By-Pass

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Here is a free sample of By-pass, Breaking the Pattern #3 for your reading pleasure!

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chapter-1

drop-cap-bobby watched the scenery flash past the window, feeling a little car sick. He swallowed and glanced at Elsie.

“What are they like?” he squeaked. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “I wish I didn’t have to l-leave Devonish’s.”

“I know,” Elsie agreed in a low, soothing voice. She fiddled with the radio dial, looking for something to provide background, something to help Bobby stay calm. “But I really think this is going to be good for you. And at your age… it could even be your last foster home.”

Bobby shook his head. Sometimes you stayed in one foster home for a few years, but you always got moved again sooner or later. He wished that this could be his last foster home, but he wasn’t going to count on it.

“Katya is the mom,” Elsie told him. “I really think you’ll like her. She seems really nice, very warm and outgoing. She’s single, no husband or boyfriend on the scene.”

Bobby sucked his cheeks in, thinking about that. Elsie knew that he’d had conflicts with foster fathers before. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were nice or abusive; he always butted heads with them over something. The sporty ones hated how uncoordinated and hopelessly unathletic he was. The brainy ones thought that he should work harder and not be so concerned about his social life. And the abusive ones… well, it didn’t matter what you did, they just didn’t like you out of principle. There was always something.

“That’s good,” he agreed. “And other kids?”

“Just one. A little girl. She’s Katya’s natural daughter. You’re her first foster child.”

“She’s just s-starting out?” Bobby questioned, surprised. Usually the homes he went to, they’d been fostering for years. All of the rules were set up, and they could be as hard-nosed as any social worker.

“Yes, but don’t you go trying to take advantage of her,” she warned. “Show her how much fun it can be.”

Bobby rested his head back against the headrest, closing his eyes. “Yeah. Fun.”

“Now come on,” Elsie remonstrated. “You’ve had some good families. Some good experiences.”

“Yeah. But when you get the g-good ones… then it’s that much worse when you have to l-leave.”

She sighed, tapping her nails on the steering wheel. “I suppose.”

Bobby looked out the window again, looking at the neighborhood. “I haven’t been around here b-before,” he observed.

Elsie nodded. “It’s kind of a funny area. Close to downtown. There’s a real mix of inner city families that struggle to make ends meet, and then there are the… sort of yuppie families, I guess. Professionals who want to be close to the office. Nice condos, single family dwellings, all that. Quite a combination.”

Bobby nodded. “Which is Katya?” he questioned.

He’d lived with poor families. Some families that really struggled. Families that fostered kids just to have the extra money to try to put food on the table for everyone. Or that they gambled away, trying to make it big.

“Katya would be the latter,” Elsie said, looking like she was trying to hold back the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth. “She’s not hurting. It will be a nice change for you.”

“Sure,” Bobby agreed.

He was used to Elsie trying to push him into liking a family before he even saw them. Telling him how great they were, trying to hype it up so that he would be excited about meeting them. But Bobby wasn’t excited about meeting anyone new now. He wanted a permanent home. Somewhere he could stay until… until he aged out of the system, he supposed. That was as much as a guy could hope for from the system. Semi-permanent permanence.

“I’ll give them a ch-chance,” he assured Elsie.

She nodded, giving him a warm smile. “I know you will. You’re a good kid.”

Bobby shrugged, and felt the warmth of a blush filling his ears and creeping up his face. He flipped down the visor and opened the flap for the vanity mirror and examined himself. He did want to make a good impression on the new family, however much he might hate starting out somewhere new again. But what he saw in the mirror wasn’t too impressive. He looked too short, thin, and gawky. His hair was messy. Again. Even though he had combed it and pressed it down before leaving the Devonish house and getting into the car. He hated its tendency to curl. He should have worn a cap or something, to keep it pressed down and keep it from getting messed up. But he didn’t even have a cap to put on. All of his clothes were carefully folded and stuffed into his back-pack. Anything he couldn’t fit in the backpack was free-for-all for the other kids. All of his worldly possessions were in that one bag.

In the visor mirror, his teeth were too prominent. No one wanted to give foster kids braces. It was hugely expensive. And the system wouldn’t pay for it. You could always get braces once you were older, an adult looking after yourself. Assuming that you actually were looking after yourself and not in jail or homeless or something. A lot of foster kids ended up in dead-end jobs. That’s just the way it was.

Bobby sighed and pushed the visor back up again. He didn’t need to see any more. He could pretend that he didn’t see the rest. The glasses. The slightly misaligned eyes and crooked smile. All the things that made it painfully obvious to the rest of the world that he would never be popular or a jock. He pushed up his glasses as they slid down his sweaty nose, then changed his mind and pulled them off, sliding them out of sight into his shirt pocket.

“You look fine,” Elsie said. “You just smile and be friendly, they’ll love you.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You always get along somehow.”

Bobby chewed on his bottom lip. “Yeah.”

She turned the music up a bit, and looked ahead as she drove, leaving him to mentally prepare himself.

They pulled up in front of a big white house with dark green trim and shutters. Bobby looked at it, his eyes pulling open wide. That was quite some house. He looked over at Elsie.

“This is it?” he questioned. “Are you s-serious?”

She nodded. “Nice, eh?”

“Ho-o-o-ly,” he drew the word out long.

She grinned. “Like I said. She’s not hurting.”

“And only three people l-live here,” Bobby said, shaking his head in wonder.

“That’s right. Just you and Katya and the little girl.”

“Man. Do I get a whole wing to m-myself?”

Elsie laughed. She opened her door and got out of the car. Bobby pushed himself out of his seat, and coming around the car, she put her arm around his shoulders and gave him a friendly squeeze.

“Give them a chance,” she reminded him.

“I’ve got incentive,” Bobby commented.

They walked up the sidewalk together. Not just a sidewalk with big square slabs of concrete. A beautifully crafted cobblestone, laid out in patterns, lined with bright flowers and greenery on either side. Everything looked like it had been trimmed to perfection with nail scissors. Bobby adjusted his backpack on his shoulder, inching it up a bit further.

“Okay,” he whispered.

Elsie rang the doorbell.

It was a couple of minutes before the door was opened. Bobby stared up at the tall, blond woman, slack jawed. She had to be some kind of model. She was slim, wearing clothes that clung to her curves. And despite her already significant height, she was also wearing some kind of platform shoes with long spiked heels, making her tower over both Bobby and Elsie. She gave them a brilliant, wide smile.

“Hello! I am so excited to meet you!”

Elsie nodded. “Katya, this is Bobby Thomas. Bobby, Katya Bernosky, your new foster mom.”

