Bay City Runaway – Preview

This is the first chapter of my new project.

 

Chapter 1

I stepped outside my favorite pub near Union Square for a smoke, belly full of bangers and mash.  I was used to the cold, damp fog of the Bay Area by then, and there was no shortage of it that night.  I had just taken my first long, after dinner drag when a teenage girl with an Army jacket and backpack walked up to me;  ghostlike and wordless, communicating her desire to bum a cigarette with a faint hand gesture.  In the flame I could see that her face was blue and green on one side.  For a brief moment, her dark brown eyes pierced mine.   They were hard eyes, but something about the way she looked at me that let me know that she was in great need, but before I had a chance to ask, she was disappearing into the fog at a swift pace glancing back at me only for a moment.

I had grown accustomed to the sheer enormity of people on the street and she was just one person.  There were people in need everywhere I turned.  I’d learned that it was best not to make eye contact with these people.  There’s something about the eyes that make people believe that you might be of help to them.  She had caught off guard.

I walked back inside for a final toast to another day of being a lonely drunk in a city which otherwise ignored me.

When I arrived at my first floor flat around the corner from China Town, I picked out a Laphroaig 10, filled a tumbler, and settled into my leather club chair to pass out into a dreamless sleep.  The chair had been my bed for the months since I’d moved here.

I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep until I was suddenly awake again.  She didn’t move.  She didn’t even blink.  She just stared back at me with a single question in her weary eyes . I wasn’t sure if she was actually there.  My body still slumbered in a scotch induced stupor, but my eyes were awake and the shock of seeing someone at my window in the middle of a cold night had set my ears ringing.  I understood what she was asking.  It was the girl with the bruised face.

A dilemma had frozen me as our eyes locked in an unanswered plea.  I’d met my share of hustlers in this bay city, but the need on her face was real, and now that I could see her in the light I could see that she couldn’t have been more than seventeen.

Why she looked to me for help, I’ll never fully understand.   Jesus! I was a stranger to her – a drunken, lonely bastard of a man on the street; too young to be her father, too old to be her lover.

I broke the stillness with a nod and opened the door.

She was pale and shivering from the cool, damp night.  I watched her intently and silently as she passed over my threshold into my living room.  No words had come to my mind, so I did not speak. And even if they had, my tongue would have been too slow to form anything but foolishness.  She sat on my couch, and I handed her a heavy woolen blanket.

She had not been on the street for long, I guessed.  She didn’t smell badly–only of damp, night air and Marlboro.  Her clothes looked relatively fresh; same jeans, Army jacket, backpack, and sneakers.  I poured her a brandy from a crystal decanter – the one thing I kept for myself  when I left – and sank back down in the leather club.   She put the glass to her lips, her eyes never leaving mine.  Her mouth showing only a trace of grimace from the strength of the drink as she swallowed.

She broke the silence.

“I’m Amy.”

I took a sip of scotch, and cleared my throat a bit.

“Hey, Amy.  I’m Brian.”  The words hung around my spinning head as if they weren’t mine.  “How can I help you?”

She shrugged her slender shoulders.  “Can I crash here tonight?”

“Why here?”  I replied, clumsily, perhaps even coarsely.

She shrugged again.  “I guess you were nice to me in front of the bar?”

“Look,” I started, “if this is a hustle, I….”

“It’s not a hustle!”  she shouted, her voice breaking.  “Listen, I just need a place to stay tonight.  That’s all.”  Silent tears began to rolled out of her eyes pleading for just an ounce of mercy.

“Ok, ok.  Relax.”

Gesturing toward me, she said, “I guess you seemed–I dunno–like you’re running away from something, too.”   Her body relaxed into a slump as she dried the tears on her jacket sleeve.  She sniffed and took another sip of brandy making a sour face this time.  She put it down on the coffee table between us.

“Do you need to call anybody?”

She shook her head, and pulled the blanket close around her.

“Amy, are you ok?” I asked, my tone softening.

She nodded and settled back into the couch.  She seemed so at home…or maybe just too exhausted to care.

I watched her sleep for a while and listened to her breathing–almost peaceful– unconsciously timing it with the ticking of the mantel clock.  Asleep, her face was a child’s, spoiled only by the green and purple bruise under her right eye.

She was gone when I awoke the next morning, the runaway.  The blanket was folded on the arm of the couch exactly as it had been when she’d arrived, brandy snifter put away.  I might never see her again, and I wasn’t really certain I’d ever seen her at all.

As I let the steam from my freshly brewed coffee rise to my face, I pondered her words:

you’re running away from something, too.

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