If you are new to this little fairy tale, then you should know that the elements of this story were voted on by my readers, such as the protagonist (a teenage boy), his main problem (lying), and the setting (an urban orphanage). You can read earlier chapters if you go to the House of Lies page, or Wattpad if you like apps.
The sounds coming into the foyer were familiar to Lucas now, and he knew what he would see when he followed Max into the large room. Everybody was arranged just like they had been that morning and the night before, except that Ami sat on the floor next to the giant knight, reading from a small book, while Tate stretched out on the floor next to her.
They must’ve come down while I was eating my tortilla. Lucas studied them, waiting for them to give away a sign that they knew he had been watching them. Spying. You were spying on them, Lucas scolded himself.
Neither of them gave Lucas any reason to think they saw him, but the tortilla sandwich he had just eaten rolled over in his stomach.
“Hey,” Max nudged him in the arm. “You’re staring.”
Lucas blushed and moved his eyes around the room. The girl sitting on the window seat cradled her make-up case in her lap, holding a magazine instead of her mascara wand.
“That’s Cassy,” Max explained in a low voice. Lucas leaned over to hear him, the boy in black standing at least six inches shorter. “She, obviously, loves make-up. I’m not sure what happened to her parents, but she says she’s a model. If she is, she’s never had an agent or anybody come looking for her. We all think that she could be if she got braces, but that’ll never happen here.”
She’s pretty enough, Lucas judged. She had long brown hair, pulled back into a ponytail with a simple band. For all the time she spent with make-up, it didn’t look like she was wearing much. Her eyes were almond-shaped, green or hazel as far as Lucas could tell from across the room, with a heart-shaped mouth.
Cassy shifted, setting her make-up case to the side, and stretched her legs out in front of her. They were long, like a model’s Lucas supposed, almost the length of the bay window, and skinny.
“Hey!” One of the pool table boys yelled and grabbed a cue stick from another. “It was my turn!
The boy who just lost the pool stick shoved the other and took it back The two fighting were tall and athletic, with lean torsos sucked into sleeveless dryweave muscle shirts and chicken legs hidden inside baggy basketball shorts. One had blond hair and the other brown, but otherwise they looked alike. The third boy was much shorter, with a baby face and a foxish look.
“Next we have the Triforce of Contention.” Max lowered his voice even more, wary that they might hear him. “I think it’s been at least two days since one of them made a shot without some kind of argument over cheating. The two tall ones are Devon and Jayden. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their hair—Jayden blonde, Devon brown.”
As the boy with brown hair, Devon, lined up his shot, Jayden picked up the cue ball and held it out of reach of the other. That led to more shoving.
“You’d think Mona or Carl would get a third pool stick.” Lucas thought he was funny, but Max just stared ahead and kept talking.
“The short one is Tom. He starts most of the fights. He can be a nasty little snitch, too.”
Tom looked at them suspiciously. He had inflated cheeks and a dimpled chin held up on bony shoulders. Tom was even shorter than Max, which made him look about twelve. It was all topped off by a mess of red curls. He turned back to the game, sneaking a ball off of the table and putting it in his pocket while Devon was busy twisting Jayden in a headlock. When they came out of that, the missing ball started another argument and led to another headlock. Tom just leaned on his own pool stick and smiled.
The rest of the room ignored the rough housing.
“What about them?” Lucas pointed to a pair of twins sucked down into the middle of a giant bean bag. They looked identical, both wearing plain green t-shirts and blue denim. A laptop balanced on their knobby knees, both pairs of dark eyes looming in their faces, highlighted by the glow of their computer screen. They had scraggly brown hair that looked to Lucas as if they’d missed as many haircuts as Brandon.
“Pam and Tara.”
“Yeah,” Max shrugged, “I know.”
“They don’t look like they get in much trouble.
Max smiled. It was not a warm, happy smile, but a mischievous knowing smile. “They do stuff online they’re not supposed to. They write emails to people saying they’ve won the lottery, message parents that their kids have missed school, messing with people they don’t even know.”
“Sounds like bad April Fool’s jokes. Why doesn’t somebody just take the computer away?”
“Nobody cares that much. If somebody comes to complain, Carl just tells the people thanks and they leave.”
“I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with Carl.” Lucas thought of the big man in the dark suit walking him to the laundry room, and something tugged at his memory, again. He felt like he had lost something, but he couldn’t remember what.
Lucas looked at Ami and Tate. He wanted to be done talking to Max so that he could go over and start a conversation, but he didn’t quite know how to get away. He also wanted to know what Max was saying, but his eyes kept wandering to the girl with the long, wavy hair and the tall, ugly boy with the tattered hat.
“What?” Lucas looked at Max.
“I didn’t say anything.” Max shrugged.
Lucas’s eyes traveled over Casey and the group at the pool table and back to Ami and Tate. Ami looked at Tate with a smile, then turned the page of the book she was holding and started to read. Lucas wasn’t sure, but he thought Ami peeked up at him once while she read.
Brandon came into the room behind them through the doorway off the foyer. Lucas didn’t see him as much as he sensed his twitching. Max turned along with Lucas as Brandon stepped in. He held a sketchpad under one arm and a pencil behind his ear. His multi-colored cap sat halfway back on his head, giving his hair room to stick out in front like the spikes on a horny toad.
“Hey,” Brandon said as he passed by, hitching up his skinny jeans. He walked over to the window seat and tried to sit down, but Cassy shifted her legs so that Brandon couldn’t sit there without sitting on her or crawling over her. When he tried, Cassy shot him a death glare, and he answered by doing a quick right turn.
Brandon pulled the pencil out from his ear and hit it in rhythm against his leg. The trio at the pool table gathered to form a wall, forcing Brandon to pass by without talking to them, and the twins left no space on the bean bag. Brandon backed into a corner and sat in his own bean bag near a girl Lucas hadn’t noticed.
“Who’s that?” Lucas nudged Max as he watched Brandon wiggled down into a worn purple bean bag and settled his sketch pad on his lap. Next to him in an equally worn blue bean bag, sat what Lucas guessed was a girl.
“That,” Max crossed his arms, “is Dee.”
“Is she terminally ill?” Lucas whispered, just in case he was right.
Dee crouched in a fetal position, cradling a handheld gaming system on her knees. Her clothes were those of an average middle grader, stretchy yellow leggings hugging her thin calves. She wore a blue knit sweater even though it was hot outside, but her feet were bare, toes curling into her bean bag.
She had a round baby face, ash gray with dirty blond hair that fell in greasy strings out of a clip in the back. Her eyes looked large for her body and seemed black from where Lucas stood next to Max. These eyes seemed oddly familiar.
“Dee is on the edge.”
“Of what?” Lucas looked at Max, the smaller boy staring at the girl in the bean bag.
“On the edge of turning,” Max answered as if it were obvious what he meant.
This is weird. Lucas looked back over at Ami and Tate, who were still on the floor reading. But, what the heck.
“Turning into what?” Lucas ventured the question.
Max met his eyes, his pale grayish face perfectly calm.
“You’ll see.” He walked out of the rec room.