PORTRAIT OF A BOY

by

Cosmo

© 2013 - 2015 Cosmo
cosmonaut@hush.com

This Story is works of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

These stories are copyrighted by Cosmo, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.


Chapter 16: On The Run

I never thought it would end like this. Yes, I had always secretly harbored thoughts of running away from home some day, but I never imagined it was ever going to be in this surreptitious manner. Had it been my mom I was escaping from, that would perhaps have been more honorable, but the fact that it was Sandra I was walking out on made it somehow shameful and cowardly.

And so, it was with a heavy heart that I got out of bed and got dressed. I could already feel the chill in the air this morning. As soon as I pulled aside a corner of the drapes and looked out of the bedroom window, I knew it was going to rain. Not the weather I had hoped for. My courage almost failed me.

When I was dressed, I crept quietly into Petey's room and knelt down by his bed. He looked so peaceful and content. It was almost a shame to awaken the tiny figure that was wrapped up so warmly under the comforter, to disturb his childish dreams only to bring him back into the misery of real life.

"Petey. Hey, Petey."

I jiggled his shoulder. He stirred, and blinked his eyes open against the dim glimmer of daylight filtering through the drapes, executing a cute little stretch.

"Come on Petey, wake up."

He focused on me and smiled, not annoyed at having his slumber curtailed, but instead looking pleased and expectant. He was such a good kid.

"Is it time?" he asked, in a whisper.

"Yeah Petey, it's time," I whispered back.

So Petey got up and obediently put on the clothes I had laid out for him, his jeans, his hoodie, an extra undershirt, and thick socks. I didn't want him to get cold.

It was still dark outside, and there was barely enough light to see what we were doing. I had prepared our backpacks the night before with a few essentials and a change of clothes, so that everything was almost ready to go. We didn't put any lights on, so we fumbled around in the semi-darkness, being as quiet as we could, whispering and tiptoeing around so that we wouldn't wake Sandra.

When we were dressed, we crept downstairs, Petey wearing his little baseball cap and winter jacket over his hoodie, and carrying our backpacks. The very last thing I did was to leave the note I had prepared for Sandra. I put it on the kitchen table so she would be sure to find it when she got up. I had told her I was sorry to have to take the money from her purse, but I really had no choice. I felt sure she would understand. Sandra always did. I promised that I would pay her back everything.
 
Sandra's bedroom overlooked the front porch, so it was less risky to leave through the back door. We gently let ourselves out, being extra careful not to clank the metal gate in the back yard, and I hurried Petey along to the end of the street. The sky was brightening, but to a menacing gray, and then I knew for sure we were expecting rain. I could actually feel the dampness of the approaching storm already in the air. Not a good day to be outside. But it was too late now. When we reached the corner of the street, finally out of sight of the house, we could breathe a sigh of relief. It was still early. Sandra wouldn't be up for at least a couple of hours. But I knew, as soon as Sandra found my note and realized we were gone, she would raise the alarm and they would be looking for us. By then, we would be a long way away.


I pulled the car into the school parking lot for the first time in several weeks. The phone call that I received earlier, summoning me to this meeting with Principal Perkins, was fairly devoid of any clues. It was only the school administrator that I had spoken to, so she was unable to shed any light on the matter. Naturally I expected the worst. It had to be something pretty grave to call me in for a meeting with the Principal. It was the first time I had been back since my suspension. I had been away so long that the place seemed almost alien. The once familiar schoolyard felt like foreign soil, and the edifice of the school building appeared austere and unwelcoming. Already jittery with trepidation, I parked the car in the usual place, and crossed the schoolyard to the main building, turning up my collar against the chill in the air. Rain was on the way.

When I got to Perkins' office, he was already standing by the open door as though preparing to haul me inside the moment he spotted me. Even from halfway down the corridor, I could see he looked agitated and impatient as I approached. I was convinced that I was about to be told I had lost my job. The Department must have found something untoward with Ben. Maybe the examination had revealed something awful. Or maybe Perkins had simply decided that my previous performance was no longer tenable and had decided to dismiss me outright. My drinking and tardiness alone would have given him plenty of justification.

