Wednesday, 15 April 2009 - 7:44 pm


I had almost forgotten about the kids’ attachment to the mall’s inhabitants. They made friends, swapped names, braided each other’s hair. A couple of the girls have been fluttering around Dillon, who liked the attention without a clue about why it was so nice. Alice is more comfortable talking with people her own age, too. Nugget doesn’t talk to anyone, but she has let them fuss over her. She’s cleaner now than I’ve ever seen her and her hair is untangled; it turns out, there’s a pretty little girl in there.

It wasn’t until we were packing up that I remembered my fear about what those attachments might mean. I looked up and saw Dillon talking with the girls, grinning and waggling his fingers expressively, and my heart lurched. He should have been packing with the rest of us, but he wasn’t preparing to leave. I wasn’t prepared for him to stay.

Ben saw my face and asked me what was wrong. So I told him. He looked surprised; it hadn’t occurred to him that the kids might want to be somewhere else. A little clump of us adults grew around the subject. I wasn’t alone in my wondering: Matt and Sally had also considered it.

Thorpe said point-blank that Nugget wasn’t old enough to make decisions like that, and Dillon probably wasn’t either. His firmness was surprising but oddly pleasing. I suspect that he didn’t want to fight the little one for possession of the cat, and I’m sure that he’s fond of Dillon now, too. He wasn’t alone in that sentiment, and I was so grateful to know that it’s not just me. We’ve all grown attached to these children.

But none of us have any real ties to them beyond the events of the past three months. We don’t even know Nugget’s real name. What right did we have to decide their fate for them?

And what if they really would be safer here, where the Rats know all the nooks and crannies to hide in? It’s shelter from the rain and the attention of the gangs. It’s safer than being on the road. But they’re ours – they’re mine. I don’t want to leave them behind. The only way I’ll know that they’re all right is if they’re with us.


Eventually, we decided that it was best to talk to the kids about it. Putting them on the spot looked like a bad idea, so I said that I would talk to Dillon. He was the easiest place to start, but my heart still felt like it wanted to climb out of my chest for a holiday from all this crap.

I caught him when the Rats had skittered away from him and before he could rejoin the rest of our group. He gave me a big smile that faded when I asked him that question. Words fell into ashy pieces in my mouth; I tried to come at it as gently as possible but putting it into words eroded something away. I think it was a shard of the trust between the two of us. He looked at me like I had just slapped him.

“Do you want me to stay here?” His voice echoed the shock I felt whenever I thought about this. It’s the first time I realised that there was a betrayal in there.

“What? No. No, of course not.” I hadn’t expected to be on the back foot in this conversation and struggled for balance.

He was hurt and angry that I would suggest that he might stay here. It took me some time to calm him down; eventually, I told him the bare truth. I couldn’t bear to think about him leaving. I had come to this conversation prepared to beg him to stay with us. We had been together since the beginning, him and me, and I wasn’t ready or willing to let him go.

He was quiet for a moment, and then reminded me about his parents. Even if he didn’t want to stay with us, he still wanted to find them.

In my worry about these new kids, the quest to catch up with his parents had completely slipped out of my head. He told me – several times – that it wasn’t the only reason, that he wanted to stay with us anyway. But it was something tangible for us all to hold onto and that made a difference. I wanted to hug him, but he still looked hurt and upset with me, so I just gave a big, relieved smile.

I wasn’t completely off-base in my fears, though. He said that the Rats had offered him a place here, along with the two girls. They made their own rules, their own way, and they had a comfortable life here. Alice had talked to him about it; she was considering it and wanted him to as well.

Once Dillon was reassured that we didn’t want him to stay with the Rats, his worry about his friend surfaced. He doesn’t want Alice to leave us either. He didn’t know about Nugget’s feelings – who does? – and we both hoped that she wouldn’t try to stay. When it comes down to it, if she ran off and hid, we could spend weeks searching for her and come up with nothing.


Dillon said that he would go and talk to Alice. The rest of us are finishing up the packing and keeping a quiet eye on Nugget. Sax doesn’t look good but he says that he can move with us. Exercise will do him good, he thinks. I’m not that confident. We should get out of here soon.