Welcome to Thompson Park
"Gilly,"said Miss Ellis with a shake of her long blonde hair toward the passenger in the back seat. "I need to feel that you are willing to make some effort."
Galadriel Hopkins shifted her bubble gum to the front of her mouth and began to blow gently. She blew until she could barely see the shape of the social worker's head through the pink bubble.
"This will be your third home in less than three years." Miss Ellis swept her golden head left to right and then began to turn the wheel in a cautious maneuver to the left. "I would be the last person to say that it was all your fault. The Dixons' move to Florida, for example. just one of those unfortunate things. And Mrs. Richmond having to go into the hospital"-it seemed to Gilly that there was a long, thoughtful pause before the caseworker went on-"for her nerves.."
Miss Ellis flinched and glanced in the rear-view mirror but continued to talk in her calm, professional voice while Gilly picked at the bits of gum stuck in her straggly bangs and on her cheeks and chin. "We should have been more alert to her condition before placing any foster child there. I should have been more alert." Cripes, thought Gilly. The woman was getting sincere. What a pain. "I'm not trying to blame you, Gilly. It's just that I need, we all need, your cooperation if any kind of arrangement is to work out." Another pause. "I can't imagine you enjoy all this moving around." The blue eyes in the mirror were checking out Gilly's response. "Now this new foster mother is very different from Mrs. Nevins." Gilly calmly pinched a blob of gum off the end of her nose. There was no use trying to get the gum out of her hair. Shesat back and tried to chew the bit she had managed to salvage. It stuck to her teeth in a thin layer. She fished another ball of gum from her jeans pocket and scraped the lint off with her thumbnail before elaborately popping it into her mouth.
"Will you do me a favor, Gilly? Try to get off on the right foot?"
Gilly had a vision of herself sailing around the living room of the foster home on her right foot like an ice skater. With her uplifted left foot she was shoving the next foster mother square in the mouth. She smacked her new supply of gum in satisfaction.
"Do me another favor, will you? Get rid of that bubble gum before we get there?"
Gilly obligingly took the gum out of her mouth while Miss Ellis's eyes were still in the mirror. Then when the social worker turned her attention back to the traffic, Gilly carefully spread the gum under the handle of the left-hand door as a sticky surprise for the next person who might try to open it.
Two traffic lights farther on Miss Ellis handed back a towelette. "Here," she said, "see what you can do about that guck on your face before we get there."
Gilly swiped the little wet paper across her mouth and dropped it on the floor.
"Gilly-" Miss Ellis sighed and shifted her fancy on-the-floor gears. "Gilly-"
"My name," Gilly said between her teeth, "is Galadriel."
Miss Ellis appeared not to have heard. "Gilly, give Maime Trotter half a chance, OK? She's really a nice person."
That cans it, thought Gilly. At least nobody had accused Mr. or Mrs. Nevins, her most recent foster parents, of being "nice." Mrs. Richmond, the one with the bad nerves, had been "nice." The Newman family, who couldn't keep a five-year-old who wet her bed,had been "nice." Well, I'm eleven now, folks, and, in case you haven't heard, I don't wet my bed anymore. But I am not nice. I am brilliant. I am famous across this entire county. Nobody wants to tangle with the great Galadriel Hopkins. I am too clever and too hard to manage. Gruesome Gilly, they call me. She leaned back comfortably. Here I come, Maime baby, ready or not.
They had reached a neighborhood of huge trees and old houses. The social worker slowed and stopped beside a dirty white fence. The house it penned was old and brown with a porch that gave it a sort of potbelly.
Standing on the porch, before she rang the bell, Miss Ellis took out a comb. "Would you try to pull this through your hair?"
Gilly shook her head. "Can't."
"Oh, come on, Gilly-"
"No. Can't comb my hair. I'm going for the Guiness Record for uncombed hair."
"Gilly, for pete's sake . . ."
"Hey, there, I thought I heard y'all pull up." The door had opened, and a huge hippopotamus of a woman was filling the doorway. "Welcome to Thompson Park, Gilly, honey."
"Galadriel," muttered Gilly, not that she expected this bale of blubber to manage her real name. Jeez, they didn't have to put her in with a freak.
Half a small face, topped with muddy brown hair and masked with thick metal-rimmed glasses, jutted out from behind Mrs. Trotter's mammoth hip.
The woman looked down. "Well, 'scuse me, honey." She put her arm around the head as if to draw it forward, but the head resisted movement. "You want to meet your new sister, don't you? Gilly, this is William Ernest Teague."
The head immediately disappeared behind Mrs. Trotter's bulk. She didn't seem bothered. "Come in, come in. I don't mean to leave youstanding on the porch like you was trying to sell me something. You belong here now." She backed up. Gilly could feel Miss Ellis's fingers on her backbone gently prodding her through the doorway and into the house.
Inside, it was dark and crammed with junk. Everything seemed to need dusting...