The weather's a funny thing. Scorching hot sun one minute, and pouring rain the next. Gale force howling winds one minute, calm and peaceful the next. Luke and I make a game out of it, the weather, that is. Whoever guesses the correct weather of the day gets a piece of candy from the bag I bought, with the money I earned from my last job.
Though Luke may not think it, he needs the sweet more than I do, so I try and let him win. I try not to be too obvious when I do this though; he wouldn't take it if he knew I was letting him win.
You could describe Karen as the weather: unpredictable. Ignoring us as though we're not here one minute, cold, angry and abusive the next. You can never tell which one it will be with her.
Though, the violence she feels is only acted upon towards me; never has she harmed Luke in any physical way. The mental part, however, is one I don't have any power over.
If you were to look at us from the point of view of an outsider, we'd look like the next everyday family. I suppose, in a way, we are. People are worse off than us by a lot, so I shouldn't be complaining when I have most of the basic human needs. The clothes may not be in the best condition possible, but they're still clothes. There's a shelter of some sort over my head most of the time too.
Voicing your opinion in this family isn't something that's encouraged, not that your voice would be heard if you did, so I keep my opinions to myself.
"Are you okay?" Luke, my seven year old brother, asks me, breaking my train of thoughts as I stare blankly at the wall for god knows how long.
I smile reassuringly at him, nodding my head and trying not to wince. It hurts to move my head, but Luke needs the reassurance and I'll be damned if I don't give it to him. He deserves that, at the very least.
He gets up from the, what was once, beige carpet, and kneels before me, resting his bony, pale hands on my knees as he looks me in the eyes. "Do you want my blanket?"
Karen is asleep on the couch, her cigarette hanging from her chapped lips as the smoke billows around her before being blown out the window. I can't stop shivering because of said open window but I won't allow Luke to inhale any more of the toxic fumes than he has to. I've given him my blanket to keep his skinny body warm and am forced to leave it open, adding to my feeling cold.
We're running low on food, so I'm hoping we'll be at our newest 'home' soon. We've been travelling for five days now, from our latest 'home' of four months with step dad number seven, to our newest 'home' with number eight. Whenever Karen gets bored of the location, which usually depends on the guy she's with at the time, she decides to move for a 'change of scenery', hoping it's the new 'right place.'
Six years' worth of moving and it still has yet to be found. Though, we have gone a few 'right places' without a step-dad, but we didn't stay long in them.
An average of six months is stayed at each place, but it's not nearly long enough to call a place a home. A home; something I haven't felt as though I've had since I left New York.
The caravan shudders and the brakes squeal violently, protesting their intended aim to stop the van. I can tell I'm going to have to get a new job to pay for the problem if we're to make it to the next 'right place' safely.
"Joey?" Luke says, tapping my knee with a finger while drawing out my name. I didn't answer his question and went off into my own little world, ignoring him when, clearly, he needs some attention. I can be so selfish.
"You keep it," I tell him, moving his hands from my knees and motioning for him to climb up. He does so and I tuck the blankets around him, trying to keep his body as warm as I can.
"Do you think we'll stay here for a long time?"
He knows the drill as much as I do. Because of his tiny frame, he's always found it hard to make friends and has been the object of bullying more times than not in the many schools he's attended in his seven years of life. It's probably a higher number than most people attend in their whole lives, but he doesn't complain. He gets on with it.
"Maybe, this could be our one," I say, but don't add anything more. It most likely won't be, but there's a small possibility that it could.
He sighs soundly, curling up against me. "I hope so."
So do I Luke, so do I. I think this, but never say. It's dangerous to speak your mind when Karen's around, no matter what state of consciousness she's in. If something was to happen to me, Luke would be left on his own. I won't allow that to ever happen.
Luke is curled on my lap, his head of golden hair on my shoulder. I lean back against the lumpy armchair I've been using as a bed for the past few days.
I have no idea where our next destination is. We must have been through half the states in the past seven or so years. I stupidly asked Karen where we're going, but she was in a bad mood- a permanent fixture, it seems- and the result was a bruise on my lower back from various shoes being thrown in my direction.
I lived with my aunt and uncle in New York when my mother, as she put it, 'had enough of me'. My dad left when he found out she was pregnant, so she bought the caravan and started traveling. I stayed with her in the caravan until I was four; then I was put under the care of Aaron and Lisa. She left for Vegas and I didn't see her again until I was nine and she was pregnant with child number two, courtesy of step dad number one, though I suspect there were many more before him.
