Author's Note: Finally figured out the tone and pacing I think...
No matter how powerful a person feels, they never have control over their circumstances. That was Abe's thought as he sat patiently inside the warm bookstore and watched his friends gather outside. One arrived with paper bags, carrying fresh fruit he had bought and wanted to share. A few arrived covered in soot from work; their faces were almost black, their knuckles busted and bleeding, their muscles strained so much so bruises had formed. Some bounced up to the sidewalk with books in hand and rucksacks slung over their shoulders; a few of them began working on their studies right away while the others opted to avoid school work until the next day. Others strolled up one by one, simply having nothing else to do.
Not all of them came from terrible families. Most of them had both parents and perhaps siblings; they knew their uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents. These boys were not homeless or runaways and were comforted in knowing that they had security at home. They had the misfortune of being born into families whom could barely provide for them. This put them into delicate situations which they could barely control. What would they eat that day, would they have heat or electricity that night, could they pay the medical bills, the debts their families owed: would they ever be paid off? These were the questions they faced every day.
Boys like Shelton were the middle ground. Stuck with a single parent it was even more difficult to survive in a working class district. Most of them never saw their parent, as they worked two or three jobs just to pay the bills. Reasons for being single ranged from divorce to having never been married. Despite the unstable environment, they still had some small resemblance of a family; they knew someone was there for them no matter what. Even for Shelton himself, he knew that regardless of the fact people dogged on his mother for how she got them by, she would do anything for him.
Those who had it the worst were the orphans and runaways. Abandoned, alone, and afraid, these boys were truly on their own with no safety net or security. Why they ran away or what forced them onto the streets alone varied greatly. Orphans like Pascal and Rascal never knew a family; runaways like Jacob only knew family as an unmentionable part of their past, a place where emotional and physical hurt dominated every day. To boys like that, being on the street served a better alternative.
Then there was Abe himself. He had lived through all three stages and could relate to each of his friends. Born into an average working class family, he enjoyed a peaceful family life until he was eight. It was then that his mother passed away; his dad raised him faithfully and well for three more years. When he was eleven, his father was severely injured due to a workplace accident and died within a week. With no family interested in taking Abe in, he hit the streets. For the past six years he had bounced from shelter to shelter, couch to couch, park bench to park bench.
Abe looked back on it all rather dispassionately. After all, he had survived it all; he couldn't muster up any emotions and he wasn't even sure what memories were real anymore. All that mattered was the present. All he could think about was how he was going to walk Maria home that night.
Much to his chagrin she didn't want to go straight home after work. "Don't you boys normally play street ball?" she asked. "I want to learn how to play. Teach me."
So as the sunset behind the majestic city landscape and the skyscraper silhouettes, Abe did his best to teach a white collar princess the basics of a game meant for the carefree boys of summer. It started simple enough with questions like, "Do you know how to catch? Have you ever thrown a ball before?" All of which she responded rather angrily, "Of course!"
"I know how to play catch," she told him in a frustrated tone. "Teach me how to bat."
She stepped up to the manhole cover they used as home plate with a confident stride. It was Abe who was nervous.
"Keep your elbow up," he said. Despite a demonstration she didn't quite grasp it. Without a thought he placed himself behind her, used one arm to adjust her elbow and the other to adjust her legs.
"Whoa, Abe," one boy teased. "Keep your hands to yourself!"
A few snickers escaped his friends and he felt himself blush. As he situated his hands on her shoulders he glanced at her face; only part of her profile was visible at his angle. She had a determined look on her face, as if she was ready to face the greatest thrower of all time.
"Careful Maria," the bowler, Rikhart, joked. His stance was arrogant; one hand on his hip, the other tossing the ball in the air. He was taunting her, daring her to face him, daring her to trust him and doubting Abe's advice. "You never know what Abe's gonna try from behind."
"Just shut up and bounce the stupid ball!" she yelled back.
Rikhart stopped tossing the ball and sneered. He didn't like being told what to do, especially by a woman. He was going to scare her, whiz one right be her pretty little nose so close she would fall back and land right into Abe.
