It never got very dark on the street, between the streetlights and all the city lights way out in the distance, but sometimes when it was night-time and he couldn't sleep,he liked to look up at the one or two lonely stars he could see, and think about how everyone up there was sleeping warm in their beds, just like his friends in the neighborhood and everyone far away that the stars were shining on.
That's why he didn't notice as soon as he would have when the boy came in. He opened the door and looked very carefully around outside before he shut it behind him, very slowly and quietly.
"Hello! You don't have to be afraid of waking me up, you know. I was already awake!" He laughed so his visitor would know it was okay, and then he got out of his nest. "I'm Big Bird."
"I'm JD," said JD, and shook his wing. "I didn't know there was someone already here, I'll go - I just needed someplace to lie low for tonight, I don't want to make trouble."
"You can stay here tonight if you want," said Big Bird. "I like the company. Are you running away?"
"I - ah -" said JD.
"I ran away once," Big Bird told him.
"You ran away from home?"
"No, silly, I didn't run away from home, why would anyone do that? I ran away to home. That's the best place to run to."
JD stared at him for a little while, and then said, "Birds of a feather. But somehow I have trouble imagining you hitchhiking."
"Oh, I liked hitchhiking!" said Big Bird. "You meet the nicest people. This one man in a truck who picked me up," Big Bird leaned down close to JD, "He called me 'Big Fella'. I liked that."
JD sat down on the ground with his legs crossed and started laughing. Or was he crying? It was kind of hard to tell with his face behind his hands like that.
"Some of the junkies at the squat said I might end up here if I was in real trouble and I ran in the right direction. I'm pretty sure I didn't believe them. I'm not sure *why* I didn't believe them. Stranger things have happened."
"Are you in trouble?" asked Big Bird. JD seemed like a nice person; Big Bird didn't want to think he might be in trouble.
JD folded his hands down over his knees and said, "I let someone see me when I shouldn't have, and now there are men in black suits chasing me. They want to -" he thought for a second - "They want to lock me in a little room and do bad things to me, because I'm something they've never seen before."
Big Bird nodded, and said, "They put me in a cage and made people pay to come look at me, just because I was different. I didn't like it very much. But people like that can't come here, so you don't have to be worried."
JD asked, "How do you know they can't come here?"
"Well, they just can't!" Big Bird said. "If you really want to know why, you can ask Bob tomorrow. I think he knows. Or my friend Oscar - he knows lots of things about portals and stuff like that."
JD leaned back and looked around the courtyard - the tire swing, the wall made of doors, all of Big Bird's wonderful things, and said, "Can I actually stay here tonight?"
"You can share my nest with me if you want," said Big Bird, settling in it himself, and yawning. "It's a lot nicer than the ground."
JD stood up. "You know, I think I'd be honored." He sat on the edge of the nest to take his boots off before he snuggled up next to Big Bird.
"Gosh, you're warm," said Big Bird, wrapping him in one wing as he yawned again. "You're great to sleep with."
Big Bird was almost asleep when he thought he heard JD say, "I think I did believe it. But it's been a lot of water under the bridge since he used to come here with Charlie and Sarah. I thought I would be too old. Or too young--"
"Silly," said Big Bird, tucking his head down. "How old you are isn't what's important." And then he went to sleep.
The next morning Big Bird and his new friend were walking down the street. "Are you hungry?" Big Bird asked.
"Big Fella, I'm always hungry," said JD.
"Then we can go to the store and get you some breakfast," said Big Bird. They both turned down the street, where Cookie Monster had just come out of Hooper's store, carrying a two handfuls of pastries. "Are you as hungry as him?"
JD scrunched up his eyebrows. "Well, not always."
Maria and Linda were sitting on the doorstep of 123. Maria waved at them. "Good morning, Big Bird! Who's your new friend?"
"Hi, Maria!" said Big Bird, as he and JD walked over. "This is JD. He's an e-man-ci-pat-ed mi-nor, just like me. That means he gets to choose his own family."
