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"Well, I guess this is goodbye," I said.
As I looked up at the woman I barely knew, I could tell she was nervous about me liking the place. She was a good person. This was more than a paycheck for her, she truly cared about me. I could see as I stared into her eyes, that she had tried hard to get me here and not in an orphanage with kids screaming everywhere. I liked children, but the thought of being with people I can relate to—other teens that understood how I felt, because they too had lost everything—was a much more appealing idea.
I would thank her. I would put on an excited, eager face and put aside my nerves for later. At least one of us would sleep easy tonight.
"Thanks for everything! I can already tell I'll love it here," I put on the best smile I could manage.
"Oh it was nothing," she said a little flustered, but clearly relieved. "You just call me if you need anything," she pulled me into hug, but made it brief.
I could tell she meant it. She would find me another foster home if I didn’t like it here. I wasn't sure what I had done to deserve her, but nonetheless I was grateful.
She turned towards the door, gave me one last fleeting smile as she pulled it open and stepped out into the bustling streets of Chicago. I stared out one of the windows parallel to the door and watched as she got back into her car and drove away.
It would take awhile to get used to the hostile feeling of the massive city. The endless rows of neutral squares and rectangles. I was ready for a change, but I would miss my hometown on the other side of the lake. The unique houses with big yards of green below them and endless skies of blue above them. I wasn't from some small town where I knew every one's name and their life story. But, I was familiar with everything. It was . . . home.
I would make this place home. Tomorrow would be the beginning of my adventure. I could . . . get a library card, explore the museums, try some of Chicago’s finest pizza. As I contemplated the few things I knew about metropolitan areas, I realized why it was called a 'concrete jungle'. There was always something new to be found in a place this size.
As I embraced the challenge of uncovering this city's secrets, I heard someone chuckle behind me. I presumed it was a guy from the chuckle—guys chuckled, girls giggled, it was the unfortunate way life worked—and decided to befriend the stranger. I turned around and leaned up against the wall.
"Checking out the new girl. A little low, don't ya think?" I said crossing my arms and putting on a mischievous smile—why not have fun here?
He smiled even wider at my playful banter and decided to play along.
"Flirting with a stranger. A little low, don't you think?"
He'd apparently wanted to mock me crossing my arms and had forgotten they were already, because he tightened his already crossed arms and then loosened them. Looking like he hoped I hadn't noticed. I wasn't going to let him off.
I raised my eyebrow and pointedly looked at his arms. To which he responded with placing his hands in his jean pockets all together and chuckled again with a sheepish smile. I liked the sound. It wasn't husky and low yet, but wasn't an awkward high-pitched before puberty laugh. It was comforting. And then I decided it wasn't just his laugh.
He had what humorously looked like strawberry-blond hair, that was styled into a messy mo-hawk. Those had gone out of style a long time ago, but something told me he was not oblivious to this. A lean body with pale skin that had a golden tint to it. Since it was the beginning of summer, I presumed it was naturally that way. He stood nearly half a foot taller than me, but was average in height. And his eyes were so light I had no clue what color they were when he was only a few feet away, leaning against the handhold to the stairs.
A yell—from what I guessed was the kitchen, because it had something to do with food—made us both straighten up. He looked just as embarrassed as I felt and was trying to find the words to fill the silence looming in the doorway.
"I'm Shaya, but I prefer Shay" I said, throwing him a bone.
"Cool, I'm—" he paused strangely as if he had forgotten his name and then continued. "—Sam. They asked me to show you around. I think they were just worried I was going to eat all of the fruit salad, but I didn't, if you like healthy stuff anyways—"
"Yeah!" I interrupted suddenly, hoping I hadn't offended him. "I love the stuff, it reminds me of home . . ."
"Sweet," he smiled. "Where is home for you anyways?" he suddenly looked like he wished he wouldn't have asked. "I mean, where did you come from?" he corrected.
"Oh," I breathed. This was home now.
"The other side of the lake, Michigan," I half smiled.
"Wow, really?" he said, looking lost in thought.
"Yeah . . . does everyone usually come from this area?" I asked, begging the heavens I wasn't going to be some freakish outsider.
"No, all of us are from different parts of the country and well, your actually unusually close," he said tentatively, probably hoping I didn't take it the wrong way.
"Oh," was all I could say, I'd never heard of such a thing.
"Peter and Carrie, really liked to travel and so in a way, I guess getting kids from all over is their way of traveling," he elaborated.
"Still do, but . . ." a new voice said, appearing in the hallway.
