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Pieces of Me

240 pages
Maddie is living on the streets, trying to protect herself and make enough money to get a place to stay and find a way to go back to school. When she meets Q, she is wary but welcomes his friendship. And then she meets Dylan, a six-year-old boy, living on the streets with his family. When Dylan's father asks Maddie to watch the boy for a while, she is happy to help. But Dylan's parents don't come back; and Maddie and Q are left looking after him. Trying to make a life together and care for her makeshift family, Maddie finds that maybe she has to ask for help.
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Darlene Ryan
Pieces pieces of ofeM  me
Pieces ofeMDarlene Ryan
Text copyright ©2012Darlene Ryan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Ryan, Darlene, 1958  Pieces of me [electronic resource] / Darlene Ryan.
Electronic monograph. Issued also in print format. isbn 9781459800816 (pdf).isbn 9781459800823 (epub)
I. Title. ps8635.y35p53 2012jc813’.6 c20129022209
First published in the United States,2012 Library of Congress Control Number:2012937567
Summary: Living on the streets, Maddie forms an unlikely family and finds that it takes more than good intentions to make things work.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Design by Teresa Bubela Cover photography by First Light
orca book publishers po Box 5626,Stn. B Victoria,bc CanadaV8R 6S4
orca book publishers po Box 468 Custer, wa usa 982400468
www.orcabook.com Printed and bound in Canada.
As soon as they started praying, I got up. I was only a couple of rows from the back, and I figured I could make it to the door and get out without anybody noticing. All I wanted was somewhere to sleep. Somewhere dry. Somewhere warm. But the bed wasn’t free. It came with a price. The price was sitting through the service. I’d almost left as soon as they said that. I didn’t want to hear about the road to hell. Some days I was pretty sure I was already on it. I’d had enough of being told I was a sinner from my mother’s new boyfriend, Evan. I knew my mother well enough to know that she hadn’t found Jesus the way she told Evan she had, unless he was in the fourth aisle over at Payless. She played the game well. But that didn’t mean I had to play, at all.
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The third time Evan hit me, I left. Evan said God talked to him. I don’t think he did. If God did talk to people, I didn’t see how he would choose Evan, with his thin, bloodless lips and pinched face that never smiled. And I knew there was no way God would tell Evan to slap me across the mouth. So I left, and I wasn’t going back—not ever, because when Mom ruined things with Evan, and she would, there would be someone else. There was always someone else. This preacher had the same angry look that Evan had. He was warning us that God could see our sin, that God knew what was in our hearts and that we should be afraid. All I could think was that if God knew what was in my heart, then he would know all I wanted was somewhere to sleep. And there wasn’t anything sinful in that. The preacher, on the other hand, seemed to have a dark place in his heart. Did he really think God didn’t know that? Maybe I could have tuned it all out if he hadn’t started in on a small, dark-haired girl in the front row, urging her to confess her sins and turn from her debauched ways.He actually used the worddebauched. I figured the girl was fourteen or fifteen, tops. How many debauched things could she have done that were truly her choice? She started to cry. Her nose was running and she swiped at it with her sleeve. I hadn’t been in a church since I was maybe five, but the words to a song they had sung came into my head:
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Jesus loves me! This I know, For the Bible tells me so.
There wasn’t any love in this place. The pastor had his hand on the girl’s head, pushing down, holding her in the pew while he prayed for her sins to be forgiven in a voice that bounced around the room while she cried and hiccuped. I knew I’d rather be cold than sit in the pew and watch. Couldn’t anyone see that what that girl needed was some-where safe to sleep and food in her stomach? Not to be made a fool of, like she was the entertainment before we all got to eat. As I moved for the door, a woman came toward me, waving me back to my seat. Her face was pulled into a frown, two lines carved into the space between her eyes and two more like brackets around her mouth. “Sit down!” she hissed. I took a step backward, but only one. I didn’t need this. What I needed was a warm, dry place to sleep. That’s what everyone sitting in the pews needed. Somewhere to sleep. Something to eat. Not a lecture. Not judgment from people who knew nothing about our lives. I stepped around the woman and pushed my way out the door. She didn’t try to stop me. She didn’t ask me where I was going, or if I even had anywhere to go. I moved quickly along the front of the stone building, going by people who were headed the other way. I rounded
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the corner to the parking lot and stopped to catch my breath, dropping my backpack on the ground and leaning against the rough stonework. “Holy Rollers get to you too?” a voice asked. I looked around, one hand automatically pulling into a fist, the other folding around the jagged piece of broken beer bottle I carried in my pocket. The speaker was sitting at the bottom of a set of metal steps at the back of the building. Probably the fire escape, I realized. I’d seen him around. He had long legs in dark jeans, some kind of equally dark hooded jacket and shaggy hair poking out from a wool cap. He looked harmless, but that doesn’t always mean anything. “It’s just not my thing,” I said. “Are they doing the ‘you’re all going to hell unless you repent’ bit, or have they moved on to praying over some poor sinner who made the mistake of sitting in the front row?” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. “The last part.” He shook his head and stood up. I pushed off from the wall and began to ease the hand holding the shard of glass out of my pocket. He came a couple of steps closer to me and then stopped. “You hungry?” he asked. “I’m okay,” I said. “I didn’t ask if you’re okay. I asked if you’re hungry.” There were enough people around on the other side of the building that I figured I wasn’t in any real danger from him.
