5. Confluence – by Casedy Long
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The boy was always jealous of the other girls in his high school.  As he sat there on the floor, a shoe fell off.  He noticed his feet have shrunk. He eagerly kept reading.

Confluence – by Casedy Long

The air was a little nippy. Everyone but us were wearing a radiant range of colorful, long-sleeved coats (the thick and cozy kind). Many which were adorned with hoodies.

“Is it gonna be raining?” I asked. It was rhetorical, so I didn’t expect anyone to answer.

“I dunno,” I heard grumbling out at me to my left.

“Can we go in there?” I heard the all too sweet hope coming from the voice to my right.

“Not yet,” I responded to the littlest of us. I wished I could say yes, because today wasn’t getting any warmer, that was for sure. It also looked like we weren’t expecting it to remain clear either. Although I hadn’t seen any clouds that were telling me it’d rain, sleet, or snow. Maybe, just maybe everyone took weathermen for granted too much and were over prepared for nothing.

As if we’d be that lucky.

My outfit wasn’t suited for colder weather and, sadly, neither were my two charges. At least for now they weren’t ready for that sort of climate. If I was right about those two guys…

“Det,” I said as I turned to my left, “Have you seen Norton at all? He usually is–”

“Is that the fat one?”, she asked, rudely interrupting me.

“–sss… no, he’s robust,” I clarified and followed it by specifically saying, “brawny.”

“Brownies?” I heard on my right and looked down at this excited, puckered face awaiting to scream with glee if I really had some sweets stashed away. “Can I haff some?”

“Listen,” I said, plant my hand down with a twist of my wrist over her head to keep her head steady and focused on me and not searching for imaginary brownies. This required emphasizing on my pronunciation, and I did by saying, “I said brA-” I lifted my hand up, off her head and higher over her, raising the pitch in that vowel for her to hear, “-Awny.”

“Braahnee,” she repeated close enough for me to give her a nod of approval.

“Good girl,” I complimented.

She was hungry. Not at all surprising. We were three homeless girls who were more than just hungry, we were shivering out here while waiting for those guys. We were going to be receiving an early Christmas bundle and, with a little bit of luck, then some. Whatever that extra something was, well, I wasn’t sure of yet. I had my hopes set on it being something to silence our noisy tummies.

Moreso, I wanted our goofy-grinning girl of our trio to stop eyeballing the flashy Pizzeria. That establishment in particular was making my girl drool a little too much. I could promise her a slice or two if I was certain on what we’d be receiving today from those guys. Norton promised there were items from the clearance section that would be discarded. If it was just going to be trashed, then we might as well take the items off of their hands.

The question I had was what items and how many people did he let in on the deal? I was one, my girls were a second, and then there was the other coworker of his. I hadn’t a clue how trustworthy that second guy was.

All it would take for us to get into trouble was us being seen here as suspicious. If a patrol car showed up and started asking questions, that was it. The three of us would be taken away and, worse, divided.

That was why we sat outside on a grassy hill. It was one thing to be seen. We were an odd party, but I figured we appeared to be having ourselves a picnic on this hilly ridge. It wasn’t too strange for us to be just outside of a parking lot. I placed myself into an onlooker’s shoes and thought we might look like a very young mom and two daughters waiting for a pizza to be cooked and having it out here.

See, we weren’t too strange. But if we had a cop, someone who had profiles on us, that there was another matter of being seen when one of us had an easily distinguishable face.

The goofy girl with a sweet tooth was one. Any time she showed off her toothy grin, which she was doing right now right at me, she’d be displaying to the world how that smile of hers lacked two front teeth. Not too many profiles on the enforcers compact IFA had little girls with a gap that wide. If we ever got caught again, I didn’t believe she’d be coming back to us.

The Sauce, as us youngsters have called the S.O.S. (Street Outreaching Services), would escalate matters to Soap, that’s S.O.P. (Street Outreaching Program), if they believed there was someone who’d been away from mommy and daddy too long, and, then, that’d be it. The Sleepy Es would be involved, which would be C.P.S. (you all know who they are). The reason they’d get in on the action would be because of the fact that the three of us had run away from… I’d call it home for the lack of a better word, but, yeah, we ran from “home” more than once. Doing something like that frequently gets people like them curious.

We needed to be inconspicuous and, quite frankly, our skinny tummies were quite upset about it. I would’ve had us staying inside one of the shops, or that pizzeria, right where it was nice and warm and we could absorb the heated bread and cheese… That was enough thinking on that (making me drool). Here was the thing: when we’ve yet to receive a damn thing, and if this deal was a complete bust, us being in any of those places without a chance in Hell of making a purchase would be confidence breaking. If those guys weren’t going to surprise us with something delightful, I would have to take our day’s event a step further.

I don’t like committing acts of theft, but I was going to do everything I could to keep my girls happy. At least as happy as I could make them.

As if our youngest was choosing which to visit, the store where we were waiting for those guys to show up or the sanctuary for lost Italians to make a living, she kept bouncing her violet eyes between the two. If any of us were going to be taking one step in their establishments, it’d be me first. I doubted either of my little charges would have the propriety of interacting with either business; the littlest would just point and ask for whatever looked yummy and maybe take a stuffed animal for herself to hug. The older one, currently Ms. Grumpypants, probably just go walk around the register counter and take whatever she wanted without consent.

Neither scenario sounded appealing to me. That meant if one of us were going in there, or we all were, I’d be first to lead by example.

“Where are they?” On my left, I heard the reasonable irritation. I wanted to ask that question myself, but just like asking for the forecast, I knew I wasn’t going to receive a response.

With a soothing voice, the best that I could muster, I said, “In a minute, if they don’t show up, I’ll go over and take a look.”

One look at her and I regretted bringing her along. I shouldn’t have thought that, but it was what I felt. I saw her with a deep frown and I knew why she wasn’t happy. It had much less to do with bad weather and hunger and more about–

“Why are we relying on boys?” She groaned out and turned away from me to glare directly at the storefront those guys (not boys) worked at.

