"Blimey, how much longer is it gonna be?"
The young man sitting at the end of the couch had his knees pulled to his chest, with his arms wrapped them, hugging tightly as he sighed. The dark red shorts he wore were pulled tight, exposing a set of sun-tanned legs to just above his knees. Boney feet were propped on the sofa's edge, and long toes curled over the edge of the cushion held everything in check. The large yellow, almost neon, t-shirt he wore completed his ensemble, but not without showing signs of age and stress. It was clearly oversized for his frame, as it swallowed him given his present position.
Elliot sighed again in exasperation as he looked up at the clock. As if by sheer will, he wished for once he could make the minutes go by faster. Although on the thin side and small for his age, Elliot was a youth already, well past that initial age at which the changes begin. Such an age was where all teenagers eventually transform as they enter young adulthood, some younger or older, but all without fail. In the past 6 months, his body had finally decided it had better catch up to the rest of his age group. His was at that awkward stage where some features still held a great deal of their youthfulness, but other parts had started stretching in odd proportions - hinting at the tall, lithe figure that would come. There were only two features that seemed to copy that of his father and older brother: first, a matching pair of deep blue eyes. It turned out to be a family trait except for their mother, who had eyes that were brown in color. The second similarity they also seemed to share was a head of pitch-black, fine hair.
"It shouldn't be too much longer now," called out a voice from the distance. He recognized the voice as belonging to his mother, who clearly must have heard his outcry from the kitchen. "Your father phoned at about half-past seven and said they were entering Havant then."
Elliot drew a deep breath and sighed again, this time letting his breath out more slowly as he closed his eyes. Havant, the township where his father worked, was a good half-hour drive on most days. Looking at the clock, he knew there would be at least another 10- to 15-minute wait that he would have to hold out for - and that was IF the traffic was agreeable. He was unsure why he felt as much anxiety building in him - or was it excitement? He wasn't sure how he felt about the new kid coming to live with them, as a jumble of mixed emotions caught him unexpectedly, as if on a roller coaster from one moment to the next. He heard footsteps from somewhere above and realized his older brother must have finally gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed. A brother whom, although they had their spats at times, he well respected, and for some reason wished more than anything was by his side right now.
Derek was never one for outright ignoring the feelings of, or mistreating, his younger brother. Both boys, separated by only two years in age, were surprisingly close. For the most part, they got along great - hanging out often, going places, playing games and just being a part of the family. They looked out and stood up for each other in times of need. Unlike his younger sibling, however, Derek was more carefree with living, more spontaneous and physically minded. He liked sports and being active wherever he could find something to fit into. The younger of the two was also carefree, but focused more at an academic level, preferring the strategic puzzles life had to offer. He was a thinker, more of a problem solver than most. Gaming, reading, theatre - all held an appeal very different than his older sibling. Both however, had always had time for one another, to talk and figure out the mysteries of life as only kids could understand - although Elliot had seen that becoming less and less as of late. Derek had his friends, and the direction they were moving was making it harder for the two of them to find time for one another. It was the source of an unusual sadness for the youth, and it was one he knew he could not really control.
Maybe that was the real source of his anxiety this night, Elliot thought. Perhaps somehow, he was subconsciously hoping that this new kid, whom he already knew to be almost identical in age, could become a new friend - someone he could lean on and have fun with, in Derek's absence. It had only been the week before when they both arrived home one evening, only to find a curious sight. They found their parents in the living room, waiting for them - an oddity all to itself, it seemed, due to the time of day. He and Derek had sat down and learned about this new kid for the first time.
In an odd way, it was sort of funny: Derek had said little throughout the whole tale his father told, about a young boy of 14, in the States, who had recently lost *his* father. Then, through an odd series of events, it had been discovered the boy's father was their Dad's long-lost brother. Elliot was astonished at first: they had never known any other family even existed, short of their father's sister. As the details unfolded, however, a strange sense had invaded not just him, but his brother, too. As incredible as it turned out, however, they all learned enough - and that was when they realized their lives were about to change.
What had been funny about it all, however, was Elliot's apparent surprise when he was discovering these things, but it appeared Derek had already known. His brother tried to shrug it off, but Eliot knew better. At first, his parents made the subject an open discussion, wanting to know how the boys would feel about bringing in a fifth member to the family. Temporary at first, but - if all worked out - permanent in the end. In other words, how would they feel about fostering someone from the States, someone who was family, but who would still be a stranger to them? Elliot had mixed emotions at first, but as Derek pointed out later that night, when just the two of them were alone, the decision had really, already, been made. In the end, it hadn't made any difference to Elliot - at least at first.
Elliot opened his eyes again and saw another five minutes had finally ticked away. It was, by every meaning of the phrase, now or never. The wait was excruciatingly painful to him as he sighed again. 'What could be taking them so long?' he wondered. He ran his hands down both sides of his head, threading the tips of his hair through restless fingers. He had only finished when suddenly there was a noise heard outside their door. With elation, he saw the front door finally being opened. Springing to his feet, Elliot found Derek suddenly appearing at his side, waiting with as much anticipation as his own. Through the darkness on the other side of the door, lit only by a street light several feet away, they could both make out the silhouette of their father as he turned the key in the lock.
"Mum!" The hushed whisper uttered by Derek towards the back of the flat was unnecessary, because within seconds, Natalie was already joining them. In the silence that followed, the inner door finally swung inward, its hinges creaking with a shrill cry. The light from the living room fell across the features of a pleasantly tall individual, whose smiling face greeted them as he straightened up and guided a shorter, more youthful companion inside. Closing the door tight, the man turned and both of the newcomers stared briefly at the ensemble gathered before them.
"Ah, hallo all! Um, this is our new guest. Jason, I'd like you to meet my wife Natalie, my older son Derek, and my younger son Elliot. Everyone, this is Mr. Jason Mathews."
At first, an eerie silence enveloped each of the brothers and their mother as they observed the newcomer, and he observed them likewise in return. Natalie finally broke from the trio, however, and stepped up in front of the youth. Extending her hand, she spoke lightly, but clearly. "I'm very pleased to meet you Jason," she offered with a deep, sincere smile. As the youth lightly grasped her hand in return, he nodded - his voice being lost in the moment as he studied her. His mother having been gone for years, this was the first time he had ever been so formally presented to a woman, and one who definitely saw him in a different light. To him she was beautiful, a petite attractive woman that did much in caring for her own features.
After studying the youth for merely an instant, she gently tugged the link between them. Not wanting to force the moment, she guarded his reaction and, when she met no resistance, she very slowly embraced him with a friendly, yet firm, embrace. "It's so good to finally get to meet you, you know. We've been on pins and needles waiting all week to finally meet this family we've only just begun to hear about."
After a few seconds, they separated, and Jason finally found his voice. "Thank you, ma'am. Honest, it's uh, good to find and hear about you guys, too." He turned to the brothers that had stepped forward behind their mother. "Uh, hi guys," he said sheepishly, feeling as if he should say something more, but totally at a loss for words. Both Derek and Elliot returned the greeting, smiling at him awkwardly while they shook hands. It was something Jason found strange with kids his own age, but nonetheless, he figured shaking hands was the proper thing to do.
