I met Emma the night before I met Scooter. It was raining hard. I was cold and soaking wet. I'd been sleeping on the streets of Hollywood for about three days. I had nowhere to go. If it hadn't been for the raindrops, my face would have been just as wet from the tears. It was only a couple months since my mother had left me behind. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Or at the very least climb into a dumpster out of the rain.
The dumpster in front of me looked inviting. I couldn't believe I was doing this as I lifted the top and struggled to pull myself up and fall inside. I landed on a pile of garbage. It stunk.
"Fuck! Shit! Oww! I gotta knife!" It was a scraggly, nasty voice coming out of the darkness. I couldn't see what it belonged to.
"I'm sorry. Please, please, don't hurt me." My voice trembled and I was scared shitless.
"Who is it? You'll burn in hell for this!"
"Please don't hurt me," I begged, "I'm just a boy."
A flash of light accompanied the unmistakable sound of a cigarette lighter being lit. As my eyes adjusted to the flame, I saw a hand holding a lighter. It was sticking out from a coat sleeve. Behind the sleeve was a pair of glowing eyes. My prayer for death had been answered. The Grim Reaper was right in front of me.
"A boy, eh? Look more like a sewer rat to me."
"Please don't hurt me. I... I just wanted to get out of the rain." I could speak, but my lips were the only part of me that could move. I was frozen with fear.
"Fuck! It's a bad sign to kill a rat. You sure you're a boy?" The lighter went out.
"I'm... I'ma ... I'ma rat. Yeah. Yeah. I'm a rat." If it was a bad sign to kill a rat, I sure as hell didn't want to be anything else right now.
"Fuck! Shit! They'll burn in hell. They'll all burn in hell."
I had no idea what she meant. But I didn't dare move. I barely breathed. Soon, I heard snoring. Whatever it was, it had gone back to sleep. I sat there all night just staring into the darkness, too scared to sleep.
As the sun came up a small amount of light shone through the crack in the top of the dumpster and I could see the old lady across from me. She really did look like death. I flipped up the lid as I struggled to my feet. It wasn't easy standing in a heap of garbage. She began to move and I jumped up and out of the dumpster as quickly as I could. I was still scared of her.
"Shit! Piss! Fuck!" she cackled as she shook herself awake. She looked at me as I stepped back from the dumpster to keep a safe distance. "Biggest rat I ever saw. Not too pretty either."
I almost giggled. No one had ever thought I was the biggest anything they ever saw. Standing there in wet, dirty, tattered clothing and smelling like rotting fish, I suppose that I must be quite an ugly sight, even to a bag lady.
"Here!" she barked as she tossed a small package at me that she had pulled from her coat pocket.
It was a package of Hostess donuts. The kind covered with powdered sugar. It was opened and a couple were missing. I guessed she'd eaten them. I stuffed them into my mouth as quickly as I could. Practically swallowing them whole. They were quite dry and there was nothing to drink. It didn't matter that they came out of the dumpster. I choked them down. I hadn't eaten for almost three days.
The old lady climbed out of the dumpster as I ate. "Name's Emma," she barked and extended her hand.
I stuffed the last donut into my mouth and took her hand. "I'm just a rat." I said it while trying to swallow a mouthful of donut. I was still scared of her and admitting I was a rat had kept her at bay last night.
"Well, hello Mr. Rat."
My first encounter with Emma had left me visibly shaken. She had seemed fierce and nasty, yet sweet, almost motherly. I was scared of her, but I liked her and hoped we'd meet again.
But that was at least thirty minutes ago. I was now crouching behind a dumpster in another alley watching the exhaust spew from a car in an open garage. It was raining again and I was still cold and soaking wet and in need of a place to get dry.
As the car sped away I made a mad dash for the garage as the door was closing. I had to dive onto the concrete and roll under the door, but I made it inside. I was in luck. There were laundry facilities in the front corner by a door that opened into a patio behind the house. With no one home, I'd have plenty of time to get cleaned up.
I quickly stripped off my clothes and tossed them into the wash. I found a pail and put some laundry soap in it, then stepped out onto the patio. There was a faucet with a hose attached and I filled the bucket, then I turned the hose on myself. I shivered from the cold and used a rag to scrub myself off with the detergent. It smelled like lemons. "Better than rotting fish and other garbage," I thought as I continued washing.
I returned to the garage and found a small rag to dry myself. It was cold and I was still naked. Fortunately, there was also a laundry basket with some dirty clothes waiting to be washed. I found a t-shirt and some jeans that were a little too big. There were some dirty socks there too. My feet were cold so it didn't matter, I put them on.
I'd noticed a sofa on the patio and went back outside. There was a blanket and a pillow. I rolled myself up in it and went to sleep.
"Son of a bitch!"
The voice scared me and I jumped up quickly, startled out of my sleep. I backed away, letting the blanket drop to the ground. I stumbled backward and tripped, falling off the patio and into a puddle of muddy water.
"Goddammit!" I yelped as I raised up and looked at my once again soaking wet self. Then I looked up to see a lanky, red-headed boy about my age doubled over from laughter.