“Because those guys have jobs,” I replied with a finger of mine pointed at the store in question. “Their jobs are in there.”

Now, see, I was also leaving out the details that those boys had more than one job. Maybe “job” wasn’t the correct term. Obligation? Obligation sounds right. So their lawfully paid positions were inside that building, but they also had an obligation towards the Harpies.

That would be a group we once belonged to, but that would be another story entirely. We don’t have a need to go into detail about them and I believe it would be best to move on.

“You said they might have stuff they’d throw out,” the one getting hangrier (hungry + angry) stated. “That better not be expired candy.”

“Candy?” That pulled the gapped toothed one’s eyes off of the restaurant and gave her churning tummy something else to flip in hopes and dreams for a moment. “Can I haff some?”

“Maito!” The steamy, frustrated tone in her voice towards our youngest girl, Maito, had me thinking for a second she was angry at her. But, nope, I was wrong and watched as she swung a tightly closed fist out towards the storefront. It was kind of cute to watch my feistiest girl fantasize almost punching a fist the size of the display windows that were featuring all the delightful goodies inside into pieces. That show of anger caused the smaller kid to give off a nervous giggle, preemptively ending any searches for nonexistent candy, and return to silence.

Honestly, though, I didn’t mind her fantasizing about that kind of violence. It was a lot better for her to be letting off steam if it meant she wouldn’t be creating a scene, again.

Just in case, I should have to say something. “Trust me this time. I’ve got this handled,” I consoled with the same soothing voice as before.

“You goth diths!” Maito jumped up and, not surprisingly, started doing jumping jacks, chanting: “You garth eth! You gawth deeeth!”

“Sss…” I almost told her to sit down, but I couldn’t bring myself to chasten. Not when she was cheering me on. “Sure,” I corrected myself saying to her. I thought about it for a moment and decided a better course of action. I reached an arm out towards Maito and beckoned her over.

It was getting colder, so her little jumping exercise wasn’t something I should or could be mad at her about. I had caught her in a hug and brought her in to cuddle with me. It wouldn’t have drawn unwelcome attention, if anyone were to look at us, again me envisioning how they’d see it, I would be hugging my little girl for warmth and comfort until our order was called out.

Now that I thought about this, about later, whenever we’d be returning with our goods, I’d warm them both up with a good long hug. I had hope, and I knew we’d get through this. We just had to get past winter towards the three more carefree seasons.

As for now, I drew up my knees and gave my squealing bundle of delight a tight squeeze. This would’ve been a lot worse for wear had we been sitting on the naked grass. I didn’t bring a blanket for us three to sit and have our “picnic” on, but I did grab the next best thing (and probably more valuable): a car cover. It was just sitting on somebody’s car, someplace along the road, and nobody seemed to mind me taking it off (at that current time). It had a really nice, soft microfiber texture that we all appreciated. It certainly beat the competition against what would’ve been cold, wet blades of grass under my bums.

Okay, that wasn’t true for all of us, and I gave that exception one look, then I asked: “You want a piece of this action, Det?”

Det, the grump, never wore a skirt like our little one here. It was for a reason too. For the past week she (still talking about Det here) had been wearing the same light grey sweatshirt and sweatpants. The outfit was a nice, snug fit, but not at all to my taste. I preferred baggy clothing. She’d understand that whenever things started growing out in proportions. You know, for the gentlemen to understand here, let me use a more sophisticated language: curves and angles.

She simply answered, saying: “No.”

After thinking about it, I probably lucked out with her thinking hugs were too close for comfort. When I thought of it that way, it sounded really bad. I meant to think of it as “not yet” a good idea. It would be a mistake in breathing around her right now. She needed a bath, but getting her out of any clothing was asking for trouble.

That chore took a lot of coaxing out of her. And like her, I could say the same for me that I didn’t like showing off my feminine side either, but not for the same reasons. I wasn’t abused like she was.

As for Maito, it was different. Our current youngest was WAY different and wore a dress. A very showy one at that. Even despite our arguments over how unhealthy of a decision that became during the warm or cold seasons. If I had to guess, I believed she enjoyed dressing up. It was her way of exhibiting a sense of fashion. And she had a strong awareness of the public eye. She was the only one of us that wore bright enough clothing that stung the eye. That was too true if we were to stare at them for too long. You know, obnoxiously brilliant colors that attracted attention from everybody.

She was an outstanding, stylish little girl.

Today was no different when it came to her putting on a show. Thankfully it wasn’t too much. This morning, when I saw what she chose to wear, I convinced her into wearing the denim jacket I had planned on wearing. Yes, it kind of clashed with the tie-dyed-skirt, which more specifically looked like a swirly-bleeding rainbow, but it was warmer than the top she wore and had, from her approval, toned down the flair. Had I not given her that jacket, she’d be out here in a thin-fabricked cardigan sweater with a more accurate depiction of a vertical rainbow. And, just adding this in, wearing that top with nothing but her skin beneath it would’ve been freezing out here.

That was not enough for a sunny day, let alone today. This day had a chilly snap that wasn’t getting any warmer. I still anticipated something worse to come. It was best to not be thinking about that prediction.

But that would be why we all weren’t exactly happy about sitting out here. The one in particular, a girl I had no need to point out, waiting for those “boys” to come walking out of their store with a cart full of goods was still glaring at either the store or at me. I gave the top of Maito’s head a kiss to see if I could hide from Det behind the only one of us smiling.

That head turned and, right when I was following Maito’s gaze at the Pizzeria was when I heard Det call my name.


Glancing back towards her, I came out of hiding when I noticed her nodding away from the Pizzeria and towards the store we were staking out. I trailed after her stare, that nod indicating for me to look in a direction at this guy wearing the employee colors of the retail store, red sleeved and white bodied shirt, waving at us.

Shaking my head, and at no one in particular, I asked: “Why is he waving at us?”

