“How old are you again?” The man looked at her id and then back up at the young girl standing in front of him. He was sure she was underage.
“I turned twenty one a month and a half ago.” She held in her sigh. It had been the fourth bar she had been in, looking for work. She was running out of cash and needed something quick.
The old man looked at her. “I need someone reliable. This place can get rowdy and it ain’t for the faint of heart.”
“I’m your girl. Try me out for the night, I’ll split the tips with you. See how I work out.”
He moved his toothpick around in his mouth. “Everyone calls me Pop.”
“Everyone calls me Nix.”
“Where you stayin at?” He looked at her. She was pretty, no doubt about it. She was thin though and her clothes were worn.
She swallowed hard a couple of times. “Motel, till I can find a more permanent place.” If she didn’t get a job by the end of the night, she would be living in her car that was a heartbeat away from dying on her.
He knew what this was, immediately. He had a soft spot for the girls that came in here looking for a life line. He had seen this countless times over the years. The lost ones. “When was the last time you ate?”
“This morning.” It was one of the few granola bars she had left.
He looked at the time, it was close to eight in the evening and his crowd would be coming in soon. “Okay. I need help and I think you need help.”
She was chewing her lip, trying to not cry. She desperately needed some help. She gave him a short nod in reply, unable to speak.
“Go in the back, tell Roger what you want to eat. I’m going to grab you a bar shirt. We close at two. When we’re done…I’ll show you the little apartment I have upstairs, okay? It’s tiny but it’s safe. And in exchange for rent, I need this place cleaned.”
She let out the breath she had been holding and the tears filled up her water line. She looked at the man in front of her and gave him a genuine smile. She cleared her throat before speaking. “Thank you…you won’t be sorry.” She hugged him, impulsively and then stepped back.
“Go get something to eat, kid.”
He watched her practically run in the back and heard her introducing herself to Roger the cook. They did simple stuff, burgers and wings, the common bar type food. He went to his office and got her a couple of shirts so she could rotate them. He picked up the phone and called his wife.
“Hi honey…I’m going to be home late.”
“Yeah…got a lost one in here tonight. I’m feeding her, well Roger is. Going to put her up above the bar. If she isn’t living out of her car, she’s pretty close to it.”
“Do you need me to do anything?”
“Groceries, you know the drill.”
“I do…what’s her name?
“Nix…Nixan Baker. She’s a heartbreaker too. Girl next door look. Dark hair, Amber colored eyes. Real thin. Said the last time she ate was this morning. Broke my heart looking at her. She’s tired, you can see it. Thought she was going to cry when I told her about the apartment upstairs.”
Evelyn knew her husband well and smiled. “And what sort of deal did you give her in exchange for rent?”
“Cleaning the bar.” He listened to his wife laugh.
“Let me guess…did she hug you?”
“She sure did.”
“Pop…what am I going to do with you?”
“Love me forever.”
“I already do. I’ll go to the store and come make sure the place is clean.”
“Thank you, my favorite girl.” He grinned.
“I am your ONLY girl so I better be your favorite.” Evelyn smiled. Her husband was rough looking on the outside but on the inside he was one giant teddy bear. They helped a lot of young people out, the lost ones, in their time. They were the kids they couldn’t have. Unofficial parents of those lost ones that wandered in the door.
“Always. Let me go give this ragamuffin some clean shirts.”
“I’ll see you in an hour. I love you…you darling angel of a man.”
“I am not an angel and don’t you dare tell anyone.” He barked at her.
She laughed and hung up on her husband of thirty years. She made a quick list of things that she knew the place would need. She would stay and freshen up the place and get it ready for their new resident. She went to the large store that carried everything from gum to hunting rifles and bought food and toiletries, some feminine products and even a candle. She got everything from toilet paper to cleaning products.
The apartment was stuffy from being closed up. She opened up the windows and turned the ceiling fan on while she carted things up the stairs. It was a great place and she and Pop called it home for a few years before they bought their house. They had it upgraded over the years. Fresh paint and flooring along with a little kitchen and new appliances. The furniture was new, picked from all sorts of places. She took her time fussing around, sweeping and wiping up the dust. She made the bed and put out fresh towels. The groceries were put away and she checked the air conditioning to make sure it was working. The heat was coming soon and it would be unbearable without it.
She peeked inside the back door and waved at Roger.
“Hi Miss Evelyn. He has the new kid up front.”
“Thanks Rog…I’m going to go say hi. I was just upstairs…you know.”
“Yes ma’am…I know.” He grinned at her. He knew Nix was their new project. She was nice and helped him in the kitchen while he cooked her a burger. She sat and ate in the back, trying not to shove it in her mouth. She had been starving. He had to tell her to slow down, that he would make her another one for her break.
“Thank you Roger…best burger and fries I’ve had in a long time.”
“I’ll make you some wings, you can take them up after your shift.”
He laughed. “Yes ma’am. We gonna make sure you eat tonight.”
“Thank you…do you need help with prep work or anything? I can make sure it’s done before we open.”
“Well Miss Nixan, I might take you up on that. We can talk about that soon enough, let’s get you settled in here first.”
Evelyn waved at Pop who was showing Nix the register. She picked up quickly, having worked a similar system before. He was impressed already. She had changed her shirt and fixed her hair and put a little makeup on. She was going to do well tonight, he could tell. Especially when they got busier. He waved back at her, motioning for her to come over.
“Nix…I’d like you to meet my better half, Evelyn.”
The women exchanged warm hello’s and Pop told his wife to take Nix upstairs real quick and show her around. She gave her the keys and told her to go on inside. She watched as the young girl walked in and took a deep breath before bursting out crying.
“You’re okay Nix…and you’re safe. We will go with you and get your things and bring you back here tonight. Go look around. I got some stuff for you, till you get your first paycheck.”
She watched the young girl walk around the apartment and smile.
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