DISCLAIMER: I own nothing that you recognize. Please don't sue me.
Growing Upside Down — Chapter 1
Can't escape a past
That wasn't ever lived
All beginnings ended
Come back to start again
And the people seem to falter
As they watch you fall asunder
Eyes are open and filled with wonder
Growing Upside Down, the Ditty Bops
The lock clicked and the door swung open, revealing an apartment plunged into darkness. The open window shades allowed the residual yellow beams of the street lights below to illuminate several of the ancient artifacts arranged on the shelves in a soft glow. There was a jingle of metal as the key was removed from the lock just before the lights were flipped on in the apartment.
"Hey, Bones, thanks again for letting me crash here," Seeley Booth said, flashing a grin at his partner before dropping his overnight bag onto the nearest chair along with his brown leather jacket. Brennan replaced her keys in her purse after locking the door behind her.
"It's no problem, Booth. I have the space, and a building that is undergoing fumigation is not fit for habitation," she said. She dropped her purse onto the counter and headed toward the refrigerator. "Want anything to drink?"
"Sure, I'll take a beer," he told her, absently fingering through her collection of CDs. She retrieved two from the fridge and, uncapping them with a click, brought one over to her partner. They clinked bottles and each took a swig. "Not bad," he said approvingly. "Definitely an improvement over the Moroccan beer."
"I'm glad you approve," she told him.
"Thanks again for letting me crash on such short notice," he said.
"Again, you're welcome. I didn't get a chance to make up the guest room, so—"
"Don't worry, your couch is perfect," he told her with a grin. She cocked her head to the side and raised her eyebrows, setting her beer on the table.
"Booth, I have a guest room for a reason. It's no trouble at all. Just make yourself at home, I'll go grab the linens."
"Okay," he said as she turned and left down the hall. "Is there anything that I can do to help?"
"Actually," she called, her voice distant now, "yes, I have two spare pillows in my closet on the shelf above my dresses. Could you get those down so I can put pillowcases on them?"
"Sure thing, Bones," he said, setting his drink on a coaster and clearing his throat quietly. He made his way down the hall and into her bedroom. He didn't have reason to come in here often, but it was as he remembered: polished mahogany bedroom set, wooden floors mostly covered by an ivory area rug, walls painted a deep, rich blue, pale blue bedcoverings with accent pillows. It wasn't hard to locate her walk-in closet, and he fumbled around for a light switch for a moment before the area was illuminated successfully.
Booth had never been here before. The closet was large, with plenty of space to accommodate all of his partner's belts, shoes, and clothing. The row of garment bags near the back of the closet drew his attention and, sure enough, he saw two spare pillows resting on the shelf above. He pulled the first down easily, but there was something holding the second one back. Booth gave a sharp tug and pulled the pillow down.
Unfortunately, he didn't anticipate the small cardboard box toppling off of the shelf and smacking him clean in the face. With an "oomph," he stumbled backwards, tripping over some sort of shoe rack and falling sideways. It was lucky that the pillows were there, as he had been trying to catch the cardboard box so diligently that he was unable to break his fall.
Booth groaned into the pillows, taking a moment to recompose himself before getting to his feet again. He looked around for the box, hoping to put it back onto the shelf before Brennan noticed his prolonged absence. Most unfortunately, though, she chose that moment to investigate the circumstances of the crash.
"Booth, what on earth—" she began, her head reappearing in the walk-in closet. At the sight of him getting to his feet, she raised her eyebrows. "What happened?"
"Something smacked me in the face, it must have been resting on one of the pillows," he explained, kicking the pillows aside and turning toward the box.
In the course of the fall, it had turned sideways, the unsecured lid falling off and the contents beginning to spill out. Brennan had noticed and in a split second she was there beside him, with an "oh," of surprise, hurriedly scooping the contents back into the box. As she flipped the box upright, Booth noticed that her hands were trembling as she tried to force the lid back onto the box.
