By Adrianne Lemke
After three years on the streets there was only one thing from my former life that threatened to drag me back: my little brother was now living with my father. It was a situation I’d been feeling the urge to rectify since I’d found out my mother had died a few months earlier, leaving Shane once again living with dear old dad.
“Jason,” Paul, one of the street kids I protected, spoke up. “You should go,” he urged, knowing how I felt. “I’ll keep an eye on the others while you’re gone.”
He and I stood near the only entrance to the dead-end alley where we lived for now, watching for any threats. The others were against the back wall, sleeping. Erin, Ginny, and Jeffrey were aware that I’d been distracted lately, but Paul was the only one I’d told about Shane.
He was also only the second person I’d ever told about my ability to feel the vibrations and echoes of people’s footsteps through the earth. I’d shared that fact with the other children as well, so they’d know I could keep them safe. I sighed. “If I go, I’ll need to tell them about my brother.”
“And why you’re breaking your own rule about taking children from their homes,” he added nodding. My rule had always been no matter the situation, I would not force my idea of rescue on a child if they weren't ready to go. The minute they changed their mind, I would be there, but I would not coerce them to leave.
For my brother, I would make an exception. I would remove him with force if necessary. I hoped it wouldn't be. “I don’t want them to know,” I said, staring down at my feet.
“Jason, if you’re going to take your brother, then you should tell them why.”
Paul knew the whole story, or at least as much as I’d been able to force out, and he was smart enough to read between the lines. He’d been with me the longest, almost a full year. The others I’d come across in my wanderings, but they were new enough that it was hard for me to trust them with the truth. And they were young enough that I did not want to talk about it. They’d all come from bad situations, but none were quite the same as mine.
My father had abused me; physically, emotionally, and…I still have trouble admitting the last. Fathers are supposed to care for and protect their children. My father had been someone most dads would protect their children from. And my little brother was with him.
“No. Not yet,” I said forcefully, making Erin stir in her sleep. “I’m going now,” I added softly, now that I’d decided, I couldn’t wait. “I’ll be back in a couple days.” He agreed and I began gathering supplies for the next couple days.
When I’d run away, I’d gone as far and as fast as I could in the hope that I’d never return. Unfortunately knowing Shane was still around had me checking in on my father to make sure Shane had not gone back to live with him again for any reason. But he was far enough away that it was difficult to get there often, especially with the new obligations I held for the children back at the alley.
Now I was going back, and nothing would stop me from rescuing my little brother. Leaving those children I’d sworn to protect was difficult, but once I’d made the decision to go back for my brother, I knew I had to. I couldn't even be certain he’d recognize me. It had been several years since I’d seen him.
The ground I’d covered when I ran away three years earlier was much more difficult to cover now that I was going back. I would have to avoid my father at all costs. If he knew I was there, he’d drag me back to his house and find a way to keep me there. He’d told me that I was his, and always would be. I managed to prove him wrong. Now I would take my brother from him and leave him with no one.
Our mother had escaped, and for some reason managed to take Shane with her. Our father, to the best of my knowledge, spent very little time looking for her. Instead, any time he was out of work, which was often, he would spend drinking and tormenting the one person he’d been left with: me.
Not that he had been any better before she’d left. Plain and simple he was a possessive, abusive, drunk. And Shane had been living with him for months. There was no way I could pretend for long that my father had changed and Shane would be kept healthy and happy, but I could hope that he hadn’t gone as far as he had with me. I would never forgive myself for not getting him sooner if our father did to him what he’d done to me.
Two days of travel passed in a blur and I found myself on the block where I’d grown up. There was a bank nearby and I saw that it was about two o’clock in the afternoon. Shane would be coming back from school in a little while, probably walking but potentially on the bus. I would need to watch for a little while to make sure our father wasn’t around before I went in after my brother. Nothing good would come if he caught me trying to take Shane away.
There was a park across the street from the house where I’d grown up, and I found a bench near the edge of the park behind some bushes. It was dense enough to hide me, but I could peek through the branches to see anyone I felt approaching the house.
Unfortunately I’d run away before my abilities developed enough to automatically remember the people whose footsteps I felt, but now I would be able to relearn my father’s pattern so I could better avoid him in the future.
I’d hoped Shane would be the first to come back so I could make my initial approach right away, but my hope was in vain. Every muscle in my body was screaming for me to run. The monster of my childhood was in sight, but I was able to resist the urge. Even at age sixteen, the urge to escape nearly overtook me. “Shane needs me,” I muttered as I kept my gaze glued on the man across the street. Shaking myself, I finally knelt and laid my hand on the ground, concentrating all my energy on the footsteps by my former house. He was drunk, that much was clear from the stumbling, but he managed to straighten out enough that I got a clearer feel of his footsteps.
I also got worried. In this state, who knew what he’d put my brother through before I could get to him. Speaking of…yes, Shane was walking down the sidewalk to his house, dragging his feet and hesitating once he saw the car in the driveway. That reluctance to continue was enough to tell me the man in that house had definitely not changed. I saw my little brother, age nine, square his shoulders like a man heading into combat, take a deep breath, and walk into the den of a monster.
It was several moments before I realized my whole body was shaking with the desire to get Shane out of our father’s grasp, and I had to struggle to hold back the power that threatened to erupt and bring the monster’s house down.
Tomorrow morning. I wouldn't make him wait any longer than that.
The night dragged. I had found a hidden spot in some trees near the center of the park where I tried to get some sleep, but only got a few moments rest throughout the evening and into the early morning hours before the sun rose. My rest was disturbed by the thoughts of what my father would be doing to Shane, and by my close proximity to the monster I had managed to escape. When I returned to the edge of the park after giving up on sleep, I watched the activities at my father’s house again. He left first, cursing as he squinted against the sunlight, the hangover in full swing. If all went well, he would never know I’d been here and would assume Shane had run away.
Several minutes after he left, Shane stepped out of the house gingerly. He was trying to avoid putting pressure on his right leg, and his left arm was wrapped protectively around his stomach as he limped down the stairs.
Unable to bear it any longer, I ran across the street calling out as I went, “Shane!”
His face brightened, but he looked confused. “Jamie!” he yelled back, calling me by my former nickname.
“I’m Jason now,” I informed him with a smile. “No trace back to him.”
Shane nodded and looked up at me, his young face full of hope. “Can I come with you?” his voice cracked as he spoke, and I nearly broke down with him.
Smiling gently at him, I nodded. “That’s why I’m here, little brother. I have some friends in Carndal now. We live on the street, but we’re free.”
Ruffling his hair and pulling him into a gentle hug, I added, “It’s good to see you, Shane.”
He pulled back, looking up at me with a slight frown before shaking his head. “No connection,” he said firmly, a smile slowly forming as he took my hand. “I’m Sam now.”
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