New Friends


New Friends

By Stan Morris

Copyright 2013

 

Being caught eating from a dumpster was embarrassing enough, what made it worse was being seen by THOSE two.  They were staring at the remains of the double cheeseburger that was half in my hand and half in my mouth.  I froze for a moment, but it was a short moment, because I was hungry.  I spite of my humiliation I continued to chew.    A third of a Coke was also in the thrown away bag, so I took a sip, but the ice had melted so it was mostly water by then.  No one had taken such close notice of me for a long time, not since my father died.  When someone did, it just had to be THEM.  Such was my luck.

* * * * *

My mother was forty-five when I was born, and my father was eleven years older.  During my whole time with them, I think they were in a state of bewilderment that I had been conceived at that late time in my mother’s life.  Every now and then I caught them staring at me as if I was a Sigourney Weaver alien who had popped out of my mother’s belly.  I was their first and only child, and they were helpless when it came to parenting.  Maybe being a girl made it worse.

My mother died of an aneurism when I was nine, so I had no one to help me through puberty, except for an impatient and overworked school nurse.  It was a nightmare.  My social life had peaked in the first grade when someone struck me lightly while my class was playing tag.  I started bawling and couldn’t stop.  Perhaps I was crying for reasons other than the light touch on my shoulder.  The other kids gathered around; some fascinated, some disgusted that I was acting like a baby.

After that I was left alone.  I wasn’t picked on or bullied, I was simply left alone.  By high school, I longed to be bullied.  At least someone would have known I was alive.  I did poorly in school.  I was lucky to get a B now and then.  My grief stricken father ignored me except to admonish me to “keep yourself pure.”  That was the extent of my sex education, because my father always pulled me out of sex-ed classes, and I was probably the only child in the world who did not have access to a computing device at home.  It’s not as if I was completely ignorant, because I could watch the CW on television (my father had no clue), and sometimes I saw naked people on Discovery, National Geographic, or on PBS.

My father died of a heart attack a month before I graduated.  Still in shock, I sat and listened to our valedictorian urge us to “seize this opportunity.”  It wasn’t long before I discovered that my parents had put away nothing for their retirement.  They were counting on social security and Medicaid, secure in their knowledge that the government would take care of them.  That might even have worked if I had not been born.  My father did have a small amount of term life insurance, and to his credit, the mortgage officer at the bank did a decent job of advising me.  The house went into foreclosure, and I spent the life insurance proceeds on my first year of college.  Naturally, I could not afford a really good college, and my grades were barely enough to get me into a third tier school, but I was finally admitted.

I declared my major as ‘General Studies,’ because I had no idea what I wanted to do if I was ever fortunate to graduate.  My classes were difficult, though I sometimes overheard other students referring to them as ‘easy A’s.’  I was amazed at how confident most of them seemed; as if being far from home and alone was no problem.  I was envious of them, especially of Chastity and Derek.  They were a couple.  My naïve mind refused to consider the word ‘lovers’.

Chastity and Derek were always conversing, laughing, and smiling.  They were enjoying their lives as much as I hated mine.  He was an artist, and I rarely saw him without a sketch pad.  His favorite motif was a seahorse, and everything he and Chastity owned had a pair of seahorses, one slightly offset from the other.  Their pants, high end sneakers, shirts, her blouses and skirts; they all had the seahorse motif painted, or knitted, or drawn.  It was even on their book covers.  It was like their personal coat of arms.

His long hair was midnight black, and he had grey eyes.  He wasn’t built like an athlete, but he wasn’t thin or short, either.  Had I been older and wiser, I might have considered auburn haired Chastity a social butterfly, but in truth she was way too mysterious for that label.  When her knowing green eyes swung my way, I would duck behind my book, holding it up to cover my face from her piercing gaze.  They were my most intimidating classmates, but luckily I only had them in one class.  The other students were almost as intimidating, so I spent most of my time hiding in my dorm room.

Unfortunately, all I could afford was tuition, fees, and board.  I did not have enough money left over to buy a full meal ticket that would have allowed me to eat three daily meals in the school cafeteria.  After buying my books, I used the last of my money to purchase a ‘dinner’ meal plan.  I could eat all I wanted in the cafeteria, but I was not allowed to take out food, so I tried to fill up.  But by dinnertime the next day, I was always hungry.  At noon I would watch enviously as other students walked by me eating candy, a taco, or even a big piece of pizza.

I was just trying to survive the first semester when disaster struck in the form of Thanksgiving.  The cafeteria closed for the holiday weekend, so the manager could do a general clean up.  That meant surviving four days without having anything to eat.  When it finally dawned on me, I was paralyzed with indecision.  It occurred to me to go ask (beg) the cafeteria manager for some emergency food, but by the time I got the idea it was too late, everything was closed.

I stayed in my room on Thanksgiving Day, trying to convince myself that I was dieting, even though my sixty two inch frame only carried a hundred pounds.  By Friday, hunger forced me from my room.  I had no idea what to do, but when I passed a Dunkin Donuts a toddler dropped most of his donut on the ground.  He continued to eat the rest, so his mother did not see what had happened.  I looked around, and when I didn’t see anyone, I picked up the donut piece and ate it.  It was like finding heaven!  I waited outside the establishment for a long time, but no one else managed to lose a donut, so finally I went back to the dorm and suffered through another hungry night.

