Before I knew what I was really doing, my feet were carrying me along the familiar route of Crickton Bridge, down the derelict embankments littered with broken cardboard boxes and plastic wrappers. I had decided to skip lunch at school and go and seek out Jamie, to tell him that he could come and live with me. My phone had rung several times, mostly from El a few times from Tyler, but I had ignored them all.
I peeked under the dank darkness of the bridge, expecting to see a figure huddled in a blanket with scruffy black hair and tired blue eyes. Instead I was met with emptiness. The silence was resounding.
As I was climbing back up the grassy verge, I caught sight of a figure some way up ahead, emerging out of the woods. My mouth stretched out into a smile, the relief that flooded through me was astounding. I hadn't known if he had moved or if something bad had happened to him. The latter only proved to be another reason for him to move in with me.
Just as I was about to call out his name, I saw another figure approach him. This one was larger with broad shoulders and thick legs. Judging by the appearance of him, he was obviously homeless. Homelessness was a lot more common than I'd originally thought...
Before I could do anything, the older guy had drawn his fist back and brought it crunching into Jamie's jaw. I stared, gob smacked, as he fell to the floor, clutching his mouth with frightened eyes. My feet were rooted to the spot, out of fear and disbelief. The guy stumbled forwards, I could tell from the stance that he was looking for trouble.
'Hey!' the word fell from my lips and I lurched forwards.
Both of them turned to face me, surprised.
'Get off him!' I said angrily, grabbing the guy's arm. It could have been an incredibly tactless move, seeing as I didn't even know how dangerous he was. He growled menacingly, wrapping a rough, sweaty hand around my wrist. I tried pulling away, but he had a grip of iron steel. Now the panic was beginning to settle in.
'Leave her alone!' The words came out in a mumbled mess from Jamie's bleeding mouth, but the conviction was there. He stood to his feet, grabbing the guy's free arm.
Jamie was build a lot more athletically than I gave him credit for now that I really thought about it. Now that he was provoked. He was tall, only a few inches shorter than our assailant but there was something about his posture, the way he was glaring at this man that made even me shrink back slightly. I saw the first flicker of doubt flash in the homeless guy's eyes. His grip loosened ever so slightly.
'I just...' he coughed. 'You're getting all these things. Some of the guys said you'd been stealing.'
'Stealing?' Jamie exclaimed, surprised.
The guy shrugged.
'Oh no!' I gasped. 'He hasn't been stealing! It's me. I've been giving him those things.'
'Yeah. Why on Earth would you think he's been stealing it all?'
'Life on the streets is tough kid,' he told me. 'Not that you'd ever understand.'
'So you think it's perfectly acceptable to beat the living crap out of guys half your age?'
'Evie..it's okay,' Jamie said quietly. 'It's understandable. Life on the streets is tough and everyone's gotta look out for themselves.'
'Sorry kid,' the guy sighed, letting go of both of us.
'Oh god,' I muttered. 'Listen. Did you want me to bring some things for you? A blanket maybe?'
'Evie!' Jamie said. 'You don't have to do that.'
The guy's face lit up. It broke my heart. 'You'd do that?'
'Sure, why not?'