1 Chapter One

PAPER HEARTS: CLASHING OF CLANS

He’d never been on a plane before. He stood silently, his hair falling into his eyes and watched the different planes taxi down the runway. He was aware of the woman standing behind and to his left watching him. He ignored her. He waited. He abided his time by losing himself in the progression of the dance each plane seemed to be engaged in. He succinctly conjectured whether or not JFK was always this busy or if sometimes it slowed down. He watched the reflections of strangers as they passed by, the planes momentarily omitted from his deliberations. He still looked for them. In every adult he saw, he still looked. He shook his head, unkempt bangs falling over his closed eyes. He was being stupid again. Dead. He knew what that meant. Still…he looked. He took a deep breath and promised himself he wouldn’t cry as he boarded the plane and said goodbye to the only city he’d ever known.

The sweat dripping down Sebastian Green’s back had nothing to do with the summer heat. While it was mid-June, the summer’s incandescence and sultriness kept for the most part to the wayside. He’d stopped his pacing some time ago as a result of the very irrefutable fulmination of his legs giving out due to the abuse his knees had undergone. His anxieties pulsed through his blood stream like the acid he’d done in the late ‘90’s. He looked at the clock and took a deep breath. They’d be here soon. He closed his eyes to shut out the silence permeating the house and for a last minute check of his nerves. DING DONG! Deep breath. He answered the door.

The state social worker relinquished his hand only once they’d discovered their seats. He climbed over to the window seat, sat, and resumed putting to memory the last sight of New York. As the plane lifted into the air he bit down on his bottom lip in a masochistic endeavor to quell the foreboding, lamenting sorrow pooling in his eyes. He sniffled once willing the tears to abate.

“Jaxsen.” He jumped away at the slight touch to his arm and the suddenness of his name breaking through his thoughts. The lady-Damn. He couldn’t remember her name-smiled sadly at him and gently removed her hand. “Honey, are you thirsty?”

He gave such a slight, timorous nod of the head that she almost missed it. She smiled at him again. She didn’t want to scare him. Poor thing. She’d heard of some of the things that had happened to him. He seemed like such a sweet little boy. When she’d been briefed about the state of affairs from the last placement he was in…what they did…she was told that he hadn’t spoken in some time and to ask direct ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions so he could nod his head in response.

He nodded. “Okay, well, we have a few options here.” She looked at him from the small drink menu. “Do you like juice?” Nod. She smiled. He noted she was nervous. “Orange?” He declined. “Apple?” He acquiesced to apple juice happily and awaited his drink.

His nerves did not start getting the better of him until they turned into his new neighborhood. He resolved his pulse to slow down and repeated to himself his promise not to cry. He hesitated when she opened the back door. She did not try to hurry or coax him. She simply waited with extreme patience for him to build his courage up and finally step out of the car they’d rented at the airport.

The house was a country-style, two story house with a one quarter acre yard surrounding it. The grass was cut, hedges trimmed, the building itself a pale blue and white. He hated new places. He didn’t understand the rules here. A gust of cool wind blew through his hair and he inhaled. The scents of freshly cut grass and impending rain assaulted him and for a moment he found peace.

The doorbell jerked him from his reverie and he cowed behind Miss What’s-Her-Name, afraid to meet his foreseeable future.

When Sebastian opened the door he saw the smiling face of an attractive young woman. Her shoulder length hair she wore down, yet with elegant style. The raven shade of those silky strands held no contrast against the black pants suit she attired. Her skin tone was a shade of natural tan indicative of mixed heritage. Perhaps Indian and European if the angles of her face were any indication. She was modest in height and a body build to match.

“Mr. Green? Sebastian Green?” She held out her hand and he shook it, noticing her grip belied her build.

“Yes, hi, come on in. I’m glad the flight arrived safely,” he added as they came into the foyer. “You’re Mrs. Harrison, I presume?”

She smiled. “Yes, that’s correct.”

The two had been communicating via the telephone for the last several weeks in preparation for the gaining of guardianship to one Jaxsen Michaels: age eight, and subsequent flight from New York to Indianapolis.