Wordlessly, Booth placed a steady hand over hers and looked over at his partner's face. Her lips were slightly parted and her eyes closed, but a small tear managed to escape from beneath one of the lids. She quickly swatted at it with her free hand and blew out a slow breath, steeling herself. She opened her eyes again and met Booth's. Brennan looked back at the box and saw the reason that the lid wouldn't fit: two battered shoelaces were protruding over the edge. Booth, following her gaze, gave her hand a light, reassuring squeeze.
They were quiet for a moment longer, until Brennan slid her hand from under Booth's. Rather than hastily re-stowing the box on the shelf on which it had been, she bit her lip and removed the lid. As if asking permission to look inside, Booth locked his eyes on her cerulean ones.
"You okay, Bones?" he asked her softly. When she only nodded, he continued. "Want some space?"
"No," she said, surprising herself with the steadiness of her response. "Just a little time." She gave him a small smile, which he wanted to return but found that he was unable to. She studied his face for a moment. Then, suddenly, she stood.
"Come on," she said gently, offering her hand to help him stand.
"It's okay," she told him. Brennan positioned the lit atop the cardboard box and lifted it easily, leading the way out of the closet. When Booth didn't immediately follow, she looked over her shoulder with a small smile. "Bring those pillows. You didn't come in here for nothing." He chuckled and rolled his eyes.
"Got 'em," he said, snatching the pillows up from the floor and flipping the light off. Brennan made her way back to her living room, setting the box down on the floor. She sat on the floor, her back propped up against the couch. Booth slid down onto the floor next to her, tossing the pillows onto a nearby chair.
Without looking at Booth, Brennan lifted the lid off of the box and set it aside. Inside was an odd enough conglomeration of objects: a long string of beads, several photographs, a child's teddy bear, a small book, a small ceramic box. Settled at the top of the box was a pair of worn, dirty, purple chucks, the laces still knotted together.
Carefully, Brennan lifted them from the box and turned the left shoe over in her hand. There, penned in tiny, neat print, was a list of names.
Gingerly, she ran her fingers over the ink. She felt Booth's eyes on her and turned her head to face him.
"Nine," she told him. "It was fairly average for adolescents to spend less than three months in each place. The younger ones stayed longer. Our biology is predisposed to want to care for our young. Once the first signs of sexual maturity begin to emerge, the children are regarded as adults, no longer needing care. After puberty, the statistical probability of adoption dropped sharply." After a moment, she tilted the sole of the shoe towards Booth, who looked for himself at the list.
"Purple, huh?" he asked her, the corner of his lip twitching up in a grin. She shook her head, smiling softly.
"They were so cool," she recalled. "Everyone wanted a pair of purple Chucks. I begged my parents for them, and I got them at the start of my sophomore year of high school." She swallowed, unsure of where to start, not completely sure that she wanted to tell her story at all.
But wasn't that Angela's advice to her years ago? Every once in a while, tell somebody something about yourself that you're not completely sure you want them to know. She looked back at her partner. This was Booth, she thought, a man who had risked so much for her safety, who had taken a bullet for her, who had done everything in his power to be there for her when she needed him the most. He had trusted her with the darkest secrets of his past.
He sat in silence beside her, trusting that she would speak when she was ready and only then. Until that moment came, she knew, he would simply sit with her.
Clutching the left shoe a little tighter in her hands, she began.
Temperance had rolled out of bed that morning, hopping on the cold wooden floors of her bedroom before pulling on a pair of warm socks. It was early, and the morning sun shone in through the gossamer white curtains on her bedroom window.
Usually her mom was awake at this hour as well, already drinking coffee and sitting with the morning crossword puzzle at the kitchen table. They would sit together and pass the puzzle back and forth, each filling in a clue. At first, Temperance had only been able to fill in a handful of the clues on her own, but as time went by she was able to solve almost as many of the clues as her mother. Almost.
But she was gone now, she thought sadly. They were gone. Each morning, she padded down the stairs and peeked into the kitchen, waiting, hoping that somehow her mother would be there again, sitting at the kitchen table. But it had been ten days of an empty table. Today made eleven.
Russ wasn't awake yet, and that was fine with her. They had been fighting more and talking less since their parents had vanished. He was convinced that they weren't coming back, and he tried to carry on for her. She had been so angry at Christmas morning, so angry at Russ for getting her hopes up, thinking that Mom and Dad had reappeared.
