Alfred Jones used to have good dreams and a semi-good life.
‘Used to’ being the keyword. He used to have good dreams back when he was ten years old and it was just him and his mama on the small island of the Dominican Republic, even though they were so poor that they couldn’t cut Alfred’s hair because they couldn’t afford scissors or a knife. Even though they were so poor that all Alfred could only wear were his older cousin Maria’s old dresses, because hand-me-downs were cheaper than buying real clothing. He used to dream about being away from it all with his momma, living a good life somewhere in America with enough money to buy Alfred boy’s clothing and to cut his hair. He used to dream about finding his papa, who mama promised was a Frenchman with sweet words and a charming and attractive accent. He used to dream about finding his Uncle Antonio too, mama’s older brother who had been shipped off to Spain when they were very young and the last she heard was that he had been accepted into a good elementary school in America.
He had been an optimist, back before the hurricane that took his mother when he was 10. Back before his social worker, a nice woman whose name was Katyusha Braginski but he called her Ms. Braginski no matter how many times she asked for him to refer to her as something more familiar. He knows she wants to help. He knows and it makes him feel so, so bad, but Alfred doubts anything or anyone can help him anymore.
He rests his head against the glass of the car window, ignoring how it made the bruise on the side of his head hurt and ache. He pulled his pet rabbit, a small little thing he called Esperanza after his mother, closer to him. Esperanza should have been close to dying by now, since he had been given her by his mother on his tenth birthday just a week before the hurricane that took so many of his friends and family’s lives, but Alfred was fine if she lived longer than a rabbit should. She was the last connection to his mother. What would he do if she died?
He heards Ms. Braginski sigh; a tired and heavy sound that sounded as if it shouldn’t come from her but at the same time felt so right escaping her mouth. Alfred didn’t blame her. She was a young woman doing her best to find homes for so many kids--kids like Alfred, or better than him--while also trying to support her younger brother and sister, the former of whom was Alfred’s age and the latter of whom was four years Alfred’s junior.
“...You’ll like it here,” Alfred blinked, shaken out of his thoughts as he tuned back into what Ms. Braginski was saying. “They’re a nice family. Mr and Mr. Bonnefoy-Kirkland have just one son around your age, but he’s a nice boy…”
Alfred zoned back out again. If she was only going to talk about how wonderful his life would be with them, then he wouldn’t listen. She had done the same thing before dumping him on the Puddifoots, who had beaten him every time he dared to talk (he had talked too much anyway, they were just teaching him a lesson), or the Faulks, who had eyes better than a halk’s and punished him each time he got caught trying to steal food in his desperation from not being fed for a month (it’s fine, he had been too chunky anyway. It didn’t matter that he had never gotten enough food to eat back on the island). She had said the same type of thing before leaving him with Mr. Furmage, who had done terrible, terrible things to Alfred for so, so long and it always had hurt--
He couldn’t think about that. Not right now. They had promised. They had promised that no other family would be like Mr. Furmage and that Mr. Furmage couldn’t hurt him anymore even though he had bailed his way out of prison because he was far, far away.
He hears Ms. Braginski sigh again as she realized he wasn’t listening. He doesn’t care. He already knows she’s given up on him after the failed therapy sessions. It’s better if they don’t talk; Alfred already knows she doesn’t want to anyway. He’s just another problem child that gets into more fights than he can win. It’s all written down on his case file, on his hospital information, and the information kept of him in the government. The bruises that don’t fade quick enough. The scars that last for a lifetime, scattered on his back and his stomach and his arms and his legs and his neck and his chest. The broken bones that he had gotten in one way or another. The way he couldn’t sleep anymore and woke up screaming and crying when he did. His overgrown hair, tangled in a mess of long, silky waves that turned straight and semi-neat once it was brushed that was too long for a boy to have and too long for him to like, but it reminded him of his mama’s dark chestnut hair and the way it tickled his arms and engulfed him in warmth.
He couldn’t bare to lose something else that reminded him of his mama.
They’re going somewhere further than Alfred had ever been. He used to be living in New York, a too-traumatized boy with big dreams that had been shattered and left behind more shell than boy from years of punishments and taunting. He had never really travelled outside of there much, except for that one time when Ms. Braginski dropped him off at a group home in Connecticut for a little while when she was desperate to find him a warm place to sleep that month. But no matter how poisoned New York was, how much it had broken him and left behind a scarred, weak, battered, and bruised person that couldn’t be called his mother’s pequeno heroe or his cousin Maria’s bendicion favorito anymore. Despite it all, Alfred couldn’t help but think of New York as home. It was as battered and bruised and broken as he was, after all.
“Please try to behave, Alfred,” Ms. Braginski says as they pull up in front of a large mansion that Alfred can’t help but gawk at. “I’ve called in a lot of favors to get you here. You could have been stuck back in New York City, but I convinced them that you need a change of scenery. These people took you in on such short notice when nobody else would. So please, za lyubov do vs’oho svyatoho, behave!”
