Patricia Davis was a woman of her word, and a negotiator. She preferred to talk things over until there was nothing left to say, then resort to whatever actions were necessary. In October, when she noticed her foster daughter, Erica hanging out with a boy from her high school, she didn't beat around the bush about it.
"What's his name?" Patricia asked as they were heading home from the grocery store one evening.
"Bradley Wilson," Erica answered with a smile. "Everyone just calls him Brad."
"Let me guess. He's the cutest or most popular guy in school?"
"He's not the most popular guy. Corey Mason's the one all the girls go crazy over. Brad's just a good guy who's great at basketball."
"I see. Do you have classes with him?"
"Mama," Erica whined.
"Answer my question please."
"Just Science class."
They drove in silence until they got to the house. Then Patricia made one final comment.
"I'm not out to be a third wheel for you two. Just make sure he's not distracting you from your school work and responsibilities at home."
Patricia had been the current head of the Mrs. Montgomery's Home for Hope foster home for the last eight years. She enforced the house rules as fairly as she knew how, and even though she didn't like having to discipline children, she was willing to when necessary.
Erica and Brad had been dating for eight months when an issue arose.
A strict schedule was necessary for everyone to follow at home, and Brad didn't like it. Erica's curfew was at seven o'clock. If they were out somewhere, she always needed to head home early. When he came over, they could only hang out in the living room, game room, or kitchen, and they were never left alone. If Erica's foster mom wasn't there to supervise, some other adult was. And on the rare occasion that all the adults were busy, whatever room Erica and Brad were in became occupied with the other kids.
"It's like a daycare that never closes," Brad complained to Corey Mason one Wednesday at the neighborhood basketball court. "How am I supposed to get anywhere with this chick if she's always under surveillance?"
"Get her out the house past curfew," Corey said with a laugh. "If you can't close the deal with her on her turf, take her to yours."
"Her foster mom won't let that happen." Brad replied.
"Bro, use your imagination."
Patricia wasn't surprised when Erica came to her Friday morning and asked to spend the night at his house. By now, she was well aware of Brad's annoyance.
"It can't happen tonight." Patricia told her.
"Why not?" Erica asked. "I'm doing fine in school, and I have all my chores done."
"True," Patricia explained. "But there's a process to things like this. I have to talk to his parents, and we have to come together on how we want the night to proceed. That means making sure you two are supervised."
"Why can't you just talk to them today?"
"That wouldn't be fair to them. Just because you and Brad want to spend the night together doesn't mean his parents want the same thing. They could have their own plans tonight. And I'm not comfortable with you being at his house either. Especially since I've never been there before."
"I can get his address and everything Mama." Erica countered.
"This time, the answer is no. Next time, plan ahead, then ask me."
When Erica saw Brad on Monday after school, he was more than annoyed. He was angry.
"I'm trying to spend more time with you," He snapped. "Can't you just sneak out and meet me?"
"No," Erica said. "I can't just sneak out. I'd get in trouble, and then we won't be able to spend any time together. I don't want to mess up what we have going.
"You already are!" Brad snapped again. This time, his tone of voice made her flinch and step back. His eyes had a dangerous look in them that made her nervous.
"You know what? Forget it. You don't want to be with me? Fine."
With that, Brad walked away.
Erica watched him leave with a confused look, and tears in her eyes. When she turned around and wiped them away, Mama Patricia was standing outside the van with the door open.
She watched Brad's retreating back with a knowing look.
At six-thirty, dinner was served in the Montgomery household. Patricia and the other adults called everyone downstairs, but when all the kids had been accounted for, Erica's seat sat empty. Instead of calling for her again, Patricia went upstairs to her room. She found Erica crying on her bed with one of the house phones in her hand.
"It's time for dinner, Erica." Patricia said gently. "If Bradley hasn't picked up the phone by now, I don't think he wants to."
Raising her head, the older woman saw anger in the girl's puffy, green eyes.
"Why couldn't you just let me spend the night?" She asked.
"I already told you why." Patricia replied.
"He won't talk to me anymore."
"If that's how he wants to respond, I can't change that. Neither can you. For now, just leave it alone and come down for dinner."
With a frustrated sigh, Erica sat up.
"I'm not hungry."
"I didn't ask if you were hungry. You need to come down for dinner."
Patricia didn't respond at first, but when she did, Erica could hear the change in her voice.
"Are you sure that's a decision you want to stand by right now?"