An excerpt from a novel I hope to work my way through.
|ccIt was my eighteenth birthday. I was out of the foster care system, officially. I’d been through thirty-seven foster families since my birth mother turned me in on my fifth birthday. Thirty-seven. Just one had considered adoption. Empty promises were things I was more than used to. My supervisor tried to convince me he had another family lined up every time I was returned. Returned, like an unwanted present or a sweater that doesn’t fit. I knew it was a lie. They are never honest with you. No one ever is at least from my experience. I decided not to risk any more hope on my supervisor. On my eighteenth birthday, I packed up two bags and walked out. I had no idea where to go or how to get there, but I was leaving. I walked for miles trying to come up with some kind of plan. I not only didn’t get very far, but I still didn’t have a plan. I walked to the park in the center of the city and sat down.
So now what? What could I do? Where could I go?
I camped out on that bench for days. I would wander around the park and eventually someone would take pity on me, a poor unfortunate little soul, and throw me some change or, on a good day, a five dollar bill. I collected as much as I could, the last thing I needed was to throw away easily earned money. If you could even call it earned. I saved a solid fifty bucks. I decided at the end of my depression to rummage through my bags and see if there was anything I could sell. A box of fruit snacks, two packs of gum, a box of Ritz Bits and a bag of starbursts. No way am I giving that deliciousness up. The last thing was the camera one of my foster moms gave me for my thirteenth birthday. It was my most prized possession. She was the closest thing to family I had ever had. But she was diagnosed with breast cancer six months after I moved in with her. Since she had to deal with all the medical treatments, they decided to remove me. She died when I was fourteen. I remember the day she came home from the hospital with the news. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen; the mascara marking the paths of her tears. She came in to the living room where I was watching television and sat down next to me. She apologized.
“For not being able to take care of you. You know I love you. The doctors told me that I have three months at the most with intensive treatment.”
“It’s cancer? Three months?”
At her words a new wave of tears poured down her cheeks, effectively washing the previous dark tracks away. A knot the size of an apple swelled in my throat and my vision began to blur, showing me two of everything in the room. She held her arms out to me and I collapsed against her, letting the sobs take over. She explained I could stay as long as the center would allow, but the treatment would not make it easy to care for me.
“I swear I can take care of myself as long as I can stay with you. I don’t care about the adoption papers or making anything official. Please…”
She squeezed me tighter.
“The center won’t let you stay if I can’t prove I can provide for you.”
“But I want to be here to help you through this, Dawn.”
“I could never forgive myself if I let you stay here and …”
“Please – please…”
She squeezed me tight again and rocked slowly as the sobs once again took over. She was the closest person I could consider family. My birth parents kept me for six months before giving me up to foster care. I was told my dad was a soldier who had been killed in duty and my mother was so heartbroken she couldn’t care for me. She became depressed and refused to even look at me. The agency removed me from my home when the neighbor came by to check on my mother and heard me screaming from my crib. There was a time when I had hoped every time the door to the agency opened; it would be my birth mother coming to get me after so many years. Eventually, my hope turned to anger. I refused to even speak about any parents and did not interact with potential adoptive parents. I convinced myself I was better off alone. And then Dawn had come. And after her death, I reverted into a severe depression.
I took the camera out of my bag and slung it over my shoulder. I left the bags on the bench figuring if anyone had wanted to take my things they would have already been gone. Slowly, almost methodically, I began to walk around the park. I caught birds in flight, couples sharing a park bench, flowers in bloom, and sunlight appearing to set fire to the trees. Before I knew it, the sun was falling below the horizon and my stomach was yelling for attention. I wandered back to the park bench and pulled out the Ritz Bits and a pack of fruit snacks. Not the healthiest food, but I didn’t have much choice.
That night, I woke up to my feet falling off the bench. Waking up with more than a start, I reached for my bag only to find it missing. The darkness was so thick around me and the dew hung in the air so heavily I felt as though I were navigating through mud. Once my eyes became adjusted, I saw a young man standing in front of me swinging my bag back and forth. I grabbed the back of the bench to steady myself as all the blood rushed to my head upon standing. He had a rough look about him. Scruff at least a week old covered his face. Dirty blonde hair fell to his ears and his dark brown eyes watched my bag swing from his hand. His posture indicated that he was a comfortable in these parts. Mine clearly stated I had no idea what I was doing on the streets.
“I’ve never seen you around here before.”
Swallowing my nerves and praying my voice wouldn’t break, I replied, “Well, that’s unfortunate because I’ve been here nearly a week. Now can I please have my things, I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Instead of putting my bag in my extended hand he strapped it around his shoulders and took a step towards me.
“That was a lie. I’ve seen you every day since you first sat down on that park bench. Why don’t we take a walk and get to know each other a little bit?”
“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d really like my things and I’ll just move on. Thank you though.”
“Well, for being on the streets, you are awfully polite. Come on; let’s just walk around the park. I promise no tricks.”
Against all my judgment, I nodded and crossed my arms across my chest before falling into step beside him. He walked leisurely, breathing deeply as though he’d done this a million times.
“Do you smell that?”
I looked around and took a deep breath. All I smelled was a dull musk coming from the stranger beside me. Not dirty and not cologne, but a scent nonetheless. I shook my head in response to his question.
“It’s going to rain tomorrow. I can smell it in the air. So if you are around the park, I would suggest finding some kind of shelter so you don’t get soaked.”
