I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I was petrified Matthew was going to pull up behind me and drag me back. I felt faint every time I heard a car approach. I made it across the bridge and was able to find cover in the bustling nightlife of the city.
I walked until 1:00 am and I realized I was too tired to go any further. I found a little park close to the edge of the water and decided to rest on a bench for a while. I ended up drifting off to sleep. I dreamt Matthew found me. I awoke with a jolt several hours later. I was cold and starving. Judging by where the moon was in the sky, I guessed it was about 3:00 am. I pulled my coat tighter and began heading towards the shelter.
I arrived at the shelter a little over an hour later. It use to be an old firehouse but the city outgrew it. The new firehouse was much larger and further uptown. The doors were locked and I had to be buzzed in. I entered through the front doors, grateful for the warmth of the building. I was greeted by a security guard who informed me the social worker would not be in until later that day but I was more then welcome to come inside and get started on my intake paperwork. He asked me my name. I paused. "Lily," I answered. "Well please come in and warm up Lily," the security guard said with a smile.
As the guard was preparing my paperwork, I asked to use the restroom. He pointed me in the right direction and I took off upstairs to freshen up. The ladies bathroom was communal and had an old medicine cabinet hanging on the wall. I opened it up and found a pair of cheap scissors and a very old bottle of black hair dye. I looked in the mirror at my beautiful, long blonde hair. I ran it through my fingers one last time, and with a long sigh, I began to hack away at it's length.
After I had dyed my hair in the sink, I pulled the towel off my head and stared at my reflection. The cut was choppy but I was pleasantly surprised. I actually liked the new color. I thought it made my blue eyes stand out. I heard a knock on the door. It was the security guard. "Are you alright?" he asked me through the door. "Oh....ummm....yea!" I shouted back at him. "One second please!"
I cleaned up my mess and stepped out of the bathroom. The security guard looked startled at my new appearance but he didn't say anything about it and for that I was grateful. He handed me box of donated clothes. I quickly found an outfit that fit me and threw it on. I also grabbed a pair of pajamas that looked my size. I asked the guard to take my old clothes to the dumpster. He led me downstairs to the office where a manilla folder was sprawled out on the desk. I began the arduous load of paperwork. It took me the rest of the night to fill out all of the forms.
When I finished, the guard led me upstairs to the communal bedroom. I picked a bed close to the wall for some privacy. The bed was cheap but comfortable. I fell asleep just as the sun was coming up. I finally felt safe. It was the best nights sleep I got in years.
The next afternoon I woke up. I grinned as I made up my bed. I felt refreshed and energized. I felt free. My stomach was protesting loudly so I went downstairs to hunt for something to eat. There was a new security guard on duty who led me into the kitchen where I scarfed down two bowls of cereal. After eating I did up my dishes and the guard gave me a tour of the shelter.
The main entrance led into a garage where they use to keep the firetrucks. To the left was the kitchen and to the right was the main office.
The office was small but comfortable and shared by all of the staff. It was packed with firehouse decor and memorabilia.
The kitchen was small and didn't have a stove but there was always food in the cabinets and refrigerator. We were encouraged to buy our own groceries but we wouldn't go hungry if we couldn't. The guard explained to me that I was responsible for my own dishes after every meal.
The second floor was a loft and recreation room. I smiled at the thought of being able to watch television. I had never owned a TV before. Even Matthew didn't own one. The room also had an easel and a telescope.
The guard led me up to the third floor where the communal bedroom and bathrooms were. Each person was assigned a locker to hold their personal items but the lockers were subject to searches at any time. Any contraband would result in a warning and after three warnings you were kicked out of the shelter.
The 3rd floor also held an old Foosball table, a desk, and a book shelf with a bunch of old, donated books.
Lastly, the guard took me outside. I hesitated at the door frame. The guard looked back at me reassuringly. "No one gets in here unless they go through me," he said. He explained the yard was fenced in for our protection and there was an armed guard on duty at all times. "You're safe here, I promise," he assured me with a gentle smile. I couldn't help but return his smile. For the first time in years, someone made a promise I could actually believe.