I awaken to the sound of the front door slamming shut and voices carrying across the halls. The door is closed and they aren’t as loud as they usually are and I’m about to fall back asleep with Luke when I bolt upright, scrambling out of the bed. I didn’t make any breakfast and they’re back.
I fell asleep in my clothes last night so I don’t need to change. I look out the window and see the caravan in the drive. I can’t into their room without food and she won’t let me off if I tell her there was no food in the house. I should’ve made do with what’s there. Yeah, because you can definitely make a good breakfast with an apple and banana, I think to myself bitterly.
The door’s out of the question, so that only leaves the window. It’s times like these that I’m glad we don’t live in a two-storey house.
I rush over to the window and slide it up, hoping not to wake Luke. He’s a light sleeper and the littlest of noises usually wake him up.
The window won’t stay open on its own, so I reach out of it, holding onto the frame, and grab one of the bricks piled up beside the front door. Fitting it so it keeps the window open, I hope it will stay that way until I’m out. I’m not a very graceful person in general but luckily I’ve done this before and can do it without making too much noise and alerting everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, I land on a rock and go over on my ankle, scraping my arm on the bricks as I fall down.
Wincing, I rub my foot, trying to get some feeling back into it before I’ve to get up to go to the caravan. The window shuts and the brick holding it open falls out, hitting me on the back of the head. My head jerks forward and my forehead hits my knee, causing my swollen ankle to kick in the air from reflex.
I usually take pride in myself for my reflexes but I wish I didn’t have such good ones now.
A searing pain flashes through my ankle and I can tell I won’t be walking properly for a while. I push myself up off the ground and force myself to walk to the van, ignoring the shooting pain in both my head and ankle.
Karen never locks it. She thinks if someone takes it, insurance will cover it and she’ll get a new and better one. For that to work, she’d actually have to pay for insurance but she doesn’t think she has to and I’m not telling her she’s wrong and risking a beating or a shouting match. I don’t know why I call it a match when it’s one sided.
I go inside and, as quickly as I can on a swollen ankle, rush to the fridge in hope that the pancake mix I made several days ago is still there. It is. I grab the bowl and a pan, quickly heating them up and flipping them as fast as I can without them being undercooked. I grab two plates and, the second I see them solidifying, toss them onto the plates and throw the pan into the sink, quickly filling it with water.
I rush to the door and down the steps, limping on my foot but carry on until I reach their room and knock on the door. Always knock unless you want to see certain parts of a body you don’t need to see.
“Come in!” Karen screeches and I open the door, balancing the pancakes on one hand while I do. “Took you long enough to show up,” she sneers at me.
I don’t make eye contact as I hand her the plate.
“When I come in, I expect you to have my food on the table and ready. Is that too hard to ask?”
“Then why wasn’t it?!” she shouts, throwing a pointed shoe at me. I know better than to duck so I let it hit my already bruised head.
She throws another but it goes the complete opposite way and hits a confused Tom in the naked chest. “What the hell?”
“Oh, there you are. Just come back from some other girls’ house, have you?”
“What’re you on about? I came back with you.”
“Sure you did. You’re just as pathetic as her,” she snaps, nodding her head at me, sitting up against the battered headboard. The covers slip off her chest and I’m glad she’s wearing her robe.
“I wasn’t the one who went off with another guy right in front of my face,” he shouts back. This is usually when I’d take Luke out of the house but I’m now stuck here in the middle of it until she dismisses me.
“At least I wasn’t practically drooling over another girls’ ass while dancing with someone else!”
“Well, that girl seemed to be interested in me unlike the one I was dancing with who was visually undressing the guy behind us!”
“At least he wasn’t staring at another girl- what’re you looking at!?” she screams at me, seeing me still here.
She’s getting riled up and I want to leave but I can’t until she tells me to. I don’t get a chance to say anything before she’s throwing another shoe at me which hits my ankle, causing me to buckle from the impact.
“Go!” she shrieks at me. “Get out of my sight!”
I quickly get up and leg it down the hall to mine and Luke’s room, hoping he’s still asleep. He’s not. He’s staring at the ceiling with unshed tears in his eyes.
