Chapter 4: Stealing to Survive

Kira watched Jason work with Kenny trying to get him ready for the next street fight. Kenny had insisted that he was ready to join his older brother so Jason had reluctantly agreed to help him prepare. Kira was surprised to see that Jason was so rough with his little brother whom he always seemed to fret over all of the time. By the end of the impromptu training session Kenny looked as if he was sore all over and had several bruises marking his skin.

Kira subconsciously rubbed her own arm as she remembered the pain that she felt every time that Selma became upset at her, the other girls, or had become upset at life in general. After leaving Selma's, she had only stayed in Glenwood with the couple who lived there for four months before being sent to live with the Morgans. Kira had stayed there less than a month before she had run away. Now about eight months after leaving the woman behind in her first foster home, the bruises were gone, the broken bones healed, but the pain was still very vivid in her mind. Still, a part of her began to wonder if she would be willing to endure that kind of pain again just to eat.

Kira put her hands on her stomach to stifle the growling that spoke of the fact that when she and the other kids had gone dumpster diving this morning that the edible food had already been picked clean by the older kids and adults who had hit it beforehand. She and the other kids were always the last to search the trash put out by the local restaurants and stores. The younger you were, the less was offered to you out on the streets.

When Kira had first joined the street family, she had been able to at least quell the pangs by chewing on leaves from some of the plants that grew at the edge of town. With the leaves changing colors and beginning to fall, however, that alternative to food from the trash was no longer an option. She now knew that she needed to find some way to get some money so that she could buy her a meal or two in between her dives in the dumpsters. Otherwise she just might end up like Denise and the other girls in the street family just to eat.

Now that Jason and Kenny were finished sparing, Kira saw that Jason began to look over the injuries that his younger brother had undoubtedly sustained during the training session. She could hear the older brother reminding the younger that in one of the street fights, his opponent wouldn't go easy on him. He'd have to make sure that he didn't show that he was hurt while in front of the other fighters. He should always wait until after he was back at the bridge before he began to nurse his wounds.

Kira locked away the advice in the back of her mind just in case she needed it later on. She then turned and saw that one of the older girls (she looked like she was about thirteen) was watching her. She then walked over to Kira with a smile and sat down on the ground off to the side and motioned for Kira to join her. She then pulled out a couple apples that she had been hiding in her backpack that she took with her everywhere and offered Kira one.

"You don't want to try fighting for food, Kid. Most of the other kids are a lot bigger than you and you wouldn't stand a chance." The girl took a bite of her apple and chewed it as she continued, "And some of those that fight love breaking in the newbies."

"I wasn't planning to fight," Kira insisted despite her thoughts only moments earlier as she accepted the apple and took a bite out of it as well. It had been a long time since she'd had anything like a fresh piece of fruit; so long that she had forgotten how good an apple could taste.

"Right," the girl snickered. "I'm Gina."

Looking sideways at the girl sitting beside of her, Kira asked, "Where did you find apples?"

"I swiped them from the store earlier today." Gina shrugged since to her it was the only obvious answer.

"You mean that you stole them?"

"It's not like there weren't plenty of other apples that they could sell. Besides, the guy never even missed them."

"Oh" Uncomfortable with the knowledge that the food was stolen, Kira didn't know what to say. Not knowing when she'd be able to enjoy something as delicious as an apple again, Kira didn't' bother eating around the core. Instead she did her best to eat the whole thing, leaving only the stem and the very center of the core behind once she was done. After the two finished eating, Kira muttered a thanks.

Gina munched on her apple and studied the younger girl. "This is all still really new to you, ain't it?" Kira nodded. "Listen, living on the streets is different than living anywhere else. Things that seem wrong just might be the only way to survive out here. If you plan to stay out here, you're goin' to have to learn to do what you have to, to stay alive."

"You mean steal?"

"To start off with." Gina cocked her head as she tried to figure if this kid would be one that had what it took to survive out here on the streets or if she'd run back home to mommy or daddy after she got tired of trying to stay out on her own. In her years on her own, she'd seen a lot of kids who had gotten mad at their parents and thought that running away would teach them a lesson. Kira didn't seem to fit into that category. Gina had seen Kira panic the last time that a patrol car had driven by. She didn't plan to go back to wherever she'd come from which meant that she would need to know how to survive on her own. "The rest, you can learn as you go. Speaking of which, if you want, you can come with me tomorrow when I head out. I'll show you how to get some breakfast before the dumpsters start to get cleaned out."

Kira looked down at what was left of her apple and wished that she had another one. The other kids had been nice enough to let her stay with them but Gina had been the first to share any food with her in the weeks since she'd first begun to sleep under the bridge. Now, not only had Gina shared her fruit, but now she was willing to take Kira under her wing and show her the ins and outs of living on the streets.

"I'd like that," Kira finally said with a smile.

"Good, then we'll leave out in the morning while the others are still sleeping." Gina stood up and returned Kira's smile. In her mind's eye, she was already coming up with ways to put her new friend to work.

Kira wandered through the newly opened mall as if looking for someone; quickly ducking into a couple of stores before she finally collided with a middle-aged woman who was loaded down with packages along with a large and heavy purse. When Kira bumped her, the woman's bags went flying to the ground in different directions and created a complete mess in the walkway in front of the small store that she'd just come out of. Kira then dropped to the ground as if she'd fallen when she ran into the lady and began to whimper about being lost and wanting to find her mother.

"Calm down, Child. I'll help you find her." The older woman began to try to comfort the seemingly distraught young girl as she went on to tell of how she had been shopping with her mother and had stopped to look in a store window only to look up to find her mother missing.

