Part One: The Beginning (2/3)

Luke knew this wouldn't last. Almost ten-years-old and finding an ideal family? Seemed too suspicious. This family was strangely involved. He wasn't expected to do anything particularly challenging. They didn't want him swearing which was hard at first but he had gotten used to it pretty quickly. They wanted him to show up for all meals (which was great once he figured out that he would be fed as much as he wanted just by sitting down). The older girl, Emma, was always trying to get him to sit still so she could do his hair. That was a little weird and Luke didn't really like people touching him, but she also paid him in candy, so that outweighed any complaints he initially had. Life was pretty good. He was adjusting to the bizarre customs of bedtime and sitting at the table to do his school work. He'd landed on his feet. Nine lives he'd tell you. Nine lives.

Luke's first day with the Ross family in their NYC penthouse was rough. He had been on edge since the moment he had left the group home and boarded the private plane to New York. His new parents didn't know that. He had been quietly freaking out for most of his life, so 2 hours or so around near strangers wasn't much of a challenge in the "secret anxiety" department. Christina and Morgan didn't know that at first, but they sure found out.

It came as some surprise to find that Luke had no problem with the flight, or with his new sisters. The real issue came where they least expected it…with Bertram. The lazy butler had been sleeping on one of the many sofas in the living room awaiting the late night arrival of the newest Ross child with excitement and terror. Morgan and Christina had miscalculated. Luke was caught off guard. He panicked, begging for his father and foster parents to forgive him and pleading not to be hurt. He fled. The vast, dark walls of the building became his safe haven, a place could serve as a refuge for him when it all got too much.

When he finally returned the next morning, he was walking at a slow, measured pace, with an air of dread about him. He apologized stiffly for running off and then broke down. Tears began to stream down his face. He expected to be hit. His new parents were horrified. Luke was mystified at their reaction. He wondered if he had done something wrong…the crying perhaps? As they rushed to correct his misconceptions, he grew more nervous and more overwhelmed.

Eventually, it was the older of his temporary sisters (for in his mind they must be temporary), Emma, who proved to be his anchor to reality. In the moment she was able to sense his increasing panic and rush in to distract her parents. An extravagant story about magic, fairy tales, and the little girl Zuri which ended with, "and that is why the TVs were thrown out of the window," drew Christina and Morgan away just long enough for Luke to collect himself once more. From that moment on they shared a close bond. Closer for sure than that between Luke had with his parents.

It wasn't just the first day that was challenging, the first weeks, in general, were hard. If Luke was unsure of how to react in a situation, he grew increasingly jumpy and scared. Many times someone asking him a question such as, "are you hungry", or, "which do you like better, blue or green" would cause him to disappear into the walls until he felt more comfortable. Christina and Morgan knew that it would take time for him to adjust, but they still worried. The city would be a difficult place to raise a child with a panic disorder and severe flashbacks. When walking to Central Park, they passed hundreds of people; any one of them could remind Luke of his troubled past.

Following an incident at the park, they knew how right they had been about New York being hard for Luke to adjust to. It just proved to them that it would simply be too hard to protect their fragile new child at all times. The world was big, and, at least to Luke, full of things that were more frightening than they should have been. A moment or two away from supervision had almost ended in disaster. What would a full school day away from home look like?

The nanny at that time had been distracted. Zuri's endless pleas to get an extra ice cream for Millie the Mermaid had finally won over the initially stoic woman. She had failed to notice Luke's distress when he was cornered by some rambunctious children his age asking if he wanted to play tag with them. Whenever she glanced over to make sure that no one was bleeding, she saw Luke surrounded by others his own age, a good sign by all typical standards.

Luke, however, did not see the faces of small children like himself as "good signs". He was scared. Interaction with other children? What if he did the wrong thing? What if they found out about his past and didn't like him? He was paralyzed. No choice he could make would be the right one.

Before the other children (or the nanny) had noticed his discomfort, Emma stepped in declaring that they were leaving. Later, Emma approached her parents who were at home for a few weeks to help Luke settle in. She told them of his obvious aversion to social situations. She relayed the day's events and others like it. This opened the Ross family's eyes. They made a decision not to send him to school for a while for his own health and safety. He would enter the fourth grade at the beginning of the school year instead of part way through as they had originally thought would be best.

Months passed and he grew more used to the family. He came to expect Emma's shopping sprees, Zuri's imaginary friends, and Bertram's grumpiness. He felt accepted into the family. The healing environment had had a massive effect on him. Even though it had only been a few months, those months were vital. He still needed time, but he was getting better by the day. He was…dare he say it…becoming normal?

(A/N)…and another one down! Please review. Had you read this story before when it wasn't grammatically correct in any sense of the phrase? What do you think of the changes? Were you a young middle schooler when I first published this (I definitely was!)?