When I fall asleep, which sometimes doesn’t happen, I don’t dream. My dad used to say that I dreamed so much during the day that my mind was tired when it finally drifted off to sleep. I still believed that was true. So when I felt someone tugging at my tennis shoes, I knew it wasn’t a dream. I carefully opened one eye and saw a few things. First, from how it looked through the tiny window in the playset tunnel, it was still nighttime. So I either slept for a full day not likely or I only got a couple of hours of sleep more likely than I’d like it to be. Second, my meager belongings were still with me and my iPod was still laying beside me. While the iPod was an ancient relic by technology standards of today, it was the most precious thing I’ve had. I’d die without it. Finally, my eyes could barely make out the dark outline, but I could deduce some things about the shoe-tugger.
“The angle of the dark outline and the height of it leads me to believe that this is a tall, stout person. Probably 300-350 pounds and over 6’2”. The way the shadow is also positioned leads me to believe this isn’t an ordinary citizen. The shadow is straight up and down, not leaned in or hunching. The grip on my foot is firm. This person was probably in the military, though what branch I can’t decide. The sound of the person’s breathing is heavy as are their grunts as they try to pull me from my ‘slumber’. Male probably, in his 50s possibly because he isn’t yanking me from my spot. The dark outline also seems to move differently around the edges, which means to me that this man is wearing a thick coat of some kind. The fact that he hasn’t issued a command to me and that 49,933 veterans are homeless in America finally allows me to deduce that this is a homeless man who is trying to steal my shoes or trying to yank me out of their bed.” I say to Dad-son who sits across from me in the dark, barely furnished parlor room of 221 B Baker Street.
“Excellent deductions As-lock, but what will you do with this information. He presents no harm to you yet, but he might not be looking for a spot to sleep or for new shoes. They might be criminals in disguise.”
“In studies during the years 2011-2012 there were only 181,500 incarcerated veterans.”
“99% of whom were male –“
“They made up 8% of the total population of inmates in local jails and in state and federal prisons excluding military facilities.”
Dad-son smiles at me. “And how many, As-lock, unreported crimes are there each year.”
My eyes move away from his face. I stare at the intricate designs on the rug. Diamond shapes that don’t look like real diamonds. “Over 3 million.”
“And how many people go missing each year?”
“2,300 every day, both children and adults in America.” I say as I move my eyes from the inaccurate floor design to the walls. Simple brown paint on the walls. This was an apartment after all.
“What are the chances that you’ll be the next one to go missing? And who’s to say you’re already not? Your mother –“
The illusion breaks at the mention of my mother. The man still tugs at my foot, but more forcibly. He’s definitely not after my shoe now. In fear of my life because ten trillion possibilities come to my mind as to what he may do to me if I let him win, I kick the man with my opposite foot as hard as I can. It connects with his face, my heel digging into his mouth and drawing out a gush of blood. The man removes his hand from my foot in shock and to inspect the damage done and I take that as my cue. Backpack in one hand and my iPod in the other I flip over onto my belly and military crawl out of the tunnel. Taking the small steps two at a time, I rush up to the top where the “big kids” slide was.
“HEY!” I hear the mystery man possible serial killer yelling behind me as he comes through the tunnel. I throw my body into the slide and lift my feet so my body had as little resistance as possible. My hair and lime green jacket stick to the slide as I finally reach the end of the slide. Not caring as the static tried to cling to my body to the slide, I run towards the wooded area that separated the subdivisions from the “city”. The trees grow closer to me and I know I’ll be able to shimmy up one of these soon. As my feet begin to crunch the leaves below me, indicating to my body that it was almost home free from the serial killer hot on my trail, I feel the wind knocked out of me as the ground looms closer and closer until my face becomes intimately connected to the Earth.
“He had a thick jacket on. Underneath he is skinny and quick.” I say through my face-palm.
“We all have our moments , As-lock. Even someone as brilliant as you.”
“He wasn’t a serial killer was he?”
“Nope, ordinary cop checking to see if you were the missing teen or not.”
“How touching. Mother called.” I say before the scene fades.
I completely come to in the back of a patrol car. The car just came to a stop, because my body moved forward slightly. As I look around at my surroundings I see the slightly familiar surroundings. My mother and step-father’s new home. Their “fresh start”. The cop comes around the car and opens the door. He has a handsome face, even with the swollen lip and right cheekbone. His grey eyes look at me with pity and with anger. Great. Back to being judged again.
A tall man with a slim build and curly dark hair emerges from the home. He looks like he just came home from work as he was still wearing a dirty nurse’s uniform. He looks at me for one second before rushing to me, stopping right in front of me and dropping to his knees.
“Aslynn, are you okay??” He exclaims as his hands start to roam my face, touching a sensitive spot that I’m sure is bruised from the fall. I yank away from his touch and walk around him as I say through clenched teeth “I’m fine.”
