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Chapter 2 – Out of the Storm
We pulled up to a small rundown house, where she opened the back gate. "There's a shed in the back where I want this stuff moved to," she said dropping the tailgate of the truck. She had several sheets of sheetrock and a few boards, along with some pipes, a large bucket of spackling compound and several boxes of wire. We worked together, moving the stuff into the shed quickly, and just as we slid the last piece of sheetrock into the shed, it started to rain. I looked at the sky and frowned. Tonight was going to suck. I doubted I would get much sleep, and I was fairly certain I was going to be very cold and probably wet. I rubbed my face, resigned to my situation.
"Um, you can, ah, stay in the shed if you'd like. I mean, if you don't have a place to stay."
I looked down at her unsure form. She was tiny. It was dangerous for her to be picking up homeless people. If she would have grabbed James, he would have robbed her blind, maybe worse. I nodded okay and headed toward the gate, so I could go pick up my pack.
"Wait, where are you going? I said you could stay," she called after me.
"I need to go get my pack."
She let out a huff. "Fine, let's go," she said and stormed over to her truck in the rain.
She slammed her door and waited for me. I climbed in, a little confused by her. I saw my cheeseburger still sitting in the cab and decided to pull it out and eat it.
She looked at me sideways. "So, where's your pack?"
"In some bushes not far from where you picked me up."
She looked at me nervously. "I still have my pepper spray," she warned me.
"Hey, I didn't ask you to bring me to get my pack. I would've walked." She just looked at me and shook her head.
She hurried through the raging storm, and I told her to slow down just after we crossed over the bridge I usually stayed under. It would not be a good place to sleep tonight. It would most likely get flooded out, judging by how hard it was raining. "I'll be right back," I promised and hopped out of her truck, running into the brush. I hitched my pack up on my back, so it was sheltering me from the rain a little and hurried back toward the truck. I put it inside between us and then hopped in, shutting my door. I looked around my pack and noticed her eyeing it.
"Your stuff is wet."
"Yeah, that happens when it gets rained on."
She started the truck, and we headed back to the little house. Once we arrived, I headed straight for the shed. I needed to get my stuff unpacked and drying if I had any chance of not freezing my ass off overnight.
I had my bedroll out and hung off of some standing boards, hoping to dry it out. Given the moisture level in the air, though, that didn't look promising any time soon. The thunder was loud and shaking the shed, and I was thankful not to be out in that storm tonight. I looked over at the stuff she had bought and wondered what exactly she needed done. I hoped I was competent enough to really help her. Even if she was a bitch, she'd put a roof over my head, so I was thankful for her picking me up.
Speak of the devil, and she would appear. The shed door opened, and the girl hurried in, shaking her umbrella in one hand and holding something in the other.
"I brought you some dinner. You said you'd work for food, so here's your food."
I looked up at her confused. I thought the roof over my head was payment enough for just moving her stuff.
"It's just some meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a roll."
"It smells good."
She handed me the plate. It was still warm, so I pulled it closer to my body, hoping to draw some of the warmth into my cold skin. I took a bite and moaned. It was good. It had been a long time since I'd had a real meal like this.
"So, um, what time do you usually get up?"
I looked at her as if she was nuts. "I don't have a watch. I get up when the sun comes up."
"Oh, um, okay. Well, if you get up and need something to do, you can read the directions that came with the outlets and stuff," she said pointing to a bag from the home improvement store. "Can you read?"
"Okay, well, um, that's good. I guess I'll see you tomorrow. Goodnight."
"Night," I called after her. She was an odd little woman, strong and commanding one minute and then unsure of herself the next. I didn't mind her, though. As long as she let me stay in the shed and gave me awesome food, we would get along just fine.
My heavier blanket had soaked up way too much rain. The damn thing wasn't going to be dry tonight. I still had my sheet and under blanket, which were only slightly damp. They were much lighter, but it was better than having nothing. At least I wasn't out in the howling wind and blowing rain right now.
The shed would rattle every time the thunder rolled, but that didn't bother me. I snuggled up next to the sheetrock and pulled the boxes of wire next to me, trying to insulate myself better. I was rubbing my arms with my hands, but it was no use. My sweater had gotten soaked, when I had run out into the rain to get my pack. I curled up in a ball and doubled my blanket, as I huddled in the corner. I wasn't totally freezing anymore, but I wasn't exactly warm, either. I tried to close my eyes and think about what tomorrow would bring. Tomorrow, my bedding would be dry, and I would be warmer and hopefully still sleeping in this dry shed. It looked like she had a few days of work in here.
I tried to think of warm things like fire, lava, the sun, and hot cocoa. Okay, I knew that last one was lame, but when you drank it, it warmed up your insides. Yeah, hot insides, that sounded nice right about now, as I lay here shivering with my teeth chattering.
I dozed on and off, waking when the storm would get particularly loud. I was jolted awake by a loud crash of thunder and decided to check if my blanket was any dryer yet. The temperature had dropped sharply, and this light one was just not cutting it. The wind had picked up even more, forcing the frigid wind through the cracks around the shed door, which had me shivering hard. I was checking the blanket, when I heard the shed door slam open, and I jumped, scared and surprised.
There stood the girl, shaking her umbrella again, but now she was wrapped in a robe.
"You're awake," she stated.
