I only wear shoes I can run in. I do it because running isn’t just probable in my life, it’s inevitable. And if I’m not faster than the people chasing me then that’s it – I’m dead. I never liked heels anyway, but I miss having the option of wearing them. I don’t see much these days except for blurred shapes and faces that I run pass. I know where to go instinctively; it’s been ingrained from years of practice, years of dodging, and years of hiding. His feet beat right beside mine, just as practically dressed, just as frantic. We both run. It’s just what we do now.
Chapter 1: Harper
I used to have a name before all of this started. It was a pretty name, but I don’t use it anymore. Too many bad things have happened with that name. Bad things happen with my new name too, but they aren’t nearly as bad as before. I can deal with physical pain a lot better than I can deal with the emotional stuff. My last life, the pain was both. This life, the pain is just physical and I find it much easier to bear.
I don’t miss my old life; I try to forget about it whenever I can—who wants to be reminded of being tortured? Sometimes though, little things happen that remind me I’m not supposed to be in this life, that I belong somewhere else. I try to ignore those things, but it’s hard to do when I’m so different from all the people around me. That’s what gets us into trouble: my differences. Even though no one knows about me for sure, humans aren’t as obtuse as my previous life told me they were. They feel the difference, even if they don’t know what it is. Human instinct has evolved much faster than human conscience.
I try to blend in whenever I can. I’ve gotten good at hiding, I’ve gotten good at pretending, I’ve even gotten good at lying—something that is as necessary as breathing since I came to this world. This life has hardened me, made me callous, it’s made me sarcastic, made me mean; but it’s also made me strong. My muscles are strong, my hands are strong, and my will is strong. He is how I got my strength in the first place, and he is what keeps me strong now.
Ours wasn’t a typical first meeting. Actually, he found me in a dumpster, behind a restaurant known for throwing out food that wasn’t perfect. After a few minutes of getting pizza sauce in places I’d rather not mention, I finally found a freshly baked, slightly burnt loaf of bread. I was just about to jump out of the dumpster when I sensed something looking at me. It was dark in the alley, but a flickering lamp at its entrance routinely showed all the stark shadows things could be hiding in. I analyzed these shadows, letting my eyes see what the dark didn’t want me to find. At first I couldn’t see anything; but then, one patch of shadow at the opposite end of where I was, caught my attention. All I could see were little reflective orbs, three or so feet above the ground that flashed in and out of existence every once and a while. It wasn’t until I had been staring for over a minute that the orbs started to rise, rising four feet, then five, then a little more. The orbs started coming toward me then, and that was when I noticed the person they were attached to.
I jumped out of the dumpster quickly and glanced at the exit of the alley; I’d have to run past the person in order to reach it, but I could run fast when I wanted to—inhumanly fast. The person must have noticed me looking toward the escape route because he took a few quick steps to put himself directly in my path. I could still beat him. He was foolish in taking me at face value. I knew I didn’t look like much, but in the world I came from, we were equipped with certain physical attributes that would make us lethal weapons here. He wasn’t even an intimidating species according to this world’s specifications. He was tall, yes, but he was thin. The more I scrutinized him though, the more determined I was to not underestimate his light frame—his skin was stretched with lean muscles. His feet were planted on the ground, his knees slightly bent so he had a strong stance and good balance. His eyes were evaluating me just as I was evaluating him. I knew what he would see though. He would see a skinny teenaged girl with torn, baggy clothes and greasy knotted hair. I’m sure in the dark my hair would look black to him, but it was actually brown. He had brown hair too, though it was very light, almost golden, and curls haloed his head in unfinished ringlets.
The boy took a step toward me and I scrambled backward, clutching the bread to my chest and getting ready to run. He hastily threw his hands in the air in front of him with his palms facing me. This gesture was familiar to me, I noticed it a lot when someone felt overpowered, or they wanted to stop the person threatening them or hurting them. It was a sign of surrender. I didn’t know why he was surrendering himself to me though. Obviously, in this situation, he thought he had all the power. I, after all, was just a girl.
“Hello there.” The boy spoke. His voice was nice: light and soft, very warm, and reassuring.
He hesitantly took another step forward, and I matched his with a step back; I was running out of room. I would have to act soon.
The boy stopped walking but kept his hands up. I nervously glanced toward the alleyway entrance. If I could just make it there I could lose him in the city, I wouldn’t even have to run.
“Please don’t run!” The boy pleaded. Could he read my mind? I started evaluating him more closely. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I just want to get to know you.”
