"It's really not you. Really. You're great; it just isn't the right time for us to have a kid. We went a little over our heads but good thing we realized we weren't ready for this before it was too late, right? Really, it wasn't you. Now give me a hug, there's a good boy."
Five had his back turned to the car as its engine started. He really didn't care. He didn't care about the three weeks he had spent with the passengers of the car, he didn't care about their half-hearted goodbyes, and he honestly couldn't care less about the fact that they were leaving. He bent down to pick up his pathetic little bag containing all of his worldly possessions and, without so much as a second glance at the family that was leaving him behind, walked through the gates of Madam Rosetta's Orphanage. He walked beneath the weathered sign and the rusty gates that it hung from, down the long driveway that was desperately in need of re-paving, and into the main building. He was home and he couldn't have been happier.
This process was routine to him now. Every two or three months a couple would come to look at the line-up of all the adorable unwanted orphans. These couples were real philanthropists, finding room for a child in need in their already over-burdened lives, swearing that this was an act of charity. Why should they bring a child into the world when there were so many that were abandoned and needed second chances? That was the generic argument. A good one too, it made these couples seem like ideal citizens without ever revealing that the woman was barren or that the husband was impotent. But for some reason, despite his attempts to be as miserable a child as he could be, every now and then that couple would choose Five. He assumed that it was because they figured that they could change his attitude, soften him up a little bit. Make it their life goal to turn him into an upstanding citizen.
So they would pick little, tough, rebellious Five, sign the paperwork, load his things into their pathetic station wagon while Five went around saying his "see you in a few weeks" to everyone who was staying and his "goodbyes" to everyone who was leaving for good. Then he'd get in the car, drive to their two bedroom apartment, meet the neighbors, get shown off to family members, be enrolled in school, start a few fights, embarrass the couple in front of their friends, lock the dog out if they had one, clog every sink in the house at least twice a day, urinate on their marital bed, "accidentally" break all of their fancy china, and finally unplug the refrigerator every night before going to sleep. By the time you'd think the couple would be getting used to the smell of mold, a day comes where they both pick him up from school. He jumps into the back seat, sees a bag filled with all of his stuff rolling around on the floor of the car and is not spoken to until the car is pulled up to Madam Rosetta's Orphanage. The last couple was no different.
Because of all of this the walk back to the boy's dormitory and his cot was routine. He unpacked his belongings, now with one item more than when he left three weeks ago. He always took something from the families that took him in. Not anything they would miss and certainly not anything valuable, Five wasn't a thief, but something that would remind him of his experience. This time he had taken a spork that he had found under their washing machine. He hid it in his sock drawer along with all of his other treasures and lay down on his bed.
Five heard the groaning of bed springs followed by a slight thump as something landed next to him. He didn't even have to sit up to guess what it was.
"Hey buddy, back home and breaking double digits, huh. I like your style." It was Bryce, the asthmatic boy that slept above him. He hadn't been at the orphanage for nearly as long as Five but he was taking a shot at the title. Bryce was never chosen at a line up and Five suspected it had something to do with the more than slightly noticeable wheezing that accompanied his every other word. He was also a very forgetful boy and tended to misplace anything he had on him and, being an orphan and not having many things in the first place, that misplaced thing usually ended up being his inhaler. The entire staff at Madam Rosetta's had back-up inhalers, or "Bryce Blasts" as the other orphans had affectionately coined them. "So what number is this one, eh? 12? 13?"
"15 last I counted." It was 13 but Five tended to exaggerate the number with the other orphans and lower it slightly with the staff who were always less than pleased to see him return.
"15! Boy, the legend grows. Never understood and never will, what them couples see in ya. S'pose they just look into your big baby blues and melt," said Bryce as he took a puff out of his inhaler.
"Are you a little jealous Bryce? Getting tired o' bein' cooped up here with the rest of these bed wetters?"
"Me? Heck nah, I like it here." Five, however, wasn't convinced. He'd heard stories of how sobbing would come from Bryce's bunk on some nights when Five wasn't around. He'd like to talk to Bryce about it but he knew that his friend's pride would never allow Bryce to admit it. "Anyways, it's good to have ya back, Five."
"It's good to be back, kid." Bryce turned his head to the side and gave Five a look that didn't fully hide the hurt in his eyes.
"Hey, we're not kids. We're orphans," and with that Bryce swung back up onto his bunk.
Just then the dormitory door swung open and Carl, the dorm master, walked in.
"Line up," he said. This of course didn't mean that all the orphans had to line up. It just meant that parents were coming in to do a little shopping. Five stayed on his bunk, however. It was an unwritten law that although all orphans that weren't bed-ridden had to go to line-up, if someone had just been dumped they didn't have to go if they didn't want to, so Five was surprised when Carl called his name.
"Five!" It was Carl, the boy's dormitory master, "Get over here!" The yelling had caught Five a little off guard. Carl was never angry. Or come to think of it he was never anything. He was a very stoic person. But what could he do, and so he got up and followed Carl out of the boy's dormitory, shrugging to the boys he didn't really know and grinning at his friends as they left down a separate hallway. Carl led him into an empty room and sat him down.
"What number is this, Five? What number is it? 12? 13?"
"I think this was just my 11th actually."
"Is this a joke to you? You've had eleven chances to leave this damn place. Eleven families that came to this dingy orphanage in the shoddiest part of town in order to find you and give you a second chance. Eleven families, Five."
"So what, you guys are my real family. Why do I need to go away with some strangers I don't even know?"
"Are you telling me that you'd rather be here in this derelict, broke-ass orphanage than living in the city, than having your own room with your own kitchen and your own food?"
"I like it here."
"Don't give me that crap. You hate it here and you know it. You can't wait to leave this place. I've seen the things you collect."
"You went through my stuff?!" Five yelled.
"You're damn right I did! And you wanna know what I think? I think you hate that stuff. I think that the fact that that pile keeps getting bigger and bigger, one by one with every family you abandon is eating you up inside. You take that stuff hoping that you won't have to steal it from them, hoping that they will want to keep you and that it won't be stealing because it'll be yours and it'll mean that you have a real family and a real place to call home."
"This is my home, you guys are my family."
"Bullshit. That's bullshit and you know it. You've been here longer than any orphan currently up for adoption. I mean just look at your nickname. You've been here so long that calling you by the age you were when you were left here is characteristic. You've seen so many orphans come and go. How many of your friends were carted away in the last month? How many?" Five didn't say anything. "How many! Vincent, how many!"
"DON'T CALL ME VINCENT!" Five had gotten up and was shouting.
"I'LL CALL YOU WHATEVER I DAMN PLEASE!"
"What the hell do you know Carl? You just sit around here all day. I never see you with a girlfriend or people your age at all. You do nothing! And you have the balls to come here and tell me what you think I should do? Look at your damn self before you start criticizing me." Carl stared at Five. Just stood there and stared at him. Then, without saying a word he walked to the door and opened it. Just before he stepped outside he turned around.
"If you don't get smart fast you'll end up just like me, Vincent," and with that he left the room. Vincent walked back to the empty dorms and sat down on the side of his bed. The bunk above him was empty. The lower bunks to either side of him were empty too. He looked around the room and thought about the faces he had seen as he walked in that morning. How few people he still knew and how many unknown faces there now were, and as the doors opened to let the first of the orphans returning from the line-up to come in, he climbed into his bed, hoping beyond hope that Bryce would be with them and, for the first time since he was abandoned at the orphanage, felt the gaping pain of loneliness.