“Hey, sleepy head,” I say in a false cheery voice.
He doesn’t answer me and turns on his side away from me.
I sit on the edge of the bed and rub his arm. “It’s okay, bud.”
He sniffles and I can tell he’s crying. Seeing Luke cry breaks my heart, piece by piece. I hate Karen. I know I told him he doesn’t hate her, but I do. I hate her for making Luke cry. I hate her for making us move and Luke can’t make friends. I hate her for not getting Luke the right food he needs. I hate her. I just hate her.
“She hurt you again,” he whispers, still not looking at me.
“You aren’t,” he says, turning around and facing me. He looks at my face and dissolves in tears again. I pick him up and hug him. He cries into my shoulder and hugs me tight.
“I’m fine,” I repeat into his ear, desperate to make him happy even if it means lying to him, which I hate doing.
He shakes his head and lifts his tear streaked face off my shoulder. “Your arm,” he croaks, lightly running a finger down my scratched arm.
“It was the wall,” I tell him.
“Your head.” Touching a finger to my forehead, he pulls it back only for it to be covered in blood. I reach up. I didn’t think I was bleeding or I would’ve cleaned up before coming in to Luke.
“It was the wall,” I say, but I am not sure if it was the shoe she threw or not. “I was getting out the window and a brick hit my head.”
He rests his head on my shoulder again. “I hate her,” he whispers in my ear. I don’t say anything but hug him tight.
We sit there for a few minutes, hugging each other. “Come on,” I announce, getting up off the bed. “Let’s go and get you that towel.”
As we rush into the caravan to get a change of clothes, I grab my bag and take out the $45 I saved from my last job, shoving it into the pocket of my ripped tracksuit bottoms. I make sure the bag is put away safely under the couch before I wait for Luke to get ready.
He comes out of the bathroom with his superman t-shirt that Josh got him for his birthday on and a pair of ripped, worn out jeans. They weren’t styled that way though, but have become like that over the year’s he’s owned and wore them.
“Ready?” I ask him. I have already cleaned up and washed the blood from my forehead and am ready to go.
He shakes his head and rushes to the window. “Sunny,” he guesses, looking out at the blue, clear sky. Smiling, I walk over to the window and look out.
He looks at me, eye brows raised and head tilted like he thinks I’m either an idiot or I’m letting him win. “It could happen,” I shrug, not wanting him to think I’m letting him win.
Shaking his head and pursing his lips in an adorable way, he takes my hand and ushers me to the door.
I hop down the steps and take his both hands, swinging him down the way he likes.
“Race you,” I challenge and he takes off in a flash, leaving me and my still sore ankle to chase after him.
“Slow coach!” he calls out to me when he stops to catch his breath and looks for me, finding me far behind him.
“Maybe you’re just getting faster.”
“Or maybe you’re getting slower.”
“Probably,” I agree, finally catching up with him.
I look around the land and see the outlines of some buildings in the near distance. The wood’s on our right hand side and carries on for miles and I’m hoping to stay away from it.
“Do you see anything?” Luke asks, squinting around for any sign of life.
“I think so.” I point straight ahead of us.
“Well, let’s go then,” he declares, grabbing my hand and marching towards the direction I pointed in.
Fifteen minutes of walking and we arrive in a square. There’s a statue in the centre and a few building’s around it, most of them old and slightly run down. The ground has the look of old cobblestone and the statue of the man is wearing a cowboy hat. I can’t see what the carved words say as someone had the bright idea to graffiti over it, but I’d guess it’s of a founder of the town.
“Cool,” Luke says, looking around the place and pausing on the statue for a moment longer.
I look around at the few stores and decide on the one called Mick’s. “Let’s go.”
We walk around the graffiti statue and into the store.
It’s a small store with, as far as I can see, lots in it. There’s a fruit and vegetable aisle straight ahead of us, a refrigerated aisle next to it, a tins and boxed food aisle after and, though I can’t see the sign above it, a toy aisle at the end. Judging by the smell, there’s a bakery somewhere and a sweets counter at the till where an elderly woman is working.
