Author’s Note: After enjoying every bit of the moments that were just Quinn and Candelaria, I reread this scene with all the kids, and I liked bits and pieces of this, but it does seem to lack something with the others in it.
Maybe I just like the other two too much. Or maybe Beacan and Leah aren’t… strong enough characters in comparison. Maybe it’s that whole “the opening part has to be perfect” thing. I don’t know.
I don’t know if I could post this one as serial or not, either.
“I would have thought I’d have it memorized by now. It was on the back of every book, and there were so many in that series—I read them all, over and over—so why can’t I remember it? I should know what it is. I could recite it before.”
Quinn grunted. He knew the words, and he knew the books, but he would never admit that to any of them. They weren’t the type of books a loser kid like him ever read, and he would never let himself believe in any of the ones that had happy endings. Those were for kids that hadn’t spent their entire lives in foster care. “I swear, if any of you suggests hiding out in a boxcar, I will leave you behind.”
Candelaria caught up to him, grabbing his arm. He looked at her, and she winced when he did. She always did these days. She couldn’t hide that guilt, and he was sick of seeing it. “You can’t keep going like this, and you know it.”
Quinn grunted. Most of his injuries had healed before the trial—the only exception was the wrist that got broken again in lockup—and he’d never been a wimp. He wouldn’t have survived this long if he was. He could stand plenty, and he had over the years. The last doctor had said he had the body of a broken down athlete in his thirties, not someone who still wasn’t quite legal. “I’m fine, and none of you had to come with me. You know that.”
She glanced toward the others. Maybe they were the ones that needed a break. They were younger, all of them bookworms and not the sort that had the stamina for a cross country trek. If they’d had the money for a car, he could have traded drive shifts with her, but they didn’t have that kind of money, and he doubted they would unless they broke one of her precious principles. He didn’t have them, but he knew that any crime he committed would draw too much attention to where they were. They couldn’t let anyone track them, not that easily.
“We haven’t had a real meal in days,” she said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “I don’t think any of us is sleeping well, either. I know we have to put some distance between us and where we were, but this can’t continue.”
“None of you have to go on. Don’t look at me like that. I told you a dozen times already—I don’t blame you. Go back. None of you have to ruin your lives for my sake, and you know it. I’d already thrown mine away long before we shared that house, so don’t start thinking that you owe me anything. I told you years ago—we’re not family. Never have been, never will be.”
Candelaria closed her eyes, taking a breath. “I know that, but we agreed to do this together. I know you’re used to pushing past the pain, ignoring the hunger, and next to you, we’re all spoiled. We need time that you wouldn’t take and don’t think you need.”
Beacan came up and touched his sister’s shoulder, worry in the eyes that matched hers. He always had that in them same as his sister had guilt. Quinn had never seen the light their mother supposedly had when she picked those names, but then he was good at finding the darkness wherever he was. He always had been. “What’s going on?”
“I was trying to talk Quinn into a break.”
“We shouldn’t stop,” Leah said, looking back. She shivered despite the bright sun and lack of breeze. “I don’t like walking during the daytime. If it wasn’t so hard to walk at night, I’d say we should always do that.”
“Yeah, and we’ll get a car while we’re at it.”
“A boxcar?” Leah asked, her lips curving into a wide smile. Quinn frowned at her. “You have to admit—they made a good home out of one. We could do it.”
“Yeah, because this is really going to end in a rich grandfather finding us or that I’d be able to work odd jobs like the one boy did. I’m a wanted felon now, remember? You want to live in a fantasy, go back. Find another Mrs. Howell, another big house with rich people who aren’t pretending when they care about you, and live the dream.”
“There isn’t going to be another Mrs. Howell,” Candelaria said, yanking the ribbon out of her hair. She twisted it in her hands, looking more like she was Leah’s age than her own. “Our fairy tale ended when they died, and our unhappily ever after has just begun.”
Beacan shook his head. “We left that behind. That was the point of leaving. We’re not going out back to another foster home where we’re helpless, not again. None of us are going to be stuck sitting around waiting for the people who are supposed to be taking care of us to turn on us. That is never happening again.”
Quinn shook his head. Sometimes they acted too much like the children they were. “You do realize that the outcome for kids on the streets isn’t much better. Hell, it’s worse.”
“Not for us,” Leah told him. “We have you.”