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The Lost Angels of Los Angeles
On the morning of June 7th, Janessa’s current foster mother woke her up. She had fallen asleep in the living room while watching a movie the night before. After much stubborn hesitation, Janessa greeted the day and prepared for yet another in the paradise that is the foster care system.
Jumping around from house to house had almost become like routine for her. She didn’t know of anything else. The last stable home she’d lived in was with her uncle when she was 13. That was almost three years ago. Today, she was preparing to move to a new group home, in a new city. The foster care system worked a bit differently in California than any other state in the United States.
Contrary to popular belief, not all foster homes were as horrible as the ones you can read about in A Child Called It and A Piece of Cake. Cupcake Brown and Dave Pelzer provide very provocative tales about the neglect and abuse they experienced while in this system. Janessa’s tales are quite similar, but she had just as many good experiences as she did bad ones.
Paula and Wes Anderson, Janessa’s current foster parents were part of the good experiences. They were very genuine, devoted parents. They had two of their own children, Kayla and Ben, whom were already adults and moved out. They also had another foster child, a son named Ty. He had been there for a year before Janessa got there. Things were going well for Janessa at that point. She was going to school everyday, bringing in good grades, and helping as much as she could around the house. She stayed there for a year and a half, and finally felt as though she had regained some stability in her life. Unfortunately, the stability was short-lived.
There was a legal issue with Paula and Wes’s foster care license, and both Janessa and Ty had to be removed from their home while the case was investigated further. As it turned out, one of the former foster kids who were there before Janessa had accused the Andersons of abusing her on more than one occasion. Janessa was heartbroken. The court stated that Paula and Wes needed to arrange with Janessa and Ty’s caseworkers to find them a new home. For Janessa, that meant moving from her quiet home in Crescent Mills to a group home in Los Angeles called The Sky Haven Teen Center.
Janessa would soon find out that she would be sitting in a hot car for 10 dreadful hours, probably nonstop, as her caseworker drove her 524 miles south to her new “home”, as the court called it. There was, of course, an upside to this trip. 10 hours was 10 hours any way you slice it, but luckily, for Janessa, she had a very cute, male named Leland to keep her company on her journey.
Leland was Janessa’s cute 22-year-old caseworker. He had long chocolaty brown hair that he always had tied up in a pony or a braid. He always had a pair of sunglasses that sat upon his head when they weren’t on his face. He had picked up her case when she first entered into the system. She took a liking to him right off the bat. His looks, ironically, had nothing to do with it. Janessa admired his personality. He wasn’t like any other adult she had ever dealt with before. He didn’t talk down to her, or belittle her at all. He was very genuine and honest. In fact, that was probably his greatest quality. He was honest with Janessa from the very beginning. He didn’t try to sugar coat anything. He also promised her that, no matter what, he would always, always be there for her. Janessa was grateful to have someone on her side. She did pride herself on being very independent, but that was more by force than by choice. Independent or not, it never hurt to have another player on her team. She just hoped that things wouldn’t change once she left Crescent Mills.
Janessa sat in the passenger seat of Leland’s Cadillac Escalade, quietly singing along to December, by Collective Soul. She’d been told since she could talk that she had a very beautiful, soulful voice, but she refused to believe it. Singing was just something she did; she wasn’t trying to be good at it. Anyway, she could never sing professionally. If she’d learned anything at all from television, but it was that there was far too much politics involved in the music industry. Nah, she would stick to karaoke and singing with the radio.
“You can sing out loud, ya know,” Leland laughed lightly as he turned down the volume just slightly.
“I would, but I don’t know the song that well. I’m kinda just mumbling,” Janessa replied honestly.
“Well,” Leland said, reaching for his CD case, “find one that you do know,” He smiled as he set the case on her lap.
Janessa unzipped the black fuzzy case and thumbed through it. She’d been through this case a thousand and one times on various occasions, but she couldn’t remember which songs were on which CD’s. She finally settled on a CD that said ‘Martina McBride’. She knew that CD very well. Leland had played it in the car when Janessa rode with him for the first time. He played a song called Concrete Angel, that he said reminded him of her very much. From that day on, Janessa vowed that she would never resent anyone for the way her life turned out, because, deep down, she knew that her situation could be so much worse.
