Head in the clouds. Feet on the ground. Heart in the story. Christa Kinde is a cheerful homebody whose imagination takes her new places with every passing day. Making her home between misty mornings and brimming bookshelves in Southern California, she’s been writing for more than a decade, but the Threshold Series is her first foray into fiction. Learn about Christa’s books, Bible studies, short stories, weekdaily serials, and more at ChristaKinde.com.
Part Seven: Troublemaker
You can find Part 1 HERE
You can find Part 2 HERE
You can find Part 3 HERE
You can find Part 4 HERE
You can find Part 5 HERE
You can find Part 6 HERE
“This is us.”
As he entered the apartment, Marcus murmured, “Thanks for your hospitality.”
Ransom dropped his backpack against the wall and tossed his key in a chipped cereal bowl sitting on an old speaker next to the door. Kicking off his shoes, he pointed to the doors on the left. “Dad’s room. Bathroom. And the slider leads onto the world’s smallest balcony.”
Marcus automatically scanned the room for signs of danger and came up empty. There wasn’t much—a media center, four speakers, a single bed with a faded tan and brown spread, and a recliner with a stack of newspapers beside it. No pictures. No personal touches.
“It’s kinda boring.” Ransom shuffled his feet. “Dad likes to stick to the basics.”
“Yeah, it works. And so does my dad. He’ll be back around eight, so we have the place to ourselves.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Marcus caught a flutter of bronze as Ransom’s guardian angel took his post on the balcony.
Grabbing a remote, Ransom turned on a cooking show and hit mute. “Hungry?”
The kitchen wasn’t in a separate room. More like a corner of the same room. There were two glasses by the sink, and the kitchen garbage was crammed with flattened boxes and paper plates. Ransom opened the freezer, revealing dozens of frozen meals. “Pick whatever you want … except for the Salisbury steak. Those are Dad’s.”
While the microwave whirred life into a chicken pot pie, Ransom dove for the remote. “You mind? This show’s great.”
Two dings later, they sat side-by-side on the floor, leaning against Ransom’s bed while they watched a cooking competition. Six cake shop owners were vying for a cash prize, and Ransom was riveted. Between bites of pizza, he kept up a running commentary.
Dire predictions. “How can she not see that crack? It’s totally gonna break.”
Crazy advice. “Grape jelly! Add grape jelly!”
Tragic groans. “Nooo! I can’t believe he let the caramel burn!”
Strong opinions. “I don’t care if your grandmother was Italian! This isn’t a garlic moment!”
Marcus snorted. “You do realize the guy you’re heckling can’t hear you.”
“So? Some of my most meaningful conversations are with the television.” Ransom crammed the last of his pizza in his mouth. “And now I want cake!”
Ransom shook his head. “We don’t have stuff like baking powder and flour.”
“Cake mix?” Marcus suggested.
“No use. We don’t even own a cake pan.” Hauling himself up, Ransom crossed to the speaker closest to his bed. He took a plastic soda glass from a local convenience store and dumped its contents. Fishing out a handful of quarters and a couple of bills, he asked, “You up for a walk? The gas station on the corner sometimes has doughnuts and stuff.”
“I could eat.”♦♦♦
As they ambled into the gas station’s convenience store, Marcus said, “I can chip in.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ransom replied. “I’m gainfully employed.”
Marcus let it go. He intercepted a hard look from the stout, balding man behind the counter and nodded. I’m no troublemaker, mister. The farthest thing from it.
Almost immediately, the man relaxed. “Afternoon, Ransom. Who’s your friend?”
“Hey, Mr. Manager! This is my best friend Marcus. We’re here to raid your … oh, wow!” Ransom practically pressed his nose against the side of a nearly-empty acrylic display case. “Since when do you carry cupcakes?”
Artful icing made the cupcakes look like pink roses, and sugar glistened on the last remaining apple dumpling. According to the lineup of labels, customers had already snapped up all the lemon tarts, slices of pecan pie, and marble brownies.
“Nice. You’ll get your cake after all,” said Marcus.
The manager shook open a white bag and picked up a pair of tongs. “Which one do you want?”
Ransom jingled the change in his pocket, then grinned. “Got any boxes?”♦♦♦
“Worth every penny,” moaned Ransom. “Whoever made these should go on that show and win the grand prize.”
Marcus grunted his agreement as he licked pink icing off his finger. He’d always liked sweet stuff, and this was definitely a cut above.
