Storylover1234 ~ Virtual hugs to your awesome criticisms! And that quote thing makes me feel so special.

Author's Note ~ I'm attempting to improve on the chapter's length and errors - now that I'm beginning to become determined at updating. And if anyone wants to share my lovely little futuristic world with any friends, go ahead. I crave reviews. Not to sound desperate or anything…

Chapter 5 ~ House of the Crims Trow Dahlen

As soon as I uttered the question, a spark of sudden fear leapt onto Kamin's features and his muscles tensed as if to flee. He looked so scared it made me uneasy, to the point of saying something not sarcastic.

"Hey, calm down!" I blurted, holding up my hands. "Red-hands don't mess around with low Crims. It's rare to even spot one, much less get in trouble with one. No need to fear. And anyway, I'd kick any red-hand's butt that tried to come near you!"

I gave a little grin, and Kamin seemed to relax. I mentally noted that he was quite jumpy. That was something to watch out for.

I led Kamin up the rickety stairs to the front porch, which gave a few annoyed cracks as we settled on it. Kamin jumped at the sound. I told him it was just getting used to the new weight - nothing to worry about.

We pushed through the door. In front of us lied thewooden staircase that zigzagged to the second floor. I turned left and entered the kitchen, where Elisias, Marlow, and the six other kids sat, beginning to eat supper.

"'lo, guys," I greeted them, dragging Kamin by the hood of his sopping sweatshirt into view. "Found him curled up under the dump near Parker's place."

Marlow stood up from his chair, rushed towards Kamin, saying "Welcome to the family!" on the way there. The poor kid looked as if he expected Marlow to punch him in the gut, and the look of surprise on his face when the houser hugged him instead was priceless.

"Oh, stop it, you old fart," laughed Elisias, stirring her can of soup, "The poor boy looks as scared as you when you were chased by a sewer rat."

"The thing had rabies, I'm telling you," retorted Marlow, steering Kamin towards the table and shoving him into a chair. "I could see the foam spurting from its ears."

"When it has rabies, foam comes out of its mouth," I pointed out, taking a seat across from Kamin, "not its ears."

"Same thing," Marlow replied. I laughed, partly because Elisias and Marlow were hilarious, and partly because Kamin looked as disorientated as a goldfish thrown into the ocean.

"So, young man," Elisias began, now that the family was settled, "let's hear it. What's your name?"

Kamin didn't reply, just stared into his can of minestrone soup. I kicked him from under the table, and he jumped, rattling the silverware. Elisias immediately knew who it was and I was given the stop-it-or-I'll-throw-you-out-the-window glare, which made Marlow laugh. During this episode, the other six children just stared.

"Kamin," mumbled Kamin.

"Well, Kamin," Elisias said, "I'm Elisias. The old fart over there is Marlow. The tall one is Trow's brother, Skit. The little freckled girlie is Lareel, and the toddler twins are Robi and Sarker. The little girlie hiding in her chair is Olavere, and the last one is Pansa. She's purposely ignoring us."

Pansa glared at Kamin. She was always the type unwelcoming to outsiders, even though she was one herself. "Pansa, wipe it off your face or I'll wipe it for you," I said.

"With what," Pansa sneered, "Your blankey?"

"Yes, my blankey," I replied, "But it won't make the experience any better."

"Good one, Trow," Marlow said, applauding in between mouthfuls.

"So, Kamin," Elisias continued, "Where do you come from?"

Kamin silently gazed into his soup. When he knew we weren't going to let up until he answered, he mumbled, "I dunno."

In the time that followed, Elisias dumped questions on Kamin, who answered them all with phrases less than four words long. I downed my can as well as Kamin's, see that he wasn't going to touch it. After supper, Robi, Sarker, and Lareel headed up to the bedroom that they shared. Skit went out to meet with some stall runner he'd set a visit with. Elisias and Marlow had one of their private discussions in the kitchen. Naturally, with nothing else to do, I eavesdropped.

Kamin and I sat near the den's door, where the housers slept. Kamin looked uneasy, but I had finally convinced him that I did it all the time, and he seemed to have at least an ounce of trust in me.

"He was awfully quiet at supper," said a voice, which was obviously Marlow's. "Too quiet, I'd say."

"They're talking about you!" I whispered to Kamin, who immediately leaned in with me to listen.

"Oh, you old fart, shut up," another replied, whose rudeness could only be traced back to Elisias. "The poor child is probably half scared to death. Maybe he was abandoned as a baby and really doesn't remember his past."

"It's fishy, though," Marlow continued, "how he was all… secretive. When the strays see we mean good, they open up. Kamin's as hard as a walnut shell."

"So what?" Elisias said, "Just leave him be. He'll crack soon enough. No need to worry."

I turned over to Austas, mulling over this. He was a tad pale. "Are you okay?"

He nodded grimly. "Just a bit tired," he mumbled. "It's okay."

"Wow!" I exclaimed. "That's the longest sentence you've ever said around me. Congratulations on your accomplishment."

Before heading upstairs, I ruffled his hair playfully. I paused long enough to see him blush as red as a lobster.

"That's better," I laughed, "You needed a little color in those cheeks."

I trotted down the short hall that was our upstairs and into the bedroom Skit, Pansa, and I shared. I crept in, grabbed one of Skit's ratty old Ts and pulled it on over my own. After doing all the boring nighttime duties – rinse teeth off with some water, comb whatever gnarls managed to twist themselves onto my head, and take a vacation to the loo – I slipped under my blanket and reran the day through my head. Skit was face down on the cot, limbs splayed all over like cracks in a window, drooling into his pillow.

My thoughts always seemed to run back to Kamin. I'd only met him today, yet everything in my head had a trace of him in it. After mentally turning it over for a few minutes, a few realizations came to mind. I was protective of the boy! He must've been a year older than me, yet I had this peculiar liking to him. Not starry-eyed love or sappy stuff like that, but the kind like a sister would have to a brother. Maybe it was his shyness, or quiet demeanor. But I seemed to like him, more than any other stray I'd ever wheeled in.

Also, he seemed to be hiding some things. The way he constantly stared at his shoes, or looked away when you tried to talk to him lent me to believe it. Whatever it was, I was determined to pluck it out of him. I would find that secret Kamin kept locked up, and maybe he'd finally open up to become part of the family.