Papa was still cooking, and Mom never sat down until Papa was ready. Lalitha wasn’t here yet, and it wasn’t Mama or Rose’s plate, so whose was it?
“Rosy, aren’t you hungry?” asked Mama.
Rose went down the hall. She stopped. She thought she saw sparks. A very pretty, vibrant cobalt blue.
Nobody was in Lalitha’s room, or her room, or their parents’ room… Nobody was in the bathroom or the towel closet either.
The Unclaimed Room.
Someone could also be downstairs, but that was back in the living room. The pretty sparks had shown up in the hallway.
Rose thought about just going right in, but if there was someone new here, this was probably their room now. The door didn’t have any pictures or posters or stickers or anything on it yet. Rose would help them fix that.
Her tail wagged slowly.
The person on the other side looked shocked to see her. She was here first! She should be shocked to see him. But she wasn’t. She solved the mystery all by herself!
He was a raccoon. Even shorter than Mom. With a spiderweb of scars all over the right side of his face. He was wearing some of Mom’s pajamas. The sleeves fell over his hands, and the pant legs bunched up around his ankles.
“Thorn???” he said.
That wasn’t one of her names… Yet. Rose would consider it.
She showed him her current favorite name on her whiteboard, along with her pronouns and the female symbol.
“Oh, um, hi!” he said. “I’m… I don’t like my name. But I like he/him pronouns, and I guess I’m a boy. Gender’s not a big deal to me.”
Rose nodded. Understandable. He reminded her of Lalitha, but with less confidence.
Well. One of the best confidence boosts was having an affirming name. Rose knew from experience.
“Likes?” she wrote.
Hmm… Wendy, Windy. Winston? Dow, dow, what names had the dow sound in them?
Doughnut would be adorable name!
Rose hoped Lalitha would bring doughnuts. She’d seen ones with blue frosting and dolphin-shaped sprinkles on it. She wanted one of those. There were also star-shaped doughnuts with starfish-shaped sprinkles. She wanted one of those too.
The new kid did not vibe with name Doughnut.
He didn’t really seem like a doughnut anyway. He was still cute though.
“Why?” Rose wrote. She’d been about to show him just that, but then she quickly added “windows?” so that the full message read: “Why windows?”
“…Windows let you see sunshine.”
Rose could tell he was very scared.
“It was very brave of you to say that,” she wrote.
Sunny, Sunshine, Helios, Haul, Samson, Sundial, Solaris, Solar, Sunlight, Sunbathe, Sunblock, Daylight, Sunset, Sunrise.
He didn’t vibe with any of those either.
She fed him some starry suggestions. The sun was a star: the star closest to them. He still didn’t find a name he liked.
“Hon, are you eating?” asked Mama. “Oh!”
She discovered the new kid.
“Oh, hello, sweetie! I’m Mama! You can also call me Buddy or Bud. Have you eaten yet? Oh, that’s probably your plate at the table. I was wondering why Kim and Ben left it there, thought it was one of theirs.”
It was just like when she met Lalitha, only this was going much better. Lalitha had been very suspicious of Mama’s friendliness. With good reason. Lots of people pretended to be friendly to children. People Mama crushed with her hammer.
Maybe Mama knew a sunny name he’d like.
Rose drew an arrow pointing to him, wrote “likes”, and then drew a sun; and showed it to her.
Mama hummed. She had her chin on her hand.
“What about Solnishko?” she eventually said. “I read it in a fanfiction. Well, actually, the name in the fanfic was ‘Solnishka’, but a commenter pointed out that it oughta be ‘Solnishko’ since the character is a boy; and gender can be complicated, but it clearly wasn’t in that fic. So you can have whichever one you like, sweetie―or both!”
“…I like it,” he said. “Solnishko.”
Solnishko started rolling one of his sleeves in his fingers. He looked just at his hand. He seemed overwhelmed.
Come to think of it, Mom and Papa hadn’t called or texted or anything at all about him. He must’ve been very new. And here were Rose and Mama, being more new things all at once.
“Mama!” Rose said. She then showed her a picture of him in bed with a stack of pancakes.
“Oh, that sounds wonderful! You’re so thoughtful, Rosy,” Mama said. Then she talked Solnishko, “Would you like us to bring you something, sweetie?”
“I…” he said, pinching his sleeve. “I can have more?”
“Of course you can!” Mama said. “You can have all the food you want! There’ll be plenty more tomorrow!”
“Okay. If that’s okay?”
“Of course it is, we’ll hook you right up!”
Rose followed Mama out.
Rose liked her little brother.
[okay i’m tired and unfocused, so i’m gonna end it here. let’s find someone to raid!]