“He juth shaying hi,” Maito commented and, before I could stop her, followed that claim up by waving both hands in the air and yelling: “Hullo!”

As true as that might have been, this was not how our meetings were to begin. Norton, the guy that Det thought of as being fat, would walk towards us and ask if we required anything. It would be a polite way of disturbing our picnic. We’d talk over what was being offered and that would settle negotiations.

Nope. Not today. Someone wanted to shake things up.

“Det,” I called, softly, grabbing her attention. Before I detached from Maito and stood to start towards this guy, I turned to address what I wanted them to be doing. I said, “Help her pick up and get ready to go.”

Maito, standing up too, asked: “Pick whad up?”

“Grab that corner,” said Det, thankfully knowing what I meant, as she stood up with a corner of the car cover. “We might need it to carry–”

“Me?” That colorful kid interrupted both of us with a suggestion and an amazing action that resulted in a belly-flop down in the middle of our makeshift picnic blanket that would’ve left me with a tummy ache. Instead of rolling in pain, she rolled over with a giggle right on up at us.

“–whatever,” she finished saying after witnessing the durability of this girl, then looked up at me with an unspoken message on her face and kept her eyes locked on until I got it.

“Have fun,” I said and received an eye-roll from Det.

It was best for me to decide on there being no fanfare or anything like that to get either of them going. I wanted to keep this straight and simple. We needed this deal over with and talking it out between them on a negligible task would’ve dragged this on longer than required.

They both had to learn their roles. I had mine and I was going off to take care of that now.

Besides, she knew why I wanted her to stay with our most inexperienced and, catching her having thrown a corner over and covering the source of screaming laughter, I knew she had the right idea how to babysit her. Thus, entrusting her with that laughing funbag, I left the two and started my walk towards the storefront to meet… I guessed that was the other guy. Looking at him as I got closer, I took an important note that he wasn’t as big as I remembered.

That wasn’t Norton. This revelation stopped me from approaching any further. What happened next, I would say in hindsight was a mistake.

He said something, and I was within earshot, but I barely heard him when something loud had burst towards the highest note right next to me. The next thing I knew, I was busy jumping out of the way of a red jeep speeding through the designated crosswalk of the parking lot.

That loud noise was the honk of its horn telling me to get out of the road. I supposed it might’ve been my fault, but I always thought the crosswalk gave me the right of way. Jeep or not, the car was bigger than me and I’d lose a hundred percent of the time if I were to physically oppose a vehicle.

The guy I was to meet shouted, “Asshole!”, after the jeep. It did nearly hit me and didn’t appear interested in stopping to find out if I was roadkill. So, yeah, I gave the guy points for shouting a fact.

Whenever I watched the movies or TV series with my parents, I always saw the characters who’d jumped out of harm's way standing right back up, or helped up, always being unharmed. No. Not true at all. I was hurting from my knees up to my chin. Whatever I landed on, it wasn’t a pillow and spanned the entire parking lot. Oh, right, I body-slammed the asphalt lot itself.

“Ow,” I uttered while scrambling too slow for me to feel I’d recovered my dignity or grace. Not that this guy had ever expected me to possess any, but first impressions, well, they made an impression. I wasn’t thrilled mine would be the gal who’d almost got plastered along the storefront’s crosswalk.

“You alright?” I heard this masculine voice, and as I half-expected, I saw a man’s hand hovering above my brow. That was it; any reputation of being an independent SELF-sufficient woman was gone. He asked: “That was Greg. He does delivery for the Pizzeria.”

That bit of news had me cocking a brow and me saying, “Really?” Maybe I scored some blackmail? “I’ll have to bring that up with them then, won’t I.”

“I’ll be a witness,” he said as our hands united and I got back up onto my feet. “I, uh, got Norton’s message. He won’t be coming,” he explained, but I figured that something was up. Now came the why, and he went on to say: “I guess he’s sick because the manager didn’t point him. You only get away with that with a doctor’s note.” That does put a crinkle in the plans for today. I didn’t mind it though. So far, it sounded like this other guy was cool enough to iron things out. “I’m Breton.”

Names. I didn’t give Norton my name and he never gave his either. I found out from his nametag he wore. But this guy, who looked a little older by a couple of years than our usual meetup, Breton…

“Hi,” I greeted. I wasn’t sure about giving my name. Still, first impressions did count for something, and I announced: “I’m Myka.” After introductions, I went towards getting us back onto the important topic, asking: “You have something for us?”

Breton started with saying, “That…”, and kept silent.

That was not a good sign and I asked: “What is it?” I watched him raise his splindly length of an arm up to rest a hand onto the back of his head. This wasn’t looking good at all, and I pressed, saying: “Please tell me we aren’t here for nothing.”

“Norton had a cheap arcade token, a ring that looks…” He shook his head at that one, bowed a little forwards, and claimed, saying: “That thing is definitely cheap. There’s a bunch of Halloween costumes that didn’t sell.” But, then, his gaze dropped down below my shoulders and gave me a once over and, for some reason, that resulted in him straightening himself up and talking with more confidence. “It’s a collection of little– no,very tacky Hawaiian shirts. We’re just going to throw them away.” His gaze rediscovered my face as he mentioned, saying: “In my opinion, I think you need a change of clothes.”

This had me clenching my eyes shut with a very serious cringe. I didn’t believe we had that bad of an appearance, but I guessed wrong.

Homeless still appeared hopeless.

Opening my eyes back up, I gave him a quick glance, then looked back at the two holding the makeshift picnic blanket like a readied sack. I explained, saying, “I expected more in our haul.” I noticed Maito giving the Pizzeria a look of longing, giving me a reason to turn back to him and asked: “You’d be a witness for me, right?”

“What, now?” When he said that with such a potent surprise on his face, I couldn’t stop the laugh that came out of me and, in a silent response, nodded. “I guess? Do you still want this stuff?”

“I’ll take what I can get,” I said. I didn’t believe much would come from the items, but I might get a meal out of this guy.

At least it wasn’t stale Halloween candy.