At least, that was his plan. When the ball bounced on its way to her, it didn't spin like he had hoped. Instead, it hopped right down the middle; with a mighty and accurate swing she connected. All of the boys watched in surprise as it was lifted high into the air, and they backed up step by step until suddenly – it was over their heads.
"Oh my god," Abe muttered as he watched the entire group chase the ball. It landed over a block away and bounced its way further down the street. Rikhart kicked a small pebble in his annoyance and stomped away.
"Yes!" Maria cheered as she pumped her fist. She touched the letterbox, light pole, and crossed over the manhole cover without a throw. "That's a homerun, right?"
"Huh?" Abe asked, confused. He was still shocked. "Um, no a homerun is a baseball term."
Over her shoulder he could see the boys had returned, the ball being tossed between them. He heard Rikhart yell, "I'm going home. Fuck this!" A few of the boys added their own variation of goodbye, and Abe knew it was time to get Maria home.
It was a long walk from the crowded street to Maria's home. Abe had never been outside of the working class district before and felt himself get a little excited as he watched the scenery change from the dirty downtown atmosphere to a suburban heaven. He might have enjoyed the sights more if he were alone. He was so conscious of Maria he failed to notice his surroundings, a mistake that could have cost him his life.
Occasionally they would get too close and their hands would brush against each other; he would blush but she never seemed to notice. They talked about the same things they always talked about: books, rumors, and current events. For once he wanted to ask her about her home life, her hobbies, anything that was personal. But he just couldn't muster the courage.
It wasn't until they were a few houses away from hers that the conversation finally changed.
"It would probably be best if I went alone from here," she said as she came to a halt. "My dad wouldn't be too happy if he saw you walking me home."
"Oh," he sighed. "Well, it was… it was fun. Walking with you and talking."
"Yeah," she smiled. "It was."
There was a slight awkwardness between them; was the really how they would tell each other goodnight after such an eventful day?
"Well, thanks," she managed to say.
It happened too fast for Abe to react; she leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the lips. It wasn't until she had pulled away and smiled at him did he say anything. "That was… thanks," he mumbled and looked away. "I guess I can tell the guys I finally kissed you so they can leave me alone." When he finished he peered back over at her only to see her smile grow.
"All you wanted was a kiss?" she asked.
"Don't make me answer that."
She giggled; it caused him to blush and he looked away again. "That wasn't even really what I would call a kiss," she said. "Come here."
Her hands reached out and grabbed him; with a surprising amount of strength she made him face her and crashed her lips onto his. He relaxed instantly, wrapped his arms around her, and allowed himself to be completely immersed in the experience; the way her fingers ran through his short hair and sent tingles down his spine, the way she nibbled on his bottom lip, the feeling of her body against his, how his hands explored her…
Suddenly he pulled away. It wasn't to catch his breath, though he felt as though all of the oxygen in his body disappeared. Instead, he felt just felt wrong kissing her like that.
"I'm sorry," he said awkwardly as he let her go. "It's just inappropriate for me to be kissing you like that."
He was surprised again when she suddenly hugged him. She said, "You're silly, Abe," her breath tickling his ear, which twitched in response.
The embrace was returned; he let out a nervous laugh which caused both of their bodies to tremble. What was he supposed to say? At that moment, he didn't have the courage to admit that was his first kiss or that he felt like a love-crazy schoolboy anytime she was near. There would be another time, a more appropriate moment, to reveal these things to her.
"I knew it would be worth it to follow you," a voice called from the darkness. Abe turned towards the noise only to find the silhouettes of three young men facing him; one he was sure he recognized, a skinny, short boy with pointed ears.
The man lunged at him and a knife illuminated by the street lights cut through the air. Abe tried to duck out of the way but the sharp blade nicked his neck. Maria shrieked, shocked at the sight. As Abe grabbed for the wound he connected with the man's arm and managed to knock the knife out of his hands. Now closer, the man's face was visible and unmistakable – the blonde hair, sharp green eyes and scar just to the left of his small nose.
"Abe!" Maria screamed. "Are you alright!"
"Go!" he yelled at her. "Run!" Just as he finished his command, another one of the boys grabbed him from behind. He was quick enough to jab his elbow right into the attacker's nose.
