Margo started her morning getting a reluctant Tian on the bus with a heartfelt promise to work on the homeschool issue before she had to be at work at 10. True to her word, her first call was to Maryanne, her foster care caseworker.

“This is Maryanne.” came the tired voice that answered the phone. “May I help you?”

“Hi Maryanne, this is Margo Raven. Do you have a moment?” She tried to keep her voice upbeat. Fostercare Caseworkers had a thankless, heartbreaking job, in her opinion.

“Oh, please tell me everything is okay…” She trailed off, you could hear the anxiety enter her tone.

“Fine, Tian is having trouble with racism at school and asked me to homeschool her. I’m willing, but I figured you were the person I needed to start with.”

“Oh, is that all.” she exhaled hard. “Yeah, so we need to give you permission, which I’m willing to do.”

“Once I get all this settled, I plan to talk to the principal about the issue. Mean girls are so outdated.” Margo said, “We all dealt with mean girls and maybe it’s just a fact of life but Tian has had enough bullshit in her life and I think homeschooling might help her engage. I think she’s gonna start doing Endurance rides with us, so she is finally engaging. I’d like to keep the momentum going.”

“Oh, I’m so glad, so so glad to hear that. You have no idea.” Maryanne really was happy. She had been at her wit’s end when Tiana went to Margo. She had hope, but it was a slim, dusty hope. “I’ll write up a letter of permission and mail it off. It should be to you by week’s end. You’ll need to file notice of intent with the school district. I recommend an assessment test to get her grade level for her subjects before you spend any money on the curriculum. Unfortunately, the state can’t help extra for that.”

“That was my next question, but I figured I knew the answer. Thanks, Maryanne. I’ll let you get  back to work.” 

“No problem, good luck!” She said and hung up.

The next hour was spent on her laptop reading California law on homeschooling. Through research, she found a legal and educational support community and decided to join it. It was a monthly membership and she could do that for a couple of months to see if it was a good fit. She also got information on an assessment test for placement. Soon it was time to get ready for work and her conversation with Ben.

The drive down into Littlerock took about 45 minutes, which was a long way but she had a compact car to make the trip. She kept her truck at the ranch and only used it to get feed and tow the trailer, gas prices being what they were.She managed to get there with enough time to talk to Ben.

“Got a minute?” she asked, poking her head into the office.

“Sure, come in.” Ben looked up with a smile on his craggy face, then saw her serious expression and put down his pen. “Okay, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing is wrong.” She left with it to put his mind at ease, “Well not really. I need a favor though, and it’s pretty big.”

“Let’s hear it then.”

“I need you to let me bring Tian to work with me from now on. She’ll sit in the break room. She wants to be homeschooled. I promise we’ll make it work, I won’t neglect my duties, I will only need to keep an eye on her while she works. “ She gushed, she knew she was, and it annoyed her. “Please,” she said as she finished.

Ben sat back in his chair, musing and watching her. Margo wasn’t the type to ask for a favor. She was so independent that it hurt to watch sometimes. He knew Tian had given her a lot of trouble when she’d first joined the family too.

“What brought all this on?” he asked, still thinking about the situation. He wasn’t immediately opposed but 8 hours was a long time for a young teen to hang out at a hardware store. 

“She’s having a hard time with racist mean girls at school.” She said “That’s been the school problem all this time. I’m so angry on her behalf but she asked me not to go in there all mama bear, so I’m not. She did ask for homeschool, though. So here I am. Maryanne, her foster care caseworker has given permission.”

“Damnit!” Ben erupted “People really suck sometimes. I am angry now too.”

“Yeah.” Margo said simply. “So, can she hang out? Her birthday is in a couple months, maybe with a work permit, she can catch a couple hours stocking when the truck comes too. We always need a little help then.”

“Okay, we can try it.” He said hesitantly. He wanted to help but he had a business to run too. “If it’s not working though…” He trailed off.

“I’ll figure something else out then. Maybe a sitter and we can do school after I get home. I just know I’m gonna do this for her.” Margo was suddenly sure of it.  

“Okay so speaking of favors, “ Ben smiled winningly. “I’ve got a friend who just had a high-octane horse dropped on him. A Tevis quality Spanish Arabian and he is clueless. Can you go over and help him out?”

“Shit Ben, do I know him?” She said, cautiously. 
“His name is Chris and I’m sure you’ve seen him around. Tall, brown hair, neatly kept beard.” He described him a bit more and it sounded vaguely familiar to her.

“Yeah, I guess it’s the least I can do. Give me his number and I’ll call him after work.” She agreed, hesitantly. Meeting a strange man at his house might not be her smartest decision but she was reasonably sure that Ben would not put her in harm’s way.

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