Cold air came in through the cracked windows.
I leaned across the small space between our beds and poked at Dev with my finger, until she stirred. Looking at me from under heavy eyes, she blinked. I blinked right back at her.
“I’m an icicle,” I said lamely.
“And I don’t care,” She replied, dropping back down onto her down pillow. I frowned and threw off my covers, creeping across the room to the source of my inability to sleep.
“I’m going to end up like an insomniac,” I announced, sliding the first one shut effortlessly. The second got a little bit stuck.
She rolled over to face the wall. “And I. Don’t. Care.”
“Ha. Aren’t you cheerful.”
I could practically feel her bite back a remark. She just folded in on herself even more and hunched up, a little lone figure under a mountain of quilts.
“This window won’t shut,” I said after a moment. Goosebumps rose all over my arms, and my teeth began to chatter.
She groaned and turned to face me, propping her upper half up on her elbows. “I know. I rigged it like that on purpose.”
“What?” I asked, hesitating. The words sunk in. Then I was across the room in a flash, under the now-cool haven that was my bed.
Dev brushed a strand of dark hair behind her ear. “I like to sleep with the windows open. But mom got all hoity-toity about it, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.”
“And you--” More teeth chattering. Misery. “--stuck it like that?”
“The right one. The left wouldn’t.”
I really didn’t have a response to that.
She cleared her throat. “There’s more blankets in the hall, you know.”
“I know,” I lied. “I’m just too cold to get them.” Now, that? That was the gospel truth.
Dev closed her eyes for a long second. Then she stood, heading for the door. I watched her go with slight curiosity. She slipped out of the room.
So. She was either going to sleep on the couch (scratch that; porch--it would be nice and cool for her there) to get away from me, or she was going to retrieve a baseball bat and knock me out so I’d quit keeping her awake. She surprised me, though, when she returned with a stack of bedding.
She dropped it all on the floor and made a beeline for her bed, shoulders hunched. I tentatively reached out and snatched the nearest comforter; a pink-and-purple monstrosity.
But oh, I noted as I pulled it up, was it warm.
“Thanks,” I muttered at long last.
Dev shrugged. “It’s fine. No prob. Just don’t make me get up again. I’m tired.”
“Right.” And grouchy. “Goodnight.”
She didn’t bother replying.
For a long while I lay still, feeling warmth creep back into my frozen limbs. The cool breeze swirled around the room, but the additional comforter kept it at bay. After a while, I turned onto my stomach, and relaxed a bit more.
I couldn’t believe I was here. Living with my cousin.
It was all so surreal.
One moment I’d been home, happy with my seemingly loving parents, and then Dad had run away to be with some woman he met online, and mom met someone new, and then she was going to be with him for a while in Europe, only--wasn’t it funny--I’d have to go stay with Lynn, Dad’s Much Older Sister, for a while.
The thing about Lynn, Dad’s Much Older Sister was that I’d only met her all of three times in my sixteen years, and none of them had been on extremely pleasant occasions. Twice was because of funerals, and the third when Dad had his heart surgery and she brought flowers by.
Lynn, Dad’s Much Older Sister, was also one of those really mom-ly moms. She went to church every Sunday and she fostered a bunch of kids. That was how Dev came into her life. It was hard to imagine Dev as a poor little hispanic girl with drug-addicted parents, but that was what she’d used to be before Lynn had taken her in.
That was ten years ago, when she was seven.
I’d only met Dev once, count ‘em, once in my life. At our Great Uncle’s funeral. She’d seemed exotic and beautiful to my nine-year-old eyes. We ended up on a church pew side by side.
Our exchange went like this:
Dev: It’s way too warm in here.
Me: I guess so.
Dev: Guess what?
Me: I don’t know.
Dev: You’re supposed to say what.
Dev: I’m adopted.
Me: Oh, cool.
Dev: And you’re my cousin.
Me: Oh, cool.
And that was pretty much it. The service ended a few agonizingly boring minutes later, and Aunt Lynn, Dad’s Much Older Sister, swept out of the church with Dev and whoever else she was fostering at the time. Only God knows what made Dev stick to Lynn, but she did, and I guess that was good.
Eventually my eyes grew heavy, and my body went slack. I fell into a half-conscious sort of slumber, one of those awful ones that only seem to make you sleepier than you were in the first place.
The smell of frying-something woke me in the morning. I sat up too quickly; vertigo overtook me. A few moments later I went stumbling down the hall, rubbing my arms to keep warm. Then I was back in the room, grabbing a sweatshirt, only to notice Dev was already gone.
Lynn had a huge house--a sprawling country-style that didn’t appear to be nice, but made up for it in girth. The paint was peeling, and it was very obviously old, but endearing.
“Good morning!” Aunt Lynn chirped when I entered the kitchen. It had a hardwood floor and sunshine-yellow cabinets so bright they hurt my head. Dev was leaning against the white tile countertop, shoving doughnuts in her mouth. Powdered sugar stained her fingers and the corners of her lips. She proceeded to lick it all off.
