When I first heard the moaning I thought it was just a stray cat. It didn’t sound human. But then I heard the muted thump of something hitting a soft surface. Like a boot in the stomach. It was followed by a louder “Oomph.” and more moaning. Someone was getting a beat down. I’d heard it happening before. Time to scram.
I eased out of my huddle, slung my pack over my shoulder, and made my way toward the street. That’s when I spotted another frayed backpack leaning against the dirty wall. A street kid never left their pack, it contained their whole life. A child’s plastic batman mask, complete with the pointy ears, was sticking out of the unzipped top. That was Stewie’s bag. I cursed under my breath.
Living on the street you had to learn fast to divest yourself of a conscious. It was always best to mind your own business. Never get involved. Stay away to stay alive. But Stewie was different. He was special. Not the special as in child prodigy, but special as in he was a twenty two year-old beefy boy of six feet, with the mind of a nine year old. His parents had abandoned him when he was little, leaving his grandpa to raise him. Gramps kicked the bucket last year, and the landlord gave Stewie the boot. Now he was just another statistic.
I cursed my bad luck again and turned around. I couldn’t let Stewie get mugged. I had no idea what the heck my scrawny butt was going to be able to do, but I had to try something. Looking around the trash filled alley, there wasn’t much to choose from. I found a broken down skid, and grabbed a splintered piece of wood. I sprinted down to the end where the alley branched off to the right. I paused at the corner and listened.
“Didn’t I tell you not to come back here, retard?” A man’s voice asked.Stewie was crying. I could hear his plaintive little whimpers. He made these weird high-pitched whiny sounds when he was scared.
“When I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it,” the man continued, “stupid tard… Get up.” There was scuffing noise, and a groan from Stewie.
“Now listen to me very carefully. I want you to get your mentally incompetent butt back up over to Greene Street, and do what I told you to do. If I see you around here again I’m gonna stick my foot so far up your butt you’ll be able to taste the shoe leather. Got it?”
Stewie must’ve nodded because I heard the voice say, “Good boy.”
Against my better judgment, I peeked around the corner. The man behind the voice was an inch or two shorter than Stewie, and about thirty pounds lighter. I really didn’t like bullies. I didn’t care if they were big or small, fat or thin. I didn’t discriminate. I hated them all.
This bully, however, had the face of an angel. Chiseled features with the prettiest powder blue eyes I’d ever seen. His collar length blonde hair was styled in a sexy bed head way that was currently popular. He was a regular Brad Pitt. Since it looked like everything was okay and Stewie wasn’t hurt too bad, I decided to leave it alone and meet up with Stewie later to get to the bottom of this. But it was at this particular moment that Stewie nervously looked up, and caught my eye, before I was able to retract my head back into the shadows.
“Cherry!” He called. His excitement over seeing me spurred him into motion. He scampered, dragging his feet, in my direction. “Cherry, how come you’re hidin’?”
Great, that’s what I get for stickin’ my nose where it didn’t belong. I stepped away from the wall, but not any closer into the mouth of the dead end. Stewie towered over me, a fresh cut above his left brow. Anger boiled in my chest.
“Stewie, go get your bag,” I smiled at him.
“Cherry, don’t be mad, okay?” He rocked back and forth on his heels.
“I’m not mad at you. Just go get your bag. I’ll meet you up the street, okay?”
He gave me a toothy grin and hurried to do as he was told. I never took my eyes off the bully. I knew the exact minute he decided to charm me. He was like all the other men. They only saw what was on the outside. They never bothered to open the package to see what was inside.We stood there, sizing each other up. Finally he spoke.
“Hello,” he said, giving me what I assumed was his brightest smile.
“Stay away from him,” I said. The steady tone of my voice was ice cold, but my insides were vibrating like a tuning fork over the ocean.He leaned back on his right leg, shoved his hands in his pants pockets, and pursed his pouty lips. His cool blue eyes inspected me slowly head to toe, before settling on my face.
