His for ChristmasBy: Skye Warren
The guard behind the glass grunted as he pulled a manila folder from the stack. “Angel Cole,” he said, sounding bored as the contents of my life slid onto the counter.
A half-empty stick of gum. A dull pencil only a few inches long.
Twenty dollars and change.
I was surprised the twenty bucks hadn’t been taken by a guard, honestly. The sad collection of items didn’t make me feel anything. I didn’t even remember using that pencil. I didn’t remember what the gum tasted like. A two year sentence had been lenient, according to the public defender, due to my age. Only two years, but it felt like my whole life—and whatever came before a distant dream.
The guard slid a clipboard to me. “Check that everything’s there, and sign at the bottom.”
I scanned the list and found something new had been added: a diploma. Two years had counted for something, after all. It was only an associate’s degree, but it was something. With any luck, I could make a new life for myself. One that didn’t involve drugs or scummy boyfriends or jail time.
“You got a place to go?” he asked, though his gaze remained on the fuzzy TV in the waiting room behind me. The empty waiting room.
No. “I’m not sure.”
He dropped an orange sheet of paper onto the small pile. Resources for the Homeless Community.
My chest felt tight.
I shoved everything back into the envelope but left the flyer on the counter. That seemed to catch his attention. He looked me over. His gaze traveled down and up, crawling slow, leaving chills on my skin.
“I may know someone with a place,” he said slowly. “They’re hiring.”
My bullshit meter had been finely honed the past two years. “What kind of work?”
A humorless smile, almost a smirk. “The kind that pays.”
Shame ran through me, in that deep groove where it had been so many times before. I was too broke, too stupid, too desperate to get a real job. That had been true at sixteen, and my worst fear was that it wouldn’t be all that different. And now I was getting propositioned by the freaking guard. Whether he wanted me to sleep with guys or run drugs, it didn’t matter. I was going to get a regular job or die trying.
Having lived on the streets before, I knew dying was a real possibility.
“No thanks,” I said breezily like the dirty offer didn’t hurt. “I’m heading to New York City anyway.”
He snorted. “In this weather? You’ll freeze.”
“I have enough for a bus ticket.” Totally bluffing. I had no idea how much a bus ticket cost, and I had no money for food or housing once I got there. But the odds had to be in my favor sometime, didn’t it? I figured I was overdue.
“Good luck,” he said, in a voice that meant the exact opposite His attention returned to the football game on TV.
Clutching the envelope in my gloveless hands, I pushed the door open. Cold blasted my face—and my body, through the thin fabric of my T-shirt. Just my luck, getting arrested in July. My clothes were no match for the December weather.
The parking lot was mostly empty, the cars parked and covered with a thin layer of snow. No one idled at the street. My daddy hadn’t come. It had been a long shot, but I’d been desperate enough to write him. He hadn’t answered.
Probably for the best anyway.
I really was due for that good luck, even if the guard hadn’t meant it. The winter-bright sky made me squint. Chilly air skated over my skin like the guard’s cold assessment of me, raising goose bumps. I shoved my hands under my armpits and started walking toward a bus stop.
Maybe my luck had turned after all, because I found a house with a room to let in New York City. The owner of the house was an older woman with knowledge in her eyes, like she knew where I’d been and what I’d done—and didn’t judge me for it. And she agreed to let me pay rent only after Christmas.
As if that weren’t enough, I landed a job.
It was only a temp position, but to a girl like me it felt like a freaking miracle. We don’t usually hire people without experience, the HR woman had said over the phone. But one of our assistants had a family emergency and with the holidays…your application showed up at the right time.
I smoothed my beige skirt and turned my face up to the white, wintry sky. The pale sun wrapped around the spire at the top of the building, blinding me, and I wobbled on my high heels. A cab honked at me from behind, and I jerked forward, realizing almost too late that I was standing too close to the edge.
“You lost?” said a thready voice.
An older man was watching me with a concerned expression on his lined face, his dark skin a contrast to the white fluff that lined his red suit. This particular Santa manned the donation bucket right in front of the door I needed.
“Not lost,” I admitted. “A little nervous.”
“Ahh.” He turned back to look up at the building. “You going to work for the Big Bad?”
I wasn’t exactly current with the rich and famous. There were TVs in prison and the occasional magazine, but I preferred to keep my head down. But even I knew what the Big Bad meant. Gage Thompson was the owner of Thompson Industries. The press had dubbed him the Big Bad Billionaire after a particularly dirty takeover of a competitor.