Donnell shifted along the seat uncomfortably. Big groups made him nervous. It reminded him of that unfortunate time when…
Donnie peed his paants! He pushed back the memory. This was a new start for him anyway. A new start for all of them.
Except that the other kids seemed so much better at meeting everyone and getting settled in than he was. How did he do it? They’d all just gotten here, and you’d think some of them had been best friends for months…
“I chased the voidcritter up to the tree, where it couldn’t escape,” Camden boasted. “It was cornered. So I took my nerf gun and splashed it all the way down, capturing it once and for all! And that’s how I completed my collection…”
The girl he was talking to, Marla, seemed like a bit of a tomboy. More importantly, she didn’t seem impressed.
“Lies,” she yelled. “Most voidcritters would flee from the tree no problem. And you’d never catch a Pleuro with a nerf gun! It’s a water void critter! You probably just went and bought a booster pack…”
“Nuh-uh! Like I’d have money for that anyway…”
Marla didn’t seem convinced.
“Fine… what I actually did is I jumped into tons of bins around town and scoured them for cards until I got my hands on one.” The boy admitted.
Marla laughed. “That’s actually kinda cool! I’ve done that myself too, you know.” She winked.
Camden laughed with relief. “Ah, what can I say… All the cool kids are doing it!”
Right behind them, Sigrid watched in awe as Millicent moved yet another stick from the tower. She was rather impressed with her new friend’s Don’t Wake the Llama capabilities.
Millicent just grinned. She knew she was excellent at the game. She was excellent at most things, really. That’s because she read every book imaginable and practiced and practiced, no matter the subject or activity. Of course she knew better than everyone else, she smiled to herself smugly.
Donnie sighed. They were all already pairing up. And he was the odd one out. As usual.
Eun considered himself a budding scientist. He was very pleased when he spotted the chemistry set in the play room. He was even more pleased when he realised none of the other kids seemed to be heading for it immediately. Clearly they underestimated the power of science. Worked for him, he smirked, off to work on his first invention in their new home.
And then there was Alexus. Just looking at her made Donnie blush. She seemed in a world of her own, busy narrating a story with the doll. She exuded a strange aura of quiet confidence.
And she was pretty.
Donnie looked away nervously. Maybe he should go say hi. Maybe she wouldn’t laugh at him. She was playing by herself, after all. Maybe he could finally make a friend. Maybe…
“Hey!” Millicent’s annoyed shriek broke Donnell’s train of thought.
She was glaring at Camden. “You’re going to ruin it!”
Marla giggled. She thought the red haired girl was taking Don’t Wake the Llama (and herself) WAY too seriously. This should be interesting…
“Oh come on, it’s not rocket science,” Camden shrugged and tugged at one of the sticks.
The tower collapsed with a loud thud.
“What have you done?” Millicent scolded him crossly.
“Oops!” Camden laughed. “Ah well. It’s a stupid game anyway.”
“I hate you!” Millicent pouted.
“It’s ok, we can fix it,” a soft melodic voice interrupted.
They all turned towards Alexus. She sounded so unusual, and oddly calm.
“Just put the tower back up. And apologise, Camden. You didn’t mean to upset Millie, did you?”
“No, of course not,” Camden said quickly. “Sorry Millicent.” He muttered his apology.
“See? This is looking loads better already.” Alexus smiled.
“But we woke the llama. HE woke the llama!” Millicent said grumpily.
Camden wasn’t paying attention to her. There was something about the girl in pink that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. She was definitely the first girl in pink that he was interested in talking to.
“Do you want to play, Alexus?” He asked.
Bullfrogs, Donnie cursed silently. He hung his head down, returning to his book with a loud sigh.
“Hi there Donnie,” Hallie, the lady that ran the orphanage, approached him. “How are you settling in?”
She seemed kind. When she greeted them earlier, she told them they’d be the first children to ever live in this particular house here, and that that made them very special. Not many people had ever called Donnie special. He liked the lady already.
“I’m ok.” He beeped nervously.
“Would you like to play Don’t Wake the Llama with the others?” She asked.
The boy shook his head. “It’s ok. I’m used to playing on my own. I’d just bother them anyway.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Hallie disagreed.
“I’m too clutzy,” Donnell shrugged. “And not very good at the game. I’m not very good at anything, really.”
“Everybody’s good at something, Donnie.” Hallie said. “And that includes you. Tell me, what is it that you like to do the most in the whole world?”