I thought about the donut, and it finally occurred to me to consider the possibility that other people might leave food they did not want.  The next morning I left my room and went hunting.  At first I had no clue how to proceed, but as I got hungrier, I began to get bolder.  I went into a fast food place and sat down to watch, and when someone dumped a bag with some remains into the trash container, I was on it instantly, removing the bag that had fallen into some leftover ketchup, and searching it.  I ate about eight fries and some limp sauce covered lettuce before the tense manager shooed me out of the place.  The next time I tried to be more discrete.  When I happened to see the trash taken to the dumpster and emptied, I knew I had hit the jackpot.

I was too short to reach anything from outside, so I had to climb in and search for a bag.  I found a hamburger, more fries, and part of a Coke.  I climbed out and began to feed my grateful stomach.  That’s when I saw THEM watching me.  I was in an alleyway, and they were on the sidewalk next to the street.  They didn’t seem shocked or anything like that, they just stared at me keenly.  My face reddened and I could feel the heat of my embarrassment, but I was too hungry to stop eating.  Then they turned and walked on, though Chastity half turned and threw me one of her mysterious smiles that said, “I can see right through you.”

I finished eating my meal.  Then, depressed, I went back to my room.

The one building on campus that did not close on the weekend after Thanksgiving was the library.  It stayed open for students desperate to finish an essay or a term paper that was due on Monday.  It was a three story affair.  The first story was all about sofas and comfortable chairs where strong cellphone and Wi-Fi signals were available.  The second story held actual books, the old kind made out of paper; some had real leather covers.  The third story in the library had monitors where poor students like me could go and read online from the library’s extensive collection of ebooks.  I did not read much, because I would get headaches after a few pages, but while hiding on the third floor of the library, I had ran across Amy’s Hero, which had as its heroine (if she could be called that) a girl with problems similar to mine.  And so I was raptly focused on the monitor when someone spoke, and the words finally broke through to my conscious mind.

“Here she is.”

I lifted my head upon hearing those words, and then I turned on the swivel seat.  I saw THEM.  It was Chastity who had spoken.

“You were right,” Derek said.  “She does come here.”

I froze.  The kiosk where I was sitting was located in a corner of the building.  They were standing in the vee, so there was no way to pass them without coming close.  If they had moved on, I might have returned to my reading, but they didn’t, they just kept their gaze on me.  I stood as my brown eyes flickered from side to side seeking an exit route, but as if interpreting my intent they moved closer, blocking my escape.

I began to tremble like a fawn caught by two hungry wolves.  My doom was upon me; I just didn’t know yet what form it would take.  They moved closer until they could have reached out and touched me.  And then they did.

Derek took my arm, and Chastity took my head between her hands and gazed intently into my terrified eyes.  I was vaguely aware of Derek taking something from his pocket, and then Chastity lifted her hands to my dirty blonde hair and pulled it from my nape.  My ashen face was staring at her neck as she moved her hands through my tresses.  Derek pushed up the short sleeve of my long dress.

“No sign of lice,” she said.

I had no idea what she was referring to, but even if I had known, I probably was too frightened to take offense.  She released my hair and lifted my prescription glasses from my nose and ears.  I blinked myopically several times as she examined the frames.

“Near sighted.  She’ll need Lasik surgery.”

“Doable,” Derek stated.  He was rubbing something on my upper arm.

“Open your mouth,” she said.

When I did not obey, she pinched in my cheeks with the fingers of her right hand.  I let out a squeak as my mouth was forced open.

“Pull your tongue in.”

This time I didn’t hesitate to do as she had commanded.  She looked into my mouth, moving her head up, down, and sideways, and then she slid a finger into my mouth and ran it over my teeth, top and bottom.

“She has at least two cavities, maybe more.”

“No problem,” Derek replied.

Once again, Chastity took my head between her hands.  Derek stretched my arm forward, and Chastity gently turned my head, so I could see my upper arm.  And there in purple ink were the two seahorses.  That was perhaps my greatest shock of the night.

“Do you understand?” Chastity asked.

I could not speak or move a muscle.  I just stared into those intense green eyes.  She released my head, opened her purse, and pulled out a plastic card and a twenty dollar bill.  She handed both items to me, and I had the presence of mind to take them.

“That’s a full meal card, and the twenty is your allowance.  You’ll only get a twenty once a week, so make it last.”

I still couldn’t respond.

“One more thing.  Your curfew.  From now on, it’s nine o’clock.  After that you stay in the dorm.  It’s too dangerous for a girl to be walking around campus after nine.”

She took a step back.  Derek released my arm and said, “We’ll talk to you in class.”  I finally managed a tiny nod.

They turned and left.  For a long time I stared after them.  Still a little dazed, I turned to my monitor.  I had three more pages to read.  I looked at my watch, exited the reader app, and shut off the monitor.  It was eight fifty.  I only had ten minutes to get to the dorm.

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