Eighteen

By Lauren Metal

Summary: It's time for the beginning of the rest of Carlos Nieto's life.

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The clock on the nightstand is old and warn. The face is cracked but he can still make out the numbers as they spin, counting down his time left in this place which has never really been his home.

11:27pm - He folds his not-quite-red, oversized, hand-me-down sweater and places it in the bottom of the ratty knapsack he's used each time he's moved away.

11:28pm - A few t-shirts with stains and holes and a pair of jeans with ripped knees. Nothing worth anything.

11:29pm - A small wad of cash, a dollar he picked up here or there, doing this, that, or the other thing. He counts it twice, wishes it was more.

It's not much, but then it's all he's ever really had.

11:30pm - There's just a half-hour left now, just 30 minutes of the childhood he left behind long ago.

He doesn't remember the names or the faces of most of the folks he's called 'Mom' and 'Dad' over the years. The ones he does remember, he wishes he could forget.

They hadn't all been bad times, but he's taken enough abuse and neglect to know the world is not his friend.

This family isn't the worst, but it's definitely not the best and there's no reason to stick around now.

After all, he's only lived in this tiny room for 6 months, just since his last family had gotten sick of his jaded attitude and his good-for-nothing presence.

He's long since given up trying to impress the families the city placed him with. They didn't love him any more if he was good. At least when he snuck out, slept around, got into all sorts of trouble they reason to think he was no good.

11:40 pm - The apartment is quiet. The family is asleep so he makes no noise as he tiptoes to the kitchen.

Two tin foil wrapped bologna sandwiches and a banana later he sneaks back to his room. He doesn't know where he's going to end up, but at least he has enough food for the next day and a half.

By then, this place will be long forgotten.

They won't miss him.

He wonders if they'll even notice he's gone. Probably not until the 1st of the month, and then they'll just miss the monthly check from the department of social services.

11:50 pm - His bags are packed. The room is barer than ever. Empty like his heart, like his life.

He doesn't know what awaits, but he knows it better than this.

11:59 pm - He picks up his bag. His heart thumps with anticipation. It's time to go.

12:00am - "Happy birthday, Carlos," he murmurs to himself as he slips out of the room, out of the apartment and into the rest of his life.