I slowed down and took a moment to think about my brother. Tall, handsome, and strong, but broken. Corrupted by murder and a life of crime. He loved me, and he protected me, and he taught me morals, but his morals had died along with him.
“I want to kill Dwayne Jackson.”
It was more of an affirmation than ever before.
“Jeff wouldn’t want you to do that,” Eddie’s tender voice was filled with disappointment.
“It’s irrelevant Eddie, he’s freaking dead!” I snapped back in an angry tone, “And so is my mother, and my father is as good as dead. I have nobody and nothing to live for.”
“Jeffrey and your mom are watching you from the other side, Anastasia, they don’t want to see you kill another human being.”
I didn’t speak.
“I’m sure they are happy to be reunited up there, you know, and they will always look out for you even if they don’t walk this earth anymore.” Eddie’s voice was even softer.
“Don’t talk about my family like that!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
I swung my fist at Eddie and hit him in the ribs. He grumbled out a list of swearwords as he bit his bottom lip but continued to walk beside me during the whole ordeal. He didn’t dare put his arms around my shoulders afterwards. I had fucked things up yet again. But he provoked me, it was his own fault that I hit him in the ribs! I augmented my pace as rage boiled through my veins. I didn’t want to think about it, I didn’t want to think about it.
“You nasty little snot!” Eddie muttered out through clenched teeth, “You’ve never been violent before.”
“But I’m perfectly capable of it.” I replied darkly.
“I thought you said you liked me!”
“I did, and I still do.”
“You sure have one hell of a weird way of showing it!”
“You too Eddie.”
He didn’t speak. He began to trail behind me as we walked to Yonkers. The sun seemed to be even warmer on the side of the freeway. The black pavement absorbed the powerful rays and warmed my boots to the point where I thought my feet were going to roast inside of them. I had found the military-style boots I was wearing inside a dumpster in the back alleys of Bronx two years ago. I had no other shoes, so I dealt with them even on the hottest of summer days. After all, they weren’t worst than the thick hoodie and the prison pants.
“I’m sorry Ana,” Eddie sighed as he caught up to me.
“It’s okay,” I replied halfheartedly, “you know you’re right.”
“Let yourself grieve kid, you can’t go on like this.
“It’s the only way I know.”
“All my life I had my mom and after she died I had Jeff but now I don’t have anybody.” I grumbled painfully.
“You still have me,” Eddie’s response to my complaint was a mixture of tenderness and anger.
“Eddie,” I sighed, “I’m very fond of you believe it or not, but you can’t bring Jeff or mom back. You can’t change what is. You can’t change anything.”
“You miss them, Anastasia. Admit it to yourself once and for all.”
“Missing them would mean admitting to myself that they left me.”
“They didn’t do it because they wanted to! Get that into your head!”
I didn’t say anything.
“We’re not gonna leave you, ever, that’s for sure,” Eddie was more sympathetic, “me n’the boys love you.”
“Feeling is mutual Eddie,” I forced a smile at him.
“I might not have showed it often, but I do love you, a lot.”
“Thanks Eddie, I love you too, you know.”
A faint smile appeared on the corner of my mouth but it vanished as fast as it came. I didn’t feel like dealing with grief and anger at the moment so I just kept on walking, looking down at the pavement and living in the moment. Clouds slowly rolled in, and obstructed the sun. The day was still bright, but not as warm. The temperature had dropped significantly since we had left Cap’n Crunch’s in Cobalt. I liked it better without the blazing sun scorching my skin constantly. Sometimes it scorched so bad tears pooled in my eyes because they had gotten so dry. I didn’t like that feeling. It kinda looked like it was going to rain, again. At the end of the day I preferred to be wet and cold instead of parched and too hot so I told the enraged clouds floating over my head to bring it on.
