Finally they reached a place called Weather.
It had been a year, but he remembered how he and his mother had crept away from their apartment in the big city late one late afternoon when his father wasn't home yet. His mother had packed all her things and Edwin's into two large bags, and Edwin carried his own teddy bear in his arms, and his favourite books in a small pack on his back.
They went to the bus station and started taking buses to places Edwin had never heard of, much less been to: Little Bear and Jumppoint and Florence, one tiny town after another, all scattered like breadcrumbs around the country. Sometimes they stayed for weeks in one, sometimes only days. In each place Edwin's mother would change her hair colour, or cut her hair. Edwin's hair changed too.
He knew they were hiding and running away, even though his mother kept saying that it was a great adventure to be exploring the country. But he knew it was not a great adventure because she never let him go exploring by himself, and she called him by a different name, and sometimes he wanted to go to school but he couldn't because they had to leave.
Weather was just like any of the dozen small towns they had left behind: it had two main streets that crossed each other, with all the big shops and two bars and a bank clustered near the intersection. They stayed in a room near the bus station.
Edwin had sneaked out of the room - telling himself that he wouldn't go far, just outside - but once outside, he hesitated, not sure where to go. He hadn't seen any other children around the place.
"You're new," someone said.
He jumped, and saw a little girl standing at the end of the lane, just outside the boarding house. She looked about five, wore a blue t-shirt and shorts, and had long, untidy black plaits that hung past the waist. Confused because he was sure he had heard a boy's voice, Edwin said, "A-are you talking to me?" He was ashamed when he heard his voice tremble because this was, after all, a girl, and boys shouldn't be scared of girls.
The girl shrugged. "Who else do you see around here?" she asked, walking towards him. That was when Edwin noticed that her feet were bare.
"You're not wearing shoes," he pointed out.
"So?" the girl said, still approaching him.
"Er..." Edwin fell back a step in unconscious alarm. There was something strange about this girl.
"I said, 'You're new'," the girl repeated.
Edwin retreated a little more - months of running had made him timid - but managed to give a nod, never taking his eyes away from the girl.
"What's your name?"
Wary again, Edwin hesitated. His mother hadn't said that he wasn't to tell strangers his name. He knew that they were using her last name now. "I'm Edwin," he whispered, before he pulled himself up importantly. "I'm seven years old." He reminded himself that no matter how strange this girl was, he was bigger. He was tall enough to look over her head.
"I'm five," the girl said, "but I'll get bigger," as though she had heard Edwin's thoughts. "And I'm not a girl."
Edwin could feel his face turning red. "You have long hair," he argued, though in the back of his head, a voice was telling him that he should have known.
"Boys can have long hair too. And my hair can hide things," the girl - no, boy - said, in a tone that implied he ought to have known better. He paused, and added, "You don't have to go to school."
How did he know that? Edwin became wary again. He knew he couldn't go to school - they were most likely going to leave the town soon, anyway.
"Good, then you can play with me."
Yolan had two elder sisters, Kay and Callista, and a mother that he called Maggie. They lived in a big three-storied house, with a big lawn in front and an even bigger yard behind, on a street where there were more nice houses that, come evening, had big, shiny cars in front. There were no cars in front of Yolan's house, but his house was nice, with dark wooden floors, books on the shelves and pictures on the walls.
Edwin's mother had met Maggie after that first time and somehow, he had been allowed to go to Yolan's house while she worked at a restaurant. They had even talked about enrolling Edwin in the only elementary school in Weather, but his mother didn't want to do so. Edwin knew it was because she was afraid they would have to leave soon.
He spent all his time with Yolan. For all that he was younger than Edwin, Yolan seemed to know a million more things. He knew how to do a cartwheel, how to make stones skip on the water and where you could find the biggest spiders. He knew the name of every adult in Weather and he always knew when it was going to rain.
