A/N: Catherine Miller and Randy Hawke previously appeared in Catherine's Temporary Escape

Catherine's Thanksgiving Rescue

I wanted to get my parents an expensive bottle of champagne for Thanksgiving so I stopped by Caldwell's Groceries and Liquors in Greenville because they had a great selection of choice wines and I figured they'd have the best champagne around.

The friendly clerk helped me pick out the best he had and I left the store with the bottle in a brown paper bag. The store was on Greenville's Main Street not far from the bus station where some of the homeless and transient folks hang out.

I tried not to make eye contact with the gathered but out of the corner of my vision I caught sight of a younger woman standing with a group of down on their luck young people. She was wearing a green army jacket, tattered jeans, and heavy boots. Her blonde hair was scraggly and greasy. There were traces of acne on her face.

At first, nothing registered and I continued walking to my car but then I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized who it was I had seen. She didn't notice me at first, busy sharing a cigarette with a couple of other people but when I stood flat footed gazing at the group some of them began to take notice.

It took the girl I was lasered in on a moment to realize she was the one being ogled and she slowly turned to look at me. Her eyes went wide when she recognized me and I was frozen by my dumbfounded disbelief that I was actually looking at Catherine Miller from my old neighborhood.

At first she looked embarrassed to be spotted but then she got defensively angry. "What are you gawking at, weirdo?" She demanded.

I was momentarily dazed and it took me a moment to get my mouth to form words. "Catherine," I said. "What are you doing here?"

She looked as if she was about to yell at me but then she let out a sigh of defeated resignation and she stepped toward me. I wasn't sure if she was going to punch me.

"Do you have a few bucks you could spare?" She asked.

"Catherine," I said again. "What's going on?"

"Don't worry about it," she mumbled, glancing at the others behind her.

I had no idea what happened to her since the last time I saw her but I knew I couldn't walk away and leave her like this, especially on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Eve.

"Why don't you come with me?" I suggested.

"No," she said curtly. "Just give me a few bucks and go on with your life. Pretend you didn't see me."

"Do you really want to stay here?" I asked with a frown. "Is this how you're going to spend Thanksgiving?"

"There's a free meal at the Salvation Army tomorrow morning," she said.

"My mother's making Thanksgiving dinner for all the family," I said. "Why don't you come with me?"

"I try to avoid Hillsboro," she said.

It was cool and raw out, expected for a late November New England Day. She had to be tired of this weather.

"Catherine," I said, calmly and gently. "Please?"

She looked like she shivered and then she cursed under her breath, avoiding the stares of the others.

"Let me help," I pleaded.

She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. "Okay," she finally mumbled.

"I'm parked over here," I said.

"Fine," she said. "Let's go."

We walked to my car and I turned on the engine as soon as Catherine climbed into the passenger seat. I cranked up the heat and I drove as a sulking Catherine stared out the window with nothing to say.

"I haven't seen you in what, three years?" I asked as I drove.

"Something like that," she acknowledged.

"I figured I'd bump into some kids home for Thanksgiving but I never expected to see you," I said.

"You mean like this?" She asked snidely.

"What happened?" I asked without judgement.

She didn't answer and I didn't push it as we approached Hillsboro.

"My parents kicked me out," Catherine finally revealed.

"I thought you moved out of the neighborhood," I said.

"They moved out of the neighborhood after they kicked me out," she explained. "So they wouldn't have to deal with the scandal. And so I couldn't come back and corrupt my younger sisters."

I was stunned beyond words. I knew her father was strict and that the family was overly religious. The oldest son – my adolescent pal John – left the home in high school to go live with his mother in Vermont to escape his father's wrath, leaving behind his four half-sisters.

I thought it was weird that John's ultra-conservative and very religious father had been married before. I never saw John again after he left and it struck me as sadly ironic that now two Miller kids were out of their father's house.

I drove to the park by the Blue River and parked the car so that we were looking out at the gray river on this gray day.

"Why'd they kick you out?" I asked.

"You really don't want to hear the story, Randy," she warned. "You had such an innocent perception of me."

"You were innocent," I reminded her.

"You mean square," she sighed. "Religious."

"It must have been something really bad," I deduced.

"A lot worse than John ever did," Catherine acknowledged.

I didn't say anything as we looked out at the river. Things felt so different. I was only a year out of high school but that memorable summer with Catherine seemed so long ago now.

"I liked a guy," Catherine finally revealed after a long period of silence. "He was a musician and a poet but he wasn't a Christian. We flirted. My parents forbid me from dating so I snuck around behind their back. I lied one night, said I was hanging out with Martha, but I went to a party with him. I drank too much and we made out and then he drove me home but we stopped on a deserted road and we dry humped in the backseat, hot and awkward, drunk and foolish, clothes removed and just like that all my virtues were gone."

I was sad to hear such a story. Catherine was such a sweet and obedient girl when I knew her.

"My parents were up waiting for me when I stumbled in drunk and disheveled, my cherry popped," Catherine reported. "My mother started crying and my father started yelling and that was the end of me."

"I was always afraid of your father," I admitted.

"Everybody was afraid of my father," Catherine said.

He was loud, intense, strict, angry, and demanding, the meanest Dad in the neighborhood, ultra-Christian and even more conservative, wearing his Politics and his Religion on his sleeve.

The neighborhood kids never lipped off to Mr. Miller because he had no qualms about getting up in your grill if he thought you were being a wise-ass. He was belligerent toward John in public, especially at sporting events and he had no problems dressing down the poor kid in front of the rest of us. It was uncomfortable witnessing that sort of stuff and I could only imagine what it was like for Catherine on that unfortunate fateful night.

"I remember your brother always had to tell your parents where he was going and he had to follow the rules about when to be home and where he could go without permission," I told Catherine. "We'd leave him behind when we went where he couldn't go. Like right here at the park, for instance."

"He got out first," she said.

"What happened after your parents kicked you out?" I asked.

"I stayed with the guy for a while," she revealed. "I started drinking and drugging and doing those things my parents forbade me to do."

"But?" I asked.

"But of course it didn't last with him," Catherine sighed. "I stayed with Martha and her family but I had to leave the catholic school because my parents stopped paying tuition. I worked at Wendy's and got my GED but I was still doing stupid stuff and when Martha's parents started to think I wasn't the greatest influence on their daughter they asked me to leave."

"What'd you do then?"

"Bummed around," she shrugged. "Couch surfed. The shelter."

"Where's your family?"

"I don't know," she admitted.

I let out a long breath, still unable to believe any of this was possible. Catherine Miller was the epitome of the good girl and obedient child, virtuous and virginal, respectful and honorable, innocent and well-mannered.

"Are you clean and sober?" I asked.

"Your parents don't want me around even if I am," she said.

"We have family visiting," I explained. "One more person isn't going to make a difference."

"You don't owe me anything, Randy," Catherine let me know.

She looked sullen, sad, and miserable. She smelled a bit rank from living on the streets and shelter.

"It's Thanksgiving," I said.

She glanced at me and I saw the tears in her eyes.