When I waved over the two little gals, the four of us had gone off towards the back of the store to retrieve these items. It wasn’t anything special to detail, just a collection of the mundane and packing it into a “sack” that would probably give us more worth of a buck. The Hawaiian shirts were certainly the only valuables that we might be able to pawn off, but not for much.

That being done, I wanted my girls to get the news of today that pizza was on the menu, and announced: “Who wants pizza?”

The first to shout, “Me!”, was, of course, Maito. I did get a raised hand from Det and knew that was about as much enthusiasm as I was going to get from her. It was Breton that I had the unexpected surprise from.

And that was by him asking: “Can I join?”

This, okay, make note of this. This was where things began to go wrong.

The first of the problems began with Det asking: “Why do you think we want you to come?”

That was bad because he was my only witness… Well, my kids probably saw what happened, but Breton was likely my only credible witness for the nearly hit-and-run. I didn’t want to get on his bad side and the whole pizza deal being blown off.

That being my thought at the time, I said, “Det, apologize.”

Oh, fuck, was that the wrong thing to say.

She didn’t say anything, but she did give me a look like I was the crazy one here. Which, after a moment of having this standoff, I believed I was the one being an idiot.

Trying to save face between them both, I explained: “Breton here is willing to give a statement that supports my near miss claim with the Pizzeria’s employee.” After I said that, I thought for a second and figured it might be too technical or formal for Det to get the gist of our situation. Simplifying it, I said: “He’s going to help us get pizza.”

“Once I get off, I can help bring your stuff back home too,” he claimed and, unfortunately, proven he didn’t know our situation.

And, Det, followed that offer up by stating: “No thanks.”

Around this time, I caught myself picking at my own worn out fingernails. I immediately stopped it and explained a few things to Breton by saying, “We don’t live far and, once we get some food in us, we’ll need a good exercise anyways.” I gave a show by looking at the other two, then myself, and stating: “We gotta keep our figures, right.”

It felt like I was digging myself a hole and every word I said was burying myself in it.

“Yeah, sure,” he said while giving everything I had below my shoulders an appraising look. I don’t know what he would’ve seen within my baggy outfit, which was a match with Det’s joggers, but he saw something that kept him onboard… And I started feeling uncomfortable about what I wore. He suggested, saying: “Why don’t we keep your loot back here, in one of the dropped trailers, and grab a bite. When we’re done, we can go back to get them, and then play by ear.” He shrugged, predicting and saying: “After a meal, maybe we’ll all feel a little sluggish. You know how it is after a full stomach.”

“Yeah,” I said, despite that we didn’t know. “Full stomachs,” I stated, thinking about how we were starving, seriously.

This talking and thinking about food had me turning to see how Maito was doing. I heard, more than saw, how silent she was about this. I hadn’t noticed until now how she had hid herself behind Det and, seeing that girl too, how she reached back behind herself and positioned herself between the man and the smaller girl.

Out of the three of us, I could count on Det sensing a predator. I would have to play this out carefully. Also, at the same time of knowing this, I felt a bit of pride in my girls.

Helen, our former leader of the Hapries, would’ve been ecstatic. Again, for me to explain, that would be a tale for another time.

Breton took charge by saying, “Let’s go.”

Now our time going to the Pizzeria wasn’t really eventful at all. I could claim that we were worried about how things could’ve gone down, but when we got there and explained our near miss incident, the owner understood. He bribed us for silence on the matter with pizza, just as we hoped he would. None of us were happier than our littlest with the cheesiest of all pies.

When all was said, ate, and done, we’d gone back for our things. If only that had been all we were meant to do.

But Breton had expected something more. Det sensed it, Maito was oblivious to it, and I tried to ignore it. Well, I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t going to happen when I was the target.

As we were heading back, he asked: “You want to exchange phone numbers?” I glanced at him with a raised brow, and he elaborated, saying: “It’ll make meetings like this go a lot easier. If I got nothing you want, no need to come. Or...” As we kept walking, he held a hand out like an offering, stating: “I could drive the stuff over to your place? Easy as that. No need to break a sweat.”

Det, automatically rising up in arms, announced: “We can get by without you.”

We were along the side of the store, a few feet away from the back where that dropped trailer held our loot. I wanted us to make it towards a point where we could just grab our stuff and run. That was all we required. I needed a few more seconds to reach that trailer, open it up, and snatch everything.

Breton suggested, telling: “Why don’t you two wait out here while us grownups talk?”

Hearing him suggest that towards my girls had me slightly concerned about what he just said. Not sure on why I felt that way since I agreed that I was the oldest of our trio, but me being paired with him as one of the grown ups here didn’t sound right. Not only that, but I had a rough time believing it had been said. Something about it didn’t sound innocent; unclean. I had to think over what he meant when he addressed us as grown ups.

Giving him a sideways look from the corner of my eye, not facing him, I confessed, saying: “I’m seventeen.” I thought I saw him give me a shrug. I stopped looking in his direction and, I believed, I said: “Right, okay, sure.” I was saying things to placate him, but my mind had gone blank after that.

There were so many thoughts, things I wouldn’t remember afterwards, but all told me how much I didn’t want to fuck this up.

If it hadn’t been for a dull pain in my back, I wouldn’t have noticed the second or third time I was punched in the hip. I glanced down at Det giving me a straight thumb shot over the shoulder. I was incredibly conscious of what she was afraid of happening and I didn’t know how to avoid it without leaving what we could gain.

She looked straight up at me and mouthed: “Let’s. Go.”

We were at the doors. The trailer was right there in front of us and I stopped walking. Nothing strange in that except, after seeing and absorbing the message of someone younger but more experienced in what could’ve happened to me, I was going to end this.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s getting late and we’re tired.” I turned back to him and suggested, saying: “I think we could pick this stuff up later.”

He gave me a nod and asked: “Want to exchange numbers and I can drop this off at your place?”

