I follow Miss Katrina to the bathroom upstairs. It’s the room next to mine. My room with a bed. I’m so tired. My face is burning. I can still taste vomit on my tongue. We enter the bathroom and I look in the mirror. My blood stained face looks strange against the clean blue tile behind me. Miss Katrina is looking through a drawer at the other end of the counter. As she pulls out a few nice-looking ointment bottles and a jar of cotton balls I can feel my face going red. I’ve never felt so out of place. Even my old t-shirt and jeans standing next to her obviously expensive blouse are a dead give-away I don’t belong. The last thing she gets out is a washcloth.
“Alright,” she stands up and looks at me for a moment like my existence made her forget what she was going to say.
“Can you please tell me who did that?”
I swallow the cold realization that I want to tell her. I shake my head.
“Okay. I um. I need to get an ice pack. You can start cleaning off some of that blood. Use warm water.”
She hands me the softest washcloth I’ve ever held, then leaves the room.
The cloth in my hand is white. I take my time turning on the water, wetting it, wringing it out, and bringing it about three inches from my face. Miss Katrina comes back in. I probably look ridiculous.
“I don’t want to get your nice washcloth dirty.”
I don’t have to unfix my eyes from the floor to know my reaction confused her.
“Bloodstains come out of things. You’re not dirtying anything.”
I know she expects me to shrug and start cleaning my face, but I can’t. I’m gripping the side of the counter. Until now I could deal with the changes. I could adjust my tone and language and phrasing to be as accommodating as possible, but I can’t right now. I’m a burden.
“Will you let me, then?”
“I’m really sorry.”
“No it’s alright. Have a seat.”
I sit on the edge of the bathtub. The cloth burns, and I try not to flinch away. I hate how vulnerable she’s making me.
“Sorry. I’m trying to be gentle.”
She’s so hesitant. He was never hesitant. An area of my torso twists. I wrap my arms around myself. She keeps cleaning, then stops to look at me.
“Here hold that- yep.”
I’m pushing the ice pack against an aching bruise on my head. It feels good and almost soothes the lump forming in my throat.
“I think that’s most of it.”
She goes to wash my blood from her lovely cloth. She was right. It didn’t stain. My stomach hurts. I clench my fists as I watch the red liquid drip down the sink. I feel nauseous again. I have to put my hand against my mouth to keep myself from throwing up on the bathroom floor. I make it into the toilet. Her hand shows up on my back as I empty my stomach. I hate myself.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” is what comes out as soon as my mouth is free of saliva.
“Hey, no. No, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
I can’t stop a tear from slipping down my cheek.
“Just sit back for a second.”
She helps me lean against the bathtub, and gives me a piece of toilet paper to wipe my mouth with.
I do and try to take a breath. It comes back out as a sob. I don’t even know why. I don’t let another one slip. Instead I sniff and hold my hands to my head. It’s throbbing. I squeeze my eyes shut, because I really don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be anywhere.
“Hey,” Katrina’s sitting across from me. “What’s going on?”
And it’s weird. It’s weird because she’s lukewarm in my brain. She’s too soft. She’s too gentle. And what I hate most is that I like it. Mr. Skint always told me I didn’t need a mom, but I’m realizing that he was wrong. I do need a mom. What’s more, I want one. And Miss Katrina’s sentence wasn’t demanding. It was understanding. Like she feels what I’m feeling. What am I feeling?
“I don’t know,” I mumble, opening my eyes. My mind feels like it’s on fire.
“Buck, do you feel safe?”
I force myself to make eye contact and break it immediately by looking at her shoulder.
“I don’t know,” I take a long breath, “Not really.”
“Do you feel safe around anyone?”
“Just you I think.”
“But I… wish you didn’t have to deal with me.”
She lowers her eyebrows.
“Buck, you weren’t pushed onto us. We chose to take you in because we care about you. We want to be your family. We want to be here for you when you need us. You’re not a burden.”
“I want to believe that, Miss Katrina.”
“It’s hard isn’t it?”
I nod. I don’t trust myself to say anything.
“What do you want to do, Buck?”
“Right now. What do you wanna do? Do you just want to go to bed? Do you want to eat a bowl of ice cream? We could watch a movie if you feel up for it.”
