I curl my fingers around the door handle. The coldness of it pours into my hand, causing my body to lose its heat. "Careful," Hunter whispers from behind me. "Slowly, Stella, the door hasn't been open in years." I nod, and slowly push it open. Inside the abandoned cafeteria is dark, swallowed up by the night.
"I can't see anything," I whisper to Hunter, who was closing the door gently. Hunter flips a switch and lights come on. The entire room is engulfed in spiderwebs, and 6 wooden picnic tables were scattered around the room. "It needs some cleaning, maybe board the windows up -- but it'll do. Where did you find this place, anyways?"
"Found it yesterday, when looking for oranges," Hunter replies. He pulls his worn-out satchel over his head and drops it on a table nearest to him. Hunter and I were runaways, best friends, and partners. Hunter had found me when I was 10 years old, a few weeks after I'd first run away. It was a cold, rainy day in November. Hunter, who was 11, found me looking for food in a dumpster. It was he who showed me how to take advantage of Florida's citrus, who taught me how to steal sneakily from stores without getting caught. 6 years later, we're traveling around the state trying to keep ourselves alive.
"Why is this place even way out here, in the woods?" I ask. It seemed like the more I see, the less I know. Hunter is biting into an orange that he'd peeled while I was pondering. He tosses me the orange before swallowing.
"Used to be a place to feed the poor. A soup kitchen, I think they call it. The kitchen is really small and doesn't work, but there is a garden hose outside. And though the place doesn't have air conditioning or heat, it keeps in the warmth. I think it could work for a while," He says. Hunter pulls a map out of his bag and sets it on the ground. "Pass me a marker." I take off my own backpack and toss a pen to Hunter, who draws out our location.
My backpack starts to squeak. "Oops!" I exclaim. I unzip my backpack and Poppy runs out. The black and white rat runs up my arm and sits on my shoulder. "Sorry, Poppy," I coo. He looks at me with his wide ratty eyes, not forgiving me for shoving him in there. I never keep Poppy in my backpack for so long, but I couldn't exactly have him out and attracting cats when we were trudging through the woods.
"Gross," Hunter groans. "I don't know why you even keep that rat. All he does is eat my food and attract cats."
"Don't call Poppy gross! You're just mad that he doesn't like you," I retort.
Hunter rolls his eyes and sweeps his golden blonde hair out of his face. "We'd best get to sleep. We're about a mile out of a small town, and tomorrow we gonna get some food and clothes," he says. He pulls off his shirt and tosses it aside, walking towards me. Hunter's green eyes stare into my own. He touches my face, pulls me closer. I push some of my blonde hair behind my ears and press my hand against his. Hunter pushes his lips against mine, softly. At first, I accept the kiss -- then retreat.
"Oh, so now you want me?" I say.
"What do you mean?" Hunter responds, pulling his head back.
"Earlier today you were flirting with those girls at the ice cream store, saying that I was nothing but your tag along friend," I retort. Hunter and I didn't like to label our relationship. We weren't dating, but things did get intimate, and I still got jealous easily.
"I was just trying to get us free ice cream, you know I was kidding," He says, rolling his eyes. He looks down his feet, then smiles up at me. "Are you getting jealous?" He teases.
"No! It's just . . . well, yes, I am. Sort of. Not enough that you reserve the rights to tease!" I yell. I storm over to one of the tables and set up a bed with a few small blankets. Hunter does the same, lying right by me.
"You win tonight, Stel. But this will continue in the morning," He says with a wink. I turn over, facing the opposite direction. Poppy crawls down my shirt and burrows in my stomach. I think about the cafeteria, my new home. It was only a matter of weeks before Hunter was a legal adult, and living out here wasn't a problem. I fell asleep dreaming of the great life we'd live.