The kid remained painfully silent as I stood there next to him. I kept thinking that he might say something, acknowledge my presence in some way, but nothing. Even with the chill of the night setting in, he didn’t budge from his spot. It was almost half an hour later before a car pulled out of the lot, its headlights shining down on the boy’s body, revealing several large bruises developing on both of his arms. From the looks of him, someone had just manhandled the hell outta him. The sight of those bruises triggered a flood of memories from my childhood, and I was instantly overcome with fury. He was so small, defenseless, and some motherfucker… I took a deep, cleansing breath and tried to calm the rage that was building inside of me. I needed to get him inside, try to find out what the hell was going on, to see if there was something I could do to help.
“Look, kid. I’m starving,” I said low and calm. “How about we go inside, and I’ll buy you a cheeseburger.”
He looked up at me, and I could see the wheels turning inside his head, and for a second, I almost thought he was going to agree to go inside with me. I let out a deep sigh when he started to shake his head no.
“They make really great burgers, kid. You sure you don’t want one?” I tried again.
“I like chicken nuggets,” he said, looking down at his shoes.
“They’ve got chicken nuggets.”
“Okay,” he said as he slowly began to stand. He brushed the dust off of his backside and started walking towards the door.
Without saying a word, he headed to the back of the diner and sat down in one of the corner booths. He rested his elbows on the table, propping his chin in his hands, and watched me sit down. As I settled in the booth, I swallowed hard, pushing back the memories of my past when I looked down at the large bruises forming on his arms. Someone was handling him roughly, and they’d done it very recently. The question was who.
After ordering our food, I asked him, “You live around here?”
“No,” he answered as he played with the paper from his straw. He folded it into several different shapes, before he started arranging all the items from the table into one long line. I watched with curiosity as he methodically brought each item in and out of line until it was all perfectly symmetrical. I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was that all about.
He looked up at me, studying me for a moment before he said, “You’ve got a bushy beard and lots of tattoos.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“The internet says that tattoos are a form of self-expression. That each tattoo has an important meaning,” he explained.
“I’d say that’s about right.”
“You also drive a Harley Davidson motorcycle.”
“You’re pretty observant, kid.”
“Harley Davidson Motorcycles were founded in 1903, and they were first used by police officers in Detroit, Michigan,” he said just before taking another bite of his chicken nugget.
I didn’t know what to make of the kid. There was obviously something different about him… but I liked it. I liked him. When he didn’t continue on with his lesson, I asked, “You gonna tell me why you’re hiding out in the parking lot?”
“Momma told me to come here, to the Old Mill Café, if something bad ever happened. It’s our secret place,” he answered. I felt hopeful that the kid actually had a family, but I still wasn’t sure who had put their hands on him.
I wanted to know exactly what bad thing had just happened to him, and I was about to ask him why they even needed a secret place, when the waitress brought over the sundae he’d ordered. The minute she sat it down in front of him, he grabbed his spoon and started to dig in. He was obviously still hungry, so I decided to let him eat without grilling him for more information. It was hard for me to hold back. Finding out information was my job. And I wanted to help him, but I knew I needed to be careful with how I questioned him, seeing that he obviously wasn’t like any other kid I’d ever met. I looked around the room. The diner was quiet, just an elderly couple sitting at one of the front tables. From time to time, the old lady would turn and sneak a peek at us, clearly curious about what was going on with me and the kid sitting across from me. I couldn’t blame her. I felt the same way.
“Thank you,” he said with his mouth full. He took a sip from his soda before he continued, “This is good.”
“You got a name?”
“My name’s Stitch,” I told him.
“Your momma named you Stitch?” he asked with a confused look on his face.
“Nah. My mother named me Griffin, but all my brothers in my club call me Stitch,” I clarified.