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The sky was dark, there were so many stars; incredible. On this late spring night, I sat down on the concrete and rested my head on the edge of the dark green trash can which sat up against the brick building behind me. I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as I brought my knees up to my chest.
“It’s like nothin’ else.” I said to myself out loud as I stared up at the starry sky.
“Stop talkin’ ta yourself Kainan, it’s not normal.” Cheerio said with a slight nudge to my shoulder. He looked at me then smiled. Cheerio was 15, like me, and was always making jokes and trying to lighten the mood.
“What’s normal anyway?” I looked back up at the midnight ocean in the sky; the clouds flowed in the brisk wind and carried the stars in waves. I lose myself in a day dream.
Our alley was our home; it was hidden between the two empty buildings in our big city. The brick one used to be an old bakery; I can still smell fresh bread coming out of the oven on a Sunday morning if I think really hard about it. The other building, the drywall and wooden one, used to be a quilt shop that was shut down a year ago. The bakery was shut down a few months later.
“Tuna!” Cheeto, Tuna’s 8 year old little sister, yelled from the farthest end of the alley. Tuna, Cheerio, and I looked up and saw Cheeto running at us. “Tuna, I can’t find Nugget! I think they got him! I think the Traps got him!” Cheeto stopped at Tuna’s feet with a squeal. We always called the police “Traps” because they are constantly trying to catch us and bring us back to the place we’d all rather die than go back to.
“Cheeto, stop it. Why do you think the Traps got him? Where’d ya last see him at?” Tuna said to his little sister as he took her hand.
“I-I saw a puppy,” She said as a tear ran down her rosy cheeks. Her thin blonde hair was tangled and held back by a ponytail. “it was so cute; then I couldn’t find him. I-I didn’t mean to.” Tuna and Cheerio stood up. Tuna grabbed Cheeto’s arm gently.
“Hun, where did you see the puppy?” Tuna asked her in a soft voice.
“I saw him in the little pet shop window.” She said. Tuna nodded at Cheerio, signaling him. Tuna was 16, the oldest; therefore he was automatically the “leader” of our group, which made him the boss. Nugget was only 11, and always getting lost, so he was always shoved to the side, and never taken seriously. Cheerio obeyed by jogging to the end of the alley, looking both ways, and then running to the left.
“We’re gonna find him okay? Don’t you worry about it.” Tuna said to her, then looked at me. I continued to sit on the ground, listening to Tuna as he spoke.
“Kainan, you think you could grab her sweater please?” Tuna pointed to the light green, summery sweater draped across the toy shopping cart filled with cans, bread, glass bottles, and apples. I stood up, grabbed the sweater and tossed it to Tuna.
“Here, now go use this as a pillow and sleep a while. It’s late.” Tuna said as he handed the sweater to Cheeto.
We’ve all always looked out for each other. Ever since we met in the orphanage, we’ve had each other’s back. We escaped the orphanage in the middle of the night when the mean, old “Owl Lady” left her post one night. The Owl Lady, the mean woman who liked to smack us and drag us up the stairs by our hair every chance she got, always sat in a small rocking chair at night so she could keep an eye on us. One night she left her spot for a few minutes, so the five of us climbed out the dorm windows and ran as far away as we could. There were over 40 of us all together in the orphanage, but only the five of us were lucky enough to get out. We’ve been on our own for almost 4 months now. We’ve been all over the city, running from the Traps, but we liked the alley the best.
The next morning rolled around, and I woke to the smell of rotting apples and a week-old opened can of beans. A fly buzzed around my nose; I swatted it away as I opened my eyes. I saw Tuna and Cheerio sitting by a fire made of sticks and news papers. Nugget was sitting next to them, I sat up and brushed the cold morning dew off of my tattered clothes and exposed skin. I began to shiver. Tuna picked up a blue towel and tossed it to me.
“Th-thanks.” I said as I hugged the towel around me. “You’re back.” I said to Nugget as he sat cross-legged by the fire, warming his hands.
“Yeah, I found him by the grocery store, lookin’ in the window.” Cheerio answered with a snicker as he nudged Nugget.
“I’m s-s-sorry. I di-didn’t see Cheeto le-le-leave.” Nugget said as he looked into the fire, watching the sticks turn black as they burned.
“That dang stutter of yours is gettin’ real annoying Nugget. Can’t you knock that off or learn to talk er somethin’?” Cheerio asked with a chuckle. Tuna picked up a stick from the pile by the fire and smacked him with it.
“Shut up. He doesn’t do it on purpose. He can’t help it.” Tuna threw the stick aside.
Cheerio rolled his eyes then looked at me.
“Hey Kainan, you got a name yet? You’re the only one without a new name ya know.” Cheerio said, still aggravated by Tuna.
