“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” He apologized, knowing he’d overstepped his boundaries when she sucked in a sharp breath.
“You just want to get a clue, who we are.” She said with a small smile. “We make a mean punch together, huh?”
He imagined seven small branches entwining around her and he nodded. “I still would prefer you telling me about such things. I didn’t plan to be here, I know, but now I am and…” he hesitated, but there was nothing on her face to indicate he was lurking on enemy’s territory. “I’d like to be part of it, if you allow me.”
“He has HIV,” she burst out. His eyes widened and she slipped closer, setting the folder on the table. “He is being careful about it, taking his medicine, and boys all know, although they don’t understand yet and we agreed not to explain it to others before they become sexually active. He is a carrier, yes, but it’s not contagious unless you go after him with an ax.” She shrugged, trying to lighten the mood. “Fluids carry it, you know?”
“We?” He was starting to feel strange, knowing they were all orphans, but still she used the terms regarding them as one entity more than he’d ever heard in his own family while growing up.
“We, as Jevgeni and consultants at Trinity Grace and me.”
“How did you get involved in this? Don’t they usually…”
“I was the eldest kid at Trinity Grace and when he came, they needed me to understand to help him fit in. It wasn’t us, who told others, Jevgeni decided to do it himself so they wouldn’t be whispering behind his back. Now it is normal part of our lives.”
“How long has he…” His eyes fell on the folder in front of him.
She followed his gaze and sighed. She pushed it toward him. “I didn’t want to tell you earlier, because it tends to change how people see him and I don’t want you or anybody else handle him in silk gloves.”
“Kid gloves.” He corrected without thinking. “Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning to…” He gulped hard and reached for the folder. Yes, you would have, he told himself. “Could you give me a minute?” He asked, his voice far rougher than he expected it to be.
He heard the door close and he pulled the folder over the table. He hesitated, realizing suddenly that he’d expected this to be a swing in the park and it was proving to be anything but.
He opened the folder and began going through the papers she’d gathered between the extra binders pinched between the jaws, each representing one of the boys including their biographies, their birth certificate copies and any other official-unofficial documents necessary. For Kaspar it was the allowance from the parole officer, to Jevgeni the health insurance and medicals he was taking.
Maksim’s heart ached by the time he finished reading the rainbow of files she’d gathered. This was what she was prepared to take on through adoption? He’d accused Laura of being naive, but it had been him, who was blue eyes boy. This wasn’t some expedition to unknown, nor some emotion driven decision. She wasn’t taking chances, she did it fully knowing their backgrounds, their problems and she was still willing, still hopeful for a better future for them all. She hadn’t walked away. She’d stuck around and wanted more.
Maksim rubbed his chest, willing away the tears. Where did her strength come from? If he was close to crashing after discovering what Kaspar and Jevgeni carried into it, what took her to collapse? It sure wasn’t facing the facts listed in that file.
At the same time, Laura observed a brand new car rolling in from the far end gate and stopping next to their bus. It carried a rich looking couple. He came out, immediately surrounded by the boys, who squealed like little piglets around a profoundly classical looking car. The long blond haired woman remained inside, but studied them curiously behind her large sunglasses. Laura’s eyes returned on the man standing in the sun, using his hand to protect his eyes against the light. She could have sworn she was looking a doppelganger.
“Maksim!” She yelled to the back of the house, continuing collecting the plates from their quick lunch. “You didn’t say your brother was coming, will he stay for the night?”
He was out from his office in a flash, stopping only when he nearly mowed her over and he reached out to stop it from happening, eyes focused outside the kitchen window. “My brother? How do you know he’s my brother?”
“He looks like you?” She offered sarcastically, waiting for him to let her go.
“What the hell is he doing here?” He muttered to himself, suddenly nervous. He avoided this place like a plague and out of all this time, this was the moment he chose to visit their childhood grounds? “The heck he’s up to?”
He let her go, quickly rubbing his sweaty hands over his knees as if they were dirty, earning a frown from her. He was about to explain it wasn’t because of her, but then she set the cup with half drunk milk back on the table and reached out her hand. She fixed his collar back under his cardigan and pat him on his chest with a nod. “Now you’ll do.”
The door opened and his brother stepped in, and with that all the politeness flew out with a gust of wind.
“The hell are you doing here?” Maksim demanded like a rabid dog, but felt her quick elbow kick before he managed to through himself at his brother.
“I heard you rented yourself a circus! One must come and see for themselves, no?” Then he saw Laura, who stoically continued her chore. “Hello.” He added like an afterthought, then he pointed at himself. “Alik.”
“Hello.” She responded in kind, but didn’t tell him her name.