“I’ve warned you before about messing with my man.”
Candy Granger rubbed her burning cheek. Why did her mother always have to take their side? It had been the same with the lowlife who had warmed her mother’s bed before the detestable Duke. The scumbag made her skin crawl each time he dared to look at her, always thrusting his crotch in her direction and running his tongue around his lips. “Messing with your man, Mom? He’s the one who had his hands all over me. Open your eyes—he’s been trying to feel me up ever since I turned fifteen.”
She ducked to avoid a second slap as her mother screamed at her. “Get your bags and get outta my sight. When I was fifteen…”
Candy stopped listening. She’d heard the “when I was fifteen” story for the last ten years. It always ended the same—with her mother extolling how much she’d sacrificed and how ungrateful Candy was. “Forget it, Mom. I’ll leave.”
She glared at Duke as she stalked through the living room and into her tiny bedroom. Now that he knows Mom is going to take his side, the gross son of a bitch will get even braver. The sound of her mother screaming at Duke gave her some comfort. What Candy couldn’t figure out was why her mother had come down so heavily on her instead of him. Any decent mother would have thrown out the boyfriend, not her only child. She strained an ear—the shouting had stopped. Then the trailer began to rock. It was always the same.
Candy packed her backpack and left her bedroom. The sound of her mother and Duke having sex filled her with disgust. Mother was never going to change; neither were the men she dragged home with her. All her lovers had tried it on with Candy, eventually. Candy opened the front door then let it slam shut behind her. Dammit, all I needed was one more month. Ms. Tyson had promised to help me get my work paper.
Leaving the trailer park, she sighed heavily, relieved in a way to be out of there. The park was well known to the NYPD. Her mom’s drug habit in particular had brought several officers to their door over the past few years. Nevertheless, it had been a place to sleep. What now?
The conundrum played on her mind during her trek to the city. Without any money, no close friends, and no family she knew of, there was no place to go. She couldn’t go to the shelter, not after the problems her mother had caused the last time she’d found Candy there.
“Shit!” she exclaimed as a pebble pushed its way through the sole of her shoe. She glanced at the sky. “Is that all you’ve got? My feet were already hurting.” A sudden gust of wind struck up, driving the dust from the road into her tired eyes, blinding her for a second. Candy laughed and sat beside the road, rubbing at her eyes. Cursing God might not be the brightest idea I’ve had.
Candy heard the sound of a vehicle pulling up beside her and peered through the darkness as the door to a Winnebago opened. An older woman smiled at her.
“You look lost, child. What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere all by yourself?” the kind-looking woman asked.
Candy hesitated for a moment, thinking of all the horror stories she’d heard on the news recently, but her aching feet and the way the woman was smiling warmly at her soon dispersed her fear. “I was headed into town, but the road dust blinded me.”
A robust older man leaned forward over the steering wheel and asked, “Do you need a lift?”
“No, it’s okay. Besides, you’re going in the wrong direction. I don’t want to put you out.”
“Nonsense,” the woman said quickly. “When was the last time you ate a decent meal, child? You look like a good strong wind would blow you away.”
Candy realized she hadn’t eaten anything but snacks in two days. “I’m all right. I’m not hungry.” Her stomach rumbled noisily, disputing her claim. “Guess that’s my body’s way of calling me a liar.”
The three of them laughed. “Hop in. Our girls have already eaten and gone to bed. Plenty of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans left.” She patted her husband’s protruding stomach. “I’d be shot if he didn’t get at least two proper meals every day. What do you say, child?”
Candy hesitated again. She was hungry, and maybe if she were lucky, they would let her sleep in the motor home, giving her one more day to figure out what she was going to do next. “I don’t want to impose on your kindness. I’ll be fine. I can see the city from here, and it won’t take me long to make it on foot.”
The man revved the engine of the Winnebago. “Leave the girl be, Elisa. You’re too pushy sometimes.”
The woman swiped her husband’s arm. “Hush now, John, what if it was one of our girls? I’m only trying to keep the child safe.” She turned to face Candy again. “Does your momma know you’re out here all on your own? We can drop you off at home.”
Her head dipped. “She doesn’t care. She kicked me out a few hours ago. She was in bed with her boyfriend when I left.”
“Such a shame. What about the rest of your family? Maybe we can drop you off at one of their homes.”
“I don’t have anyone else. I was going to stay at a shelter tonight until I figured out what to do.”
Tears welled up in the woman’s eyes. “How dreadful. Then you’re definitely accepting a ride from us. We’ll take you into the city, and if we can’t find a decent shelter, we’ll put you up in a hotel for the night.”
The more the couple interacted with her, the more she trusted them. Her view of adults was skewed by her years in the trailer park. What harm could it do to take a ride into the city? It would only take ten minutes instead of the hour or so she predicted it would take her to walk. “Okay, if you’re sure I’m not putting you out.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. “Here, honey, take this. It should get you a decent room for the night.”
“Thank you.” Candy stuck the money in her jeans pocket.
The woman jumped out of the vehicle and opened the side door. “Get in. I’ll fix you something to eat before we drop you off.”
“Wow, this is beautiful.” Candy placed her bag on the floor. “I can’t thank you enough for pulling over and offering to help me out like this.”
“Nonsense.” Elisa shushed her. “Do you want to use the bathroom to freshen up? I’ll heat up the food for you. Third door on the right.”
Candy made her way to the bathroom, glancing into the bedroom on the left. The two bunk beds were occupied, but all she could see was long hair. She felt better knowing John and Elisa had children of their own. The smell of fried chicken seeped through the bathroom door, making her tummy rumble even more. Elation wrapped around her at her good fortune. So there are some kind people left in this crazy world. She rinsed the dirt out of her eyes, washed her hands and face, and dried them on the monogrammed beige towel hanging on the rail. Then she opened the door and rejoined her hosts. Glancing out the window, she realized how close they were to the city.
Elisa placed the scrumptious food on the plate and set it on the table. “Well, don’t let it go cold now. I’ve poured you some milk. Do you want coffee, too?”
“No, thank you. This smells fabulous.” Elisa motioned with her hand for Candy to tuck into her food. She did so with gusto before she downed her milk in one go. “That was great. Again, I can’t thank you…” Her tongue refused to work, and her jaw went slack as the woman standing before her suddenly started to look blurry. Before she could figure out what was happening, she tipped sideways onto the bench.
~ ~ ~
Candy woke several hours later, her head pounding as she struggled to remember exactly what had happened. Forcing her head off the pillow, she groaned as bright light hit her aching eyes. She pushed herself up off the bunk. She was no longer in the back of the Winnebago but in an ice-white room, wearing a matching white hospital gown. Maybe John and Elisa had an accident. Candy checked her body over, feeling for injuries. I’m not hurt, so where the hell am I? She walked to the door and tried the knob. Locked.She turned to survey the room. It had a sterile quality that screamed hospital, but Candy couldn’t remember any hospital with nothing more than a bed, a sink and commode in the room. Her gaze homed in on the red numbers on the pillow. Thirty-Seven. She moved to the bed and pushed the pillow aside. The sheets had the same number printed on them, as did the blanket. What the hell? Curiosity overwhelmed her, and she pulled her arms out of the gown and turned it around. The number thirty-seven was stamped across the back in red. She pushed her arms through the holes and sat on the bunk. Looks like I’m number thirty-seven, and from what I can see, I’m in the loony bin.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!