"Lil, are ya sure ya don't need a ride home? It's pourin' out there." Lily's boss, Misty, called from her upstairs loft, although the 14-year-old didn't even really know if she could call her a boss. Bosses didn't let you crash on the couch when your roommate threatened to kill you, again. They didn't let you work your own hours or invite you to stay for dinner, they didn't ask about your grades or lightly reprimand you for skipping school, and they certainly didn't buy you clothes when they noticed all yours were getting holes. She would maybe call the florist a friend, except she was a decade older than her and Lily didn't have any friends, at least not any long term ones.
"Nah, I'm good! I like the rain, you know this." Lily called back up the wooden stairs, laughing to herself as she pulled her IPod out of her backpack.
"What I know is that ya are gonna catch a damn cold!" Misty yelled, peeking her head around the corner, Lily rolling her eyes and smirking.
"I'll lock the door behind me." She said, turning on her heels and flinging the backpack over her shoulder, stepping out into the freezing rain. As soon as she heard the lock to the door click she worked on putting her headphones in both her ears. Only one side actually worked, but it kept anyone from trying to talk to her. Really, she should have taken the bus back to her group home, but she always liked to walk in the rain. She liked the chill she felt to her bones and the emptiness of the New Orleans streets. She liked to watch the children dance in the puddles while their parents begged them to stop. She liked to watch their crisp Sunday morning church outfits turn from bright pastels to murky browns, their big hats drooping from the weight of the water. She liked to watch perfect things become less perfect, it made her feel less alone.
Really, the cold rain was a much needed break from an unbearable summer. The city was crazy humid and had been for weeks, the sun shining so intensely you could see the heat waves radiating off the black pavement, distorting the very world Lily grew up in. It didn't help that everything in New Orleans was dark, the streets, the buildings. Even the cars all fell into a color palette of blacks, greys and maroons, like bright colors were forbidden. That's why Misty's light blue convertible mustang stuck out like a sore thumb, it was always too colorful for this depressing landscape.
Walking back to the group home took much longer than taking the bus, but truth be told Lily didn't really want to go back. Sure, it wasn't the worst place she'd been in, truthfully it was one of the best, but it still wasn't good. It was underfunded and short staffed, full of juvenile delinquents and kids that would explode for seemingly no reason. The only thing that made the place bearable was that no one seemed to give a shit what you did as long as you didn't cause trouble, which worked out in Lily's favor. It was the only reason she wasn't being dragged to church every Sunday like the rest of the kids. It wasn't that she didn't have to go, but with so many kids causing issues it was easy for her to slip under the radar. All she had to do was make sure she got back before they did, or far enough after they did that she could have returned with them and left. It had worked for her every week for the six months she had been there, and as long as she was careful, it would keep working.
As Lily walked up the hill to the house, she spotted a couple cars in the driveway, letting her know that some of her caretakers hadn't gone to church that day. Shit, she thought to herself, and she prepared to turn around and disappear for the next few hours, that was until she spotted a particular car in the driveway. She could spot that blacked out Edge anywhere, the car that screamed "Yes I'm a dad, but I'm a cool dad!" It belonged to her social worker, David, who Lily loathed with every fiber of her being. It wasn't that he was necessarily a bad person. In fact, he actually was relatively nice, but he was also fucking oblivious, and when someone is single handedly responsible for 95% of the bad things that happen to you, its only natural that you start to hate them.
The young girl was utterly confused, this was supposed to be her last placement, the throwaway spot for all the kids who no one wanted. It was the I give up for all social workers who were tired of finding new places for their more troubled charges. But unless David had taken on another kid in the house, he was here for her, and with a sigh she headed for the door, mentally trying to figure out where she had left each and every one of her few belongings.
She walked through the door and into the kitchen, spotting one of the caregivers, Adrian, who threw her an unimpressed face. "Aren't you supposed to be at church, Lillian?" She asked sternly, Lily giving her a shrug.
"I'm tired of getting shocked every time I walk in there. Figured the day of a storm wasn't the best time to go, god might actually smite me." Lily shot back sarcastically, watching Adrian's face give the hint of a smirk.
"Lillian!" David said in an overly cheery voice, "I'm glad you're here." Lily was a nickname she only let people she liked use, she had always hated her full name, but she also hated David, and she didn't want the name she actually liked tainted by his presence. She gave the man an obviously fake smile, her lips pulled too tight and her eyes too wide. "Still as happy to see me as ever, I see."
"Why are you here?" Lily asked, cutting right to the chase. She hated small talk, or really any formalities of any kind.