For everyone standing in the room, it was an awkward moment. Both adults exchanged glances and hesitated, waiting to see what happened next, but none of the boys were sure what to say to one another. Finally, the older brother grunted and glanced around before turning back to their new visitor. "Uh, are you hungry? I think mum has some dinner fixed for us."
That seemed to break the ice between them. Chuckling, Simon piped up while he gave Natalie a quick kiss on the cheek. "Spoken like a true teenager, always thinking with their stomach it seems!" He then glanced down at Jason. "Hmm, seems I've succumbed to that observation already one once tonight, doesn't it?" He grinned and shook his own head, much to both the confusion and amusement of the others. It was Natalie who broke that moment however, as she smiled at all of them and ushered the brothers to set the table while she disappeared to collect the food.
Simon sighed deeply before turning and locking the door behind him. It gave Jason a short moment to take in his surroundings. The room was small by most standards compared to where he came from. Perhaps twenty feet wide by thirty feet deep, it combined both a family room on one half, in the rear, and a dining room filled the other front of the flat. It was tastefully decorated with recessed lighting throughout the ceiling, except for a short dining lamp that hung centered over a normal, oak-finished dining table. The table, though not overly large, was capable of seating six or more people pleasantly. Against the far wall stood a series of cabinets, fashioned to provide various types of storage it seemed - including fine china and linens. Looking beyond the dining area, two smaller sofas, more like love seats as Jason knew them, adorned the far area of the room. Hanging from the wall opposite, a widescreen LCD TV filled the space, with an entertainment center beneath it. Jason observed various electronic components, including both an Xbox 360 and a Sony PlayStation with several games. Magazine racks, end tables, a wine-rack in one corner, and other various items gave the place an impression of warmth.
Jason only noted the room in particular because of how it contrasted to the outside of the building. As he and Simon had approached closer to "home", they traveled deep into the lights of an English city. Part of the various streets along the route were no different from what Jason had already seen or experienced in other cities. However, when they turned down a stone pathway at one point and left the paved street behind, the surroundings drastically changed from that of storefronts and shops. Residences stretched out on both sides of the narrow street were totally unlike the places he had been used to in America. Here, many of these two-story "flats" - as Simon had called them - were all joined together into long rows of buildings side-by-side. That in itself wasn't bad, but Jason noted how aged everything looked by then, as if some of them had been built a hundred years ago or more. Aside from an occasional side-street separating the buildings, each stretch of housing was composed of both stone and whitewashed sides. Those sections facing the streets looked to be very run-down, almost dirty in places - at least from what he could tell in the waning darkness.
Although Jason had never lived anywhere posh or even moderately wealthy in the States, he had an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach that grew steadily. He glanced at Simon and noticed the man was wearing nothing special insofar as his clothes, although they admittedly did look clean and well cared for. The car in which they rode was nothing special, at least by American standards. Could it be these people were a lower-class income family? The class itself would not bother Jason in the slightest, but if that were to be the case, he did feel that a certain reluctance to impose on them might be warranted. Simon and his wife, and two sons, plus himself would make five mouths to feed. Maybe it might have been a better idea to reconsider this arrangement, before it had been made.
As if sensing his thoughts, Simon reached out and put a hand on the youth's shoulder. "Don't judge us too quickly by what you see here, hmm? Give us a fair chance first - you might be surprised." Jason gulped, immediately feeling guilty for having had his feelings so plainly displayed. Looking sheepish, he turned his head back toward the street, thinking about their arrival. He remembered how Simon had found a parking space and quickly zipped the vehicle in place. It was several doors away it seemed, and while they had walked along, the older man explained that the street, like many in the township, was indeed an old passageway that had been converted over the years. Most streets near the waterfront were similar in that section of town, he explained, although it varied in others. Simon also showed Jason each of the various flats as they walked along, and how to tell one apart from the other. Although most had plain entrances that opened to the street, some had small, mini-fronts to them, perhaps 6- to 8-feet in depth. He guessed having that parcel of territory, separating each from the cars parked along the street, was clearly better than none.
As they had arrived at their destination, Jason recalled being surprised to see the Flavells' entry was among the few that had a patch of grass growing in front, creating a mini-courtyard. He thought it looked nice by comparison, as he also noted the number above the door. This would, in all effect, become his new address, so he made a point to try remembering it early on.
As bleak as the street and outdoors looked to him then, Jason began to feel better once he stepped through the doorway into the large, front room. Inside, the tasteful hunter-green walls, trimmed in white and beige facings, and other various decorations - especially with a multitude of family pictures hanging on the adorning walls - made the place appear much more inviting. He had placed his backpack out of the way near the door, and moved to the table where, as Natalie set down several bowls of steaming food, he was invited to sit. Amazingly, with the boys' assistance, the table was quickly spread with dishes that both looked familiar and new to the American. When everything was in order, they all sat down as a family.
Both Derek and Elliot, who had surprisingly said little thus far, waited patiently until their parents were settled in. Natalie then began by passing each of the various dishes around, starting with Jason. "I tried to prepare a mix of dishes Jason, hoping you'd find something you will like amongst them."
"Thanks ma'am, I mean, I'm sure they are all fine," the teen replied shyly.
It was a little unusual, as the food seemed "normal" to him - not that he had expected it to be any less. Being courteous, he extracted a small portion of each onto his plate, although he watched as the other teenagers took considerably larger amounts of their own. When a plate of what looked like breaded chicken tenders passed by, Natalie leaned in to whisper: "Take what you want, I promise there is plenty more to share." Her smile disarmed him, and obeying the growl of his stomach, he did begin taking a larger portion for himself. When each person had filled their plate, they began digging in. At first Jason tentatively sampled the dishes, but ultimately was amazed at the flavors - so much so he began eating hungrily. It pleased both Simon and Natalie to see the young teen take to the food with as much gusto as their own boys.
After a time, Simon cleared his throat. "Well boys, what have you two planned for tomorrow, hmm? I know it's Saturday, but there are supposed to be some rather strong storms in the area, and I hear a bit of wind as well."
After a quick glance between themselves, it was Derek who answered first. "I'm supposed to go with the team up to Highlands Arena north of Portchester. It's a sort of indoor facility where local teams can come in to practice. See, I play on a football team, sponsored by our school," he explained to Jason, before looking up at his father. "If it's alright with you and Mum, Tom Elums is supposed to pick me up early in the morning and some of the guys are going to hang out afterwards, although I really don't know how long we'll be. My guess is we should be back sometime late in the afternoon."
Natalie looked up from her plate. "I guess it's okay with me, but I had hoped you might help get Jason settled in somewhat. You know, spend some time with him. Perhaps he and Elliot could go with you?"
Derek shook his head. "Sorry mum, but I don't really think there would be much room, and I understand the facility doesn't really have any seats. I think it would be a terribly boring day for them there, actually. And afterwards, well..." Looking at his father, he continued. "Besides, you know how the guys can get after a long practice, and I have no real idea what they'll be planning." He turned to Jason. "I don't want to seem standoffish or anything, but I really am trying to think somewhat on your behalf. My friends are not a bad sort, really, but they can have a little too much fun sometimes if they're not careful."
"I don't know, maybe you shouldn't be staying with them afterwards then," Natalie spoke up with a frown.
