Part 4

Maria ran after him, rushing to her car where it was hidden, and quickly jumping in so she could follow him. It didn't take long for her to lose him though because he hadn't had to go as far as she had to get in the car. Most of the time when he was in town he was with Max and Isabel so she decided to start there, but when she drove by the jeep wasn't in the drive so she knew he wasn't there.

She drove around town for a while, scanning the streets and shops, and coming up empty again. After a while she decided to drive out to the trailer park to see if she could find him there. She made a face at the broken sign hanging over the entrance, the rusted poles barely supporting the single chain the sign dangled from. She'd seen trailer parks that were well-maintained and cared for, small communities that housed residents who cared about their homes and surroundings.

This wasn't one of those communities. It was an eyesore and the lack of concern for the homes and property was appalling. The trailers were in various states of disrepair, the ground was barren and crisscrossed by ruts created by vehicles driven over the ground when it was muddy. What little grass there was grew in weedy patches, yellowed by the unforgiving sun and the hot dry air.

Most of the addresses were painted on the ends of the trailers, looking like someone had carelessly slapped them on with a paintbrush. Most of them were peeling off, which made determining the numbers something of a challenge. She passed one trailer with a pile of old tires leaning precariously on one side of it. Another one had a makeshift fence compiled from various materials around the small yard. One had a ratty-looking dog chained to a spike that barely gave the animal six feet of space to move around in. The one next to it had most of its windows boarded up and the screen door hung from a broken hinge, tied to the small porch railing to hold it open.

She knew she was getting close based on the numbers and she inhaled slowly when his trailer came into view. The jeep was nowhere in sight, but she knew she had the address right. She had been driving around for some time now so he must have gotten the jeep back to Max and Isabel before coming home. She cautiously parked at the edge of the driveway and opened her door, not absolutely certain it was all that wise to get out of her car.

She was closing the door when she heard a loud crash followed by angry shouting coming from the trailer. That little voice warning her to leave was overshadowed by her fear of something happening to Michael and without thinking it through she ran up to the trailer. She was stopped in her tracks when the door was thrown open with force and Michael came out with such momentum she was certain he had to have been pushed.

He barely caught himself on the rail and her breath caught in her throat when the old wood creaked and moaned before giving way. He was scrabbling to catch himself and nearly had a hold on the opposite rail when a booted foot came through the open door and kicked him, sending him sprawling to the ground below.

"Oh my God!" She rushed forward without hesitation, leaning over and grabbing Michael's arm. He jerked away from her as he rolled over to get to his feet and she inhaled sharply when she saw the bruise already forming around his left eye.

"Yeah, that's right, go cryin' to somebody who'll baby you."

She turned her head to look at the man who was spewing the hateful words and her eyes narrowed when they landed on the miserable excuse for a human being. This was the man who had been charged with caring for Michael? What kind of system could allow that to happen? He was mean-spirited and obviously drunk but that was no excuse for the type of behavior she'd just witnessed.

"This your girlfriend, Mickey?" He laughed drunkenly, the sound hateful and cruel. "Freak like you couldn't do better anyway. Better take what ya can when you wanna get laid, huh?"

Okay, that hurt, she thought, but refused to let it show. She glanced at Michael as he picked himself up off of the ground and her temper flared fresh and hot. She stalked up onto the rickety porch, fingers of her right hand curling into a fist as she approached Hank. The white tank top he wore was stained and he reeked of alcohol and somehow that only added to her fury as she let her fist fly. She caught him squarely on the jaw, knocking him back and down, a feat she was certain she wouldn't have been able to achieve had his reflexes not been dulled by alcohol. She leaned into the dingy trailer to look down at him, pleased when she realized he was out cold.

Without a word she retraced her steps to Michael's side, took his hand and pulled him with her over to her car. "Can I take you somewhere?" Maybe he wanted to be with Max and Isabel. The conversation she'd overheard just a couple of days ago between the brother and sister made sense now and she knew they were aware of his situation at home. "We could go to my house?"

Michael shook his head. "The quarry," he finally croaked out.

She nodded and they got into the car. The drive was made in silence and when they arrived at the quarry he pointed wordlessly, guiding her through the twists and turns until they reached an area near the water. He climbed out and paced back and forth for a while before bending over to snatch up a handful of stones, silently throwing them into the water and watching them skip neatly across the surface before sinking.

After a while he seemed to collect himself and he turned to look at her. "Why were you at the trailer park?" he asked, his voice surprisingly level.

"The story I told you earlier? It was all true. I couldn't believe it myself but over the past couple of days I've seen something special in you. You're not the guy I thought you were. I like to think I'm above stereotyping people and I'm ashamed to admit that's exactly what I did with you. I just assumed you were this guy who was into trouble, whether it was starting it or just getting into it. And the truth is so much more than that. You've obviously got a home life that's horrible, there's a lack of confidence, and you deserve so much more than you've been given."

She paused and looked at him, hiding her surprise when he didn't immediately go on the defensive. "I don't know if Madame Vivian was right or wrong. But I do know I don't regret following you around and I'd be honored if you'd be my friend."