Until Skye was eight years old, she was passed from pillar to post. Dumped on the steps of St. Agnes' Orphanage at the estimated age of three months, and from then on for the next eight years, moving between foster homes and the orphanage. The babies and the small kids, below four, usually only stayed at the orphanage for a few months, at most. Cute kids shot off the shelves. All potential parents wanted a child that was young enough to be moulded and shaped into their own.
Skye had spent eight years on and off at St. Agnes'. She knew all the tricks of the trade. All the little secrets about potential parents, the ways the nuns talked about certain kids to make them sound more appealing. Kids in care were like puppies for sale in a newspaper. Mutts being described as pedigrees. They literally had ads showing them off, written in such a sugar-coated style that it made Skye's teeth ache. She'd seem them all.
Joseph is a highly spirited child. –Disruptive- He has a wonderful personality and is very active. –Hyperactive- He is a child who wears his heart on his sleeve. –Anger management issues.
Alanah is a quiet child who requires a loving and patient home. -Anxiety disorder- She has had unfortunate experiences in the past- Abused – but is learning to cope well with what has happened. – In therapy. It's not working.
Sam has been involved in many clubs and activities -Sam has been kicked out of many clubs and activities- and is very alert at all times, constantly ready to play. –Does not sleep - He enjoys the company of others – Cannot be left alone - and craves a loving family who can give him the disciple and stability he craves. – Severe behavioural problems.
The ads tended to be ever-changing as did the kids, but Skye had been featured in an ads for eight years with little luck.
Skye's ad had changed a fair bit in her time from her arrival at the orphanage (Beautiful baby girl, Mary Sue, will be a gorgeous addition to any family…), to her toddler years (Mary Sue is a bright and curious child with a determined personality…), until the ad written for her at age five became Skye's stamp by the state and the indication that everyone who had ever tried to get her a loving home, had essentially given up on her. She was taken out of the 'pre-school' section of the ads and instead lumped together with all the other kids who were too old to be attractive to potential adopters. She didn't even get a photograph anymore.
She got ten words in Times New Roman in an alphabetical list of names in an archival magazine of kids in care in the area. 'Poots' came right in the middle. It wasn't even her name.
Mary Sue Poots. Elementary early years. Experienced foster parents required.
That was it. Ten words. Ten words to describe little five year old Skye. Ten words that would describe her for the next three years. Even at the age of five, Skye knew what the words meant.
Experienced foster parents required.
It meant what they had been telling her for as long as she could remember. Why all of her various foster placements hadn't worked out. Why, despite her age and cute appearance, couples just didn't want her in their family. Skye was difficult.
Every quarterly review they'd ever done on little Skye had the word somewhere in the first few sentences.
She was difficult to cope with, difficult to diffuse, difficult to socialise, difficult to rehome. Mary Sue Poots was just difficult. And no one wanted a kid that was difficult. Of that Skye was certain.
Or so she thought.
When Abby, turned up at St. Agnes' at 2pm on a Saturday in October, the kids in the rec room dropped whatever they were doing and flocked around the woman like baby chicks.
"Abby look at how I can write my name now!"
"Have you found me a forever family yet, Abby?"
Abby was a social worker.
"Is my Mommy coming to get me, Abby. Did you give her my card that I made?"
"I was good at school this week, Abby. I promise. Tell them to write in my report that I was good!"
Abby didn't answer their questions. She high-fived the older kids and hugged the younger ones. She told them that she was very busy and she was working hard for all of them to find them homes.
Skye didn't believe that, and yet there she was with the rest of the kids, pushing her way to the front of the crowd to tug on Abby's sleeve. Abby smiled brightly at her then turned to one of the little boys to give him a fist-bump. He squealed in delight.
She only worked with about a third of the kids at the orphanage, there was another four who turned up every now and then, though Abby held the majority, but it didn't matter which social worker had come to see them. All that mattered was that a social worker had arrived. Because if a social worker was there and she didn't have a child with her, then it was only good news- she was taking someone away with her.
Abby left the rec room with one of the nuns and the kids gradually dissipated and went back to their original activities.
For few minutes, Skye hung around by the door to the offices with a few of the other kids, in the hope Abby would return and have some good news for them, but that only lasted five minutes, before she gave up. She glanced at the clock on the far wall. At least Skye thought it was five minutes; telling time was still something Skye had yet to grasp.
Leaving a few of the others by their post at the door, Skye moved over to the corner of the rec room and sat by the bookcase on some of the brightly coloured, oversized cushions. She didn't really like reading, it was hard, and when she couldn't read some of the big words her teacher at school got angry, so instead Skye just pretended to read Matilda and kept an eye on the door where Abby had left with Sister Jane.
"Thkye." A four year old boy by the name of Owen toddled over with a jigsaw puzzle box under one arm, and pulled at the hem of Skye's hoodie. She ignored him. "Thkye" he whined insistently around his thumb, letting the box drop to the ground next to her feet.
"It's Skye." She grumbled, irritably. It was almost impossible to get even a few minutes peace in a place with nearly fifty kids constantly prying in on her business, even if Skye was only pretending to read. "If you would stop sucking your thumb for two seconds then maybe people would know what you were saying." Skye huffed. At least she only sucked her thumb when no one was looking.
