She’d forgotten how cold Manhattan could be at Christmas.
The doorman’s gloved hand opened the cab. “Emmy, you’ve spent too much time in California! A sweater and sandals?”
She stood and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Roland, Merry Christmas.”
“Back for the holidays?”
She pointed to the top story, windows glowing yellow into the gathering darkness, colored lights twinkling. “Can’t miss Daddy’s party.” She looked at him and smiled. “It’s so good to see you again.”
He stared behind her, his attention pulled away. “Hey, you, get out of there.” He removed a nightstick from under his uniform coat and started down the icy sidewalk.
A figure, draped with blankets and scarves, shifted under the bushes against the wall. It shrank as the nightstick drew near. A voice whispered from beneath the layers. “I just need to get warm. Please.”
“Not here. There’s a shelter at the mission.” He towered above the person. “Get outta here or I’ll crack you one.”
Emmy placed her hand on Roland’s arm. “It’s Christmas.”
“Sorry Emmy. Building rules.” He guided her towards the door. “You don’t remember how it is. Let one stay and a hundred others will show up.”
Emmy stopped and turned around.
The figure emerged from the branches. Long hair spilled down the hunkered back. A feminine shape was barely discernable beneath the swaddle. She stumbled across the sidewalk towards the street.
“Roland, please,” Emmy reached into her purse and removed a wadded bill. “At least have a cab take her to the shelter.”
He pushed the money away. “Cabs don’t take the homeless anywhere. Too much smell.” He placed his hand on the small of her back and pressed her towards the entrance. “Emmy, you must be freezing out here dressed like that. They’re not teaching you common sense in college?”
She wrapped the sweater more tightly about herself and shivered. Her legs and arms were blotched with goose bumps. “I’d forgotten about this weather. It’s 75 in Malibu right now.”
The sound of a sob, rasping and troubled, echoed between the buildings.
Emmy glanced back.
The woman sat on the curb. Her shoulders curled forward, shuddering as she cried out.
“Don’t get involved,” Roland said.
Emmy’s heart was touched. “I can’t just leave her there.”
“There’s a million homeless in the world. You can’t help. It won’t make a difference.”
Emmy brushed past him. “It’ll make a difference to her.”
Wide eyes, sad and pleading, looked at her from beneath the mottled fabric. They were lost and hopeless, pleading, washed in tears of despair.
They were young.
Emmy touched her. “Is there something I can do?”
The girl blinked and looked away toward hands wrapped in rags and feet sopping in the gutter.
“Have you eaten today?”
The girl lowered her head letting hair fall across her cheeks and mouth.
Emmy stared. Something about the person dredged up memories from her own childhood. The movement, the eyes—there was a familiarity about them. “Do you live around here?”
“I don’t live anywhere.” The voice was hallow and distant.
“What is it about you? I’m sure I know you.”
The girl raised her face and gaped at Emmy.
“You used to live here, in this building, didn’t you?” Emmy glanced up at the illumined panes above them.
The girl nodded, her sobs increasing once again.
A memory of an elevator shared with a kid from the third floor broke into Emmy’s mind. “Mia?”
The girl covered her face.
“Mia, is that you?” Emmy bent forward, taking the bundled hands in her own. She studied the figure before her. The cheekbones, though smudged and darkened, were high like the child she’d once known. The eyes were the same smoky green. “I do know you.”
“I—” Mia choked. “That was a long time ago. I’ve done things—”
Emmy interrupted. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You don’t belong down here.” She took Mia’s hand and lifted her to her feet. “Come with me.”
“What—” She looked into Emmy’s eyes. “Where are we going?”
“I’ll take you upstairs. Get you cleaned up and fed.”
“I can’t.” She stopped. “I can’t go up there. All those people. The party.”
Emmy stood close. “Don’t worry, Mia. My father’s house has many rooms. I’ll prepare a place for you.”
Roland stood before the entrance, “Only residents and guests are allowed.”
“It’s Christmas, Roland, and she’s my invited guest.” She pushed the door open.
They stepped inside.
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