â€œShe likes the rain,â€ Ms. Jones explained to her neighbor when the woman called in a panic, yelling that Xue had spent the last six hours sprawled across the top of the house â€˜looking like a half-drowned corpse.â€™ She scowled at the shrill, busybody voice, but saved her choice words for the sound of the dial tone after Mrs. Hatter had been disconnected. The social workers had warned her that the transition would be difficult for Xue, but no one could have cautioned her about the Hatters.
The entire country had seen the news reports of the commune raid, but it had been reduced to late night talk show jokes in a matter of days, and within two weeks, it was forgotten. The commune leaders were sent to jail, which Ms. Jonesâ€™ pastor described as a light punishment for the crime of playing God.
In the first few weeks, Ms. Jones had become aware of the whispers that stopped when she drew near to the groups of ladies assembled to collect their biological children from the churchâ€™s after-school care program. Sheâ€™d learned to ignore them, eyes forward as she swept through the handful of women to the corner where Xue played by herself. After she gathered the abnormally small child into her arms she always made it a point to walk past the other mothers with her posture straight, her jaw clenched, and her eyes narrow. It had taken Ms. Jones less than a month to become fiercely proud of her foster daughter. The condescending glances only strengthened her conviction.
Such a pity, the ladies gossiped. The girlâ€™s barely human. Can you imagine? And with no husband to help. She should have just gotten a pet.
After Ms. Jones replaced the phone on its cradle, she left through the front door and walked to the sidewalk, shielding her eyes from the downpour and scanning the roof for Xue. Sure enough, the girl was stretched across the mottled shingles. Ms. Jones didnâ€™t bother calling her name. She strode to the ladder and climbed eleven feet before stepping over the edge of the ranch house roof.
â€œXue?â€ Ms. Jones said softly. The girl shuddered, sending droplets of rain in every direction. â€œDonâ€™t you think itâ€™s time to come inside, honey?â€
Xue turned, her dark, unblinking eyes meeting Ms. Jonesâ€™ blue ones. Her nose twitched, but she offered no response to the question.
â€œItâ€™s cold out here,â€ she said. â€œYou must be freezing.â€
â€œIâ€™m not cold.â€
Ms. Jones shrugged as she took a seat beside her foster daughter. â€œI am,â€ she said.
â€œThatâ€™s because you donâ€™t have fur.â€
Ms. Jones had no argument. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched the clouds scrolling over the horizon.
â€œNo oneâ€™s making you stay out here,â€ Xue said. Her voice was cool, sullen, and seemed old for her eleven years.
Again. Ms. Jones shrugged. â€œItâ€™ll stop raining eventually,â€ she said.
â€œAnd the colder I get, the better the hot chocolate will taste when I go back inside.â€
Xueâ€™s whiskers trembled. â€œYou have hot chocolate?â€ she asked.
â€œAnd marshmallows,â€ Ms. Jones said.
The girl considered this for a long minute. â€œMaybe in a little bit.”
â€œNo hurry.â€ Ms. Jones brushed away the lines that rain had traced through the thin fur of her daughterâ€™s forehead. â€œItâ€™ll be there whenever youâ€™re ready.â€