Family Secrets

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#1
"Yes...okay. All right, thank you."

Click.

Kennedy placed the phone back onto the receiver, her hands trembling as she fumbled to slide the phone back onto the hook. She leaned against the wall for a moment before sinking to the floor and burying her face in her hands. She choked back her tears, crumbling forward to rest her head on her knees before bursting into sobs. She was silently grateful that the kids had gone out. They didn't need to see her this way. And she didn't want them to.

She had a niece. By her brother, the one who had spent his entire life mistreating her. She was thirteen and he'd never told neither Kennedy or their mother about her. He'd had custody of her for the last three years and nobody had had any idea.

That was over with now. Logan had finally been arrested--exactly what the charge was she wasn't sure--and the child could no longer stay with him. The first person the authorities had gone to had been their mother, Bianca. Bea had been just as floored as everyone else was. She would have taken the girl in a heartbeat. She almost had. But Bea, though not as old as some might be was in no position to raise another child, and Kennedy supposed, though her mother would probably never admit such a thing to her, that Bea was too afraid to try again.

She really had tried with Logan. She had tried desperately with both of them, but Bea had been a young mother, and Logan had been a more difficult child to raise. Always angry, always fighting. And nobody had ever known why. Bea had often said, when she thought Kennedy wasn't listening, that he got it from his father. Kennedy didn't know who Logan's father was--Kennedy didn't even know who her own father was--and a part of her wasn't entirely sure that her mother even knew.

But all her efforts with the boy had failed. He had grown from an angry child to an even angrier adult, and Kennedy had eventually been forced to flee her mother's house to stay safe. The memory of it was fresh in her mind. Her mother had pressed an envelope containing several hundred dollars into her hand, pressed a kiss to her forehead, and Kennedy had gotten into her car and driven off.

The siblings had remained estranged. They saw one another occasionally, their poor mother desperately trying to facilitate some sort of bond between her adult children.

And then, last year, just after she had finally managed to scrape up enough money for the surgery she had wanted her whole life, when she should have been over the moon with joy, Logan had followed her into their mother's bathroom and pinned her against the wall, blocking the door with his body and shifting his frame to trap her as she scrambled to get past him. She had punched him, clawed him, kicked him. But in the end, he was bigger and stronger than her, despite the fact that she was the older one, and he forced himself on her with little struggle.

Their mother had caught him. She had heard Kennedy screaming, and Logan had failed to lock the door behind him.

The siblings never spoke again. Kennedy hadn't pressed charges on him. She'd been too fragile afterward to even consider confronting that idea. And she had hoped that perhaps, somewhere deep down inside him, that maybe her brother really could be good if she just remained out of his life so as not to upset him.

But she had been wrong. She had been wrong, and by not trying harder to have Logan kept away from others, she had in turn, failed her niece. The last call had had the most detail of what Logan had done to her. He had been just as bad to his own daughter as he had been to Kennedy herself--the flamboyant older brother who had in time, become a confident and graceful older sister. And he had only grown to hate her more because of it.

Kennedy lifted her tear stained face. Her gaze travelled up the staircase, and she scrambled weakly to her feet. "Eva!"

***

Kennedy pressed her face into Eva's shoulder, sinking into the taller woman's frame as her tears began to slow. Curled on the bed, she couldn't help but feel the situation was somewhat backwards. The vast majority of their relationship, Kennedy had always been the stronger one. She had, for the most part, always been Eva's protector. Her wife had always been softer than Kennedy herself was. Gentle and soft spoken, but easily bruised emotionally. The reversal, while not unneeded or unwanted, was slightly foreign to Kennedy. Kennedy rarely cried. For most of her childhood she had never been able to allow herself to, and as an adult still tended to hide her vulnerability behind prickliness.

"I knew," Kennedy said, her voice shaking. "I knew what he was capable of and I didn't do anything. I never should have let him go. All of this is my fault. My own niece had to suffer because of him, and it's my own fucking fault. I could've gotten her out of there so much sooner if I'd just said something."

She felt Eva squeeze her hand. "None of this is in any way your fault," Eva promised gently. "You had no way of knowing she was even there in the first place. And I know you. If you had known about her, you would have done everything to get her away from him. It was the foster care system''s responsibility to make sure she was being placed somewhere suitable. The were supposed to be checking in on her, making sure she was safe. That's who failed her. Not you."

Kennedy didn't say anything, just kept her arms wrapped around her wife, still trembling with a mixture of despair and rage. Eva gingerly ran a hand through Kennedy's hair. "But we're suitable," Eva said after a moment. "We'll take good care of her here, and you can make up for all the years you've missed. We'll make things right for her."

