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Paint splatters and Penstrokes

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“Mamá, what’s on her arm?” Six-year-old Alexander stared at the woman across the street, her arm covered in script, black ink swirling around her tanned skin. She was reading it, a small smile on her face as a pink blush grew on her cheeks.
His mother frowned, only for a moment. “Hijo, don’t point.” His hand dropped instantly back to his side. “That’s a message from her soulmate, their skin is connected.” He tilts his head to the side, looking at his mother. “When he writes on his skin, she sees it on hers,” she continued, clasping the ends of her sleeves tight in her hands.
Alexander’s eye lit up as he understood. “Is that why you always wear long sleeves? You don’t want other people reading Papá’s messages, right?” A few people overheard the conversation, looking in their direction, a smattering of disdain and pity, depending on whom they were focusing.
“Come on, Alexander. Let’s go home.” She murmured, ushering her son away from the center of town, avoiding eye contact all the while.

“What do you mean Papá’s gone? Is he coming back?” eleven-year-old Alexander stood his ground, staring at his mother wide-eyed. When she said nothing, he scowled. “You two are soulmates! He wouldn’t just walk out! He…” he paused, two thoughts clicking together in his mind. “Right?” He took a tentative step forward, gripping her sleeve in his hands and rolling it up her arm. She didn’t fight him.
Her arm was bare.
His brows furrowed. “You weren’t… why would you…” he started, unable to finish the sentence as a multitude of thoughts bombarded his brain. Rolling up her other sleeve, that one bare as well. His eyes suddenly flew to his own arms, his equally empty.
She gasped as he made the connection, saying the fact that she had hidden from him for years. “Some people don’t have soulmates, m'hijo,” when he started to sputter, she gripped his hands tightly in hers. “But don’t let that keep you from falling in love.”
“What are you saying?” Alexander started, his eyes drawn to his own skin. “I’m only eleven. Maybe she just doesn’t doodle on her skin. Maybe she doesn’t know?!” He stepped back from his mother, frantically scanning around their small home for a writing utensil. He found a pen, scrawling quickly on his arm before his mother could stop him.
Are you there? The words blurred slightly as the ink bled into his skin, but the words were clearly visible. “You’ll see Mamá. She’ll respond, you’ll see!” His mother was crying. He ignored her.
They waited.
His mother had left his side, rattling around their dilapidated kitchen and emerging with dinner in hand. Rather than trying to attempt normalcy, she set the plate in front of him in the family room, there was no point trying to get him into the kitchen.
They waited.
The sun had long since set, the stars dotting the sky of St. Croix. His mother had called him to bed. He asked for more time. She nodded, wishing him goodnight, her tears clouding her vision as she turned into their room.
He waited.
Dawn was breaking. The stars blinking out one by one as the sun was crawling its way up the horizon. He had fallen asleep on the couch, what seemed to have only been a moment had actually been a few hours. He scrambled to an upright position checking his message. Checking his shoulder. Checking his other arm.
They were bare.
Alexander screamed.

By seventeen, his world had turned upside down. St. Croix was far behind him, his mind scarred as though the hurricane had swept directly through him on its path of destruction. When people referred to his mother, they weren’t referring to the woman with beautiful tan skin, the woman with hazel eyes that shone like the sun itself, surrounded by the inky veil of her hair. No, that woman was gone.
Why she never took her medicine, he’ll never understand.
Alexander stood in the doorway, social worker by his side. He had been taken in by a couple from the states, without his consent. Apparently, the couple was already filing the appropriate adoption papers, before having met him. After what he had been through, he wasn’t given the option of emancipation; they said he needed a support system or something, he hadn’t been listening, too busy planning a strongly-worded letter to be sent upon arrival about how inhumane it is to be forced into a family against his will.
The social worker placed her hand on his shoulder, leaning down to whisper to him, “I know you’d rather be on your own, but these are great people, promise.” He scoffed, in which she replied, “if I’m wrong, give me a call and you’ll be out of here. I’ll ask for your emancipation myself.”