Owen watched her with wet, angry eyes, he was a crier. Skye sighed. She hadn't meant to make him cry, but like all the kids, the longer Abby was in the office for, the more agitated she got. Owen's frown deepened as the first fat tear escaped his eyes, and in a rage, kicked Skye hard in the shin.
"Ow!" She hissed. "What the hell was that for you little brat?" Skye rubbed her shin and gritted her teeth to stop the pricking in her eyes. "That really hurt."
Owen sniffled. "You're mean Thkye. 'M telllin' thither Margaret."
"No!" Skye cried, attracting a few glares from some of the older kids who were actually reading. "No, don't." She said more quietly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be grumpy, Owen. Please, please, please don't tell Sister Margaret." Skye pled with the little boy, but the damage was done, he was already pattering over to the older nun to tell on her. "Fine!" She called after him. "I'll just tell her how you kicked me!"
Owen didn't look back.
Skye watched from the sanctity of the reading corner, as Owen pointed to her and rubbed at his eyes. Skye didn't need to be able to read lips to know he was embellishing the story. Sister Margaret's face said it all. Owen was a favourite of the nuns; cute and just whiny enough to stay on their radars without being too annoying. She had no chance, even if he had kicked her.
Sister Margaret caught Skye's eye, and beckoned her over to where she was sat at her desk, with a crooked finger. For a brief second, Skye considered blatantly ignoring the woman, but she already had four behavioural reports this week and ignoring her would just get her into even more trouble.
Skye stood and walked over to the desk. Owen was no longer crying, but he snivelled away on Sister Margaret's side of the desk, sucking his thumb and leaning his head on her elbow pathetically. Skye glared at him.
Sister Margaret sighed heavily and laced her fingers together on the top of her desk. Skye looked down at the half completed crossword and the cold cup of tea on the table top. "Now, Mary-,"
Skye's head whipped up. "It's Skye." She protested.
Sister Margaret rolled her eyes. "Mary, would you care to explain to me why you were bullying a baby?" She stroked a hand over Owen's dark hair.
"He's not a baby. He's nearly five." Skye said incredulously. "There are kids his age who can read."
"And there are children your age, Mary, who can read, too. But you're not one of them now, are you?" Sister Margaret said sweetly.
Skye felt her cheeks burn. It wasn't her fault if she was stupid. Reading was hard. She looked back at the cold tea and squeezed her eyes shut to stop the burning behind them. "I can read." Skye mumbled.
"Not well, dear. Now tell me why you were bullying Owen, here. You know we don't tolerate bullies here at St. Agnes'"
Skye scoffed. "I wasn't bullying him." She looked up at Sister Margaret earnestly, desperately hoping she'd believe her. "I was a little bit mean but I said sorry right after, I swear I did! Tell her, Owen!"
Owen hid his face in Sister Margaret's cardigan.
"Mary Sue. No more free time until the end of next week-,"
"What? But he kicked me! And-,"
"And I'm giving you another behavioural report for you to take to the office." Sister Margaret began writing out the pink strip of paper. "Five this week is not a good way to go, Mary." She ripped the slip out of the pad and handed it over to Skye, lacing her hands together again and smiling at her. "No parents want a child who is difficult."
Skye glared at the older woman, biting the inside of her mouth to stop the angry words she wanted to say, from escaping. Owen was smirking around his thumb. He cuddled into Sister Margaret's side, and she lifted him into her lap and cuddled him closer.
The nuns had never hugged her like that.
Owen eyed Skye, smirked, then whimpered and hid his face in the nun's shoulder.
"Oh, little man, I know you're upset because of Mary, but it's alright." Sister Margaret opened a desk drawer, rummaged for a second and pulled out a blue pacifier. She offered it to the almost five-year-old and he grabbed it off her, stuffing the teat into his mouth. "Get yourself off to the office with that behavioural write up, Mary." She instructed.
"I guess you are a baby." Skye mumbled at Owen, gripping the paper.
Sister Margaret smiled. "At least he doesn't wet the bed."
With tears in her eyes and her behavioural report clutched in her hands, Skye took off in the direction of the office. Her chest felt tight and her shoulders shook as a sob escaped her.
"Are you absolutely sure you want to take a child on like her?" Sister Jane asked the couple for what seemed to be the hundredth time.
Phil nodded. "Yes. As I've assured you, Melinda and I have plenty of experience with challenging children, and from what Abby has told us, this little girl deserves the chance at a long-term home."
"You understand why she has yet to procure a long-term placement?" Sister Jane asked, looking from Melinda to Phil. "Her behaviour has never been wonderful," the woman said, shaking her head, "but just look at her file. I'm not even sure we can cope with her here."
"All the more reason for us to take her home." Melinda replied dryly. She had never liked Sister Jane all that much and their current conversation was doing nothing to stem her distaste for the nun.
"Listen," Abby the social worker interrupted, "ultimately, I am the person who gets to make the decision regarding the child. As her social worker, it has been my responsibility to provide this child with the opportunities for a loving home, and so far, I have failed her."
