(Alex)

I stood impatiently outside the recital hall of Evatt University, scanning the faces of the incoming freshmen around me. It was freshman orientation week; half the incoming freshmen were coming this week to sit through 20 mind-numbing lectures and go to a few classes, then stay the night, sharing a room with their roommates. That was the single solitary reason I had volunteered to be here. It's not like I really wanted to be around freshmen- hell, I barely even had casual friends my own age. I was a rising sophomore at Evatt this year, but some of the older kids were supposed to stay to direct freshmen around and answer their questions, and meet their roommates if that were the case, since freshmen were sometimes paired with sophomores, especially if requested.

That was the case this year- Doral and Nicaela were going to attend Evatt with me this year, and they should be coming any minute. Even better, more miraculous, BOTH of them were going to room with me! Normally since Nicaela and Doral are both freshmen and requested each other, the powers that be would have just placed them together, but since both of them requested me as well and I requested both of them, by some miracle of kindness that is extremely rare in life, they're letting us room in a three-person suite, which is usually reserved for juniors and seniors! Usually they want freshmen to get to know other freshmen, but I guess they figured Doral and Nicaela are both freshmen so what the heck.

Whatever, I don't really care- I get to room with them again, I get to see them every day, IN PERSON, every single day, just like before- minus dealing with a pervert child molester, an insane foster mother, and a crazy, homicidal little girl.

I still can't believe it's true, that they're even going to college with me- the SAME college!- let alone rooming with me. Hell, I can't even believe I'm in college still, and after a year I haven't dropped out, I'm even passing. I have a possibility of working somewhere beyond McDonald's. Actually I work at Burger King now, but you know what I mean.

It's beyond belief, that's why. How many pink-haired, (although badly fading, I need to touch it up a bit), multi-tattooed-and-pierced girls do you know who have spent ten years in foster care who are even graduating high school, let alone getting nearly a free ride to college? Not many, if you're too slow to figure that out yourself. I never dreamed I'd be able to go to college- or that any of us would, even Doral, who is very freaking smart but too modest about it. So I never acted like I even wanted to. I mean, I passed my classes in school, but it was B's and C's, a few A's, I never tired too hard. I didn't see the point in it. I was a foster kid- foster kids never go to college.

As it turned out, I was wrong. They do- and now I'm one of them.

It was my second foster home after I'd left the Demarco house where I found this out. See, the first home they put me in had three little boys, all foster kids too. They were absolute HELLIONS. They just ran around the house screaming and screeching and hitting and biting and breaking things, even lying and wetting themselves. Okay, yeah, they're all foster kids and so probably have been through hell, but that isn't any damn excuse, I wasn't like that at their age, and I had it pretty damn bad. And the stupid foster parents wouldn't even control them, which made me want to slap them.

That was not what I needed after all that had just happened. I had just been through the Demarco melodrama, with Anton the Asshole seducing Keegan, then trying to rape Doral, then me trying to kill him and discovering both Keegan and Penelope had already covered it for me. And then leaving Nic and Door… it was bad enough when Nicaela left, I loved her so much even after the short time we were together. But Door, god, that was painful… she was my sister even more than if she had been blood. After they made her leave me in the police station I just cried and cried, not even giving a shit who saw me. Which just goes to show you how bad it really was, if you know me at all.

So obviously the last thing I wanted was loud, bratty boys irritating the hell out of me. I was probably snappy and moody, and who the hell could blame me? I barely remember actually, the month or so I was there seems like a blur, like I was sleepwalking through life. But whatever I did definitely couldn't have been bad enough for the lax foster parents to dump me out on the street basically. They told me social worker I was "unhelpful" and "a bad influence". Bullshit, I wasn't AROUND enough to be a bad influence, I'd locked myself in my room nearly every second! Those kids didn't' need me to corrupt them anyway, they were masters at it themselves. What it came down to was they needed someone to blame for not being able to control the boys, and guess who got picked. I'd just like to know who they're pointing the finger at now that I'm gone- or have they dumped the boys out too?

Anyway, then they sent me to Gwendolyn, who was a single foster parent- pretty strange really, they don't usually like to do that. She had a two-year-old foster son and a 17-year-old biological daughter, Amanda, which was my age at the time too. The little boy wasn't too much of a pain, and Gwendolyn seemed okay, if a little vague. She pretty much ignored me, ala Penelope- she ignored her own daughter too. I think it was really young kids like Jake, the two-year-old, she wanted, but they stuck her with me since no one wants someone like me. I figured it was liveable though; being ignored was fine with me. They had a computer, so I could keep in touch with Nicaela and Doral. Both of them were lucky enough to have foster parents who didn't mind them calling me long distance, but I'll get to them later.