There was something in my head asking myself whether he heard me saying how old I was. I knew he was older than me, maybe ten years at max, but I should’ve still been considered too much of a minor for him to suggest a relationship. If I had been with my parents, I know explaining to them that he was only a hookup for merchandise would’ve been sounding like complete bullshit.

But I had an idea how to play this now and I asked: “Sure, give me your number and I’ll give you a call.”

He gave me a smile and pronounced his joy, saying: “Great, what’s yours?”

“We’ll be moving soon,” I said the honest truth. “I won’t know until we get there. Just keep what we have as collateral and I’ll get in touch with you to get it.” I thought that sounded reasonably planned. “Sounds good?”

“It’s kind of cold tonight,” he pointed out. “Why not wear some of the merchandise on your way home?” That got my brows to knit together in consternation, but he elaborated, suggesting: “The Hawaiian shirts could be worn in layers. That’ll make up for the lack of coats and, if the weatherman is right, help against the coming freezing rain.”

Of the entire time I wanted to know that, this time was not when I wanted to hear that. I believed enduring the drenching ice was more preferable than the chances I had trying on clothes with him around. But that wasn’t true when I took my girls into account. I looked back at them and, seeing Det shaking her head no, with little Maito bouncing on her heels and swishing her skirt back and forth without a care in the world, I knew I had to be the braver one here.

That didn’t mean I had to be stupid about it.

“Could you grab us something,” I said, shrugging, and following it up by stating: “It doesn’t matter if it fits. If it rains, it’s not like they have hoods, so we’ll just be wearing them like cloaks.”

There was no way to look at that differently. Hawaiian shirts don’t come with hoods and they are too thin. Way too thin for being rained on. Once they’re soaking wet, they’ll cling to us like a second layer of skin. It’d be better to hold them over our heads and run for the nearest roof.

“I can do that,” he said. I thought we were in the clear before he added on, suggesting: “Want to pick them out for them?”

“Right now, I really don’t care,” I said that as matter of fact.

“I see,” he was saying this with a nod. “The thing is, I need you to show me some interest. If you’re just bailing on me, and I keep holding onto this stuff, that makes my end of this difficult for me.”

For a few seconds, I closed my eyes and thought about this. I didn’t mind how I must’ve appeared. I was ignoring everyone to view my own opinions on this matter. I had myself, my girls, and this guy. Those girls were more important than him and me. They were my responsibility. My priorities. I was well aware of Det warning me, but I also knew he wasn’t seeing her the same way he looked at me.

I was his game. I only had to play and win, not them.

“Sure,” I said, gave the cold air a sniff, and opened my eyes to the man and the trailer behind him. I took a deep breath, held it for an instant, and let it out by saying: “Lead the way.”

“Myka!” I heard my name from behind me and I ignored it. There was even another punch to my hip which I brushed off.

What I had done was wave off their concern and walked forward, following the man into the trailer by taking his offered hand on up. When we were together in the trailer, I had expected it to be well lit inside. Nope. This was practically a dark cave that only darkened as it grew late.

“How am I supposed to see what’s good to wear in here?” I thought that was a good question to be asking him.

“Try it on,” was his response. I didn’t like that.

So I asked: “What about them? What fits me won’t fit them.”

“You said it yourself,” he mentioned. “They’ll wear them like capes. I’m more interested in you.”

That I could tell was the complete truth of the matter. I wasn’t certain on how to respond towards that confession and remained silent. It was better, I thought, to pretend he hadn’t said it in any other way than… Other than what? I couldn’t think of another way it could be taken.

Breton was interested in me. I still haven’t a clue what he saw. I wore the baggiest of clothes to make me appear as a shapeless blob and conceal the stick-human I was. I wasn’t flat, but how would he know what they looked like? Wasn’t that what all men looked at? Curves and what slopes their fingers are skiing off of? I knew it wasn’t my hair because that stock was harvested down to the roots and we received some good soup as recompense for the flaxen product. True, I’ve got the peach fuzz cropping back up around my scalp, but it wasn’t ladylike at all. And it was cold up top… I wondered if brain freeze contributed to my low IQ this season?

“Hand me a shirt,” I said.

After a couple of seconds listening to him rummaging around in the dark tunnel, I heard him say, “Here.” I reached out, felt the solid connection of our knuckles connecting, and twisted my wrist to wrench the shirt from his hand before he could try anything with mine. “Try it,” was the last thing he said to me.

It was the very last words I would hear from him too. I had the shirt in my hand. I brought it up to my chest and had planned on wearing it over my outfit. That was not how he had planned this to go.

The very second I swung the Hawaiin shirt over my shoulders, I felt his hands on me. I didn’t register where his hands had gone, I just knew he was on me and that wasn’t acceptable. I cried out, lashed out, kicked, and backed the fuck away from the attack.

That was how I took this: an attack. I was shaking from my teeth down to my knees when I acknowledged this was how it was going to be. I knew it was going to happen and I still felt the absolute need to scream when I it was futile do such a stupid thing. I didn’t want my girls in here when this was going on.

They trusted me. They are my responsibility.

We saw nothing. That was the only even ground we had shared here. I kept buffering his advance on me, but I’d yet to feel any space given between us. He was stronger–

“MYKA!” I heard her.

–but I had so much more to lose than him. I fought back, I don’t know how, but enough that I backed up to the entrance of the trailer and, well… I fell out.

My heel got caught on something at the end of the trailer’s frame and I don’t know what I did to get free, but I remembered I screamed when I fully fell. I didn’t stop to rest, I was scrambling to get back up, and I fell onto my knees, got back up, fell again on one knee, and tried again and again. I wasn’t understanding what it was that I was doing wrong.

Shaken, free, and out with my girls, I just needed to stand and run. I didn’t know why I couldn’t stand.

It wouldn’t be until one of my girls helped me up that I would begin to feel the numbing pain in my ankle. That there was something wrong down there. And it would take a few minutes longer, when we started running, that it had begun to rain.

That, the rain, I would be, ironically, glad about. I was able to hide the proof that I had been crying from my girls.