"Ah, Julian," he called out, by way of greeting, standing on the threshold of his office.

"Good morning Robert."

He stepped aside to let me in, and promptly shut the door behind us, as though emphatically sealing my fate. Inside, I saw that the schoolmarm social worker was there, sitting in front of Perkins' big desk. That didn't surprise me. What did surprise me, in a delightful way, was that Sandra was also there. She was sitting in one of the guest seats over by the window, and brightened on seeing me.

"Sandra!" I exclaimed.

"Morning Julian."

"What a surprise," I replied, "What are you doing here?"

Perkins interrupted, eager to get straight down to business.

"Let's leave the pleasantries till later," he began, moving around behind his desk and sinking into his big leather swivel chair, "Right now there is a rather urgent matter we need to deal with."

"Am I dismissed?" I asked, expecting the worst, still hovering tentatively by the door.

"Relax," said Perkins, "The Department is taking no further action."

This came as a complete surprise. My relief was tangible.

"Really?"

I must have breathed the biggest sigh of relief, and I turned to the social worker as if seeking confirmation. She peered around at me over her horn-rimmed spectacles. She seemed to have no particular words or expression. At any rate she made no attempt to counter that statement, thus indicating that it must be true.

"How come?"

"The examination revealed nothing. You're free to return to work," said Perkins.

"Well, that's great," I exclaimed, chuffed.

"There's only one problem," Perkins went on.

At this point the schoolmarm cut in.

"Ben's mom failed to attend her twelve step program yesterday. She reneged on her agreement. We gave her every opportunity to show us that she was serious about taking care of her children, but she's failed. Since she may now be facing imprisonment, we cannot send Peter back to live with her. He will now become a ward of the state."

I shouldn't have been pleased about that, but in a perverse way, I was. Inwardly, my heart soared. It was so refreshing to hear that something had gone in Ben's favor for a change. Whilst it was probably a good thing, it still left a lot of things unresolved.

"So what happens now?"

"We will now move to get him adopted as quickly as possible."

"Both of them? Ben and Peter?"

"Yes," the schoolmarm affirmed, "There seems no good reason to separate them."

I was incredulous. I could barely comprehend the reversal of fortune, and how one single event had suddenly resulted in a complete change of luck for the boys. And probably for me too.

"That's wonderful," I said, probably more jubilant than I should have been.

"Not quite," Sandra intervened, and stood up, indicating the gravity of what she was about to tell me.

I turned towards her. Sandra looked somber and drawn, as though burdened by some awful thing that she was about to share with me.

"What is it?"

"Ben and Petey are gone," she said, and her words were downbeat and solemn, infused with her genuine concern for their welfare and her own deep affection for the boys.

I looked at her, for a moment not fully comprehending what had transpired.

"They've run away," she explained, "They left the house at some point during the night or early this morning. I don't know where they are."

At that point, Sandra was so choked with emotion that she had to sit back down and was almost overcome with tears.

"The police have been informed," Perkins continued, "And they will need to speak to you."

"Of course," I replied, making no issue about that.

And within seconds, Perkins was on the phone to the police department.


"I'm hungry, Benny," Petey whined, for the umpteenth time that morning, "Can't we just stop and get something to eat?"

"We really need to keep going, Petey," I reasoned.

"But why?"

"Because we don't want them to find us. You don't want them to split us up do you?"

"But I'm tired and I need to go to the bathroom," he countered, becoming ever more tetchy and irritable.

It was pretty clear that no amount of reasoning was going to placate Petey. Our mission really didn't matter to him at this moment. Truthfully, Petey was starting to tire me out. His constant yammering was wearing thin and his perpetual whining was becoming tiresome. So we stopped. We found our way to the nearest truck stop, if only for him to go to the bathroom. It was pretty nondescript, no more than a gas station with a diner and a convenience store, but it was good enough. Inevitably, once we entered the truck stop, Petey pleaded for something to eat as well.