Kennedy glanced up as the door opened. “We’re back!” Jupiter’s voice called up the stairs. “Where are you guys?”

Kennedy shrank back and looked wordlessly up at Eva. I don’t want them to see me like this. Eva gave her shoulder a squeeze. "I'll go," she said gently. "You can come down when you're ready." Eva leaned down to kiss her on the forehead before slipping out of the room, pulling the door shut behind her.

***

The oven beeped and Eva set the tray of cookies on the counter. She knew without turning to look that the footsteps scrambling down the stairs belonged to Ronan. "Don't eat them all before I've finished baking the batch," she scolded him. "Save at least something for Christmas. And they aren't even frosted yet."
Ronan smirked and reached out to grab one of the cookies. "I'm eating this one," he said. "It's deformed." He turned to look at Hugo, who was settled in a chair at the kitchen table. "Split it?"

He let out an alarmed squeak as the still soft person-shaped cookie cracked in half as he picked it up. Jupiter snickered as they came up behind their brothers, reaching over Ronan's shoulder to grab the top half of the cookie.

"Looks like you after we try to wake you up in the morning," Jupiter said, passing half of the cookie to Hugo. "Sad and crumbling"
Hugo swatted at Jupiter, who darted out of their way, snickering. "Where's Kennedy?" Hugo asked, glancing back up toward the stairs.

Eva followed his gaze. "I...she'll be down shortly. You know she's been nervous about today. Juliette should be here by noon."

As if on cue, a car rolled into the driveway and came to a stop. Eva glanced anxiously toward the window and back up the window. "Kennedy!" she called.

Kennedy was standing in her bedroom doorway, fully dressed with her hair still just slightly damp. She could see her family, but they couldn't see her. She had spent the entire week since she had gotten that phone call in somewhat of a haze, punctuated only by even more prickliness than normal. She had been snippy with almost everyone in the last few days, and they were gentler than normal with her in response.

She craned her neck, hoping to see the girl out the window, but couldn't catch a glimpse of her. Descending the stairs, Kennedy found herself fidgeting nervously. She wondered how much the social worker had told Juliette about her. About all of them. They hadn't told Kennedy much at all about Juliette herself. She suddenly realized she wasn't sure if the girl was expecting an aunt or an uncle. Had Logan ever spoken to Juliette about her? Probably not highly, if he had mentioned her at all.

And then there was a knock at the door. Kennedy took a deep breath, smiled, and pulled open the door.
 

Ravenbelle

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#2
Juliette's life played in fast forward.

On one normal day for her, everything was as it usually was. And then there were police. Then she was told to pack and a lady in a pantsuit helped her put her things into garbage bags as her father was handcuffed into a police car. She had fantasized about a moment like this before, but now that it was happening in real life, nothing felt right. Only when she had arrived in a "temporary arrangement" at an orphanage had she learned that a teacher of hers had called Child Protective Services.
Juliette felt like she was watching things happen instead of experiencing any of it. Some of it was familiar, like the bags and the people talking to her in soft voices, the police cars and the uncomfortable beds. She even got another case worker who kept giving her sad looks. Juliette kept forgetting her name. She didn't know whose names she should learn as people came and went in a matter of hours.

***

She went to the hospital. She did as she was told. She tried not to cry.
She held onto her tears for a long time. She had gotten used to keeping her tears at bay by now.
So she held them in when she arrived and she felt ten years old again, all alone in the waiting room and waiting for mommy to come back.
She held them in when her fingers got too cold to feel them as the doctor asked and asked and asked so many questions she didn't know how to answer.
She held them in when they asked her to take her clothes off.
But not when they told her to spread her legs. Or when they needed a blood sample.
She had a headache for the rest of the day from crying so much.

***

A few hours or days passed (she wasn't sure which), then Juliette was told she would be staying with her Uncle Kennedy. Then the next day she was told she was staying with her Aunt Kennedy. Something about files that hadn't been updated.
She packed again. She didn't sleep much. But she did a lot of drawing. She tried to draw small pictures because she was scared she would run out of pages in her sketchbook soon. She pretended that was the most important thing she had to worry about lately.
She had spoken maybe 20 words since being moved from her dad's house. By now, no one paused to wait for a verbal response from her. She did a lot of nodding.

