The great revelations of my adult life began with the shouts of a lost soul in my neighborhood breakfast joint. It was my first day working at my very first job. I was eighteen, I’d just graduated, and the summer was mine. The girl came in shouting with tears making clean tracks down her panic-stricken face, her hair the color of filth and slick with natural oil. Her clothes hung in tattered shreds about her too skinny body. The shoes on her feet didn’t match, but they were surprisingly whole. Incoherent words tumbled from her mouth yet not one person moved closer to understand her. Disgusted frowns creased faces angry from the intrusion and I moved to the girl’s side.
“Breathe!” I said, grabbing her grimy hands with my own. “I can’t understand you unless you calm down.” The depth of her blue eyes swept me away. After a little clean up, she would be stunning. Her response was to turn away from me. She urgently pulled on my hand as if she wanted me to follow. I looked back at my boss, who was watching the exchange with interest. He nodded.
“Go ahead, Joey. Get her out of here.”
She was gone in a flash. I ran out the door to see her bent on the sidewalk. A pair of black clad legs stuck out beyond her and I quickened my pace. A priest lay on the ground, a pool of blood flooding the sidewalk beneath him. The girl looked up at me again.
“Please help him.” She said.
The man groaned in response. I fell to my knees on the other side of him. I had no idea what to do. Memories of doctor shows filled my brain and I pressed fingers against his neck, hoping for some kind of rhythm. It was hard to find, but it was there. I whipped my cellphone out and dialed for help. The girl smiled openly at me in gratitude. Her perfect teeth made me wonder what happened to her. She looked young, no more than sixteen or seventeen. Her eyes left mine as she busied herself in comforting the man on the ground. She took his hand in both of hers and began rocking, her lips moving without sound.
By the time I realized she was praying, the ambulance had arrived. I saw the panic on her face heighten as the paramedics pushed her aside. Within moments, they had his vitals done and had him strapped to a gurney. The girl ran up to them as they loaded him on, but they pushed her back again. I read the disgust on their faces and realized they weren’t going to let her go with them. I didn’t think this was fair, but what could I do? My boss wouldn’t let me leave. Besides, I didn’t have a car anyway. She looked so lost though it bothered me. I gave her change and directions to the hospital and went back to work.
My boss approached me as I reentered the restaurant.
“Looks like that priest from across the street got shot. The girl was all upset about it. The ambulance refused to let her ride along.” I kept my statements short and simple. I had a feeling that the boss wasn’t the sympathetic type.
“I don’t blame them. Who knows how many germs she is leaving behind just by stepping into a place? We will have to bleach this place thoroughly tonight. You up to work late?”
I nodded in response. His words left me silent. What could I say? Somehow, life had turned against this girl, but I didn’t share his disdain. Something about her just wouldn’t let me forget her.
“It’s closing time, Joey. Why don’t you take the trash out so we can lock up and get this place scrubbed?” the boss said.
I obliged. I could smell the sand from the beach nearby and wanted a moment to myself. I gathered the trash and hauled it over my shoulder. I lifted the dumpster lid but before I could toss it in, movement from inside the bin caught my eye. It was the girl from earlier. Horrified to see her laying in the trash, I took a closer look. Blood crusted on her forehead and blended in streaks with the dirt. Though her eyes remained closed, her arms moved slowly, and sound came from her throat. I left her long enough to grab the foot stool from the restaurant and reached in to help her.
“Hey,” I said softly. Her eyes fluttered open. “Hey, are you okay?”
She just stared.
“What happened to you? You were supposed to go to the hospital!”
She continued staring until the faintest hint of recognition hit her. She groaned in response, and, using her arms to pull herself up, grabbed onto me. “Father?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m not the Father. I’m Joey.”
Her eyebrows furrowed and her eyes darkened. “Father?”
“No, I’m Joey. The Father is in the hospital.”
Her eyes now blazing pits of coal, she gripped me tighter. “Father!”
“I don’t know, I’m sorry. Why didn’t you go?” I looked her over again. Her forehead was still bleeding. I touched her head gently and she winced. She said nothing, only put a palm to her temple in response. When she noticed she was in the dumpster, she tried to rise, and I helped her. Her footing was weak, so I sat down beside her.
“Hurts,” she said, releasing me. She closed her eyes again as her fingertips touched the side of her head.
“It’s bleeding. Come inside and I’ll clean you up a bit,” I answered. I didn’t care if my boss would like it or not. I had a whole night of scrubbing ahead of me already. What harm would it do to bring her in now?
She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn’t hold her, so I helped her inside. I set her down on a corner booth and slid the table out. I removed the tablecloth, folded it, and placed it under her head. Her eyes stayed open but I could tell she was having difficulty focusing. Whoever had done this to her had meant business.
I looked her full in the face, even capturing it between my hands to ensure she understood me. “I’m going to fetch a towel and a bucket of water. Stay here and don’t try to sit up, got it?” Her eyes scanned the area around me, never quite meeting my eyes, but she nodded once I released her.
I moved as quickly as I could, looking over my shoulder more often than I would have liked for my boss. My gut said he wouldn’t be pleased but I was so deep in now that I couldn’t back out even if I wanted to, which I didn’t. This just felt right. It was as if destiny had taken a knife and carved it out as a meant to be moment. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I just knew, all the way down to my toes, that this moment would decide the rest of my life. I decided to embrace it.
I spotted my boss coming out of his office. It was now or never time.
“Mr. Jones?” I cleared my throat. Even though I knew I was doing the right thing, I was nervous. He said nothing but his single raised eyebrow told me he’d heard me. “Mr. Jones, sir, um…I’m not going to be able to stay. An emergency came up that I have to take care of. I hope you understand.”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I tended to the girl’s wound as best as I could, ignoring my boss’s looming presence behind me. I ignored the blood that had begun to pool on the floor. I ignored the stain her wound left on the bench she was resting on. I ignored everything except her, finally shifting my attention away long enough to call an ambulance.
As the lights flashed red and blue against the walls of the restaurant and they placed the girl on a gurney, my boss took me aside.
“Joey, I hope you know what you’re doing. I could fire you for this.” His voice was soft, but I detected a hint of ice behind them.
“Then fire me, sir. I have to do this. I don’t know why, but I have this feeling my life is about to begin.”
This week’s Master Class starting line came from Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter: “The great revelations of my adult life began with the shouts of a lost soul in my neighborhood breakfast joint.
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