By: Melissa Collins

Sorting through the pile of trash sitting next to the dumpster outside a local car repair shop, I tried my best not to make any noise. Having spent the last two weeks living off the money I made selling salvaged parts, I’d learned the fine art of keeping quiet. It was a skill that kept me safe for most of my time in that place. Shaking my head, I pushed those thoughts—and all the reasons I ran away from there—deep down to a place from which I’d hope they’d never resurface.

Running my bruised forearm across my forehead, I swiped at the sweat dripping into my eyebrows. It was the middle of July and the oppressive heat and humidity was overwhelming, even when it was close to nine o’clock at night. Though I tried my best not to think of how my arm had become bruised in the first place, the sharp intake of breath, the abrupt wince of pain reminded me of exactly how it’d gotten that way.

Surveying my stash, I figured I’d salvaged about a hundred bucks worth of scrap metal and used car parts. If I kept digging, I might be able to manage some more money. And it was money I desperately needed. Even though it was closing in on ninety-five degrees, in a few months, I wouldn’t be able to sleep outside. I wouldn’t be able to sneak onto the beach after the lifeguards and state patrollers had left for the day. I wouldn’t be able to rig up some kind of makeshift tent in the park and sleep under the night sky.

Soon the trees would change colors, setting a cool autumn breeze loose in the air. Winter would show its hideously harsh face, burying the southeastern tip of Long Island in a blanket of snow. So before all that happened, it was clear I needed to accumulate as much money as possible. Not only did I need to eat—and as any seventeen-year-old boy will tell you, you’re starving on even a good day—I also needed to find a job. One that would allow me to earn enough money to start over.

That was exactly what I was doing out here in the bumfuck middle of nowhere. Starting over. The ninety-mile bus ride out to The Hamptons forced me to use up all of my money. Like a fool, I thought I could walk into one of those high-end catering halls and get a job, maybe not as a waiter right away, but a busboy or a dishwasher. After being laughed at for the third time, I cut my losses and tried to come up with some kind of plan B.

Picking through trash hadn’t exactly been what I’d envisioned when I ran away. Hell, this wasn’t anyone’s dream come true, but it was far better than the nightmare from which I ran. When I felt as if I had no hope left, this shop appeared as if from nowhere. Having recently completed an auto repair shop course during my last semester at school, I figured I would know enough about what car parts would be worth anything. The ritzy newer models that I’d seen driving around didn’t hurt either. A bent tire rim from a Benz, hell, even a few beat-up spark plugs, would earn me more than a few bucks.

Adding up my would-be money in my head, I froze on the spot as a pair of headlights lit the driveway next to the building. The pile I’d made was too large to take away in one trip and fear froze me to the spot. The jarring sound of the car door slamming shut only amplified my fear. Stumbling backward, I tripped over a hubcap. Spinning, it ricocheted into the rest of the scraps. There was nowhere to go. The area behind the shop was a wide-open parking lot, reserved for moving cars around during the day. Even though the shop was on a quiet stretch of the road, there were no trees to run toward, to hide in. My best bet was to hide behind the dumpster and hope to get away unscathed.

“Who’s there? What are you doing?” a loud, booming voice called out from the blinding light of the car. If the size of the shadow was any indication of the man to whom it belonged, then I was in some serious trouble. Shaking nervously, I kept myself concealed, waiting for an opportunity to escape. His footsteps were heavy, making a loud thudding noise with every movement. “Fucking scavengers,” he cursed, kicking the pieces of metal in frustration. “Can’t trust anyone,” he barked, seemingly at no one and everyone at the same time.

He walked closer and closer still. My choices were limited: stay put, and risk being caught, or run as fast as I could and chance getting away.

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