Half an hour later I had dropped Lucy off at Annie’s, a coffee shop in the mall. Realizing that I had left one of my textbooks at school, I had decided to go back and hope someone was there to let me in. I walked to school, which was only a couple of miles away from the mall, and when I arrived, the parking lot was empty save for one car. I walked up to the main doors and saw that they were unlocked, so I opened the doors and entered the building. The lights in the main hall were dimmed, and the building was mostly dark.
“Hello?” I called out. Nobody answered me. I hurried to my locker, on the other side of the building, putting in the code and pulling out my textbook. I started making my way back to the main doors, but as I was on my way, the lights shut off, plunging me into darkness. I grabbed my phone out of my back pocket but my hands were shaking so much that I dropped it and couldn’t find it.
“Help!” I called, sinking to the floor, pulling my knees up to my chest and burying my face in my knees. “Help!” I heard faint footsteps, but I was too busy trying to calm my breathing and I didn’t focus on whether or not they had gotten closer. I jumped as I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I picked my head up to see a stranger looking at me.
“Take deep breaths,” he said, taking a deep breath of his own so that I could follow. I followed his breathing pattern for a few minutes and soon it returned to normal. “That’s right, just like that,” he said, continuing to breathe deep while I followed the pattern.
“Thank you,” I said, when I had finally gotten myself under control. “Can you help me find my phone?” the stranger turned his flashlight to the floor around me and we soon found my phone, laying on the ground across the hall. “Can I see your face?” I asked.
“I don’t think that would be good…” He trailed off.
“Please?” I begged him. I wanted to know who this stranger was. He sighed and shone the flashlight on his face. “Wait - are you the boy who took me to the hospital?” I asked. He nodded. “Why are you here?” I asked. He hesitated. “You can trust me,” I promised.
“I stay here at night, with my younger sisters,” he said. “Our parents died and we had nowhere to stay.”
“I’m so sorry…”
“Asa,” he supplied.
“I’m so sorry, Asa,” I said.
“Don’t be, it’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know what else to say,” I said, with a small chuckle. “How do you get food?” I asked.
“I make a few dollars every day, but barely enough for us to live on,” he said.
“Can you show me where you stay?” I asked. He nodded and stood up. He led me to the gym, where mats were laid on the floor every day after gym and sports practices to keep the floor nice. In a far corner, there were two tiny girls that were huddled together. We walked over to them, and one of them said,
“Did the police find us?”
“No, no they didn’t find us, El, this is a nice girl,” Asa said, sitting down next to them. He patted the floor in front of him, and I sat down. “Ellie, Lizzie, this is…”
“And Morgan, these are my sisters, the identical twins, Eleanor and Elizabeth,” Asa introduced.
“Everyone calls us Lizzie and Ellie,” Elizabeth said.
“How old are you?” I asked, looking at all three of them.
“Six,” chorused the little girls.
“Seventeen,” Asa said after them.
“I’m sixteen,” I said.
“Why are you here?” Lizzie asked.
“I go to this school and I forgot one of my books so I came back to get it, but I got really scared and your brother found me and helped me,” I said. I was quickly learning that Lizzie was the more outspoken one of the twins, while Ellie was quiet and reserved.
“Were you the girl that Asa took to the hospital yesterday?” Ellie asked quietly.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “I could have died if your brother didn’t find me, I’m very grateful to him.” Asa looked away, not meeting my eyes.
“Are we gonna have dinner tonight?” Lizzie asked her brother.
“Sorry, Liz, I don’t have any money for food right now,” Asa said. I was heartbroken, looking at those tiny girls’ faces crumble at the news.
“But I’m hungry, Asa,” Lizzie complained.
“Me too,” Ellie agreed.
“Don’t worry, you’ll have dinner tonight,” I said.
“But I don’t have any money,” Asa said, looking worried.
“But I do,” I said.