Jean, a struggling single mother and Lauren, a troubled fifteen-year-old, discover that perhaps help isn't as elusive as they may think.
I had never been one to believe in things like fate. If I did, I think I would have had to accept the grim reality that it seemed to have been working against me for the entirety of my life.
Self-pity is a trap that I have too often fallen in, and I refused to dwell on the apparent dismalness of my current situation. It was pointless, and anyway, the past few years had taught me that things can always get worse.
I could only hope that there was no such thing as fate, as I had no desire to resign myself to the idea that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change anything.
Even if it did seem like the easiest way to go.
Lauren was fifteen years old the first time I met her.
We'd been in Burbank barely a week when I decided to take the children to the mall, for they were in dreadful need of a new wardrobe for winter, and we hadn't been able to bring that many of our previous belongings along, anyway. The move was a large step, and I viewed it as a new beginning. And looking back, it was.
Most importantly, I wanted the children off of their father's radar, but I also wanted a fresh start for myself, as well. The fact that no one knew my background was something I found comforting, and I admit that it felt good to go out without having to feel embarrassed at nearly every turn.
The first time I saw Lauren, she was standing outside of an ice cream shop in the food court, eating a chocolate ice cream bar and looking rather annoyed. I remember thinking it rather odd to see her alone, at that age, but I supposed she was waiting on someone and subsequently wondered why exactly I should have such a thought in the first place.
That might have been that, and I never might have spoken to her or seen her again, but, as wasn't entirely uncommon, Jonathan took it upon himself to change the sequence of events in my life. He had run up ahead of me a bit, partly because of his boisterous nature and partly because I had nearly tripped over my own purse mere seconds before.
"Hey," he said to her, in an agitated tone of voice. "Gimmee some."
She gave pause for a moment, as though she wasn't quite sure it was her that he'd been speaking to. "No," she responded, quite forcefully, and looking at him as though she would like nothing better than to throttle him on the spot.
Jonathan simply glared at her; she glared back with equal force. I was quite shocked when Jonathan stepped on her foot and stretched his hand out in a demanding gesture. I'd seen him act out before, but never had I seen him behave this rudely towards a stranger.
I hurried over to intervene, arms bogged down with several shopping bags. I felt the guilt and embarrassment that usually arose when Jonathan misbehaved come to the surface. I felt powerless, as I often did in these situations, and my only goal at this point was to make the damage as minimal as possible. I opened my mouth to reprimand him, as I was the only person he ever halfway-listened to, but she seemed to be taking the situation into her own hands.
"You little jerk," she said to my son, placing her free hand on her hip and pointing her ice cream bar in his face. "Where'd ya learn those manners? You should be ashamed'a yourself."
That's not quite right/, I thought. /I ought to be ashamed of myself for allowing this.
"I'm so sorry for any trouble he may have caused," I said, taking my son around the wrist and attempting to drag him away, before he could cause any more harm.
She and I made eye contact for a moment, and I noticed that she was staring rather intently at me--almost glaring, even. In any other situation, I'm sure that I would have thought it terribly disrespectful of her, considering that she was nearly twenty years my junior at the time, but for some reason, I felt even more guilty the longer she stared. Suddenly I wanted to say something--to apologize for being an inadequate mother, or to assure her that this didn't happen all the time (even if it did)--anything to alleviate the tension.
In retrospect, it was probably just my imagination--she couldn't have guessed how much trouble Jonathan was, and though I loved him dearly, that he frustrated me to no end on a daily basis. Life with him was a constant battle, and the fact that I was trying to do it all alone certainly put a damper on things. Part of me wanted to explain everything, but a bigger part of me realized what a stupid impulse that was and wanted to just walk away, assuring me that I would probably never see the girl again.
I hurried away without another word, dragging Jonathan along despite his loud protests, and thanking whatever deity might be listening that Tabitha obediently followed.
Little did I know what fate had in store for us.