Chapter 2

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We head outside and down to the pond behind the building. As one of the first people out there, it's empty. We take the most comfortable chairs on the bright side of the lake. I join Nicoli on his bench across from Marco, and look over at him. He's panting, but smiling. I let him lean against me and relax while I talk to Marco.

"Hey, I was thinking about something." I utter, hoping Nicoli can't hear. "What are we going to do when we are well? Even when we reach R1, we will only be able to be in there until we regain all of our strength."

Marco giggles and motions to his leg."With this leg I don't think I'll ever leave!"

"I'm serious Marco!" I motion to Nicoli. "I even overheard Dr. Kaling say you and me are gonna be put in R2 but keep him in R3. R4 if he gets sicker again!" It doesn't take me long to realize I'm shaking. I can't be without Nicoli. After keeping him safe through an entire war, you sorta get attached to someone. I grab onto his arm; I need to know he's there, that he's still right beside me. That he's with me, every step of the way. Marco leans over and wraps his arms around me, hoping to calm me down. I stop shaking and I begin to breathe normally. He sits in front of me on the ground and stretches out.

It would probably be good for me to explain a couple things. The most important thing is that everything here is very organized for an orphanage with no funding and everything in it is from before the war. It's pretty basic. Four floors, each with varying levels of rooms. And all the rooms with children are ranked one to ten, with ten beds and a meal table. Ten is terminal, one is perfectly fine.

The first looks like a normal hospital, you've got an ER with all the trimmings, and the staff rooms are down there. The second has rooms ten and nine, operating rooms, and all the washing machines and dryers. Everyone loves sneaking in there. Third floor has rooms eight to five, really cold rooms they pretend are labs, girls showers, and the Psych ward. Mental illness is kept pretty separate from physical illness. The highest floor is where we live. It has rooms four to one, boys showers, a big room filled with toys and a crappy TV, and meet-and-greet rooms. On the rare occasion someone comes saying they'll take care of a child, we're prepared.

Nicoli wakes up from his nap.

"Hey Nicoli, have a nice nap?" I ask quietly.

"Yeah... what are you guys talking about?" He yawns happily.

"We were just making plans for when we get out!" Exclaims Marco.

"Yeah, how about a nice New York walk up, with right in the heart of the city?" I inquire.

"Or a big spacious cabin on the side of the mountain!?" Adds Marco as he jumps up.

"How about a beachside condo? With a great view and a balcony with a table for breakfast?" Adds Nicoli.

We all sigh with delight. The beach. A perfect place for us three guys with nothing but each other. I notice other kids have joined us in the pond garden. A few kids, mostly R1's and a few R2's run around, regaining their strength. Over in the shade, a girl and two boys from R9 , oxygen tanks attached and functioning on the backs of their wheelchairs. A nurse reads to them, giving them a smile to last till supper. I relax and let myself soak up the rich spring sunshine.

Soon the first drops of April rain fall from the sky. It's a good thing we came in for lunch. Now all we can do is watch Pocahontas and The Addams Family for the 500th time, or play with one of the busted board games. We choose checkers. I play with Nicoli while Marco works on his chapter books. I look over at the window. Rain drums down on the courtyard in heavy waves. They remind me of children tears. God knows I've seen enough of them. Cold, full of emotions, falling so softly, almost scared to hit the ground.

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