Friday, January 30, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #20

A tiny groan escaped Nikki as Kathryn turned the truck down the long street that dead-ended behind the Storm Shelter. She sank down a little in her seat, bit her lip and looked out the side window. Kathryn could see Nikki's reflection in the window as they drove past a dark brick building. Her expression shifted several times in those few seconds Kathryn could spare from driving. Biting her lips, her eyes flicking in all directions, a flush that waned to paleness in a matter of heartbeats, muscles clenching in her jaw. What did she feel? Something between embarrassment, laughter, anger and that terror that kept glinting in her eyes at the oddest times.
Kathryn kept her silence until they pulled up at the Storm Shelter's back entrance. The big steel double doors hung wide open, as they always did from dawn's first light to the last rays of sunset in warm weather. Bea whimpered, sat up in the back compartment and stuck her head between the seats to look toward the door.
"Okay, Bea. Go find Margie," Kathryn said as she put the truck into park, killed the engine and opened the door. She barely got out of the driver's seat before the big Akita yipped and leaped over the seat, out the door, and hit the pavement running.
"Guess she likes it here, huh?" Nikki muttered, still looking out the side window.
"You don't, though. Why?" She put one booted foot up on the doorframe and rested both hands on the seat.
"I just left this place this morning," the girl admitted after a long pause that throbbed through the mid-afternoon quiet.
"Uh huh." Kathryn shivered as pieces fell together in her mind.
Margie had been delighted when she called to say she was stopping by on her way home. The Storm Shelter's director said she had a special case she wanted Kathryn to consider. She knew the woman well enough to know that Margie would have told her she had found Nikki -- so the silence was a good indication Margie didn't remember the girl from meeting her in February. So why, if Nikki had tried to get help at the Storm Shelter before, asking for Joan and Margie by name, didn’t she use that connection when she returned? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #19

Bea growled as she sat up and put her front paws on the edge of the driver's side door. She stuck her head out the half-open window. Kathryn followed the line of the dog's nose and saw Nikki coming out the far end of the truck stop.
Smart girl, going out another door to avoid those two leaches.
Problem: the leaches had seen or anticipated her move.
"Okay, Beatrice," Kathryn said.
The dog's growls silenced and she stiffened, ready for action. Kathryn opened the door, signaling Bea to move back. She got in and knelt, leaning across the seat and opened the glove compartment, pulling out two fresh canisters of pepper spray and her tazer. Finn had insisted that since she wasn't up to hand-to-hand combat anymore, she had to rely on other means of self-defense, if only to back up Bea. Kathryn preferred to not waste their brief time together in between his assignments with arguments that would go nowhere, and accepted his gift in the spirit it was given. She could guess how much it hurt Finn not to beg her to give up her life on the road and spend however much time she had left with him.
"Lord, watch over us all, please." She slid out of the truck and ran with everything she had, though she knew she would regret it in a few hours. Bea leaped through the open passenger window without a sound and hit the ground running.
Nikki shouted and turned, alerted by the sound of running footsteps. She sounded more angry than afraid when the buzz cut trucker reached out to grab her. She managed to duck in time to avoid him. His partner caught her arm and twisted it savagely behind her.
"Little truck stop whore thinks she's too good for us?" Buzz Cut growled. He laughed as his friend twisted harder on Nikki's arm, bringing her to her knees. His left knee came up, hitting her square on her mouth and nose. Nikki let out a muffled yelp and flung herself backwards, blood gushing.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #18

So far, no one had noticed Kathryn standing by the door, a witness recording every sound and image in her perfect memory. She was used to that sensation of being invisible. She always took it as a gift from God. It made her job easier, most of the time.
"I could use a little company on the road," the second man said, his grin gleaming with spit. He looked Nikki up and down and raked a grubby hand through his tangled red mop of hair. His chuckle had a greasy sound when she turned away from him.
"Kid's working her way home the straight way," Ralph said, his voice taking on a protective growl that cheered Kathryn immensely.
Shrugging, Nikki turned and gestured down the long counter. "Okay if I use the bathroom before I go?"
"How about lunch, on the house?" Ralph offered. "Looks like you could use it."
"Thanks, but--" Another sideways glance at the two men.
Kathryn fully expected her to say no, she wasn't that desperate.
Time stood still as Nikki's expression, tight and wary and calculating, and painfully familiar, cut through the block in her memory. That was Joan's expression, when she assessed a dangerous situation. Kathryn almost laughed aloud when she made the connection -- Nikki James. The hair was longer, but there was no mistaking the shape of the girl's face, her eyes, her stance.
"That'd be nice. And yeah, I could use it. I'll just…" She gestured at the bathroom.
         That decided it. Kathryn was staying for lunch. She would need the time to figure out how to approach Joan's runaway sister without spooking her.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #17