They stayed around the house, sliding on the banisters or playing hide-and-seek, or they explored the woods nearby, Yolan in his bare feet. He never seemed to get cut or stub his toe on the sharp rocks on the ground.
It wasn't as though there weren't other children in Weather. But unlike Edwin, they went to school and played together in the afternoon at the little park at the end of the street. But when Yolan went, they gave him suspicious looks, as though afraid that Yolan was going to steal their toys or their skipping ropes. But Yolan always ignored them, and an uncomfortable Edwin did the same.
He had been in Weather for six weeks when his father came and took him away, right from where he was playing with Yolan.
His father gave Edwin something to drink in the car and it made him sleepy, and all he remembered as his eyelids slid closed was that Yolan was going to be disappointed in him.
When he woke up, it was morning, and his father was making him drink more water, only it wasn't water, he knew. He shook his head, and his father cuffed him on the side of the head.
It was like all those times when his father had used to come home late and angry that Edwin felt himself drinking quickly, anything to satisfy his father, to stop him from being angry.
"That's my boy," his father said. "That'd show her."
"Her? Mummy?" he asked.
Another cuff on the side of his head, making him see stars. "That bitch dared to steal you from me. I'll teach her."
Despite the growing drowsiness, Edwin was starting to feel alarmed. "But-" he began, but it was too soft, weakened.
"You're with me, boy," his father said just before Edwin drifted off.
When he woke to his father's shaking, it was evening. He opened his eyes to find that they were in a place that looked a lot like a motel room. His mother and he had stayed in a lot of them over the last year.
"I'm going to get something to eat. Stay here," his father ordered, and slammed the door shut.
Rubbing his eyes, Edwin tried to make sense of what had happened. His father had taken him away. They'd been trying to run away from him, he and his mother, but his father had found him after all. He wondered if it was his mother's turn this time, to come and get him back. He hoped so. He started to climb off the bed.
He gave a start, and nearly fell on his butt. The voice had come from just behind him, and he turned back to see Yolan sitting on the headboard, his hair messily making its way out the plaits, but otherwise looking the same as when Edwin had seen him last. "Yolan!" he said, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Hello," Yolan said cheekily.
"How - why--"
"I've been following you," Yolan said, and his eyes flickered to the door.
It was so astonishing to see his friend that Edwin didn't know what to say. He was sure that it was wrong somehow, but there was something about the way Yolan was looking at him that made Edwin feel comforted. It was as though he hadn't really left Weather at all, and any time now he would hear Maggie call them to dinner, and after dinner his mother would show up to take him home. But at the same time, he was sure it wasn't right for Yolan to be here. They were a long way from Weather. He was sure Maggie was worried.
"It's all right, Maggie knows I'm here," Yolan said, once again startling Edwin with the way he answered Edwin's thoughts.
Yolan shrugged, not having much patience for repeating himself. "Yeah."
Edwin jumped when the door opened again, and he glanced towards Yolan in a panic. His father entered, and threw a paper bag on the bed. "There. They don't have anything else at this hour."
The smell of a hamburger reached Edwin's nostrils, and his stomach rumbled. He grabbed the bag, and saw that Yolan was now seated on a pillow and wriggling his toes on the sheets. His hair was all tangled around him. Then Edwin looked back uncertainly at his father, who was biting into his own burger. It was strange that his father hadn't seen Yolan at all. Yolan was small, certainly, but not that small.
He'd known that Yolan was strange; even in his limited experience, he knew that an ordinary boy couldn't make himself invisible. But his father was glaring in his direction, and he couldn't have missed Yolan. Yet he did.
"Well, I thought you were hungry?" his father asked.
Edwin immediately tore open the bag to reveal the burger inside, and bit into it. It was dry and hard, but he was too hungry to care.
"Be quick. We're leaving soon. Here," he indicated another paper cup on the table. "Hot chocolate. You like hot chocolate, don't you?"
