Security guard isn't the most glamourous job in the world, but it suits me fine. After all, who else gets paid for sitting around watching a monitor all night? It's a bit monotonous, but it gives me time to think. You can go into a kind of zen trance watching all the nothing going on. Lately I had been working this university gig – campus cops. It wasn't bad. I got to walk around a bit, and the worst I had to do was break up a frat brawl or escort a panicky girl back to her dorm.
It was Tuesday night, so things were particularly uneventful. I was on my usual 1 AM sweep of the campus. The only sound was the wind flowing between the branches of the auburn trees, knocking off a few more leaves. I flicked my flashlight around, casting a sweep of light over the ground, not really expecting to find anything. But I did.
She was lying on the grass of the quad, covered in a blanket of leaves. Her black hair fell around her in clumps. Looking serene in sleep, she was unconsciously sucking on a blade of grass between her pale pink lips. I stood there for a minute, stunned at both her beauty and the strangeness of the situation.
The girl slowly began to open her eyes, stirring at the beams of the flashlight. She sat up, yawning and stretching her arms, then seemed surprised that it was still night. "What's going on?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing," I said. "You need some help getting home?"
She stood up, flushed, and dusted herself off. "No – no, I'm fine. I'm so sorry, it's just..." The girl trailed off.
I tried to smile cavalierly. "Don't worry, I see it all the time. Here, I'll take you to your dorm."
She stared at the ground. "I don't have a dorm."
"Well then, do you have a friend here you could stay with or--"
And that's when she started crying. I stood there stiffly. I was never any good around crying women. I wrapped my jacket around her and gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder. "Here. Let me take you into the office and we'll get this straightened out, okay?"
She nodded dumbly. Well, it was a start.
My office wasn't really an office, just a small amount of room behind the security desk, but since it had a computer I liked to imagine it was an office. I lead the girl to a seat and told one of my co-workers that I would take over manning the desk. He shuffled off to get his sixth coffee of the night.
I turned to the girl, who was pulling her thin jacket tight around her. "So, who are you?"
"My name's Rebecca," she said.
I gave the officious response. "Nice to meet you, Rebecca. I'm Joanne, Campus Security." They said doing it like that was supposed to help you remember the person's name. "Why don't we see about getting you home, or at least somewhere safe and warm for the night?"
"Don't got either of those." Her eyes were green like verdigris, and a little frightening in their intensity.
Upon prodding Rebecca provided her last name – Rose – and I did a quick search on the campus database. It turned up two parents as emergency contacts. "Why don't you stay with your parents? It says here that they live in the city..."
"My parents kicked me out," Rebecca said, trying to act casual. "For being a dyke."
My throat dried. "I'm so sorry. Do you have any friends or anyone else that you can stay with?"
She shook her head. "Nah. You'd think I would at least wait until I had a girlfriend to come out, but no. I just wanted that happy touchy-feely moment of family togetherness and acceptance so bad." She laughed bitterly. "Didn't really work out the way I'd planned."
On impulse I grabbed her hands and squeezed. "Hey. This isn't your fault. Whatever ends up happening, remember that they're the assholes here, not you."
Rebecca looked a little amused. "I thought you were a security guard, not a shrink."
"I'm a woman of many talents."
"Whatever ... anyways, the past week or so I've just been sleeping on campus. It's actually kind of nice. You know, sleeping under the stars, communing with nature – all that shit."
"What are you going to do when winter comes?"
That shrug again. "Haven't really thought about it yet." I felt sorry for Rebecca, but there was a part of me to reach across the desk and throttle her when she said things like that.
I tapped the desk. "Hang on there. I'll make some calls, see if we can work something out."
"It's not like I've got anywhere to go," Rebecca said. She was right. Beyond her personal situation, campus at these dead-of-night hours was like a cage – no buses, few cars, nothing around for miles but student slums and highways. You had to wait for whoever let you in to come around and let you out again.