Maria listened and turned to run towards her house, however she didn't get far. Vincent cut her off; Abe went to rescue her but ended up receiving a strong punch to the side of his head. He dropped to the ground like dead weight and struggled to regain his sense of balance. A pair of strong arms pushed into his shoulders – the attackers' petty attempt to keep him grounded. Unable to see straight or stand, he relied on his ears as he recovered.
"You warmed her up for us, Abe," he heard Vincent say. "Too bad you won't get to share in the fun."
While Vincent rambled and Abe stumbled on the ground his hand landed on something sharp. Not one to resort to violence, Abe had to shove all of his beliefs aside in order to rescue Maria. Without hesitation he grabbed the knife and stuck it right into the foot of one of the boys. The loud scream that was emitted probably woke a few sleeping citizens.
Balance returned, Abe stood and punched the howling man in the face. Vincent let Maria go and sucker punched Abe in the back of the head. Again off balance, he turned and swung blindly, completely missing his target. Another strong blow hit Abe right in the face and it took all of his strength not to fall down. Using his strong legs to his advantage, Abe kicked Vincent's knee and managed to send him to the ground.
Abe didn't waste any more time. Without thinking he sprinted for Maria, picked her up, and began to run from the attackers. Afraid if he went to her house they would simply assault her later and untrusting of strangers he went back towards the part of town he was familiar with. He could hear Vincent and his helpers on their tail, all of them cursing about their injuries. Adrenaline gave him all of the strength he needed to maneuver and move his way across lawns, down alleyways and over fences until he felt as though he could slow to a jog.
Maria's heart was racing faster than Abe's. The blood from his cut face and neck had stained his shirt and now began to cover her. She was worried about the amount of blood he had lost; would his strength continue until they were safe? The truth was that Abe was getting weak and while she wasn't aware of it, he was. He tried to formulate a plan to keep her safe but his mind was too hazy. Those punches had really done their job.
He collapsed, finally, almost back at the block where they played stickball. The landing was rough for him, yet he managed to ease Maria down without upsetting her. She tried to help him up but he was completely exhausted.
The racing footsteps of Vincent stampeded towards them; the attacker whose foot was stabbed hobbled many blocks behind while the third boy was right with Vincent.
"Get help," Abe told her. "Shelton… or Jacob…"
"You punk!" Vincent screamed as he skidded to a stop at the battered Abe. He ignored Maria completely, which gave her the opportunity to run and disappear. Abe waited until she was out of sight before he spoke.
He was lifted off the ground when Vincent pulled him up by his bloody collar. "Fuck you, Vincent," Abe managed to sneer. "You've always been and always will be a dog." For that, Abe received another punch. Yet he was at a point where he stopped feeling any pain, and knowing he agitated Vincent made him happy. He grinned and said, "So weak even an insult like dog gets under your skin. I'm glad you joined Bricker, maybe you'll get what you deserve."
"Bastard, you always judge people," Vincent growled. "Not good enough for you and your uppity morals. But I get along better now than I ever did while you ordered me around."
By the time he finished that sentence the boy with the bleeding foot had arrived. "Vince, let me get a jab at him," he pleaded. "Fucker messed up my foot."
"All to protect a whore," Vincent spat.
Abe whipped his bloodied head and smashed it directly into Vincent's nose, breaking it. "Shit!" Abe screamed, as the impact didn't fare well for him, either.
Vincent caught his gut with a strong punch despite the fact his eyes were watering so bad he couldn't see. Three against one, Abe didn't stand much of a chance. The first couple of kicks against his ribs were incredibly painful; the air was sucked out of his lung instantly. He had to choose between exposing his chest or his head because he wasn't able to protect both at the same time. He ended up curled up, both hands over his head, his back exposed.
Suddenly, the kicking stopped. Braving a peak, Abe glanced from under his arms just in time to see Vincent fall to the ground. He relaxed when he recognized Shelton, who was accompanied by Pascal and Rascal.
It was Rascal who pinned Vincent to the ground. When Vincent said, "Fucking blind scumbag, let go of me," Shelton intervened.
