past these blackened lines
crossing the point of no return
is a crime with no warning signs
that people always see and yet ignore
I was still watching the store, my fingers still seeking comfort in Kayden’s scarf, when someone tapped twice on my shoulder. Normally, I never turned my back on anyone, I never gave anyone the opportunity to attack me when I wasn’t looking, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off the door Kayden had disappeared into.
I was scared that he would vanish and just like that I would never see him again. It was a silly thought, but I couldn’t help it. You never knew when someone was going to walk out of your life but I’ve come to understand that most people chose to do it through doors.
I sucked in a deep breath and schooled my expression into nonchalance, expecting the worst. It had been a while since anyone had actually bothered to say that they had a problem with me straight to my face. I guess that had something to do with Dad.
One day I had been beaten so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed on Saturday and when I got to school on Monday none of my usual bullies could look me in the eye—they still couldn’t. I didn’t know what he did, but it made my life more tolerable.
Filled with trepidation, I turned my head back. . . and saw Kayden smiling at me. All at once, my fear transformed into nervousness. I had no idea what was happening. Did everyone do stuff like this or was it just him? What was an appropriate response to this sort of situation?
Before I could think up an answer, he dropped something on my lap and shouted, “Surprise!”
As confused as I was, I couldn’t help but smile. His smile was infectious like that. I didn’t know how he did that but right now he was sporting a silly grin that nearly had me laughing.
“You scared me,” I told him and took my hands out of the scarf to smooth out the front of my hoodie and play it cool.
“Really? Your friends don’t sneak up on you often?” he asked with a curious tilt of his head.
“I thought you were someone else,” I said, in an attempt to seem less weird. I really didn’t have any friends other than Arleen and she wasn’t fond of playing hide and seek—or whichever version of the game this was.
“Oh,” Kayden nodded as though he understood then grabbed my hand. His thumb grazed the nail of my pinky. “You cut yourself?”
I looked at our hands and noticed that there was a hint of blood on the gauze wrapped around my palm. I had done a sloppy job of bandaging it after I had taken a shower. The strips weren’t nearly as aligned or parallel as Dad’s had been. I had given up on wrapping my fingers all together and I had managed to scratch myself just where the bandages ended.
“Accidentally,” I said with a shrug. “Doesn’t even hurt.”
I didn’t think he quite believed me and I didn’t blame him. After what he saw yesterday, I was surprised that he didn’t think I was a freak.
I pulled my hand out of his and looked down at the thing he had unceremoniously dumped on my lap. It felt warm and smelt familiar.
I poked it once then looked back at him. “A burger?”
“I still haven’t thanked you, so eat up,” he placed his hands on my groceries in what might have been a threatening gesture if his smile hadn’t been so wide. “If you don’t, you know what will happen.”
“I don’t understand you, Kayden,” I appreciated the burger because it warmed my fingers but I couldn’t bring myself to put it anywhere near my mouth. This time I wasn’t afraid of what Mother would say if she found out, I just didn’t want him spending money on me when he could use it for himself.
It didn’t matter that I hadn’t had dinner yet. It didn’t matter that I was only going to drink a carton of milk before going to bed. I just couldn’t.
“You didn’t have a job yesterday but you insisted on buying me food. And now you just collected your pay and you’re still buying me food,” I told him and hoped he got my point.
“In my defense, you didn’t know that I didn’t have a job when I took you to the diner,” he said.
“Well, I know now and I can’t keep eating your money.”
“Well, in your defense, you haven’t yet started so of course you can’t keep eating my money,” Kayden said in rebuttal. “And you did get me this job.”
“But I still can’t—”
“If it makes you feel better, I returned the first burger and got my money back. So just think of this as me trying to repay some of the good you did for me, Benefactor.”
“First princess then benefactor,” I shook my head. “You have a strange way with nicknames.”
“I might be a little too literal for my own good,” he grinned. “And I’m going to translate that as, ‘Yes, Kayden dear, I shall most definitely eat the burger’.”
“If I eat it, you’ll stop buying me food?”
“Scout’s honour,” he raised three fingers and held the pose with an air of solemnity.
I eyed him suspiciously. “Were you ever a scout?”
“Of course,” he dropped his arm back to his side, ”not. But I can bake a mean chocolate chip cookie. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
I couldn’t help but chuckle at his silliness. At times it was hard to tell wherever he was joking or being serious. I could just imagine him doused from head to toe in flour. Could he really bake? I wanted to ask him. Later, maybe.
Under his watchful gaze, I peeled back the wrapping of the burger. It felt like I was opening a present and it had been so long since I had had one of those.
“You know, you don’t have to be so delicate with it.”
When I looked up, our eyes met. I smiled. “Kayden, we’re friends now right?”
“Well, let’s see,” Kayden held up the fingers of one hand. “We’ve had a sleepover”—he brought down one finger—“We’ve gone on a date. We have nicknames for each other. I guess all that’s left is to make friendship bracelets and tell each other our deepest, darkest secrets.”
I stared at the last two fingers that stayed up. “Really?”
“Of course. There is a whole system to this madness. Janice taught me that when she was four.”
“Do you have a lot of friends?”
“Nah,” he shook his head and some of his hair fell out of his topknot. “Well, I used to but I skipped on the bracelet step and they’ve all abandoned me now. So it seems like that is a crucial element to having friends for life.”
I could tell that he was trying to make me laugh but just like the vague reason he gave as to why he didn’t wear blue, I knew that there was a morsel of truth behind his humor. Again, I wondered why such a great person was kicked out of his home and left to wander the streets for at least two years.
“Does Janice have a lot of friends?” I asked and swiped at the melted cheese oozing out of the burger before it dripped on my clothes.
“You bet she does,” Kayden laughed. “She gave friendship bracelets to her whole class and they were all getting along nicely last time I checked.”
The last time he checked would have been two years ago, wouldn’t it?
“You miss her,” I told him, like he didn’t already know. I wanted to take my words back but Kayden replied before I could attempt saving myself.
“I miss all my sisters,” he smiled. “And you’re not distracting me again. Eat the burger now or your precious groceries go flying.”