You Can't Stay

January 1, 2013
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Jude craved summertime in Wyoming—the earthy smell of the afternoon showers colliding with gray gravel on the road. Each year, he would lie on the side of the road and be reborn, soaking in as much of the smell and awakening as much he could before the end of the season. Though he had never lived anywhere but White Plains, he seemed to think this was as good as it got. For some reason, a plethora of ready and willing foster parents lived here, so he never had to leave. Each time his new “family” got tired of him, which usually took about 6 months, he would move to a different house down the street. New family. New rules. Same outcome. Same cycle. It didn’t bother Jude; it was all he knew—the half-sympathetic smiles and looks he got from his new “parents,” their excitement quickly manifesting into hatred and annoyance when he would forget to feed the dog or take out the trash. The Franks--the last foster family to host him-- kicked him out after only two weeks, but continued to receive the government-issued money for hosting him. But Jude didn’t say anything; he knew there was something bigger in store for him, a “Homeless to Harvard” story of his own. There was only one small problem—he wasn’t that smart.
~ ~ ~
“Welcome to McDonald’s. What do you want to order?” Jude asked for what felt like the thirtieth time this morning.
“Yeah, uh…I need a…” he heard people snickering in the background. “A cheeseburger without cheese.” Laugher erupted from the car, blasting into Jude’s ears through the headpiece.
“Ok, great. Anything else?” The laughter of anticipation stopped.
“Uh…no...” replied the once cocky teenager, his response sounding like a question.
“Great, that will be $1.50. Please drive forward to pay and get your food.” He saw the car reluctantly shift out of park and move forward in the grainy monitor to his left. For two and a half years, this was how he spent his days. But he didn’t mind. He never minded. He was always eager; his boss was still convinced he had ADD and never took his “goddam meds” as he so lovingly put it. Easily the bluntest person Jude had ever met, Mr. Roddney wasn’t one to positively reinforce or even gently remind; he lashed out at all the employees for the smallest infraction.
At approximately 9:27 each morning, a high-pitched bell would ring, courtesy of Raymond in the back section, the unofficial kitchen busboy. That bell was a warning to every employee to hide or be killed: Mr. Roddney had arrived for his daily hell-raising. His faux-leather loafers on the linoleum floor had come to be known as a death hymn. Employees rushed about the kitchen, scurrying to either act busy to try and avoid confrontation or clean up a mess made earlier in the day. As one of the other employees ran to clean the condiment station, she inadvertently knocked over a cup of some mysterious liquid someone left, still half-full. Jude knew she wouldn’t have time to clean it all. Jude ran over to the station, frantically grabbing as many napkins as possible, trying to soak up as much of the foul-smelling liquid as possible. The deafening heel was always the first indication. Then came the ball of his foot sliding slightly to create the one sound Jude could pick out anywhere. Squeak. The hairs on the back of his neck sprang up just as they always did. No he thought to himself in desperation. Just thirty more seconds more and I can clean this. Jude unwillingly shivered, paralyzed with fear; his hands shook, making it even harder to clean. Squeak. It was closer this time, Jude could tell. He threw the napkins in the direction of the trashcan, hoping with all he had they managed to find their way in and not fall to a heap on the floor. He quickly turned around, attempting to figure out if he could make it back to his post before he walked in when he was met with resistance. Clad in a blue button-down shirt with permanent yellow sweat stains, the smell of cigarettes so unlike the smell of wet gravel Jude needed in his summers, Jude looked up at the reddened face of Mr. Roddney.

“Jude,” Mr. Roddney said in a calm voice, even more frightening than his incessant yelling. “A word in my office. Now.” He said through gritted teeth and Jude had no choice but to follow. Before Jude could even close the door, Mr. Roddney lost it.
“Jude, what the hell were you doing?” He screamed. Jude was certain anyone in the restaurant could easily hear what would transpire behind these paper-thin walls.
“Well, I um…saw there uh…was a…”
“Spit. It. Out. Boy!” His gaze was unwavering. Jude felt as though thousands of tiny spiders were crawling up his spine, giving him a compulsive urge to stand up and shake off every last spider. However, all he could do was roll back his shoulders and try to answer Mr. Roddney’s demand.
“I needed to clean up the mess…Sir.”
“So, what did you do? You left your goddamn post? Easiest goddamn job in the world. All you do is touch a few buttons on a screen. My idiotic brother who failed out of eighth grade after three weeks could do this.” Mr. Roddney began slowly walking toward Jude, almost as if something possessed him to do so.
“Yes, but…” Jude tried to interject, but Mr. Roddney continued yelling as though Jude had not said anything.
“Are you saying you’re as stupid as my brother? Huh, Jude? You want to make fun of my family?” He took a step toward Jude and has Jude tried to move, he felt to office door against his hands; he had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.
“No, I just…”
“But even my idiot brother knows how to walk right. You can’t do anything right, Jude.” As Mr. Roddney enunciated each word when he screamed, Jude felt his face slowly growing wetter and wetter.
“I hope you know, Jude, how much I truly hate you.” His tone suddenly became much calmer and nonchalant, as if he was discussing the weather or some other insignificant matter. “If I could, I would slam your head against that bookshelf right there and just leave you. Or punch you so hard you bleed to death. But do you know why I can’t do that?” Jude decided it would be best to stay quiet during Mr. Roddney’s rant.
He felt the pain on his right cheek before he realized what had happened. Catching his reflection off of the “Manager of the Year” award in Mr. Roddney’s office, Jude saw a red welt glow on his face. He touched the tender spot, almost trying to push the bruise back under his skin. The pain was bearable, nothing he hadn’t experienced before. He could handle it. He would handle it because, really, what other option did he have?
“But do you know why I can’t do that?”
“Because of the…”
“Because of the goddamn company policy.” He felt pressure on his jaw as Mr. Roddney held tight. “Correct, Jude. Aren’t you just the know-it-all. I was never one for nerds.” Sounding like tires on gravel, Roddney’s fist contacted with his left cheekbone.
~ ~ ~

He remembered his first foster mother told him when he was five: “You can’t stay here anymore, Jude; I’m sorry. We just…we have a reputation to uphold, and we can’t risk keeping you here if it will be detrimental to us. But we still love you, honey.” She found out he had drawn on all of the preschool walls and on one of the other kids. Though her words had no meaning at the time, they resonated with him. It was his first time leaving the familiar in exchange for a new family’s house. He remembered the sound of the shiny black car’s tires crunching over the wet graveled driveway as he looked out the window, the house becoming smaller and smaller as they drove further down the road. Jude remembered he thought it was magic.
~ ~ ~
“You’re a goddamn idiot, Jude. You’re always going to be a goddamn idiot. No one’s coming to help you. You’re on your own. Do you hear me? No one wants to help a goddamn idiot like you. Ever.”

There had to be something better out there for him. His mantra, his one belief. That’s what kept him waiting; that’s what kept him alive: the smells and beliefs of summertime in Wyoming.

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laila_265 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 19, 2013 at 5:02 pm
I love this story! Great sensory details! I love how you started with the details about summertime in Wyoming and ended with that too- it really brought the story back around. Amazing job! 
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