Chapter 1

I took one last drag of my cigarette as I stood looking at the slide that was to be my bed once again. "I really was hoping I wouldn't see you again," I muttered the to the orange plastic slide. I ground my cigarette out on the hard surface, and let my huge black backpack slide to the ground. I turned around and bent over, opening the bag and pulling out a rolled up, purple blanket. I laid it inside the slide and slid onto it, wrapping myself in it as I rolled onto my left side. I cursed as I realized I had forgotten to throw my bag into the slide, and cursed again as I hit my head sitting up. I scooted out of the slide and grabbed the god-forsaken backpack, noticing as I picked up my bag a slightly plump woman sitting at the beaten up, scarred, graffitied picnic table. She appeared to be crying into what looked like a cloth handkerchief. I snorted a laugh, and shook my head, "Not very often you see one of those in this kind of neighborhood," I said to myself as I moved to the slide at the other side of the playground, away from the weeping woman. I curled up in something close to contentment in the covered slide and closed my eyes, falling asleep instantly.

~~~~ ** ~~~~

I woke to a rather bright light shining on my eyes. "Oh, fuck," I muttered as I slipped out of the slide and onto the woodchips that covered the playground. I looked at my watch and discovered it was only about seven o'clock in the morning. "Ugh. I shouldn't be up this early," I complained, stretching to get the kinks out of my back and shoulders. I rolled my neck a few times, then folded up my blanket and stuffed it into the bag that I picked up. I walked around the playground to the slide that I had so hastily left last night and checked around on the ground for anything I might have dropped. Seeing as I had been carrying my bag from place to place for about two years, it had a few holes in it, and things often fell out. I didn't find anything of my own, but when I looked up, a glare caught my eyes. "Oh, shit," I cursed, then moved a few inches so that I could look in the direction of the glare without being blinded. I saw a small silver object on the ground and went to investigate.

When I picked it up, I realized the small object in my hand was a Blackberry phone. "Hmm… this must belong to the woman who was sitting here crying last night," I murmured. I turned the phone on, as it had been off, and looked at the picture of the smiling couple on the screen. "That must be the woman from last night. That brown hair looks familiar, though it's a little better done in this picture," I said to myself, wondering who the man was. Prolly a boyfriend; though, judging from a conversation I had heard last night, they were no longer a couple. "She'll probably be wanting this. I wonder if I can find a home phone or something in here, or maybe her address."

With my lack of tech savvy, it took a little while for me to find her address somewhere in the stupid piece of metal. In the meantime, I managed to find out that she was a high school teacher at one of the nicer local high schools, she had two dogs that often went to the groomers, she loves yoga and goes every Saturday for a class, and that she loves to read mystery books. Finally, I found the damned address and my eyebrows rose. "Damn. She can afford a house in that area of town on a teacher's salary!?"

The area of town that I was referring to included some of the nicer houses in town. It was an area of well-groomed parks and unmarked, metal picnic tables. I sighed, and went through the contacts for a phone number to this woman's house. Finding it, I hesitated to call. It was, after all, early in the morning, and judging from her distraught shape last night, she probably hadn't gotten much sleep. I sighed, and feeling slightly bad, clicked the 'Send' button.

The phone rang a couple times, and then a very thick voice answered the phone. "'Ello?" came the groggy greeting.

"Hello Miss, I'm sorry to bother you this early, but I found a phone in the park and through some snooping deduced that it belongs to you," I said, my voice a little shaky as it often was when talking to strangers.

"Oh, really? Hold on just a sec while I check my purse. I didn't realize I had dropped it," she murmured, then I heard her rustling around in the background. "Hmm. Well, I guess I did leave it at the park. Um, could you bring it to my house? I'll give you the address."

"Of course. Just let me get a pen and some paper out of my bag," I told her, rummaging in my backpack to grab a crumpled piece of paper and a cracked pen. "Okay, go ahead," I murmured.

"Okay, the address is 1727 W Cherry Tree Lane," she told me as I wrote it down. Whereas I could find it in the phone, I didn't want to try and work the thing again, so I copied the address down.

