SURVIVING THE FALL P.2 2,800 words
James stood there trying to catch a glimpse of her and feeling nothing but apprehension for her future. He wanted to believe that the incident in the street was somehow an accident. He knew different; he knew she was in trouble. No one falls from a moving vehicle, and is left behind without some horrible reality behind it.
He wanted to pick her up again and take her home. To clean and bandage her wounds, to feed her, clothe her, and soothe her fear. He wanted to protect her from the man in the Cadillac and to give her the chance that so far, life had kept from her. Most of all he wanted to show her that someone cared.
Perhaps she didn’t want or need any of his help. Perhaps she wasn’t as bad off as she appeared.
But what if she was?
James skipped his cup of Columbian dark and headed home. As hard as he tried, he could not force the memories of the Cadillac and the young woman and her body rolling violently on the icy wet hardtop.
Those eyes, he thought, betrayed her tough words. She wanted his assistance; only she didn’t know or trust him enough. James paced his living room, walked up, and down the stairs from the second floor of his home and checked and rechecked the phones to make sure they were in working order.
“Jesus, Goodal,” he said to himself, “Shelly was right, you are a drama king.” He shook his head. Shelly, his estranged wife, had often called him a champion for the lost and forgotten. Years earlier, when he and Shelly were first together, she had accused him of needing to be needed. “You’d bring home the whole damn world and their dogs if you
could,” Shelly yelled at him one night when he had acquired another homeless pet. Was she correct? Had he graduated to people from stray animals?
James nibbled on potato chips, sipped Chardonnay, and continued his nervous patrol
of his home. He always felt that the house was insanely large for one person, with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a family room, and two kitchens.
It was Shelly’s dream house, back when she dreamed of a life with him with kids and visiting in-laws and all that bullshit. Now it was a 3,800-square-foot reminder that he had failed as a husband.
The phone rang, and he just stood there frozen. Before he could find the handset, the machine kicked in and a friend of Shelly’s babbled an extensive message for her. Shelly had left almost six months earlier, and she had not informed all of her acquaintances that she no longer lived at the address nor was she even in the country. Sometimes he
believed that Shelly left friends in the dark so they would call and he would have to admit that she was gone.
Thoughts of the girl pushed memories of his soon-to-be ex from his mind. He decided that he would think of her and call her Blue Jean. Not very creative, and he hoped that David Bowie would forgive the plagiarism.
“I just met a girl in blue jeans,” he sang in a whisper.
In his bedroom, he stripped down to his shorts and fell back onto the bed. Blue Jean was never far from his thoughts. Those eyes. Pain and suffering was in them.
Where was she from? Were her parents insane with worry for her? He imagined a
mother crying hysterically on the six o’clock news, begging for her daughter’s safe return and her father, unshaven, haggard, and lost in a guilt-ridden haze. Had his strict discipline driven her to run away?
He shook his head in a feeble attempt to stave off a memory of his own mother, hysterical with worry for his older brother when he ran away from home so many years ago.
“Enough!” he said aloud.
He had to settle his thoughts or he would not sleep that night. He poured a glass of scotch, set the thermostat to high, and lit the fireplace; however, he continued to feel cold.
A moment later, he stripped off his damp clothes and climbed into the shower. He didn’t wash himself; he just stood, breathing in the steam and staring at shampoo bottles.
The effort did nothing to keep the girl from his mind. He stepped from the stall and stood dripping in front of the fogged mirror.
Slowly the glass cleared and he quickly looked away before his face came into view. He couldn’t stand to look at his own pathetic image. He was confused, anxious, and appalled by the wild thoughts that escaped when he thought of Blue Jean.
Collapsing into bed, he sighed and pulled a blanket over his still-wet body. He set the clock radio to play for an hour and then automatically shut off. Soft jazz filled the
quiet of the midnight still.
As his eyes became adjusted to the darkness, he never felt more aware of his own loneliness. A queen-sized bed often felt inadequate for two; however, it swallowed a lone sleeper in its immensity.
The radio stopped playing, and he knew without looking that it was almost one in the morning. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, determined to get some sleep. Soon, the weekend would be over and his wailing alarm would signal the beginning of another workweek.
He began to drift off, caught for a while in that place between true sleep and awake.
A loud ringing jolted him and caused his heart rate to gallop. He reached for the alarm
off button and fingered it once—twice, and still the ringing rang out.
After quickly lifting the receiver and noticing the display read Pay Phone, he said a mumbled, “Hello?”
A moment of silence and then, “Hello, James?”
“This is Ash—ley.”
James was speechless. His breath caught in his throat.
