What do you do when you discover an injured kid on your porch? No idea? Great, because neither do I. I didn’t know when he first deposited himself there, but I first spotted him the prior night before I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, there he was, still sitting on my porch swing. He must have been out there for hours. I recognized him from the coffee house yesterday. He was tiny, maybe 13 or 14, and the black eye he was sporting made him memorable. He bought a cup of coffee with change, and sat alone all afternoon. He had followed me home, that much I figured out, but why? What on earth was he doing out there? Normally, I would have called the cops on seeing some strange guy hovering outside of my apartment, but... He looked so small and lost. I shook my head. I knew I should have gone outside and told him to bugger off. But... He looked chilly. I’ll make some coffee, I decided, warm him up, and THEN tell him to bugger off.
He barely stirred when I opened the door. He must have been dozing. “I wondered if you were going to stay there all night,” I said. You’re a weird one, aren’t you?” I sighed and opened the door wide, “Come inside. I have coffee brewing.”
After the coffee had been poured, I sat and simply watched him, trying to figure him out. Clearly, he had been in a fight of some kind. He was babying his right arm, wincing whenever he moved it the wrong way and trying to pour cream awkwardly with his left hand. There were bruises taking up residency on his cheek, his lip was split, and there was that black eye. Whoever had hit him, hit him hard. I realized he was sitting there quietly, staring back at me.
“Oh, right... Sorry, I’m not really awake yet. You can call me Emma.” I yawned. “Or actually, I’d prefer Mouse.”
“Oh. Hello.” He fiddled with his coffee cup, avoiding my eyes, “I’m... uh, it’s Vincent. My name is Vincent.”
“Hi. You should really have someone take a look at that arm. I mean, someone who could actually fix it and not just say something about it.”
He looked up at me in panic. “No! I can't!” He seemed surprised at his own outburst, and looked down at the table in embarrassment. He cradled his arm and seemed to sink into himself a little bit. “It’s OK. It's not that bad."
“Ooookay.” I sighed. It was too early for this. “Why were you on my porch?”
“I don’t know. I felt...” he glanced up at me briefly and stopped. He looked back down. “I don’t know.”
I took a long sip of my coffee. I didn’t like this. A scared, beat up kid fixating on me, following me home for reasons he didn’t quite understand... I didn’t like it at all. I thought about John, and Zach, and William. And about the warning Greg gave me before I moved here.
“You have a part of me inside you, keeping you alive. While it’s there, you will always go to people who are destined to cross my path. They are like a beacon to you, as you are to them.”
This kid had to go. I put my coffee cup down firmly on the table. Vincent had barely touched his. “Look, you have to go home. Your parents are probably freaking out right now.”
He snorted softly and said under his breath, “Yeah. Right. I doubt it.”
“Where do you live? I can take you back.”
He peered at me from under his bangs, “I’m staying at the hostel downtown.”
“The--the hostel? Why are you staying there?”
He looked up defiantly. “It's better than sleeping on a park bench.”
“But not a porch swing?”
He just shuffled his feet, stared down at his coffee, and didn’t respond.
“Is anyone staying with you? I can give them a call and let them know you’re alright.”
He shook his head, and ran a hand through his tangle of dark curly hair.. “There’s nobody. It’s just me.”
The more I looked at him the more I wanted to help, but NO... he had to go, this wasn’t like taking in a wounded, stray cat. Emmeline Potter, DO NOT even think about it! I looked down at his wrist. It was swollen and had bruised to an angry purplish-red.
“You really should get someone to look at that arm. I don’t think it’s supposed to look like that. I could take you to Urgent Care, I know one of the doctors. She comes into the coffeehouse all of the time.”
He was shaking his head before I even finished. “I don’t have any money.”
“You’re a kid. They have to treat you. By law. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any money.” But, I could tell as soon as I said it that the answer was going to be a resounding no. Without thinking, I reached over and grabbed him by the bruised wrist.
He howled, and when I released him, he pulled away from me so quickly he almost overturned the chair. “OW! Why the hell did you do that!?!” The shock made his voice husky, deeper than the soft tenor he’d been using all morning. He cradled his arm to his chest. “That really hurt!” The sudden pain had caused him to go a little pale. There was no debating the issue anymore as far as I was concerned. He had to see a doctor.
“Look, clearly it’s broken or, at the very least, sprained. If you don’t get it taken care of, you may never be able to use it properly again. Would you please let me take you to the doctor?”
“No. I can’t.” There was desperation in his eyes. “I can’t go. Just forget it. Please just forget it. It’ll be OK, honest.” I argued with him long enough that I lost track of the time and my coffee went cold. The more I insisted he see someone about his injuries, the more panicked he became.