Anyway, I figured it would be tolerable until I was 18 and kicked out of foster care. I had to share a room with Amanda, but there were twin beds, so that wasn't too bad either. Plus Amanda seemed friendly, especially considering how abrupt and unfriendly I was to her usually. I didn't want to be her friend- I didn't want to be anyone's. Nothing would replace Nicaela, and especially Doral, so there was no point in trying.

But still, Amanda seemed nice, so I thought it was okay there, maybe halfway normal for a change- until I woke up one night and she had crawled into bed with me. Of course Alex can't ever have a normal foster family, all of them have to be freaking perves! Amanda was apparently a lesbian who had mistaken me for one too.

Still, even that I could deal with- she wasn't a grown man who could rape me. I just pushed her away pretty roughly and gave her a horror story about what would happen if she touched me again. She got the message, but she still was always hanging around watching me like maybe I'd change my mind. It REALLY pissed me off after a while.

So anyway, what with that and everything else that happened that year, I wasn't too interested in high school, let alone college. I passed everything, but no one would ever think me college material.

Except the school guidance counselor. She has to call in all the seniors to talk about GPAs and their career plans and college plans and all. When she called me in, I pretty much told her she was wasting her time, that I could never go to college. But she kept asking me what I was into, etc, until I finally told her art. And that's when she suggested Evatt University. She told me they had an excellent art program and often scholarshipped students based on talent. They also apparently were very generous with financial aid and student loans because they were a small, newer college. She though that even with my average grades and lack of money, I might be able to get a considerably reduced fee, or maybe even free admission.

I was kind of iffy about it at first. I mean, I had no plans for the future beyond being with Doral and Nicaela again. I had never thought of myself as a college kind of girl- I wasn't rich or smart enough or determined enough- normal enough- to go to college. But the guidance counselor insisted that college was necessary, important, and she ended up convincing me to check it out.

I ended up bribing Amanda to drive me to Evatt for my art audition- I had to take some paintings and sketches I'd done and get interviewed by the arts department professors. Then their guidance counselor talked to me about financial aid there and what it meant for my being a foster kid to get into college. And believe it or not, by some miracle I wound up getting nearly a complete scholarship- all I had to pay for was my books, which I could do by getting a summer job. Room, board, meals, all came along with it.

Obviously I couldn't believe it. How in the world could someone like me be about to go to college- for FREE? How could I have good luck? And what cinched it was I wouldn't have to worry about having a place to stay for at least four years, something I'd been wondering about uneasily for a while. I didn't turn 18 until August, and by then I'd be moving into Evatt. I would stay with Gwendolyn and them until then, while I was still 17. I wouldn't have to be homeless.

I told Doral and Nicaela as soon as I could, of course. They were stunned, thrilled, amazed… Doral even started crying. To be honest, I started crying a little too when I heard how happy she was for me. I wanted to be there with her, to hug her and hold her as I hadn't in months… I wanted to SEE her, not just hear her and type to her.

I still keep in touch with her and Nicaela in some way almost every day- if one of them didn't call me, I'd email or instant message them with whatever had gone on. But regardless of us knowing practically everything that was going on in each others' lives, it wasn't the same- not at all. We might know, but we weren't experiencing events with each other- just relaying information. We couldn't' see and touch each other or share clothes. They couldn't see my art, although Doral sometimes sent me a part of her writings through email. I didn't even know if they had changed their looks, since none of us had a digital camera. Even worse, we could only talk one on one. There was no more of the three of us hanging out, talking over each other. I think I missed that as much as anything.

Both of them had lucked out on their foster homes after the Demarcos, unlike me. I'd really been worried about them, especially Doral. I could just see her getting another shitty abusive placement, and my not being there to protect her. She was so shy anyway, even with people who weren't complete bastards. And even Nicaela, with all her bravado, was no good at defending herself when cornered. I really worried a lot for the first few weeks.

But luckily it turned out all right for them. Nicaela got these people who were really nice, had even managed to adopt two little kids without trying to seduce them. She's also gotten into this whole hot line thing- she volunteers part time at a rape crisis kind of center, even went through the training on how to talk to callers and everything. She says it makes her feel like she's doing something, helping, kind of balancing out after what happened to all of us. I think it also helps her feel less guilty for not helping Keegan. It isn't something I'd want to do- it would make me furious to listen over and over to people who'd been hurt like that. But if it makes her feel good, that's great, I guess.