He nodded. “I guess I’ll be seeing you soon, then.”
She laughed. “God I hope not.” She paused, probably realizing how that came across. “Don’t misunderstand, Alexander,” she said quickly. “You’re a great kid. Crazy smart. But I don’t ever want you in my car again. I want this to work out for you. You deserve to be happy, and I think this is your best shot.” She smirked, quirking her brow at him. “Try not to throw it away before it’s even in the chamber, yeah?”
“I probably would’ve gone for the alcohol metaphor before the gun, but to each their own, I suppose.” He glanced at her face, her twitching lips revealing that her scowl wasn’t completely genuine. He deflated, “I understand,” he started, deciding to continue with her metaphor, “I’m not throwing away my shot. But if this place turns into an explosive…”
“I’ll be here as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, I’m on your side, kid.” She patted his shoulder before dropping her hand to her side again, gesturing to the doorbell. “Go ahead, Alexander. You ring it. You’re in control here.”
He smirked, hiding how appreciative he was of the sentiment. With so little control in his life, it meant a lot that she gave him this. He could wait hours if he wanted. But as the cold November air seeped into his skin, the decision had made itself. He gripped the end of his sleeve in his hand, pressing the button with his knuckle. She smiled approvingly, which he surprisingly returned.
The door opened too quickly, making him jump. A woman stood on the other side of the door, filled to the brim with nervous energy. Immediately Alexander noticed all the differences between this woman and his mother. Her skin was much paler, her hair a mousy brown and curled meticulously into a professional-looking-yet-still-casual bob. If his mother’s eyes were the Sun, hers were the sky. Their blue the exact color of the sky just past sunrise: pale, yet bright with the promise of a new day. She noticed him jump, her smile dipping for just a moment. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you dear!” she started, her nervous energy making her voice leap between octaves. “Come in, come in!” she ushered them both inside, offering the social worker a cup of coffee, which she politely declined. “How about you dear, coffee, tea? It’s pretty chilly out there.”
He blinked, uncertain how to respond. Take it and come off as needy, or refuse it and be rude? He thought for a moment, tugging at his shirt sleeves absentmindedly. “You don’t have to. I’m alright,” he settled on, hoping he found the balance.
“You’re right, I don’t have to. I want to. You seem chilled,” she glanced at the sleeve ends held tightly in his hands. “Oh, I know!” she smiled, looking back at his face, making him tense. She knew what, exactly? She saw the sleeves, she knows he doesn’t have a soulmate, she knows he’s broken she-
“Do you like chocolate, dear? I think hot cocoa is the perfect beverage for a chilly fall day like today.”
…What? “Uh... yeah. Chocolate’s good.” Eloquent. Good job, Alexander. Way to use your words.
She clasped her hands together in front of her chest, smile so wide it had to be painful. “oh good! Hot chocolate it is! I’ll get started!” she paused. “My husband should be down any minute. He can show you your room while I talk to Ms. Ross here.” She glanced up the stairs, scowling slightly, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “George!” she called out, glancing to Alexander after a ‘thud’ was heard upstairs. “I’m sorry about him, dear. He gets so caught up in his work sometimes.” Huh. Alexander could relate.
“It’s okay. I do too,” he found himself saying. He blinked, staring wide-eyed at the two women in the room. He hadn’t meant to voice that. He was greeted with two identical smiles.
The man who walked down the stairs was not what Alex had been expecting. George was almost the exactly opposite of… Alexander didn’t remember her name. Did she ever say her name? He loomed over the other three in the room, his skin darker than Alex’s. In fact, Alex noticed, his skin seemed to be the perfect blend of George’s and his wife; he couldn’t help wondering if that was a factor in their choice of soon-to-be adopted child. He quickly disregarded that. If they wanted a child to blend into their family, why would they adopt an older teen? That’d be illogical. So what’s in it for them? I’m not- he made eye contact with George, deciphering what emotion he could see in the molasses colored irises watching his face.