While the woman was distracted by Kira, an older child had snuck up behind the woman and opened the large purse and pulled out the woman's wallet. Grabbing the bills inside, the child then put the wallet back into the bag and slunk off before being noticed by the older woman or any of the other shoppers around.

Once Kira saw that Gina was clear, she then began to try to help the woman gather her scattered bags while sniffling and giving a general description of her mother. Once the bags were all collected, Kira and the woman headed off toward the food court where Kira perked up and shouted that she saw her mother and thanked the woman before running headlong toward the crowd in the eatery area. Feeling as if she'd done a good deed, the woman then turned with a smile on her face and continued with her shopping. She never realized that she'd been mugged.

After leaving the hapless mark, Kira looped around and headed back to the small nook that she knew that Gina would be waiting for her. They had done this routine several times, though rarely in the same place, and they had it down pat now. Kira was good at keeping adults occupied while the more experienced girl swiped the money that they'd need for the day's meal. Only after they both had full stomachs would they head back to the bridge for the night.

Now that a larger building with several stores all in it instead of having to work in the open street had come to town, it would make working come the winter time a lot easier. Kira was just glad that the mall had been built in the same city that she and Gina lived in. Malls were rare and far between so Kira knew that they were lucky.

They kept just how much they'd really made each day a secret because they were trying to save up for coats for the winter. It was getting cool at night and Gina said that if they didn't want to freeze as it got closer to winter, they would need to actually buy their coats since it would be hard to walk off with the really good coats like they could when they needed a new shirt or pair of pants.

Gina had lived on the streets all of her life. Her parents had been homeless when she was born but Kira never did find out what happened to the girl's folks. She had shown Kira how to hide an outfit among a bunch of other clothes that she would try on in a dressing room. She would then put the extra outfit on under her clothes that she'd gone into a store wearing and hand the rest of the clothes back to the clerk that managed the changing areas claiming that they didn't fit. The clerks were never the wiser; especially if they did end up buying a small item in the store before leaving out. After all, shoplifters didn't actually pay for anything, did they?

Gina also showed Kira how to swipe a new pair of shoes by putting her old shoes in the same box and continue to try on other shoes even after they had replaced their own shoes to make it look more authentic that they just hadn't found any shoes that they had been happy with. Other kids tended to grab and run and that drew attention to themselves. Gina's method lulled the sales staff into complacency. They always would do so during the busiest time of the day and would look down at their watches when they were ready to leave and shout out that they were late and their mom or dad would kill them for keeping them waiting. They appeared to be normal girls who were out loafing around the mall while waiting for their parents to finish shopping.

After Kira and Gina finished for the day, the two girls got ready to leave the mall and head back to the bridge for the night. They were nearing the exit when the woman from earlier in the day whose money Gina had swiped out of her wallet came shouting at them with a sales clerk in tow. When she had gotten to the next store, she only needed a quick purchase and found that all of her cash was missing. That was when she realized that the only time that she could have had her money stolen was when she'd stopped to help the young girl who had bumped into her and sent her bags flying.

"Uh-oh. Run!" Gina gave Kira a light shove in the opposite direction as she headed off as fast as she could. This wouldn't be the first time that they'd been spotted and each time they'd split up to ditch the pursuing adults and meet back up together several blocks away from whichever store they had been chased from.

Kira stumbled over her own feet briefly before turning to run as well. She ran headlong into a group of shoppers hoping to get to the next exit before the woman and sales clerk behind her caught up to her. She ducked and shimmied between shoppers and could tell by the shouts behind her that she was out running them. Kira grinned to herself when she spotted the door to the outside. That smile was short-lived, however, as another clerk shot out of the next store front and snatched her up off of her feet; effectively ending her race to freedom.

"Let me go!" Kira kicked her legs and squirmed as best as she could to loosen the hold the man had on her before the others caught up to her. Unfortunately, Kira wasn't able to pry herself free from the clerk's hold. That was when she knew that by the end of the day, she was heading back to the foster care system. Possibly even back to the Morgans'.

"Not a chance, Brat." The sales clerk gave a grunt as Kira's knee connected with his thigh as he held her up in the air off of her feet. "The only place it looks like you'll be going is in the back of a police car."

Kira swallowed hard when she realized that the woman whose money she and Gina had taken had finally caught up to her.

"Alright, young lady. Where is it? I want my money."

"I don't have any money!" And it was true. She and Gina hadn't split the money up yet when the woman had hollered at them.

"Now I know that just isn't true." The middle-aged woman said as she put her hands on her hips. "I had forty dollars in my wallet when I left the shoe store and when I got to the dress shop I didn't have any of it. You are the only one who so much as bumped me in between those two stores!"

"Why don't we take this to the security office so we don't attract any more attention," the first sales clerk that had ran with the older woman in pursuit of the pickpocketer said as he looked around at the other shoppers that were stopping and watching what was going on. "Once we get in there, we can call the authorities and maybe get some answers."

Kira looked around at the room full of cots and sighed. She had just been brought in to stay at the orphanage until a new foster family could be found for her after she'd been picked up at the police station earlier that day. At least she wasn't heading back to the Morgans. She had refused to tell the social worker her last name so she had no way of knowing if she was already in the system or not. Instead, she was being processed as if she'd never been in foster care before.

Kira held out hope that her new home would be better than living with Bruce or Selma. If it wasn't, at least she now knew that she could take care of herself, though a part of her was glad that she wouldn't be sleeping under the bridge tonight with the cold rain pouring down.