Trifecta Weekly Writing Challenge, but it's far too long for the competition guidelines and I didn't want to shorten it. This character will probably find her way to a book one day. ;)
SLEEPING IN THE ALLEY
She didn’t mind sleeping in the alley. Not really. Especially when it was safer than staying in the house.
She was really grateful that her house was one of the homes on the block whose metal trash can stand had an extra shelf for wood storage. The longer legs on the stand helped too. That gave her a choice. She could remove the wood logs that rested underneath the trash cans and sleep there. Or it was cool enough this night that she could simply crawl underneath the stand and sleep on the ground. She had yet to make up her mind.
Susan looked up and down the alley. It was almost dark which was perfect. Some of the neighborhood kids were still playing outside, but they were down the street, on the corner, under the street light. It was late enough they wouldn’t be coming down the alley anymore. She also made note that none of the neighbors had their back porch lights on. That meant they were probably done with grilling, yard work and the other things she had witnessed families doing outside.
Still, just to be smart, she pretended she was throwing something away and removed one of the metal lids. They were all bent up which meant they got stuck sometimes. She hated when that happened because it meant she had to wrestle to get it off the can. She didn’t like touching the filthy things that much.
With too much noise to suit her, she replaced the lid and looked around one more time to make sure she was alone.
She heard something shatter inside the house and could hear the yelling that was muffled from this distance. She had snuck out just in time.
She decided she was too tired to mess with taking the logs off the stand. Besides, she didn’t want to take a chance that she might forget to put them back. She did forget one time and her stepfather had a fit. He interrogated her for hours wanting to know if she knew which one of the neighborhood hooligans had done it. She was terrified that he was going to figure out that not only had she been the one to remove the logs, but why. He never did.
As she crawled under the trash can stand, she mumbled out loud, “That’s because you’re so stupid!” She stuck her tongue out in the direction of the house and was about to curl up when she heard it.
She froze in place. She slowed her breath so she could hear better. Wide-eyed, she waited.
He got closer but already she knew it was her friend, Lee. She relaxed and wanted to chuckle, but didn’t dare give her hiding place away. Lee was so proud of the new bike he got for his birthday. No one had the heart to tell him that it squeaked and rattled so loudly that you could hear it for blocks away. She smiled and watched him fly by.
He was probably headed home for dinner. Lee never missed a meal. This time she did chuckle. No one had the heart to tell him too that his bike was half the size he needed. She liked her friends. Most of them were kind.
She caught her breath again however when he hit the brakes and did a fishtail to start heading back toward her.
He stopped right in front of her and asked, “Susan, what are you doing down there?”
“Shhhh!” She waived him to go on as she barely came out from under the stand.
“Seriously,” he added. “What are you doing down there?” He dropped his bike and knelt down in the grass beside her. “Is it a snake?”
“A snake?” She looked wildly behind her in a panic before she realized he simply did not understand.
Something else broke in the house and her mother screamed. This time it wasn’t so muffled.
“Geez,” Lee said, and stared at the house.
“Go home, Lee. Don’t you need to eat or something?”
He looked at her and could tell she was embarrassed. “What are you going to eat?”
Susan had not thought about it. Until now. “Great,” she thought. “Now I’m going to be hungry all night.” She rolled her eyes.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back.” He hopped on his bike and sped off before she could say anything.
She didn’t want him to come back. Traffic around her hiding place was not what she needed. Suddenly the back door to her house flew open and she frantically crawled back under the bin.
“Susan!” her stepdad yelled. “SUUUSAN!” He repeated several times.
It was routine and she knew he’d give up. She knew it would make him angry that she wasn’t there, and she also knew that he would take it out on her mother. “God forgive me,” Susan thought. She couldn’t help but feel grateful that it wasn’t her getting the beating.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed because she had dozed off, but she didn’t even hear Lee walk up. He shook her shoulder and whispered, “Susan. Hey, I brought you something.”
The night sky was pitch-black. She quickly glanced back at her house. All the lights were off. A little disoriented, she crawled out from under the bin and sat on the ground next to Lee.
“Where’s your bike?” she whispered back.
“I parked it down at the end of the alley. That thing doesn’t have a quiet part on it.”
They both giggled with their hands over their mouth.
He held out a dishtowel. “You brought me a towel?” Susan asked.
“No, silly.” Lee said. “I brought you food.”
All she could do was stare. And blink.
“Don’t you like it?” Lee asked.
“Yes.” Susan replied softly. “Very much.”
It was the nicest, kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. And it was the best pork chop and homemade biscuit she had ever had. Her mom didn’t cook much. She glanced nervously back at the house.
To distract her, Lee said, “I brought you something else.” He reached in his backpack.
“Uh, I guess this is just a towel.” He looked embarrassed.
Susan quickly thanked him and took it from him. She had no idea why he brought her a towel, or why it meant so much to her, but it did. She unfolded it. It was a large beach towel. She hugged it close to her and smiled.
Her response made Lee beam with pride. “I thought you could lie down on it. Beats the wet grass.”
With that she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and this time they both looked embarrassed.
After a minute, Lee asked, “Can I ask you something?”
With a shrug of her shoulders Susan said, “Sure.”
“Do you sleep out here very often?”
With another shrug of her shoulders Susan replied, “Sometimes.”
She knew that wasn’t really an answer to his question, but it was the best she had to give.
He sat there a moment longer and hesitantly said as he stood up, “Well, I better be getting back.”
She waited until he finished brushing off his jeans, “Lee?”
He looked at her, “Yeah?”
“Thank you.” He started to shrug it off. She quickly said, “No, Lee,” and waited until he looked at her again. “Thank you.”
He sheepishly grinned, and simply said, “You’re welcome.”
As he walked off, she had no way of knowing they were forging a friendship that would last a lifetime. All she knew was that she slept better that night than she had in a very long time.