I hate these months. They’re endless, and robed in a fierce white sheath that brings misery and pain to people like us. Most especially, they make it hard to sleep on the side of the road.
I can see my breath in a puff of something along the lines of white smoke as I hustle through the masses of people lining the streets. The shops seem to radiate warmth and happiness and holidays and light, but out here all I can feel is cold. The tips of my fingers, the ones that stick out of my cutoff gloves, are bright red and feel like they’ve turned to stone as I struggle to find a place to stay. Things couldn’t really get much worse, I think as snow starts to fall lightly.
This theory is, of course, challenged when I get back home and someone is missing. I count them like I always do, there’s Zero and Bella and Jet and Max and Rocky but…where is
Those aren’t their real names, of course. Ghost christened each of them as they joined our little band of lost children. I’m Angel.
But he’s gone. Ghost, my little brother, is nowhere to be found. In the dead of winter. In
New York City. We’ve never lost anyone before and I can tell the other kids are already worried.
“Don’t worry,” I say strongly, “We’ll find him.”
I grab Zero’s hand and squeeze it, giving them a little smile and then I separate them into groups. I take Jet and Max because they’re the youngest, and Zero, Bella and Rocky are more experienced on their own.
Through the streets of our darkening city we go, once again, but this time its stranger and more chilling. In the dark, the skyscrapers look like monsters, and the bare trees are like long arms, reaching for us, trying to steal my family.
“Ghost!” I call, checking all his usual hideouts, and feeling the stone in my chest sink more deeply, “Ghost, where are you?!”
Hopelessness settles in my stomach as I swallow a lump in my throat, and I sniffle.
Forgetting about the two little boys who are my responsibility, I sit right down on the blackened sidewalk and close my eyes.
I remember when he was born. I was three years old, but I remember his huge blue baby eyes staring right through mine. The rest of our normal lives, our lives with real names and parents and friends and houses, is just a collection of memories with my little brother starring in them all. A whirlpool of these sucks me into the past as I recall a skinned knee, a bike ride, my first breakup when I cried for days, his first crush and everything else we did together. And last of all, there’s the fire and then running forever until we’d left the flames behind. I’d left everything behind to protect him. I was going to protect him forever.
And I’d failed.
“Angel?” I glance up, already feeling guilty for breaking down and leaving two 8-year-olds alone, but what I see makes me stand up. The same eyes I looked at 11 years ago in a hospital in Manhattan.
I don’t know whether to slap him or hug him. For now I go with hug, and pull him close vowing to never ever let him out of my sight again and then I frown, “Where the heck have you been?”
“Got lost. Went home. No one there.”
“Yeah, Ghostie, it’s cause we were looking for you!” Bella says almost angrily. I hadn’t noticed that she and the other boys had appeared.
“I was fine. Always am.”
I let out an irritated sigh and grab his wrist, and Jet’s hand. “C’mon let’s go home.”
Home is the wall behind an apartment building, which radiates some heat. We’ve collected blankets and things, and created a sort of cocoon. Max collapses immediately onto the ground, curling into a ball. I sit down beside him, tucking blankets around him. The littlest get the most warmth, because I can’t bear the thought of waking up to find one of them blue. Bella scoots between us, and I feel Jet and Ghost cuddle up beside me on the other side as Zero and
Rocky sit on the edges.
Freezing cold stabs of pain still prick and poke at me, and probably worse at the others, but it’s different now because there’s a warm, fuzzy place right in my heart that flares when Ghost grabs onto my finger like a baby, and Bella rests her white-blonde head on my shoulder so she can pull Jet closer.
I laugh at the things they call us sometimes. Homeless. It’s true, we don’t have a roof over our heads, or full stomachs every minute. But we, every one of us, have a home. Our home is with each other.
Houseless, maybe. But never homeless.
Maeve Thomas is a student at Abington Junior High School in Abington, PA.