Posted by: rebeccajrobare | May 28, 2012

‘The Prince’

Chapter One

The first thing I noticed about him was the look in his eyes. It was late spring, but the temperature had climbed to the nineties, and it was chicken nugget day. The playground smelled like French fries and despair. Two of the smaller kids, I noticed, had already thrown up from playing too much in the heat after lunch. The teenagers had claimed the swingset as our own, and I was twisting on one of the swings across from a group talking, I think, about the drugs they had done and the things they had shoplifted. No one was paying much attention to me, and that was how I wanted it.

The new boy stood aloof. He listened to the group for a moment as he passed by, but shook his head as though dismissing them like the poseurs they were and walked on. Myself he gave a more considering look to, and sat on the third swing, next to me. I looked at the foot-scuffed ditch under the swing, expecting him to move along or at least look away. But when I glanced back up, he was still looking at me, and his eyes were filled with compassion and determination. I occasionally saw one or the other in the faces of some of the adults around here, but never on the kids. Usually by the time they ended up here, the kids were either too cynical or too drugged-out to feel compassionate or determined about anything.

“Here” was a sort of orphanage-cum-psych ward with the optimistic name of ChildSafe. Most of the younger kids had some sort of psychological problem and had been passed from foster home to foster home until someone someplace decided they needed 24-hour “care.” Most of the older kids had been on drugs and were minor delinquents, at the shoplifting and vandalism level. Usually they had been sent here by the court as an alternative to prison, and most of them looked forward to getting out after six months and going back to using and petty crime. I fit into neither category, and preferred to be by myself, and had been mostly left alone.

He was still staring. Had he seen the scars? My face reddened. I didn’t care about the scars, not really, only as a mark of failure. If I’d been successful, no one would be looking at the scars. No one would be looking at me, or wondering about me or worrying about me or trying to get me to participate in a world that offered me nothing. I glanced again. Still looking. This time he caught my glance and held it with his, and I realized that his eyes were — blue, I thought, they must be blue, but there was a purple cast to them, exotic, like something out of a story. Caught thusly, something loosened a little inside me, and the constant tight pain in my wrists seemed to ease a little. I stared back. It may have been the first time in four months that I met someone’s eyes.

“I am Arion,” he said, and it was like an offering. He continued to hold the chains of the swings just like I did, but this was like being offered a handshake. Or maybe it was like a lifeline.

“Rachel,” I said in return.

“Rachel,” he said, as though he was tasting it, as though he’d never heard the name before. “You have a beautiful name, Rachel.” He paused before saying it again, giving it extra emphasis. It was the most earnest compliment I’d ever heard.

I blinked, and then I remembered what you are supposed to do when someone pays you a compliment. “Thank you,” I said. I felt my lips twitch a little. I had almost smiled.


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