Seventeen Years Ago
Blane Kirk stared up at the forbidding structure in front of him. It was a somewhat dilapidated building whose prime had long since passed, but which now housed the city’s forgotten, lost, abandoned, and abused children.
And his brother.
The brother he’d never known he had, at least not until four years ago. With the death of the boy’s mother had come the revelation that Blane had a half-brother. His father’s infidelity aside, Blane had been overwhelmed at the news. He’d always wanted a brother. His own mother had a difficult time conceiving and Blane had been the lucky product of many years of failed attempts. Blane had assumed his brother would come to live with them. He’d assumed wrong.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” William Kirk said, his scathing disdain making fourteen-year-old Blane flinch. “You’re my son. He’s just an accident that was never meant to be. The son of a white-trash whore. That’s all.”
“But what’ll happen to him?”
“The state will see to him,” Blane’s father said, sorting through a stack of papers on his desk. “And I don’t want to hear another word about it. You shouldn’t have been eavesdropping.”
“If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know I have a brother.”
His father pinned him with a glare, his green eyes a mirror of his son’s. “You don’t. And one word of this to your mother and you’ll regret it.”
Blane swallowed down the angry bile in his throat, knowing from past experience that his father meant what he said. “Yes, sir.”
Blane had hated that there was nothing he could do, that he had no way to help his half-brother, now foisted on the dubious protection of the state. He’d thought about him often over the next four years, and after burying their mutual father two days ago, Blane had wasted no time in finding out what had become of Kade Dennon.
The inside of the building was slightly better than the outside, clean, although a dank smell of decay and mildew seemed to permeate everything. Blane gave his name to the waiting social worker and followed the woman up two flights of stairs to a wooden door that wouldn’t fit quite right on its hinges.
“This is his room,” she told him. “He shares it with four other boys at the moment, though even that is in jeopardy, considering his penchant for running away.”
“What do you mean?”
“We just don’t have enough resources to pick the kids off the streets when they run away,” she said with a resigned sigh.
“How many times has he run away?”
Jesus. “How will I know which one is him?” Blane asked. He was unexpectedly nervous at meeting this ten-year-old child, blood kin of his who didn’t even know it.
The woman opened the door a few inches and pointed. “That’s him. In the corner by the window.”
Blane looked and saw a too-skinny boy with a mop of inky black hair. His skin was pasty white from not enough sunlight or a decent diet. He wore a ragged T-shirt that was a size too big and jeans that rolled up at the hem. He was staring out the window, his face turned away from them.
“You realize that we don’t often grant guardianship to someone of your age,” the woman reminded Blane.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem here,” Blane said. He’d called his Uncle Robert yesterday who’d agreed to help him. The wheels were already set in motion to cut through the paperwork and red tape. “I’ll be taking him with me today.”
The woman’s lips thinned, but she didn’t protest. Perhaps even she knew that sending Kade with Blane was a better plan, despite Blane’s age, than making Kade stay there.
“Make sure you sign out before you leave,” she said. At Blane’s nod, she disappeared back down the stairs.
Blane took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Two boys who’d been playing cards stopped and looked at him before resuming their game. Another was sleeping on a bed with well-worn sheets. The fifth boy was nowhere to be seen.
Blane walked across the room to where Kade sat. Even when he was sure Kade had to have heard him, he didn’t turn. Looking around, Blane spotted a spindly wooden chair, moved it next to Kade and sat down. Only then did Kade acknowledge his presence, his body stiffening as he drew back slightly, as though he thought Blane might touch him.
“Hi, Kade,” Blane said, making his voice as friendly and non-threatening as possible. His palms were sweating.
Kade said nothing.
Blane tried again. “You don’t know me, but my name is Blane. Blane Kirk.”
Kade still ignored him with a tenacity that was as admirable as it was disconcerting.
“I’m, well, I’m your brother,” Blane said, praying he was doing this right. “And I’m here to take you home.”
That got Kade’s attention.
He turned from where he’d been staring out the window, studiously ignoring the man who’d walked in and sat down much too close to him, and gave him a quick once-over. Dark blond hair, cut perfectly short, unlike Kade’s hair that was always too long and made the other boys call him a girl. Of course, they didn’t call him that for long, not after what he’d done to the last one who’d said it.
The man was dressed in clothes that had no holes and didn’t seem like he’d worn them more than once or twice. His shoes looked like real leather and were polished to a blinding shine. But it was his eyes that Kade studied most intently.
