I got off work at midnight. I was working 3:30 to midnight at a factory that makes electric motors for everything from fans to huge industrial applications. I had to get up for an eight o'clock class at the university the next morning. I was a second semester junior majoring in mechanical engineering and this was a tough math class. I was hungry and I stopped at an all-night diner for a bite to eat. There were about five customers in there and I sat in my usual booth until Florence came by to take my order. I got breakfast just like I always do; three eggs, sausage patties, hash browns and biscuits and gravy. She brought me my glass of milk and stopped to talk a minute.
"Eric, would you mind if I asked you for a favor?" she asked.
"Well, as long as it doesn't require me standing up, I'll do anything," I told her. "Is this a tonight favor or a some other time favor, Flo? You're my Mom's best friend and if I want to stay friendly with her, I better help you out."
"It's a tonight favor," she said. "It isn't for me, Eric. See that girl over there?"
I looked and there was this tiny little slip of a girl sitting in a booth looking out the window. She had this mane of dark blond hair swirling around her until I could hardly see her face but she looked young.
"What about her?" I asked.
"She's been here for two hours and Tony's complaining about her. He's going to kick her out. She's only ordered coffee and I don't know what's wrong with her. She's been crying from time to time and I think she's in trouble. I don't think she has any money and I was hoping you'd buy her something to eat. That way Tony can't kick her out. I'd do it, but Tony's watching me and he'd see me put the money in the till."
"Your boss is an asshole," I told her. "Take her what I'm having. No, don't do that, she might not like it. Get her a couple of cheeseburgers, some fries and a coke. Everybody likes those."
"Thanks, Eric," she said. "Can I tell her you bought it for her?"
"Don't do that, Flo. Just tell her it's on the house."
She went away and I heard her yell in the order. By the time my breakfast was ready the girl's order was ready too and Flo dropped it off at her table on her way to mine. The girl said something to her I couldn't hear and then Flo brought me my food. I saw the girl looking after her and she took a look at me too. I got the impression of huge brown eyes and freckles before she looked at her food and started eating.
Flo gave me a wink and went back behind the counter. I put salt and pepper on my food and began to eat. I was concentrating on eating when a shadow fell across the table. I looked up and that girl was sliding into the booth across from me. She had her plate and her coke and God she was gorgeous. She was obviously very young and her eyes were all red from crying. She looked at me and I just stared back. Those eyes were big enough to drown in. She had a little button nose and full, puffy lips that were made for kissing. She was thin, but she had something going on under that t-shirt that made it hard to look at her face. Her boobs probably weren't that big, but on that tiny frame they looked huge.
"Thanks," she said.
I wanted to hear her talk more. Her little voice was husky and low, sounding like wine, smoke and old jazz.
"Thanks for what?" I asked.
"Thanks for buying me some food," she said. "I was starving. I didn't have the money to buy food and I think the owner was just about to throw me out."
"It wasn't me," I told her.
"Bullshit," she said. "The waitress told me. I'm grateful; I'm not busting your chops."
"Flo has a big mouth," I said. "You're welcome though."
"She didn't really tell me, but I got you. So, the next question is why? Why did you buy me food?"
"You looked hungry and I had the money," I told her.
"Do you want something from me?" she asked.
"Yes, I want you to eat it," I told her.
"See that fat trucker over there," she said. "I was working up my nerve to ask him to help me. I'm glad I don't have to do that."
"What did you need help with?" I asked.
"Well, it's 27 degrees out there, I'm broke and I think I'll freeze to death tonight unless someone helps me," she said.
"Jesus Christ! How did you get in this fix?" I asked.
"I lived about five miles from here," she explained. "This afternoon, I came home from school and told my Dad I'm pregnant. He grabbed me by the hair, dragged me to the front door and threw me out on the lawn. He told me I'm a slut and to never show my face again."
"Can't you go to your boyfriend's house?" I asked.
"I don't have one," she said. "I told him at school today and he dumped me."
