(ch 6) the Price of a Life (Vernon)
December 20th - 21st
If there was one thing Vernon was grateful for, it was that winter time came with shorter daylight hours. Not that bedtime was earlier, but the younger boys seemed to simmer down when it was dark outside.
Today was another day of not getting adopted, and well, Vernon couldn’t blame the parents for this. He was thirteen and a mom and dad without kids didn’t want a teenager. From his experience, he noticed all the young ones go first. The cute ones with their chubby cheeks and innocent smiles. The ones that didn’t understand the pain of loss because they were so young.
Vernon never wanted to get close to the little ones because they were always the first to go. He had dealt with significant loss in his life without losing more. He had become known at the orphanage as someone you can go to for advice, but not someone to go to as a friend.
On this particular night, it was quieter than usual. The kind matron had allowed the boys to play a little longer, and so Vernon had to stay out of the way. He didn’t have to, of course, but he didn’t want his dour mood to ruin those of the others. It did not bother him that they were happy. He had heard of how cruel some directors of orphanages were in other places. He couldn’t know for sure if this was true, as all his information came from eavesdropping on adults. It was rather easy for him to sneak underfoot, as their eyes were always shiny for the babies and toddlers.
Vernon had been in the orphanage longer than any other child and Mrs Attwood had found a soft spot in her heart for him. When he wasn’t watching the children or caring for them, he was reading in front of Mrs Attwood’s fireplace. He loved to curl up on the floor with his favourite blanket and cuddly toy. It was actually a gift from Mrs Attwood, and he never let it get too far from his view. He would never admit to having this guilty pleasure. Vernon was happy that none of the children ever made fun of him, even though he was certain they saw him have it.
‘Okay, laddies!’ The sweet voice of Mrs Attwood came from the bottom of the stairs. ‘Time for bed, darlings!’
For once there wasn’t much fuss at the announcement, as the boys had tired of playing earlier.
‘I’ll be up after five minutes, boys! I want to see everyone in bed.’
There was a separate nursery for newborns that had got abandoned. Some were children of mums who had died in childbirth and no dad had come forward. Vernon was sure this was the saddest type of case, though he couldn’t agree that abandonment was good at all. He knew that very well.
There was a time that Johnny had been with him, but that felt like such a long time ago. He couldn’t remember. He knew Johnny had a good reason for leaving, but he never heard from Johnny, so he did not know. For all he knew, Johnny wasn’t even alive anymore. Vernon felt his lip tremble, but he bit it hard, refusing to let any tears fall. He had learnt to stop crying a long time ago, and he refused to allow his tears to resurface. They didn’t get to decide how he reacted! Stupid tears.
By the time Mrs Attwood arrived at his bed to tuck him in, Vernon was proud to say he had controlled his emotions. Despite this, the lovely woman somehow knew how he was feeling. ‘It will be alright, Vernon. Don’t worry, my sweet boy.’ She kissed his forehead and for a moment Vernon thought he would end up crying after all. Mrs Attwood stroked his hair, saying nothing else, until he felt his eyes droop.
When he opened his eyes again, Mrs Attwood had disappeared. All the boys were asleep, and dawn was approaching. Oh! How he loved dawn! Stretching languidly, Vernon sat up in his bed, still clutching his stuffed animal. He pulled the covers off and slipped on his toes to poke at the cool floor. After a moment he let both his feet touch the floor and, grimacing, stood up.
By this point, the pink sky had got brighter. How long did it take him to get out of bed? Tiptoeing, Vernon went to his favourite spot by the window. Mrs Attwood had set it up to be a window seat special for him. She didn’t prohibit anyone else from using it, but the younger kids never cared about dawn or dusk or the outside.
With a shiver, Vernon reached for the crocheted blanket that Mrs Attwood had made by herself. It was warm, and it felt like home. Vernon thought this was likely the reason Mrs Attwood had made it. Wrapping himself into a cocoon, Vernon watched with sleepy eyes as the sun made its way up into the sky.
Mrs Attwood’s kitty Mishu jumped up onto the seat with him, purring as she made herself cosy with him. Vernon smiled, meowing at Mishu, who stared at him as if he made a hundred grammar mistakes. Seeing as he didn’t know ‘cat’, it was likely. He laughed when Mishu licked him, smacking a hand over his mouth when one boy stirred in his bed. He put a finger over his lips, jerking his head in the boy’s direction. Mishu booped him, as if to agree to a vow of silence.
It would be another three days before parents could come to find a child they want. Knowing this made Vernon feel safe, in that he didn’t need to feel bad until Thursday.