“The others should be up uno momento,” Lynn told me with an expectant smile.
It took me a second to translate: One moment.
I took French, not Spanish.
“Okay,” I replied. Then, as her words sunk in, “There’re others?”
Dev laughed. “There’s always others.”
Lynn shook her head at her. “Be nice.”
“There are more?” I repeated.
She faced me, smiling. “Well, you got in late last night. They were all in bed, you know.”
“Uh-huh.” I sat down at the island centered in the dead middle of the huge kitchen. The bar stools were a little creaky. I shifted my weight.
“Right now we have Ryan, Adrienne, Oscar, and Jack,” She informed me.
“Ten, twelve, seven, and five,” Dev supplied.
I tried to memorize the names and ages, but failed. “How long have they been with you?” Seemed the only appropriate question, so I asked it.
Lynn dropped another batch of doughnuts into the hot oil on the stove. “Um...let me think...Dev? I honestly don’t know. Over a year, all of them.”
More doughnut eating from Dev. She swallowed. “Yeah.”
"Are you adopting them, too?”
Lynn shook her head sadly. “No. It’s too much money we just don’t have. They’ll just stay with us until we find some more people to love them.”
I bit my lip.
A moment later, the unmistakable trod of happy feet sounded over our heads. Down they went, on the stairs, and a little, curly-headed boy came hurtling into the kitchen, straight for Dev’s arms. She opened them readily for him, but he opted to crash into her. Down both of them went.
“Hey!” Lynn reprimanded, but she was smiling. “I have hot oil here.”
The boy, presumably Jack, looked up and grinned at her. “Yummy!”
“Yummy’s right,” Dev said, scooping him up. A new light was in her eyes, one I had yet to see. Then again, I’d only been here for a few hours. But still.
She carried Jack over and set him down. “This is Bebbie. She’s staying with us for a while.”
I waved. Jack waved back.
“Are you a foster baby?” He asked.
I shook my head fervently. “No. Um...a cousin?” It came out as a question.
He looked to Dev for confirmation. She nodded.
“Okay, Baby,” He replied. I snorted.
“It’s Bebbie.” Just as stupid, I wanted to add, but my stupid name.
“I know, Baby,” He said, and went to retrieve a cinnamon-sugar doughnut.
Dev smiled fondly at him. “He’s so cute.”
I had to agree. “Yeah.”
She cast me an anxious glance, then tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “You want something to eat? If you don’t, like, eat fried food--”
I glanced down at my curvy frame. Me? Not eat fried food?
“I love doughnuts,” I said.
She smiled softly, to herself. “Okay.”
Dev grabbed the plate of pastries and set them in front of me. I took one, and she took what appeared to be her fifteenth, guzzling it in a matter of seconds.
“If we don’t eat quickly,” She informed me, “the kids get to them. And they eat. A lot.”
“More than you?” I asked. I hadn't intended for it to sound rude, more like a joke, but I instantly regretted the words. A hardness came over her eyes and she snapped her mouth shut.
“Yes,” She hissed. “More than me.”
I was very tempted to give myself a nice, painful slap. Miraculously, I refrained.
“Sorry,” I apologized. “I didn’t mean--”
But I was interrupted as yet another child showed up. This one was a pale, very French-looking girl with white blond hair who I presumed to be Adrienne.
“Morning,” She muttered, averting my probing gaze.
Lynn gave her a pat on the head. “Hi, cutie. You want doughnuts?”
She shook her head and made a beeline for the fridge, which was a pastel-green and looked about a million years old. She grabbed a yogurt cup and headed back up the stairs.
“Hi, Baby!” Jack yelled.
“That’s not my name!” Adrienne replied. She had a very deep voice, for a twelve-year-old.
Jack laughed his head off. “I know! That’s why it’s funny.”
Dev reached for him and pulled her onto his lap. “Hey, silly. What’s my name.”
“Devon,” He replied, in all seriousness. It was easy to see from his eyes that he loved her.
She tickled him. He squirmed. “That’s right. Don’t forget it, ‘kay?”
She kissed his plump little cheeks and released him. “Okay. Go play.”
I watched all this with interest, not saying a word. Family interaction had always fascinated me. I was pretty much an only child--I had a half brother, Drake, on Dad’s side, but I never saw him. He was in his late twenties. So all this; it was new.
I took a deep breath and downed the rest of my doughnut. “Thanks for breakfast,” I said, standing. “I think I’ll go get dressed.”
Dev stared at the tabletop and ignored me. Lynn smiled and gave me a wave as I headed up. I entered the hallway to head to Dev’s room, only to be stopped by Adrienne.
“You,” She said. “I don’t like.”
And then she swept into one of the many doors that lined the hall, slamming it behind her.
So far, so good.