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Monday, 22 October, 2007 10:08


An "Un-Remarkable Girl"

        by dj otterson        (Revision 3)

     There was something definitely strange yet peaceful about the 'restaurant'. It almost felt like I'd walked into an oasis of calm, soothing colours in the middle of a neighbourhood that knew only greys. I felt amazingly comfortable in this place, surrounded by a city that had given me nothing but trouble. (My car self-immolated as soon as I parked it outside a gas and junk food station (that had been 2 A.M.). My triple A card had expired and the guy with the wrecker didn't fix cars on Sundays. He said he would tow me three blocks to another garage, for another $50.00. Then the computers were all down at the credit card checking services and I only had something like $10.00 in cash after the wrecker driver cleaned me out. He warned me about the motel across the street, and after I'd seen half a dozen sleazy women sneak up and down the back stairs, and several sleazier characters check in, probably on the hourly rate, I decided I probably didn't want to let them have my credit card numbers anyway, even if by some miracle the computers had been fixed at three thirty on a Sunday morning. The wrecker driver kept my keys locked up in his office and condescended to letting me sleep in my stinking, smoke damaged car, but when I got out to pee behind the building I locked myself out. So I walked around for the rest of the night and, when I saw somebody open a door and hang a sign that said 'breakfast special' I was more than ripe for a warm seat and something to keep my stomach from digesting itself.
     The air in the restaurant tingled with a calm strength. There was a feeling of fresh air in a wide open landscape. I even asked the guy who cooked and waited on me if he had one of those negative ion generators. He looked at me and shook his head like he had no idea what that meant.
     My senses were more than a little battered. I was so tired I couldn't make sense out of anything.
     Then I asked about the moody charcoal sketch of a young girl standing between the conflicting planes of an open door behind her and a shaft of light in front of her. Most of her was in shadow. She really looked lost.
     Geoff (the guy I thought was a cook) sighed and told me:

     "She first showed up on a Saturday, when the cook hadn't shown up for lunch." He shrugged. He leaned on the counter between us. He looked confused and weighted down by something. When he spoke I kept thinking his story would end any second, but it kept unfolding at a maddeningly slow pace.
     "I'm an artist. I have no room in my mind for business. If it wasn't for friends and those customers who've become my friends, I have no idea how I would have been able to get by. I certainly never was prepared to deal with the complications that Cheryl brought into my life.
     "I live in a state of mind where visual inspiration can take me by surprise, anywhere, anytime. Rays of light against dirty, dusky alleys can hold me transfixed beyond all concept of time until some kind of sound (like a car's horn?) or other shock brings me back to what most of you believe is 'normal' consciousness. I marvel at the fact that I've been able to keep regular morning hours, working a slow breakfast and lunch trade at this restaurant, which I inherited here, in an area where most of the foot prints on the dusty, shadowy sidewalks belong to college students.
      "Perhaps the fact that my walls are made of very interesting bare bricks and timbers, and the ceiling tile is acoustic, and the radio station the night crew listens to when they clean up (and they leave the radio tuned to that station so I don't have to spend half the morning trying to find it); maybe all this gives this place just the right flavour of magic. Or maybe the dust motes in the slanted rays of morning light that reach down between the buildings, coupled with the shadows of the iron work of the elevated train's support beams keep renewing some sort of spell that gives me just enough energy to work these mornings, usually by myself, flipping eggs, buttering toast, following the instructions my night manager leaves me, and serving the few blurry eyed students that keep this place a secret so they won't be bothered when they need to study or forget about studying.


     He hesitated and stared into the shadows of his vacant dining room.
     "My first impression of her was fleeting. She seemed to me expensively dressed, but otherwise a completely unremarkable young girl. She looked to be about nine or ten years old. She had these small, dark, and intense eyes? I thought she looked impatient, like she was used to getting what she wanted and she wasn't used to waiting for somebody else to stop and think about it before they snapped into getting her whatever she asked for? Her body language or muscle tension, um, sort of broadcasted the impression that she was 'well adjusted'? Or maybe I should say that she had no obvious lack of self-esteem? She just about ran into the restaurant, squirming like she was in distress and trembling like she was a hurry, asked if she could use the ladies' room. I shrugged and nodded, pointed toward the door.
     "Al Brooker and Ted O'Neil, the walking policemen in this new community relations team effort? They stopped in for their usual lunch a few minutes later. I forgot all about the girl in the ladies' room while they groaned about their usual physical complaints, aches and pains I mean, and made their usual (politically incorrect) comments about the apartment house a few blocks over (full of gay and lesbian singles and couples) with its pair of Rottweilers on duty on the portico outside the security door, growling to discourage anyone from harassing the residents?
     "When the policemen left and the girl reappeared I wondered if the two events were connected and signalled for her to come up to the counter he tapped the counter he stood behind and I asked, 'Are you in some kind of trouble?'
     "She gave me a dirty look, shuddered an expression that made me wonder if she thought I was some kind of predator looking for an under-aged victim and she kind of huffed and stormed out the door. Her shoes squeaked precisely on the terra cotta tiles over there by the door. She turned around, gave the place a once over and left. I had no reason to believe I'd ever see her again.
     "Did I tell you my uncle left me this building? (He had a problem with high goals and low grasp. ...Thought he could make a million bucks with a restaurant and a couple floors of apartments upstairs. The stress of failure and dealing with his tenants killed him before he reached his fiftieth birthday.) I had dropped out of grad school for political reasons (how about: I thought slavery was illegal and the administration firmly believed that grad students were indentured servants with no constitutional rights whatsoever?) and I had no idea what I could do to support myself while I welded my sculptures, sketched my drawings and painted an occasional painting. I had no skills at dealing with employees, no concept of profitability or cash flow, and no desire to run a restaurant. But I did like people, bohemians especially, and I did have a knack for knowing how to listen to them. A core of my friends started talking like they really liked the idea of having an out of the way 'hang-out' where they could come for coffee and not worry about anybody kicking them out because they were scaring away the paying customers and we laughed about my tenant problems until one of my writer friends suggested I inform the brash, loud mouthed alcoholics upstairs that I was doubling their rent and that two couples from the gay and lesbian apartments were moving into my vacant apartments. I had rented both apartments to fine arts grad students. The alcoholics took one look at them and thought I had told them the truth.
     "One of the alcoholics went ballistic at nine o'clock one morning and threatened to bomb the building if I didn't kick the 'weirdoes' the hell out. Geoff paused while he laughed. Al and Ted were strolling by. The drunk made so much noise they thought they better investigate. When the guy picked up a baseball bat and tried to knock my head off the cops were right there with nightsticks and handcuffs. [Geoff touched his left shoulder and winced.] The drunk got six months (he was a repeat offender), I got a bruised shoulder. Al's cousin the lawyer got herself a client and I had the best community relations team on the police force wondering when the restaurant would open so they could count on me for free coffee five or six times a day. The other alcoholics skipped out on rent and then sent their lawyer around for their belongings.
     A couple weeks later I had a visit from a fast talking business major with an avant- garde hairdo. Geoff pointed to his own hair. He told me he had run a campus hamburger joint at the student union. He thought this restaurant had 'ambience' and potential and he wanted 'out' of the low paying slavery of his high responsibility 'position' at the school. Before I had a chance to say 'no' he'd spent a lot of my uncle's money and had an 'Opening Soon' sign on the door. He brought his best waiters and waitresses with him. He lasted three months. I guess he realized the place wasn't going to attract trendy yuppies with fat wallets, and he ran off with one of the waiters. One of the waitresses changed her own job title to 'Manager' and took over the scheduling and wage hassles, did all the interviews and hiring and stuff and told me that it was my job to open the place for breakfast and lunch. I burned a lot of hamburgers and set off the smoke detectors once too often, she hired a cook to come in around ten and set up for lunch.
