Kid nodded and the folded plastic slapped down onto the table.
Should we look at it?
We already know that we can’t buy anything on there. We left all the money in the cave.
We should maybe reconsider the appeal of having buried treasure.
I’ll rephrase: should we pretend to look at it to get more time for our phone to charge?
The scowl on the adult’s face deepened, eyes lingering on the notable lack of food in front of the boy, and the untouched menu, before turning to walk back into the back of the restaurant with a stride declaring Authority. At least as far as foodless tables were concerned.
Kid looked back at his phone, noting that the slim red line had grown into a narrow orange band. Kid stared at the phone as if his devoted attention might charge it quicker as the authority-type circled round again, stopping, craning his neck to make sure that his significant look had significance. Kid raised his eyebrows and bobbed his head.
Well, we can at least look at the menu.
Before the menu had even finished unfolding in Kid’s hand he saw the self-important table monitor in the back of the restaurant gesturing in large motions toward Kid’s table to someone out of sight. Kid sighed. He’d discovered the standard policy at places like this was to reserve tables and internet for paying customers, which never included Kid.
Guess we hit the coffee shop? Around the corner?
Just as the table sheriff came around the counter heading in Kid’s direction, the well-paunched man pulled up short. An open paper wrap bearing half of a sandwich slid across the table, bumping into Kid’s forearms where they rested. Kid looked down, scrunched his face a bit in the middle, then looked back up as someone slid into the booth across from him.
Hair the color of a sunrise framed a face bearing two eyes so blue they could cut. She waved an inviting hand at the sandwich and then turned to cock her head to the side, daring the man to come and have his planned conversation. The table authority looked from the girl over to the table she had just left, where a matching look awaited on the faces of the two adults still seated there.
Kid wasted no time wrenching a bite out of the sandwich.
Um, we should figure out how to do that whole “make adults go away with a look” trick.
Right? That’s the kind of magic I’m talking about.
“You know,” she said, turning a canted look in Kid’s direction, “I’ve seen you around.”
Studies had shown by that point in time, of course, that happier people have more relaxed vocal chords giving their voices a more natural, melodious, aesthetic appeal. Like the clear tone of a bell on moonlit water, her voice tightened the muscles in Kid’s back, pulling him straighter in the booth.
Don’t stare at her mouth.
She’s seen us.
Of course she’s seen us. She lives downtown, we live, well, under downtown. Paths cross.
“Really?” Kid asked, taking another bite.
“The boy staring up at the buildings?” She smiled, then stopped. “You’re always alone.”
“I’ve seen you,” Kid responded, swallowing the bite first, “Pretty girl with lots of friends. You’re never alone.”
“I didn’t know you could speak,” somehow the smile in her voice made it not sound insulting.
“In nobler days than these,” Kid reached up to snatch an invisible cap from his head, “gentlemen were taught to not address a lady unless first addressed.”
Kid clutched his imaginary cap to his chest, and dipped his head in a tiny bow. She pressed her lips together, and leaned back in the booth, head tilted, golden hair bouncing.
“Hmh,” She muttered, half curious, half amused, “I certainly didn’t expect you to be this..”
“Clever? Cogent? Devastatingly good-looking?” Kid offered, “Please, don’t feel bad. It happens to all the girls.”
Kid followed up with his best smile, the one he liked in mirrors.
“Is that why I never see you with any?”
She covered her mouth, trying to catch the words before they flew. Kid held his smile.
“Yup,” Kid popped his head to the side, “Too devastated. But you were saying?”
He leaned in for another bite of the sandwich. Something with avocado? She frowned for a moment, then her face brightened.
“Right. Well. I didn’t expect you to be,” she smiled again, “so well spoken.”
Kid waved the thought away, chewing.
“Oh, that. I read a book about it. Code of the Streets. Good stuff. Not about what I thought it was going to be about,” Kid’s face scrunched in the middle, “It’s about code switching, my kind switching our behavior and language patterns depending upon whether we are with our own kind,” Kid waved a hand first in his own direction, then in hers, “or with your kind.”
“My kind?” She asked, less of a smile.
“People with parents,” Kid waved toward the older man and woman sitting at the table across the restaurant trying to act like they weren’t watching the two youth converse, “money, and a future.”
She was not smiling at all as she asked, “And your kind?”
“People with enemies, problems, and a past.” Kid grinned as her smile fell into something not quite a pout.
You know, that isn’t even true. We don’t really have a past.
Shut up. Not having a past counts as having a past in this instance. Pretty sure.
Now you’re just making things up.
“I gave you my sandwich!”
“I bet it made you feel good, too,” Kid grinned as she shifted in her seat, “like you were helping someone in need, right? Want to know how it made me feel?”
“How?” She asked, not pouting, not smiling. Curious.
“Grateful,” Kid said, as he raised the last bite to his mouth, “Doesn’t change any of that other stuff though. Besides,” he paused to swallow, “there was something wrong with the sandwich anyway.”
“What? No, there wasn’t! That was my favorite sandwich!”
