She sat on the porch of her home. Water at her feet in a puddle, she wondered if it was okay to drink. Her family’s water had been turned off for days and she’d had to be creative about where she got both her next meal or cold water on this very hot July day.
“Emma!” her mom called out. “What are you doing out here?!” her mother yelled when she discovered Emma sitting outside. “Get your ass inside right now before I beat it sore!”
Head down, Emma did what she was told. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for her mother to be so brusque. She did exactly as her mom instructed and went into the hot house and out of the summer sun.
Without saying anything to Emma, her mom grabbed her by the neck and led her into the bathroom. “Stay here and behave!” is the only thing she muttered before shutting the door behind her. There, on the dirty linoleum, Emma began to cry out softly for her mom. She didn’t want to be left inside the bathroom yet another day.
With a disgusted look on her face, Emma’s mom opened the bathroom door and kicked Emma in the stomach. Hard. “I said behave! And shut your mouth!” The kick knocked the wind out of Emma and she knew she couldn’t continue crying unless she wanted more of the same. She found a corner that felt cool and curled up in a ball as she heard her mother close the front door. Another day, alone, hungry would be what was in store for her. She stroked the hair behind her ear, something she did when she was lonely, and settled in for a long day.
Groggy, Emma awoke to the sounds of pans being banged on. “Must be Ruffles next door at it again,” she thought to herself. Emma had a crush on Ruffles whose real name was Robbie, short for Robert as listed on his birth certificate. He loved Ruffles, the potato chip, so much, his family started calling him Ruffles as a nickname.
Emma couldn’t resist Ruffles’ shaggy brown hair and his goofy smile, and she felt close to him because they were both adopted by their families and this wasn’t the first home for either of them. Ruffles understood what it was like for Emma and she understood what it was like for him, too. They didn’t have to talk about it, they just knew.
Emma felt like she’d been stuck in that bathroom for hours and she wondered when her mom was going to be home. Not only was she bored but she was hungry and beyond thirsty. The bathroom floor was no longer cool and the entire room seemed unreasonably hot and grew hotter each second. Before Emma knew it, smoke began to waft in from under the bathroom door. She tried to cry for help but had no idea if anyone was even within ear’s reach. Just then, Ruffles’ dad, a firefighter, came running in and scooped Emma up. “Don’t worry, you’re going to be okay,” he said as he carried her out of the burning house. “I’ve got you.” Shaken, Emma looked back into her home to see much of her family’s possessions to be missing. She thought she’d heard them earlier in the day; they must have come home to pick up some things. Why hadn’t they taken her?
Later that night, Emma sat on Ruffles’ family couch, tummy full for the first time in days and overheard his parents talk about her house being burned down for insurance money. And worse yet, they didn’t know what was going to happen to Emma, because she was going to go back into the system. Emma knew exactly what that meant and looked directly at Ruffles. He cringed. They’d both been a part of it before. Neither ever planned on going back in. Ruffles hopped off the couch and went to his dad. Without saying a word, he simply looked at him. Then he bowed his head and looked at Emma. His dad understood. His dad looked at his wife. She had tears in her eyes and simply nodded yes. The kind man stood and walked over to Emma and kneeled before her. “Do you want to be a part of our family now, Emma?” She licked his face, wagged her tail, and for the first time in a very long time, barked a very bold “yes.”