     "Yeah, the day Cheryl first ran in here the cook was late again so I was hoping nobody'd come in here looking for anything complicated. And I'd just finished that stuff over there where the sun hits it at about nine or ten in the morning, and makes the whole place look like a forest with shadows of branches all around-"
     He pointed to a series of twisted metal tree trunks with 'branches' whose angles suggest maples (in the process of melting?), but then more branches broke off in dichotomous tangles that end up looking like three dimensional chess boards hanging at odd angles in the air. When I asked, "What did you make those out of? Copper?" Geoff grinned and shook his head, "I found most of that where somebody'd tossed some old ductwork into the alley behind the old apartment building they're working on down the street there... [he pointed] A friend of mine found the poles and we even wrapped some aluminum foil around it in some places. One of the kids from the projects stole the plastic ivy and gave it to me. I think it might have been the first time he ever saw art as being something that might be fun. I didn't like the idea of the plastic ivy at first. But he looked so proud of himself- like maybe it's the only thing he ever did to express himself that was accepted by an adult. And I have trouble thinking of myself as an adult." He grinned, "We painted the green stuff on the trees, it's supposed to be moss, not tarnished copper."
     Then he sighed, "You're a writer aren't you? There's a workshop that meets here twice a week. On Monday nights they work on poetry and on Wednesday they try to do stories. One woman has a novel they're critiquing for her."
     I must have looked guilty, he smiled, pointed, "The yellow poster on the bulletin board back there. I forget about how much they charge, but I know they let anybody who happens to be in the place at the time join in if they want to. Nobody gets obnoxious because one of the poets is like six foot five and weighs three hundred pounds and dresses like a biker, with a silver chain over one shoulder of his leather jacket. I guess if you show up for three weeks in a row they start kidding you about helping them pay for the copies they have to make to pass out... the stuff they're working on... so everybody can follow along. Geoff scratched his sparse beard. They're talking about trying to have a Poetry reading every so often here. We already have a couple student jazz bands trying to pull people in on Saturday nights, they want to at least pass the hat- And we've already had a kind of monthly baroque chamber music thing going on here on Sunday afternoons. We hold a 'brunch' and they try to get sponsors to come in and sign pledges for big bucks. One of their sponsors brought in that oriental rug over there, [he pointed] and some kind of engineer came in and hung up that other rug back there to absorb the sound and provide a baffle, I guess, against the echoes that made the first Sunday afternoon concert a fiasco. It seems to work. Now there's some guy trying to organize a couple nights of folk music every week. One night for open mikes and another for paid bands. They like the idea of passing the hat too. They all want me to get a liquor license. I don't know. I don't drink that much. Al's cousin says the insurance would kill me. So I told them maybe we can put up a sign saying 'bring your own'."
     Geoff's face deeply lined as he sighed and poured me a free cup of coffee. I had turned back to the framed sketch on the brick wall (and noticed the scratches, dents and pieces of yellow and white pebbles in the well- worn brown bricks of that wall).
     "The next time I saw her was about a week later. She was wearing the same clothes. I think it was a cashmere sweater and a wool skirt, she was wearing thick blue socks and I guess Rockport walking shoes. And her hair was all stringy and greasy. She asked if I needed somebody to sweep up in the mornings. I knew this was like, life and death for her so I said yes. There was a bunch of spaghetti on the floor behind the counter here and some early customers had made a mess. So I laughed and asked if she could start now and she nodded. I scratched my head and asked if she wanted to eat something first or when she was finished. She didn't quite drool.
     "Um, this was... This was a Sunday, and not one of the chamber music Sundays. Randy works all night Saturdays as a watchman down by the docks and he didn't want breakfast so I made him spaghetti and I made too much so there was a lot left over and nobody coming in to eat it. She swept the place up, I mean she looked like she could hardly stand and pull the broom around. I asked if spaghetti was all right and she nodded.
     "I was like, paralyzed. I mean, here's this poor starving girl and I was afraid to tell her she smelled bad. I mean, she had to know that. One of the college kids that eats here almost every day came in, got a whiff of her and left gagging. She was already eating by then and her head fell forward, I mean she looked like she wanted to cry but didn't have any tears left.
     "I just kind of clamped my eyes shut and spoke before I could talk myself out of it, I said, 'I got a studio upstairs with a shower and a washing machine. I don't think you can just wash the stuff you're wearing and I don't think any of my clothes will fit you. The lunch cook's supposed to come in at ten. If you let me buy you some clothes... Um' he shrugged.
     "She hung her head and shook like she was crying, but again, no tears.... She looked at me and nodded, 'okay.'
     "So, I'm pretty stupid about a lot of things. I gave her the key to my studio. Randy couldn't sleep, he came back and asked me, 'What's that smell?' and I told him it was Cheryl, only I didn't know her name then, I said it was some runaway girl who stunk like hell and I gave her my key and sent her upstairs to take a shower.
     "Randy went nuts- Geoff grinned. He said, 'Good God, man, she might be a junky. She might be up there stealing anything she can hock to keep herself in drugs-' and he wanted to run up there and keep an eye on her. No, he probably wanted to go up there and throw her out. I told him no, there's only two ways out, one was through the restaurant and the other was the back door. Randy went and got his truck and backed it up against the back door so it wouldn't open. I thought that was awful. But I guess I'm gullible. I thought he might have a point.
     "Randy plunked himself down at the table by the door to my private stairs and told me he was going to stick around until the cook showed up.
     "Angela, one of the grad students- the one with the green hair? She came down and told us she was depressed. I said, 'Do you want to know about somebody who's got it worse than you do?' She said no. But then she asked who I was talking about and I told her about the girl upstairs using my shower and Randy told her she was probably cleaning out my silverware and Angela said my silverware wasn't worth shit, she was probably stealing my paintings and Randy said she couldn't get much for them, I was still alive... And the cook came in.
     "Angela came upstairs with me. Thank God. I don't know anything about girls' clothes. I mean after we told the cook I had to run... 
     "We found Cheryl up there, shivering inside one of my big yellow towels with all her clothes in a garbage bag. She said, 'What are you? An artist?'
     "I nodded. He nodded. Then I turned on the heat while Angela asked her a few questions. Angela said she thought she might have something that Cheryl could wear and threw her coat around her shoulders and took her down the hall to the back door to her apartment.
     "I was like, so full of all kinds of ideas about what kind of home life the kid must have had to make her want to run away, I was like walking around in circles. I almost had the shakes. I think I did have the shakes. There was like nothing I could do to get out of that until I sat down at my drafting table and sketched that charcoal drawing of her. Only I didn't think it looked like her. I couldn't get the face right. All I could see in my head was her two piercing eyes. Her medium brown hair had shined a little more that first day. I finished that first sketch, turned the page and sketched the garbage bag with her stinking clothes inside it.
     "Angela and Cheryl came back. Cheryl looked like a nineteen fifties beatnik in a jogging suit that had shrunk too small for Angela but was still kind of baggy on Cheryl. Angela introduced us, properly, and said if I was going to advance her enough money to get some clothes maybe the three of us should go together.
     "Angela doesn't drive and I don't own a car so we borrowed Randy's pickup."
     Geoff laughed nervously to himself, "We went to the mall. Cheryl wanted to go to Sears. Angela wanted to take her to the Army Navy outlet. Cheryl wanted to buy all normal kid clothes, the more non-descript the better. She seemed to like dark blue and the kind of colors that would blend into the background easily. I was afraid she was going to change into her new clothes right there in the truck. Boy was I glad Angela was there to help her pick out some underwear.