I was very wary of entering the truck stop, not wishing to be anywhere with too many people around, and anxious to avoid being seen in public at all. Petey, on the other hand, was hyper and excitable, as though all this was some great childhood adventure to him. I don't think he was really aware of the gravity of our situation. Buoyed by the prospect of food and a well earned rest, his mood switched instantly as soon as we arrived at the truck stop. Suddenly, everything was new and interesting to him. His eyes were wide with boundless curiosity, fascinated by the cars and trucks pulling in, the bustle of people in transit, and the colorful shelves of the convenience store, crammed with junk food and candy.

Petey finally stopped talking if only to chew his way through the enormous burger I had bought him. To conserve our funds, I ordered nothing for myself. I figured I could make do with sharing his Coke and pilfering a few of his fries. We found an empty table outside the diner, where I thought we would be less conspicuous, despite the chill in the air and the darkening sky. Luckily there were some tables with parasols around the corner, on the other side of the diner, away from the parking lot, which afforded some degree of anonymity. We took off our backpacks, but kept our caps and hoods drawn up around our heads so that nobody would recognize us. I figured that we had good reason to keep ourselves hidden. But even there, we seemed to attract inquiring stares from some of the other diners. There was a big burly guy at one of the tables opposite, probably a trucker, and he was casting curious glances at us - well more like at Petey actually. He had a thick, walrus moustache, and was wearing a denim shirt with a neckerchief. He was tucking into an enormous steak, swigging intermittently from a bottle of root beer, and smiling ominously. I found his unsolicited glances somewhat menacing and he made me feel very uncomfortable. Clearly he wasn't trying to conceal his interest in us. He knew I had seen him, and he wasn't deterred. Petey was oblivious, more interested in finishing every last mouthful of his burger and fries.

When we were finished, I left Petey at the table with a squeeze to the shoulder and instructions to stay put while I quickly went inside to pay the check. He was happily chewing on the last of his fries as I left him, clearly sated and nourished by his meal. At the cash desk, I had to wait for a couple of people in the line ahead of me. While I waited with my backpack slung over one shoulder, I grabbed an oversized chocolate bar from the counter with a vague notion that we might need something to stave off our hunger later. When it was finally my turn, I hastily extracted a couple of crumpled bills from my pocket which I handed to the cashier to pay for our meal and the chocolate bar, and promptly left without waiting for my receipt.

When I returned to the table, I saw that Petey's seat was now empty. My heart jumped. Petey was gone. An icy stab of fear shot through me and sent me into a panic. I looked around at the other tables. Petey was nowhere to be seen. The trucker was also gone, his table still littered with the abandoned debris of his meal. I ran back inside the diner with the chocolate bar still in my hand, thinking that Petey might have followed me inside. But Petey wasn't there either. The cashier was now serving someone else. I popped quickly into the restrooms, and called out for Petey. The place was deserted and all the cubicles were all vacant. This didn't look good. I ran frantically back outside, and looked around again, this time more slowly and deliberately, but there was still no sign of Petey.

Almost out of options, and by now gravely concerned, I darted around the other side of the diner and scanned the parking lot. Focusing further afield, I eventually caught sight of Petey over by the adjacent gas station, on the far side of the parking lot. I breathed the heaviest sigh of relief. Petey was apparently okay, and still had his backpack with him, although at that moment he appeared to be in mid conversation with the trucker. There was a big black eighteen-wheeler with the cab door open, and Petey's diminutive little figure was standing beside the towering cab listening to the mustachioed trucker who was clearly attempting to coax him into the rumbling vehicle. Alarmed, I dashed over to get him away from there as quickly as I could. I hastily stuffed the chocolate bar into my coat pocket as I ran, covering the entire expanse of the parking lot as fast as my feet could go.

"Petey! No!" I screamed.