I did indeed make some calls, but of course no one was answering this early. I left messages hoping they wouldn't be overlooked or chucked into the labyrinth of university bureaucracy. I returned to my room to tell Rebecca the no-news, but she was already asleep in her seat, head tilted to rest on her own shoulder. She looked really cute. I'll confess that I sat there and stared for a couple minutes, taking in the smoothness of her face, the serenity of her closed lids, the heave of her sizable chest as she breathed ... it felt a little wrong, but I figured there was no harm in looking. Looking was all I was getting lately after all.
With a sigh I sat down and started up another round of Tetris.
Morning came, and with it a round of answers, none in the affirmative. There were no free spaces in residence she could use, no funding to get her a hotel room, nothing but condolences and helpless shrugs from the few staff or agencies that bothered to reply. The campus LGBT organization said she could stay in their clubroom, but that didn't sound like much of an improvement, unless these kinds of organizations had come far from the dingy plastic-chairs days of my youth.
Rebecca woke up and grumbled that she needed some coffee. I went with her to the nearest coffee shop, not mentioning that my shift had been over for an hour. She tried to pay with a pile of change, but I waved her off and got it. She mumbled a thanks.
"Well, the bad news is that I haven't been able to find a place for you yet," I said as she slurped up her coffee tongue-burningly fast.
"I already did the rounds," she said. "Believe me, this is my best option for now. Thanks for pretending to care though."
That desire to strangle her was back. "What do you mean pretending? I'm really trying to help you here."
"Well," Rebecca said. "Unless you're living out of a dumpster too, you've probably got a place to stay. But of course, that's too good for me."
I hadn't even considered having her over at my apartment. Up until this point I was just working, thinking of what I could do as part of my job. Sure, helping strays wasn't technically part of the job description, but I had been thinking of myself as Guard #372193 and not as Joanne Dickinson, as an institution and not a person. Which raised the question – did I actually care, personally care, about Rebecca? Beyond my job?
It was unfair of her to ask me, of course, and at first I wanted to curse her for the grenade she had thrown in my lap. But I didn't, just staring out at the campus walk as it slowly filled with students. Rebecca was pointedly watching me.
If I let her crash on my couch, I would feel like a sap, like someone whose kindness and loneliness turned them into a doormat. But if I turned her away, I'd feel like a bitch, someone so low as to let a young girl sleep on the streets. It didn't take long to choose which bad things other people (well, mostly me) would say about me.
"Alright," I said to the table. "You can sleep on my couch. But only until you find somewhere else, okay?"
Rebecca got up and flung her arms around me, pressing her cheek to mind. An illicit thrill, a wave of warmth went through me as her breasts descended to touch mine. "Thank you so much! I knew when I saw you that you were a good person. Trust me, I'll be out of there in a few days, I promise."
"Don't worry, there's no rush," I said, feeling benevolent. "And I'd save all those comments about me being a good person until you see my pigsty of an apartment."
Rebecca finally gave me a smile. "I think we're going to get along just fine."
I woke up as the sun was beginning to set. My bulk took a little while to respond to my thoughts, but I eventually managed to haul myself up out of bed. I was briefly puzzled as to why I could hear the dull chittering of the TV – I couldn't have left it on, could I? Belatedly the events of last night came back to me. I remembered coming back here with Rebecca in the morning, despite her playful protestations about breaking her perfect attendance record. She had been wide awake, having spent most of the night snoozing in my office, but I needed to hit the hay.
I wandered out into the combination living room/kitchen of my tiny one-bedroom apartment. Rebecca sat there in the same clothes she had worn yesterday (and for who knows how many days before then), watching the 6 o'clock news while digging into a bag of no-name cheese puffs that had been sitting on top of my fridge for a couple weeks. "Hey, have a good afternoon's sleep?"
I shrugged. "The usual."
"I had a shower and some of your food. Hope you don't mind."
.... There is more of this story ...