     "She wouldn't tell us where she was staying. Angela bought her a big duffel bag at the Army Navy place. We came back here and Randy checked his truck for scratches and dents. Cheryl and Angela ran upstairs and Cheryl got changed and packed everything into the duffel bag.
     "Angela said Cheryl thanked her for everything and asked her if she was my girl friend. Angela told me she told Cheryl I was too far out into the ozone to think about having a girl friend. She said she just turned around and Cheryl was gone.
     "So Angela and I sat around the dining room and talked about Cheryl for a couple hours. She wondered if we should try to talk Cheryl into calling the runaway hotline. No, we didn't think that was such a good idea. We thought we had to build up some trust. If she was running away from anybody she was running away from adults. I think Angela started to get maternal about it. I wondered about asking Al and Ted if they knew anything about runaways. Angela thought that was worse than talking about runaway hotlines. We wondered where she was living, where she was sleeping. We realized she still had my keys and ran up to the studio.
     "The keys were in the door and her garbage bag full of dirty clothes was gone. She didn't have any money. She was all alone and she was out there in the city somewhere and neither one of us had any idea where.
     "Angela came into my studio by herself for like the first and only time she ever did that. I got the impression that Angela has some sexual paranoia and maybe some kind of traumatic baggage. But that day she came right in, sat on my couch, curled her legs up and talked like I'd never heard her talk about anything before or since. And she talked about everything but herself. It all centered around Cheryl. Where did she come from? Why had she run away? What makes cute little rich girls run away? Was she molested? Beat up? Neglected?
     "Where was she staying? Where could a runaway kid her age stay?
     "Then Angela laughed and asked me how old I thought Cheryl was. I guessed nine or ten.
     "Angela shook her head and said, 'Twelve, she told me she was twelve.'
     "I nodded. He nodded. I figured she was slight and kind of tiny. I didn't think she looked like she'd always been undernourished, but- he shrugged I tried to remember what twelve year old girls looked like when I was twelve and I realized that I wasn't looking at anyone who looked like her when I was that age. Girls either had boobs to look at or they were part of the wood work.
     "Angela found my radio and tuned it to her station, then she found my wine cabinet and opened a bottle. I think she poured me two small glasses and drank the rest of the bottle herself.
     "I remember there was a spectacular sunset, looked almost more like a painting than the real thing. I mentioned that to Angela, she growled and said something about air pollution making for great sunsets and excused herself. She took the bottle with her and went back to her apartment.
     "I conked out on the couch and woke up almost too late to open on time.
     "Cheryl was standing there, outside the restaurant door, shivering in the cold, waiting to go to work. I think I said, 'We didn't even get you a coat.' I asked whether she wanted hot cocoa or coffee and she asked for tea.
     "The night crew had been sloppy. I remembered I was going to tell them to leave a little bit of a mess for her to sweep up, but I was pretty sure I hadn't said anything. Cheryl swept up a lot of dirt. I got out the mop and I was going to mop up behind the counter, but she did that too. I filled her full of scrambled eggs and french toast. I made sure I paid her, ten bucks, before she could get away. Then as soon as I asked her where she was staying she vanished. I looked away and she was gone.
     "Randy came in after eight and wanted a steak sandwich so I improvised and I guess I got it right. I told him about Angela and me talking about Cheryl all afternoon and he went away shaking his head like he thought we were two of the world's biggest suckers.
     "This was a Monday, I think, because there was a poetry meeting that night. One of the regular poets brought her Science Fiction boyfriend with her and they came early, Angela was there with me and talking about Cheryl again. The Science Fiction guy grinned and told us she was a vampire or something.
     "I said I'd seen her in daylight and she hadn't melted or fried in front of me and he told us real vampires don't like the sun but it isn't deadly to them.
     "So that night I dreamed she had fangs and protected me from her vampire friends. Half awake in the middle of the night I wondered if she was saving me from them because she liked me or because she wanted to suck my blood herself.
     "That morning I gave her one of my old coats. It was much too big for her but it was warm. She asked me if I made the sculpture too and I said yes. I told her about my artist friends and me- all giving each other at least one of our paintings or sculptures and she liked the idea. She asked if I needed models and I said I didn't paint many figures or people. Then I wondered if she was looking for another way to make a little bit of money and I asked her if she was thinking about posing for somebody. I felt really stupid as I asked, thinking she'd think I was some kind of pervert, and wondering who I knew that either wanted to paint somebody her size or could afford to pay a model anything... But she was gone again.
     "After about a week of this Randy came in and told me he'd figured out where she was sleeping. He'd been down in the basement in the section that comes with his apartment and he realized that the dimensions of all the rooms and hallways and apartments upstairs didn't quite line up right. He'd gone poking around and discovered a crawl space under the balconies and realized that someone small enough could fit in there and set up housekeeping.
     "Half of me wanted to crawl in there and make sure she was all right.
     "Another half was afraid she'd run away and get herself mixed up with some of the really seedy street gangs or fall under the influence of one of those characters that prey on runaways or uses kids, even her age-
     "I think I worried about her all day long and somewhere around four A.M. I felt like I was struck by lightning.
     "The next morning I asked her, trying to seem nonchalant, 'Do you need anybody to talk to? I'm no shrink and I don't know about girl stuff, but maybe Angela or somebody might know something or she might know somebody-'
     "And she nodded, Cheryl nodded, she shivered and asked, 'Can I use your shower again?'
     "I nodded and asked if she'd rather use Angela's and she shook her head and wrinkled her nose and said, 'Angela's shower isn't as clean as yours, she's got mildew or something growing on her walls.'
     "So I gave her my key and expected to see her back down in the restaurant before ten o'clock. But the lunch cook showed up on time and I stayed with him until almost one o'clock and then I went upstairs and found her asleep on the couch.
     "I threw a blanket over her and went to work on that mobile over there-" 
    "The one with all the half moon shaped things?" I asked.
    He looked mildly betrayed. "Look at them again, they're more three dimensional than crescent moons."
    "Spirals? Shooting stars?"
    He shrugged in defeat and tried to draw something in the air for me. I think he gave up after a few tries, believing that I was hopelessly dense when it came to artistic ideas or inspirations.
    Then he stared at the counter for a few long, dark minutes, and continued:
    "She woke up while I was working and sat there quietly watching me until I noticed her and then she asked if it was okay if she watched.
    "I nodded. She watched. She asked me a zillion questions. She asked if anybody could become an artist or were they born with it? I told her they've been arguing that point for at least a million years.
    "Then I asked her if she wanted to try something and she said she wanted to try to sketch something.
    "I went and got her my sketch pad and told her about the different pencils and gum erasers and stuff and she turned to the sketch I did of her and I thought she was going to die of shock, 'Is that me?' she asked.
    "I shrugged and nodded, admitted it. I didn't know what the hell she was going to do. Ya know? Run away again? Think I was weird and get away from me quick? She threw her arms around my neck and fell apart. She cried for like a full hour. I had to turn off my welding stuff and I sat on the couch with her for hours. I mean I fell asleep sitting there. I woke up and she had covered both of us with the blanket. She was sitting like a fraction of an inch away from me, sobbing away. I put my arm around her and she buried her face against my side and cried some more. I fell asleep again.
    "I think I woke up at like, two in the morning. She wasn't there. I thought she'd left. I went to the bathroom and came back and found her in the kitchen eating something. She almost choked to death, and managed to say something like, 'I hope it's all right-'
    "I nodded and told her to eat anything that wasn't covered in three inches of green stuff and she laughed and we made tea and had something like peanut butter and jelly and went back to the couch.