I cocked my head at him. Him getting to know me would lead to a desire for him to hurt me. This much I did know about human nature; they didn’t like what they couldn’t explain, they were afraid of it. They liked being in control, and they eliminated those things that threatened that control.
The boy thrust his neck out like he was trying to get closer to me without actually taking a step. “What’s your name? I’ve seen you around here before but I never had the guts to speak to you until now.”
Now that he said it, I had noticed this boy before too. I was never looking for him, but I do remember seeing that curly brown hair every once in a while. How interesting that he hadn’t acted before-hand. How interesting that he even wanted to. People normally avoided me whenever they could. They could tell I was different, and they were afraid of what that difference might mean for them. Something else I knew about human nature was that people were selfish, self-interested, and self-preserving—even at the cost of many others.
The conversation was making me increasingly uncomfortable. This boy’s words were defying normal human reactions. I knew that humans lied though. Lying was one of the things they did best. I decided it was better to not find out this boy’s motives and just run.
I was to the entrance of the alley before he even processed what was going on. I stopped and turned around briefly to look at him one last time. He had just wheeled around in alarm, his eyes were wide, and his mouth was open when he saw me at the sidewalk. His eyes were brown, a warm, welcoming, open brown I hadn’t noticed before.
I turned and ran.
I had lived in the city long enough to know my way around all the secret places people normally wouldn’t go. I had avoided problems with the hostile humans so far; either from outrunning them, or scaring them by showing them exactly why I was not to be bothered. I had even gained a kind of reputation, I guess, as someone to be left alone. Some people had even tried to recruit me, bringing with them black toys that spit out hot, burning metal if I should refuse. They had found out quickly that such devices were not enough, and the repercussions of their failure were sufficient that the attempt had not been repeated.
I ran until I was sure the boy could not have followed me. I turned a corner into another alley and slowed into a walk. My usual resting place was a cardboard box that had a picture of a grey rectangle on the outside of the box called a Refrigerator; it was lodged into the corner of an alley underneath some apartment windows. I found an odd sort of comfort in listening to the human’s nightly rituals. I walked over to my box, and pulled back the lid, freezing in place and gasping when the boy I had just run away from was found lying on my blankets. He popped out of the box so quickly I was startled and the loaf of bread flew from my grasp. I watched in painstakingly slow motion as it hurtled its way toward a puddle. Sprinting is something that I rarely do, but this was a desperate time. I sprinted and was just able to grab the bread before it landed in the water; I tottered on the edge of the dry gravel but soon lost my balance and belly-flopped into a large, cold puddle.
I groaned as I worked myself to my knees, throwing the soggy, soiled bread away in disgust. To my utter astonishment, the boy started to laugh, and not in a polite, public sort of way, but in a way where he would start to suffocate before he took a breath and then keep on laughing. I stood up and started wringing out my shirt, followed by my hair. I walked toward my box, stifling the urge to smother him with my blankets and grabbed one of the two spare shirts I possessed. I ducked inside the box, closed the lid, and changed into the dry shirt, stripping off my pants and placing the blanket over my freezing legs I then opened the lid just enough for me to lay my pants and wet shirt outside and then closed the lid again.
It was quiet outside my box for a long while. I was just starting to hope that the boy had gone away and was preparing to settle down for sleep when an awkward sort of tapping sounded from outside my box and I could hear the soles of shoes rubbing against the gravel outside. I sighed heavily, curled up, turned on my side, and tried to ignore it.
“Hey uh, mind if I open up the, uh, box? Door?”
I did mind in fact, but I rarely spoke to humans if I could avoid it—they were emotional and rash and I was afraid prolonged contact would turn me into one of them.
The yellow light from one of the apartment windows suddenly cast its glow at the back of my box and I whipped around to find the boy kneeling at the opening of one side of the lid. He froze at my sudden movement but then proceeded with opening the lid further and placing himself at the edge of my box and the gravel alleyway.
I tried not to be shocked at his behavior, but I found it difficult – he was very confident, this human.
He noticed me looking at him and nonchalantly lifted up his hand and smiled. “Hi there.” He said casually and placed his hand back down wrapping his long arms around his bony knees.
I frowned at him, completely perplexed and I turned on my side again, this time facing him so I could make sure he didn’t do anything hostile—as humans so often did.
The boy turned his head to look around the alley. “Nice place you got here.” He must have seen the skepticism in my eyes. “No, I mean it! Plastic bags underneath so the box doesn’t get wet. Newspapers inside to keep you insulated. Sticks in the corners so the top doesn’t sag. You’ve got a great set-up. It took me a long time before I found an abandoned alley where people would leave me alone. You have to gain a reputation to have a spot this good. I kept getting bothered though, so now I mostly live in a van I found in the junkyard.”
