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I Will Never Let Go
They'd been like this for as long as they could remember. Well, for as long as Chance could remember. For Aven, well, let's just say this was the only life she would know now. The old life, that was the past.
Aven was standing behind Chance now, a protective hand on his shoulder. This was the first time that Chance would have to learn this on his own. Much as it peeved Aven to have him have to learn any of this, this was the life they had – and they definitely didn't chose it.
But they'd have to survive in it.
“Pull it out slowly Chance,” Aven whispered. “Don't make any sounds, and for goodness sakes, please don't bump the wall again.”
Chance rolled his eyes, but he seemed more careful now with the cord. “Aven, why do I have to do it this time? You always do it anyway!” His voice squeaked at the last word, making him look even more like a little kid. He scrunched up his face, probably to match the kid voice.
Aven both hated and loved that face. He was, anyway, only ten. If Aven hadn't been teaching him herself, he probably would only be in fourth grade. That made her feel all the more responsible for him. But he also used that face too much, and Aven could recognize when he was just trying to get out of doing something. Sighing, Aven grit her teeth. I'm doing this for his future, She told herself. He needs to learn how to survive if he expects to live past ten!
Her face hardened, so he couldn't see how much it hurt her to see Chance in the back of an alley, trying literally to steal warmth from the back of a bakery. “Chance, just do it! Before we get caught! Do you want to sleep at all tonight?”
Chance knew better to argue too much with his sister. He focused more on pulling the cord up through the crack in the window. The heater was almost up, but at every bump Aven winced, expecting to see someone coming around the corner and kicking them away from the bakery.
“Easy,” she whispered to herself. “Easy.”
Now she could see the glow of red from the heater's vent. Her heart jumped! Expertly, Chance grabbed the back part of it firmly, while at the same time lifting the window just a tiny bit more. Chance was going irresistibly slow, but Aven resisted the urge to reach in and grab it herself. Chance had to learn.
Finally it was up! Now, they would have heat to sleep with. Of course, it would be tedious for them to keep it plugged in from the inside of the house, but Aven had done this before, and even at a different building. Chance grinned, and for a second, Aven saw why she liked that face.
“Good job!” She whispered, though her voice was barely audible now. The bakery's lights had been turned off for the night, which meant Aven and Chance had to be really careful while the last baker walked away. Aven grabbed the heater now. The cord was too short to put on the ground, where Aven would have liked, so she just turned it upside down and let it dangle from it's cord. Chance stepped back as she cleared a spot next to the heater's wall. Taking one last look around her, she set the backpack down and rumbled through it.
“Are we gonna sleep here?” Chance asked.
“Going to. It's 'are we going to sleep here', Chance.” Aven corrected.
He just shrugged. “Well, are we?”
Aven sighed, and let her head hang low. “Given the circumstances, yes. For now, but if anyone catches us...” She paused. Chance had no reason to worry about that right now. Aven could worry about that herself.
“Why don't you get some sleep?” She said instead.
Aven hated to do this to him again. They'd been in and out of a place to sleep now for two years, but that wasn't their fault. If only Dad hadn't abandoned them. If only he'd loved them, if only Aven had convinced him that he could love her, that he could give Chance an chance...
Aven stopped herself. It wasn't because of him that she and Chance were living on the streets right now. It was because I lost my job. If she'd worked harder, maybe they wouldn't have fired her.
But still, who wanted to hire a thirteen year old girl?
That was two years ago. Still, watching Chance when she herself was only fifteen years old was a challenge. Aven pulled out a blanket from her backpack and spread it out as close as she could to the heater. The blanket was long enough that Chance could sleep on the bottom and still have enough to keep warm with it at the top. Chance crawled in, and shivered. It was obvious that he was still cold, and a hard ground to sleep on wasn't much in the likes of comfort, but he smiled up at Aven's worried face.
Aven stood up. He was a strong kid, she'd give him that. Chance had only complained once in his lifetime about living on the streets, but he seemed to recognize that Aven was trying her best.
Aven didn't like it that he hid the fact that he was cold.