    "I asked her if she'd been living like under the crawl space. She nodded, her eyes lit up and she told me it was a secret passage and when it was really cold outside she'd crawled up over a wall and found a longer passage and she'd gone and listened to the poetry workshop, said she could hear it fine through cracks in the wall, but she couldn't see who was reading or talking. Most of it bored her silly but she'd liked one woman's love poems.
    "I asked her where she came from and she darkened. I mean her face looked like a shadow came over it.
    "So I said, 'Well, you sure don't have a local accent,' and she nodded.
    "I said, 'You were dressed in expensive clothes when you first came here...'
    "She trembled with rage and said, 'He bought me those clothes.'
    "I asked, 'Who did?'
    "She shook from her head to her knees, 'The man who bought me-'" 

    Geoff stared at me with his own rage and bewilderment. I felt like I had to say something quick, "Bought her?"
    He nodded, "'Somebody bought you?' I asked and she nodded.
    "She said, 'He took me to a fancy store and bought me all kinds of nice clothes. Then he took me to this sex shop and bought me a lot of other things. He said he was going to "break me in right".'
    "On their way home from the sex shop the guy forgot to push the automatic door locker on his limousine and she escaped at a red light. She told me she thought Al and Ted worked for him. She said she'd heard him brag that half the cops in this country were on his payroll. She was shaking with a combination of fear and rage and she spoke just above a whisper when she asked me if she could stay the night.
    "I laughed and told her the night was almost over, but of course she could stay the night. It was something like fifteen degrees outside and windy. I went to get her a pillow and she asked me to stay there and hold her a while. So I did. I fell asleep again and we both woke up in time to go down to the restaurant and open up, sweep the place up and stuff. I asked her if she wouldn't like to move in with Angela and she shook her head, no. I told her she couldn't stay under the crawlspace, she'd freeze to death. She nodded. She wasn't stupid.
    "I asked her what she wanted to do. She told me I was the only one she felt safe with.
    "I gasped and asked her, 'What do you want to do? Move in with me?' and her whole being lit up.
    "She started telling me she would keep the place clean and neat and wash my clothes and even cook my food, I guess she knew I was a lousy cook. 
    "I was going nuts. I mean my head was spinning. I felt physical pain piercing my skull. I mean I was sitting there on the stool beside her as we ate breakfast and I was sure that Ted and Al would burst through the door and take me away in handcuffs, charged with statutory rape or something."
    [Geoff's head fell forward into his hands. I knew he was reliving the pain and confusion of that moment. I felt that he was recreating each moment in his story with emotions as vivid to him as the first time he'd experienced them.]
    He sighed, defeated, "I looked at her and said, 'I don't know how we can do this-' [he shook his head] 'I mean, it's going to look like something illegal is going on. A twenty five year old man can't live with a twelve year old girl without somebody getting suspicious.'
    "She said, 'Tell them I'm your sister. Tell them I'm thirty years old and I have some weird disease. That stupid stuff the pervert bought me made me look older. I can tell you where a place like that is and you can go buy some more of it for me...'
    "She was so obviously desperate. I mean it looked to me like she was pleading for her life. I guess you know I was a basket case."
    I nodded.
    He raised his hands in defeat, "I told her we'd think of something, then I asked, 'Who sold you to this guy anyway? Your parents?'
    "Her head fell forward again and she shook her head, 'They died five years ago.'
    "I was about to ask a barrage of questions but it was finals week and half a dozen students who'd been cramming all night chose that moment to burst through the doors and fill the place with commotion and I told her I'd meet her upstairs.
    "I got there at about twelve thirty and I was emotionally drained. I think I was doubting my own sanity. I was wondering whether she had told me the truth. I mean nobody sells twelve year old American girls to Limousine riding American Perverts in America, do they? Was she nuts? Had she made up the whole thing? Why would she do that? Were her wires all connected wrong and did she actually believe this had happened when it hadn't? Had somebody on the street given her some crazy new drug that had blown all the circuits in her head and given her false memories?
    "I'd remembered how she'd felt when she was sobbing the day before and she hadn't felt crazy or devious or anything like that. But I wondered how naive I was. I wondered if somebody could put something like this over on me. Then I wondered again why anybody would want to.
    "When I got up there she greeted me with a bounding hug and said, 'I forgot to ask you if anybody else has a key to this studio.'
    "I shook my head and said I keep a couple spares in the back room down there by the control panel for all the lights and stuff.
    "She nodded and asked if I wanted her to make a list of all the food and things I needed to buy. I shrugged and said, 'Sure.' She smiled and handed me a slip of paper, said, 'I already did.'
    "She looked so proud of herself I wanted to hug her. I suddenly felt like I could believe she was my lovable little sister.
    "But I knew I had to ask her the questions that had kept hounding me all morning. So I took the chance that I'd scare her to death. I grabbed her by the shoulders and said, 'We gotta talk.'
    "She turned white as a sheet. We walked to the couch and sat down.
    "I asked her, 'Who sold you to who?'
    "She shrugged and said, 'I never knew his name.'
    "I felt dizzy, I wondered if she had somehow successfully steered me away from the question I'd asked. I took a breath and asked it another way, 'Who took care of you after your parents died?'
    "No tears, she looked right at me with clear eyes and said, 'After the accident, I went to live with my grandparents. Then my aunt and uncle fought over me and convinced my grandparents that they couldn't afford to raise another child and they got me. My grandfather died and my grandmother moved into a place where she can't have company for longer than two weeks or she gets kicked out. She can't afford to live anywhere else.'
    "I said, 'Tell me about your aunt and uncle-'
    "She said, 'Well, they were real nice at first, they were kind of rich I guess. But my uncle got laid off when his company downsized and then he got busted for taking drugs and child welfare put me in a foster home.'
    "I could see the pain in her eyes. Ninety five percent of me believed her but the rest thought this was weird. But anyway, I asked her, 'So was it the people at the foster home who sold you?'
    "She shook her head and said, 'No, it was some judge that my aunt knew all about. She told me he had some kind of connections and would have all of us killed if we tried to do anything about this.'
    "I said, 'But you couldn't go through with this, could you? Do you want me to try to contact your aunt? Or your grandmother?'
    "She shook her head, said she'd tried to call her aunt, and her aunt sounded crazy and told her never to call her again because the judge would probably have the phone tapped and the judge probably had every cop on the east coast looking for her. And they were probably going to kill her when they found her.
    "I thought, no wonder she was afraid of Al and Ted.
    "And I mean to tell you, part of me wanted to believe her and part of me wondered if she, or someone in her family, wasn't stark raving mad.
    "I said I was worried about the judge or the pervert finding her and she said they were in North Carolina. She'd spent all her money on a train ticket north because she guessed they'd think that nobody would go north with the winter coming.
    "That reminded me that she didn't have a decent coat and I said I'd go buy her one, asked her what she wanted. She shrugged and said she thought she wanted something like the coat that Angela wore. I asked her what size she was and she told me she was a kids' size medium. I borrowed Randy's truck and went and got her a coat. It was like the height of the Christmas shopping season and nobody seemed to give it a second thought that somebody my age would be buying a coat for a kid.
    "When I got back home she had all her stuff from under the crawl space up in the bathroom, she said she forgot to ask but guessed it would be all right if she washed what was dirty and I nodded. She had a couple ratty books that I guess she'd found in the garbage somewhere and she showed me one of them. It was an old faded 'how to' book from the seventies and she showed me a kind of little room on wheels that somebody had built when he lived in a loft. It had all the plans and everything. I thought it was a heck of an idea. The guy had built a broken down couch into the room and put in a lamp. And he'd built it strong enough so he could climb up on the roof and sit there and read when he wanted to.