You could tell a lot from a person’s eyes. Their mood, whether they were good or bad, what their intentions were – sometimes before they even knew themselves. You just had to pay attention and never, ever trust what they said with their mouth, only trust what they said with their eyes. That was a lesson Kade had learned the hard way – the bones in his left arm had only just healed.
This guy’s eyes seemed…honest. He was telling the truth. But there was uncertainty there, too. That’s the last thing Kade needed. He’d been in a foster home before where it had been decent, the people nice. Then they’d gotten pregnant and hadn’t wanted a foster kid around, so they’d sent him back. That had sucked. Like being returned to the store for a refund.
This guy might change his mind, too, or what if he had a temper? Kade cast a practiced eye over the broad shoulders and muscled arms. This guy could snap Kade like a twig if he got pissed off enough, or drunk. Mean drunks were the worst.
No, thanks, Kade decided. He’d take his chances here or on the streets.
“Fuck off,” he said insolently, turning back to stare out the window.
It was only from practice at concealing all emotions from his father that Blane was able to keep the shock off his face. A ten-year-old cursing like that wasn’t something in his realm of experience. Well, what had he expected? The kid to greet him with open arms, shouting in glee at his good fortune like Little Orphan Annie?
Okay, obviously he needed to try a different tactic.
“I’ve got some cool stuff at my place,” Blane said, leaning back in his chair. “You like video games?”
Kade shrugged, but at least he didn’t ignore him. That was progress.
“I’ve got a ton of ‘em,” Blane continued. “And food, too. Good food. Hot, homemade meals three times a day. Pot roast, steak, roast chicken, pies and cake. Too much for me to eat, really.”
Kade’s throat moved as he swallowed and Blane hid a smile.
“You know,” he said casually, “you don’t have to stay. Maybe just come visit, see if you like it. If you don’t, you want to come back, just say the word. I’ll bring you back.” Like hell he would. No brother of his was going to stay in shithole like this. It was bad enough Kade had been here already for four years. Guilt that would soon become an all too familiar, constant companion rose inside of him.
Kade looked in the man’s eyes again, and he seemed to know what Kade was doing, staring back unflinchingly.
He was lying, that was obvious. His eyes had turned fierce, but not angry. Interesting. And it didn’t matter anyway if the guy was lying about bringing Kade back. If he wanted to leave, he’d find a way to leave and there wasn’t fuckall this guy could do about it.
In the meantime, he was hungry. And video games were cool shit. They’d had one at the last foster home he’d been in, but the asshole teenager there had thrown and broken it when he’d lost a game.
To Blane’s surprise and relief, Kade said simply, “Okay.”
Hopping up from his chair, he went to the one cupboard in the room by the boys playing cards. They were bigger than him and Blane wondered if he’d had any problems being bullied. But strangely, both boys seemed to eye Kade warily as he approached, laying down their cards and shifting nervously on the squeaky bed. However, he ignored both of them, dragging a battered knapsack from the cupboard and walking back to Blane.
Kade’s blue eyes were piercing and too old for his years, their depths holding too much pain and knowledge. They fixed on Blane.
“We going or what?” he said, flinging the knapsack over his scrawny shoulder.
“Um, yeah,” Blane said, scrambling to his feet. “Let’s go.”
It took a few minutes to sign all the paperwork for Blane to take Kade, then the social worker handed him a thick manila envelope.
“Here’s his records,” she said. “You might want to go through them at some point, get the boy some counseling.”
The pity in her voice had alarm bells going off in Blane’s head, but he just nodded and took the folder, anxious to get Kade out of this place.
Blane was glad to still see his car parked on the street where he’d left it. In this neighborhood, you never knew. He walked toward it, laying his hand on Kade’s shoulder to guide him. Kade spun away, shoving at Blane’s arm and stopping in his tracks.
“Don’t touch me,” he snarled.
Blane’s step faltered at the vicious look in Kade’s eyes. There was fear there, too. His face was a mask of cold fury.
This wasn’t the first time he’d said those words to someone.
Abruptly, Blane thought he was going to be sick. He swallowed down the nausea, carefully raising his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“I won’t,” he said solemnly. “I swear it.”
Kade was reading his eyes again, just like he had back inside. Blane didn’t move or flinch, and finally, Kade’s body relaxed from its fighting stance.
Blane lowered his arms and fished his keys from his pocket, hitting the unlock button on the fob. The Jaguar blinked its lights.
“Nice ride,” Kade said appreciatively, the anger gone as though it had never been.
“Thanks,” Blane said.
Kade opened the passenger door and got in, immediately checking out the buttons on the console and the stereo.
Blane shut Kade’s door and rounded the car. And as he slid into the driver’s seat, he wondered if he’d bitten off more than he could chew.