I went back to Karen's house feeling the best I had felt in ages. She seemed pretty excited too. She told me she had news for me but refused to say anything more until I had her sat down and I was massaging her feet.
“Mark Cloud phoned.”
“They are very interested. They have never worked with someone as young as you. Then you being in another state adds a whole other complication. They don't have children, and have never wanted them, but the only option would be for you to live with them.”
“How much time are we talking about.”
“I'll get back to that. I have spoken to your mother and we agreed that we had to come clean about your circumstances. It was a bit easier to do, now that we actually knew what they were.”
“How did he react?”
“He laughed. He said it was obvious that you were a girl. Then he went thoughtful and said that it also might be why you could look that beautiful and yet have that innocent, naïve look. They were if anything, even more interested. They are not used to working with someone who is still in school. So time wise, they want you as soon as possible, and then throughout the summer vacation. If everything was going really well, then they might want you to stay and that would mean going to school there. I don't think they have any idea what they are asking. I mean, taking a newly created 14 year old girl away from her mother for a prolonged period of time. Almost taking on a temporary parenting role. If it was any other girl in class, I know, it would not even be a possibility. You are so independent though. I couldn't just say no. I think, legally, they would have to become your guardians. I will phone your mother tonight and see what she says. There is no point in even entering negotiations, if she is unwilling.”
I had no idea how mum was going to react, but I worried about what would happen if I left her on her own. She couldn't work like she was and do all the housework and look after Lilith. “Whether anything comes of it or not. Thanks for your help, Karen.”
“You're welcome. It is quite exciting really. If you do go and become famous, I can say I knew you before.”
We didn't have much more chance to chat. I had missed a couple of days, which put me behind on my cleaning schedule, so I was in a rush. When I had finished, I gave Karen a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, said goodbye and was out the door, deciding that I needed to run home to get rid of some of this exuberant energy. I was chuckling to myself when I realised I had kissed and hugged her without thinking. I would never have done that before. I guess being a girl allows you to be more free with your emotions and not worry about expressing it. And I was clearly getting into the spirit of it.
When I got home I had my dinner and cleaned up my, and Lilith's mess. There wasn't much housework to do. Having a whole day with nothing to do, makes even housework semi enjoyable. I worked on my homework and then for a real change, eagerly switched my phone on. Almost nobody had my phone number. Until today, only Gary and mum. Now I had given it to the gang and was hoping they would get back to me regarding the slumber party. When I did switch it on, I did find I had lots of messages, but most were not what I was hoping for. Someone had obviously given my number to some undesirables. It was full of nasty texts, that, to be honest, I didn't bother to read. I know it was wrong, but I immediately thought my sister was behind it. She did use my phone the other day and gave her friend my number. Easily solved though, I could buy a new sim for $2 and there was very little credit on the phone anyway. I couldn't bring myself to go through all the horrible to find any texts from the girls. I just shut the phone down and would explain to the gang tomorrow at lunch.
I prepared mum's dinner and waited up for her. I wanted to know how her appointment with the doctor went and I thought I could cheer her up with the wonderful day I had. Giving her a bit of background information on Mark Cloud would help for when Karen called. She came in looking very weary at about 9.20pm. While she was eating, I told her about my day with a big smile on my face. I left out the phone stuff, although I knew I was going to have to come up with something when I told her my new number. I went through everything Karen had told me about Mark and that she would be phoning later. I told her that when she had finished I wanted to know about her doctors appointment. She finally finished, had a drink of water and then faced me.
“The doctor said everything was probably fine, they just wanted me to have a couple more tests to confirm.”
“Everything is fine?”
“Probably fine. Likely fine, just need to confirm it.”
“Oh thank God. I was getting so worried that it was something serious. I saw an advert on TV that suggested coughing up blood was like a sign of lung cancer.”
“I think you can cough up blood with a bad cold.” she said with a smile. It did look a pretty weak smile though. “Rather than let Karen phone me, I think I will run over there and see if I can chat to her directly.”
I gave mum the address and she was off immediately. I think if she left it any later it would be too late.
Wednesday Evening Karen Perkins POV
I was waiting until 10pm to give Jennifer a ring. Peter still wasn't back from work. Sometimes he didn't come back until 11 or 12. A few minutes before I was going to call, I received a call from her, asking if it was OK if she came around instead. As soon as I said yes, I heard a knock at the door and there she was.