Alfred doesn’t listen to her, and they both know it. He’s too busy gawking at the huge house in front of them. Still, Alfred responds, “You shouldn’t’ve.” He doesn’t quite get the hang of English yet--he was better at Spanish, the official language of where he grew up, and French, the language that his mother had learned from his absent father when they were together. He had learned Italian and German and Mandarin from the books at the library at his mother’s insistence too. He had breezed through each language, the act of learning them surprisingly easy compared to how hard it was for him to read and write, but English grammar and sentences left him confused and stuck.
She sounds like a strange mixture between angry and exhausted and desperate. It’s a pathetic sound, so Alfred shuts his mouth and says, “I’ll behave.” A pause. “Maybe.”
He tries not to remember Mr. Furmage or how hunger had torn at his stomach for so long.
“That’s as good of a promise as I’ll get, I guess,” Ms. Barginski mutters. Then she continues louder. “But these ones are good people, I promise! One is from England and the other is from France, and their son is from Canada, so you can’t possibly feel out of place in America with them beside you. They’re living the kind of life that every American wants, anyway.”
Alfred holds in his snort of disbelief. He highly doubts that. The typical American pie life didn’t seem to be that great. There was always something else hiding behind those welcoming smiles and white picket fences.
He doesn’t say anything as Ms. Braginski leads him to the front door, with his backpack slung over his shoulder and Esperanza in his arms. It’s chilly when he steps out into the cool night air of the ending summer, since he’s only dressed in Maria’s old white gown with the red ribbon that’s covered with dirt and soot and blood and who knows what else. He didn’t want to wear it on for a first impression to meet the Bonnefoy-Kirklands, but Mr. Furmage had burned all of his other clothing and Alfred had barely managed to save this.
“Be polite,” Ms. Braginski reminds him quickly as she knocks on the door.
“Ser cortes,” Alfred mocks her underneath his breath, speaking the Spanish words quicker than the rumbling of thunder above him.
The door opened quickly, revealing a bushy-browed man with green eyes who was shorter than Alfred by at least six inches. He greets Ms. Braginski with a smile. “Katyusha,” he greets politely with a charming smile and british accent to his voice as the two of them exchange a quick hug. So that was how she had gotten him all the way out here, Alfred realizes. They’re friends. Great. “How are Ivan and Natalya? Last I heard they were at the top of their classes.”
Ms. Braginski beams proudly. “Ivan got an ‘A’ on his Word History assessment,” she says. “And Natalya is competing against another girl in a Spelling Bee. She’s been practicing all month for it. How is Matthew?”
The man nods, firm and polite. “Wonderful,” he says, though there’s a proud and mighty gleam in his eyes. “He could use more friends, but he’s such a smart lad….”
The two of them continued their conversation for another five minutes, seemingly forgetting all about Alfred, who stood there shivering and trying to keep the color on his face as the wind rushed past him and made his dress flutter uselessly. Finally, when he was sure that his legs and arms had turned to popsicles, he cleared his throat to get Ms. Braginski’s attention.
She sent him an apologizing look and stepped back so that the man got a better view of him. “This is Alfred Jones, the boy I was telling you about,” she introduces him. The man’s eyes lock onto Alfred, taking in his bare feet (he didn’t have any shoes, and he refused Ms. Braginski’s help. She didn’t mean it anyway, and what was help if it didn’t mean something) and his dirtied gown and tangled hair. Alfred wonders if he looked too much like a girl. That was why Maria had always loved dressing him up. As the man’s eyes meet Alfred’s, he’s suddenly struck with the realization that there is no judgement in those sharp, green eyes. Only pity. And damn, does Alfred hate it. “Alfred, this is Arthur Bonnefoy-Kirkland.”
“Hello Alfred,” Arthur greets him, stepping aside and motioning for the two of them to get out of the cold night air and into the warmth of the home. “We’re all very excited to have you in our home. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Hey,” Alfred mumbles back, keeping his eyes on his feet and avoiding Ms. Braginski’s stare. It burned holes in the side of his head, and he just knew that she wanted him to do something more friendly and politely. To spite her, he says nothing else.
Arthur must have been expecting something more, but does nothing at Alfred’s lack of greeting. Instead, he calls for another man.
From somewhere deep within the house, Alfred hears an impossibly high-pitched squeal and the sound of feet slapping against a wooden floor. It did not take long before words accompanied the sound.
“Il est la!” French words floated down to Alfred’s ears, making his eyes widen. It had been so long since he had heard the graceful flowing of French. “Je ne peux pas attendre pour le rencontrer enfin!”
From another doorway, a man that is slightly taller than Arthur but shorter than Alfred entered the room. His hair was tied back in a low ponytail, wavy blond tresses tied together with a pink ribbon. The beginning scruff of a beard decorated his chin and his eyes were as dark as the evening sky. He spotted Alfred and grinned.
“He is here!” Francis exclaimed, grinning wider as he walked towards Alfred and took his head in his hands. “I have been waiting so, so long for you--”
“We got the call a week ago!” Arthur snapped. Francis waved him off.
“So long,” he repeated, running a gentle hand through Alfred’s messy hair, detangling the knots and tangles. He brought Alfred’s head down to cradle it against his chest. “Mathieu will be so excited to have a brother. Mais tu es trop mince….”
