Lilly took a few weeks to finally start seeing the world again. Somewhere in the haze, she thought she went to a funeral for her mother, not that it was much of a funeral. There might have been people that offered some words of encouragement or sympathy, or both. She didn’t really remember much, such as whether her mother was cremated or buried, or where whatever remains there were had been put. None of it mattered to her.
Her new foster family hadn’t paid any real attention to her through it all, just making sure she ate and drank, at least a couple times a day. Beyond that, she was like a dog, or a plant, to them. Something they had to care for, but otherwise unimportant.
There was a girl in the room with her, who had a bed, rather than a floor pallet like Lilly had. She had made attempts to engage Lilly a couple of times, but Lilly never replied, not even really noticing her. The girl was older, and her speech was different. Like many girls of latino descent, she was a little thicker, but not fat...definitely not fat.
When Lilly finally began to emerge from the fog of her grief, she looked around the room she slept in, lying on her pallet in the corner. Yeah, she knew what was going on, remembered the people, and what had happened, but it was a weird, dreamy kind of remembering. It was very much like a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare.
Her few belongings were stacked neatly to the side. Grabbing the small box, she stuffed it in her backpack, as her roommate watched her with mild interest.
“Where you goin?” the girl asked. Lilly knew it was because she had barely left that room since she’d been brought there, and then only to go to school. Lilly looked at her, then turned toward the door.
“Ain’t you gonna answer?” the girl asked.
“Away,” was all she said.
“You know, you been had somethin bad happen, but all us foster kids have. I got a real family that can take care of you,” she said. Lilly darted a quick glance back at her, but still walked out without any further response.
She walked out of the house, the foster family watching her go, as if she’d grown an extra arm, or something. Outside, their dog came to greet her, it’s tail wagging and clearly looking at her like she was the world’s savior.
“Hey Ralph,” she said, petting the dog with enthusiasm. He was the one member of the family that really seemed to care for her. They didn’t give him much attention, kind of like they didn’t give her any attention. The two of them had become close, in a very short time, in spite of her disconnection from the world. He was something solid her mind was able to grab onto.
At times, it seemed as if she could actually feel his love for her, such as a dog was capable of. She knew it was probably because she was so alone, more alone than she’d ever been before. It was an odd thought, and one that she dismissed with little real concern. He was a dog, and she was a person.
Finally done petting Ralph, she started walking, no destination in mind. Ralph clearly wanted to follow her, but she closed the gate, locking him inside the yard.
There was a park nearby, but not a kids type of park. There was no play equipment or anything, but there were plenty of paths through the trees. At that moment, she wanted to be alone, so that park was what she longed for, its solitude.
She meandered through the tree lined paths, not paying attention to anything. At some point, she ended up in an area that looked like there used to be a building. All that remained were a couple of concrete walls that held the earth back, and a broken concrete square in the ground, which had probably been the floor. The place was off the trail, and very isolated, just what she wanted.
Sitting on the ground, looking up at her, was an older man. He had a small fire, and was holding a pot over it.
“Come take a sit,” he offered.
“I probably shouldn’t,” she replied.
“That’s smart, girl,” he told her.
As she was about to turn around, a scraggly little dog walked into the small clearing. He sniffed around a moment, then went to the old man wagging his tail. He was rewarded with a friendly petting, which was what he’d wanted. After a moment, he then repeated the process with her. As her hand brushed the dog, she felt the trust he had, and she could tell it was for both herself and the homeless man. For some reason she couldn’t understand, she trusted the homeless man, probably a lot more than she trusted her ‘family’.
“Can I sit?” she asked, somewhat tentative. He simply waved a hand at a spot on the other side of the fire.
“What ails you?” he asked, peering at her, his eyes narrowed a bit.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“Yep, thought it was nothing,” he said, then resumed waving the pot over the fire. “You hungry?” he asked.
“I can’t take your food,” she said.
“You ain’t taking my food. I’m offering it,” he rebuked her. She half smiled at him, and shook her head.
“You’re a kid. Kids are always hungry,” he stated.
“I haven’t been very hungry lately,” she told him.
“And why’s that?” he asked.
“Just haven’t been,” she said, still not answering his questions, but he didn’t seem phased by her responses, or lack of them.