She didn't like that he was there at all. Or her.
Instead of lying down next to the heater with Chance, Aven put the backpack around her shoulders, then checked the corner of the wall to see if anyone was coming.
“Where you going?” Chance asked.
“To see if we can get some food. Stay here.” Aven ordered.
“Can I come?”
“No.” Aven replied. “It isn't safe to travel at night. Plus, you need your sleep.”
Before he had a chance to argue, Aven turned the corner. The bakery was closed, but Aven by experience knew that most bakeries left some sort of cookie or loaf of bread or something right outside of their store as a try-out to a passerby. If they were lucky, they'd forgotten to bring it back in.
Aven was right. Right at the front of the store was a table with cups at one end, a pitcher of coffee, and a plate of cookies. The sign said “Take One”, but the store was closed, and these cookies would be dry and flaky by the morning. They'd probably switch them out in the morning anyway. Aven took four of each kind, and put them in a food bag she always kept in her backpack. Chance would like that, cookies for bed time.
She didn't want to get too far from Chance, so Aven decided she'd come back and leave Chance some cookies before she crossed the street to see what the buffet had in store. Taking another look to see if anyone was watching, Aven darted back to where Chance was lying.
Chance wasn't asleep, of course. He never slept good when she wasn't there, if at all. Right when she came back he sat up.
“You weren't gone very long.” He said.
“I wanted to give you something to eat before I went across the street. I might be a while.”
She took out one of the cookies. Of course, she had plenty more, but if they wanted to space it out through the night, one would do for now.
Chance took it, and said with a full mouth, “Where you going now?”
“The buffet across the street. Sometimes they have extras they get rid of just because they got too cold or something.”
Chance chewed thoughtfully on his cookie. For someone that was only ten, he was really good at looking thoughtful. That would help him as a salesman someday.
Suddenly, Aven heard a sharp voice behind her. “Hey!”
She jerked to attention, keeping a protective hand around Chance.
“What are you doing here? We're closed now!” The voice barked.
Aven thought quickly. She was sure all the people at the bakery had left. Why would one come back?
The man seemed to answer her question. “I come back for my coat not five minutes after we close, and already there comes some beggars and looters behind my store! What were you planning on stealing? All the doors are locked you know.”
It was a stupid taunt, Aven thought, but still she had a chill down her spine. If she was mistook for a looter, a thief, then this guy could report them. They could go to jail just for a misunderstanding!
“No sir! We aren't here to steal from your store.” She shouted in a loud voice.
The man came closer. He had a flashlight flicked on now, and the light was absolutely blinding. “Then how do I explain to my workers a bunch of kids huddling around the back door?” He snarled.
Aven tightened her grip on Chance. “I told you, we aren't trying to steal anything!”
He was coming too close for Aven's likes. What if he decided to grab them?
“Listen,” She started. “I don't want any trouble. Me any my brother were just sitting down for a second to, uh, catch our breath. It's the mile run in school this week you know. So my brother and I thought, hey what better place for a mile run than this alley?”
He man narrowed his eyes. “You have exactly ten seconds to get out of my sight before I call the cops. Ten, nine, eight...”
He was getting out his cell phone. Aven decided it was best to get out of there before something went bad. She grabbed the blanket that Chance had thrown aside and stuffed it in her pack.
“Five, four, three...”
Aven grabbed Chance's hand, and darted as fast as she could away from the bakery. Once they were a good thirty minutes away, Chance started to complain.
“Aven! He probably isn't following us! We aren't really doing a mile run, are we?”
Aven stopped. “No, but it isn't safe to be around anywhere where anyone else can see us. Safer to stay out here.”
She looked around, and for the first time, she noticed they were in the middle of an open field. Wow, she must have been running blindly after all.
“Now what?” Chance asked. “No heater, no place to sleep, what do we do now?”
Aven looked around her. The field was pretty far in between. It looked like an abandoned wheat field, and the wheat looked pretty tall. Plus, it wasn't a heated blanked, but the wheat might keep them out of sight, just until the morning, and maybe even keep Chance warm a little bit.
