Rocco wasn’t sure how he’d ended up so lucky, but he also didn’t remember a time when he’d been happier. His new family were everything he had ever wanted them to be and more. They were the most beautiful people he’d ever seen, for a start.
Dominic was tall, dark haired and pretty in a boyish way. He had a nice smile and soft green eyes, but he was also serious, thin but well built, as if he did a lot of exercise. He could imagine him in a gym, boxing or running to an imaginary place on a machine.
Chandler was very different, but in some ways very similar. He had strawberry blonde hair, down to his elbow. It had a slight wave to it and appeared that frustratingly messy but stylish way that he could never manage. He had lovely steel grey, playful eyes and an easy smile.
Latimer was sad in almost every way. He had sad hazel eyes and dull brown hair, with a weak smile that showed how much sorrow was still weighting him down. All three were naturally tanned.
Rocco felt so out of place amongst them. He didn’t look anything like them at all, yet they had welcomed him with open arms, vowing to love him and take care of him.
They had already proven to be the nicest people he’d ever met; accepting, funny and yet each had a gaping hole in their hearts that he hoped he could fill.
Chandler laughed as he emerged from the changing room in his next outfit. He’d already tried on a few items and each time he appeared, Chandler made funny comments that made him smile. It was nice having Dominic willing to help him understand, but it was also a little frustrating because it meant that he couldn’t have a private conversation with anyone.
“I love it.” Chandler said, while Dominic signed the translation. “But we need to fix your hat.” He claimed, stepping forward.
Rocco had on a plain white shirt, buttoned up except for the top two buttons and a pair of black jeans. He’d chosen a baseball cap with a wide brim to go with it, for the bright sunshine outside.
Chandler lifted it off and put it back on, encouraging him over to the mirror.
Rocco stepped up and noticed that the ordinary black cap had been replaced with one that was white, with a black NYC graffiti logo on it. It did seem to suit him better and it went well with his outfit. He smiled at Chandler and handed him the hat with a nod of agreement. He’d take it.
With that decided he turned to Dominic. “That’s it.” He told him, in sign language.
Dominic frowned, but shrugged and turned to Latimer. He said something that made him sigh and shake his head, but he pulled out his wallet and smiled when he noticed him looking. He guessed the reason they weren’t too happy with his decision was because he’d only chosen a half dozen items to buy. But he didn’t see anything else that appealed to him and it was only the third shop in the mall.
Six shops later Rocco’s family seemed much happier. Chandler insisted on carrying his bags, and he was blocked from ever seeing the price of anything he chose to try on. Since he owned nothing and would eventually need new clothes, he decided not to argue about it.
Latimer insisted that he get a size too big so that he could grow into the clothes. Apparently he was too skinny and they would make sure he filled out soon. He didn’t have anything against being well fed, so he did as he was told and found himself having quite a lot of fun.
As soon as he saw the stall in the main walkway he tugged at Dominic’s sleeve and headed over excitedly. The stall was for Gay Pride, with a sign claiming they were celebrating the spread of legislation for gay marriage around the world. There were clothes, jewellery and all kinds of accessories that called to him.
“Dad says you can get anything you want.” Dominic signed to him.
He nodded to let him know that he understood and started looking around at what was on offer. He picked up four rubber bracelets so that they could have one each; then he picked up a pair of spiked stud earrings and walked over to Chandler as he approached. He held up the earrings to his right ear and gestured to ask him if he wanted them.
Chandler took the earrings and nodded, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out a bill and handed it to the stall owner, who nodded and gave him change.
Rocco was going to object, until he unpinned the earrings from the paper holder and put them into his ears without another moment of hesitation. He said something, so he turned to Dominic to find out what he was saying.
“He’s asking if you think they suit him.” He explained in sign, laughing as he looked over a few items for himself.
Rocco turned and nodded to Chandler; he really did suit them.
Latimer took his hand and led him over to another part of the stall, pointing to a stand of clothes.
Dominic appeared and signed to him what his father had been saying. “He wants you to have more clothes. He doesn’t think you have enough yet.” He explained calmly.