He seemed excited, not nearly at the same level of energy as his wife had been, but Alexander could see the happiness cutting through the other emotions clouding his eyes. Caution, nervousness, perhaps? But what Alexander didn’t see was pity. Surely he had seen the file, read his sob story, and yet, not a flicker of pity in his gaze. George gave a wave, his smile sheepish. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.” He finished his descent down the stairs, reaching his hand out to Alexander. “George Washington, but feel free to call me whatever you like, so long as it’s not offensive. George, I believe some of Gilbert’s friends call me ‘G-Wash,’ which is strange, but fine, if that’s what you prefer. it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Alexander tried not to bristle at the ‘S-word’ as he took the man’s hand in his own. “Alexander Hamilton. Any shortening of my name is not tolerated.” He hadn’t meant it to come out quite as sarcastic as it did, but he held his ground.
George blinked, before a smirk of his own appeared. “I’ll honor that if you’re being serious, but something tells me you’re just being facetious.” Facetious. Nice.
He gave a noncommittal shrug. “You’re right. Alex is fine.” George gave a laugh, a warm, hearty sound that warmed through Alex as though he was sitting by the fireplace on the other end of the room. Alexander found himself smiling brightly in response. Sure, Alexander was not completely thrilled with this situation, but as far as first impressions went, the Washingtons didn’t seem so bad. Alexander had heard the horror stories that could come from foster care/ adoption, so he wasn’t fully trusting yet, but he could see himself really liking this couple.
He’s still going to send that letter though.

Ms. Ross had left shortly after Martha (who gave a flustered introduction when she realized she had not, in fact, told Alexander her name) had handed him the hot cocoa with a generous amount of whipped cream, cocoa powder sprinkled on the top like one of the fancier coffee drinks he could never afford. She shook George’s hand and got hugged by Martha before turning to face him. One last nod to Alexander, the silent Call me if something happens heavily implied. He nodded in response, and she was gone.
The following silence was awkward, but not nearly as uncomfortable as predicted. The three of them sat in the family room, George lighting the fireplace before joining them in the center of the room and sipping at the hot chocolate Alexander had noticed Martha give him. “No cinnamon this time?” George asked, breaking the silence with an easy smile toward his wife.
She shook her head. “I want to know Alex’s taste before I start playing with the recipe.” She turned to Alexander, “I overheard you say Alex was fine, right?” He nodded, sipping at the beverage in front of him.
Oh. My. God.
This wasn’t hot cocoa. He had had hot cocoa back home, the really cheap powdered stuff that they got for free because it was near expiration. That was decent, sure. But this? This was ambrosia, nectar of the Gods. It was liquid sunshine, a warm hug in a blue coffee mug. The chocolate and subtle vanilla undertones flooded his senses, warming him up both physically and metaphorically. “Woah.” Whoops.
“Is that a good ‘Woah’?” Martha laughed. The perfect complement to George’s, her laugh was light, airy, and filled with life. George laughed along with her when Alexander gave a dumbfounded nod in response, actively sipping at the slightly-too-hot drink in lieu of a verbal answer. The couple smiled at each other. Alexander licked the whipped cream off his lips, only slightly self-conscious. The sheer domesticity of the scene amazed him. He had just met these people, and yet, he felt as though he had known them his entire life. The constantly on-edge, never stopping Alexander Hamilton found himself relaxing in a room of strangers, sinking into the armchair.
Something caught Alexander’s eye as George put his arm around Martha, so, in typical Hamilton fashion, he fixated on it. George’s shirt sleeve had shifted, revealing something on his wrist. Three little words and a heart, clearly printed on the inside of his arm. A side glance to Martha’s wrist and… yep. Same thing. Soulmates. Of course. Alexander set his mug down, gripping his sleeves in his hands before picking it back up.
Martha noticed this, of course, glancing at her wrist for a moment, but didn’t acknowledge it. Instead she stood, gesturing to his backpack on the floor by his feet. “We never did show you the house.”
“Of course! Come with me Alex, I’ll show you around.”