Bobby was still gaping at her speechlessly. He thrust his hand out toward her to shake, unable to find any words. Katya laughed and took his hand, not in a firm, businesslike handshake, but in a sort of soft caress, then pulling him to her and giving him a welcoming hug.

“Come in, come in and see your new home,” she invited.

Elsie remained on the doorstep as Bobby was dragged in the door. “I’ll just leave you to it, Katya,” she said, “I don’t need to stick around.”

Katya made a careless motion with her hand. “Of course,” she agreed. “We’ve already signed all the papers. Unless you want to see…?”

Elsie smiled. “All right. Bye, Bobby. You behave yourself.”

He nodded. “B-b-bye,” he stammered, as Katya shut the big, heavy door.

His stomach was cramping, and he felt sick. The first word he said in front of her. Almost a decade of speech therapy, you would think he’d have the stammer licked by now.

“Come with me, Bobby,” Katya invited, pulling him along to keep up with her long strides, “I am so excited to show you your new bedroom.”

Bobby picked up his pace to avoid being dragged behind her. She released his hand, but put her hand on his back, guiding him along. Up the grand staircase from the front lobby, whisking past various rooms that he only caught a glimpse of, until she stopped in front of a door with a little wooden name sign mounted on it that said: ‘Bobby’s Room, Keep Out!’

“You like it?” Katya laughed, nodding to the sign. “I know how much teenagers need privacy. Especially teenage boys!”

“Yeah—” Bobby started.

But he didn’t get a chance to finish. She grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open with a whoosh, propelling him inside with the other hand. Bobby stumbled into the room, and looked around.

He didn’t know whether she had hired a professional decorator or if she had done it all herself. All he knew was that he had never had a room like that before in his life. Not in any of his foster homes. He had rarely even had a room to himself, for a few days or a week in between other foster children transferring out of the home and new ones transferring in. Usually, it was three or four to a room, in bunk beds, squeezed claustrophobically close together. But this… he’d never even seen something like this.

The ceiling was painted a deep blue, almost black, with stars dotting it. Not just random stars, but apparently a real picture of the night sky. Bobby didn’t know a lot of constellations, but he recognized the big and little dippers and Orion’s belt. The bed was piled deep with white and red sheets, blankets, and pillows. There was a work desk with a computer set up on it and ‘Welcome Bobby’ running in a banner across the screen. Shelves full of books, including graphic novels, and a dictionary and thesaurus for reference. There was a display shelf with various miscellany. It included a baseball on a display plaque. Bobby took a closer look at it and could see that it was autographed, but he wasn’t sure whose signature it was. He smiled tentatively at Katya, sure that he was supposed to be impressed by it. There were framed posters on the wall, actors and athletes. He could see from the door that there were already clothes hanging in the huge closet on his right. Katya looked at Bobby expectantly.

“Th-th-this is…” Bobby fumbled with his words. “Wow. Wow.”

“You like it?” she prompted.

Bobby nodded vigorously. “I d-do,” he agreed.

“Good. I put a lot of work into it for you,” she commented.

Bobby continued to nod. He swallowed and licked his lips. “It’s g-great,” he assured her.

“Well, I guess I’ll leave you to make yourself comfortable.” She indicated the computer. “There are movies on there if you want to watch something, and some music, but I didn’t know what you would like. You have your own bathroom,” she pointed to a closed door beside the closet. “Please try to keep it clean.”

“Yeah,” Bobby agreed. “I will.”

She gave him another impulsive squeeze around the shoulders. “It’s going to be so much fun having you around, Bobby,” she said, showing off her perfect, even teeth in a broad smile.

Bobby nodded and gave her a half-hearted pat on the back, wanting to return the affection, but not sure what to do. She was obviously a touchy person, and he wasn’t that into hugs.

“Thanks,” he said.

Katya giggled, and retreated from the room, shutting the door behind her. Bobby looked around the room slowly, taking in more details that he had missed the first time. A hand-held gaming system on the bedside table. A fancy-looking watch beside it. A beanbag chair in the corner with a set of headphones lying beside it. Bobby dropped backward onto the bed, landing with a poof in the pile of soft bedding.

This was going to be the most incredible foster home ever.

It turned out that even the bathroom was fancy, and decorated for a teenage boy. He had his own shower, the curtain covered with footballs, baseballs, and basketballs. The liquid soap dispenser, towels, and cloths were in coordinated navy blues and maroons. She had even included an electric toothbrush and various toiletries that featured in megabuck TV commercials.

Bobby used the toilet, then washed his face and brushed his teeth just for the heck of it, thoroughly enjoying the experience of his own space and his own things. It didn’t look like he was going to have to share anything here. His own room, clothes, shower, and computer. It was luxury like he had never even considered before. He fiddled with the computer for a few minutes before finding the movie library and putting something on, then he laid stomach-down on the bed, resting his chin on a couple of fluffy pillows hugged in front of him, and watched it.

The time passed quickly, and it didn’t seem like long before he heard voices and divined that Katya’s daughter was home from school. Bobby’s nervousness returned. What would she be like? And how would Katya behave in front of her daughter? Some foster parents treated you fine, but they treated their own children differently. When their own kids were around, you were decidedly second-rate. It was always awkward, going to a home where they had their natural children at home too.

Bobby swallowed and took a few deep breaths, trying to slow his heart back down again and relax his clenched stomach. Nothing bad was going to happen. Katya was nice. They lived in a mansion. Nothing was going to ruin this, even if the daughter was a spoiled brat who always got into his stuff. At least Bobby had his own stuff for her to get into. He should be glad about that.

Bobby opened his door and followed the voices, arriving downstairs in the front lobby where he had first entered the house, where Katya helped her daughter to remove her backpack and outdoor clothing.

“There he is,” Katya said, turning to look at Bobby. “There’s your new foster brother.”

Bobby smiled tentatively. The little girl was five or six. She had mid-length white blond hair framing her face. Her face was heart-shaped, making her look like a little pixie. She smiled at Bobby, her face taking on a mischievous look as her eyes danced.

“Hi, Bobby,” she greeted.

Bobby nodded, smiling at her. She was cute. She was dressed pretty fancy, but she didn’t look like a spoiled brat. And she wasn’t turning up her little pixie nose at him or scowling about her space being invaded by a teenage boy.

“Hi,” Bobby acknowledged. “I d-don’t know your name…”

“It’s Xenia,” she said, pronouncing it ZAYN-yah.

Bobby looked at her closely.

