Searching for love
A wallet's hot
The price is right
It's money for love
A Tales of Us story; a Meg Noonan story
In front of B & G Liquors and Bar, Teaneck New Jersey, Christmas Eve afternoon…
Drifting out of time
Something on your mind
And I wanna be the one that you call
When you get down
No matter where you are in the world
I'll be around
The girl strongly resembled Mila Kunis – right down to being much younger than she appeared. Her day would have been miserable even if the ground had been covered with a pristine blanket of snow. But it wasn’t a pretty winter’s day. She stood precariously on ankle-length boots whose three inch heels barely raised her feet out of the slush that spilled onto the sidewalk in front of the liquor store. She wrapped herself in a self hug and pulled her faux fur coat tighter in a futile effort to staunch the cold.
“Hey!” An angry voice called from behind.
“Get the fuck outta here! How many times do I have to tell you and your girlfriends to stay away from here?” The man shoved her rudely; thankfully her fall was broken by a dirty pile of a leftover snow bank. She went to stand up but teetered over and fell against a light pole as her left heel broke off. She slumped back down onto the sidewalk, and despite her best efforts to put in a brave face, she put her head down and began to sob.
“Hey kid? Give me your hand.” A voice spoke softy. She looked up and found herself facing a smile worn by a friendly Teaneck woman detective. The girl scurried sideways to flee, but her path was blocked by the pole.
“Easy….you’re not in any trouble… leastwise from me.” Meg Noonan held out her hand again. The girl took Meg’s hand and weakly rose to her feet; barely balanced on her undamaged right boot. As she stood she pulled against the Meg’s grip in a futile attempt to flee.
“Hey…. Relax. You’re not in trouble.” Even as she spoke she pulled the girl around and pushed her firmly through the already opened left rear door of the unmarked police cruiser. The girl went to push past her, but Meg closed the door; evoking expletives rendered somewhat muffled by the door window. A moment later, Meg was behind the wheel of the cruiser but held off starting the car.
“You bitch…. You said I wasn’t in trouble…You lied!” The girl’s words were an equal mix if anger and sadness.
“You‘re not in trouble… for the most part.” Meg turned and smile. The girl glared.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“If you were in real trouble, you’d be sitting on cuffed hands and we’d already be on the way to the station. But you are in some trouble that will get worse if you keep this up.” Meg pointed to the sidewalk.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” The girl looked at her free hands before folding he arms in a ‘go ahead, entertain me’ move. Meg took a deep breath before continuing. As much as she wanted to help the girl, the next few moments were going to be anything but gentle.
“Do you know a kid named Tasha?”
Yeah…what of it?” The girl remained defiant.
“Starla? Tina?” Meg bit her lip, fearing the girl’s reaction as she carefully phrased the next quesrion.
“Did you know them?”
“Whaddya mean did? The girl tilted her head and closed her eyes as a look of fearful recognition crossed her face.
“It’s been awfully cold, kid. Wet and even sleety the past two weeks. I’m sorry” Meg’s sad frustration was reflected in the look of horror on the girl’s face.
“No! You’re fucking lying! You lie!” Even as the words left her mouth the girl began to pound the seat with balled fists. She started to shake, and her sobs quickly turned to a sorrowful moan. No words could argue against the truth of what Meg had just not said.
“I’m so sorry.” Meg said; as much to herself as to the girl. She had taken the call at the strip mall last week. One of the counter girls at the pizza joint had found the body of the thirteen-year-old child known only as Tina in the back doorway; probably huddled against the cold. The two others were found in the back of an abandoned sedan behind the old Pathmark.
After a few minutes, Meg started the car and they were in the road.
The girl looked up.
“Where…where are we going?” She looked around frantically.
“Relax, kid. Like I said, you’re NOT in trouble. I missed lunch.” A few minutes later they were parked in front of the Five Star Coffee Shop. Meg reached into the gym bag in the front seat and stepped out of the car. Opening the right side rear door, she thrust a pair of cross-trainers into the girl’s hands and pointed to the heel-less boot now discarded in the seat beside the girl.
“May be a bit big but they’ll do for now.” She half-smiled as the girl put the shoes on without loosening the laces. Meg offered the girl her hand, but her gesture was ignored as the girl exited the car. She held her hands out as if to receive cuffs or a zip tie.
“Can’t very well eat if your hands are secured. You like chili? Maybe a grilled ham and cheese?” The girl shook her head no, but headed toward the door of the diner. For one fleeting moment it almost looked as if she was about to bolt down the sidewalk, but Meg laughed softly as she ushered the girl into the restaurant.
“We’re both tired and hungry. Why don’t you wait at least until after we eat before you make a run for it, okay?” Meg noticed the girl barely contain a grin. Meg’s cell rang.
“Hey Nee…. Yes… Phil called? We can? Great, babe… see you at home.”