***

Then she was in a car again, reading a book for much longer than the car ride usually allowed. She was almost done with the twelfth Animal Ark book by the time the car finally stopped. She hadn't read any of the other Animal Ark books, but she found this one under her bed at the orphanage, so she brought it with her. She hoped that if she kept her head occupied, she wouldn't worry about what her aunt would be like. Which rules were the same from her dad's house and which were different. She stared out her window from the car. It was a big house. If she was lucky, that meant there were lots of places to hide. Ms. Genale, her case worker, opened the door for her. She stepped out slowly, staring up at the door with big hazel eyes and pulling on the straps of her backpack nervously.
"Are you ready Juliette?"
She shrugged, eyes down.
"Remember you have my number at your disposal. Just ask for a phone or use the house phone. Whenever you need me."
Juliette nodded. Then they were walking. The door was painted dark brown and there were faces in the windows. Juliette gulped while Ms. Genale knocked.
The door opened quickly. Juliette stiffened, hands tightening into fists around her backpack straps. She looked up when Ms. Genale spoke.
"Hello Ms. Piane. I'm Laura Genale; we spoke on the phone. I'm sure you've been eager to meet your niece, Juliette," Ms. Genale looked down at her and back at Ms. Piane expectantly. Juliette remained motionless, staring up at the aunt she had never heard of and the big house behind her, looking for the faces she had seen in the window. Ms. Genale smiled over the awkward silence and faced Ms. Piane again. "Is there someplace you've arranged for her to keep her things for now? We have a bit of information to go over."
 
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#3
Kennedy blinked at the scene in front of her. At least Juliette didn't look very much like Logan. She probably took after her mother--whoever she was. At least that was a good thing. Kennedy and Logan shared some similarities in the face--they both looked like their mother--but build-wise they were nothing alike. Kennedy was short and slender, while Logan had always been big and bulky.

It took Kennedy a moment to respond. She stiffened slightly as she felt Eva drift in from the kitchen and come up behind her. The kids were still messing around with one another in the kitchen, but Kennedy had lost track of their conversation. "Hello," Kennedy greeted, smiling at the girl in the doorway. "It's nice to finally meet you." She took a step back to allow the pair into the house.

"This is my wife, Eva," Kennedy said. She gestured to Eva and glanced toward the kitchen. "Our children are in the kitchen." She looked back 5to Juliette again. "They're all a bit older than you, but you can meet them now if you'd like to."

"We have a bedroom set up for her upstairs," Eva said. "I can take them up for her, or we could just leave them in the front hall for now if that would be easier." She looked back to Juliette again, feeling bad for talking over the girl's head. "Would you like a cookie, darling?" she asked. "They aren't frosted yet because I'm still waiting for them to cool, but you can have one now if you want one."

Laughter erupted from the kitchen, and Eva turned to look behind her once again. "If there are any left."

Hugo skittered out into the hallway, out of the path of his siblings. Kennedy could tell he was laughing, even past his usual nervous expression. He looked down the hallway at her, and his smile faded. He froze for a moment, and then shrank nervously back into the kitchen. It wasn't that he was really afraid of Juliette, but he was likely terrified of Laura. New adults had always made him nervous, and Ms. Genale was no exception.
 

Ravenbelle

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#4
Another woman came to the door behind Ms. Piane. She had a softness to her that made Juliette want to smile back at her. But she was mostly overwhelmed. When she walked in, trash bag swishing beside her, the house smelled like cinnamon, filled with warm colors and a comfortable, lived-in clutter that was mostly foreign to her.

She looked at Ms. Genale for what to do. She had been given permission to meet new people but everything was rather overwhelming as is. She was asked if she wanted a cookie. Her stomach was empty, but she couldn't respond nonverbally before Eva turned back toward the kitchen and a man turned the corner into the kitchen hallway. He laughed first, but when Ms. Genale smiled and gave a half-wave, he shrank back. Juliette watched everything cautiously, not moving from Ms. Genale's side until she spoke.

"Actually Eva, would you mind showing Juliette to her room?" she asked, handing her the trash bag she was carrying, mostly filled with clothes. "I have a few things to briefly discuss with Ms. Piane before I go and I'll be out of your hair."

Juliette's toes curled inside her shoes and she shifted her weight from foot to foot awkwardly. Her eyes went back and forth between Eva and Kennedy before settling on the floor.
 
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#5
Hugo remained nervously in the kitchen doorway, watching the group intently for a moment before taking a step backwards. Kennedy heard a small, questioning sound from Jupiter, who took a few steps out into the hallway to gently usher their brother back into the kitchen.

“Come on Hugo,” they prompted quietly. “Let’s go do something else.” Jupiter paused. “We can try to beat another boss in Cuphead. It’s been a while since we last tried to beat that.”

Hugo skittered off back into the doorway, and Kennedy heard the soft thump of Hugo flopping down on the living room couch. Jupiter turned to follow him, glancing back over their shoulder to offer both the girl and the visiting woman in the doorway a smile and a friendly wave before slipping back out of view again.

The Xbox startup sound chimed from the living room, and Kennedy turned her attention back to the people in front of her. Eva nodded and looked back over to Juliette. “Follow me,” she said, heading up the staircase.

