When Luke feels all alone, when he’s sitting in a holding cell because he was a minor sleeping rough in the sheltered doorway of a upper class deparment store.
When his phone is dead and he refuses to tell them his name or his parent’s name and so they have no choice but to hold him until the morning. When his back hurts because he’s been sleeping on hard surfaces for a week and the cot in his cell is no different.
When he hums to himself to fill the silence that punches into his chest and stomach through the white, plastic walls, but it only accentuates it.
When he shivers because they took his personal belongings and the blanket scratches up his skin. When he paces, before kicking the bench and only hurting his foot.
When they offer him a phone call, but his dyslexic brain can’t sum up the digits that make up either Alex or Reggie’s number, so just rests his head against the cool metal box, with the corded phone pressed up against his ear.
When he’s finally dragged away again and suddenly remembers Julie’s number, remembering the rhythm and rhyme of the numbers. “Wait, wait, wait,” he yells as he’s pulled by the arm. “I remember, I remember. I need to call.”
When he’s shut up inside that cramped box room again and he can feel the walls pushing in on him, making his head feel smaller around his skull.
Too tight. Too tight. Too tight…
And then he’s seized again, rough fingers pressing hard into his biceps. He’s wrenched off the ground, where he’d been crouched in the middle of the cell.
There’s some whisper of, “…released.”
And he’s lead back into the reception, where they’d shoved him the first time, five hours ago. He gets a glance at the clock. It’s 3am now.
And there she is.
His brain stalls. He doesn’t remember making the call. Did he? Did he forget? His tongue is like cotton in his mouth. Maybe in his dehydration…
“Luke,” she cries, throwing herself at him. Her arms are around his neck and she grips him so hard.
Slowly, Luke lets his arms fold around her back. She’s encouraged and lets her feet fall flat on the ground, while he leans into her hug.
She smells like strawberries…
“Luke, thank god.” Alex’s voice as he jogs into the station, the keys to his van clenched in a white knuckled fist. He covers them both when he joins the hug.
Reggie is at the reception desk, booking him out. At 18, he’s the only one able to.
“Guys, I…” Luke’s voice is lost to his own confusion.
“We were trying to call and text you. We checked your house but you weren’t there. Your parents said they hadn’t seen you since…” Alex trails off.
“Why didn’t you tell us your were sleeping rough again?” Julie demands. “You know we have the space. You know that.”
Luke retreats, sniffs and twists the baby hairs at the back of his neck. He shrugs, feeling the weight of worried guilt on his shoulders. “Just… didn’t want to… you know…”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Julie asks, the moisture in her eyes catching in the flurosents above. “You are not a burden.”
Alex, whose hands had crept back into his jacket again, brings one out to lightly back hand his arm. “Yeah, not to us. Not ever.”
Reggie joins them and covers him with his arms. “Oh man, it’s so good to see you.”
“Yeah, you too, Reg.”
And they take him back to the Molina’s, feed him warm tea, wrap him in blankets. He has a chest infection, they realise, and Ray gets an emergency prescription of antibiotics and lets his parents know he’s safe.
They spend the rest of the night wrapped around him.
When Luke feels alone, the people he love him remind him he is, in fact, the opposite.