Before he had time to turn around, I was upon him. Petey was surprised, twisting his head awkwardly to look at me. I put myself between him and the burly trucker, and unceremoniously jolted him away. I pulled him so violently that he nearly lost his balance. I shouted a few angry words at the trucker, who simply laughed at me. I don't remember what I said exactly, but the trucker seemed to shrug it off regardless. He wasn't tempted to stay and remonstrate with me either, choosing instead to bound up into the familiarity of his cab. I latched onto Petey's thin little arm and dragged him away as the hiss of air brakes emanated from the now departing truck.

I marched Petey away, for the moment too scared and too angry to say anything. I hauled him quite hard back to the safety of the diner and hustled him roughly into the restrooms. Thank goodness there was no one else in there. I pushed him into the nearest cubicle, out of sight. It was the nearest place of sanctuary, where we could hide until we knew the trucker was gone. I bolted the cubicle door, threw down our backpacks, and turned on Petey, so overwhelmed by the narrow escape that I found my fear suddenly turning into fury.

"What the hell do you think you're doing Petey!"

Petey looked up at me, shocked into silence by my raised voice. His eyes widened and he looked confused, not understanding why I was shouting.

"He was gonna show me his truck..." Petey started to explain, for the moment not aware of the severity of what had just happened.

"Dammit Petey!"

Petey was visibly shaken, perhaps surprised by my anger, and only just beginning to realize that he must have done something very wrong. He continued to look up at me plaintively.

"Don't you ever do that again you hear?" I bellowed at him.

He stared at me openmouthed, too scared to say anything, and I could see the shock and fear in his eyes.

"I... I'm sorry Benny."

"You must never go off with strangers!" I screamed, "They could hurt you. Don't you understand?"

Petey, finally assimilating the origin of my wrath, was very close to tears, and I could see his bottom lip starting to tremble.

"You really scared me Petey!"

My scolding caused Petey to hit back, resentful of my berating. Now it was his turn to be angry.

"I didn't mean to, okay!" he shouted back.

And we both found ourselves standing there in the confines of the cubicle, our angry exchange filtering up into the deathly silence of the restroom. After a moment of hesitation, the shock caught up with Petey, and he burst into tears. He threw his arms around me and I embraced him, and once again I found myself having to comfort him.

At that moment I realized the very real extent of our vulnerability. We were both just kids. I was not much bigger than Petey, and not very streetwise. Perhaps I was endangering both of us like this. I couldn't really protect Petey. If that trucker had decided to confront me instead of laughing it off, he could easily have subdued both of us. That was a very frightening prospect. And who could tell how many other crazies, druggies and winos there were out there. For the first time in my life I felt frightened for my safety, and that of the little brother who was an unwitting victim in all this. I started to wonder whether running away had really been the right thing to do, and then I had to remind myself why we were doing it. Yes, running away was scary, but the prospect of being separated from Petey scared me even more.

When Petey was a little more composed, he finally lifted his head and looked up at me, drying his tears by grinding his fists into his eyes.

"Benny, why can't we just go home?" he pleaded.

"There is no home anymore," I explained, "It's just you and me now Petey."

He looked round searchingly, hopelessly surveying the dank and soulless cubicle.

"So where are we going to go?"

"I dunno Petey, anywhere you like. Name some place you always wanted to go."

"Really?" he beamed, his eyes still teary.

I nodded emphatically.

"Sure. Just name it."

"The sea," he said instantly, "I've never seen the sea."

I hesitated.

"Hmm... I'm not sure. We're a long way from the coast..."

"But you said..."

"Okay Petey," I relented, "Okay, you wanna see the sea, I'll take you."

"Yay!" Petey cooed, delighted at the prospect of getting his wish.

I unbolted the cubicle door and let Petey lead the way back out, hitching on our backpacks once again. As we did so, I delved into my coat pockets to see how much cash we had left, trying to work out if we had enough for a bus to the coast.


