When his eyes met mine, I looked down at my lap real quick. I hate that I’m not very confident around guys. Maybe that’s something I’ll grow into when I finally turn sixteen.
He sat down next to me and dropped his backpack between his legs. That’s when I noticed what Katie was talking about. He did kind of smell, but I didn’t judge him for that.
He didn’t say anything at first, but he was fidgeting with a hole in his jeans. It wasn’t the kind of hole that was there to make jeans look stylish. I could tell it was there because it was a genuine hole, due to his pants being old. They actually looked a little too small for him, because his ankles were showing. But he was skinny enough that they fit him just fine everywhere else.
“Did you tell anyone?” he asked me.
I looked at him when he spoke, and he was looking right back at me like he was worried. It was the first time I had actually gotten a good look at him. His hair was dark brown, but I thought maybe if he washed it, it wouldn’t be as dark as it looked right then. His eyes were bright, unlike the rest of him. Real blue eyes, like the kind you see on a Siberian husky. I shouldn’t compare his eyes to a dog, but that’s the first thing I thought when I saw them.
I shook my head and looked back out the window. I thought he might get up and find another seat at that point, since I said I didn’t tell anyone, but he didn’t. The bus made a few stops, and the fact that he was still sitting by me gave me a little courage, so I made my voice a whisper. “Why don’t you live at home with your parents?”
He stared at me for a few seconds, like he was trying to decide if he wanted to trust me or not. Then he said, “Because they don’t want me to.”
That’s when he got up. I thought I’d made him mad, but then I realized he got up because we were at our stop. I grabbed my stuff and followed him off the bus. He didn’t try to hide where he was heading today like he usually does. Normally, he walks down the street and goes around the block so I don’t see him cut through my backyard. But today he started to walk toward my yard with me.
When we got to where I would normally turn to go inside and he would keep walking, we both stopped. He kicked at the dirt with his foot and looked behind me at my house.
“What time do your parents get home?”
“Around five,” I said. It was 3:45.
He nodded and looked like he was about to say something else, but he didn’t. He just nodded again and started walking toward that house with no food or electricity or water.
Now, Ellen, I know what I did next was stupid, so you don’t have to tell me. I called out his name, and when he stopped and turned around I said, “If you hurry, you can take a shower before they get home.”
My heart was beating so fast, because I knew how much trouble I could get into if my parents came home and found a homeless guy in our shower. I’d probably very well die. But I just couldn’t watch him walk back to his house without offering him something.
He looked down at the ground again, and I felt his embarrassment in my own stomach. He didn’t even nod. He just followed me inside my house and never said a word.
The whole time he was in the shower, I was panicking. I kept looking out the window and checking for either of my parents’ cars, even though I knew it would be a good hour before they got home. I was nervous one of the neighbors might have seen him come inside, but they didn’t really know me well enough to think having a visitor would be abnormal.
I had given Atlas a change of clothes, and knew he not only needed to be out of the house when my parents got home, but he needed to be far away from our house. I’m sure my father would recognize his own clothes on some random teenager in the neighborhood.
In between looking out the window and checking the clock, I was filling up one of my old backpacks with stuff. Food that didn’t need refrigerating, a couple of my father’s T-shirts, a pair of jeans that were probably going to be two sizes too big for him, and a change of socks.
I was zipping up the backpack when he emerged from the hallway.
I was right. Even wet, I could tell his hair was lighter than it looked earlier. It made his eyes look even bluer.
He must have shaved while he was in there because he looked younger than he did before he got in the shower. I swallowed and looked back down at the backpack, because I was shocked at how different he looked. I was scared he might see my thoughts written across my face.
I looked out the window one more time and handed him the backpack. “You might want to go out the back door so no one sees you.”
He took the backpack from me and stared at my face for a minute. “What’s your name?” he said as he slung the pack over his shoulder.
He smiled. It was the first time he’d smiled at me and I had an awful, shallow thought in that moment. I wondered how someone with such a great smile could have such shitty parents. I immediately hated myself for thinking it, because of course parents should love their kids no matter how cute or ugly or skinny or fat or smart or stupid they are. But sometimes you can’t control where your mind goes. You just have to train it not to go there anymore.
He held out his hand and said, “I’m Atlas.”
“I know,” I said, without shaking his hand. I don’t know why I didn’t shake his hand. It wasn’t because I was scared to touch him. I mean, I was scared to touch him. But not because I thought I was better than him. He just made me so nervous.
He put his hand down and nodded once, then said, “I guess I better go.”