I had strong doubts about me being conscious anymore. I had the oddest sensation I was moving, but not with my own two legs. Time felt non-existent. I had kept this strangely idiotic belief that I was still in the trailer, and I was trying to fight him off of me, but it wasn’t him and I knew those hands were my girls. They were helping me and I was the one being a burden for them.

Right now, I was no help. I was the very thing that harmed my girls. I had to get them away and, instead, I was slowing them down. I had no idea I could hate myself so much that I...

I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time. It was too fast, then too slow, and the memories blended into one image: hatred.

I’d ask myself when did I start thinking over what I could’ve done differently. I knew when it went wrong, but I also knew that the whole deal had been wrong to begin with. We didn’t have Norton there, we had Breton. Our regular wasn’t there. Was that why I ended up like this?

No. This was my fault. I thought I could win a game… No, that wasn’t right. I treated it like a game. Nothing about what had happened was fair for it to be an even playing field. It was not a game.

He was stronger. I wasn’t. I was hungry. I ate and felt the confidence that I had already won once. I got greedy.

These thoughts, as I had them going through my mind, I never noticed that I had been repeatedly saying, “I’m sorry,” towards my girls. They never said anything back to me and I just kept repeating it.

When I did become more aware, enough that I knew we returned to our “home”, inside a reconstruction of an abandoned old jailhouse in the outdated “center” of the city, I stopped chanting and looked around myself.

The dim light of a stolen lantern gave me a scope of my surroundings with an orange ting. I searched around myself and saw the crude-stone hall that had two jail cells with their missing bar doors. I laid in one of the moldy wooden cots that were still intact and supplied with our scavenged furnishings. I had no idea how we managed to get this far without me noticing.

This was more than a couple of miles away.

At the edge of the cot were both of my girls. They were snuggled in tightly packed against each other, as close as they could be laying next to me, keeping us warm and together. I wondered how long I was out of my wits to not have noticed any of this. I didn’t even know that was possible. I always thought something like that happening was an urban myth or an excuse in a movie or story to skip scenes.

Black outs were real.

But that wasn’t all that was real. And I got a good dose of the supernatural real fast.

When I raised my head and stretched out my limbs, just to get the kinks out of me from not laying back in my cot the way I would’ve, I heard scraping coming from somewhere in the next cell. I had thought, for just a stupid second, that it was Helen.

She was gone. I had to get over that and, for the time being, I did. I supposed tonight, and it was nighttime now, I had wishful thinking it was her. That was my excuse for having a thought like that again.

If it wasn’t her, I had to know who or what was there. I didn’t enjoy the idea we had a curious animal coming over to meet us neighbors. I believe that was why I reached out in search of something to grab and use as a weapon.

When I stretched, I felt an object along my foot, something solid and straight, and I went to grab it. The object felt like there was something wrapped around it. I could feel something sticky, but I figured that was from elements outside: rain, mud, and all the crud. I immediately winced and almost yelled out in pain at trying to pull it up. I did grab it, but I also pulled my ankle up with the object.

That was when I discovered the object was something like a stick or pole keeping my ankle straight. I didn’t want to believe my ankle or something in my leg was broken, but that was the only rational idea popping in my head. It had explained my struggles to stand earlier, but not how I could’ve done that to myself. What broke my leg? I didn’t fall that hard on the ground, did I?

Right now wasn’t the time to be thinking about it. I had something moving next door and it was at our door… And, understand, “door” is being used figuratively here.

Since I couldn’t get myself up, I reached over and grabbed, shook, and hoped one or both of my girls would wake up. One did, or maybe both, and just that one sat up.

“You okay?” I heard a very concerned voice coming from one of them. Since it didn’t have much of a slur to it, from a lack of teeth, I guessed it being Det. That made sense.

“Yes,” I quickly answered and continued by saying, “but there’s something at the door.”

“That’d be me,” I heard someone answer. I tried squinting and letting my eyes adjust to the orange glow of the lantern. Gradually, I saw the silhouette of someone waving at me and hearing them saying, “Good Morning.”

For a fleeting moment, I panicked and thought that was Breton at the door. I sat straight up and, despite the pain in my leg, I tried grabbing the object to use as a weapon anyhow.

“It’s okay,” I heard and felt Det pressing into me to calm down.

“It’s m’kay!” I, then, heard from a smaller girl pressing down, hard, into my lower half and keeping my quest in retrieving the object from my leg succeeding.

“It’s cool,” I, lastly, heard from the person at our door as he entered our room. Him being closer now, I got a better look and saw this wasn’t Breton. “It’s alright, Myka.”

This wasn’t anybody I’d seen before, but familiar enough for me to believe I had seen them somewhere. Also, he called me by my name. I could toss that up to one of the girls talking too loudly, but if they had been asleep for awhile, that made me wonder how long this guy had been in here and waiting in the next cell.

“Who are you?” I wondered if that had been the correct thing to ask. I probably should have told him to get the fuck out of here. That would’ve been the sensible thing to do in my situation.

Except I knew him. I didn’t know how or from where, but the closer he got, and the longer I looked, the greater my familiarity with him grew.

“He helped us,” I heard one of my girls tell me that had happened. “He carried you here.”

That, though, didn’t make sense. I knew Det wouldn’t let any man near us, let alone help. And forget about carrying me. Carry me? That’d be insane. I didn’t need to imagine what she’d do to a guy that tried to pick me up, especially if I was not all there upstairs.

That was why I looked down at them both and, directly, asked: “What did he do?” I furthered my query, bluntly, suggesting by asking: “Is he making you say that?”

“No, no, that’s… He’s…” I heard Det start, hesitate, and then stop talking.

That response made me think I was right. That he had coerced them into telling a lie to me.

Before I had reacted to these thoughts, Maito spoke up, saying: “He’s you!”

Hearing that from her was the equivalent of receiving a hard smack in the face by an old feather and down pillow. I blinked a few times and looked at her with the best “WTF” face I could muster. I have no idea how that must’ve appeared on me, all I knew was that I got the message across to them.

