Title: Shaken Worlds
Author: Gemma Johns
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 09/08/2021
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, lesbian, contemporary, family-drama, established couple, foster care
Melissa’s world was shaken when her three children were taken by Child Services. A few suburbs away, a couple were excitedly preparing to become foster parents. Zara and Renee have been busily preparing their home and their lives to become mothers. Despite their preparation, their world is shaken by the arrival of their children. Their first placement, three siblings needing a loving home turn the couple into an instant family. But while the couple are rejoicing their new roles, Melissa is spiralling into depression she fears she’ll never get out of.
As Zara learns more about the children’s background, she is touched by Melissa’s story. In contrast, Renee has grown to become a fiercely protective stay-at-home-mother determined to do everything for the children, with no regard to their birth mother. As Zara’s motivations for foster care shift, the couple find themselves battling with questions such as “Why are we doing this?”, “What is the right thing to do?” and whether their relationship is as secure as they first expected. Could the very thing they thought might bring them even closer together actually tear them apart?
Narrated by three voices—the birth mother, Melissa, and the two foster carers, Renee and Zara, Shaken Worlds is a novel about what it means to be a mother and the way three women view their role for the same three children.
Gemma Johns © 2021
All Rights Reserved
I was hit with the memory as soon as I woke up. I instantly felt sick. I needed to talk to someone, but I didn’t know who would listen and not judge. Anyone who heard my story would surely feel better than me. I was sick of people judging me – I’d just had months of it. Months of interviews, phone calls, people watching me. I was exhausted, to the bone. I listened out for my son’s wail, but it didn’t come. Perhaps I’d never hear it again. And with that realisation, the tears welled up in my eyes and soon fat teardrops were falling down my face.
“You’re a mess, Melissa,” I told myself. “It’s no wonder, no wonder at all, that they don’t think you’re a fit mother.” But then I thought about it more. “Surely, an unfit mother wouldn’t be this upset? I have a natural motherly instinct. Hell, I’m waiting for my son to cry! Unfit mothers just don’t care, do they?”
And then it hit me – today I’m listening out for my son to cry, but three months earlier, I wasn’t. Maybe I was just that kind of unfit mother. I walked to the kitchen, pissed off. Angry at the system, angry at the people, angry at the courts, but most of all, angry at myself.
The alarm clock startled me from my dreams. I couldn’t even remember what I was dreaming about, but I knew I’d rather be asleep than awake. Renee stirred beside me, and sighed, but we didn’t talk. Instead, on autopilot, I padded to the shower, thinking about my day ahead. I turned the water on to hot, middle of winter, and waited for it to heat up while I stripped. I looked at myself in the mirror, mostly happy with what I saw. A little pudgy in the middle, but you get that at 35. Or at least the girls in my family get it around their mid-thirties. I showered and then came out of the bathroom. By now Renee looked more awake. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I pulled a pair of charcoal trousers out of my wardrobe. Grabbing a white bra and white satin blouse, I got ready for work. “What’s your day like, today?” I asked Renee, as I brushed my long, dark hair.
“Not too bad. I have a few meetings.” Renee works as an Executive Assistant to some big-wig in an accounting firm. She’s a very efficient worker. I, on the other hand, am a more ambitious, but less organised, academic.
“My day isn’t so bad either,” I was half concentrating on doing my makeup as I spoke. “I’ve got to finish writing a paper, but other than that, not too much. Maybe tonight we could go out for dinner?”
“Yeah,” Renee said, lightly slapping my bum as she walked past me on her way to the bathroom. “Good idea.” Neither of us had much motivation to cook by the end of the week, so I’d known she’d agree. I put some shoes on – my comfortable flats, being a Friday, after all—and walked out to the kitchen. Although I was hoping to get ready for work pretty quickly, I decided to brew the nice coffee pot, rather than the horrible instant stuff. And just as I got my coffee cup ready, the phone rang, interrupting my thoughts.
“Hello?” I popped my toast in the toaster.
“Hello, I’m looking for Zara or Renee.”.
“That’s me.” I then realised she wouldn’t be able to decipher which of us I was, added, “I’m Zara.”