"Well, I could leave afterwards Mum, but then someone would have to pick me up. Honest though, I'll be fine - you know me, I can hold my ground pretty well!" Derek responded, then watched both of his parents carefully, obviously awaiting their thoughts.
Natalie sighed then slowly nodded, and Simon gave his son a grim smile in agreement, causing the older brother to inwardly sigh with relief. Turning to their new guest, Derek offered cautiously. "I honestly do think you and El would get along tomorrow better, for your first day and all that."
Jason shrugged. "It's fine. I don't really want to get in anyone's way."
Simon thought that was an odd observation. "Get in the way? Why on Earth ... You will not get in anyone's way round here, trust me young man." He studied for a moment. "I, too, think your right son, we had better make other plans for this occasion. What about you Elliot, what might you like to do tomorrow?"
Elliot squirmed in his seat slightly before he shrugged. The boy had yet to speak since Jason's arrival, at least beyond the normal pleasantries thus far. As Jason observed the youth on the other side of the table, he felt an uneasiness in the soul that was greeting him back. Jason wondered if the youth had been avoiding him, but as the silence droned on Simon and Natalie exchanged glances before the man cleared his throat. "It's unlike you to be so silent Elliot, anything wrong over there?" When the boy shook his head no, he reached for his glass of milk and tried to ignore the fact that both of his parents were scrutinizing him closely.
"Well, I for one think we should get Jason out and show him around some of the city, storms or no. Don't you have a game going in the morning, son?" Natalie addressed her youngest son.
"Um, yeah mum." Looking down at his plate, he knew what was coming, so he figured he might as well continue. "I guess he could come with me for a while." The two teens made eye contact, but Jason found the other younger brother to be unreadable. Elliot on the other hand, pressed on. "You ever hear of Warhammer?" When Jason slowly shook his head, Elliot grunted and looked away, mumbling. "I'm not surprised."
Simon could not help but feel confused by this attitude, and the eerie silence that developed afterwards. He was about to speak up when he felt Natalie, reaching under the table, touch him on the leg. Glancing at her, he detected a barely perceptible shake of her head, warning him to let it drop for the moment. They had learned many times over the years how to read one another, so after pretending to think it over, he finally sighed and addressed the group. "Well, I think afterwards we should probably make our way up to ASDA." He motioned toward the pack near the door. "I'm afraid our new young charge has a limited wardrobe of sorts, so I'm sure he could use a few more items to bear."
Natalie frowned in surprise. "You mean, that's all he has with him?" Without waiting for a reply, she addressed Jason directly. "I say Jason, where are your belongings? Do you have more being shipped over or...?"
Jason, clearly embarrassed, slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry but, um, that's all there is." Seeing the confusion and curiosity in all of their faces, he hastily continued. "I've never really had much with me since Dad... since Dad..." He couldn't bring himself to say it - now of all times. For months since his father's death, he had never had any problems talking about it before. Now, however, he looked deep into Simon's eyes and realized his father had had a brother, one he had never known about. Not just a brother, but a family as well - one which he had missed out on all his life. For whatever reason, Jason began to feel overwhelmed and it only served to deepen his embarrassment.
Simon saw this and spoke softly as the others looked on. "It's quite all right, nothing amiss there Jason, we understand perfectly. We'll take stock of what you have at some time later, and then tomorrow we'll just go on a little shopping trip. Perhaps we'll even dine out and celebrate a little. Mind you right now we may not have a lot to spare, at the moment, as I've just paid out some rather large premiums for things around here. Nevertheless, we'll get you by until I can rebuild our funds again. Certainly, we'll make sure you have what you need." His intent had been to ease the boy out of the conversational corner he had steered himself into, but as the silence dragged on, he could see it wasn't having the desired effect. He was about to speak again when, surprisingly, Elliot broke in.
"He can share some of my clothes and stuff Dad, if you need. I've got plenty, and we look pretty close to the same size," the younger brother offered.
Not only was Simon surprised, but so was their new guest. Jason peered at Elliot in a different light and thought maybe the facade had broken. No longer was the youth's face covered with an unreadable mask. In its place now, Jason saw a youth who at first relaxed and then greeted him with a warmer smile. With his whole demeanor changed, Jason began to feel better about what he was getting himself into with the other kid. Maybe the younger brother was alright, after all.
"That's rather nice of you Elliot, we might just have to do that for a few weeks," his mother stated, exchanging a knowing glance with her husband. She knew they were not that put off at the moment, but she saw this as a way her youngest son was trying to not only fit in and help out, but also break the ice of the moment. "Well, if we're all finished here, are you too stuffed or is there anyone up for some banana split cake?" A resounding chorus from Simon and the two Flavell teens met her words with such a cry she laughed. Observing them, Jason smiled. It had been a long time since he had ever sat at such a friendly table of people.
And a long time since he had felt like anything except a place filler within somebody else's family.
They talked amongst themselves for a good part of the evening, the family bombarding their new charge with questions about general life in America. Natalie subtly focused more on discovering the things he liked or found interest in, using strategic moments to ask about foods, TV shows, movies and more. Jason was thankful the conversation didn't approach his immediate past, but instead focused earlier. Simon was particularly interested in learning what he could about his brother, at which Jason somehow felt inadequate in his ability to convey enough. He knew the man as his father - an aspect unlike anything else. He actually felt sorry for the older man here, because he recognized that sincere thirst for information. It just wasn't something Jason could fulfill beyond a certain point, however, and Simon eventually recognized it.
After a while, Jason stifled an involuntary yawn and, although it was getting late locally, he was surprised at how he suddenly felt so tired. Looking at a nearby clock, he reasoned it was only the middle of the afternoon where he had come from. Although he had to admit, getting up and heading to the airport at 3:30 in the morning had made it a long day. Simon watched the youth and eventually leaned back in his chair.
"Tell you what boys," he began, nodding in the direction of Derek and Elliot. "I'm sure that a ten-hour flight, plus a two-hour drive through the country and who knows how long in layovers and customs - it has all probably taken a pretty big toll on our guest here." Smiling at Jason, he swept forward and placed his elbows on the table observing the youth. "Why don't we let the boys get you settled away for the night, hmm? Tomorrow will be a new day, and so will the next and the next. If the weather clears, we'll even all take an outing Sunday and show you part of Portsmouth here. We're probably in a stranger bit of land here than what you've been used to, but that does not mean it is lacking in adventure and exciting places to be and see - even for young teen-aged boys. We'll just take things one day at a time and work it out from there. What do you say?"
Jason smiled back at the older man as the others looked on. "I can do that sir," he replied, to which both of the Flavell teens snickered. Simon look down upon them and then swatted the nearest.
"Well, SOME people have a sense of properness, you know! Maybe I should start teaching you guys to call me SIR every once in a while!"
Both boys laughed hard as they got up, picking up their dishes. "Don't count on it, DAD!" quipped Derek as he headed towards the hallway. He paused in the doorway, however, looking back over Elliot's shoulder as his younger brother caught up. "You want to check out the flat here?" he asked as Jason stood and collected his dishes.
