The morning sun streams in through the hospital window. I watch its slow ascent up Kevin’s small frame. When it finally dances across his smoke-streaked face, he shoots up with a gasp. The handcuffs clang against the bedrails and yank him back down. His whole body shakes in a coughing fit. He strains against the chains to clasp one hand against his throat.
“Simon, water,” he rasps when he spots me in the straight-back chair beside his bed.
I point to the Styrofoam cup and straw on the bedside table. Kevin stretches his neck towards the cup like a turtle poking out of its shell. He wraps his lips around the straw and sucks in deep. When he leans away, a wide grin covers his face. “No school tomorrow.” His voice is scratchy but jubilant. He nods at my head. “You still have ashes in your hair.”
I swipe a hand along my high grey mohawk, and the bright red & blue tips are vibrant again.
He squints at me, “Where’s your earring?”
I flick my ear lobe, and a dangling skull and crossbones jangles. Kevin smiles.
“What do you think of these?” Kevin shakes his arms, and the chains rattle against the rails. Before I can answer, a brunette in baby blue scrubs pushes through the door.
“How are we this morning?” A name tag pinned to her uniform reads, “Billie.”
“Got the key?” Kevin turns his “puppy dog” eyes in her direction.
“I hear you’ve been a naughty boy.” The nurse’s voice sing-songs, but her mouth holds a smirk.
“I didn’t do nothing.” In frustration, Kevin scissors his legs, but the too-tight, tucked-in sheet has him beat.
She waits for him to settle back before pressing her fingertips to his wrist, “I saw you on the news. They’re pinning last month’s church fire on you too.” She watches the second hand on her watch. “That was a historical building, you know.”
“I’m on TV?” Kevin’s smile lights up his face.
“How old are you? Eight? Do you know what the bigger boys will do to you in juvie?”
“It was an accident.” A tear rolls down Kevin’s cheek. Despite my snort, Kevin keeps a straight face. This kid is good.
But Billie tsks while picking up his chart to record his stats. “Save your tears for the judge, kid.” But then she must feel bad because she asks, “Do you want a popsicle?”
“Fuck the popsicle,” Kevin’s smile is chilling. “ I could get my friend here to kill you if you don’t release me.”
Billie startles and drops his chart. It swings on the rope with a SWISH SWISH. Billie glances around the room before leaning down to peer into Kevin’s cold eyes. “You’re as cray cray as they say.”
Kevin clears his throat, but Billie steps back in time as he hocks a glob of black phlegm. It lands on the white tile floor between them.
“Don’t worry about juvie,” she says, “Loonie tunes like you get a permanent time-out in a bouncy castle for one.” Billie walks out of the room backward, twirling her finger in the air beside her ear.
“You might try playing nice,” I suggest.
“You heard how mean she was.” Kevin pouts as a doctor pushes through the door. Following close behind is a guy in a baggy grey sweater with a matching sad face.
“You did it this time, Kevin.” The baggy-sweater guy berates. His eyes are red-rimmed, either from drinking or crying. I think he’s the latest foster parent, but it’s hard to keep up.
“Simon made me do it, I swear, Jim.” Kevin’s fresh tears stream down his face, but it won’t matter.
“And you continue to lie. You’ve broken Tracy’s heart.” Jim props a foot on the chair seat, and I slide over.
“Simon, tell him it was your idea.” Kevin pleads with me. I shake my head, disappointed that this is how it ends.
“Is Simon here now?” Jim tilts his head to look at Kevin. He can’t hear my heart pounding.
“He’s sitting right beside you.” Kevin jabs a finger at me. Jim doesn’t even turn his head.
The Doctor’s eyebrows raise as he lifts Kevin’s chart and scribbles something.
I could run a finger down Jim’s arm, but he’d think it was the AC. Or If I concentrate enough, I might be able to push his foot off the chair. But I see the Doctor has already got a syringe out and is flicking the barrel. He presses the plunger until a clear bead appears at the tip.
“What the fuck?” Kevin sees the needle and starts thrashing. The handcuffs clang against the bed rails sounding like the bells of an oncoming train. His wrists are now rubbed raw. Billie enters the room as if on cue. She catches his legs and holds them down.
“Grab his shoulders.” The Doctor nods to Jim.
Jim’s face is tight, but he does what he’s told. “My wife and I always did good with the troubled kids. We knew about the fighting and stealing since his grandpa died in that bus accident in Quebec in ’77. But that was four years ago; it should be getting better, but now he’s lighting fires? What’s next?” Jim’s tearing up now. “We wanted to make a difference, but we couldn’t get to him. He doesn’t want anybody.”
He wants me, I could say. But not for long. The Doctor presses the needle into Kevin’s arm. Kevin’s eyes blink rapidly, like windshield wipers are clearing away his soul.
I visit Kevin in his new room. It’s clear of everything but a mattress. Good thing the walls are padded because he’s banging his head against it. I stand before him, but he can’t see me. They still have him drugged up.
“Kevin,” I call. But I know he can’t hear me either because I feel our connection loosen, and just like that, I’m released.
I wake up in the park. The leaves are starting to change. I need to find somewhere warm to live soon.
I smile at all the kids individually. It’s been weeks, and none have seen me. Until today. A girl with curly red hair, sitting alone in the grass, glances up. She appears to be around 4 years old. She wrinkles her nose at me. I lift my face to the sun, and my wrinkles smooth away. She stares in wonder. She has a Barbie. I run a hand over my grey mohawk, and it transforms into long blonde waves. She giggles. I twirl in a circle, and my leather motorcycle jacket fades, and under is a bubble gum pink jumpsuit. She claps her hands. One of the women in the group looks up, sets eyes on the girl, and returns to chatting. I walk towards the girl and wait. She smiles and pats the grass. I sit. It’s then I notice her arm in a cast. I flick my finger, and I have a cast too.
“Dara,” her Mother separates from the others. Dara skips towards her and takes her hand. I follow close behind.
They walk to an apartment building, and the Mom opens the door. Dara turns to look at me. I have already shrunk to her size.
“Dara, come on.” Her Mother holds the door. Heat blasts from the building.
“My friend is coming too,” Dara says.
Her Mom looks through me. Her forehead wrinkles, “what friend?”
“Skipper,” Dara names me. She takes my hand. I feel the threads of friendship bind us.
Dara’s Mom frowns, “Sure, Pumpkin.”
Following her into the building, I tell Dara, “Only you can see or hear me.” Her eyes open wide, and she giggles. Her Mom looks at her sharply.
As we go up in the elevator, Dara’s Mom bounces her knee.
When we enter the apartment, she says, “Go wash your hands for lunch.”
Dara skips down the hall, and I follow. But I catch her Mom whisper-hiss on the phone, “She’s made up some imaginary friend.” She pauses, then says, “I know it’s a phase. But it feels weird.”
I don’t hear anymore when Dara pulls me into the bathroom. She pulls my hands under the water. The water runs through them. She watches, intrigued. “Are you a ghost?”
I laugh, “No, I’m your friend.”
“We’re BFFs?” Her voice is needy, but that’s okay because I need her too.
“Yes, for as long as you want,” I promise.
“No matter what?” Her eyes narrow as she stares deep into mine. She’s looking for something. But I know she will only see her own reflection staring back.
“Cross my heart and hope to die.” I can’t tell you the number of times I have uttered these exact words over the millennium. And often, depending on who befriends me, I wish I could die.
N.E. Rule attended Metropolitan Toronto University for both creative writing and business communications. Her writing portfolio includes software specs, marketing copy, and training materials, however, her passion is fiction. HTTP://nerule.com