“You’re a piece of work,” I mutter to myself, and a quick inhalation from the sidewalk causes me to jerk my head around. Brown eyes meet mine, and the woman from the previous night freezes. In one hand, she carries her set of kitty cat brass knuckles, and in the other, a grease-stained bag.
“I…uh…b-brought you something,” she stammers as she climbs the first step and then stops.
“Hoping to bribe me into not axe murdering you?” She flinches and squeezes her eyes shut for a brief moment. “Bad joke. Sorry. But Ripper…really is my name. Or what everyone calls me.” I push up to sitting and rest my back against the church door. “And I’m not a charity case.”
“Didn’t say you were.” She thrusts the bag at me, and when I don’t move, drops it next to my hip. “We had extra. It’s rainy and kind of cold tonight. I thought…a hot meal might…shit. Never mind. Take it or leave it.”
She turns, and the scents of cheese and salsa waft up from the bag. “Wait a minute, sunshine.” Digging into the paper, I find an aluminum foil pan covered with a healthy serving of enchiladas lightly covered in cheese and red sauce, a half pint of refried beans, and a bag of marinated carrots and jicama. “This smells great.”
A hint of pride straightens her shoulders, and the corners of her lips curve into a half-smile. “Thanks.”
“You made this?” I grabbed a granola bar and an apple at my apartment, but my stomach rumbles at the prospect of something…so very different than my everyday diet. The first bite takes me back to my mama’s cooking, and I think I moan a little.
In the light of the street lamp, her cheeks glisten with the misty rain and turn a bright pink. “I work at a food truck. Today’s menu was Mexican comfort food.”
“My mama learned how to cook from my abuela, who grew up in Mexico. These are the best enchiladas I’ve had since I left Texas.”
She toys with a blue pendant hanging from a silver chain around her neck. Joy and sadness battle for control of her features, but joy seems to win in the end. “Thank you. That means a lot.”
A tendril of long brown hair plasters itself to her cheek as she stares down at her sensible black shoes. Her ankle’s wrapped in an ACE bandage, and as she fidgets, I can tell she isn’t putting all her weight on it. “You okay? After last night?”
“Oh. Yes. I should…go. Let you eat in peace.”
“Wait.” I don’t know why I’m stopping her. But the idea of her being hurt, and that I caused it, doesn’t sit well with me. “What’s your name?”
“Cara,” she says quietly.
“You live…uh…close?” Her eyes widen, and I kick myself. If she didn’t think I was a stalker or an axe murderer before, she does now. “I just mean…it’s wet out. And you weren’t the most graceful last night. I…be careful, okay?”
A scowl twists those heart-shaped lips, and she levels me with an acerbic stare. “I’m not the one sleeping on the streets with no defenses. And I’m very graceful. When I want to be. Good night, Ripper.” Her curtsey is a little lopsided since she isn’t putting her full weight on her right foot, but she turns on her left heel and starts limping away.
“‘Night, Cara.” As the rain intensifies and I dig back into the takeout container of enchiladas, I wonder why it’s easier for me to talk to a stranger than it is the men I consider my brothers.