The tour itself was a blur to Alexander; he had never been in a house so large in his life. He decided to keep track of the important rooms: Family room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, other bathroom, George and Martha’s room, another bathroom (why do rich people feel the need to have so many bathrooms?) George’s study, Library. Library. Alexander had free reign to the library, George had said. He could go in whenever he wanted, read whatever he wanted, George had even said that they could probably wedge in another shelf in there if necessary (“You seem like a reader. Maybe we can fill this library to capacity. I think we can squeeze in another shelf or two.”).
Word choice suggests that the library is near capacity, meaning endless knowledge at Alexander’s fingertips, without the garish light of a computer screen.
Gilbert’s room. “Who?” Alexander asked unceremoniously. “I mean, you mentioned that name before, who’s Gilbert?”
“You could call him a family friend, I suppose,” George answered, eyes flicking up as he contemplated his word choice. “Sorry, I’ve never been asked to explain Gilbert’s relation to us before.” Alexander got ready to apologize for prying, praying that he hadn’t damaged the potential bond so soon, George read him like a book, immediately waving his hands rapidly in an attempt of clarification. “No, no, it’s alright. I met his parents during my time in the military, back in the day,” George’s expression turned wistful, “Anyway, that’s a story for another day. Gilbert is an old friend’s son, he flies back and forth between here and France. We obviously have the space, so he stays here while he’s stateside.” George laughed, “But he’s here so often I think he’s forgotten which house is actually his.” There was a pregnant pause, Alexander could sense the continuation, biting his lip as to keep himself from speaking out of turn. “He can be a lot to handle, so if he ever gets to be too much, just let him know and he’ll dial back. He’s a good kid. I think you’ll get along just fine.” George reassured him, quelling the fears Alexander hadn’t realized he had. Alexander nodded, uncertain as to how to respond. George responded in kind, before gesturing down the hall. “These are all guest rooms. We have the one next to Gilbert’s fully furnished to be yours, but if you’d prefer another room, just let me know and we’ll rearrange it in the morning.”
Pause. George wanted a response, Alex. Alexander shook his head. “No. no, next to Gilbert is fine. Thank you for your hospitality.” Alexander fumbled, averting eye contact and instead staring at his shoes, which he hadn’t realized he still had on. The battered fabric of his Converse was an eyesore against the pristine carpet. “This one?” He gestured to the room in front of him.
George nodded again, “That’s the one. I’ll let you get situated. If you need me for anything, I’ll be helping Martha with dinner, I trust you know your way back to the kitchen?”
“I think so.”
“Good,” another pregnant pause. Alexander reached for the doorknob, twisting it before George’s hand appeared on his shoulder. “Look, Alexander. Martha and I know you weren’t particularly happy with the idea of being taken in.”
Alexander bristled. How did he know? That conversation never left the doorstep! Had he been that obvious? George must think him ungrateful, he-
George squeezed, the added pressure stilling the shakes in Alexander’s limbs. “But we’re very happy to have you. Martha and I, we think you can do great things, Alexander…and we want to be there when you do it. I know this isn’t home to you yet, but I really hope it will be.” George smiled, patting his shoulder a few times before turning to walk down the hall. “I hope you’ll be at dinner?” he asked, as though he didn’t just rattle Alexander to his very core.
“Y-yeah.”
George didn’t give a verbal response, instead giving a nod and a smile before walking casually down the corridor.
Once George was gone, Alexander turned the knob to the room, stepping inside and carefully closing the door behind him. As an afterthought, he reached for the lock, twisting it until the satisfying click rang out.