“Xenia,” she repeated, and she spelled it out for him. “X-E-N-I-A.”

“Oh,” Bobby acknowledged, “Z-z-zane…”

Xenia and Katya nodded.

“Xenia,” Katya repeated.

Bobby didn’t try it again. He just nodded as if it wasn’t a problem. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if Xenia hadn’t spelled it out for him, and he’d only heard it phonetically, but knowing there was an ‘X’ in there made it seem so exotic that he was immediately tongue-tied.

“It’s okay,” Xenia said wisely. “It takes people a while to get used to.”

Bobby nodded. It seemed like that was all he could do right now. Just keep standing there, bobbing his head up and down like a dummy. He needed to figure out a way to get out of the situation, to break the ice and help him to get more comfortable.

“Can we have a snack?” Xenia questioned. Bobby was inordinately pleased that he seemed to be included in the ‘we’. They had just met, and she was already including him like family.

“Let’s see what is in the kitchen,” Katya agreed.

Katya led the way, eating up the floor of the large entrance hall with her long, gazelle-like paces, which left Bobby just staring after her admiringly. Xenia took Bobby’s hand in her small one and led him after her mother. Bobby closed his mouth again and walked with her, happy to stick to her short stride and get a better look at everything between the front lobby and the kitchen.

It certainly wasn’t like any kitchen that Bobby had ever seen before. It was what Katya referred to as a ‘great room,’ a combination of a sort of a living room with a big stone fireplace and furniture that you sank down into, a big dining room table with a white lace tablecloth and silver candlesticks, and a slate-tiled kitchen with a big, long, green-marble-topped island. The kitchen itself had at least two ovens. There might have been more, Bobby couldn’t identify for sure what all of the appliances were. The fridge was more like a walk-in closet. The stove-top embedded in the island had eight elements. Eight elements to feed a family of three! Everything was sparkling clean. Xenia led Bobby over to the island, not the dining room table. There was a series of bar stools along the counter, and she climbed up into one of them and put her elbows on the island, resting her chin in her hands.

Katya went around the other side of the island and looked around. She opened one cupboard that had a big rotating lazy-Susan shelf in it, which appeared to be filled with every kind of popular snack carried by the grocery store.

“What do you children want?” Katya questioned. “Granola bars?”

Bobby nodded. “Sure, that would be g-great,” he agreed.

“No,” Xenia objected, shaking her head. “Fruit snacks.”

“Which ones?” Katya questioned.

“The gummy ones. Dinosaurs.”

Katya got out a couple of packages of dinosaur candies flavored with real juice and placed them on the counter in front of Xenia and Bobby.

“Do you want a granola bar too?” she asked Bobby.

He shook his head. “This is f-f-f-fine,” he said, tearing the corner off of the package.

Katya threw a chocolate chip granola bar on the counter in front of Bobby anyway. Xenia handed Bobby her fruit snack, and he knew intuitively what it was she wanted. He tore the corner off of her bag, and handed it back. She smiled at him as she took it back. She was missing both of her top front teeth. Her gap-toothed grin was endearing. Bobby started eating his fruit snacks, and opened up the granola bar as well, nodding at Katya.

“Thank you,” he said.

She nodded her head in acknowledgment. “And what about drinks? I’ll get you some milk,” she suggested. “Growing kids need lots of calcium for strong bones.”

Bobby and Xenia nodded at this. Xenia watched her mother disappear into the fridge.

“We have pink milk,” she confided to Bobby.

“Oh? Pink?”

She nodded, smiling. “My friends all say their moms make them drink white milk, and they’re only allowed pink milk now and then, for school lunch. If you bring your own money to buy lunch, the white milk and the chocolate and the pink are all the same price. So sometimes they get it at school, but at home they have to drink plain white milk.”

She said it with a tone of disdain.

Katya drew back from the fridge with a carton of fake-strawberry-flavored milk. She poured them each a glass and put it in front of them.

“Thank you, Mommy,” Xenia trilled.

“You’re welcome, sweetie.”

“Thank you,” Bobby echoed awkwardly. He ran into this problem at every new home. What to call the foster parents. Some of them insisted on Mom and Dad. Some of them went by mister and missus. And others casually went by their first names. Katya had only been introduced to him as Katya, but he worried that she would not appreciate him calling her by her first name. So was she a missus, or a ‘mom’? He swallowed and let it hang there, waiting to see if she would jump in and tell him what to call her. She did not. Bobby picked up his strawberry milk and drank it, hiding his gaze from her as his face flushed warmly.

“Do you like pink milk?” Xenia questioned.

Bobby put his glass down and wiped his lip with the back of his hand. It was sickly sweet. “Yeah, it’s good,” he agreed.

Katya handed him a cloth napkin. Bobby looked at it blankly for a moment, and then dabbed at his mouth. She nodded her approval. Xenia shot Bobby a mischievous look and continued to eat her dinosaurs and drink her milk.

“We’ll get you registered for school tomorrow, Bobby,” Katya said. “I didn’t think there was any point in taking you over for half a day today.”

Bobby nodded. Another new school. New faces, new rules, teachers he wasn’t familiar with. Another mid-year change. It would make so much more sense if all foster family transfers could just be done at the beginning of the school year or current semester. Mid-term transfers were always so awkward and embarrassing, and it felt like it took the rest of the semester to get caught back up to where everyone else was. No matter how long you were there, you would always be the outsider. Always the mid-year kid. Other kids knew each other since kindergarten, or since they had started junior high, but a transfer didn’t belong anywhere.

“It’s a combined school,” Katya advised, “elementary and junior, so you and Xenia are in the same school. They go to different parts of the building, of course, but you’re in the same building.”

“I c-can walk her to school for y-you,” Bobby noted.

“Oh, no. I’ll drop the two of you off.”

“Oh.” Bobby nodded. “Sure.”

“It’s too far to walk,” Xenia explained to Bobby, “and it’s… in a neighborhood you’re not allowed to walk in.”

Bobby frowned at her, trying to figure out what she meant. A neighborhood you weren’t allowed to walk in? Katya nodded at what Xenia had said.

“It’s not a particularly safe neighborhood,” she enlightened Bobby. “I wouldn’t want either of you wandering around there by yourself. But the school itself is safe. There’s a fence, and metal detectors, and everything.”

Not unusual. Bobby had gone to plenty of schools with barbed wire fences and metal detectors. It seemed to be the norm these days.

“I’ve thought about putting Xenia in a private school,” Katya offered, “but I wanted her to learn how to get along with… all types of people. And you don’t really get those experiences at a private school.”

