Maksim did not plan to be at his family’s old farm, when the boys arrived, but there he was, hot drink between his fingers and waited on the small veranda until the minibus drove in with Laura behind the wheel. He considered lying, that he’d been sure they’d arrived on the wrong day, but he knew she would have never bought it. Besides, if he lied now, he wouldn’t be able to hide it as he’d learned their schedule by heat as if his life depended on it. His eagerness would give him away, the jibes running through his body and the spark in his eyes he’d observed the past few weeks in the mirror. It had been long time since something exited him so.
She noticed him before others and he observed her thick curvy eyebrows draw closer to her nose as she parked the vehicle on the dusty patch in front of the house. Urmas appeared next to him out of nowhere and waved to the punch of eager heads popping out between the seats.
God, they really were small! He knew well what kids between five and eleven would look like thanks to the playgrounds situated in the park across his office, but seeing them this close, they really seemed small to him.
He wasn’t sure she welcomed seeing him there now. Maybe it would have been better if he’d stayed home.
“Hi!” Her response was warm and even if she had seem a bit insecure seeing him there at first, she wasn’t putting it on display. She got out and slammed the driver’s door closed. “Sorry, Anton’s bus was late, went out from the heat.”
The older boys had all been given special permission to travel alone on the bus after the nannies from the orphanages had put them on the bus from their end and she’d signed the papers that she’d collect them straight from there after they arrived. It must have been quite a site to watch seven boys all gather around the minibus and the lady waiting for them. Sandlewoods station wasn’t the smallest around, but it sure would gather attention.
She opened the door and let out a hoard of very shy boys, demanded immediately they took in their own luggage and grabbed a large grate herself full of vegetables and flours, which she then exemplary brought in. Urmas ran to her half way and took it from her. She immediately went for the next box and Maksim grunted, leaving his coffee on the edge of veranda and went to help. When he turned, his hands full, the first thing he saw was his big yellow cup face down on the grass under where he’d left him and a 10-year-old quickly checking what he’d knocked over before continuing his root to the kitchen. She was going ahead of him and he saw her take it up as if it was the most normal thing and also continue her road inside. So he was left with no other choice, but to also go inside, where he was already treated with her loud voice explaining where the toilets were, where to wash, where to find first aid kit and where the living room was.
“I didn’t expect you to be here, mister Belyakov.” She said quietly, when the boys had turned their attention to the food in the boxes.
“I was passing through,” he said, but it didn’t rang true.
Her sudden laughter was heartwarming and he felt the stiffness he’d carried around all morning, sooth away. “Good! Then I’ll introduce you to my boys!” She called them in with a quick whistle. “Roundplay!”
Moment later all the eyes were on Maksim and the stiffness returned with vengeance. “This is Maksim Belyakov! With Urmas he is the king of the woods here and whatever he says is the law, got it?”
“Those grownups keeps showing up in hoards!” A tall thin boy whined and examined him with distrust, which was far from the weird closeness he felt for him immediately. He’d used the same word! The weirdest things that can make one happy!
Laura snorted. “No biggie! He accepted you lot, didn’t he? That itself is proof of his immaturity!”
Maksim coughed from the heated water that was suddenly in the wrong tube, not agreeing at all.
“Sorry,” she whispered, patting him on his back as the laughing was in full swing. “They’ll listen to you now.”
“Really?” That was an odd honor and horrifying idea all at once.
She shrugged and he felt all the joy run out of his own pride.
“I think so. Except Petro Venski, the one, who talked earlier, the whole obedience thing is foreign concept to him.” She watched the boys taking things in the fridge. “Hmm, has been for the past five years…”
He turned his head, watching her observer the boys. She was frowning on the idea, and he imagined her picking through number of people, who could be blamed for not doing their job. She pushed herself away from the counter with a sigh and he saw change in her posture from worrying nanny to a full blown older sister mode, who walked straight at the fridge and began rearranging all the groceries gathered there, explaining loudly what had gone wrong on their first try. Which ended in a row of boys from kitchen table to the fridge handing each other packages to the eldest and her and they putting them away themselves.
He was overwhelmed. In less than half an hour, he realized he’d gotten himself between a family he hadn’t had known existed and for the first time since his rebellious times at his teens, he felt out of place, a true alien in his own home. Yet, the chilling thought didn’t make him feel bad at all. Instead it felt more home than at his parent’s place had. As if the house had finally filled up the right way.