"Sure, I guess," he replied, looking first at Simon then back at the two brothers. Carefully carrying his items, he followed both brothers down what turned out to be an extended hall that opened into the back of the flat. They passed what looked to be a small sitting room and a set of stairs leading up, and Jason figured they would be returning there at some point. Pausing only briefly, he then glanced forward and had to rush to keep up with the two brothers. Coming to the end, they all entered into one of the smallest kitchens Jason believed he had ever seen. Following and placing his dishes into the sink like the others had, he turned around to observe his surroundings more closely.
"Uh, yeah, this is the kitchen. Kind of cramped, but Mum and Dad make it work pretty well," Derek offered. Cramped and compact, yes, but Jason also noted the room was well organized, and that it still held the basic stove and refrigerator like any other place he had been. There was even a foldout island for making preparation space, which Elliot was neatly pushing out of sight just then.
The only thing that looked out of place to Jason was a metal, white box that hung along the back wall. Although not new looking, it wasn't showing any signs of rust or age; it did however, look rather menacing as it clearly differed from any of the other items in the room. "What's that?"
"THAT is the water heater," Natalie replied coming up behind them. "I imagine in the States you're used to seeing water heaters with big tanks, right? We have those over here too, but several places, like here, are limited for space. So, instead, we have tankless water heaters. You see, it only heats the water we need, when we need it, all at once. It saves on energy costs - or is supposed to anyway. Of course, it also saves us a lot of space." "Oh," Jason replied, not sure what to make of that. He saw a door next to it leading into another room. He turned to the brothers and it was Derek who again stepped forward and opened it, leading the others inside.
"This is our 'loo'. Dad just recently finished remodeling it. It used to be cramped as well, but he built an extension into the backyard about ten feet or so, and voilà - well, now you can see."
Upon hearing the word loo, Jason was at first confused until he saw the toilet, sink and other amenities. Comprehension dawned on him as he also observed what looked to be a new shower with glass walls. It appeared to be gigantic compared to the rest of the furnishings in the room, easily one of the biggest showers he had ever seen, tucked away in a corner. The room, accented in blue, was clean, dry and comfortable, however, and like the front room, tastefully decorated. "This is mostly for us three, Mum and Dad have their own loo upstairs above us," Derek commented. Jason nodded and followed the boys as they made their way out and back through the kitchen to the stairs he had noted earlier. It was then Elliot spoke for the first time as they neared the stairway.
"Uh, not really much of anything to see here, kind of just a place Dad uses to unwind sometimes. Especially in the evenings if we're playing games or stuff on the TV." Glancing at his older brother, he gestured to Jason. "Come on up."
At the top of the stairs was another narrow hallway that extended in both directions. Thick, soft carpet met their feet, as well as a fresh pine scent that hung in the air as they reached the top. Around the stairwell was a tight space filled with a series of bookshelves and a roll-topped writing desk. Although the room was windowless, Jason noted that above the desk was a skylight that looked out into the night's darkened sky. As he glanced toward the rear of the flat, Derek explained. "Back there is Mum and Dad's room, and up here are ours." They turned and walked toward the front, pausing at a side door leading into another bedroom. Derek pushed the door ajar and as the three stepped inside, Jason was taken aback again by the cramped size of the windowless room. It was certainly larger than some rooms he had stayed in in the past, but it's size was still relatively small. The only furnishings were an oversized twin bed, a chest and nightstand. At one corner opposite, there stood a sliding door, leading to where Jason presumed a closet must reside. Right at that moment, however, it was mostly blocked because of a set of boxes stacked in front. A final detail Jason noted was, like the library space at the top of the stairs, this room also had a skylight recessed upwards into the ceiling.
"Um, sorry about the mess, I haven't had time to get moved in properly just yet," Derek offered, clearly embarrassed.
Jason, however, was confused. "Moved in?"
Elliot cleared his throat. "Um, yeah, this used to be my room, but we switched." Seeing their new charge trying to work out what he was saying, he gently reached out and pulled on him by his elbow. Guiding him back into the hall, he explained, "Come on, you'll understand when you see our room." With Elliot leading the way, the other boys followed him into the last room, where they opened the door and flipped on an overhead light.
The first thing Jason noted was that the space was certainly larger than the room they just exited. It was also finished in a rust-reddish color of sorts, with thick and well-padded carpeting adorning the floor. There was a throw rug stretched by the door, and it currently contained a collection of shoes, presumably belonging to Elliot. A queen-sized bed stood in the farthest corner to the right, pushed up tightly against the wall. Its position created a semblance of more floor space in the middle, which overall helped alleviate the tightness of the room. Above the bed was a window, shaded and draped with white-laced curtains, which overlooked the entrance to the flat below. Like Derek's room, there was a chest and nightstand here. Rounding out the furniture was also a reasonably sized desk, presently topped with what appeared to be various schoolbooks. Compared to the older teen's space, the room was definitely larger, and it did not go unnoticed by the newcomer as he turned to face the brothers.
"Y-you traded? I mean-" He paused, afraid to say anything that might seem rude.
Derek shoved both hands into the pockets of his jeans and responded with a shrug of his shoulders. "Well, there's two of you and one of me, and Mum and Dad figured you would, you know, be more comfortable sleeping with Elliot than you would with me, see." When comprehension finally dawned on Jason, the older brother added. "I mean, sorry but we just don't have a lot of room, as you can see, and well..."
Jason looked around again, and then glanced back at the unreadable faces that met him. He knew something was being sacrificed for his sake here, and he was NOT going to be selfish about it in any way, shape or form. "I'm s-sorry guys, I didn't mean it in a bad way, I was, just - you know -" He hesitated and then looked around the room again. "I can't believe you gave this up though, not because of me anyways!"
"Hey now, you bloke!" Elliot exclaimed. "I'm getting the better end of the deal too, you know! Knock it off before he changes his mind!" He was grinning widely and Jason could see the amusement in him as he stepped around to face their new charge. His next words, however, were spoken nervously. "You understand though, right? We can't get two beds in here, but this bed ... it is still pretty big, right?"
The statement lingered long enough that Jason could sense the unspoken question. He nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay with it, it's cool," he replied.
Derek grinned, crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe. "See? I told you it would be alright!" He cast an amused expression toward Jason. "Beware though, you might not think it's that cool once you hear the rat snore at night! Or when he lets the gas rip!" All three laughed, at which point Elliot picked up a pillow and threw it at his brother. Just then, both Natalie and Simon appeared at the entrance to the room.
"What do you think Jason, hmm? Can you and Elliot make do in here?" Simon asked as he stepped inside and sat down on the corner of the bed. Like the other room, Jason noted the various boxes and articles that lay about. Although unlike his brother, it appeared Elliot had already been hard at work putting some of his things in order.
Simon looked up at the young teen and studied him. "Now, we won't make a big deal out of it, but you've seen space here is at a premium at best. The flat is a small place, but I think as you get around England and see different parts, you'll notice that most houses are rather compact compared to America. At least, that's what I came away with when I visited your country. Things there are more spacious I think, and less claustrophobic. Mind you, there are some places here in England that exceed the norm, but for the most part, I think you'll get the idea. It's been that way for decades, practically centuries, so we English don't think much of it. At least, I believe, as much as you probably would. I mean, take this room for example - I'm sure you're probably used to having a room to yourself. Here, we probably COULD get a couple of beds in here, but to do that would give the both of you practically no space for anything else. At least this way... you get the idea, right?"
