Maybe it’s because he’s seen so many bloody kids that Thomas doesn’t get upset when he leaps down the last two steps of the cemetery’s entryway and finds a kid face down on the sidewalk, kicking one sneaker on the concrete and crying like he’d been stabbed in the side with a fork, something the kids at the center do surprisingly often to each other at mealtimes. Thomas glances around to see if anyone who owns the kid is around, waiting out the boy’s tantrum or ignoring him altogether in favor of some less annoying activity. No one is around at the moment, so Thomas nudges the kid with his toe and says in his best Coach Jules voice, “What’s up, little man?”
Little Man stops wailing and turns over, seemingly curious about who’s interrupted his cry. Thomas scans him for blood, but mostly he looks dirty, the way some of the rougher kids at the center do, those kids whose folks are all gone or too gone to give a shit if their kids wash.
“You hurt?” Thomas says.
“Shut up!” spits Little Man.
Thomas raises his eyebrows the way Coach Jules might at such disrespect being tossed in his direction. You talking to me in that tone, Thomas feels his expression saying. Have you lost your mind, son? With his head thrown back like a howling dog, Little Man seems not to notice Thomas’s expression. Thomas estimates the kid’s about five or six years old. Tough age, he thinks. Old enough to know there’s a whole wide world out there. Old enough to want it and fear it at the same time.
“You hurt?” Thomas repeats.
“Quit looking at me. Leave me alone,” Little Man says, his grimy hands curling into small fists.
Thomas can’t help smiling at the threat. “Seems someone’s already left you alone, Little Man, and you haven’t come to much good from it. Where’s your mom? Or you got a brother or sister with you?”
“I don’t have to tell you.” Little Man sits then stands. He uncurls one fist and studies the fleshy part of his palm, which Thomas now sees is scraped raw.
“No, you don’t have to tell me,” says Thomas. “But I can’t leave you here. Not all alone.”
Little Man looks up at him and blinks in a way that says he’s taken in this information but hasn’t decided what he thinks of it. The expression reminds Thomas of Glo-Glo’s when she looks up from her book sometimes, still in her story world, seeing what’s real but not seeing really. Not seeing Thomas at all.
“Well, c’mon. I’ll take you to the center.”
To Thomas’s surprise, Little Man doesn’t argue. At the corner, he reaches up his good hand for Thomas to grasp as they cross the intersection. So he’s had some schooling, Thomas thinks. Kid’s like a dog that’s had some training but has been on the loose for a good week. After a good sneak, a trained dog still remembers how to sit and shake but knows a lot more than before he took off running, too. Dog ain’t saying what he knows. Little Man neither. Thomas scratches Little Man’s head with his ragged nail tips to show the boy he gets it, gets that the boy’s seen some things.