"I'm still going to lock my bedroom door tonight." I didn't think I'd shown anything outwardly, but she paused. "That was a joke." I nodded. Knowing full well that it was a half joke at most. An attempt at humor to soften a red line being drawn. Not exactly passive aggressive, but near enough. I needed further confirmation of course. "You have a lovely home." My flat uninflected tone was interpreted as mockery. Her eyes flamed. "Hey it might not be like the fancy places you're used to, but it's warm and dry. If you don't like it you can always go back to Child Services." Our gazes locked. She didn't back down, holding me stare for stare. Flickering shadows on a rippling pond. "I do like it. I wouldn't have said anything if I didn't. But if you're already giving up, let's cut the shit and head back now. No hard feelings." While not a bluff I was hoping Crystal wouldn't take me up on it. She interested me. I wanted to study her. Still looking at me she opened the rear door and allowed me to get my bags. "No wonder they didn't let me talk to you before I signed the forms. Don't take this the wrong way kid, but you sound like an undertaker." I picked up my belongings. "How much do you know about me?" I asked. "A lot of the stuff is confidential, but I know you and your parents were in an accident. They were both killed but somehow you managed to survive." "What is it about my history which makes you think I should be all jolly and sparkly?" "Jez kid, what the hell happened to you out there?" She exclaimed. Regretting it immediately. I think she thought she'd hurt me. "Most of it I can't remember. The rest of it no one would believe. They've got the gist of it. All that matters. The rest is only coloring." She gave a wary, guarded smile. "Well what did they say about me?" She fished. "Nothing. There was no point, they don't think I'm going to be here more than a week. I do know a few things though." I'll give her credit. I produced some jaw dropping information. Her jaw didn't drop though. I told her I knew she was 19 years old. They considered her far too young for fostering. There'd been some troubles in her past which also worried them. A couple of arrests but no charges filed. That she'd fostered at least half a dozen girls. Either as respite for their actual foster parents or for a few days while full care could be organized. That she wanted to foster girls who were at risk of emotional, physical and sexual abuse or of committing crimes. "I know you don't like me." I concluded. "You'd much rather I wasn't here, but they told you this is a chance to prove yourself to them. They've set you up to fail you know. What they didn't tell you is that this your last chance. I'm their way of getting rid of you. Meanwhile they'll be trying to work out what they can do with the spawn of Satan I've become." Anger flashed across her face. "Those fuckers." She growled and paced, her fists clenching and unclenching. ""I knew it." She fumed. Then she did something that surprised me. First she pulled herself together. Then she looked at me and sighed. "It's not that I don't like you kid. It's hard to explain." I shrugged. "Would you say you liked me?" I didn't require a reply, her body language was all the answer I needed. "No one likes me. There's nothing to like. I'm a creepy, scary 12 year old. You intentionally don't use my name. If you used my name then I would become a person to you. You don't even want to form that tenuous a link with me. I don't blame you. I know I'm not likeable. I'm not even human anymore. That part died with my parents. It was kind of you to pretend you don't find me repulsive though. You didn't have to, I'm not going to tell anyone. Even if I did no one would blame you, they'd agree. I'm a monster." She did me the courtesy of not denying I was loathsome to her. I couldn't read her though. I was intrigued by that. She shook her head with a humorless grin. I'm not sure if she was simply moving on or trying to change the subject. "They said you don't feel pain. Is that true?" "I feel it. I choose not to acknowledge it. You can take me back now if you want." This time I wasn't bluffing. I knew she had never wanted me in her home in the first place. Despite the fact she didn't like me, I liked her. "If I do that after only a few hours I'll lose any chance of being allowed to foster other children." "Not necessarily. Tell them I attacked you. That I represent a danger to you and others. I'll go along with it. I've got a history. They'll believe you. Then you can get back to doing whatever you want to do. If you restrain me then call the police you can give yourself some bumps and bruises before they get here. They'll take me into custody. There'll be a full report and clear evidence to back you up." At the time I thought I was balanced on the cusp. I assumed Crystal was weighing up the option. She'd been kind to me by hiding her true feelings. This would be returning a favor. It wasn't the end of the world for me. That had already happened. We'd been standing outside her house for the best part of ten minutes. "What are you like at planning bank robberies, cuz I could do with the cash?" "Banks are too well guarded. The penalties for robbing one are high, as are the chances of being caught. Internet fraud is far more profitable. The sentences for fraud are much lower, plus there's far less chance of being caught." "Let's get you inside. Before we both get arrested." I had meant it when I said her home was lovely. It looked good to me. Rustic would best describe it. A cross between a log cabin and a mountain chalet. A single story, on two levels. The log cabin part being a few feet higher than the chalet end. This place hadn't been built. It had grown. Hard to tell which parts had been first. Or which were the additions. There was a small front garden with a lawn, shrubs and flowers. The paved garden path led to an open porch above the front door, which had a small curtained window in it. It was well built and well cared for. As Crystal juggled her keys the indoor phone began to ring. Which threw her into a frenetic race. She must have been expecting an important call if her speed was anything to go by. The phone was on its fourth or fifth ring before she got the key and inserted it. The door was thrown open and she ran across her living room vaulting over her couch to pick it up. The message light on the answering machine was flashing 4. There was caller ID. So she knew who was calling. Not having been invited in I remained standing outside. "Just a second." She gabbled into it. Noticing where I was Crystal beckoned me inside. "Sorry about that. I've been trying to get hold of you for days." She waved at me to sit on the sofa she'd jumped over. I could hear the raised voice on the other end of the line. Not what it was saying though. Taking the cordless handset she moved into another room, closing the door behind her. Obviously she didn't want me to overhear anything. Obviously that piqued my curiosity. I moved over to the closed door placing my ear to the wide gap between it and the hinges. "I know Dan. Like I said I've been trying to get hold of you. They've placed this damaged kid with me so you can't come over Friday night." The man on the other end was still talking loudly, but that was all I could tell. "No. We can't risk it. Neither of us can afford for anyone to find out." He was still at volume. "Don't be stupid the kid's only 12. I can't leave him here on his own, it's illegal." More strident speech from the other end. "Yes it's a boy." Pause. "I know, but they kind of forced my hand. With any luck the kid won't be here very long. Look I've gotta go. Sorry. I love you baby. I'll call you as soon as I work something out I promise." She blew a kiss down the phone. That was my signal to jump over to the couch and sit down. A few seconds later she came out of what looked like her bedroom, from what I could see. "Are you going to check your messages? They might be important." That caused some ripples for her. One or more of those 4 messages could be from Dan. The other 3 could be from other men who had different nights with her. The possibilities were lighting up my imagination. I was 12. I knew all about reproduction. Nothing about sex. And I wanted to know all I could about sex. Of course I had no idea what was actually going on. I was dying to find out though. "I'll check them later." She advised me, eyeing the answer machine anxiously. Her mask had slipped. I'd caught a fleeting glimpse of something behind those walls in her eyes. Not enough to figure anything out. I hoped I'd be there long enough to find out what was going on. "At the risk of offending you again, I have to say, I do like your choices. You have very good taste Ms Goodbody." It was a very nice space. A couple of unmatched sofas and three easy chairs. A lot of wall hangings and colorful cushions. Unconventional but lovely. Her eyes flicked back to the phone. "I'll show you your room. There's only one house rule here." She pointed towards her bedchamber. "My space is off limits. You don't go in there unless I let you in." To emphasize her point she went back and closed the door. "There may be other rules kid, I'll let you know when I think of them." Interesting. That red line was being underlined and highlighted. What could that possibly mean?