The Challenge

Note: This is my first (real) attempt at writing, and any feedback is welcome!

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Veronica stared up at the man. He was significantly taller than her and had gentle blue eyes. She maintained eye contact, but her attention couldn’t have been further away. Meeting people was boring, and soon enough this man would also be out of her life forever. She could feel Julie looking at her, but she had little concern for the opinion of the well-intentioned social worker. Veronica’s real concern was with a programming puzzle she had been grappling with for the last half hour or so. Usually she could solve such puzzles in five or ten minutes, but this one was less trivial than she had originally thought and she was starting to feel disappointed in herself. She had just started to find the intuition behind the problem when Julie shook shoulder, destroying her concentration.

Veronica glared up at her. She hated being touched, and Julie knew that. “Don’t touch me!” she snarled.

Julie snatched her hand away and smiled, obviously trying very hard to be patient. “Paul and I need to know that you agree,” she said with just a hint of hesitation. Paul was an experienced foster parent, but Julie was very worried about pairing him with Veronica. Paul usually took on sob stories, teenagers that were emotionally damaged and required a great deal of attention. Teenagers like that were hard to place, and Julie didn’t want him to take Veronica and then refuse to take any more children. That had already happened a couple times. Most of the children Paul fostered had behavioral issues, but none like Veronica. No one knew exactly what her story was, but as far as Julie could tell she was just mean.

Veronica looked at Julie and nodded her head, whatever it was it was fine with her. She knew the drill well. The last family she had been paired with had lasted exactly 68 hours and 26 minutes, and it was her personal goal to get this one under 48 hours.

Julie turned her attention back to Paul while Veronica turned her attention back to the programming puzzle. Files were exchanged and best wishes were made. Julie shook hands with Paul and wished him well. Veronica noted the time on her watch. 10:37 AM.

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The First Hour- 10:37 AM

Paul smiled at the girl and headed for the door of the social work center. It was only the very beginning of summer, but the heat warmed the inside of the building and Paul couldn’t wait to get back into the SUV with air conditioning. Veronica followed him, cooperating for now. Paul already suspected that that wouldn’t last. Though Julie had given him a fresh copy of her file, Paul had already read her file several times and doubted that it would contain any substantial changes.

Veronica had simply shown up in Austin one day with absolutely no history. She had lived on the street for perhaps six months before it was discovered that she was only twelve years old. After that she was placed in the foster care system and had torn through homes ever since. Her longest placement had been only a short two months, and each stay had further shortened since then. She was now sixteen and Julie struggled to find a family to take her for more than a few days. She had no educational history and had scored just high enough to avoid being classified as mentally handicapped when she was administered an IQ test. Several families had tried to get her on track educationally, but thus far she had failed every class she had ever been enrolled in and been expelled from many of the schools in the area.

Paul planned to homeschool her and then perhaps teach her a skill. He didn’t know how much progress he could realistically hope to make, but anything that gave her even a little bit of a chance in the world would help.

Paul opened the passenger side door to his vehicle for Veronica and stepped around to put her single suitcase in the trunk. Veronica looked around the car, using it as a way to size Paul up. The interior was nice and clean. The leather seats looked well cared for and the car as a whole looked fairly new. Veronica figured that Paul was probably wealthy. She had stayed with wealthy families before. They were the easiest to break. They all had this perfect picture of a perfect little family and wanted her to be a little angel. She thought briefly about the Carlsons, one of the more recent wealthy families she had stayed with. She had the father’s very expensive watch hidden in a crayon pouch in her suitcase. Stealing it had been a great deal of fun and a smile spread across her face just thinking about it.

“Veronica, please put on your seatbelt.” Veronica didn’t register that Paul was talking to her at first. Unsure if he was being ignored or not, Paul repeated the request. Shaken out of her thoughts, Veronica sat for a moment, considering the request. Getting a family to refuse to take her before even leaving the parking lot would’ve been quite the accomplishment. But it seemed too soon for the first battle. Lose the battle win the war was a great sentiment, but Veronica just preferred to win in general. She quietly complied.

