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Swing Life Away

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It was the day before his seventh birthday, he remembers clearly sitting in the CrashDown legs swinging back and forth in the booth. Paper spread out before him as he drew an alien ufo, his name written in wobbly big letters at the bottom.

His mom had just taught it to him, it spelled Kyle. He didn’t know what the letters meant, besides the first, it stood for kitten. Like his flash cards.

He and Liz both had chocolate milkshakes, Arturo had brought them over because he was proud of Kyle’s letters. Liz held the green crayon in her fist, moving it back and forth over the page, coloring in her grass. She liked to fully color the page. While Kyle did outlines with small scribbles inside.

Rosa was next to him, colored pencils laid out across the table, she had told him crayons were for babies. But Kyle didn’t care, he wasn’t a baby. He was almost seven, basically the same age as Rosa.

He glances up at the older girl a toothy smile on his face, “what time is it?” He kept asking, because his mom had promised to pick him up at six fifteen, her shift was over then.

Rosa rolls her eyes, “six thirteen.”

Kyle thought it was cool she could read the hands on the clock, they had just started learning in his class. But he didn’t understand the funny symbols on the one at the diner.

He frowns as he processes her words, “but it was six twelve hours ago.” He can feel his lip pop out in a pout, the kind that would make his dad tousle his hair and call him magoo.

“No,” Rosa groans, “it was six twelve a minute ago.”

Arturo clucks his tongue as he comes over to check on them, “no worries Chico. Your mama will be here soon.” He leans over smiling at the picture Liz is drawing, it’s the four of them in a field. She always drew her family and friends. Another thing Kyle knew about her, that and she really liked mint and her favorite color was red. He didn’t know if she knew it was because it was Rosa’s yet, the little girls eyes always the size of saucers when her older sister was in the room.

“Look,” Liz smiles brightly motioning to the dog she had scribbled. “His name is scrappy.”

“Ah Mija,” Arturo smiles patting her head softly. “We are not getting a puppy.”

Liz pouts, crossing her arms in defeat. “Can we get Kyle one,” she says eyes twinkling, “for his birthday?”

Kyle perks up at that, “a puppy?”

Arturo’s eyes widen slightly, “that you have to ask his mama.”

Rosa had stopped coloring, watching the interactions between them. Her eyes glinting like she too wanted to beg for a puppy, which Kyle didn’t blame her for. He wanted a puppy now too.

Kyle looks back down at his drawing, the little green man in the ufo looked angry. So he picked up the black crayon, giving him a crooked smile and outlining an arm. So that he was waving.

The phone starts ringing as Kyle grabs the lime green crayon to fill in the arm. Liz smiling at him and leaning conspiratorially across the table, “I’m getting a puppy. I know it!”

Kyle grins up at her, “what will you name it?”

“Scrappy,” she says excitedly, “he’s gonna have brown spots and wag his tail all the time.”

Rosa goes still, her eyes on where her father is leaning over the phone talking in hushed tones. “Shh,” she motions for them to be quiet.

Kyle looks up, trying to make out the words. If Rosa was interested it meant something was going to happen, last time it had been a sleepover at Kyle’s. Something about their mom coming to check on the diner, and wanting them to have fun while they dealt with business.

Rosa and Liz had tears in their eyes all night, Kyle remembers trying to give them his favorite dinosaur plushie. It always made him feel better, but Liz had just grabbed him and pulled him onto the bed they were in. “Hermano,” she had sniffled crying into his shoulder.

Ever since then they had been inseparable at school, Wyatt teasing them about dating. Which Kyle had made a point of saying was gross, unless he wanted to date his sister. Kate had made a twisted face on the playground and tattled to a teacher.

Rosa scrunches up her eyebrows as she listens intently, only a few words drifting to Kyle’s ears. Mindy, desert, cruel. Nothing that Kyle could string together into a coherent meaning.

Arturo sighs heavily as he hangs the phone back on the hook, turning to give them all a sad smile before heading into the kitchen

“What’s happening?” Liz asks looking up at her older sister.

Rosa looks confused, “he said something about cruel people leaving children in the desert. That Mindy was coming to pick up Kyle.”

Kyle freezes, the green crayon leaving the line of the aliens arms, making it look like he was waving a green string. “No,” he says with a pout. “My mom is getting me. We are having hot chocolate and watching lion king.”

Rosa gives him a sad look, “I think something came up at work. It’s probably no big deal hermano. She will probably meet you at your house.”

“Yeah,” Liz chirps up. “And if Mindy’s there than you’ll probably have a sleepover with Alex!”

A smile breaks across Kyle’s face, “yeah. That sounds fun.”

 

 

The downside was that his mom didn’t show, not for hours. Movie after movie was played, Alex drifting asleep on the couch, while Kyle stared at the door. Eye lids heavy.

Mindy tried to convince him to go to bed, but he had insisted on waiting for his mom. He drifts off for only a second, snapping awake as Mindy is talking on the phone. Her voice barely hushed as she thinks he is sleeping.

“-horrific,” she says voice shaking. “To children. What has become of this world?”