The room gave off a very calming aura, Alexander realized. The walls were a soft blue, the white curtains gauzy and translucent. All he had to do was crack open a window and they’d dance lazily in the breeze like in those cheesy movies his mother liked to watch on the off chance she had the opportunity. Alexander set his bag on the floor, adjacent to the cherry wood dresser—which he didn’t need to inspect to know was actual wood and not one of the cheaper particle board ones—and sat on the bed. Similarly to the chair downstairs, the plush mattress embraced him like a warm hug. It took every ounce of Alexander’s being to not flop down and go to sleep. After all, it had been so long since he had been in a real bed, and nothing to this caliber. Rather than sleeping, he studied the quilt draped daintily underneath him. Small squares in different shades of red and blue each sewn meticulously together into the large blanket, small squares of white putting space between the colors. With such a wide collection of shades and patterns, the blanket should be almost painful to look at, and yet the quilt was entirely cohesive, not a single square looked out of place. Alexander flipped the corner of the quilt over, greeted with a fabric the color of new denim, a faint star pattern running throughout. His fingers ran over a rough patch in the seam, proving to Alexander what he had assumed: it was homemade.
He didn’t understand. Martha and George didn’t need to welcome him into their home so fully, they didn’t need to show him this level of kindness. Welcoming him with homemade hot chocolate, giving him an extremely soft bed in a large room with a homemade quilt, and if the smell wafting up the stairs was anything to go by, there was a hot meal waiting for him; it was all almost too much, too kind. He was a stranger, a nobody. A soulmate-less bastard from the Caribbean, destined for greatness, maybe, but destined to be alone.
Martha seemed awfully friendly with his social worker. Alexander’s head snapped up, eyes focused on the curtains, but mind elsewhere. Martha never introduced herself to the social worker. Martha hugged her before she left.
The fog of confusion had lifted, perfect clarity ringing through his head as annoyance took the place of the hopeful optimism. “They’re friends,” he whispered to himself. “They already knew each other before this.” He paused, his shoulders slumping as he stood, the comfortable mattress suddenly suffocating. He was a charity case, a favor paid to a friend, nothing more. Alexander scowled to himself. He let himself get swept up in the motions, allowed himself to hope. He pulled up his sleeves, the fabric of his sweatshirt pooling at his elbows. As always, his arms were bare. “This is who you are,” he said to himself, his tone dripping malice. “You’re meant to be alone. No one is supposed to love you.” The sentence that used to make him erupt—to cry and scream—had lost its sting. It’s just a fact to him now, a reminder to not let people in. Sleeves down, eyes up. No one will see. No one will know.
A glance at the alarm clock on the bedside table showed he had spent probably too much time moping. Alexander unlocked the door, rapidly pulling his shirt sleeves tight around his hands, concealing his arms again. No one will know. He reassured himself once more before finally crossing the threshold and closing the door behind him.
One wrong turn later, he was in the kitchen, George smiling at him upon his approach. “Alexander! I was just about to get you! I hope the room is acceptable...?” George trailed off, studying the boy’s face. “Is that a no?” he laughed, “it’s the mattress, isn’t it? I told Martha that it was too soft, not everyone wants to sleep on a feather pillow!” He sounds more jovial than annoyed, which would have comforted Alexander earlier. However now his eyes narrow and his mind clouds with doubt.
“Did you mean it? What you said in the hall?”
George idly tilted his head, brows furrowing for a moment. Alexander could see him playing the conversation back in his head, and watched the light return to George’s eyes in sharp and crisp. “Of course.” George responded, his voice soft. “I’m assuming you’re referring to the end of our discussion, outside your room.” Alexander nodded, his neck straining against the mechanical movement. “I meant every word.”
“Alexander! I hope you like your room! Isn’t the mattress amazi-” Martha paused halfway through taking off her apron, the pale pink fabric dangling awkwardly over half her face. “What’d I miss? Are you okay, Alex?”
“How did you know Ms. Ross? You know, before?” Alexander cursed mentally once again for his lack of eloquence. He was a wordsmith, writing and speaking is what he did. He spoke three languages for Christ’s sake! Why are they all abandoning him?
“Betsy? We were in a quilting club together years ago. She’s amazing. Hand embroidered all her quilts, said it gave them more character. You should see the one she did for the opening of the memorial, I think it’s still framed there, right dear? We could take-” she paused, “I’m sorry, I went on a tangent there,” Martha shook her head, clearing it of thoughts of quilting, no doubt.
