Practiced Excuses

“It’s not my fault, there was a sale.”

Lane lifted her nose from the textbook. Her mother’s voice murmured something else from the bedroom, muffled from across the mobile home. “Mom?” Lane asked aloud. There was no answer so Lane abandoned her homework on the kitchen table.

The scratched laminate crackled under her diminutive weight as she padded over to the ajar door. Inside her mother practiced excuses in front of the mirrored closet. “I’m going to return most of it anyway,” she cooed, running a hand down the front of her pearl-buttoned blouse.  Shopping bags covered the bunched coverlet on the bed.

“Who are you talking to?” Lane asked.

Her mother jumped, hand vibrating over her heart. She pursed her lips when she saw Lane. “Baby. What the hell? You need to stop sneaking around like that.”

Lane stepped half into the room. She flicked her eyes to the bags and new clothes.

“There was a sale, and it’s been forever since I’ve done anything for myself. I’ve been so busy taking care of you. But I got you something.” Her mother grabbed one of the shopping bags and brandished it at Lane, the woman’s gray eyes fever bright and dilated. Lane didn’t move, though her expression crumbled. Her mother huffed and dropped the bag. “And you’re always ungrateful.”

Lane’s fingers went white and bloodless curled around the bedroom door. “There’s no food in the kitchen mom. There hasn’t been any in days.  How much did all this cost and what are you on? Ms. Alders–.”

Her Mother interrupted her with a furious wide eyed stare, like an enraged bull. “–Your caseworker can’t tell me how to be a mother. I’ve seen her handbag and those Coach boots, who’s she to tell me what I can spend my money on? I’ll just explain.” Lane’s mother went back to the mirror, smoothing her blouse again and angling her narrow chin at her own reflection.

Lane watched the woman mutter agitated replies to some unknown critic before Lane gave up, massaging blood back into her fingers and leaving the bedroom.


Legal Theft: Running with Revolutionaries

The Captain’s favorite detective had just staggered out of his office. This surprised me, favorites usually got the good hours, and the station clocks read four a.m. His shaky hands and creased shirt were a testament to length of the shift. Apparently it’d been a long night for both of us, not that I was feeling sympathetic. He wasn’t handcuffed to a desk.

The detective motioned my booking officer over. They proceeded to discuss me from inside the break room, giving me an excellent opportunity to eye my file on the officer’s computer screen. I couldn’t entirely suppress my smile. Trespassing.

I could see them from the window, wondering how to keep me after bail was posted. The detective leaned forward, I could see his finger tips pressed to the break room window. It must be frustrating, to think I was either lying or in danger, and know there was nothing he could do about either.

But as I said, I was far from sympathetic. He did his job well, I did mine better.

They emerged after a minute and the officer hung back, apparently ready to see the pro-detective work his magic on the girl they’d caught running around with revolutionaries.

I am a thief, and this week I’ve stolen a first line from The Gate in the Wood. Check out her original The First Switch  and the rest of the thieves at the Legal Theft Project. 

Legal Theft: Small Gifts

She shut the computer with a furious snap. The offending laptop was shoved to the side and Lane leaned back, pressing her palms into the shag carpet behind her.

“No luck?” Wyatt questioned, not looking up from his papers.  He shifted the papers to the recliner’s armrest, picked up another stack, and clicked his red pen.

“Nothing’s open.”

“Does that surprise you?” Wyatt asked, peering at her over his reading glasses.

It had taken the fourteen year-old time before she’d learned that her foster father’s questions were not designed to disparage or condescend.  Lane rarely spoke about her previous homes and he was curious. She still took the time to weigh the question, as if unpacking it for pitfalls. “In the city things were always open, even on Christmas.” Lane explained.

Wyatt nodded. “Heathens.” He said with a deceptively straight face and gained the reaction he’d hoped for when Lane snorted with a flash of a smile. “Nothing is going to be open for the next few days except the liquor stores.”

“And the hospitals.” The girl’s mouth twitched like she’d just won something.