“Hi, Zara. I’m Angela from Sydney Child Services.”
“Oh, right?” I was intrigued. Renee and I had trained to become foster carers over the past few months and finally had everything approved last week. I knew we had one form still outstanding, so I figured Angela was ringing about that. Unless…oh, I didn’t dare wonder; instead, I held my breath.
“Last night, we had three children come into care.” The toast sprung up from the toaster and I felt faint. Three children? Why was she telling me this? I wondered, not daring to dream.
“We haven’t got a placement for them, yet, they came in so late, and as you were recently approved as foster carers, we wondered whether you would be interested in the placement.”
“Three children?” I repeated. “Wow,” I laughed nervously. I heard Renee finish up in the bathroom, so I raced to the bedroom and gestured silently, trying to get her attention. I repeated myself, “three children,” emphasising three. Renee’s eyes widened.
“What?” she whispered, alarmed, and I flagged my hands to shush her, so I could hear Angela continue.
“Yes,” Angela replied. “They’re in your age group. Normally we wouldn’t have a first placement of three children, but they’re in your age group, and we do like to keep siblings together. Plus, we do have such a shortage of carers.”
“Of course.” I nodded, even though Angela couldn’t see that. I knew all that, they’d emphasised all this in our training sessions. Still, I wondered if we could handle three children. “Could you tell me more?” I asked, stalling for time.
“I haven’t met them myself, but I hear they’re quiet children. Then again, given the circumstances, it’s hard to know what to expect. A baby boy, he’s eight months old.” We’d always imagined a baby boy! “Twin girls, they’re three.”
“When would they need placement?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“Immediately,” came the reply.
Although it wasn’t a shock, it hit me. We could be a family of five today! “I’ll discuss it with Renee and get back to you,” I said.
“Sure, Zara. As you can imagine, this is a matter of urgency. I mean…”
“Yeah, I’ll get straight back to you, in about twenty minutes.” I said, feeling the pressure.
Renee sat down and gave me a funny smile. “Give it to me,” she said, half-laughing.
“Three kids. Eight months and three.”
“That’s only two.”
I shook my head. “There’s TWO three-year-olds.”
“TWO three-year-olds? Wow, that’s hard to deal with!” We laughed.
“Boys or girls?” she asked.
“Baby boy and twin girls.”
I shrugged. “Honestly we didn’t go into that much detail. They only went into care overnight. Quiet kids, apparently.”
“Yeah, but imagine being taken from your family. Of course, you’d be quiet. Three kids?” She shook her head in disbelief.
“Too much?” I asked her, a little disappointed. “Maybe we should say no. There will be more offers, more kids.” I was worried that if we said no, we would go to the bottom of the list, but I didn’t say that.
“Looks, it’s possible. We always wanted three kids. Not all at once, but one day,” she said, clearly thinking it over. She looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights.
“This woman, Angela. She needs an answer ASAP.”
“ASAP,” Renee repeated. She shook her head. “It’s just such a leap.”
“Yeah, but it’s a leap we are ready for.”
“So you think we should do it?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. I mean, maybe it’s short term, maybe it’s long term. I didn’t even ask. But these kids are probably sitting in some office right now, scared. They need a loving home, and this is why we did this.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t even finished work yet!”
“That’s okay, Renee. I reckon I could work from home, classes are over for now. How long do you need?” Deep down, I was a little worried about staying at home with children, but I had the flexibility in my career that Renee didn’t have, and it would only be until Renee’s boss would be able to replace her.
“A month. Anthony could replace me in a month,” Renee said decisively, “but are you sure you can do this?” I nodded with certainty I didn’t entirely feel.
“So we’re doing this? I’ll stay home with the kids, then you take over. Yeah? We’re really doing this?” I was beside myself with excitement and nerves and couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“Yeah. Ring the lady back. Maybe I’ll see if Anthony can do without me today. Shit, Zara. Which room will we put the baby in?” Renee looked anxious.
“The one with the cot,” I said, laughing. I couldn’t believe she was even asking that question right now, but I kept laughing. “Who cares? Let’s just ring Angela back.”