I’m going to tell you a story, and you aren’t going to like it, because it isn’t a happy one. But I have to tell you or else the truth will never be known. I have to tell you or the world will continue on with this lie. I have to tell you.
As a child, I grew up on the streets with my mother. That was before she abandoned me at a train station when I was nearly six years old. I don’t have many memories of that time, thankfully, but the ones I do have are plain. I reflect on them often. My mother had fiery hair and long nails that she'd scratch across my scalp at night. I can remember that. I can remember a rundown apartment, how it was a safe house for other young girls like her, lost and alone. I remember nights when she'd make me sleep out in the hall or leave me to wander the streets by myself.
I can't remember why she left.
I could swear I stood at that train station all day, because when he found me, the last car had finally chugged away and the heat of the day was fading fast. I can remember him crystal clear. He crouched down beside me and asked if I was on my own. He shed his coat, which was bright green and had to have been heavier than me, and draped it over me. I tripped on its hem as we stood up and he led me away. He wasn’t much older than my mother, but he looked healthy and fit, while she had always been frail and ill. I knew enough of the world to understand that his coat was that of a soldier.
He invited me into his home, and my developing mind didn’t find the situation at all odd. I just took comfort in the warmth of the house and the blanket he put over me.
The man had a bulldog that sat under my chair as I shoveled down cereal. He followed me around with drool swinging from his lips and big, brown eyes staring into me. I hadn't thought much of it then- the way I knew when that old mutt wanted me to scratch behind his ears or give him a spoonful of Cheerios, or how he loved his master and thought I smelled like smoke and sadness.
The man called child services before he made up a bed for me on the couch. A social worker came the next day and I cried. I guess I didn't understand what was happening. All I could think was that this nice man with his drooling dog and his warm house didn't want me, just like my mom. I shouldn't have worried too much, because the man and his dog had visited me every week those first months at the orphanage. I don't know why he stopped, and I don't know why I never asked.
Seven years passed before I left that damned Home For Lost Youth. I wasn't a particularly terrible kid, though I did swear a lot and collect sharp rocks for ammunition against the other children. What they had us believe at the time was that there were simply too many of us orphans and too little families willing to take us in.
I can't say I was really upset by the wait. The home was a shelter to a street rat like me. I was provided with things I never understood before- an education, medication, technology. Though I could say I had everything I could need, those years were lonely once the soldier stop visiting. That is, until Erik found me. Well, it was more like I stalked him for several weeks, plotting fiendishly to make him my best friend when he finally took pity on me. He was cool and intimidating. People made a path for him when he walked through crowds. Even the robotic staff was on edge when he was around. Something about him emitted danger, but all I wanted to do was be in his presence.
One day, as he took a walk, I was sneaking beside him in the neighboring woods, ready to step up and declare us pals, when he turned to me sharply and said, "The path is a lot easier to walk on, you know."
As if to prove his point, I tripped on a vine and face-planted into a tree. I thought about running away and rehashing my plan, but Erik looked over at me with eyebrows raised.
I was at the prime age of eight, yet I apparently had not quite grasped the concept of language. I stumbled forward, held out my hand and spewed some type of word vomit along the lines, "Hi, Connor- I mean, I'm Connor, shit, hi! Uh, I really like your face- well, I just... it's a nice one. And I been watching you!- um, damn... I, uh... y-you seem cool and I was gonna t-tell you yesterday- I am telling you that! Now! That... uh, cool... you are, I mean... uh, hi."
Erik, who I only referred to in code as "Blue Eyes" whenever my sort-of-friend Georgina bothered to listen to my schemes, stared at me with an expression of stone for a moment. He was a few years older than me, and much taller, so I was simultaneously smitten and terrified.
I dropped my hand and kicked the tip of my sandal in the dirt. Maybe handshakes were exclusive adult things, you know, and he didn't want to get us in trouble?
"I'm Erik." He finally answered, and I let out a breathy laugh of relief.
"I'm Connor." I grinned.
"Yeah, I know." He didn't exactly seem annoyed, but he wasn't amused. This reaction confused me, as these were the only two reactions to me I'd ever witnessed. "You've been following me."
It wasn't exactly a question, so he must have made some sense of my babbling. "Yeah...." I stared at my feet and sighed heavily.
"Can we be friends?" I blurted.
He rolled his eyes-- eyes with a color I was yet to find in the real world, where Erik surely could not exist. Excluding fire-engine red and lime green, this blue was the filter of my childhood memories.
He turned back down the path and I refrained from whimpering like a kicked puppy. Then he glanced back briefly and said, "Well? C'mon."
I looked around as if to find the lucky kid he was talking to, and then jolted forward to catch up when I realized that lucky kid was me!
Over the next few days, I waited for my luck to run out. At this point, I was convinced he merely tolerated me and that he'd rather have me in plain sight instead of sneaking around like a thief in the night. But whenever I ducked behind a tree to avoid him, lest he cancel our meek friendship, he would scoff, "Let's go, Connor."
We mostly wandered the woods, climbing trees and skipping stones. I did most of the talking, recalling stories about woodland creatures and kingdoms of old from the book Mistress Ida taught me to read from. Erik would throw in the occasion "huh" and "hmm."
You have to understand that I was just a lonely kid with a new friend. I grew up in a different world than the orphans around me. Maybe I chose to ignore the dirty looks the other boys sent Erik's way, or how the mistresses would whisper to each other whenever he walked by. "Arcane" was just a word, but it was one everyone focused on, made it something bigger than it was.
Erik was genuine. He was humorous, sarcastic, witty. And he was kind in his own way.
But all anyone ever saw in him was rot and sin.
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