1.3 Respect, pt 1

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Cherise felt like a ghost, watching her only friend argue with the only parent who had ever cared about her. Neither of them seemed to see Cherise. She was as silent and inconsequential as the stacks of science journals all over Thomas's bedroom. That was normally how she liked to be viewed. Let the world pass her by. Let people forget that she existed. 

Except for now.

"This map leads to answers." Thomas looked helpless, cradled in Mrs. Hollander's stout arms as she helped him finish using the toilet. Yet his tone had steel in it. "Don't you want to meet my birth family?" he asked. "This woman can tell me why I'm me."

Mrs. Hollander rolled her eyes as she dumped him back into his wheelchair. "I understand how upset you must feel." She gave him his lap desk, and added his laptop computer. "Sorry. I'm not going to meet anyone at a mysterious location in the middle of the night." She parked Thomas next to his hospital bed. "If this woman really knows your birth mother, then she should have given you her contact information."

"I told you," Thomas said. "The map has a name on it. I'll bet it's a relative of mine."

"Maybe Margo will drive you this weekend." Mrs. Hollander sounded distracted, switching on his glass bedside lamp. 

Thomas gave her a murderous glare. 

Cherise didn't understand why he was so upset. They had found a map of the White Mountains folded inside the dish towel, but surely Thomas didn't expect their foster mother to rearrange her schedule tonight just to drive him into a dense forest. The hand-drawn route seemed to end in wilderness. Two words were scrawled there, but ALEXANDER DOVANACK was an unfamiliar name. An internet search had yielded zero results.

"I know I'm in your care." Thomas pushed his laptop shut, glaring at Mrs. Hollander. "You can't stop reminding me, every chance you get, but I'm not entirely helpless, and you know it. I could quit managing your investment account."

Cherise sucked in her breath. From what she understood, their group home needed a lot of income. Thomas's investments were the reason why every kid had a phone and a college tuition fund.

But Thomas would never follow through on a threat like that. Mrs. Hollander seemed to know it, because she said, "I am not your employee. I am your foster mother." She emphasized the parental word.

"Fine." Now Thomas sounded desperate. "Then let me owe you a huge favor. If you drive me there tonight, I'll do anything you want."

It was almost like being granted a wish by a genie. Thomas could make a lot of amazing things happen. Cherise stared at him, wondering why he was so insistent about something so unreasonable. Didn't he realize that Mrs. Hollander already gave him more leeway than any other kid in existence? He didn't have to go to school. He could stay up all night if he wanted to, every night. He'd even persuaded Mrs. Hollander to let him wire his bedroom so that he could unlock or lock his door with the press of a button. Meanwhile, Cherise had to share her attic bedroom with an eight-year-old who wet her bed every so often.

"I'm sorry, Thomas," Mrs. Hollander said. "Rules exist for a reason." She turned to leave. "Dinner's in an hour."

"Wait!" Thomas sounded desperate. "I can get the guy in the chocolate shop to ask you on a date. You know I can. Put me within range of him, and you won't be single anymore."

Mrs. Hollander paused in the doorway. It seemed impossible that anyone could make her cry, but her eyes looked too wet. With her auburn hair cut short, and her matronly sweaters, she didn't look like she was trying to attract men. It had never occurred to Cherise that their foster mother was unhappy. She never spoke about her long-ago divorce.

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