“Everything is well in order and I wish you luck.” She set the single suit case down, turned to the boy and kneeled. Lightly she placed her hand flat against his chest and smiled. His pulse raced and she hated to leave him. “You’ll be okay here, honey.” With sudden maternal impulse she kissed his forehead and stood. “I have a plane to catch. I better go if I want to make it. Here’s my card. Call me if you have any trouble.”

At those words the boy’s head dipped down, his bottom lip sucked in as he nervously played with the hem of his shirt.

“Hey,” Sebastian said as he pushed off the now closed door. He lowered himself to eye level in an attempt not to scare him. “My name is Sebastian. I, uh, I’m a friend of your dad’s. We were best friends. He saved my life many times.” He sighed and stopped talking. He was babbling. “I know you don’t remember me, but I’m sorry that it took me so long to find you. I honestly didn’t know what happened.”

The boy didn’t look up, but he nodded. They had told him that he had been a friend of his dad’s, but they hadn’t gone into many details.

“Well, let’s create an inventory of what all you’ve got so I have an idea of what you need, what do ya say?” Sebastian turned the case flat and unzipped it. The first thing his attention was drawn to was a red shoe box meticulously braced in the top right corner, the few clothing items placed precisely to offer the best padding purchasable. “What’s this you got here?”

Inquisitiveness getting the better of him he gently lifted the box. The boy’s sudden gasp made him look up. Jaxsen’s blue eyes were filled with fear, apprehension, and a deeper despair anyone so young should ever feel. It broke his heart. Azure eyes met his for the first time and he wanted nothing more than to subjugate his fear. Two tears traced their way down his pale cheeks. Little hands twitched with longing for the box but he dare not reach out.

“I’m not gonna take it. Here.” After a moment the box was clutched tightly to the boy’s chest. In quiet contemplation Sebastian understood the significance of that one prized possession. He reached out without thought to vanquish the fallen tears, something he once took for granted, but stopped short at the boy’s cowering flinch.

“Come on. I’ll show you to your room.”

He’d left the boy in his room nearly an hour ago to allow him, and himself if he were honest, to gather bearings and to acquaint himself with his new surroundings. He’d ordered pizza for a lack of a better idea. He looked at the clock. He had maybe twenty minutes before delivery. He sat on his couch, elbows resting heavily on his knees, hands laced together, and completely clueless as to what to do now. The air in the room shifted suddenly and Sebastian knew he was no longer the only occupant in the room. Careful as to not to startle him, Sebastian turned to his right. There he saw a little face carefully assessing him.

“Hey.” He smiled and waved him over. “Come sit. I ordered pizza, I hope that’s alright. Do you like pizza?” A small, indiscernible nod was all he received in response. “Jaxsen, come ‘ere.” He waved him over in invitation, his voice soft, yet firm. Sebastian did not miss the querulous and spooked glances Jaxsen was shooting to his larger hands. Sebastian reached for his hand to pull him slightly closer. He paused when Jaxsen jumped away but did not lower his arm. Gently he took a small hand in his and lightly pulled.

“Listen,” he began, keeping his tone even. The kid was scared, he didn’t want to add to his distress by speaking too forcefully. “I need you to do me a favor, okay? It’s simple. Can you talk to me? Can we try and work on that?”

Jaxsen stared at their hands, his lower lip sucked in-between his teeth and he nodded. Then, a small and shaky voice whispered in response, “O-Okay. I’ll w-work on that.”

“Good. Thank you. Now, one more thing. Look at me-you don’t have to worry about the other shoe dropping here. I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Jaxsen nodded his response. A response that seemed almost conditioned and Sebastian knew that he was going to have to prove his word as time went on.

One week passed and things slowly progressed. Sebastian was beginning to learn the intelligence within such a young child was far beyond that of his age. Thinking it best to get into a routine, Sebastian had Jaxsen wash the dishes while he dried. A new dishwasher adorned the kitchen, though he rarely used it. Sebastian watched Jaxsen carefully wash each dish, his fingers gripping tightly lest he drop something. He decided to get Jaxsen a stool so he didn’t have to stand on a chair every night; it made him nervous. And plastic, kid-safe dishes to subdue his anxiety. That one anyway. He knew he was building trust with the child but wished he would stop flinching away from him. It broke his heart a little each time. Patience was never one of his virtues, but he had a feeling that this boy was going to teach him how to be.

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