“Sometimes, you just ain’t got enough sense to be hungry. Your stomach will tell when you need to start eating again,” he said, giving her a toothy grin. Oddly, his teeth looked to be in good condition, in spite of his homelessness. Of course, she had no idea what homeless people were like, since he was the first homeless person she’d ever met.
“Is he your dog?” she asked.
“Nope. Just met him, like you,” he answered, again giving her his toothy grin.
“Momma always said I shouldn’t talk to strangers,” she blurted out, barely holding back her tears.
“Your momma was a smart woman, it seems,” he replied.
“How’d you know my momma died?” she asked.
“I didn’t, for sure, but I could see it in your face when you spoke of her,” he said, sounding much more intelligent than he had before.
“I better go!” she exclaimed, realizing the danger she’d put herself in.
“You probably should. You can always come back, if you want, and always trust the dogs to let you know if someone’s good or not,” he said. “They always know, excepting their master. They almost always think their master is the best person in the world,” he said.
“Name’s Horace, by the way,” he said, as she walked away. She didn’t reply to that, but remembered it.
She made her way back through the park, much the same as she had first entered it. Finally, she returned to the home she’d been placed in. Although the people that arranged it called it her home, she didn’t think of it that way. Returning to the room she shared with another foster kid, she found the older girl rifling through her stuff.
“What are you doing?” Lilly asked.
“I was going through some junk left on the floor in my room,” she replied.
“That’s my stuff!” Lilly stated.
“You ain’t got no stuff. You got nothin, you little tramp!” the girl spat.
Lilly couldn’t hold herself back, in spite of her smaller size. Lilly’s emotions all came to the surface in a torrent, and her anger exploded. Without thought, she launched herself, aiming the top her head for the center of the girl’s abdomen, not really knowing why, other than it’d be easy to hit. She had launched herself like a human spear, and made contact before the girl even knew she was coming.
That fast, the incident was over. Lilly picked herself up, seeing the girl struggling to regain her breath. Lilly’s hit had completely knocked the wind out of the larger girl. Tears were streaming down both of their faces.
“What’s going on in here?” their foster mother exclaimed, barging into the room.
“Nothing,” Lilly replied. The older girl simply pointed her finger at Lilly, unable to speak.
“If I find out you two are fighting, I’ll report both of you to your caseworker, and you’ll go to the group home,” she said, as if that meant something to Lilly.
“You didn’t turn me in, but I’m not done with you,” the older girl said, as she walked out, bumping Lilly as she passed. Lilly laid down on her pallet and curled up under the single blanket she had, in spite of it being summer.
Sometime in summer. Don’t know the date anymore. I met Horace today. He’s a homeless man in the park. I don’t know the name of it, but I like it. It’s quiet and there’s not many people to bother me. He let me sit by his fire, and didn’t try to hurt me, or anything, like I thought homeless people would do. A poor looking little dog came to us and we pet it. He did tell me not to trust people, like I trusted him, but he told me to trust the dogs and the little dog trusts him, so I trust him. He said other people might try and do something bad to me. He’s probably right. When I got back to my foster home, Sylvie was going through my things. She’s my roommate in my foster home. I hit her in the chest with my head and knocked the wind out of her. She didn’t beat me up.
The two girls avoided each other for the next few days, and Lilly also didn’t return to the park. Eventually, she couldn’t resist any longer, and walked back to where the homeless man had been. She was not surprised to find the place empty, which was fine with her. She sat in the single corner that remained of the two concrete walls, and curled her knees under her chin.
She felt two presences coming her way, long before they got to her. Looking up, she saw two large, mean looking dogs, being led by a fairly large group of boys. They were all wearing gang looking clothes, at least that’s what she thought. Of course, she didn’t really know what gang clothes looked like, or if gangs even wore certain types of clothes. Actually, as she thought about it, her clothes probably looked like gang clothes.
“Whada we have here, boys?” one of the guys asked.
“We found ourselves a lost little girl,” another boy said.
“Hey girl, you want to try somethin really cool?” the first boy offered. Oddly, she could feel a kind of distrust coming from the dogs. She remembered what the homeless man had said, warning her to trust dogs, except with their owners. However, these dogs didn’t seem to like their owners, but obeyed because they had to. Lilly had no idea how she knew this, but she did, and believed it. She stood up, and started to walk through the one opening the gang of boys had left, but two of them immediately blocked her escape.
