Winter was coming. Another Republican in the White House. Another ignonimous eviction from the shelter. And all he could think about was the sweet, sad smile of the girl on the steps of the library. The girl with hair like a rainbow.
She sat curled up like a battered flower, a small cardboard sign propped in front of her feet. Her face was fresh and pink and pretty under the rough kinks of her dreads. Her bowed head lifted slowly as he approached, and the dark petals of her eyelashes unfurled.
"Hey, man," she whispered in a voice that tasted of smoke and honey. She called me a man! And somehow, in that moment, he felt like one. "Can you help me out?"
"Anything", he breathed.
"I need fourteen dollars to get to Cherry Hill...my mama's dying, and I need to tell her I love her. I ran away two years ago to look for my dad, and I haven't seen her since then. She hasn't got anyone but me...I'm so afraid she might die alone, thinking nobody cares about her..."
Kevin's chest contracted, and his cold fingers scrabbled helplessly in his pockets. He had exactly two dollars and sixteen cents to his name, and all he could think was, It isn't enough! "Just a minute!" he managed, and bolted.
He ran up to the first rich-looking person he could see. "I need some money, please! It--it's not for me." "Yeah, right," spat the businessman, and strode on. "Please!" he begged a middle-aged woman. She tossed him a pitying glance and dropped a quarter into his hand. Ugly, angry faces were surging and dipping all around him. He reeled and clutched at the nearest arm for balance, only to topple them both over onto the pavement. "Let go of my purse!" shrieked the old lady, kicking him in the shins with her pointy-toed shoes.
Her purse. His eyes flicked toward it. Purse. Money. Bus. Mom. Mom. He grabbed it, rolled over, and leaped up in one swift motion. He ran until the shouting and the sound of feet quieted behind him, then ran some more. He leaned against a dumpster, panting, and fumbled with the clutch.
Fifty-three dollars and forty-eight cents. Hot meals for a couple of weeks, a warm jacket, cigarettes enough to keep Arnie off his back for a long time. And two credit cards. He stared for a minute, then tucked the contents carefully in his pocket and threw the purse in the dumpster.
By the time he got back to the library, it was already dark. Please let it not be too late, he murmered. Not too late.
She was still there, shivering in the dull orange light of the street lamps. He dashed up to her and dumped it all into her lap, breathing raggedly. "I got it!" The girl looked down at her lap, and then up at him, curiously, as if she didn't understand. "That's enough for the bus. Or even a taxi."
Her slow smile dazzled him as it bloomed. "Yeah. Thanks, man." She didn't move. He shuffled a bit. "Uh...my name's Kevin. Do you want me to show you where the bus stop is?"
"Madison! Where have you been?", a thin, harsh voice demanded from behind him. A bony blond woman with overplucked eyebrows and aggressively neutral lipstick was glaring past him from the window of a white Lexus. "I've been looking for you for two hours! Get in the car right now!"
The girl's smile vanished as quickly as the money, and she leaped up from the steps. And then she, and the smooth, gleaming white car, and all the warmth in the world, were gone.