Wyatt dipped his head, conceding the point. His wife, employed at the local ER as a nurse, would be working late into the evening. He frowned at a particularly blatant error on the page in front of him and marked it. “True, you’re stuck with Cole and I tonight. We’ll figure dinner out I’m sure. Is he still out?”

“You gave him a car.” She looked to the window and the freshly shoveled drive beyond it, either pointedly incredulous that he’d ask such a stupid question or that they’d gifted the second-hand truck in the first place. “Of course he’s still gone. Has to show all his friends.”

Even disguised as haughty disdain, Wyatt didn’t miss the envy in Lane’s dismissal of Cole’s friendships. He and his wife had been fostering children since their son was eight. They’d come to realize a certain amount of jealousy was unavoidable and natural between foster siblings and their permanent counterparts.

“Cole promised to be back before it got dark.” Wyatt said as if he did not remember the amount of times he’d lied to his own parents as a teenager.

Out of the corner of his eye Wyatt saw his foster daughter’s smile go sly. “I guess, but he was late last time he met Stephanie.” Lane said as if innocently slipping the information on his son’s true whereabouts.

Lane had only been with them for four months, but the season had been a crash course for Wyatt in developing a poker face. For most kids raised in the system, and most teenagers, boundary testing was expected. Intelligent and prematurely ruthless, Lane seemed to regard it as an art form and the petite fourteen year old had an unnerving eye for weakness.

Wyatt had not known that Cole was seeing his ex-girlfriend again, especially as the relationship had ended badly two months before. Cole brooded for weeks after the break-up, hardly leaving his room except for school or practice. Though Wyatt had not admitted it to anyone, parents were not supposed to think badly of children in general, it had affected his opinion of Stephanie. Lane had apparently managed to pick up on it despite his discretion.

He set down his pen and smiled. “I guess he was. Still it’s Christmas, I trust him to get back here on time.” Wyatt said truthfully.

Lane assessed him with a slightly narrowed look but accepted his words with a jut of her sharp chin.

“Would you like to help me grade until he gets back?” Wyatt asked. He’d been toying with the idea for a while. He’d never met a foster kid who’d devoured information as rapidly or as purposefully as their family’s new addition.

“Is that allowed?” Lane pushed herself forward, leaning over her crossed legs and striped Christmas socks.

“No, but some rules are less important in practice than they are in theory.” He picked up a pencil and tossed it to her. “Make sure to use pencil. I’ll ultimately still be grading them, but I’m curious what you catch.”

Lane took the stack of papers he offered to her with surprising hesitance. With pencil and hand and papers in her lap, she turned an openly wary look on him. “These are college papers.”

“Freshman first term papers.” He clarified. “I know you’ve been reading off my shelf, which means you’ve read more of what I assigned than most of my students. I trust you.”

Wyatt received one more suspicious look before she picked up the first paper and started to read.

My first line may have been stolen…. probably. Not sure. Anyway if there are thefts, they will be recorded at the Legal Theft Project. 




Flash Fiction: Shoes and Notebooks

They’d lost her shoes. Lane ground her teeth as the exit clerk shrugged and told her that such things happened. She hadn’t grown much in the last two years, so at least the jean skirt, knit top, and leggings they’d managed to return fit fine. Lane vaguely remembered a sweater, but maybe they’d lost that too.

The clerk eyed the notebooks under Lane’s arm. Technically all school supplies the inmates used belonged to the delinquency center and couldn’t be brought out of the schoolhouse. How the girl had managed to sneak them all the way to exit processing was a mystery. The clerk shrugged, not feeling this particular battle, and handed Lane a large envelope.

The list of hostels and job-finding websites inside were all but useless, even if you could find your way to the city fifty miles away. Unless you had something waiting for you, with no money and no experience aside from a criminal record, no one was going to hire her.

Lane slipped filled notebooks into her returned backpack, shouldering the strap.  The system could keep her shoes and her sweater. The commissary notebooks were the only possession that mattered, she’d filled the pages with contacts, phone numbers, and plans. Those were hers.