Petey slept on the bus. Which was a welcome reprieve for me because I didn't have to listen to him whining. He was asleep almost as soon as the bus pulled out, with his little head turned slightly to one side, tilted towards the window. I took my coat off and threw it over him. We had opted for seats right towards the back of the long vehicle, where we were perhaps slightly less conspicuous. Luckily no one had cause to question us, neither when buying the tickets nor boarding. So here we were, on our way to some obscure coastal town that was not even on the tourist map. It was the closest place to the sea, although it wasn't likely to be much of an attraction on a gray wintry day like this. It was not exactly beachwear weather.

I don't remember much about the rest of the journey. We were already exhausted from walking for most of the day, so while the bus swallowed up the miles, I tried to rest. Soon, evening closed in. There was nothing to see on the Interstate. It was all black outside. We were just a small speck in the unseen vastness of the countryside, a panorama of nothingness which stretched out before us and enveloped us in darkness. The only reassuring thing about the entire bus ride was the drone of the vehicle's big engine and Petey asleep in the seat next to me. I was vaguely aware that at some point the journey took us across the state line.

While Petey was asleep, I had time to focus my thoughts, and reflect on what we had to do. I rummaged about in my coat pockets to find the smartphone that Julian had given me. I still had it, but it was dangerously low on battery power. I had forgotten to charge it before we left. I decided to switch it off to conserve whatever power remained. I figured I could still use it in an emergency. Right now, our only priority was to get to the coast. It might even be the last thing that Petey and I ever got to do together, which made it all the more important to get there. Realistically, I knew that our money would soon run out, and I had no clear plan for what we would do after that.

It was very late into the evening when the bus pulled into the terminal. I had to rouse Petey when it was time to alight, so we donned our coats, making sure to keep our hoods up and our caps pulled down over our eyes, hoisted our backpacks on, and skulked away from the terminal as quietly as possible.

As far as I could tell, there was a road out of the town that led directly to the seashore, although there was no way of knowing what we would find there. We left the busy terminal, heading through the town. On the edges of the town, as we left the more populated areas behind, the terrain became mostly vacant plots, and then gradually turned into grassy fields and farmland. There was a narrow, winding road, that was lined with trees and hedgerows. Our only option was to walk. We were still some distance from the sea, but I figured we could make it. No sooner did we find ourselves out in open country, it started raining. Rain had been in the offing all day, so it was sheer bad luck that the heavens opened at exactly the time that Petey and I were at our most vulnerable. It rained heavily. I led the way along this dark, deserted road, illuminated only by the reflected light of the full moon. I held onto Petey's little hand, both of us braving the spray that was pelting hard against our faces, and resigning ourselves to getting drenched. Despite our hoods and caps, the rain saturated my face and was running in ticklish trickles down the front of my neck.

Through the deluge, we spent much of the evening walking, taking the occasional rest and soldiering on in our trek to the seashore. We spoke very little. Neither of us were in the mood for conversation, and our bracing pace didn't allow for much verbal exchange. But we trudged on regardless, determined to make as much headway as possible. It was only with that thought in mind that I ignored my aching feet, the tiredness in my legs and the heaviness of my backpack. On the way, I held tightly onto Petey's little hand. His little legs worked almost in a canter to keep up with me, and I was tugging on his hand, encouraging him to keep going. It was strange. As we walked, I remember looking down at him through the rain, and he would look up and force a little smile, just to reassure me that he was okay. I smiled back in acknowledgement. He was such a good kid. When Petey was too tired, I carried him for a while. I took off my backpack and slung it over my arm. Petey hopped up onto my back, still wearing his little backpack, and collapsed on me, his sweet head lolling about limply with his chin resting on my shoulder. He was very light. Being such a small, delicate boy, there was almost no substance to him at all. My muscles protested a little, but I kept right on walking, carrying his weary little frame as far as I could while he recuperated from the demands of this unwelcome odyssey. When I could carry him no more, I set him down and, still uncomplaining, we carried on walking.