Kennedy looked back to Ms. Genale again. “All right,” she said. “I”m listening.”

**

Eva led Juliette up the stairs and down the hall to the bedroom they had prepared for her. It was relatively plain at the moment, having been used as a guest room before Juliette’s arrival. “This will be your room,” Eva told her. “I know it’s pretty plain, but we weren’t quite sure what sort of things you liked and we didn’t want to decorate it and have you not like it. We can go out and get some stuff more to your tastes in the next couple of days if you’d like to.”

“There’s space for your clothes in the dresser and the closet,” Eva said. “We bought you some extra stuff too, but we weren’t sure what you liked, so it’s not much. Kennedy’s mother was by earlier with stuff for you too.” She paused for a moment.

“Is there anything you want to ask me, or anything you want to say?”
 

Ravenbelle

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#6
Juliette caught a glimpse of another man, a blonde that waved at them before disappearing around the corner as well. Then Eva guided her upstairs and she followed quietly, briefly wincing at the pain in her hip by climbing the stairs. The room she was led to was near the end of the hall. She caught small slices of what the rooms looked like through the doors that were left slightly ajar. They looked furnished and lived in. Like the rest of the house.

She paid close attention when Eva spoke, so she knew that she was hearing her. She could put her things in the dresser and closet. And she might meet yet another person: Kennedy's mother. Her..grandmother. This whole thing is such a whirlwind. She had so many questions, but as soon as she was asked to say something, her mind went blank. She had no idea how phrase anything and was far too worried about messing everything up before she had even moved in.
She looked up at Eva cluelessly and shrugged, then tentatively took off her backpack and overcoat to place them at the foot of the bed. She was wearing a purple turtleneck under it. It was clearly supposed to be her size, but it hung off of her in too many places, making it clear how much thinner she was than she should be. She turned back to Eva again, wondering what was next and how long she would stay here.

***

Ms. Genale got straight to the point. "As of right now, Juliette is a temparary ward of the state. That means you're her foster parent. She has a few necessary therapy appointments to attend nearby and I'll send you all of the information on that. She went to the hospital for a full exam, having been collected by Child Protective Services. It..was a hard day for her. I imagine it's going to be a long time before she adjusts. The process of adoption is also long, however. Right now, you dont have access to her medical records, so when the results of her various tests come back, I can only let you know of the required treatments she'll need beyond the therapy sessions," she sighed at the faults of the system and gave Kennedy a sympathetic look.

"Now I dont mean to alarm you, but because the system's primary goal is reunification, she will return to her father's custody unless the court finds sufficient evidence to sentence him to jail. It's very unlikely that they won't, but I'll keep you updated on the situation whenever I obtain new information... Only after his trial concludes could we potentially begin the process of transferring her custody to you. And Eva, if she wants it." She smiled, despite the weight of the discussion. "I'm just glad she's here, I'm sure she'll benefit from a real family. Do you have any questions for me before I go?" Ms. Genale knew this was a lot, but she had seen cases far worse, and she was grateful that Juliette had a home to go to. She just hoped it would be a good fit.
 
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#7
Kennedy sighed. She had known all of this before Juliette had arrived at her home, but that didn’t make hearing it any easier. “She can have all the time to adjust that she needs,” Kennedy promised. “Nobody here is going to rush her. Our other children came from circumstances that were...less than desirable, as well. We’ll take good care of her here.”

She shifted uncomfortably as the woman spoke of the idea of possibly allowing her brother anywhere near his daughter again. She couldn’t let that happen, no matter how slim the chances were. She was silent for a moment, and then spoke up again. “Do you...do you think a character witness could help? Somebody else’s he’s mistreated in the past? I’d be more than willing to testify against him. I know my mother would too.”

***

Ronan sat in his spot at the kitchen table with his feet up on the chair across from his own, listlessly watching over the back of the couch into the living room as his siblings continued to try—and fail—to beat the same level of a video game they’d been stuck on for months now. He had finished his cookie and found the frosting at the top of the kitchen cabinets before helping himself to a spoonful of it.

He tossed the now empty spoon back into the sink and glanced into the front hallway. He had heard snippets of their earlier conversation and now, growing bored with watching his siblings die for the hundredth time, was in search of something else.

He eyed the trays of cookies waiting on the counter. He had heard someone offer Juliette a cookie earlier, but nobody had come to get one for her. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to try and take her one now.

Taking a tree shaped cookie from the tray, he drifted past the adults in the hallway and up the stairs. He could hear Eva saying something in one of the rooms at the end of the hall, and he followed the sound to the open doorway.

