Despite all her own injuries, Karen caught the teenage girl who fell across the threshold of the storage space and into her arms. Every body part screamed, and her head spun violently, but she didn’t drop the teenager.
The teenage girl responded by puking all over her, including the clothes from Irwin she was wearing.
“Morning sickness,” Karen whispered gently in her ear. “It’ll pass.”
The girl jerked back from her as if hit by baseball bat. “Like, I’m def not pregnant, like, no matter what you…he…did!”
Karen caught the girl’s arms before she fell over backwards, watched this teenager’s bowler hat fall off behind her, and then heard something clatter forward across the storage space’s floor.
“My phone!” The girl dived for it, but it skated all the way across the dingy floor and disappeared under the reception counter.
Karen made it to the other side of the counter first. Something on its underside must have activated the phone. Its menu blinked up at her, and her heart leapt. She snatched it up, smiling at the possibilities she’d been so long without. She should at least borrow it long enough to call in sick to work!
“Like, that’s mine!” The teenager reached over the counter and grabbed it. “And it’s fucking broken! Like, you broke it!”
Karen, still behind the counter, leaned on it for support as she looked up at the girl and the still-open door behind her.
The girl wasn’t even looking at her anymore, fingers flying over a phone that apparently still worked. Moto jacket slopped over black overalls and a white tee that was sticking out on one side. Karen smiled, remembering a very long time ago when her guide to grunge was whatever they were wearing on My So-Called Life.
Clothes… Now she frowned and looked behind the girl at the outside world she hadn’t seen in so long. The clothes she needed were her work clothes back at poor dead Martin’s in a suitcase. How would she gain access to his apartment? By explaining to the police that he was dead but…and this only occurred to her for the first time…she had no idea where his body was?
She’d passed out just before her husband Frank finished killing Martin. In her storage space. With her, unconscious, the only other person remaining. Who except Irwin, working there, could have reported what he found to the police and gotten the body removed? And she thought she could claim defense against his assault as her only reason for killing Irwin?
Something told her what she’d pieced together wasn’t quite right. Still, what would she be risking to return to an investment banking job she hated. She wanted to work with people, not numbers.
“But this is crazy!”
It was only when the girl darted her a quick look that Karen realized she’d spoken aloud. She froze in the act of coming out from behind the counter and heading for the door. Still a gust of fresh air from outside swirled around her nose, teasing her. Trees. Sunlight. All calling to her even if her imaginary friend, the building, had switched into overdrive with all its tales of people wrongly convicted of murder.
But the girl was still looking up at her, now clutching her stomach again. Karen examined that young face and what she could see of her body…fresh bruises, old scars. Scars in places she recognized somehow, shuddering when she remembered what Irwin had done to her. Worse, though, were the girl’s eyes: defiant, shut like doors, until a wave of nausea opened them all the way up to the tender, innocent child so carefully hidden inside. Karen remembered holding this teenager in her arms and was determined to help her.
The girl heaved, snatched her bowler hat off the street, gave Karen the finger, and darted off.
“Oh no, don’t leave!” Karen called, heart sinking. How could she have failed to help such a poor creature? Again, she was about to come out from behind that counter, despite her need to hold on to it for support, and go after the girl…except she then saw the girl leap into a cab.
Devastated by her own failure, Karen buried her face in her hands and wept more tears than she’d ever shed on her own accord.
“I need your help!”
It was the most exquisitely beautiful voice Karen had ever heard. She looked up.
The girl may have been gone, but in her place stood an elderly homeless woman.