I can’t remember ever being asked something like that. Not recently anyway. We didn’t really have much freedom in juvie and what choices Mr. Skint did give me were small and insignificant and shrank in number as I got older. But this one is open ended. She’s asking what would make me feel better. What would make me feel comfortable, and I don’t even know the answer. The most comfort I’ve found lately is alone under blankets.
“I’m not really hungry.”
“Well that’s not a big surprise.”
“What movies do you have?”
“We have Netflix. You wanna find something on there?”
“Okay,” I can’t help but smile a little. I stand up, she hands me my ice pack and flushes the toilet. And then we go downstairs where Mr. Eugene is sitting on the couch, eating leftover mashed potatoes and scrolling through his phone. We exchange toothless smiles.
We turned on the first episode of Sherlock. Until that night I knew he’d felt uncomfortable in our home. He did for a while after that. But I think that was the first time he let his guard down a little. He wrapped himself in a blanket and curled up in our living room arm chair where he eventually fell asleep. Then we woke him up and he apologized through his scabbed over lips and was surprised when we weren’t bothered. Then he thanked me for the ice pack, and Eugene asked him if he’s sure he doesn’t want the police involved. Buck said he didn’t want to cause unnecessary trouble and gave us some probably fake words of being okay and everything really not being a big deal. But I knew it was. He’d let me see. That was when I made a promise to myself. I promised to make sure he felt safe. Safe to talk to us. Safe from people who would lie to him. Safe with himself. There was a lot of work to do. But at the very least, that night gave me hope.
OTHER CONTESTANT: Emilyjonesaio
This story begins not where a lot of stories begin, at McAlister park, where the Parkers and the Perkins played ball games, during the biggest baseball season the town of Odyssey has ever seen. The competition; each other. It all started when Matthew Parker and Wyatt Perkins were at the bleachers, arguing over who, in both families, was the best team player. “I think I am, Matthew.” Wyatt said. “You?” Matthew replied. “Camila’s hamster is better!” “Ouch, I’m standing right here!” There was silence.
“If your so smart, who do you think is the best team player?”
“I think that Camila is since she is good at soccer.”
”I will. Meet me right here, at 11:00 am. Bring your family, and all the baseball gloves you can find.”
”See ya then.”
Later that day, as they were folding clothes, Matthew told his older sister Olivia about the game and his conversation with Wyatt. She said, “There is no way I’m going to play baseball. I don’t know how, and I’m not good at it.” “You could learn.” Matthew replied. “You could also practice. As they say, practice makes perfect.” “I’ll get my costume dirty.” she said as an excuse.
”You won’t even be on stage.“As he said this, he rolled his eyes.
”I have too many chores.”
”You barely have any!”
”Ok, fine! Under one condition. You buy me 10 raspberry sodas from Whit’s End.” Whit’s End was the local ice cream shop and discovery emporium. Once, Renee Carter, an intern, asked John Avery Whittaker, the owner, if it was a Christian company. Whit, as many people call him, replied, “I’m not sure if a company can be Christian, but it’s safe to say that it’s a company owned and operated by a Christian.”
”It isn’t worth that many sodas.” He thought for a moment and said, “Maybe one soda and a week of chores.” Olivia reluctantly agreed, and they finished folding the clothes in silence.
That wasn’t all that happened. The next day, at the field, Matthew and Wyatt were talking about something serious. Very serious. “You look worried, Wyatt. What happened?” Matthew said. “Something happened to the equipment.” Wyatt replied.
“What exactly?” As he said this, he was getting annoyed.
“You don’t want to know.”
“All right.” He said, as if he still wanted to know.
“The equipment was stolen.” Wyatt was wondering why Matthew was interested in this.
“WHAT?!?!?!” Matthew said. “I can’t believe this is happening.” he thought, “what will mom and dad say?”
“I’m sure there is an explanation to this” Matthew’s mom, Eva said as Matthew told her the story. Her voice was really soothing. She was nervous at the thought, but she wanted to think that it was all going to be ok. I would go into detail, but what happened next was too exiting to put into words. Basically, after a few bloody noses, a broken arm, and some scratches and bruises, they caught the culprit and the Perkins won almost all the games, due to the broken arm.