If you missed Part Five, click here.
Tash awakened early the next morning. Her sleep hadn’t been sound, interrupted as it was by what she hoped had simply been the creaks and groans of the old house. Until she was convinced that the noises were made by nothing more than the aching joints of an aging building, Tash knew that a restful night would be impossible.
She wasted no time. Making herself as presentable as she could, she set out to find some breakfast. It would be dumpster dining today. Tash wasn’t prepared to dip into the little cash she had to splurge at Denny’s. Besides, she knew exactly where to look for the best discards. There had never been much money for food, especially when Barbie was on a binge, and Tash had learned young that if she didn’t want to starve, she’d have to find another solution. The trash bin behind Cal’s Takeout was usually a good place to start. They always cleaned out their sandwich cooler in the mornings and everything was encased in plastic wrap. The bread might be a little stale, but it was clean. Tash was sure she’d find enough food for today and maybe even tomorrow if the homeless hadn’t been there first.
Yeah, that’s me, she thought. Tash Campbell of no fixed address.
Later that morning, after finding marginal success in the garbage containers behind Cal’s, Tash sat on her favorite bench in the park and polished off a rather unremarkable salami sub. She’d already picked out the soggy tomatoes and lettuce, but she’d left the onions to give some flavor to her otherwise bland meal. The carton of expired yesterday chocolate milk tasted better.
Here, watching the river rush past, Tash relaxed for the first time since reading her mother’s napkin. She had the day off work and her homework could wait. For now, she was just like any other sixteen year old girl enjoying the outdoors on a Sunday morning. People who saw her sitting there would never suspect that her world had just collapsed.
She was startled out of her thoughts and turned to see who had called her name.
“Natasha Campbell, I have been looking everywhere for you.”
A tiny blonde stood on the pathway beside the river just below the bench where Tash sat. She was waving frantically, as if anyone could miss her.
“Hey, Ginger,” Tash called, forcing a smile.
The girl struggled up the embankment, carrying a shoulder bag that was almost as big as she was. “I thought maybe you’d be here.”
“I went to your work and Al said you were off today.”
“And then I went to the library and even the gym, because sometimes you go there.” Ginger plopped herself down beside Tash.
“So I see.” Ginger opened her bag and pulled out a granola bar. “Mind if I eat my breakfast?”
“That’s your breakfast?” Tash thought about the salami sub and chocolate milk.
“Yeah. I’m trying to lose a few, you know.” Ginger munched on the chewy snack.
Tash almost laughed. Ginger was already thin as a rail. And always on a diet.
“Hey, want one?” The girl reached into her bag for another bar.
Tash knew she should say no, but the temptation was too great. “Sure.”
Ginger Paulson was the closest thing to a best friend Tash had ever had. They had been in the same class since sixth grade and despite their opposite personalities, they’d found common ground. Both lived with their mothers and both were the only kid in their families. Ginger didn’t have a father around, the same as Tash, but Ginger knew who hers was and she’d even met him once or twice. The similarities between them were enough. They’d become friends.
Tash knew all of Ginger’s secrets.
But Tash’s secrets, no one knew.