"I'm breaking you out of here. I found you a placement I think you'll really like." David said, trying so hard to be funny and charming it was actually kind of embarrassing, and it was all Lily could do to not laugh.
"As much as I liked the last fourteen?" Lily asked sarcastically, watching David try his hardest not to glare at her.
"Would you just trust me on this?" David asked, Lily rolling her eyes, "Just go get your stuff, ok? I told her we would be there before dinner."
"Whatever." Lily said through gritted teeth as she turned and walked up the stairs, trying not to stomp her feet. She had just gotten into a rhythm here, and it was just like David to swoop in and fuck everything up. All Lily wanted was for him to just leave her the fuck alone. As she was throwing her clothes into her worn out duffle bag she paused for a moment, David's words finally processing. Her? Not them? Lily had never been in a house with only one parent before, besides those few incidents when she went back with her mother, who always had a romantic interest around the house at some point. They didn't let many single people get fostering licenses, something about the family dynamic and not being able to handle the kids on their own. So if this was a one parent situation, this woman had to be pretty damn impressive, not that it actually mattered to Lily. People were fucking liars, and the screening process for becoming a foster parent hadn't really been proven to be thorough, at least not in Lily's experience, or anyone she knew.
David yelled from the bottom of the stairs for Lily to make sure she was presentable, after all first impressions matter, but Lily couldn't have cared less. Sure, her fingernails were caked in dirt, her hair soaked and her makeup beyond smudged, but first impressions hardly ever mattered. It was all some false bullshit the parents put on for the social worker, then as soon as the worker left the masks would come off, unzipping their decent human suits to reveal the real monsters underneath. She looked in the mirror only long enough to roll her eyes and pull her curly brunette hair into a frizzy ponytail, then grabbed her stuff and headed down the stairs.
"Buckle up." David said as they hopped in the car, after some painful and fake emotional goodbyes, "It's going to be a long ride."
Lily rolled her eyes and slid down in the seat as he talked at her, not really paying attention to the spiel he gave her time and time again. She stared out the window and watched the city pass by her at lightning speed, hearing those key phrases that told her to nod or say yes. Just give it a chance. Stay out of trouble. Be nice. Cut the attitude. This will be good for you. Blah blah blah.
They passed by neighborhood after neighborhood, and still they didn't stop. Lily started to notice the sky clearing as they moved to the other side of town, and as they passed by the last mediocre neighborhood and into what she liked to call "Rich bitch neighborhood", she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Of course the sun was shining here, not a puddle in sight. The houses were all huge and white with pillars and expensive cars, the kids who were playing dressed in designer clothes that cost more than Lily's entire life. This was where all the important people lived. Lily had only been there once before, with a group of other foster kids. They did exactly what you would expect stereotypical delinquents to do, they threw rocks and rolls of toilet paper at all the pretty things. But it was on the edge of town, and Lily knew they weren't just passing through. This was literally her worst nightmare.
It was a pitty placement. The ones the social workers made out to be like Annie, but really it was viewed as a charity thing, the token foster kid. It got you all the brownie points in the world, and the foster parents showed off their disadvantaged child like the newest Gucci handbag. Lily could deal with the parents that only started fostering because they needed the extra income, what she couldn't deal with was the parents who didn't need the money, they just wanted the do-gooder status.
Eventually, David pulled into a long driveway with a blacked out Escalade sitting at the top, the house in front of them expansive and so very… white. It was like the fact that the earth was covered in dirt didn't matter, like someone power washed the stone every single day without fail. The hedges were perfectly trimmed, the grass short and an unnatural shade of green. David caught the scowl on Lily's face, letting out a sigh, "Lily, just try and be good ok? This could really work for you if you would just give it a chance." Lily just glared at him, "Listen. I didn't want to say anything until I knew more, but your mom was just released from jail. She's doing her rehab and she's back on her meds."
"For now." Lily scoffed.
"She wants to get you and your sister back." David said, trying to ignore Lily's outbursts.
"You mean the sister you won't even let me see?" Lily shot back.
"Lily, you know it had to be this way. We couldn't keep you two together, it wasn't helping either of you. You get too aggressive when you two are placed together." David sighed, "Listen, this probably won't last for very long, a year at most, then you'll be back with your mom and you can put this all behind you."
"You said that the last three times you let her take me. I'm still here." Lily said vehemently.
"Alright, I'll make you a deal, ok? If you don't get into trouble here, I'll see what I can do about getting you visits with your mom." David offered, which only caused Lily to all but bite his head off.
"I don't want to see her." She bit, "Don't waste your time."
"Just… think about it, ok?" David said, getting no response from the girl, "Alright, well we should head in."