Once outside, she paused. A few other kids had been released today. One was getting into a minivan. The other, like Lane, just stared down the parking lot. Fresh into official adulthood, not even the system was looking out for them anymore.

Lane took a breath and walked over to the other kid. He was tall, with pants that were too small and only went to the top of his ankles. He still held his envelope. “C’mon.” She said.

He frowned at her and looked at her bare feet.

“I don’t want to hitchhike alone.” She said. That must have been a good enough reason for him, because when she started walking, he followed.

Experiment: First Person

I never write in first person so I figured I’d give it a shot.

The chair in Ms.Alders office was set close to the door. I could hear everything she said to the police out in the hallway.

“She was doing well here.” Ms. Alders said. “I don’t understand it.” The policeman made a sound that was noncommittal. It was obvious to him I’d not been doing well as he was here arguing with my case worker. And I guess there was some truth in that but I didn’t want to leave either. Ms. Alders continued, her voice getting louder. “What proof do you have? She’s passed every test, negative every time.”

I couldn’t see the cop’s face but I could imagine the look her gave her. “She admitted it Ms.” He was tired and probably just wanted to be done with this. I was getting to that point too.

“Please. Let me talk to her, she wouldn’t have gotten involved in something like this.” Ms. Adler said, not sounding like she was actually asking.

“You have ten minutes before the sheriff gets here and the girl comes with us.” The man’s voice was not unkind, just not understanding. I wondered how many cases like this he dealt with; stupid kids dealing with stupid stuff and the people who got attached to them.

I liked Ms. Alders. As case workers went she seemed like someone who wanted to help people, not just some psychology student who couldn’t get through graduate school. She was wrong though. I was involved, I’d been involved for a while, long before I came to Rikerd county and a family I liked.

Her heels clacked on the tile outside and I perfected my slouch.

She didn’t look at me until the door was closed and she was sitting behind her desk. “Lane, this is bad.” She said to me. That was another reason she’s a good case worker. I may look like I’m fourteen, but I’m sixteen and she at least talks to me like it. It’s really refreshing when most adults cycle between frustration and pity.

“You’re being processed; this was your last–.” Ms. Alders stopped herself as her tone tightened. She was angry.

“Chance.” I finished it for her. “I’m sorry.” I said lamely. I was too, kind of.

“Don’t Lane.” She stopped me curtly and I swallowed. She was angrier than I thought. “This was stupid. You’re not stupid. What happened?”

I shrugged and looked at the space on her desk between the two of us. “This isn’t anything new.”

The look she gave me made my shoulders twitch even caught from my peripheral vision. “I’m not talking about the selling. You got caught, why?”

My brain worked, turning around like rusted cogs. “You know?”

There was that look again. “You’re not my only case. Some of your customers see me weekly.”

“But you’ve never said anything, you’ve never reported me.” That didn’t make sense. If she’d known and had proof, Ms. Alders had to report me. Possession was a large black mark, as I was learning…but selling narcotics had a no tolerance policy, especially for ‘at risk’ youth like foster kids.

She placed a manicured finger at her temple. “I considered it. But you don’t use, you don’t sell to middle schoolers and I’d hoped you’d wise up before this.” She looked at me and I really couldn’t figure out what she was thinking. Ms. Alders sighed. “I went with the devil I knew. No offense.”

I didn’t take any. Ms.Alders wasn’t even a decade older than me, just some woman in her mid-twenties trying to figure out how to deal with problem kids, trying to do her job. It was still weird to see her like this, and it would probably bother me later when I wasn’t facing the rest of my high school career in a juvenile delinquency center.

“You’re going to jail Lane and I can’t figure out why.” She stood up and looked outside her office window. The sheriff was here and waiting. “I was trying to help, really. I’m sorry.” She said and that confused me.

I didn’t say anything else to her.

The sheriff came and got me then, while Ms. Alders looked upset in everyone’s general direction. I wondered if this would get her in trouble. Probably not, this kind of thing happened all the time.

She was still watching as they pushed me into the back of the police car.