"Okay, got it. 1727 W Cherry Tree Lane," I repeated back at her.

" Right. How soon do you think you can get here?" She asked, her voice calculating.

"Um, about an hour or so? However long it takes me to walk across town," I told her, shrugging despite the fact that she couldn't see me.

"Okay. Well, I'll be expecting you around that time then," She said in a brisk manner. "Oh, and what did you say your name was?"

"My name is Maeve, miss."

"And my name is Raegan. I shall see you in about an hour," she said, yawning.

"Okay then. Good bye," I said, hearing her faint "good bye" as I pulled the phone away from my ear and hung up.

I started walking and as I had expected, it took me about an hour to reach the house I was looking for. I stopped short when I found it, not have expected what was in front of me. A large Victorian house sat about one hundred yards back from the street. In front of the house was a large circle driveway. In the yard were a few cultured flowers, but a couple of weeping willows also stood tall in front of the house. My eyes widened as I took all this in, and I subconsciously looked down at my slightly dirty, ragged clothes. My red tank top had holes in it around the hem, and my jeans were ripped in many places, often held together with duct tape. Combined with my many rings covering my hands, the earrings scaling up the outer shell of my ear, and the lip, nose, and belly button rings, it was very obvious that I didn't belong here. Still, I walked up the large driveway, and knocked on the front door, admiring the stained glass windows that were on the front door. I heard barking inside, and backed away from the door as I heard a very large weight hit the wood. I ran my hand through my curly, chin length black hair and waited for the door to open.

"Sasha, Sugar, SIT!" A tall, slightly plump brunette opened the door to reveal two monstrous dogs sitting beside her. I must have squeaked, cause she looked up with a knowing smile on her face. " Though they might be big, Great Danes are actually very gentle dogs. They just happen to be big and loud, which puts people off," she said, nodding to the two dogs that were wagging their tails and leaning forward to stick their twitching noses out at me.

I shivered a little and shrugged. "I'm just not really a dog person. I'm more of a cat person," I told her.

"I understand," The woman said, but then seemed to come back to herself in a business like manner. "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm Raegan. I take it you're Maeve?" She asked, nodding to the Blackberry that was clasped in my hand.

" Yeah, I am. Here's your phone, then," I murmured, holding it out to Raegan.

" Thank you very much," she said, taking it. "Do you want some money or something as a reward? I'll give you up to $100. It would have cost me a lot more to buy a new one, and I would have lost ALL my contacts and such."

I shook my head. As much as I need the money, I despised charity from anyone. "Thank you anyways, but I don't want to take your money. I'm just glad to help."

She had been looking at me with a considering look in her eyes, and suddenly she said: "Oh, you're the girl from the park; the girl who was sleeping in the slide, aren't you?" she asked.

I sighed. "Yes, ma'am, I was. I sleep there every now and again," I murmured.

"Why? Don't you have a home to go to?" She asked, then put a hand over her mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry Maeve. I didn't mean to pry," She murmured.

I shrugged. "It's alright. No, I don't have a home to go to. I was kicked out at sixteen and have been living on my own ever since," I told her.

Raegan stood in a considering silence for a moment, then focused back on me. "Well, since you have nowhere to go, and I owe you for my phone, you can stay here."

"No thank you, ma'am. I'm quite content wandering on my own," I told her, not wanting to be rude and blatantly tell her I don't accept charity.

"I insist. Really, I feel horrible about not being able to repay you," She said, biting her lip.

"As nice as the offer is, I really don't like to accept charity," I said, rubbing my forehead.

Raegan looked at me for a moment, then snapped. "Well, how bout this. You may stay here, but while I am at work, you pick up the house, as well as cooking dinner every night. That way, you're kinds of playing for board, in an offhanded way," She said, smiling a little.

Despite the fact that I didn't want to accept, the offer did sound wonderful, at least for a while. I sighed. "Okay, Raegan, We've got a deal," I said, hitching my backpack higher on my shoulders.

She smiled and stuck out her hand for me to shake. "Okay," she said when I shook her hand, "Welcome to my home then, Maeve."

