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Lady Emily asserts herself.
But knowing there was no more comfort to be found in his mother, Axl had stripped the blankets from the mattress revealing a multitude of stains, of unknown origins, in varying shades of brown and yellow. He'd carted them all over to his own room and made a pallet for himself on which he'd slept for the next two nights.
And it was where he was going to die, that very day, before it was dark outside, if he didn't make himself get up.
Legs shaking, Axl forced himself to his feet. Dizziness assaulted him and his muscles cramped. He swayed unsteadily and leaned against the wall for support. Once the illness passed, he determinedly trudged to the front door where he retrieved his sole pair of rundown shoes from the entry closet which was empty other than his thin spring jacket.
After tying his laces and covering the top part of his too small pajamas under his inadequate outerwear, he'd squared his shoulders, ready to follow through with the decision he'd made. Since his mother was no longer going to provide for him, it was now up to Axl to take care of himself.
He was going to live.
Or die trying.
Ten minutes later, Axl sped out of the neighborhood market and down the street, dirty snow crunching under his feet, mindless of where he was going. He cradled his treasure tight to his chest: a king size package of Reese Cups. Since he didn't hear the yelling or pursuit of the store owner behind him, he didn't think he'd been spotted, but he still ran as fast as the excitement behind the force of his pumping legs would allow. He didn't break momentum until he was several streets away and, when he did, he immediately ripped into the orange package.
He'd swallowed two cups whole, and was reaching for the third, when a raspy voice called, "Damn, boy, slow down and chew before you choke yourself."
Wide eyed, Axl's attention swung to the top steps of the apartment building he'd stopped in front of and the two men standing there. One was totally hidden in the shadows cast by the building's overhang, but, as far as Axl could tell, he wasn't the one who'd spoken. No, it was the other man who'd issued the warning. The one dressed in faded blue jeans and a dark brown leather jacket with a tan wool cap covering his head. Smoky tendrils, part byproduct of the cigarette clamped between his lips, part frigid air, drifted upwards in loose curls to obscure a clear view of his face.
"With the way he's wolfing them down, J, bet he lifted the candy from old man Hardy's store," shadow man said. "You're lucky Hardy didn't catch your ass, kid. He prosecutes everyone over the age of eighteen for stealing. Younger than eighteen, yeah, you're real lucky you didn't get caught."
Axl knew stealing was wrong, he really did, but he wasn't giving up the only food he'd had for days. Not without a fight. Ripping off the paper lining of the third cup, he let it flutter to the ground where it landed next to the other two, presenting a design of crumpled circles of brown on top of a backdrop of dirt colored snow, and hurriedly stuffed the sweet into his mouth. He skittered backwards a step, keeping a close eye on his audience, as his molars tore through chocolate in search of the peanut butter center. His teeth ached from the sweetness and his stomach grumbled for more.
"Why you out here stealing?" J asked around his cigarette. "It's not even ten yet and your bad ass is already up to no good. Shouldn't you be in school or something? And what's the deal with the chocolate? That's not breakfast. And, shit, you're young. What are you? Six? Seven?"
"I'll be nine in a few months," Axl answered defiantly. He made short work of disposing of the last remaining treat the same way he had with the first three.
"Nine in a few months," J scoffed.