Det tried saying: “I… I don’t…” Then ended her claims by sitting up straighter and shrugging at me with a shake of her head.

Maito wasn’t as doubtful or confused and started by saying: “He foff off the bathguy away.” I had to take a break from listening for a second to translate that as him fighting off Breton. When did that happen?

“Wait, hold on,” I started saying and went on to ask: “Back up. Who is he?”

“You,” I heard him claim. “That’d be me. I don’t expect you to understand because, well, I don’t.”

He threw his hands up in the air in defeat. I was still on edge and, when his hands moved, my gaze trailed after them. It was then that I also noticed his facial features, lack of hair, those warm brown eyes, and just the way he gave me this honest to goodness I-Give-Up-Trying look.

The very fact that Det didn’t treat him as a pariah was why I gave him a chance to talk and not straight out tell him to fuckoff. I also gave him the benefit of the doubt on this story from both Maito and himself telling me that we were the same person. I didn’t understand that at all.

To start: if he was me, how did he beat off Breton when I couldn’t. I get that the story being played on me here was he was a guy, still me, and a guy. How did me being a guy make a lick of difference in a fight? Did I actually hit something important on Breton and this guy-me got the advantage? I didn’t know and it appeared neither did they.

“It was raining, he didn’t see me, and I punched him,” he claimed. “He didn’t go down, but when I told him to fuck off, he fuckered off.”

Maito declared: “Fuckered off!”

That earned guy-me a glare and a point in showing we had our differences. I would never have said that around my girls for exactly what just happened.

“Sorry,” he said and turned to look down at our youngest in my cot, saying: “That’s a bad word. Don’t say that.”

“You thad it,” was her response.

And, with sarcasm, I said, “Yeah, you said it,” directly at “me”. I was finding this situation more and more ridiculous. I also was finding my leg more and more sore, but I kept silent about that.

Instead of saying anything about the pain, I ran a hand down along my leg, trying to feel how it was injured. I felt something, but it wasn’t exactly my leg that I felt. I gave my attention to it for a quick second and saw it was the straight object that was keeping my leg straight. It wasn’t entirely smooth.

While I was feeling my leg up, I received some insight on what it was and how it got there from my youngest girl, saying: “We found ith.”

“You just found it and stuck it on me?” I was a bit concerned over them just finding anything, which could’ve came from anywhere, and slapping it right on me.

“Mhm! Ith a splinth,” she announced to me proudly.

Wait, did she say that right? I believed she claimed it was a splint? I was that bad, I guessed.

There was a symbol on that rod that resembled one or both of those gender icons, except they were fused together and funny looking. Was that an eye?

Det interrupted my investigation by patting me on the shoulder, grabbing my attention back, and threw her thumb up to direct collected attention at guy-me, calling: “Mykael.”

“Please don’t do that,” I pleaded. “I really don’t know who or what to believe in here, but calling him…” I stopped talking for a second, looked back up at him, and asked: “You have a name?”

“Myka,” he claimed, shrugged, and went on saying: “Mykael suits me as I am now better.” This had me facepalming. “Look, I remember… I know everything you do. I would do… Or I would have done everything you did.” When I heard him make that last claim, correcting himself, I lifted my face out of my palm to stare curiously at him. “I’m doing things differently. I think?”

“You’re saying,” I began and tried to find the correct way to say this. Then said: “You’re... not me?”

He agreed by saying: “Not anymore.”

“Alright,” I agreed that that was a fine fact. He wasn’t me. Great. We were finally on the same page. I asked: “Now what?”

“That… that I don’t believe you want them to hear,” he said.

Now that response caught me off guard. I asked: “Excuse me?”

He looked away from me and down to my girls. “Myka is hurt. I’m not,” he stated.

He remained silent for a few seconds and I had given him that time to explain. He hadn’t and I expected something after throwing that fact out in the open. What was he getting at with that?

I asked: “Your point?”

“You need help,” he said and I nodded. That was when he dropped the bomb on us, saying: “Professional help.”

“I’m not going to a hospital,” I made that perfectly clear and, if Mykael was me, he’d know that was a final decision.

We all watched him squat down onto his haunches and smile at the three of us. Politely, he asked: “Det, could you please take Maito out for a moment? I’ll explain everything when you come back.”

“Why not now,” she asked him.

“Because neither of us knows how this will end,” he answered.

“Yes, I do,” I stated. “No,” was my final answer.

So much for him holding up the story that he was me. I, so far, saw only a physical resemblance, but that was as far as similarities went with us. If he thought I could be convinced to go and be treated in a hospital, the very facility that would bypass the sauce and directly get a hold of C.P.S., then he had to think again. But that was it: he, supposedly, already knew how I’d be thinking.

That should’ve meant he was aware my decision would never be swayed in any other direction than mine. I would never leave my girls.

“Please,” he pleaded again towards Det. “I will tell you everything that happened. I need a minute.” He held up a finger and repeated, saying: “A minute alone with her.”

Neither of them moved for a little while. I saw he was being patient aplenty with her by not moving, saying, or doing a thing to interrupt their decision to obey or not. He wasn’t backing off on wanting his alone-time with me either.

After that little while, I felt the shift of weight on our cot and watched as Det scooted and pushed Maito off the edge. The little one uttered, “Omf!”, when she landed on her bum, but bounced straight up onto her feet. She was followed with Det sliding off and with them both heading out of the cell together.

We were alone. Or, rather, I was along with myself, if I were still to believe that story.

We watched the two girls wander off far enough away to be left unheard. I returned my attention back to Mykael and asked: “What is it?”

“Can you stand?” I didn’t reply to his question, so he continued, saying: “I brought you here and, while you three slept, I laid awake.” He closed his eyes for a second, shook his head, and stated: “I have been thinking about this for hours.”

“No,” I said for the third damn time. Wasn't it three times the magic number?