He lets go of Alfred suddenly, unconcerned as the younger boy staggered back. Arthur rolled his eyes at his husband’s antics, although the look was more fond than it was annoyed. “Your room will be in the west wing with the rest of ours,” he explained. “Matthew’s room will be beside your’s, and mine and Francis’s will be across the hall if you need us.”
“...Matthew…?” Alfred questions. Arthur nods and smiles.
“Our son,” he explains. “We adopted him back when he was three years old. He’s from Canada.”
“Suivre,” Francis chirps, motioning for Alfred to follow him down the hall and up a set of marvelous stairs. He turns down another hall and leads Alfred to a door. It was a plain door, practically nothing compared to the door beside it that read “Matthew” in small but noticeable cursive or the door across the hall that declared “Francis and Arthur” in an elegant scrawl. Francis opened the door, ushering Alfred inside. “This will be your room.”
Alfred can’t help but gape. The room was huge! Although the color scheme stuck to boring neutrals, Alfred had to agree that whoever styled it knew fashion. It was a perfect combination between elegant and cozy. The bed was bigger than any bed Alfred had ever slept on. A huge balcony was to the right of the bed, the glass doors propped open to allow the gentle breeze in. The curtains were a plain transparent white, but Alfred found himself memorized with how they fluttered in the breeze.
“This… This is all mine?” Damn. If this was how rich people lived, Alfred could definitely get used to it. He had only ever slept on the hard, rough mattresses of bunk beds in group homes or the one big bed that felt like a wooden plank the he had to share with his momma back before the hurricane.
Francis smiled. “Bien sûr,” he replied, as if it was perfectly obvious. “We can go shopping for curtains and decorations tomorrow in the morning. Maybe a couple of archeology kits--Katyusha told us that you were interested in archeology. Do you wish to an archeologist when you are older?”
Alfred swallowed around the lump in his throat. Of course Ms. Braginski would tell. “I used to,” Alfred replied.
“Well, we can get a couple of kits. Katyusha also informed us that you were a fan of astronomy. Maybe we can get space-themed curtains and wall decorations. Would you like that?” Alfred shrugged.
“Francis? What’s taking so long?” Arthur came bursting into the room, startling the two other men. He caught sight of Alfred and hurried over. “Oh dear, you’re not looking so well,” he observed, placing a hand on Alfred’s forehead. “You ought to get to bed before you catch a cold. You must be knackered from the drive here.” He ushered Alfred toward the bed, only backing away satisfied once Alfred was laying down.
“I want to go home,” Alfred whispered.
Arthur gave him a sad smile and patted his head. Pity entered his eyes. “Don’t you understand? You are home.” He said. “From this day on you’re our son.”
Alfred swallowed down his rising anger. “Okay,” he said, mostly to help convince himself that this was home. But it wasn’t. Home was back at his small shack that looked as if it was about to fall over and had probably been destroyed in the hurricane. Home was were his mama was rocking and soothing him to sleep. This wasn’t home. New York wasn’t home, and neither was this too big house that was occupied by the perfect family that would try too hard to fix him. “Okay.”
Francis and Arthur left soon after that.
When Katyusha first called Arthur begging him to take in the tall, delinquent orphan boy called Alfred Jones, Arthur had agreed hesitantly.
He didn’t necessarily want to bring a lawbreaking child into his home. Dear lord, what kind of impact would Alfred have on Matthew? But Francis had agreed to it right away, eager for another son. Arthur knew that Francis wanted another child, but he didn’t think he wanted one that badly. As Francis bustled around the house, making it more presentable despite it being in tip-top shape as always, Arthur couldn’t help but feel as if he had made a mistake. Arthur didn’t think he was ready.
But then he saw the file.
The starvation. The pills. The failed therapy sessions and doctor visits. The scars and broken bones. This lad was a mere sixteen year old boy, but he had endured so much. Alfred was sixteen, but he walked around with eyes that looked as broken as shattered glass and as dreary as rain. He was too young, too naive, too inexperienced with the unfairness of life to have to go through so much at such a young age.
Arthur wanted him right then and there. He wanted to show Alfred what a real family was; with two parents and a brother and no punishments. He wanted to show Alfred that there was still a reason to believe in the world. That nothing was as bad as it seemed. He’d get better. It would all get better.
And then he saw Alfred in person for the first time, amazed that such a tall boy could look so tiny and weak and dainty. His hair was messy and tangled and longer than any boy’s hair. His face was sunken in, giving him the appearance of a deprived ghost. He wore a dress; a dress that was covered with dirt and blood and lord knows what else. There were no shoes on his feet and no hope in his eyes. Arthur liked to imagine that once, long ago, Alfred had been a happy child with an infinity’s worth of hope and faith and happiness shining in his not-yet-broken eyes.
“God, Francis,” Arthur breathed as they made their way to the living room, leaving Alfred alone in his new room.
“Oui, je sais,” Francis agreed.
“He looks so lost,” Arthur said. “So sad. So pathetic. A child shouldn’t look like that.”
“No, they shouldn’t,” Francis agreed again.
They sat in silence for the rest of the night, waiting for Matthew to come home.