For ten years Roman sustained me. Though only a small child and an orphan himself when we met, he gave to me all the love and adoration that a little boy can hold inside him, and I gave him mine. Though the teachers and caretakers all treated me kindly, they held themselves aloof. It wouldn’t do to become too attached to a child unrelated to oneself, I suppose. Unprofessional. Roman was my family. Roman was my home.
At 15 I lost him.
The orphanage cared for youngsters without parents. It provided them with warm clothes, hot meals, and snug beds. Children received instruction in all the subjects required for licensure by the state. Up until high school.
For grades 9-12, the orphans were sent to boarding schools that accepted scholarship students. Girls attended Forest Grove Academy in eastern Washington. Boys were sent to the Sand Dune School in coastal Oregon.
We stood out front, duffel bags at our feet, waiting for our respective buses. Roman, his hair grown long and shaggy, crossed his arms over his chest as though hugging himself for comfort. I cried freely, the way only girls are allowed to do.
“Do you think we’ll have computers to use at school?” Roman wondered. “We can email.”
“We could run,” I suggested.
“What?” He stared at me.
“Right now. We could run into the woods and hide there until we found a way out of here. We could go to New York. Or Canada. Or something.” I talked fast, as if that might make the scheme possible.
“Anastasia, how would we live? What would we eat?” He held up the sack of snacks the old cook gave him for the trip. “This is all I’ve got.”
“We always talked about it, remember? Traveling together? Gypsies, you and me, Roman, you remember don’t you?” Babbling, I was.
“Yeah, of course I remember, but we were just kids. We didn’t know anything.”
“We still don’t know anything. What if he comes back?” I looked him in the eye.
“What if who comes back?” He looked back steadily.
“Roman, you know who!” I started crying again. “What if I need help? I don’t know anybody there. I don’t…”
“You don’t what?” Tears stood in his eyes too.
“I don’t love anybody there.” I pulled two smooth round stones from my pocket. “Here,” I held one out to him.
“What’s this?” He chose the redder of the two.
“Keep it in your pocket. Hold it when you want to talk to me. I’ll hear you, Roman, I swear I will.” I clutched mine tight to demonstrate.
“Ok,” he said. “I’ll hear you too. If you’re in trouble, if you see him, or if you find…”
“Find what?” I asked, but I knew.
“A door,” he said. “If you ever find a door, hold your stone and call me. I’ll come.”
The buses had arrived. The drivers gestured at us to climb aboard. Mine tapped his watch with an expression of annoyance. I picked up my duffel. With my other hand I reached for Roman. He pressed his palm to mine and turned away.
I climbed the steps of my bus, away from the orphanage, away from Roman, away from the meadow, and even away from my mother. Ten years after her death, I was once again alone in the world.