A few moments later they were seated; each with a mug of coffee and a huge plate of chili fries between them. The waitress smiled and patted Meg’s shoulder. Her name tag read ‘Antonia.’
“We’re closin’ early, but you can take your time.” She turned to the girl, placing a plate with a cheeseburger in front of her.
“Merry Christmas.” The girl ignored her and turned her attention once again to the food; not rude so much as famished.
“Tell Tommy and Maya Merry Christmas for me Meg?“
“And the same to you and yours, Toni. Merry Christmas.” She squeezed Toni’s hand.
“And ou can tell them yourself You’re still coming by tomorrow?” Meg asked. Toni nodded as the girl remained focused on her cheeseburger and the remaining fries.
"You need anything?"
“You and Lori want to bring some wine?”
“Yes and yes,” Toni said. She glanced at the girl and tilted her head slightly in question. Meg nodded and smiled, mouthing ‘pray.’
“Oh…. By the way? Meal’s my treat. Don’t rush out without giving me a hug.” Toni smiled back and walked away.
“So do you get a medal?” The girl took a gulp of her coffee. Meg half-frowned, but patted the girl on the wrist; evoking a start.
“No. I just love chili fries.” Before the girl could respond, Meg added.
“So what do folks call you?”
“What?” Megan pointed to the tag on her shirt.
“Your name? Mine’s Noonan…Margaret Noonan. My friends call me Meg.”
“Margaret’s my Mom’s name….” Meg smiled until the girl added,
“I hate my Mom. Actually she’s my Dad’s girlfriend. “ Meg expected that it went further than that,
“You miss your real Mom. What was her name?”
“Lana. Short for Svetlana…. She was from the Ukraine…, came here…..” The girl hesitated and gasped at the thought of what further to say. Meg knew that there were second-generation pros but even this was beyond her experience. The girl answered the un-asked question.
She died when I was ten. She….”
“I’m so sorry.” Meg’s eyes welled with tears. The girl gasped.
“Why? What the fuck is it to you?”
“My Mom is fighting… breast cancer. You must be so…” Try as she might, the girl's bravado failed her as she began to cry. Meg got up and sat down in the chair next to her..
“I know, sweetie, I know….” Meg leaned close as the girl fell into her and sobbed. Toni came over and placed two glasses of ice water and mouthed ‘still praying’ before walking into the kitchen. A few moments later the girl’s sobs had subsided and Meg held her at arm’s length.
“I know it’s not the same. I do. But my real dad never understood me. He beat me and Mommy until he got sent up for robbing a store. Mommy ended up marrying my step-dad – my real Dad. you know. My father got out on parole and would have killed us…. He…he hated who I was….”
The girl looked confused. Now it was time for Meg to answer the un-asked question.
“I was just like you…. Just like who you are and not what…” The girl’s eyes widened in confusion mixed with hope.
“What’s your name?”
“My name? Crystal…..”
“No honey, your real name.” Meg leaned closer but the girl misunderstood but still confirmed Meg’s suspicion.
“Max….Maxim… after my Dad…..” The girl bit her lip as tears of shame tolled off her cheeks.
“My name was Mark. I know, honey. I know.” The girl continued to cry. Meg waited until the girl was quiet once again.
“I know this is a lot for you to take in, but it’s Christmas Eve and all. My boss called my home. My wife says social services phoned …they owe me a few favors…. We don’t want to see you lost in the foster system.”
“We? You…you have a wife?”
“Yes. Anita. She wants you to come…”
“She? Come for Christmas?”
“And after we can figure out how to help you.” Meg smiled. The girl was still crying, but her weight had lifted; leaving her with a peace she’d never before known.
Meg stood and helped the girl to her feet just in time to received the promised hug from Toni. who hugged the girl as well and kissed her on the forehead.
“See you tomorrow, sweetie?” Toni looked back and forth between the two, Meg smiled as she returned the hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered before speaking aloud.
“She’ll be staying with me and Anita. So until tomorrow, Merry Christmas.”
With that, Meg and the girl walked out to the car. She opened the front passenger side door.
“Up front with me, kid?” The girl smiled through confused but happy tears.
“Say, you don’t really look like a Crystal, and I know you’re not really…Max?” The girl nodded as she got into the car.
“Would you mind if we called you Lana?” Meg asked as she got behind the wheel. Whatever reserve defense that remained in the girl dissipated as she put her head on Meg’s shoulder and sobbed happy tears. Meg started the car. As she pulled out she glanced at the girl and smiled.
“Lana it is.”
Fly me away on an aeroplane
High in the sky wanna see you again
Wanna know this time
Gonna tell you what I'm feeling
Gonna know this time
Gonna get it back that feeling
Fly Me Away
Words and music by
Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp
Words and music by
Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp
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