It was dark, but the summer night was warm, and the girl who called herself Candy was too angry to be afraid. Although… she knew she would be pretty scared soon, and she had to find her brother. Or else…
Candy was brought out of her daze by the sound of sobbing. She turned the corner of an alley and found a boy about her own age, 9, sitting on the ground with his head in his hands.
“Hey,” Candy called. The boy’s head jerked up suddenly, and she watched him size up her clean, almost-new jeans and her spotless blue vest. In contrast, he was covered in dirt and one knee was badly scraped.
“Who are you?” the boy croaked hoarsely.
“My name’s Candy.” She offered him a hand up. After staring at her for a few more seconds, he accepted it. Candy could see his face was grimy and streaked with tears. For a moment neither seemed to know what to say. Then the boy spoke.
Candy smiled, a bright, naive smile.
“Great, now we know each other. Do you want to come with me?”
Sam blinked and attempted to scrub his face with the back of his hand.
“To my brother’s apartment. He’d take care of both of us, I know he would.”
Sam bit his lip doubtfully.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
“My parents fight a lot. They say bad things and… and sometimes I’m afraid they’ll hurt me. So I left. Before they could.”
Sam’s blue eyes widened.
“Wow, that’s really bad.”
Candy shook off his sympathy.
“Yeah, well, now I’m going to my brother’s apartment and I won’t ever have to be with them again. Are you coming?”
Sam bit his lip again.
“Well… there’s something I have to do first. I can’t come. Sorry.”
She looked at him quizzically but he didn’t offer any more information.
“Okay.” She shrugged and started back along the way to her brother’s apartment building, which she knew by heart. She turned around abruptly to face Sam, who was watching her go. “Hey, Sam? Don’t let anyone see you cry. They’ll think you’re weak.”
I strolled into Sugar Rainbow and paid for a bag of M&Ms with the money I had just pickpocketed, then leaned against the wall outside to eat. It had been nearly thirteen years since that night on the street. I could still remember the first few golden days with my brother, the hours spent reading while he was at college.
Then, one night when he thought I was asleep, Rick made a phone call…to a community home.
I had never felt so betrayed. The next morning, I snuck out and began my life of crime. I slept under bridges and taught myself to pickpocket-a skill at which I was now very adept.
Not much to show for almost thirteen years.
I sighed and tore open the bag of M&Ms. I had almost finished when raised voices coming from Sugar Rainbow distracted me enough to get up and see what was going on. I could see the man at the counter arguing with the cashier. Then the customer’s face turned towards me and I could see part of his face. My eyes widened. Then I started to run towards the shop.
My sneaker caught in a crack, and I yelled as I felt myself falling. I tired to catch myself but it was too late. There was a sickening snap and I blacked out a second before the pain hit.
My first thought was, “She’s beautiful!”. My next thought was, “She’s bleeding!”.
I ran out of the shop and completely forgot my argument with the clerk- and my Redvines. He yelled after me but I kept going. He could keep the change, too, for all I cared.
Kneeling at the girl’s side, I checked her pulse. Fine. I breathed a sigh of relief, and her eyes fluttered open.
“Rick?” she asked hazily.
“No, my name’s Sam. Miss, are you alright? What happened?”
The girl sat up pretty fast.
“I-I’m okay. I just tripped.”
“Are you sure?” I asked anxiously. She frowned.
“Of course I’m okay, I told you, I just-” The girl gasped in pain.
“What?” I sounded really frantic, even to myself. She managed a tight smile.
“Y'know, it’s really cute, how concerned you are for a stranger you’ve never met. I think I twisted my ankle.” The matter-of-fact way she said it somehow made things worse. Gently, I scooped her up.
“Do you have a car?” I asked. The girl blinked.
“No.” She didn’t say anything else.
“Okay, I’m taking you to a hospital.” The girl struggled for a moment.
“What? I’m not hurt that bad. I could probably walk… home.” I glared at her. We both knew that wasn’t happening.
“Alright,” she relented. “But I’m fine! Really!”
It was broken, I knew it. The guy who’d “rescued” me (whatever his name was)–seemed kinda mad that I’d told him it was just twisted. Hey first rule of street survival–never let anyone know you’re weak. Or weaker than you appear, in my case.
I still couldn’t believe that I’d thought he was Rick, who had completely disappeared a few years ago. Probably got sick of living in the world’s most crime-filled city and moved, I thought bitterly. It made me feel like I’d broken my ankle for nothing, along with scratching my forehead up pretty bad.
After I’d gotten my ankle set and been given crutches, the guy–I still couldn’t remember what he’d said his name was–offered to take me to his house. I didn’t argue this time. I really couldn’t bear to tell him I was homeless. Especially after he heard me tell the receptionist my mom’s name and the address of my parent’s house.
We drove to a part of Gotham that looked almost crime free compared to the rest of it, and stopped in front of a huge house.
“Wow!” I whispered. Looking up at the house, I suddenly felt self-conscious. “Um, I didn’t catch your name the first time. What was it again?” I asked as he helped me up the walk and inside. The man smiled at me.
“Sam. I’m Sam.”
“Sam…” I frowned thoughtfully. “That sounds familiar.” I tugged at my too-long brown ponytail, trying to balance on one foot at the same time. I finally collapsed on the couch, which was huge and expensive-looking, like everything else in the house.
“Here, let me do that.” Sam sat next to me and let my hair down. I noticed for the first time that his hair was dyed pale blue and matched his eyes, which seemed like a weird thing to miss the first twenty times you look at a person.
“My name’s Candy.” I said, realizing that I hadn’t introduced myself.
“Candy…” For a second we both stared at each other. Then we both yelled, “You’re that kid!” at exactly the same time.
“Did you ever find your brother?” Sam asked me.
“Yeah–his name’s Rick–”
Sam interrupted. “So, not your boyfriend?”
I gave him a sharp glance. “Sorry,” he muttered. I noticed he was blushing.
“No,” I said slowly, “I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Oh.” He looked visibly relieved.
“Anyways…he wanted to put me in a community home so I ran away and I’ve been living on the streets…ever…since.” I realized I’d just told twelve years of my life in one sentence. Well…except for one thing. Suddenly being a thief seemed to be a major disadvantage of trying to attract a guy. You’d think I would’ve thought of that before.
“Hey,” I said abruptly. “What was the…‘thing’ you had to do?”
Sam turned away from me. I couldn’t see his face as he mumbled, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
His tone surprised me. “It can’t be that bad,” I said.
“I said, I don’t want to talk about it!” He whipped back to face me and the rage on his face scared me. Was this the same sweet nine-year-old I had found in an alley?
“Sorry. I’m really sorry.” His head dropped to his hands, but not before I saw a wave of shame come across his features. “It’s just…it’s hard.”
“No, I’m sorry. I get it. I really do.” I felt like an idiot. 'It can’t be that bad’? Oh yes it could. Life could always be “that bad”…or at least in my experience it could.