Later that evening, Washington knocked on the bedroom door. “Time to get ready for bed, Alexander.”
“Fine,” Hamilton said and continued playing on his phone.
“Do you need anything?” the foster dad asked.
Hamilton glanced up at the closed door and wondered if he should be nice and open it. “No, why would I?” he grouched instead.
“Goodnight then.” Washington’s even tone didn’t change. “There’s a nightlight in the bathroom in case you get up.”
“That’s dumb.” Hamilton ground his teeth. Go away!
“Goodnight,” Washington repeated. “Don’t stay up too late.”
Hamilton rolled onto his side and continued messaging a friend of his. Peter was a former foster. He’d aged out of the system and now lived on the streets. He had a phone, though, so Hamilton figured he couldn’t be that bad off. Get me out of here, he wrote. Foster father is the biggest joke. Acts like he wants to be my actual dad.
Idiot, Peter replied. Just run away. You got, what, six months until you’re free?
Fly the coop.
It was tempting and he’d done it several times before. But each time he’d managed to make a stupid mistake, get picked up, and put back into foster care. Each time labeled an even worse kid and given more restrictions and harsher punishments. It wasn’t worth it to complain to his Permanency Specialist. She had a million other kids to look after and he’d be off her books soon anyway. He could at least get some food here for a few weeks and run away before they made him start his senior year of high school.
He tossed and rolled about that night in the strange bed. The neighborhood was too quiet; he was used to sirens and speeding cars. The ceiling fan had a faint click to it as it whirred and he found himself eventually soothed to sleep by it.
Seven o’clock, the three dogs gave a chorus of excited yaps and their nails clicked and scratched against the wood floors as they ran downstairs. Footsteps followed and Martha’s pleasant voice told them to settle down and be quieter.
Hamilton stared at the ceiling fan and wondered where he was. Not Earth, not downtown. This was some new dimension.
He thought about staying in bed and seeing how long it would be until Washington dragged him out but his stomach growled and he had to pee.
“Good morning,” Martha called out as soon as he ventured into the kitchen. “Did the dogs wake you? They get so excited for breakfast.”
Hamilton shrugged. He knelt down when Potomac jumped at him and ruffled the dog’s half-cocked ears.
“Are you hungry?” Martha asked. “I can make you some toast and eggs.”
That sounded amazing and his stomach grumbled. “No.” Hamilton focused on the dog. “Not hungry.”
“Help yourself when you are, dear.” She put a teakettle on the stovetop and picked up the dog’s empty food dishes.
The backdoor was open and a warm breeze blew in through the screen door. Hamilton stood and peered outside. The Washington’s lived on a large lot with several huge trees and plenty of grass and flowers. No pool or hot tub, though, he was disappointed to see. He caught a whiff of mint from a nearby patch, and close to the door roses bloomed in various shades of pink.
“You can go outside if you want,” Martha said. “Get some sun before it gets hot.”
Hamilton opened the door and let the dogs go first. Marquis and Mugsley lay down on the patio. Potomac trotted off into the grass and sniffed around.
Hamilton watched them for a few minutes but the dogs didn’t desire to stay outside for long and he followed them back into the house. He wanted to ask Martha where Washington was but didn’t know whether to call him by his first or last name. Every foster home he’d been through seemed to have different rules of what he was supposed to call the foster parents. The worst were the ones who insisted he call them “mom” and “dad.” No one other than his own mother deserved to be called that by him. Those titles had to be earned.
“Where’s Lafayette?” he asked instead.
“I think he just got up,” Martha said. “Are you sure you’re not hungry?”
“At least have some milk or juice.” She pulled out the chair he’d sat in last night.
He took a seat with one leg tucked beneath himself and soon had milk and juice before him. He took a sip of orange juice and ended up finishing half of the glass.
Martha puttered around the kitchen talking to the dogs as she worked. She set a plate of scrambled eggs and toast before Hamilton. “What do you like on your eggs?”
“Ketchup,” he said without reminding himself to be disagreeable. When Martha set the bottle on the table, he quickly added, “I don’t like that brand.”
“It’s all we have right now, dear,” she said. “Let me know what brands you prefer and we’ll pick up what you like at the store.”