“Oh,” Bobby shrugged. “Yeah, I guess.”

Xenia slurped her milk, attracting a frown from Katya. “Yeah,” Xenia agreed. “We have poor people, and black people, and everything.”

Bobby restrained a snicker and tried to nod seriously in understanding. But it was a stretch, and Xenia saw the humor in his eyes.

“What?” she questioned.

“Nothing. I just had lots of p-poor people and black people at my last s-school too.”

She pursed her lips, and then nodded. “You’ll make lots of friends,” she told him. “Do you think you’ll make lots of friends?”

Bobby glanced at Katya. She was looking at him expectantly. Bobby nodded slowly, taking a bite of his granola bar. “Yeah. I’ll make l-lots,” he said.

Katya nodded, and got out a glass for herself. Bobby watched curiously to see if she was going to have pink milk. She did not. She went to a glass-fronted cabinet and poured a glass from out of a fancy liquor bottle.

“I prefer something a little stronger,” she told Bobby with a smile.

He realized he was staring, and looked away. When he glanced back at her, she was putting her glass down, the pink imprint of her lipstick on the edge.

“Do you have any homework to do, Xenia?” she questioned.

Xenia shrugged. “I’m supposed to read,” she admitted.

“Bobby, why don’t you go read with Xenia?” Katya suggested. “You can help her if she is having any trouble.”

“Sure,” Bobby agreed. “I’ll help her.”

Xenia popped the last of her snacks into her mouth and swallowed the last gulp of pink milk, then slid down from her stool. “Come on,” she invited, taking him by the hand again, “I’ll show you my room.”

Bobby’s room was a decorator’s dream ‘boy room,’ and Xenia’s was a girl’s. It was overwhelmingly pink and frilly. There were china dolls lining shelves, a lacy canopy over the bed, a porcelain-white dressing table, an incredibly detailed doll house, and pink everywhere. Xenia looked up at Bobby expectantly, smiling.

“Wow,” Bobby complied, “it’s like a room for a princess.”

Xenia bounced, smiling widely. “That’s what Mommy says!” she exclaimed, her voice squeaky with excitement. “She says I’m her princess, and this is a princess room.”

“She’s right,” Bobby agreed. He looked around for somewhere to sit down. “Where do you want to read?”

Xenia considered. “On the bed,” she decided. She bounded across the room and jumped into the nest of pillows arranged at the headboard. Bobby followed her over. They arranged the pillows behind their backs, and sat side-by-side. Xenia pulled a book out of her pink Disney Princess backpack and snuggled up to Bobby.

“I like you, Bobby,” she said.

He was surprised that she had attached to him so quickly. Foster kids could be pretty stand-offish. They kept cool and watched to see what kind of damage the others might have before getting too close. Burned too many times. So he wasn’t used to the immediate acceptance.

“I like you too,” he said after a moment. It sounded a bit too tentative in his own ears, and he was afraid that Xenia would hear it and would be hurt. But it didn’t seem to bother her.

“I like you too, Xenia,” she prompted.

Bobby swallowed. Sooner or later, he was going to have to be able to say her name without stammering. “I like you too, Zay-zay-zane,” he stuttered.

“It’s not that hard,” Xenia said.

Bobby pressed his lips together tightly and ground his teeth. He could feel his face getting red. “Some words are just hard for me,” he explained slowly. “It’s just… it’s just my p-problem.”

She studied his face, her eyes wide and innocent. “Why?”

Bobby shrugged. “Some people stutter,” he said.

“And you can’t stop?” she questioned.

Bobby shook his head. “No. I’ve t-tried. Lots.”

She nodded. “You can say Zane,” she pointed out.

“Zane,” Bobby repeated, without fumbling it.

She smiled at him, her fair hair framing her delicate cheeks like a pixie. “You can call me Zane,” she said.

Bobby scratched his chin, trying to hide his embarrassment. “You don’t mind?” he questioned. “Really?”

“I like Zane,” she said.

“Th-thanks.”

The newly-dubbed Zane opened her book and held one side, letting Bobby take the other side. She started in on the story. Her voice was soft and hesitant, but she didn’t have much trouble with the words. Bobby helped her out when she got stuck, but mostly she was able to get through it on her own.

“Do you want to read another one?” Bobby questioned.

Zane shook her head. She leaned against Bobby’s shoulder. “Would you read me one?”

“Sure,” Bobby agreed.

She got off of the bed and went to her bookshelf, pulling a handful of books off and bringing them back to Bobby. She snuggled back into the pillows and against him, and they read for a while.

They got through the last book, and Bobby looked at Zane to see what she wanted to do next.

“You don’t stutter when you read,” Zane observed.

“No. Not usually,” he agreed.

“Mommy talks funny sometimes,” she offered.

Bobby raised his eyebrows at her. “What do you mean? She d-doesn’t stutter like me?”

“No. She just talks in a funny way.”

Bobby shrugged. “Hmm. Okay. When she drinks?”

Zane shook her head. “When she drinks, she just gets… happy. But sometimes she talks… like she’s someone else.”

“Oh.” Bobby frowned, but accepted this. He would find out more about Katya in the coming days and weeks. Then he would figure out what Zane was talking about.

“What do you want to do n-now?” he questioned. “Do you have to do any m-more s-schoolwork?”

“No. I can play now.”

Bobby got up. “Okay. I’m going to go b-back to my room.”

Zane’s face fell. “Aren’t you going to play with me?”

Bobby didn’t really have anything better to do, but he felt a little self-conscious about playing with a five-year-old. “I don’t know… what do you want to p-play?”

“Dress-up!” Zane announced immediately. She jumped off of the bed and darted into her closet. Bobby followed her and peeked around the doorway.

He hadn’t really done more than glance at his own closet. When he looked into Zane’s, his jaw dropped. It was at least as large as her bedroom, with a crystal chandelier sparkling in the middle of it. Again, the predominant color was pink. There were rods and shelves full of clothes, racks of shoes, drawers of accessories. Lots of mirrors, and places to sit while you dressed. The carpet was a deep, lush rose.

“Do you like my dressing room?” Zane questioned, eyes sparkling.

“Wow. Yes. I think you really are a p-princess,” he teased.

She nodded, smiling broadly.

“What am I going to d-dress up in?” Bobby questioned.

“You go to your room and find a suit. Then come back here,” Zane instructed.

Bobby agreed, and stepped back out into the hallway. “Umm… Zane?” he called back over his shoulder.

“What?”

“Where’s my room?”

She came out of the dressing room, laughing. Her cheeks were flushed pink. “That way,” she pointed, “three doors down.”