“Hi!” the boy chirped, giving a friendly wave to the timid looking girl. She wasn’t much younger than Ronan himself, only by a year or two. He held up the cookie and grinned. “I brought you this.
 

Ravenbelle

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#8
Ms. Genale nodded pleasantly, eyes grateful and understanding of their circumstances. She waited patiently for what Ms. Piane had to say and bit her lip at the following question. "Well that's possible, but I'm not in touch with any lawyers yet. They may discuss that with you closer to the time of his trial, which could be awhile. Just enjoy your holidays with her. Take things slowly. We'll be in touch," she smiled, they got some paperwork signed and out of the way, then Ms. Genale was driving away.

***

Juliette heard the footsteps before the boy arrived, so she gave no indication of her anxious state when he came in and offered her a cookie. He didn't look much older than her, so when he held it out to her, she only hesitated a moment before taking it with small, polite smile. It was shaped like a tree. She held it with both hands for a moment, then came to the sudden realization that Christmas was going to arrive soon. She blinked at it, then took a small bite off the top of it, feeling a little self-conscious being watched by so many pairs of eyes lately. She heard an engine rev outside, then turned around to the windows in the room just in time to watch Ms. Genale's car drive away. She took a shaky, deep breath, then turned back toward Eva and the boy a little nervously, feeling the pressure now and hoping she won't be making too many mistakes.
 
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#9
Eva smiled as Ronan entered the room with the cookie. Juliette watched him for a moment, and then reached out and took the cookie before taking a small, nervous bite. Eva reached out and gave Ronan a nudge on the shoulder. "You've got frosting on your face," she told him, eying the green smudge on the boy's chin. Ronan wiped the frosting from his lip, and Eva turned towards the door. "I'll leave you to get settled in," she told Juliette. "Kennedy and I will be downstairs if you need us."

And then she slipped from the room, and the sound of her footsteps retreated down the hallway.

The room was silent for a moment, and then Ronan turned to look back to Juliette again. "My name is Ronan. Do you want some help unpacking?" he asked. "You don't have to talk if you don't want to. Or if you do want to, that's okay too. I think you'll really like it here. Eva and Kennedy are both really nice. Kennedy is kind of prickly sometimes, but she means well. There's no reason to be afraid of her." The boy paused for a moment. "I think she might be just as afraid of you as you are of her. She's been...quieter than normal, lately. She's not usually so tense."
 
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Ravenbelle

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#10
Juliette watched the small interaction between Eva and the boy with a tinge of confusion. It almost seemed like Eva found the frosting endearing on the boy, instead of something to admonish him for. She blinked up at the tall woman before she turned away from them both, intending to let Juliette "get settled in". She wasn't quite sure if that meant she should unpack right now, but nodded up at her reassurance before she left, leaving another silence in her wake.

Then the boy introduced himself as Ronan and offered his help seemingly without any strings attached or guarantee for her to do something in return. She took another bite of the cookie, considering, but he continued speaking before she could decide how to respond.
"You don't have to talk if you don't want to. Or if you do want to, that's okay too. I think you'll really like it here. Eva and Kennedy are both really nice. Kennedy is kind of prickly sometimes, but she means well. There's no reason to be afraid of her."
Ronan seemed rather optimistic about all of this. Juliette thought he sounded honest, but it felt too simple to be true.
The boy paused for a moment. "I think she might be just as afraid of you as you are of her. She's been...quieter than normal, lately. She's not usually so tense."
Juliette's eyes widened slightly, doubtful about how anyone could feel afraid of her when she was so clearly helpless and pathetic in every way. Still, she felt guilty for causing any potential problems for the family in having to stay here. She didn't know what Kennedy did when she was tense, but Juliette hoped it wasn't anything like what Logan did. Juliette coughed a little, not used to food so sweet, but kept her eyes on the floor with an awfully remorseful look on her face.
 
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#11
"You know," came another voice from the doorway. "You could actually give her chance to answer you before you keep talking her ear off."

Jupiter stood in the doorway, and Ronan looked up, surprised that he hadn't heard his older sibling's footsteps coming down the hall. Usually, Jupiter could be heard from a distance, their high heels clicking on the hardwood floors of the house. Jupiter leaned against the doorway, arms crossed over their slightly budding chest. They smirked at Ronan teasingly and then offered a kinder smile toward Juliette.

Eyeing the remorseful look on the girl's face, Jupiter took a step into the room. Hugo came into view behind them, looking uncertain. He jumped slightly at being left alone in the hallway, and he offered the girl in the bedroom a nervous wave.

"I--" Ronan started, beginning a retort to their sibling and then stopping abruptly. "Never mind." He looked back to Juliette. "Sorry," he apologized. "I know I talk a lot. But, anyway, this is Jupiter and that's Hugo."