The rest of the trip went by so much quicker as Janessa’s voice filled the confines on the hot vehicle. Before she knew it, they were pulling onto a windy road. The houses on either side of the road could be better described as mansions. They were unlike anything you could find Crescent Mills, or even within miles of it. Another thing she noticed, the distance between these houses was getting farther and farther. She thought that maybe this group home wouldn’t be much different than the one she was just in.
“We’re almost there. You nervous?” Leland asked, not taking his eyes off of the road.
Janessa shrugged. “Not really. I’m used to this,” I said absently as she peered out the windshield as the car came closer to a tan colored brick structure that could easily qualify as a mansion. There appeared to be two floors, a huge balcony protruding from the second story. Janessa was awestruck. Leland chuckled at her reaction.
“Beautiful, huh?” He said, putting the car in park in front the entrance to the house.
“Uh, just kinda,” Janessa said sarcastically as she got ready to climb out of the car. Leland followed.
As they walked up the small set of stairs to the front door, Janessa was still in awe, looking at every nook and cranny of the home. Meanwhile, Leland spoke into a PA system and explained to the person on the other end who he was. A moment later, the door opened, revealing a middle-aged, blonde woman. Janessa made the assumption that this was her new foster mother. She didn’t seem like the motherly type by the looks of her. She was wearing a red Rolling Stones t-shirt and white Capri sweats. Her long, silky blonde hair was pulled up in a messy pony tail, with her bangs parted to one side of her face. Her makeup was intense. She had eyeliner on the base of her bottom lashes, as well as on her top lashes. Her mascara extended her lashes, accenting their bluish-green tint, and they were finished off with a bit of silver eye-shadow.
“Hey, there, Leland, long time, no see. How’ve been? Oh, this must be Janessa, right?”
“I’ve been good, T. Yup, this is my girl Janessa,” Leland said, putting his hand on my shoulder.
“Hey, Janessa. I’m Leticia. You can call me Tish. C’mon. I’ll show you around a little, and explain how things roll around here,” She said, gesturing for Leland and Janessa to follow her. She lead them through the foyer, and into the main part of the house. She lead them down a short hallway. Janessa admired the maroon tinted walls, which were adorned with pictures of various girls and boys of her age. At the end of the hall was a set of double doors that were made from cherry wood and had a very complex design engraved in them. Behind the doors was a huge space that was divided into three sections: the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. The walls were a baby blue color, and the furniture was themed blue and white. Tish sat at the end of the dining room table where there appeared to be a mini office set up. There was a laptop and bunch of paperwork scattered randomly throughout the table.
“Have a seat,” She smiled and gestured to two chairs at the table. Leland and Janessa pulled out chairs and sat down. Tish tapped something into the computer before looking up at Leland.
“You have her file?” She asked. Leland nodded and handed over a manila folder that had Klaypow, Janessa N. printed on it. Tish nodded and pulled out a white piece of paper. She looked over the paper and then continued to type things on the computer. When she finished, she looked up at me and smiled.
“Okay, the boring stuff is done. Now we can get on with the orientation,” She said. We all stood up. She handed me a piece of paper.
“That’s the rules and expectations guides. It isn’t really that important, but we ask that you at least look it over. Now, Teensavers is divided in two houses, a boys and a girls. This isn’t prison. You guys can hang out wherever you want, whenever you want, within reason. I don’t condone dating while at Teensavers, because that may cause, how should I put this?” Tish paused momentarily. “It may hinder a person’s recovery. Understand?” She asked with a smile. Janessa nodded vigorously. She understood. A relationship was the last thing on her mind right now.
“This is the room you’ll be staying in. We usually put girls in their own room for the first couple of weeks until they warm up with the rest of the house,” Tish said as she opened up the door to a fairly spacious room that was decorated in black and pink theme. Janessa found that cool, since those happened to be her favorite colors. She took a minute to look over the room.
“So, speaking of the roomies, where are the other girls? I usually can’t set foot in this house without being bombarded by them,” Leland laughed. Clearly, he had a few other fans in the system.
“Haha. They’re at the dance studio practicing. You dance, Janessa?” Tish asked.
“Umm, I used to. My mom was a professional dancer. She had her own studio. I used to teach a little kids’ class,” Janessa admitted a little more information about herself.
“Well, you’re gonna like this then. Come on. I’ll take you down to meet the other girls, and possibly some of the boys.”