Rocco smiled and responded to that. “Only if he gets something too.” He insisted.
Dominic laughed and translated. He knew he’d explained because Latimer laughed and nodded with a resigned look. He lifted off a t-shirt from the stand and held it against him with a curious look. All he could do was nod and laugh at him. It was bright blue with the words ‘Gay Pride’ written in big bold letters, in rainbow colours.
Rocco couldn’t help but tug Dominic’s top again, as he picked up a fabric cover for his tablet. He needed to tell Latimer something and, as of yet, they couldn’t communicate freely.
“I need to tell Latimer something. Will you speak what I say?” He asked his new brother.
Dominic knocked his hand in agreement and spoke to Latimer, probably to explain what he wanted to do.
Latimer nodded to him, so he started signing.
“I don’t know if you understand how much this means to me.” Rocco began, wanting him to know just what he had done. “It’s not that you are providing for me when I have nothing. It’s not even that you’re being kind and thoughtful and caring.” He admitted, in sign. He needed them to see how he felt about finally having such a loving family.
“I’ve never been able to be myself with anyone; to talk freely, to have someone talk to me, even just to be honest and not be afraid of admitting who and what I am.” He signed to Dominic, keeping his eyes on Latimer. He could tell by his face that he heard and understood every word Dominic relayed to him.
Latimer smiled at him and cupped his cheek in his hand.
Rocco held it there, finding it so hard to believe that he now had a family, after so many years alone. Not just a family, but a family that loved him already, who appreciated him no matter what.
He didn’t need anyone to sign what was in Latimer’s eyes. No words were necessary between them in that moment so he escaped into the welcoming arms of his new father. The only father he had ever known. Latimer held him tight, one arm around his waist while his free hand cupped the back of his head, holding him close.
When they finally pulled apart Chandler appeared from around the corner of the stall holding up two t-shirts and saying something he couldn’t understand.
Dominic caught his eye and signed to explain what his other brother wanted. “He wants to know which one you prefer. He wants to buy it for you, as a welcome home present.” He signed, with an approving smile.
Rocco beamed at Chandler; other than the policeman and his new father, no-one had ever bought him anything before. He looked between the two t-shirts. One was bright yellow and emblazoned with ‘Sorry Girls, I Kiss Boys’, while the other was white with a red crown and the words ‘Keep Calm I’m Just Gay’. He loved them both, but he pointed to the yellow one. It was perfect.
Chandler laughed and added it to a pile of items already in his hands, while he replaced the white t-shirt on the stand.
Within another ten minutes they had piled up quite a sale at the stall and moved on to another shop. Chandler kept buying little things, making him feel more comfortable about having so much pressed upon him. Dominic’s only buy was a pair of dark sunglasses and a red beanie hat.
From what Dominic relayed to him, he apparently had quite an odd sense of style. Rocco wasn’t sure what that meant, but since no-one told him anything negative, he took it as a compliment.
By the time they returned to the car, however, the guilt set in. The back seat was full of bags of purchases and he knew that most, if not all, of it was for him.
Dominic nudged him out of his thoughts, smiling as he handed him a piece of chewing gum. He accepted it with a nod. “Don’t think bad thoughts.” He signed to him, looking concerned. “You’ve had nothing your whole life so yes, it will feel like a lot. But wait until you get home and you’ve had a few days to adjust. Then you’ll see that this is just the necessities.” He told him, as if he really believed it.
Rocco decided to trust his judgement since he didn’t want bad thoughts invading his new life.
“Chandler tried to encourage you to make reckless purchases today. You didn’t give in. You could have and no-one would have cared. You didn’t and we understand why.” He soothed, offering a reassuring smile. “But don’t tell yourself that you’re not worth it. Dad has a lot of money and you buying a CD or a t-shirt isn’t going to change that.” He signed, holding his hand out, palm up.
Rocco slipped his hand into Dominic’s and returned his smile with one that said he would agree to do as he asked. He would wait and let the shock fade, before he made any rash decisions.
