"Mom, Sawyer's here! I'm leaving." I've been standing by the living room windows, looking for Sawyer's car since he texted me an hour ago to say he was leaving campus.
"Wait a sec, Alex." Karen walks down the stairs, a huge smile on her face. We're all still getting used to me calling her Mom. "Are you guys eating dinner here or at the Bellamys'?"
Calling Karen 'Mom' came easy after talking to my biological mother, Jackie. I was finally able to let go of a lot my anger and anxiety toward her. Karen is adopting me. Crazy, I know, being adopted at the age of seventeen, but it's what we both want. Karen's lawyer friend, Becca, says it should be a quick process, since Jackie's rights have already been severed.
The doorbell rings. I guess Sawyer didn't want to wait for me to come out.
"I'm not sure. Let's ask Sawyer." I open the front door and practically throw myself at him, wrapping my arms around his waist. "Missed you," I whisper so that only he can hear. He's home for Christmas break. Of course, his last final would be on the last day of finals week. The good news is he'll be home for almost four weeks, giving us lots of time to spend together.
He kisses the top of my head, wraps one arm around my shoulders and pulls me into his side. With his other hand he gives a little two finger wave. "Hi, Karen."
"Good to see you, Sawyer. It's been so long." She laughs because Sawyer spent most of last weekend at our house. "Are you planning on eating dinner here or at your house tonight?"
"I promised my mom we'd eat there tonight. She says it feels like ages since she's seen me, even though I was just home last weekend."
"Hmm, I can't imagine why she feels that way." Karen laughs again and gives us her 'you're so cute look" that we've so much of over the last three or four weeks. "Tell your mom I said 'hi.' Home by midnight, Alex, okay?"
"Yes, Mom. Love you!" I'm still amazed at how easily those words fall from my mouth now. I give her a hug before I grab Sawyer's hand and pull him out the door.
Karen was going to adopt the boys, too, but their situation has changed. Their aunt, their mom's sister, has stepped forward and wants to take them. She's been estranged from her family for years, not wanting to get pulled down by all of their drama and bad choices. She had no idea the boys were in foster care and moved to get them out as soon as she could. They have a court date after the first of the year, so we'll know then if they are staying with us or going with her. I'm pretty sure they will be going with her and I'm happy for them. She's spent a lot of time here and she already loves them like her own. They'll be happy with her.
Mom says it's okay to be sad about the boys leaving, but not to get used to the quiet house. There are always more kids who need a home. Even though no one can fill the hole that Matt and Henry will leave behind, Mom says that we can always make room to love someone else. She's right. Not only have I made room for Mom and the boys, but I also have Caitlin, who has become like a sister to me. And Sawyer. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with him, even though neither of us has said it yet. I think we're both afraid to rush things, and that's okay. I've had so many changes in my life over the last few months, I'm enjoying taking it slow with him.
"So, what are we doing now?" I'm practically skipping down the driveway to his car, happy he's home, happy to go anywhere with him.
I've started applying to colleges. Of course, Georgia Tech is at the top of my list, even if Sawyer only has one more year there. I'm still unsure of my major, which is why I've applied to a few other schools, all in the Atlanta area. Sawyer encouraged me to apply to Emory University, saying that my grades and test scores should earn me a full ride. I've applied to a few smaller colleges, just to keep my options open.
Just as I reach his car, he grabs my hand and pulls me back into him. One kiss later, he's opening the car door and waiting for me to buckle up before closing it. I watch as he jogs around the front of the car, appreciating the view. He's in the car and turning his key in the ignition before he answers me.
"Mom made me promise to come straight home after I picked you up. She says that Sam is in 'Sawyer withdrawal,' but I think that's code for she misses me."
I've spent a lot of time at the Bellamys' house, with and without Sawyer, over the past few weeks. Caitlin and I have been splitting our after school time between her house and mine, working on homework and just being giggly girls. Mrs. Bellamy is wonderful, already treats me like one of the family. Plus, she says that she likes having another girl around the house to help balance out the testosterone. I think she's just happy that Caitlin is coming out of loner-shell.
"Well, she has mentioned a time or twenty that she couldn't wait to have you home for almost a month."
I happen to know it's not just Mrs. Bellamy that misses Sawyer when he's at school. It's the whole family. All four of them have told me, individually, that Sawyer has been home more since he met me than had been in his first two years at Tech combined. An exaggeration, I'm sure, but if seeing me gets him home to see his family more often, I'm fine with that.
It's a short drive from my house to his, but he holds my hand the whole time, rubbing his thumb across the back of my hand. To anyone else, it would seem like something very minor, but for me, it's huge. I've spent so much time pushing people away, never knowing what could be conveyed by a simple touch. It's in the hugs that Mom gives me or the shoulder nudges from Caitlin and definitely in the kisses from Sawyer, whether a chaste peck on my cheek or a soul-burning kiss on my lips. All of these touches, and so many more, say that I am loved, that I'm part of a family. The people in my life have taught me that family doesn't just mean DNA. Family is whoever or whatever you want it to be. I've chosen my family and pieced it together like a patchwork quilt.
I'm a work in progress, just like my family, my patchwork. I have bad days, setbacks, days when it's all too much, when I need space. Instead of pushing everyone away, I've learned to speak up, ask for time and space. Like I said, a work in progress. I'm still learning to trust, to love and every day I open my heart a little bit more.