Dirty Little Flowers

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Chapter 1

In the shadows under the tree. There she was again.

She wore a hoodie, too big for her, dark brown. The hood was pulled over her eyes and the ragged sleeves were long enough that her hands only appeared occasionally. Lane couldn't really tell what she looked like, couldn't really get a sense of her. She wasn't very big, he knew that much, but everything else about her was shrouded in her oversized, ragged clothing.

“It's your secret admirer, Mr. Lane.” Barton handed him the coffee, steam curling up into the cool morning air. “You think she's going to ask you out today?”

“Nah. That would ruin our relationship. No talking, no eye contact, and she pretends to be reading that old paperback if I walk too close. I've never seen her anywhere near my house, but I think she brushed up against me in the bus once. No paper today, thanks.” Lane took the cup and slapped the change down on the coffee cart.

“Thank you, Mr. Lane.” Barton watched him walk off down the street, adding “cheap bastard” under his breath when Lane was safely out of earshot. He watched the girl, as much a fixture of his morning as Lane, and the other hundreds of people walking by, going to work or home or wherever they went, were. She seemed a little different this morning, her arms were wrapped around her middle like she was cold, or like she was afraid her insides would spill out on the street like streamers if she couldn't contain them.

“Hey, honey!” he shouted to her, down the block and across the human current of the wide, busy sidewalk. “You want a coffee? You cold or something?” Coffee sells itself, but every dollar in Barton's hand, and out of the big chains' pockets, was a tiny victory in his mind.

The girl started when he spoke to her, snapped out of her reverie. After staring for a moment, her face still mostly hidden and unreadable, she shook her head and turned away. From the folds of the giant sweatshirt one fragile, bird-like hand appeared, torn, dirty nails bitten to the skin and angry red marks that looked like burns. It held a wilting bouquet, just a few flowers, torn inexpertly from their bed. She let them fall to the ground, and crushed them where they lay under her stained runner.

She walked off down the street.

Barton scratched his head, but any significance the moment might have held was lost in the cacophony of the bizarre he watched go past him every day in the city.

“Weirdest thing, dude.” Lane's room mate had a beer in his hand, and when he drank he wouldn't leave Lane alone.

“I'm really tired, James. I just want to take a shower and go to bed.”

“I hear you, but hold on. When I got home yesterday, someone was going through our trash.”

Lane's kept walking across the room. “So what? Bums root through the garbage all the time. I hope you chased him off.”

“The thing is, it wasn't a him. It was a her.” Lane froze while James took another swallow of beer. “And, the weirdest thing, she wasn't after food, or anything like that.”

“What did she take?” Lane didn't know why, but all of the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“Those old shoes you offered me. When she saw me she grabbed them before I could even say anything and ran off, holding them like a baby or something.”

“Well, what did she look like?”

“I don't know. Little. Pretty pale. She didn't look very old, but it was hard to tell. She was wearing a brown hoodie that was way too big for her.” Lane hadn't told James about his little stalker problem. His palms were sweating now.

“Why didn't you tell me about this yesterday?” Lane's voice was urgent.

“I don't know. It slipped my mind.” James turned and stalked off down the hall to get another beer. “Jesus.”

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