Mama hasn’t been home in days and I’m starting to get worried, hungry too. She left me with a box of Cheerios and half a loaf of bread. The Cheerios were finished yesterday and the bread the day before that. My stomach rumbles, begging for something to eat. But I know that I will go to bed just as I did last night: Hungry and alone.
My stomach is still howling, I'm curled up in Mama’s bed with my tattered baby blanket. Her mattress smells like cigarette smoke and sweat. The wine stains on her pillowcases are soon joined with tears as sobs shake my tiny body. Loneliness isn’t a new feeling for me. When daddy died last year, Mama started coming home from work less and less. It was then that loneliness took hold of my heart and decided we would be friends.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
A sharp knock at the door startled me, and I stood up. Mama always told me to never answer the door or leave the house when she wasn't at home. She said that if I did, I could be taken away from her and never be able to come back home. My stomach growled at the thought of one of the only person who would knock on the front door: the pizza man. "Has Mama ordered me a pizza?"
But why should I listen to Mama? She does bad things all the time, why shouldn't I?
Slowly, I walked out of Mama's room. My bare feet collected the layers of grime on the floor as I shuffled quietly towards the front door. My heartbeat was loudly in my chest, the only sound in our house. As I approached the door, my hand moved towards the door knob, I felt a new emotion coursing through my body. Defiance.
The door opened before I realized I've opened it. The face that greeted me isn’t the face of a pizza man and my stomach contracts with disappointment. No, not the pizza man but a boy about my age. He wore a wild smile on his face and the fading remnants of a black eye. My mind drifts to the thought of the black eye that I had a few months ago. Mama threw her heel at me and never apologized for it. I never even got mad at her for not saying sorry, I was always supposed to say sorry to her.
“Hi, my name is Tim. My brother threw our frisbee over your fence and I was wondering if we go back and get it?” He laughed as he spoke, and his eyes looked over to another boy standing on the front lawn. Unable to find my voice, I simply nod and earn another bright smile from the dark-haired boy. "Thanks." He responded brightly, “Thank you once again, you seem nice. Do you want to play with me and my brother?”
"Really?" I asked, my face glowing with excitement. Just then, my stomach contracted sharply and my vision turned fuzzy. The floor swayed beneath me, and the last thing I saw before the darkness was the boy's wide-eyed, innocent face.
Waking up, I found myself somewhere completely unfamiliar. Everything in the room was filled in white, from the walls to the blankets covering my legs. The only abstract colors came from an abstract painting on the wall, and the red blouse of the woman sitting at my bedside.
“Finally,” She said, a soft smile spreading over her glossy lips, “I was starting to wonder if Tom actually scared you to death like he said he did.”
“Where's Mama?” I said out loud, my head feeling like it was weighing a million pounds but surprisingly, my stomach felt full.
“We are trying to figure that out, baby.” She answered, looking at me.
“Who are you?” I asked, looking at her. She was beautiful, just like mama.
“My name is Louise. Louise Whitlock.”
“Are you Tom's Mama?” I wished that Mama was with me and not her.
“I am, he carried you all the way here, you know?" She said.
“He had some help, Ma!” The blonde boy, Wes announced as he entered the room. As he approached his mother, she smacked him lightly on arm. A brown, grease-stained, bag hangs from his hand.
“Don’t listen to him!” Tom announced, strolling into the room, with a carrier of milkshakes in his grasp. He stuck his tongue out as he passed Wes and deposited the milkshakes in his brother's arms approaching my bedside.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He said, as he planted himself directly beside me in the hospital bed, “And, I’m really sorry you fell and hit your head.”
“You didn’t scare me,” I respond, immediately annoyed because I’m not a scaredy-cat, but found that I couldn’t produce a reason why I had fallen, “I-I don’t know what happened.” I answered, as louise shot from her chair then, plucked the bag of food and a milkshake from Wes’s arms.
“Here baby,” She said, extending a foil-wrapped burger and a milkshake towards me, “You need to eat and my boys need to mind their manners.” She glared at Wes and Tom as she spoke, and didn't raise a hand at them. That surprised me. When Mama sounds like that, I'm always ready for a slap or worse. The boys simply laughed, as if her anger is a joke to them.
She caught my gaze and smiled warmly. Reaching out to take my hand in her own and rub her beautifully manicured fingers over the back of my cold hand. “Eat baby,” She whispered softly, so low that only I could hear. “And don’t worry. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
I dug into my food greedily, forgetting the small semblance of manners I had ever been taught, but my eyes never strayed far from the strangers sitting around me. Louise ate delicately, wiping her long manicured fingers of grease ever so often. Wes leaned back dangerously in his chair, careening his neck towards the door every time a pretty nurse squeaked by. However, when my eyes caught Tom, I found him staring directly at me. A dribble of strawberry milkshake slowly made its descent from his chin to his light blue shirt. “Do you want to trade?” He asked hopefully, raising a hand to catch the pinkish dribble on his face. I looked down at my own chocolate milkshake, topped with whipped cream and the prettiest red cherry I had ever seen in my life. In that moment, I wanted that chocolate milkshake more than anything, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been given something sweet like chocolate.
“Let our new friend enjoy her food, Tom." Louise gently chastised her son from her chair next to the bed. Friend? The word felt so foreign in my mind. When I was in school, nobody wanted to be my friend. The other kids told me my clothes smelt too funny. My hair was greasy and untamed. I was too quiet. Too weird. Did they really want to be my friends? Did Tom want to be my friend?
I felt a new emotion for the second time today; Acceptance.
Slowly, I set my burger down and reached over to the delicious dessert on my bedside table, and turned back to the kind boy next to me.
Immediately, the most brilliant smile spread across his face as I slipped his milkshake from his hand and replaced it with my own.
“Thanks!” He exclaimed before taking a small sip, and plucking the cherry off the top, and placing it on top of my own. Then, ever so softly, as if he was afraid of frightening me again, he bumped the sides of our shakes together. “Friends?” I whispered, so lowly, afraid to hear his response.
“Friends!” He chuckled back, a trickle of ice cream trickling out from the corner of his wide grin, mixing the strawberry. My first friend.