The following week found us in a small town somewhere in the heart of Alabama. The balmy weather suited us and the bustling city square allowed for an easy cover up as normal punk kids.
Just half a mile out of town, there were parallel bridges. One was a delicate bike bridge with only about twenty feet between the water and your feet. The other was several hundred feet high: a monstrous thing that towered over the slow-moving rocky river. It was rarely used by cars, despite its purpose. Yes: there were very few tourists to the little place, and it was surrounded by hilly forests on all sides.
It was perfect.
We set up camp underneath the tallest bridge; there was a ramp of concrete and the level top was about thirty feet long and ten feet deep. It allowed just enough room for us all to spread out.
One of our first days there, I turned to Jericho and asked, "Why here? Of all places."
He told me that Boe got a good job here, and it was the best way to earn quick and easy money. When I asked him what it was, he smirked and told me that he would show me.
That night, the mild air turned chilled in the dark freeze of the night, and our breaths rose like ghosts of our words unspoken. We walked across the empty street, although the light was not signaling for us to do so, and our footsteps broke the light quiet with shuffling sounds. Occasionally we were joined by the far off sound of drunken laughing or a car horn blaring in the distance.
Finally, in a seedy part of our new town, Jericho stopped in front of a building that glowed with a purple light. The bass from the music inside pounded the walls and made the cobble-stone side walk vibrate.
"Alabama Gals," Jericho sighed. "It's a nice place to think about sneaking into, till you realize your sister's gunna be one of those girls come morning."
The strip club seemed like a sparkling place in the ominous night, but I knew its true nature. After all, I watched How I Met Your Mother.
I think I was just as uncomfortable as Jericho with the obscure thought of Boe being a stripper, but it would give us money, and unfortunately that green demon is something we cannot live without.
One thing that Jericho told me one night, with our sleeping bags side-by-side, was that he could appear a wide variety of ages. The youngest, he said, was ten. The oldest was sixteen. I could see how.
He was very attractive, and his eyes were dark. If he slouched, put his shaggy blond bangs away from his face, and made his eyes wide, he seemed younger than Elbow. But in his usual stance, with his hair brushing his eyelashes and his face grim, he seemed a lot older. I didn't even know he was my age until Boe told me. When they stood together, both at a height of five foot seven, they seemed like twins.
The actual twins kind of kept to themselves. They were obviously part of the group, but they had their own little sub-group that branched away from the rest of us. They would join in our conversations when we had a 'family meal' around a puny fire and a bag of beef jerky, but in a way I felt like they were less with us than I was. And I had joined only a month before.
Boxy was always there. That was the only way I could put it. He didn't talk much, but if I ever wondered where he was I would look up and his large gray eyes would be staring into mine.
Elbow made his appearance known. He was always talkative and busy, his little mouth running streams of words into the air and weaving parched statements into a complex tale that only he understood.
Boe started to fade out of the scene. Sometimes she was gone, and sometimes she was next to me. I knew where she was when she was gone, and I always had to push that out of my mind.
It was one if the times that she was gone, and I was alone in the little, picturesque square. The park in the center was alight with activity. The fountain sprayed sparkling crystals into the shimmering air, and the grass was a soft golden that cracked under your feet. The trees bent in the breeze, their naked arms flailing on the pale blue backdrop. The giggles from elementary school girls broke the air and the scent of freshly made hot chocolate simmered around my nose.
I ducked into a little diner off of a side street, and once inside I had to shift my shoulders uncomfortably in the humid air. The diner was nearly empty but for middle aged couple sitting on stools and sipping small cups of bitter coffee.
I fingered the change in my pocket. Two dollars. Maybe I could get something small and cheap.
I approached the counter and all at once, two things caught my attention. One was the date on the middle-aged man's newspaper. The other was a tantalizing sight through the display glass: A small, yellow cupcake with pink frosting in the shape of a swirl.
I turned to the man and asked, "Is that today's paper?"
He looked at me funny, and shook his head. "No, son. It's from two days ago."
Two days ago, it was two days till my birthday. Which meant that while I was standing in a moist-aired diner, it was my thirteenth birthday. I always SAID that I was thirteen, but it wasn't true until that day.
"May I help you?" A lady asked. She had short, brown hair and gentle cobalt eyes. Her smile reached into slight indentations around her eyes.
"Yes," I said, quietly. "How much is that cupcake?" I pointed through the glass to the lone treat. She indicated it with a tilted head.
"Three dollars." She said. I couldn't hide my crest-fallen face, and she laughed a little. "Well, what's the occasion?"
"It's my birthday," I said, pulling at the torn edge of my coat. "But I only have two dollars."
"You know what?" She said, smiling. "It's on me."
I didn't believe it until the cupcake was placed in front of me. I looked up, still hesitant, and the woman's kind face suddenly seemed eerily familiar.
"Happy birthday, sweetie."