“Don’t move,” said Devlin. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She had her hair cut short, and she wore a dirty baseball cap and baggy clothes. It was no wonder that he had mistaken her for a boy. While Devlin was thin and not particularly muscled, he had no trouble holding the girl in place. She was a year or two younger than he was, and from the look of her, she hadn’t eaten a good meal in a while.
He felt bad erasing her memory, but he had to keep his secret safe. Devlin slipped into her memories, but instead of guiding them, he was drawn into her past as though he were caught in an overflowing river. The intensity of emotion overwhelmed him as he found himself standing in an unfamiliar kitchen where man and a woman were fighting. He knew from his connection with the girl that these were her parents, and that the fighting was an almost daily occurrence. The scene changed to the girl’s bedroom, where he found himself in her body lying awake, praying that the fighting would stop. When her father finally stormed out in a rage, the house became quiet again, except for the faint sound of sobbing from her parents bedroom.
Feeling that it was finally safe, she snuck out her room and down the hall towards the bathroom. When she was only halfway there a deafening bang sounded and her heart nearly leapt out of her chest. The bedroom door was open a crack, so she pushed it until he could see inside. There was blood everywhere on the walls and ceiling. She looked down to see her bare feet soaked in her mother’s blood and she screamed. The sickly, metallic smell of it overwhelmed her and she ran outside and collapsed retching and crying on the front lawn.
Time jumped forward a week, and she was curled up on her bed, crying. She had refused to speak since her mother’s suicide and had barely left her room since the funeral. Her father, reeking of alcohol, burst in. He berated her and demanded her respect. When she didn’t answer him, the bastard actually blamed her for her mother’s death and slapped her face with the back of his hand. She ran out of the house and kept going.
Another jump and now she was hiding in an abandoned industrial building with most of its windows shattered and missing. She would sleep on a discarded mattress that smelled of piss and had holes where the rats had picked at the stuffing to make their nests. Some hobos moved into the building and she had to run again, driven out of even that meagre shelter. She wandered the streets begging for change from strangers. She was digging for scraps of food from the garbage when Devlin recognized himself driving away the two muggers.
He could sense that she was becoming exhausted by reliving the worst parts of her life, and he took the opportunity to regain control. For the first time in months, the girl relaxed as feelings of serenity and peace washed through her. If he pushed harder he knew he could drive all the pain from her mind, or even erase the memories all together. But even at sixteen, he knew that was as much a violation as what her father had done to their family. Those memories were a part of her now, but what he could do was soften the edges and help her come to terms with her past.
So deep and powerful were the girl’s fears that when he finally pulled away from her mind, he found that he had been crying. She stared blankly at him, unsure of what had just happened. Devlin let her go, but instead of running away she lurched forward and hugged him.
In the few seconds that had passed in the real world, a bond of trust had formed between them. He had just wanted to ease her mind, but he had gone too far. Lost and alone, she would look to him for help and guidance as the only person in her life that had ever made her feel good about herself. Devlin sighed. Like it or not she was his responsibility now.
He looked over the girl and noticed she was wearing the same clothes she’d had on when she had run away. They were noticeably filthier than when she had left and were starting to show signs of wear after living on the street for so long. That was something he could help with at least, Devlin realized.
“My name’s Devlin,” he said. “What are we going to call you?”
She didn’t answer, but instead fingered a chain that hung around her neck. It was a pendant with what was presumably her name – Skye. She quickly tucked the necklace away under her shirt as if it were a terrible secret. It was likely the only thing of value she had on her.
“Well Skye, what do you say we get you something to eat,” he said, “and then maybe find you some new clothes.” When they had eaten, the two of them paid a visit to a thrift store for some clothes and a backpack for her. Afterward they made a quick stop at a drugstore for essentials like a toothbrush and deodorant. Just because she had to live outdoors, he thought, didn’t have to mean she had to smell like a garbage pail in a locker room.
After the day she’d had and with nowhere else to go, he decided to splurge and use up most of the rest of his money and rent a hotel room. There was place not far from here where they didn’t ask questions if you could pay up front in cash. It was a dump by any standards, but it was dry and warm, and most importantly it had a shower and beds. The sun was already setting when he checked them in, so by the time Skye had cleaned herself up and rinsed out her old clothes it was already dark outside. She came out of the bathroom and modelled her new clothes as if they were her prom dress.
In the few hours that they had been together, she had not said a single word. He knew better than anyone the horrors she had seen, so he didn’t press the point. Their shared experience gave them an unspoken understanding.
When Devlin had taken his turn in the bathroom, he came out to find her fast asleep. He turned off the television and sat down on the bed beside her. As he counted the remains of their money, he quickly grew dismayed. There was enough for a meagre breakfast, but after that they would need more. He knew he couldn’t keep guilting strangers into giving him pocket change, especially now there were two mouths to feed.
Devlin lay down on the bed beside Skye and stared up at the water stained ceiling. He was determined to find a better way to live than this. As he listened to the sounds of the street below, the beginning of a plan was starting to come together in his mind.To be continued…