Chapter One


I hate it when she does that.

Granny forgot about me again, and didn't even turn the heater on when she left. Now I'm locked in my room, with no heat, and no dinner. It's raining again, and I can hear the pitter-patter on my window, but not the roof since it's three stories above me. This house was Granny's inheritance, and when she croaks it's mine. Even though she has a huge house, money's tight because she spent most of it on dresses, nail polish, shoes, cigs... the list goes on. She's just a crinkly old lady, so she uses that to squeeze some money out of somewhere, 'cause she can't work. I don't know where she gets it, but it's only about a thousand a month. Not enough for her and me, so she's gotten into the habit of forgetting about me.

One time I got a job. She took my paycheck, and gave me a five out of it. Only five dollars out of the three hundred I'd made that month. I hoped it'd buy more food, but I quit little while ago, 'cause for three months straight I'd gotten five out of three hundred. That's why I'm locked in my room, 'cause I'm grounded. My room isn't much, compared to Granny's, but I like it. I've got a four poster that came with the house, as well a couple bookshelves. There's a computer that Granny bought me when she got stoned one day. That's the day my parents died. They were taking a ferry that caught fire, and jumped in the water. They drowned before the fire could be put out. I was six years old at the time. Now I live with this frigid old woman who I barely see, because I don't like this house and tend to stay outside. Her assistant, Melody, is about twenty, a good six years older than me. Every other month she gives Melody two hundred dollars to take me out and buy me clothes. Melody is sweet when Granny's gone, but when the old bat is there, she always takes her side. I don't blame her.

I hate being locked up in my room. I have a house key on the keychain around my neck, but that isn't going to do me much good. Until I get a brilliant idea.

My room is on the first floor, near the back of the house. So I could slip out unnoticed, then go around to the front of the house (hopefully unnoticed) and whoopdee frickin' doo, I'm in the rest of the house. This would be the perfect opportunity to run away, too. I've wanted to run away since I was ten. Four years kind of solidifies an idea in your head. Besides, Granny didn't come back until late. Like, next-day late. I checked my clock, 10:02. That gives me a lot of hours.

My window didn't want to open at first, since the thingee was rusted over. I pushed as hard as I could, which isn't much, and it still didn't open. I got so mad at it, that I wanted to punch it. Yeah, smart idea, I know.

My hands had a few minor scratches, and I wiped the blood off with a towel I'd left in my room after my shower. They still bled, though, so I wrapped my right hand in the towel. Carefully, I knocked out the pieces of glass that still clung to the frame. I knew that the security alarm might go off, so I was especially careful.

It's a good thing she didn't feed me often, anyways. I was so skinny I fit right out the window. And my chest is very flat, not that it's good, but if I looked like I wanted to then I'd be stuck in the window. My daddy's jacket, that I'd taken to wearing, was waterproof, I was lucky. I crept around to the front of the house, and opened the door with my key, setting off the security. Quickly I ran to the inside panel, and tried to remember the code. It took me a few seconds, but I got it on the second try. Then the phone rang. After staring at it like a dumbass, I picked it up.


"Hello, this is your security company. Your alarm went off minutes ago, and I was just checking to see if you're alright."

"Umm, yeah, I just went out for a minute to borrow some... eggs from our next-door neighbor, and forgot about the security. Don't worry, there aren't any burglars."

"Okay, and stay safe."

I plunked down the phone, and started off to Granny's room. I didn't steal anything, but I 'retrieved' eight hundred and eighty-five dollars that should have been mine in the first place. I then went to the kitchen, somewhere off-limits for me. Nope, there was a cook in there. Okay, Plan A failed. Next.

I wandered around until I found a closet. Inside, behind the cleaning supplies and brooms, was travel gear. I took a messenger bag, and put the money carefully inside. I didn't have food yet, but I had money for food. Good enough. I headed back out the front door, stopping and keying in the alarm system on the way out. Just because I'm 'homeschooled' (psh. I haven't taken a lesson since I learned to read) I'm not a complete idiot. The common sense is still there.

