The wind bit. Damn, hope he was warm enough. Only left him with that one blanket. Wasn’t expecting this front to move in so quick. He opened the trunk, pulled the two blankets and jacket out. Thrift store buys. Mushed the bundle under his arm and grabbed the sleeping bag. Said it was good down to minus fifteen. Crow in the busted rafters, watching, awk-awk-awk.
“You still there, boy? Just me. Brought you some blankets, a jacket, sleeping bag. I’ve got food too. Whole casserole.” Sue, bless her heart, never any questions. She wanted to ask them, her eyes damn near begging him when she handed him the dish. Told her he couldn’t explain, not yet. “Okay, Stan. I’m sure you know what you’re doing,” she’d said. Did he?
“The one and only—least in this county. Where you at?”
“Up in the hay loft. It was warmer. I’m coming down now. Umph. Ha, you see that?”
“I did, nice jump.”
“Is that”—he scurried up to Stan. “Smells good. What is it?”
“Not sure. But my dispatcher made it so it’ll be heavenly. Lord put all the baking means into that woman. Smells like cheese and bacon and crispy crumbs. Might be her famous five layer macaroni casserole. That’d be my guess, but I ain’t taken the foil off to peak.” Good Sue. No family, all alone, came to the station ten minutes early every day. Even when she’d get sick. Had to send her home on a few occasions. Woman had no quit.
“Right, yeah. May—”
“Yes. Sorry. May I?”
Stan cleared his throat. He sighed and took a seat on an overturned water trough. “I can’t keep doing this, boy. I don’t even know your name. When I said you could stay here in Mr. Red I was thinking a night or two.” The boy dipped his head. “It’s been a week. If you think last night was cold just you wait till winter hits in full. It’s brutal. Drops below zero on a regular basis. Where’d you come from? Where’re you parents?”
The boy did as ever when asked these things. Kept quiet, acted like he might be able to disappear if he held still.
“At least tell me your name, huh? What can I do with a name? Search it? Hope to find you in the database of missing children? And, sure, you know I’d try, because that’s my job.”
“I doubt you’d find anything.”
The boy’s jaw twitched. “Because the orphanage wouldn’t care. They like it when kids run away.”
Geez, an orphanage? No family then? “So your parents—”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Never knew them. Been with foster families and orphanages my whole life. Far back as I can remember. I dream about them—my parents—but their faces change, so I don’t think I really know what they looked like.” He met Stan’s eyes. “Probably just faces I wish they had.”
Good god. “Uh, well, huh…Alright, I mean, why not go on back to the orphanage?”
“I’d rather die frozen out here, Stan. Honest, I would.”
“Why’s that?” But he’d heard things and didn’t know why he’d asked. Maybe in hopes it was something else. A gross smell or leaky faucet that kept him up at night. Something simple. But the look on the boy’s face said it wasn’t a faucet or smell.
“Alright, well, here. Take this jacket, these blankets, and you dig into Sue’s good cooking. We’ll figure something out. You won’t freeze to death on my watch.” He stood to go.
“Uh? Oh, your name?”
George nodded, his mouth stuffed full.
“Well alright then, George. Nice to meet you. I’ll come by tomorrow morning. Don’t eat that all in one go, but don’t leave any out tonight. The rats will finish off whatever you miss.” Turning to go, the image of Sue came to mind. Huh, now there was an idea.
“Okay.” George smiled, his cheeks full like a hamster.