Padding into the kitchen, a note on the counter caught her eye. It was addressed to her, which was stupid of Russ, really, Temperance thought as she scoffed at his messy handwriting. They were the only ones left in their three-bedroom home in the quiet Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park.
That note, scrawled in her brother's handwriting on a sheet of paper torn from a yellow legal pad that her father used for planning lessons, had severed her from the life she knew. She hadn't fully believed it on that sunny December morning.
Russ had explained that he had gone up north to find work as a mechanic, probably in Michigan. He couldn't take care of her the way she deserved, the way she needed. He loved her and would see her again as soon as he could. And he had called the Department of Child and Family Services.
She had dropped the note back onto the counter, bewildered. She was alone. The clock read just before 8:30, but she hadn't known what to do. Brain in a frenzy of activity, she didn't know whether it was real. It seemed like a horrible prank. But the cars were all missing from the garage, and Russ's toothbrush was gone from the bathroom that they shared.
Just after she made her way out of the shower, still in a daze, there had been a knock on the door. The woman was chubby, a redhead in an A-line skirt and white blouse. And she gave Temperance two garbage bags and half an hour to pack some things.
She protested adamantly. She would not pack her things in garbage bags, not when there were perfectly good suitcases in the house. At first, the social worker protested, but Tempe was adamant.
Temperance never realized how difficult it would be. She was allowed one bag, along with her knapsack. She had scrambled up into her parents' bedroom, dove under the bed and retrieved a sturdy green duffel that belonged to her father. Into it, she began to pack: plenty of socks and underwear, a sewing kit, a spare pair of sneakers, the handful of makeup that she owned, a few photographs, several books, a few carefully-wrapped pieces of her mother's jewelry, among other things.
She took a last look back at the house through the window of the old Nissan Maxima driven by the social worker, a woman called Marla. She didn't care to know any more about this stranger, but continued to stare out the window of the car. The sun poured mockingly through the branches of the snow-coated tree branches. The trees used to remind her of lace when the snow and ice settled on the bare branches, but everything seemed colder now.
"Temperance, we're here," the red-haired woman said in a voice of gentle kindness as she cut the engine of the car. "Go ahead and grab your things. We're going to fill out some paperwork before we get you resettled, alright?" Tempe looked at the woman, quietly studying her, nodded, and climbed out of the car into the underground parking garage, slinging the knapsack over her shoulder and grabbing the strap of the duffel.
The woman peered at her over the tops of her glasses, as if waiting rather impatiently, as Temperance adjusted the weight of the duffel in her arms. She did not ask for help. She neither wanted nor needed it, she only followed silently up the concrete stairs and through a door.
The DCFS office was bustling with activity, in stark contrast with the parking garage they had just left. Two men in suits conversed in low voices as they passed in the carpeted hallway. Through an office window to her right she saw a young boy and girl sitting in plush chairs in front of a desk, being spoken to by a stern-looking woman with her blond hair drawn up in a tight bun. A kind-looking couple was standing with another female social worker who was carrying a toddler.
"Sweetheart," the redheaded woman addressed her, turning around sharply and gesturing to a plastic chair outside of an office door. "Could you sit tight for a moment here? You'll be meeting with Arthur soon to discuss some things before you go into emergency care. I'm going to grab your paperwork." Again, Tempe simply nodded, taking a seat where she was told. Her knapsack and duffel sat on the chair beside her, ensuring that nobody could occupy those seats without her direct permission.
She had never felt so alone before, so isolated, so immersed in the shadows. Her family, those who had loved and cared for her the most in the world, had abandoned her. Turning her head, she watched the social worker in the lobby hand the toddler in her arms to the young, happy-looking couple. The little boy was their new foster son, it seemed, and the couple couldn't have appeared happier about this.
Temperance steeled herself for the reality of the situation. Everyone wants a baby. The older you are, the worse your chances of ever being adopted, which was fine with her. She already had a family with Matthew, Christine, and Russ Brennan. At least, she thought she had.