“Okay.”

He followed her directions and return to his room. How long was it going to take before he didn’t get lost in his own house? He’d gotten turned around in new foster homes before, ended up opening the door to someone’s bedroom instead of the bathroom, or something like that. Hadn’t been able to find the laundry because it was in the garage and not the basement. But this house brought a whole new dimension to the problem.

Bobby opened his closet door, prepared for the worst. It wasn’t as big as Katya’s dressing room, and there was no chandelier, but it was still nothing like he had ever had before. It was a walk-in closet, very masculine with glass and black accents, bright halogen lights giving even light to the room. Long black-framed mirrors, rows of clothing. He’d lived with entire families that didn’t have that much clothing all together.

Zane had said to find a suit, so he examined a row of suits carefully. He had a pretty good idea that she was going to dress up as a princess, so he was going to have to dress in something pretty sweet to complement her. He found a frilly tuxedo shirt that he would never wear out in public, and a black suit. He wasn’t sure whether it was a tuxedo or not, but it seemed to go well with the shirt. It wasn’t so formal as to have tails, but he thought it might be silk. He pulled it on and straightened the lines carefully. It was just a bit too big for him, as if Katya had estimated that he would be bigger than he was. But it still looked pretty good. There was an assortment of pre-tied bow ties, cummerbunds, and pocket kerchiefs, and Bobby selected three that looked like they matched. He examined himself in the mirror. If he didn’t look like such an awkward geek, he might actually have been pretty handsome in this get-up. Bobby picked up the brush and comb on the dressing table and tried to tame his hair into order. Not bad. For a geek.

He wasn’t sure how long Zane would take to get ready. Girls always took longer than guys, but he wasn’t sure if a five-year-old girl took longer than a fourteen-and-a-half-year-old guy. He went back down the hall to Zane’s room and tapped on the door.

“Are you ready?” he queried.

“Come in. I’ll just be a minute,” she invited.

Bobby re-entered the candy floss room. He hadn’t noticed the cloudy blue sky painted on the ceiling the last time he was in. Zane was still in her change room. Bobby didn’t want to sit down and wrinkle anything or not be ready for her, so he stood there, waiting. In a few minutes, Zane made her entrance.

She stepped into the room and paused for a moment to allow him to get the full effect of her outfit. Then she slowly twirled so he could see all sides. She stopped and held a pose, chin lifted up, waiting for his comment.

“You’re beautiful,” Bobby obliged. “I tried to d-dress up, but…”

She immediately abandoned the haughty pose and rushed him, smiling. “You look very handsome!” she insisted, giving him hug. “Just like Prince Charming.”

“And you look…” Bobby hunted for a comparison. She wore a red kimono, sleek and satiny, with complicated embroidery. She had picked out a sparkly tiara to go with it. She had on a pearly pink lip gloss, and he wasn’t sure whether she had makeup on her cheeks, or if they were just that bright from excitement. “Like that girl,” he said awkwardly, trying to remember the name of the girl on the Disney movie who had been a samurai soldier, “on that movie…”

Zane looked delighted. “Do you think so?” she questioned excitedly. “I love that movie.”

Bobby smiled and nodded. “You look just like her,” he agreed.

He wasn’t sure that she was thinking of the same movie that he was, but if she was happy about it, he’d done his part.

“Let’s dance,” Zane suggested, “and then we’ll have tea.”

When Katya came looking for them, Bobby and Zane had gone through several costume changes, and he was no longer in the tuxedo, but in a navy pinstripe suit that looked something like a prohibition gangster’s outfit. And Zane was in a pretty green, frothy dress with a bunch of netting under the skirt. Bobby grimaced and scratched his head, a bit embarrassed to be caught playing dress-up at his age.

“You both look very nice,” Katya approved.

Zane launched into an excited recollection of all of the outfits they had tried on, and Katya nodded, waving off the conversation.

“We are going out for dinner,” she announced.

Bobby looked down at his suit. “What should I wear?” he questioned. “This probably isn’t…”

“No, no, keep what you have on,” Katya interrupted. “Both of you. You look just fine. We’ll go to Enrico’s. Just give me a moment to get myself ready.”

Bobby and Zane nodded. Katya left the room. Zane jumped into the bed with a poof of her dress and the quilts. “She only goes to Enrico’s when she’s in a good mood,” Zane told Bobby. “That’s good.”

“Is she in a bad mood very often?” Bobby questioned, teasing. Katya didn’t seem like the kind of person who let herself get into a bad mood. She was kind and cheerful and upbeat.

Zane’s expression changed. Her smile disappeared, and she looked at Bobby, her lips pursed as she considered his question. “Well, sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes she gets really mad. Or sad.” She let out her breath in a long sigh. “It’s better when she’s happy.”

Bobby nodded. “Well then, I’m glad she’s in a good mood.”

Zane rested her chin on her fist, elbow propped on her knee. “Do you have a real mom?” she questioned.

“Mmm,” Bobby searched for an appropriate answer, “I used to have a biological mom. But it was a long time ago. I don’t really remember her any more.”

“Was she nice? Did she get mad and sad?”

Bobby nodded. “Mostly sad,” he said. “She’d get so sad that she couldn’t t-take c-care of me anymore. So then I would have to go to a f-foster family. But then… she died. So I didn’t have a real h-home to go back to anymore.”

“Oh.” Her brows drew down in a cute frown of concentration. “That’s too bad. Did she die because she got too sad?”

That was an interesting question. Bobby shrugged, unable to answer it. “I don’t know much about it. I guess so.”

“I hope my mommy doesn’t get so sad she dies,” she worried.

“Oh,” Bobby hurried to repair the damage, “I’m sure she’ll be okay. Most p-people don’t get that sad. We’ll keep an eye on your m-mom, okay? Make sure that she’s happy m-most of the time.”

“Okay,” Zane agreed. “You’ll help me?”

“Sure.”

She nodded, and they were both quiet, thinking about it. Bobby didn’t know how to change the subject to happier things. He expected Zane to be distracted by other more interesting and immediate subjects, but she continued to sit, brooding on it thoughtfully. Katya appeared in the doorway.

“All right, children, time to go,” she invited.

She had changed into a simple white sheath dress, with a diaphanous blue scarf tied in some complicated knot around her shoulders and collarbone. She had on a different pair of shoes, but these too added inches to her height. She clutched a tiny purse in her hand. She was so incredibly beautiful, Bobby found his heart pounding hard just looking at her. Katya smiled at Bobby, waiting.

