MAINTAINING A TOUGH FACADE — AN EXCERPT

In this excerpt from An Accidental Life, a relatively new social worker struggles to impart some bad news to a teenage foster child.

Savannah stole a furtive glimpse of her new social worker, a truly green one, she decided, and wondered about the fear she saw in that porcelain white face, with those big violet blue eyes.  In contrast, her black hair was sleeked down and pulled into some kind of bun in back.  An attempt to add a hint of maturity, Savannah reflected, but it wasn’t working.  Suppressing her smile, Savannah maintained her calm, cool demeanor, tapping her fingers on the book she was holding.  They were sitting in the living room of the foster home and this ninny was trying to break some bad news, no doubt.

Finally, Molly just blurted it out.  She realized that there wasn’t really any way to soft-pedal news like this.  “Savannah, I have some bad news about your mother.”  She waited for the girl to meet her gaze and then continued.   “She left the program…Sneaked off one night a couple of days ago.  We’ve been searching, but since it’s not a locked facility, there’s not much we can do.  She wasn’t there on any kind of sentencing arrangement.  But…Her leaving means she’s probably using again.”

“So?”  Savannah’s glinting stare would have intimidated a much more experienced worker and Molly could almost feel the icy blast from the cold glance.  “What else is new?  She’s hard core, that one.  Nothing any of you people can say or do can change that.  She’s in her self-destruct mode and has been for as long as I’ve known her…”  As her voice trailed away, Molly thought she saw a glint of tears under the hard exterior, but it was just a flash, a momentary thing, and then it was gone.  She might have even imagined it.

“Do you have any questions?”  Molly probed.

“So this means I’m stuck in foster care indefinitely,” Savannah stated flatly.  She waited for the social worker’s denials, but they didn’t come.  She’d known that Mary would mess up!  That woman was a total idiot, moaning and groaning when she wasn’t passed out.  Clinging to that loser James.  At least he’d be inside for awhile. For that Savannah was very grateful.

“Do you have any relatives with whom you can be placed?”  Molly queried carefully, checking her notebook, where she’d apparently scrawled some history.  Apparently finding no clues to a kinder fate for Savannah, she sighed, but patiently waited for Savannah to give her something, anything, to make the situation better.

Shaking her head, Savannah stood up and walked across the room, staring out at the lawn covered with ice.  It was early in the morning and she was still on winter break.  She’d be going back to school next week.  She both looked forward to and dreaded it.  She hadn’t told anybody about her pregnancy…Except her friends and, of course, Blake and his parents.  She wondered how that would affect things.  She decided to say nothing for now.

Molly stood up and stuffed her notebook into a sleek, new briefcase.  Savannah focused on it, thinking that this poor woman had probably bought it with such high hopes.  And here she was, facing a difficult teenager, wondering why on earth she’d chosen this line of work!  Savannah laughed and then caught the startled look on Ms. Atkinson’s face.  Quickly she made a pitiful excuse.  “Sorry…” She murmured softly.  “When I’m nervous, I just can’t help myself.”

The young social worker left quickly, and as she walked briskly toward her county car, Savannah felt almost faint with the effort of trying to maintain some kind of dignity, while this person brought her whole world down around her, all in the line of duty.  Even though Mary was a totally ineffectual mother, Savannah had been looking forward to going home at last.  She’d at least have been able to come and go as she pleased, living with her mother.  Now that was not going to happen.  She sat down on the edge of the sofa, clutching her book to her chest, and sobbed quietly.  What was she going to do now?

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