Crossing the finish line

I finished my story, but I was a little
short of my 50k word count so I had to write
a little more get over that line. I'm not
sure where or how to fit this into the story
but it's a little bit of back story on the
main character and Leonard.

Official NaNoWriMo word count: 50,460

We laughed and cheered as we ran down the alley. The restaurant behind us was in a shambles – broken glass, overturned tables, walls with holes kicked in them.  Franco had tried to be polite – he’d tried to be reasonable. He’d explained how we weren’t asking for much. Everyone needed to eat. Times were tough and everyone needed to pull together, to look out for each other, to make sure nothing bad happened. But they hadn’t listened. The owner of the restaurant hadn’t listened. He’d looked at Franco and just seen another loser kid on the street. He hadn’t seen the group. He hadn’t seen the Marauders. He hadn’t understood – but he would now.

I ran with the others. My belly felt full in a way that it hand’t been for weeks. But it wasn’t a good full. It was a bloated full. Like I’d eaten too much and I couldn’t help but wonder at what we’d done. Franco talked big. His words made pictures in your head – they pulled you along, even when you weren’t sure you wanted to go.

I’d been running with the Marauders for two months now – since shortly after I’d left the orphanage. We’d done small stuff – boosted food, boosted cars – and it had been fun. There was a feeling of power – that we could conquer the world – but we’d never hurt anyone.

My mind flashed back to the image of the old man, the pool of blood, and I shied away from it like it burned. We were fed! We were happy! I felt like I was going to throw up.

I stopped running with the others. I paused to catch my breath – to get my stomach under control. Then, I looked up at the commotion further down.

There was a boy there. I’d seen him on the street but didn’t know his name. He wasn’t a Marauder. His hair was dark and messy and he wore big glasses.

Franco was looming over the boy. “What’s the matter asshole! Can’t you see where you’re going?”

The boy looked up at Franco and mumbled something I couldn’t hear.

“What? You didn’t see me? Oh, well maybe it’s those glasses. Here, let me help.” Franco reached out to grab the boy’s glasses and he reacted – swatting Franco’s hand away.

I shook my head, that was bad. Franco might have been happy to just push him around a little – maybe play some keep away. He’d been in a good mood, but I could see the mood slide into meanness. You had to respect Franco. If you didn’t respect him he got mean.

Franco shoved the boy, hard. He stumbled and went down on his back. Franco stepped forward leaning over him and shouting.

“Can you see me now, asshole!” Franco kicked him and I felt something inside me shift. This wasn’t us getting something for ourselves – getting what we needed to survive. This was Franco being an asshole. I stood up and walked down the alleyway towards Franco.

Franco reached down and snatched the glasses off of the boy’s face and threw them down on the ground. When they didn’t break he grew even angrier.

Franco stomped on the glasses, grinding them with his heel, and I could hear the lenses shatter as the plastic frames gave way. Franco’s smile wasn’t nice. He kicked the boy again. “Can you see me now?”

The boy on the floor was curled up around his middle hugging himself. The other kids had formed a ring around them. Some were cheering, some were quiet. This was new for them too – they didn’t know how to react. Franco commanded respect, but was this something to respect? We all understood being down there. Being below other people. We’d found our place, a fit in the hierarchy, but this seemed different. The kid looked like one of us, could have been one of us.

I pushed through the crowd, my mind racing like molasses. I saw angles, options, choices. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt hot and cold at the same time. I was madder than I’d ever been and I wasn’t even totally sure why. I didn’t know the kid, and Franco had taken me in, made me a member of the Marauders. But I did know that this was wrong.

“Franco!” it was practically a scream and my voice broke. “Leave him alone!”

Everyone shut up. No one moved – except Franco. He turned slowly to me. “What did you say?” his voice was quiet, lethal. I knew I’d crossed a line. Maybe I could have talked to him in private, but here, now, I was a threat. A threat to his position – to his respectability.

“I said”, I gulped, “leave him alone. He didn’t do anything to you.”

“Didn’t do anything?” Franco’s voice was rising, he sensed my fear, my uncertainty, but he misunderstood it. I wasn’t afraid of him. I hadn’t ever been afraid of him. I was afraid of what would happen next. Of what I might do to him or what he might do to me.

“Didn’t do anything! He disrespected me!” Franco stalked towards me.

He didn’t say, ‘and now you’re disrespecting me’ – that would have brought the disrespect into the open, reinforced it – but the undertone was there. We could both sense it, and everyone could sense it.

Franco came right up into my face and tried to loom over me, but he couldn’t. He’d expected me to shrink. To fall back. To cower and plead for my place. But he didn’t know me. I realized then that I was done with Franco and I was done with the Marauders. They weren’t a home anymore. The restaurant had changed that. It was time for a break – and something about the kid on the ground called to me. If I was going to make a break, I could do it with him. We could be family for each other.

I didn’t think, I just moved. My right leg flew up and my foot connected with Franco’s balls. He froze, his face a mask of pain and he tumbled sideways his hands groping the fury in his crotch. We’d none of us participated in much violence before today. We’d seen it on the trideo. We’d talked big but we’d never participated, we’d never authored it – and I’d never realized what I had over the other kids.

I was the only one who could read and I’d read a lot before I’d run away. When you read, you make your own pictures in your head. When you read literature, you are forced to think, to make your own connections, to understand. The trideo was passive, you could stare at it, and watch it and not take any of it in – not understand the lessons. And I’d learned lessons from my reading. I’d learned that if you’re going to fight you need to fight to win. And if you’re going to win, you do it however you can – and you do it fast.