I take a basket and, finding it has wheels to push it along the floor, I give it to Luke. “Don’t break anything,” I warn but I’m joking; he’d never break anything as he’s always careful.
“I won’t,” he grins mischievously and rushes down the first aisle at top speed.
I can’t spend all the money until I get a job, but I can spend up to $30. Most of the step dads get a job, mostly because I don’t make enough to get them booze as well as Karen, and I’m hoping Tom will get one. He seems a decent enough person and I haven’t had any trouble with him yet.
I go to the fruit and vegetable aisle where Luke took off to. It’s only when I see the apples and bananas that I remember I didn’t give Luke the ones I found this morning. Karen has most likely found them and has either thrown them out or is using them as a weapon against Tom who she’s most likely pissed off with.
After bagging various fruits, I follow Luke to the refrigerated aisle and look through the shelves. I find a store brand of mince that will last for a few dinners and get some pasta.
“Pasta?” Luke asks, seeing me put it in the basket.
“Yep, with mince.”
“Yes!” he exclaims, grinning at me. I smile back at him and we go to the next aisle. Again, I find the store brand soup and rice and get them and put them into a grinning Luke’s basket.
The toy aisle is split into two sections: toys and clothes is the first part and soft-furnishings are the other. Luke ignores the toys and goes straight to the bundles of towels which we came for.
I stop at the clothes part, debating in my mind whether or not to buy him some. Luke needs new clothes and they’re having a sale… I grab a shirt and trousers I see in his size and put them in the cart before I can think otherwise.
I find Luke at the furnishing section looking longingly at a Spiderman towel, but he grabs a plain cream one and turns back to me.
“Get it,” I tell him, taking the cream towel from his hand and placing it back on the shelf. The cost so far is less than what I thought it’d be and it’d make him happy. I’ve been adding it up in my mind and am surprised when it’s not as much as it usually is.
He looks from the towel to me. “Can I?”
“Yep.” Taking the towel from his hand, I put it in the basket by his side. “I think that’s us. Let’s go pay.”
I walk up to the till with Luke, who’s beaming so bright it’s infective, and we place the items on the revolving belt.
The woman at the till, Mauve as it reads on her tag, smiles at us. “I take it you’re new here?”
I nod my head and smile back. “Yes, we just moved here this morning.”
She nods her head vaguely. “I knew I didn’t recognise you. Everyone knows everyone in this town.”
Mauve scans the items and places them in several bags. “$23.60,” she tells me.
$23.60? I added it up to be $28. I take the money out of my back pocket and count out a twenty and a five and hand them to her.
She gives me back my change and I glance down at Luke to tell him we’re going, but see him eyeing a packet of gummy sweets for $1. I spent less than I thought I would, so I give him a dollar for them.
He looks at the dollar and then at me. “What’s that for?”
“Those sweets,” I say, taking them off the rack and placing them onto the belt.
He starts to shake his head but his eyes betray him when he glances at them longingly. I cut him short. “Buy them, or I will.”
He bites his lip but takes the dollar. Mauve’s smiling at us when she scans the sweets and hands them back to him.
“Thank you,” he says.
“You’re very welcome,” she tells him and looks back to me. “Come back soon.”
“I will,” I reply and take the bag. “Come on, Luke.”
We’re almost out the door of the shop when something crashes into me and wraps its arms around me waist. “Thank you, Joey,” Luke whispers, hugging me tightly.
“No need to thank me, Luke. You deserve it.”
He looks up at me and says “You deserve it, too.”
“I don’t need anything as long as I have you.” I don’t. As long as he’s happy, I’m happy.
“I love you.”
“I love you more and don’t you forget it,” I tease, nudging him with my hip. “Come on. We’ve got breakfast to eat.”
I look back at Mauve to wish her a good day, and am surprised to see her looking at us, her eyes shiny, focused on us but she has an expression that implies she’s lost in her thoughts. I smile at her, unsure of the sudden emotion and she smiles back at us, a sad and happy smile.
“Have a good day,” I say.
“You, too,” she wishes and watches us leave the shop, bag in one of my hands, Luke’s had in the other.