I was four, maybe five when my folks died. Their car smashed up pretty good, sending bent steel and broken plastic to rend and tear their bodies. They had no close relatives. After that, I bounced a bit—had a rough time. Five years old made me too old for most to adopt.
Five years old, and I was garbage tossed around to foster homes for the next few years.
I had mostly forgotten everything about my real parents except the books they’d read to me before bed. When I scrunched into one of those fat chairs in the library, I imagined being a little boy again, sitting next to my folks, reading bedtime stories. Strange, but libraries had always brought sanctuary, a place I could almost disappear—a place no one would think to look.
Lord of the Flies captured me that morning, took me to a little island. I meandered through the pages for a couple of hours before a little stiffness crawled into my legs. As I set the book down to stretch, I saw the girl from the park—the pink shirt with pigtails. Her little hand intertwined with the long, white fingers of another girl, older though, and my eyes couldn’t help but rest on her for a few moments. The older one had hair like coffee—the kind that truckers fired out of convenience store machines, sparkling and shimmering in the light. Her hair tumbled around her shoulders in curls, and she caught me looking with her dark eyes—green and thick. My neck burned, and I tried to remember the last time I snuck into truck stop for a shower. Such a stupid thing to worry about.
“Hi.” The tall one smiled. “Amanda told me you were in the park this morning.”
I looked at the little one and tried to smile in return. “Yeah.”
“Are you new here? Going to school?” She tilted her head and sort of thrust it around to take a look at my reading material. “I’m Meghan.” Her hand stuck out like I needed to touch it or something.
I pushed my own hand out, and my head suddenly felt lopsided and awkward, like it was stuffed with wet paper. Her long fingers brushed my palm as she took my hand and gave it a little shake.
“Jack,” I whispered. We were in the library, and I always wanted to fly a bit under the radar, so I kept my voice low. “Just moved here. I’m done with school though—nineteen.” I tried to straighten my back and look like a convincing nineteen-year-old.
“Right. Do you live near the park, or just out for a stroll on a Saturday morning?”
I shifted on my feet. “I just like the weather, that’s all.” I glanced down and spotted this little brown spider skittering across the dented hardwood.
“You like the weather.” She kept smiling, but I felt like some hobbled mouse that an alley cat would bat around for hours. “That’s why you’ve holed up in here reading, Lord of the Flies.” Her hands rested on her hips.
“Yeah.” A heavy feeling, like three pairs of eyes boring into my chest, grabbed me. Maybe it was because of the grand inquisition Meghan laid on me. I snatched the book and started for the counter. “I lost track of time.”
“See you around, Jack,” she called after me. I waved one hand without looking, dropped the book at the desk, and hurried down the stairs.