As we walked, the dogged determination with which we had started out slowly diminished into a reluctant and somewhat resentful trudge. We still had our hoods up and our caps on, but the rainwater still found a way in. The rain eventually eased off, leaving us soggy and cold. Our fingers were numb, our clothes were damp, and even our sneakers were soaked through. We had reached a point of cold and exhaustion where we almost did not have the energy nor the impetus to continue. We had walked for so long and it was so late into the evening that it had become apparent we would have to stop for the night. It was then that we began to hear the faint roar of the ocean. The proximity of the sea, when we heard it, was a welcome fillip. Gradually, a distant rush became more and more distinct, until we could hear the recurring crash of the waves on the shore, and we knew we were close.

"Listen Petey. You hear that?"

We stopped right there by the roadside and Petey looked at me, cocking his head to focus on the unmistakable sound of the waves.

"The sea!" he exclaimed, his little face brightening.

"That's right Petey. We made it!"

We walked quickly down the narrow, darkened road that climbed its way up towards a broad, flat expanse of grassland. It appeared to lead to nowhere, but as we rose up over a slight crest in the road, it curved around the edge of what looked like a sheer drop. Somewhere, down below, was the sea. Excitedly, we ran over to the edge of the road to see what was below. There was a wooden fence that was no more than waist high, and beyond that a small strip of scrubland. We easily negotiated the fence and scrambled over to the edge of what turned out to be the top of a rocky embankment. We dropped our backpacks and looked out. From that viewpoint, we caught our first glimpse of the sea. Actually, it was a big black expanse of nothingness, but we knew that out there the darkness represented the unseen vastness of a powerful ocean. Beneath us, the rocky embankment was quite steep, but it fell away and down towards a little beach. It was a dirty, rocky beach, with grayish sand and lots of little boulders strewn around. Not the kind of beach that was made for swimming. But there was a small wooden jetty a little further up, probably a convenient launching point for fishing boats, which proved that it wasn't altogether inaccessible.

Petey and I decided to clamber down the rocky embankment to get to the beach, our excitement tempered only by the precariousness of our ascent. Lowering our backpacks down before us, we tackled it with all the boyish bravado we could muster, clutching at the outcrops of brush and weeds that were embedded in the rocks. The embankment was steep, so our feet were sliding part of the way, and we sent little avalanches of loose soil and rocks tumbling down as we went.

At the bottom, we jumped the last few feet until we found ourselves standing on the flat expanse of soft sand that gently sloped down towards the water. It was yielding and powdery beneath our damp sneakers. We were here!

Petey stepped closer to me and took my hand. The deserted beach was dark and slightly spooky at this time of night. We both stood there, surveying the beach and staring out into the void.

"When can I go for a swim?" he asked, looking up at me appealingly.

"Tomorrow Petey. It's too dark to swim now."

It was also far too cold for swimming, besides which we had no means of getting dry. If the weather tomorrow was good, Petey would get his wish.

"Let's sleep here for the night," I proposed, "And in the morning you can swim in the sea."

"Okay," he said, at last.

I could tell from the way he was squeezing my hand that he was exhausted. He was standing with his cheek resting against my arm, propped up against me. The poor boy could barely stand.

I could see that further along the beach the sand gradually petered out and gave way to a finger of rocks where an enormous outcrop protruded out into the water. The big pile of craggy rocks seemed to tumble down into the sea as though they had crumbled into the ocean. We headed towards them in the hope that they might provide some welcome shelter.

Luckily, the rocks offered plenty of nooks and fissures where we could shelter. We clambered up, slipping and sliding a little on the greasy surface, and found a natural little hollow between the rocks which was lined with soft sand. It was ideal for us to curl up and sleep, a perfect cubbyhole for us to ride out the darkness until dawn.

In the dimness of the moonlight, I took off my coat and hoodie, which I rolled up into a makeshift pillow for Petey. He settled down, nestled in the sandy bottom of the rocky little hollow, and laid down on his side, curled up in the embryo position. I placed the rolled up bundle under his head and he cutely laid his cheek against it. I draped my coat over him. He snuggled under it, preparing to let his exhaustion overtake him.