“Hi Karen. Thank you so much for your help. It means a lot to me and Jesse.”
“Your welcome. Jesse is such a sweet kid. It's my pleasure to help.” We settled ourselves on the sofa. “So, has Jesse filled you in?”
“Yes and I thought it would be best if I could discuss it without Jesse or Lilith hearing us.”
“OK. I'm surprised. I didn't think we were discussing anything sensitive.”
She sighed. “Today I was given some bad news and it has altered my plans somewhat.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really, but I am going to have to anyway. It has a bearing on what we decide with Mark. I do need you to promise not to tell Jesse.”
“Today I found out that I have cancer.”
“I won't know all the details until next week, but I already know we haven't caught it early.”
“I find out next Wednesday, after a few more tests tomorrow. Financially, I am in trouble. I was barely keeping my head above water and the cost of tests and not working is going to put me under. The doctor gave me a support line to phone. They told me that if the news is as suspected on Wednesday, he should be able to give me a version of a sick certificate. I can take that to the support services. The thing is I will have to give up all my jobs. Weirdly, if I am working, I don't qualify. They will reimburse me for the gap payments for the tests.”
“What about housing?”
“I was told that they could pay the rent if it is low enough, more likely they will give me access to government housing. Something equivalent to either aged care or hospital for palliative care depending on the diagnosis and how much time I am given.”
I had to give her a hug. I couldn't imagine what she was going through. In all my pregnant glory, I managed to lever myself up and open my arms. She hugged me tightly.
“I'm sorry to burden you with this.”
I rubbed her back. I couldn't think of anything to say. We retreated back to the sofa. She was wiping tears away and I realised I needed to wipe some away as well.
“Anyway, what this means is that I will not be considered a suitable parent for Lilith or Jesse. If I sort something out before hand, all well and good. If not, it will be taken out of my hands.”
“I would love to have Jesse, but I don't think Peter will agree.”
“Sorry Karen, I wasn't suggesting that. Much as I think you will make a wonderful parent. I am pretty sure my parents in Mildura will take on Lilith. They may be willing with Jesse, but, to be honest, I am not sure. They are pretty intolerant. These aren't your issues to worry about. No, what I wanted to talk about was Mark and his offer. Normally, sending off my 14 year old daughter to a couple who I don't know, would be a non-starter. Under these circumstances, giving them guardianship will buy me some time and if I do nothing, she will go to somebody who I don't know anyway.”
“What about her father?”
“Has Jesse told you about my history?”
“Yes, I hope that is OK.”
“I don't want her telling everyone, but I am happy that she told you. So, she told you about me being under the influence of a date rape drug and waking up in a hotel room with no memory of the man involved? I did check what name the room was booked under and it was John Smith. I am pretty sure that was not his real name. As far as I am aware, I have no way of looking for him. I don't even know what he looks like.”
“I am grasping at straws here, but Jesse said there was a paternity test, could you use her DNA?”
“The paternity test was done by his lawyers, all I got back was the result that only Lilith was his. To use her DNA, I think he would have to have his DNA profile on a database that can be accessed. Maybe if he is a criminal, but if he is, I don't want to know.”
I was at a loss. I wanted to help. I wanted to find a solution, not that she was asking me to. Just, just. I couldn't help putting myself in her position. No family to help. Partner deserted her, no friends. And then this. She was concentrating on her babies, as would any mother. Jesse was such a sweet child. It would be criminal if she ended up in the foster care world. Unless she got the right foster carer or maybe someone who wanted to adopt. I needed to focus on where I could help. “What do we do about Mark then?”
“We talked about what we could negotiate with them. I need Jesse under competent guardianship, to at least give me time to find a solution. There are 6 weeks until the end of school, normally I would have suggested we waited until the end of term before going to Sydney. I haven't got that kind of time. I don't know what are the consequences for missing school, but I figured, you would.”
“If the school agrees, there are no issues. I will speak to the principal and teachers tomorrow and probably arrange homework in lieu of time. What do we want in the negotiations?”
“Ideally, cost of travel. Without official documents, I may have to drive her. Portfolio for free, legal work to correct her birth certificate and identity. Lodging and guardianship. Anything extra is a bonus.”
“Do I mention your medical status?”
“No. Definitely not. That could stop the deal and I can't risk that.”
“OK. I will do my best.”
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