Day 76 of 100 Word Prompts: Rescue
Charlie took exit six off the beltway, stopping at the red light until either he got an opening in the line of traffic or for the light to change. Though he tried not to look, his eyes drifted to the corner where the homeless girl stood with the cardboard sign. He had noticed her there for the first time two weeks ago, always wearing the same floral shirt and beige pants that got dirtier each time.
Under most circumstances, Charlie ignored every homeless person begging for money on a street corner as a general rule, but something was different about this one. He had seen every sex and nationality in the city, and none were like this one. It was her smile. The natural light in her eyes that caught his attention as she waved each day while he waited for the light to change held him captive. Over the last couple of weeks, he had found himself thinking about her even when she wasn’t three feet from his car, smiling and waving at him. He had to ask. He couldn’t stop his left hand from pushing the button on the door.
“Are you hungry?” he asked as her attention focused on the opening window. He cringed, seeing the word on the cardboard sign, “Sorry. Stupid question. Can I buy you dinner? I would give you cash, but I honestly don’t carry any.”
“That’s fine,” she replied, her smile growing broader. There was that light in her eyes again, as though she saw the world differently than him somehow. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it bothered him. “I would love some food. I’ll be here probably another two hours or so if you wanted to drop something off to me. I’m not picky. It doesn’t even need to be fresh. I will ask that you not give me anything rotten, though.”
“I was thinking the burger place a block over?” Charlie suggested, pointing toward the illuminated sign on the other side of the overpass. “You could meet me there. I’d offer you a ride, but I assume that’s bad practice.”
The girl’s smile didn’t waver as she tilted her head, obviously sizing him up for a second. The car behind him beeped, drawing his attention away from her for a moment as he jumped. The light was green, but his foot remained firmly on the brake.
“Yeah, I’ll meet you there in a few minutes,” she said, laughing at him. “Get moving before the guy gets out of his car.”
Charlie hit his blinker the other direction and quickly took a left as the light turned yellow. The guy in the car behind him turned left as well, passed him on the right and yelled an obscenity at him that he didn’t hear clearly, but could guess as to the nature of it. He pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant and put the car in park.
“What the hell are you doing, Charlie?” he asked himself in the rearview mirror. “Why? You don’t know her, or even need to. You have a whole life—a plan in place. Things are always moving. This is an unexpected change in the normal routine and could result in dire consequences.”
Charlie sat there, staring in the rearview, not only judging himself silently but waiting for the girl to walk around the corner. He nodded as soon as he saw her and stepped from the car, pocketing his keys. Her expression was amused curiosity as he noticed her dirty feet in flip-flops that were two sizes too small for her.
“Shall we,” he said, motioning toward the door.
The girl laughed and shook her head. “So that you know, I’m not a prostitute. I really am just hungry.”
“What? No, no, no,” Charlie said, waving his hands in front of him. “No, that wasn’t it at all. That’s not why I asked you to come here.”
“I’m not going in until I find out why you did then,” she replied.
“You’re different than the others,” Charlie said. “It’s your smile and the way you wave at me. There’s something there that I can’t quite place, or understand, or whatever. Sorry, this was stupid. I’ll pay for your food, and I’ll leave. You don’t owe me anything, even for the food. You’ve already-”
“What’s your name?” she asked, interrupting the stream of self-deprecating words that were coming.
“Uh, Charlie,” he replied.
“I’m Kyra. It’s nice to meet you, Charlie,” she said, the smile back on her face. “I think we can eat some food together since you’re not trying to trick me into sleeping with you.”
“I would never,” Charlie said, shaking his head and waving his hands again.
Kyra laughed at him again. “You’re too easily bothered. You need to loosen up. You’re fine. If I honestly thought that was what you were after, I wouldn’t have agreed to come here.”
Charlie nodded and held the door open for her.
“Why did you agree to come here?” he asked as she stepped through the door.
“It was the way you looked at me. You looked into my eyes like you could see my soul. I don’t know that anyone has ever looked at me like that before,” Kyra replied with a shrug.
“Can I help you?” the cashier asked as the pair stepped up to the counter.
Kyra ordered a fair amount of food for someone her size, but Charlie didn’t care. He ordered a simple burger and water. They waited in silence until the food was ready—each taking their order and sitting across from each other in a booth.
