Hidden in the corner of her room, cuddled up to a stuffed bear, McKenzie dried her tears on the back of Teddy’s head. Blue and red lights flashed eerie reflections on McKenzie’s bedroom wall.
“I found her,” Duane called to his partner. He squatted down to eye level. “I know you’re scared, Sweetie.”
The stench of urine overpowered the little girl’s room. Her disheveled hair and pale skin proved to Duane that the apartment manager had been right. He hadn’t seen the girl’s mother for several days, but he thought he heard whimpers today when he knocked on the door.
McKenzie sniffed and used Teddy’s ear to wipe her nose.
“Does your bear have a name?”
“Teddy,” McKenzie muffled into the brown matted fur.
“How about you, what’s your name?”
Duane’s partner held up a black trash bag. “Do you need one of these?”
Duane sat McKenzie on her bed and addressed the bear. “So, Teddy, what should we pack?” He opened dresser drawers and searched through the filth for items of necessity and comfort.
McKenzie hopped off the rumpled bed and grabbed a plastic brown horse. “Horsey,” she kissed its nose and tucked it under her arm. She stared at the giant policeman apparently ready for whatever came next.
The giant and the preschooler’s heads both turned at the sound of Steve’s voice. “Are we ready to go?”
“Do you have someone lined up?” Duane whispered.
“Still working on it. We’re taking her to the caseworker’s office.”
Her thin, lanky, pre-teen body plopped onto the chair in the waiting room of the Child Protective Services office. McKenzie pulled her hood over her head and slouched, arms crossed over her chest. Familiar with the routine, she gave the black trash bag an angry kick and tried not to listen to the multiple one-sided phone conversations.
“No, we’re not looking for a temporary home…she’s eleven…this is the fifth time in seven years.”
McKenzie stuffed her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes, but it didn’t help. She jumped when she heard a thud and a familiar rustling plastic sound.
“Here’s your baby-doll, Anna. I need to make some phone calls and I’ll be right through that door, okay?”
McKenzie’s eyes scrutinized the fear-stricken face and recognized the characteristic bruising on her thin arms. Her stomach churned at the sight of the familiar black trash bag.
She pushed her hood off her head and dragged her own luggage across the room. “Hi, I’m Kenzie.” She sat next to the frail, undernourished girl. “How old are you?”
Anna sniffed, hugged her baby-doll tight, and held up five fingers.
McKenzie reached out to touch the bruises on Anna’s arm but withdrew when the little girl flinched. McKenzie’s eye caught a book poking out of the bag, “Can I read to you?”
Anna hopped off her chair and retrieved the treasured item. McKenzie carefully lifted Anna onto her lap. Her hair reeked of urine mixed with stale tobacco. McKenzie didn’t care.
Distracted with the book and baby-doll, the two girls were oblivious to the women’s conversation in the office.
“They’re on the way.”
“I’m concerned, though. McKenzie is pretty rebellious.”
“I’m convinced this will work. Both Christine and Jordan grew up in the foster care system. Their own children are grown and they just got their license. This is the perfect match, I promise.”
McKenzie glanced towards the door but ignored the couple that smiled at her.
“You must be McKenzie and Anna,” the woman sat next to them. “I’m Christine and this is my husband, Jordan.”
Anna buried her head into McKenzie’s chest.
Christine stroked Anna’s cheek. “I know you’re scared, but we want to take care of you…both of you.”
McKenzie tried to comprehend everything while the two caseworkers stepped outside to discuss arrangements with Jordan. “You mean me, too? We’re not sisters.” She tried to reason with Christine.
“Well, you are now,” Christine smiled.
McKenzie heard the sound of something on wheels being rolled through the door but couldn’t pull her eyes away from Christine’s face. Jordan proceeded to open Anna’s black trash back and gently place the few soiled clothes, a blanket, and Anna’s treasured book into a brand new black suitcase.
“That one is for you,” Jordan pointed.
McKenzie packed her belongings, which included Teddy and Horsey, and zipped it closed. She folded the two trash bags and handed them to her caseworker. “These…” she fought tears defiantly, “are for trash.”
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