Bobby shook his head in amazement, his cheeks getting hot and sweat breaking out on his forehead. “You look so… st-stunning,” he breathed. “You’re so b-beautiful.”

Katya nodded, smiling approval. “Let’s go,” she repeated, holding her hand out for Zane.

Zane took her hand, and they preceded Bobby out of the room. Bobby wondered, as he followed them, what sort of car they had. He was determined not to be surprised by anything this time. He was leaving his mouth open just a little too much since he got here.

They went through the door to the garage, and Bobby looked around. He kept his mouth shut, but his eyes were probably almost popping out of his head. There was a shiny, fire-engine-red convertible, and a long black town car. Katya gestured to the black car. Bobby followed Zane to get into the back seat.

“Bobby,” Katya snapped.

He turned his head so quickly he almost got whiplash, surprised by her tone. “S-sorry?”

“Open the door for your sister, please.”

Bobby glanced at Zane, standing just behind him, waiting. He pulled up the handle of the door and opened it for her.

Zane smiled sweetly. “Thank you.”

Bobby nodded. Looking at Katya, he shut the door as quietly as he could, and went around the car to the other side, letting himself in. Katya nodded, sliding into the driver’s seat. She started the engine and it purred to life. Bobby found his seatbelt and clicked it into place. He glanced at Zane, and she smiled reassuringly.

The car was luxurious, and spotless, which Bobby expected by now.

Bobby was not surprised that Enrico’s was a high-end restaurant. He got out of the car, and with a glance at Katya, went around the other side to open Zane’s door for her. They followed Katya into the restaurant. At the entrance the maitre d’ smiled in a friendly way, and glanced down his nose at his reservations book.

“Reservation in the name of…?” he prompted in a smarmy voice.

Katya looked at him and didn’t say anything. The man looked at her questioningly, a little surprised. Katya waited for another moment before saying anything, making all of them shift uncomfortably.

“Madam?” the maitre d’ prompted.

“Is ’Rico in?” Katya demanded.

He swallowed, and looked her over. “Err… yes, madam. I will go get him,” he agreed.

Katya nodded, not smiling. Zane looked at Bobby and smiled at him. Obviously this sort of behavior was not unusual and she was not worried about it. Bobby nodded and waited. In a couple of minutes, the maitre d’ and another man, in a sharp black tuxedo, came back to the lobby, voices and heads lowered in conversation. When the new man saw Katya, his face broke into a wide, approving smile.

“Ah, my dear Ms. Bernosky,” he greeted, lengthening his stride to meet her.

They joined hands between them, not a handshake, but the man holding Katya’s hands warmly in his, and they air kissed, both cheeks.

“I am so delighted that you decided to join us today,” Rico said.

“Thank you,” Katya allowed. She took off her gloves and readjusted her scarf over her shoulders. “Is there a table free?”

“For you? Always, my dear,” he agreed.

He turned to the maitre d’. “I’m sorry, this is Mr. Douglas. He has only been with us for a couple of weeks, and he has not yet had the pleasure of meeting you. Mr. Douglas, this is Ms. Bernosky. And we always have a table for her.” Mr. Douglas looked as though he might say something, but Rico cut past him. “Always,” he reiterated.

Mr. Douglas nodded, looking properly put in his place. “Delighted to meet you, Ms. Bernosky,” he said.

Rico nodded, and putting Katya’s hand in the crook of his arm, he led the family to a quiet booth in the corner of the dining room. Bobby looked around, uncertain. He didn’t want to end up knocking anything over or doing anything stupid. But he wasn’t always at his best in situations like this. Rico pulled out a chair for Katya, and Bobby wondered if he should do the same for Zane, but they were in a corner, and Zane slid in along the wall of the booth, so he couldn’t hold her chair. He slid in beside her. He swallowed and looked around.

It wasn’t crowded. The tables were far apart, and it seemed like only half of them were filled. There were candles on each table, and a series of cutlery on either side of the plates. One of his friends at school a few years ago had advised him that you could tell how expensive a restaurant was going to be by the number of forks and spoons you were given. All the way from a fast food restaurant where there were none, or a plastic spoon or fork that you had to get yourself, all the way up to fancy-shmancy restaurants that seemed to have a countless number of forks and spoons and other implements. This restaurant, if he hadn’t already figured it out, was obviously very expensive.

Bobby shifted in his seat. Rico handed each of them a menu placard, one sheet on a leather board. This wasn’t a burger joint. Bobby looked down at the cursive writing to see if there was anything that he recognized.

“Rico, I want to introduce you to my new foster son,” Katya said, motioning to Bobby.

Caught in the glare of the headlights, Bobby froze. He looked at Katya, and looked at Rico, looking for the proper response to the introduction.

“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Rico said. “I had no idea that you were interested in fostering, Mrs. Bernosky.”

“No, well I thought I should do my part. So many needy children in the world. All I have is Xenia, and so many children have no one to look after them. So I decided to take on Bobby here. Give him a home. Show him what it was like to really be loved and belong.”

Bobby swallowed. That was laying it on pretty thick. But her tone was sincere, and Rico didn’t act like she was exaggerating at all.

“Yes, of course,” he agreed. “Such a generous person. Well, Bobby, you have certainly picked up a gem, with Ms. Bernosky as a foster mother.”

Bobby nodded. “Th-thank you. S-sir.”

Rico smiled down his nose at Bobby. “Delightful,” he said, and patted Bobby on the shoulder. He looked at Katya. “I’ll leave you to decide what you would like, unless you have decided already?” he questioned.

Katya glanced at the menu card and shook her head. “Mmm. I don’t know. You don’t have any fresh fish today?” she suggested.

“I am sure we have some salmon. If that would do…?”

Katya nodded. “Lemon juice, capers, something light,” she suggested.

“Certainly, Ms. Bernosky,” he agreed. “I will speak to the chef.”

Katya nodded. She looked at Zane. “What do you want, sweetheart?” she questioned.

Zane glanced around the dining room at other people’s meals, and shrugged. “Chicken?” she said. “In that sauce?”

Rico nodded again. “Of course, miss. Would you like some fries to go with it?”

Zane nodded up and down several times and smiled up at him, handing him her menu. “Yes. Fries with ketchup,” she directed.

“Yes. And the gentleman?” he faced Bobby and cocked an eyebrow.

Bobby looked down at the menu, and over at Katya. He certainly wasn’t confident enough to order something that wasn’t even on the menu. He hadn’t really had a chance to read through it to see what he liked. He glanced over at Zane.

“I’ll have the chicken too,” he said.

