Melvin never had a bedroom to himself. In the many homes and buildings he’d lived in, he always, always shared. The first bedroom he was assigned, the first he could remember anyway, was orange. Orange carpet, always a little dirty. Orange walls, bare, with nothing to cover up the pervasive color. A dark, wood-paneled door, trailing wood trim around the base of the walls. The one big window was partially covered in light green curtains that cast the whole room into a sickly pallor when the sun rose in the mornings.
When he feels sick today, after too much takeout or one too many drinks, he associates that feeling with waking up in that room. He was always up before the other boys, triggered by the green-orange light, unable to sleep without total darkness.
The boys in beds across from him and below him were always sleeping until the last possible second, not wanting to leave and go to school. That’s all Melvin wanted to do, and they all laughed at him for it, laughed in that damn orange room with the damn bunkbeds and green curtains and faint smell of boy-sweat and pizza crust.
There was a dresser in that room, too. It was the only furniture besides the two bunkbeds on opposite walls. He had one drawer in the dresser, all to himself; each of the kids in the room got a drawer after all and it was only fair. He got the bottom drawer. Short Melvin was closest to the ground. It was creaky and old, one of the sides got stuck often and he could only open in a few inches. It was enough.
Two pairs of pants, when both were clean. Three shirts all with small holes in them. Socks. An oversized jacket left behind that was thrown at him one day. Melvin’s drawer housed all of his possessions and his treasure. It was a place to secret away cool rocks, good report cards, the torn baseball card he had found on the street. It held everything he had. Sometimes Melvin wondered if he could fit into the drawer too, be safe with all of his things close to the ground, hard to get to.
- - -
In other homes, living with foster families or bouncing between orphanages, he’d get different amounts of space. Sometimes an entire closet. But at every location he’d just have enough to fill a drawer, no more, no less. Because that’s all he expected from that orange-green room.
This was true until he arrived at the Frohike’s house one day. No one had been shopping for him, not since it was evident that he would be so little his whole life, that he needed big thick glasses, that he didn’t play sports and wasn’t popular. He was just Melvin, preferring to spend his days close to the ground.
So at age 13, standing at his maximum height of 5’2”, dressed in too-big slacks and a too-big button down shirt with glasses years past their helpfulness, Melvin was told to pack his things and get into a van. Knowing the routine by now, he only faintly wondered where he was going, hoping that there were nice people there. The van took him from the group home he’d been living in for two years to a nondescript house in the suburbs of D.C. where the Frohike’s lived. Melvin was escorted to the door by a social worker and introduced to who would soon turn into his family.
Jonathan and Tina Frohike only had one son and decided to open up their home to foster children. Their son Derek, also 13, had always wanted a brother, and the day Melvin showed up was one of the happiest days of his life. Despite being total opposites, Derek and Melvin hit it off immediately, discussing their mutual fascination with space travel (Could you imagine? One day someone could walk on the moon!)
Derek Frohike became Melvin’s best friend. After a year and some simple paperwork, Derek became Melvin’s brother. They were thick as thieves, spending their days in their small bedrooms connected by a bathroom going back and forth, talking about space, then technology, then girls. And then one day, though he’d been discussing it for years, Derek went away and joined the Air Force. And he never came home.
- - -
Before the Gunmen there wasn’t anything. Or so he’d like his friends to think. As paranoid as they are about privacy from the outside world, their united front was not completely disclosed within. Frohike, which is what he liked to be called by now, Frohike didn’t know about Langley’s past. Didn’t know anything about Byers’ family. So they didn’t need to know anything about him. Nope. Nothing.
They could be in the now. After all, they were in the business of uncovering the truths of government conspiracy, about lies perpetuated to fool the masses. Not talk about how he didn’t have his own room until now. How Frohike wasn’t his birth name, that he didn’t have a birth name, and the lady at the orphanage named him Melvin after her great-grandfather who had just died. That Frohike came later, much later, when he found a kind of brother with that last name and they stuck together through the worst of it but that original Frohike was Derek Frohike and he died too young at the hands of the very government he had enlisted to protect.
No. The Gunmen didn’t talk about that stuff, at least not in the beginning. They talked conspiracy and technology and how their bosses were getting them down, cramping their kung-fu and finally, finally, they talked about starting their newspaper. Their own investigation for truth. Their unique band of weirdos that would help save the world, or so they hoped.
Langley knew a guy who knew about some office and warehouse space that had recently been vacated and wasn’t, well, on anyone’s list, per se. Langley also had a huge tv and a gaming system and so many records they’d never get through them all.
Byers had the tech. Well, he had access to some of the tech. Somehow. Frohike didn’t ask questions, neither did Langley. And more importantly, Byers had actual furniture. A small house of furniture. Okay, it was old and a little worn, but it had been well kept for a decade and had solid bones.
Frohike had, uh. He had his suitcase. It had a few changes of clothing, his most important books, some adult video rentals, his bulky laptop and extra tech for various types of kung-fu. His other pair of shoes. Ties. A picture of him and Derek, 16 years old, in front of the Frohike family home.
Frohike also had a car. A van, really. And the fact that he’d been living in that van for, well, let’s just say it had to get detailed before he let the guys in it the first time. It had been years. He liked the van, really, it was his first home to himself, his first home after the Frohike family home that was, well, that’s another story he doesn’t talk about. His van was the first place he had all to himself. He could throw his clothes around if he wanted to. He didn’t, he was a tidy guy, but the fact that he could? That’s real freedom, baby.
But today he was moving. Not abandoning his home, his home away from home but the Frohike home was someplace he couldn’t go back to, but his home, his van, but keeping it. Just not sleeping in it any longer. Which was good, because it got cold in D.C. in the winter.
The Offices of the Lone Gunmen (TM) (but not really TM because of records) (TM to them) were warm. They were small and a little cramped but warm. Frohike had his own room. His own bathroom, all with concrete floors and bare walls he was itching to cover with posters and rugs and anything he wanted. He had a bed frame, courtesy of Byers, a desk, courtesy of a yard sale down the block. Frohike, for the first time in his life, had a whole dresser and a closet and a bathroom, all to himself.
Ignoring the pounding music of Langley’s LP collection breaking in the new place, their new home, Frohike unpacked his suitcase. He spread out his small collection of clothing into all of the drawers which still left one empty, the one closest to the ground. He put his shoes under the corner of the bed. He arranged his laptop and other things on the desk. He placed the worn framed picture of him and Derek on top of the dresser, letting them smile over the room, his room. His own room. Home.