The water ran nearly hot enough to scald my flesh, but the heat seemed just to sink into my shell and bones. I figured in about a month I would be remembering this shower with a great deal of fondness. And not just because for the first time a rescue I had done had ended on a positive note; hell, dinner and a proper cleaning had me feeling like I had won some lottery or something.
The washing machine thumped along in the small room as my coat and sweats got a thorough cleaning even as I took care of my body. When the water began to cool, I reluctantly shut it off. The oversized towel on a nearby rack had me losing myself in the luxurious feel of softness against my skin as I rubbed myself dry. The last time I had managed something even remotely like this was back in the summer when it had rained and I had stood out in it scrubbing as best as I could at the grime that had coated me from the heat. But as soon as the temperature dropped outside, trying to keep clean didn't seem like something I wanted to do; not unless I wanted to freeze my tail off anyway.
A small laundry bin stood next to the washer and I dropped the towel there. I knew she couldn't see me, but still it felt odd to be unclothed around her even though my shell covered me well enough. Humans, I had found, still considered me naked and to be honest, it was easier to hide that thing that stood out about me in order to keep them from asking too many questions. Questions were bad, I had discovered, since it tended to be followed by officials looking into the reports of a supposed giant, walking, talking turtle.
I opened the door and from here, I could see the woman singing softly to herself while she cooked. I paused in the doorway and studied her. Her dark hair only reached her shoulders and her eyes were clear and green, but one cheek had already begun to discolor where that ass had hit her. Seeing the evidence of their work so clearly on her, however, made me want to go back out there and see if they were still there so I could give them a few more reminders of why they should keep their fists to themselves. The scars that criss-crossed her face, however, were clearly older and I wondered if that was why she couldn't see. A topic better left untouched. After my own reception, I could imagine what hers had been, but I didn't think her face was that bad. However, her disability meant that she was another victim in this city that always seemed to have more than enough predators looking for an easy mark.
I stepped out of the doorway and walked towards the little kitchen that she worked in. Some happy tune played on a nearby radio and that was what she was singing to - not well, but hey, who was I to judge. But the smells, well, they had my stomach bitching again about how little I had found lately to fill it.
She must have heard me because she stopped mid-note.
"Oh, have a nice shower?"
"Yeah, thanks again. Hard to get clean as it gets colder."
She nodded. "I hope you like pasta-"
"Lady, I've been getting dinner out of garbage cans, pretty much anything will be an improvement."
She laughed and the sound brought a real smile to my face. This whole day was turning into one giant new thing; kindness from a stranger in a city that so far had shown me it had very little of that for me.
"Oh good, those are the best people to cook for: ones with low expectations."
Before I realized it, my foot was tapping along with the music and I put one hand on my leg in order to make it stop. Sitting idle was not something I did a lot of; most nights were spent scavenging for anything edible and lately trying to stay warm and hidden away from the gangs that sometimes roamed the night. The days were only marginally better, since at least it was usually warmer then.
"Can I, uh, give you a hand or something?"
"You could set the table; the dishes are in that cabinet next to the fridge."
I leaped at the chance to do something. Her cabinets were neat, freaky neat in fact, but I supposed she needed to have them precise if she didn't want to lose or break stuff. I grabbed the plates and glasses and brought them to the table. A small napkin holder sat in the middle of it and I placed one beside each plate. Who knew my days spent looking through whatever magazines I had found would be of use, but hey, I learned how a table should be set.
"In the top drawer by the fridge."
I found a plastic organizer inside the drawer and each type of silverware nestled in its own little spot. I wasn't sure what we might need, so I grabbed forks, spoons, and knives. She moved unerringly towards the table with a large salad bowl in her hands.
"Don't ya need your cane to get around?" I asked as I watched her move confidently about.
She shook her head with another smile. "So long as no one moves furniture around, I've got my place memorized."
I grunted as a reply and eyed the salad with a little trepidation. I'd been hoping for something a little meatier.
"Ya know some people like a little meat in their diet."
"Salads are good for you, and don't worry, my baked ziti is made with meat sauce."
She smiled at me and kept on working. The bread that had tormented me earlier was brought over along with a large knife to the table.
"Would you mind cutting the bread? My pieces are sometimes a little - erratic."
I snorted a laugh. That was probably an understatement. One hand gripped the bread and with the other I sliced through it with the knife. Each piece fell neatly beside the now shrinking loaf. I hadn't handled a knife before that I could ever remember, but somehow it felt right in my hands. Before I realized what I was doing, I had the blade dancing between my fingers in an intricate pattern. The sight startled me badly enough that I fumbled the blade and it clattered to the table.
"Are you okay?"
"Yea, just dropped the knife is all," I said and hoped she couldn't hear the tremor in my voice.
Who the hell was I that knife twirling was something I could do instinctively? I shook my head and willed something, anything, to pop into my brain about who I was, but nothing did, it never did.
"There is a pitcher of water in the fridge, would you mind pouring us some while I get the ziti out?"
Upon opening the door to it, I found it just as ruthlessly organized as the cabinets. My eyes glanced over and found her carefully reaching into the oven for a large dish.
"Hey, why don't you let me do that?"
She shook her head. "I can do it. I just have to remember the distances. I've only burned myself a few dozen times, so I'm hoping the knowledge sinks in soon."