Lily was slow to get out of the car, leisurely slinging her backpack over her shoulder while David stared at her, shuffling his feet and letting out a sigh. She really liked to annoy him whenever possible, and he knew it. It was petty really, but it was the one thing that made this whole shitty situation more bearable. David might control every single aspect of her life, but she could still push him around as much as she wanted, and she loved it.
Finally, she grabbed her duffle bag and slammed the car door shut, getting a groan out of David. "Do you have to be so rough?" He asked, Lily rolling her eyes but smirking the second he turned his back to her. She dragged her feet as they walked up the long driveway and towards the front door, trying to ignore the fact that her hands were shaking. Lily always liked to think she was tough, that she could handle anything and everything, but the fear of the unknown was the one thing that never failed to make her joints rattle. She didn't know what she was walking into, and her previous placements had taught her to always prepare for the worst. It didn't help that everything looked so perfect. Not a weed in the yard, not a flower unbloomed, not a speck of dirt or trash anywhere it wasn't supposed to be. That's what scared Lily the most, not that there would be monsters hiding beyond the black front door, but that there wouldn't be. Hope was a dangerous thing, and Lily felt the heat of it swirling around in her stomach, to the point it was nauseating. She locked her jaw, her face becoming hard as stone as they stepped on the porch, David immediately crouching down to pick up a vase of roses that was freshly delivered. Of course it had to be flowers, the universes cosmic joke. It had to be the one thing that always brought Lily peace, made her feel safe. "Might as well bring these in." David muttered under his breath, reaching straight for the gold handle on the door and opening it.
"You aren't even going to knock?" Lily asked, scowling, "Doesn't that break your rule of always being polite?"
"She told us just to come in when we got here." David shot back, stepping through the now open threshold, "Hello? Anyone home?"
Lily stepped through the door and stood behind David, the social worker quickly moving to close the door behind her. Someone was home, Lily could hear the woman faintly arguing somewhere in the house. She sounded utterly pissed off, and Lily smirked as she heard the biting words. So much for a first impression. "Fiona, I have to go. I'll call you tomorrow after the meeting." Lily heard as the woman finally appeared in front of them, coming from the back right of the house and waving at them, a phone pressed to her ear as she rolled her eyes, "Yes I will. Goodbye." She hung up and turned to David, apologetic, "Sorry about that, David. Come on in."
She led the two to the kitchen, offering them something to drink, to which David declined and Lily just shook her head. Lily couldn't understand why, but something about the woman felt familiar. It was like she had seen her before, but she couldn't place where. She was tall and thin, her long blonde hair cascading past her shoulders in loose curls. Her big, dark brown eyes shifted from David to Lily continuously as she made pleasant small talk with the social worker, like she was scared to miss a single movement from either of them. By her outfit choice, Lily would almost assume she had just gotten home from work, except it was Sunday. She had on dress pants and a nice blouse, and Lily could hear her heels click as she led them from the entryway. The girl found minute details to pick on as to why she didn't like this place, or this woman. She didn't trust a woman who didn't take off her heels the second she got home, or one who seemed to be the literal definition of perfection. She was tall and beautiful and not a single hair was out of place, not a single wrinkle or spot on her clothes. Her pants even had that crisp line down the legs that you saw in the movies. No normal person looked like that.
"These were on your porch." David said, handing the roses to Cordelia "I thought I would bring them in for you."
Cordelia stared at them and gave an almost convincing smile, but it didn't quite reach her eyes, which peaked Lily's interest, "Oh, thank you." Lily watched her hold the vase for another few seconds as she shuffled it around in her hands, before finally deciding to set it down on the counter, pushing it away so it was just out of her line of sight.
"Oh, Cordelia, this is Lillian. Lillian, Cordelia." David said, forcing the two women to finally interact. Lily made eye contact with Cordelia and looked the woman up and down carefully, sizing her up as if she was going to fight her here and now. Lily decided she could easily take her if she had to. The woman may have had her beat on height, but she was frail and soft, like a doll.
Cordelia seemed to read her mind, quickly flicking her gaze to David and back at Lily as she let out an uncomfortable laugh, "Well hi there. David told me a lot about you."
Lily offered her an unenthusiastic half-smile. Even the woman's kind, even voice made Lily want to scream. She noticed Cordelia staring at her, a mixture of confusion and intrigue in her eyes, and the girl glanced down at her dark green flannel to see it was covered in dirt and mud stains. Her light blue jeans were worse, the dark brown speckling the material and her bare knees covered in a greyish dust. Really, she should have been annoyed at Cordelia's unwavering gaze, but for some reason it actually pleased the girl, at least that was a genuine reaction.