    "So I asked her if she liked the idea of living in one of those and she did. I talked to Randy and Angela. And Randy really thought I was asking for trouble. Angela was worried about Cheryl. But I think Randy was curious by now and wanted to get his own impression of Cheryl so the three of us (Cheryl, Randy and I) squeezed into his pickup and went shopping for wood. I ended up buying a couple circular saws, one for angles, and one for straight stuff. And instead of a couch we went and bought bunk bed mattresses and put one on an angle he demonstrated the angle, moving one hand up and down at a slightly more than 90 degree angle to the other hand and we got her fitted sheets and asked her what kind she wanted. I think Randy was trying to be mean when he asked if she wanted Power Rangers sheets and blankets. I think Cheryl knew he was checking her out and she didn't like it.
    "What she wanted was blue sheets, royal blue. And she wanted these blankets that had a lion family on them. A mommy lion and two cubs with daddy watching over them, looking proud. I mean it wasn't cartoon lions, they were like supposed to look real, with a couple leafy trees in the background and everything else fading into a creamy off- white and a subdued green, with just a hint of blue."
    At about this point, as he moved his hands to indicate which areas of the blanket held which colors, I started to think that Geoff might have a photographic memory. I wondered if he had a mind that indiscriminately remembered every little detail of everything he saw and did. That might account for the 'style' of his rambling.
    He sighed, "Randy helped me build the thing. It was his idea to cover it in rugs and we went to a place that had remnants and picked through their remnants and came back and glued green, blue and brown rugs on the outside. It looks like a rock with a lot of angles and on top there's some stuff that looks like grass and a bit of a waterfall splashing down one side into a pool. She's got a door that locks and a window with shades that can make it real dark in there and she's got a couple peepholes on each side so nobody can sneak up on her, that was Angela's idea. Angela gave her an old radio of hers. And we got her a bureau from the Salvation Army store. The bureau doesn't fit inside, it's like, right outside the door. And Cheryl took Angela shopping in the dumpsters behind the mall where she finds dozens of books with their covers ripped off. And Angela told me Cheryl grabbed a lot of young adult romance books, like Nancy the Nurse finds love and adventure in Tahiti or someplace."
    Geoff looked more troubled than ever. He sighed, "And then Angela went home for winter break and I lost my expert in girl stuff. I got bored with a Saturday night crowd and went upstairs early and thought I heard crying. I knocked on her portable room and she opened the door and I asked what was the matter and she said she always misses her parents at this time of the year so I asked her if she wanted a tree and she said no, well only a little one, and maybe one that we could plant somewhere, or a little artificial one, she didn't want a dead tree. I said something about picking up a television and a VCR and maybe renting movies and she didn't seem to be all excited about that. And I wondered about getting a nintendo game or something. And she shrugged, but I don't think she was all that interested. And I asked her if she wanted to fool around with my computer, I hadn't taken it out from under its dust cover in months. She said, maybe tomorrow. Then she lowered her head and mumbled, 'Nobody loves me,' and it felt like my head exploded. She saw my tears and completely changed. I think she thought that I thought that nobody loved me either and all of a sudden she had somebody else to worry about and forgot her problems. She asked me if there wasn't any woman I loved from a distance or anything. And I shrugged and said I'd been so busy since I inherited this place that I hadn't been thinking about it so much. I didn't tell her that I had the hots for a couple of the women who show up for the chamber music things. She kind of came alive and made me some tea and asked me if I needed to sleep with her teddy bear. And I said, 'Teddy Bear?' And she showed me this real nice teddy bear that Angela had given her as a present. I was kind of like, touched. I mean a teddy bear? But it obviously meant something to her. I shook my head and said he looked like he needed her more than he needed me and she said he looked just like the one her mother and father gave her before they went out and got killed in a car crash. She thought that might have been what set her off crying. She asked me to climb into her room and sit with her for a while. We listened to Christmas music on the Classical station. She found it, not me.
    "She cuddled up against my arm with her bear and fell asleep. I moved carefully, put her head on a 
pillow, covered her with the blanket and crawled off to my bed."
    Now Geoff really looked distressed, looked at me like he wanted to know if I thought he was losing his 
mind or not, "I had just about fallen asleep when I heard something and opened my eyes. There she was, 
standing beside my bed. She'd still been dressed in her day clothes when I'd left her, now she was wearing 
kid's pajamas, I think they even had the Lion King characters on them or something. She sniffed and her eyes glazed over  and she said something that sounded so weird I didn't understand it at first, 'Take my love and make me feel like a real woman. I need to know your love. I need you now,' 
    "She looked like she was repeating lines from a movie or something? She hadn't told me she'd met this fifteen year old prostitute who like, almost had her convinced that nobody'd care about her or feed her 
unless she made love with him, and luckily, she had no clue about what making love actually was... and 
she shook like a leaf as she turned around and dropped her pajama top on the floor. Luckily, she jumped onto the bed real quick and plopped on her stomach so I rubbed her back and-"
    His hands clutched at the sides of his head as his eyes rolled. Then he relaxed.
    "And she asked me if that's all there was to it, I said 'yeah' and we both laughed."
    At this point I sighed with relief and he noticed.
    He laughed.
    "So she asked me if she had to rub my back, and I said she didn't have to do anything."
    He laughed a really goofy laugh.
    "-Like, 'Not on our first date....'? But she said she wanted to- And I said, 'okay-'
    "So she gave me a really good back rub and then asked if she was supposed to rub my front and I choked and told her no, not the first time. So she didn't-"
     He sighed, I tried not to shake my head or glare disapprovingly at him. I can't say I was fascinated- more like almost hypnotized. The outside world was grey and timeless- The restaurant had pools of diminished colour. The images of his story hung in the air like full colour scenes from television or even a live play-
    "She was glowing all over. I mean I remembered my first serious girlfriend when I was about thirteen. I remembered hugging and kissing her with my mouth closed. We danced about three slow dances and snuck out behind the gym to kiss and then the dance was over and she gave me her phone number and ran away before her big brother missed her and I thought I was in heaven for a week.
    "Well, Cheryl looked like she felt that way and asked, 'Does this make me your woman now?'
    "I smiled and nodded. She hugged me and kissed me again, on the mouth (closed) and I kissed her cheek and hugged her, I was almost afraid I'd crush her and then I- I thought she got up and went  away.
    "I didn't know what the hell I was going to do.
    "She came back, with her pajamas back on, thank goodness, and asked if she was supposed to sleep with me after that and I told her she didn't have to do anything. She could do whatever she wanted. I didn't tell her I was praying she'd go back into her little room, but I said something like, maybe she'd want to take it slow and take time to be sure that this was what she wanted and that it was right for her? And she just, like, held herself with her own arms and laid there and giggled. She got up and went to the bathroom or something and I thought she was gone, back to her room. I relaxed. I fell asleep. In the morning she was in bed with me when I woke up. I didn't say anything, I was afraid she'd feel rejected and run away or something. We went down and cleaned up and opened the doors and ate breakfast and she kissed me on the cheek and hugged me and went back upstairs.
    "Randy came in and told me I looked like hell. I laughed and told him I felt like it. He told me I should lighten up, I was taking everything too seriously." Geoff nodded. "I agreed with him.
    "When I went upstairs she jumped up and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek and said she wanted to make love again like we had the night before.
    "I almost fell over. I led her to the couch and sat down and said, 'You can't say that where anyone can hear you, ever! It's against the law for a grown man to make love with someone under the age of sixteen. Whether both of them want to or not. I could go to jail for twenty years for something like this.'
    "And she started shaking. She said, 'And then I'll have nobody again. Everyone I've ever loved either died or gave me away to somebody else.'
