She caught a snowflake out of the air, watching it melt in her palm. For years, she would wait on the porch, staring into the sky, eagerly waiting to see the first of the white powder dance down the horizon and onto her outstretched hands. Christmas was here. But this year, there was no celebration. She raised her hand to her face, the water cool on the skin over the purpled bruises where her father had hit her.
“You are no son of mine.”
She walked down the road she had spent the day begging on to no avail. It had been four days since she had eaten. Her feet were cold on the stone pavement, and the night was approaching. Turning a corner into a gap between the buildings, she sat beside the pipe that had kept her warm for the night. The hot water from the blacksmith was all she would have today. She pulled as much of her mother’s dress as she could around her feet. It was torn when those boys in the alley had seen her that morning.
“Look, a guy in a dress!”
She remembered smiling, walking past them, trying to occupy as little space as possible to not bother them. She had worn the first shoes she could grab before her mother slammed the door on her. It had never been her favorite, but they were warm. They were too small for any of those boys.
“Those shoes don’t go with your dress, babe.”
Her left hand clutched the lighter one of them had dropped in the struggle. As the darkness set in, the pipe began to grow cold. She couldn’t do anything but smile at the situation. The blacksmith’s wife and two children had come to pick him up from work every evening. Except for today. He had closed for Christmas.
As the cold bit into her skin, she clicked the lighter, watching the small flame light up the dark corner. It was not enough warmth, but the light was welcome. She closed her eyes. The light flickered out.
I should never have walked down those stairs.
She was jolted awake by a hand in the darkness. “Wake up. Are you asleep?” The voice of a man, probably in his fifties. “Stand up, let’s get you warm.” She tried, but her feet were numb. “Someone help!” A couple of people walked up to him, muttered something, and walked away. “Ignore them, they don’t know what they are talking about,” he quickly reassured, giving her his coat and helping her to her feet. She leaned on his shoulder as he dragged her out onto the street and into a cab. He muttered a few words to the driver and the car took off.
“What’s your name, my child.”
“How old are you, dear?”
The car pulled over beside a small building. The man put a few bills into the driver’s hands, walked up to the door, and rang the bell. It was opened by a tall woman. “I know she is a little older than everyone else, but I didn’t know where else to go.”
The woman replied, “Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place,” motioning to enter. Her voice was thick.
“Please sit down here, dear”
Alex sat in a chair by the fire as the two others spoke in the nearby room. The smell of freshly cooked food wafted down the hall. They returned and the man approached her.
“I’ll be going now. Here’s my number if you need it.”
He placed a business card in her hands and walked out the door. The woman walked up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “My name is Rhea. Let’s get you cleaned up and ready for dinner first, shall we?” She motioned to the bathroom and filled the tub with water. “We’ll talk after that.”
Alex sank into the warm water, not knowing what to expect.
She stepped out to find a full set of night clothing laid out on the bed. She put them on and walked out, down the corridor. The noise led her to the dining hall. The children around the table, none above thirteen, all went quiet. There were at least twenty of them. Rhea walked up to her, pulling a chair and motioning her to sit. As she sat down, Rhea bent down to whisper to her.
“Is that the name you want?”
For a second, her heart skipped a beat. She collected her thoughts. This had been on her mind for a while now.
“Lyra, please,” she whispered.
Rhea smiled, then stood up and announced, “Kids, say hello to Lyra. She’ll be staying with us from now on.”