“You still there?”
“Yeah.” He sat up on the edge of the bed.
“Um . . . I . . . ah, don’t know if you can help me, but . . .”
“What do you need?”
“I don’t know where I am—it’s Vancouver, I guess—downtown.”
Her voice had lost the fearless tone that he had not believed in the street that afternoon.
She was on the verge of tears.
“These two guys picked me up and wanted me to—I’m just so tired.”
“It’s okay.” His heart pounded.
“I’m so scared.” Her voice cracked with emotion.
“You have no idea where you are?”
“No, there are some nightclubs . . . but I’m not sure . . .” She began to sob.
“Okay. I’ll come and get you but you need to figure out where you are.”
“How do I do that?” She sighed. Then she said, “Oh, just forget it!”
“Ash! Ashley, don’t hang up. I’ll find you.”
Silence, then, “Okay.”
“Now, you are going to have to ask someone where you are and then call me right back. Okay? Do you have enough change?”
“Okay, I see some people walking this way.” To the pedestrians she said, “Hey, where am I?"
James heard a drunken male voice say, "On Earth. But you can be right here baby!" a drunken male voice say, “On earth. But you can be right here, baby!”
“F*** off!” Ashley yelled.
“Anytime, anyplace, bitch!”
“Ashley, try and find someone who looks sober.”
“Okay.” Then the line went to dial tone.
He hung up and stared at the handset. One minute passed, and then two and three. James began to curse himself for letting her get off the line. The phone rang and he snatched up the receiver and fumbled to hit the talk button.
“Yes, it’s me.” She continued to speak with a tearful voice that upset James in a way that he had never felt before.
“This lady said that I’m on Richards Street by Dick’s on Dicks?” she paused and asked if he knew where that was.
“Yeah, I know it. It will take me about half an hour. Will you be okay?”
“Yes. I think so. If you could—could get me a cheap room or something I’ll pay you back when I can—as soon as I can.”
James thought about it for a few seconds. “Look, I have a huge house. If you want, you can crash on the couch until you know your next move.”
Ashley paused. “Why would you do that?”
“You need a place to sleep and I have room.”
“And what do you want in return?”
“Everybody wants something.”
Did he want something more than to help? Perhaps, she could fill the emptiness of his home, his life.
“Look, if you want help, you got it. I’m heading for my car. If you want to continue this conversation, then call my cell number.”
“Okay, I’ll see you then?”
“Yes. I drive a silver Chrysler 300. If you don’t see me in thirty minutes, then call my cell because I couldn’t find you.”
James continued to question his own motives for what he was doing, driving downtown at two in the morning to find a teenage girl who was running from an unimaginable life. Doubt that he would even find her crept in on him. The streets would be crowded and Ashley could be lost in the mob of nightlife soldiers. He cast aside his moment of
uncertainty and continued his journey.
He turned onto Richards Street and drove at a speed that would allow him to check phone booths, bus stops, and every dark corner. He glanced at his cell and noticed that the display showed a strong signal and full charge. After he finished the second and third pass of the area, worry and full-blown frustration flooded his senses. He saw homeless people, prostitutes of every gender and persuasion, and countless bar-and-club patrons walking in small groups moving in every
“Where are you?” he said out loud.
James made a quick right turn down a street unknown to him and then a left up a lane. Out of the darkness, he saw a female form moving quickly in his direction. His headlights finally lit her face, and she stared at him for a few seconds and then she turned to glance at the three young men following her. James drove ahead until Ashley was next to his passenger window. He stared at the largest of the men, young and drunk and looking for a fight. A tinge of fear rolled through him as he leaned over and opened the door and yelled at her to get in.
Ashley hesitated until she heard one of the pursuing trio calling out to her. She swung her slim body inside and sat next to James. He pulled the gear selector into R and reversed as fast as he could drive backward without losing control.
“Friends of yours?” he said to break the silence and then cringed at the stupidity of the comment.
“No,” she whispered.
James searched his brain for more appropriate conversation topics and could come up with nothing.
“Mind if I smoke?” she said in a tiny voice.
“No. Go ahead.”
She pulled the cigarette from a crumpled pack and then sighed when she realized she didn’t have a match.
He pressed the in-dash cigarette lighter and waited for the device to heat and then pop out from the socket. When it did, he handed it to the trembling child sitting next to him.
The car filled with smoke and he inched down the front windows. Finally he spoke. “I’m James Goodal,” he said.
“I know. It’s on your card.” She looked him up and down as if she needed one more sign that she could trust him before revealing her full name. “I’m Ashley Metcalf.”
“Morning, Ashley.” He smiled.
