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 sweet from the bag I bought with the money 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 don’t be too obvious when I do this though, he wouldn’t take it fi he knew I was letting him win.
You could describe Karen as the weather: unpredictable. Ignoring us as though we’re not there 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 on 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 at all, not that your voice would be heard if you did.
“Are you okay?” Luke, my seven year old brother asks me, breaking me from 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 much 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 my in the eyes. “Do you want my blanket?”
Even though Karen is asleep on the couch, her cigarette hangs from her chapped lips, the smoke billowing 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.
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, form 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 that 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.
An average of five months is stayed at each place, but it’s not a long enough time to call a place 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 want to make it to the next right place.
“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 onto my lap. He does so and I tuck the blankets around him, trying to keep his tiny body as warm as I can.
“Do you think we’ll stay here 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 in school 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 life, but he doesn’t complain. He gets on with it.
“Maybe, this could be our one,” I say but don’t say anything more. It most likely won’t be but there’s a small possibility that it could be.
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 were to happen to me, Luke would be left on his own. I won’t let that happen.
Luke curled onto 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 we’ve been on the road.
I have no idea where our next destination is. We must have been through half the states in the past six years. I stupidly asked Karen where we are going but she was in a bad mood, a permanent mood it seems for her. 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 and she bought the caravan and started traveling. I stayed with her in the caravan until I was four and I was put under the care of Aaron and Lisa’s home in New York. 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’s only my step brother, but I consider him my whole, complete brother. He doesn’t need to know Karen played hookie with number on 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.
His golden hair and greens eyes that sparkle with life are the opposite compared to 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.
A heart is the shape of my face whereas Luke has a round one- or, one that’s meant to be round but is 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 I make it and tell him I ate some of it in the kitchen. After a suspicious look at my plate, he’d usually forgo the detective investigation and it before it’d get 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 and want 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.
I’ve long since found out a solution; act hurt but don’t cry. She hates to see tears, says it’s something weak people do. She hates weak people. She hates a lot of things and I suspect being a mother is one of them. 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 am, 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 wasn’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 sounding throaty, as though he’s just awoken from a deep sleep.
“We’re going out tonight.”
Why one of them couldn’t have went 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 right in front of me. That’s another rule you learn when to live with Karen: don’t eavesdrop if you want to get by ignored.
I busy myself making a sleeping Luke comfortable on my lap and try not to listen, but to no avail. She doesn’t seem to notice though 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,” she complains, whining like a child who didn’t get what they wanted. “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 but, 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 a dinner and 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 shout wasn’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 not rumble again.
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 and here he is, 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.
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 tell him about it though, more so he found out during one of Karen’s worse days.
The date 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 did. I told him I couldn’t, that Luke would have to go with her and I couldn’t do that to him. he then did something that amazes me even now. He, my best friend, kissed me. It was a friendly kiss, but it was on the lips. I was shocked and still have to 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 but I don’t know 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, the friends, good grades… I struggle in school. Moving school 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 grows up, but it might not be enough.
“I do too,” I say, stroking the bracelet he gave me before we left. It was his birthday and 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 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 and Tom turn 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, should I say, this morning sometime, when they get back in. I take the armchair and Luke gets the sofa which I make as comfy 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 that it varies. Whether its 4am or 1pm when they come in, breakfast should be ready. Like I know what time they’ll come in at. I’ve never had a 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 and give 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 girls’ 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 out ‘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. 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 hadn’t been smoking since she was sixteen and abusing herself with alcohol. My first guess is that she’s around thirty-five, thirty-six or so, 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’d 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’.