Contest Entry for ReadersInc
You were always a trouble child. It was no surprise to you or to anyone around you that the homes you got placed in didn’t stay yours for long. The older you got, the worse it became. Homes would take you in for a week or two, then get sick of the bratty teenager in their house who was more than a little critical and quite the cynic. By sixteen, you had given up on your dream of being adopted by loving parents and having a normal rest of your life.
Each house that took you in after you came to the realization that you’d never live in a happy family got treated poorly by your pessimism. You were slow to accept affection of any sort, and you refused to call your new parents by anything other than Mr. and Mrs.
They didn’t generally take too kindly to that, grew frustrated, and returned you to the orphanage you lived at for the majority of your life.
You sighed as you packed up your small amount of things once more to live in yet another house for just a few more days before coming back, unpacking, and starting the cycle over again. Chances didn’t look good, as you were being adopted by a single man who had raised two brothers from the orphanage then decided he missed having kids in his home and sought to adopt another again. You wondered for a moment why he was taking in an older kid, but brushed it off. He wouldn’t last long.
Romulus Vargas. Cheerful, experienced, middle aged, single father. He wouldn’t last a month.
Your first night at his modest house was decorated by his visiting sons, both very colorful in their own ways. Feliciano was loud and cheerful, very similar to his father. His twin, Lovino was rude, brash, and slow to accept you as part of his family. Fine. Not like you would call him brother any time soon.
But you still felt the crushing weight of loneliness when the twins left. Sitting in your new room, you wondered how long you were going to last in this new home. Whether or not the Vargas’s would grow sick of you in a week, a month, a day. You hoped it’d be sooner rather than later. It was always harder the longer you stayed at a particular home.
You fell asleep thinking those awful thoughts and trying not to cry yourself to sleep. You had done that too much in the past couple of years, there was no need to start off at a new house with the same bad habit.
Waking up was surprisingly lonely. There were no other children in the room with you and the curtains were pulled tight over your window. Pressing your lips together, you squeezed your eyes tighter shut and tried to will yourself asleep. Your dreams tended to be better off than whatever hell you were living in. But someone came into the room, keeping you from slipping quietly back into your unconscious.
The curtains were pulled back from the window, allowing the golden-green light of the world outside to drift in through your window. You felt a weight on the side of your bed and shifted away from it. No good morning’s from you. Not for a day-long parent. He touched your shoulder in a quiet attempt to stir you.
“When your ready, breakfast is ready in the kitchen. You can wake up whenever you’d like.”
Keeping your eyes tightly shut, you tried not to give up your act. You could eat, though.
After about half an hour of moping about in the bed you were placed in the night before, you decided it was probably time for you to get something to eat. If you were lucky, Romulus had already eaten and would leave you to eat on your own.
Licking your lips, you crept from your room to the kitchen. It was still where you remembered it being from the tour last night. Sitting on the counter was a plate of fresh fruit and yoghurt. An empty glass stood next to it and you knew that if you opened the fridge there’d be pulpless orange juice, grape juice, and a pitcher of water. You opted for water from the sink. You could hear Romulus snoring in the living room.
Nervously, you picked up the plate and the glass and made your way back into your room. You weren’t stopped.
After you had picked at the fruit and eaten a couple bites of the yoghurt, you swallowed the rest of your water and tried to figure out the chances of you being stopped on your way back out. Rolling your shoulders, you stood quietly by the door for a moment before pushing it out and making your way quickly back to the kitchen. You left the dishes in the sink and were debating whether or not it’d be rude to not clean them when you heard a noise from the living room.
Startled and not wanting to face your new parent, you turned to leave, but saw him standing in the entryway. He glanced at the dishes behind you, then smiled. It was warm and soft and you wanted to get away from it. He had in own plate in hand and nodded out to the living room. “If you’d like to watch TV or something, I’ll be in here for a bit.”
You felt your cheeks grow warm and lowered your eyes. “No thanks,” was all you said. The imposing man was still blocking the entrance.
He nodded again, though it was a bit absentminded. “That’s fair,” he agreed, then stepped aside, giving you clear exit before he even tried to take a step forward. You didn’t move.
