None of my caretakers understood why I was passed so quickly from family to family. I never offered any clues and my silence promised them an easy job, but within months they too were dropping me off somewhere else. I had grown accustomed to this by the time that I was eight.
"Would you like to play with us?" A Hazel eyed grade three classmate questioned me and her small tanned hand reached out to me. My curiosity hadn't gotten the best of me in a long time and her stretched offer of friendship did not rouse this lack of curiosity. This girl, with curls tighter than the leaves that I used to pull on in a secret place that I had found when I lived with a caretaker years before, was frightened by my silence. No one else dared to approach me in the next four months that I'd attended the school, and I am sure that no one mentioned the third grader who one day simply never reappeared in class.
My silence is ruptured when Burt reopens the door, his scent of cigarettes and beer sucking me into a world that I am unfamiliar with.
The concrete steps are cold under me and I pull my legs up to my chin. I never thought that he would accept me right away, but I also thought that he would give me the chance to tell him my story about the stars, and how they saved me every time someone let me go.
The sound of voices sneak through the open windows as Burt ignores my presence outside. The crickets sing their melody around me and I let my legs guide me away from the blue house on the corner of Grand Ave. These streets are lined by houses. Low fences of soft grays, whites, and yellows separate the lawns from the sidewalk and the dim glow of television sets bring haunting shadows to the streets. Children rush by me with laughter that send memories around me of a time when I had been too young to understand what was happening with my caretakers.
Suddenly, my feet stop in front of a diner. The sign screams in neon red Eddy's 50's Cakes and while the inside is anything but a cake shop, the design of the 50's is clearly obvious. Leather booths line the right side of the diner where windows create the wall and offer an undisturbed view of the streets outside. The tables are a smoky grey and the floor tiles reflect a brilliant white under the brightly lit overhanging lamps. An older man with silver intertwining with his remaining brown hair and an experienced smile is standing behind a long blue counter drying a glass. He occasionally comments on whatever two teenage boys at the counter, are talking about. One of the boys, a brunet and maybe a year older than me, is waving his hands frantically while his friend, blond and good-looking, shakes with restrained laughter as he drinks from his chocolate milkshake.
I enter and they merely glance at me as a little bell over the door signals my entrance. There is a couple in the furthest booth with some fries in between them. The girl, a pretty brunette, looks upset, and as I walk towards a booth several seats behind them, the young man that is with her reaches out and caresses her cheek.
The bright lights inside oddly help illuminate the darkened streets outside and I watch an older couple walking slowly past. When a family of two younger children passes by them, the older couple waves with the enthusiasm of a distant relative.
"What can I get you, darling?" I turn away from the view of the streets and stare up at a middle-aged woman. There is a pen in her hand as she waits for me to say my order, but oddly enough there is another pen stuck behind her ear. Her hair is a bob of blond and she smells softly of roses. Her smile is kind, but her eyes have seen better days.
"I don't know," I say. "You have a pen behind your ear."
To my surprise, the waitress giggles--something that has never happened before when I spoke bluntly of my surroundings. "I know darling, I always lose one or another!" She controls her giggling that has now attracted the attention of the teenagers sitting on the stools. "Sometimes I even forget that it’s there. I have a horrible memory for such things."
I examine her as she scrunches up her forehead in concentration.
"One time, I nearly lost my head looking for it until Old Eddy over there," she signals with her index finger, "kindly pulled this big ol' ballpoint out from behind my ear!"
I briefly turn my attention to "Old Eddy", who is still paying close attention to the two boys.
She notices where I am looking and misunderstands. "Those boys are nicer than you would think, don't be frightened by them." When I smile and shake my head her eyes look me over. "You're new here too. Oh, you're something precious all right--you visiting for the summer?"
"Yes, I am." I say.
"Don't let the homeliness fool you then, this place can be quite exciting if you know what to look for," she winks at me and returns to her pad. "Now what can I get you?"
I look at the milkshakes that the teenagers have and tell her that I want a strawberry milkshake and whatever tastes good under ten dollars. She smiles and winks once more before leaving my booth and disappearing through a swinging door by where Old Eddy is standing.
It is while I'm chewing on a chicken sandwich and fries that he comes in. His stance is confident, but his face shows his nerves. His blond hair appears almost like a halo under the bright lights and his cheekbones appear more defined. His body seems to swallow the remaining space in the diner and I watch him, waiting for him to see me and make eye contact. He sees me and starts walking towards me. I grab my milkshake and swallow my mouthful in one gulp as he sits in the cushioned seat in front of me. His voice is deep as he asks the waitress, who he calls Genny, for a black coffee.
"I had a feeling you'd be here." He says when Genny leaves us. "I always came here as a kid when things were getting to be too much."
I say nothing and just stare at him.
"You know, when you showed up I didn't know what to say," he fingers a napkin in front of him as he speaks. "When Anna and I were together we never would have thought that life would turn out this way. You look so much like her, that's how I knew you weren't lying."
I look down, my cheeks burning, and grab a fry so that my hands have something to do.
"I talked to my wife and she told me to do the right thing and be a father to a daughter who probably never knew such a thing," he continues. I can feel his eyes on me. "I agree with her, but you came out of nowhere and took me, us, by surprise--why didn't you call?"
"I couldn't let my caretaker know that I had found you." I answer.
"That's what I call my foster parents: they're only there to be my caretakers not my parents, none of them ever wanted me."
There is a deep silence between us and Genny returns with Burt's coffee.
"Would you like to stay with us? At least, until we can figure something out?"
I purse my lips as I continue my invisible design with the fry in my hand.
"Okay," he finally says. "Genny, I'm going to need the bill."
The blond waitress appears quickly beside us and he signals to my plate and his coffee. She smiles and nods, quietly taking my plate and his now half-empty cup of Joe.
"I can pay for it Burt." I comment and his face lights up with surprise at the mention of his name.
"It's okay," he says, regaining his composure.
After everything is cleaned and paid for, Burt and I walk out of the diner into a warm summer night. The large oak trees rustle in the slight wind and most of the people that pass us with dogs or kids or nothing at all wave a friendly hello to Burt.
"Robbin is a very close beach town, so though they’re all strangers to you now, they won't be for long." He explains and I simply walk beside him.
We reach his house, the blue one on the corner of Grand Ave, and I hesitantly follow him into a world that is already frightening to me.