Learning to Trust
By Chris the Blizzard
By Chris the Blizzard
I looked up and down at the two-story house in front of me, holding my facial muscles still so as not to show any thought or emotion. It looked nice enough and even from the outside it looked lived-in, in a comfortable kind of way. Matt stood next to me, and even though I couldn't see it, I could tell he was very nervous. Both of us had learned very quickly to hide our feelings, but I could still read him like a book, and I liked it that way. I gave his shoulder a little reassuring squeeze and smiled at him until he smiled back at me and gave me a little nod. I could hear Mrs. Benet, our new foster mother, behind us, coming toward us after having parked her car.
"Come on boys, let's go and get inside, so I can introduce you and show you around." She said with a smile and an encouraging voice.
"Yes, Mrs. Benet." I replied, putting a smile on my face to fake excitement I didn't feel.
She was just trying to be nice and I knew it, but I couldn't help cringe on the inside at the way she looked Matt and me over. I was not a trusting person, by any stretch of the word. Matt and I had met Mrs. Benet for the first time only two hours ago, when our social worker, Ms. Fitzgerald, had taken us to a diner in town to meet Mrs. Benet on "neutral ground" as she put it. So we had talked to her, exchanging the usual pleasantries and just generally trying to feel each other out. We found out she had a husband named Henry and a son who was my age and whose name was Michael. They lived in a house fairly close to the school Matt and I would be attending, so we could walk there or use a bicycle.
"Oh, come now, Jason! Drop the Mrs. Benet, my name is Janie. And I'm no Ma'am, either, young man!" She said in a playful tone, wagging a finger at me and grinning.
"Sure, Ma'am." I said and she just looked at me funny. I had practically ignored her telling me to use her first name.
"Anyway, come on!" she said, urging Matt and me to follow her. We went after her, each of us hefting the bags on our shoulders which held our belongings. She tried to take our bags, but I respectfully declined. These were our only belongings, I wasn't about to hand them over to a stranger. And that's what she was, no matter how nice she was trying to be for now, we only knew her for a short two hours. After giving me a curious look, she shrugged and went toward the door. She fumbled with her keys for a moment, then opened the door and beckoned us in with a flourish of her wrist.
"Please take off your shoes inside." She asked us in a kindly voice, and we complied.
Once inside, I took a quick look around. The interior looked just as homey as the outside of the house. Several pairs of shoes stood next to a shoe cabinet on the floor and a large, colorful fish tank occupied the far wall.
She ushered us further in then said "Matthew, Jason, meet my husband Henry and my son Michael."
I took a cautious look at the family standing before us. First, there was Mrs. Benet, or Janie, who had short auburn hair, cut pixie style, and a large smile on her face. Her features were soft and she had this motherly air about her that drew people in and made them feel comfortable around her. Next to her stood a large man with a full beard. I looked for all the usual signs, bloodshot eyes, ruddy complexion, shaking hands or maybe dilated pupils, but found nothing.
Alright, at least he doesn't appear to be a drunk. However, that was little comfort. I had learned in the past that, sometimes, those who appear harmless and nice can be the most horrible monsters.
He looked big and burly, but at the same time he seemed kind of soft, a little like a lumberjack gone teddy-bear. His dark green eyes seemed amused amid the hairy face, like they were laughing about a joke no one else was privy to. Last in line was our new "brother" Michael. He was relatively tall, a little taller than myself, but only a few inches at most. He had his mother's hair, cut in a crew cut, and his father's stature, as well as the same smiling eyes. He looked a little like a football jock, in a good way. His eyes met mine and we stared at one another for a moment. I tried to guess what he was thinking, but I couldn't really see past his smile. Once again, I shrank away inside at the scrutiny, but outwardly I tried to appear calm. Matt and I looked rather different from all of them. We were both blond and fairly light skinned, like our mother and had our father's deep blue eyes. At 6', I was fairly tall for my age and I wasn't small in any dimension. Matt looked like a little clone of myself, always had and probably always will. He looked just like I had two years ago, and if someone looked at a picture of me, taken two years ago they would definitely think it was him and not me. I noted again how nervous he was, the tightness in his shoulders evident to me.
"Hello Jason, Matthew, I'm Henry. Pleased to meet you!" the father of the family stepped forward and extended a big hand toward me to shake and looked from me to Matt and back again. Masking my nerves I took his hand.
"Hello Mr. Benet. It's very nice to meet you, as well." I smiled my most genuine fake smile at him.
"None o' that now! It's either 'Henry' or 'Hey you!' and for future reference, I don't like being called 'Hey you!'." He said and chuckled, letting go of my hand so he could shake Matt's. I looked at him as he maintained eye-contact with my brother, suppressing a shiver.
Was there more than there should be? Was his smile predatory? Did the handshake last too long? I was ripped out of my worries by Michael speaking.
"Hey Jason. I'm Michael, but you can call me Mike, if you like." I smiled at him, somewhat comfortable with the fact, he was my age and seemed to be quite nice.
"Nice to meet you Mike. I'm Jason." I replied in kind, gesturing toward my brother, "And this is Matt."
