Blaine D. Arden is here today talking about her contribution to the upcoming anthology Project Fierce Chicago.
I fell into fostering—I won't say literally, since that's not what literally means :p—quite by accident. When people ask me how I became a foster mother, I always tell them that he just walked into our house. And that's exactly how it happened. Of course, he wasn't exactly a stranger to us, he was a friend of Eldest from school, and he had been to our house before.
That's about all I'll say about his situation, since that's his story to tell, not mine. I can only tell you about my experiences with fostering over the four years our foster son has been with us.
It's tough to fall into something you've never done before, never expected to fall into. I had no idea what would be involved when I started out. We suddenly had an extra family member. A family member not used to our dynamic, our way of doing things, our way of talking, of joking with each other. Our way of anything, really. Just like we had no idea what and how his upbringing had been so far, aside from the mentions in conversations with care workers here and there.
Since neither my husband nor I are trained care workers—and we're both as chaotic as we are perfectionistic—we decided that the best we could do was offer him a safe haven. A place he could consider home. I also, very naively, thought we could integrate him into our family seamlessly and go on with life as a family as we'd always done. Nothing is further from the truth. It wasn't like we had a baby we could teach by example. This was a teen who had his own way of doing things, his own way of living, and sometimes one and one just don't make two, no matter how you juggle the numbers.
The last four years have definitely been a learning experience for me—for us. We've learned that sometimes there is no balance in give and take, that what we take for granted might seem alien to someone else, and misunderstandings happen in even the simplest conversations.
But, no matter how tough it's been, I thrive on and live for the moments when our foster son smiles or initiates a conversation. Those moments make me feel we succeeded in giving him the safe haven we set out to. And that was all we wanted to do.
Nobody deserves to be without a home. In collaboration with several authors, Less Than Three Press offers up an anthology of stories about young people who find that home and family are not always where you expect to find them.
All proceeds from this charity anthology will be donated to Project Fierce Chicago
Project Fierce Chicago's mission is "to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago by providing affirming, no-cost transitional housing and comprehensive support services to homeless LGBTQ young adults. PFC also aims to encourage community-building and civic engagement through cooperative living and youth leadership development."
LT3′s Project Fierce Chicago charity anthology includes 20 short stories from Aeris,
Vicktor Alexander;TalyaAndor; C.J.Anthony; Blaine D. Arden; KaylaBain-Vrba; SophieBonaste; KenzieCade; JanaDenardo; AlessandraEbulu; DianneHartsock; LetaHutchins; CaitlinRicci; LorRose; B.Snow; RinSparrow; AndreaSpeed; PiperVaughn; LaylaM. Wier; XaraX. Xanakas.
Blaine's Contribution: The Map to Bogriv
Ruari's family have been killed, except for three of his siblings. Dirty, hungry, and exhausted, he refuses to rest or let his emotions catch up with him until he can lead them to safety and get his people the help they need. According to a map his father gave him before he died, they can find that help in the village of Bogriv. But despite the promise he made to his father, Ruari has no confidence that the people of Bogriv won't be just like the ones who attacked them: to him one Keysent is just like another.
Trapped between the river and a row of bushes barely dense enough to hide the four of us from the open fields, we moved along the narrow path in silence. It was midday, and while the shaded ground chilled my bare feet, the sun warmed my shoulders. Roots knew we could use some warmth, all four of us.
In the distance, dark-skinned Keysent women sang and chattered as they worked the fields, making my heart clench. I had no idea what they were harvesting, but my mouth watered at the idea of proper food being so close. If only one of us could slip in, nick something. But we couldn't risk being seen. Not as long as the Duke of Armon craved to possess every single Oranian, even if he could never have or understand our powers.
For the umpteenth time, I wished we could have stayed in that cave in the Keggs. We'd been so relieved to find it after walking through forests and mountain passes for over a moon. We'd been safe there. Warm. Rested. But the Keggs were a barren land where not even grass grew. At first I had left my siblings at the cave while I went hunting for food, but it had taken me more and more time to scrounge up anything edible, and eventually we had to leave our relatively safe haven in search of more fertile grounds.
Besides, I had a promise to fulfil.
The Keggs stretched far to the east, and there was no way for us to get around it except to veer back to the south. Unfortunately, that forced us straight into the Keysent dukedom of Armon, the very place, the very people, we'd been trying to keep our distance from. We only travelled in this direction because an old map of Papa's mentioned a small place called Bogriv in the Keysent dukedom of Icris, north-east of Armon, that had been marked as koni: good people. A name had been written on the map as well, someone Papa claimed would offer us shelter and the help we needed. Knowing the Keysent as well as we did, however, I found it hard to believe there were any good ones, different dukedom or not, but Papa had insisted.