I sighed and pushed my hair out of my face, goddamn hair, I hated it. It had to be black, therefore it attracted the sun too. But it was hidden behind the grey clouds, oh sometimes I wished I could’ve just grabbed them and squeeze them in between my fingers. They had always seemed so soft, like Jeffrey’s hair. I couldn’t compare Jeff’s hair to anything else, because I had never touched anything else so soft. Even when it was all greasy and dirty and gross, it was still soft. I missed touching his hair when I slept with him every night. Ricardo’s hair wasn’t particularly soft, and it sure didn’t smell like flowers either. I had never really touched Eddie’s hair. He always wore a faded beanie way too tight for his head with only tips of black hair sticking out from under it. He never took it off, kinda like his coveralls. I never saw the shirt he had under them. The faded black collar was barely visible under the coveralls he always buttoned up right to the top. He probably felt the same way about his coveralls as I did with my orange pants. I loved them.
Eddie walked faithfully beside me, not speaking a word and uselessly wasting oxygen. I walked at my usual fast pace, looking down at the ground. My hair had fallen back onto my face but I didn’t bother pushing it out of the way. I didn’t care. I thought about asking one of the guys to cut it short on multiple occasions but but it never went through, I had no idea why. I sighed as the sun peaked through the fat clouds. Didn’t want to see the sun. I looked up and admired the run-down buildings of the area, the sun shining on the bare walls through the holes that once held windows. Windows and maybe life, families, something. The city did a great job at beautifying the neighborhoods that were still alive, but it did nothing for the old buildings slowly rotting away. They were my favorite buildings, home. Eddie’s shack was the closest thing to home I had.
“Do you like it here?” I asked Eddie out of curiosity, “Yonkers?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “it’s better than Bronx.”
“Yeah, any place is better than there.”
“Yup, I agree.”
“What about the city? Do you like the city?”
“New York City?”
“I’ve only been there a few times, it’s hectic.”
“What about Cobalt?”
“Damn you ask so many questions!”
“I’m just trying to get to know you!”
“Oh, so you want to get to know me now.”
I grinned at myself. I had never really bothered to get close to anyone, not even after Jeff died. I didn’t even know Byron that well. I only knew that I liked him in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. In a mysterious kind of way, the way that only street gangs can love each other and stick together through it all. We were soldiers, brothers and sisters, united by something under God and above us all.
“Yeah Eddie, I do want to get to know you since we’re going to spend two days together.”
“Well, to answer your question Anastasia, Cobalt sucks and I hate it.”
“So why don’t we go somewhere else? There must be other factories elsewhere!”
“Cobalt is our safe-haven, nobody can get us there.”
“Dwayne Grey got us there.”
I grimaced at the thought. I didn’t want to think about it, I didn’t want to think about it. Eddie swallowed hard and sighed, he didn’t want to think about it either.
“Dwayne just happened to be there to steal some parts—”
“But he got my Jeffrey! He got my Jeffrey!” I screamed, swinging my fists at him again.
He restrained me but I kept on yelling and screaming at him. I had never really lashed out at anything or anyone before. I always kept it in, repressed it until it practically disappeared. Jeff’s death had never bothered me so much. My moods drove everybody crazy. I couldn’t be approached, I couldn’t be talked to.
“Shut the hell up you darn little snot!” Eddie screamed right back as he slapped me in the face.
I stopped trying to hit him and stood motionless on the sidewalk. I wanted to hit him more than ever but I kept my cool. I contained myself as best as I could. I didn’t want a full blown physical altercation to break out between us. I wasn’t in the mood to try to hurt anyone although I really wanted to hit him right back. He had slapped me hard. My skin stung where his hand touched. I took in a deep breath, swiftly turned around and walked faster towards my destination, leaving Eddie behind. I didn’t bother to look back at him. I looked straight ahead, not bothering to stop at intersections or to watch out for passing traffic. They all honked their horns at me but I didn’t flinch. Their tires screeched against the pavement, I wished they had just kept going and obliterated me completely. I imaged Eddie shaking his head behind me, and closing his eyes every time I came close to being struck and killed. I deserved it. I wanted it in a way. I wanted to end, even if it meant total destruction. Some drivers shouted obscenities through their open car windows and all I did was flip them the bird.