Seeing the estate had been shock enough. Rocco had never seen anything so grand as the big, modern style house with glass on nearly every outer wall. He could see the furniture was modern and probably bespoke, as they drove up the driveway. The garden was clean with little beds of flowers nearer the house. Other than the garden and the house, all he could see for miles was green acres of field-land. Then, of course, once he was inside the house that shock just compounded.
His room – his room – had his heart drumming like a marching band. It was bigger than the games room back at the orphanage, probably even bigger than the games room and the reading room combined. There was a massive double bed coming out of the far wall, with a floating shelf on either side. One side had a study lamp and the other had a clock. The walls were white, the curtains were black and for some reason the monochrome effect felt like home. It was simple and clean and that was all he had ever wanted in a bedroom.
Rocco walked over and dropped a multitude of shopping bags to the floor so that he could touch the cover on the bed. It was cotton and soft; he could imagine snuggling into it tonight and having a perfect sleep.
There were two black lockers against one wall, which he presumed had been donated from his new brothers, as they had worn dents and graffiti on them in silver ink. He walked over and ran his hand over them, smiling as he turned to face Dominic.
“We gave you a few things storage wise so you can unpack.” He explained with his hands. “Dad wants to take you shopping to see what you want instead, but we wanted you to get settled first.” He said. “It’s plain, so you can decorate it yourself. Is there any colour or wallpaper you’d like? I’ll see if we can get it for you?” He asked.
“It’s perfect.” Was all Rocco could say, signing with one hand with the other trailed over his new furniture.
A bureau desk, completely different to the one Miss Phu kept her paperwork in, sat against the right hand wall behind the door. When he opened the two doors at the top he found that wonderful wood smell, which he hadn’t expected. It was black, so he could only assume the natural wood had been painted. But he didn’t care. It was such a welcome smell. And there were four shelves inside that part of the unit. Once he closed the doors, he checked the four drawers on the lower half and found them empty, ready for his new clothes.
Dominic’s hand on his arm caught his attention. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want for the room?” He signed, looking confused.
“No. Nothing. It’s perfect.” He told him with a smile. Then, unable to resist, he walked over and plonked down on the bed, biting his lip when he felt how soft and bouncy it was. He would have the best nights sleep of his life in that bed. He just knew it.
Dominic sat down beside him, looking around, as if he didn’t understand what was so perfect.
Rocco leaned on him, figuring an explanation could wait for later. There was something else that he needed to ask, something silly but important. “Will you stay with me tonight? Until I get used to it?” He asked, using his hands.
“Yes.” Dominic didn’t hesitate to knock his reply. “Let’s unpack first. Then we’ll have dinner.” He signed, as if he hadn’t just asked him to stay the night with him.
They both knew it was just because everything was new and he was a little scared. He didn’t want to wake up in the morning and find that it was all a dream. If Dominic was there with him, then he would know it wasn’t.
Rocco nodded his agreement and got to his feet. Latimer had bought him a lot of things and he still had his bag from the orphanage. Unpacking was going to take a while.
To his surprise Chandler walked into his room and smiled as he brought in three more bags with one hand, a bottle of soda under his other arm and three glasses in his hand.
He said something to Dominic and started depositing his items around the room. He dropped the bags onto the bed and placed the three glasses onto the shelf to the right of the bed.
Dominic explained while he poured them some drinks. “Dad’s making a few phone calls before the game starts. Chandler’s going to help us unpack so that we can all sit down together before dinner.” He signed, bringing that now ever-present smile to his lips. He wasn’t sure he had ever smiled so much, or if he would ever smile so much again.
Chandler handed him a glass of fizzy soda that tickled his nose as he took a drink. And then, with them all refreshed from the drive, they began unpacking everything onto the bed. Everything was organised into type and Dominic asked him where he wanted his things. They made a mental list so that they all worked to the same plan.
For being so organised Rocco had more fun than he thought he should have had. It made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see Chandler and Dominic talking to each other as they moved around the room.