"Come on, I'll show you your rooms! Matt, you coming?" He looked to me and my brother, but I felt my heart sink into my stomach. Rooms, plural. I didn't like the arrangement, never have. Whenever they tried to split us up, bad things happen. Alone, we were weak, targetable. If Matt was alone, I couldn't protect him. I wasn't sure from what yet, but I knew something would happen. Something ALWAYS happens. I can't let my guard down, ever!
"Actually, before the three of you storm off and do whatever it is you teenagers do nowadays, I think we should discuss our living arrangements for a second." Henry interjected, stopping Mike from whisking Matt and me away.
"Boys, we have arranged and furnished two rooms for you to live in. However, if you would be more comfortable sharing a room, we can move one of the beds to the other room. It might get a tad cramped then, but if that is what you would like to do, there are no objections on our part." Henry said and looked at Matt and me with a serious expression.
I exhaled a sigh of relief.
"That would be really nice, Sir. Matt and I have always shared." I said. He glowered at me and I felt a sudden spike of fear and panic, though I was able to hide it quite well.
"It's Henry, Jason." He started laughing. Wow, he almost gave me a heart attack, for that?
"Ehm… of course… Henry." I said, trying to conjure up a chuckle, but it sounded fake in my ears. He looked at me seriously, like he knew I wasn't exactly being honest with them. Matt had yet to say more than a greeting.
"So, the rules. Your rooms are lockable, and there are only keys on the inside. Between your two rooms is a bathroom I hope the two of you are comfortable sharing. Janie, Mike and I will use the one at the end of the hall. Of course, that one is open to you as well, but I think you would value your own little corner of the house." He looked seriously at us, like he was giving us some orders, but so far he was just making this really… comfortable. What he laid out seemed great! I just hoped my face didn't show too much of how excited I was at the idea of getting some real privacy, and maybe, just maybe, I could cease this endless worrying.
"No, don't get drawn in so easily", I thought to myself. I had learned my lessons the hard way. I'd earned them!
He continued in the same serious tone.
"We have a knocking rule here, and we expect you to abide by it. When you want to enter Mike's room or our bedroom and the door is closed, you knock and wait for an answer. The same courtesy is extended to you, of course, and without your admission or a good reason, no one will enter your room. Should you bring over some, ehh, let's say romantic interest, the door is to remain open. I know what teenage boys are up to, you know, but I personally think you are too young for that. And so is little Mikey, of course." Henry said, grinning at his son and tussling his hair.
"Ugh, Dad!" Mike said, blushing a little at the name and being called out on 'romantic interests'.
"You see what we have to live with? I swear, Dad is like the master of embarrassing comments. He puts all other Dads to shame, you'll see." Mike looked at me, grinning a goofy grin. Matt and I laughed at his funny expression and Henry's antics.
"Also, running a household of 5 people is a little too much work any for one of us, so I hope you don't mind pitching in every once in a while. I'll prepare a little schedule of who should do what, but don't worry, it's nothing too terrible. One of you will have to mow the lawn each weekend, in rotation, so you only have to mow once every three weeks, basically. After dinner, you will do the dishes together, stuff like that." Janie said and smiled, which seemed to be her resting face. It was like, regular people have a neutral expression when they don't look at anyone or anything in particular, but she had a permanent smile. I was not sure whether I liked it or not, yet.
"No problem, right Matt?" I said.
"Sure, none at all." He replied.
"Awesome!" Mike said "Now it's not only me who has to mow the stupid lawn." He laughed again.
"And last but not least" Henry said looking at each of us, maintaining eye contact
"You are now full members of this family. If there is anything you want or need, any problem you have or questions you need answered, you can always talk to us. We promise not to judge, no matter what the concern is. I won't promise not to get mad, because if you come in and tell me you drank out the liquor cabinet, you will most certainly get grounded into oblivion. But we will always be on your side and do only what is best for you. Okay?"
"Yes, Henry. And thank you!" My brother said, sounding enthusiastic. I didn't say anything, I just looked at Henry's face. Was he serious? I might have squinted a little, I don't remember, I just hoped to find… something in his expression, an indicator he was lying and faking, that he would drop the façade and start beating up Matt or me the moment I turned my back to him. He met my eyes and held the contact, letting me take a good look, like he knew what I was thinking about. Did he suspect I suspected him? What would he do with that knowledge?
But look as I might, I didn't find anything, no sign of hidden malice. Probably just a better faker than I am. I nodded and said.
"Okay." I didn't let my hesitation or suspicion show, but I didn't fake any excitement either. To be honest, I wasn't sure what they expected of me at this point, or Matt.
"Alrighty, then! Let's give you a tour of the house!"