"You don't have to worry about Kennedy," Jupiter promised the girl. "She'll survive. She's really nice behind all her usual fieriness. Probably just nervous. Same as you."
 

Ravenbelle

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#12
Juliette looked up swiftly when she heard the blond's voice, feeling self-conscious again. She should have expected the attention, being a new person staying here, but she just wasn't used to it. As he stepped forward into the room, Juliette felt her back muscles tense, watching the three guys block the only doorway out of the room.
"I--" Ronan started, beginning a retort to their sibling and then stopping abruptly. "Never mind." He looked back to Juliette. "Sorry," he apologized. "I know I talk a lot. But, anyway, this is Jupiter and that's Hugo."
She blinked, wondering at his apology. She was always apologizing she didn't quite know what to do when apologized to, but she waved nonetheless, grateful that no one had offered a handshake. The cookie was helpful as well. As long as she was chewing, she had an excuse not to say anything. Even though Ronan had said it was okay, she was still nervous about it.
"You don't have to worry about Kennedy," Jupiter promised the girl. "She'll survive. She's really nice behind all her usual fieriness. Probably just nervous. Same as you."
Juliette wasn't sure how that could be, considering her aunt had all the power in this situation. Juliette was all too aware of how easily she could be kicked out of the house and sent back to the orphanage at any time. But she nodded at him anyhow.
 
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#13
"Yeah," Ronan said, agreeing with Jupiter's comment about Kennedy's nervousness. "This is the first time she and Eva had gotten a kid in a semi-traditional way. Fostering and all that stuff. All of us were pretty much runaways, and we spent most of our time here before they had officially adopted us anyway."

He glanced up as Hugo moved to stand next to him, the other boy still appearing unsure and somewhat timid at Juliette's presence. Ronan couldn't help thinking that the pair were more similar than they might realize. Hugo was taller than Juliette, but still small compared to other boys their age (Ronan was small too) and he doubted that his twin could possibly weigh much more than the girl did. Hugo too, had hardly said more than a word upon his arrival here, and even now he was relatively quiet.

Jupiter stepped out of the way of the doorway as they noticed Juliette tense at their presence. "Do you want some help?" Jupiter asked. "You don't even have to unpack right now if you don't want to. We could show you around the place. Or we could just leave you be, if that's what you'd prefer." They shrugged.

A light piano song drifted up the stairs. It had to be Eva. She was the only one who played. A skill her mother had struggled to teach her when she was young, after her death Eva had promised herself she would learn. And learn she had. She could sing too, but she did so far less often, shy about her skills.
 

Ravenbelle

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#14
"Yeah," Ronan said, agreeing with Jupiter's comment about Kennedy's nervousness. "This is the first time she and Eva had gotten a kid in a semi-traditional way. Fostering and all that stuff. All of us were pretty much runaways, and we spent most of our time here before they had officially adopted us anyway."
Juliette's jaw slackened, slightly awed at their odd willingness to reveal that much information about themselves to a stranger. They struck her suddenly as much stronger than her. She remembered planning to run away so many times, but had never built up the courage to actually do so. Juliette swallowed the last of the cookie, eyes having wandered back to the wood floor between them.
"Do you want some help?" Jupiter asked. "You don't even have to unpack right now if you don't want to. We could show you around the place. Or we could just leave you be, if that's what you'd prefer." They shrugged.
Juliette fidgeted with her fingers for a moment. The past few days, the people around her have simply suggested things she either nodded or shook her head at. Now she had so many options when her previous house had none. Maybe she would feel less overwhelmed if they all left, so she just nodded and moved toward one of the trash bags next to the closet before a piano began to play from somewhere downstairs.

She looked at the boys with a furrowed brow, the obvious question of who was playing stuck on her face before she gently pulled open the bag.
 
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#15
The girl gave a small, timid nod at the offer to be left alone, and Jupiter turned to leave. “All right,” they said. “We’ll leave you be. But we’ll be around if you want to talk.” As the piano started up from downstairs, they paused and added, “Eva is downstairs. I’m sure Kennedy is around somewhere.”

And then they turned and headed off down the hallway. Hugo was quick to scramble after them, and Ronan followed too, pausing to glance over his shoulder at Juliette before following his siblings.

Kennedy was settled in the basement. A relatively finished space, the entire area had almost always been a mess of costumes, most of them hung on racks, separated by who they belonged to, or hanging from ceiling beams. A few, less frequently used wigs hung from hooks on one of the back walls, and most of the floor was constantly littered with fabrics, feathers, rhinestones, and various other bits of costume supplies, no matter how much they struggled to organize it.