"Yes sir, that's okay-" Jason started to reply but hesitated. Natalie smiled at him as she maneuvered herself into the room and sat down next to her husband.
"It's more than just sharing a room, though. You see, we all talked about this quite a bit, and we thought maybe this would be for the better, at least for the time being. We could have put the two brothers in here, we know that, or just let you share with Derek. The thing is though, you and Elliot are practically the same age, and there are a lot of things you'll have to get used to around here. Simon and I thought maybe having someone to sort of help you work through it, like him, might not be such a bad idea. That is, if you're okay sleeping together like this. Thank God, the two of you," Natalie nodded, indicating Elliot, "are about the same size as well. We're not trying to put you two in some chummy situation or anything, mind you. It's just - well, with Derek being the oldest, we didn't really want to take away his right to have his own room, and-"
"Honest, Mr. and Mrs. Flavell, I understand, and it's okay. I've-" Jason hesitated for only a second before continuing. "I've never really had anyone to share a room with, not like this before. But if Elliot is okay with it, I'm sure I will be too." He looked at the woman suddenly, a keen expression crossing his features. "Uh, you are, like, I mean - Mrs. Flavell? or...?"
Both of the adults laughed aloud at that while Simon leaned close to his wife's ear. "I think he is brighter than some at picking up on certain things."
Natalie giggled, then took Jason by the hand and held it, and his eyes, with sincerity. "Jason, call me whatever feels comfortable to you. Yes, I took Simon's last name, as have the boys. By right - he is, truly, their father. As for me, I take it Simon explained his situation?" When the youth nodded, she smiled. "All is good, trust us. The papers may not be filed, but it is only a piece of paper in the eyes of the law. We've been together for 18 years and still going strong. Or, so I think-" she leaned back, giving her husband a very pointed look, daring him to contradict her.
Simon laughed and poked her in the ribs. "Just don't try to force any more of your porridge on me and we'll make it another 18 plus more!" He glanced up at Jason and winked. "You might want to avoid it, too! AAHHHHH!!!!" Natalie had swatted him playfully before standing up and pulling her husband up with her.
"You men!" she exclaimed, half dragging the man from the room. Glancing back, she winked at the three boys before they disappeared through the doorway. Standing alone, the three of them stared at one another in an awkward silence, until Jason sat down in the space now vacated by Simon.
"I... I don't know what to say guys, just - thanks." He observed as Derek grunted and then stood to his feet. Wordlessly the older brother saluted and then left them alone, presumably to return to his own room. Elliot walked over and sat down by Jason, turning to observe him up close. It was the first moment the two of them had found themselves alone.
"You know, I guess the blokes are right, we are a lot alike," Elliot offered nonchalantly. Although he might have an inch or more on the American, both were roughly the same height and build. They both also sported the same color hair, although styled differently. Elliot noted in a funny sort of way that they both also had other similar characteristics that made them look alike. He gazed into Jason's eyes. "I think that's sort of eerie though, in an odd sort of way."
"What?" Jason asked.
"We have the same color eyes, I think. Haven't you noticed?" Elliot observed.
Slowly Jason nodded. "Yeah, I noticed downstairs." They stared at one another for some time before Elliot giggled. "What?" Jason asked.
"It's nothing, honest. I'm just - well, just taking you in I guess. I mean, you're - how do I say it? You're - here."
Jason nodded. He was warming up to this teen. "It's like, to me, some kind of strange fairy tale, or a dream even, or something."
"I can figure that much out, yeah. Was it bad before?" Elliot probed gently. His parents had warned both brothers to forego and be patient with certain topics of conversation, but he could not help it. Immediately afterwards, however, he regretted having let it slip. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."
"No, it's okay," was Jason's quick reply. He looked around the room once again. "Yeah, I guess it was." It was all he offered, but it was enough to make Elliot nod. The two exchanged another glance at each other before Elliot nodded toward the head of the bed.
"Um, which side do you want?"
Jason studied it for a second. "Um, either one is okay. What side, I mean, which...?"
Elliot laughed. "Derek and I both had big twin beds before. Dad put one in storage and bought this bed for you and me just this week."
Jason looked down at his feet. "I wish I wasn't, you know, imposing on you guys so much. I mean, you seem to be going to a lot of trouble for me and everything." He looked up. "Your folks, they're really nice people. All of you are, I didn't mean just them."
Again, Elliot laughed at him. "You worry too much, no offense taken. You're right though, Mum and Dad are really great. They give Derek and me all the privacy we want, and they're always there for us." He sniffed before he continued. "You'll really like them, I think. For the most, part Dad's a pretty cool dude for a grown-up. Mum, well, she's Mum." He shrugged and then stood up. "Tell you what; let's start out for a couple of nights with you on the inside. You know, up against the window. We'll see how you like it. Then if you want, we'll change again and try the other side out, before we get too used to them altogether."
Jason stood as well. "Okay, sounds fair." He looked around. "I'll go get my pack and-"
"No need," a voice answered from the doorway as Derek walked in carrying the backpack. "Mum sent this up with me," he explained before sitting it on the bed and exiting the room again. Jason reached out and unzipped the top, where several pairs of briefs immediately fell and rolled onto the bed. He reached out to collect them, unsure whether to be embarrassed or not, but Elliot giggled and helped him. "Here, let me show you where you can put your stuff." He helped Jason gather several pairs and then walked over to the chest, pulling out the top drawer.
"Um, since the drawers are kind of big, I thought maybe we could split them half and half for a while. You know, I'll keep my stuff on the left and you can have the right." Glancing at the closet, he nodded. "You should get about half the wardrobe too, when everything is sorted out."
It was all stated with such a wide grin and friendliness that it became infectious with Jason. He noted the use of wardrobe being what he called a closet, and smiled inwardly, figuring he was going to find a lot of interchangeable terms while living here. He finally returned the smile before he shrugged. "Sure, I guess. I mean, I don't have much anyways, but I promise I'll stay out of your stuff as much as I can."
"I'm not worried about that," Elliot replied. Turning around, both boys emptied the contents of the pack into the other drawers of the chest and closet. Elliot whistled as they were finishing. "Oh man, Mum was right - you DON'T have very much in the way of anything! More underwear than anything else!" He opened the other sliding door of the closet and showed Jason his own belongings, which were fairly impressive for the teen.
"I know, I mean, I used to have more, but, well - I've always managed okay," Jason replied.
"Well, don't worry, give Mum and Dad a few weeks or so and it'll be different," replied Elliot as he closed the doors. He indicated the rug by the entrance. "I usually just keep my shoes here, kind of works out pretty nice as they don't get mixed up with Derek's or anyone else's. You can, too, if you want."
Jason understood and thus walked over and removed both of his shoes. An odor immediately drifted upwards, causing him to make a face. "Ugh." With a grimace, he lifted both feet and peeled his socks off as well. "Sorry, uh, I don't usually smell like this, but -" He stopped as a pillow hit him upside of the head.
