September 4, 2001
The marina-style house up ahead, with its crud-brown roof tiles and tiny concrete yard painted green to simulate grass, never failed to fill Dawn with dread. She'd forgotten an umbrella, so she gripped her jacket over her sandy hair as she broke into a weary jog. Rain pummeled against the jacket's nylon fabric. She swung the rusty gate closed, went inside the house, and kicked her dripping shoes onto the rubber floor mat. Victor's pipe tobacco smelled of overripe fruit. No doubt he was puttering around, but she couldn't bring herself to say hello. Victor had been ignoring her ever since he returned from his state research job. It was Dr. Louise who was always trying to connect.
Dawn trooped upstairs to her room, slammed the door, and locked it. Picking up her flute, she ran through some scales, then cracked opened the Vivaldi. Too mechanical, she thought, and put a book of Russian folk tunes on the stand instead. She gave herself to the song's mournful B-minor as the rain softened to a patter on the window and broke into rivulets, winding its way down the glass. Music was everything life was not--it loved her, and if she played to its moods, it would leap to her anytime she needed it. In a catharsis of sound, she could whisper a pianissimo and sob an adagio. Playing flute and being with her friend Jude were all Dawn cared about.
The muffled din of angry voices filtered into her room. She inched open the door. Her foster parents, Victor and Louise, were at it again. Lately they were always arguing. Dawn glanced at the wall clock. Why had Louise come back so early? It was only four. Dawn crept into the hall near their bedroom and listened.
"This couldn't be a worse time for you to go," Victor was saying. "I turn in my statistical research in October. Dawn's shenanigans will be a major distraction."
"Her nasty attitude, her cold stares. Having to drag her back from that faggy boy Jude's day after day."
"OK, OK, you've made your point. But it's never a good time, is it, Victor?" Louise shot back. "Look, I postponed my trip to the Afghani camps when Dawn arrived. Meanwhile, you ran off to the CDC in Atlanta for some conference completely unrelated to your research."
"Well, you managed to slip out to Texas the second I got back."
Louise gave a wry laugh. "Yes, for that very unnecessary tornado rescue!"
It was always like this: a debate over whose job was more important, who would get to travel, and who would have to stay with Dawn. Louise went on. "Look, it's not like this is something new. We've always traveled for our jobs."
"We used to have time for each other," murmured Victor. "We used to go to lectures."
"And museums," added Louise.
Victor's voice resumed its edge. "Now it's always Dawn this, Dawn that."
"It's not really about the trip, is it, Victor?" Dawn pictured Louise's owl eyes staring down his nearsighted ones.
"No. It's about Dawn," he admitted. "I said I'd do this foster thing to make you happy, but we both know it's been a disaster. I told you it would never work. Foster kids Dawn's age are set in their patterns. And you let her get away with murder."
"Well, I don't see you making any attempt."
"I'm not good at this. Take her with you," Victor said. "You said you'd consider that at some point."
There was a long pause. Dawn feared her ragged breaths were as loud as sandpaper on wood. Travel with Louise? Getting to see new countries would be cool, but if they were stuck in a plane together, they might just bring it down.
"Victor, she's got school, she's got flute practice, she's--"
"Louise, admit it," Victor cut in. "You can't stand to be around the girl for more than a few minutes."
"That's not it," Louise shouted. "It's my duty to see that she goes to school--"
"What's wrong with duty?"
"It's fine until it involves real human beings," Victor snapped. "I've washed my hands of it. The girl is a hazard. One minute she's all bottled up and the next minute she seems ready to explode. Send her back to Epiphany, where she belongs, before your sense of duty ruins us."
Dawn inhaled sharply and stumbled into the side table as she sneaked back to her room. Their fights had been awful, but she'd never heard it get this ugly.
Their door opened abruptly and thwacked against the wall. "Dawn, is that you?" Louise's strained voice called.
Dawn picked up her flute. Her fingers trembled as she tried to slip back into the ambiance of the Russian folk song. Her face felt flushed. She wouldn't let this get to her, but sometimes there were hot parts she couldn't freeze. Tears were for suckers. She hadn't cried for years and had probably forgotten how. "I'll never go back to that hellhole," she whispered. She didn't often allow herself to think about Epiphany House. When she did it was so hard. She remembered the excited and nervous departures, the defeated returns. It wrecked her and her friends, in stages. Dawn had paced back and forth in Little Mo's room just before Mo left. Dawn's heart just about broke with that last hug before her friend sped away in her new foster family's car. But it was worse when Mo returned, after not even lasting a month with her new family. Dawn tried her best to convince her that she'd find another family, but Mo's canceled-out eyes stared right through Dawn. Watching her friend slide her suitcase back under the threadbare mattress hurt so badly.
"Dawn?" Louise called from downstairs. Then, louder, "Dawn?"
Dawn unlocked the door and opened it a crack. "Yes?" she called.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Refugees by Catherine Stine. Copyright © 2005 by Catherine Stine. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.