Laynie had only been on the ground for ten minutes before she was furiously texting her friend. After having the girl beside her for so many weeks, as her only companion, the three hour plane ride without her had been unbearable. She felt naked without her friend at her side.
"I just landed. My father isn't here. Surprise surprise. Where are you?"
It was less than a minute later when the response came, "I'm at my new foster home. I've been here about two and a half hours. Sorry your dad isn't there yet."
"I didn't expect anything different. How's the home?"
"Good. The family's nice, they have a son my age. My room's pretty big. I guess it won't be so bad."
Laynie frowned at the text. "Did Wright say anything about whether or not you'll be there permanently?" She considered teasing her about the boy, but decided it wasn't the time.
"No. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Any sign of your dad yet?"
"Nope. Almost ten minutes later and I'm still sitting here. He's making a FANTASTIC first impression."
"I'm sure he's just running late."
"Or he forgot about me."
"Well, aren't you quite the pessimist?"
That managed to get a smile out of her. "The pessimistic-est." Laynie sent the text, then a few seconds later she typed up another one. "I'm scared."
It took a few minutes for her to get a reply. "What are you scared of?"
"Everything. This town, my dad, being without you. New school, everything. I just want to go home."
"I'm sorry, Laynie. I wish I knew what to tell you. Just try to keep your head up, okay? Everything will work itself out."
Laynie didn't believe her friend's words in any way, but went ahead and replied, "Okay."
"He's still not there?"
Laynie wasn't able to answer the text, because suddenly there was a distant voice saying her name. She perked up, looking around the airport for the source. She didn't even know what her father would look like, but maybe he would know her. She stood up from the uncomfortable airport chair, and caught the attention of a tall, thin man. As he made his way through the crowd to her, Laynie looked down and typed on her phone.
"Laynie?" the man quietly questioned.
She gulped and looked up to meet his eyes. "Yeah. Um..."
"Just call me Walter. I understand if you aren't quite ready for the dad thing. Hey, sorry I'm so late, it was hard finding you in the crowd. Come to think, we should have agreed on a meeting place," he chuckled.
Laynie nodded, consciously taking in a long breath and releasing it. Her dad wasn't anything like she'd expected, and she was pleasantly shocked. He had a full head of hair, the same brown color her own had been before she dyed it, and dark brown eyes. She'd obviously not inherited those. He was tall and thin as a twig, clean shaven, and dressed in a white polo and dark jeans. He looked like a businessman.
"Can I take your bags?"
Laynie released the handle of her wheeled suitcase. That was only her carry on bag, the rest of her things would arrive at his house via mail in the next two days.
He took the suitcase, gave her a smile, and motioned for her to follow him.
They shoved their way through the crowded airport until they finally made it outside, where they walked to the parking garage. The car Walter approached had two women standing against it, one in business attire and the other in a white sundress.
He put the bag in the trunk of the Prius and walked around to open the door of the passenger seat for the more casually dressed of the two ladies. The other climbed out of the car herself.
"Hi, Laynie," said the business woman. "I'm Sarah, your new caseworker. I've been working with Walter to get you out here the last few weeks." She gave a smile, and Laynie smiled back.
"Thanks," she responded quietly."And Laynie," Walter spoke up, "this is Alissa, my girlfriend."
The woman smiled brightly and walked over to her. "It's really nice to meet you, Walter hasn't stopped talking about you since Sarah called him."
Laynie instantly disliked the woman. Just the first sentence that came from her mouth was enough to tell Laynie that she was an airhead, who had no experience with children. She would be an annoyance.
"It's nice to meet you," she lied.
Sarah gave her a card, and patted her on the arm. It wasn't condescending, but comforting. This woman was definitely better than her old caseworker. "If you need anything, just call me or text me. My office number is printed, but my personal is on the back." She smiled again, and then was walking away to her own car somewhere in the lot.
Laynie, numb to anything happening by that time, was shuffled into the back seat of the ridiculous car and arrived at her new home before she had time to process where she was, and the people she had just met. If everything worked out like the social workers were planning, she would spend the rest of her childhood with this man, and maybe his girlfriend.
The house was impressive. It was nothing compared to Stark Tower, but it was grand compared to her and her mother's dingy apartment. It was much larger than she thought a single man needed, but nice nevertheless. And it was near the school, which meant she could walk herself.
Her room was on the small second floor, where Walter's room was also located. It was spacious and clean, but bare. She could tell it had never been anything but a guest room. There was an ugly comforter on the bed, as well as a piece of odd abstract art on the wall. The closet, while large, was empty.
"I'm ordering take out for dinner, what would you like?"
"Anything's fine with me," she answered awkwardly.
"Well... I can't pick. Italian or Chinese?"
Chinese take out instantly reminded her of the contest Clint, Thor, and Tony had just nights before she left. They'd accidentally received an extra box of lo mein and decided that they would see who, using their "mad superhero skills", could hang more noodles off the chandelier over the dining room table in sixty seconds. Clint had won by a longshot, due to his "mad archer skills".
"Italian," Laynie rushed.
"Alright. I'll call you when it gets here, you just go ahead and get settled in." Walter slowly left the room, shutting the door behind him.
Laynie, alone at last, curled up on top of the ugly comforter, grabbed a funny-smelling pillow, and cried.
She eventually dried her tears, got out her sweater, gathered her courage, and went downstairs. She walked into the kitchen, rubbing goosebumps off her arms. The kitchen was fabulous. All a beautiful wood, with soft but effective lighting. There were stainless steel cooking implements hanging from the ceiling, and a marble island beneath it. She felt like it was all for show, though. He couldn't use the kitchen all that often.
She found Walter and Alissa in the adjoining dining room, talking quietly. They each held a glass of red wine in their hand. Laynie stood in the doorway and waited to be noticed.
When she caught his eye, Walter looked up and gave her a warm smile. "Hey, come on in." From where he sat, he pulled out a chair for her.
She sat down and pulled her jacket around her tighter. The house was really cold.
"I can't really offer you wine, but I've got some juice and sodas in the fridge if you want something to drink. The food should be here any minute. I ordered you spaghetti, since that's kinda classic." He smiled broadly, and kind of awkwardly.
Laynie internally cracked. He seemed so genuine, and so anxious to make a good impression. He wasn't anything like what she'd imagined him to be, and that made her angry. She didn't want to love him, or think of him as a father. She wanted to hold a petty grudge against him for leaving Laynie and her mom, she wanted to prefer the Avengers over him, she didn't want to feel at home, and she did not want to become attached to him.