Kennedy was settled on the couch, a dress form positioned in front of her. She had retreated to the basement in an attempt to work on the coat she had been making. She had a small pile of feathers on the couch next to her, and had spent most of the time meticulously snipping the stems from each one. She took a feather between her fingers and reached out to place it on the coat, but her hands were still trembling from before Ms. Genale had left.

She huffed and tossed the feather aside, sinking back into the couched tilting her head back until she was staring at the ceiling. She could hear the piano faintly through the floor.
 

Ravenbelle

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#16
The girl gave a small, timid nod at the offer to be left alone, and Jupiter turned to leave. “All right,” they said. “We’ll leave you be. But we’ll be around if you want to talk.” As the piano started up from downstairs, they paused and added, “Eva is downstairs. I’m sure Kennedy is around somewhere.”

And then they turned and headed off down the hallway. Hugo was quick to scramble after them, and Ronan followed too, pausing to glance over his shoulder at Juliette before following his siblings.
She nodded at Jupiter's comment, then watched them leave. She kind of liked Jupiter and his calm way of speaking. Hugo made her nervous though; he made her mind branch off thinking of potential reasons for his constant anxiousness so far. Was there something about this place that made him scared, or was it her fault? Ronan glanced at her before he left, so she met his gaze, but not long enough to find any message in it. She was probably overthinking things like she always does.
Juliette sighed and shook her head, then stepped forward to close the door after them, but hesitated when her hand touched the doorknob. She hadn't been told any rules yet. Was she allowed to close or lock her door? She decided not to risk it, and instead let the soft piano music drift inside as she began unpacking.

Her pants, pajamas and underwear combined barely filled one drawer of the dresser and the rest of her clothes maybe filled a quarter of the closet space by the time she was done. The few sweaters that had been bought for her helped fill some of the space. She removed her dingy, old converse which were her only shoes and placed them neatly in the corner of the closet floor. Next, she hung her backpack with all of her school supplies on one of the bed posts and pulled out the two novels she'd kept in there to place them on her dresser. She hid her sketchbook last, deciding to use her usual spot within the pillowcase on the side closest to the wall. The process took less than half an hour. She meandered back toward the dresser and grabbed the animal ark book she'd stolen so she could finish the last few pages.

The ending was a bit boring, but at least it didn't end on a cliffhanger. She hated those. It seemed like the Animal Ark books were probably just variations of stories with the same characters, like magic tree house. They were a bit juvenile for her, but she didn't have a lot of options. The last time she'd been to a library and checked out a book her father had ripped out so many of the pages in a fit of rage that it looked too mangled to return. So she never went back, worried that the librarian would ask about when she would return it.

The memory reminded her of how quiet the library had been. This house was quiet too, besides the piano. She wondered if that was also because of her. She figured she'd take the opportunity to explore. First, escape routes. Outside one of her windows was a piece of the roof that angled down toward the top of the front porch. She could probably climb down if she wanted to, but decided not to test it yet. Her bed was up against the wall, the corner with clear sight to the door so that was good; she crouched to check if there was enough room to hide under it. The bed frame was sort of low to the ground. She could fit under it, but only if she wasn't in a hurry to squirm on her stomach for a few seconds. Juliette sighed, then stood and peeked down the hallway outside her doorway. No one. Good.

She made her quiet way down the center of the hall, preventing her shadow from passing under the other doors. Then she padded down the stairs, the handrail hung with red and green ribbons. The front room didnt have much besides a couple chairs and a colorful rug, so Juliette ventured toward the hallway where she had caught her first glimpse of the boys. On either wall of it hung pictures of all of the family members. One with Ronan and Hugo, one with Jupiter in heels and exaggerated makeup, one of Eva and Kennedy kissing, Kennedy on her tiptoes. There was a family picture taken in what Juliette assumed to be a park. Their family was definitely not the norm, looking at them all and their differences. She supposed she shouldn't assume anything, since she herself didn't look much like her own aunt anyway. Ronan and Hugo were obviously twins. Regardless, they looked really happy. Her stare lingered on that one for a little while before she moved into the kitchen, which was connected to the backyard by a clear sliding door.

There was no division between the kitchen with it's long dining table and the open living room area with its big couch, large TV and gorgeous piano. Eva sat at its bench, still playing beautifully while Juliette watched silently from around the corner. Behind the piano stood a hot pink Christmas tree with all sorts of glittery ornaments and little pictures in no particular order. She wanted to get closer to look at each one, but didn't want to distract Eva from the pretty song she was playing.
 
