Miss Laurie didn’t need crutches anymore, and Mr. Dan helped her practice saying, “My name is Jenna Rose Hernandez.”
“Sometimes,” he told her. “When you are in front of a crowd, you forget your lines.” He smiled and added, “I know!”
Jenna smiled and said, “My name is Jenna Rose Hernandez.” She was ready.
It was more crowded than school. They were in a huge building. A banner hung from the wall that read: SAN MERADINO COUNTY ADOPTION DAY.
Jenna knew she wasn’t the only one getting adopted today. Lots of families paraded by. Babies, brothers and sisters, moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and kids who were starting the next chapter of their lives. Jenna walked quickly, trying to keep pace with Laurie, Dan and Grandma Sandy. Glad Miss Laurie doesn’t have crutches anymore, thought Jenna, but I wish they would slow down. Her heart was beating fast. She was happy and a little frightened.
Grandma Sandy turned around walking faster than ever. “Come on, slowpoke,” she said. “They changed the room on us. We have to switch from J-1 to SE-3, and we needed to be there five minutes ago.”
Jenna tried to understand. They had to sign papers in one room and meet everybody else in another room. She hoped they would be waiting for her, that they wouldn’t get lost too.
Miss Laurie, Mr. Dan and Grandma Sandy disappeared into the crowd. Jenna ran to catch up. She squirmed past a couple of slow people. Miss Laurie stopped and said, “Sorry Jenna.” She took Jenna’s hand and they almost skipped through the crowd, not exactly running, but not walking either.
They found a lot of rooms: SE-2, SE-4 and SE-6. Where was SE-3?
Mr. Dan and Miss Laurie pointed at the same time. It was on the other side of the crowded hallway. They wriggled and writhed their way through the families that were busy searching for the right rooms.
They pushed open the door to SE-3 and hurried inside. Jenna slammed the door shut. She was shocked at how quiet it became. The noise in the hallway was muffled, and everyone in the room was silent.
Jenna blinked. She was finally in court, but what she noticed most were the people who came to watch. They were dressed in their best clothes. It feels like a wedding, thought Jenna.
She took a deep breath as she scanned the crowd. She saw: Miss Teak with her boyfriend, Cheyenne and her aunt and Neva, Mon-Unique and Valeria sitting together. Slowly, as if unsure of herself, Jenna took a few timid steps toward the judge. Grandma Sandy smiled and waved as she sat down. She wasn’t the only one waving. In the back of the room a young man was bobbing up and down, waving, trying to catch her attention. It was Colton sitting next to his foster parents. Jenna waved quickly. She didn’t know if she was supposed to wave in court, but she knew Colton would not settle down if she didn’t.
She turned around to face the judge. Miss Laurie and Mr. Dan stood by her side and they both took her hand. She had to remind herself again that she would be calling them Mom and Dad. She was glad, but it was a lot to think about.
The judge was a slender woman with short, dark hair and bright pink lipstick. She had a gleam in her eyes that reminded her of Grandma Sandy—not at all the scary kind of person she thought a judge would be.
The judge was talking, saying a lot of things that Jenna did not understand. She would use a lot of big words, and occasionally say something Jenna “got” like, “This is one of the best days in the life of a judge.”
Jenna noticed a small sign with the judge’s name: Rose Gilmore. Hey, that’s my middle name, thought Jenna. Judge Gilmore said something about favorite time and memories. Pay attention, Jenna, she told herself.
“What do you say, Jenna?” said the judge.
Jenna didn’t feel embarrassed. She was happy and confused all at the same time. She thought the judge was asking her to tell about her favorite time and memories living with her new parents.
“My best, most favorite, memory was when I swiped a book light.” She looked up at Miss Laurie and said, “Don’t look at me like that. I wasn’t stealing, just borrowing. Grandma Sandy figured out I took it, and she never told Miss Laurie or Mr. Dan.”
People in the crowd started chuckling uneasily.
Jenna’s eyes grew wide and she said, “I guess they know about it now!”
The crowd really laughed now, the rumble of laughter turned into a roar.
Jenna realized what the judge had wanted her to say. It was her time to say her lines.
She said, “My name is Jenna Rose Hernandez!”
The crowd was still laughing. The only ones who heard were her new Mom and Dad, but that was enough. More than enough. They bent down and gave her a three-way hug. In a sneaky way, she was glad no one else heard.
The next day was a good day. Miss Teak put her in the Blue Group, the really high readers! Neva and Mon-Unique grinned when she sat down next to them.
She spent lunch recess with the kindergartners and read with them. Sometimes Colton showed up to help. He still squirmed in class, but he was serious when he read to one of the little ones.
She learned to say Mom and Dad instead of Miss Laurie and Mr. Dan. She kept right on saying, Grandma Sandy. It just seemed right. Every once and a while she got to stay overnight at her house in the mountains. Sometimes they would catch the little silver fish with a net. They always had to let them go, but not until Jenna looked at them carefully. The poky fins and especially the gills fascinated her. Grandma Sandy told her about how she once visited a desert called Death Valley. There was a salt river where little fish called pupfish lived.
“You wouldn’t think anything could survive out in that desert, but they do,” Grandma Sandy said. Jenna pleaded with her until she promised to take her there someday.
Her new Dad started practicing for another play. Jenna helped, of course, and she read the lines for the other characters. She made sure she read like a real person, not like a robot.
Her new Mom showed Jenna how to handle a roller paintbrush, and Jenna helped with the kitchen. On one wall, Mom painted a huge weeping willow tree with branches and leaves that spread across the room. Near the trunk she painted a squirrel holding an acorn. Next to the mother squirrel scampered a group of squirrel babies, none of them straying far from their mom.
