Walking into the local diner, I sat down at one of the tables and ordered coffee and a short stack. The less than bubbly waitress took my order and walked off to the kitchen. I looked around the joint. I recognised most of the people in the diner, but there was one face that I didn't. A young girl with light brown hair was sat at the table two down from mine. The plate in front of her had two pieces of toast on it, which she was eating (almost wolfing down) very quickly. The girl looked pale, and her eyes had bags under them, as if she was deprived of sleep. I placed her age at around 16 or 17. More than likely 16. My food arrived, but my thoughts remained on the young girl. Something was screaming at me about her, as if something was wrong. I took a drink from the cup of coffee in front of me, and ate a slice of pancake. I glanced back over at the girl to see that she was now finished. I furrowed an eyebrow as I noticed how fidgety she was in her seat. I deemed my earlier suspicions correct, something was definitely wrong. In a matter of seconds, the girl was up and out of her seat, bag in hand and rushing towards the door.
"Hey!" The owner screamed, running after her.
Two other members of staff did the same.
One grabbed hold of her arm in a tight grip, preventing her from exiting the diner.
"Stupid kid!" He scowled bitterly. "Think you can just run off without paying!" He shook his head. "I bet your parents won't be pleased when they find out their little angel is skipping bills."
"Go to hell!" The girl replied, trying to wriggle free from the waiter's grip.
"Mark, call the cops." The owner instructed.
"No..."The girl's words came out as more of a whimper than anything else. "Please..." She begged.
"Why?" The owner furrowed an eyebrow. "Why would I help a worthless piece of shit like you? You come into my diner and eat my food and now you want me to help you? Are you serious? You kids think you can just do whatever you want and get away with it!" He shook his head before holding out his hand. "Give me my money!"
"I don't have any money." The girl answered in an almost whisper.
"Yes you do!" The owner shouted. "Now give me my money!" He demanded.
"Hey!" I stood up and walked over. "Go easy on the girl." I stated before reaching into my pocket and pulling out enough bills to cover the price of the toast, and a little extra. "I'm sure this'll cover it." I also handed over enough to cover my meal. "How about we drop this, and leave the cops out of it?"
The girl looked very confused. It saddened me to see her expression. No one had obviously shown this girl any kindness. And although I didn't know anything about her past, she seemed vulnerable and scared.
The owner looked at the bills and nodded. "I suppose we can." He turned to the girl. "I don't want to see your face in here ever again! Am I making myself clear?"
The owner and his staff walked off.
The girl walked out the door.
I quickly followed after her. "Wait!" I called, catching up to her.
"I appreciate what you did back there, but I don't need your pity." She stated.
"I'm not pitying you, I'm just trying to help. You looked like you needed it."
"I'm fine..." She replied, stubbornly.
The girl stopped and turned to look at me.
"Why are you even bothering with me? You didn't have to do that back there. You could have just let him call the cops. Why do you want to help me?" She asked.
"Because you're just a kid, and you're sacred." I stated softly. "You can try and hide it, stash it away somewhere, but you can't hide from it forever." I sighed. "I'm not taking pity on you, trust me, I'm the last person to take pity." I smirked. "Bobby." I introduced.
"Carrie." She replied.
Carrie, just like Karen. That's what I used to call her. She would have known what to do. She always wanted kids, and she would have been a great mother. She was great with kids.
"Is there somewhere I can drop you?" I asked. "Where do you live?"
Carrie remained quiet.
"Your parents will probably be getting worried wondering where you are?"
Then it dawned on me. Why the girl was nothing more than a skeleton. No money, so forced to steal food to survive.
"Carrie?..." I spoke softly. "I can't help you if you don't explain what's going on, kid."
The girl looked down, fiddling with the hem of her t shirt before cautiously glancing up at me. "Emm...my parents..." She paused, emotions slowly starting to creep through. "They died a couple months ago..."
My heart sank.
"Where have you been staying?" I asked, although in my mind, I sort of knew what the answer was going to be.
The girl didn't answer. Her gaze returning to a spot on the ground.
"Anywhere." She answered.
Her clothes had seen better days and were clearly dirty. That would be expected for someone who'd been sleeping rough for a few months. My heart wrenched for the girl.
"And no one's ever tried to help you?" I asked.
Carrie shook her head.
I walked down the curb to my car. "Come on."
"What?" She asked.
"I've got a spare room at my place." I explained.
The girl looked lost for words. "I- I couldn't."
"You won't be intruding, the house is too empty anyway. It would be good to have someone around."
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Carrie asked.
"Just get in the car."
