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Authors: S. B. Alexander

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BOOK: On the Edge of Humanity
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A deep-seated dull pain pounded the sides of my temples. I needed food and my growling stomach confirmed it. I clicked out of the website and placed the computer back on top of the dresser when a car door shut. I scampered over to the window, the dull pain shifting to a sharper one. Mr. Jackson? My hunger pains turned into angry butterflies. I began pacing when the front door opened then closed.

“Ben. Ben,” Mr. Jackson called out.

“Dad, you’re home early.” Ben sounded winded.

“The last two lectures didn’t interest me. I figured I could get home and hang out with you for a couple days while we’re both on spring break.”

“Um, Dad? I don’t want you to freak out.”

The door to the room was cracked, so I tiptoed over to it.

“Son, what’s wrong? Did something happen?” Mr. Jackson asked.

“Sam and Jo are here,” Ben said.

Mr. Jackson let out a deep breath. “Is that all? You scared me. Its fine, son. You know I like Sam.”

“But the thing is, Dad…um...”

“Spit it out,” Mr. Jackson said.

While Ben searched for his next words, I walked out of his room and stopped at the top of the stairs. I moved cautiously down the first step, then the second. Mr. Jackson stood on the carpet that lined the small foyer in front of the door. He wore a New England Patriots ball cap that shadowed his unshaven face. As I descended the stairs, his chestnut-colored eyes blinked a few times at me. When I stopped on the bottom stair, his eyes grew as large as golf balls. Ben turned his head and peered at me through hooded eyes. He grimaced as if he were bracing for the firestorm that his father was about to deliver.

Mr. Jackson fixed his eyes on Ben, then on me. He moistened his lips and said, “What happened?”

At that moment, Sam appeared at the edge of the banister. He had pulled back his hair into a low neckline ponytail. “Mr. Jackson, we can explain.”

“You sure will. Kitchen. Now. All of you.”

His tone sent a shiver up my spine and reminded me of those times I sat in his office waiting for him to yell at Blake and me.

Mr. Jackson led the way to the kitchen, but Sam and I hung back for a second.

“I’m not talking, you are,” I said.

“I got this,” Sam said.

The angry butterflies were still swirling around in my stomach as we made our way down the hall. Once in the kitchen, my eyes started burning. I opened and closed them a few times, trying to clear them, but it didn’t help. I blinked a few more times, but it was no use. My eyes were on fire, as if someone had stuck a hot fireplace poker in them and held it there. I covered my eyes with both hands. Maybe it was the bright fluorescent lights that sprayed down from above.

“What’s wrong?” Sam whispered.

“I don’t know. My eyes hurt.”

He grabbed my arm and guided me to a bar stool at the island that served as the kitchen table.

“Just give me a minute. I think it’s from the shampoo.” I blinked a few more times.

Then Ben handed me a wet paper towel. The coolness of it eased the burning sensation.

Mr. Jackson spoke up. “Well, let’s have it.”

“Mr. Jackson, you know Jo and I have been in foster care.”

He nodded.

“Well, about a month ago we moved to a new foster home. Mr. and Mrs. Birch seemed to be okay, but I wasn’t home much because of baseball practice. On Friday night, Ben and I had grabbed a bite to eat after practice and hung out. When I got home, I heard Jo shouting. I ran to her room and saw that creep Mr. Birch attacking her. I grabbed my baseball bat and hit him, but not before he stabbed her a few times.” Sam had a tear rolling down his cheek.

My eyes watered as Sam told his side of the story. I glanced at Ben who leaned against the kitchen sink with his mouth agape. I didn’t know if Sam had told Ben the whole story or not, but from Ben’s expression it didn’t appear so.

“Where was Mrs. Birch when all this was happening?” Mr. Jackson asked.

“I’m not sure,” Sam replied. “Mrs. Birch couldn’t have been in the house. Otherwise, there’s no way she wouldn’t have heard Jo shouting.

“Jo, how’re you doing?” Mr. Jackson asked.

It was hard to see his expression; his face was shadowed by the bill of his ball cap. I didn’t know what to say.
How can I explain the way I feel? I can’t I tell him that I’m freaking out. And that I’ve nightmares about the taste of blood and some dude with fangs is chasing us. Oh yeah, and I might be a vampire.

“Fine,” I said.

“So what happened after you hit Mr. Birch?” Mr. Jackson asked.

“Mrs. Birch showed up. She called the ambulance. I wanted to go to the hospital with Jo but the cops wouldn’t let me. So I managed to get out of the house while they were asking Mrs. Birch questions.”

Mr. Jackson was rubbing his head when Sam stopped talking. “And they’re still looking for you?”