    "So I hugged her. We sat on the couch and hugged each other. She said she liked the way I made her feel. I asked her if that meant I made her feel safe. She looked depressed and nodded. I noticed it was snowing, gpt up and turned on the big stereo. She found a classical station and wanted to dance.
    "I felt like a complete fool, trying to dance, but we did that for most of the afternoon, then I borrowed Randy's truck and we went out for dinner and went to see the "Nutcracker". I figured it was her first ballet, but she said it was the first live theater she ever saw. I guess maybe her rich aunt and uncle were always both working and never had time. She was mesmerized. She wanted to know if she was too old to start taking ballet lessons. I told her I didn't know from ballet lessons, but when Angela came back she'd probably know.
    "We came home and she went into the studio and tried walking around like a ballerina while I brought Randy his keys and he asked me I'd taken her out to McDonalds and plied her with milk shakes. I laughed and he laughed with me. Later he said he would have really been worried about me if I hadn't laughed.
    "I came down to my studio and Cheryl was on the phone. She was talking girl talk to Angela so I went and worked on the mobile until Cheryl brought me the phone and looked somber, 'She wants to make sure you're behaving like a gentleman and she wants to be sure I'm giving you enough space to be an artist,' she said, then ballet- walked out of the metal area and went back to what was becoming her section of the studio... where there wasn't anything dangerous or sharp and the floor was open.
    "Angela asked if Cheryl was far enough away so she couldn't hear us and I said I thought so.
    "Angela is from Richmond. She told me, 'I just saw Cheryl's picture on the news down here. They say she isn't a suspect but the police are looking for her, thinking she may have been a witness to her aunt's murder. I think maybe that whole cockamaymie story she told you might be true.'
    "I managed not to fall down in shock. And I managed to somehow let Angela know I wanted to know when the murder happened. Angela said, 'Today!'. I asked if she was going to say anything, call the police and tell them Cheryl's up here or what? She said, 'Hell no!' but she was going to tape the late news and bring it up here with her, she was coming back early, her family was driving her crazy asking her when she was going to bring home a boyfriend and all that. They thought she'd dyed her hair green for Christmas. I asked what she and Cheryl talked about and she said, 'I guess you took her to see the Nutcracker, hey? She wants to be a ballerina. That was a wonderful idea, but I don't think you should go anywhere with her for now. I don't think its safe for her to go anywhere where somebody might see her. I mean what if this ends up on Hard Copy or one of those stupid shows?'
    "I asked Angela if she thought I should tell Cheryl that her Aunt had been murdered. Angela thought somebody would have to and I was probably the best bet. She said she was sorry she hadn't done that, but she said she didn't know how to do it over the phone. That was too cold.
    "I nodded like Angela could see that over the phone. She said she'd call back after midnight. I said I'd be waiting.
    "I made sure everything was turned off and walked to the couch. Cheryl must have guessed that whenever I go there it means something serious is about to be said or something.
    "She came over and sat down, looked nervous.
    "I held her by the shoulders and said, 'Angela saw the news tonight. Somebody murdered your aunt and the cops are looking for you. They say they think you might be a witness. They're afraid you might be dead.'
    "She stared at the floor in shock forever. And then she turned to me and she wanted to [He held his hands like claws as he moved forward and rocked back, repeated the rocking motion several times.] -grab a hold of me and cry... but she didn't know if she should be a child or a woman... So I hugged her and she like pushed me back, but then fell against my chest and shook. She said, 'They murdered her?' and I nodded, I said, 'Angela's going to record the news and bring the tape up here on the train in a couple days, she can't stand being back there with her parents anyway.'
    "And Cheryl said, 'But she's got parents to go to and she knows they love her, even if they do drive her nuts.'
    "And I nodded.
    "For a while she just cried and I rocked her, but then she all of a sudden got even more tense and said, 'What do I do now? Do you think they're going to come up here looking for me? Do you think they're going to keep looking for me until they find me and kill me?'
    "I shook my head. I said, 'They're not going to get you. We'll dye your hair, we'll keep you out of sight. We'll move way the hell out in the middle of nowhere if we have to. I won't let them get you.'
    "She kept trembling but she said, 'You really do love me, don't you?' and I nodded. Yes, I guess I do. But I didn't tell her I didn't necessarily want her the way I hoped she didn't want me to want her."
    I think this is when I tried to cover my face and keep from laughing. He grinned at me, and nodded.
    He smiled at me and said, "It's unbelievable, isn't it?
    "So I asked her if she had any other relatives.
    "She said she had some somewhere like West Virginia or something. Some distant relatives she'd seen in pictures on Christmas cards and stuff.
    "I still wasn't ready to believe that some crooked judge and whoever or whatever the guy was that she said 'bought her' were behind the murder. But I had the awful feeling that something like that just might be happening, maybe I saw too much television while I was growing up or something.
    "And then that night Angela called and said, 'Hey, you're not going to believe this, but her Grandmother's been found murdered in a Senior Citizens community outside of Winston-Salem.'
    "You know how your brain kind of refuses to work sometimes when you're in shock? I thought she was talking about cigarettes. I almost asked her if the cigarette companies owned Seniors Housing Communities. But Angela was doing all the talking. She told me she really was going nuts and had told her parents that she had to get back to school to work on a project that could make or break her career if she ever got out of grad school alive, even before she saw the news.
    "I told Cheryl I'd open the restaurant alone and it snowed for like the next couple days anyway and we spent most of the time sitting on the couch with her head in my shoulder or I patted her back or hugged her and we watched the snow through my big windows.
    "Cheryl said she wished I had a gun when I had to leave her alone to go pick Angela up at the station. I told her I'd be back as soon as I could.
    "Randy wasn't about to let me drive on roads that weren't all good and plowed, he drove.
    "When Angela's train pulled in she hugged me like I was her husband or something and asked if some guy looked like he was watching her.
    "Randy said, 'So what am I? The butler?' And he grabbed her bags and stood there shaking his head.
    "Angela hugged him like he might have been her brother in law and he whispered, 'That guy has F.B.I. written all over him.'
    "But then a preppy co-ed came along and threw herself at the F.B.I. clone and shouted, 'You're in- They've published your article, you're in!' and waved a copy of the Harvard Law School Review and he like sank to his knees and shook his hands like he was thanking some kind of long forgotten gods. And we escaped without him giving us a second look.
    "Oh, yeah, I filled Randy in on the way to the train. He said he was glad he didn't let me take his truck alone, I was a bad enough driver when I didn't have this kind of stuff on my mind.
    "We crammed all of Angela's stuff in the back, under the cap, and then crammed the three of us into the cab. She looked around like she thought the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Fifty battalions of Marines, half of every state's police force, and the mafia, cosa nostra, and every street gang in the world were all after us, then she whipped open a newspaper and said, 'Get a load of this.'
    "'Third Member of McKendricks Family Found Dead' was the headline, 'Task Force sure fowl play is involved', it said under that. And the newspaper had a photo of an emergency vehicle surrounded by state cops and a couple of those cops were carrying a small body bag out of the woods. A lousy photograph of Cheryl as a ten year old hovered over the corner of the larger photo. The caption said, 'State Police and Sheriff's deputies carry the body of 12 year old Cheryl Lee McKendricks out of the woods along highway 67 north of Yadkinville.'