David threw her an unimpressed look, then looked apologetically at Cordelia, "Sorry, I kind of ambushed her. She didn't have time to clean up."
Cordelia let out a laugh and gave Lily a soft smile, "It's not a problem. It looks like you had a good time."
The situation was already painfully awkward, so Lily didn't really feel the need to give a proper response, averting her gaze as she nodded slightly. Cordelia was quick to return to speaking with David, knowing she wasn't really going to get much out of the girl, and Lily took the time to glance around and actually look at the place she would be living.
It wasn't as big as Lily had initially thought, or at least it didn't seem that way. The girl was expecting marble countertops and crystal glassware, but the kitchen was actually kind of cozy. It was still nice, nicer than anything Lily had ever lived in before, but it wasn't as sterile as she was thinking, not as old and "rich". It didn't scream I have money, and the rest of the house didn't seem that way either. It had obviously been remodeled at some point, given that if Lily had to guess it was over a hundred years old. Old houses were filled with tiny rooms that were closed off, but the floorplan seemed more open, or at least partially open. It wasn't one giant space like the studio apartment Misty had, the rooms were definitive but still flowed together. There were enough walls to have privacy if you chose, but it was easy for Lily to look through the kitchen and into the living and dining rooms.
"So, I'll give you two some time to get to know each other. I'll be back for our meeting later in the week, ok?" David said to Cordelia, breaking Lily's train of thought. Cordelia thanked him and moved to show him to the door, David glancing at the girl and smiling, Lily offering him a grimace back.
Cordelia showed him out then returned to the kitchen, seemingly forgetting the girl's presence as she grabbed the vase of flowers and threw it in the trash. "You don't like flowers?" Lily asked, startling the woman as she whipped around, her eyes going wide as she realized she wasn't alone.
"No I do… I love flowers… I… uh…" Cordelia stumbled, her face going pale and beet red at the same time.
"Don't like who sent them?" Lily asked, noticing the woman's face relax as she nodded and absentmindedly moved to spin a non-existent ring on her left hand. She was married. Lily had always been good at picking up on things, reading body language. It was a survival skill, being able to pick up on things without having to ask. The less questions the better, and Lily knew it had to be a habit Cordelia had for years, if she was still doing it even when the ring was gone. It could have also been a long engagement, but Lily didn't really think Cordelia was the long engagement type. She was the type who dated to marry, perfectly traditional, which is why the house threw her for a loop so much.
"Are you hungry? I can make you something?" Cordelia offered, trying to think of something to fill the empty air. She was already nervous about the whole thing, and the girl's stoic presence didn't help matters at all. Sure, she wasn't exactly expecting her to be warm or particularly chatty, but she also wasn't expecting her to be this… scary? Nothing about her should have been particularly terrifying, she was all of 5'3 and maybe 120 pounds, probably less given how baggy her clothes seemed, it was hard to tell. She was tiny yet her presence was like a giant, her blue eyes hard and unforgiving. They followed every tiny movement the woman made, incredibly alert at all times. Her face stayed painfully neutral, as did her voice. It didn't waver, it didn't rise or fall, just an emotionless void. It was like she knew Cordelia was nervous, like she could sense it, and all it did was put the woman on edge.
"No thank you, I'm ok. It's kind of early for me." Lily said, trying her best to be polite.
Cordelia nodded, the conversation dying out again. The woman wasn't used to this, she was used to people who liked to hear themselves talk, to polite chit chat, not utter silence. Lily didn't seem at all inclined to fill the dead air, which was unnerving, Cordelia had never met a child who didn't like to talk. Maybe she's just shy. But she didn't seem shy, if anything she seemed very sure of herself, very no nonsense, but at least she seemed polite. Relax, she's just a kid. "I can show you to your room?" Cordelia offered, if anything than to give them something to do besides stare at each other, Lily nodding back at her. She moved towards the stairs, her heels tapping on the wooden planks as the girl followed behind. "This was the guest bedroom, but I figured you would want to redecorate yourself when you got here." Cordelia said, opening the white wooden door.
Lily didn't even glance in the room, which Cordelia noticed, but she still said "This is fine."
"Um, there's a bathroom in suite, that way you don't have to worry about other people coming in or anything like that, not that it would happen often anyways." Cordelia rambled, Lily finally glancing into the large room, a queen sized bed with a gray comforter right in the middle, a stark contrast to the white walls and furniture, and the girl cocked her head to the side once she spotted a macbook laying in the center of the bed, which Cordelia noticed. "Oh, I got you a laptop, I figured you would need it for school…" Cordelia rambled, before pausing and shaking her head, "We can talk about all that later. I'll give you some time to settle in and unpack your things. Dinner will be ready at about 7, is that ok?" Lily just nodded, "Ok, well I'll be right down the hall if you need me."