“We stay here.” She concluded.
“Why? What was wrong with the heater? What's wrong with the city?”
“It's too populated for my liking right now. The bakery incident was a little too close for my comfort zone. We'll find a better place in the morning.”
Chance opened his mouth to object, but closed it again instead. “Fine,” he said harshly, and plopped down on the ground.
Aven got out the blanket again, and wrapped it around Chance. Okay so this wasn't a luxury hotel, but it was safe for now and perfect for what they needed. She lay down a little ways next to Chance, and closed her eyes. At least now Chance would be safe.
A rooster calling woke her up in the morning. It reminded her of home for a minute, when Mom was still alive and they lived next to a farm, but Aven pushed the memory away and sat up.
The sun wasn't quite up yet, it was poking up through the trees. Aven guessed it was probably about six thirty. So she'd slept in. Big whoop.
Any time she slept in after six, the shops already were open. It would be harder now to scavenge for food, unless she left right away. Maybe this time Chance would have to come with her. She wasn't about to leave her brother in the middle of a farm field.
Aven turned around, and stared to push at Chance's blanket. “Chance, wa–”
She stopped for a minute. Chance wasn't under the blanket. In fact, he wasn't there at all.
Aven wasn't one to panic, but Chance was the only thing in the world she had to care about. First, she looked around for him, from a close distance. Maybe he'd just had to use the bathroom, or maybe he wanted a warmer place to sleep. There was that bakery to think about. Could Chance have gone back there for the heater? First, though, she decided to look here.
“Chance?” She called, first quietly.
“Chance?” She dared to call a little louder.
“CHANCE!” Aven shouted. How long did this field go? Aven knew Chance better than to have wandered off through the trees away from town. He liked the town better anyway!
Aven went back to their spot, and waited. Maybe she'd just woken up at the wrong time. Maybe she could wait for him to come back. Of course Chance would come back later! He was just at the bathroom or something. Aven had to think that was all that was happening. She waited for an hour.
Half the day.
After the sun was all the way in the middle of the sky, it was obvious, he wasn't coming back. Now she could let herself panic. Why hadn't she watched him better than that? He was sitting right next to her? Where could he have possibly gone?
She took a drastic choice. Aven decided to leave, and look into the city.
Before she left, Aven took out her notebook, and wrote out a note for Chance.
“Chance, I didn't know where you went, so I decided to look for you in the city. If you come back and get this letter, stay here until I come back.”
Could he read that good when he was just ten? Aven decided to take a chance. Taking a deep breath, Aven started to look in the city. She reasoned she would only be gone for two hours tops, but after then, she would come back and see if Chance had come back when she was gone.
Her first stop was the bakery. Chance had really wanted to sleep there last night, but Aven thought she'd made it clear that this wasn't the safest spot to be.
Chance wasn't there.
Okay, so he'd listened to her about that. Now if only he'd listened when Aven said to stay put, then they'd all be settled.
Aven decided that when she found him, she'd kick him right in the leg for not listening to her. Then, she'd hug him and never let go again.
If he wasn't at the bakery, Chance could have wandered off somewhere else.
At first, she looked for him subtly. There was no need to draw attention to herself, especially if Chance was in trouble. Aven decided to first go to all the places they'd been in this city. She and Chance hadn't been at this city in particular for any more than two weeks, but they'd been a lot of places. First she tried the laundromat. There was a place there where it only took a quarter for a load of laundry. Plus, there was a place there where Chance could be warm until they were done. She started off there.
Chance wasn't at the laundromat.
Gritting her teeth, Aven started off somewhere else. Could Chance have gone to the hotel they'd stayed at a few nights ago? Aven had gathered up enough money, right before they fired her for being too young and having little experience – again, for a cheap hotel for one night. She decided to shoot for that one.
But Chance wasn't there either.
Aven went everywhere, even some places they hadn't been! Finally, Aven decided it was best to draw attention to herself, for Chance's sake. Could she trust the police?
Better not to go there. That would mean practically turning herself in for drifting the city.
