Chapter 1

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The faint sound of birds in the trees drifted through y window. I slowly open eyes to see the creamy white sealing through the mosquito nets. I turn my head slightly and catch a glimpse of birds, flying off to the town below. Turning my head to the other side, I see Nicoli, sleeping soundly. He looks so much younger when he's asleep, but then again, I think everyone looks younger when asleep. Flipping back over to the window side is Marco, flipping through one of the old Horrible Harry books. His face is so serious as he stares at the sentences, trying to read. He's been on that book for months. I trust he'll get it someday. He glances over at me, but keeps his focus on the book.

"Morning Alek" He whispers monotonously, trying not to wake anyone else.

"Morning Marco, hows the reading going?" I ask happily. I'm always happy in the morning. It brings fresh air and Lisell, The really sweet nurse who sneaks us extra cookies at dinner.

I sit up slowly and glance over at Nicoli, who is slowly waking up. His pale face looks like a ghost in the morning sunshine. He slowly sits up, propping himself up on his pillow. He searches for his glasses on the small table we share. I hand them to him and he puts them on. He looks even younger with them, like a second grader, grinning from ear to ear. I smile back at him.

"Feeling better Nicoli?" I whisper as I glance at the window. A butterfly has landed on the curtain, his wings casting a faint gold mist near him.

"A little." He looks over at the door and turns back to me." When's Lisellell gonna come in to get us up? I really think today's the day I go without the walker!"

I giggle and take a quick look around the room. About ten beds in the room, each home to a sick kid. Everyone is asleep still, accept us and Les, who is flipping through an old English For All book. Creaky, wooden boards cover the floor. Two small windows, one behind Marco, the other behind Cavan, the boy across from Marco. On the far side, an old wooden door sits closed, waiting to be opened by the nurses. In the center of the room, a huge golden carpet, shaped like the sun. On top of it is a large table with ten faded stools. Against the wall with a the door, a small shelf stand on each side, holding shower caddies for each kid. Every bed has a clipboard hanging off the bed frame, and faded cotton blankets covering them. I turn back to Nicoli and reach for his hand.

"Soon Nicoli, It's only-" I glance at the clock on Marco's table, "-8:12. They don't come till 8:30. All we can do now is wait or sleep for a little longer."

He simply sighs and flops into his bed sheets. He coughs loudly and closes his eyes. I can hear his breathing, slow and heavy. It's an early April morning, but I can see sweat on his face. I swing my legs over the bed and lean to him. I grab onto his bed frame and stand up slowly, hoping the floor doesn't squeak. My legs shake beneath me; I lean over Nicoli's pale body. I sit on the edge of the frame and put my palm on his cheek. I relax; it's normal. He flashes a faint smile, and mumbles that my hand is cold. I smile back. I worry too much about him. I guess it's probably for the better. I turn to Marco and motion for him to come over. He climbs onto my bed and grabs my shoulder, shaky from bed hopping.

"What's wrong, Alek? Is Nicoli okay?" I can hear a twinge of worry in his voice.

"He's so pale. And he was breathing kinda heavily earlier this morning." Marco grabs the neck of my pajama shirt and drags me back to my bed.

"Sometimes you worry too much Alek." He gently punches my arm." I swear sometimes you sound like you're his dad or something."

I guess in a way I am. I mean, Marco and Nicoli are all I got, I'm not sure what I'd do without them.

Marco looks back at Nicoli, who looks a bit like a ghost in his bedclothes. He turns back to me. "He does look a bit pale, but I wouldn't worry too much. I think he should spend the morning in the fresh air, but after lunch we can just relax in the TV room or something. "

I shrug and lie back down and try to take my mind off Nicoli by thinking of town. It's right by the sea, so close that when we play in the courtyard we can catch a glimpse of the beaches. I love going into town. The smell of the ocean and the fish, the markets, overflowing with fresh food and busy families, rushing to get the best produce. I can't wait to get out of here. As soon I can, I'm taking Nicoli and Marco to the beach, where we can spend the day searching for starfish, and diving into the cold sea. Just the thought of it gets me excited.

Eventually, Lisell, Hailee, and Zayla come into the room with fresh clothes. Their soft voices floating through the small room. Nicoli shoots up and jumps out of bed, making me nervous. He runs over to Lisell, grabs a pair of clothes, and gives her a big hug.

"Good morning Lisell, and thank you for the clothes." He greets cheekily.

"Good morning Nicoli. You are better." She replies in broken Greek. She smiles and hands me and Marco the new clothes. The nurses leave to set up breakfast, as the rest of us change into the new clothes. I look at myself in the cracked hand mirror on Marco's table. Bright blue button up pajama shirt and matching capri bottoms. Nicoli sneaks up behind me and jumps on me. I laugh and carry him to our seats at the middle table. I suddenly realize my breathing; loud and raspy. I put him in his seat slowly and take my seat, hoping to catch my breath. I swear as soon as I'm well I'm going to get back in shape. The others join us solemnly, stumbling into their chairs; we wait. The nurses come back quickly, and set up the plates. As they say a prayer, thanking God for food and for us, I just stare at the food. Eggs, toast, a glass of apple juice, and mashed mangoes. Once Zayla finishes up, we all dig in. I look around the table. Everyone is wolfing down their food. I understand why. As orphans, we are never sure when our next meals are, despite being in here for so long. I take a bite of toast and look across from me at Conrad. He's inhaling his eggs, barely stopping to take a drink. And the nurses wonder why almost no one can keep much food in their stomachs. I cast an eye over Nicoli, who is eating slowly, actually eating his food properly, where as Marco looks like he's about to lick the crumbs off his plate. I sigh and get back to my food. When Nicoli and I are playing checkers in the gardens, while Marco's puking his guts out indoors, I'll tell him I told him so.

Once we finish we sit on our stools, waiting. Most of us can't even reach the restrooms without falling, let alone outside or the playroom. The nurses clear up and pull out the crutches. It's almost embarrassing, but most of us reach for one of them. I grab a walker for Marco and me, but Nicoli just stands up and heads for the door. Everyone looks and stares, even Jethro, who claims he saw a guy get shot in the face. I crutch over to him and let him lean on my shoulder. Marco isn't very far behind. 


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