I couldn’t help the flame of surprise from lighting itself inside of me. I leaned myself up on my elbow so I could be closer to the boy’s eye level. The boy turned his face back toward mine. He had tanned skin. Not exactly brown, but not exactly pale; it was more…olive toned. His teeth were straight and his eyebrows were thick and dark, much darker than his hair. His face was thin but he had a square jaw; based on the symmetry of his strong features I assumed that humans would consider him attractive.
Finally, I tore my eyes from his face and noticed his clothes. They were baggy, just like mine were, and also just like mine the colors had faded and the fabric was worn and ripped in some places. His shoes had holes in them and his socks were covered in mud. My eyes traveled back up him, he had the bumps on his arms that humans often got when they were scared or cold. He seemed calm, so I didn’t think he was scared; although, he was right about the reputation I had that allowed me to be left alone. The season still had winter in the air, although, humans say that the time is what they call March.
I found his eyes again and hesitated there at their warmth. He had a very open, honest face, and most of that was due to his open and honest eyes. They were very inviting. Inviting me to open my mouth and speak to this boy who was so confusing, so interesting, so frustrating.
“Wow.” The boy said. I raised my brows in confusion and he seemed happy to elaborate. “You have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
I looked down from his face, uncomfortable. I knew my eyes were striking. They held a color of blue so bright and vibrant I wasn’t sure the humans had the capabilities of copying its exact shade. In my world, however, my eyes were a testament to my lineage. I had my father’s eyes.
Slowly, I raised myself up so I was in a sitting position, making sure the blanket still covered my bare legs. I had to slouch in the box so it would accommodate my height. It wasn’t uncomfortable, just inconvenient. The boy slowly lowered himself so he was sitting too and crossed his legs in front of him. He sat there staring at me for a while. We sat there staring at each other; until, quite embarrassingly, my stomach issued a violent growl. I touched my hand to it and frowned as the pains of hunger stretched across my abdomen.
“Hungry?” The boy asked. He looked at me with something like pity. I felt myself getting defensive, I didn’t like that look.
“I guess I kind of ruined your dinner didn’t I?” He asked, seeming determined to speak to me whether or not I responded.
I took my hand from my stomach and shrugged my shoulders in a noncommittal gesture—although I was still upset about him startling the bread from my hands.
“No, I’m sorry about that,” he continued, doing that thing again where he appeared to have read my thoughts. “I really didn’t mean to surprise you. I followed you here a few weeks ago and when I realized you didn’t move around I decided I would try to talk to you. You don’t seem to be much of a conservationist though, huh?”
I shook my head slowly, trying to determine how I felt with the new knowledge that this boy had been stalking me. I wasn’t upset, he seemed harmless. I was…annoyed—I think that was the human word for it.
“Well, that’s okay. I’m not a shy person myself, but the nuns are always telling me I’m kind of unusual in that way. If you want, we can go to them and they’ll give us food. I mean, I only go every once in a while because if I go too often then people will notice and then Social Services gets involved and I have to find a new church! I mean, I get why Social Services is important and they’ve helped a lot of kids and all that, but foster care isn’t exactly my idea of a good time. The system tries to keep the kids with whatever family members of the kids they can find; and most of the time, those people are no better. They put me with my uncle after my parents were arrested for beating me too loudly and he beat me just as bad! So, I stupidly decided to become an emancipated minor and it’s been a lot tougher than I thought. I do have a job though! Just…not a place to live and not enough money for food most nights. I’m saving whenever I can. If I can find food myself then that’s more money I can save so one day I can finally get out of this city. You know that car in the junkyard I stay in? I’ve been fixing it up with parts people leave in there. You’d be amazed at all the brand new things people just throw away, it’s incredible.” The boy chuckled to himself and shook his head.
He talked a lot. It was actually quite fascinating listening to him. It was also disturbing. He was beaten as a child! I knew humans were bad, but I had no idea their savagery extended so brutally to the innocent. No wonder my old world considered this my death sentence.
“So, what’s your story?” He asked, turning his eyes back to me. “Are you emancipated too?”
I shook my head.
He furrowed his brows. “So, are you a runaway? You know I won’t report you if you are. I actually ran away from home a couple times.”
I paused and then shook my head again.
The boy frowned at me, then laughed and shook his head. I was beginning to be amazed at his happy attitude, most humans were very negative but this boy didn’t seem to follow normal social habits. “Well, if you’re not emancipated, and you’re not a runaway, then what are you?”
