When Tia walked back into Alex’s temporary room, she had found that Scarlet had left for her own home, and Chris and Alex were sitting on the ground playing cards. It was a worn deck, used hundreds of times over the years as they grew up. The most amazing thing was that they never lost a card from that deck, which was good because they never would have been able to replace the space back of the cards.
“Is your mum okay?” Alex said, the second he spotted the dark haired girl, his normally playful tone was one of worry.
“She’s fine.” Tia said, a tight smile playing on her face, as guilt knotted in her stomach. “What are you guys playing?”
“Chris has been teaching me to play poker.” Alex announced with a goofy grin on his face, showing Tia his cards in a very unprofessional way. “I’m terrible.”
“I can see that. Your hand is awful, we used to have a poker game very week with our friends.” Tia said as she took a seat between her brother and friend, while eyeing Alex’s cards skeptically.
“That’s what Chris had been telling me. He wants to start up a game here with you, Jasmine, Scarlet and me, but he said I have to learn first or I won’t be allowed to partake.”
“Chris has always been picky like that.”
“Is dinner ready?” Chris asked, after sticking his tongue our childishly at his sister, food was the main thing on his mind, as always.
“Let’s go see if Lily needs any help.” Alex said, instantly abandoning the game and pulling the two put of the room behind him.
Lily and Robert were still sitting on the couch, deep in discussion, their head were close together. Alex knocked on the wooden door frame, announcing that he was there as to not over hear they’re conversation and things they didn’t want them to know.
“Alex!” Lily gushed, unable to help herself. She rushed to the young boy and grabbed him into a warm, motherly hug.
Alex’s emotions were conflicted by the hug. He wanted Lily to hug him like that again, because it felt like she actually cared about him, but at the same time he wanted to get as far away from her as possible; because only bad things came from parents. He didn’t want to get attached, but that was a battle that was already lost, before it could of even been fought.
“Actually, we wanted to take you all out for dinner, if that’s okay with you.” Robert said, rising from the coach and walked over to them.
“Sure.” Alex said, as he instinctual stepped back to stand between the protection of the taller Tia and Chris.
They agreed to going to a local Italian place a short drive away that Alex had shown them the week that they had moved in. Alex had spent many years walking the surrounding area and found the most interesting hide outs, places off of the beaten path that most people never knew existed. Lily and Robert made a huge deal about it being Alex’s birthday; embarrassing the poor teenager to no end when they insisted that the waitress sing to him, but secretly he enjoyed it. When they got home, Lily made a cake while Tia and Chris distracted Alex with video games in the upstairs television room. Then, they sat him down in their formal dining room, and sang the birthday song –the first one to be sang to him for years.
“Happy birthday to you!” The Peterson’s sang, who surprisingly enough had very pleasant singing voices “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Alex! Happy birthday to you!”
Alex blew out the seventeen baby blue candles on his white frosted, red velvet cake and ate a large piece with the other four people in the house. He could not remember the last time he had enjoyed his birthday so much. Later that night, when he settled into the spare bed and thought back on his day, tears filled his eyes against his will.
“Alex?” Came Tia’s soft voice from the door “Are you still awake?”
“Yes.” Alex sniffed, he was trying to hide his tears in his voice, not wanting to get caught crying like a baby, but keyword: Trying.
“What’s wrong?” Tia asked, walking into the room, leaving the door cracked open, and sitting on the bed with Alex, her former reason for being in the smaller boy’s room, so late was forgotten.
“Nothing.” Alex said, as he swiped his eyes for tears as he sat up. “Why are you here?”
“Chris was super tired and went to sleep, but he wanted me to tell you that your birthday present should be here tomorrow. Now what’s wrong and why are you crying?”
“It’s your family.” Alex hiccupped, knowing that Tia was as stubborn he was when it came to getting or giving information, his vain attempts to hold back the tears.
In response Tia did a very un-Tia like gesture –something she seemed to be willing to do for this flighty boy alone- and put her arm around Alex’s thin shoulders, pulling him in to lean against her like one would do for a loved one. Alex didn’t hesitate this time like he did the last time, merely turned his face into Tia’s soft shirt, falling into the one form of comfort he had received in years.
“Everyone is so nice.” Alex explained through his leaking eyes. “Your mum, dad, brother, you, everyone. You have such an amazing family: I can’t remember the last time my dad even mentioned my birthday and yet here you guys are taking me out to dinner. It just made realize how abnormal my life must be…… and what it must be like to have parents that actually care. I want that, Tia, I want to have that. I don’t want to have to worry about my dad, I don’t want to have to put up with the abuse, anymore. I just want someone to like me enough to care about me enough to want to know where I’m going, about my grades and to spend the Holidays with. I want someone to yell at me when I get in trouble at school; not when I wake up and do the dishes or make dinner. I want someone who cares enough to stay.”
Tia just pulled Alex closer, humming softly and rubbing his back with long soothing strokes, smoothing his soft, messy, white hair until he settled and, eventually, fell asleep. When Tia was sure that Alex was down for the count, dead to the world, Tia eased him back into his bed and crept out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Then she sneak down the stairs and found her parents back on the couch, clearly talking about Alex and how they thought the day went for him.
“Hey Mum, Dad.” Tia asked, shifting her feet as she stood awkwardly in the doorframe in her oversized white T-shirt and baggy grey sweatpants.
“Yes, Sweetie.” Lily said
“What is it daughter?” Robert asked, concern moving over his firm face.
“I’m ready to talk about Alex.” Tia said, meeting their eyes “For real this time.”