Authors: Season Vining
“No. I read a lot,” he answered, realizing that statement explained nothing. “I happen
to remember everything I read. I have a really good memory.”
“Huh,” she said, shrugging. “We’re like opposites.”
He nodded, saddened by the defeated nature of her statement. Tristan had a feeling
that the amnesia was her mind’s way of dealing with something terrible, some kind
of horrific event that refused to be processed. She had no memories from their shared
childhood. She couldn’t recall the happiest time of her life, her family, her friends,
not even him. Meanwhile, he remembered everything, with agonizing clarity.
“‘August 25,’” Tristan began. Josie’s eyes snapped up to his when he spoke the words
as if they were right in front of him. “‘A body found in the Hudson River near Weehawken,
New Jersey, has been identified as Earl Delaune, 41, a recent transplant from New
Orleans to Brooklyn. Delaune was reported missing three days ago by his landlord.
State Police say a fisherman found the body in the river, but the location of Delaune’s
death has yet to be determined. The victim’s daughter, McKenzi Delaune, 14, remains
“‘August 31, New York City Police identified the body of a fourteen-year-old girl
found dead in Central Park yesterday morning. Authorities are withholding the identity
of the Brooklyn girl, but it is suspected to be McKenzi Delaune, a teen reported missing
nine days ago. NYPD said they were having difficulty locating any of the girl’s remaining
family. There were no obvious signs of trauma and, for now, police aren’t commenting
on suspects or motive.’”
Josie blinked rapidly, suddenly realizing that she’d been holding her breath, her
attention seized by Tristan’s words.
“The local paper reported both of you had been murdered but didn’t give any details.
You didn’t have family there, so the school held a memorial service. We took turns
telling stories about you and had your picture hung in the hall,” Tristan finished.
Josie spied the waitress coming and was relieved by the distraction. Unfolding her
napkin, she scrubbed at the black on her stained fingers, silently cursing the charcoal
and lead. No matter how hard she tried, the dark dust clung to the beds and underneath
each nail, making her look like she’d been playing in dirt. Never mind the slash of
green paint across her forearm that would have to be removed later. The plates slid
in front of them before the waitress disappeared again, promptly returning with Josie’s
“I hated that fucking picture,” Tristan said.
“They used your freshman yearbook photo.”
“And?” she asked, frustrated.
“We got into a fight right before photos that day. You weren’t even smiling. It was
like having this sad ghost haunting me every time I walked past the office.”
Josie bit into the bacon and moaned in delight. She may have been a little overenthusiastic
as a result of their earlier conversation.
“What were we fighting about?” she asked.
Tristan smiled at her, a smile so genuine she wanted to return it. He set his fork
back down and sipped his coffee.
“I was mad because I found a drawing in your room of another guy.”
“So, you were jealous?”
“I ripped it up,” he said.
“Oh, I bet I got pissed.”
“Yeah. That’s an understatement. You didn’t talk to me for three days, a record for
“Damn, guess I cut you off too?” she asked.
“We weren’t having sex at fourteen, Josie.”
“Nothing?” she asked.
“Nothing past second base.”
Josie shook her head and wondered if she had been a prude or if he had been the one
trying to protect their virtue. Tristan, with all his memories, made her nervous.
He looked at her as if trying to crack a code, break her down and understand her.
She’d never wanted someone the way she wanted him. Josie couldn’t risk his finding
out how damaged she was.
Trying to fool herself into thinking that it was a purely physical desire, she closed
her eyes, imagining him crushed in a grip between her thighs. Quickly, her mind was
lost to a fantasy of touching and tasting his flesh.
Tristan cleared his throat, startling Josie and reminding her that there was a conversation
taking place. Feeling as though she’d been caught with those visions in her head,
Josie dropped her eyes down to her plate. She scrambled to divert his attention.
“The FBI changed my name. Shipped me cross-country. They said it was for my own protection,”
Josie finished, rolling her eyes at the thought of being protected.