And what would they do to Chance, if they'd found him? Put him in an adoption home? She would probably never see him again.
Deciding against that, Aven decided to ask people around her. She didn't trust even one of them, but maybe one person would be willing to tell her if they'd seen a dirty blonde ten year old with blue eyes and a friendly smile. But nobody said they'd seen Chance. Aven even started showing them the only picture she had of him!
Her two hours was up before she realized it. And Chance wasn't anywhere that Aven had looked. Reluctantly, Aven went back to their spot in the field. Her note was still there, but Chance wasn't. Aven felt tears welling up in her eyes.
She looked around, and with one last ounce of breath, she screamed. “CHANCE!”
Then, Aven fell to her knees, and began sobbing.
How could she lose the only thing in the world she ever cared about? How could she have let him go, when he was right next to her? Aven felt terrible, like a failure. Through the midst of her tears, she looked up, and glared at the world. Whatever happened to her brother, Aven would spend a lifetime trying to find him again, if it took that long.
She waited another hour, just in case Chance decided to come back, and then started in to the city. Chance couldn't have gone far on his own. She would have to search every building, but in the end she would fin Chance. She had to.
Before she came out from the field, somebody cleared her voice behind her.
Aven's reflexes were pretty good for living on the streets. If anyone was behind her, Aven would know it and pummel them to the ground. In a flash, the whirled around and kicked at the sound.
An older girl, maybe about twenty, fell to her feet with a thud.
Aven stopped herself before she came back to get her again. She felt bad, of course, for kicking at this girl, but defensively she glared down at her. “Who are you?” She demanded.
The girl put her hand to her lip, and Aven realized that she was bleeding. Her face softened a little, but she caught herself and remained firm, ready to fight.
“I said who are you?” Aven spat.
The girl staggered up. “T–Tanya.” The girl stammered.
“What do you want?” Aven demanded.
She'd expected Tanya to stay down. Maybe even cower and go away. That was what she'd hoped for, anyway. She had bigger problems to deal with than her.
Instead, Tanya sat up, wiped her lip, and faced Aven. Despite herself, Aven stepped back.
“I think I know where Chance went.” Tanya said.
Aven's fists went down a little. “What?”
“I saw him,” Tanya said. “He came out of a field and I saw the direction he went.”
Aven shook her head. “How do you know my brother's name?”
Tanya's eyes went down. “I was following you. You were shouting for him.”
“When you came back to the field the second time,” Tanya said. “I was watching from my window.”
Aven tried to make sense of this. What window? Was this girl delusional? All she was in was an open field.
Tanya seemed to know what she was thinking. “I live at that house, over there.” She pointed behind her to a barn and a house.
So, she lived at the farm.
“I live there with my brother and sisters, and my pa and ma lives there too. My Pa usually is out in the fields during the day. Cathy and Trey were at school, and little Jenny is only a little one, you know.”
Aven felt a tiny prick of jealously for Tanya's family, but she ignored it. What kind of a girl still said things like “ma” and “pa”? What a creep!
She decided to ignore that too. Instead, she focused on what Tanya had said. “So, where is Chance?”
Tanya thought for a minute. “He went that way,” She pointed towards the bakery. “But then I saw a man there, and he had your brother by the hand. He went over this way.”
Instead of pointing, she started walking. Aven had not even a little bit of trust for her, but she had no choice but to follow her. While they walked, Aven thought about what Tanya said. Somebody had her brother by the hand? Why? Where was he taking him? Was Chance kidnapped?
He was only ten. It seemed plausible, though Aven refused to think that.
Tanya led her past the buffet, down the road to a parking lot. Aven realized they were at a local Wal-Mart. Why would Chance be here?
“He went in with Chance, ma'am.” Tanya was saying. “I was watching him, because the man didn't look right to me.”
Aven felt like seizing up. Like screaming and shouting. What could Chance be going through? What could he be thinking? How could Aven have let him go through this?
“He didn't come back out yet. I watched.” Tanya said.