Dominic signed to him as if it was just second nature and Chandler teased him about his terrible clothes from the orphanage. “Chandler thinks you should get changed into your new clothes so he can incinerate your old ones.” Dominic translated for him, laughing and giving his brother a shove.
But for all they laughed about it, Rocco looked down at his torn and well worn clothes and smiled at them. He walked over to the now full locker on the right and extracted the Pride t-shirt Chandler had bought him, a pair of bright green jeans and some underwear.
“I’ll be right back.” He signed to Dominic, as he passed them on the way to the bathroom.
Dominic caught his arm as he headed for the door. “I don’t doubt the orphanage was clean, but would you prefer to take a bath or shower before you change?” He asked, sweetly. “I can show you how the shower works before we leave you to settle in, if you want?”
Rocco thought about it and how there were only two bathrooms at the orphanage. It was like World War III trying to get enough time in one for a good clean. “Shower.” He signed back.
Dominic nodded and turned to explain to Chandler. Since they were finished unpacking anyway, Chandler ruffled his hair on the way out of the room and headed downstairs.
Dominic showed him the main bathroom and then told him there were another two on the upstairs landing and one bathroom downstairs. “Do you want me to stay up here with you until you’re ready?” He asked kindly.
Rocco nodded because he really wasn’t sure about being left alone in any of the rooms yet. Being in the bathroom was fine, but navigating around the house was something he wasn’t quite prepared for.
Dominic smiled, seeming to understand that fear and left him in the bathroom alone.
Dominic returned to Rocco’s room and lounged on the chair by the window as he waited for him to have his shower. He didn’t want to insult him with the insinuation that he needed a good clean before wearing his new clothes, but he knew what it was like to fight for a bathroom in an orphanage. Especially when there were teenagers around.
Unpacking his new things had been fun, with Chandler giving a running commentary. He’d convinced the manager at the restaurant to let him take the photograph of Beau home with him. He didn’t doubt that it was now on his bedside table. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have plenty of pictures of him, it was just that he understood how hard it was for Chandler, when Rocco had his eyes.
It seemed impossible, or at least irrational, but he had the exact same eyes with the same light, the same fire that singled him out as someone special. He knew that was the real reason he’d picked out Rocco from the crowd of children at the orphanage.
Rocco drew the eye, the soul, the heart. Everything about him was special and called to them. Even before they chose him, he had been a part of their family. He always would be.
It had been funny watching Rocco unpack. He was so methodical and patient. He had put such care and attention into the simple act of folding his clothes and arranging them precisely. His dragon clock was on the shelf by his bed, with his diary and the paperback copy of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ beside it.
Seeing it reminded him of the fact that he’d meant to buy Rocco a tablet of his own, or at least an e-reader so that he could get his own books. While he was off taking his shower he’d gone to his room and grabbed the old e-reader he’d stashed away when he got his new tablet. He wanted to give it to Rocco until he could get his own.
Something tapped his foot. Dominic raised himself on his elbows and smiled at how right Chandler was; Rocco had quite the unusual style when it came to fashion. Not that he knew much, but bright green jeans, a luminous yellow top with pink letters on it didn’t really go together in his head. But somehow, on Rocco, it seemed to work. His brand new trainers peeked out underneath the jeans that were a few inches too long. His dad’s idea, since he wanted to beef him up a bit with some much needed TLC.
“I’ve got something for you.” He told him in sign as he sat up.
Rocco climbed onto the bed and sat on his knees, patiently waiting to be told what it was.
He handed him the box with the e-reader inside and watched his eyes light up with surprise. “This is my old e-reader. I put it in the box when I got my tablet. It still works perfectly. And it still has my old books on it.” He explained as Rocco unpacked the light e-reader. He weighed it in his hand and then handed it over.
Dominic could only guess Rocco wanted to know how to use it. It worked differently to his tablet, so he spent a few minutes showing him how to work it, before handing it back. He looked confused, so he told him what should have been obvious.
“It’s yours.” He signed to him.
“Why?” Rocco asked, with a little frown.
