“Why is a strange teenage girl in our shower?” Ray Nickels’ wife, Amanda asked. She had her arms crossed before her, leaning up against their gas ranges which had been coated in a thin coat of grime. She’d been lax in cleaning it after gaining her RN license and neither she nor Ray had ever gotten Lauren to bother with its upkeep. Lauren was out working at the music shop and would be until nine o’clock. Her absence was fortunate because when the teenage girl got out of the shower, Ray expected Amanda to offer the girl some of her daughter’s clothes. Lauren wouldn’t notice her clothes missing if she didn’t actually see them part from her possession. She had enough clothes and Amanda had been after her to send some of it to the Salvation Army. Amanda supposed that some of Lauren’s clothes were going to charity after all.
“I didn’t know what else to do. I found her out on the road, slapping the shit out of some guy. I think he had gotten fresh. I think he had tried something and she kicked the crap out of him.” Ray said, smiling at the thought.
“Why not bring her to the police? Straight there?” Ray made a grimace and then leaned back in the black and silver kitchen chair.
“Well. She made me think of Lauren. I didn’t like dumping her off like that. She’s a runaway. She admitted that much. I haven’t gotten much either out of her.” That seemed to be enough of an explanation for her. She had already chosen a pair of jeans that Lauren had grown out of the previous summer, a bra, a pair of panties and a white blouse Lauren had purchased and discarded for Senior class pictures.
“We’ll call social services, but I’m thinking it wouldn’t be a bad thing to get some food in the girl. Get her cleaned up and rested a while.”
“Food definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing for that girl. Did you see how skinny see is? Like a stick.” Amanda said, demonstrating her thinness by holding her hands about an inch apart. Ray hadn’t noticed how skinny the girl was. He had focused on all the cuts and scratches on the girl. Ray noticed that she had bruises on her body and she had actually needed a shower. Ray didn’t notice how skinny she was because all he saw was a scared and injured girl.
When Ray found her on the road, scrabbling with a boy who had been equally filthy and banged up. The boy had been crying over and over that he didn’t want to and Ray thought that the boy might have been a nut. He had actually pulled the girl off the boy, hurrying to his defense. He had only the vaguest idea of why they had been fighting. She had wanted to leave, get to another person, but the boy had attempted to stop her and she beat the hell out of him. Ray had guessed that she had runaway from home and met the boy on the streets and then got cold feet. The boy hadn’t liked that and she gave him hell. He knew that it seemed crazy to take a strange girl in, especially in the city. Ray had seen plenty of drug addicts and crazies in the city and to let a stranger into his third floor walkup apartment seemed crazy. Why would he bring her to his home, then? Even if he felt sorry for the girl. Even if he had felt the pangs of fatherly responsibility for her, why didn’t he just take her down to the hospital? They could have patched her up as easily as Amanda had and they would have had more experience taking care of runaways. Ray, honestly, didn’t know. He had just looked at the girl, remembered Lauren and trusted her. He hadn’t been surprised that Amanda had accepted the girl as easily as he did, telling her to sit down and turn her face toward the light before Ray had offered any explanation. Amanda had picked tiny bits of gravel out of the girl’s wounds with a pair of tweezers and then washed the wounds with a paper napkin soaked with rubbing alcohol. The girl had sucked in pained breaths of air at the alcohol like a small child might. It wasn’t exactly that, though. It was more like she had been surprised by the alcohol’s sting like she’d never had a wound disinfected.