I shrugged and let her do her thing while I filled our glasses and placed the pitcher back exactly where I found it. The smell from the dish she carried to the table had my stomach rumbling again. I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks at her soft laugh.
"I hope you like it."
"Smells good," I said and hoped I didn't sound too desperate.
Her grasping hand quickly found the other chair and she pulled it out. "My name is Sara, and rather than say hey you or something, how about you give yourself a name until you remember your real one?"
One hand idly rubbed along the back of my neck. A name - was she serious? I had a feeling that whatever name that popped into my head would sound shitty to me. What in hell would you call a giant turtle? Shelly? Yeah, I had heard that one before, still pissed me off, but at least I got to clobber the guy that came up with that little gem.
"Dunno," I said and carefully filled my plate with the pasta.
"Might I make a suggestion?"
"Huh, okay. My voice remind you of someone you knew with that name?"
She grinned. "Nope, I was thinking of the archangel."
I barked out a harsh laugh. "Lady, I'm so far from an angel, it ain't even funny."
"It's Sara. In the stories he was a warrior and protector, and since you came to my aid when others didn't, well, it just seems fitting to me."
"Well, uh, thanks," I said as I felt my cheeks heat up again, and I was grateful she couldn't see how her words affected me. I wasn't sure how I ended up here or how I deserved it, but at least I would get a hot meal before having to return to the cesspool of the streets.
I turned my eyes down to the plate of steaming food in front of me. This was safe to think about; anything more was sure to be a disappointment. He and I were old friends and he always showed up around whatever corner I looked it seemed.
Scooping up a forkful, I put it in my mouth, and I nearly wept at the taste. I forced my hand to put my fork down while I chewed in order to slow down my pace because if I didn't, well, I knew the consequences. I still kicked myself over that one night where I had found nearly an entire pizza and ate it too fast; I'd learned my lesson and would not be repeating that mistake again.
"It's really good, Sara," I said softly.
"Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. I made cookies earlier, so we have those to look forward to after dinner."
Almost of its own accord, my hand lifted another forkful into my mouth and while I chewed, I wondered how many cookies I could stuff in my pockets when I left. With no immediate need to find dinner tonight, perhaps I could spend some time trying to find a clue on who I was and why I couldn't remember anything.
"They say we might get the first snow of the season tonight."
That had my head popping up from staring at my plate.
"Fuck. So much for my run of good luck tonight," I muttered with a sigh before taking another bite.
"You're welcome to use my couch for the night, if you like."
The mouthful of pasta caught in my throat and I gasped and coughed until I could swallow it down and speak again.
"What in hell are you thinking? You don't know me! You heard what those guys called me; there is a reason for it!"
She had the audacity to smile at me.
"That is why," she said and jabbed her fork in my general direction. Her aim was better than I expected. "You came to my aid. You never once asked for a reward. You could have taken off with my groceries or robbed me, but you didn't! You even carried my things back to my place for me. You looked out for me even though you didn't know me. As for name calling, I know something about that as well." She ticked off every point with another wave of her fork.
"Yeah, but I doubt you deserved it. I'm not human." My eyes narrowed as I waited for her to scream and yell at me to leave.
Her eyes narrowed right back at me. I knew she was a fighter from the alley, and now her temper was being directed at me. Oddly enough, I found I liked it.
"I've been told that I would make an excellent Bride of Frankenstein, and bonus, I don't even need any special makeup! As far as I can tell, the only monsters I've met today are the two asses you thrashed out in the alley! And for god's sake, you sound like every other New Yorker I've ever met in this city."
My laugh was genuine at that last comment; it was nice to know I had succeeded in sounding like I belonged even if I didn't look it. "You got me there. Living on the streets, you tend to pick it up fast."
"I thought all it took was liberal use of swears and especially the F-bomb."
"Huh? What in hell is an F-bomb?"
"You know, fuck," she said before ducking her head. "I mean, people use it for any part of a sentence, I've noticed."
The faint pink to her cheeks had my lips curling into a grin. "Didn't grow up here, I take it?"
Her head shook vigorously. "No, my family moved here about five years ago."
"Why the hell aren't you living with them then?" My voice deepened in anger at the thought that her family left her unprotected against the monsters in the city.
My eyes flicked up at her silence and I noticed the moisture that gathered in her eyes and I knew I had hit on something bad.
"They died," she said in a raspy whisper.
"Aw, crap, I'm sorry."
Her hand rubbed fiercely at her eyes. "It's okay. We were in a car accident, I was the only one that survived, and I just decided to stay."
A sigh escaped me as I fought an inner battle. Snow would definitely make my plan of trying to hunt down some clue about my existence difficult. A night inside with someone to talk to sounded better than outside the longer I sat here. My eyes searched Sara's face as she waited for me to say something, but I found no hint of pity or fear. Perhaps she was lonely as well.
"Thank you, Sara. I'd like that," I said in a voice that was gruffer than I had intended.
Her smile warmed something inside me, but I pushed that thought down. Just accept the now. Don't look past that.
~Author's note - a big thank you to Mordinette for all her help as my beta and another to Scribbledincrayon for her suggestions. Thanks ladies! And a thank you to the readers, I'm happy that you are enjoying this so far!~