Paul nodded his head and started the car. Veronica drifted back into her thoughts, hoping that Paul would have the sense to leave her alone. He didn’t. “So Veronica, where are you from?” Veronica looked at him, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes.

“Uh, I don’t really know,” she offered. Paul nodded his head again and sped up, preparing to merge onto the expressway. “What do you like to do in your free time?” Paul had an entire list of prewritten questions that he asked almost every girl on their way home. It was a good day if he got even one honest answer.

She paused for a second, recalling the list of preapproved teenager activities that she was supposed to list. “I uh, like music. And makeup.”

“What do you like to eat?”

“I guess I like all the normal stuff,” Veronica offered, wanting Paul to take a hint. She didn’t like small talk, and she still hadn’t solved the programming problem she had been previously thinking about.

“Oh, do you watch any TV or movies?”

“The normal stuff I guess.” At that point Veronica decided the conversation was over and went back to thinking about her programming problem. She thought she might be able to simplify it to the point where she could solve it rather quickly.

Paul continued talking to her, asking her standard questions. Veronica did her best to spit out acceptable responses to all of his inquiries, but eventually she grew annoyed. “Isn’t all of this in my file?”

“Sure. But I think it’s better to hear from you.” Paul took on a mock serious look. “You never can trust those people to get all the details right.”

“Just read the file.” Paul’s eyebrows rose at her quick response. He settled on not asking her further questions until they got home. Unfortunately he thought that might be awhile. Paul was only a 20-minute drive from the adoption center, but that was in the best-case scenario. Traffic was bad and didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon. He glanced briefly at Veronica and memories of his own sister filled his mind. He quickly pushed them away and thought instead about work. He usually took a couple months off each time he began fostering a new child. Typically he worried during this time, but Pauline, his second in command and one of his best friends, had more than proved that she was capable of running the office for a few short months. The business would be fine while he was away. It had been the last six times, and it would be this time as well.

Paul looked back to Veronica. There was absolutely no physical resemblance between her and his sister. Georgia had been tall, with darker skin and thick, curly hair. Veronica was short, perhaps only 4’10", and had brown, straight hair. Yet the resemblance between them was uncanny. Paul tried to place it but just couldn’t. It was almost as if they had the same aura.

Veronica noticed Paul’s glances at her but said nothing. She figured he was hoping she would be bothered by the silence and try to strike up a conversation. She smirked, amused by how very wrong he was. If he noticed her smirk, he didn’t let on. She had solved her programming puzzle and had decided that she wanted her next challenge to be of the mathematical variety. A difficult integral would suffice, and she went about coming up with one in her head.

The car ride remained silent. Paul was unwilling to make another attempt at conversation just yet and Veronica had absolutely no desire to do so. The silence was uninterrupted until they arrived home.

Veronica surveyed the battlefield as they drove up. The neighborhood was nice, probably upper class. That didn’t provide any new information. Paul lived a great deal in to the subdivision and Veronica felt that the number of turns taken to get to the home was bordering on ridiculous. His lawn was well kept and the house was large. Two stories. She’d probably have her own room, which she preferred. She mentally prepared herself to walk in to the house and be greeted by his wife and no doubt incredibly obnoxious children. As they entered through the garage the house was silent.

“What, are you not married?” she asked, coming off slightly harsher than she had meant to.

“No,” Paul answered. “I never have been. It’s just the two of us. Well, and Annie and Susie,” he hesitantly finished.

“Annie and Susie,” Veronica thought. “So he does have kids.” She quickly discovered that she was wrong as an overexcited black lab bounded in to the room.

“This is Annie,” Paul explained, reaching down to scratch the dog’s ears. “Susie is the cat and she tends to be a little less excitable,” he said with a chuckle. The dog wagged her tail and sat down at Paul’s feet.

Paul carefully stepped over her and headed for the kitchen. The dog eagerly followed, as did Veronica, though with significantly less enthusiasm.

“I’ll show you around the house, but it’s almost noon, time for lunch!”

Veronica glanced down at her watch. 11:37. 47 more hours.

Re: The Challenge

very interesting start. It’s a novel concept with a interesting main character. Looking forward to more.