I jogged dutifully down the street, stopping now and then to let my corgi, Sam, raise his leg or sniff the place that another leg had risen... or his own from moments before. He wasn't too bright. I liked that about him, though. It was a good day when you got to watch a cross-eyed corgi lick peanut butter off its nose. Dogs were like that. Charming, while tasting their privates. Something only they could pull off.
Cats were a different thing. You can't smear anything on a cat's nose without some of your blood being mixed in. Even if a nice cat sits on your lap, they shoot their hell-made claws into your flesh and then bite you when your leg moves. They always look at you with thin eyes, as if charting the easiest way to eat your insides. They gave me the creeps.
Sam barked at the sleeping street. I hushed him and peered through the dark. Nothing.
"Bad boy!" I whispered harshly at Sam.
I hated making commotions, when the people I was bothering didn't know me. I let Sam guide me tonight and came to a nice, quiet street with big backyards that were probably only used for sophisticated parties where people sipped champagne and declined the elegant hors d'oeuvres because they were on a low carb diet. I liked those houses, but not enough to want one. My little flat a few blocks away was just big enough for my family of three, especially considering one of us ate kibble and peed on the lawn.
Another bark rippled in the stagnant air, and I stopped when Sam started to growl, pulling against the leash.
"Sam… hey, quit it, Sam," I commanded quietly.
I bent down to pull Sam close and try to calm him, but corgis had a slippery way about them. My hands weren't quick enough to grab him as fur slipped out of my grasp. I yelled his name and ran after my suddenly anxious dog, chasing him to where he stopped to bark at a lone bush. I caught my breath and my dog, scolding him gently and turning to walk away.
A noise came from behind me. I jumped. Sam barked. Scared, I turned, and Sam growled in my arms. Dirty and wild, a child slept unnoticed beneath the canopied plant. Ages jumped through my mind and none seemed just right. I decided that the dark haired little boy was seven, and that it was far too late for him to be alone. I squatted and reached my free hand to the youth, pressing it lightly to his dirty face.
I was bitten.
The dumb kid bit me.
I pulled my hand back and mentally cursed the little brat as I went in again, this time nudging his side with my foot.
"Wakey-wakey, you dumb, little-"
I stopped my vengeful mumbles when the kid made one of his own. A hateful look, for anyone, appeared on the child's face. A hazel glare tried to set me on fire and I made an attempt at talking to the little thing.
"Hey, kid. Where are your parents?" I paused, speaking again when I didn't get a response. "Why are you sleeping here? Did you get lost?"
The boy shook his head.
"Are your parents near by?"
I didn't know what to do. I needed to do something with this kid. I couldn't just leave him there. Sure, he bit me, but he was small, like a puppy. What could I do with a kid that wouldn't tell me anything? I didn't have my phone and the people in this neighborhood probably thought just the word 'kid' was taboo, so his family wouldn't be too close... but what if I was taking him right out of his front yard?
I thought about it for a few minutes, while checking the boy's forehead, just to feel like I was being responsible, and decided to knock on a few doors to see if anyone even recognized this unknown child.
We were greeted by women in nightgowns and men in satin pajamas that looked at me with disdain, Sam with disgust, and the boy whose hand I held with belittlement. I quickly disliked them. They either gave us a tired, casual reply, or decided they were experts with kids and knew exactly how to get answers out of the little boy. That idea got crushed easily by that kids mute attitude.
No one knew him.
"Hey," I said to him, after I decided newly wakened socialites wouldn't be any help, "we're going to go to my house, and then I'll get my dad to find your parents, all right?"
The boy nodded, and I decided that he really wanted to go home.
I sat across from a freshly washed boy that quietly nursed a cup of soup. My dad had wrapped him in a fluffy white blanket after scrubbing the dirt-caked boy raw and tossing him into an old pair of my pajamas. My dad, with the patience of a kindergarten teacher, learned that the boy's name was Jason. My dad spent the last hour or so making calls to friends, and friends of friends to try and find the child's family.
My given assignment to stay with the kid until we got him home was an awful one, since any words I said evaporated into the air with no sign of recognition by the hazel eyed little boy. So when my dad came in with a smile and an address scribbled onto a piece of paper, I sighed a breath of relief.
"You're going to be home soon, Jason," my dad said sweetly and led the quiet boy to the door, signaling for me to follow.
"Why do I need to come?" I asked, slightly cross at leaving so late when I had school tomorrow.
"You found him, Alli, you should get to see his parents' expressions when they see him."
I watched my dad's smiling face, directed at the boy, and became excited to see an emotion even brighter.
The desired home resided only a few blocks from my house. It was a nice home, with a large backyard; the grass was a bit overgrown and a single, dingy car took up their dirt-dusted driveway. It made me feel more comfortable, being at a place that wasn't perfect. I decided I liked the home.
Dad waited in our black mini-van while I followed the boy to his home. He quickly left me behind, running to the door that he threw open. I heard the boy's voice for the first time when he eagerly called his parents' names.
I heard it the next when he cried out.
The restrained yell broke something inside of me, and I ran through the door.
My body found Jason's and I pulled him close before I got the chance to see his red cheek. I did feel something I hadn't noticed before, though. Jason was terribly small. A thin frame shivered beneath my hands that felt sharp shoulder blades, tense from emotion. I looked up from my spot, kneeling on a thin carpet, to a pair of puzzled adults with hard eyes. Their voices questioned me about who I was and why I was in their home. They asked this like I was mongrel that shouldn't be allowed in their sight. I barked heedless words back to them, and I felt Jason fighting my ire-enforced hold. But I didn't have the heart to let him see his parents as they spat such awful words.
"We never wanted that kid anyway, that's why we threw him out in the first place. No matter how much we hit that brat he'd just stay around. I mean, he's not even ours! That whore mother of his was the one who dumped him on us. So why would we want such an uncute little brat leeching off of us?"
In my thirteen years of life, I had never been overcome with such a violent urge as I had been then. But that urge was placed in a box and locked tight so that it could never be seen. I held a hurt, shaking, but warm child to my form and courage seeped into me from the small fingers that pushed firm against me. I couldn't have Jason know that I was scared, frightened enough to turn carnal and fight off my predator.
Instead, I stood, Jason in my arms, and quickly left the bitter home where love wilted.
I jogged to the car and ripped open the door to the backseat, telling my dad to hurry up and leave.
"Alli? What happened? Were his parents there?"
"...No, dad" I replied softly, looking down at the dark-haired boy whose head pressed into my shoulder. "They weren't there. Just, please take us home."
He did, and I told him what happened once I calmed down and Jason gave up on escaping my hold. He didn't say anything, but kept busy for the rest of the day, and I didn't let go of Jason for a long time.
I fell asleep that night, holding Jason as I sat on my father's large armchair, and thought about what I'd leaned that day.
A boy named Jason was born ten years ago from a woman of eighteen years. This woman, Leah Tilley, had died five years ago when her intoxicated husband beat her in a fury, and went too far. Their only son, at the age of five, was sent to his only known relatives, a pair of unemployed, high school dropouts that only took him in for the child-care benefits. They are suspected of beating the boy, and not providing him with subsequent living conditions.
A boy named Jason, with the eyes of a cat, lived half his life with his family, and the next with what he thought was his family. He's three years younger than me, far too thin for his age, and is my new little brother.