“Well, I think someone stole all the good stuff out of it. All they left was the greenery.”
Her laugh tinkled like a ball of crystal chimes rolling down Kid’s spine.
“It’s vegetarian, silly!”
“No, whovians are a different thing altogether,” She grinned at Kid’s befuddlement, “Vegetarian just means I don’t eat meat.”
“Well, I know we just met, but you have my deepest sympathies. Meat is pretty delicious.”
“Hah, it isn’t a disease or anything, just a choice.”
Kid’s face twisted and scrunched a bit in the middle.
“Why would you ever choose that?”
“I don’t like the way the animals get treated?” At Kid’s confusion she continued, “I mean, I know that they are just animals, and it can be easy to think of animals as less than humans, right? Well, I just feel like the way we treat the things we consider less than us says a lot about who we are. I mean, saying that we can do whatever we want to animals because they aren’t as important as humans is the same kind of logic that led to treating women,” a graceful hand drifted up to wave from her direction to Kid’s, “or minorities however you wanted. I just feel like we can be better than that.”
That’s a pretty good point.
Really? What’s a minority?
Means a smaller group within a larger group.
But why’d she wave at us?
Maybe kids get called minorities? Cause we’re small?
“Well, that is understandable,” Kid cocked his head to the side, “but I don’t know how much impact you’ll have on the entire food industry. To be fair, though, I might be underestimating how much you can eat.”
Um, is that a scowl?
Can’t be. It’s adorable.
“Well, that’s ok,” she said as the scowl fell away, “this is something that I can do right now. I’m sure when I get to be bigger I’ll be able to make a bigger impact. I just didn’t feel like waiting.”
The place between her eyebrows wrinkled. She looked at him for a moment. Kid held his hand in front of his mouth while he chewed, and swallowed.
“You,” she said, decisive and abrupt, face alighting, “should do something about your hair.”
No, um, I mean, huh?
“Wha-wa, um, tha- ah… huh?” Kid managed.
“Braid it, fade it, ‘fro it,” she rattled off options, shaping her hands over an imaginary head, molding various hairstyles, “shave it, but…something.” She smiled.
Kid stared at her. He tried to raise a single eyebrow. Failed. As he settled for twisting his face a little and cocking his head to the side the face across the table bit back a giggle with an impish quirk of her lips and a mischievous tweak of her nose.
I could just watch the way her face moves all day.
What? Maybe don’t say THAT. Hair. She was talking about our hair.
“Hah,” Kid’s face scrunched in the middle, just a bit, “I’ll look into it?”
He shot a glance at a clock on the wall, and then looked at her, easy smile, bright clear eyes.
“Um, thank you for the sandwich…?”
“Alex,” her smile dimpled, “and you are welcome.”
Kid pulled his phone from the wall, tucked his charger into his bag and slid out of the booth, waving in the direction of the clock.
“Um, I have to,” he looked from the door back to Alex.
“Don’t be a stranger,” she said waving him toward the door.
Kid pulled his bag onto his shoulders as he slid from the booth, giving a small nod to the two adults no longer pretending not to watch him. When he pulled open the door, Kid heard Alex call out from behind him.
Kid turned and looked back to see Alex leaning over the back of the booth.
“I don’t know your name.”
Kid just grinned.
“Make one up,” he said, and walked out the door. He walked down the street, a slight, goofy smile on his face.
It’s easier, talking to her.
Maybe that’s cause all her face parts are in just the right spots.
Like the kids in the posters on the walls in expensive stores, showing you what happy kids are supposed to look like? All clean and smooth and . . .
In the memory space Fuzzy made some rigid motions with his hands.
No like, even…
Fuzzy held a hand up, flat, and made wavy motions on either side with another hand.
That’s the word!
Kid held down the button that would reawaken his phone, which flared with a message from Twitch, ready to meet. The closest entrance to the underground was an exposed drainage pipe with an unfastened fencing across the mouth. As Kid squirmed under the edge of the chained links he flipped his navigation to autopilot.
In his memory cave a wrapped half-sandwich captured the conversation and joined a small globe on a little shelf at the foot of the spill of blankets that comprised a bed. The crystal globe was water filled, and in the water floated an orb, glowing like a sunrise. With the flick of a mental finger, Shady finished the memory they’d been amidst when they got interrupted.
The sidewalk separating him from the street. The buildings rising and rising across the street and everywhere. Then he looked down the hill and saw the water. Something in his chest got tight and he pulled his feet up through the hole, shimmying through the dirt, taking half a moment to kick the hole in the screen a little bigger.
Springing to his feet, he looked down at the screen hanging loose over the window, bent and reached through to pull the window as closed as he could. He stood and looked up, straight up. Stretched out beyond the reaching fingers of the buildings around him, grey in the morning haze, was the sky.
The boy stared until his eyes began to water, then blinking away tears he turned and walked toward the water, looking around at buildings, up at the building out of which he had squirmed. Worn brick, windows boarded, barred, missing, and unintelligible scrawl painted across the faded blue paint.
