He watched from his window as several boys gathered in the alley. They always showed up in the early evening and talked for a while. Sometimes they would laugh and he wondered what kind of jokes they were telling. There was an older boy, much older than him, who looked like the leader. He wished his mother would let him stay out later so he could join them. He didn’t have any friends and watching the boys together made him long for friends even more. They looked to be real good friends. Sighing, he moved from the window and climbed into bed. Wishing they were his friends, too, he drifted to sleep.
“Wake up, Matthew,” his mother called from the kitchen. He rolled over and pulled the blanket above his head. Maybe she’ll let me stay home by myself today.
“Matty,” She said as she shook him. “Come on. We have to go to the market today.” He felt his mother sit on the bed and draw the covers from his head.
“Mama, can’t I stay home while you go to the market?” he asked.
“No. It’s not that I don’t trust you by yourself, Matty, but I don’t trust this neighborhood. When I get a better job, we can move to a better section of town and then you can stay home all you like.” she answered.
“Can I stay out as late as I want, too?”
“By the time I get a better job, you’re going to be staying out as late as you want whether I want you to or not,” she answered smiling.
“Aw, mama!” he cried. “I didn’t mean years from now.”
“I know. Now get up and get dressed. There’s some bread and soup left on the table.” He sat up and let his legs swing over the edge of the bed. Hopping down, he went to the corner of the room where his clothes were piled. Searching through the small stack, he pulled out a pair of pants and a shirt. Slipping the large shirt off that he slept in, he pulled on the pants and put on the shirt.
“Mama, I’m growin’ again,” he told her as he noticed that his pants did not reach his ankles.
“You’re growing all the time, Matty. Really! I just can’t keep up with you. If we can find some material cheap enough, I’ll make you another pair. Now come on.” He went into the kitchen where she was.
“Here’s your soup and bread,” she said handing it to him. When he was done, she took his hand and they went out the door.
They walked to the market area and his mother started shopping for food. It was always the same. Mama would spend time looking for cheaper prices, even though she usually bought the same thing at the same vendor every time. Throughout all of this, she never let go of his hand. When he tried to shake her hand loose, she would stop and ask him if anything was wrong. One day, he even explained to her that he was a big boy now and he would stay out of trouble. She just smiled and kissed him *in front* of everyone. He felt his cheeks go warm when she did that. It was the last time he explained anything to her in public.
“Quit day-dreaming, Matty. It’s time to go home,” she told him. “We have to be at work in a few bells, and I want to eat before we go.”
“Are we gonna work late again, mamma?”
“I don’t know. It depends on how busy the inn is,” she answered as they started home.
When they got home, she started a small fire in the fireplace, cleaned some vegetables, and poured some water into a pan. She set the pan on top of the oven and started chopping the vegetables.
“Matty, can you go outside and get a little bit of the dried mintleaf? It should be hanging by the window,” she said. He went out the door and turned the corner. The dried mintleaf was hanging where she said it would be. He grabbed a few of the dried leaves and carried them back inside.
“Here it is, mama,” he said putting the mintleaf on the table. “Mama?”
“It’s not that I don’t like mintleaf, but do you think that we could look for something different next time?” he asked.
“The next time we get a day off, Matty, we’ll go outside of Dargon City and look for some different herbs.”
“Really? That would be fun! Thanks,” he said as he hugged her.
“Why don’t you go play. I’ll call when the soup is done,” she told him. He ran outside and down the alley. It was a short alley and when he got to the end, he stopped. He knew he wasn’t allowed beyond the end of the alley, but that didn’t keep him from looking up and down the street.
“It’s them,” he said as he saw the boys. He just stood there and watched them. They were playing some sort of game. There was a small object that was being tossed in the air, only they weren’t using their hands to toss it. They were using everything else but their hands, and some of the boys weren’t playing. The object flew towards a boy’s face and he caught it with his hands. The boy said something that Matthew didn’t understand and threw the object on the ground. He stepped over to where the other boys who weren’t playing were and the game continued without him. It went on like this until there were only two left — an older boy and someone Matthew had not seen before. The older boy finally won and the rest bunched in to congratulate him. Laughing and shouting, the boys walked up the street away from Matthew.
“Don’t go,” he said quietly. He thought of shouting to get their attention, but was too afraid to do it. Wishing they would have come his way, he watched the boys until they were out of sight. “They sure looked like they were having a lot of fun,” he thought as he picked up a stone. He dropped the stone and hit it with his foot. The stone came straight back up and he hit it with his elbow. It sailed higher and after coming back down, he tried to hit it with his other foot, but missed.
“I bet they’d have let me play if I was allowed in the street,” he thought as he picked up the stone again.
