“Hey, Tommy, you seen my mitt?” I ask as I poke my head into the little room we’ve been sharing.
“Yeah, it’s in the garage, but I don’t want to play right now.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly to steady myself for the news I’m about to give.
“You might as well know, I’m leaving tonight.”
“What?” Tommy tosses his book on the floor and leaps to his feet.
“Yeah, I heard your mom and dad talking about me in the kitchen. They said they didn’t know the best way to tell me.”
“This is bullshit.” Tommy’s fists are in white-knuckled balls. “You’re the best thing to happen around here in a long time. What the hell are they thinking?”
“Hey, watch your mouth. You’re too young to talk like that, you’ll get yourself in trouble,” I say with a cheeky grin. “It’s no big deal, Tom. It’s not like this is the first foster home I’ve been kicked out of.”
“Yeah but it’s Christmas Eve. And you must be wrong, because I know for a fact that mom and dad got you some presents. I saw them. You can’t go.”
He’s starting to tear up and I don’t want to hurt him.
“Trust me, I’ve done this enough to know that a quick break is better for everyone. I just wanted to say bye.”
“Well…” Tommy looks off to the right as he tries to think of a solution. “What if you find another foster family, here in this neighborhood? That would almost be like staying together. I think old man, Forester lives alone, maybe he’d like a kid.”
“It’s OK, Tom. It’ll be alright. Besides, I’ll be eighteen this summer anyway. No one’s gonna pay for a kid for only six months. I’ll be fine and you might not believe me, but you’ll get over it.”
“I doubt it, besides, where will you go?”
“The “Y”. I’ll get a job and then I’ll get my own place. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, Tom, it’s that you can’t sit around and wait for someone to help you. If you want something good to happen you have to do it yourself. You remember that and you’ll be OK.”
“I’ll remember it Brad. I’ll remember it, I promise. And you promise me something too OK?”
“Sure Tom, what is it?”
“You promise me, that no matter what, you’ll still be my brother.”
I choke back tears as Tommy throws his arms around my waist sobbing.
“OK, buddy I promise.” I have to pry him off me. He turns and throws himself on his bed and buries his head in his pillow. I walk to the door and grab my duffel bag. “
“I got to go. Merry Christmas, Tommy.”
The sound of Tommy’s crying must have alerted my foster mom to some goings on because she’s at the bottom of the steps waiting for me.
“Going somewhere?” she asks, arching her eyebrow.
“Just beating you to it, Joanne.”
“Beating me to what?”
“Oh, come on, I’m seventeen. You don’t have to sugarcoat it. I overheard you and Joe talking about the best way to tell me. I’m not stupid, I know what that means. I don’t know what I did, but obviously I did something, so I’m just going to leave now because I don’t think it would be fair to any of us if I stayed over Christmas.”
“You weren’t supposed to hear that, Brad and I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK, Joanne, I don’t have any hard feelings. I’ve made up my mind and I have a plan, I’ll be OK. You and Joe were the best family I’ve ever stayed with so, thanks.”
“Can you at least wait a minute? I think Joe would want to say goodbye before you go.”
She heads into the kitchen and I can hear them talking but can’t make out any words. Joe’s voice is raised. I hear his chair scrape on the linoleum followed by his loud footfalls heading the other way, into the den. I figure he doesn’t want to say anything to me and turn to leave.
“Joanne told me what was going on.” Joe made the loop around the house and came out of his home office behind me. “I’m sorry it’s come to this. We thought you were outside with Tommy when we said those things. I feel terrible.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “I’ve been dragged out of foster homes by cops in the middle of the night. This one’s easy.” But it wasn’t. This was the hardest goodbye ever.
Joe holds out an envelope for me.
“Joanne and I want you to have this before you go.”
“What is it?”
“Just open it.”
I examine the envelope. It’s from the State. It looks like the same kind of envelope the state sends monthly foster parent checks in. At least he’s not a cheapskate. I open it, but it’s no check.
“Is this real?” I ask.
“Yes it’s real,” says Joanne, now openly crying. “Unless you still want to go, we’ll understand.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s OK,” Joe says. “I do. I’ve been practicing. Merry Christmas, son.”