Doral got lucky too, she's in a family with a 17-year-old biological son. I think like Gwendolyn, they were hoping for a kid younger than Doral, but she's what they got. Both of us were really wary of her situation at first- between the dad and the son, there was a lot of opportunity for abuse. Door was terrified of them. She barely spoke, wouldn't look at them, certain that they were only being nice temporarily, to trick her. They let her call me, and she would be crying, almost whispering, desperately afraid and lonely. It upset me so much to hear her,how unhappy she was, that sometimes I cried too after she hung up. It was worse talking to her than Nic, because even though Nic was wary and unhappy at first too, she tried to be brave, humorous, put on a tough front, as typical for her. She tried to spare me. Doral was so miserable she couldn't, and it killed me to listen to her.

But the thing was that her foster people weren't perverts or cruel, they were actually nice, and they kept being patient with Doral. And eventually Door realized that, began to open up to them, a little anyway, even her foster dad and brother. It was good for her to realize that not all men are cruel, perverted bastards. Her foster brother especially was gentle with her, Doral told me, almost protective. I got the feeling she had a little crush on him, which really made me happy- Door had come a long way if she could feel any kind of romantic inclination toward a male.

But anyway. After I told Door and Nic about my nearly getting into college for free, they looked into it as seniors too- and they ended up getting nearly the same deal I did. Nic got in for lack of money and community service hours, while Door did for her writing, good grades, and lack of money. To say we were thrilled is understating it. I was stunned. All our talk and dreaming of being together at 18 was becoming reality...

Doral and Nicaela's foster families even said they could stay until they left for college, even though they would already be 18. They were so freaking lucky. And then the ultimate luck of us all being put in a room together. I'd never much considered a higher power, but it damn sure looked like maybe I'd better.

I stood on my toes impulsively, trying to see Doral or Nicaela among the crowd. They just HAD to have ordinary boring brown hair that blended in with 75% of all the other girls... it was times like this that they should regret not letting me dye their hair when we were still together. Some bright fuschia or blue, even streaks, would make them more noticeable.

As excited and impatient as I was to see them after eighteen months, I was beginning to feel kind of nervous too as I waited for them. I knew it was stupid- it was Door and Nic I was waiting for, I knew them and trusted them more than anyone. Other than my shitty mother, who'd died on me turning tricks when I was eight, they were the only ones I'd ever loved. And I knew they loved me too, they missed me too.

But I kept thinking stupid stuff anyway, worrying that maybe they'd changed, weren't the ones I remembered anymore. What if they looked so different I didn't recognize them? What if they were too different to still like me? What if they were so strong now- and I knew as I thought it how selfish it was- so strong they no longer needed me?

Quit being ridiculous, Alex, I told myself sharply, you're acting like a stupid little bitch. You've been talking to them almost every day. You talked to them last night! How could they have morphed into another person overnight? Shut up.

That was when I saw her, about fifteen feet away. Nicaela... she was struggling with her suitcase, biting her lip as she looked around, seeming lost. She didn't see me yet.

And oh god, she still looked like Nicaela, the same I remembered even nearly two years later. Same boring parted-down-the-middle style,but it was a little shorter now, just slightly past her shoulders, and the black tips had been cut off. And wonder of wonders, the girl STILL refused to wear any of the makeup I had showed her how to put on.

She had on another of her torn-jeans-and-wiseass-saying-tshirt outfits, this one a navy blue and reading "Donuts- they're best for dinner" with a little donut sporting arms and legs underneath. Please don't ask me for an explanation of Nic's humor, as it is not quite the same as mine. Just seeing her shirt relieved me- if she was still wearing goofy crap like that at 18, she couldn't have changed too much.

She was still looking around. How could she possibly miss a pink head, even among all the others milling in? Even a badly fading, crap looking one that was in need of a haircut and style. She must be blind.

I raised my hand and waved it. "Nicaela!" I shouted, finally understanding the goofy stupid reunion scenes in airports and crap in movies. "Nicaela, over here!"She looked up, and her eyes widened when she saw me. Then she smiled broadly, and it was the same smile I remembered. I was probably pinker than my hair in the face, and grinning like an idiot,but I didn't care, trust me.

Both of us were hurrying toward each other at once, knocking into people with our bodies, and in Nicaela's case her luggage. She had an actual suitcase now, no more of the trash bags she had come and left the Demarcos' in. I had already gotten my key and dropped my stuff off in our room for the night.

