Rain splattered on the windshield of the cab in globs. Each splash sounded like a rock. I was used to nasty storms from living in Texas for so long, but it made the people who never left New York cringe. The cabbie was an oversized man with pasty skin and too much hair. He had a dark ball cap pulled down low, concealing his face. As we drove into the storm, he pushed his hat farther back, as if ball caps hindered vision. The man was leaning forward, practically pressing his face against the windshield.
We drove east in silence. He didn’t try to make small talk, and I was glad about that. This homecoming wasn’t something I wanted to discuss. I still didn’t want to be here, but there was nowhere left to go. The car pulled off the expressway, and after a few turns, the cab rolled down a narrow street in Port Jeff. Through the rain, porch lights blazed promising warmth inside the rows of homes.
“Here we are,” the cabbie stated with complete indifference. As he told me the total, he wrote something on a clipboard, and tossed it back onto the front seat next to him.
Hesitating for a moment, I looked up at the brown brick facade and swallowed. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I’d left Long Island over ten years ago, and, although I missed it, I had never wanted to come back. Yet, here I was.
The cabbie cleared his throat, waiting. I blinked once, pushing away the doubt that crawled up my spine, and dug into my purse. It pained me to hand him the last of my money, but I did. He grumbled something, expecting me to be cheap because I looked like a drowned rat, but I said, “Keep the change.”
“Sure thing, Princess. I’ll buy a new yacht to park next to the other one.” The man laughed. He sounded like a llama choking on a shoe. Fine. It wasn’t a big tip, but it was all I had. I got the clear impression he didn’t think Little Miss Texas should be wandering around big bad New York, like some redneck yokel who just discovered shoes.
Ignoring him, I slid off the seat. Kicking open the door, rain splattered down and I was instantly wetter. I didn’t think that was possible. I had one bag with me and two others in the trunk. Drops of freezing rain ran down my neck and into my coat making me shiver. I’d forgotten how different men acted here. They didn’t hold doors or help girls with their bags. After I ran around to the back of the cab, I grabbed my suitcases and slammed the trunk shut.
As the red taillights faded into the darkness, the front door of 6A opened. A young woman with long dark hair ran down the porch stairs and straight at me. “Abby!” In two bounds she was across the puddles, hugging me like I’d never left.
“Hey, Kate,” I hugged her back. She didn’t seem to care that I was sopping wet, and now, so was she. Holding my shoulders in her hands, she examined me under the street light. Her eyes were still vibrant, and every ounce as green as I remembered.
“I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve seen you,” Kate said grinning, shaking her head. “I have no idea why you ran away and failed to tell your best friend about it, but I would have traded anything to get to see you again. And now you’re here!” She hugged me again. I wasn’t much of a hugger, and neither was she, but she was right. With the way I’d left, I didn’t expect such a warm reception. “Come on, let’s go inside. I have a spiked hot cocoa with your name on it.” She reached for my bags, and then made a beeline for the front door with me on her heels.
Kate didn’t know why I’d left, and I never told her. It was complicated. As I stepped over the threshold, I glanced around her apartment. It was warm and clean, decorated like an art gallery with beautiful artwork on the walls. The room was peaceful, painted with soft blues and browns—not like the girl with the bright orange bedroom she had when we were younger. Kate seemed to have gotten over her fascination with neon colors.
Pushing her dripping hair out of her face, Kate said, “Come on. I’ll show you your room, and then we can catch up.” Following Kate’s path of puddles, I walked between the living room and kitchen to a back hallway. The apartment was larger than it appeared from the street. After passing a bathroom, I stopped in the doorway of a bedroom. Kate grabbed my bags from me, putting them under a window and throwing towels on the floor in front of them to soak up the water. “And this, Miss Abigail Tyndale, will be your residence for as long as you like.”
“It’ll only be a year, Kate. I’ll go as soon as I can. I don’t want to burden you.” I felt horrible having to do this in the first place, and she was being so nice. Kate was the same selfless person from a decade ago. I bet she still dragged half dead cats off the street and took them to the vet, happily footing their medical bills and finding them a new home.
Kate folded her arms over her chest, and hung her head. “You’re gonna run again, aren’t you? First chance you get, you’ll head for the hills and go back to no-mans land.” It was a statement. An obvious observation. A dark tendril of hair clung to Kate’s cheek, water dripping down her face like tears. Her green eyes were on me, wanting an answer.
No one willingly ran to no-mans land. I sure didn’t and standing there with her, it felt like I’d never left. It felt like I had my best friend back, and I missed her. No one took her place in all the time I was gone. She was the kind of person who didn’t say what you wanted to hear—she said what you needed to hear. Friends like her were rare.
I smiled at her, “This isn’t my home anymore. I don’t belong here.” My moist clothing clung to me like wet toilet paper. I repressed a shiver. A hot shower really sounded divine.
