Elijah couldn’t believe all the food the Sheriff and her husband had served for dinner. They sat at a round, shiny wooden table in the kitchen and used napkins and everything. He didn’t want to take his hands out of his pockets but the food was too tempting. As he ate, he found himself forgetting about his hands. They ate in silence except for Drake, who kept offering him cheese or sour cream. He noticed that Madison and Drake both picked at their chili. He guessed that they were upset over what his father had done. He wished he could help the sheriff, but he didn’t see what he could do. He didn’t want to be with his father anymore, but that didn’t mean he was going to help the sheriff catch him. His father said he would die before he let any police near him and that he would take any police with him if they tried to capture him. He didn’t want anything to happen to the sheriff even though he felt bad about what his father had done.
As they were finishing dinner, Drake said, “Madison, why don’t you go take a shower? Buddy and I will clean up.”
Elijah didn’t know how he felt about being called Buddy. It sounded like a name you would give a puppy. He wished he could tell them his real name, but he hadn’t spoken in so long he thought he had probably forgotten. He helped Drake carry the dishes to the sink. He was careful to hold the dishes carefully between his fists so he didn’t drop them. Drake seemed nice, but you never knew what might set him off. One time, he had pissed his father off and his father had put him to sleep. When he woke up…he glanced down at his fists. He never knew what he had done wrong, but he was always careful to do what his father said after that.
His father didn’t like it if he talked or asked too many questions, so he learned to stay silent. It was easier that way. You couldn’t gave anything away if you didn’t talk. No one knew what you thought or how you felt. You could stay safe in your own head. That was how Elijah liked it. Even his father couldn’t always tell what he was thinking even though he could always find him when he took off.
This time he had outsmarted his father. His father would never, in a million years, imagine where he was now. His father had taught him to avoid police at all costs and here he was, staying with one.
Drake finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher and finished cleaning the table and the counters.
“You want to see the rest of the house?”
Elijah nodded. He’d never been in a real house before. He used to live in an apartment a long time ago but that time had grown fuzzy in his mind. He remembered his mother living there, too, but his mind always skittered to a stop when he tried to remember to much about that time. It was like his father said, “Some things were better left in the past. Just forget it.”
He followed Drake into the living room. A giant TV was mounted to the wall. Drake turned on a black box on top of a brown chest under the TV. A jumping figure appeared on the screen.
“Do you like video games?”
Elijah shrugged. He’d never played a video game. He had seen one in a store once with his father, but they were always on the move. They could barely afford food. His father never would have bought him a video game. Drake made the figure jump around. Elijah had to admit it looked kind of fun.
Drake showed him his office. It was behind some doors with glass in them. Drake had a large desk with several screens on his desk. He had seen computers in the store too, but he didn’t know people owned more than one.
“This is where I work. I’m a cybersecurity consultant. I help companies make sure that no one can get into their computer systems.”
Elijah nodded. Drake showed him the diningroom and then they walked down the hall.
“This is your room.”
Drake turned on the light switch. A large double bed was covered with a bright quilt. A blue chair stood in the corner with a yellow blanket draped over it. It was a nice room.
“You can decorate it if you want.”
Drake went to another door.
“You have your own bathroom, too.”
Elijah could see a blue and white bathroom. His own bathroom?
“I’m going to go get you some soap and shampoo and find you something to wear to bed.”
Drake left the room. Elijah looked around. The dresser was shiny wood just like the kitchen table. There was a bouquet of dried blue flowers in a yellow basket on the dresser. He liked this room. It was cheerful and he suddenly felt safe.
Drake returned with soap and shampoo and some clothes.
“We’ll take you shopping tomorrow and get you your own things. This will do for now. Do you need any help?”
Elijah shook his head.
“I’ll come back to tuck you in when you’re out of the shower.”
And he was alone. He was getting tired. He wasn’t used to interacting with people he didn’t know. It was a little tiring. He got undressed and left his dirty clothes on the floor. He didn’t want to get anything in this fancy room dirty. He made the shower nice and warm and stepped in. He didn’t get to shower very often. He didn’t like being dirty, but it was hard to stay clean on the road. He and his father washed up when they could, but it had been a while since they had been able to find a place to wash up. When he got out of the shower and dried off, he slipped into the t-shirt and gym shorts Drake had left. Luckily, the gym shorts had drawstrings or they would never stay up. He tied the drawstring as tight as he could and then sat on the edge of the bed.
Someone knocked, but he couldn’t answer. They waited a minute and then said, “We’re coming in.”
Madison was with Drake.
“Ready for bed?” Madison asked. He nodded.
“Drake,” Madison called.
Drake came into the room.
“He needs a comb for his hair.”
Elijah shook his head a little. His hair had gotten matted in the shower.
Drake gave Madison a comb and she combed his hair. As she bent near him, he inhaled her scent. She smelled clean with a hint of flowers. Unbidden, a memory of his mother flashed in his mind. As Madison gently pulled the comb through his tangled hair, he closed his eyes. His mom used to comb his hair like this, only she would hum a little song. Sometimes, she would trim his hair so it wouldn’t get too shaggy. She hated it when his hair got too long like it was now. A lump formed in his throat, but he didn’t give in to his tears. That would be weak, and he wasn’t weak. His father had taught him to be strong, to push traitorous emotions away. Suddenly, he sat up and snatched the comb away from Madison. She wasn’t his mother. She had no right to comb his hair. He dragged the comb through his hair regardless of the snarls that pulled his scalp. He threw the comb down and buried himself under the covers of the bed. He knew what she was doing. She was trying to get him to like her so he would help her find his father, but it wasn’t going to work. He turned his back on Drake and Madison and pulled the blanket above his head.
The light went out and he heard Drake whisper, “Good night, Buddy.”