    "Randy raced the engine while Angela read, 'The badly decomposed body of twelve year old Cheryl Lee McKendricks was found where Psychic Detective Charlotte Raines of Columbia, South Carolina said it would be. A tentative identification was made using the young girl's dental records. Positive Identification is still pending. What baffles the police and Ms Raines is the motive behind the killings of young Cheryl Lee, her aunt Martha Jean, and her grandmother Haddie Mae. Martha Jean was found strangled in her High Point residence on Tuesday. Haddie Mae was discovered, also strangled, in her condo at Sunset Acres Retirement community in Winston-Salem, first estimates had been that she'd been dead for three or four days. Though police refuse to speculate as to how long Cheryl Lee had been dead, Ms Raines has been quoted as saying that the girl died in early September. Determining the cause of the child's death may be difficult says Bobbi Jo Leland, speaking for the Winston Salem Coroner's Office. And Detectives on the case say they can't rule out fowl play in the girl's death, but they can't be sure just yet that the three deaths might be somehow linked together.'
    "A little farther down in the article there was a mention of Charlotte Raines' description of the man who killed Cheryl Lee. She said she'd 'seen' a man in a grey suit with a 'stetson' hat and a cheroot cigar driving his own white limousine after 'accidentally' murdering the girl, and then driving several miles with her body in the trunk, dumping her in the woods where he thought no one would ever find her.
    "Randy said, 'Sounds like a lucky break for Cheryl.'
    "And Angela said, 'How do you figure that?'
    "And Randy said, 'Hey- they found a body that they think is hers. Now nobody's going to come looking for her. Right?'
    "And Angela said, 'The killer knows he didn't kill her.'
    "And we drove home in a hurry wishing we'd watched every episode of every murder mystery series that had ever been on the television.
    "And I had this really sick feeling that maybe Cheryl was a ghost who had a really strong mind and didn't know that she was supposed to be dead or something.
    "We got here, we got home, we went and got Cheryl and brought her to Randy's apartment (after he cleaned it up a bit, threw everything into his bedroom hamper or something).
    "We were all, like, shaking- when Angela put the tape into Randy's VCR and fast forwarded to the right spot.
    "The heat was like full blast, I mean it was hot in there, but when the tape came on it was freezing. Cheryl like went into a fit or something and fell backward and shook all over. I hugged her and whispered in her ear, 'It's all right, it's all right, it can't get you here, you're with people who really care about you.'
    "And I swear the newspaper flew up into the air and ripped itself apart. All kinds of stuff started flying around in there.
    "Randy stood up, moved his lips, but didn't say anything, bowed, sat down with his legs crossed and went into a yogi position, and it was all over. Angela found a window that had blown open and closed it. I rocked Cheryl back and forth and she calmed down almost immediately. She looked at Randy and said, 'What did he do? What's he doing?' And Angela said, 'He's meditating.' Cheryl said, 'You gotta teach me how to do that. Something was here. Something had a hold of me and it was sucking the life out of me and he made it go away.'
    "Randy, like, didn't breath for ten minutes. Then he opened his eyes and looked toward his door. His eyes were sparkling like he'd been talking to God or somebody. He tried to talk but he couldn't. Then he held his forehead in his hands for a few minutes and then he could talk."
    Geoff was shaking out of control at this point.
    "'It's all right,' Randy said, 'It's all right.' Cheryl had a twin sister she never knew about. She's adopted.' He pointed at the door. 'Somebody's here- her real parents.' Then he looked confused, 'They're on the roof?' Cheryl shook her head and spoke toward the roof, she said, 'No, I'm not ready.'
    "But then we were blinded by incredibly bright light. And I knew something funny was happening. Everything shook. I held on to her like all of our lives depended on it and when the light went away she was gone.
    "The three of us who were left sat there and shook for all we were worth.
    "Randy managed to stand up again and said a prayer or something and sat back down in his yogi position and went into a trance.
    "Angela nodded her head, said, 'Sounds like a good idea,' tried to stand up, but she was shaking too violently, she looked at me and said, 'Could you help me stand up?'
    "So I did. And I wanted to pray with her so I asked, 'What should I say when I'm praying?' And she said, 'I'll pray, just listen and either agree with it or make up your own prayer.' She said, 'Lord God, you are our Father, our Mother and our only True Friend, Guide and protect us with your Loving Light.' I said Amen with her and sat down. I didn't know what I was doing, but it worked okay, and in a couple minutes I was almost back to normal. And in a couple more minutes I was feeling great. I tried to imagine a space ship on the roof, but all I saw was white light? And then there was another flash and when I opened my eyes it was daylight.
    "It was daylight and Cheryl was there with me. I saw all these people who looked like birds around us. They looked like bird people from Egyptian tombs? I still don't know whether they really looked like that or were wearing masks...They bowed and went away. They just vanished into the air."
    Geoff drew a deep breath and relaxed. He looked around with his eyes sparkling like he was remembering something amazing beyond words, he looked at me and reached out, touched my hand. He gripped my hand. "Cheryl had aged. She had to be at least twenty. I looked at her and felt like it had to be a miracle. She looked back at me and beamed. I mean she BEAMED. She took me by the hand and led me out of my studio. It was night again.
    "I said, 'What happened?' 
    "She smiled and said, 'I'll tell you later.'
    "We went upstairs and knocked on Randy's door. Angela like couldn't hardly talk, but she managed a shaky, 'Who's there?'
    "I said, 'It's me, and Cheryl.'
    "Angela almost knocked the door off its hinges ripping it open and threw her arms around me, 'You disappeared, where did you go-?' And then she just stared at Cheryl in shock like she couldn't remember something. Angela gripped her head and her eyes crossed and her knees buckled and I held her up.
    "Cheryl leaned forward and touched Angela's head, there was a flash of light and I heard Cheryl's voice say, 'It's okay now, you can remember everything. You can remember who I was."
    "And Angela's mouth fell open. I thought she was going to fall down and start praying, but she gasped 'Cheryl??' and she held her hand out at like Cheryl's old height.
    "She'd grown about six inches taller. She had boobs, like I said, she looked like she was twenty or something.
    "Cheryl nodded, 'They've given me a new identity. I've got a new birth certificate, and a driving license. They had me learn a couple more languages and they made sure I was fluent in a lot of accents and dialects.'
    "Randy popped in from his bathroom or someplace, he was shaking. Cheryl reached out to touch him, but he said, 'No, wait- just tell me, did you take her place or did you live here for all your life or what?'
    "Cheryl smiled, she said, 'I'd been living among normal humans all my life when you first met me. My real parents came and took me away nine years ago. From the room with the television,' she pointed. 'It took a lot of persuasion, but I convinced them that it was safe for me to come back to you a few moments after I'd left. I came here because I knew I had friends here. And I am needed. You need me if you're going to survive these next few years.'
    Geoff stared away and blinked at nothing for a few long moments, then he refocused and smiled at me.
    "Randy asked what the thing that came and tried to kill her in his living room was. She like, [Geoff stood up straight and looked remarkably strong] like- stood there and kind of glowed with this intense strength and power, and said, 'We have enemies- And they have influence. They have been in contact with your government for decades.' She said, 'Somehow they found out who I am and tried to kill me. But I'm stronger now and they'll never dare try that again.'
    "So Randy looked at her and said, 'Who are you?'
    "She reached out and touched him and he-" Geoff shrugged he just relaxed and smiled at her like she was his long lost sister..."
    Geoff turned and smiled at the sketch.
    It seemed like about five minutes later he turned back to me and asked, "More coffee?" 

     Geoff had a back room with a lumpy brown leather couch and a blanket that smelled like one of those fabric softener clothes dryer sheets. I don't know how much of my predicament I explained to him, but he tried my credit card at something like seven a.m. and it worked. He said something like, "I know they charge way too much for a cash advance, so I added twenty dollars to your bill, and here you are-" handed me twenty five bucks and when I squawked, wouldn't let me pay for the breakfast at all.