I silently thanked Ender and looked around at the other kids. No one moved. They all watched me. No one was looking at Franco.

I didn’t say anything. I walked over and picked up the kids glasses, shoving them in a pocket of my jacket. Then I walked over to the kid and helped him up. No one had moved, they were still watching me. Like I was a dangerous beast – and I probably was.

The kid and I pushed through the circle, walking away – and I never saw the Marauders again.

###

His name was Leonard. He’d been on the streets for few days – trying to find a place. He had a little bit of money and he’d been using it sparingly for food.

“So how come you’re here?” he asked me later that day.

I looked up in surprise. Kids don’t ask that. You were on the street. It didn’t matter how or why or anything – you just were. I was quiet for a few minutes pondering the question. I knew why I was here – I could tell him. It’s not like it was a secret. But it was a hard barrier to break. I hadn’t told anyone else about the orphanage or anything else about my past. It was mine – my information – my secret. And I’d been on the street long enough to know that you hoarded secrets. A good secret could get you a meal. A bad secret could get you hurt.

“Why are you here?” I asked him, instinctively trying to get more than I gave.

He shrugged, “Micky kicked me out. Said he couldn’t support freeloaders.”

“Micky?” I asked.

“He was my mom’s…friend.” The last word was different – like he’d been going to say something else.

“Where’s your mom?” I wondered how a mother could let her child live on the street like this, what his mother was like. I’d never known my mother.

“She’s dead.” He spat the words. “She OD’d last week.”

I didn’t know what to say. Leonard looked at the ground and shrugged, “It’s not like she was much of a mother. Always either busy or sleeping it off. Micky kept me around because she was a good earner.”

I nodded in understanding. “Well, Leonard, I guess it’s us now. I know a place we can crash tonight. Near a restaurant where I can usually beg scraps.”

He nodded, but didn’t say anything. He’d had a spare pair of glasses in his coat – a good thing because he was pretty much blind without them.

Then he said, “So what about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you never answered me. How come you’re here?”

I sighed. “I grew up in an orphanage. I never knew my parents. One day I’d decided I’d had enough – that I could do better on my own and I split.”

He looked at me curiously, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” I sighed. “Anyway, let’s go try to get some dinner and find a place to crash. I don’t think that Franco will be coming after me, but I want to get far away from Marauder territory.”

###

We spent a few days traveling through the city – always on the lookout for a place where we could get some food and crash for the night.

One night we were at the back of a Chinese food place, going through the dumpsters, when we heard a horrible high-pitched squeal and loud cursing. I thought it was an alarm and I grabbed Leonard and started to run, but I was pulled up short when he didn’t move.

He just stood there, turning his head back and forth, listening to the sound of the squeal.

“C’mon, Leonard – let’s go!” I was nervous about getting caught. The other night at a Vietnamese place the cook had run out brandishing a cleaver to run us off. But Leonard didn’t move.

He slowly pulled away from me and walked towards the sound.

“What are you doing, man!” I followed a distance behind him, ready to turn and run but not wanting to abandon Leonard.

He walked up to the back door of the restaurant and knocked on it.

The squeal cut off and the door was thrown open. A large black man with a dirty white apron stood there, door handle in one hand and knife in another.

When he saw Leonard, his eyes narrowed. “What do you want, kid.”

I stood back and tried to look innocent. I was ready to start in with my regular spiel about needing food, being hungry, just a couple of lost kids – but then Leonard spoke up.

“Your radio.”

“Yeah, what about it.”

“It’s not working right.”

The man gave Leonard a funny look. “No shit it’s not working right. You think I want to listen to that whine?” He looked ready to close the door on us and go back to work.

“I can fix it.”

He paused, giving Leonard a curious look. “Yeah, you can fix it. Right. You’s just want to get in here and grab something and run off with it. Bah!” He started to close the door.

“No, really! I can fix it. Sounds like a capacitor came loose so the crystal isn’t oscillating correctly to line up with the radio waves.”

That made him stop – hell it made me stop. I gave Leonard a blank look and the guy said “What did you just say?”

“I said it sounds like a capacitor-“

He waved it away, “Nevermind, I wouldn’t understand it this time either – but you sound like you know what to do.”

He looked hard at both of us. “Ok, I’ll get the radio and give it to you. You stay outside and fix it. If you can.” The last bit was muttered under his breath.

He handed the radio to Leonard and then closed the door.

“Leonard, what the hell are you doing?”

“Relax, I can fix this. I’m good with electronics.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a multi-tool and proceeded to dismember the radio.

I watched in awe – I’d never seen anyone fix anything before. When something broke, you threw it out and got a new one.

Ten minutes later he had the radio reassembled. I’d watched him the whole time, but I couldn’t have told you what he did. As far as I could tell, he just took it apart, poked at it and then put it back together.

He knocked on the door again and smiled triumphantly, brandishing the radio when the guy appeared.

“It’s fixed!”

He gave the radio a dubious look but didn’t say anything. He just took it from Leonard and plugged it into the wall and switched it on. Music came pouring and his face split into a wide grin.

“Hey! You fixed it! That’s great! How’d you do it?”

“Oh, I just know how to fix stuff. When it’s broken, I just see what’s wrong and how to fix it.”

“Huh,” he looked speculative. “Hey, why don’t you kids come in here and I’ll get you some food – you look like you could eat.”

I looked at him warily, “Why? What’s in it for you?”

He chuckled at that, “Well, your friend here just fixed my radio – that saves me from spending 20 bucks to replace it. Plus, there’s a guy I want you to meet.”

 

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