        "Please, Lord, help me. Show me what to do." Nikki shook her head and watched the teardrops fall on the Bible's pages. "I know what I have to do, but I don't want to. I'm a coward. I'm selfish. I'm--" She slid to her knees again, resting her head on the open Bible, sobbing.
        She didn't hear the door open, didn't feel anything until Brock caught her by her elbow and lifted her to her feet.
         "You are pathetic! How long are you going to lay around, crying and talking to a God who sure isn't listening? Can't you figure out what you need to do? What's it going to be, Nikki? Me or that baby?"
        Later, all that she could remember clearly was that he called it a baby, not a thing, a problem.
She knew what she had to say, what she should say, but the words still caught in her throat.
       "Are you gonna abort it, or not?" He dropped her on the bed. "How long are you going to put us through this?"
        "I can't--"
        He swung back, agony twisting his face. Time slowed, but she couldn't move out of the way as his hand came down and connected hard with her face. Her vision shattered, her neck snapped back and half a heartbeat later she was airborne. The thud when she hit the wall seemed to deafen her and knock the air from her lungs. Nikki slid down, gasping and blinking.
        Brock snatched up her Bible and tore it apart at the spine. He yanked and ripped and threw pages across the bed, then across the room.
       "Choose!" He threw the cover into her face and stormed out.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #16

       "Is your boss Margie? Dark hair, silver at the temples? She has a sweatshirt with an apple on it, with a bite taken out and a bandage over the bite mark, and 'forgiven' written across it?" Nikki stuck her hands in her pockets to hide their shaking.
          "Yep, you got her in one. What's your problem? You don't need to talk to Margie -- in fact, she's way too busy and too important to deal with everybody who wanders in off the street."
        This time, her upper lip definitely rose. Nikki froze outwardly while her heart raced. She wanted to sprint down the hall to find wherever Margie was hiding from her. Yet if Margie was hiding, why would she want to stay in this place at all? Why wasn't Joan here? She had said she was staying a whole month, hadn't she?
         No, I will not panic. Appearances are everything. Definitely, don't let this nasty twit know she's won.
        "For your information, I don't have a problem." She pulled open her purse and dug for the wad of bills, too thick to put in her wallet. "I wanted to make a donation, but I was warned to make sure everything was put directly in Margie's hands. You never know who you'll meet in this type of neighborhood, pretending to be Christians." She waved the handful of bills in Sue-Anne's face, then turned to leave. Just for a moment, the woman had looked stunned, maybe even a little guilty.
          That's not worthy of you, baby girl, Dr. Holwood gently scolded in her memory.
          Daddy… Nikki swallowed hard, blinked away the hot threat of tears, turned back and tossed maybe a third of the wad down on the counter. A fifty slid off the desk and Sue-Anne dove for it. "I'll be back with the rest when I know I can talk directly with Margie." Then she stomped away, out the door, caught between the need to run and the need to collapse right there and dissolve into tears.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #15

"We're taking off by the end of the week. That gives you a couple days to rest up." He finally looked at her, and the agony painting dark circles under his eyes, digging furrows around his mouth, stole Nikki's breath. She sat up, letting the afghans fall as he crossed the room to her. When he reached in his pocket and drew out a handful of bills and dropped them on the couch next to her, she could only sit and stare. "That should be enough to take care of the problem. Shouldn't be too much to it -- I mean, what, you're a few weeks along?"
"Maybe six weeks," she whispered, feeling like one of those wind-up toys that kept bouncing off the wall and heading back, again and again, never able to change direction. She couldn't get past the thick wad of fifties and hundreds slowly unfolding in front of her.
"We're all heading out to take care of -- well, you don't need to know. The thing is, you'll be alone all afternoon. Call a taxi and get it taken care of all private. No need for Ringo or Marcus or Angelo to know what's only our business, right?"
She held still while Brock brushed a cool, dry kiss across her forehead and hurried out of the room. A few seconds later, she heard the front door open and close.
Abort? She could barely make herself pick up the money, but in a way it mesmerized her. She counted over two thousand dollars. Did abortions cost that much? No wonder it was such big business.
       "No," she whispered. "I promised."

Monday, January 12, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #14

"Stop it," she scolded herself, when the questions and possibilities repeated themselves for the fourth time, while she waited for the test kit to display its findings. "You could just have the flu. Why borrow trouble?"
A sob escaped her throat. How many times had her foster mother given her that same bit of advice?
She checked the clock. Twelve minutes past the time the results should have been ready. Did the results vanish if she waited too long? Knuckling the tears from her eyes, she got up and went into the bathroom to look at the plastic wand.
She was going to be a mother.
"Don't be stupid," she whispered, as her thoughts flashed back to discussions in youth group and health education classes. Nikki felt almost sick, thinking how simple everything had seemed back then, and how self-righteous and sure she had been. Everything was black and white, just a few short years ago.
         One thing she did know. She wasn't going to be a mother, she was a mother, right now. No matter how much of her beliefs she ignored for Brock, she couldn't ignore the deep-seated belief that a living being with an eternal soul grew in her womb.