"You worry too much, take a breather!" exclaimed Elliot as he walked up. Reaching into the top drawer of his desk, he pulled out a bottle of what looked like baby powder. "Here, this helps me a lot after a long day. Ever use any?" Jason shook his head no, so Elliot gestured at him to sit on the edge of the bed again. Seeing the puzzled expression that met him, he rolled his eyes. "Come on, just do it, will ya?" Jason sat and did as he was told, and then was amazed as Elliot opened the top and sprinkled the fine powder across the top of his feet. "Just rub it in and around your toes and everything, you'll see." Jason did as he instructed as the other boy put the bottle away, and then looked up in amazement. The powder did have an extraordinary effect on his tired feet.
Elliot was pleased to see the expression of relief. "See?" Giving Jason a knowing look, he then crossed over to the chest, this time grabbing a pair of briefs from the drawer. "I'm going to go take a quick shower before I climb in for the night. You want to come?"
Jason looked at the boy, unsure whether or not he had heard correctly. Hesitating only briefly, he decided he didn't want to take a chance he had misunderstood. "Uh no, I think I just really want to lay down, if that's okay," he replied meekly, to which Elliot merely shrugged.
"Okay, I'll be back in a bit then," he said as he left the room. Jason, confused, stared after him for a moment before finally shrugging. He was sure he misunderstood the intent, but did not dwell on it for the time being. Simon had been right about one thing - for himself, it had been a very long and tiring day, full of emotional ups and downs combined with physical anxieties. Just getting from one place to another, in the span of time that had elapsed, was not unlike that of a roller coaster. In the end, he really was tired and ready to just stretch out. Removing his belt and emptying his pockets onto the desk, he hesitated only long enough to go ahead and change into another t-shirt.
Lying down, he thought back over what Simon had said earlier. It was true: for as long as he could remember, he had never shared a room with anyone, let alone a bed. He thought it was going to feel very strange to him. It was a small price to pay, however, given the world he had come from. He felt the brothers were giving up a lot - despite what Elliot had said about himself getting an "upgrade". Yet notwithstanding Elliot's strange reactions when first greeting him, all of them - the whole family - did seem to genuinely appreciate his being there. That thought made Jason smile, because he had not felt that way anywhere since his father died. To him, it seemed he was always someone else's problem - someone else's burden. These people didn't strike him that way at all, although he had only been there a few hours thus far. That went a long way toward making him want to work this out, to do his best. He WAS in a strange land, but so far, the people did not really seem all that strange to him. Talked a little funny, yeah, but heck - he probably talked a little funny to them, too.
He sighed. The alternative was too harrowing for him to consider if it didn't work out. Simon, Natalie, Derek and Elliot were all four going out of their way - all because of him. In the few short hours they had been together, he really did feel a genuine warmth from all of them, and it affected him deeply. He only hoped it was as real as it truly seemed.
If the price of that was sharing a bed with Elliot, though it might make him a little nervous, at least for a while he was willing to try.
Before long, Elliot re-entered the room wearing his long t-shirt as before, but this time with no shorts in sight. As the door closed behind him, Elliot reached up on a shelf for some reason or another and as he stretched, Jason could see the boy had only a pair of briefs on underneath. Seeing this he rolled up off the bed and sort of sheepishly addressed the younger of the brothers. "Um, do you, like, use pajamas bottoms or anything, or..."
Elliot turned to him and grinned wickedly. "Heck no, I sleep naked most of the time, don't you?" Seeing the incredulous look on Jason's face, he laughed hard and pointed at him. "You're so gullible, you know that? I was just kidding!" Sighing with relief, Jason grinned back at the youth. After Elliot settled down somewhat, he shrugged. "Um, usually just a t-shirt and my skivs. Derek too, though he mostly wears boxers or boxer shorts."
Jason nodded but hesitated, feeling awkward in the moment, so much so that Elliot took note. He turned to the new teen as they stood next to one another. "Come on now, you're not one of those shy kids, are you? I mean..."
Jason shook his head. "No, not really, just - it's kind of a new thing for me, that's all." With that, he unsnapped his jeans and let them fall to the floor. His t-shirt was not as long as that of his English friend, exposing more of the area below his waist than Elliot's did, but Jason didn't really care. As nonchalantly as possible, but still with an obvious nervousness, he climbed into the bed and moved over against the wall. Pulling the sheet over himself, he settled down. "Wow, this pillow feels pretty good!"
Elliot nodded as he also stretched out and situated himself on the bed. "Yeah, I always liked them; Derek doesn't though, he likes the beaded ones."
Unsure what that meant, Jason let the remark pass for the moment. He stared at the ceiling and noted his friend was watching him. After a moment, Elliot surprised him by speaking again, but this time in a quiet voice. "See! We have plenty of room," he offered, taking one arm and fanning the distance between them in the bed. Jason turned and for a moment, he thought he saw a curious look on the other teen's face in the shadows. If it was there, however, it melted immediately afterwards. The change was confusing, and Jason was unsure what he was seeing or feeling. He eventually chalked it up as just being tired. Nodding, he duplicated Elliot's effort, feeling the foot or so of space that was between them.
At one point, their hands met and just touched. Elliot did not pull away, and neither did he. It was a strange feeling, not exactly born of intimacy, but of - something else. Jason observed the other teen before he, too, spoke quietly. "I guess I ought to say thanks, you know, for everything. Especially to you."
"What do you mean?" Elliot asked.
"Well, you're letting me stay here, your whole family and everything," Jason responded. "And... your letting me share your room, too. I just - I think, I dunno - I just - thanks, that's all."
Elliot smiled back at him and sat up, scooting over and closing the distance between them, surprising Jason. With now only inches separating them, Elliot put up his fist and held it in the air, waiting expectantly. Relieved, Jason understood the gesture and brought his own out from underneath the covers to meet it. Knocking them gently together, Elliot grinned at him and nodded in approval.
"It's cool man, don't worry so much. I bet we'll have a lot of fun together, at least I'm hoping we will." He stared for a moment before lowering his voice to a whisper. "Look, I know you're tired, so just relax, okay? I figure you got to be scared, too. At least a little bit, because I know I would be if I were in your shoes. Hell, I'd probably be bricking it, you know, scared out of my wits! I'm just saying, you don't have to be - it really will be okay, honest. No one is going to get to you or bother you any tonight, or any other night I'm with you. I'll be here if you need me, so just - chill out for a while. If you need to get up for the bathroom or anything, just climb over me - it'll be cool, I promise. When you wake up in the morning, we'll start teaching you about Warhammer and games and anything else we want to get into." He giggled. "And quit looking at me so weird! I know, I'm pulled up close, but I'm not going to rape you or anything, promise!"
At that, Jason giggled. "I didn't think that at all," he replied, although unconvincingly.
"You wuss, yeah you did. I could see it, you prude!" was the bemused response, but Jason knew his cousin was teasing him. Elliot did lean in close though, and whisper into his ear. "Jason? Just sleep, I promise you, everything will be alright, and I mean it."
When Jason looked up into the eyes that met his own, he suddenly felt reassured. He nodded and relaxed as Elliot lingered and smiled down upon him before slowly rolling back onto his side of the bed. Carefree and relaxed as his new friend had made him, Jason almost immediately drifted off into a peaceful sleep for the rest of the night.
- + - + - + - + -
"Well, he seems like a little sweetheart, if first impressions amount to anything." Natalie soft voice carried in the stillness of the night as she lay upon her husband's bare chest, listening to his heartbeat underneath.
