wide with terror and pain, and if she could have used her voice, I know she would have screamed. Jeffery just sat back in shock, eyes wide, unable to move, talk, or do anything about it. I, in my panic, jumped up and ran over to Rachel’s side.
“RACHEL!” I screamed, as loud as I could. “SOMEBODY, HELP! SHE’S CHOKING!” A full restaurant turned toward me, all astonished an worried, but nobody was moving or coming to help.
“Give her the Heimlich!” somebody shouted out in the crowd.
“I don’t know how!” I shouted back. Regardless, I went around behind Rachel and tried punching my fists into her stomach, but no use; I was doing something wrong. Suddenly, the old woman at the table next to us pointed her finger and shouted at me: “Honey, use both hands at one time and thrust UPWARD!” I frantically did as I was told, and on the fourth or fifth thrust, a cod bone shot out of Rachel’s mouth and onto the floor. She immediately collapsed onto the ground in a fit of coughing and wheezing. By this time, Jeffery had gathered himself together and had called 911; I heard the sirens in the distance, coming closer and closer until they were right next to me.
I sat next to the hospital bed, holding Rachel’s hand. The chair was hard and uncomfortable, but I had no choice but to stay there with her. After all she had done for me that summer, I couldn’t leave her side. She had been so kind to take me in, listen to my story and my problems, take the place of my mother or older sister, and try to make my summer memorable and fun. All she and Jeffery had wanted was to give a foster kid a break from a hard life.
“Rachel?” I whispered softly. She didn’t say anything back or even open her eyes, but she turned her head toward me. She was in pretty bad shape; turns out, the fish bone had gotten lodged in her esophagus and made a hole. She wouldn’t recover fully for quite some time, if ever. I squeezed her hand tighter, lowered my head, and cried softly.
Jeffery came in to the room and gestured for me to leave so he could be alone with Rachel. I reluctantly complied and headed out. I sat on the floor with my back up against the door of the hospital room, trying to hear anything I could. To catch anything Rachel might say. I wanted to know that she would get better, and would be able to talk again. Instead, I heard nothing more than silence and some muttered whispers, but then I heard Rachel say to Jeffery, “yes, I agree. She needs to stay with us.”
I jumped up to my feet and threw open the door. Jeffery stared at me as if I was a madman. In that moment, I realized how foolish it was of me to practically confess to eavesdropping. But instead of being upset, a wide smile began spreading across Jeffery’s face.
“I, uh, I take it that you heard our conversation, Della Claire?” he asked semi-suspiciously, although I knew that he knew what I had done.
“Well, no, not really, but, well, kind of... you see,” I stammered awkwardly. Jeffery let out a chuckle.
“We might as well tell you, Della Claire. We’ve been keeping it a secret this whole time, but since Rachel likely wouldn’t even be able to tell you at the end of the summer, I might as well tell you the whole story now. Come here; sit down.” I did as I was told, my eyes glued to his. “We decided to take you on for the summer as a, uh, ‘trial period’, I guess you could call it. We wanted to see how you’d get along in our home before committing to anything long-term. But, since it’s been working out so nicely, we think it would be the right move for us- for you and for me and Rachel- for you to be our adopted daughter.”
I swallowed the tears I was trying so hard not to show, but I knew I had been crying already. At this point, I didn’t care if I looked weak or wussy; every foster kid LONGS to hear their foster parents say that they want their foster child to be their forever son or daughter.
“Does- does that sound like something you might want, Della Claire?”
I choked up some more tears, nodded my head vigorously, and ran over to Jeffery. I threw my arms around his neck and noticed he was crying, too. I turned over and looked at Rachel; she had a contented smile on her mouth. She still said nothing, but that smile said it all.
The butterflies in my stomach were untamable, and I was pretty sure they’d last through my entire speech.
“Wow...Valedictorian of your whole graduating class...” Rachel said, right before I was about to step onto that stage, “Della Claire, I’m so proud of you. You’ve grown so much in the two years since you’ve been here; I’m really honored to be your mom.”
“Thanks, Mom. It means a lot to hear you say that. Or to hear you say anything, for that matter.” I squeezed her hands affectionately. “Well, it’s time.”
I stepped out on that stage and heard the thundering applause of hundreds of people in the crowd. I smiled, took a deep breath, and began my speech.
“It’s been an absolute adventure getting to where I am today. Two years ago, I realized how dangerous a ‘refresh button’ can be when it replaces your home- your URL- your true address. Sometimes it can be good to rest, relax, and learn something new, but never EVER reload the same page of your life twice.”