Friday, January 9, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #13

"Oh, we're just getting started." Joan shrugged and tipped her head to one side, her gaze roaming over Nikki from head to foot and back again. "Are you sure you're okay? Brock is treating you all right? You don't have to stay with him. Whatever help you need, I'll get it for you."
"Like a ride home?" Nikki stood up, reaching for that cart that somehow managed to keep up with her.
"If that's what you want, when you're ready."
"I'm not. I'm where I want and need to be."
"You know," Joan said, standing slowly, somehow holding Nikki prisoner with just her gaze, "I've had this awful feeling that last talk we had sort of gave you the excuse to run away with Brock."
"Huh?" Nikki honestly couldn't remember what Joan referred to.
"I told you about having to run away from my mother. Well, our situations are entirely different. The difference between life and death. I needed to run away, to stay alive. You didn't need to."
"Oh, yes I did."
"Okay, I won't argue with you, because it's pretty clear you're in love with him, but I'm talking about the destruction of your soul. That's how bad it was, that I had to get away from her. Maybe you were miserable, knowing your folks were going to catch on and come between you and Brock, but it's not the same thing."
"Have you ever been in love?"
"I didn't know what love was until God gave me my soul back."
"Don't start lecturing me--"
         "Okay, I won't." Joan glanced over her shoulder at Margie, who did a very bad job of pretending she wasn't listening.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #12

"There's some sort of eating area over here." The sweet voice belonged to a hefty-built, olive-skinned woman with salt-and-pepper hair. She gestured with one hand and thrust the other ahead of her like a linebacker clearing a path. "Come on and sit down, honey. We'll take care of you."
The next few seconds were a blur, and Nikki gladly leaned into the warmth and support of Joan's arm. Her legs felt like noodles and her stomach gave one final twist of rebuke as she dropped onto a long dark green park-style bench at the back of a small eating area.
"If you're in any kind of trouble--" Joan began.
Nikki shook her head, choking on a bit of laughter. "I'm okay. I just had a close encounter with a sheep's head. It kind of grossed me out." She looked down at her hands, caught tight in Joan's.
"Sorry. I guess I'm in defender mode." Joan colored a little and pulled her hands free.
"What are you doing here?" It was on the tip of her tongue to accuse Joan of following her around, that maybe her parents had hired her to bring her home. Nikki knew that was ridiculous.
"Showing off." The woman Joan had called Margie settled down on the other side of the bench, sandwiching Nikki between them. "This is the greatest place for shopping, period, but they donate a lot to charity. That's going to help us out when we're up to speed."
"Nikki, this is Margie, the head of the Storm Shelter. Remember, I was telling you about it when we met at the carnival," Joan said.
         "Oh. Right. The women's shelter." She nodded, scrambling to remember anything else Joan had said. "So everything worked out?"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

NIKKI -- Excerpt #11

Bright rainbow streaks caught her attention on one of the bakery racks and she picked up a clear plastic clamshell container to look inside. It held sandwich cookies filled with at least an inch of chocolate chip cream and nearly as thick a layer of frosting rainbow on top. Nikki's stomach twisted as memory slammed down on her. Trips to Rick's Bakery with Dr. Holwood to buy a birthday cake for Doria, or taking new foster brothers and sisters to Rick's, and seeing the same cookies in the display case. There was so much sweetness in one cookie sandwich, it always made her teeth hurt. Nikki thought if she took one mouthful right now, she wouldn't even be able to swallow.
She hurried out of the day-old section and just wandered blindly. She let traffic direct her path, avoiding knots of other shopping carts, not really thinking of anything and glad of it. When she got caught between two knots of people, the only escape route was to scrap along the metal railing of an open freezer bin. She looked in and down. It took her a few seconds staring through the collected frost and the plastic bag before the features leaped out at her. Was that… a sheep's head? She looked up at the rest of the display case. All sorts of meat, everywhere she looked -- bison, rattlesnake, venison, alligator, and the heads of pigs and calves and sheep. Shuddering, Nikki edged her way past the knot of people and didn't even think of apologizing when her cart scraped theirs.
A warm, strong hand caught hold of her wrist before Nikki recognized the voice. She blinked away tears as she turned and looked into Joan's face.
        "Hey, what's wrong?" Joan slid an arm around her shoulders. "Margie? Help?"