A broad silence stretched between them. Josie busied herself with eating as Tristan
“Then?” Tristan asked.
“That was eight years ago,” he said.
“I won’t bore you with the tales of living in foster homes, Tristan. Imagine the worst,
multiply that by ten. It’s nothing a few decades of drugs and alcohol won’t cure.”
Josie shoved a piece of bacon into her mouth. She chewed thoroughly before swallowing
and making eye contact with Tristan. He sat frozen, suspended over his food.
“I had no idea. None of us did.”
“That’s kind of how witness protection works.”
Josie continued to eat while Tristan sat watching. He felt sick to his stomach. It
seemed as though a black cloud had settled over their table.
“Josie! Where you been all my life, girl?”
The pair looked up to find a young black boy leaning on their table. His denim jacket
covered a dirty T-shirt, and braids stuck out from his hat. He smiled at Josie and
gave her a wink.
“Gregory, what’s up, little man?”
“Ah, you know. This and that. How you doin’? Ain’t seen you around in a while. We
gettin’ your deliveries all the time, though.”
Josie ducked her head and sucked on her straw. She felt exposed having this conversation
with Tristan present.
“Yeah, looks like you real busy.”
Gregory turned to Tristan and gave him a once-over, tilting his head and sliding his
lips sideways in disapproval.
“Where’s your sister?” Josie asked.
“Stop trying to change the subject, hottie. You know I’m tryin’ to holla at you.”
Josie shook her head and put down her milk shake.
“When I’m into fourteen-year-olds, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I may be fourteen, but I got game. Better than this…” Gregory said, motioning to
“Tristan, this is Gregory. Gregory, Tristan,” Josie offered, waving back and forth
between the two. Tristan wiped his hands on a napkin and held one out toward the boy.
“Nice to meet you, Greg.”
“Oh, shit,” Josie whispered.
“Greg? Did you say Greg? Did this sexy woman right here say my name was Greg? No.
She said Gregory. Three syllables. Big effort for a lazy fool like you, but work it
out, white boy.”
Josie giggled, pressing the palm of her hand over her lips.
“Gre-gore-ree,” Gregory pronounced, unhinged by Tristan’s gall. “Where did you find
this clown?” he asked Josie.
“My apologies, Gregory,” Tristan spoke up, saving Josie from answering. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Nice jacket. Gavin give you that?” Josie asked.
“Yeah, you know. I guess she grew out of it or whatever. It’s a little old and a lot
country, but I ain’t gonna complain.”
“It’s actually vintage Levi’s. It’s got the single-stitch at the bottom of the button
placard and only has breast pockets, so it’s pre-1971.”
“Are you speakin’ English? It’s just a jacket, man,” Gregory moaned. “Seriously, Jo?
You could do better. I mean, why not me?”
“Because curfew law says you’re not allowed outside of the home between ten
on weekdays,” Tristan stated, pleased with himself.
“Guess that don’t matter when you don’t have a home,” Gregory answered.
With that, he rolled his eyes, gave Josie a quick wave, and was gone.
“Wow,” Tristan said smiling. “He was … colorful.”
“Is that a racist joke?”
“What? No! Josie, I would never,” he said, dropping his fork to the table.
“Yeah, I know. It was funny watching you freak out, though.”
Josie winked and ate the last piece of bacon.
“Gregory uses the phrase ‘residentially challenged.’”
“Are all your friends residentially challenged?”
“He’s not a friend, just a kid I know.”
Tristan noticed that her demeanor changed instantly and he felt the warning in her
posture. Subject closed.
“So, you saw me that night in the alley.”
Josie unconsciously smoothed down the hooded sweatshirt and nodded.
“Is that mine?” he asked, recognizing the red stitching on the sleeve.
“Yeah. You left it in the alley.”
Tristan weighed his options and contemplated which questions he could get away with
asking. After coming up clueless, he decided to be satisfied with what he’d already
learned. That alone would take time to process.
He wasn’t someone who believed in fate or destiny. There was always a scientific,
mathematical, or coincidental explanation for anything. The fact that little McKenzi
Delaune sat before him munching on bacon was blowing his mind.
