Sadly, I still don't own them, nor do I make any money from this...

I am, however, delighted to thank the kind reviewers, WickedBluerose and Here to Annoy, and especially Beanie74, for their encouragement. This is for you!


Chapter 2: Day One

By the next morning, the new girl – Chantelle, Toby had picked up – radiated contentment. Things were going better than she had expected. She had been welcomed into this group of people, given a warm place to sleep and a cold can of tomato soup, and her new friends had expected nothing in return.

Not yet. Toby had seen this strategy so often it amazed him anyone still fell for it. Maybe children from happy families thought it was normal to be taken care of without giving anything in return. Toby had felt that belief in their minds, but it still didn't make sense to him. In his world, everything came at a price. At any rate, Puggsy was a master at exploiting that belief. At first he welcomed newcomers, generously shared the group's belongings with them. But before you knew it, you owed him, and you could either pay him back by doing whatever he asked of you, or else. No one wanted "or else"; Puggsy saw to that. Toby abandoned the train of thought.

At least for now, their boss didn't expect too much from the new girl. Today was market-day in Chinatown, and at the end of the day, some of the salesmen would leave what they hadn't been able to sell for the street kids. It wasn't exactly steak with some fancy sauce, but it was something to fill your stomach that wouldn't get you chased halfway through the city in the process. They still had to get there, of course, but a steady walk through streets teeming with rush hour was certainly better than a mad dash in the dead of the night.

Except that, at night, it would be quieter. The thoughts of the crowd washed around and through Toby, blending together into a sort of white noise. Just a few steps ahead of them was a balding little man, his suit stretched inelegantly by his sizeable midsection, huffing and puffing as he walked along and pondered where he was going to get the money for his new apartment. It was really a neat place; Toby caught glimpses of the view, and the bathrooms are all – The thought was interrupted when Jimmy bumped into the man, who turned to mumble a perfunctory apology, but instead backed away hurriedly when he saw Jimmy. Toby's gaze followed the man as he crossed to the other side of the street, checking his pocket surreptitiously. He turned back to his companions.

Jimmy was still bumping into people, apparently in an attempt to escape from Sheila, who was trying to smooth his overgrown mop of dirty blonde hair into something resembling order. He would have stood a better chance if his boots hadn't been almost coming apart at each step... But he didn't let that stop him; no one was going to mess with his hair as if he was a little boy. It was something his mother used to do, and Jimmy determinedly clung to the fact that, if he lived on the streets, at least he could have his hair his own way.

Chantelle was trailing a few steps behind the others, and ever once in a while her thoughts would become bright and loud with interest in a particular building, or excitement at a view that presented itself, or marvel at some other thing Toby wouldn't even have looked at twice. For a moment, the impressions would shine brightly in her mind, full of fascinating detail, before she went back to... Toby concentrated, his curiosity piqued. She was basking in the sunlight that shone down from the perfect blue sky, and there was something else, something about the market... hope, Toby discerned, for... cherries. Yes, she was wondering whether there would be any of her favourite fruit this late in the season. The expectation clashed painfully with Toby's own knowledge of what they would find, and he wondered how this girl would react. Toby remembered it had taken him several weeks and considerable hunger to appreciate what food they had after he first escaped from the orphanage, and he'd had no illusions of any kind. Still, the memory of the taste she conjured up was so realistic Toby could almost feel the cherry in his mouth...

It was abruptly gone when they passed the entrance of an exclusive-looking boutique, and all he could hear were excited mental shouts of This dress is just gorgeous! and Why don't they have this in scarlet instead of this horrendous pink? and I can't possibly tell her I need a bigger number...


When they finally arrived at the market, there were no cherries. There were, however, plenty of apples, enough to fill their dilapidated bags and backpacks and have some more right there. Chantelle had picked a particularly tasty-looking one, red and entirely unbruised. She revelled in the smell before she sank her teeth in, breaking off a large chunk – only to come face to face with an ominous hole, and a wriggling worm. Disgust coursed through her, and Toby turned his head sharply to watch her reaction. Chantelle gave the apple and its inhabitant a long, pensive stare, then she decisively picked the worm off and took another bite. She managed to enjoy it, banning any thought of the creature.

On their way back, Toby caught himself "listening" to Chantelle twice.


So, what do you think?

I have to say that even I am not very happy with this chapter, because basically nothing happens, and nothing at all involving Toby, but I decided to just go ahead and try to get to the part of the story where something does happen. In that process, any and all input is greatly appreciated!