Myron pulled the thin blanket over his shoulders and tucked it snugly around him as he curled into a fetal position. Closing his eyes, he listened to the happy sounds of the older family members chatting and laughing, talking about whatever it is the older people talk about after they've sent the younger ones to bed. The sound, bubbling up the stairs and through the narrow crack of the slightly ajar door, seemed to envelop him in the warmth and safety of love. Not the demanding love of which he was so familiar, a simpler love - one that asked nothing of him but that he share in it. Snuggling deeper into his pillow, Myron let himself relax as the warmth wove its way under his blanket and wrapped itself around him.
"Myron? Myron? You asleep?" came a voice from the other side of the bed.
"Ha-uummm," Myron responded, slipping ever farther towards sleep.
"Let's go listen. Come on!" the voice whispered as a small hand tugged at the blanket, "Come on! Wake up!"
"Come on, Myron!" the voice whispered impatiently, the hand gave up the gentle prodding and yanked the covers off of him, "I wanna hear. Come on!"
"Aaaall riiiiiiight!" Myron reluctantly acquiesced and wearily sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his puffy eyes, "How come you can't go by yourself, Mai? I'm tired."
"Not as much fun getting into trouble by myself," she responded teasingly.
Myron felt Mai's weight shift off the other side of the bed, but he couldn't hear her moving as she stepped cautiously across the thick shag carpet and towards the door. Slowly, Myron swung his legs over his side of the bed and slid to the floor.
"Wait for me!" he whined, just catching a glimpse of her long dark hair as she squeezed through the crack and moved into the dimly lit hallway.
Despite wanting to catch up to her, Myron couldn't quite stop himself from pausing to curl his toes in the thick shag. Even the carpet at Mai's seemed to welcome him warmly into the fold. The thought made the youngster smile as he crept out the door in search of his roommate. He didn't have to look very far - she was just a few feet away. Her hands were wrapped around the smooth, polished wood of the banister, her chin just able to rest on top of it as she knelt. Myron paused just outside the door to watch his friend, only barely able to prevent himself from giggling at the mischievous look on her face. He loved being with Mai. He loved being in her house, surrounded by her family, getting into mischief with her. Whatever Mama did on the nights that she sent him over here to sleep - Myron wished she would do it more often.
"Myron!" Mai mouthed, waving him over.
He slid in quietly next to her, and she smiled, her face filled with radiant affection for him. Myron smiled back, the melancholy in his eyes not quite matching the joyous enthusiasm in hers. Mai grabbed his hand and held it reassuringly as he rested his chin next to hers on the banister. Together they gazed down on the mass of people still gathered in the parlor.
"Michael's up?!" Mai whispered, curiosity coating her words.
Myron glanced around the room beneath him until he found the focus of her attention. Michael was the sibling closest to Mai in age, but older than her by five years, that made him four years older than Myron, still he went to bed with the younger children. He didn't have to go to bed so early, but he got up at five every morning to run. Myron thought that was silly, but Michael was going to West Point after high school, and he wanted to be ready. The teenager said that it was never too soon to start preparing for the Army. That was something that the General might say, too, but it was different coming from Michael. HE wanted West Point and the Army - no one was pushing him, and he would never have thought to push anyone else. West Point - Myron thought that was silly, too. He was never gonna join the Army.
"Must be something important to get Michael out of bed," Mai puzzled, pulling Myron back from his reverie, "let's go down."
Myron resisted as she pulled his arm. They were supposed to be in bed, and he didn't want to disappoint Lian, Mai's mama. She was so beautiful - her long, silky black hair that she didn't always pull back like his Mama did; the deep brown pools of her eyes that looked at him with so much love - just like he was one of her own. He wished he was.
"Come on, Myron. We won't get into trouble." Giving in, Myron let her pull him along down the stairs.
"Mai! Myron! I'm sorry. Did we wake you with all our noise?" Li asked, moving over to the children hovering just outside the group.
Myron noticed Li's thick French-Laotian accent. It was usually barely perceptible. Something important must have happened. Mai had been correct - but then she usually was. The air was electric with excitement, and it made Myron nervous.
"Yes, Mama," Mai replied, smiling innocently, still grasping tightly to Myron's hand. Her mama brushed Mai's bangs out of her eyes and smiled back, signalling to her daughter that the pair weren't going to be sent promptly back to bed.
Mai's firm grasp kept Myron from escaping back up the stairs as Li's gaze moved to his nervous little face. He wanted to say something - to apologize for breaking the rules by getting out of bed, to promise to be better, but all he could seem to do was cower behind Mai. Myron waited for the disappointment in her eyes to chastise him, but as she gazed steadily at him, he saw nothing in her eyes but affection.
"It's all right, Myron," Li soothed, kneeling down to wrap her arms around the boy at the same instant that Mai released her hold on his hand and moved deeper into the room.
Myron felt himself tremble ever so slightly as Li's arms tightened around him. He snuggled his head into her shoulder and tried to absorb the warm, caring energy that seemed to flow so freely from her.
"S' all right. You're not in trouble, you're a good boy," she whispered in his ear, then lightly kissed his forehead, released him and stood. Leaving her hand softly planted against the back of his head, she gently guided him into the room. "Why don't you join us."
"Munchkin!!" Michael shouted enthusiastically as he wound his way through his older siblings, "Guess what!!"
Myron shrugged, grasping hold of Li's dress to keep her close. He loved having her close to him.
"The cease-fire's been signed!" Michael announced, smiling broadly.
"Did ya hear me?" Michael asked, when Myron didn't respond, "A cease-fire! Our dads'll be coming home!"
Attempting a weak smile, the younger boy nodded and Michael danced away to join those more enthused about the news. Leaning into Li's leg, Myron tried not to think about what the cease-fire meant for him. The General would be coming home. His father - the man that he was certain would never like him - would be coming home. Mai's daddy - the man that always said he wished Myron was one of his - would return to gather up his real family and move them away. Li absently let her arm drape across the boy clinging to her as Myron tried desperately not to cry.
"It'll be all right," Mai whispered, looking calmly into his big, tearful eyes.
Myron jumped. He hadn't noticed her come up beside him. She reached for his hand and held it gently in hers. Myron looked into her deep brown eyes and knew she understood. Mai always knew what he was feeling and thinking before he knew himself.
"Come on, let's go back to bed."
Myron glanced back at Li as Mai pulled him out from under her mother's arm. He tried again to smile as Li smiled warmly at the departing children, then he let himself be led up the stairs and into the bedroom. Mai released his hand and moved to the other side of the bed.
"It'll be all right," she whispered, climbing under the covers and waiting for Myron to climb in on his side. Once he was settled, Mai inched over until she'd snuggled up against him.
"I'll always be with you, Myron," she whispered as she wrapped her little arms around him, "even if my daddy moves us away, I'll still be with you, always and always."
Myron wrapped his arms around her as he felt the first of his tears drop onto his cheek.