“Excellent choice. Fries like Miss Xenia? Or do you want mashed potatoes? Scalloped? Something else in mind?”

Bobby handed his menu to Rico. “Uh—fries p-please. That would be g-great.”

He nodded and favored them all with a benevolent smile. Then he retreated and disappeared out one of the side doors. Bobby breathed out in relief. He looked at Katya for approval.

“Is that okay?” he questioned.

“Of course, dear. You can order whatever you like.”

“Okay. Thanks. It looked really g-good,” he said, looking over at one of the other tables. “This is a really n-nice place. Thank you for taking m-me out.”

She smiled thinly and nodded. “I don’t do much cooking myself,” she said, “so we do go out… perhaps a little more than most people.”

Zane looked at her mother, eyes shining with mischief. “You don’t cook ever,” she pointed out.

Katya arched an eyebrow. “I don’t cook ever?” she repeated. She looked over at Bobby. “You’ve seen my kitchen. You think I would have a kitchen like that, and never cook anything?”

Bobby shook his head, feeling a flush rise up his cheeks. “No ma’am,” he said quickly.

Katya laughed. “Well, it’s probably more true than not,” she admitted. “Maybe not never… but even when I do cook, it is usually just warming up a frozen meal, and maybe you can’t really call that cooking.”

Zane nodded.

Bobby shrugged. “That sounds good,” he said lamely, not knowing what else to say.

The conversation before the dinner arrived was stilted. Bobby wasn’t sure what was expected of him. Katya watched him closely, and he found it unnerving. He tried a few times to deflect conversation over to Zane, and she helped him out the best she could, but often Katya would just cut across whatever Zane was going on about, and start a new conversation with Bobby. Bobby was a bit embarrassed for Zane. But she seemed to take it in stride. Bobby supposed that was nothing new, that she was used to it, having grown up with Katya. Eventually, their dishes came, and Bobby sat back while the waiter arranged them on the table. Bobby looked at the array of forks and knives and watched Zane to see which ones she picked out to use. He copied her. But he was too busy watching her, and knocked over his water glass, sending is splashing across the table.

“Oh!” Bobby jumped up and reached for a cloth napkin, trying to stop the flow and quickly mop it up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t m-mean t-to. Let me…”

He wasn’t doing much good, and his elbows seemed to get in everyone else’s way as the waiter attempted to help and Zane tried to save her chicken, which Bobby had just drowned.

“Bobby,” Katya’s voice had a snap to it. He looked up. “Sit down!” she ordered. “And put your hands in your lap.”

Bobby sat down abruptly. He wanted to keep trying to get it cleaned up, but he forced himself to pull back his hands and put them in his lap. He watched with dismay as the waiter mopped up the mess and gazed at the dishes.

“You can have mine,” he told Zane, nudging his plate over toward her. “I’m s-sorry! It was an ac-accident.”

“It’s okay,” Zane said in a small voice.

“You have mine. I’m… n-not hungry any more,” Bobby said, his voice cracking.

“I will get a new one,” the waiter assured him. “It won’t be very long.”

The waiter left the table, and Bobby sat looking down at his hands, not wanting to see the expression on Katya’s face. He’d been trying so hard to do everything right, and now he had ruined the meal.

He could hear Katya’s fork clinking, and stole a glance at her. She was not looking at him; her attention was entirely on her dinner. Zane and Bobby didn’t eat, waiting for the return of the waiter. He was only a few minutes, and then put a new dish in front of Zane, and a new glass of water in front of Bobby, a few inches further away than the previous one had been. Zane and Bobby started to eat again without comment.

Katya insisted that Bobby have a chocolate brownie for dessert. He was stuffed, and he already felt embarrassed and queasy about the whole incident, but she waved off his protests.

“We are celebrating tonight. This is your first night here, and you need to have dessert. You like chocolate, don’t you? Do you want something different? A malt, or pie, or something?”

“The brownie is the best,” Zane said reverently beside him. “It’s drizzled with chocolate sauce, and then whipped cream, and curls of chocolate and a cherry on top of the whipped cream. It is soooo good.”

Bobby had to smile at this. “Will you at least share it with me?” he suggested to Zane. “I couldn’t eat the whole thing, I’m really full.”

She nodded, eyes wide with pleasure at the suggestion. She looked at Katya for permission. “Can I, Mommy?” she questioned.

“Yes, you may have a little,” Katya agreed. “But you must only have a little bit. You have to watch your weight.”

Bobby was surprised by the remark. He looked at Zane. “She’s not fat,” he pointed out.

“No. She’s just perfect,” Katya agreed. “And that’s the way that she’s going to stay. My friend Annabelle’s daughter is overweight, and I think it is just terrible. That poor child. Nothing she wears fits properly. The children at school make fun of her. And of course, she can’t participate in any beauty shows or anything. The doctor says that it is not dangerous, so Annabelle doesn’t care, but if that was my daughter… there is no way that I would let her just go on eating so much and not getting any exercise. I would make sure that she went on a diet and got back down to an appropriate size.”

“Oh.” Bobby nodded. “Okay.”

Zane looked at Bobby. “I can have a few bites,” she said. “Maybe… three.”

Bobby looked back at Katya. “Is it okay if I don’t eat it all?” he questioned. “I don’t think I can… and I don’t want to get fat either.”

Katya nodded her assurance. “You don’t need to finish it. We are not members of the ‘clean plate club’ here. That is a silly tradition that just encourages children to eat more than they should. We believe that you should stop before you are full. Just eat what your body needs, and no more.”

Bobby was already overfull. He probably shouldn’t have finished all of his fries. And helped himself to Zane’s too. He should have left half of them on the plate. Maybe if he knew he was going to get dessert too, he would have. But he was used to eating out being such a rare treat… he just ate everything that he could… he never knew when he might be going out again. He got in all the enjoyment that he could, while he could.

When the waiter brought out the chocolate brownie, Bobby had to admit that Zane had not been exaggerating. It was a work of art. He put it between them, and they each took small bites.

“Do you want the cherry?” Bobby offered.

Zane gave him a brilliant smile. “Yes!” she agreed. “Are you sure you don’t want it?”

“No. You go for it.”

“Thank you!” Zane scooped the cherry off of the top with a fair amount of whipped cream and chocolate shavings, and put it into her mouth. “Mmmm. That’s really good!”

Bobby pushed the plate away from himself a fraction of an inch. “I really can’t eat any more,” he said, sighing and putting a hand over his belly. “That was so great.”