      I didn't sleep all that well. I guess I was afraid somebody could walk in and find me- I had to struggle to keep Geoff's name in my mind in case I needed to explain to anybody that he'd told me to sleep there-
    So I was tired, (exhausted) very dull in the senses, nervous and out of place when I met Randy that evening. He was a long haired security guard with a night stick and a patch on his uniform that advertised somebody's Karate and Kung-Fu studio. He told me he was a poet with a penchant for purple prose and spoke as few words as he could get away with. When he relaxed around me he spoke a few short soliloquies that sounded like they were about thirty three percent cheap detective novel and twenty percent Shakespeare. I don't know where the rest came from but I'll give him credit for originality. He didn't say as much, but I knew he sort of figured he had to watch out for me. I got the feeling that he couldn't make up his mind between the idea that I needed protection and the fear that I might be on some kind of drugs or otherwise dangerous.
    After he changed into his civilian clothes he asked me if I wanted to go pick up a couple slices of pizza and help him watch over a woman he knew from a security job a couple months back who was still afraid her old boy friend was stalking her.
    She worked at a pizzeria and gave us both a couple of free slices.
    The pizzeria was a small store- front place in a shopping center with a couple big department stores. Actually it was on the outside edge of a mall.
    And Randy drove a new full sized four by four. I wanted to call it a Blazer but it was a Plymouth. It might have been custom made. We spent half an hour eating the pizza and drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee, parked in a handicapped parking place (with a permit on the dash and crutches visible behind the driver's side front seat).
    We were close to one of the main entrances and Randy made a game of sizing up people who came and went and tried to describe them (their attitudes, goals and lifestyles) in as few words as possible.
    Then out of the blue, without warning at all, he asked, "So what do you think about Geoff?"
    I stifled a laugh, "As a person? Or what? He's a hell of a story teller. I kept wondering why he was telling me all this really personal stuff, and I kept thinking he was finished, but he kept coming up with one more blockbuster after another. I mean some of the stuff was almost boring, but before I could shut down and drift away he came back with another incredible twist..."
    Randy nodded like someone who'd been there too many times to count, but he kept his eyes on the people who were coming and going. And he kept a lot of his attention 'on hold', as if he was keenly aware of the pizza place and everyone who even thought about it. Then he spoke like he'd just made his mind up about something, "When I first met Geoff I thought he was autistic. His body language was strange. He was pretty strange. I've been around a lot of 'gifted' students since they kept trying to get me to apply myself to something 'productive' after I aced a batch of aptitude tests in kindergarten for crying out loud. But he was farther out there than most."
    Randy pointed, "I mean, like to me it's obvious that everybody I see lives in his or her own universe. I mean, just look at what they're wearing and you can tell that some of them are like straight from the ozone. But everybody has their own concept of what life is and what they're supposed to live up to, or live down, or whatever. And I thought Geoff was like walking around with less than half his wires attached.
    "You can talk to that guy for months and never know what's going on inside him. He's happy to talk about the weather, or point at some interesting lights and shadows on the wall or anywhere. And then when Cheryl came along I thought he'd lost it completely. I mean one night he was convinced that she was a Vampire. A while later he told me he thought she had some kind of mind power, that she could make him forget a question he'd just asked. And he practiced for days forcing himself to remember what he wanted to ask her. But then I tried to follow her a couple times and she was slippery. I told myself she couldn't possibly know I was following her, but she'd like step off to the side and then turn quickly, make like she'd seen something that startled her? And as soon as I turned to see what she was surprised about I'd look back at her and she was gone. Even I fell for this every time." Randy shrugged.
    "Did Geoff tell you he thinks she's from another planet?" I asked.
    Randy glanced my way with a wry smile that I could not read. I couldn't tell whether he wanted me to believe that I'd hit the nail right on the head or maybe he thought that I was nuts. Then he sighed, and shook his head, "Geoff might be easily confused or misled by not having all the facts he needs to put together his particular version of reality all at once, but he absolutely cannot tell a lie. I don't think he knows how to.
    "Cheryl isn't from outer Space. And neither is Geoff. I'm not sure their DNA wouldn't startle the hell out of anybody who got a good look at it, but they were both born right here on terra firma."
    Randy tensed slightly when a couple tough looking guys squared off at each other and then threw their arms around each other like they were cousins who had been playing head games with their friends.
    "What about the bit where he told me she aged something like nine years in a couple minutes?"
    Randy raised his eyebrow, "True. She vanished. I mean, she was there one second and she wasn't the next. And then he vanished. And Angela screamed like she thought she was going to be gobbled up by some dark force any second. Then Geoff came back and knocked on the door and Cheryl was with him. She told us she went somewhere for nine years and came back like five minutes after she left. She went away looking like a nine year old who claimed she was twelve and came back looking like she could have been anything between eighteen and thirty, I can't always tell with that age group. Especially women. And there's a couple who are more like forty or even older that I can't guess. But I saw Cheryl leave us as a frightened kid and come back as one hell of a confident woman. So I guess there is time travel. And I don't even care what her pedigree is. And I can guess that Geoff trusts you or he wouldn't have told you any of this. And Cheryl must trust you or she would have wiped it all clean from your memory."
    "She can do that?"
    "Oh yes. She sat down and played 'hide the memory' with me one afternoon. Complete amnesia. You know how scary it is when you can't remember your name? Who you are? Where you came from, what you do for fun? Or even if you ever have any fun?"
    "And she undid it, just like that?"
    "She wiped my memory clean, or put a complete block between me an it and I was in a cold sweat for twenty minutes. I thought she was the devil in person. But then she smiled and said, 'I guess you've learned your lesson.' and it all came back. I especially liked remembering that I'd challenged her to do that. Boy, did I feel stupid."
    "Then it's all true?"
    Randy nodded, "And that isn't the half of it."
    "There's more?"
    "Lots more."
    "So why me? Why did Geoff open up and spill all this in my lap?"
    "Who knows? Why did you walk into Geoff's restaurant and order breakfast?"
    "I was lost and hungry and he was open."
    Randy nodded. "I don't believe in coincidence any more. I think they're calling a bunch of people together and you're the first."
    "Why? What for?"
    He shrugged, "Beats the hell out of me, but I bet we're all going to like it."
    "So when do I get to meet her?"
    Randy glanced at the back seat and glanced at me and said, "As soon as she lets you see her I guess, she's been sitting in the back seat since we came back from the pizza place. I can't believe you didn't know that."
    I turned around and looked at the empty back seat.
    I was about to ask him what kind of joke he was trying to pull when she leaned forward, out of a shadow and faded into view- grinning from ear to ear. I thought my heart stopped.
    But she smiled, reached forward and touched my head and I felt warm currents of reassurance wafting through me.
    "You're in for an interesting life, kid." Randy grinned and turned back to keeping an eye on the woman in the pizza place.
    I laughed happily and disbelievingly for a few seconds and never took my eyes off her, "Geoff isn't back there with you is he?" I asked. 
    She shook her head, "He wanted to finish up one of his sculptures, so I took a walk and when I saw Randy's truck-" she shrugged, "here I am."
    I nodded, "I think you scared about a hundred years off my life. Why do I trust you?"
    She shrugged, "Perhaps because you realize I didn't scare it very far away, and then I brought it back to you."
    I know I looked like I doubted that.
    "You had a heart murmur."
    I nodded, "A mitral valve prolapse."
    She nodded, "I fixed it."
    I let myself collapse into the seat, told myself I'd have to get that checked, as soon as I could.
    "And don't worry," she said, "I won't mess with your memory unless you're silly enough to ask me to."
    I sighed The relief was genuine. 

Part Two of this Story

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