“Don’t know,” Sam replied.

The silence grew thick in the brightly lit kitchen. We didn’t talk about what we were going to say to Mr. Jackson earlier. We didn’t expect him to be home so soon. Was Sam going to tell Mr. Jackson about the guy chasing us? Or how Neil, the janitor, his employee, helped us?

“I talked to the…cop.” My voice quivered trying to get the last word off my tongue.

“And?” Mr. Jackson asked as he stared at me.

“I think Mrs. Birch is accusing us of trying to kill her husband.”

“You think?” Mr. Jackson removed his ball cap and ran his hand through his hair.

What does he mean by that? Does he think Sam and me really tried to kill Mr. Birch?
Anger started brewing to the surface. Adults were always quick to blame the kids.

“We didn’t get a chance to hang around,” Sam said.

“Why not?” Mr. Jackson asked in an unyielding tone.

Sam and I looked at each other. I nodded.

“When I got to the hospital there was a guy asking for Jo’s room. I’ve never seen the guy before.” Sam paused and dropped his gaze to the counter. It seemed he was trying to decide how much to tell Mr. Jackson. “When I was in Jo’s hospital room, we heard noises outside the door. Jo peeked out and saw the same man that I did earlier in the ER. He was fighting with the cop. We managed to get out of the hospital before we found out what he wanted with us.”

“You don’t know why he’s chasing you?” Mr. Jackson asked.

“No, sir.”

“Let me see if I have this right. Mr. Birch stabbed Jo, then you hit him with a bat. Jo ends up in the hospital and is questioned by the cops. While at the hospital, you see a man in the ER asking for Jo. Then Jo witnesses this same man fighting with a police officer outside the hospital room. Then you two run out of the hospital and end up here at my house.” Mr. Jackson was glaring between Sam and me. “Is that accurate?”

Sam nodded.

“Is there anything else?”

“No, sir,” Sam replied.

“Are you sure, young man?”

Was he going to fill in the gaps? It seemed Mr. Jackson knew Sam was leaving out something.

“Why did you come here?”

My anger was getting stronger. I didn’t expect Mr. Jackson to understand everything, but I was the walking wounded and shouldn’t that be proof enough at least for now?

“Mr. Jackson, we have no one, no family whatsoever. We have no one to help us. You know I’ve been in trouble with the law before. The last time the cops showed up at school they threw me in jail. I couldn’t let that happen with my sister in the hospital. I did what I believed was right for us.” Sam pointed at me. “I was hoping that you could help us.”

“Son, there are a lot of holes in your story. If you want me to help you—if I can even help, that is—you need to tell me the truth.”

“It’s the truth. The pervert tried to rape me. Sam did the only thing he could to get the fat jerk off me. We didn’t do anything wrong,” I blurted out. I covered my face in my hands as the tears began to fall, my head pounding.

Sam leaned in and whispered, “Calm down. You don’t want your eyes giving you away.”

I didn’t care. I was the one who Cliff tried to molest, not Sam. Besides, Ben knew about Sam’s eyes changing colors. But maybe he was right. It would be hard to explain to Mr. Jackson, at least.

“Mr. Jackson, please. Can you help? If not, Jo and I will leave.”

“Dad?” Ben cut in. “Can you call Chief Garrett? Maybe he can help? Look at her. They’re telling the truth.”

“To tell him what? I’m hiding two runaways that he’s probably looking for?” Mr. Jackson waggled his head, rubbing his jaw. “Let me think.”

I sat on the bar stool silently thanking Ben for cutting in. I didn’t want to tell Mr. Jackson anything else; I didn’t want to recount every detail, every step we took. I just wanted to forget the past two days ever happened.

After a restless night, I woke up on Monday morning praying Mr. Jackson would help us and call his friend, Chief Garrett. I slept on the leather couch in the basement while Sam crashed in a sleeping bag on the floor in Ben’s room.

I padded up the stairs, grabbed the doorknob, and stopped. Sam and Mr. Jackson were talking in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry we involved you and Ben. I didn’t know what else to do with some guy chasing us. We didn’t have a choice but to run,” Sam said.

I had my hand on the doorknob when Lucy started barking.
Busted.
I walked out and followed the hallway into the kitchen. The sun glared through the window over the sink, causing me to squint. My eyes burned but not as severely as they did last night.

Sam was sitting on a high back bar stool while Mr. Jackson was holding a coffee cup in his hand leaning against the sink. The coffee aroma imbued the kitchen and even though I didn’t drink coffee, suddenly I wanted a cup.

As I stepped up to the bar stool, Mr. Jackson placed his coffee cup on the counter near the sink. “Good morning, Jo.” His curly brown hair was wet, his face clean-shaven.

