When the social worker’s car pulls to a stop outside of a small blue house, Eleven’s heart picks up a little bit.
She runs her hand over her hair, still short and bristly from the buzz cut her last foster father gave her when he wrongly thought she caught lice from someone at school. The hand-me-down dress she’s wearing is dingy and stiff, and no matter how much she tugs on it the tag scratches the back of her neck.
The social worker opens the car door and Eleven climbs out, hauling the backpack filled with her meager belongings along with her. They’re halfway up the front walkway when the front door opens and a blonde woman steps onto the front porch. She’s pretty and has a bright, nervous smile, but Eleven knows better than to get her hopes up.
The walkie-talkie that she’s clutched in her hands since she left the group home is getting clammy in her grip, so she fiddles with it, expecting to be ignored while her new foster parent and the social worker go over paperwork and finances -- that’s what they usually care about, how much they’ll get to clothe and feed her, how much they’ll ultimately get to keep for themselves.
She wonders if Mike -- her best friend back at the group home -- is still holding the walkie-talkie’s twin, waiting for her to call, knowing full well the reception doesn’t reach this far.
But she’s pulled from her thoughts when the blonde woman ignores the social worker completely. Instead she sits back on her haunches until she’s eye-level with Eleven, and stretches out her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, Eleven,” she says. “I’m Clarke.”
After all her years in foster care Eleven has learned not to get her hopes up, but Clarke is making that task very difficult.
She speaks to her like an adult -- not a little kid -- and as soon as the social worker leaves she opens the freezer to show Eleven the boxes of Eggos she picked up at the grocery store, which means she must have actually read her file about her likes and dislikes. That’s a first.
“So, kiddo, you hungry?”
Eleven presses her lips together, fighting back a smile. “Yes,” she says.
Clarke talks while Eleven eats, and she doesn’t seem to mind that her mouth is too full of waffles to answer. She tells her that her wife, Lexa, is at work but she’s very excited to meet her.
Eleven’s ears perk up when Clarke mentions that Lexa grew up in foster care too, and when Clarke winks before she steals a piece of waffle from her plate, Eleven doesn’t even mind. (Another first.)
“I like your hair,” Clarke says, topping up her glass of milk.
Eleven swallows the last bite of Eggos and trains her eyes on the table. “I don’t.”
“Oh, okay. How would you like it to look?”
“Long,” Eleven says, eyeing Clarke’s flowing hair enviously. “Pretty.”
“When I was in college I got my hair cut, like, really short on a dare,” Clarke says, rolling her eyes. “It was horrible, I literally cried for a week -- even though Lexa swore up and down I still looked pretty.” Clarke pauses for a moment, gazing out the window with a small smile on her lips. “Luckily my mom told me about this shampoo that helps your hair grow faster -- I’ll pick you up a bottle tomorrow, how does that sound?”
Eleven nods, her chest beginning to fill with something suspiciously close to hope. “Good,” she says. “That sounds good.”
Lexa, Eleven finds out, is everything Clarke isn’t. She’s tall and lean and angular. She’s quiet and reserved and, in some ways, reminds Eleven of herself.
Mike would like her, she thinks. She clutches the walkie-talkie even tighter.
“What’s that?” Lexa asks after Clarke has introduced them. “In your hand.” On instinct, Eleven puts her hands behind her, shrinking back a little. Lexa smiles and sits in a chair, putting some more space between them. “It’s okay,” she says. “I’m just curious. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“My friend has the other one.” Eleven exhales and relaxes a little. “Mike.”
Just saying his name makes her miss him and Eleven bites her lip, willing the tears out of her eyes.
“Do you want to talk to him?” Clarke asks. “We can give you some privacy if you want. Anytime -- just let us know whenever you want to be alone.”
Eleven nods, and then shakes her head. A hot tear escapes and slides down her cheek. “He won’t hear me. It’s too far.”
She still tries to reach him that night, before she falls asleep in a room that’s all pinks and blues -- her favorite colors -- with the walkie-talkie in her hand.
Eleven doesn’t think she knew what love was until she met Clarke and Lexa.
Before she thought love was what she’d seen in the movies -- all bold declarations and sappy vows. She knows that, in real life, love is anything but -- love can be violent and harsh, hard hands and even harder words.
But for Clarke and Lexa, it’s so soft.
In this tiny blue house, with chipping paint and peeling wallpaper, love comes in the form of lingering touches and bright laughter and coffee in bed. There’s love in Lexa’s eyes when Clarke calls out the right answer during ‘Jeopardy!’ and there’s love in each line of Clarke’s drawings, which always seem to feature Lexa’s hands or ears or eyes.
(She’s doing a study in the human form, she says, but Eleven thinks it’s more like a study in Lexa.)
And, if Eleven were the type to get her hopes up, she’d find love in the flowery bottles of shampoo Clarke buys for her and the new, cotton dresses Lexa lets her choose from the store and the never-ending supply of Eggos in the freezer.
But she’s not the type. Definitely not.
“Hey El,” Lexa says one day when she comes home from work. Her hands are behind her back, which isn’t all that unusual, but something about her smirk makes Eleven wary.
Eleven had been living with Clarke and Lexa for six days when Lexa asked if she could shorten her name to “El” and, though only Mike had ever called her that, Eleven found herself smiling and nodding yes.
“Hi Lexa,” she replies.
Eleven twists the colored pencil in her hands and watches Lexa with wide eyes as she sits across from her at the table and places a gift-wrapped box in the center.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Lexa says, looking at her drawing. “You’re doing really well.”
“She has a good teacher.” Clarke walks into the room and squeezes Eleven’s shoulder. Based on the way Lexa blushes, Clarke’s giving her her most dazzling smile. “Well, that and she’s really talented.”
Eleven feels her ears heat up and she and Lexa share an embarrassed look, because they both grew up rough and yet Clarke can disarm them both in three seconds flat.
“What’s in the box?” Eleven asks.
“It’s for you, kiddo.”
“Guess you’ll have to open it to find out.”
Eleven’s pulse is racing as she places the box in her lap and carefully begins unwrapping it. She takes care not to tear the shiny, pink paper -- it’s beautiful, and she’d like to save it. She glances up to see if Clarke or Lexa want her to go faster, but they’re just watching her -- Clarke now settled in Lexa’s lap -- with excited smiles.
Once Eleven neatly tears the tape away, she folds the paper into quarters and places it on the table before she finally allows herself to look at the box in her lap.
It’s a walkie-talkie. Like hers, but much bigger and heavier.
“We bought another one, too,” Clarke says. “Mike has it.”
Lexa nods. “And the signal will reach.”
Tears are spilling down Eleven’s face before she can stop them, and the next thing she knows she’s launching herself into Clarke and Lexa’s arms.
They pull her into their laps and hold her, crying with her, and for the first time in her life Eleven decides that here, with them, she can hope all she wants.