“Let's get him then!” Aven shouted. She didn't wait for Tanya to catch up or say something. She just went. Inside, Chance could be anywhere. Could she trust Tanya to help her?
Tanya came in about two minutes after Aven, panting. “Slow down!” She said.
Aven rolled her eyes. Tanya looked like she was honest. What choice did she have but to trust her?
“I'm going to look for my brother,” Aven said. “You watch the doors, to make sure he doesn't come out.”
She didn't really trust her to do even that, but she needed to get Chance.
Aven walked through what seemed like every isle, and then did a double take and looked again. Chance wasn't in any of them. Aven felt like shouting again. Maybe punching a wall to get her anger out.
Suddenly, somebody grabbed her by the arm.
Whirling around, Aven jabbed whoever it was with her elbow, and they went down tumbling. She flipped around, her fists up and ready to fight, but it was only Tanya again, on the floor.
“Need to stop...doing that...” Tanya grunted.
Aven sighed. “Come on. What did you see?”
Tanya looked at her painfully, and Aven felt a prick of guilt. But she didn't say sorry. She was too busy for any of that soppy mopy stuff.
“They went past the door.”
“Good job.” Aven smiled, her first smile to anyone besides Chance.
They walked shoulder to shoulder to where Tanya led her, but Aven never let her guard down. At any given moment, she was ready to run. Tanya could, after all, be leading her right to a trap.
Suddenly, Aven heard somebody in the other row. A kid's voice, and very familiar. She looked up to see Chance, not one isle away from her!
She ran to grab him.
And suddenly got slammed in to the wall with such force that she got a headache.
Aven tried to fight, until she realized who it was that was holding her back from saving her brother – Tanya.
“What are you – ”
Tanya clapped a hand over Aven's mouth. Aven was completely flabbergasted.
“Aven, I know you want to save Chance, and I'm completely with you on that. But you can't just run up and snatch him away like that! Did you see the size of that guy's muscles? You couldn't take him down if you tried!” Tanya was whispering.
She had a point.
Aven struggled to get Tanya's hand off her mouth. “Okay then, what do you suggest we do? Sit there and wait for him to walk off with Chance?”
“No,” Tanya said, her voice hushed. “We need a plan. Trickery.”
Aven liked that idea. It was her main amusement to trick people on the streets. But how would they deceive a giant muscle man to let go of Chance? It seemed impossible!
“Okay, so what do you suggest we do?” Aven asked.
Tanya let go of her, and thought a minute. “Does he know what you look like?” She asked.
Aven looked his way. “I don't think so, but who knows?”
“Okay then, how about I stand in front of him, and you go behind, and then I gasp and pretend I see something behind him. Right when I do that, he lets go of Chance to see what I see, you grab him, we run.”
Aven studied her. Yep, she was completely serious. And she was completely idiotic. What world did she come from?
Aven shook Tanya off of her. “New plan. We follow at a close distance, 'shopping', and then we pretend to pass him.”
“What good would that – ”
Aven cut her off. “Right when we get pass him, you shoot past me, which bumps me into him. I'll bump hard enough that he will knock off everything from the row next to him. That will temporarily shock him, enough that he will loosen his grip on Chance. Only then do you trip over me, which will knock Chance to the ground and probably on his face. While you are cowering over the man saying sorry, which blocks his eyesight from Chance, I will push Chance into the next isle.”
Tanya thought for a moment, considering. “How will you be able to push him hard enough that he knocks everything down?”
“He won't expect it, and lose his balance. Plus, I have a trick I play on people like that.” Aven couldn't help but let a glimmer of mischievousness play into her eye.
“And how do we know Chance won't see you and completely ruin everything before we start?”
Aven hadn't considered that. But there was no time to think about it. “We'll have to try.”
Tanya took the lead, which really annoyed Aven, but she let her do it. They were practically right behind Chance now, but Chance didn't look back. Aven dared not to speak, in case Chance turned around and saw them. Tanya was right, that would ruin everything.