Just yell at me already, he thought. “’Kay.” He picked up the bottle and squirted it on his eggs.
The doorbell rang as he polished off half his meal. The dogs ran skittering out of the kitchen to bark and jump at the door. Martha followed and told them to move out of the way.
“Good morning, Angelica,” she greeted the guest.
Hamilton frowned at his toast. The Washington’s said they currently didn’t have any more foster kids but if this Angelica were a teen, would she be more competition for resources? It sucked being at the bottom of each family’s pecking order and the more kids, the worse it got.
A tall, black young woman followed Martha toward the kitchen. Her corkscrew curls were pulled back in a ponytail. She had a graceful walk and an easy smile.
“Angelica, this is our foster son, Alexander,” Martha said.
She greeted him with a smile but Hamilton looked away.
Martha didn’t force a better introduction and picked up Marquis as he jumped at Angelica’s leg. “George ran to the store,” she said. “He should be back in a few minutes.”
“I’ll get my clubs out of the truck,” Angelica said and waved to Hamilton before she headed back out the front door.
“Who’s she?” Hamilton asked once he heard the door close. “I didn’t think you fostered girls?
“Angelica Schuyler went to the school where George teaches,” Martha explained. “She graduated last year. They’re going to the golf course today. You’re welcome to go with them anytime you want.”
“Nope.” Hamilton returned to his breakfast. Not a foster kid was good but if Washington was the kind of idiot who expected everyone to defer to him, he’d have to keep his walls up extra high. “Golf is stupid,” he added. “Sports are dumb in general.”
“I don’t have the talent for them either,” Martha said. She set Marquis on the couch and moved to sit at the computer in the corner.
Hamilton frowned. “I didn’t say I was bad at them.” His lip twitched. “Just dumb.”
“Forgive me, dear,” Martha said as she checked her email.
Yell at me! Hamilton looked at his mostly full glass of milk and shoved it off the table.
The tinkling of broken glass was drowned out by the dogs barking at the garage opening.
“Shit,” Hamilton muttered. He’d wanted Martha to shout at him but now Washington would likely beat his ass.
Washington’s deep voice mixed with Angelica’s sweet one and two sets of footsteps came down the hall. Potomac found the milk first, though.
“Potomac, no.” Washington grabbed the dog. “Alexander, get the glass cleaned up before the dogs get hurt.”
Hamilton looked the bald, dour man in the face. “No.”
Washington ignored him and grabbed a towel. He set the dog down and Angelica kept the pack out of the kitchen. Martha came into the room and picked up the biggest pieces of glass. The floor was soon clean and Hamilton hadn’t moved from his spot. He braced himself for the slap or verbal outrage.
Instead, Washington turned to Angelica. “Ready, dear?”
The girl nodded with a smile and followed him out.
Martha picked up Hamilton’s other dishes. “What do you want to do today?” she asked. “Is there anything you need to get done before summer vacation ends?”
“No.” Hamilton left the kitchen and ran upstairs.
He was kept busy, though that first week, with the newest round of doctor’s appointments. Every time he changed homes, it started again. His health didn’t change but he had an increasing dislike of answering questions.
“I know you’re tired of this,” Washington said as he drove away from the doctor’s office. “I don’t blame you and I also think it’s a waste of time.”
Hamilton glanced at him. “Because I’m not worth it?”
“Because you were just there three weeks ago,” he said calmly and ignored the defiant tone. “You were healthy then and I know you have better things to do than being dragged constantly to doctor appointments. It’s unfair how much time you lose.”
Hamilton shrugged. “The system is unfair.”
“It is,” Washington agreed.
The teen’s eyes narrowed and he frowned at his foster father. “Then why do you do this? If you don’t believe in it?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t believe in the foster system,” Washington said. He braked at a stoplight and glanced at the teen. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and the system has many flaws. But Martha and I continue because we believe we can help. We don’t do it because we think the system is great, we do it because we know it sucks and the kids stuck in it deserve better.”
“Well, you’re gonna fail.” Hamilton stared out the window.
“Most likely,” Washington agreed. “We’re going to stop at Valley Forge Academy where I teach and you’ll go to school for your senior year.”
“No.” Hamilton smudged the window with his fingertip. “Why don’t you just kill me outright?”