The boy’s face lit up. “I like to paint. I guess I’m ok at that.”
“I bet you’re more than ok,” Hallie encouraged him. “And guess what. Do you see how bare the walls around here are? I left them that way on purpose. I was hoping that you guys would help me decorate with your drawings. Would you like to help me, Donnie?”
“You need my help?”
“If you’re up for it, I’d love some help!”
She led him to the activity tables. “I can’t wait to see what you paint! The very first picture for the walls, how exciting!”
The boy smiled to himself as his crayon slid across the paper.
Hallie noticed the pouty Millicent watching them. One crisis averted, another to go, she thought.
“Something wrong, Millie?”
“It’s nothing,” Millicent laughed nervously. “Actually, it’s something. It’s Camden. He woke my llama. After I’d worked so hard on it… so unfair!”
She changed her tune quickly, Hallie thought. “Somebody always wakes the llama. It can’t sleep all the time, after all.” She said. “And I’m sure Camden didn’t want to ruin your work.”
“Maybe. But he did.” Millicent insited.
“Did he say he was sorry?”
“If he’s really sorry, we should probably forgive him.” Hallie told the girl. “Looks like Sigrid and Alexus fixed the tower up again.”
“See? The llama is all fine again.” Hallie smiled. “Thank you, girls. Now, why don’t you and Camden have a rematch? We can all play.”
“Ok,” Millicent gave in. “I guess not everyone can be an expert.”
“Pfft, we’ll see about that!” Camden sat down. “I bet I’ll beat you…”
Meanwhile, Sigrid and Alexus noticed Donnell’s drawing.
“Wow, that’s a really pretty rainbow.” Alexus said to the boy. His cheeks turned pink.
“You like it?”
“Yeah, it’s very good.” Sigrid agreed, sitting down next to the boy. “I like to paint too, you know.”
“Hallie said she wanted us to do paintings for the room.” Donnie informed her.
“Ooh, I’d like that,” Sigrid smiled.
“I guess we can paint together?” Donnie looked at both of the girls shyly. “To help Hallie…”
“I’m not as good as you,” Alexus said. “But it sounds like fun! And I’d love to help!”
They all crouched around the activity tables.
Maybe this place would be different after all, Donnell thought.
All was well, Hallie breathed out with relief. The doorbell rang at just the right time.
“Aunt Yenn! You’re here early! Wait… is it three already?”
“I bet you have your hands full.” Yenn smiled. “Anything I can do to help to make the first day easier for you?”
“Not at all,” Hallie smiled. She looked tired, but overjoyed at the same time. “It’s a little manic, but all the kids are really great. I hope I can find them all amazing families.”
“Doesn’t seem they’ll have it too bad here until you do,” Yenn said. “Usually, when people say orphanage you’d imagine a dingy house from a horror movie… but this is truly wonderful, Hallie!”
Hallie beamed with pride. Took a while to get it all ready, but the results were worth it. “Would you like a tour?”
“I’d love one!”
Kids room 1
Kids room 2
Kids room 3
Exterior – front
Exterior – back
They finished the tour in the back garden, with all the kids getting excited about the slipping side around them. Yenn and Hallie watched them line up, squealing.
“You’ve done such a good thing, Hallie.” Yen said. “I’m so proud of you.”
“It’s good for me too.” Hallie said with a soft smile. “It took me forever to figure out what I wanted to build, but once I knew, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
The kids took their turns on the slipping slide, one by one.
Donnie joined the back of the queue.
The closer he got, the more anxious he was.
“Millie… is it possible to do the slipping slide wrong?” He asked.
“For me, definitely not.” She said carelessly. “I’ll be amazing.”
And with that, she slid away.
Donnie stood on the edge of the slide. It was his turn.
Now or never.
He wasn’t sure what he’d been so worried about. This was the most amazing thing ever.
“I hear we’re going to share a room,” Alexus told Millicent excitedly.
“Oh really?” Millicent was pleased. She liked Alexus. Though was it even possible to dislike her? The girl seemed to score points with everyone that day. “Have you seen it yet?”
“Yeah, I peeked in.” Alexus nodded.
“It’s very blue, I like it.” Alexus continued. “And it’s only ours, which means we can really relax there.”
“What do you mean?”
“The thing is, Millie, I’m not used to being around that many people.” Alexus said. “I like it, for sure, but…”
“Sometimes I just need a bit of time on my own. To really be myself.”