“I could’ve taken you there instead of here,” he claimed and, then, looked back up at me. “I want you to hear this. I want you to listen to me. Listen to yourself.”

Shaking my head now, I asked: “The fuck does that mean?”

“Think back,” he said. “I fell out of that trailer and couldn’t get up without help.” He stood up, continuing, saying: “I had my girls drag my ass out of danger, but, you know what, no. No. We weren’t out of danger.” He raised his fist up and struck himself against the chest with a hard thud. “I was dragged away to some spot by a wall. Raining, pouring rain. I woke up screaming my head off.” He bared his teeth at me and, when I looked up away from his clenched grin, I saw the tears in his eyes. He spoke through his teeth, saying: “I woke and saw you. I saw my girls wrapping that hideous Hawaiian shirt around that thing on your leg.”

My leg… I wanted to look down at what he was talking about, but I couldn’t. I wanted to hear what happened because I wanted to know how he managed what I hadn’t. And I knew, roughly, what was about to be said.

“Go on,” I consented, listening.

His facial features relaxed a little and he said: “He came after us.” I watched him shake his head a little, stating: “I don’t know why nobody bothered coming to help us. Maybe they were too busy getting out of the freezing rain or,” he shook his head harder, “maybe they didn’t care about us.” I heard a broken, hurt sound come out of him. I understood. “He was looking straight at you three. He didn’t notice me, and he went straight down for you three, but…” I watched the tension in his neck and jaw become rigid. Then I heard the tension in his voice when he said: “He went for my girls first. He sma…” The waterworks started and he lost his voice.

I didn’t need to know the rest. If I had seen my girls being attacked, I would’ve lost it.

Had that been me seeing some man, a person who almost raped me, touching my girls? I would’ve killed him.

After a few seconds spent in silence for the both of us to calm down, he said: “I can’t protect them.”

That was not what I expected to hear from him.

In confusion, I asked: “What do you mean?”

“You and I are the same,” he said this while nodding. “But we are not and, right now, I know my strengths and weaknesses.” He kept nodding his head, saying: “I had enough time to reflect on that. And, you… You’re not just as strong and as weak as I am. You’re incapable too.” He was still nodding and, now, I knew he was expecting me to agree. “You aren’t able to protect them.”

Shaking my head, I stated: “It sounded like you did a fine job.”

He opened his arms out and spread them wide, asking: “Didn’t you hear me? I got lucky. It was a lucky shot.” He leaned down towards me, almost face-to-face, and stated: “A suckerpunch.”

“We’ve…” I was losing a bit of my voice, but I tried again, saying: “We’ve gotten by just fine.”

“Until now?” Now he was shaking his head. “You can’t bathe Det without a fight. You know why?”

“I don’t need to be told why,” I said.

“Yes you do,” he claimed. “You do. You weren’t there. Helen was there and, like me, she was just lucky enough to stop him before it went further.”

“I…” I tried to speak up, speak out against what he said. I tried, but my chest felt… It felt wrong.

“Do you want to try hobbling along with them and hope that the next time,” he said this as he nodded his head, repeatedly saying: “the next time, you make it in time and, the next time, you’re just as lucky? The next time this happens to you, to Det?” I didn’t notice at first, not until I rasped a breath out that I lost my composure and was crying, but he was done. He asked: “The next time, this time its your little Maito? You want to see her like that?”

I stopped looking at him. I threw my head back and slammed myself back into the cot. I couldn’t think about this anymore.

Right then, now, I always thought of something strange. I wanted to laugh as I said this, but I was still too occupied with bawling like the little girl I still was. That was just it. What I found funny.

I had thought our lot would be different if I was a guy. I had thought my life would’ve turned out better if I hadn't had guys looking at me like I was on the menu. I had believed I would’ve been stronger, faster, and more confident as a guy. I dreamed to be the hero of my girls. I wanted to be better than Helen.

Helen of Joy and her Harpies. I wanted to be a legend too, but I knew that wasn’t possible as I am. And, now hearing this? Hearing this from him? From myself? If I’d gone to the hospital, authorities would’ve gotten involved, and it wouldn’t be just me seperated from my girls; they’d be divided from each other as well.

They’d wind up in the foster care program.

“Are you listening?” I heard him through the hideous noises I was making and nodded, and he continued, saying: “Will you let me take you to the hospital?” My teeth were chattering too hard for me to tell him, so I just nodded again. “The girls. You know…” I kept nodding.

He knew what had to be done. I’d end up in some kind of rehabilitation and I’d be infirmed until my full recovery (if I ever did fully recover).

What I wanted to ask, what needed to be said, I couldn’t. If Mykael was me, I’d take the girls and run far from here where they couldn’t take them away from me, away from each other. But that wouldn’t be the point he was repeatedly telling me. His message that “the next time” we might not be lucky. I knew what was best for my girls.

At some point, I knew I was alone again in our cot. Me being alone wasn’t for very long, just long enough for him to somehow convince the girls on the next step. I heard them returning, then feeling that shift of weight on the cot. I reached an arm out and pulled them both in and against me, holding them, savoring their warmth as they both joined with me for, what I believed, was one last time.

Even when the time came, when my carriage arrived (an ambulance) for us to go to the hospital, I never let them go. Whether it was us hugging or stretching out from a stretcher to hold hands, I kept them in my reach.

Before I was rolled on into the vehicle, they had to let go (kids not allowed on the ride), and I heard them causing a little fuss. Mykael had to intervene and calm my girls down as well as I’d ever could.

“Myka, I promise…” I heard my name from him, promising, saying: “I know what will happen and I promise you, our girls, that we won’t be gone forever.”

The paramedics jumped in by my side, that door closing behind them, and I strained, struggling to keep watching my family as I left them.

He promised and I promised myself too; I will see them again.

And that’s best left to be told as another story.

“A special thank you to tfes8 for her support and editing of my story. She helped a lot.” —CL
Casedy Long is the author of 1 other story that can be found on ScribbleHub.