“You’re what?” Lana asked, staring at her father as he sat behind his big desk.
“Boarding school, honey,” her father repeated. “It’s a very good school. The best in Europe and it is exclusively for girls. So you’ll make many new friends.” He looked so hopeful and yet, a bit gruff as he explained.
Thirteen year old Lana blinked, still not understanding. “But…Papa, did I do something wrong?”
Her father hurried lunged out of his big, leather chair, coming around to the other side of his desk to take her hands in his. “Absolutely not! You are a beautiful daughter and I love you.” He sighed. “But I’m just a man, Lana. This school will teach you things, things that I don’t know anything about. Things about becoming a lady.”
Lana’s eyes teared up as she tried to understand. “But Papa, London is so far away! And I don’t really want to be a lady.”
He nodded, his fingers tightening on her hands for a brief moment. “Yes. I know it is, Lana dear. But this school…it will teach you how to become a wife and a mother. You will be surrounded by females that will teach you how to be…a lady.”
Lana sniffed, trying very hard not to react negatively. Her father was trying his best but…well, she’d started her period last month. After her mother’s death last year, there hadn’t been anyone to tell her what to do. Her Papa had asked the housekeeper to…explain and that had been even more embarrassing.
“I understand, Papa.” She lifted her eyes to him again. “Will I be allowed to come home and see you for the holidays?” she asked, trying to be strong. Trying to be brave. It was hard, but she knew that her Papa was lost when it came to female issues.
“Yes!” he gushed. “You will be home for all holidays and during the summer months as well! I will see you often!” He laughed, but the sound was a bit stilted. “Maybe I’ll see you more since I’ve been working so much lately.”
Lana looked around at his big office that smelled like cigars and her Papa. “So I’m not being punished?” she clarified.
“No, honey! You’re not being punished. If anything, I’m the one that is being punished because you will be far away from me.”
Lana didn’t like the sound of that, so she threw herself into his arms, wrapping her own around his neck and hugging him with all of her strength. “I don’t want to go, but I’ll do it if you think this will be good for me.”
“I do,” he replied with a choked whisper. “I don’t want it either, but I really think this is the best course of action.” He pulled back and looked down at his daughter with her curly hair going in every direction. She had beautiful, brown eyes, but he might be biased. He thought his beautiful girl was the prettiest he’d ever seen. And it was going to almost kill him to send her away, but it had to be done. He wanted grandchildren to dote upon and the only way his precious Lana would be ready to be a mother and a wife was if she had the appropriate skills.
Christoph stared up at the woman, not sure if he should trust her. She looked nice enough, but…in his world, people were nice until they weren’t. “Nice” always had an ulterior motive. He was almost six years old and knew his way around in the world.
“I’m your Theia Rose, Christoph. I’m here to take you home with me. Would you like that?” she asked softly.
The social worker coughed behind her and Christoph’s eyes moved from the nice lady to the irritated one behind the desk.
“Ms. Anastos, it is your responsibility to take the boy,” she started off. “It isn’t his…”
The “Theia Rose” person swiveled around, glaring the social worker to silence. “This boy has gone through enough, and from what I can see, your office hasn’t been caring for him adequately. So do not tell me what my responsibilities are! This child need to know that he has choices! Yes, he is barely six years old and yes, I am going to care for him, but do not presume to tell me about my responsibilities when you have been severely lacking in meeting your own!”
Christoph felt a warm glow enter his chest after that put-down. His foster brothers had taught him to be tough, but none seemed as tough as this soft-looking lady. She smelled good too. He was used to women smelling like booze and cigarettes. This “Theia Rose” lady smelled like…like soap? He wasn’t sure.
“Theia Rose” turned back and smiled at Christoph. “As I was saying, dear, your momma was my sister.” She clasped her hands together. “I lost contact with her years ago and didn’t know that she’d had a son. If I had,” she explained, leaning closer, “I would have been here soon, my dear. So,” she sniffed again, “I wasn’t able to have children, but I have a great deal of love to give, if you wouldn’t mind coming home with me. I have a bedroom all set up for you and I’m sure that I could learn to cook your favorite meals.” She paused, her smile brightening. “What do you think? Would you like to come live with me?”
Christoph didn’t know what to say. A bedroom? He slept in the basement on a mattress in his current foster home. There were six other foster kids living in that room and it got cramped when their friends snuck in. And a favorite food? His stomach no longer grumbled when he was hungry. Food was a scarcity in his world. So he didn’t really have a favorite. He’d learned to eat anything that they could beg or steal.
“Yes,” he replied, not sure what his response might mean for his future. But if this “Theia Rose” was mean and pinched him like his current foster “monster” did, he could just sneak away and go back to his foster brothers.
“Theia Rose” smiled, seeming to be relieved at his response. “Well!” she sighed happily. “Okay then!” And then she laughed. “Oh, I promise, you’ll never regret this decision, Christoph,” she said and wiped a tear from her eye.
Christoph wasn’t so sure. He’d lived on the streets for a long time and knew how to survive. If this woman…well, he was ready for anything!