One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
-English Nursery Rhyme.
Troy had shifted through some of the piles in Nina and Dennis’ room, he found some books that looked like they were Nina’s. He had no idea what they said, but he put them in a plastic bag, together with some photos he had found. There wasn’t much else to do in his new found prison.
Waiting till he was sure that Lydia and Hank were asleep, he snuck out through the house, careful not to knock over trash on his way. He had no idea if Penny would want the books, but she seemed to like books a lot, and somehow it seemed such a shame to let them rot away like everything else in this house, be it stuff or people.
Once outside he sprinted to his destination in the dark. On the table of the shack was a note. He picked it up and looked it over, but he couldn’t make out what it said. He recognized some of the letters, but not enough to make out a single word. A part of him wished he had told her that he couldn’t read, but then again he hadn’t told her very much about himself, had he? She didn’t even know his real name for fucks sake. Mostly it was her talking about her life, school, friends, her family and so. And he wouldn’t want it any other way, Troy enjoyed to pretend that they were real friends, and that his life was as uncomplicated as hers.
He placed the plastic bag with Nina’s stuff in it on the table, hoping that Penny would understand that it was for her.
Troy went out on the porch and lit a cigarette, just taking in the silence. For a moment he wondered if Jack would ever return for him, he had been here awfully long, long enough maybe Jack wouldn’t come back. Maybe he would be stuck here with Lydia for ever? Troy brushed off his goosebumps. Had Jack sold him off to this, just like he would any other kid? Hadn’t he been useful? Maybe he was just getting too old? But Jack had promised hadn’t he? And just why would that promise mean more when made to him, when made to others? But they were a team weren’t they? At least with Jack he knew the rules, he had beat them into his backbone. Lydia was a whole other game, he just couldn’t figure her out, which made her dangerous.
Troy sighed, getting up from the chair, he leaned out over the old wooden railing, he could see the town was lit up in a distance, loads of headlights to and from the village told him that something was going on, maybe a festival or something.
He missed the city, the sounds, the smells, the way lots of people crammed together in a small space would offer you anonymity. This place smelled of rotten wood, stale water and something he wasn’t really sure what was. It made him feel like the most lonely person on the planet, standing there. Like everything and everyone had forgotten about him, or just didn’t care.
Eventually he trodded home, alone over the dark fields. He figured that Penny was with her family to whatever went on in the village. He hoped that neither Penny or her family would ever learn what could lurk in the shadows at gatherings like that, monsters with friendly faces.
The next day Troy had escaped the house and Lydia, and had gone with Hank to the huge barn where he was making repairs on the tractor. “Hank?” Troy asked timidly from his seat in the corner. “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure, kid.” Hank mumbled, focused on the machine.
“Is Jack coming back?”
Hank straightened up, “I don’t know kiddo.” He wiped motor oil from his forehead, and smiled at Troy. “Maybe.”
“Oh.” Troy nodded sadly. It was as he thought. “If I am gonna stay here, could I maybe – maybe go to school?” He asked with a tiny voice, “Nina went to school.”
“Because of the junk?” Troy asked, and then realised how rude he was, and smiled apologetic at Hank’s back. “I mean..”
“Because of the junk.” Hank admitted, “But every time I tried to get Lydia to clean, she acts up, so I just gave up.”
Troy nodded, he could definite imagine that.
Hank turned around and looked serious, “Truth is that now that someone saw you, and people know that you are here, we will have to deal with it.” He put down the wrench on the ground. “I like you Troy, but we aren’t going to jail for it.”
“But since you are here, you might as well do some good.” Hank muttered, looking up from the engine, directly at Troy who hadn’t moved an inch. “I have some stuff I have to drop off in town, you could help me get it on the truck.”
They worked in silence, getting crates on Hank’s truck, Troy didn’t ask what it was he just assumed it was some sort of produce. As they finished loading the truck Hank grinned and wiped his forehead from sweat, “Get in kid, lets go drop these off.”
“You want me to go with you?” Troy asked surprised.
Hank nodded, “Sure, you just saved me half the work. I’ll even give you a beer for it when we’re done.”
“Deal.” Troy cheered, careful not to sound too happy, he didn’t want Hank to think that Troy just wanted to get away from Lydia for a little while.
“Who knows?” Hank answered cryptically, pointing at the glove compartment, “Would you give me that flask in there, boy?” Troy opened the glove compartment and pulled out a painted metal flask, handing it to Hank. Hank had a large drink and winced. “That’ll put hairs on your chest kid, go on… have some.” He held out the flask for Troy.
With only a slight hesitation Troy took a healthy sip, it burned all the way down his throat, and caused tears in his eyes as he coughed. “Wow…” was all he could say.
“Yeah, that’s whiskey for you.” Hank grinned, “Have one more.”
Troy smiled through coughing and tears, “Thank you.” – the only advance he had now, was knowing what was to be expected as he took another deep drink of the flask. This time he hurried to hand it back to Hank who was just laughing.
“Sure thing.” Troy said, knowing that he would have to unload the entire damn truck himself, and Hank was not coming back. But that was okay, he could do that – Anything for not agitating Hank, spoiling his evening away from Lydia. He turned and looked with longing over at the music and people dancing, eating, drinking. ” -Could we..” He said turning around, but Hank was already gone. “Okay.” Troy sighed and pulled off his ugly sweater, tossing it on the cooler of the truck as he walked around it to start unloading the crates.
He was almost done, the sun had set and he was so thirsty that his tongue glued to the roof of his mouth, when he heard what sounded mostly like the voice of an angel. “Hey there Jake.” He put down the crate and looked in the direction of the voice. Penny stood there in clothes that was so nice that they had to be brand new, “Hey there Penny.” He smiled a wide genuine smile.
“I thought I recognized Hank’s truck.” She said, walking closer. “Thanks for Nina’s books, they were from you right?”
“Yeah, I figured that you might put them to good use,” He shrugged, “Better than them just decomposing like everything else in that place.” He brushed past her to get the second but last crate, she smelled of cherries, which made him terribly aware of how he must reek. “Umm, Penny?” He said turning to see if she was still there.
“The note…” He grinned self-conscious, embarrassed. “What did it say?”
Penny just stared at him, “The note? My note?”
“Yeah,” Troy nodded and huffed as he picked up the crate.
“It said I was going out of town for some days to visit a relative. And that you shouldn’t worry. And – ” She smiled, “That I hoped you were still around when I got back.”
“He’s at the bar.” Penny said, “He’s pretty drunk,” She nodded towards the truck, “You know how to drive?”
Troy shook his head.
Penny just nodded, thinking hers. Waiting for Troy to get the last crate.
“So what is this town festival about?” Troy asked casually as he grabbed the last crate.
“Harvest.” Penny snickered amused, “Never been to a harvest festival before?”
“Oh you need to taste the caramelised apples that my mom makes, they are divine.” Penny said with a grin.
“I don’t like apples.” Troy said with a little lopsided grin, wiping his forehead.
“Bull! Everyone loves apples.” Penny argued, following Troy as he walked further into town to find the bar. “You’ll love these, I promise.”
“I don’t have any money.” Troy said, still trying to get out of meeting Penny’s mother.
“It’s on me.” Penny grinned, “Running out of excuses pilgrim?”
Troy actually laughed out loud, and shook his head, “Yeah I think I just did.”