"You had a bad day, kid. I'm very sorry. Are you really pregnant?"
"Yes, I made a bad mistake. I'm not a slut, Mr ... Mr..."
"I'm sorry, I'm Eric Brand," I held out my hand.
"I'm Penelope Ring," she shook my hand. "Do you live around here, Mr. Brand?"
"About ten miles away. I work down at Brisco," I told her. "I go to school at the University."
"Well, you seem like a nice guy that won't hurt me. I'll make you the same offer I was going to have to make that truck driver. If you'll give me a place to stay, just for tonight, I'll be very nice to you," I saw a tear squeeze out and run down her cheek.
"I thought you said you weren't ... never mind, Miss Ring. Let me think about it."
I saw her stiffen up as I was about to remind her she wasn't a slut and I was glad I shut that remark down. More tears rolled down those little brown cheeks and she was breaking my heart.
"OK, here's the deal," I told her. "You finish that food, I'll get the check and you can come home with me. You're going to be nice to me, but not like that. I don't ever want to hear that again. You're not a slut. That's what you told me and I'm holding you to it. I'll put you up and you can get a good night's sleep. I have an eight o'clock class in the morning that I can't miss. I'll skip the rest of the day and we'll talk and decide what to do. Is that OK?"
She nodded and finished her second cheeseburger and the fries. We got her a coke to go and she went out with her hand in mine. When we got to the car she squeaked a little.
"Is this your car?"
"Yes, do you like it?" I asked.
"I love it," she breathed. "What is it?"
It's a Charger Hellcat," I told her.
"It looks fast. This is going to be fun," she said.
I opened her door and put her in. She buckled up and I went around and got in. When we got to the entrance ramp to the freeway I opened it up and we were doing 85 when we merged. The 700 horsepower from that supercharged hemi had her pinned to her seat and she was wide eyed and laughing. She was giddy with excitement and she looked like a vision, giggling and clutching the arm rest.
"Oh, my God; that was like being shot out of a cannon! Do you mind if I play the stereo?" she asked.
"My iPod is down there somewhere." I fished around in her floorboard and she stiffened up when my arm rubbed against her thigh. I took it away and she relaxed.
"Penelope, you're safe with me," I told her. "I won't hurt you or molest you. You're going to find out you can trust me."
She looked up at me with those big brown eyes full of tears. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm very grateful."
"How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"I'm seventeen," she said. "Does it matter?"
"No, but I don't have sex with underage girls," I told her. "You're safe. Just relax."
"OK." She reached down and found my iPod. She put it on the stand and dialed up a song by Big Data called "Dangerous." The heavy bass beat throbbed and she laid her head back against the leather and closed her eyes. When I pulled into the garage she opened her eyes.
"We're home," I said.
We got out and I showed her around. My house is one of those log types and the inside looks the same. There's one bedroom downstairs and three upstairs. One is in a big loft area and I gave her that one. It opens out over the living room and there's a bathroom next door. I located her a toothbrush and showed her where soap and towels were.
"I'm sorry, Penelope, but I'm out on my feet," I told her. "If you're hungry or thirsty there's stuff in the kitchen and you can have anything you want. I'm sleeping right under you and if you need anything just knock."
She came and threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug. Her head came up under my chin and she stood on tiptoes to kiss my cheek.
"Thank you, Eric," she said. "I promise I'll find some way to make this up to you."
I patted her and went downstairs. I took a shower and crawled in bed. I heard her come downstairs and the refrigerator door open as I drifted off. When I woke up there was a delicious smell in the house. She was cooking breakfast and she fed me bacon and eggs. We talked for a few minutes over coffee and I had to go.
"Eric, do you have anything that I might be able to wear?" she asked. "I only have the clothes I had on last night. They're dirty and I don't want to put them back on."
I showed her the washer and dryer and told her to go through my closets. I was going to have to come up with something different though. She was just too little to wear much of my stuff.
.... There is more of this story ...