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 it more than I do, so I try and let 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. The violence she feels is only acted upon towards me though—never has she harmed Luke in any physical way.
The mental part, however, is one I have no power over.
“Are you okay?” Luke, my seven-year old brother, asks me, breaking my train of thoughts as I stare blankly at the wall.
I smile reassuringly at him, trying not to wince as I nod my head. It hurts to move, 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.
“Do you want my blanket?” he asks, getting up from the, what was once, beige carpet, and kneeling before me.
I shake my head, glancing over at the sleeping Karen, who is on the couch, a cigarette hanging from her chapped lips as smoke billows around her. “You keep it,” I tell him, ignoring the slight shiver that runs through my body.
I opened the window so Luke wouldn’t have to inhale any more of the toxic fumes than he has to—there’s no way I am going to close it just because I feel a little cold.
“Do you think we’ll stay here?” he asks, wrapping the blanket tighter around him as I motion for him to climb up onto the worn armchair. He does so, slipping into the space beside me and lying against my arm.
“Maybe,” I say, though he knows the drill just as much as I do—whenever Karen gets bored, she decides to move for a ‘change of scenery’, hoping it’s the new ‘right place’. There’s no telling how long we’ll stay. “This could be our one.”
Luke snuggles up against me. “I hope so.”
So do I Luke, so do I. I think this, but never say. Speaking your mind around Karen is dangerous, no matter what state of consciousness she’s in.
With my brother safe and it being relatively quiet, the question of where we’re going comes to mind. We’ve been traveling for five days now, from our latest home of four months with step-dad number seven, to wherever we’re heading now, with number eight.
Even after six years’ worth of moving, Karen’s ‘right place’ has yet to be found.
With a sigh, I lie back against the armchair, wishing I could fall asleep, but I know that’s not going to happen. When we’re on the road, Karen and the step-dad are always around and we never get any peace. I never get much sleep when we’re traveling, but when we get to the ‘right place’, we can be left alone for weeks at a time.
“You should get some sleep, Joey,” Luke whispers into the silence, just as the caravan jolts to an abrupt stop. I hold him tightly, not wanting him to fall off the chair.
Loud curses and a dull thud echo around the small, sparsely decorated space, and the caravan starts again, loud squealing piercing the night.
At the sound of muttering and coughing, I tense, wishing she’d just go back to sleep, but Karen seems to be in a foul mood, if her curses say anything.
“Shut up!” she snaps, even though no one is speaking, but I’ve long since learnt that you only have to breathe to get on her bad side, though I’ve come across a solution—act hurt, but don’t cry. She hates tears, say they’re something for weak people—she hates weak people.
Karen hates a lot of things, and I suspect being a mother is one of them; not that she’s had to do many motherly things.
“What are you looking at?” she sneers, her icy, blue eyes swivelling around and latching onto mine. “You should be making dinner.”
It’s two a.m., but I’m not stupid enough to point that out to her. She hates being wrong or, even worse, corrected, so I just go along with what she thinks. “You said you were going out with Tom.”
I feel Luke trying to get up, but I keep him down with my arm around his shoulders and a slight shake of my head. The last thing I want is for him to get involved. Unless it’s inevitable, I keep Luke out of his mother’s way.
“I did, didn’t I?” she muses, her lips twisting as a thoughtful expression overcomes her usual hard one. “Tom!”
I start at the sudden shriek, as does Luke, but don’t answer her. You learn when and when not to answer when you live with Karen—now’s not the time.
“What?” our latest step-dad bellows back.
“We’re going out.”
I look away, pretending to be interested in the pattern on the arm rest. I don’t understand why she can’t just go into him and tell him. It’s sort of hard not to hear when they’re bellowing at each other like banshees.
Thankfully, Karen has seemed to forgotten I am here for the moment as she gets up, muttering her opinion of Tom under her breath as she kicks a cushion out of her way. “Hell, it is cold in here,” she mutters, tugging at the sleeve of her flimsy shirt. “Who the hell left the window open?”
It doesn’t take long for her to remember my existence. Swivelling her gaze around, it lands on me, like always. “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 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. “I’m sorry,” I say, but it’s getting harder to try and look hurt at every passing day. “I shouldn’t have wasted your money like that. I was looking for a place for you to have dinner and must’ve forgotten to close it.”
“Stupid idiot,” she mutters, none too quietly. “Forgot to close the window…”
“Karen!” Tom bellows again, banging on the wall. “Come here!”
Muttering under her breath about how much is asked of her, Karen slams the door shut behind her, leaving Luke and me alone. My stomach rumbles, breaking the silence around us.
“You didn’t eat,” Luke mumbles from my side.
I didn’t, but I’m not going to tell him that. “Of course, I did,” I tell him, trying not to think of our low supply of food.
He shakes his head, like he doesn’t believe me. “You should’ve eaten some of mine.”
“Don’t be silly,” I say dismissively. “I’m fine.” I don’t even feel hungry, though my stomach begs to differ. My last decent meal was only five days ago and I’ve gone much longer than that before. I still feel full from the rich food that my stomach isn’t used to.
Josh. I inwardly curse myself for thinking of that night. The last thing I want to think about is him. It’s only been five days and I miss him already, and I know Luke feels the same.
He was my friend, despite everything he knew about me, and didn’t judge me. He was a friend to Luke, too, and he was devastated when we had to leave.
The night before I left, we went down to the lake and out on the boat he owned. We used to go out on it a lot, because no one was ever down there. It was our place.
He asked me not to go, but I knew I had to. Luke needs me and I can’t let him live with Karen on his own. Josh then did something that shocks me even now. He, my friend, kissed me.
It was a friendly kiss, but it was on my lips—and my first. I don’t know how I feel about it, but we didn’t have any time to talk before I left. We’ll probably never see each other again.
“I miss Josh,” Luke sighs sadly, as though he can somehow tell my thoughts turned to him, too. “Do you think he’ll come to find us?”
I smile sadly. “Time for bed,” I say, purposely not answering him. Even though Josh said he’ll come to get us when I turn eighteen, I know that’s not going to happen, and I will not give Luke false hope. I don’t want him to be disappointed.
“Can’t I stay here?” Luke sighs, snuggling up against my arm.
I brush his golden blond from his forehead, smiling down at him. “Don’t you want the bed before Karen turns in for the night?”
“No,” he mumbles, shaking his head. “I want to stay with you.”
Since the caravan only has one bedroom, Karen and the step-dad usually get it, but when they go out, I usually sleep with Luke in the bed.
The door separating the driver from the rest of the small caravan flings open and Tom steps out. We haven’t known Tom for long, but from what I can tell, he’s alright. He doesn’t bother Luke and me, unlike number three, who always seemed to be there when I was alone, and forced Luke to fetch his beer.
“We’re here,” he says without looking at us, ignoring us, as usual.
“Don’t just sit there! Move your lazy asses now!” Karen snaps, following Tom out of the driver’s room and glaring at us, as though we’re the bane of her existence.
Feeling Luke stiffen, I rest my hand on his head, silently pleading with him to pretend he’s asleep. As well as his hair colour, he seems to have inherited Karen’s stubbornness, but that’s where their similarities stop. Luke is nothing like his mother and never will be.
Seeing Luke nod once, my shoulders drop in relief. Karen has already left, so I follow her out the door and down the wobbly steps to see ‘right place number thirteen’.