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 Karen’s head spun violently, but she didn’t drop the teenager.
The teenage girl responded by puking all over Karen, 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 Karen had backhanded her with a pipe wrench. “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 counter Irwin had oozed over to get to Karen when they first met.
Karen made it to the other side first. Something on the underside of the counter must have activated the smartphone. 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 Karen anymore, a cacophony of different facial expressions flying over her face as her fingers flew 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.
But then she frowned and looked at the outside world she hadn’t seen in so long behind the girl. The clothes she needed were her work clothes back at poor-dead Martin’s in a suitcase. But 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?
Who had removed Martin’s body? The police? Who had reported Martin’s death? Irwin? Something told her this wasn’t quite right, but it was so hard to piece together reliably anything that happened after she passed out just before Frank finished killing Martin. What had Irwin told the police about who did it? And how would Karen now explain her “self defense” murder of Irwin, who must have been the one to discover Martin’s body in Karen’s storage unit? With Karen, though unconscious, still there?
What exactly would she be risking to return to that job crunching numbers for an investment banking firm that she hated anyway because it involved no contact or concern for other people?
“But this is crazy!”
It was only when the girl darted her a quick look that Karen realized she’d spoken aloud and 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…mostly 19th century…tales of people wrongly accused 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 Karen recognized somehow, shuddering when she remembered what Irwin had done to her. But it was the 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 her in her arms and felt something swelling up inside her.
Just then 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, but then she 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, soaking the dingy countertop. But…did she hear footsteps approaching?
“I need your help!”
It was the most exquisitely beautiful voice Karen had ever heard. She looked up.
It wasn’t the girl, but an elderly homeless woman.