Chapter 9

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I drag my feet across the room and flop onto my bed. My mind is racing with every time I saw someone shot. I try to distract myself with my comic, but my efforts are pointless; the noise sticks in my head, the sight of blood pooling out of innocent bodies flashes on the pages.

You would think that someone who's spent the better part of their childhood seeing a war between two continents would get used to it.

I am not that someone.

Each shot still rattles inside me, chilling me to the bone. The look on their dying, dead faces-some proud, some scared, some almost asleep. The worst are children. Each one seems more scared than the last. The youngest always have tears dripping off their pale faces. Those stick in my mind forever. Haunting my thoughts when I least expect it.

After breakfast, rain begins to splatter in fat droplets from thick clouds. Some of the kids scurry off to the game room to watch TV or play with the broken toys. Others simply go back to sleep.

"Hey Alek, wanna go sneak into one of the meet-and-greet rooms?" Suggests Marco. He's awfully restless today.

"I guess. . ." I mumble. I pull my sheets off of me and stand up. Today it seems even harder to keep going. I grab a crutch out the closet and stumble along behind Marco to the end of the hall.

Marco pulls out a bobby pin and a paper clip and picks the lock within seconds. I still stare in awe; he notices and flashes his trademark devious grin.

We slip in and crash into the big armchairs. It's dark and the rain gives thick white noise. All over the wall lay faded paintings of happy children and animals. Posters reading "All Families Welcome" and "You are loved" are stuck everywhere. The ceiling is covered in smiling clouds spilling rainbows. It's nearly sickening.

"Hey, why don't we have some soothing music?" Jokes Marco as he heads over to the corner. A small table with a dusty stereo sits on it. About a dozen different CD's are spewed near it. He picks one up and pops it in. Someone playing a bongo and a guitar singing about rainbows beings to play. It's kinda nice.

We sink into the chairs and close our eyes. The music surrounds us, almost drowning out the heavy rainstorm. For a short moment, we forget that Nicoli isn't with us. All we think about is the lyrics.

"Mind if I join?" Calls out a voice. We both jump up and look over to the doorway. A small boy with a walker stands alone. It's too dark to see his face, but I know who it is by the voice.

"Of course little buddy!" Calls Marco.

"We've been waiting for you, Mr.Nicoli." I say in a sinister voice.

He slowly comes over to the chairs. There's only two, but Marco pulls him up onto his lap. I'm secretly jealous he's got the strength to do that. Last time I tried that I could barely breathe.

"So how ya feeling?" I ask shyly.

"Well, I have to stay one more night in R4, but tomorrow morning I get to go back, as long as I don't get sick." He explains.

"That's pretty good." Responds Marco. Nicoli curls up onto his lap and closes his eyes. Marco ruffles his wild air and closes his eyes as well. Pretty soon they fall asleep to the music.

I stare at them for a little bit. They're almost like puzzle pieces, perfectly fit together. I know deep in Marco's calloused heart there's a soft spot for us, a hole filled with Nicoli's smile and my endless care for him. And in Nicoli's fragile and innocent heart, there's a perfect little garden for Marco and me. They both may have lost everything, but at least we have us. A family filled with imperfections. I think it kinda suits us.

"Aleksander! Wake up this instant!" Commands a voice.

"Huh?" I yawn as I wake. Lisell hits me with a pillow.

"We have been looking for you two! It's lunchtime and we didn't have the slightest idea where you were! And you boys both know these rooms are only for visiting families!" She pulls me up on my feet. Nicoli and Marco are right next to me.

"All of you to your rooms this instant." Her voice is sharp and filled with power.

We scurry off down the hall as she locks the door,giggling as we stumble down the hall. Both of us hug Nicoli goodbye as we reach the rooms.

"Stay strong, little buddy." We whisper as he slips into his room. The sounds of quiet giggles greet him.

We get the same fate as we take our seats.

"I hope you learned your lessons you two." Scolds Wendy as she passes by us. We keep our heads down and try to contain our smiles for the meal.

We finish quickly and sit on Marco's bed. He seems to be drawing something. It looks like all of us when we first met. I think I'll remember that day forever.

R8, three dirty beds in a broken building. Monitors and oxygen machines hooked up to all of us. I had got up when the doctor wasn't looking and tried to push my bed closer to Nicoli. Our pinkies interlocked with our last remaining bits of strength. The boy across from us was extremely drunk, even though he was only nine. He had stolen from a liquor store for him and his sister; they were dying. Three bottles of scotch each, with nothing but a table scrap of meat in their stomachs. He was puking with nothing inside of him for three days straight.

I remember the look on Marco's face as he slept that day. Sweat dripped off of him. His face was pale and his eyes looked like he was in pain, even when closed. Every few minutes he would wince in his sleep. It's understandable though, Nicoli and I were in for sickness, he was there for the bullet in his leg. It broke his shin, and to this day he always walks with the cane Nicoli had made for his birthday. It wasn't much. Just a stick with some paint on it.

The moment we were all awake at the same time, we knew we would be friends, despite a small language barrier. At least we all knew a good chunk of Italian. Even still, it's gotta be just plain luck that someone with parents teaching them both Italian and Greek at the same time (me), would befriend a wealthy Greek kid, who was leaning Italian and English before the war (Nicoli), then both of them would meet a boy who was from Italy, but moved to Greece as a young boy, who ended up losing his parents on a vacation in America at the very start of the war (Marco).

We spent two weeks in their together, before I was moved up and they stayed behind. But at least in my time of being alone, I knew Nicoli was safe.

"What do you think Alek?" Marco's voice pops me out of my memory. "I've been working on it for a little while."

"It's amazing. I had no idea you could draw so well!" I remark.

"To be honest, I forgot I could for a while." He admits. 

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