Taken by Bev Irwin 

The picture didn’t really look like him. But then that was a good thing. The computer-generated photo had some of his features, but not enough to cause somebody to take a closer look.

Luckily he looked more like his grandfather than either one of his parents. Maybe if his hair wasn’t dyed so dark… He tipped his head and examined the picture. Yeah, maybe if his hair was still blonde. Jeremy shrugged and walked away.

He could have ripped the poster off the wall but that would draw attention. Somebody might wonder why he’d want to take down a profile of missing children. They might take a closer look. They might see something familiar in the blonde boy in the right hand corner of the poster.

Jeremy forced himself to keep to an even pace despite the overwhelming urge to tear out of the school and never come back. But he had to. He’d promised his grandmother that he would finish the school year.

Will they never stop looking for us? It’s been ten years now. I’m not going to tell Mom. That’s the last thing she needs right now. As it is, she’s hanging on by a thread.

Jeremy looked at his watch.. He had to hurry. He had to get back to the apartment before Doc MacKay showed up. How long would it take him to clean up? He should have stayed home today but he couldn’t miss any more time. He couldn’t take a chance on the school sending anybody to check on him, or teachers calling his home.

That was if they could. Nobody had bothered yet. Otherwise they’d know the number he’d put on the forms wasn’t right. It had happened before. He’d gotten used to that. He’d just shrug and give them another number. By the time anybody got around to calling they’d usually moved. How many times had they moved? Too many to count.

Sliding the key into the lock, he prayed the damage was minimal. He didn’t have much time. The door whined open. Raised talk show voices blared from the television set. The heavy cotton curtains were drawn allowing minimal light into the room. The combination living room/kitchen smelled as dank and old as it looked.

Jeremy saw the prone form laid out on the worn plaid sofa. A multi-colored crocheted afghan partially covered his mother’s swollen form. Her long brown hair was tangled and in need of a wash. Tied in a loose, ineffective ponytail, thin oily strands spread across her forehead. He wanted to brush them off her face but he didn’t want to wake her yet.

If she woke in one of her melancholy moods he’d be too busy consoling her to clean. It wasn’t bad today. Almost the same as when he’d left for school this morning. An over flowing ashtray and a half-empty glass of coke sat on the scarred coffee table. A few magazines had slipped onto the floor. He glanced at the Arborite table, then the kitchen sink. Both were devoid of dishes. Either she hadn’t eaten or she’d cleaned up after herself. Shaking his head, Jeremy picked up the ashtray. He sighed so deeply gray flecks of ash floated in the air. He couldn’t worry now about the last time she’d eaten. He’d make them something filling after Doc left.

The ashtray emptied, Jeremy bent to pick up the magazines off the stained carpet. As he layered them in neat piles on the coffee table hiding the recent cigarette burns, he couldn’t help glancing at his mother. Her face was sallow and plump. Wrinkle free, it made her look younger, not reflecting the years of abuse she had suffered. Her mouth was open; drops of saliva lay in the v of her lips. Unconsciously, his shoulders sagged. At least she’d made it out of bed today. That was the first time this week.

He thought of the Polaroid picture he kept hidden in a box under his bed. The one he took out every night when he said his prayers. He didn’t know why he bothered. Nobody seemed to be answering them. Yet he couldn’t let go of the habit, couldn’t let go of hope. He thought of the picture. Somebody on the street had snapped the photo and handed it to him. Was it only two years ago? Only two years, but it seemed like another lifetime.

He knew it was her illness. And the treatment for it. Side effects of the drugs that kept her barely this side of sane, barely functional – and that was on a good day– and there weren’t many of them. Less and less all the time.

His eyes closed and he saw the photo of a petite, laughing woman, her gleaming brown hair styled like the pixie she resembled. No one would recognize her now. He shrugged again. Maybe that was a good thing.

“Mom,” he shook her shoulder. “You have to get up now. Doc will be here soon.”

Her eyes drifted open. “Hi, Jeremy. School over?”

“Yeah, Mom. It’s after four. You have to get up. Brush your hair, your teeth. Remember, Doc Mackay is coming to see you.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Her eyes were glazed over, the lids thick and too heavy to remain open. Her words slurred together. “Just let me sleep for a few more minutes.”

“No, Mom. You have to get up.”

Jeremy slid his arm under her shoulders, gently lifting her. Supporting her unsteady steps, he guided her to the bathroom. He leaned on the closed door until the toilet flushed. She had washed some of the sleep out of her eyes and the drool from her lips. Her hair was still unkempt and she had a water stain on the front of her sweat top. He led her back to the sofa hoping the stain would dry soon. He didn’t know if she had anything else clean to wear.

“Can I brush your hair, Mom?”

Her fingertips caressed his cheek. “That would be nice, dear.”

Jeremy drew a wide toothed brush through her brown stands. Not great, but it was an improvement. There was a knock at the door and he shoved the brush into his backpack. Crossing to the door, Jeremy let Doctor MacKay into the apartment.

“Hello, son. How is she today?”

“Much better.”

He lied.

About the Author: Bev writes in the romance and mystery genres, at times combining them into romantic suspense. With many years of being a registered nurse, she likes to add a medical edge to her writing. This year has been a good year for contests. Her mystery, MISSING CLAYTON, came second in the TARA, and third in Gateway to the Best contest. DANGEROUS WATERS, a historical romance, received Honorable Mention in the Fab Five contest . Bev has been published for her poetry and has done well in a cross-Canada contest for one of her children’s stories. TAKEN is the first chapter of a YA novel. She lives in London, Ontario with two dogs, and two cats. The three children having flown the coop.

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