Grey Hallway to Freedom

A girl, Nikki, aged 17 has spent her entire life inside an orphanage. She's most known inside the orphanage for her retelling of the story Rapunzel, which will inevitably assist her on her journey in life. After a strange encounter with a mystery man she may become tempted with adventure. Throughout her journey she talks to you, a new kid on the estate. This is a tale of heartbreak, adventure and most importantly hope.

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4. Dinner at the Diner

This man had a face that was not easy to forget, he was blessed with beauty. And although I’d just seen him hurt people I wasn’t afraid, he gave me a sense of security.

‘You were..’

‘At the estate.’ This man finished on my behalf.

I had so many questions for him, he told me, when we first met, that he had come to see the head lady. Remember that day? During story time? Well, he never did see the head lady, he just left. He spoke to me, then left. And he left as though he knew the way out. This man, he’s the reason I left. ‘So, about that day..’

He laughed, ‘How about we go get something to eat and have a chat?’

I nodded. There was no barrier this time. I couldn’t pretend to be tough, I was so vulnerable and needy. I hadn’t eaten a proper meal in what seemed like forever. And the pain from earlier was beginning to get to me. I wonder if that’s because the men were touching me, maybe they re-opened some of the wounds.

                Chris seems to know this town really well, he walks around smiling and waving at people as if they’re old friends. Maybe this is where he’s from. It’s not too far from the estate, still, far enough for me to not be found. I’ll go further soon. A quick meal and I’m off again. That’s the plan. He walks me into a small diner, it looks like it’s out of one of those 1950s documentaries we watched in history. The ones with the booths and the red material stools, with a juke box in the corner. Chris spoke to a man at the bench, I just looked around. This man walks me and Chris to this booth, it’s out the back. We were completely alone.

‘So, Nikki.’

I looked up from the menu to Chris, ‘Yeah?’

Chris leant back, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette. I really hate the smell of cigarettes. He placed it in his mouth. ‘What were you doing in the forest?’

I stared at the cigarette lingering on his lips. I could smell it. The smell of stale cigarettes. I’m not sure if it was Chris or my memories. Whatever it was, it was horrible. ‘I can’t tell you that.’

Chris pinched the cigarette back between his fingers and laughed, ‘How about you ask your questions first?’

I nodded, still staring at that cancerous item in his hand. ‘Why’d you ever come to the estate? You said..’ I would really like for him to get rid of that smoke. ‘You said, that, uhm, you were there for..’ God, you have no idea how distracting that cigarette is. It’s just sitting there, in his hand. ‘You wanted to see the head lady.’

Chris leant forward in his chair. He rested his elbows on the table and held his hands together. The cigarette was sticking out, it was so much closer to me. I swear I could smell it. ‘Shall we order?’

I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t. Not while he was waving that stick around. My eyes were fixated on it, I tell you. I know I should’ve been trying to work things out. But his cigarette was right there. I don’t know how he worked it out, maybe I wasn’t very subtle with my staring. But he placed the smoke back in his pocket. ‘Oh, order, yeah.’

Chris called over the man he’d been talking to at the bench, we both ordered our food. The food here was like nothing from the estate. It was fresh and delicious. You could tell it was cooked by professionals and not a bunch of kids trying to prevent pain. Chris sat there and watched me while I took my first bite, a bit creepy if you think about it, then he started laughing at me. I looked up at him. There was sauce on my cheek and my mouth was full of food. I was really hungry.

‘So, you don’t like cigarettes?’ His voice was serious.

I swallowed my food and took a drink of water. ‘Brings up memories I suppose.’

‘I figured that much.’ He was looking at me, as if waiting for a story, waiting to hear the memory so repulsive I couldn’t take my attention away from cigarettes.

‘Are you going to answer me?’

Chris laughed again. He laughs a lot. ‘Well, I’d heard a story that someone I wanted to meet was in that place. I was going to ask the head lady where this kid was. But there was no need. I already found her. So, once I saw what I needed to see, I left.’

I had to wipe the sauce from my battered face once more, ‘Who were you looking for?’

‘One question at a time.’ Chris smiled, ‘So, what were you doing in the forest?’

Now, you got to understand. I’ve lied my entire life. I made a living off of telling lies, it’s what kept me and the other kids safe. These tall tales I’d tell them. But, sitting in this booth, in this diner, in this small town, looking at this man who’d been nothing but kind to me, I couldn’t lie. For the first time in 17 years I couldn’t lie.

‘I ran away.’

Chris raised an eyebrow in curiosity, ‘You ran away?’

‘One question at a time.’ I smiled down at my burger. Chris nodded. ‘Who were you looking for?’

‘Father’s, friend’s daughter.’ He said it so matter of fact like I was stupid for not knowing. ‘What were you running away from?’

‘I suppose, the estate.’ But that wasn’t right. The estate, the actual property was beautiful, it was a nice secure place to live. And I really enjoy telling stories to the younger kids. So I wasn’t running away from the estate. ‘I mean, not the estate. That’s the place I left.’ What was I running away from? Maybe the people? I hadn’t seen cigarette guy since I was fourteen, and the head lady wasn’t that bad. Just violent. I didn’t really have anything to be scared of. I’d be leaving in a few months anyway. So what was I running away from? ‘I think, maybe. I wasn’t running away. I wasn’t running away from anything. I was looking for something. I was looking for a way to save the other kids. So they don’t have to go through what I did.’

Chris stared at me for a moment, when I looked up his eyes were filled with sadness. ‘Let me help.’

                I hope you’re okay. I hope the head lady isn’t giving you too much of a hard time. I wonder how story time’s going with the other kids. Are you reading to them? Can you read? Come to think of it, when we used to spend time together, you never spoke. I’ve never heard you speak. You kind of just sit there and listen to me. Maybe you’re not really listening, maybe I’ve been talking at you rather than to you this entire time. Can you speak? Have you had replies to all the things I’ve been telling you and just been incapable of replying? Or maybe. Have I just not heard you? Have you been trying to tell me things this entire time and I’ve just not been listening? Have I been talking so often that you haven’t had the opportunity to? Chris isn’t like you. He’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before. I say that like I’ve met enough people to determine who’s eccentric and who’s placid. For all I know he’s timid compared to the other people in the outside world. Chris cares. He’s going to help, maybe. If I let him. The sun’s setting, it’s almost 6 now. I should be going now. I pull out my map and I look at the next town highlighted. On foot it’s going to take me almost a week to get there. I don’t know if I have enough supplies for another week. I could go without eating for the next two days and ration after that. I pick up my bag and walk toward the door. I look back at the diner. 

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