I stood up, but Petey called out.

"Don't leave me!"

"I'm not gonna leave you Petey," I said, "I'm just gonna put away our stuff."

He smiled, his face nestled under the collar of my coat, and then he lifted one end with his arm, inviting me to join him underneath the impromptu blanket. It was a very affectionate gesture.

I stowed our backpacks amongst the nearby rocks, and then got down and laid behind Petey on my side, spooning him in my arms, and drawing my coat back over us both. I thought I would lie with him until he was asleep, not really expecting to get any sleep myself. I could feel Petey's diminutive little body relaxing and warming up. As we laid there together, Petey broke the silence.

"Benny?"

"Yeh Petey?"

"I'm hungry."

I remembered the chocolate bar that I had picked up earlier at the truck stop, and retrieved it from my coat pocket. The chocolate was crushed and had softened a little against my body heat, but I figured it was still edible. I tore open the wrapper, broke off half of it, and gave it to Petey. He wriggled and turned towards me, smiling his gratitude, and half pushed-half sucked the sorry looking fragment into his mouth. He eagerly consumed the first piece, so I gave him the rest. Even as he laid there, his little cheeks were bulging with the pleasure, chewing away, swallowing big gulps of the sweet confection, until it was all gone. Then when he had swallowed the last mouthful, he looked at me, apparently struck by a sudden thought.

"Where's yours?" he asked, puzzled.

"I'm not hungry," I lied.

If he wasn't convinced by that, he certainly didn't show it. He hesitated momentarily, but didn't say anything. Truthfully, my stomach was spasmodically emitting a low growl, protesting painfully at the sheer lack of food. Yes, I was hungry. But it wasn't important for me. The way Petey had swallowed that chocolate bar, it looked like he needed it more than I did.

He turned back onto his side so that I was able to spoon him again. We settled into our favorite position, on our side with me wrapped around him, and Petey closed his eyes, ready to go to sleep.

"Benny?" Petey piped up, opening his eyes again.

"Yeh Petey?"

He twisted his head to look at me and half whispered to me.

"Am I really going to swim in the sea tomorrow?"

His sweet breath smelled faintly of chocolate.

"Yeh Petey. In the morning. But right now we need to get some sleep."

He settled back down and prepared to go to sleep once again.

"I love you Benny. You're the best," he whispered, with his eyes closed.

"I love you too Petey. Go to sleep now," and I wrapped my arms around him, pulling my coat up over us both.

The syncopated crashing of the waves was difficult to block out, so that I doubted I would ever get to sleep. But I had to try. As I waited for the welcome reprieve of sleep, I could only reflect on the sorry set of circumstances that had led to us being out here in this forbidding place on this awful night, and wondered how it had come about that Petey and I had essentially become fugitives. At this moment I almost longed for the familiarity of home. I tried to remember some of the things that I missed about my old life, which seemed such a long time ago now. But I couldn't remember any good times. If I looked back, most of it was stuff I didn't want to remember. A childhood that was characterized by an uncaring wino of a mother, and schooldays filled with the trials and tribulations of being on the periphery of everything, compounded by the routine terror of being systematically targeted and victimized by the other boys. Maybe the only times I really valued when I looked back was that magical weekend I had spent with Tony's family at the lake, and of course the times I spent with Julian. The brief interactions we had at school, working together on the school play, and then those few days that I stayed with him after my mom threw me out. Despite catching flu, I had never been happier than I was then. And now, here I was, out in the middle of nowhere with this little boy that I couldn't take care of, having blown it with everybody. By running away, I realized that I had probably ruined everything for both of us. I had blown it with Julian and blown it with Sandra, the only people who had ever been good to me - and I had repaid them by just walking out. Worse than that, I had probably also blown it with the authorities. The Department, and maybe the police too, were looking for us by now. Deep down, I knew that Petey and I would be forced to face up to our respective fates eventually. Realistically, in the back of my mind, I knew that it was only a matter of time before they found us.


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