“Alexander, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not true. We will reassure you as much as we have to, if it means you’ll believe how much we want you here,” George’s voice was kind, but there were diplomatic undertones, the implicit challenge to question him issued, which, naturally, Alexander jumped on.
“Why?” he spat out. “What do you gain from this? I’m just a scraggly teen from the Caribbean, not an orphan but might as well be,” he bit his tongue. Too much, reel back. “What do you get for taking me in? For trying to adopt me. You know they only pay you for foster care, right? But you’ve already started the adoption process, right?” The raised eyebrows of Martha answered his question. “Betsy told me. Why are you turning a paycheck into a bill?”
They were silent for a while, but Alexander didn’t back down. He stared at them both, fire in his eyes. He dared them to prove him wrong. He was right, of course. They had nothing.
“Alex…” Martha whispered, before dashing across the room and pulling him into a tight embrace. Alexander stiffened under the touch, guilt washing over him as he felt her shudder a sob into his shoulder. George stayed where he was, a frown on his face. His eyes were sad, yet not pitiful, for which Alexander was grateful.
When her sobs faded, she dropped her hold on Alex, stepping back to cradle his face in her hands. “Alex, you’ve been through so much, I understand why you’d feel that way. But,” she caressed his cheek with her thumb, “Please know that’s not the case. You are so much more than a scraggly teen from the Caribbean. Do you want to know why we decided to take you in? The real, honest reason?” She prompted, still holding his face as to maintain eye contact.
Did he want to know the reason? In theory yes, of course he wanted to know. But what if the answer wasn’t what he wanted to hear? Or what if she lied to placate him? No, he may have only just met Martha, but he trusted her, at least a little. She wouldn’t lie to him after swearing to give him the real answer. He nodded, Martha’s arms shaking along with his head. She lifted one of her hands to tuck a stray lock of hair behind Alexander’s ear.
“Betsey sent us your work. Your essays, your poetry. The story of the hurricane. As much of it as you were willing to give her.”
“My writing…?”
“It’s beautiful Alexander. Eloquent, heart-wrenching, and far too professional for someone your age. We had asked her where she had gotten these gorgeous pieces of writing, and that’s when she told us of your situation. That you were one of her kids, that you had been orphaned, uprooted from everything you’ve ever known. It was then that we realized that you were meant to be in our family. It was fate that assigned Betsey to you, Alexander. I genuinely believe that.”
Alexander was reeling. His writing had sent him to the Washingtons. His writing is what they saw first. They had had no idea of his identity, no idea of his story, none of it. He was just a talented writer to them when they decided to welcome him into their home. For the first time in a long time, Alexander Hamilton was speechless. “I...”
“Don’t you see, Alexander? We already love you.”
The tears fell from his eyes long before he had the capacity to stop them.
“Alexander,” Martha had embraced him again. They were crying, Alexander couldn’t tell which sobs were his and which were Martha’s anymore. His arms wrapped themselves around Martha’s frame, although he couldn’t tell if he was comforting her or himself. Eventually, Alexander glanced up at George again. His eyes were misty, his face contorted in a way Alexander recognized immediately. He was trying to be strong, trying not to let his own emotions take control of the situation. It was something Alexander had thought he had mastered before leaving the island.
But this was different. It was easy to mask pain, his mother’s death, his cousin’s suicide, the hurricane, he coasted through these no problem, his hardened exterior protecting him from the visible signs of grief and pain. Showing weakness on the streets might as well be a bullseye painted on his back. He was scrappy, after all. Even with everything that happened, he still couldn’t seem to die. But this wasn’t pain. For once in his life, he wasn’t in pain. These people, the Washington’s cared, genuinely cared. Fate had never been kind to him before, but at that moment, he believed it. Fate had assigned him to Betsey, fate had led him to the Washington’s door.
Living with the Washington’s might not be as inconvenient as Alexander had previously thought. He may still have bare arms, he may not have a soulmate. But maybe, just maybe, he had found his home.