t's early on a spring morning. A petite figure lies in bed with the covers pulled over her head. It was a late night the night before, passing the bottle. And the night before last. And probably the next few nights. She had a lot to drown out, after all. She'd like to sleep forever, but that seems doubtful as the other voices in the house increase in volume. As the noise increases, it filters through the alcohol fuzz and her wide brown eyes flutter open. Rhea has returned to consciousness. The light, though still weak, stabs her eyes and she presses the covers to them. "...don't want your fucking brats around..." How did she guess this would be about she and her baby brother? It was a few weeks ago now that they'd been dropped here at her father's by her mother. She needed a break, she said, which her daughter knew meant she was chasing a new step daddy for them, someone who might protect them from her father. Rhea knew that the restraining order had just been lifted again, and now that the courts had judged he really wasn't going to kill them this time, they would be expected to visit. She wasn't expecting to be stuck there this long though. She knew all of this, but her baby brother didn't. And nobody wanted to tell him, least of all her. She'd been taking care of him since the parents split and life had descended into a hell of threats, new daddies and new mommies that came and went. She was only fourteen, looked twelve, and felt forty. Their father was in and out of their lives, and their mother worked so much they never saw her. She was mostly a series of notes about how to do laundry and cook supper. At first, a nine year old Rhea had relished the responsibility, but now the wear of being second mother to Nathaniel was too much. He'd begun to spend weeks here and there with his best friend's family, and in his absence, she'd drifted to the downtown scene, where everyone had no past and ingested whatever they could to forget the past they didn't have. Centered around Memorial Park, it was where the lost souls gathered, especially the young ones.
As she lay gathering her scattered brain, the fight between her father and the woman who would be her stepmother intensified. Nathaniel would hear, she was sure. Tossing her multi colored mane out of her face, she rose and started to lace her Doc Martens boots. She always slept in her clothes, just in case. She liked to be ready, all the time. Suddenly, there was a sound of shattering glass and the words turned into a howl. The bedroom door opened, and Nathaniel sidled in, eyes wide and silent tears dripping onto his shirt. He gripped his blue blanket as if he would fly from the earth should he let it go. As she had aged more than her years, Nathaniel had regressed into babyhood again. She held her arms open to him, but another loud crash sent him straight to the floor, and under her bed as far as he could go. He'd been so excited that his dad had wanted to see him, and he couldn't understand why nobody wanted him around. How could Rhea explain? More than that, why should she? A knot of tension formed at the back of her neck. It was time, she thought. Time to let him go, and to leave them all behind. Reaching under the bed she stroked the shaking, huddled back. "Be right back" she whispered, and crept down the hall to the phone. She dialed the number of Nathaniel's closest friend. His mother was a social worker, she'd know what to do with him. Biting her lip, Rhea explained what was going on. "Please, come get him." she begged. "He'll be hiding under the bed." "And where will you be? Are you all right?" The kind, concerned woman on the other end asked. "I'll be... around." She replied, and hung up. Returning to the bedroom, she tried to reassure Nathaniel it would all be over soon. Grabbing what few things she had, she threw them in a large orange backpack from the closet. She scrawled a note that read "Gone out. Staying with friends." and tossed it on the bed. As she walked out of the bedroom, a small voice whispered "Rhea, don't leave." She paused for a minute, but didn't dare turn around in case Nathaniel saw the tears she angrily noticed springing to her eyes.
Draining the last drops of her tenth refill at the greasy spoon downtown, Rhea put the scene that morning as far at the back of her mind as possible. Setting down the mug, she noticed the perpetually surly owner glaring at her. Time to move, she guessed. She had no desire to get cussed out in Greek today. Pulling up the hood of her thick, voluminous black hoodie, she shouldered her pack and made her way to Memorial Park. The winter chill still hadn't quite left the air, and she shivered a little as she settled onto a graffiti scarred bench. Hood low over her eyes and hands shoved deep in her pockets, Rhea shifted inside the sweater, as if she could huddle deeper inside it and away from the cold.
Rhea scanned the faces that passed her by, hoping for someone who might share a bottle or a place to crash tonight. Not much luck at this time of day. It was mostly suits who either looked right past her, or worse, looked at her like a bag of garbage someone had left on the bench. She heard her "step mother's" voice in the back of her head. "... your kid's a fucking train wreck..." "Guess I am trash", Rhea thought to herself. Then, trying to rid her brain of that voice, she said aloud "Fuck off! Get out of my head!" This had attracted the attention of a man who was now walking purposefully towards her. Rhea clutched her bag, ready to run if need be. She sized him up. White shirt. Black tie...and a black name tag. Jesus freak! This would take her mind of of things!
The clean cut young Brother approached her bench. "Excuse me, young lady" he said. She looked up at him questioningly. "Have you been introduced to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? Drawing back her hood, Rhea treated him to her most winning, innocent little girl smile. The same one she always used on the cops. "Oh, of course!" She said excitedly, waiting for that eager smile to hit his face. "We met last night." Before he could say anything, she continued. "I think I blew him in the bathroom. Gotta say, he's got a hell of a cock. Tell me, do you like cocks? Maybe in the 'missionary' position, Brother?" Keeping her innocent smile, she watched him turn an unimaginable shade of purple. Rhea almost felt guilty, but fun was fun. As the blasphemed proselytizer hurried away, a low voice called out "That was fucking awesome!"
She'd been so caught up in her head, she hadn't noticed another figure in a black hoodie sitting on another bench just down from hers. Gathering her things, Rhea strode over and sized up the new arrival. A shock of black hair, dark skin, beat up skateboard. Kind of cute, she thought.And he can't be much taller than me! Pulling a cigarette from her pocket, she asked "Got a light?" A pair of brown eyes, darker even then her owned looked up from under the hood. "Got a smoke?" he replied. He sized her up, seeming a little suspicious. Cocking her head to one side, Rhea stated the facts."Yeah, as you can see, I have a cigarette right here. What I don't have is a light. So why don't you light my god dammed cigarette, and then I'll share it with you?" A smile cracked his face, and he held a Bic lighter towards her. Copping an Audrey Hepburn attitude, she held the cigarette near her lips. "Only whores light their own" Rhea said imperiously. Grinning wider, he lit the smoke. "From that mouth" he said, "I wouldn't say your much of a lady though!" "Fuck yourself." She said, honey voiced with a sweet smile. "I'm Rhea, and who are you?" "Martin" he answered, and dragged on the cigarette she'd offered him.