Edwin nodded dumbly. He only liked it when his mother made it. It didn't taste as good otherwise, but he knew better than to talk about his mother. He bit into the burger again, his eyes flickering once again to Yolan, who seemed to be bouncing on the bed gently now. Why didn't his father see Yolan?
His father gulped the last of his burger and rubbed his hands clean on his jeans. "I'm going to see a man about a car. Stay here and don't leave," he said, before he left again.
As soon as the door closed, Yolan jumped off the bed. "Let's go."
"I had to wait for you to wake up. Don't you want to go back with me?"
Edwin stared at him, his burger forgotten. "Go back?"
"Ye-s," Yolan said it in a long, drawn-out groan. "You're older than me. You're supposed to be smarter. Do you really want to go with him, or do you want to go back to Weather and your mother?"
"But he'll--" Edwin had the frightening thought that his father was only going to come back and take Edwin again, and this time he would be angrier.
"No, he won't. I'll hide you. Forever, if I have to."
"Come on!" And with that, Yolan grabbed Edwin's hand (the one not still holding the hamburger) and pulled him towards the door. He struggled with the doorknob until Edwin finally helped him with it, and they stumbled into the corridor. It was dim, but Edwin saw a flight of stairs at the end.
"We have to go outside," Yolan said, and began walking towards the stairs. Bewildered at being dragged along by someone younger than him, even if it was Yolan, Edwin followed. They reached the top of the stairs, and Edwin froze.
It was his father, walking up the stairs. He was looking through his wallet, but any second now, he'd look up and see Edwin (and Yolan)...
Yolan tugged so hard on his arm than he fell onto his butt and half sat on the ground. Before he could say a thing he felt Yolan standing behind him, and dry, soft tendrils curling around his neck. He glanced back, and saw Yolan arranging his tangled hair around Edwin like a cloak. "Wait," Yolan whispered in his ear.
It was so strange that Edwin froze, confused and frightened.
His father came closer. He put his wallet back in his pocket, slapped his hand on the banister and took the last two steps in one stride. He didn't see Edwin at all, even though he was near enough for Edwin to touch. "What-"
They waited until he had walked passed them. Yolan whispered, "Let's go."
They ran down the stairs, hearing the door open, and a roar, "Edwin!" The stairs were big and Edwin felt as though he would fall down any moment, but Yolan seemed to have no difficulty.
"Edwin, where are you?" his father was calling for him. He was coming down the stairs. "Don't be childish. We need to be on our way."
He couldn't be found now! Edwin remembered the times when his father was angry, and he was sure that his father was very angry. He leaped the last three steps of the stairs, and fell heavily to the ground, startling a gasp from his lungs. Yolan was immediately there, handfuls of his hair wrapping around him.
His father came stalking down. "Edwin? Did you hurt yourself? This isn't hide-and-seek." He walked past without seeing either of them. Edwin turned around and stared at Yolan. How did he do that?
"My hair can hide things," Yolan answered in a low voice. "Maggie is coming soon," he said. "We just have to hide until she's here." They clung to each other, Yolan's hair tangling around Edwin's arms and legs like a scratchy cloth.
By this time other people had come out too, and when they heard what Edwin's father had to say, they volunteered to help him search the motel.
They waited at the back of the motel, as people walked around them without noticing their presence in the least. Several times Edwin's father walked by, but he never noticed them, and after a while they heard him say he was driving out to see if he could find Edwin.
Edwin relaxed a little after his father left. He felt as though he were in a dream, but unlike in a dream, his knees were skinned.
After what seemed like hours, Yolan said, "See? Maggie's outside."
And sure enough, through the glass part of the door, they could see Maggie getting out of a small red car. Edwin's heart sped up when he saw his mother getting out of the passenger's seat. She had come too!
Yolan nudged him. "Let's go," he said, and Edwin gave a small, excited nod. Hands held tightly enough to hurt, they ran out into the night.
Notes: Prequel to Bring Rain