The Band-Aids are blue and there are four that I can see, one masking each little knee poking from below her skirt’s hem and one on each elbow like patches covering holes on an old man’s cardigan. The rest are hidden, but I know they’re there. They’re always there.
Back one night as she lay on her firm cot, she’d whispered into the lamp’s soft glow; “They can change, you know. When I’m happy, they turn purple. It’s like magic.”
I’d stayed very still, blocking the breaths of the nine other girls asleep in the room, silently willing Evie to share more secrets.
“But they’ve been blue for a really long time.” She’d sighed before drifting off.
Alone now, we sit facing one another, and she scans my expression. I see her brown eyes, upturned and massive through strands of mousy hair. Her lips look dry and her petite hands are folded in her lap. Her eyes dart from me to Jiffy who is trying his best not to squirm.
I’d planned various greetings while waiting for them to arrive today, even said them aloud while fussing with the fruit bowl, but when the doorbell rang, I’d merely opened it and stood, my gaze dropping from the social worker’s eager eyes to Evie, her backpack and her Band-Aids. She seemed even more fragile out here in the big world and everything I thought I’d say had left me.
My heart thumps. What do I do with this helpless creature? Adopting Jiffy was so different. A single pat had sparked instant love. But this? I suddenly feel like a fraud.
When I finally stand, she pulls herself smaller, shrinking into the chair’s dark corner.
Resisting the urge to scoop her up like a curly new pup, I present Jiffy instead. “Want to hold him? He loves kids.”
She shakes her head, unfolds her hands and gathers her skirt into two mid-thigh rosettes.
“It’s okay,” I assure her. “He might want to get to know you first anyway. He’s smart like that.”
I smile and her body seems to grow just a tiny bit.
“You should definitely come see your room though. I think you’ll like it in there. At least, I hope so. I read every decorating magazine out trying to make it look cool.”
She doesn’t laugh, but gently leans over and picks up her backpack. It’s a small victory.
I walk delicately terrified she’ll break along the way, but when I open the door, I hear her draw a quiet breath behind me.
It’s cliché, really. A room much like the ones most girls her age should find themselves in; shades of lavender, a single bed, a fluffy rug and an old bookshelf I’d bought at a yard sale up the street. I’d been pleased with my efforts but now that she’s here, they somehow seem not enough.
My doubt mounts as she walks in, drops her knapsack and kneels in front of the crammed bookcase.
“I’ve never owned a book,” she says in a Christmas morning kind of whisper. “We weren’t allowed to take them out of the reading room in foster care.”
“Which one was your favorite?” I ask, hoping I’ve masked the sadness in my voice.
“I don’t know what it was called,” she answers. “The cover was ripped.” She picks up one of the books I bought at the same yard sale as the shelves and runs her hand across the front. I can see she’s already lost in it.
I set Jiffy down and am amazed when he doesn’t rush at her like he would anyone else. We watch in silence as she takes the book over to the big beanbag and sinks in. It’s like she forgets we’re here. Her body becomes so engulfed in the chair’s violet fabric all I can see are the milky cotton socks spilled around her ankles.
I sneak away to make some lunch. She must be hungry and I’m sure I’ve burned through a thousand calories by now my heart rate is so high.
I smooth jam over bread, but can’t help myself and tiptoe back to Evie’s room for a peek. I find her and Jiff asleep on the beanbag and as I move Evie’s backpack out of the way, a frayed, coverless book falls out onto the floor. Stooping to pick it up, I notice she’s scribbled over her blue Band-Aids with a pink hi-liter, turning them a mottled purple.
“It is magic.” I whisper.