Vernon lingered where he was until the sun shined over everything, a nice and gentle wake-up for the boys. Chaos reigned once all the kids had woken up, and Vernon found his peace to be short-lived. Mrs Attwood would call them to breakfast at any moment, anyway. Stretching, Vernon stood up from his spot at the window and folded the blanket with utmost care. It meant to him more than he liked to admit, and he wanted to treat it like gold.
When all the boys had dressed and gone down for breakfast, Mrs Attwood served them breakfast, a bright smile on her face.
‘I have glorious news!’ She began, her eyes going around to everyone, her smile matching her expression. ‘Eat, eat. I can speak while you guys enjoy your meal.’
The boys obliged, Vernon glancing at Mrs Attwood from the corner of his eyes in trepidation. What could make the old woman so happy? It wasn’t always that news was good news. ‘We are having a special visitor today.’ she went on. ‘A woman has requested she come today because she wants to adopt someone very special!’
Vernon couldn’t help but scowl. It appeared he would need to feel upset two whole days earlier. He put down his spoon. He no longer felt hungry.
‘Mrs Attwood?’ Vernon piped up, raising his hand to attract her attention.
‘Yes, love?’ she queried, coming over to him, still smiling. Vernon felt sick, and clutched his stomach, biting his lip to prevent any vomit from coming up. ‘I need the loo.’
The smile disappeared from her worn face, her hand going up to his forehead to check for fever. ‘Are you ill?’ Mrs Attwood felt his cheeks too, but Vernon felt too bad to feel embarrassed. He shook his head, not willing to say his real reason, and Mrs Attwood let him go with a nod.
Vernon fled from the table, running back to the sleeping area that was now empty. With a sigh, he realised he had no idea when this woman would come. How was he meant to avoid this if he didn’t know?
Unbidden, a tear slipped down his cheek, Vernon didn’t bother wiping it away. Nobody could see him now, so he could be sad all by himself. He had held himself back from crying for so long; it was foreign to him, he still had tears left.
Mishu padded up to him, jumping onto his lap. She meowed at him, and Vernon meowed back, petting the small kitten back with an adoration he showed no one else. Mishu always seemed to know when something bad was happening with him. Vernon gave Mishu a watery smile and lay down in his bed, grabbing his cuddly toy and settled himself.
What felt like hours later, but was likely only a few minutes, Mrs Attwood arrived at the dorms. ‘Oh, honey...’ she came to sit next to him in the bed, stroking his hair like she had done the night before. ‘I know you don’t like it when adults come, but it’s part of the protocol that you attend.’
‘I don’t see the point,’ Vernon growled, though Mrs Attwood didn’t seem bothered by his attitude. She knew how he felt, after all. The two of them stayed as they were for a while, and finally, once Vernon calmed down, he sat up, still holding Mishu.
‘Fine, I’ll go.’
Mrs Attwood nodded her approval and stood up.
‘One condition though.’
The elderly woman turned around, amused. ‘And what, pray tell, would that be?’
Vernon smiled at her, sweet like candy and knew he had her sold. ‘Let me stay in the back away from the others.’
’Alright Vernon, ‘ye old chap’.
Vernon hugged her, and the two went down to the park where parents could observe the children as they wished.
The woman was already there, and Vernon had to admit she was beautiful. She looked like a young mom, likely ready to begin a family. He went to the large tree he liked to sit on and climbed the branches until he reached his sitting spot. From his position, he could see and experience the goings on without allowing others to see him. It was his preferred spot once he realised parents sneered when they saw him. He was sure they didn’t realise they did this, but it still hurt every time.
Like every time, the young kids surrounded the woman, and she smiled at them all while gesturing for them to play. The longer he looked, though, the longer he realised she was alone. Was she a single mom? Where was the dad?
Vernon frowned as he continued to watch her and her interactions with the kids. Mrs Attwood was there too, and the woman kept shaking her head at something he couldn’t see. With a sigh, Vernon leaned against the branch, letting his eyes flutter closed. He loved feeling the sun on his face, especially if the leaves offered him a feeling of coolness at the same time.
‘What about him?’ the voice broke him out of his reverie, and startled him so much he tumbled out of the tree. A soft laugh made him look up, blinking the sun out of his eyes as he tried to get the woman in focus. He knew it was her, but why would she have something to do with him? ‘This is who I want.’
‘Do you want to get to know him first?’ Mrs Attwood suggested, the shock in her voice obvious, though her tone was kind all the same.
‘No, I’m positive about it being him.’ The woman smiled at Vernon, her eyes filled with so much love he had to look away. ‘Are you alright?’ she held out a hand to him and he took it, standing up and shaking himself off.