They’d cleaned out all the cupcakes in the case and brought them back to the apartment where they sat on the miniscule balcony overlooking the complex’s carports. Their return had displaced Ardon. Between the bin of recycling and Ransom’s bicycle, Marcus reckoned there was barely enough room for two boys, let alone a warrior’s bulk.
“He’s got it made.” Ransom contemplated the limp cupcake paper in his hand. “I could do this.”
“Eat cupcakes?” Marcus asked.
“I’m going to go back before school tomorrow,” announced Ransom. “After my route.”
“To the gas station?”
“Yeah. I want first pick.”
Marcus smirked. “Gonna turn all your cash into cupcakes?”
“Not just cupcakes. I want to try everything. Pies, muffins, tarts, turnovers, and … everything!” Ransom shot him a sidelong look. “You know, if you had a bike, we could ride up into town and check out the bakery.”
“Will you?” he pressed.
“You have an uncle?”
“Uncle Al.” Marcus took his time figuring out how much to say. “He’s not really my uncle, but he looks out for me.”
“How come you don’t live with him?”
“I wouldn’t mind that, but it’s not up to me.”
“That’s rough.” Ransom peeled the paper off a pink and white cupcake. “But you’re close enough you can ask him for stuff?”
“I haven’t seen him in a while. He kinda backed off so I could get to know the Turnquists.” Marcus hesitated as a message gently inserted itself into his thoughts. “But he’s supposed to come by next weekend. Wanna meet him?”
Ransom perked up. “Really? Yeah, why not? So what’s he like?”
Marcus settled on the safest possible answer. “He drives a motorcycle.”♦♦♦
On his way home that evening, Marcus ran into his foster brother coming down the sidewalk. “Where are you going, Landon?”
The boy scowled at the ground. “Home.”
“Then you’re headed in the wrong direction, kiddo. This is where we live.”
“Not me. Not no more.”
Landon was the kind of kid people stuck labels on—troubled, underprivileged, at-risk. But all Marcus saw was a bundle of heartache and heartbreak. As Landon stomped past, Marcus hooked him with one arm. “Maybe you better tell me what happened.”
Swiping at angry tears, he muttered, “Dun wanna talk.”
Marcus guided him to the curb. “It’s just you and me. You can say it any way you want.”
Mrs. Turnquist was a stickler for proper grammar, good pronunciation, and clean language. But Landon was clumsy with words, and his last caretakers hadn’t put a high priority on common courtesies. The boy was easily frustrated when his words fell short or when corrections bogged him down.
With his attention fixed on the boy’s breaking heart and desperate need, Marcus weathered anger, tears, and a liberal dose of profanity. At the end, he said, “Gotcha. Yep. Totally unjust.”
“I hate this.”
“Careful now,” Marcus said. “Don’t run away from a good place just because someone said you don’t belong here.”
Landon wrapped his arms around his knees. “But … what if they’re right? We don’t match.”
Marcus nodded. “I’m not a Turnquist either. Same goes for any foster kid.”
Mrs. Turnquist kept Landon’s hair super-short, so there wasn’t much to mess with, but Marcus rubbed his hand over the wooly stubble. “My hair doesn’t even match itself.”
“Yours is cool.”
“Nice to here. So what else?”
Landon said, “My skin.”
They lined up their arms side by side. Neither shade of brown was a match for their foster parents’ fairness. Marcus said, “Someone at school saw the marks on my back.”
Marcus shook his head. “His eyes got real big, and he said, ‘whoa!’”
“Yep. And just like you, he didn’t make fun of me. In fact, he said he’d be my best friend.”
Landon’s forehead creased. “In a good way, or in a psycho stalker way?”
“It’s all good. You remember Ransom?”
“Oh, him.” He looked away. “Good for you.”
“But what about you?” Marcus asked. “Are we good?”
“I got no problems with you.”
“Then how about this. If you gotta run away, run to me. Just like tonight.” Marcus said, “I can give you a place to hide.”
Since he wasn’t catching on, Marcus bumped shoulders with him. “Like this. Like brothers.”
Landon’s scowl was back. “But we’re not brothers.”
“Anyone with eyes. We don’t look nothing alike.”
“We were matched up when we were both sent here. That’s good enough for me.”
Landon swore, but he also leaned into Marcus. After a lengthy silence, he asked, “Now that you got a best friend, will you stop playing with me and Flopsy?”
Marcus smirked. “Not a chance. Ransom has a thing for tea parties.”
Next Month:Angel Unaware, Part Eight: “Pushover”