"Well, you gonna help me up or what?"
"I'll take the or what," came his reply.
I had to struggle to regain my feet and once I did I stood there with mud and water dripping from my body.
Still laughing he said, "You look like a drowned rat."
Now it was my turn to laugh.
"What's so funny?"
You're the second one to call me a rat today.
"Well then, little rat, we need to get you cleaned up and into the house where you'll be warm," he smiled at me. "Get out of those clothes and I'll hose you off."
For the second time that morning I was being hosed down, naked, on the patio. But this time it was by a rather cute-looking boy who was definitely checking me out.
"My name's Scotty, by the way, but everyone calls me Scooter."
I smiled and extended my hand. "I guess everyone just calls me Rat."
I opened my eyes and looked at the boy sleeping on the bed next to me. Scooter really was beautiful, at least in my eyes. It had been almost two years since we'd met on his porch that morning. It seemed like a lifetime. In fact, it was so long ago that I could barely remember anything before then. I couldn't even remember my own name. That bothered me a lot. What I could remember wasn't good. I'd been rejected by my dad, abandoned by my mom, physically and sexually abused by her boyfriends, and had been prostituting myself on the streets of Hollywood for a couple of years, eating from garbage cans and dumpsters or whatever I could steal. The only good things in my life were Scotty and Emma before she died.
Emma. I just had to get her ashes. She told me once that she wanted to be buried under a big redwood tree. That way she could become part of the tree, nourishing it and live forever. It was a nice dream and somehow I was gonna make it come true. I just had to figure out how.
There was a knock at the door and it opened. Scooter's mom, Judy, poked her head around the corner. "You boys decent?"
I smiled. If we weren't decent she sure hadn't given us time to do anything about it before looking in. Fortunately, there was a blanket over us because we were both naked underneath.
"Scotty, you've got school. And Rat, we need to talk," she paused a moment and when we didn't budge, "C'mon boys," she said it a bit more forcefully, "Get a move on. Breakfast is almost ready." She closed the door.
I nudged Scooter and he groaned. Then I threw off the blanket and rolled out of bed. I looked at the naked boy still lying there as he rolled onto his back and yawned and stretched. I smiled. He was irresistible. I dove between his legs and took him into my mouth. "Breakfast is served" I thought as he exploded almost immediately.
"Boys! Now!" His mother was shouting from down the hall.
I giggled. "No, you've already cum. Now you're going." I shoved him out of bed and slapped his butt as he headed for the door. I followed his naked ass down the hall to the bathroom. His mother was just rounding the corner on her way to get us and we nearly knocked her over. She just smiled and shook her head at the two giggling, naked boys rushing past her and into the bathroom.
Scooter got up from the breakfast table and headed out the door on his way to school. I stood and began collecting the dishes so I could wash them. I'd become quite q little homemaker in the last couple weeks. It was the least I could do to repay Judy's kindness.
She reached over and took my arm. "Sit down, Rat. You can do that in a moment. We need to talk."
Suddenly there was a lump in my throat. My smile faded and I hung my head. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "Here it comes," I thought. I'd healed enough that I could return to the streets and Judy knew it. I'd outstayed my welcome.
"I spoke with some people from Children's Services..."
It was worse than I thought. She was turning me in. I was headed for another foster home, or worse.
"... It seems that if they find you living in an unlicensed home, they can do something called an emergency certification. That means that you can stay there during the licensing process."
I looked up at her. I was only half listening. I didn't want to hear what she said, but she hadn't said what I expected.
"Would you like to live here, Rat, permanently?"
I just stared at her, blankly. I was in shock. I had no idea what to say.
A couple hours later the social worker, Mr. Johnson, was explaining that it is true. I could live with Judy and Scooter. He could certify the house and if it meets licensing standards I could stay. Judy would have to pass a live scan which is a fingerprint check that produced results in about an hour to ensure she isn't a child molester. I could share a bedroom with Scooter, but I'd have to have my own bed. He explained several other requirements and Judy said it wouldn't be a problem, but she would need a few hours to prepare. He said she could take the afternoon and he would come by that evening. Then he said she would have to leave me with him. That part made me nervous.
He escorted Judy out of the building and returned to the interview room. He looked at me momentarily, like he wasn't sure where to start. I knew what was coming.
"Ok, Rat, I really do need your name."
I shifted my gaze down to the table. I couldn't look at him. I didn't want to admit the embarrassing truth. "I don't remember it, sir, honest."
"You don't remember your name?" He didn't believe me.
"No sir. Almost nothing else either."
"What can you tell me?"
I thought for a moment. "My name's Rat. Emma called me that first and Scooter made it official."
"Scooter? You mean Scotty, your new foster brother?"
I smiled a little and nodded. I thought of Scoot more like a boyfriend than a brother, but brother was cool too.
"And who is Emma?"
"Emma was my mom." That's the way I wanted to remember her. She'd been more of a mother than anyone had ever been.
"Well now we're getting somewhere." His eyes lit up. "Tell me about her. Where can I contact her?"
"She's at the morgue."
He looked puzzled. "She works there?" He asked tentatively.
