"What happened to Alex's parents?"  I find myself asking Karen, standing next to her at the sink and washing dishes.  I'm so much taller than her, her small hands bobbing in and out of the sudsy water and scrubbing remnants of food off plates.

She purses her lips together for a second, setting a handful of forks onto the towel for me to dry.  "His mother died when he was a few months old and his father couldn't take care of a baby on his own."  She sighs, brushing a strand of dark hair behind her ear.  "He's thirteen now, and we received him when he was fourteen months old..." she pauses, doing the math.  

"I didn't know you've had him for his whole life!"  I answer.  

She just nods, her mind elsewhere.  "I would've been twenty-seven then.  We found out that Dave and I would never be able to get pregnant because of a fertility issue with me, and then Alex was just...there.  It seemed perfect.  We adopted him right away."

I nod, looking directly at her and setting down the plate I was holding.  

"We only fostered Jenna though.  When she was thirteen, they asked us if we would be interested in her.  After doing the obligatory year we decided to try the impossible process of adoption."  She lets out a shaky breath.  "We loved her and knew no one else would adopt an angsty, troubled fourteen-year-old that required so much care.  It still hasn't gone through because they can't prove that Jen can't go back to her mother."  Her eyes darken over at this.  "And now she's eighteen, and there's no point."  

"But she prefers to use our last name to her biological family's," Karen continues.  "Alex has no one allowed to visit him, but Jenna's mother and the brother closest to her age, Jairus, visit frequently.  She likes her brother more than her biological mom, though."  She laughs a little bit, sounding as if Jenna's relationship with her mother has never been an easy thing.  

"Thanks for telling me about that," I sign as she releases the plug on the sink drain.  

"No problem, honey.  We won't go through the adoption process with you since you're so close to being legal, of course, but know that we'll be here for you long after you move out."

I return her smile.  "That means a lot to me.  I know how horrible most foster or group homes are and I want to thank you for taking me in."

"It's our pleasure. Thank you for helping me with the dishes."  She pats my arm once before walking away, her shoulders slumping like I just dumped painful secrets like lit coals over her head again.  I've noticed that she always moves slowly, which is strange.  She does everything quickly, with such efficiency, except for walking.

I head over to the piano, wishing that they had a guitar.  I know that they would do everything to try to get me one if I asked, but I never could.  I'm choosing to walk lightly in their home, scarcely leaving a footprint.  

A minor-sounding song starts coming out as soon as I hit the Eb key, something I've heard too many times but can't place.  After the first verse, there's a weight next to me on the bench.  Scared to look up, I watch her slender, pale fingers jump into playing the chords above my melody, never missing a beat.  

Nerves flood my body as I attempt to keep playing, the stupor now gone with her expert hands gracing the keys next to me.  What do I do?  I don't even know this song!

Miraculously, I manage to finish it out, her left hand reaching over both of mine to lightly press the last, low, haunted note.   

I've never played with another person, never had twenty fingers to tell the story of a song instead of only ten.  We both sit in absolute silence, hands still resting on the keys, eyes avoiding each other.  "Wanna go to McDonald's with me?" She finally asks this, biting her lower lip.

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