The house was cosy and close and the heat instantly made me feel relaxed. Lights were dimmed and as we walked into the living room, I was met with an inviting scene. Two sofas crouched round a gas fire and an assortment of photos adorned the walls. Kathryn motioned me in and I spied a curled up tabby on one of the sofas.
“Hello!” I stroked its warm fuzzy back and chuckled as it purred happily. Footsteps on the wooden floorboards caught my attention and I looked up to find a guy suddenly by my side.
“Hey. How’s it going. I’m Matt.” He smiled and pumped my hand in a firm grim. A Hollister t-shirt was stretched over his toned torso and jeans hung loosely around his chunky frame. “It’s Michael, right?”
“Yes.” I was surprised at my relief that he was talking.
“Please! Sit.” And he strode towards the kitchen, calling to me as I heard the fridge open and bottles clinking. “What would you like? A beer?”
“Um, yes. That would be great. Thanks.” It was then that I knew we would all get along fine; swell in fact. I grinned to myself as I sat there petting the cat and enjoying the warmth of the fire.
He handed me a can and cracked open his, sinking into the other couch. He leaned forwards and took a sip.
“Ahh!” He grinned in satisfaction. “Right, well, you might think this is a bit odd but we have this thing where, so Kathy doesn’t feel left out, we all talk on laptops together. It's pretty cool. So we all just hook up to MSN and have a group conversation." He took another swig.
"And it’s so much quicker than writing notes on paper. You’re up for that, right?” I nodded automatically and he got up, producing a laptop from the magazine rack by his sofa.
“See, I’ve got a spare one for visitors! Just don’t spill any beer on it.” He grinned jovially and passed it to me, and I placed my beer on the side table, grabbing the laptop along with its dangling charger leads.
“Wow, thanks!” This was already starting to get a bit surreal.
“There’s a plug just in the corner there, by the way.”
I heard thumps on the stairs and Kathryn appeared from the hall, a pink laptop in hand, and plonked down onto the sofa next to me, crossing her legs. She'd taken off her cardigan and I tingled as our bare arms brushed accidentally and her eyes caught mine. Every time our gazes met it felt lik she was scanning my mind like a photocopier. Yet it wasn't invasive, more like a simple recognition of how well she'd grown to know me. It was strange how a girl I'd known for 2 months – 2 months in which she’d never spoken a word to me! – could read me better than my year-long friends ever would. She smiled, her eyes shining and I knew she sensed my attraction to her. I grinned back and nudged her playfully. She poked my waist making me jump and we ensued in a tickling fight. I gave up first, of course, since I was the most ticklish.
Matt laughed as he got up to get biscuits from the kitchen. For a few long seconds in that short sequence of events, I felt like I was in the home I was meant to have had. But then the laptop's startup song filled the present air and the moment instantly vaporised.
Once we were all settled with our laptops, the three of us began tapping away, engaging in the most good-humoured conversation about anything and everything: how our days had been; what films we liked; our jobs; what food we hated and loved. I was eager to talk about all these things until the topic of family was inevitably mentioned; one that I dreaded discussing with anyone. I was knitted with confusion and hurt concerning most of it and what I did know, seemed to pick away at the healing scab every time the story was resurrected.
Uncle Alan had attempted to explain things to me and I'd grown to accept it because he was my only source of information. I couldn't remember anything about the day he took me in. He said I had probably blocked out what had happened. And it was true. I couldn’t remember.
My parents had left me just before my fifth birthday and handed me over to my uncle. Why? Why did they not want me anymore? I'd asked myself this so many times and hated myself for not being able to remember one single detail about my abandonment. How could such a major event be blocked out of my memory? I don't even know how many hours I'd pummelled my head in frustration at my mind's inability to simply remember – just one tiny fragment could at least give me a starting point, a clue to why it might have happened. But no, nothing. Darkness was to forever enshroud me it seemed. All that remained was my hatred and bitterness towards my parents which had built up and up inside me like limescale in a kettle. That and my nightmares, which I'd given up trying to understand. I couldn’t fathom them any more than a boy can fathom a girl; I'd just got used to that fact. Although I guess most people don’t remember their lives up to five years old; I just had this feeling that mine meant far more to my present than most others did. If I could just unlock that, I could at least move on.
So Uncle Alan took me in and became my guardian, bringing me up like his own son. I went to school like every other kid, did what every other kid should do and yet I always felt like I didn't belong, because I felt a gaping hole where my identity should have been. When every other boy or girl had their parents beaming in pride at their runner's first place on sport's day, or their A star in physics, I had Uncle Alan giving me an awkward hug or quietly patting me with silent congratulations. He tried his best, I can see that now, but I was always confused by his behaviour and the passive concern which settled in the creases of his forehead.
Maybe what Matt and Kathyrn told me about their lives as adopted children could help me in some small way, even though my situation was different. I'd never seen myself as an orphan but sometimes I felt like one when I thought about how my parents hadn't wanted me. For the first time, a small hope simmered inside; one that would lead me into a feeling of recognition and familiarity. I was eager for answers; impatient even. How had they lived differently as children with no real parents? Had they gone through the same things as me? I couldn’t believe I’d come across other people like me. It was so rare, that you could almost feel alien in a world where everyone had a kind mum or dad that they could turn to. And with just an uncle who I'd never really bonded with, I don't think I could have felt any more alone. I knew I should have felt grateful and stopped my constant self pity, but it was all I knew.
True, I had friends. But they were reluctant ones, ready to step away if something I did or said didn't resonate with their own thoughts and ideals. I was constantly named as 'that odd child' and treated as though I was slow in the mind. Simon was really one of the few I'd been able to turn to. He'd bailed me out of countless situations where embarrassment had found me like CCTV. He was the one who'd partnered with me in biology class. He'd been the one to persuade Diane to go to the prom with me, even if she had slinked off to hang out with her girlfriends ten minutes in. It had all mattered to me then, and still does now. After school, it had been so ideal for us to share an apartment together during our university years and we'd had so many laughs along the way. But as the months progressed and we finished our degrees, our sincere, no-nonsense friendship was slipping through my fingers like sand and I was paralysed to stop it. Our interests had forked, his friends no longer were ones I wanted to have and the fold that had begun between us was now a rip on our page, growing bigger and bigger and soon we would be two separate sheets of paper. I was dreading that day.