Tristan lay in bed after their midnight meeting, trying to piece together the broken
girl he’d just learned existed. There used to be this ache, this burning pain in his
chest. It held all the love and loss for a girl named McKenzi. Before the punishment
of ink etched into his skin, there had been McKenzi. Back when he knew who he was
and what he wanted, when life was full of possibilities and everyone expected the
best, there had been McKenzi.
She had lost everyone and everything. Tristan knew that she would guard herself from
more pain. The girl was beautiful, full of sex appeal and mystery. While he knew he
couldn’t pick up where they left off, he longed to seize her. He turned off the light
and stared up at a gray shadowed ceiling, wondering how on earth he’d found her.
Twenty-two blocks away, Josie paused to tag a stop sign in purple marker. The squeak
and slide of the felt tip against metal comforted her. So did having representations
of herself all over the city. Even though she felt like nothing, these markings would
prove that she was here. Just to see what it would look like, she wrote Tristan’s
name too. Stepping back and admiring the way their stacked names connected, she smiled
and headed toward home. That night she fell asleep wrapped in the hoodie that belonged
to a boy who once loved her.
* * *
In the sixty-nine hundred block of Levant Street, Mort snuck into the San Diego Child
Welfare Services office. He quickly hacked into the computer system, not slowed down
by the archaic password protection screen. Gathering all the necessary information
to do this remotely next time, he began his hunt.
He had grown tired of this chase. If he had been any other idiot, he would have crossed
his fingers and said a prayer that this would give him a clue, some sort of direction.
That was for superstitious idiots who had more faith in a higher power than in themselves.
Mort had been on this job for so long that when he lay in bed at night it was the
only thing on his mind. It ruled his brain every waking minute and even those in his
sleep. What he wouldn’t give to be free of this troublesome girl.
He had not yet alerted Moloney to his whereabouts. He didn’t want to get the man’s
hopes up before he’d discovered anything concrete. Finding out the girl was still
alive had been a matter of luck. Finding out where she had been sent had been a matter
of painful and bloody coercion.
After maneuvering through the complicated filing system, he was finally able to type
in his search. Clicking in the waiting box, the cursor blinked at him. Mort’s fingers
moved swiftly over the keyboard, pecking out the name that had come at such a high
price. He was so close he could taste it.
He hit Enter and smiled as the screen displayed
JOSIE BANKS: ONE RESULT FOUND
Any object that orbits another celestial body.
Monica Templeton, all five feet nothing of her, approached the dilapidated redbrick
building without hesitation. Though she didn’t live in the neighborhood, she was here
often. Being a social worker took her to every nook and cranny of this city. There
were no boundaries set by race, religion, or social status. Her job included everyone.
It’s what had brought her into the field in the first place. Monica truly believed
that everyone deserved a fair chance at a happy and healthy life.
Home visits were usually unpleasant, but they were a necessary part of the job. It
was imperative to visit the children in their homes, making sure they were taken care
of and provided for. In her many years on the job, and through trials that tested
her moral strength, she had learned to take nothing for granted. Monica became an
expert at seeing things that were not meant to be seen, at assessing visual clues
and behaviors. In short, she’d learned a great deal from her mistakes.
She smiled at three girls jumping rope on the sidewalk, their plastic snap barrettes
dancing at the end of their braids. Together their sweet voices serenaded the street
“Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss her fella. Made a mistake and kissed
a snake. How many doctors did it take? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—awwww!”
The girls laughed as they tripped on the rope. In seconds, they were set up to try
again. Two women watched from a balcony on the second floor, smoking their cigarettes
and talking animatedly with their hands. Though engrossed in their conversation, one
of them always had an eye on the girls. On the stoop sat four large men, looking comfortable
and uninterested in Monica’s arrival.
“Excuse me,” she said, looking each one of them in the eye. No one moved. “I said
excuse me,” she repeated a bit louder, popping her gum to get their attention.