He can almost hear the muffled voice on the other end, familiar enough to be his mom. So Kyle sits up slightly leaning towards the kitchen. Eyes intently watching as Mindy twirls the cord between her fingers, “yeah Michelle. But… seven years old? The tests are the worst part.”

Tears are running down the woman’s face, like something horrible had happened. Kyle felt something fearful catch in his chest, he was about to be seven, if tests came that made adults cry… well he wasn’t ready yet.

“Here? Yeah,” she nods, “he can sleep at our place. But he’ll want to see you, before we leave.”

Kyle frowned, leave. He didn’t want to leave, his mom was late. The clock by the tv was digital, it said it was twelve twenty-seven, meaning Kyle was seven and his mom was still at work.

“Fifteen minutes,” Mindy nods, “I’ll wake them up have them pack. Okay, bye.”

He was smart enough to lay back down, close his eyes and play pretend. He can hear Mindy sniffling as she wipes the tears from her eyes, whatever it was about being seven worse then Kyle had thought.

Alex’s mom shakes her son awake first, “Alex baby.” Her voice is soft.

Kyle can feel Alex stir, “mom?”

“Hey we are going to go back home,” she says softly. “Kyle is going to come with us alright?”

“Okay,” Alex mumbles sitting up.

“It’s his birthday so we are going to make him special pancakes tomorrow,” she says brightly. “Since his mama and papa can’t be there till later.”

Kyle feels his blood run cold, he didn’t understand what was going on. But it seemed big, just as big as when Rosa and Liz had stayed over. He hated how adults didn’t tell him things, only his mom ever being completely honest. She had told him about her and his dad’s fights, explained how when people love each other it’s hard to not scream sometimes.

Mindy shakes Kyle’s shoulder gently, “Kyle.”

He opens his eyes slowly, doing his best to pretend he was waking up. She gives him a smile, “can you go pack a bag? You’re going to spend the night at Alex’s.”

Kyle furrows his brows, “what about my mom?”

“She’ll be here,” Mindy smiles at him. “She’s going to explain everything.”

 

 

 

When the headlights flash in the windows, Mindy takes them outside. The backpack feeling heavy in Kyle’s grip. His dad’s police car stopping in the drive. His parents turning to say something addressed to the backseat.

Kyle frowns as his dad gets out opening the door and crouching down to talk to the kids. It’s weird, they look all alone. Three of them huddled together in the back, baggy white clothing hanging off their frames. Their cheekbones jut out at an unnatural level. Making Kyle shiver. Their faces are like stone.

The girl catches Kyle’s eyes, not like she sees him. Her blue eyes seeing right through him, a dark abyss seeming to thrash inside her. And Kyle feels sad. All his fears about being seven washing away as he looks at her.

His mom kneels down next to him, “Kyle honey.” Her voice is sweet, “hey.”

He looks away from the girl to look at his mom, eyes watering.

“Oh baby,” she says wrapping her warm arms around him. “It’s okay. Me and papa are going to pick you up first thing tomorrow.”

“Why?” Kyle asks voice scratchy.

“Do you see those kids?” She asks.

Kyle nods.

“They don’t have anywhere to sleep,” she says stroking a hand through his hair. “Are you okay letting them stay here.”

Kyle thinks about the girls eyes and nods. She looked like she needed to feel safe. And Kyle couldn’t think of a safer place than his home.

“Yes,” he says.

“His mom pulls away patting his cheek softly, “you are such a kind man.”

His chest puffs up at that, she called him a man not a boy. Seven wasn’t so bad after all.

“Happy birthday hijo,” she says placing a soft kiss to his cheek.

 

 

When they get to Alex’s house the other boy falls asleep immediately, Gregory waking up to frown at them and turn over. Seemingly at peace that his brother and Kyle showed up in the middle of the night.

He can’t sleep though, he keeps tossing and turning. That girls eyes seared into his mind. An idea strikes him, he gets up adrenaline coursing through his veins as he shakes Alex awake.

His friend grumbles as he wakes up, following Kyle groggily to the playroom. The light hurting their eyes as Kyle switches it on.

“What are we doing?” Alex asks.

“Making pictures,” Kyle says happily.

Alex blinks at him, fist coming up to rub at his left eye. “Why?”

“For those kids,” Kyle shrugs.

He pulls out all the paper he can, drawing his favorite things all over them. Cars, rainbows, and puppies filling up the pages. Alex falling asleep half into his picture, drool pooling out of his mouth.

 

 

When his mother shows to pick him up Kyle brandishes the pile of pictures he made. Eyes droopy as he does so, Mindy saying he hadn’t slept much.

He doesn’t understand the look on his mother’s face as he hands them to her. “They’re for the kids,” he smiles toothily. “They looked like they needed something to smile about. When do I get to meet them?”

He doesn’t understand adults sometimes, why Mindy bursts into tears. Or why his mother gasps hand over her mouth, tears glistening in her eyes as she takes the pictures. “They’re beautiful hijo.”

After a week, Kyle doesn’t think about the kid’s again. Except when he wakes up from dreams sometimes or when he draws a picture of a car. That’s when he remembers the blue eyes of the girl, the curls on the boys forehead as he clutched her side. And the small glimpse he got if the third, the one with the red line across his jaw.