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#17
Kennedy fumbled with her coat for a few more minutes before eventually giving up. She gave an exasperated sigh and got up off the couch, slipping past the mannequin before heading back up the stairs and out into the hallway, the sound of the piano growing louder as it got closer. The sound stopped completely for a moment, apart from the plinking of a few random keys. And then the piano picked back up again, accompanied by quiet singing.

Kennedy paused for a moment and leaned against the wall, knowing that Eva would likely immediately stop singing if she realized she was being listened to. Kennedy took a tentative step forward, and was surprised to see Juliette standing and gazing up at the pictures hung on the wall. Kennedy walked up beside her.

"I like those pictures," she commented quietly. "Jupiter isn't fond of that one of them because their makeup skills have improved so much, but it was a nice night, so I keep it up anyway." The picture was taken shortly after Jupiter had come to live with them, shot outside the bar Eva and Kennedy helped to run. It had been one of Jupiter's first performances onstage that night, and it was something Kennedy remembered fondly.

Juliette had turned her attention to the Christmas tree, and Kennedy nodded to her reassuringly. "You can go look," she said gently. Kennedy took a few steps into the living room, and after a few moments, Eva glanced up, probably having felt herself being watched.

"Oh!" she squeaked, stopping abruptly and placing a hand over her mouth as her face began to redden with embarrassment. "I didn't hear you come in."
 

Ravenbelle

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#18
Juliette appreciated Kennedy's slow approach and quiet voice. It wasnt jarring in the peaceful atmosphere of the moment, though she did wonder where in the house Kennedy had come from. She looked up at the taller woman, listening to her explanation of the photograph and taking note of the pronouns she used for Jupiter so she wouldn't mess it up later. Her hazel eyes drifted back to the photo again, now that she had more context. She tried to imagine the past as it might have been then, but couldn't conjure enough details.

Juliette had turned her attention to the Christmas tree, and Kennedy nodded to her reassuringly. "You can go look," she said gently.
Juliette met her eyes over her shoulder, allowed her aunt to step forward ahead of her. She didn't step any further though, feeling as if she was intruding and not wanting to cross into Eva's peripheral vision. She felt more comfortable when she wasn't noticed. Apparently Eva felt the same way.

The abrupt end to the tune and Eva's reaction made Juliette gasp softly. She should have let Eva know they were there. She finally spoke up out of obligation, her first words in this house an apology. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to interrupt," she mumbled, eyes on the floor. Excuses, excuses. Idiot.
 
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#19
Eva smiled softly as the girl apologized to her. "It's all right. I just didn't notice you coming in," Eva explained. "I just...I don't usually sing when other people are listening to me. "You don't have to apologize. You haven't done anything wrong." She turned her gaze to Kennedy, her brown eyes glinting teasingly. "You, on the other hand..."

Kennedy smirked and strode over to her wife before perching on the edge of the piano bench. "I'm sorry," she apologized, leaning up to kiss Eva on the cheek. "I knew you'd stop if you knew I was listening. I wish you'd sing more. You have a beautiful voice, even if you don't like letting people hear it." She leaned against Eva's shoulder for a few moments and then stood up, taking a few steps toward the tree.

Eva turned to look at Juliette again. "You can come look at the tree if you like," she offered gently. "I think it came out nicely."
 

Ravenbelle

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#20
"It's all right. I just didn't notice you coming in," Eva explained. "I just...I don't usually sing when other people are listening to me. "You don't have to apologize. You haven't done anything wrong."
Juliette had a hard time believing her. She didn't want to imply Eva was lying, but she still felt guilty, knowing it might be later held against her.
She turned her gaze to Kennedy, her brown eyes glinting teasingly. "You, on the other hand..."
But then the subject changed and Kennedy stepped forward; even when she apologized all seemed forgiven already. Juliette watched cautiously, eyes flitting back and forth between them.
"I knew you'd stop if you knew I was listening. I wish you'd sing more. You have a beautiful voice, even if you don't like letting people hear it."
Juliette blinked, envious of how easy and affectionate they were with each other. All of these gentle touches and calm temperaments were almost foreign to her now. She felt a budding nostalgia for it all, but tried not to let herself remember the time before her father. It was too painful now, so she followed Kennedy toward the colorful tree, still a bit tense, but relieved for the subject change. Her eyes lingered on the shining piano as she passed it, then took a closer look at the ornaments hand-hung on the artificial branches.
She found mostly regular kinds of ornaments, the colored globes, glittery spirals and little figurines, but she also spotted a couple of miniature high heels, and some more pictures, tiny in their ornamental frames. She didn't dare touch it, but she liked how the light danced off of some of them, and kind of wished she had her sketch book with her to try to draw it. Eva's singing voice wasn't usually shared, but she wasn't pushed to share it either. She wondered if they would feel the same way about her drawings.