Papa. An image of his broken body trapped beneath the west wall of our home welled up in my mind, but I pushed those memories back down before they took root. If I gave myself time to think of him, to remember him, I'd remember the others, their pain-filled screams, their faces slack in death, and I'd be useless to look after my surviving siblings. I pushed down the memories and focussed on what I was here to do, like I'd done every day since the duke's army had attacked our home, our country. First I needed to get my siblings to safety—my dirty, hungry siblings who were on the brink of exhaustion but still pushed on without a word or a whine. After that I needed to find other survivors like us—there had to be other survivors—and try to free our beloved Orania from the greedy claws of the Duke of Armon.
We took as many breaks as I could allow us and slept under bushes or old fox holes whenever possible, but this last stretch was a long one and closer to Armon homesteads than I'd like. There were patrols everywhere. Though I had no idea if the duke's men were hunting us this far from the Oranian border—they had no reason to expect any Oranian to flee into Armon—we kept well away from any patrols. I shuddered. This last attack on Orania had already claimed too many of my kin, and I was not going to let them capture what was left of my family.
A hand slipped into mine and I smiled down at Vaughn, though smiling became harder every day. My nine-year old brother had his thumb in his mouth, his eyes closed, and his face turned towards the sun as he walked beside me. Behind us were his twin sister Oona and their massive, grey wolf-familiar Aka. Keavy had our backs. I swallowed at the sight of her carrying a crudely made fighting stick, her expression haunted but alert. She was only thirteen for thorns' sake, not eighteen like me. Nor was she an apprentice-guarde, though Mama, a high-ranking guarde, had insisted on teaching us all the basics of defence. How could she ever unlearn knowing how to hit a Keysent to incapacitate him? How could they ever go back to being just children again?
Aka's low growl stopped my thoughts from progressing to ranting about lunatics and their obsessions. Without checking what she had sensed, I motioned the others to hit the ground, pulled Vaughn close to me as we sank onto the damp leaf strewn ground, and waited. It didn't take long for us to hear what Aka had sensed. A patrol. The men were chatting amongst themselves, not as loud as the working women, but loud enough for their chatter to reach us before the sound of their horses' steps did. I held my breath as leaves rustled on the other side of the bushes. They were too close for comfort. Vaughn trembled in my arms, and I wrapped them tighter around him and kissed his matted blond hair. My heart nearly stopped as the horses paused close by.
Suddenly, somewhere behind us, birds tittered and twittered like they were possessed. Vaughn started, and I barely kept from cursing. The birds couldn't be coincidence. It had to be Keavy's doing. Any other time I'd be grateful for her quick reaction in gathering local birds to act as a diversion, but the duke's men were bound to know about our bond to fauna. If they saw through Keavy's trick, no amount of hiding could save us. But they didn't seem to be bothered by the birds. In fact, they seemed to ignore them as they slowly moved alongside the bushes. I clenched my fists at the sound of leather hitting flesh followed by horses neighing in pain as the duke's men urged them to up their tempo. By the thorns, these Keysent were as cruel to us as they were to their fauna. I didn't dare look back as the duke's men steered their horses through the bushes far behind us, and I pleaded with Mother Earth for them not to look our way. I let out a breath as the duke's men moved farther and farther away, and the sounds of galloping horses, and even the tittering birds, faded.
We stayed down until Aka let us know the duke's men were well out of hearing distance. Sitting up, I made sure the others were good to continue—squeezing Keavy's shoulder instead of scolding her for her mistake—and handed out a handful of nuts for them to nibble on. Our last handful. Then I checked Papa's map and opened the link to my butterfly-familiars and sent them to explore the path ahead. My butterflies were excellent path finders, the way birds were great for a diversion. Immediately two of them untangled themselves from my messy curls and flew off, their light green wings sparkling in the sunlight. I checked on my siblings one more time, grabbed Vaughn's hand, and started moving again. With any luck, we would reach a denser part of the forest and a better path by nightfall.
~ *~Blaine D. Arden is a purple-haired, forty-something author of gay & trans* romance mixed with fantasy, mystery, and magic who sings her way through life in platform boots. Find out more about her and her work at her website Twitter Facebook Goodreads Email