JD opened his mouth to say something, and then stopped and thought.
"We're glad to meet you, JD," said Maria, after interpreting for Linda. "Are you planning on staying for long?"
"I think I'm just passing through," said JD. "It's disturbingly tempting, but Big Bird has reminded me that I need to find my own family. And I don't think this is it."
Linda grinned and said something to him, and JD smiled and answered her in her own language. "I didn't know you could sign, JD," said Big Bird. "What did you say?"
"I can do a lot of things, Big Bird," said JD in both languages at once, but didn't answer the question.
Maria rolled her eyes. "Linda told him he was welcome to stay, because we could use more diversity like his here. And then he took a cheap shot at Ernie and Bert."
"What's a cheap shot?" asked Big Bird.
"We'll tell you when you're older," said Maria, and Linda nodded in agreement. JD signed back in answer - a sign Bird had never seen before, that used only one finger - "JD!" Maria said, while Linda was laughing.
"Sorry," said JD. "But like I said, I really don't think this is where I belong."
There was a clanging noise beside them as Oscar came out of his trash can. "Well, would you look at that," he said. "A twink! I haven't seen one of them here before."
"Oscar!" said Maria. "Don't call him that!"
"I don't mind," said JD, laughing. "It's pretty accurate for the moment."
"I mind," said Maria.
Oscar ignored her. "And why did you put all that ugly black ink all over your skin? It's terrible, it looks like you fell into a puddle of bicycle grease."
"Thanks," said JD. "I like it, too."
Oscar grumbled something and started to close his can.
"Oscar!" said Maria. "JD needs a ride. Do you think you could give him a lift?"
"Why would I give him a ride?"
"You want me to get in his car?" said JD. "I'd rather walk."
"I would rather you walk, too."
"Oh, you're that ashamed of your car?"
"I've got nothing to be ashamed of!"
"I've got nothing to be ashamed of either!"
They stared each other down until Maria spoke up. "Oscar! If you don't give him a ride, he might never find his way out of here. Is that what you want? Having JD around all the time?"
"Fine!" said Oscar. He slammed the lid down, but they could here him shouting out, "But it'll take me awhile to get into the garage! I'll have to find somewhere else to store all the old banana peels!"
"He has a garage in there?" JD asked, and Linda answered him. "Bigger on the inside?" said JD "-- you're right, I shouldn't have asked."
"Come on," said Maria. "I'll buy you some breakfast at the store while we wait, and you can tell me about the family you're looking for."
Oscar pulled up in his jalopy and taxi driver's hat just as they were finishing. "Well, get in already," he said. "I'm not waiting for you all day."
JD jumped over the door into the passenger seat, and then made a face. "What did I just sit in?"
"None of your business," said Oscar. "So where am I taking you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you were in Baltimore last night, right?"
"You do know that Sesame Street is in New York, right? Or are they really growing them stupider every year? You can get here from any city in the world, and you can get back. You want to go to New York, I can take you there. Or Cleveland, or Detroit, or Portland, or Colorado Springs -- or Mumbai, or Tel Aviv, or Sao Paolo -- there's some really nice putrid garbage heaps in Sao Paulo."
"Can you go to Washington D.C.?"
"Why would you want to go there? Even I don't want to go there, and I like hatefulness and despair."
"I it's time for me to start running to home," said JD. "And that's the first place to start."
"That's not very far away from where you started," said Maria, worried. "Will you be safe?"
"If I start there, I can make it safe," said JD, and ran a hand across his hair. "I think. And if I can't--"
"If you can't, you're still welcome here," said Maria, firmly.
"And come back and visit sometime!" said Big Bird. "I'll miss you!"
"Maybe I will, you never know," said JD. "Thank you for the meal and the safe night, anyway."
Oscar made a face. "And that's enough of that," he said, as he started the car and they sped away.
"Goodbye, JD," said Big Bird, waving with Maria and Linda. "Goodbye! Good luck!"