The caravan was a state and I couldn't let my little brother live in it. I left the home I'd known for five years and moved in with Karen.
Luke may only be my half-brother by blood and genes, but I consider him my whole, complete brother. He doesn't need to know Karen played hookie with number one in Vegas, but I think he suspects it. We look nothing alike at all, no matter how hard I try to find some hint of the fact Karen bore us both.
He has golden hair and green eyes that sparkle with life; the opposite of my dull brown hair that desperately needs a wash, but that'll have to wait until Luke gets his. My eyes, like my hair, are brown and plain, no hint of the sparkle Luke has.
I have what people would call a heart-shaped face, whereas Luke has a round one- or, one that's meant to be round, but it's now gaunt and hollow from lack of food. I try to give him as much of mine as I can, but he refuses to eat it if he knows it was meant to be mine.
"You need it too," he'd tell me, but I'd slip him most of mine while making it and tell him I ate some of it in the kitchen. After a suspicious look at my plate, he'd usually forgo the investigation and eat it before it'd go cold.
"Shut up!" Karen snaps, the agitated beast waking from its sleep once again.
We aren't even talking loud, but she seems to be in a foul mood, wanting to shout at someone, like usual. I'm her first target; nothing new about that. You don't live with Karen and not take your fair share of the nasty remarks and, in my case, hits.
I've long since found out a solution; act hurt, but don't cry. She hates to see tears; says it's something only weak people do. She hates weak people. She hates a lot of things, and I suspect being a mother is one of them- not that she has ever had to do many motherly things.
You then apologise and praise her. The praise is something I tend to leave out, unless she's in an awful mood and Luke's around.
"What're you looking at?" she sneers at me. "You should be making dinner."
It is two a.m., but I'm not stupid enough to point that out to her. She hates being wrong or, even worse, corrected, so you go along with what she thinks.
"You said you were going out with Tom."
She thinks for a minute, a thoughtful expression overcoming the hard one that usually lines her face. "I did, didn't I?"
She isn't asking me, so I don't answer. You learn when and when not to answer when you live with Karen. Now's not the time.
"Tom!" she screeches at the door dividing the driver from the rest of the caravan.
"What?" he bellows back, his voice throaty, like he's just awoken from a deep sleep. I hope he hasn't been sleeping as he's the one driving; I want us to get to the next place safely.
"We're going out tonight."
Why one of them can't go to the other, I don't know, but it's sort of hard not to listen when they're bellowing at each other like banshees. That's another rule you learn when you live with Karen: don't eavesdrop if you want to get by ignored.
I busy myself by making Luke comfortable and try not to listen, but to no avail. She doesn't seem to notice, thankfully, as she finishes up, muttering her opinion of Tom under her breath; she's never been one to keep quiet when she has a thought to express.
"Hell, it is cold in here," Karen complains, whining like a child. "Who the hell left the window open?"
She swivels her gaze around and it lands on me. I'm always the culprit, even if I haven't done the suspected action.
"I pay the money I well earn for this heating for you little brats when I should be treating myself to nice things. But, no! Princess Josephine thinks she can waste the money I earn by opening the window whenever she wants!"
I want to laugh at that; the money she well earns? It'd surprise me if she has ever worked a day in her life. She leaves the work to the step dad or me, taking money whenever she feels like it.
"I'm sorry." I try to look hurt when, really, I'm not taking a word of it to heart. "I shouldn't have wasted your money like that. I was looking out for a place for you and Tom to have dinner; I must've forgotten to close it."
"Stupid idiot," Karen mutters, none too quietly. "Forgot to close the window…"
"Karen!" Tom bellows, banging on the wall, as though his shouting isn't loud enough for her to hear.
Muttering to herself about how much is asked of her, Karen slams the door shut behind her. Silence. We don't get that too often when we're on the road. When we get to the house, Luke and I can be left alone for weeks at a time.
My stomach rumbles, breaking its tranquillity.
"You didn't eat," Luke mumbles, not looking at me. I didn't, but I'm not going to tell him that.
"Of course I did," I say in a fake cheery voice, pleading with my stomach to stay quiet.
He shakes his head. I don't feel hungry, even though my stomach begs to differ. I remind myself that Luke needs it more than I do whenever I come near food. I can only force a few bites down before I push the plate away and give it to Luke.
"You should've eaten some of mine."
He's too unselfish. He needs the food, but he's offering it to me. "Don't be silly. I'm fine."
I haven't had a decent meal since our last home with number seven, but that was only five days ago, so I'll survive.