“Could I help?” you asked, and Romulus seemed to snap back to attention. You licked your lips. “With the dishes? Can I help?”
A warm, friendly smile spread across his tanned face and made you a bit uncomfortable. Parents who were too nice at the start tended to lose patience early on. “That’d be nice,” he answered, nodding his head again. You pressed your lips together and held your tongue, scrubbing the dishes before you could think too long about your track record and how long you’d be lasting here.
Romulus was still drying a plate when you had finished washing everything, so you took the chance to escape back to your room and swing the door shut behind you. You could at least rely on the man to respect your privacy. He did, however, knock a few hours later. You had been caught up in the online world, your phone screen providing a much needed escape from your own reality.
The knock was gentle and quiet and it wasn’t until it repeated itself that you even knew it had happened. From behind the door, you heard the voice of Romulus clearly, much less quiet than the knock. It was his speaking voice, but it seemed very loud in the quiet of your room. Maybe he was a loud person- you didn’t really pay that much attention. You knew that when he had a glass of wine with his older sons he had gotten significantly less controlled in his volume, but maybe he was always that loud.
Regardless, he spoke casually. “I’m heading out for a bit; do you need anything?”
You didn’t respond.
He called out your name, nudging your door slightly open.
Glancing up at the man, you shook your head. “No,” you answered simply, “Thank you.”
“Do you want to come with?”
Licking your lips, you honestly considered the idea for a moment, then shook your head.
He came back much later and called through the house that he had brought hack stuff to make sandwiches for lunch. You didn’t leave your room- breakfast had been enough. You figured you could last until he went to bed, then sneak out for something to eat when he wouldn’t be bothered.
The hours passed slowly, but at the same time, the day flew by with nothing better to do than scroll through your phone, nap, and try and find images in the dots on the ceiling. When you finally glanced over at the clock and saw that it was near eleven o’clock, you decided to venture out into the kitchen again. Your footsteps seemed too loud in the quiet of the house, but you hoped that it was only you hearing them.
It wasn’t just you, though, because as soon as you got into the kitchen, you saw that the dark haired man was sitting at the table, two plates made, and staring at his food with a troubled expression. His chin rested on his folded hands, but he raised his head when he heard you stop.
“Evening,” he chirped.
You stayed silent.
“It’s unfortunate to say that I’m suffering from what you might call “midnight munchies”.”
“Of course, it’s not yet midnight-”
You didn’t even dare to move.
“But the point still stands.”
Because, if you moved, you might talk to him.
“Are you still hungry?”
And if you talked to him, you might get to know him.
“Or, perhaps it’s better to ask if you are hungry?”
And if you got to know him, then it would hurt that much worse when he rejected you and sent you back to the orphanage.
He called your name, and your gaze focused on him once more. Tears had welled up in your eyes, causing your vision of him to be fuzzy at best.
Saying your name again, he pushed his chair away from the table, but did not rise. “Come here, child.”
You didn’t want to. You really didn’t want to. You couldn’t.
But you did. You did, and you stepped toward him with jolted steps. And he received you with open arms. His expression was somber, though not sad. Just peaceful. You reached his side and fell into his arms. He pulled you into his lap, cradling you against his chest and holding you there while you broke down.
“I’m sorry,” you choked around a sob. “I’m sorry.”
He rubbed your back soothingly and began rocking you in his chair. “You have nothing to be sorry for, child.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“I want to have a family.”
He hushed you again. “I know; it’s alright.”
“Please don’t send me away.”
He stopped rocking, but you only held tighter to him. You were too big to be sitting in anyone’s lap, you knew that, but he held you there despite your head towering over his when you sat up straight and you feet just hardly fitting where your legs were folded.
A sigh seemed to deflate him and his warm hands were gentler on your back as they patted your sobs away, easing you into quiet hiccups, then deep, raspy breaths as you slowly calmed down.
Pulling just a bit away from you, Romulus (he hoped you would eventually call him “dad”, though he sometimes doubted it), and smiled. “I will never send you away.”
Fighting back tears a second time around, you nodded and hid your face again in his shirt.
Again, he asked you, “Are you hungry?”
Biting back your pride, you nodded. “Yeah, I am.”