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If I screamed, someone would come to see what was going on, even if it was just because they were curious. He held out both hands. “I’m not going to try anything,” he said. “I’m just asking if you want something to eat.I know a place.” “What’s the catch?” “Well, I’m not going to try to smite the devil out of you, if that’s what you’re asking.” I could see that he was smiling. “But you will have to walk a bit. Maybe fifteen minutes.” He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “If it’ll make you feel better, I can walk on one side of the street and you can walk on the other.” “So what is this place?” I asked. “If you’re talking about Pax, they’ll be full by now.” Pax was the other shelter in town. “I’m not talking about Pax,” he said. “I know someone. He works in the kitchen over at the hotel. People send stuff back because it’s not exactly how they wanted it, and it goes in the garbage. There’s nothing wrong with it. He slips it to me. There’s plenty. No strings, I swear.” I hesitated. I had that piece of glass in one pocket and a whistle hidden on a cord around my neck. It was probably stupid to go with him, but I was too tired, cold and hungry to care. I shrugged. “Okay.” He pointed toward the street. “This way.” We started down the sidewalk. It was bare and kind of dirty. Even though it was just the beginning of March,
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there was no snow left. “I know it’s not very gentlemanly of me,” he said, “but I’m going to let you walk on the outside,that way you’re closest to the street.” He tipped his head and smiled at me. “You know, in case you want to go screaming into the night.” He was keeping a couple of feet between us. “Why are you doing this?” I asked. “Why shouldn’t I?” he countered. “Because nobody does something unless they’re after something,” I said. “What were you after when you gave your scarf to that little girl at the clean station over at Pax House?” I stopped walking. “You were spying on me?” I said. He was a couple of steps in front of me. He swiveled around. “I watch people,” he said. “Don’t you?” I did. It was a way to stay safe—to watch people, to try and figure out what they were going to do, so you could be ready. I’d figured that out long before I came to the street.“I didn’t need the scarf,” I finally mumbled. He gave a half shrug. “And I don’t need all the food I’ll get. It’s not like I can save it.” I blew out a breath. “Fine.” We fell into step again, walking in silence for a block. With his long legs, he walked quickly, but I didn’t mind.I walked pretty fast myself. We cut across the street at the corner, and again he was careful to let me be on the outside and keep lots of space between us.
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“What’s your name?” I asked. “You can call me Q.” For what, I wondered. Quincy? Quentin? Or maybe nothing. Lots of people didn’t use their real names on the street. “Quinn,” he said, as though he’d been reading my mind. “But I prefer Q.” “I’m Maddie,” I said. I glanced sideways in time to catch him smiling at me. “Nice to meet you, Maddie,” he said. We walked the rest of the way to the hotel in silence. The building stretched up into the dark night sky, and with all the lights on, the front looked to me more like something from a horror movie than a fancy hotel where people paid hundreds of dollars just to spend one night. I followed Q around to the back. He pointed to what looked like a picnic shelter at the edge of the pavement.The sides were covered but both ends were open, and I could see three benches inside. “Wait for me there,” he said. “What is that?” I asked. “Smoke shack,” he said over his shoulder. “Nobody uses it.” I walked over to it, checking things out carefully to make sure no one was hiding anywhere. Turns out it was too well lit for that, and the only place to hide would have been under the benches. I sat down on the closest bench with my back to one of the side walls and set my backpack beside me.