I shook my head slowly trying to keep a tear from forming.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"She was just a bag lady." A tear rolled sown my cheek.
That puzzled look returned to his face. Then I saw a light go off in his head. "The one that took you to the hospital."
"She was really your mother?"
I looked down at the table again. I wasn't going to say otherwise.
"What was her last name?"
I just stared at the table. I shrugged and shook my head.
"How do you know she was your mother?"
I just shrugged again. The tears were flowing freely now and I was too embarrassed to look at him. "She took care of me," I said after a long pause.
"Alright, what's the first thing you remember about her?"
I wiped the snot from my nose with the back of my hand, then I wiped my hand on my shirt.
"Let me get you a Kleenex." He left the room.
I thought about running out the door. I'm not sure why I stayed. I didn't want to talk about this.
When he returned, he handed me a box of tissues. I took a couple and blew my nose. Then I wiped the tears from my eyes. "Can I go to the bathroom?"
He led me down the hall and stood outside the door while I went inside. I didn't have to go. I just wanted to wash my face. The only thing I hated worse than crying, was crying in front of somebody. I splashed some water on my face and used a paper towel to dry off. A look in the mirror showed that I looked like hell. I went into a stall, closed the door, and just sat on the toilet. I used the damp towel to continue wiping tears away as they fell. I needed to stop crying.
Several minutes later I heard the door open. "Are you ok?" It was Mr. Johnson.
I said nothing, but I knew he could hear me sniffling. I used some toilet paper to blow my nose.
It took about an hour for Mr. Johnson and his supervisor to talk me out of the bathroom. I wanted to come out, but I couldn't force myself. It was like there was something just holding me down on the toilet seat. The more I willed myself up, the more it pushed me back down. Whatever it was finally released me and I talked them into leaving so I could wash my face before coming out.
"I'm sorry." I managed to mutter the words. I wasn't crying anymore, but I was exhausted.
"It's ok, Rat. I know this is hard for you. You've been through a lot." He put his arm around me and guided me back to the interview room. "I need a name to put on the court paperwork. How 'bout you choose a new one. Whatever you like."
I still couldn't look at him and stared at the table. I shook my head. "No thanks. I kinda like the one I've got."
"Then Rat Doe it is."
I looked up at him.
"That's the way we refer to client's when we don't know their name, 'John Doe.' But in your case we have a first name so until we figure out the last name, 'Rat Doe' is how you'll be known."
I smiled. I had a name.
"Now, where would you like to go for lunch?" He was smiling at me.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like the interrogation was over.
Three days later I was sitting in a courtroom. Mr. Johnson said it was called a detention hearing. He wouldn't be there. It would just be the lawyers, the judge and me. He would send a report recommending I be placed with the Andersons, Judy and Scooter. The judge might want to ask me some questions and I should be honest when answering.
The lawyer, Mr. Bergeron, asked me a bunch of questions. I wouldn't talk about anything about my past, but I did talk about staying with Judy and Scooter. I told him I wanted to stay there forever.
When the court started, everyone got to talk but me. They talked about me like I wasn't even there. Finally, the judge, a gray haired, heavy-set woman looked right at me. This was the moment I'd dreaded all morning.
"Hello young man, " she seemed rather friendly. "Rat, is it?"
I nodded, a little to nervous to talk.
"Speak up, Rat. The court reporter has to hear what you say. She can't report a nod."
"Umm, yes ma'am. Uh, good morning." I stammered, not sure what to say.
"Rat is a rather odd name, isn't it?"
"I... I guess so."
"The social worker's report says you can't remember your name. Is that correct?"
"Speak up," she urged. Her tone was much friendlier with me than it had been with the attorneys.
"Can you remember anything at all about your family?"
"No ma'am." I lied. I had some memories, but didn't want to discuss them. After what happened to me at the social worker's office, I was afraid to talk about it.
"What can you tell me about Emma?"
I closed my eyes and tried to summon the courage to answer. "I think she was my mother."
"Yes, the report says she took care of you, how?"
"She gave me food sometimes. She got me some clothes once and she let me share her dumpster when it rained so I could stay dry."
"And she took you to the hospital suffering from a knife wound?"
"She saved my life."
"Yes, yes, those are all things a mother would do for a son, aren't they?
"I saved her life once too."
"A bum tried to take her cart. He knocked her down and started kicking her. I hit him with a board."
"Objection your honor." My lawyer rose up and stopped me from continuing.
"Sit down Mr. Bergeron. Your client hasn't admitted to any crime. So far he's only admitted to defending his mother. But you should instruct him to be very careful if he wishes to say anything further."
"Not another word about this, you understand?"
I nodded, but I didn't understand.
"Ma'am?" I asked.
"Are you sure you want to continue?"
"It's not about that, but it is about Emma."
"Then go on."
"She said that she wanted me to scatter her ashes. I want to do that, but the county wants six hundred dollars to release them."
"I can't order that, son. There are other legal issues involved. I'm a Juvenile Court Judge. That is a matter for Probate Court." She turned to my lawyer, "I want you to look into this issue for the next hearing. "
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