Finally he blurted out, “I can’t go. The doctor will call my parents. They’ll HAVE to call my parents. Please. I can’t... I can’t go home. I can’t go back there.”
Ah. So, that explained it. I fixed him with my best ‘I’m the adult here; I know what I’m doing’ look, and hoped it was convincing. “Let me worry about all of that,” I said. He gave me a look of sheer dread, then hung his head and gave the tiniest of nods.
I grabbed my phone and called Urgent Care. “Hi, is Dr. Addison working today?” I was looking all over the room, trying not to look at Vincent. “She is? Brilliant. Is there anyway that I can make an appointment with her, or should we just come in? No, no. It’s not for me... it’s for my, um, kid brother, Vincent. Yeah. It’s his wrist. I think it’s broken or sprained. Great, thank you. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
I felt him staring at me, his eyes wide. “You just said I was your brother. Won’t you get in trouble for that?”
“Quite possibly. But, you need your arm looked at and I don’t see any other choice.” I sighed. “So, as of right now, you’re Vincent Potter... at least, until we get your arm fixed. Let me get some clothes on.”
While, I was in my bedroom, getting dressed, I tried to ignore the little voice in my head screaming at me, “What do you think you’re doing? Get rid of him! This is a very bad idea. What if it’s something more serious than the arm? What if that’s why he followed you? You are an idiot!” When I made my way back to the kitchen I half-expected him to be gone, but he was still sitting at the kitchen table, looking resigned to his fate, like a man waiting for the gallows.
“Come on, my car’s out front.”
We rode to the hospital in silence. When we got to the front desk, I could tell Vincent was starting to have second thoughts. I grabbed his left hand in mine and held it tightly. He was shaking slightly. I smiled at the nurse sitting behind the desk.
“Hi. I called a little while ago about getting an appointment with Dr. Addison.”
“Oh. Yes.” The nurse said, never once looking up from the crossword puzzle she was doing. Clearly, it was taking all of her brain power. “Take these forms & fill them out, and then we’ll call you when the doctor’s ready.”
“Thanks.” I took the clipboard and glanced at it. Vincent was going to have to answer these himself. I started to hand it to him, and realized that he probably couldn’t write with his injured hand. We walked to the furthest chairs in the waiting room, away from everyone else, and sat down in an out-of-the-way corner.
“When’s your birthday?” I asked in a low whisper, hoping no one would notice I didn’t know my “brother’s” date of birth.
“August 15, 1990.”
I did the math in my head and looked incredulously at the tiny kid sitting next to me. “You’re 16?!”
“Shhhhh!” he shot me a look and glanced anxiously around the waiting room. No one was paying the slightest bit of attention. The receptionist was chewing on her pen cap, too lost in crossword land to even acknowledge us. “Very nearly. My birthday’s not for 2 days.” He sunk down into his chair. “Happy birthday to me,” he sang lowly.
I felt a smile pull at my lips. No. No, Emmeline! Do not engage. Just get this done, I told myself, and get him out. I filled out the paperwork getting bits and pieces of info from Vincent under my breath. I turned the forms into the receptionist and sat back down, falling into an awkward silence. I caught myself watching him out of the corner of my eye, studying the bruises on his face, and noting how he jerked forward anxiously whenever a patient or doctor walked into the room. I tried to keep myself from wondering who beat him up, or where he was going to go after I got his arm checked out.
“What are we going to tell her?” he asked suddenly.
“What? Tell who?”
“The doctor. About my wrist.”
“Well, it’s fairly obvious you were in a fight. We’ll just tell her that.”
“A fight with who?”
“We’ll say it was some big, dumb kid from the neighborhood. There’s always big dumb kids who pick fights. There’s one in every neighborhood.” I looked over at him. “Is that who beat you up?”
He looked up at me and considered me for a long, hard moment. “It was... my dad,” he said finally, so softly I almost didn’t hear him.
“And my mom too, but, you know,” he looked down at his wrist. “He did most...” his voice faltered, and he cleared his throat. “He did most of the damage.”
I sat staring at him in shock, mouth agape. “Why did they...?” I stared at all his injuries with fresh, horrified eyes.
He glanced sideways at me. “Really? Why do you think?” He gave me the faintest ghost of a smirk. “You can’t be this pretty and be entirely straight.” He shifted his weight, winced, settled back in his seat and closed his eyes.
I caught myself grinning; I couldn’t help it. Damn. I liked this Vincent kid.