"The Runaway"

By Janyce Stefan-Cole

Sky Traquer stood in front of Starrie’s dorm, hands shoved deep into pants pockets, shoulders hunched against the early spring wind; late March going out like a lion. Paper, swirling bits of gritty debris blew along the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue. He’d come looking for her, she’d been cutting classes, avoiding him. He was just about to give up when her roommate walked out of the building.

“Hey, Jodie, wait up!”

“Hey, Sky Tracker,” Jodie said, using the English version of his name. She smiled hopefully. “Oh, you’re looking for Starrie?”

“She’s not answering my calls.”

“She hasn’t slept at the dorm in weeks, just comes around for a change of clothes.” Sky nodded. “Some guy,” Jodie said.

“You know him?”

“I’m not a snitch, Sky.”

“I’m her cousin, how does that make you a snitch?”

“No, I know.” She chewed a thumbnail. “He’s older.”

“How much older?" The roommate shrugged. “Gray hair older?” Sky asked.

“You want to get coffee or something?” she said. By something Sky knew she meant hook up, go up to the room; sex.

A passing guy jostled Sky, mumbled an apology. Student traffic was always heavy outside the dorm, kids in jeans and jackets, scarves wound around necks in varying degrees of making a statement. Sky had been watching out for Starrie for two days. “That’s all you can tell me, Jodie?”

“Like she tells me anything? You wanna come up?”

Women—girls—reacted to Sky. So did some men. He was tall, slender, Native American; long jet black hair and dark eyes; eyes that held a lot, maybe too much. He didn’t respond to Jodie’s overture. He knew it was an animal thing, whatever they wanted: curiosity, white superiority, or just looking to touch something different; he’d been down that road before. He’d rather be an animal, but not a circus act. “She could be in trouble, Jodie.”

“She’s seeing a guy, Sky.” To his non-response Jodie added. “So it’s probably not a big deal. Okay?”

But Sky knew different.

Bobby reached across the seat but Starrie was hard up against the passenger door, like trying to be somewhere else. “Things’ll look better in the morning, babe,” he said to her unresponsive mood. His dog began to whine in the back seat. “I gotta pull over; let Smoke out for a piss.”

Starrie turned to face the dog. Bobby steered the car under a streetlight. He reached in back to snap the leash onto the dog’s collar, handing the end to Starrie. She looked at him. It was raining. “You’re on the curb side,” he said.

Starrie pulled up her hoodie and opened the passenger door. She got out; opened the back door. Smoke didn’t want to go out into the rain either. “C’mon,” she said, giving the leash a tug. Smoke shook himself, jumped out and walked a couple of feet to relieve himself along the lamppost. The black streets were slick in the rain. There was a smell, maybe the sea or maybe trash, or both.

Nothing was friendly about a strange city in the middle of the night, searching for an address, a bed, shelter. They’d been on the road three months, zigzagging across the county. Having hardly any money left made their situation that much more tenuous. Starrie could get her hands on ready cash, plus her monthly stipend. But that money had bad spirits on it.

She bundled Smoke back into the car and climbed in up front.

Bobby said, “Babe? Are you sure you got the address right on that map?”

She checked her phone. “These streets just don’t make any sense.”

The cold summer rain came down harder.