This is Part IV of my novel, Jenna, about an eight-year-old girl from a dysfunctional home who is placed in foster care.
In past issues of Foster Focus, we published part of Jenna. Here is a quick synopsis:
Jenna is old before her time. From an early age she has had to fend for herself. She is the “adult” in her house. Her parents fluctuate between staying up for days and “crashing” for twenty-four hours or more at a time. One night Mom and Dad leave her alone and robbers break in the house. Jenna hides under the kitchen sink while they ransack the house. She attends school sporadically. Teachers and neighbors quiz her about her parents, but she has been coached and knows how to lie. When police arrive at the house, her parents make a scene. Her father blames Jenna. Jenna is placed in foster care with a loving but unconventional family. Her new teacher is concerned about her progress. Jenna misses her birth parents and wants to go back. Jenna gets help at school for her reading and goes for a supervised visit with her parents. She gets the wrong idea, thinking she will go home with Mom permanently and is disappointed when Dad doesn’t show up. Jenna becomes attached to her teacher but doesn’t want to interact with the other students.
“I don’t want to go out for recess,” said Jenna. “I want to help you.”
The bell was ringing, and the kids practically ran out the room. Miss Teak thought for a moment. “Don’t you want to go outside in the fresh air?”
Jenna said, “Don’t you want me to clean the top of the bookshelf? It’s pretty messy.”
Miss Teak smiled and said, “Sure.”
For a few days Jenna wouldn’t go out for recess. She stayed inside and helped Miss Teak. She got to sharpen pencils, clean up and make sure the desks were in straight rows.
One afternoon when the recess bell rang, Miss Teak took her by the hand. “Come with me,” she said with a smile.
Where are we going, Jenna wondered, but it soon became obvious. Her teacher was taking her out to the playground.
They walked across the field where some kids were playing soccer. They walked past the tetherball courts. Jenna hated tetherball. She got hit in the face last year, and another time the ball jammed her fingers hard.
They walked a little farther. Jenna heard a girl on a swing sing out, “ABC, don’t count on me, unless you want to marry me!”
“Alyssa,” said the teacher. “You can’t say ABC don’t count on me. It isn’t fair.”
The girl though for a moment and yelled, “One, two, three, don’t count on me, unless you want to marry me.”
The teacher looked around and said, “There she is. You might want to play with her.”
Miss Teak led Jenna over to where a girl was bouncing a ball by herself. “Valeria,” said the teacher. The girl turned around. It was the short girl with the golden hair. “Could you show Jenna around at recess for a while?”
“Yes,” said the girl in a quiet voice.
Jenna smiled and tried to think of something to say. She realized that Miss Teak had walked away.
“Hello,” said Jenna. “You don’t play tetherball, do you?”
“No,” she said. “I got hit in the face with the ball one time.”
Jenna grinned. Valeria said, “Are you laughing at me? It’s not funny.” Valeria stood up and turned away, arms folded.
“Come on,” said Jenna. “I was only laughing because that’s the reason I never play tetherball. I get hit in the face too.”
Valeria turned around, just a little.
Jenna held up her fingers and said, “See—a ball hit me hard on the tips of my fingers. I could barely move them for three days.”
Valeria turned around the rest of the way, but she still wasn’t talking.
“At my old school, we called it getting our fingers jammed,” said Jenna. She felt really lame and didn’t know what else to say. Maybe she should just give up. She started to turn away. I’m no good at making friends she thought.
“We call it the same thing,” said Valeria.
“Do you play on the bars?” asked Valeria.
Jenna’s eyes grew wide. She wasn’t good at that, but Valeria was pointing at the monkey bars and started walking toward them. Jenna followed.
“I’m not very good,” said Jenna.
“That’s okay,” said Valeria. “I’m not either.”
Not very good? Valeria could put her legs over the bar and flip over (and over and over). Then, the bell rang, and they ran back to class. Jenna barely made it to the line in time.
“Take out your reading book,” said Miss Teak as they walked in the classroom and sat down.
Uh oh! Neva was absent!
She felt a little sick to her stomach. She was afraid she was going to do something silly. Miss Teak had never given Jenna a copy of the reading book, since she always shared with Neva. Jenna wasn’t sure if she should be doing this, but she reached into Neva’s desk and found the right book, the purple one with the star on front. Miss Teak mumbled something about page 205.
Did that mean to turn to that page? What am I supposed to do? Jenna wondered.
“Jenna’s stealing!” yelled a boy.
Jenna looked over her shoulder and saw a boy pointing at her. It was a kid named Colton, with a shaved head, and he squirmed in his seat. He had the loudest voice in class.
“I saw it!” yelled Colton. “She was in Neva’s desk! She was stealing.” Colton stood up, grinning, and repeated, “I saw it.”
Jenna said, “I took her book, ‘cause I didn’t have one.”
She turned and stared at Colton. He stopped smiling for a moment and said, “Jenna is going to hit me.”
“I am not,” said Jenna. “He needs to…” She almost said, He needs to shut up!
Miss Teak gave him the long stare. Colton sat down but started talking, “This is what I saw. Jenna got into Neva’s desk...”
“Colton!” said Miss Teak. Remember the four magic words: Mind your own business.”
Colton kicked his desk. “I saw it,” he said. “I get to go tell the principal what I saw,” but he got quiet.
Jenna turned to page 205. Miss Teak started reading. Jenna tried to “read” along, one word at a time. She hoped that her teacher would read loudly so she could pretend to follow along. She hoped she was on the right word. Neva always had a finger under the word they were reading.
“Jenna’s on the wrong page,” said Colton.
“Everybody needs to ignore someone who is talking out loud without raising his hands,” warned the teacher.
Miss Teak kept reading while she walked. She walked by, bent over Jenna’s book, pointed to the right word in the story and kept reading out loud. Jenna noticed a few words that she knew.
Miss Teak did something unusual. She turned on the overhead projector. It was a special kind, called an ELMO. The teacher placed the book down so everyone could see the words. She placed a finger under the words, while she read. Did she do that just for me, wondered Jenna.
Cheyenne walked in the room. Jenna smiled and raised her hand, eager for the sixth grader to read to her, but Miss Teak made Cheyenne read with Colton instead.