“You belong with your family,” she stated, stubbornly.
I wondered if she’d heard—if she knew. One night, several years ago, my parents were driving back from dinner and never got home. They were hit, head on, by a car going 90 miles per hour. Everything shattered. There was nothing left. No chance for survival. No chance to say good-bye. “They’re all dead, Kate. I’m alone,” I said softly staring at her.
She smiled sadly at me, “I know Abby, but that wasn’t what I meant. Your friends are your family now. You’re not alone, unless you choose to be.” As she left my room, she said over her shoulder, “It’s time to stop running.”
The door clicked shut. There was truth in her words, truth that I didn’t want to hear. After a hot shower, I donned a pair of sweats and headed out to the living room. The plastic soles of my slippers made me sound like a water-buffalo traipsing through the apartment. The wooden floors didn’t conceal much noise, although the dark wood looked nice.
Kate was in the kitchen, standing by the stove, with a kettle in her hand. She beamed when she saw me. “Choose your poison, cinnamon schnapps or something stronger?” Kate had changed her water-logged clothing too and was wearing a pair of boxers and a tank top. Her damp hair was pulled back into a pony tail.
Sitting on the couch, I pulled my legs in tight. “No schnapps, Kate. Just plain cocoa.”
She arched an eyebrow at me, the bottle pausing before she poured it into my cup. “Seriously? No alcohol?”
I nodded. “Part of the vows—alcohol is only used in rituals.” If Kate’s eyebrows climbed any higher, they’d be in her ponytail. I laughed, “I’m fine, Kate. It doesn’t have to be spiked.”
“It should be,” she mumbled, carrying over two oversized cups. Handing me one, she sat down across from the sofa on a large suede chair. After taking a sip she asked, “So, this must be rough.” I nodded once, not meeting her eyes. “How long were you working there?”
I sipped my drink, not looking up, “Since I started seminary, so twelve years or so.” The mug felt warm against my hands. I wished she’d talk about something else, but my mind was drawing a blank. It was like I couldn’t think of a single thing to derail her questions.
“What was your job?” she asked carefully.
“Preacher. Minister. The normal churchy kind of stuff.” Taking another sip, I looked up at her. I knew what she wanted to ask me, but I didn’t want to talk about it. Not yet, anyway.
Her legs were pulled sideways, mirroring mine. She was leaning on her left arm, steaming mug in her right hand. “That sounds nice.” She was trying to be sweet. Nice was the last word for what it was. If Dante had a version of Hell with pictograms, I think the gun-wielding cow folk would have been around level four. At first I adored them, like crazy old coots, but the longer I was there the more I saw that they thought I was the nutty one. I nodded again. Kate looked at her mug and blurted out the dreaded question. “So what’d you do?”
Kate’s green eyes were wide, a grin on her face. “I have to ask. It’s killing me, Abby. For the past decade I’m lucky if I’ve heard from you twice. And then all of a sudden you get tossed on your ass—by a church! Did you curse them out from the pulpit? Or what?”
I cringed. “Maybe.” She knew I had issues controlling my tongue. Before I headed south and signed on the clergy dotted line, I swore like a sailor. Spewing profanity from the pulpit was a normal occurrence for me, although the words they blanched at were words like ‘crap’ and ‘hell.’ Really, Hell is a noun. They should have gotten over that, but that wasn’t what got me banished. I hedged, “Kate, I really don’t want to rehash it. I did something bad—something that should have gotten me fired—but they said that they’d keep me if I took a mandatory sabbatical.” There it was. The statement I practiced on the plane flying up here.
“So a year of vacation—that’s not that bad, right?” she sipped from her mug, green eyes peering at me.
I laughed, trying to defuse the tension I felt building in my shoulders. I was mad, angry. This wasn’t fair, but it’s the way things were. I had to deal with it. I said, “If that’s what they did, it would have been fine. But they didn’t.” I hesitated. Talking about this just made me more emotional. I walked into this mess. I brought it on myself and now I was homeless. I decided to tell her more. It was Kate, and I doubt she’d condemn me for what I did, although I wouldn’t specify exactly what—not yet. “The church board said it was a year in the desert—they wouldn’t pay my salary—and that if I wanted to remain employed, that I had to do this.”
“So, basically you were tossed out on your ass with no money?” Kate’s expression was surprised. “That doesn’t sound like a churchy thing for them to do.”
I nodded, “Yeah, but it’s actually much worse.” My stomach sank. This was the kicker and it was my own damn fault.
“How could it possibly be worse?” her jaw was hanging open, her mug tilted precariously to the side, its contents threatening to spill onto the floor. To Kate, bad was a finding a mugger in the bathroom stall, and what I was about to tell her would set her on full attack. I just hoped I wouldn’t get blasted when I told her how stupid I was. This was the biggest mistake I ever made, aside from getting almost-fired.