“Where you goin? The party’s just gettin started,” the original speaker said, sidling up to her, and wrapping an arm around her waist. His hand was really low, almost on her butt.
“I want to go home,” she replied, pulling away.
“You ain’t got no home, kid, cept wif us. If you stay wif us, we’ll make sure you be taken care of,” he said, then looked at the other guys, “Won’t we boys?”
“Yeah, Jay. She be taken care of, real good,” one of the others said.
“I want to go home,” she repeated, on the verge of crying, and shaking slightly.
“You don’t need to be scared of us,” he said, pulling her a little tighter into him, this time letting his hand rest on her butt. “Wha’s your name,” he asked.
“Priscilla,” she said.
“You stay wif a girl named Sylvie?” he asked, and she nodded, thinking that was the older girl’s name.
“I heard of you. Your sister said you’d be good for us, that you got no one,” he said.
“I don’t have a sister,” she said, curious, regardless of how scared she was.
“She said you hit her real good, that you were tough, and we need girls like that,” he said. She had no doubt who he was talking about then. “You go wif us, and she’ll make sure you be taken care of. We’ll give you a family. If you won’t be wif us, she’ll make sure you’re taken care of...in a different way,” he told her, trying to coerce her into joining with them.
Since the two times animals had seemed to have done things for her in the past, she’d come to think that animals might help her, for some strange reason. She actually had a fantasy about being able to speak to them. Although she knew it was crazy, she’d thought about that a lot. She had always been too scared of it being true to really try it, though.
Desperate for a way out of where she found herself, she closed her eyes, trying to do what she’d felt in those times before. At first there was nothing, just her inner thoughts and worries, and the terror she was feeling. Then she felt the beginning of that disconnection. At first, she thought that maybe she was just crazy, but finally, it happened. It was like a bubble popped and she felt her mind stretch out, or maybe expand outward like a large pool of water spreading over the ground. As her awareness stretched out, she felt the two dogs, along with many other small minds. There was no doubt. It was just like the time her mother died, and the time in first grade.
She wanted to focus on the two dogs, though. As soon as her mind touched the dogs, they recognized her presence, as her mind touched them. They yearned for her attention...her love. She instinctively knew that they were starved for good attention.
Not wanting to get them hurt, she hesitated. She was scared of them getting abused by their masters, but she needed help. Still scared, and not really understanding what she was doing, she imagined herself asking for help. It was more like a desperate plea, as if she was praying, something she hadn’t done since she was a little girl.
At the sound of growling, the abrupt removal of the arm from around her waist, and a lot of commotion, she opened her eyes. What she saw stunned her. The two dogs were not only attacking the boys that had been holding their leashes, but they were also attacking any other boy nearby. The dogs didn’t stop until all of the gang began running, and only stopped then to make sure she was alright.
The two dogs walked to her, licking her hands, their stubby tails wagging. She knelt down and began petting them, scratching under their muzzles, knowing they both liked that. Once they’d been appeased for a bit, she removed their collars, which had sharp metal studs all over them, and pet them some more.
She tried to send the impression to the dogs that they needed to avoid those boys again, and also be careful around people. She wasn’t sure if she got the message through to them, but they reluctantly turned away and moved into the trees. As they walked away, they kept looking back at her before they finally disappeared into the trees and bushes.
“That was weird,” she heard a familiar voice say. Spinning instantly toward the voice, she saw the homeless man, Horace. Although she barely knew him, and had no real way of knowing if he might hurt her, she ran the short distance and buried her head in his dirty clothing, crying uncontrollably. He gently, and compassionately rubbed her on the back until she finally cried herself out.
“There, there,” he said, as she was getting herself together. “You managed to get yourself out of that, rather well, I think,” he noted, but had an odd look on his face. “And you have two new friends, to boot. Like I said, trust the dogs, although these two are a little harder to trust,” he said, looking at them warily, letting her know they were back.
“They’re good dogs. Just been treated badly,” she defended them. Beginning to get more comfortable with her talent, she reached out to them, letting them know they could come closer. As if they had been released from some invisible leash, they rushed to her side. They looked at the homeless man as if he was one of the pack, maybe even the alpha.
“They like you,” she said, sensing their instinctive trust for him.
“You’re an interesting kid,” he stated.
Although this was completely new to her, she tried to let the dogs know that they could trust the man, and should try and protect him. She then looked at him, “I know you don’t have much, but could you feed them sometimes? I think they’ll protect you, if you can look after them.”
