We walked around the grocery store for a good hour talking and grabbing things off the shelf. Mrs. Durante paid for it and we wheeled Max home. He could walk but not far, so walking up stairs was a bit of a challenge, but we made it. The house was very quiet. Like no one was home. At least there was no shouting, or any broken furniture, that was a good sign. Max kicked a piece of paper that was on the floor and I picked it up as I walked past. Lucy knows where to find me. written in Nox’s fine handwriting.
Max sighed. “I guess it didn’t go well.”
“I guess not. You gonna be okay?”
Max smirked, “Right as rain. I’m going to take a nap and be glad I’m not Nox. Or you. It’s safe here. For me anyway.”
I nodded, “You sure? We had plans.”
“Go make sure he’s alright. I’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll have time after saving him to take me to watch your dad play.”
I left Max’s room grateful that he understood all that was going on and headed down the hall to Lucy’s. I knocked and she hurriedly hid something on the other side and then cracked the door open. I held up the note so she could read it and she frowned and opened the door so I could come in then promptly closed it and locked it. She hung her head. “I didn’t even check to see if he was still here. I knew I should have checked on him.” She sat down on her bed and tried not to cry.
“Where did he go?”
She looked up at me tears in her eyes, “To where it’s safe. When our Mom’s boyfriends would be violent or she’d be doped out of her head, we’d walk to the homeless shelter on the edge of town. Nox always gave me his portion of food, so when they found us the last time he was in so much pain from hunger. He was weak and skinny and just it was hard to think that he did all it for me. And now he’s back there again for a different kind of abuse.”
She sighed, “He’s been volunteering there every month for as long as I can remember. He’s safe there. And that’s where he runs to when he feels hope is lost.”
“Where is it Lucy?”
“He won’t come home tonight.” She shook her head, “He’ll dig his feet in, he’ll stay the night, you might get him to come home.”
“I’m not going to bring him back here, Lucy.”
Her eyes opened wide, and she smiled, “I’ll watch your friend, you watch my brother?”
I smiled, “Something like that.”
“You really like him?”
I shrugged, “Something like that.”
She grinned, “Okay.” She got up and walked to her desk and scribbled down the address on a purple sticky note and pressed a lipstick covered kiss to the paper. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.”
“Thank you Lucy. You won’t tell your parents yet will you?”
“I’ll give you an hour, that’s when dinner is ready. Mom probably already knows since Nox isn’t helping with dinner, but Dad won’t notice till much later unless Ryan makes a big deal about Nox not being at the table for dinner. I’ll try to cover and give you the night, but it might not work.”
I nodded, “Thanks Luc.”
She smiled and pressed a kiss to my cheek, “Take care of my brother.”
“I’ll try.” I said and left her room.
Other than the fact that it was on the other side of town, I’d never been there before. Walking was the only option, I didn’t want to bother my parents with getting him. But I called them anyway. Mom picked up at the grocery store, “Alex, what’s wrong, honey?”
“I’m fine. But I have a friend who’s not. You mind a little extra company for a while?”
“Anytime, you know that.”
“I’m not talking a night or two mom. It could be awhile. He just came out to his Dad and his Dad is having a really hard time dealing with it.”
“Yeah, Mom. Mr. Durante cleared the house out to deal with it and Nox took off.”
“He’s welcome to stay as long as he wants.”
“Do you need help getting him?”
“No, I think I got it.” I hoped I had it. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”
I hung up and hoped that Nox would be as easy to agree as my mother had. But somehow I was pretty sure my pretty boy wasn’t going to agree easily.
I kept thinking as I walked to the edge of town. What if he wasn’t here? Had I wasted my time? Was there any way I could convince him to stay with me? He didn’t need to be protected, he just needed some place warm and safe to stay. That’s all I was offering him. Safe and warm and loved?
Why was I doing this? He was just some kid at school. But I heard that voice in the back of my head, he’s the one you’ve been stalking most of your life. Was I really in love? But the address was just up the street and I hadn’t figured anything out. And it didn’t stop me from going inside what looked like some place I didn’t want to be. Was it even the right place?
There was a woman with graying hair sitting at the desk. A pair of spectacles set on her nose as she read a book. “Hi.” I said.
She looked up with a smile, “What can I do to help you?”
“I’m looking for my friend, tall, skinny, brown hair, thick eyeliner.”
“Nox?” she grinned at me.
“Yes, ma’am.” I said wondering if all homeless shelters knew him by his first name. Then I remembered Lucy said he volunteered here so of course they knew his name. “He’s in the back, helping with dinner. You taking him home?”
“Sorta. But not his home, mine.”
She smiled and sighed with relief, “Good, I didn’t want to see what would happen if you tried to take him back tonight. I’m surprised Lucy didn’t tell you to wait.”
“She did.” I said.
“Well, I’ll wish you luck.” She pointed to a door in the backed marked employee’s only, “He’s back there.”
“Thank you.” I said as I started walking through the large room full of tables and beds.