Innocence Restored

Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.

White as snow…

I knelt in the entrance of a concrete tunnel, reading Annie’s little pink hymn book as cars zoomed passed above my head. I know, it’s freak dangerous to hang out in places like this. However, believe you me when I tell ya I’ve been in much, much worse places than this.

It’s been months since I’ve seen daylight, breathed fresh air, or seen myself. I’ve seen everything but myself today, however, I probably wouldn’t recognize the girl I saw. My natural eye color is blue, though it’s been a while since I’ve had blue eyes. My natural hair is blonde, dirty blonde. However, the tips of my hair are still jet black. Apparently three months isn’t enough time to grow out the dye.

I’ve been wearing the same blue hoodie and jeans ever since I went into hiding. I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring the way I smell, but wow do I need deodorant.

My cosmetics are long gone. Burned, along with all the false eyelashes, color-contacts, wigs, and weapons. I don’t miss any of it, no, not a thing. However, I still don’t know who I am without it. I doubt even Annie would recognize me now.

“I’m not ready, Lord,” I stated, “but you know my situation; The bunker’s out of supplies. Sparrow is long gone… I can’t hide any longer…”

I paused for a moment, listening quietly.

“If this is your will…” I whispered, “please, Lord. Please give me a place to live. Somewhere other than a homeless shelter.”

“He will provide, Raven!” affirmed an old, dear friend. In my mind’s eye, I could see her ever-smiling face beaming at me, “He will always provide because he loves you!”

I shook my head quickly, blocking the rest of the memory.

The sun shining on the creek past my graffiti-filled drain tunnel had turned gold; If I didn’t find a place to stay soon, I’d be stuck in a cardboard box for sure.

Not that I won’t be anyway, I snorted.

Finally, I tucked Annie’s hymn book into my pocket, leaped from Graffitis-R-Us, and pulled a three-point landing in ice-cold stream water. The following scene of my shreaking like a six-year-old while leaping three feet in the air only to splash into Antarctic waters repeatedly has been forever blocked from my memory. All you need to know is, I managed to land on grass for once, and stay there.

“Mercy, child! What in tarnation’s got you inta this mess?”

For your information, I’m sixteen years old. As of now, I’m completely clueless why this lady would call me a child. I stared pathetically up at the tall, thin lady standing next to the road, watching me from her hill-vantage point. Her weirdly gold-colored hair was tied back in a bun hanging behind her round, cheerful face. Her wrinkled, white sleeves were rolled up to the elbows and her stained apron fell to the knees of her navy blue jeans.

How much did you witness? I thought, continuing to stare at her pathetically.

The lady shook her head, her joyful green eyes shining rainbows at me. There was something familiar about those eyes; something I couldn’t place my finger on.

“I suggest you come with me, dear.” she offered in the thickest, sweetest Southern accent I’ve ever heard, “I’ll getcha a change of dry clothes and a bowla chicken soup!”

The lady slid down the hill in her old tennis shoes and offered me a hand. It wasn’t until I saw her up close that I noticed how assaulted by freckles she was. Those brown dots seemed to cover every inch of visible skin! I glanced down at my own toothpick arms hidden behind the baggy blue sleeves of my hoodie, shamefully aware of how ghost-pale I was.

“You local, hun?” the lady asked, linking her freckled arm in mine to tow me up the hill.

“No,” I whispered, hanging my head.

“Where’re ya folks?” she asked, smiling at me the entire time.

“Somewhere…” I murmured shyly.

The lady smiled silently, which freaked me out. Her smile made me feel as if she could read me like an open book… the real book, not a script. Once we’ve reached the top of the hill, crossed the street, and started a long, tedious side walk, the lady spoke up again:

“I’m Catherine Truman.” she told me with a saintly face, “What’d they call you, hun?”

“Marnie,” I murmured to her.

“Marnie,” she repeated, “A good name if any!” she beamed, patting me on the shoulder.

“It’s short for Mariana,” I continued, smiling slightly.

There was something about Catherine Truman that made me want to keep talking, to keep telling her things about myself… but the more I talked, the greater the risk.

“He washed it white as snow.” the verse rang in my head. However, I knew my past wasn’t gone forever. Any clue I gave could kill my chances of a new life…

“Who are your heroes, hun?” Catherine asked suddenly.

I blinked at the unexpected question. Catherine laughed softly, “Who do you look up to, dear? What do you hold yourself to; who do you want to be one day?”

My old sneakers froze mid-step on the sidewalk. Catherine’s question had never crossed my mind before… and now, the first person that came to mind took my breath away. My mouth hung open, trying to form words.

“I… I want to be… I want to be whoever God wants me to be.” I told her. That sounded okay without spilling any real tea.

Catherine clapped me on the shoulders and pulled me into an unexpected hug. “It does a soul good ta hear that. Truly it does!”

She then released me and continued our sidewalk crawl. “How would you like a job, hun?” she offered suddenly, “I’d let ya stay with me and the rest of the herd if you like.”

Whelp, it’s better than a cardboard box. I thought uneasily.

“Sure,” I murmured, smiling slightly, “that would be great.” At least I’d make money… I reasoned, not allowing myself to finish the thought.

“Splendid!” Catherine exclaimed, “we’ll teach ya how to serve the guests lickity split at Pickin’ Chicken!”

My eyes widened, recognizing the much-loved chicken restaurant.

“From what I’ve seen from ya, hun,” Catherine continued as we walked, “you’ll fit right in with the team! Most of 'em live at my place. Once we’re home, I’ll have a place for you.”

Home…

It’s been years since I’ve had a home, a real home anyway. As Catherine and I traveled up the sidewalk, my face cracked a smile, then a full-blown grin. I should be more suspicious, I know. However, just one sentence swirled through my mind.

The best is yet to come.

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It was dark by the time we slouched our way into the warm-looking house. Than again, any dumpster blaze would look cozy right about now. Catherine threw open the door, rushed me inside, and dramatically slammed it behind us.

“Miss Catherine!” called the shadows. I blinked in the firelight as ten or so girls rushed around us in the small, yet cozy living room. Every last one of them was talking to Catherine all at once.

The firelight wasn’t the only blink-worthy thing in the room though. The girls talking to Catherine, hanging on her every word as she talked to them… and I thought I looked rough. Blackeyes, cut lips, bruises, scars; lots and lots of scars - these girls fit the bill for female mobsters. Before I had time to panic, Catherine pulled me around and gave me a quick one-armed squeeze.

“Another’s come to the family, ya’ll!” she cheered.

I grimaced from the attention as the girls gathered around me. Of all the thuggish people I’ve seen, these girls were the weirdest. They were all so… I don’t know, happy? If I met one of them on the street at night without a weapon, I’d know what I was in for… but, how could… why?

“Who are they?” I hissed in Catherine’s ear.

Catherine’s eye lit up mischievously. Man, she can practically read my mind. “They’re the heart an’ soul of Pickin’ Chicken, dear,” she whispered back.

My jaw dropped in astonishment. I might have had a life of crime beforehand, but I had a life. I’d been to Pickin’ Chicken before, and every kid behind the counter probably ran a soup kitchen for the homeless in their spare time. These girls looked like they were released from JD yesterday.

I could go on about what I thought, but that’s not important now. The important thing is that Catherine suddenly disappeared without a trace, leaving me alone with my questionable company.

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