Thirteen years they’ve waited.
Thirteen years since they were torn apart.
Dylan White’s siblings were torn from him at the age of twelve following his parents’ arrest, and it’s taken him years to track them down. Now his sister Nina is living with him and together they are doing what they can to reunite the family. But with the youngest only being seventeen, it seems like an impossibility.
Perhaps with a little twist of fate, and a bit of holiday magic, Dylan will finally get the greatest gift of all: a family for Christmas.
The Christmas Rattle
Copyright © 2017 by Jane Charles
“Something’s going on.” Sophia, my foster sister, takes her seat at the dinner table. “Mom and Dad have been acting weird for almost a week now.”
“It’s a busy time of year,” Adam, the oldest of my foster brothers, reminds her. “After Thanksgiving, Dad needs to get ready for Advent and Christmas.”
Being a pastor at a non-denominational Christian Center, we don’t really see him much this time of year. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas programs, feeding the hungry, toy and clothing drive for the mission, and everything else, he’s on the go constantly. He usually naps a lot from December 26th to the 31st, unless there is a Sunday service or a crisis. And, there’s always a crisis.
“Well, I wish they’d get in here. I’m starving,” Ethan, another foster sibling, complains.
“You’re always starving,” Bryce, the youngest foster brother, points out.
I don’t know how Ethan can eat so much. He’s about six foot at sixteen and his waist is probably only the size of my thigh.
“Do you think she’d notice if I just took a piece of garlic bread?” Ethan tips back on his chair to try and see into the living room where our foster parents are having a quiet discussion. He keeps leaning and leaning and then he’s gone, right before there’s a thump on the floor on the other side of the table. He’s lucky he didn’t crack his head on anything.
“Idiot.” Adam snorts with a chuckle.
“Hey, Jade, go see what’s keeping them,” Bryce says.
I just give him a look. I’m not going to be the one to interrupt our foster parents.
Ethan straightens his chair and sits back at the table as Sophia leans to the side, trying to see into the living room too. “They’re too quiet,” she complains.
We just look at each other as tension starts to fill the room. Then, Adam starts singing Away in a Manger and Bryce joins in with beatboxing. It’s what we do when we’re nervous.
The five of us have been with Pastor and Mrs. Hartman for almost five years now. They got us all within the same month because we each had a crap home and it was time to move us. Their last fosters had aged out and the Hartmans were ready for some more. They could never have kids of their own so they’ve always had five or six foster kids at a time.
We started singing together in youth group—attendance is a requirement, not that I mind all that much. We’d only been with the Hartmans for about three years when none of the musicians showed up for music one night, so we sang acapella. Nobody else, because they didn’t feel that comfortable, but we didn’t care. Bryce had started it out with the rest of us joining in and we were good. Real good. Then Bryce started beatboxing with Adam joining in. It was fun making our own music so we kept singing like that around the house, at the Christian Center, anywhere. It also helped that we were all required to be in choir. We’d already been singing at school, but that group was also a lot larger.
Then someone introduced us to Pentatonix and it was all over. Well, not introduce as in person, but through YouTube. We studied them, then practiced, then studied again and practiced some more. Now we are trying other songs. Nothing original. None of us are that talented, but the people who show up at the Center for services seem to like our take on the contemporary Christian music. Lately all we’ve been working on is Christmas music for an upcoming fundraiser to support the Christian Center. We are so copying Pentatonix on the Christmas music. We aren’t nearly as good as they are but one day we hope to be.
I start singing “The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” while snapping my fingers in the perfect rhythm. Next is Sophia with “be near me Lord Jesus.” By the time we are near the end of the song I’d almost forgotten about the weirdness of my foster parents until I look up and they are both standing at the entrance to the dining room—crying. We aren’t that good, or that bad, so something else is going on.
My foster brothers and sister notice and they slowly stop singing, tapping and everything else we do during the song.
“What’s wrong?” There’s an edge of anxiety in Sophia’s voice.
The two them share a worried, sad look.
Oh God, we’re being sent to another foster home. That has to be it. I should have known it was too good to be true—that I could stay here this long. I had hoped to make it until my eighteenth birthday. Just one more year. Except, I have two years of high school left, but the Hartmans were going to let me stay with them my senior year, even though I’d be eighteen and they wouldn’t get anything for keeping me.
“I’m being transferred,” Dad says. Even though they aren’t our parents, they’re the closest thing to real parents any of us have ever really had.
