I’ll call Cait tonight, he thought. Arrange to get together with her when I’m in Seattle. He’d be there in two weeks, for a symposium Microsoft was holding on new technology for law enforcement personnel. Cait was his only real family. He could try harder. The fault was as much his as hers.
And right now, he had work to do. He swung back around to his desk and computer, and didn’t let himself glance at the bulletin board again.
“HEY, THE BOOK lady is here!” Aliyah cried.
Girls jumped up from the sagging sofa and miscellaneous easy chairs and rushed to crowd around Nell Smith. The music video on the TV was forgotten.
Katya, after barely glancing away from the television, said, “Big freaking deal.” Katya had appeared at SafeHold half a dozen times in the past two years. She never stayed for more than a week or two. She had to be nearly eighteen, and Nell worried she would soon be ineligible to stay at the shelter for homeless teens.
“Nell! Cool,” said Savannah, a wispy, pasty-skinned fourteen-year-old boasting three eyebrow piercings, half a dozen in each ear, a lip labret and a belly button ring. If there were other piercings in unseen places, Nell didn’t want to know.
“Did you bring me the new Vampire Academy book?” Kaylee asked eagerly.
More titles flew.
She grinned at their eager faces. “Yes, yes and yes.” All they wanted to read were paranormal romances, but Nell’s selections were written for teenagers, by talented authors.
She volunteered here on a regular basis, typically spending every Sunday afternoon and one weeknight evening just hanging out and talking to the girls. Girls were housed separately from guys, although the two buildings were linked by a courtyard and a shared kitchen and dining room.
Nell also came weekly to represent the Seattle Public Library, maintaining a shelf of books in each of the two buildings and filling special requests when she could. She’d packed other shelves with books that were weeded from the library collection, donated, or picked up at garage sales. Many of the kids who came in here weren’t readers and never would be. Others thought they weren’t but got seduced. Some laboriously studied for their high school equivalency exams, or to catch up with school—if they could be convinced to care.
What she loved most was encouraging reading for the pure joy of it. These were kids who hadn’t had much joy in their lives. She, like many of the other adults who worked and volunteered here, knew the bewilderment and fear and anger they felt. When she’d been where they were, books were her salvation. They’d offered her the world, filled her emptiness. Now she had a mission, one she never tried to disguise. Josef gave guitar lessons, Dex organized soccer games, Chloe taught computer skills. They all had something different to offer.
A couple of girls poked heads out into the hall, saw who was here and retreated in disinterest. Nell had already noticed two newcomers in the living room, neither moving from their seats, both watching the excitement with confusion. One was a black girl with her head shaved. Long skinny arms wrapped herself in a hug that was painful to see. The other girl was white, overweight and suffering from acne. Nell caught a glimpse of needle tracks on the inside of one elbow.
She smiled at both of them. “I’m Nell Smith. Otherwise known as the book lady. I bring library books regularly.”
“DVDs, too,” one of the girls said, already delving into today’s section. Her lip curled. “Sense and Sensibility? Really?”
“Try it. Guaranteed.”
There were a lot of rolled eyes. She grinned.
“Nell,” said a voice behind her. “Good. You’re here.”
She turned with a smile to greet Roberta Charles, the director, principal fund-raiser, cook and loving arms of SafeHold. Roberta had two other people with her today, though, one of whom sent a flash of dismay through Nell. He held a giant camera on one shoulder. A TV camera. He was already assessing the room, the shabby furniture, the excited clump of girls. Nell.
“Ah...I’ll get out of your way,” she said. “Just let me grab the books that have to go back.”
“No, no!” Roberta said. “You’re one of my best volunteers. Linda Capshaw is here from KING-5 to do a feature on us. She’s hoping to talk to staff and volunteers as well as some of the kids.”
Nell was okay with talking. The idea of chatting about what they accomplished here at SafeHold didn’t bother her; she’d done it before. It was the camera that spooked her. She was being idiotic; what difference would it make anymore if her face should appear somewhere? Probably none. Which didn’t keep her heart from pumping alarm through her bloodstream in quick spurts.