She didn’t return his grin; however, she did thank him for picking her up.
“Those guys—they . . . um . . . ?” he stammered.
“They wanted to party with me . . . but something freaked me out so I just got the F**k out of their limo. They started to chase me—so that’s when I called you.”
“Where are you taking me? I mean, I’m not picky. I’ll pay you back when I can or, I could . . . um . . .”
“You can crash on my couch for a couple of nights—until you decide what to do.”
“You said that on the phone but—” She rubbed her hands and he knew she was uncomfortable. “Don’t you know what I am?” She cleared her throat. “Wives and girlfriends tend not to like people like me.”
“That doesn’t matter,” he spoke without thinking, and he wondered where his words were coming from. “If you’re honest with me, about your situation, then I’ll get you help—for drug addiction, booze, abuse, whatever . . .”
“Why? Why would you help me? What do you want?”
“Ashley, I don’t know your story but I know that you’re really just a kid. I know that something shitty has got you doing what you do. I can help—if you let me.”
“You know that I’m a hooker?”
“Yeah,” he paused. “What about drugs?”
“No. Well, maybe a little weed sometimes.”
James drove in silence for a few minutes until he stopped at the curb less than a block from a cheap hotel. He looked over at the woman-child beside him. A yellow glow from the sodium vapor streetlights lit her face and he shuddered at how young she looked. Ashley tossed her cigarette butt out the window and glanced at him.
He continued driving and then pulled his Chrysler over and stopped in the parking lot of the motor hotel. It wasn’t the Ritz; however, he knew that it wasn’t a dump either.
“So, I can get you a week here—or you can try the couch at my place.”
“I . . . I don’t know.”
“You’re safe with me, Ashley. I promise. I know that doesn’t mean shit. But that’s all I can offer you.” He slowly reached a hand and wiped a tear from her cheek.
She whispered something unintelligible.
“Take a chance. Spend a night on my couch. Have breakfast in the morning, we’ll sit down, we’ll talk. If I scare you or whatever, then you can leave.”
“Okay,” she said quietly.
The last ten minutes of the drive home were silent. Ashley gazed out the window like she was looking for someone and half wanting to find that person and at the same
time fearing the reunion.
James turned from his street and parked at the top of the driveway and decided not to put the Chrysler in the garage.
When Ashley didn’t speak or move, he said, “This is it.”
When the girl sitting beside him turned and forced a smile, he again saw how young she was and the pain in her eyes. She opened the door and waited for him to lead the way to the front door to his home. A sudden flash of apprehension over what he was about to do washed over him. This girl could kill him in his sleep and clean out his belongings and invite her friends over for a house wrecker party. He pushed the thoughts from his mind and unlocked the door.
“Oh my god, you’re rich!” Ashley said when she stepped into the entranceway.
“Rich, no. I do okay but I’m nowhere near rich.”
“Well, you look loaded to me.”
Everywhere Ashley looked she appeared to be surprised by what she saw. He began
to understand the level of poverty that she must be accustomed to. He wasn’t wealthy, living well above his means, surviving largely on credit.
“You want to take a shower or can I get you something to eat or drink?”
“A shower would be awesome, but I’m too tired.” She continued to wander around his living room. “I’d kill for a glass of water.”
“One water coming up.”
A minute later, he handed her a bottle of spring water. She uncapped it, took a long swallow, and wiped her face with the back of her hand. She hesitated then sat on the
couch. Her eyes had dark circles of fatigue and her ripped clothes gave her an appearance of defeat.
“Tylenol?” he asked.
“Um . . . sure.” She took three and downed them with gulps of water.
“I could make you a turkey sandwich or warm up some soup?”
“Ah, you wouldn’t have any of those frozen waffles?”
“Yeah, I do. Two with syrup?”
She nodded, and he headed for the kitchen and in minutes had the waffles and a glass of OJ ready. With cutlery in hand, he returned to find her asleep.
“Night, Ashley.” He removed her shoes and covered her with a blanket.
For more information about SURVIVING THE FALL and Lighting The Dark Side visit
Lighting the Dark Side is available at Amazon.com for $16.19 (Trade Paperback)
Jan Evan Whitford, of Allbooks Reviews said, “And finally, Potter ends all too soon with a heart-warming tale (Surviving The Fall) of a wayward teenage prostitute and a gentleman with a rescuer complex. It’s a great, intertwined plot where all the characters come together, in the same spirit of the Academy Award winning movie, Crash. Once again, Potter showcases his writing skills, this time with skillful interspersing of critical back-story in such a way as to avoid slowing the plot.”