Authors: Lisa Olsen
“Sure, of course I will.” The bus stopped with a squeal of the brakes, the doors opening with a hiss. “Goodnight, Cady. Thank you.”
“No worries. Remember to call me, okay?”
Penny nodded, hurrying up the steps to flash her bus pass at the driver who barely glanced at it. Crossing the street, Cady studied the schedule posted under the number for her bus. Weighing the time against the probability of it actually showing up on time, she decided to hoof it, glad she’d worn comfortable walking shoes. Besides, she didn’t want to stand around waiting, it made her feel more like a target.
Usually walking home at night didn’t bother her all that much. It drove her brother, Ian, nuts whenever she did it alone, but damned if she wasn’t going to sit at home every night off because he had to work. As long as she carried less than twenty dollars on her, getting mugged wasn’t that big of a deal.
The spilled drink on her shirt felt clammy now, smelling unpleasantly of sickly sweet cranberries and hard alcohol. Feeling somewhat exposed with her bare shoulders and arms in the brief tank top, she unwound her hair from the knots on the side of her head, letting it spill down her back.
Her hair was the one thing Cady was vain about. She never cut it, and it hung just past the top of her jeans, even with a bit of curl in it from the tightly wound knots she’d twisted it into. When she was a little girl, she’d loved the story of Beauty and the Beast. Not a princess, but an ordinary girl who gladly traded her life to save her father’s, and found love in the strangest of places.
In the well worn pages of her book, Beauty had long, flowing, crimson hair and vivid green eyes, and her beloved father had always teased her that perhaps she was a descendent of Beauty’s. Cady’s eyes were more brown than green on most days, but she imagined her hair was similar, especially when she treated it with henna. In the sunlight it glowed with red fire, but at night, it darkened to rich mahogany, as it was now. The cloak of hair offered her some measure of protection against the night, and Cady felt more comfortable with it down.
Hurried steps carried her past the entrance to Inferno again as she headed for home, and Cady darted another look in the club’s direction, but there was no sign of Claudio. Ready to dismiss thoughts of the disturbing man, her mind turned to her neighbor, and she wished she’d thought to ask him his name. The mailbox next to hers said D. Brown in faded pencil, but it could have been years out of date for all she knew. It was strange that she’d never talked to him before, too. Not that she was all that friendly with most of the people in her building, but he did live next door, and she knew the names of the residents of the other two apartments on their floor.
Crossing the street again, she turned the corner, breathing shallowly through her mouth as she stepped past an alley that reeked of urine and worse. There were dark shapes huddled there, but Cady didn’t look. If she looked, she would see. If she saw, she might stop. And if she stopped… you never knew if you’d escape the encounter with a dollar less in your pocket or end up in the hospital. In the daytime, she tried to spare a buck or two when she could, but at night it was best to keep moving.
A quick glance at the time showed that if she could make three blocks in the next three minutes, she stood a good chance of catching a bus that would take her the rest of the way home in one shot.
Easy as pie…
Easy, except when the figure of a man stepped out from the doorway of a noodle shop, completely blocking her path. Especially when she recognized Claudio’s inviting smile. “What lovely hair you have.” His eyes glittered in the green neon light, casting his features with an unhealthy pallor.