Abby lifted the hefty file from the desk and handed it to Phil before continuing. "I agree that she can be a handful, and that in recent months since returning from a particularly bad placement, for which I fully blame myself, that her behaviour has worsened significantly," Sister Jane nodded enthusiastically in agreement and Abby rolled her eyes, "however, what this little girl needs is a loving and stable home, or the way things are going, she is going to be locked in the foster system until she's old enough to end up on the streets or in prison."
The three others in the room stared at Abby as she finished her rant. The social worker shrugged.
"Tell me I'm wrong." She said. No one corrected her. "Inexperienced foster parents would not be able to cope, I understand this," she turned to Sister Jane, "but I am confident that Phil and Melinda will be able to take care of her, and give her a better chance in life."
Sister Jane sighed heavily, leaned back in her chair and folded her arms. "Well, you two did manage to tame the Russian…"
"Natasha" Melinda growled. "She's called Natasha."
"Yes," the sister agreed, "and you managed to put up with her for four years, so I'm sure you'll be able to cope with this one."
"Actually," Phil said, "we've had the absolute pleasure of being Natasha's care takers for five years. Just because she went to college last year, that does not mean we are no longer her parents."
Sister Jane looked surprised for a moment, and opened her mouth to reply, but a knock resounded on the door, brining her out of her stupor.
"Come in." She called.
All the adults turned to the door as it was pushed open, and a small scraggly, dark haired girl eased her way into the room. She wiped furiously at her eyes.
"Ah," Sister Jane smiled, "Mary Sue, just in time."
"In time for what?" For little girl asked timidly, eyeing the two strangers.
"We'll cross that bridge in a moment." Sister Jane replied. "Firstly, why are you here?"
Skye handed over the pink slip to the nun, sidling closer to Abby than the strange couple.
Sister Jane tutted. "Oh dear, Mary Sue. Five in one week. And this time for bullying a younger child?"
"But it wasn't my fault." Skye protested. "Look, he kicked me." She pulled up the leg of her jeans to show off the visible bump on her shin.
"Oh, sweetie, that looks like it hurts." Phil said to the little girl.
"It does." Skye mumbled shyly.
"Don't encourage her, Mr Coulson. As I've said, this one is a problem. Won't even react to her own name recently." The Sister shook her head.
Skye glared at her angrily. "Because it's not my name. I told you I wanted to pick my own name, and I picked 'Skye'."
"Like I said," Sister Jane said dryly, "a problem."
"Well, she won't have be your problem for long." Melinda muttered.
Skye frowned, looking between the adults. "Can I go now?" She asked. "Sister Margaret already said I get no more free time for a week."
"Actually, honey, I'm glad you're here." Abby said kindly. "Why do you think I'm here today?"
Skye looked at her questioningly. "I thought you were gonna take someone away 'cos you didn't bring anyone with you."
"Well, that's right, Mary." Abby smiled.
"It's Skye." Skye reminded the social worker. "It's not Owen, is it?" Skye asked with a grimace, and Melinda had to hide a smirk. "Actually," Skye reconsidered, "you can take him. I don't care where he goes, as long I don't have to see him everyday."
Abby laughed. "Good news, Skye, you won't have to see Owen everyday."
Skye's eyes widened. "You're taking him away?"
"No, honey, you're going to a new home."
"Me?" Skye asked quietly.
"Yes." Abby grinned. "Mr and Mrs Coulson would like to foster you."
Skye turned to the couple, who both smiled at her kindly. "I get to go home with you?"
"Only if you'd like to." Phil said.
Skye was taken aback. She's never really been given the choice before. The little girl leaned over to Abby and whispered not-so-quietly in her ear.
"Are they nice?"
"Yes. I promise." Abby said.
Skye frowned. "You promised that last time."
Abby placed a hand on the little girl's head and smiled sadly. "I know, and I truly believed their family was going to be perfect for you, but I admit that I was wrong." She turned to Phil and Melinda. "But Mr and Mrs Coulson have taken care of children before, and they come highly recommended from their previous foster kids. They've been wanting another child to foster since their most recent foster daughter left."
Skye straightened, folding her arms, gaining some of the spunkiness that had been getting her into trouble recently. She turned to Melinda and Phil.
"If you're so nice, how come you don't got any more foster kids, huh?"
Melinda grinned at the little girl's bravado. "She went to college last year, but she still comes home in the breaks."
"Oh." Skye said. "Okay, then."
"So, Skye, is it?" Phil asked.
"Yes." She assured. "My name is Skye." The child eyed Sister Jane.
"So, Skye," Phil grinned, "would you like to come live with Melinda and I?"
Skye pretended to consider the offer for a second, picking the pink behavioural slip back up off Sister Jane's desk. "Y'know, Mr Coulson," she turned to the nun, holding the slip out, "I think I would like to leave this place and go live with you." Skye grinned and tore the pink slip in two, dropping the pieces on the desk.
"Skye…" Abby reprimanded exasperatedly, secretly amused.
"What?" the little girl shrugged, "If I'm leaving for a little while, I'm leaving in style."
Melinda shook her head, laughing, "You certainly are."