Later that night, I was lying in my bed and listening to Matt's soft snoring. It wasn't annoying to me, and not only because I was used to it at this point. Knowing Matt was asleep was always comforting to me for some reason. It meant everything was alright, no one had hurt him and since I was lying in the same room, no one would get the chance, either. Hearing his snoring was the only thing that could make me truly relax, ease the tensions in my body and my mind without immediately feeling vulnerable to the point of anxiety. I had locked the door for the night, which gave me additional comfort. Even if Henry had lied about the only key being in our room, if he unlocked the door, I would hear it and wake up for certain. If I even fall asleep at all, that is. I had been a light sleeper even when our parents had still been alive, but the last two years had practically made me an insomniac. I woke at the slightest shift in ambient noise, which meant I hardly ever slept through a night without waking multiple times. In a past life, I had been annoyed at that, I mean what teenager doesn't like their sleep, but now I appreciated it for the blessing in disguise it was. Waking up meant not being surprised in my sleep.
I felt exhausted, but at the same time sleep eluded me. I kept listening for footsteps, even though I knew it was stupid. Not because I trusted these people, but because I knew whatever he was planning, he would wait for us to get complacent, careless. He knew I was wary, for now. Joke's on him though, I don't plan on being careless. Whenever the other shoe was going to drop, I would be ready for it.
I sighed tiredly, pushing the thought from my mind. Dwelling on it wouldn't make it any better, or easier, so for now worrying would only waste energy. I reached down and under my bed, grabbing the basketball I had stowed away there earlier and started throwing it up in the air, catching it without a sound. I knew every scratch on that ball. My hand brushed against the place where I knew Dad, Mom and Matt had signed it. They had given it to me on my 14th birthday, and while we weren't exactly poor, we didn't always have the money for fancy toys. But this basketball was special, and not only because it had been pricey. Each member of my family, and then later me, had signed the ball as if we were star-athletes. I had caught Matt practicing his signature several times before then, but I never managed to squeeze out of him what he was doing that for. I smiled fondly at the memory. It was, without a doubt, the most awesome gift anyone had ever given me.
"Jay." I heard Matt's voice whisper quietly.
"Hey. Why aren't you sleeping?" I asked him.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" he retorted.
"Because I'm older." I said. It was kind of a thing between us. Whenever someone couldn't, or simply wouldn't, explain something to the other, we'd just say "I'm older" or "I'm younger" and the other would drop the point, no questions asked.
"What do you think of them?" Matt asked. I remained silent, because I didn't know what to think, or what to respond with.
"Well, I think they are nice." Matt offered. I shrugged, knowing he wouldn't see it, but still realize what I was doing.
"I think they are different. Like Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly were." I suppressed a shudder and a flood of fear at the bare mention of the name. I barely managed to not to throw the ball against the ceiling, though I think I might have whimpered. Sure, I thought. They had been "different", alright.
"Maybe" I responded noncommittally. He seemed disappointed I didn't agree with him. Not in me, I was sure, but that I didn't seem to like them as much as he did.
"Don't worry," I said. "They are at least bound to be better than The Toad!" I said with a snigger. Matt and I had invented a nickname for every set of misfits the foster-care system had shoved onto us. The Toad had been this really ugly guy, with a wide and flat face. I wasn't usually one to judge by outward appearances, but he had just looked like he was about to flit out his tongue and start catching flies. At one time I saw him staring at an actual fly in the living room, following it with his eyes and I had a hard time not bursting out in laughter at the sight.
Matt just groaned, "Obviously." Then laughed quietly.
I heard him turn to his side and felt his gaze on me.
"Maybe they will actually keep their promises." He said.
I sighed. I didn't want to be the one to burst his bubble, for one, because it was too early for that. And I was hoping against hope he was right. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was no darkness in this place. Fat chance, though.
"That would be great, wouldn't it? Just… don't get your hopes up. They all lied to us, every single one." I said, sounding bitter, even to myself. I didn't try to disguise it, though. Bitterness and Matt, those were about the two things I had left. Maybe I was being a tad theatrical, but it was what I honestly felt.
"Dinner was nice, though." I said, in an attempt to change the topic. Dinner really had been nice, and delicious. That must have been the best pot roast we ever had.
"Yeah, at least they aren't some religious fanatics, like The Lady Dragon." Matt said.
Margaret Crawford, or as we called her, The Lady Dragon, had been one of the first tyrants we met. She was a cranky old woman who was highly religious. The first night we spent at her home, after we sat down for dinner, I started eating without saying grace. It's not like I was trying to be inconsiderate or anything of the like, I just wasn't used to the concept because our parents hadn't been very religious. Next thing I know, she slaps me across the face, hard, and starts shrieking about how I could dare to start a meal without "Thanking our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, who died to absolve us of our sins." After that I had been the one to say grace every night, so as to "repent" for my disrespect the first night.
"Stupid, old bat." I mumbled, eliciting a chuckle from my roommate. "Now go back to sleep, Matty. See you in the morning."
"What about you? Aren't you going to sleep?" He asked.
"I'm trying, but someone keeps on talking to me." I quipped.
"Oh, do you always fall asleep with a basketball in your hands?" He asked.
"Yes, I do. Do you mind?"
"C'mon Jay, you know you need to sleep, too. You never sleep enough."
I sighed but didn't disagree with him.
"Alright, fine. Good night, M&M."
"G'night, Jay…" he mumbled, already half asleep.
I stowed the ball back under my bed and tried getting a little more comfortable. Soon, I fell asleep, listening to Matt's soft snore.