Josh. Josh Tinley with his black hair and bright blue eyes anyone could get lost in. Josh Tinley, my best friend. I was devastated when we left. He was friends with me despite the fact he knew all about my life; I didn't want to tell him about it, more so he found out during one of Karen's worse days, and I was forced to explain.
The day we left 'right place number twelve' was a week before his birthday. We went down to the lake and out on the boat he owned. We used to go out on the lake a lot because no one was ever down there. It was our place.
He asked me to stay and not leave with Karen. He never liked Karen, even before he knew what she was doing to me. I told him I couldn't, that Luke would have to go with her and I couldn't do that. He then did something that amazes me even now. He, my best friend, kissed me.
It was a friendly kiss, but it was on my lips. I was shocked and still have no idea why he did it. He said he'd come to get Luke and I when I turn eighteen. Then I left him, and all the others, behind.
Sabbath was glad I was gone. She didn't like me at all, though I never found out why. She's beautiful, so it wasn't that she was jealous of me. She's rich and I'm not. She has a caring family, friends, good grades… I struggle with some subjects. Moving every six months doesn't exactly help, but I need to do better if I'm going to support Luke when I graduate.
I'm going to be a senior this year. I hope I can stay the year in the same school, but I don't count on it.
"I miss Josh," Luke sighs sadly.
Josh was a hero to him. He looked up to him and thought of him as a brother, wanting to be like him when he grows up. I'll do everything I can to give him a million choices of what he wants to do when he's older, but it might not be enough.
"I do, too," I say, stroking the bracelet Josh gave me before we left. It was his birthday, yet he gave me something. "Follow the cloud," it reads, carved on the silver chain that's wrapped around my wrist. I'll never give it away. It's mine; a word I've rarely come across since I left New York.
"Do you think he'll come to find us?" Luke asks, yawning in between the words.
"Time for bed," I tell him. As much as I want to say yes, I will not give him false hope. I don't want him to be disappointed.
He sighs and cuddles up against me. "Can't I stay here?"
I brush his hair back from his forehead and smile down at him. "Don't you want the bed before Karen turns in for the night?"
He shakes his head sleepily. "No," he mumbles. "I want to stay with you."
The only bedroom in the caravan is usually occupied by Tom and Karen but, because they're going out for dinner, it will be free until tomorrow or, considering the time, this morning when they get back in. I usually take the armchair and Luke gets the couch, which I make as comfortable as possible for him.
Creeks in my neck are uncomfortable, but it's worth it to see Luke smiling sleepily at me after a good night's rest.
If Karen and the step dad go out, I usually sleep with Luke in the bed. I have to have breakfast ready by the time they come in, but, the problem is, the time varies. Whether its 4am or 1pm, breakfast should be ready for them when they come in. Like I know what time they'll come in at. I've never had a cell phone and can't contact them in any way at all.
I usually make pancakes the night before and cook them in the morning sometime, giving it to them cold. They don't even eat them. They usually throw them at each other while accusing the other of "staring at that girl's butt," in the club or "flirting with that guy when I was right beside you,"- things of that sort.
It's 2:15am now, so I can tell I'm going to have until at least 10am before they come back from their 'dinner'.
I hope all the ingredients are there for making pancakes. Unless we arrive at our 'right place' before they leave, we're going to be having cereal for breakfast, and that's hard to get off walls and carpets.
The driver's door opens and Tom steps out. Tom's alright, from the few days I've known him. He doesn't bother us, unlike number three who always seemed to be there when I was alone and forced Luke to fetch his beer. Tom has short black hair, a little longer than a buzz cut and is around 6'1 or so. He's quite muscular and has a light moustache that really doesn't suit him. He usually ignores us and that's fine by me.
"We're here," he says, without looking at us and heads for the door.
"Don't just sit there! Move your lazy asses now!" Karen snaps at us.
Karen would be beautiful if she didn't start smoking at sixteen and abusing herself with alcohol. My first guess is that she's around thirty-five or thirty-six, but I've never been good at guessing ages. Her golden blond hair, the same as Luke's, lies lank on her bony shoulders.
Her icy blue, almost grey eyes show nothing about how she's feeling or what she's thinking; she's closed off. I don't think she's touched drugs, but I can't be too sure. I've a feeling that number four was a druggie, but he never left any evidence.
I carefully place Luke onto the space of the armchair beside me and stand up.
Karen has already left, so I go out the door and down the wobbly steps to see 'right place number 13'.