I kept on walking by myself for a while before I turned back, curious to see if Eddie was trailing behind me but there was no one there. Eddie had bailed on me and I was left completely alone. So much for getting to know him. I sighed and looked up at the clouds in the sky that had obstructed the sun again. I walked all the way through Dobbs Ferry and Yonkers by myself. The pedestrians that occasionally crossed my path didn’t bother to even acknowledge me. I had deliberately walked through the outskirts of town to avoid them. I wanted to be alone.
The workday had come to an end when I reached Eddie’s shack. Somebody else’s shack, but Eddie lived in it. The commuters filled the streets but I was out of their way, alone in the abandoned neighborhood before they crossed my path. I entered the old building through a broken window since I couldn’t open the large metal door by myself. I was careful not to fall through the multiple missing floorboards as I made my way to the skimpy staircase and climbed all the way up. To my surprise Eddie was in his room, laying on his bed and looking at the ceiling. He was surprised to see me too.
“Come on in,” he invited me.
I walked towards him and he motioned for me to sit down on his bed. It was only a single mattress stacked on top of industrial boxes and he took up most of it so I kneeled at his feet, resting my back against the wall.
“Come,” he insisted.
I did as I was told and crawled over him, resting my head on his chest and letting out a loud sigh of exhaustion. The day had been long and uneventful but still very tiring. My more than two hour walk had worn me out. Light photons illuminated Eddie’s entire room, revealing the dust gathered everywhere. Eddie gently put his arms around my waist without speaking. I didn’t protest. There wasn’t much room in the room and I didn’t feel like trying to push him off of his own bed.
“I’m really sorry about what happened today,” I apologized sincerely.
“It’s okay kid,” he reassured me, “it’s alright.”
“I’m just a runt that can’t handle the truth and I’m sorry I had to take my anger out on you.”
“I told you, it’s alright, don’t worry.”
“Thanks for not telling me to get lost or something.”
“I’m sorry for calling you a little snot though, I didn’t really mean that.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t say it doesn’t matter because it matters to me!”
I waited for him to continue.
“I am sorry about that.”
“I just thought it was best to leave you alone for a while. It also gave me the opportunity to think a little bit too.”
“I didn’t think about much, I just lived in the moment for once.”
“You should seriously do that more often, stop living in the past.”
“You know Eddie, I’m kinda hungry.”
Just as I spoke my stomach grumbled for some food.
“Well, shall we go get us some food?”
I nodded and we both got up and went rummaging through some trash in the streets. Supper hour was upon us, so food wasn’t very hard to find. Somebody had either thrown or accidentally dropped some perfectly good pasta on the side of the street, it was still warm too! Eddie and I sat on the side of the road and picked out the noodles dipped in some sort in cream-like substance with our fingers. It was actually very good. Better than most of the leftovers thrown out the window that had missed the garbage can or left out in the world somewhere.
“This stuff’s really good!” I muttered out as I ate.
But too soon, there was no more. I was still hungry but too tired to hunt for food. The boys at Lennie’s had probably woken up and were on their own hunt for food but I hadn’t walked two hours in the scorching heat just to walk back and deal with those punks. I had been going hungry almost daily since I had to hunt for my own food. Jeff no longer brought it to me, neatly arranged on an old, broken and dirty plate so I could eat half-decently.
“Wanna hang around the parks for a little while?” I asked Eddie, “I know one only a few blocks from here.”
“Sure,” Eddie accepted my proposition without hesitation.
Eddie and I screwed around the park, just hanging ‘round until the sun began to sink over the horizon and created an orange inferno over the entire west end of the city. I loved watching sunsets with Jeff, and sometimes with Byron. Sunsets over water were my favorite, they were always so beautiful. I loved sunrises also, but sunsets gave me the assurance that the day was over, and that a new one would soon follow. Jeff always told me that a new day was a new beginning, it was the one thing that hadn’t died along with him. Tomorrow is a new chance at everything.