Now, she wasn't so certain.
The door opened and she was shaken out of her reverie. An older man, with Coke-bottle glasses and graying hair, stood smiling at her.
"Temperance? Come on in, let's get this sorted out," he said. Tempe gathered up her things and allowed herself to be ushered into the office. Marla already sat in the burgundy-carpeted room in one of the polished wooden chairs in front of the desk. Temperance set her bags down and took a seat with the social workers.
The office was warm, despite the lower quality of the furniture in it. Mixed sports paraphernalia, particularly of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Cubs were cluttered among framed certificates and children's photographs.
"You a sports fan, Temperance?" Her head snapped up at the kind-faced man who had clearly noticed her looking at the prints.
"My parents were fans of the Cleveland Indians," she said without emotion.
"Ah," the man said, sitting in the chair behind his desk. "A worthy team. My name is Arthur Walters, and I'll be your social worker for as long as you are with us in social services." He reached out his hand, but Temperance simply crossed her arms in front of her, giving him a piercing look. "Yeah, I get that a lot. What do you say we go over some entry forms? Marla here wants to make a few phone calls so that we can get you a place to sleep tonight." With that, Marla excused herself, shutting Temperance and Arthur in the room.
For several minutes, Arthur asked her questions. Temperance's head was buzzing, and she answered each question with as much clarity as she could muster. Alone. The word danced in her head, taunting her, so she tried to shove the thought away. She needed to remain clearheaded. She was as detached as possible as she detailed what little she knew about the disappearance of her parents and her brother, her life in Elmwood Park. When she noted to Arthur that she had no known family to take her in, his eyes saddened.
"I'm really sorry to hear that, Scout," he said sympathetically. Temperance only nodded curtly.
"Me, too," she said.
"However," Arthur continued, "It should be of a little comfort to know that if your parents or brother turn up again, we will make it very easy for them to find you." He gave her a small, sad smile. "Do you have any questions for me?"
"Yes," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "All of those photographs, who are those children?"
"Ah," Arthur beamed around the room at the dozens upon dozens of photographs, "those are my kids, the ones that have passed through this office. I still keep in contact with many of them."
"What happened to them?"
"Well, of course, I've had many success stories, adoptions or responsible young adults who are pursuing good careers, good lives. See those two boys?" He indicated a photo of identical twin boys with short, dark hair and brightly colored t-shirts. "They were 7 when they came in here, Ernesto was abused because he was a little slow. Autism, you see. They ended up with a loving couple in Midtown where they could get the care that they needed. And that young man with in the graduation robes? His name is Simon, and after being raised in a family of meth addicts and passed around in the system, he has graduated from Illinois State and works as a junior editor at Random House.
"Some haven't been so lucky, though," he continued. "Vanessa, she's the one with the short blond hair, became involved with a gang. Never saw her again. And we lost Kenny to a heroin overdose two years ago.
"I want to share a bit of wisdom with you, Temperance, before you start out in this system. Because I know it isn't easy and I know things can go wrong. There are times when you're going to feel like you've lost control. But remember, where you go from here is your decision. Not literally, of course, but you can control your behavior and your attitude. You can control what you become, and how you handle what this system throws at you. Okay?"
Temperance nodded, listening to his words and taking in all of the photographs on the walls. When he offered, she took his business card from him, the one with his pager number so that she could contact him in case of emergencies, and tucked it into her backpack.
Arthur gave her a wink as they bid farewell, Marla whisking her out of the office with a hand on her shoulder. After another 30-minute drive to Wheaton, Marla pulled up in front of a nice brick house on a cul-de-sac.
"Welcome to your new home," Marla told her, gathering up her folder. Temperance followed, bags in hand, as she was led to the white front door.
"How long am I going to be here?"
"Honey, if things work out, you'll be here for a long time."
Temperance would eventually learn that the social workers always said that.
Hey all, thanks so much for reading! Now let me know what you think, if you would be so kind.
If there is interest, I'll continue to write. And if you get bored between updates, I do have another story published. And it's finished, so you won't have to wait for updates.
So, for now, that's all she wrote.