Tanya had randomly grabbed things off the row of food, mostly cans of stuff, and put it in a basket. She'd said that would make it look more real. Aven just rolled her eyes and let her do it. She hoped to death that Tanya wouldn't try and pull anything on them. She still didn't trust anybody, including Tanya.
The man was about to turn in a different isle. That was their cue. Aven automatically walked up, just like she was about to pass them. She was sure Chance would see her now, probably recognize her short, red hair spot on, but that was a risk Aven couldn't deny. Tanya and Aven exchanged glances, and then Aven did something nobody expected. She put her foot out, to trip the man before they would fall.
“Excuse me,” Tanya shouted, way too loud. She pushed past Aven, and with a mighty shove she sent Aven right on top of the man. With her trip, the man fell as expected, but he kept his hand firm on Chance.
Chance went down with him.
Aven crashed down on him, actually pushing him harder until she could hear the first piece of glass crash to the floor from the isle of stuff he was next to.
The man was completely flustered. “What the, who in the...get off of me!”
Aven couldn't help but grin. Tanya looked a little paralyzed, so instead of waiting for Tanya to trip over Aven, Aven just pulled her down.
Tanya knocked right on top of him, and he fell straight to the floor.
In all of this, Chance stood really still. Aven turned him around, and looked into his sober face. Instantly, Chance perked up.
“Aven! I knew –”
She clapped a hand on his mouth, just like Tanya did to her, closed her eyes, and shoved with all of her might. She could hear Chance crash into the other isle, and hoped she didn't hurt him too badly.
With Chance safe, she turned around.
She hadn't realized that Tanya and the man were now both standing up. Tanya was now held firmly by the hand of the man. Her face was panicked.
“Run!” She shouted.
The man smiled mischievously, and reached for Aven. Aven couldn't leave Tanya there with him, but at his cold, reaching hands she jerked back. She thought she was free, but he caught her with his other hand, pulled her close to his mouth, and whispered in her ear.
“You'll pay for that one, kid.”
Aven looked back at Tanya, and gulped. She'd saved Chance, and she hoped Chance would get out of the way. At least she'd done that. But now, she and Tanya were both caught.
The man's grip was amazingly strong, and as much as Aven and Tanya both kicked and pulled, he held firm. With a hard jerk, the man led them towards the door.
“Ow!” Tanya shouted.
The man smiled down at her. “My apologies. But I really must thank you both. Now, instead of one measly little kid, I have two girls!”
Aven kicked him, hard, right in the kneecap.
“Mmph!” He shouted, but didn't howl in pain like she'd expected her to.
Smiling once more, he led her straight towards the door.
Suddenly, the entire aisle fell down on top of them.
“Aaaaigh!” The man screamed, and Aven heard the shelf crash straight down on his head. He'd let go of Aven, but Tanya was still struggling.
Then, Aven kicked him again, while he was still down, and blindly jerked Tanya away. They both ran, and Aven and Tanya both headed straight for the door.
Aven practically knocked over Chance in her haste.
“Chance!” She skidded to a stop, with Tanya right beside her. “Are you okay?”
“Did you get away? Did the isle fall on him?” Chance asked.
“Yes, he's still there though. Come on, let's go home.” Aven said.
“I knocked it over you know.” Chance said, beaming.
“Y-you did?” Aven stammered.
“Yep!” He grinned.
Tanya went out and shook his hand. “You sure are a brave boy!” She said.
Chance looked a little startled by Tanya, but Aven intervened. “It's okay. She's with us.”
Tanya smiled. “Chance, and uh...”
“Aven.” Aven said.
Tanya smiled again. “Okay, Aven, and Chance. Would you guys like to go to my house for a little bit? Just to cool down? We have an extra room you can use, if you'd like.”
Aven thought for a bit. She'd never trusted anyone in her life besides Chance before, but she'd never had anyone risk her life before for her. She realized then, Tanya was a true friend.
Aven smiled down at Chance, and they both looked at her. Maybe a friendship wouldn't hurt. Maybe Chance and Aven could have somebody else to help them out. Aven said something that startled everybody, including her.
She said, “Okay.”