She took Janessa and Leland down to the end of the hallway and down a set of white stairs. At the bottom of the staircase was a set of double-doors, which opened up to a gymnasium and dance floor. Janessa caught site of her new roommates. There was a dark skinned girl with black, straight hair that was tied up in a messy bun. She was wearing gray sweats, a black t-shirt that said “DDATA” in pink letters. Another girl, who was Caucasian was dancing with her. She had long dirty-dishwater blonde hair. She was wearing red and black basketball shorts and a black wife beater. She didn’t see anyone else. Tish nudged her forward.
“Lookin good, girls!” She called out as they walked over to them.
“Thanks, T,” The blonde said. “Hey, Leland. You found us a new roomie?” Blondie asked.
“Yeah, girl. This is my homie, Janessa. Janessa, this is Maddie, and that’s Ciara,” Leland said, pointing at them in turn.
Both girls smiled and nodded in acknowledgement.
Tish broke the silence. “Where are the other girls and the boys?” She asked, looking around. Maddie rolled her eyes.
“God only knows,” She muttered.
“What happened?” Tish sighed, putting her hand on her hip and cocking her head to the side.
“Braison and Taylor invited Crystal over while we were supposed to rehearsing, but you know once she got here they didn’t even wanna dance anymore, so they decided to go to the boys’ house. They’ve been over there since you left earlier,” Ciara explained.
“Ugh, children!” Tish exclaimed, exasperated. “Alright. I’m gonna go over there. You guys can show Janessa around,” Tish said as she pulled out her cellphone and headed out of the studio. Leland put his hand Janessa’s shoulder.
“Hey, I’m gonna head out. Call me later, okay?” He wrapped his arms around her, giving her a hug. She returned the gesture.
“Olive juice,” Janessa said with a laugh.
“Olive juice, too,” Leland chuckled and released her from the hug. Ciara and Maddie looked perplexed.
“If it you mouth the words ‘I love you’, it looks like you’re saying olive juice,” Janessa explained and the girls laughed.
“Alright. See you, ladies. Hey, be good to Tish and Kenny. They’re already ripping their hair out today,” Leland said as he left.
“So, how old are you?” Maddie asked.
“16. How about you guys?” Janessa asked.
“I’m 16, too. Ciara’s only 15,” Maddie said. Ciara hadn’t said much at all.
“That’s cool. I’m used to being the baby at all the other places, but none of the homes I’ve been in have ever been this big, or nice,” Janessa said, again revealing more about herself.
“I heard. That’s okay, though. So, we’re working on a dance routine for this competition and Dynamic Dance and Tumbling Academy. That’s our dance school. Tish told us that you’re a good dancer, according to your file. We could really use another one of those,” Maddie said with a laugh.
“Yeah. That’d be cool. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a year since I’ve danced. I haven’t really had a place or time to do it,” Janessa explained.
“Hahaha. No worries. It’s kinda like ridin’ a bike, you never forget how to do it,” Ciara spoke up, finally. Then she did a series of dance steps, counting out loud. “Now you,” she pointed to Janessa. Janessa bit her lower lip, but did the routine the best that she could. She must’ve done them right, because Maddie and Ciara clapped.
“Damn. See, you caught on fast. So, whadaya say? You in?” Maddie asked, raising an eyebrow.
Janessa knew that she wanted to do it, but she was still hesitant to answer.
“Yeah. I’m in, but you guys can’t make fun of me if I mess it up, got it?” She laughed.
“Deal. Well, we’ve been dancing for about two hours, so I think we earned a break. Come on. We can go see what the others are up to besides being yelled at by Tish,” Maddie said. She took Janessa’s hand and drug her to a set of patio doors. They were now standing on a patio, complete with a table and chairs, umbrella, and barbecue. Janessa followed the girls down the wrought iron stairs to a lower level. Down there was a large pool, which was separated in half by a brick walkway. Across the pool was another house, which appeared to be similar to the one they had just come from, however, the girls’ house was tan colored brick, and the boys’ was red bricked.
“This is the boys’ house. We actually spend more time over at our place than we do here. The truth of the matter is, Tish is more lenient about most things than Kenny,” Maddie explained as they walked in the door.
The first thing that Janessa noticed when she walked in the door was the clutter. There were random foods sitting out on the island in the middle of the kitchen, as well as various pop cans. There were dishes piled up in the sink and on the stove, as well. That wasn’t the only thing that caught Janessa’s eye, for in the midst of the clutter stood a boy who looked to be about her age. He had dirty-dishwater blonde, shaggy hair. His eyes were the a beautiful blue and he was about medium height. Janessa was starting to like this house already…