Once we were closer, Nicaela dropped her stuff, not bothering to see if it happened to fall on someone's toe, and flung herself at me, hugging me with a fierceness I hadn't recalled her possessing. She was shorter than me, curvier, and it astonished me that I could have forgotten that even as I squeezed her hard enough to make her practically stop breathing, one hand gripping her hair unconciously, the other splayed across her back. I could feel her shaking, knew I was as well. People were looking at us, bumping us,but I barely noticed, couldn't have cared less. I was finally seeing her again...

When we finally let go, stepped back a little, it was like we couldn't stop touching, couldn't look away. I felt Nicaela's shoulder, her arm, awkwardly, and she grabbed my hand, squeezing it hard. Neither of us could speak...

I saw that Nicaela was blinking back tears as she reached up,touching my face, my cheeks, gently. It was only when she took her hands away and I saw that they were wet that I realized I had been crying- she had been wiping my tears.

"Oh horrors, Alex, don't let anyone see you cry!" she said in a mock astonished voice. "Whatever happened to Little Miss Tough Chick Alex? Oh excuse me, BIG Miss Tough Chick Alex, I don't want to condescend."

"Well I see Little Miss Wiseass Nicaela hasn't changed," I shot back, and Nicaela grinned, then hugged me again suddenly. I hugged her back, more gently than before, leaning my forehead down to hers.

"God, I missed you," she said, all teasing gone. "I missed you so damn much, Alex."

I smiled to myself even as I blinked against another urge to cry. All my swearing tendencies had finally stuck on someone.

"I know," I told her. "Believe me, I know."

"Alex? Nicaela?"Both our heads jerked up as we looked around quickly. Doral... Doral was here, standing five feet away from us, leaning her luggage against a wall. She was blinking uncertainly, seeming shy, almost afraid- of us, or of finally seeing us? Was she afraid as I was that none of this was real, that none of it was happening at all?

She had not changed too much either... she was nearly 18 now, and still small and delicate, still pale and pretty in an almost childlike way. Doral's hair was shorter, to her shoulders now, and I thought she'd gained a little weight, though she was still slender. As much as I was okay with my tall, athletic body, Doral had sometimes made me feel gawky and unfeminine, although I was never a girly kind of girl. She had on a green flowered shirt, not

too different from stuff I remembered her wearing.

All three of us just stared at each other for a while, speechless, and then Nicaela and I began to move toward her at once. Somehow we ended up in a clumsy, three-person hug, with Doral kind of squashed between us. Again, it blew my mind how I could have forgotten what it was to feel her skinny little arm around my waist, her head mashed between my and Nicaela's shoulders...

Finally we pulled apart, and I could see that Nicaela was crying too, regardless of her teasing me earlier. As she wiped her eyes, Doral suprised her by hugging her fiercely, individually, her head lying on Nicaela's shoulder. It seemed they would never break apart as I watched them, blinking hard, legs shaking embarrassingly.

When Doral finally turned to me, she didn't touch me right away. She looked at me for a long time, staring into my face as if trying to remember me again... she was not crying, but she was shaking worse than I was, so I was afraid she would fall.

I couldn't help it. I started to cry again, just seeing the intense look on her face. I was remembering so much about her, all the nine months I had been her sister... and now eighteen months later, here she was again, and she WAS different, all of us were, as much as I could tell myself we weren't. How could I believe we weren't even just a little bit differerent when we were all over a year older, had been apart for so long? I was nearly nineteen, and both of them were eighteen or close to it. We were adults and we could never be kids together again. We had never had the chance to in the first place.

All this ran through my head just before Doral wrapped herself around me so tightly I was shocked into temporarily stopping my breathing. Then all thoughts and worries left me, and I just cried harder as I cradled her head to my chest, laying my cheek on her hair. Now I was certain people were staring, I was bawling like a baby, but I didn't care. I had my sister back, both of them, and it was hands down the best luck in my life, the only time since I'd left that I could remember truly feeling okay, feeling happy.

I don't know how long we stood there, holding each other, as Nicaela hovered close by.

When we did back away from each other, Door was wiping her eyes as well, blinking rapidly, and I had to take deep breaths that sounded very shuddery and pathetic, very un-me, to try and calm myself enough to stop the damn crying for good. Now the embarrassment was starting to sink in a little- not even my roommate from last year had ever seen me cry; only Doral and Nicaela. Now everyone of the freaking freshmen, plus some upper classmen, seemed to be gawking, in my eyes at least. I was sure my face was red and disgusting.