I stopped and just looked at him, memories from my past came to the front of my mind and I sat, stunned at the emotional force behind them.
I looked down at my hands resting in my lap. “Abandoned,” I spoke, my voice sounding deep and serious even to my own ears.
It was quiet for a long while until the boy’s hand appeared in my peripherals. Automatically I snatched the hand before it could touch me and squeezed the wrist. The boy issued a small sound of pain and almost as fast as I had moved, another hand came in and stabbed me in a soft spot near my shoulder that caused my hand to go mostly numb and I found myself releasing his wrist without meaning to. I was just about to get up and hurt the boy when his hands were back up in a surrender position.
“Wow, whoa, I’m sorry! I was just trying to comfort you but you grabbed me and it was a reaction! I wasn’t expecting you to grab me like that.”
His wide, honest eyes had me believing him, which might have been my mistake.
I sat back down and started rotating my shoulder. “What did you do?” I asked, frustrated that he had this kind of power.
He looked at me with an amused expression. “So you’re British! Well kind of… Is that why you didn’t want to talk? So people couldn’t hear your accent? Are you British? You’ve got kind of a weird accent.”
I gave him another confused look. “I do not know what British is.”
His amused expression dropped. He looked at me warily at first and then as if he was evaluating my intelligence. “They’re not an is, they’re a who, they’re a people. It’s a type of culture. The way you talk, you sound a little like them. Like the way I talk, I sound like an American.”
I nodded my head. I knew humans had many different languages and cultures for each language. I also could hear the difference between how he spoke, and how I formed some words. My words were softer, less sharp the way his were – rounded, I guess would be the right word.
The boy rubbed his wrist where I could see an outline of my fingers. This reminded me of my previous question. My shoulder was still sore.
“How did you make me release you?”
The boy looked back at me with open, confident eyes. “I’ve been in Martial Arts since I was a kid; it’s where I work now. A guy I knew kinda took me in when he realized the situation I had going on at home and gave me lessons for free. I just hit you in your pressure point.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I nodded like I did. It comforted me that he explained his power to me, but I was still frustrated that I didn’t understand it.
After a moment of silence, I finally had to ask. “What are Martial Arts?”
The boy’s eyes whipped to mine in alarm. “You mean you don’t know? Were you raised in a barn or something? You don’t know Britain, you don’t know Martial Arts. I swear if you didn’t look so serious I would accuse you of pulling my leg.” He chuckled quietly.
I got offended, he must have noticed because he was suddenly serious again. “It was just a joke, calm down.” His easy smile returned to his face. “Martial Arts are a form of self-defense. Basically, it teaches how to defend yourself against a variety of attacks.”
“How does one defend themself? What weapons do you use?” I asked, finding myself interested without being able to stop it. “Do you hit more pressure points?”
The boy looked at me with amusement and with something close to worry. “Uh, sort of. You want me to teach you?”
I was about to agree, just to see how I would fare against human defense maneuvers, but then I realized my present condition and looked toward my wet pants outside of my box.
The boy followed my eyes and laughed again. “Well, I guess not tonight, but how about another time? It’s not like I’m needed elsewhere. They only have work for me on the weekends.”
I nodded, settling back into my box. As humans went, he wasn’t the worst I had met. He was intriguing. He was so…happy. Was it normal for a homeless teenaged boy to be so positive?
The boy seemed to relax as I did. I didn’t know what he was waiting for. Was he planning on sleeping like that all night? I hoped not.
I found his eyes on me again. “My name is Harper, by the way, Harper Delfino. Sorry I didn’t mention that before. You distracted me. You’re a very unusual girl you know.”
I tensed, so he did realize that I wasn’t like him; and yet, here he was. The more I learned about this human, the more he perplexed me.
“So, what’s your name?” He asked, continuing as cheerfully as before; I was still considering whether his happiness was pleasant and refreshing or just irritating.
I paused, looking up at him and swallowed. I wasn’t going to reveal my old name, that name was lost to me forever. I didn’t know enough about human culture to determine a suitable name for myself so I just shrugged noncommittally again.
Harper laughed. “You don’t know? How can you not know your own name?”
An uneasy feeling grew inside me. “I don’t know because I don’t have one,” I said finally, rather harsh.
Harper’s smile vanished from his face and his eyebrows pulled together. His eyes shifted to the side and he looked like he thought I might be mentally deficient. “How can you not have a name? Didn’t your parents name you?”
A sharp aching pain spread through my chest at the mention of parents. Memories flowed into my mind unchecked. I brought the blanket up to my chin and tried to contain my emotions that wanted to run rampant inside me, that wanted to debilitate me.