“Your mom’s at work tonight, she said for me to call her when you come home,” he says in that annoying tone. His voice, well everything about him, annoyed me to no end. His voice was the total opposite of my father’s. While my father’s had been deep and melodic, his was soft spoken and thin. I waved my hand at him as I walked into the house, not bothering to give him a second glance. Through the open door I can hear them talk.
“Sir, are you a parent? I can only release juveniles to their parents in situations like these.”
“Yes, officer. She’s my step-daughter. Her mother is at work.”
The officer’s lack of comment was evident even as I was climbing the stairs. A lot of people did that nowadays and I was the unwilling recipient of such expression when he divulged our relationship. “Okay then, well I’m taking out a complaint against her for assaulting an officer, trespassing, runaway….” I couldn’t here anymore as I closed the door to my new room. Well, I can’t even have that in this new “home”. Daniel, my step-father, took a massive pay cut to move us to this town. Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe Daniel. My mother had to start working again after she had been a stay-at-home mom for years. Life was better when she stayed home and didn’t know Daniel, but now with the stress of bills and the lack of money I guess she just became a bitch overnight. She works every shift she can at the local truck stop, so I guess tonight is another all-nighter for her. It used to bother me that she worked. It was so foreign to me that she had a life outside of the house and wasn’t involved in mine as much, but now that she’s not in my life hardly at all I don’t feel upset by it anymore.
As I throw my backpack on the floor and place my iPod gently on my desk, I climb into my bed and begin to lay down. I’m in the middle of making a deal with some superior force to let me gain some more sleep tonight when I feel a small lump underneath me. I lean up and look at it. My step-sister. Penelope Jane. PJ. Penny. Penn to me. To everyone else in the world she was the cute and adorable six year old of our blended family. To me she was the perfect child. Her beautiful ringlets fell to her shoulders and did not get frizzy or messy. Her eyes were dark pools that people got lost in and she still had that chubby baby face while the rest of her was very slim. Very unlike mine since I was overweight according to my mother. Also unlike me, Penelope made straight A’s and my mother raved about her all the time. How hard is it to make A’s in the first grade anyways? It’s not like I’m failing! I’m making C’s and D’s so far. The only thing imperfect about the new perfect daughter was the scar that she had on her hand and forearm. A jagged line ran down the middle of her hand and then cut right on her forearm. Faded, but still obvious to the naked eye. Even the scar doesn’t tarnish my mother’s love for Penn. It seems to make her love her more.
I take a deep breath. Jealously over Penelope was the fault of my mother. She replaced me with Penelope and Penelope was too young to know any better. Still, the sisterly bond hasn’t came in the three years we’ve been a “family”. I doubt it ever will. I leave the bed and walk over to the window. The cop is just now pulling out of the driveway and I can hear the front door close as Daniel reenters this house. I hear him timidly walk up the steps. Confrontation has never been Daniel’s strong suit. As he enters the room he softly knocks on the door.
“Aslynn? Are you asleep.”
“Daniel, you know I have insomnia. When do I ever sleep?”
“Well, the cop said –”
“Whatever, not important. When do I go to Juvi?”
“W-w-well the cop said –”
“Do you ever say anything that someone else didn’t say?” I say with far more venom than I intended to. I didn’t want to fight with Daniel. I’d rather just ignore his existence until I turn 18 and can legally leave this hellhole, but the man annoys me. He has no backbone and he can’t parent to save his life. While no one’s ever disclosed to me how Penn obtained her scar, I like to think that she was playing with knives and accidentally sliced herself up while Daniel suggested from the sidelines that she “please put the knife away sweetie”. The thought makes me chuckle a little. Daniel looks at me questioningly before his eyes move to my iPod on my desk. I follow his eyes and tense up. I will fight for that iPod. I will fight and I will win if they decide to take my iPod.
“That’s not the one I gave you.”
“No. It’s mine.”
“But the other one I gave you is new. No cracked screens or dented edges. The one I got you will power on when you want it to and — ”
“I like my old one,” I say curtly. I didn’t care for his present, his peace offering.
“If it’s about the songs, I made sure each –”
“Get it through your dense skull that I don’t give a crap about that stupid iPod you got me, Dan. I don’t care. I have MY iPod and that’s all I want. I don’t need anything from anyone, especially someone like you.” The look on Daniel’s face makes me wince. I clearly hit a nerve. If he would just leave me alone then I wouldn’t have said any of that. I just want to be left alone.
“Oh… okay… ummmm.. I’ll just go…” he says awkwardly as he leaves the room and softly closes the door behind him. I don’t watch him leave. Instead, I watch the night sky and I watch how it turns from the dark blue-black colors of night to the purple and orange of dawn and finally the yellow of the day. I stare at the sky for so long that it takes me by surprise when the alarm clock on my bed begins to ring. Time to “get up”.