"He is," Simon agreed, his arms pulling her tighter. "He's smart, without doubt, but also very humble."
"There is something though, you can see it in his eyes." She said it as fact and without question, to which Simon grunted.
"I think he has been through some very rough times - perhaps more than people know or are giving him credit for. You know, before I left for the airport this afternoon, that social worker sent me an interesting e-mail."
Natalie turned her head to look into her husband's eyes. "Oh?"
"It seems they only now acknowledged that he has been rather tight-lipped lately. She alluded to his experiences with his foster-parents and the afterwards, which must have not been ideal. She suggested there may be more, but they affirmed their inability to get him to talk about it. I found it rather odd - and of course, the timing of telling us about it now." Simon grunted. "As if they were afraid we might have second thoughts or something."
"Do you think he was abused?" Before he could answer, she scoffed. "Of course, he was abused, what am I saying! There is no telling how many weeks he was living on the streets before they found him again. Something awful HAD to have happened to make a child run away like that. Especially one who seems so alert and vibrant, and courteous. I don't know, he just seems full of life, but rather subdued - and I don't believe it is all from just coming into a new family like this. There must have been something more." She paused. "It still looks like your brother really raised him well, you know?"
Simon nodded. "That he did. The man must have really changed for the better somewhere along the way. I'm very glad, to be perfectly honest. It is one of the most pleasing things, to be able to learn about him after all these years."
"You'll learn more, I'm sure of it." Natalie hesitated, and then looked up once again. "It's hard to believe he has so little with him, though. Don't you think that is strange?"
Simon nodded. "Without question, there is something wrong with that scenario. At the beginning of the week I am going to shoot off an e-mail inquiring about his belongings. Someone in the system over there must know something. As long as the boy has been in State care, if nothing else, he should have had more clothes and personal effects. What he came over with is nothing. Aside from that, consider about his belongings from the estate? What happened there? He seems to have no knowledge of it, for certain. From what I gather, my brother cared for his wife and son decently, and to do that must mean there was something handed down to the boy at least. I know there are laws to protect those situations here, and I am sure there must be similar laws in the States." He sighed. "There is so much about him that seems right, and just as much that raises more questions than gives us answers."
Natalie nodded, returning to her favorite spot, listening to the man's soft heartbeat once more. After some time, she asked quietly, "You do think he'll be alright with the boys, don't you?" It was equally as long of a silence that followed. Wondering if perhaps the man had fallen asleep or didn't hear her, she was about to let it go when he sighed.
"Without any question, he has been hurt more than we'll ever fully understand, perhaps even damaged. I just hope it isn't so deep that it can't be healed. I think if anyone can help him sort it all out, it will be Elliot. I really do feel the lad is a good kid - he just needs some time, some patience and a little nurturing from all of us. Even more so, I think he needs to feel that someone really does care about him." He rubbed his wife's back softly. "You know Elliot - he can be a little rough around the edges sometimes, but he is all heart. He has more love and empathy than any child I've ever known in my whole life. Because of that, it might just be Elliot who will be the catalyst that helps Jason heal. Seriously, you never know." He smiled as he leaned in and whispered to her. "Regardless though, yes, I think they will be just fine."
Natalie nodded. "Derek, too."
"Derek, too," Simon agreed. "Derek though is at that stage where he and his friends are taking on a different role in life, and I suspect he will have a lesser impact in the months to come. I only say Elliot will be more beneficial because both of the boys are the same age, and both are at awkward crossroads. Together they'll be trying to figure everything out for themselves, you know? And I think that is a good thing."
Natalie nodded. "I know," she whispered, before turning one last time and giving her husband a soft kiss. "I really am happy he's here, though. As rough as your brother was, from what you've told us, this kid seems to have followed none of that history. He really does seem to be sweet."
Simon smiled and hugged her tightly. "I know, dear, I know. I sense it, too."
- + - + - + - + -
Saturday arrived, with Elliot waking both groggy and unclear. As the first light of dawn was appearing, he yawned. It was true, he had retired earlier than usual the night before. In deference to their new guest, however, he had wanted to make the other boy feel as comfortable as possible. He lay awake for some time, watching the still figure beside him. The boy seemed totally relaxed in his sleep. The coolness of the room felt good to him, something he had come to appreciate in recent years, and he was glad it didn't seem to have an adverse effect on their friend. Looking past the youth, he could see out the edge of the window and the overcast sky beyond. A light rain had begun falling sometime during the overnight hours, making things seem even gloomier than common. Glancing back at the clock beside the bed, he saw surprised to see it was almost 8:30 already. Just then, he heard sounds coming from the hallway. As quietly as possible, he climbed out of the bed and slowly crept over to the door, opening it enough to see his brother was returning from downstairs. Silently slipping out of the room, he crossed over and entered the smaller bedroom as quietly as he could. Upon his arrival, his brother was facing his closet and rummaging for something inside. Elliot quietly moved and sat down at the head of the bed and, when Derek turned, the older brother nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Bollocks creep! Don't scare the shit out of me like that!" he hissed, then grinned as his brother briefly stuck out his tongue at him. The younger boy then pulled his knees up to his chest and, after a moment, Derek found and slipped on the shirt he was looking for. Moving over to sit beside his younger sibling, he spoke again in a softer tone. "Well, what do you think, especially after the first night down is over?"
Looking up, Elliot shrugged. "He seems okay, I guess."
Derek nodded. "Yeah, I know. Might take some time to really get to know him, though. For first-time around, yeah, seems to be a good chap." He pulled the edge of his shirt up and applied deodorant that had mysteriously appeared in his hand. "He is kind of cute, though, for an American of course."
"Are you kidding? And did you notice, he has the same eyes as you and me?"
"Yeah, I noticed." He hesitated, but then added as an afterthought. "He's had some rough times though, I think you can see it."
"I know, yeah. He doesn't say anything, but - it's there. You can feel it and everything."
"Just don't forget what Dad told us, about not asking certain things. You know, give him time to get used to us and all that."
"I won't, I promise. He didn't seem to mind sleeping with me though, so that's a good thing to start, right?"
Again, Derek nodded before finishing and putting his arm around the younger boy. He pulled him in close and they sat together like that for a moment. It was a sharing of profound closeness most boys, especially brothers, never experienced. Derek sensed, however, that something troubled his younger sibling. He waited patiently, knowing that when the time was right it would come out between them. This occasion was no exception, because after a moment he heard a hushed whisper. "Derek?"
"Do you think Mum and Dad are going to, like, dote on him and forget about us, you know, not forget but - you know?"
"No," Derek answered simply and quickly, pulling his brother even closer. "They'll look out for him at first, just like we all will, but eventually he'll be treated just like we are. I dunno, maybe not so special and all that - I mean, we're Mum and Dad's kids and he isn't. He'll just be more like a - a step-brother or something I think. But I do think they'll accept and treat him, and us, all the same. Does that make sense?"
"I guess so." He sighed. "I know it's a stupid question, I'm sorry I even thought about it."
"No, not stupid, but you should know better. No one is going to love you any less, including me." He smiled as the youngster glanced up and looked at him, and in that moment of seriousness, they exchanged a knowing look. "If anything, I might get jealous."