"That blind kid just pinned your ass," he said. Respectfully, he moved Rascal and grabbed Vincent for himself. "You better beat it," he warned. "Abe's a nice guy, but I have no problems cutting your dick off and choking you with it. If you don't wanna end up dead, don't come around here. That goes for your ball sucking buddies and boss Bricker, too."
"You can't protect Abe all the time," Vincent snarled
"No, but there's plenty of boys who would much rather die than let you touch a girl like Maria again. The rest of them would rather you lose your hands than worry about you coming after Abe," Shelton said.
Distracted by the talking, no one noticed one of the attackers pull out an expandable baton. It wasn't until he nearly nailed Shelton in the back of the head did the fighting break out again; Shelton's head was protected by the quick reacting Pascal who knocked the man to the ground. The brawl was chaotic, and Abe wasn't able to participating because of his injuries.
A whistle – a police whistle – almost sent the boys scrambling. If Abe hadn't shouted, "Maria!" Vincent would have escaped. However, when Shelton heard Abe's shout, he turned to see that it was Officer Joncker and Maria that approached them in a hurried pace. Unafraid of Joncker, Shelton and the boys did their best to subdue the attackers until Joncker arrived.
The hefty officer used his own baton to stop the fighting. No one aside from Abe was spared from receiving at least one painful whack as he tried to calm everyone down. Another officer appeared in haste, having heard the whistle. He was a new recruit and was anxious to assist. Thanks to his help, Joncker managed to round up and place all of the boys – even Abe – in zip-tie cuffs.
Sitting on the curb with a face doused in blood, his right eye swollen almost completely shut, Abe asked Shelton, "Why are you here?"
"Rascal called Maria's cell phone," he explained. "When she didn't answer, he talked to Pascal about it. They both came to me to see if you had come back yet. If it was any boy other than you, we'd figure he was getting some, but we know you're too straight laced for that."
Abe smiled; his friends knew him so well. Thanks to that, they probably just saved his life. They saved Maria's life, too, he thought as he gazed across the street where the young officer kept her company.
"Alright boys," Joncker said. "I don't know how many times I've had to round up thugs for fighting, but this is a little bit more serious. A vehicle is on its way to pick a few of you up. I've contacted Mr. Van Andel about his daughter. They will be pressing charges against you. Son, do you have any idea how important Rudolph Van Andel is? Your ass is going to be in jail for a long time."
Vincent just snorted at the threat.
Joncker inhaled deeply and said, "Shelton, Theo, Pascal… You dumb kids could have gotten yourselves killed. You leave this stuff up to the police, you hear?"
"Yes, sir," Rascal said.
The young officer arrived and said to Joncker, "Mr. Van Andel has arrived to retrieve his daughter, sir."
"Watch these kids," Joncker ordered as he went to talk to Maria and her father.
The young officer did as he was told. He looked upon the young boys, covered in mud and blood with a bit of wonder. He was new in town and new to the job; he wondered if such things were normal or if it would never happen again. The expression on his face showed his curiosity clearly. When his eyes caught those of Abe, he smiled.
"You're a good man," he said. "Pretty sure that lady will never forget what you did for her."
"Who the hell are you?" Shelton asked. He didn't like the police officer's friendly attitude. That usually meant trouble for them.
"Officer Martinez, sir," he answered politely. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and approached Abe. The youngster was too tired to care what the officer was doing. Shelton was on his toes, however. A quick, sharp pain ripped through Abe when the handkerchief was placed on the brutal cut along his neck. "I'm sorry," Martinez apologized.
"No worries," Abe managed to say.
"Luckily this didn't hit any major vessels," Martinez assured him. "Otherwise you'd probably be dead."
"I think I have a concussion," Abe stated.
"What makes you say that?" Martinez asked. The response was in the form of vomit which ended up all over the officer's clean shirt and shoes.
"Damn, Abe, at least have the decency to not puke on the man's clothes," Pascal joked.
After another sudden lurch, Abe responded, "I hate you guys." He fell and landed on his back. His glazed over eyes tried to search the heavens despite the blinding street lamps. A few worried gazes peered over him. Somehow, he smiled and said, "I think today was a good day."