It was two in the morning when they got the call. She clambered out of bed.
A man knocked at the front door. Mom and Dad let him inside. It was Mr. Harvey, the man who brought Jenna here so many months ago. “Meet Olivia,” he grunted as he came in from the rain.
Olivia was a tiny newborn, and Mr. Harvey carried her. The baby’s face was about the size of Mr. Harvey’s fist. The tiny baby shrieked and cried. Harvey held Olivia in one arm and a couple of plastic bags in the other. “Dirty clothes,” he said. Jenna shivered as a sour, overpowering stench jolted her. She wasn’t sure if the odor came from the infant or the clothes, probably the clothes.
Mom took the plastic bags, and Dad took the baby, cradling her in his arms. Jenna squirmed to get right next to Dad so she could look at the little girl. The crying noises were so quiet, barely a squeak, but a strong, commanding squeak. The sound gave her a chill.
Mom and Mr. Harvey were loading the baby clothes in the washer. Did I smell like that when I got here, wondered Jenna.
“Should we run a bath?” asked Jenna.
Dad grinned and said, “You bet!”
He acted like he had done this before. He shocked Jenna when he took the baby to the kitchen sink, instead of the tub. “She’s too little for the tub,” he explained.
Dad repeated everything he said earlier about holding a newborn. “Support the head. They don’t have any neck muscles…”
“Dad, it’s okay,” said Jenna. “I held my cousin last week.”
He grinned, reminding her of Grandma Sandy. “Pull up a chair,” he said. Jenna grabbed a kitchen chair and dragged it over by the sink. When she sat down, her Dad gently placed the baby in her arms, making sure she had a hand under the neck. Olivia stopped crying.
“Hmm… you’re good with babies,” said Dad.
Jenna was too awestruck to speak or smile. She felt a sense of amazement as she looked down at the tiny child.
“Is she going to be my sister?” asked Jenna quietly.
“I don’t know,” Dad answered. He filled the sink with warm water.
“She’s so little,” said Jenna.
Dad carefully reached down and placed a hand under the baby’s head and lifted her up, setting her down in the water in the sink. Jenna stared as Dad washed the baby.
Mom and Mr. Harvey filled out papers and took care of the laundry. Jenna noticed that the windows had been opened. Whew! It was a warm night, and the breeze felt good. Even better, the odor was drifting away.
Dad dried Olivia off and put a diaper on her. Jenna sat back down in the chair and looked up, hoping Dad would let her hold the baby again.
He smiled and placed the newborn in Jenna’s arms, moving Jenna’s hand under the head. Jenna wanted to kiss the Olivia’s forehead but didn’t think she could do it and hold the baby right. She looked down at her face. Olivia had reddish, dark brown skin, chubby cheeks and short black hair. Her tiny fingers clung to Jenna’s pajama top.
Jenna was surprised when she realized that all three adults: Mom, Dad and Mr. Harvey were bending down near her, watching her and the baby.
“She likes you,” said Mr. Harvey.
Jenna glanced at the baby’s tummy and noticed a disaster! She gasped.
“Oh no!” said Jenna. “She’s been in an accident! Look at her belly button!”
All the adults laughed. Mom rubbed her shoulders for a second as if to say: It’s okay, but it wasn’t okay. Jenna’s face scrunched up. There was a scab on the tiny baby’s tummy where the belly button was supposed to be.
“But… Mom, she’s hurt! She has a big scab!”
Mom smiled and said, “That is an umbilical cord stump.”
“What!?” said Jenna.
“Let’s just call it a belly button cap,” said Mom. “And yes, it is a big scab. The baby had a cord that attached it to her mommy. The cord takes food from the mother’s body to the baby. When Olivia was born, the cord came off, leaving her with a scab. It falls off in two weeks and doesn’t hurt the baby at all.”
“I have to go,” said Mr. Harvey. “Just take care of that little girl.”
“We will,” said Jenna. “I promise.”
Mr. Harvey made tracks for the door. A few seconds later, Jenna heard the peal of his tires as he sped away.
Mom had a bottle ready.
Can I feed her, thought Jenna.
Slowly Mom took Olivia out of Jenna’s arms and fed her the bottle.
“There is hardly any milk in it,” Jenna said.
“Their tummies are only the size of a Ping-Pong ball,” said Mom.
Dad put a blanket in a tiny crib for newborns. Mom burped the baby and fed her a little more.
Jenna watched carefully as Mom placed Olivia in the crib and put some baby clothes on her.
“Were you born with one, Mom?” asked Jenna.
“A belly button cap.”
Mom smiled and said, “I’m sure I was, but I don’t remember back that far.”
“Then, I must have been born with one too,” said Jenna. “I don’t remember either.” She grinned. Dad looked over her shoulder at the baby, and she turned around.
“Jenna wanted to know if Olivia is her sister,” said Dad.
“We were lucky with you,” said Mom. “You got to stay and become part of the family. Sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
I hope she stays with us, thought Jenna, but she kept her thoughts to herself. Mom put a furry blanket over the baby, but she was already asleep.
They inched in closer to get a good look at the sleeping newborn. Olivia’s chest moved up and down as she breathed.
“She’s so cute,” said Jenna.
“She’s beautiful,” agreed Mom.
Jenna said, “I don’t know if she’s my sister or not, but she’s my sister as long as she’s here.”
Jenna bent down to give the baby a kiss. They all went to bed.