“Cherry, is it?” He smiled confidently. I didn’t answer him. I tightened my grip on thepiece of wood, and waited. The thought of running bounced around in my head. I considered my weakened state, comparing it to this man’s athletic body. He watched me, chuckling softly.
“Yeah, you could make a run for it,” he said, reading my mind. “But you’ve pricked my
curiosity, and I’m a little quicker than you think.” He cocked his head, telling me this as if he was letting me in on a secret. I licked my lips, a nervous tic of mine. I watched his eyes flare, and for a split second I saw the familiar burn of desire.
“Is Cherry your real name or your street name?” He asked, taking a step closer. I stepped back raising the hunk of wood in front of me. He stopped, eyed the wood, and withdrew his hands from his pockets, holding them up in front of him. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“I’m leaving, and I’m taking Stewie with me. Got that, you mentally incompetent jerk?”
His eyes flickered with something altogether different. I knew I shouldn’t stir the pot, but I was still pretty pissed about Stewie.
“You’re kinda spunky. I like that,” he nodded for emphasis. “I’m going to give you a free piece of advice,” he paused, letting me wait for the warning. “Don’t start something you can’t finish.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I murmured acidly. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly at the dig. I thought he was going to tear into me, but he surprised me by shaking his head and chuckling.
“Spunky,” He repeated. He put his hands on his hips, and jerked his chin forward, motioning me to get lost. “Beat it, kid, before I change my mind.”
I was still holding the wood defensively as I carefully backed my way through the narrow alley. When I made it safely to the stoop, and Angel Face wasn’t following, I dropped the wood and ran. Stewie was waiting for me on the corner, a block away. I grabbed his arm, and pulled him behind me for two more blocks. When I was sure we weren’t being chased, I slowed down. There was a free clinic beside Holy Spirit. I decided to take Stewie to get checked out.
“Who the hell was that guy?” I asked him.
“Don’t be mad, Cherry,” he said, worry creasing his forehead.
“I’m not mad at you, Stewie,” I drew a deep breath. He could be a little frustrating to talk to.
“I’m mad at the jerk that beat you up.”
“He’s okay, Cherry. Don’t be mad.” He shuffled along beside me. “It was my fault. I didn’t do what he told me. I’m a dumb tard.”
“You’re not a tard, Stewie.” I cursed, kicking an empty paper coffee cup, pretending it was Angel Face. “What did I tell you about that?”
“Stewie is special,” he said slowly.
“And…” I prompted.
“I’m not a retard,” he smiled, showing me all his teeth again.
“You got it, big guy. Remember that.”
As we approached the street that led to South Charles, and the free clinic, I knew what to expect. When Stewie was afraid, he strapped on his disguise, assuming the bad ass alter ego of Bruce Wayne. Stewie stopped to reach into his bag. I patiently waited for him. He pulled out the batman mask, and snapped it around his head.
“Let’s go get you patched up, batman.” I took his hand, coaxing him forward.
“Batman isn’t afraid of the doctor,” he said, taking on a deep baritone.
I gave him a much needed reassuring smile. The twists and turns of my life had led me where I never thought possible. But even in the midst of all my woe, I could still find things to be grateful for. Looking at Stewie— wearing a child’s mask— I added a few more.
Love You to Death by Melissa March
Melissa March grew up in a small town, spending the majority of her time in her room chain reading books until her eyes blurred or hammering out the next great American novel on her typewriter.
Now, she lives in another small town in Pennsylvania with her husband and young son.
Between the housewife gig, the toddler taxi service, getting her website tweaked and trying to be all writery on it, she is usually nose deep in a book or up to her elbows at the keyboard. (Some things don’t change.) Her favorite way to spend time is with her family.
Top Ten Things You Didn’t Know about Melissa March
1. I swam with dolphins.
2. I hate to dust.
3. I’m an amateur genealogist.
4. I scrapbook.
5. I’m terrible with directions.
6. I love cold pizza for breakfast.
7. I’m a big Tom Petty fan. (the early years)
8. I don’t like to read the classics. I’d rather watch the movie. *hanging head*
9. I start making my bed before I crawl out of it.
10. I eat hogmaw…and like it
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