“Ye-ye-yeah. When are you gonna pi-pick one?” Nugget asked as he tossed me a small bag of peanuts. “Hey! wh-what about Peanut? That’s go-go-good I think, cause you’re so s-s-small.” Nugget said with a smile and a laugh. His black hair resembles a mop, so long and shaggy; if only he could keep it clean. I opened the small bag and looked down at the peanuts.
“Peanut?” I said as I looked up at Tuna and shook my head. “Can’t I just keep my name? Why do I gotta change it, I like my name.” I put 3 peanuts into my mouth and chewed them slowly. Tuna shrugged.
“Cause we all had to change ours. Who decided that we have to change our names into food anyway?” Tuna asked as he tossed pebbles into the fire.
“You.” Cheerio said with a laugh. I chuckled along with him, and then put the rest of the salty treats into my mouth.
Cheerio shifted his heavy body, almost shaking the earth beneath us. Cheeto then climbed out from under a small tent which was made of two blankets draped over a rope that is attached to both buildings.
“I like my name.” Cheeto said in a cheerful morning tone as she rubbed her eyes and stammered over to us. I leaned back and looked up at the sky.
“Peanut huh?” I said to myself. Cheeto sat down next to me and then I handed her an apple from the toy shopping cart. Cheeto bit into her apple, and then a man came around the corner.
“Hey, are you kids here all alone?” The man began to walk over to us. I looked at Tuna; his brown eyes got wide and dark. I turned and grabbed Cheeto’s arm. She dropped the apple onto the concrete and it rolled away. Tuna stood up. “I know you’re the ones that ran away from Mrs. Harris’ Orphanage, aren’t you.” The man wore normal, every-day clothes, but we all knew he was a Trap. I stood up and looked around and saw the fear and anger inside Cheerio and Tuna.
“Please don’t make us go back there, we don’t wanna go back.” Cheeto said innocently as she clenched onto my hand.
“I think it’s best that you come with me Sweetie. You can’t live here.” The man walked towards us slowly, and hesitantly, as if he were trying to catch a quick rabbit that could bolt away at any moment. Suddenly, Tuna pushed Cheerio aside, picked up a burning stick and then threw it at the man. The moment Tuna threw the stick, he ran as quickly as he could to the other end of the alley. Still holding onto Cheeto’s hand, I took off after him; Nugget and Cheerio followed closely behind us.
“Get back here!” The man yelled and ran after us.
When we got to the end of the alley, Cheerio and Tuna ran to the left, and the three of us bolted to the right. Nugget and Cheeto were a little slower, but I held onto their hands tightly as we jumped behind an old brown dumpster.
“Cheeto, be qui-et. O-okay?” Nugget whispered as he placed his dirt-covered hands over Cheeto’s mouth. She nodded.
“I think he followed Cheerio and Tuna.” I whispered. “I didn’t see him behind us.” I peeked my head out from behind the dumpster. I could smell something rotting; rats were nibbling on nasty mold. I looked around to my left and saw the Trap talking to Cheerio and Tuna on the sidewalk not far from the alley. “He got em’.” I said to myself as I looked down at the gravel beneath my feet. Nugget uncovered Cheeto’s mouth.
“Kainan, we gotta help them! We can’t let him take them away!” Cheeto said. Her bottom lip hung so low, I thought it might scrape the ground. I shook my head.
“No, we can’t. We’ll get taken too. It’s just them, or it’s all of us.” I said and then closed my eyes. I felt my heart beating in my chest, pounding against my ribs as if it were about to break through my body and jump out.
“May-may-maybe we have no choice. I mean how ca-can we make it without them? They’re the s-s-smart ones.” Nugget rubbed his dirty palms together, running his fingers across every inch of his hand. I thought for a moment.
“Well we gotta make a choice soon. They’re not gonna stand there all day and wait for us to make a dang decision.” I thought to myself, still staring at the ground. Hours passed by in my head. “The Owl Lady will beat us to a bloody mess when we get back. She’ll give us more chores than ever; all the grossest ones I’d bet.” My mind was racing as I tried to make a decision.
“Kainan, Tuna and Cheerio are getting taken!” Cheeto’s whiny voice brought me back to reality. I peeked out from behind the dumpster once more. Tuna and Cheerio were stepping into the Trap’s car. I shook my head again.
“No, we can’t. They’ll be back, they’ll be back.” I said, trying to convince myself. Cheeto tugged at my arm. My eyes filled up with tears. “Tuna always watched out for me.” I thought, remembering all of the times that Tuna could have let me get into trouble, but didn’t. I quickly ran my fingers through my light brown hair and then stood up. I took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. I looked up at the sky; the clouds formed shapes as they drifted passed me. “We’ll all be back.”