“Where?” Ethan asks.
We just stare at them.
“What does that mean for us?” Adam slowly asks.
“You’ll need to stay in New York. We can’t take you out of the state.”
I look around the table. My foster brothers and Sophia are as scared as me. I only have one year until I’m eighteen, Adam too. Ethan is sixteen and Sophia and Bryce are only fifteen.
“Can we stay together?” Sophia asks.
At least if we have each other it might not be so bad.
“That’s what we are hoping.” Mom takes a seat at the table and cuts into the lasagna while Dad takes some salad and passes the bowl.
“We have an appointment with Mrs. Kragen on Friday.”
“She scares me,” Ethan says.
“She’s nice,” Mom counters in a disapproving way.
I agree with Ethan. Mrs. Kragen scares the crap out of me. She has a way of looking at you over those gold-rimmed glasses that has you convinced that she can read your mind and know every bad thing you’ve ever done in your life. I’ve only had to deal with her a few times and thank goodness she was never my case worker. Except, now, maybe she is since mine retired and I haven’t seen a new one. Not that I need to. Things are real good here.
Or, they used to be.
“We’ve tried to adopt before, but none of your parents or family are willing to give up their rights.”
Adam snorts. His dad is in prison for dealing and his mother’s dead from an overdose. Every time the man gets out and is cleaned up, he falls right back into the habit and ends up in jail again.
Ethan’s dad is non-existent, in that he has no clue who the sperm donor was, and his mother lost him because of neglect. She petitions the court about once a year to get her child back. They used to have supervised visits but he gave up on her empty promises of things being good real soon because half the time when she showed up, she’d already been drinking that day. Ethan just stopped going because the bottle would always be more important than her son.
Bryce’s mom is a prostitute and left him alone too many times at night and even though he’s old enough to stay by himself now, he doesn’t want to go back to that and since his mom hasn’t changed her career, they aren’t giving him back either.
Sophia’s mom is homeless, can’t keep a job and picks up with guys all the time. Bad guys. Ones that have left Sophia scared in ways I can’t imagine. She’s only talked about it a few times, usually after a nightmare. I’m not sure she’s ever talked to anyone else, except maybe her therapist.
As for me, well my mom and dad are in prison for drugs and neglect. They spent more time cooking meth in the basement than anything else. Unlike my foster siblings, I have real siblings. Two older brothers and an older sister, but I haven’t seen them since we were separated when I was six. They probably don’t even remember me.
That’s something I try not to think about.
I remember them though. Dylan, the oldest was the real parent in the house. He took care of us the best he could, even if he was only twelve. Dylan was the parent until they separated us. Noah, a few years younger than Dylan, was always the goofy one. I idolized both of my brothers. Then there was Nina, my older sister by a year and a half. We used to fight over music and who would get to have the Walkman. She liked to listen to Madonna and the Go Gos. I liked Cyndi Lauper. We were so sheltered and poor, that I didn’t even realize that the music we loved was from when my mom was a kid. Not that it matters. I still like Cyndi Lauper.
Nina also read to me when I couldn’t sleep, and we’d dance in the living room. I can’t even remember what my parents looked like, I saw them so little. But I still remember my brothers and sister, not that they’d look the same now. It’s been almost thirteen years and none of us are little kids anymore.
As sick as I was that day, I still remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Dylan tried to keep us together, but the cops came and carried us out. I grabbed the purple bunny that Dylan had given me, and I had the Walkman with the Cyndi Lauper cassette tape mom had recorded a long time ago. I still have them both. It’s all I have left of my family.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to them and then I shut down those memories. All I know is that Nina turned eighteen the first of the year but I haven’t heard from her. Dylan and Noah are old enough to come get me, but since they didn’t, I assume either they’ve forgotten about me or have just moved on, which is what I’ll do.
Maybe I’ll look for them when I’m old enough, but I doubt it. If they wanted me, they would have come looking and since they didn’t, why should I look for them?
“When do you leave?” Ethan asks, a catch in his voice.
“The second week in December.” Her eyes fill with tears. “We’ll just be doing Christmas earlier this year and do everything in our power to keep you kids together.”
She can try all she wants but there isn’t a family out there that’s going to want to take on five teenagers who have been in the foster system most of their lives, like us. So many people want the little ones, never the teens because they assume we are bringing trouble and damage that nobody wants to deal with.