“Morning, Mr. Jackson.”

He walked over to me. “Let me see your face.” He grabbed my chin with his forefinger and thumb and tilted up my head. He removed one edge of the bandage and peered under it. His eyes enlarged as he surveyed my stitches. He closed the bandage and rubbed the edge of it against my skin.

I stood frozen, unsure what he was trying to accomplish. Was he looking for confirmation that I actually had a cut on my cheek? Well, it wasn’t a cut. It was more like a gash. Maybe he thought it would make it easier for him to speak with Chief Garrett?

I pulled out the empty bar stool and slid into it. I lifted my brows at Sam. We couldn’t read each other’s mind, but his creased forehead spoke volumes. He appeared to be just as confused as I was about Mr. Jackson inspecting my wound.

We both sat in silence, afraid to speak, afraid to say anything else to Mr. Jackson. I sat still hoping that we could stay here with Ben and his dad. My body was too sore to run again. But if it meant staying out of another foster home, I certainly would leave right now.

A cell phone rang and vibrated on the kitchen counter. Mr. Jackson grabbed the phone and pushed a button.

“Hello.”

I nudged Sam and whispered, “You think—”

He flicked his head toward Mr. Jackson then raised a finger to his lips.

“Ron, how are you? Thanks for returning my call. I know you’re extremely busy.”

Sam and I froze.
Chief Garrett?

When Mr. Jackson finished his conversation with Chief Garrett, he pulled the coffee pot from the warmer and poured some into his cup. Carefully, he added two spoons of sugar before stirring it. I was holding my breath and tapping my foot on the bottom of the stool. The pesky butterflies woke up early this morning, fluttering around in my stomach. He cleared his throat, and as if on cue, I stopped tapping my foot. Every muscle in my body tensed.

“I don’t know how to say this,” Mr. Jackson said.

My chest tightened.
This can’t be good.

“You kids are lucky. First, Mr. Birch is going to be fine. He’s claiming that Jo was the one to come on to him and that he’s innocent.”

My jaw dropped. Lucky? What did he mean by that? We weren’t lucky. We were far from it. Rage began to boil deep down inside me. Who did that weirdo think he was accusing me of coming on to him? I shivered at the thought of the disgusting beast. Revenge would be a sweet thing one day.

Sam placed his hand on my leg. “Ignore it.”

“Easy for you to say,” I snapped at Sam. “You weren’t stabbed and no one was trying to—”

“Okay, kids. Listen. Chief Garrett doesn’t believe Mr. Birch at all. As long as Mr. Birch doesn’t press charges then you two should be off the hook. That’s the good news.”

Good news! How is that good news? I’ve just been accused of coming on to a man who tried to kill me. What an asshole!

“Now the bad.”

Bad? He must mean worse—what he just told us is bad.

“Sam, you’ll have to give your statement to the police. I know you and the law have had a tense relationship, but you
will
speak with them. Do you understand?”

Sam nodded.

“Third, Chief Garrett has left both of you in my custody. I will be your guardian until the state can make sense of what’s going on.”

I drew my eyebrows in and looked at Mr. Jackson.

“Jo, do you have a question?”

“What about the guy who was chasing us? And is the cop okay?”

I couldn’t get the image of the cop hanging in the air by the grip of an animal that looked as if he were ready to sink his teeth into his prey.

Mr. Jackson pulled out an empty stool and sat down. He rubbed his eyes, letting out a deep breath.

Oh! This can’t be good either.

“Officer Bradley is in a coma. He was beaten pretty bad. The police are out searching for his attacker.”

I gasped, covering my mouth with my right hand. Sam raked his hands through his hair then rubbed his neck.

I stilled, trying to make sense of what that guy wanted with Sam or me. A chill crawled up my arms as I recalled the image of those pitch-black eyes staring back at me, not to mention his teeth. I wasn’t sure if Mr. Jackson was done talking or if there might be more. I held my breath afraid to speak or move. My heart ached for Officer Bradley. I knew Sam didn’t like cops, but Officer Bradley was a human being who didn’t deserve to get beat up like that.

“Chief Garrett would also like to speak to both of you about this man. He’ll be here this afternoon. Now, some ground rules while you’re living in this house.” Mr. Jackson rose from the stool and grabbed a glass out of the cabinet. “I don’t take kindly to deceit. I know, Sam, you were doing what you thought was best for you and Jo, but once you left the hospital you should’ve called the police. I’m also upset with you bringing Ben into this situation. He’s not yet over his mom’s death. He doesn’t need more drama in his life right now.” He poured himself a glass of orange juice.

BOOK: On the Edge of Humanity
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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