“Matthew!” called his mother.
“I’m comin’,” he yelled back as he ran back down the alley.
It turned out that the inn wasn’t very busy and both were sent home early. His mother wasn’t very happy about it.
“Don’t be mad, mama,” he said as they walked home. “I was gonna wait until we got home, but I guess I can show you now.”
“What are you talking about, Matty?” she asked as they stopped.
“Old Garth gave me somethin’ as I left. He said it was for both of us,” Matthew explained as he opened his coat. He beamed proudly as he showed her the small piece of meat that the cook had given him. He had hidden it against his side under the coat and in his waistband.
“Why, that grizzled old man. May Stevene watch over him,” she prayed. “Did you thank him for it, Matty?”
“I did, mama. He smiled and said I was a good kid.”
“Let’s go home and have supper then. Tonight hasn’t been all bad,” she said as they started walking home.
He looked out the window as his mother cooked the meat. It was dark and he couldn’t see very far, but he knew the boys were there. He could hear them laughing and talking, but he couldn’t hear them well enough to understand what they were saying.
“Matty, supper is done,” his mother called. He turned away from the window and went into the other room. Standing at the table, he ate supper.
“This meat is good, mama. I wish we could have it more often.”
“I do too, Matty,” she said. “I do too.”
Nine days passed before he actually saw the boys again. Matthew and his mother had the day off, and he was playing in the alley when he heard laughter coming from the end of the alley. He ran towards the street and stopped at the end of the alley. The boys were only a few paces in front of him to the right and they were playing the game. He watched them until one of the boys noticed him and the game stopped.
“What’ya want?” one of the boys asked. Fear paralyzed him.
“This is my chance,” he thought.
“Well,” the boy said.
“Can I play?” he mustered the courage to ask.
“He wants to play,” the boy laughed. Matthew wanted to run, but somehow he couldn’t.
“What’s yer name?” the oldest boy asked stepping forward towards Matthew.
“Matthew,” he answered.
“Ya got a home, Matthew?” the oldest boy asked. Matthew nodded and pointed down the alley.
“Ya got parents?”
“My mom,” Matthew said.
“Well, *we* don’t have any parents, and *we* don’t have a home. All *we’ve* got is each other. We’re shadow boys. So, go back to your mom and your home!” the oldest boy shouted. Matthew tried to move, and couldn’t. The shadow boy stepped closer. “Go on!” he shouted and shoved Matthew down. “Get out of here I said!”
Matthew got up, ran down the alley and into his house. He couldn’t see through his tears and ran into his mother.
“Matty? Dear Stevene, what’s wrong?” she asked as she kneeled down.
“I … uh … they … ” was all Matthew could say between sobs.
“Shhhh. It’s alright, dear. Hush,” she said comforting him and pulling him close.
“I only wanted some friends, mama. I wanted … to play … with them,” he sobbed.
“Some … the boys … by the street.”
“Oh, Matty! Those boys aren’t good boys,” she said. “You don’t want to be around them. They’ll get you into trouble.”
“Why didn’t they like me, mama?” he asked, finally getting his breath. She only hugged him tight as an answer.
“Maybe it is time we moved. I’ve saved up a little money, and I heard that there’s an opening at another inn. A better inn,” she said.
Matthew’s mother was walking home from work. She was walking home alone, and she wasn’t worried too much about Matthew. Rachel was watching him. It was amazing how much her life had changed so quickly. She thought back to just a few days ago when the new inn opened. She applied, but it was too far away from where they lived. Then she met Rachel and Rachel opened her home to them. The inn hired her, and things turned out well, except for Matthew. He cried when she told him they were moving. She didn’t understand his crying, but eventually she learned that he still wanted to be friends with those boys. She told him that he would make better friends in their new neighborhood, but he didn’t want to move. He was still upset over their moving when she had left this morning.
She turned the corner and was at her new home. It was a much shorter walk, and a safer one.
“I still can’t believe I got the job,” Matthews’s mother said as she entered the house. “Just five days ago, I was working in that rat infested inn. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if you hadn’t shared your home. Thank you, Rachel.”
“It’s nothing, really. You looked like you could use some help, and since we are both new at the inn, I thought it would be alright for you to stay with me,” Rachel said.
“Mama, mama!” Matthew yelled as he came running in the house. “Guess what!”
“I don’t know,” his mother said.
“I …” Matthew started but stopped as he looked around. “He was right behind me.”
“Who was right behind you?”
“Ben! He’s my new friend!”
“A new friend?” she asked smiling.
“Mama, what are you smiling at?”
“I love you, Matty,” she said.
“Aw, mama, not *in front* of everyone,” he said turning to go back outside and find his new friend.