“Because you’re my brother now and I want you to be happy. If reading helps calm you then you can have more books to choose from. You might want to read something new.” He hinted at Chandler’s plans for his literary future. “Have you ever read anything other than ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’?” He asked, suddenly realising that the answer might be no. He really hoped he wasn’t about to hear him say that it was the only book he read because he couldn’t read anything else. That would really break his heart.
“Yes. Well…I write.” He signed back, intriguing him.
“Write what?” He wondered.
Rocco blushed and shrugged. “Stories. About what it’s like outside the orphanage. What it’s like to have a family. A boyfriend.” He signed, his eyes on the bed as the blush crept up his neck and over his cheeks.
Dominic could only smile and guess that meant he had never had a boyfriend before. He wasn’t entirely surprised; it was hard to date when you were an orphan, who couldn’t and wouldn’t communicate with most hearing people. But he didn’t dare comment on it.
“Well, you can now get some books about writing too. About how to edit, how to publish your work if you want to.” He suggested gently.
“Can I read until dinner?” Rocco asked in sign, changing the subject.
Dominic smiled at how embarrassed and shy he was about his interests. He let him change the subject to make him happy. If he wanted to pretend he didn’t have a passion for literature then he would let him for a while, but eventually he would have to face facts.
“Yes. But I have to cook it; it’s my night. Do you want to read up here or come downstairs?” He asked in sign.
Rocco bit his lip and looked around his room for a moment. “With you.” He decided, signing to him.
Dominic wasn’t entirely surprised. He nodded his agreement with that decision. He pushed himself off the bed and held his hand out for his little brother; it was about time they all sat down as a family and relaxed after the hectic day.
Rocco took his hand, holding his e-reader to his chest as he walked with him out of the room and back downstairs to complete the quartet of their family.
Chandler and Latimer were watching the football on the TV, when they made it into the living room. His dad had a bottle of beer on the table, while Chandler had one in his hand, already lifting it to his lips.
Dominic had to smile when he saw them. The house was huge, but the living spaces were compact and well organised.
The living room was only around the size of each of the bedrooms upstairs, but it felt bigger because it was open to the kitchen, which was a similar size. In between the two was a little nook in the left hand wall that his dad had made into a reading space.
“How are you two getting on?” Latimer asked, getting up from his seat as they walked into the living room.
“Just fine.” Dominic replied, leading Rocco into the kitchen. The breakfast bar separated the reading space from the working kitchen, so he led Rocco right over to it and watched his smile grow.
Every part of the six foot boxed space was a raised platform that was padded and cushioned, with around twelve different sized, shaped and coloured cushions. He wasn’t even surprised that Rocco let go of his hand and climbed into the space on his hands and knees. He sat himself against the wall at the back, stretching his long legs out in front of him as he settled into the seat. He wriggled until he slid down a bit, a cushion pushing up at his back to support his head.
“I think we’ve bonded.” He confessed to his dad as they both continued on into the kitchen area.
Latimer smiled briefly and turned to lean over the counter, watching Rocco read. “He seems calmer.” He noticed.
“Yeah. He was like a giddy school kid when I gave him the e-reader.” Dominic admitted.
His dad hummed in that thoughtful way he had and pushed himself off the counter to head for the fridge. He pulled out the carton of orange juice and grabbed three glasses from the cupboard. He filled them with soda and left one at his side, where he was setting himself up for making dinner.
Dominic gave him a smile of thanks and took a quick drink before getting to work.
Out the corner of his eye, he spotted his dad stopping beside Rocco and handed him a glass with a smile. Rocco tipped his head in gratitude, also taking a drink before placing it safely onto the breakfast bar. To his left, he caught Latimer walking over and placing Chandler’s glass on the coffee table for when his beer was done. Then his dad came back and poured himself an orange juice.
“Dominic,” he called as he walked over. “Did my laptop ever come back from the technician?” He wondered, with a frown of uncertainty.
“I don’t think so. But you can use Chandler’s. His is under the coffee table.” He reminded him.
“Right. We’ll need some new equipment for the house. And a phone for Rocco.” He muttered to himself as he walked back into the living room.