"Thank you." Lily said politely, Cordelia glancing at her briefly before deciding to head to her office, trying her best to not sprint down the hall.
Once she heard the shower running she quickly pulled out her phone and dialed her best friend Coco, putting it on speaker. As usual, the other woman picked up on the third ring, like clockwork. "How is she?" Coco yelled from the other side, "Tell me EVERYTHING."
"I'm already screwing everything up." Cordelia groaned, dropping her head into her hands.
"Oh shut up.I'm sure you are doing great." Coco said, "Relax."
"No! I'm fumbling like an idiot." Cordelia whined, "I'm a lawyer for Christ's sake this shouldn't be this difficult."
"Babe, take a breath." Coco said, "I mean, this is basically a weird first day, except she's still coming home with you whether you put out or not."
Cordelia held in a laugh, "Coco, she's a child." Truthfully, this was exactly why she called Coco, her wicked sense of humor always made the woman forget about her own anxieties.
"Tell me about her." Coco said, obviously trying to distract her friend.
"She's quiet, like scary quiet." Cordelia explained, taking her phone off speaker as she heard the shower turn off, "She's said maybe five things since she got here, and I'm just panicking and rambling like an idiot."
"Is she an asshole?" Coco asked seriously, making Cordelia snort, "I'm serious. I'll kick her ass if she is."
"Coco, she's not an asshole, she's a teenage girl who just got dumped here. I get it, the quiet, I do, but it's just unsettling." Cordelia said before groaning, "Oh, I didn't even tell you the worst part. Hank sent me flowers again, and I totally forgot she was there because she's silent and I threw them out right in front of her. She probably thinks I'm the asshole."
"Did you tell her about Hank?" Coco asked.
"No. Thankfully she kind of caught on and dropped it, but she probably thinks I'm insane." Cordelia answered, "I hoped because the divorce was finalized that I wouldn't have to say anything."
"You should just tell her. Everyone has a crazy ex. I have five." Coco responded, making Cordelia roll her eyes.
"I'm trying to make a good first impression." Cordelia stated.
"Well you already told me you fucked that up, so try again." Coco responded, making Cordelia chuckle.
"I want her to feel safe here." Cordelia said.
Coco let out a huff, "Babe, she's a foster kid. I'm sure this will be the safest place she's ever been, even with psycho Hank."
Cordelia sighed, "I just… I don't want to screw this up."
"Alright, you need to give yourself a break. Relax. This is the hardest part. Of course it's awkward, you don't even know each other yet. Just give it time, I'm sure she'll loosen up." Coco said, trying to be reassuring.
"Ok." Cordelia said, starting to feel better, "Thank you."
"But just so we're clear, if she is an asshole to you, I will throw down." Coco said seriously, Cordelia letting out a snort.
"Goodbye, Coco." Cordelia said teasingly.
"Bye babe! Love you!" Coco yelled.
Cordelia hung up the phone, laughing to herself for a moment before she dropped her head into her hands again. Had she made a mistake? The social worker was surprised when Cordelia had picked Lily over a younger child, especially given that Cordelia had let them know she was open to adoption. They pulled out picture after picture of different kids, little kids, but for some reason the woman had her heart set on Lily, even though she was told that the girl's mother was still alive and in and out of her life. Cordelia couldn't explain it, not even to the social worker. The teenager just looked familiar, and despite her original plan to take a younger child, she was stuck on her. Her file was a mess and Cordelia knew it, even without actually reading it for herself, David's hesitation told her that. But she was adamant, and now she was starting to regret it. She wasn't regretting it because of Lily or anything she did. Hell, she barely even knew the girl. She was regretting it because of her, because she didn't know if she was actually ready to be a parent. All it took was for the girl to say nothing and Cordelia was rattled, god forbid they actually have a disagreement about something.
She tried to busy herself with work, because even on weekends there was always something to do, but she really couldn't focus. How the hell was she supposed to do this? Raising a kid is already a difficult task, even more so when you have a teenager that you know absolutely nothing about. Teenagers are temperamental and broody; god knows Cordelia was when she was at that age. Still, she couldn't help but relate to the girl. She knew what it felt let to be dropped off and left with complete strangers, feeling like no one cared about what happened to you, and that feeling was the one thing that gave her hope that maybe, just maybe, she could make a difference.