And then I got it. He was in a wheelchair. He took my gaze as conformation that I understood.
"Yeah, it's not so bad," he said.
Everything from his warm smile to the crinkles around his eyes said he did, but I didn't have to look far into his dark eyes to tell that he was lying.
"What is however," he continued, breaking eye contact. "is my misunderstanding with Mrs. Anderson. You see, we started eating an hour ago, so that we would have time for a walk before nightfall. You’re welcome to join us if your not hungry, or you could stay here and—" he stumbled, looking at Sam.
Okay, what is it with people and names around here?
"—Sam could finish showing you around," he finished, looking at me again.
"I’m pretty tired from the flight, that sounds nice. Um . . ." I said, forgetting his name.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, I forgot the introductions. I'm Peter," he said holding out a hand, that I quickly stepped forward to shake.
"Shay," I said, releasing his hand.
"Ah—a fan of the nicknames," he said casting a knowing look towards Sam.
So that's what this was all about. He had a nickname. I kicked myself internally, for not realizing this earlier. They were just being thoughtful, trying not to overload me with names and nicknames.
I wonder how he knew I'd shortened mine. Another obvious answer. Of course they'd at least know my name, before taking me in. I didn't have time to ponder how much they knew about me, because Sam stepped forward and grabbed my luggage, gesturing toward the winding staircase.
"Shall we?" he said, in mock formality.
"Yeah, thanks," I would have rather carried them, but I could tell he would be careful.
"We'll be back in about an hour," Peter said as I started up the stairs.
Probably inferring we shouldn't try anything reckless, as they'd be back soon. Just then I heard a jumble of voices approaching the door and I quickly finished the last of the polished, wooden steps to the second floor. The last thing I wanted was to say 'Hi nice to meet you' twenty times. Actually, I didn't have a clue how many there were here. I turned to Sam, who had just joined me.
"How many people live here?" I asked, not sure what answer I was hoping for.
"Twelve, including Peter and Carrie, you'll have to meet her later though. Okay, the first floor is the living, dining, and laundry room. This floor is the girls' room, boys' room and our separate bathrooms. We aren't allowed on the third floor, but I have it on good authority that their bedroom is up there, an office—that happens to have a lot of locked drawers, but mysteriously no keys—and a bathroom with a hot tub."
I couldn't help but laugh. I made a mental note to ask him to show me another time. That way if I was caught, my punishment would be no t.v. and not being sent away my first day. I glanced back at the wall next to the stairs and found the light switch to the hall.
"So, bellhop, which room is—" I stopped abruptly at the sight of the doors.
"What?" he said, sounding alarmed.
I couldn't turn my head away from the doors though. Every inch of the four doors was covered with everything from posters to what looked like plain trash. Sam was saying something, but I held up my hand at him and he stopped. I stepped forward to examine each one. The more I saw, the more speechless I became. Each one was it's own piece of art.
They're an artistic family. Something I'd dreamed of having again since my own had died and I'd had to live with my grandma, who had just died as well. Most people call it decorating, or a hobby. But no one I had ever met, truly understood that creativity is something that's in your blood.
The unique way you see the world and everything in it. The impulse to put your feelings into something tangible. The desire to simply imagine. The way you can't help, but to live spontaneously. It isn’t something you can fake, because it’s a part of who you are.
Among the things I saw was a little poem. It was very simple, but very pretty. A single preserved rose. Tickets to a showing of my favorite band. A flattened coke can that had silver aviators on it. Christmas lights that lined each door. And endless pictures.
The faces that looked back at me through those pictures verified what I already knew. From the way that they dressed, to the way they all put more thought into their pose than simply holding up two fingers.
Out of all of the them, my favorite was a picture of Sam riding a skateboard mid-flight, on a jump from the top of a building to the next. Taken from the ground on a cloudless day—he was an angel. Soaring through the sky with no trace of fear on his face.
"Like 'em?" Sam had come to stand beside me at the last door.
"They're . . . amazing, incredible, unique," I said slowly, trying to find the right words. "They must tell a thousand stories. Peter and Carrie are okay with this?"
"They gave us the idea. They're always encouraging us to be creative, try new things, to just live life to the fullest, you know?"
"Yeah, I do," I sniffed.
"Your crying!" he accused.
But, before I could start to feel silly for crying over a door, he wrapped me up in a huge bear hug. Cutting off the air I needed to lie and deny the traitor tears.
"Welcome to the family," he whispered in my ear.
It really did feel like my family. In that moment, I felt a hole healing in my heart. I turned around and embraced the big brother I had always wanted.