She did as she was told and climbed in.
I was awoken later that night, by a strange sound. Furrowing an eyebrow, I got out of bed and walked into the corridor. Slowly walking down it, I realised the noise was coming from the bathroom. Sitting outside the door of the bathroom, paw clawing at the door trying to push it open, was Rumsfeld.
Even the dog likes the girl.
Pushing the door open slightly, my eyes found the source of the sound. Carrie was knelt on the bathroom floor over the toilet. Sweat was dripping down her cheeks. She clearly didn't look well.
"Carrie?" I asked softly. "You okay?"
Rumsfeld walked over to her and rested his head against her side.
Carrie nodded weakly in response to me, before stroking a hand across Rumsfeld's head. "Guess I'm not used to eating that much." She answered.
I realised that she must have been referring to the toast she ate at the diner.
Rumsfeld grumbled quietly.
Carrie smiled softly. "It's okay Rummy." She looked exhausted, she wiped her mouth before letting her head drop down and rest against her arm which was resting on the wooden seat.
She lost her battle with consciousness due to lack of sleep later that night, which led me to gently lift her into my arms and carry her to bed. Although this was very easy to do, it was also worrying. Carrie was practically just skin and bones with no accountable body mass. I sighed.
Not wanting her to have to suffer through that again, I had to slowly increase her meal size day by day, until Carrie was eating properly. Although it was a very small portion size, it was food none the less. This took no longer than two months, and a difference in her weight was already visibly noticeable.
Carrie was also plagued by nightmares, which caused her to keep waking up screaming in the middle of the night. It was as if she still believed that she was out on the streets. I didn't want to imagine what she had gone through during that time, so it didn't surprise me that she was finding it hard to adapt.
Sat in bed, I opened my laptop and went onto the internet. Although I knew it was wrong, I needed to know more about her. Finding an article, I opened it and read the headline.
'Carnage Claims Lives of Family'
'Mitch, Natalie and Carrie Winters were involved in a car accident this afternoon, after their car was hit by a drunk lorry driver. Mr and Mrs Winters were pronounced dead at the scene, while their daughter, Carrie, was air lifted to hospital to receive emergency medical attention.'
I then found the hospital records.
'Carrie Winters / Age: 15 / Report: Unconscious upon arrival. Emergency surgery was needed due to extensive injuries. Two blood transfusions required. Surgery proved difficult as patients heart stopped twice on the table. Recovered. Discharged two weeks later with no more than a few broken ribs and some cuts and bruises.'
Walking down the stairs, I glanced at the clock. 03:45 AM. Entering the kitchen, Carrie was stood in front of the fridge. She took out the carton of orange juice before noticing me stood in the doorway.
"Oh..." She jumped slightly. "I'm sorry." Carrie apologized before placing the carton back into the fridge.
I shook my head. "Help yourself, I don't mind."
She still seemed cautious.
"You're honestly welcome to it." I smiled.
I heard her stomach rumble.
"You hungry?" I asked.
Carrie shook her head, but I persisted until she nodded.
"I'll put something on."
Pouring the contents of the pan into two bowls, I placed them both down on the table.
Carrie smiled. "Thank you."
"I don't know why you're thanking me, it's just a bowl of chicken soup from a can." I stated.
"At least it's food." She stated.
She was right.
"When your parents died..." I began softly.
I saw Carrie immediately flinch at the mention of her folks. With her hair tied up, I noticed a scar just below her ear that wasn't noticeable when her hair was down.
"Did no one try and help you then? You know, like family or the authorities?"
She shook her head. "I don't have any other family."
I was amazed that I had got an answer from her. Carrie had a very hard outer shell that she had obviously constructed herself when she was living on the streets. Therefore, getting her to step out of it, required a gentler approach. My previous attempts had only pushed her further away, as if she was wary and scared.
I knew I had to say something. "Carrie?"
She looked up.
"I read the article about the accident. It wasn't from a couple of months ago, it was from a year ago."
"I know." Carrie nodded.
"You were out there all that time?"
She nodded once again. "It wasn't that bad. Honestly."
I sighed. "Did they ever catch the guy driving the truck?" I asked.
She shook her head. Carrie paused. "I'm sorry." She stated softly.
"For what?" I replied in the same soft tone.
"Being a pain in the ass. You know with the nightmares and all."
"Don't be stupid!"
"Bobby, it's half four in the morning and we're sat eating soup." Carrie smirked.
"There's nothing wrong with that." I laughed. "And anyway, you just need time to adjust, that's all." I smiled.
Carrie smiled too. "Thanks, Bobby."