“Good to go back?” Eddie asked.
“Yep, let’s get going,” I replied, looking away at the burning sky in the distance.
The walk back to the shack was short, and the darkness settled in quickly too. Twilight was upon us as a few dim streetlights turned themselves on. I could see a well-groomed cat walking in the distance, seemingly lost in the abandoned neighborhood. I looked up at Eddie and he nodded in approval so I kneeled down on the pavement and called over the kitty. The beautiful full-grown Siamese cat looked intently in my direction for a few seconds. It hesitated a little bit but soon came running towards me.
The beautiful feline sniffed my hand and looked up at me, meowing. I picked it up and cradled it in my arms as Eddie and I walked the remaining block back to his shack. The blue-eyed cat looked around but didn’t protest and didn’t try to slip out of my hold. I took off its red collar without even looking at it and discarded it in an empty lot not far from the shack. Eddie grinned as I did so, but did not speak. Back at my mom’s I had a little calico, and I had no idea what had become of it after she died and after I was sent halfway across the country to live with Jeff whom my mother didn’t know was practically homeless without any place of his own to come home to at night. Part of me felt like the cat, belonging somewhere long lost and wandering about aimlessly just trying to find a familiar trace of something called home.
Up in Eddie’s room the cat sat on my back and licked itself clean, not that it was very dirty in the first place. I rested my head on Eddie’s chest again and he began running his fingers through my messy hair. I looked up at him, resting on my chin on his chest, and removed his old beanie. I threw it on the desk in the back of the narrow room and ran my fingers through his hair. It wasn’t rough, but not soft either. I had no clue how Jeff had kept his hair so soft despite the situation we lived in. Eddie’s was always under his cap, and was very flat over his head. He grinned at me as I played with his hair, I couldn’t recall seeing him without his cap before, except for a few occasions when he washed himself in a shower. We settled for sponge baths in public bathrooms or rivers and streams. Eddie seemed to be enjoying my fingers going around his scalp, making his hair unruly and messy like mine.
“Now this is what I call something mutually pleasurable.” I commented, totally enjoying the scalp massage from Eddie’s rough fingers.
“You make it sound so innocently dirty,” he replied laughing.
“Maybe we should’ve gone out with the boys and gotten some money.”
“Nah, let’s just stay here, you got a four-legged companion now. And you still need to get to know me.”
“I think I’m gonna name my cat Belle, it’s French for beautiful girl.”
“I should start calling you Belle, it’s better than Drifter.”
“Jeff used to call me Ma belle which means my lovely so I think you should just stick it to Drifter.”
“Whatever you wish, but you shouldn’t try to remove Jeff from your life completely. He’s still part of you.”
“I know Eddie, it just hurts so much.”
Tears flooded my eyes as I thought of Jeff. I sighed as Belle meowed and looked out the window into the night. I turned my head to look outside too, I could see the stars. I loved the stars, Jeff and I would often lie down on the beach near Cobalt at night and looked at the stars endlessly illuminating the dark sky. I’d rest my head on Jeff’s shoulder, put my arms around him and stare into the night until I fell asleep. Jeff would then bring me back to Lennie’s or Eddie’s until the morning sun rose too soon again. I could never spend enough time with him.
He could never hold me long enough, he could never tell me he loved me often enough. I had only known him and lived with him for three short years, but that had been long enough to shatter my whole life after he died. It no longer mattered if the sun rose every morning or not or if the stars came out at night, because Jeff was no longer there to watch them with me. Eddie stroked my cheek with his rough hand as I sighed heavily and let my mind return once again to that dark place I had fought so hard to avoid during the day. I couldn’t escape it, I would have to face it one day. Even my new cat seemed to feel my pain, somebody else’s cat that I had brought in as my own.
“I wish you could’ve known Jeff too,” I whispered into Belle’s ear as a tear escaped from my eye.