“Your Permanency Specialist—”
“Screw her!” Hamilton glared at Washington. “I’m not going to your stuck up private school.”
“You haven’t done well in public school,” Washington reminded him. While Hamilton’s grades had always been decent, he’d been expelled several times for “unruly” behavior.
“Whatever.” Hamilton tested the door to see if it would open but the locks remained engaged. It didn’t matter what school he went to, he wouldn’t fit in and he’d cause problems. It just happened.
Valley Forge Academy was only a few miles from the Washington’s home. The sprawling campus made Hamilton slump in his seat. It looked formidable, privileged, affluent—everything he wasn’t.
Washington parked in front of the administrative building. “Come on.” He cut the engine and got out. “We won’t be long, I promise.”
Hamilton dragged himself out and followed the tall man inside. It smelled snooty, he thought, but couldn’t place exactly what the scent was.
A woman greeted them from behind a counter where she organized boxes of papers. “I knew we’d seen you sooner or later,” she teased. “You never stay away for long. Is this a new student?”
“Yes,” Washington said. “Alexander is our foster son. Arw there any uniforms still around?”
“I’m not wearing a uniform,” Hamilton interrupted.
“It’ll be fine.”
“No, it won’t!” How would Washington handle his outburst in public, Hamilton wondered. Would his foster father humiliate him or keep it bottled up and thrash him in private?
“Oh, you’ll look handsome,” Washington said and turned his attention back to the receptionist.
“I’m sure there are some,” she said. “I’ll look while you show Alexander around.”
“Thank you.” Washington turned to his frowning foster son. “Let’s check out the upper school building.”
Hamilton folded his arms. “No.”
“Then wait here.” Washington headed for a door at the other end of the office.
Why couldn’t he just yell? Hamilton dragged himself after the deranged man.
The campus wasn’t as confusing as Hamilton feared. All his classes were in one building, at least. It was a preschool through high school campus, which accounted for many of the buildings, Washington explained. Plus an Arts center and athletic complex and fields.
“I teach social sciences,” Washington said as he led Hamilton through the quiet hallways. “US government and US history. I’m also the Department Chair.”
“Of course you are,” Hamilton muttered under his breath. He followed Washington into one of the classrooms.
“You’ll be in my class for US government.”
“Oh, boy,” Hamilton snarked. “I can hardly wait.”
“Nor can I.”
Hamilton stared at him with a furrowed brow unable to tell if the man had picked up on his sarcasm or not and what his response meant.
“Class sizes are small,” Washington said. He moved to the front of the room where his desk was. “No more than eighteen students in the upper grades. You’ll get plenty of attention.”
“Great.” Hamilton gritted his teeth. “Swell.”
“Do you want to see any more of the school?”
Hamilton headed out of the classroom. “Nope.”
Back out in the muggy heat, he dragged his sneakers across the sidewalk toward the administrative building. He was certain his shoes were melting with each step.
“How long have you lived in New York?” Hamilton cringed as the question slipped out of his mouth.
“Almost twenty years,” Washington said.
“Wow. I was born in the Caribbean,” Hamilton said and the words kept coming. “Nevis. Not many people know where that actually is.”
“Indeed.” Washington glanced at the slender redhead. “You’ve had quite the life.”
Afraid Washington would think they were pals if he said another word, Hamilton fell silent as they entered the administrative building. The receptionist had several boxes of uniforms for them to go through.
Hamilton cringed at the navy and khaki colors. He would look horrible and a stranger to himself. It got even worse when he saw Washington pick up a blazer. “I’m not wearing that.”
“Just during the winter,” Washington said. “Polos in the summer.”
“Dumb.” Hamilton wandered toward the exit. “Can we go?”
“Sure.” Washington looked at the receptionist. “My wife can send you an email of the sizes.”
She agreed and Washington followed his foster son back to the car.
Hamilton cranked up the air as soon as Washington turned on the ignition despite knowing it would blow hot for the first few seconds.
“It’ll be hard at first,” Washington said. He backed up the Cadillac and drove away from the school. “I know you’re resilient and will adapt.”
“Shut up.” Hamilton leaned against the hot window and relished the pain of the glass against his face. This could very well be the worst foster family he’d been placed with.