Carter blinked a couple of times before his eyes focused on the scene before him. Around the breakfast table sat his foster family looking at him with a blank stare. Carter vaguely remembered being asked a question, but it was becoming more common that Carter found himself lost in his thoughts.
Carter had been taken in by his foster family two months ago. At fifteen years of age Carter was considered incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity to be adopted by a foster family. Many at his age were simply overlooked because they were no longer the age that families looking to adopt found “desirable”. The Millers weren’t like the others.
Carter had been at that orphanage twelve of his fifteen years on Earth, and never had he seen a family so interested in the older kids. They seemed intent on adopting one of the teenagers, but when Carter was picked, he didn’t meet their enthusiasm with the excitement one would expect. Carter had been there longer than almost everyone, and had grown to see the orphanage as his own home, as he had known no other.
In his two months living with the Millers, Carter had made it abundantly clear that he didn’t enjoy this new life that he had been thrown into. He would do his best to ignore them whenever possible, as he was doing this very day at the breakfast table.
Despite his best attempts at being unlikeable, the Millers maintained their unparalleled optimism. No matter how silent he could be at breakfast, his mother, Rachel, would always send him to school with the most sincere smile.
Today, as he stared off into space with no intentions of eating the deliciously prepared scrambled eggs put in front of him, he was thinking about how different everyone acted around him now. He was thinking about how everyone was more cautious around him, when his mother’s voice suddenly cut through his thoughts.
“Carter. I’m not going to ask again,” Rachel said sternly. “Pass me the ketchup.”
With cold harsh eyes, he stared at her as he slowly slid the ketchup in her direction.
“I can’t make you realize the opportunity you’ve been given” she said exasperatedly.
“There were so many kids back there who would kill to be in the position you are in now,” Rachel continued.
Still staring at her, Carter clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white. Carter considered himself to have pretty thick skin, but he couldn’t stand people thinking he was ungrateful.
Rachel still didn’t get the hint. “You truly are blessed Carter,” she sighed.
Carter couldn’t hear any more. Without thinking twice, he exploded. “Blessed? Was I blessed when my mother couldn’t take care of me when I was just an infant? Was I blessed when I was stuck all alone in that damn orphanage? Was I blessed when my only friend was forced to a point where she-” Carter stopped himself. He didn’t know how he got there, but he was standing now with his palms pressed against the breakfast table and his chair now pushed behind him.
Slightly embarrassed, Carter hooked one of the legs of his chair, pulled it underneath him, and sat down staring down at his plate. What really worried him, was whether they had caught his last sentence.
Surely enough when he snuck a glance at his adoptive mother she was looking at her husband with a most quizzical look on her face, mouthing, “only friend?”
Knowing what lay ahead, Carter wordlessly attempted to prepare himself for the barrage of questions that were inevitably coming.
“Carter,” Rachel began, “What did you mean by ‘only friend?'”
Carter again tried to stare at his food and employ his tactic of ignoring them, but there was no way they were going to give this up.
“It’s nobody,” he murmured in a poor shot at getting them to let it go.
“Honey, who is your only friend?” she said softly.
Carter was staring at his eggs with the intensity of a thousand suns now. Memories that he had tried to keep locked out of his brain for years now, were slowly creeping back in.
“M-m-malorie,” Carter said so quietly, you almost couldn’t hear him. The name meant nothing to his parents, but just saying it was tearing him apart.
Malorie was older than Carter, and had been the only one in the entire orphanage that he enjoyed talking to. They had met when Carter was only six, and Malorie was twelve. Carter wasn’t used to having to hang around with the bigger kids, and his fiery personality hadn’t made him many friends.
The only person who could match the fire that burned inside of him was Malorie. They quickly became friends since they were the only ones who could keep up with each other.
They were both infatuated with the same thrill seeking adventures and often found themselves in trouble. Malorie became a sort of idol for Carter. He had never seen someone with such little regard for the rules that supposedly dictated their lives.
She just had this aura of mischievousness. No matter how many times she had been called out and yelled at, she seemed hell-bent on keeping her ways. To Carter, she was untouchable.
She had always talked of “bigger things” once she was free as an adult. She called the orphanage a prison, and how being forced to stay there was the worst thing to ever happen to her.
Eventually, the day that she would be set free came. She was ecstatic for she finally had the freedom she had craved so deeply. But, she was also worried for Carter. Without her, she didn’t know what would happen to him. No matter how much he’d grown over the course of six years, she still viewed him as a little kid. So, before leaving she told him that she would come visit soon, but he shouldn’t try anything dangerous alone.
Carter was severely annoyed at her insistence to keep thinking of him as just a child, but he obliged nonetheless. He was far too excited about her visit to care.
The visit did not come soon, however. He waited a week. Then one week turned to two and two turned to four. Malorie still hadn’t shown her face. Carter began to grow curious. He suspected that she had found a boyfriend, and had completely forgotten about him.
Determined to prove that he wasn’t a baby and to find out the truth about Malorie, he snuck out just as they had done a million times before. He thought about what their encounter might look like and what she might say to him, but before he knew it, his legs had carried him to their old haunt underneath the freeway.
In the corner, behind the old recliner sofa they had dragged in from the street, lay crouched a small figure shuddering horribly. Carter made his way over to ask if that mysterious figure had seen Malorie recently.
He stopped a foot short of the figure, and loudly cleared his throat. The character’s eyes lifted, and Carter knew that they were undoubtedly Malorie’s. She didn’t quite look like Malorie though. Her pupils were smaller and her eyes were watering. Her nose was runny and had crusted up on the edges. She was feverishly scratching her forearms where red marks indicated she had been scratching for ages. And across her exposed forearms ran blackish railroad tracks.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, but the horrified look on Carter’s face prevented any words from coming out. Carter wasn’t sure how to react, so he simply scurried backwards. He felt as if his world was crashing down around him. He couldn’t bear looking at her pinpoint pupils any longer. He scrambled to his feet and frantically turned around. He bolted the way he had come and before long found himself back at the open window he had escaped from.
He closed his eyes as his mind was racing a million miles per hour. He had no way to process everything he had just seen.
When he opened his eyes though, he was no longer inside of his orphanage trapped in a twelve year old’s body.
Instead, he was at the breakfast table with tears forming at the corners of his eyes. That’s when his adoptive mother got up, stepped toward him, and did something he never thought he’d let her do. She slowly put her arms around him and hugged him gently.
And that’s when he did something he thought he’d never do. He put his arms around her as well.