Soon, Astyr came to understand that if she didn't look the other children in the eyes they would tolerate her presence. If it got her chores done, she was willing to keep her eyes down.
She stayed at that home for a long time. Her caseworker was pleased and started to use words like "progress" and "good behavior" in her regular reports. But Astyr started school and while her foster mother was willing to put up with "weirdos" as long as she was paid to, Astyr's newfound resolve to stop making people around her freak out was too new and unpracticed to help her in school.
When the school counselor, her caseworker and her foster mother all came to meet with the principal, Astyr started packing her few clothes in a brown paper sack. She was ready to leave when her caseworker got to the house.
After that, she kept her eyes down at home and school and learned to say as little as possible. But Astyr was far from a pushover. Growing up a foster child is a hard life and Astyr often found it necessary to protect her few possessions and sometimes herself with brutal physical force. She had learned well from those first spankings that pain worked and she knew that no one was going to step up and save her.
She would take martial arts classes whenever she could, whenever she had access and freedom and sometimes money for them. Her body was lithe and athletic and she worked hard to stay muscular and fit. She didn't want to be caught wanting in a desperate situation.
And so as she walked yet again into another new school, she walked with grace and carried herself like a dancer. She kept her head up and her back straight as she entered her first class with her slip of paper to be signed by the teacher. She carefully kept her eyes slightly down so that Mrs. Morgan couldn't accidentally catch her eye and waited patiently while she signed the paper.
"Class, we have a new student joining us. Please say hello to Astyr Tyr and try to make her feel welcome." Mrs. Morgan announced this to the other kids and pointed Astyr to an empty seat near the windows.
Astyr felt every eye on her as she crossed the classroom and she knew from experience that they were judging her from top to bottom to see where she might fit in the scheme of things. Astyr was a little more nervous than usual because this school was a lot smaller than she was used to. It was a lot easier to blend in when there were lots of other kids around and in a school this small, she would most definitely be the center of attention for a while. As she walked to her seat, she let her mind drift back to the day before.
The state liked to try to keep foster kids in the big cities so they would be close to their caseworkers. There were also more foster families to choose. But Astyr had run the gamut. She had been in and out of so many homes that it was increasingly difficult for her caseworker to find anywhere that might take her.
So in desperation, her caseworker had brought her two hours outside of the large city she had been living in for the last seven years; she had spent the first eight years in a larger city farther south but had been moved when there were no longer any families waiting to take her. The area was heavily wooded and close to a wide river that cut through the landscape but couldn't actually be seen until you were right beside it because of the thick forests surrounding it.
Her new foster home was right next to this river and set back from the white, rutted dirt road that came near the property. It was a dark red wooden house set on tall stilts to protect it from the occasional flooding from the river. There was an enclosed room on the ground floor but most of that level was open to the outdoors with a small, older model domestic car parked in the shade provided by the upper story.
There was a staircase that went up along the outside edge of the structure to what looked like a screened in porch. From there a door led to a large open space that was half kitchen and half living space. The living room was simply furnished with old, but clean and comfortable looking chairs and a sofa. There was a wooden coffee table in the middle and lamps set on similar tables at the corners. The wide windows had no curtains or blinds but the views to the river were so incredible that it would have been a shame to hide it. The kitchen was stuffed to bursting with all manner of pots and pans and cooking implements. The high island in the center was large and was covered with glass jars and baskets of berries and other things for which Astyr didn't know the name.