I walked in a direction I knew that would take me to a grocery store in a few blocks. I turned the corner from our residential street onto a busy one, and realized how stupid I'd been to forget an umbrella. Oh well, common sense is gone; just pull up your waterproof hood. How very poetic of me.

I reached the store, which was one of those 24 hours stores. Ah, central heat! Warm, warm! I wound around the store, picking off the cheapest groceries, and saw the one thing that would screw me up and over. Granny. I ran to the opposite side of the store, paid for the necessities, and hid in a Christmas tree forest. Huddled up, I put the bags and receipt into my messenger bag, and it barely fit in there. I huddled up in there, waiting for Granny to pass, and eventually fell asleep in the warm store.


Working in a grocery store is not what I had in mind. It's not as much as I would be making if my mom had let me work on that website I'd wanted to. Even though we were dirt poor, I still had a 4.2 GPA and my own computer, made from scratch. I'd had to save up m money to buy parts and a monitor, but it's worth it. It's no laptop, but it's got more memory than one. Now that it's finished, I can give some of my extra money to my family. My little brother's sick and I think he needs medicine, badly.

"James! I gotta talk to you!"

That's Daniel. He's my best buddy, and he lives right next-door to me. Sometimes, he'll 'experiment', but he's generally a good guy. He always jokes about stuff, too, and it always lightens my day up. But he gets annoying, too. Like right now.

"Dude, you gotta cover for me. I forgot I was working the next shift and made a date with Rosalie. You understand, right?"

I actually didn't understand, but whatever, he's my friend and I owe him one - or five or six, whatever.

"Alright, fine. Just know I have a presentation tomorrow. If I screw up..."

"Yeah, I know. But you won't, I know it. Thank-you-bye!"

It was ten o'clock as the shift ended, and I settled in for another hour of checking merchandise.

"Sir, I'd also like help moving my tree to my car. I'd like you to put it on the roof, too, if you're capable of it." Her tone was so clipped, especially for a snobby old lady. She puffed absently on her cigarette as I glanced at the clock. 10:36.

"Well, are you going to help me or not?"

"Yes, ma'am."

I went over to the Christmas trees, and moved one aside while the old grump headed to her car. Boy, was I surprised to see a girl sleeping under a tree. Her light hair looked out of place, but not unruly. It fell over a big red jacket, and she was one of the skinniest people I'd ever seen. I stared for a moment, but then the old grump yelled for me to hurry my ass up. I lugged the tree over on top of the car, and as soon as the deed was done, I rushed back to find the girl still sleeping among the trees. I poked her shoulder, and she stared at me with wide eyes as she awoke with a start. When she saw who it was, a stranger, she relaxed a bit, but still looked at me with fear.

"What were you doing, hiding in those trees?" How inventive of me, how creative, to say something like that to someone who's obviously scared out of her pants.

"SSHHHH! She's gonna find me and I'm gonna get in trouble!" Her eyes were especially pretty, unlike the rest of what I saw about her. They were extremely light brown, like honey. At the moment, they were wide with fear.

"Who's going to catch you?"

"Granny! Don't let her get me, please!"

"Shh, nobody's going to hurt you-"

"Yes, she will! She doesn't hit me, but she doesn't feed me either! You gotta help me!"

"Okay, what does she look like?"

"She's old and ugly, and wears cheap jewelry, always puffs on a cig, and her eyes are always red."

I recognized the lady who'd left a few minutes ago. "She left."

The girl visibly relaxed, then stood up, and started walking to the doors. "Wait!" I said, loud enough to be conspicuous in the normally quiet(ish) store. "Why would she catch you?"

The girl (I realized I didn't know her name yet) blushed and stared at the floor before muttering, "I ran away."

I didn't quite expect that, but it didn't really come as a surprise. "Is it really that bad, where you came from?"

She looked at me, and didn't say a word. Her eyes told me the story, filled with sorrow. Softly, I asked, "What's your name?"


"I'm James. Nice to meet you."

"You won't squeal on me?"

"Of course not. I wouldn't dream of it." There were other things I was dreaming about, though. I'd fallen for the helpless little stick figure, and I fell hard, too.

"You have a place to stay... Madison?"