Jay sighed, her upper lip curling in disgust. If there was one thing she didn't like, it was waiting. She had always been mature for someone her age, but most nine-year-olds weren't doing what she was. Most nine-year-olds were playing outside instead of shopping for food. Most nine-year-olds weren't scrounging for food. So, yeah, she was more mature than most other nine-year-olds.
She could see a little old lady in line in front of her, a cart filled to the brim with memory candies. Jar after jar filled with colored hard candies rested in the cart. The little old lady sighed a little at the first person in line. She was a middle-aged woman with blonde hair and a voice that made Jay retreat into herself. It was angry and loud.
"Ma'am, we don't have that item. You might be able to find it at Trader Foe's, but we don't have it. I'm sorry if someone told you otherwise." The cashier was a young lady with tired eyes, and a tense set to her mouth. She had taken the womans' verbal lashing for about an hour now, and seemed fed up.
Jay knew what that felt like. The little old lady in front of her sighed again, louder this time. She caught the womans' attention. "What are you sighing about? It's not my fault that this garbage clerk isn't doing her job. If she would get up off her butt, and look in the aisle for me, we could be through with this."
"Karen, buy your brownies and go home."
The woman, Karen, sputtered, looking indignant at the little old lady who smelled like fish. Something about that little old lady demanded respect, despite her appearance. Jay scratched her neck, watching Karen struggle for words while the clerk stifled a smile.
Jay felt someone push past her, and she looked down at the offender. She was a small girl, smaller than Jay anyway, with satiny brown skin. She smelled like the ocean. The scent sent a stab of anxiety through Jay.
The small girl set a container of sour cream in the basket of the little old lady, and Jay noticed the resemblance. Karen gave the clerk her credit card while glaring at the little old lady who turned to Jay. "Where are your parents?"
Jay started, realizing that the lady was talking to her. "They're waiting out in the car. My ma didn't want to come in today, so my pa stayed with her."
The lie rolled off Jay's tongue with ease. She'd been lying for years, so it didn't even prick her conscience like it used to. The little old lady's eyes stood out from her leathery brown skin, one blind and one bright blue. The little girl she was with had the same blue eyes.
"Can I buy that food for you?" The little old lady asked, a knowing expression in her face. Jay ducked her head, feeling heat creep along the tops of her ears.
"I can afford it."
The little old lady cackled before speaking. "I know you can. But my son-in-law gave me too much for these, and we had to get sour cream to balance out half the budget."
Jay knew that the little old lady pitied her. Poor little kid, paying for food all by herself. But the little old lady had put her jars onto the conveyor belt while they talked, and was starting on her things.
The clerk rang up the money, and the little old lady paid, returning Jays' groceries with a smile. Jay accepted, her eyes drifting from the little old lady. She left with the little girl, and Jay took her bags to the rusting bicycle that she had put on the bike rack. She knew that no one would steal it, but even if she didn't trust that, she couldn't afford a bike lock.
So she biked back to her house, stopping outside the run-down cottage. It smelled like a mix of cigarettes, alcohol, and nicotine. Before she went inside, she put one of the bags down. The little old lady had slipped some coins into it. With a small smile, Jay pocketed the coins, knowing where her next destination would be.
The door to the house creaked. It always did. Jay could feel her heart ascend to her throat. Her hands shook, and she looked into the kitchen. They weren't there. She put the cans, containers, and bags away as fast as possible, sparing glances behind her every so often.
Her heart pounded violently against her collarbone. She could almost taste the iron of her blood. There was a creak of floorboards, and Jay whipped around, looking into the empty eyes of the woman who bore her. Jay swallowed.
"Did'ya ge' the shopping?" The woman in front of her smelled like strong liquor and salt. Her words slurred together, giving her voice a frightening quality that made Jay want to curl up in a ball and hide.
"Good. If you wan' to live 'ere, you gotta do the work. "By the sweat of thy brow will they eat bread," or w'a'ever." The woman wandered out of the kitchen, and sank into an ancient armchair. Jay ducked her head, and started to her room in the basement. She turned down the hall, and ran into her father. He spilled a touch of beer onto his shirt. He looked down at her, rage twisting his features. The blow landed before Jay could prepare for it.
She retreated to the basement, one hand on her cheek where he'd struck her. Today was the day. The final day of this. She would be free from this today.
With shaking hands, she gathered together all the coins that she'd been hoarding. It wasn't much, but she hoped that The Well was in a giving mood today.
The only interesting feature of her town was the well. It had a statue of a beautiful young woman gracing the top of it. Also, everyone called it a wishing well. It was more of a fountain then a well, but it got called a well for the aesthetic. Jay had two quarters, five dimes, six nickels, and eleven pennies. That would have to be enough.
That night, while her parents were watching TV and drinking, Jay snuck out of the house. She crept toward her bike, and started standing it up, when she noticed that her tires held large slashes in them. Blinking back tears of frustration, Jay started walking.
It was her only option.
No one could stop her.
She ran all the way to town.
It was morning by the time she found the well. She glared down at it, as though she could make it work just by looking at it. She dropped the coins into the well with an air of finality. With a clear voice, she stated her wish. Anyone listening could hear it. For a few seconds, the well did nothing. Then, the water began to swirl and glow.
Finally, what she had been waiting for was about to happen. She would get her wish.