Doral smiled her old soft smile I could remember, only curving her lips rather than showing teeth. She fished in her jeans pocket, withdrawing a wad of Kleenex and handing it to me.

"I came prepared," she said softly, but her eyes shone. "Figured you'd need this, Al."

Nicaela laughed, snorting. I took it from her, sniffing in a stupid way, and started wiping at my face, unable to suppress a smile even as I tried to glare at her.

"What, are you saying I"m a crybaby?"

"If you want to put it that way-" Nicaela piped up, and I turned my glare to her, even as I fought a grin. Little hypocrite. She was right though and I knew it- they knew me even a year later.

"Not a crybaby, Al," Doral said, still ever the peacemaker apparently. "Sensitive. Emotional."

I shook my head at them, feigning outrage. "What the hell? Who do you think you are calling me names like that?"

"Yes," Doral insisted, not seeming to think my attempt at sarcastic humor was funny. She was right. "You are, Al. It's okay, you know."

Nobody would ever have thought such a thing, let alone said it, except Nic or Door. Nobody else would have gotten away with it- and until today, no one else would have been given a reason to think such a thing. As much as I hated it and tried to be otherwise, I knew they were a right, I was a pathetic-hearted softy. Only Door and Nic had ever made be feel it was okay.

I lowered my eyes, trying and failing to hide a smile. "You can start in on Nicaela anytime if you're finished skewering me, Doral. Her stupid donut shirt a good place to start," I said.

"Hey!" NIcaela protested, poking me in the arm. "YOU don't like donuts? I know for a fact you snatch up all the ones with sprinkles. And oh, your shirt is so not stupid! It has a circle of stars. What, did you lift it off the original American flag?"

"Well you can't seem to own a single pair of jeans that your knees don't poke out of!" I retorted, touching one of her knees with the toe of my shoe. "You'd think it was cleavage, the way you show it around."

"Your hair's really fading," Doral said suddenly, touching my hair gently as Nicaela made a face at me. "It's almost baby pink now."

"I know, it looks like shit," I said, my voice finally normal. "I need to redo it."

"And you wonder why I wouldn't let you touch my hair," Nicaela muttered, making Doral laugh. I smiled too, not bothering to think up a comeback. It was still so unbelievable to me that they were even there...

"Same with makeup," Nicaela continued. "if I wore all the gook on my face you always insisted I should let you put on, I'd have raccoon eyes like you too. Come here."She took my face in her hands and scrubbed at my face with one of Doral's tissues. Shit, I must have looked more like an idiot than I'd figured even.

"New invention, Al- water proof mascara," she teased as she spit into the tissue, scrubbing under my eyes gently.

"Yuck, Nicaela spit," I griped, but I couldn't care less and she knew it. " I know you missed me, but we don't have to swap saliva quite so soon."

"Oh, just flick her, Doral," Nicaela ordered, and Doral did, to my surprise, and it was really near painful. I made the required yelp and flicked her back, then Nicaela too, as she arched back with an indignant cry, almost falling on top of Door. Soon there was an all out flicking war going on, with us bumping and brushing each other easily, completely indifferent to everyone else in the lobby and the fact that we were adults standing on our college campus. All I felt at the moment was the same breathless joy I'd somehow managed to feel at the Demarcos occasinally, the same childish happiness...

Maybe we weren't kids anymore, but it didn't seem to matter. We could fall back into it easily enough.

When we finally settled into a breathless truce, I put an arm around each of them impulsively, pulling them to me again. Nicaela slumped against me, seeming very relieved and content, and Doral turned, winding her arms around my neck. I could almost tangibly feel how lonely and miserable she had felt, even with her nice foster family, how much she had missed us- even without the Hell House Psychos she had missed us. Nicaela put a hand on Doral's head.

"Can you believe we're really going to be together again?" Doral asked, and her voice shook slightly. "Without everything from before- just us- can you really believe it?"

"No," Nicaela said softly, and I echoed, "No..."

Of course we had told ourselves we would be, we had to in order to stay sane and hopeful. But now the reality of it seemed impossible.

We we parted again, picked up their bags and began to move toward the line to register them, I couldn't stop looking at them. I caught them staring at me, at each other, as well. We just couldn't seem to convince ourselves of the reality of our luck, after all the shit we'd gone through for most of our lives.

But now, hopefully that was over for us... hopefully this, our reunion, would start out a new kind of life for us, one of those sappy happy ending ones that Hollywood seems so fond of. Despite my hatred of sappiness and emotions, I definitely wouldn't mind a happy one for us...

the end ( i mean it this time, lol)