“So, yeah,” Kyra said through a mouthful of burger. “I purposely leave the top two buttons of my shirt undone to get guys to give me money, but you didn’t even glance down.”
At that, Charlie glanced down, immediately noticed her cleavage, and closed his eyes. His cheeks felt hot suddenly, and the chuckle from Kyra made his ears join in.
“It’s fine, really. I may have said that just to see what you would do,” Kyra said.
Charlie opened his eyes, finding Kyra’s amber eyes staring at him with that familiar glean of something more. His eyebrows furrowed as he searched for meaning in it.
“There it is again,” Kyra said, pointing at him.
Charlie averted his gaze, choosing instead to look at his food.
“Sorry, I-I don’t know why, but there’s something there. It’s hard to say exactly. It’s like something pure, or happy, or something,” Charlie said, struggling to find the words he needed. “There’s something deeper that I can’t figure out. I could see it when you were holding your sign, but now it’s like a baseball bat to the face.”
“That’s an odd analogy,” Kyra said, shaking her head. “It’s alright if you look at me. It’s weird, but I’m not exactly normal. I consider it a perk that you stare at my eyes instead of other parts of me. There’s this one guy who pulls up almost every day that rolls down his window and holds out a twenty, demanding to see my tits.”
Charlie recoiled from the thought of it as his stomach turned. It must have shown on his face more than he realized because Kyra laughed again.
“You’re a sensitive one, aren’t you?” she asked.
“I don’t know about sensitive but different. I try to be the best person I can be,” Charlie replied. “Can I ask you another question? You don’t have to answer it at all if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t see why not,” Kyra said, leaning down into Charlie’s line of sight, so his eyes found hers again. “So far, it’s been interesting meeting you.”
“Do you have a place to stay? No judgment if you do. I just-I don’t know. I feel stupid again. I want to help, but I know that one night in a hotel isn’t going to make anything better in the long run,” Charlie rambled.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Kyra said, leaning closer to him. “I live right next to the off-ramp, just on the other side of the guardrail. At least, that’s where my tent has been set up for the last couple of weeks. You should feel lucky. You’re only one of like twenty-five guys that know where my tent is now.”
Charlie gave her a confused expression.
“Because it’s out in the open and people walk past it,” Kyra explained, a grin playing at the corners of her mouth. “Come on. You had to see the joke there.”
Charlie shook his head.
“Oh, man, you weren’t kidding. You really do see the world differently, don’t you?” Kyra asked as she shoved a few fries in her mouth.
Charlie nodded. “I can’t do much to help, but I can at least get you a few changes of clothes at the store and set you up in a hotel for the night. There will be only one key, and I’ll ask the front desk person not to say the room number out loud,” he said quickly.
“Why would you do all that for me?” Kyra asked.
“I already told you, there’s something different about you,” Charlie replied. “I don’t know what it is, but I’d like the chance to figure it out. I don’t have a lot, but the little I have, I’m willing to share.”
“You don’t have to share anything with me, Charlie,” Kyra said. “I know I’m in need, but I’m fine. You don’t need to get a hotel room, or clothes, or anything else for me. I’ll be alright.”
“I want to,” Charlie said.
“That’s very sweet of you, but you’ve already done too much,” Kyra said. “Maybe tomorrow, okay?”
Charlie nodded instantly in agreement. “I’ll stop at the light every day you’re there, and I’ll come here once you’ve seen me,” Charlie said. “I’ll wait every day so we can talk more. I have to figure it out, please.”
“Alright,” Kyra said, biting down on another fry. “I’ll come, but on two conditions. You have to tell me about you too. It’s not fair for me only to talk about myself.”
“Okay,” Charlie said. “I can do that one. What’s the other?”
“You can’t try to rescue me,” Kyra said, “understand? Trust me when I say that you don’t want to try, okay?”
“Just agree to it,” Kyra said, reaching across the table and grabbing Charlie’s hand. “It’s for both of us, really.”
“Will you tell me why?” Charlie asked.
“If our conversations get far enough along,” Kyra said.
“Deal,” Charlie agreed, smiling at her. It was only when he saw her smile falter for the briefest of instants that he questioned precisely what he had agreed to do.