“Thanks.” I muttered under my breath. My hands were shaking uncontrollably and all I wanted to do was find a nice warm bed that I could call my own. We’d come to a bench on the opposite side of the park and he threw my bag on it before sitting down. I stood there with my hands tucked into my hoodie.
“So are you gonna sit down or what?”
I shrugged and sat down as close to the sad excuse for an armrest as I could, keeping my bag in between us. I could feel his eyes on me and his smirk told me he was finding my behavior thoroughly amusing.
“What’s your deal anyway? Spending a week on a bench in the park? Are you waiting on somebody then?” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered it to me. I just shook my head. He put one between his lips and lit it. He was kind enough to blow the smoke away from me.
“No, I’m not waiting for anyone. I just got out of the system so…”
“Oh, juvey, huh? I’ve been there, oh, seven – eight times. It gets easier the more you’re in there. The kids are starting to look up to me. What were you in there for?”
“Oh, no. Not that system, the foster care system. I…”
“Oh. Well, you definitely aren’t as cool as I thought you were.” A smile played on his lips. I felt my face grow hot in embarrassment. “I’m totally pulling your leg kid. And you can relax. I’m not going to steal you away or rough you up and leave you for dead. I’ve just seen you around my neighborhood and I make it a point to get to know people that are crashing in it.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t know I was in someone’s neighborhood. I can find somewhere else to crash.”
“No that’s not what I meant. I don’t mind as long as I don’t have to ruin your pretty face trying to protect this place.”
I blushed at his blatant compliment and cleared my throat to ease my nerves.
“No, I don’t want to intrude and there’s no way you’ll need to beat me up over anything.” He nodded at me slowly with that smirk dancing around his lips again. It seemed there was a joke about me that only he knew the punch line to.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, I can just tell you’re new to the streets. It’s entertaining watching your reactions.”
My ears became hot as I felt aggravation rise up, becoming offended by his comment. That only seemed to egg him on, the smile lit in his eyes at my discomfort and aggravation. Frustrated, I grabbed my backpack and, slinging it over my shoulder, stood up.
“Well, seeing as I don’t want to impose, I’ll just move on tonight.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, I was just making sure I was doing the right thing.”
“The right thing? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“About taking you in. Letting you stay in the neighborhood.”
“I didn’t know I needed anyone’s permission.”
“Well, you just got it. I’m sure I’ll see you around, kid. And if you’d like a place to crash when it downpours tomorrow, you can crash at my place.” With that, he got up and walked away from me. I just stood in shock. Whether this guy had bad intentions or good, I was clueless, but I felt pretty good about being accepted into this neighborhood. Besides, this meant I had ties to something other than the center.
As I lay on the bench thinking about my run in with the head of the park, I began to consider his offer. As it was, I had no shelter and no money to pay for a place to live. My stomach growled in agreement. I walked down the block to a small hot dog stand and ordered. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill. As I removed it from my pocket, something fell out. It was a small square of thick paper resembling a business card. I flipped it over. It read: Declan Evers -730 Stood Road Apt. 3. Scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting were the words Hope to see you soon.
I folded it back up and slid it back into my pocket. I took my hot dog and ate as I walked back to the bench. I was hesitant about the way he just showed up and knew things about me, but I was also in desperate need of a bed to sleep on and a roof over my head. I checked the small stash of money I had buried amongst my clothes: seventy-five dollars. If the weather stayed nice, I could remain outside and live off what was left of my money, if only for a few more days. I found a hill looking down on a dog park and decided to relax in the sun.
I awoke just after dusk. The sky still held a tinge of orange and red scattered among the clouds. I was caught off guard by the rising darkness and rushed back to the little bench I called my own. The night was cool so I pulled a clean hooded sweatshirt out of my backpack and pulled it on. As I adjusted it over my t-shirt, I was startled by a figure learning against a tree directly across the path. The cigarette between his lips glowed an orange that matched the lingering sunset. He stepped out from the tree’s shadows and smiled at me.
“Declan, you scared the shit out of me.”
“My apologies. I just came by to see if you had changed your mind about my offer from last night.”
“I don’t think so. It’s really nice of you, but I just met you and I …”
“But we already have so much in common. We’re both on our own with no known family. We’re in the same neighborhood. We’re both extraordinarily good looking.” He sat down on the bench. He had a point; we did have a lot in common.
“I really don’t think so, Declan.”
“Oh? You don’t agree that we’re both good-looking? I’m not sure whether to be offended or to convince you that you are.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean I – I only meant I wasn’t going to change my mind about your offer.” I stuttered.
“So how do you just spend your days lazing in the sun? Do you plan on doing that forever?”
“You’re spying on me? That’s not exactly the way to convince someone you’re very trustworthy.”
“I was not spying; I was merely checking the area and came across your beautiful face asleep in the sun.”
I glared at him unbelievingly. As skeptical as I was of him, he made my nights entertaining. He began to meet me during the day and would show me around the park. He knew this place inside and out, every tree and bush, and occasionally certain people. I realized we really did have quite a bit in common. He’d been in foster care since he was eight, was adopted and shortly discovered his adoptive parents were alcoholics and would regularly take a belt to his backside. At eighteen he left without a glance back to roam the streets. He was taken in by another street urchin, as Declan referred to them. Since then, he’d been put in charge of keeping the park safe. He explained there were often competitions for territory which is why he kept a regular check on the park grounds, especially at night. At first light, he was required to report his finding back to his superior. He assured me he would see me again soon.