Derek laughed. "Like I said, for an American, he IS kind of cute." He giggled as his brother grabbed a pillow and threw it at him.
"Quit thinking like a prick, or..." He didn't finish, but the glance between them conveyed more. For the moment, however, Elliot let it pass, and instead leaned in and hugged his brother, whispering in his ear. "Never bro, we won't change, I promise."
Derek squeezed back. "Never say never El, just don't forget, that's all. I meant it, no one is going to love you any less." He watched as the younger boy untangled himself and got up from the bed, mouthing the word 'Thanks', to which Derek returned a wordless 'You're welcome.' As Elliot moved to leave the room, Derek reached up and pinched his brother's butt, causing Elliot to swat at him as he left, shaking his head.
- + - + - + - + -
As Jason awoke, a few moments passed before he gathered his wits about him. He had fallen into a dreamless sleep the night before, truly surprised, considering how tired he must have really been. His body felt weird, adjusting to a new time zone and schedule, but he was adapting to it surprisingly well. At least, he thought so.
Reaching out he lifted the shade and peered at the various flats across the street. However, the overcast sky did little to improve what he had feared the night before. The buildings did, indeed, look to be incredibly old and ill-maintained. The street was lined with vehicles on both sides, and he watched as a car approached and had to straddle the middle of the alley carefully. With hardly room to spare on either side, Jason could not understand how people were able to travel up and/or down the pathway at all.
The youth sighed. He had lived in the city once before, actually in the suburbs - so city life with all its noises, smells and congestion was nothing new for him. This place however, redefined those memories in a completely different light. He did note how quiet everything had been however, even as the car passed by the window and rolled onward out of sight. Old as the structures might be, they seemed to be fairly soundproof, which was a good thing. Although the outside world may have been bleak, he had to admit that inside this space, inside this "home", it was far more cheery and alive.
He let go of the shade and turned, noting that the space where Elliot had lain the night before was empty. Jason liked the boy, although at times he gave off an odd impression that made him question his perceptions of the kid. Still, the last few moments in bed the night before had eroded a lot of that uneasiness. Jason had traveled over what he felt was half the world - although he knew better the reality was nowhere near that distance - unsure of what he would find. He had heard that English kids were a frightful group, very close-minded and "stuck up", for lack of a better phrase. What he found though, not only in Elliot but that of his brother too, was very different. Here both of the brothers seemed to size the newcomer up, and then almost immediately welcomed him warmly.
He thought of Elliot a lot at that moment, secretly glad to have someone his own age that he could hang out with. As Natalie had suggested the night before, he was sure that his change and adaptation to English life was going to be - interesting. Having someone to help him along the way might be okay, as long as that someone wanted to help. Elliot gave every indication he would do just that, and a lot more. That thought made Jason smile, just as another more pressing need made itself obvious for the moment. He grunted and groggily climbed out of the bed. Finding his jeans from the night before, he slipped them on. Perhaps this family didn't think so much of walking around in their underwear, but he was still shy. Certainly, he didn't mind being around Elliot as such, but that was different. As he walked away from the bedroom, he saw coming from the other end of the hallway was Natalie, dressed in a long housecoat.
"Good morning little one!" she smiled, yawning as she approached.
"Morning, Mrs. Flavell," Jason replied, smiling back.
After ushering the youth ahead of her, she spoke as they descended the stairs. "Did you sleep well?"
"Pretty good, yeah, thanks."
"I'm glad, sometimes the street can get a little noisy out there, but most of the time it is very tame." She sniffed as they reached the bottom. "What is it you like to eat for breakfast?"
"Um, anything I guess. I mean, I usually just have cereal or something." They made their way to the kitchen.
"During the week we're much the same way, but on the weekends, I try to do a little better. Do you like eggs and bacon, perhaps a little toast?" Seeing the youth nod, she smiled. "Then so it shall be. You go ahead to the loo, then after you get out I'll have it fixed up in a jiff."
Jason could not help but giggle at her, causing her to tilt her head and raise an eyebrow. He was quickly embarrassed. "Sorry ma'am, just - you guys call it the 'loo', that's - well..."
Natalie laughed then put her arm around the boy. "No, not everyone does, I daresay the room has many names - but it seems that the boys and Simon amuse themselves from time to time. They call it that more than anything, I guess. Elsewhere they usually refer to it as the bathroom." She winked. "You may call it however you wish: the court, the bathroom, the loo - most people will understand."
"The court?" Jason asked.
"Why yes, the court," Natalie replied, laughing again. "It umm, has been described before, by many, as going to see the judge and finding out if you've been sentenced and found guilty, or if you've been placed on probation, I think. The former means you've got the trots, or 'number 2' as I think I've heard it described in your country. The latter meaning, of course, you had or have to urinate."
Jason laughed hard at that one, so much so Natalie joined in with him. "That's - that's - hilarious!" he replied and once he settled down, he gave her an admiring glance before heading toward the back doorway. "Thanks for the one-up on that one! I guess I better go find out what my sentence is."
Moments later, he exited, grinning, and at seeing the raised eyebrow, he whispered "Paroled!" before quickly exiting the room. He heard her laughter trailing him as he rushed back upstairs, just in time to see Elliot exiting his brother's bedroom.
As Jason passed, Elliot grunted at him. "Um, mother nature calls," he quipped before disappearing down the stairs. Jason continued into their room, where he stretched out on top of the covers of the bed and waited for Elliot to return. When he did, Elliot joined him by his side. "So, you ready to start your first day with the aliens?" he asked with a wide grin.
Jason rolled onto his side, facing the other boy. "You're not aliens, not to me anyway." He hesitated. "Um, do I seem that way to you? To you guys, I mean?"
"Nah, not really," Elliot replied, shaking his head. "Sorry, just trying to be funny, that's all." Elliot thought about it for a second before continuing. "You want to know the truth? I don't know what you are right now, but I'm hoping it's nothing like that. I guess you're just Jason, in one way, but - more than that too, you know?"
"Yeah, I know. You guys - have really been nice to me though. I hope I don't let you down any," Jason replied.
"That's a funny thing to say. Let us down?" Elliot rolled and propped his head up on one arm. "How do you figure you'd do that?"
"I dunno, just - I don't want to disappoint you guys, or your parents, that's all."
Elliot observed the other boy for a moment. "You won't. Just be yourself - and I promise, you'll be just fine."
Jason shook his head though. "That's what scares me a little though, because... I don't want to be an idiot about stuff or anything." When the other boy laughed, he grinned. "What?"
"You will be - get used to it. I mean, Dad talked to us the other night. There are a lot of things you'll find different over here, and some people will look at you funnily, maybe laugh sometimes or whatever. But man, it doesn't mean anyone is going to chop your head off or put you in the gallows or anything - or as you put it, think you're some kind of idiot. Believe me, the guys will know you're from the States, and they may laugh sometimes, but heck, it'll be fine. We'll help you understand and things, and maybe you'll teach us some things, too."
Jason was thunderstruck. After a moment he finally spoke. "You're cool, you know?"
Elliot grinned. "So are you. So, what say we stop the mushy, feel-sorry drama. I've got things to show you today, rain or no rain!"
"Okay, you're on," Jason replied, grinning widely.