When they got home, Bobby figured it would be time for bed. Foster parents tended to like to put kids to bed early so that they would have the evening to themselves. Especially if they had a lot of kids. Sometimes the bed routine started as early as six or seven.

But it didn’t look like Katya was ready to send them off to bed when they got home. She looked at Zane.

“What do you want to do?” she asked the girl. “Shall we put on a movie? Play a game?”

Zane considered for a moment. “Watch a movie,” she decided.

Katya nodded. “You want to join us, Bobby?” she invited.

Bobby had been wondering whether he should just head off for his room and hide there. It had been a busy day and he wasn’t sure how much more newness he could handle. It was all a little bit overwhelming, even if it had been good. But a movie didn’t sound too bad. He could just veg out, and he didn’t have to be on his best behavior.

“Umm, yeah,” he agreed. “That sounds g-good.”

“Xenia will take you to the family room. I’m going to change into my grubbies before sitting down. Actually, why don’t we all change? You’re not going to be comfortable watching the movie in that suit, are you?”

Bobby agreed. He followed Zane back toward the bedrooms, though he was getting a better idea of the layout of the house now, and might have actually been able to find his room by himself.

“See you in a minute,” he whispered to Zane, and they each went into their own rooms.

Bobby carefully hung his clothes back up again. He had a pretty good idea that Katya would not be a mom who would overlook clothes strewn on the floor even for a minute. He put everything away neatly and looked for something to change into. What did Katya mean by grubbies? Sweatpants? Jeans? Something else? Bobby picked out a soft track suit and put it on, then went down the hall to Zane’s room and tapped on the door.

“Zane?” he called lowly. “I don’t know what I should wear.”

The door opened, and she peeked out through the crack. “Whatever you want,” she giggled.

“But I don’t know. What’s Katya going to wear? What are you going to wear?”

“I’m putting on my jammies,” Zane whispered through the crack.

“Oh. Good. Okay. I’ll see if I can find some too,” Bobby said.

He went back to his room and looked through the various drawers before picking out a pair of pajamas that looked like a baseball uniform. He felt a little silly. Most places he lived, he just slept in an old, holey pair of sweatpants, maybe a ragged, faded t-shirt thrown over top, for those moms that didn’t like ‘immodesty’. The baseball jammies were just a little juvenile for him, but he put them on anyway.

He went out into the hall, and Zane joined him and took his hand again in her little one. “That’s cute,” she commented.

Bobby felt himself blush. Zane was wearing a pair of… surprise, surprise… pink pajamas. With feet.

She ran her fingers through her hair and scratched her scalp. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s go watch a movie.”

“What are we going to w-watch?”

“I don’t know. Mommy will pick something,” she informed him.

They walked together, Zane leading him to the family room. In spite of Bobby’s constant assurances to himself that he wasn’t going to be surprised by anything else, he couldn’t help but be astonished by the family room. It was really more of a private screening room. The screen took up an entire wall. There were rows of theatre seating, but Zane ignored them and led him to the bottom, where they pulled over some beanbag chairs and blankets, and made themselves comfortable. Katya was a few minutes more getting there. Bobby studied her, trying not to stare. This was the first time that he saw her without shoes, and could see her real height. She was tall even without heels. Probably six feet all by herself. She had put on some sort of leisure suit or pajamas that were white and satiny. Certainly nothing Bobby would have ever called “grubby.” Katya smiled at the children.

“All set, then?” she questioned.

They both nodded. Katya went to the projector and tapped on the computer there for a few minutes, before starting the movie showing. Bobby was full from the restaurant, but had a sudden craving for fresh popcorn. He ignored it and turned to the screen to watch the animated feature that Katya had chosen. He expected her to sit in one of the big, comfy theatre chairs, but she did not. She grabbed another big beanbag, and plopped it between the children, falling into it and making the children’s beanbags rebound. Zane giggled, and settled again, leaning back against her mother. Bobby readjusted his posture, and looked up at the screen.

They hadn’t been watching for long when Katya shifted, and Bobby felt her hand on his back. To start with, she rubbed it gently. Bobby tried to relax and enjoy the massage. After a while, she just laid her arm across him, and they watched the movie, cuddled up together. Zane readjusted and laid partly across her beanbag and partly across Bobby’s legs. She was snoring lightly before the end of the movie, and Bobby was afraid to move and wake her up. By the time the movie ended, he was almost asleep too. He shifted carefully and looked at Katya.

“Thanks, that was g-great,” he said.

“It was good, wasn’t it? Now what are we going to do with sleepyhead here?” Katya surveyed her daughter.

“Do you want me to carry her to her b-bed?” Bobby suggested.

“Won’t she be too heavy for you?”

“No… but I might w-wake her up. I don’t know if she’ll s-stay asleep.”

Katya shrugged. “Well, she’ll wake up if I take her to bed, because I am not carrying her. You might as well give it a try.”

Bobby nodded. He shifted his position to slide his legs out from under Zane and laid her gently across the beanbags. Getting up to massage his legs and get the feeling back, he stretched and walked around for a few minutes. Zane continued to just snore, oblivious to what was going on around her. Bobby went over to her and picked her up, one arm under her legs and one behind her back. She was light. Bobby straightened up.

“Which way back to our bedrooms?” he questioned after a moment of consideration.

“I’ll show you,” Katya offered. She went out what he thought was a different door than they had come in. Bobby followed her. In a few minutes they arrived at the familiar hallway.

“Thanks,” Bobby said.

“Of course. Have a good sleep, I’ll see you in the morning.”

Bobby nodded.

“Do you need anything?” she questioned.

“No. I’m g-great, really.”

“Night.”

Bobby continued on to Zane’s room and pushed the door open. He had to juggle her a bit to get the blankets back, lay her down, and then cover her up again. She shifted and turned onto her side. “Night, Bobby,” she said softly.

“Night,” Bobby told her.

He left, pulling the door shut behind him, and headed back to his own room. The baseball jammies would do for the night. He brushed his teeth and crawled into the soft, warm bed. No broken springs or sleeping bags here. With a sigh, Bobby closed his eyes, expecting to fall asleep instantly.

Time passed, and Bobby wasn’t asleep. He opened his eyes and turned restlessly, looking at the window. He should have closed the blinds, a streetlight shone directly in his eyes. He turned again and pulled the blanket over his head, but sleep still eluded him. The events of the day replayed over and over. When he tried to shut them off and stop processing them, he started thinking about school the next day. A new school. Another mid-year transfer.

Bobby tossed and turned, his body comfortable, but unable to settle his mind and find sleep.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

By-pass, Breaking the Pattern #3

By P.D. Workman

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