It was 6:00 pm; it was snowing heavily now and dark, and Penny was still at the gate, which was now closed, waiting for her mother to come to get her. The security guard approached her, ‘ Hey child, when are your parents coming to get you? Should I call someone for you?’
‘My mum!’ said a crying Penny.
‘Ok, what is her number?’ bringing out his phone.
Within seconds, he was dialing Sarah’s number, but there was no response.
‘What about your dad?’
‘My sister,’ said Penny, hopefully.
He sighed. ‘I won’t be able to take you as I am the only one on duty today. Let me call the nearest station. They will send someone to take you home’.
Penny ran off after she heard the word ‘station.’ Her dad had visited the station several times and had come back more devilish than before. The police had threatened to take her and her sister to the foster home if they heard any more complaints.
Her school was far from their home, a consequence of being too bright for the local community school, and if she walked, she thought, she would get home at some point.
She had walked for an hour and a half. She couldn’t see anything but snow falling, and only a few people were on the streets. A man sitting on a bench in the center of a park caught her attention, and she joined him, hugging her backpack for warmth.
The man was puzzled that someone came to join him. ‘Hello, little one. What’re you doing out here in this weather?’ Penny said through chattering teeth, ‘I’m trying to find my way home.’ He pointed to the diner across them. ‘It’s best you go in there. Someone there should help you! If they can’t, at least it is warmer in there than it is out here!’ She nodded quickly and went through the snow to the diner.
He was right. It was warmer, but in these parts, you could not sit in a diner for free.
She spotted a waitress and asked if she could help her get home. ‘Sorry, honey,’ the waitress replied. ‘Not in this weather. Sit, and I will get you a cup of hot chocolate. It’s on the house!’
‘Thank you,’ she said to the waitress and turned around to look for a seat.
Then she saw a familiar face.
He was drinking coffee while reading the New York Times.
She went to him.
‘Good evening, sir. Have we met?’
The man looked up at her, puzzled.
Then he saw her face and remembered her; the little girl was a carbon copy of her mother.
He stood up.
‘Sarah’s daughter,’ he said, pulling out a chair.
Penny smiled, ‘Wow, you remembered my mother’s name! I remember you too! My name’s Penelope, by the way.’
His mother’s name. ‘Penny,’ he echoed.
‘Yes,’ she said excitedly. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
He smiled. ‘Christopher,’ he said. ‘Christopher Wallace. You can call me Chris’.
She shook his hand.
The waitress brought her hot chocolate. ‘Grace, get her anything she wants,’ he said.
‘Yes, Dr. Wallace,’ Grace replied.
‘Thank you, Chris!. Sorry, we ran out of your store in a hurry’, she said, helping herself to a sip. ‘I’ll have a bacon sandwich,’ she said to the waitress. She smiled as she took her order and left.
He looked at her in fascination.
‘Why are you here, Penny? Where is your mum?’
Her mood changed. Suddenly she was sad, and Christopher was worried.
‘I think the snow stopped her from coming to get me at school,’ she explained.
She was lying, he decided. Her brows came together in a V- shape whenever his mum was hiding something as well.
‘Hmmm,’ he replied. ‘Are your classmates stuck in school as well?’
She looked at her uniform. ‘Well, my mum works shifts, so she closes late,’ she informed him.
‘Alright,’ he said, folding his paper. ‘When you finish with your sandwich and hot chocolate, I’ll take you home. It seems the weather is improving’.
‘Thank you, Chris!’ she said, giving him a tight hug.
‘You are nice,’ she concluded, ‘and very handsome too! I guess that’s why my mum ran away.’
He laughed, and she laughed too. ‘How about your dad,’ he asked. She looked down. ‘I rather not talk about him,’ she said sadly.
She was still with the weasel, thought Chris.
‘Ok, it’s time to go,’ he said after she finished her sandwich.
‘Can I have two more to go, please? she asked.
‘You can have as many as you want,’ he said, asking the waitress to bring all the available sandwiches while observing Penny pulling her sleeves down to hide some mark on her arms.
‘Thank you, Chris. I’m lucky I bumped into you’.
‘The luck is mine, Penny,’ he said, helping her up and carrying her backpack.
They were in luck. The council workers had begun to clear the streets, and the traffic was easing up by the time they got to her neighborhood. Penny showed him her favorite spots, including where her mother worked. Chris read the sign aloud, ‘Barney’s thrift shop.’ ‘Yes,’ Penny said in a disapproving tone. ‘I’m sure she would have earned more at your store for sure. Sometimes, I don’t understand her.’
‘You love your mother very much,’ noted Chris.
She looked down as they turned into her street.
‘I do, but sometimes she can be strange. Pullover, Chris. That’s our house’.
That house? Chris wondered. Was that the best she could do?
Suddenly, they heard a loud crashing sound coming from the house.
Chris pushed the front door open and found Sarah on the floor, with blood spilling from her forehead and the weasel with a broken bottle in his hand, heaving like a wounded animal.
‘Mum!’ cried Penny, rushing over to Sarah.
‘You!’ Heb bellowed. Penny ran and hid behind Chris in fright.
‘Look what you made me do!’
He started to walk towards her but stopped when he saw the tower of a man, standing at the door.
‘Don’t take another step!’ Chris warned. Heb twisted his lip, ‘Who the hell are you?’
Good, he doesn’t remember.
‘Leave them alone or face the consequences!’ Chris warned again.
The neighbors had gathered outside, and everyone could hear siren sounds in the distance.
‘This is my house, rich boy! You are the one that needs to leave! That brat, her sister, as well as this waste of space on the floor, are all mine!’
Chris gave him a strong punch that left him bleeding from his nose. Heb tried to fight back, but Chris was too quick for him, and he was lying on the floor with a broken rib in seconds.
He was in pain but was laughing like a lunatic. ‘You think this is over, rich boy? They will get what’s coming if the police take me. They know they will!’
The police barged in and bundled him into their car.
Chris already had Sarah in his arms and out the door. Penny followed closely.
He saw an ambulance waiting, and Chris got Sarah settled in as fast as he could. ‘Don’t worry, we will take it from here,’ assured the paramedic.
He produced his ID from his breast pocket.
‘I will attend to her.’
‘Of course, Dr. Wallace,’ the paramedic said. ‘You can ride with the ambulance. Is the girl coming with you?’ he added, looking at Penny.
‘Yes, she is,’ he replied as he lifted Penny into the ambulance. ‘Penny, where is your sister?’
She didn’t respond.
Chris could see that she was in shock and struggling to deal with all the activity around her. He called out to a police officer to locate Daisy while he focused on stabilizing her mother.
‘Don’t worry, Penny. Everything will be alright.’