"So are you."
I turned back to check and see how much longer it would be until my blanket dried, all while trying not to let her hear my teeth chattering.
"Your blanket is soaking wet," she said with a small frown.
"It was raining."
She let out a sigh. "Fine, come on." I looked at her confused. "You're coming in the house. I can't leave you out in the shed during this storm to freeze to death; it just isn't humane. Let's go," she said holding up the umbrella.
"You want me to go in your house?"
"Yes, come on."
"But that's not safe."
"Look, I won't pepper spray you, I promise."
"I meant for you. You shouldn't be inviting strange homeless men into your home. What if I was a bad guy?"
She rolled her eyes. "Are you coming or not?"
Another loud clap of thunder shook the shed, causing her to jump a little. "Holy beejebus, you can't stay out here. Come on," she said grabbing my arm and pulling me out after her.
I just looked down at where she was touching me. I wasn't used to being touched. People didn't touch homeless people. I had almost forgotten how it felt. We stumbled in through the back door, and the warmth of the house engulfed me. I closed my eyes and hummed in appreciation.
"Sit at the table, and I'll make you some warm milk," she said.
I looked at her confused. "Milk?"
"Yes, to warm you up? Can you have milk? Are you lactose intolerant? I also have tea and cocoa."
"Ooh, cocoa, please," I said excitedly, and she smiled.
I sat down at the table, a little embarrassed at my display of enthusiasm for such a childish drink.
To my surprise, she sat down next to me with two cups of cocoa. "I love hot cocoa, too," she said sipping from her mug.
"It warms up your insides," I said and then felt like an idiot for saying it.
"That it does," she agreed.
Once I was done with the cocoa, I let my eyes wander over her house. It was pretty torn up inside. "What happened to your house?"
She pouted a little. "Nothing happened; I bought it this way. It was a HUD house."
"Well, I hope you got a good deal."
She scowled at me. "For your information, I did. I only paid fifteen thousand dollars for it. I put ten percent down and got a really good low fixed interest rate."
"Really? That is a good deal."
She shrugged. "The plumbing is mostly okay, but someone had stripped all the wiring from the insides and from the A/C for the copper to sell. I ended up wiping out the rest of my savings buying new wiring to replace it and get some lights working. I can't afford to hire another electrician now to install the rest of it, though."
"Well, that's what I'm here for."
"You're an electrician?"
"Well, no, but we'll figure it out, right?"
"I did have the directions all looked up on my phone, but some idiot stole it along with my GPS earlier today. I don't have a computer, so I have no internet access otherwise."
I really wanted to kick James's ass right now. This poor girl was obviously struggling, trying to make ends meet, and he had stolen that from her.
"We can go to the library," I suggested.
She perked up, excited. "Of course, why didn't I think of that?"
"Glad to be of help."
"I'll have to go in between shifts," she said scrunching her forehead in thought.
"I can go. I mean, I'll look through the directions we have in the shed in the morning and then go to the library while you're at work."
She looked at me hopefully, and I felt kind of bad, as I saw tears form in her eyes. She suddenly jumped up and hugged me. "You're really going to do this?" she said in disbelief. "You're really going to help me?"
I patted her lightly on the back, not sure what the hell had just happened. Normally, people didn't hug homeless people, and they didn't like to be touched by them, either. "Well, yeah. I told you I'd work for food."
She giggled a little. "I can't believe how lucky I am that I found you."
I was thinking the same thing.
"Oh, look at me, I'm a blubbering mess."
"It's alright," I said. "I don't mind."
She giggled again. "You know, I don't even know your name."
"Edward," I offered.
"Edward, huh? I guess it works." She reached out a hand to shake. "Well, I'm Bella; it's nice to meet you, Edward."
I took it nervously, so much touching was almost making me feel human again. "It's nice to meet you, too, Bella."
Her house was very sparse. We sat at an old worn folding table with mismatched folding chairs. There were only two, but that was all that would really fit at the tiny little table. I glanced toward the front room and saw that there was a lone chair and a low bookshelf. There was no TV, couch or coffee table.
When I looked back at her, she was blushing. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"I'm sorry. I don't have much."
"You have more than me," I pointed out.
She rolled her eyes. "I just realized I don't have a couch for you to sleep on or anything."
"The floor is fine. I've slept outdoors on cold dirty concrete and park benches for a month, so a wood floor indoors will be an improvement."
"Ugh, these floors are horrible. They desperately need to be sanded and refinished. They're so bad, but it's just so expensive to do it," she said yawning.
"Well, that chair would work."
"It doesn't recline, just rocks."
I shrugged. "I guess I'll get to rock myself to sleep then," I said smiling.
She nodded okay and glanced at the clock on the stove. "I have to get to bed, or I'll be dead on my feet tomorrow."
I nodded in agreement. It was going on midnight. She disappeared down the hall, and I went to settle into the chair, bringing one of the folding chairs over to prop my legs up in. I was surprised when she came back with a blanket and pillow in her arms. "Here, just in case you give up and are brave enough to try and sleep on the floor. I don't know how comfortable that chair is to sleep in, but at least you'll be warm."
"Thank you," I said sincerely. She hurried down the hall to what I assumed was her room. I settled into the chair, glad to finally be warming up, falling asleep to the sound of the storm raging outside.