~~~~ ** ~~~~

Instead of dropping my hand like I expected her to, Raegan kept my hand in her grasp as she pulled me into the house. The first thing she did was introduce me to her dogs.

"The mostly black one is Sasha, and the black and white one is Sugar. They're my two year old Great Danes, and my babies," she said, proudly patting each dog on the head. Standing, their heads came up to my waist.

I patted each dog hesitantly on the head, before walking after Raegan, who was already halfway down the hallway. As we moved out of the entry way, there was a formal living room off to the right, and a flight of stairs off to the left. Instead of turning to either side, she waked straight forward, into a kind of lounge area. On one wall was a chez lounge in a wine red color, and on the other wall was a doorway, beside which was a roll top desk. In the middle of the room was a round table with a vase of flowers sitting on top of it. Covering the walls were multiple family pictures. "This is kind of a lounge room, I guess. I just throw whatever I have in my hands on this table. It's a gathering place for mail and other things like my purse and keys," she said, shrugging. She pointed to the doorway. "That room is the formal dining room. Off of the dining room is a sunroom with some furniture. It's used as an informal living room most of the time." She gestured to her left. "That door leads to the kitchen; that is where I eat most of the time. There is a cute little breakfast nook that I absolutely love!"

I smiled at the obvious delight the woman took in her house, and jumped a little when she said something to me. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention. What did you say?" I asked, blushing slightly.

Raegan looked at me in a slightly disapproving way. For some reason, I couldn't help but think of my mother giving me a look similar to that when I was a young child.

"I asked, would you like to have some tea or coffee, and we can talk a bit?" she asked.

I nodded. "Yes, please. Coffee would be lovely."

Raegan nodded and led me to the kitchen, gesturing for me to sit at the table as she got two mugs down from the cabinet and poured coffee into them. "Sugar, creamer, milk, or do you like your coffee black?" she asked, looking at me.

"Oh, I'll just drink it black, thank you," I said, feeling slightly uneasy as the woman sat down in front of me, setting down not only the coffee, but a box of coffee cake that she had taken off the counter.

"You look like you haven't eaten a good meal in a very long time," Raegan said as she grabbed a napkin and put a generous slice of the cake on it. "Do you want an apple or an orange?" she asked, picking up one of each.

"I'll take the apple, thank you," I said, grabbing it from her hand. She once again looked at me in disapproval as I all but snatched the fruit out of her hand. I gave her an apologetic smile, and bit into the fruit.

"So, first thing's first. What is your full name, and how old are you?" Raegan asked as I finished my bite of apple.

I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand, and answered: "I go by just Maeve. I don't use my last name. And I am 18."

Raegan frowned at me. "How long have you been homeless?" she asked, tapping her fingers on the table.

"Since I was 16."

Raegan bit he lip. "Did you finish high school?" she asked, her head tilted.

I shrugged. "Sort of. I have my General Education Degree, but I never actually finished. I didn't even start my junior year. The test was just easy."

"Hmm… Mkay," Raegan said. "If I may ask, why were you kicked out of your house?"

I rubbed my forehead with one hand, not really wanting to get into this story. I decided to go with the short version. "I'm a lesbian, and my mother is a very devout Christian. After my father died, she kicked me out. Daddy had told her that as long as he was still around, I would have a place to live, whether she liked it or not, but as soon as he died, she kicked me out."

When I looked up, Raegan was looking at me with a peculiar expression. "You're a lesbian?" she asked, frowning a little.

"Yes, ma'am. If that's a problem, I will leave now, and you don't have to feel bad at all."

Raegan shook her head. "Oh, no, I'm just surprised you would be so open about something like that with a stranger. You're still welcome here. If you wish, I will tell you a little about myself while you eat."

I nodded. "Sounds good," I said, taking a bite of the coffee cake and humming satisfaction.

Raegan smiled. "Well, my full name is Raegan Ashburn. I am 28 years old. I am the fourth child in a family of 8. I am the only girl. I teach at the Russet Heights Private High School. I am the freshman Biology teacher and the senior Anatomy/Phsyiology teacher. This is my grandmother's house that we're in; no one else in my family wanted it when she died a couple years back, so I took it. I live here on my own, or I did, with my two dogs."

I smiled. "Well, then…" I murmured, finishing my cake.

Raegan smiled. "It's early, and you seem a bit overwhelmed. If you like, I will show you to your room and you can put your stuff away and maybe nap, then we can go shopping? It seems you are in need of some new clothes," she said, looking at my clothes.

Though slightly insulted, I nodded, taking the truth of her statement. "That would be lovely," I told her, and Raegan led me to my room.

"There is a bathroom adjoining your bedroom if you would like to shower. There are towels and soap and such in the cabinet on the wall. Come downstairs once you have showered and napped," Raegan said with a smile as she opened the door for me.

"Thank you," I said as I went into the bedroom and shut the door. Inside, the room was very simply and tastefully put together. Dark colors of purple and red were used; the walls were painted a cream color, where all the furniture was dark brown and the covers of the bed as well as the chair cushions were purple. I opened one of the doors in the room and found a rather large closet, then opened the other one to find a small bathroom with a standing shower, a toilet, a sink, and a small cabinet. I opened the cabinet and got soap and shampoo as well as a towel. I showered quietly, before gratefully collapsing on the soft bed, to sleep the best I had in days.