She then pulled out her little box, and withdrew the money she’d been saving for emergencies. Stretching her hand forward, she said, “I know it won’t buy much, but you can use this to get some food for you and them.”
“I’m bettin that’s all the money you got in this world, ain’t it?” he said. She only nodded.
“You should keep it, then,” he said.
“The other girl in my foster home will probably steal it from me. I stole it from my mom before she died, in case of an emergency, but maybe it’ll help you,” she insisted, slightly shoving it toward him again.
“How did your momma die?” he asked.
“She took too many drugs, I think,” she replied. Nodding, seemingly to himself, he reached out and accepted her money.
“Don’t ever lose the kindness in your heart, little girl, and try not to steal anymore,” he said.
“Lilly,” she replied.
“Lilly...a pretty name. My name’s Horace,” he said, sticking his grimy hand out. She took it and he shook her hand. “Now, this time, I won’t let you say no to eating with me,” he said, with his toothy grin.
A good while later, she was sitting beside him, in front of the fire. Her stomach was completely full, having eaten canned beef stew, heated over the fire. She had no idea how he got it, or whether he might have stolen it.
Being that she’d stolen money, she definitely couldn’t criticize him for stealing food. Of course, he had just told her not to steal again, so she thought he probably didn’t steal it. She couldn’t be sure, though.
“You need to go home, now...Lilly,” he said, saying her name as if it was an honor for him to know it.
“Thank you, Horace,” she replied, trying to stress his name, as he had hers. She failed miserably, but her effort made him smile.
“You are always welcome at my fire, Lilly. Thank you for trusting me, but be careful trusting others,” he said, his voice sounding like a normal person again.
“The dogs trust you, so I trust you,” she told him, smiling with her head tilted to the side, daring him to challenge her. It was his advice, after all, that had led her to trust him. He could only smile back, and then gave her a shooing motion with his hand.
When she returned to her foster home, her roommate was sitting on her bed, no doubt waiting for Lilly to return. Lilly had no idea what to expect, and she was certain what she’d done last time wouldn’t work again. Sylvie would be ready.
“You little bitch. I liked your move the other day, so I made it so you could be taken care of. I was gonna give you a real family. We’d take care of you, better than these people ever will, and you threw it in my face, and hurt them, and stole their dogs,” she said, menace in her voice.
“I didn’t do anything to them,” Lilly said.
“It don’t matter. You were given a chance to be part of the Doraville Fangs, but it’s not over. We decided you gonna be one of us, so you’ll be one of the Fangs, eventually,” she said, sure of what she said. “Nobody refuses to be wif da Fangs,” she said. Nothing else was said between them.
A bunch of boys tried to get me to join the Fangs today in the park. One of them put his arm around me and his hand was on my butt. It scared me. They said we would have a lot of fun, and they said fun in a weird way. I hope I never see them again. I got their dogs to attack them. I wasn’t sure I could get them to do that, but they did. It was really weird. I asked them to watch Horace. I think he likes them.
After writing in her journal, Lilly laid down on her pallet, and went to sleep.
Lilly began going to the park every day, spending time with Horace. After the first couple of weeks, she started hugging him when she arrived, and again when she left. She’d never had a father, but she thought he’d have been a good one.
“What’s been bothering you, Lilly?” he asked, after she’d been clearly worried the last few days she’d come to see him.
“Sylvie said no one refuses to be part of the Doraville Fangs,” she said.
“Is that who those boys were?” he asked, looking intense. She nodded.
“I’m surprised they haven’t already done something, but I really don’t know much about street gangs. Do they really want you that bad?” he asked, but before she could respond, he continued. “Sounds like you need a guard dog, like I have,” he said, almost joking, but there was a hint of seriousness to his voice.
“Maybe they’re waiting for school to start back to do something,” she thought out loud. She didn’t know anything about gangs either, but she was pretty sure they could be really mean.
“I don’t think they care about school,” he stated, which made sense.
“I’m scared,” she admitted.
“If anything happens, report it to your caseworker and the police. Make sure you report it to both. Do you understand me?” he asked. She nodded.
“Lilly, I’m going to be gone for a few days, and won’t be back until Friday. Don’t come back to the park until then,” he told her.
“Okay,” she agreed.