The water. Dark and grey and blue and beautiful. Beyond the water low hills rolled against the dim backlit sky. Heading for a platform of wooden planks jutting out into the calm, the boy didn’t even see the ball of blankets piled at the bottom of a pole he walked past. Looking at the water, letting his feet handle the walking, a sudden thunk on his chest, shooting fire across his ribs, brought the boy to a stop.
He looked down at a gnarled hand pressed on his chest, and his eyes followed the hand down the arm attached when a car flashed past, wind knocking him back a few stumbled steps, away from the hand still sticking up out of the pile of blankets.
A guttural voice said from the middle of the blankets, to which the hand was now withdrawing. Peering into the wad of cloth, the boy saw a pair of dark eyes blink up at him from a mass of wrinkled lines. A face. The boy straightened, tightened and pulled his arms close. A grunt drifted from beneath those strange eyes, and the hand waved back and forth, toward the street he had almost crossed, crushed.
The boy nodded, looked up and down the street, seeing the car he had almost met farther down the street and not another car in sight. Looking back down at the pile at the base of the pole he offered another shaky nod, and ran across the street and out onto the wooden platform, all the way to the furthest railing, clinging to the wood and the metal and shaking. He looked around, again, this time at the ground level. There were a few people walking, running or riding bikes. None of them looked at him, none of them looked at each other.
The sky brightening more, he looked closer at each of the people passing up and down the sidewalk and the street now in greater frequency. They all kind of looked the same, but in different ways. They were shaped in unique ways, and he started breaking them into categories in his head.
They’re all bigger than us, but some are a LOT bigger than us.
Round and straight. Not quite right either.
Hair. Long, short, straight, puffy, flat, and what, curvy?
And different colors! Black and brown, some yellows. There a bright, um, orange?
Close. Pink, and a blue-green combination.
And people themselves come in different colors! See the shades of brown and some black and that girl who looks orange and stretched. Some are lighter, like that guy looking almost as white as the lines on the street.
The boy clung tighter to the rail, almost wrapping himself around the metal. Then the sky changed, and the boy changed with it.
The first edge of the sun broke the horizon. Alone, standing straight now, one hand resting idle on the metal pole of the rail, not shaking, not blinking, a small dirt covered child saw the sun rise for the first time he could remember. Sunlight broke over the city and sparkled off the windows, lighting the one snow capped mountain in the distance.
The small boy basked in sunlight warm on his face, rotating in a slow turn when he saw it.
Stark against the sky in the early light, proud and tall, a declaration even then of what these people were, as a species, and as a city. Staring at the Needle aimed and named for our greatest ambitions, tears blurred the boy’s vision again, and his chest got a little more tight.
Blinking and wiping at his face, he headed back toward an old, broken down and boarded up building just up the hill, checking the street with care before crossing. As he approached his window, the boy checked the street again, with somewhat more furtive care. Then the little boy froze, looking across the asphalt at the other sidewalk.
Walking down the street across from him was a group of three people, two of them bigger than the boy, like the people over by the water: a boy type and a girl type, both straighter than round. Between them walked the third, smaller, the boy’s size even.
Her skin was one of the lighter kind, light like the two bigger people on either side of her, and her hair was, what, gold? The boy was reminded of the light of the sun, flashing off the glass windows as it broke the horizon.
The little girl turned and looked at the boy, and their eyes met. Even from across the street the bright blue of the girl’s eyes was clear. She cocked her head to the side, and a soft smile graced her lips, and then they were past the boy. Another shock of blue eyes glancing over her shoulder as they disappeared around the corner. The boy stood still for a moment, staring at the corner, before slipping into a hole in the bars securing his window.
He slid-skipped down the rugs, jumping back up to close the window behind him. On the ground again, he looked around the room, lingering on the door and the windows, before he walked to the corner, grabbing the remaining rugs and laying them in layers over the broken glass. He grabbed his bag and slipped his arms through the smooth leather loops, hopping up on the open window to the underground. He looked back at the window once, and then dropped back into the darkness.
Kid pulled his attention back from his revisited recollection and took stock of his surroundings. He had made his way to the section of the underground that was near to the Library, which was close to where Twitch had asked to meet, so Kid emerged from below and found a shaded alcove in which to curl up and await his friend.
Almost the instant Kid settled in comfort his phone buzzed, and he tapped out a reply detailing where the little alcove was located relative to a few known landmarks. In short order Kid rounded the corner and ducked past the low hanging branches to approach the bench where Kid was waiting with a grin.
Twitch shambled over and flopped onto the bench beside Kid, rolling his head over to point a twinkling eye at the younger boy.
“Waall,” Twitch drawled, “Go’tha’ goo’news an’ tha’ otha shi’.”
“B’s curious, goan gi’ya a shot.”
Kid’s hesitant grin exploded into a full smile, then froze.
Wait, what about that other shit?
“Um,” Kid dropped most of the smile and his face twisted a bit, “but there’s bad news, too?”
Then Twitch told Kid the bad news, and the rest of the smile fell off his face.