“My parents are not a part of my life any longer, and so the name they gave to me is not a part of my life any longer, either,” I said simply, my voice strong, hiding my pain.
Harper’s eyes widened and then he turned his head away from me, fingering the torn hem at the bottom of his jeans. He seemed to be uncomfortable, it was the first time he hadn’t seemed confident since I met him.
Another long stretch of silence came between us. My eyes started drifting until, quietly, he spoke again. “Well, I can’t let you be nameless. So how about I give you a new name?”
I thought about it, and then shrugged again followed by a small nod.
Harper looked off into the distance, his eyes squinting slightly. He seemed to be thinking. Finally, he looked back at me and stared for a while. “You have really pretty eyes by the way. I know I already said it before. I noticed them the first time I saw you. They’re so blue, but not like a clear blue or a dark blue, just a very bright blue.”
I felt my eyebrows pulling in.
I looked up. Harper was looking at me with a smile lighting his handsome face. “Jennifer Blue, that’s what I’ll call you. Jenny Blue is a song I know, for some reason, your eyes remind me of it.”
I mulled it over in my mind. It was a nice name. I shrugged again.
Harper smiled with his teeth and nodded contentedly to himself.
I watched him while his eyes were down. His body was relaxed, confident, and he had lines around his eyes that deepened when he smiled.
“How old are you?” I asked. He had a young body, but old eyes; my old life had many people like this.
Harper looked up at me and for the first time since I had met him I saw color rush into his cheeks; a color that often appeared when humans were embarrassed.
“How about you?” He asked.
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. My old life judged time much differently than this new one. I decided to answer him in human years, he wouldn’t understand my other age. “I’m fifteen.”
Harper smiled at me and then yawned. He looked around himself. “You wouldn’t mind if I stayed here tonight, would you? It took me a long time to get up the nerve to talk to you and I’m worried if you send me away you’ll leave and I’ll never find you again. Plus, it’s quite a way to the scrap yard and I’m beat.”
A tightness happened in my chest. I had never invited a human to accompany me in anything. Though looking at Harper, I didn’t think the tightness was an instinct of self-preservation, I just think it was nerves. The more I considered saying no, the more that answer seemed wrong. Harper was unlike any other human I had met before. He was….kind. I didn’t think kindness should go unrewarded, especially since it had so seldom made an appearance in my life.
“If you would like,” I responded meekly, hesitantly. “Though, I don’t have another blanket.”
Harper smiled and eagerly scrambled to his knees. “Oh, that’s alright! If you’ll just let me in the box, I’ll close the doors and our body heat will keep me warm.”
I hesitated, but I had already agreed so I nodded my head and scooted as far into the back of the box as I could. I was not worried about defending myself should Harper prove to be someone more hostile than he appeared. I was more lethal than he knew, so I watched as Harper crawled inside, and as soon as he was lying on his hip, he reached behind himself and shut the lid to the box. It was pitch dark all of a sudden and I tensed up waiting for an attack. It never came. Finally, my eyes began to adjust and I noticed Harper watching me as I was watching him; it seemed he too was not as trusting he appeared.
Harper quickly proved to be right though, between the mixture of our hot breath and body heat, the space inside was slowly warming.
“Thanks for letting me stay, Jenny. Even though I’m alone all the time, I don’t like to be.”
I nodded my head. I knew what he meant. Sometimes loneliness was a necessity instead of a choice, and yet that obligation did not make the solitude any easier.
Harper yawned again and I smiled a little. “Anyways, we can go to the church tomorrow and get some food. They’re nice, and don’t ask many questions.”
I nodded my head again and watched as Harper’s eyes slowly dropped and then closed, and soon his breath evened out and deepened.
I watched him for a long while. I couldn’t judge my feelings, they were very mixed. It was strange that Harper should be so trusting of me, even knowing the reputation I had gained. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more cautious. Though, I suspected his spying on me had something to do with it. Thinking about me now, my feelings were also mixed. On the one hand, it probably wasn’t safe for him to remain with me; the more he remained the more he would notice what made me different from him. I also didn’t want him to stay because I didn’t want to become like a human. I thought they were an ignorant, close-minded, cruel species. On the other hand, it was the first time since I had come to Earth that I had a companion. I didn’t realize how much I had missed interacting with someone. I was worried about what the years of loneliness had made me become, and what the further years of loneliness would lead to my becoming.
I listened to Harper’s breaths for a long time. Slowly, I pulled the blanket out from under me, laid it across myself and across Harper, pulled my arm underneath my head, and allowed my eyes to close; choosing instead to deal with this problem in the morning.