“Sure,” she agreed. “Not on camera, though. I’m shy.”
“I’m not.” Aliyah struck a pose, one skinny hip cocked. Giggling, three or four of the other girls flung arms around each other and tried to look sexy.
These, Nell knew, were the ones who weren’t hiding from anyone. The ones with no family to care that they’d gone missing. A few of the others were melting away or ducking heads to hide behind lank hair. Nell wished she didn’t have her own hair bundled on the back of her head. She’d have hidden behind it, too.
The camera was rolling. She turned her back and quickly put out the new books and piled the ones ready to go back into her plastic crate.
“Requests?” she asked.
Clarity, a shy thirteen-year-old who had arrived pregnant—too pregnant for abortion to be an option—and was awaiting foster care placement, leaned close and whispered, “Can you bring something about adoption?”
“Of course I will.” For a moment, forgetting the visitors, Nell smiled at the girl. “A lot of what’s written is for adopters, not birth mothers, but it would still give you some guidance. I’ll see if I can find some stuff written by kids who were adopted, too.” She took the chance of giving Clarity a quick hug. Thin arms encircled her in return. Nell’s eyes stung for a moment as tenderness and pity flooded her. God. What if she’d gotten pregnant back then?
Some flicker of movement pulled her back to the moment, and she took a suspicious look at the cameraman. He was currently half-turned away from her, sweeping the room, not seeming to pay attention. Respecting her wishes? How likely was that? But she could hope. Her fault for having left herself vulnerable for a minute.
The KING-5 woman looked vaguely familiar to Nell. Or maybe she was just a type: blond, exquisitely groomed, wearing a royal blue suit. “Do you have time to talk right now?” she asked.
“Just for a minute. I do have to get back to the library.” Under Roberta’s approving eye, she joined the women. It was fantastic that SafeHold was getting some publicity. Desperately needed donations always followed. But, while there were many things she’d do for these kids, appearing on air wasn’t one of them. The only picture she allowed to be snapped of her was for her driver’s license. Unavoidable, and barely resembling her anyway.
“SafeHold,” she told Linda Capshaw, who’d asked for permission to record her voice, “offers these kids hope in so many forms. Many practical, of course.” She elaborated, concluding with, “Sometimes, all we offer is sanctuary. We have at least one girl here right now who won’t accept anything else.” She carefully avoided glancing toward Katya. “But every so often, she shows up and has a couple of weeks here, where she knows she’s safe, where she gets enough to eat, where people are kind and nonjudgmental to her. Some of these kids have been abused and simple kindness means everything to them. Others need windows opened to give them glimpses of chances they never dreamed were there for them.”
“How did you become involved?” the blonde asked, sounding genuinely interested, although it was hard to tell for sure. Getting people to open up was, after all, her most essential job skill.
Nell took a deep breath. This was always hard to say. “I was a teenage runaway. Not in Seattle, somewhere else. I’d rather not say where. But I lived on the streets for over two years. A local shelter was my salvation. When I moved to Seattle and read about SafeHold in the Times, I called immediately. What’s that been?” She glanced at Roberta, even though she knew to the day when she’d first walked in the door. “Five years ago?”
The director nodded. “Just about, I think.”
“I work for Seattle Public Library, too. As a technician, not a librarian. I don’t have a master’s degree. But because of my involvement here, I’m the one who brings books, DVDs, whatever, weekly.”
They chatted for another ten or fifteen minutes, Nell keeping a wary eye out for the cameraman. Then she made her excuses and left, sooner than she would have liked to go. Usually she’d have made the effort to sit down and talk to the new residents, find out who, if anyone, was missing since Sunday. But she’d be back Thursday evening—soon enough.
Yes, she told herself while she loaded the crate of books and DVDs into the back of her old Ford, she was a coward. What else was new? It was smart not to take chances, that was all. She hadn’t grown up in Seattle, she knew that much, but she had no idea how widely local stations were broadcast. And her face...well, it hadn’t changed that much since she had first found herself alone and scared, on the streets, knowing that worse than starving, worse than having to sell her body, worse than anything, was the possibility of being seen by someone who knew her.