‘Oh yes, sure.’ He smirked, good-naturedly ‘I’m quite good at falling out of trees.’ the two adults laughed. Vernon felt like he had transported himself to a different dimension. It was unreal.
‘Okay, well, what happens now?’ Vernon asked, a little of his uncertainty returning when both women turned to look at him.
‘Why don’t we show Mrs Rossi your things?’ Mrs Attwood suggested, pointing toward the small orphanage. ‘And then once you take your things, you’re all set to go!’
‘No!’ Vernon stopped short, his panic spiking for a moment.
‘No?’ Both Mrs Rossi and Mrs Attwood said at the same time. They glanced at each other and then back at Vernon, whose face had gone white.
‘What about Mishu?’ he directed this question towards Mrs Attwood, seeing as he was sure Mrs Rossi had no idea who Mishu was. ‘She’s my princess and I’m not leaving without her.’
‘Am I adopting a little girl too?’ Mrs Rossi asked both of them, but her eyes twinkled with mirth. She held her hand out to Vernon, who took it with a hesitance matched by someone asked to touch fire.
’That’s up to Mrs Rossi, my love, ’ Mrs Attwood told him, caressing his cheek, then bonking him on the nose. Vernon snapped his teeth at Mrs Attwood but couldn’t hold back a giggle as he did so.
‘Alright,’ Mrs Rossi encouraged. ‘Tell me about Mishu.’
With a new sense of excitement, Vernon started skipping towards the orphanage. ‘Come!’ he exclaimed, beckoning them towards the stairs. Mrs Rossi had quickened her steps, though Mrs Attwood who already knew who Mishu was did not.
Without waiting for either adult, Vernon sprinted to his room where Mishu lay on his bed. With loving adoration, Vernon picked up Mishu and held her in his arms, giving her a gentle kiss as she purred.
‘This is Mishu!’ Vernon showed Mrs Rossi, holding Mishu up like Simba from the Lion King. With a laugh, Mrs Rossi took Mishu from him and stroked her ears down as Mishu meowed at the new person. Vernon had to restrain himself from meowing back at her like he usually did.
‘Oh this is lovely, my son Gio will cherish her.’
Vernon stopped in his tracks at that. She had a son? Why did she need him then? ‘You have a son?’ Vernon asked before he could stop himself. ‘Why would you want me then?’ Vernon bit his lip hard, but he couldn’t take back his words. Without noticing his actions, Vernon went to the window seat and sat down. He held the blanket Mrs Attwood had knitted, like it was his haven.
‘Because you’re perfect.’ Mrs Rossi told him, bending down to his level. ‘And because you’re the one I chose from all.’
Vernon felt his lip tremble at the sweetness of Mrs Rossi’s words. Gripping his hands to calm himself, Vernon stood up again and went back to his bed. Mrs Rossi had put Mishu back on his bed, so he went and gathered her back in his arms.
‘We will need to pick up things for Mishu.’ Mrs Rossi said, motioning for Vernon to follow her while she put her pocketbook over her shoulder.
‘So, is there anything that’s left now?’ Vernon asked Mrs Attwood, glancing around the dorm for the last time.
‘No, sweetheart. Mrs Rossi already signed the papers to adopt you. So you’re all ready to go.’
For a moment Vernon did nothing, with Mishu mewling at the three of them in confusion. And then, right when they reached the door, he turned around and hugged Mrs Attwood with all his might.
‘I love you, Mrs Attwood. Thank you for everything you did for me.’
‘I love you too bunny, and don’t worry, you can always call me or send me a text if you need anything.’ She beckoned for Vernon to follow her, and with a quick glance at Mrs Rossi who nodded, ran after the elderly woman. With a quick scribble on a little piece of paper, Mrs Attwood wrote her number. ‘Here you go, lovey.’ Mrs Attwood said, ruffling his hair affectionately.
Vernon pocketed her number and hugged her again. ‘I don’t have a phone, but if I get one I will let you know!’ Mrs Attwood nodded her head, and he waved to her as he left the room. ‘Be good Mrs Attwood, you’re amazing!’ Vernon ran then, unable to handle watching Mrs Attwood cry. She had been like a mother to him for many years, and now he was moving on to a new chapter in his life.
When Vernon reached the hall, he paced himself, checking his reflection in the mirror. The face looking back at him was ordinary and calm, looking as any thirteen-year-old. He lifted his shoulders, removing Mishu from his big hoodie pocket he had put her in for safekeeping. Mrs Rossi laughed as he neared her, shaking her head in easy exasperation.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get a proper kennel for her in the store nearby.’
Vernon nodded, and for the last time turned around and said goodbye to the orphanage.