Marielle Larsen was not pleased to see the young woman in the raincoat. The bench outside of her apartment in the Fashion District was a favorite of the homeless – she’d had to chase several squatters out in the past month, and just this morning she’d been accosted by a definitively Erratic man on the subway. She wasn’t in the mood to be screamed at about plants by some Paranoid weirdo in a tin hat.
As Marielle approached the woman she braced herself for the stench of weeks-old bladder failure but was met only by a slight whiff of haven’t-showered. Wrinkling up her nose, she took a deep breath and selected some choice Forbidden Words to Shout should the encounter go south.
However, before Marielle could even call her a llama’s daughter, the woman groggily blinked and lifted her head, then sat up slowly. Awake, she seemed a lot younger than Marielle had originally thought – maybe even a college student. Marielle sighed and spoke.
The woman rubbed her eyes and started, noticing Marielle for the first time.
“You can’t sleep on these benches. They’ll kick you off.”
The woman opened her mouth, then closed it again. Marielle could see fear in her eyes.
“…Look, there’s a shelter on 14th and Wright. If you go there–”
The woman shook her head. “Went there. It’s mixed-gender.”
Marielle bit her lip and closed her eyes, then sat on the bench next to the woman. “How old are you?”
“…Eighteen.” The pause before the word didn’t go unnoticed.
“I’m going to ask again. How old are you?”
“Eighteen! I’m a senior.”
“I’m nice, not stupid. How old are you?”
The woman – girl – looked down. “Sixteen.”
Plum. “What’s your name?”
“Ka– Kaitlin Galloway.”
Marielle watched Kaitlin eye the beat-up elevator and internally berated herself for her weakness. As Kaitlin turned around and opened her mouth, Marielle cut her off.
“Just for tonight, okay? Tomorrow you’re going to the shelter.”
Kaitlin looked at her feet. “Okay.”
“Good. Now come in and take a shower.”
Marielle turned abruptly and stalked through the door, leaving Kaitlin in the hallway. After a minute, her muffled voice sounded from inside the apartment. “Well, are you coming in or not?”
Kaitlin looked at the open door and smiled slightly. “…Thank you.”
Marielle rubbed her temples. From in the kitchen of her tiny apartment, she listened to the shower running in the bathroom. Sixteen and alone on the streets… and scared to go to a mixed-sex shelter. Duck with plum sauce, how did I get myself mixed up in this?
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Marielle opened the fridge and looked inside. Milk, takeout, pizza… In the bathroom, the shower turned off. Marielle poked around a little more and called out to Kaitlin. “I’ve got some baby carrots and half of a grilled cheese. Whaddaya want?”
Hearing no response, Marielle poked her head into the living room. Kaitlin was curled up on the couch, asleep.
Marielle looked at the girl for a moment. Then, swearing softly, she picked Kaitlin up and carried her into the guest bedroom.
On the other side of the wall from Kaitlin, Marielle paused a moment and listened before getting into bed. Despite herself, she smiled. Kaitlin’s snores were carrying quite clearly. Pulling a pillow over her head, Marielle drifted off into a dreamless sleep.