I recognized a kindred spirit in her.
One morning I’d found her naked on the couch, her eyes lifeless and unfocused. Bruises marred every inch of her little twelve-year-old body. Her once-olive skin was transparent. I could see all of her blue veins beneath the surface. Her wrists were bound behind her back with a long dirty sock, a needle sat in an ashtray beside her. Blood dripped from the tip and pooled in the bottom of the clear glass. Dick and Denise, our foster parents, used her as their entertainment for the previous evening. They’d doped her with drugs bought with the money given to them by the state for her care before using her as a toy for their sadistic sex games.
They probably didn’t even know she was dead until later that day.
By that time, I was long gone.
That was the first time I ran away from a foster home. It certainly wasn’t the last.
After throwing my feet into my old scuffed cowboy boots and checking for the knife I kept clipped on the inside of the right one, I secured the straps of my backpack onto my shoulders and ran into Nan’s room to grab her charm bracelet off her nightstand. I nabbed my weed from the coffee table and slipped out the back sliding glass doors.
I made a run for the beach.
It would probably be a while before Miss Thornton gave up on me and moved her attention to other, more worthy degenerates. Until then, I figured it would be best if I stayed away from home for at least a few days. My plan was simple: keep a low profile, and become invisible. I had a few bucks, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. I had planned on selling some of Nan’s lesser-beloved items, but that would have to wait until the coast was clear.
I decided to drop by Bubba’s Bar just before closing to see if they’d consider hiring me to sweep floors or wait tables. I highly doubted that Miss Thornton would look for me at a bar on a Monday night.
After Bubba’s my focus would have to be trying to find a spot to crash for a few nights. A hotel was out of the question. It was the peak of summer, and all the rooms in town were sure to be booked by the flock of tourists. One night in any of them would have cost more than ten times the twenty bucks in my pocket. The beach wasn’t safe either. The tides were unpredictable and could sneak up when you least expected it. More than once, a tourist taking a beer nap had been pulled out into the Gulf.
I plopped down in the hot sand among the blankets of tourists and used my backpack as a pillow. I was hiding in plain sight. For a while, I watched people stalling out their rented jet skis and trying to maneuver their wind surfers without falling on their asses. Moms and dads cheered for their teenagers, watching as they finally got the hang of it and caught some wind, which took them just a few feet before they lost control and ended up back in the water. The moms and dads kept cheering, even when the kids gave up on their new sport and dragged their weary, defeated and worn-out bodies to shore. It was just windsurfing. Why were they so proud? Why all the cheering? Besides graduating high school and seeing the look on Nan’s face that morning as I dressed in my cap and gown, I’d never had anyone be proud of me.
If I wanted to learn something, I taught myself. There was no one there to cheer for the significant things, let alone the small ones.
I stayed on the beach until sunset, watching the tourists’ skin change from pasty white to lobster red by the time the sun and moon swapped places. I took the back roads to Bubba’s and lit a joint on the way. Headlights appeared on the dark road behind me. I moved to the side to allow the vehicle to pass so I didn’t end up like the possum I just had to step over. Instead of driving by, a superman blue lifted truck slowed and pulled up beside me. It was so tall that my head was aligned with the tops of the tires.
“Alone on a dark road?” I couldn’t see Owen Fletcher way up there, but I recognized his voice. “You gotta either be wanting to get attacked by coyotes, or you’re getting lit.”
He hung his head out of the truck window. His black baseball cap was on backwards, dark unruly hair peeking out from beneath the rim, the sleeves of his white t-shirt were rolled up with a pack of Marlboro Reds—the logo visible through the thin fabric—folded into one of them.
Owen had always been friendly, and he’d always made a point of making small talk with me when we found ourselves in the same place at the same time. But then, he did that with everyone. I suspected it was partly because of who his family was. Maybe, they were grooming him for a career in politics. When you have relatives embedded in every position of power to be had in a county, it’s not common to just go off and become the school janitor.
I raised my joint into the air so he could see that it was the getting lit part and not the wanting to be attacked by coyotes that I was up to. I breathed out the smoke I was holding deep inside my lungs. It burned, but I didn’t cough. Owen laughed. “I was hoping it was that one.” He put the truck in park, leaned over and opened the passenger door. “Get on in, girl, and pass that shit.”