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"Date of birth?"
"March eleventh, 1975."
"A Pisces. Happy belated birthday. My late sister, Helen, bless her soul, was a Pisces."
"My mom's name was Helen--well, really Helene."
"Where is your mother, dear?"
"She died recently," Gabrielle answered softly.
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Are you from New York?"
"No, I came here from Terre Haute, Indiana, after she died."
"What's your address, dear?" Bea asked, filling in the silence.
"I'm at the Hilton Hotel."
Beatrice gave Gabrielle a quick once-over. Judging from her neat but inexpensive attire and tattered bag, the New York Hilton Hotel seemed beyond her price range.
"Maybe we should list your room number," she suggested.
Gabrielle took a good look at the woman sitting across from her. She had a protective, grandmotherly presence about her. Maybe she should tell her the truth. Maybe Beatrice could help. Maybe Gabrielle had no other choice.
"I'm living in the bathroom on the third floor," she answered softly.
"We can't have that," Bea declared. For the next few minutes Gabrielle watched Beatrice complete the rest of the application without asking her a single question. "There you go," she said, smiling and very pleased with herself. "You have an address, phone number, and reference--mine. Now, gather your belongings. You're coming home with me."
"But you don't even know me."
"Sure I do. You're from Indiana, you're a Pisces, and you're alone. What more do I need to know?"
Nothing. But I can't keep this secret forever. If I move in with you, you're bound to find out. But what other option do I have? she askedherself as she reached for her bag.
"And this, my dear, is your room," Bea announced at the final stop of their tour.
Gabrielle stepped into the room and glanced around. It was sparsely furnished, with a twin bed covered in a yellow flowered spread and an old bureau taking up the majority of space. A table and stuffed chair sat in the corner. It was simple and small, but who cared? This morning she'd been living in a bathroom. This afternoon she had a home.
"I love it. Thank you. There's just one thing. I won't be able to pay you for a while, not until I start my job."
"Honey, don't you worry about that. This house is bought and paid for. When you can afford it, we'll talk. Now, you get settled in. I'm going downstairs to finish writing some letters. If you get hungry, help yourself to whatever is in the kitchen. Stephanie Bancroft, the girl that stays in the room next door, should be home soon. She's rather quirky, but she's okay."
It didn't take Gabrielle long to unpack. Besides her clothes, she'd brought few personal items. On top of the table she placed a picture of herself and Helene, taken on a merry-go-round when Gabrielle was four. Gabrielle placed a Raggedy Ann doll in the chair and threw her mom's favorite shawl across the back. She put the box containing the pieces to her favorite jigsaw puzzle--the New York skyline--in the bottom drawer of her dresser. The last thing she unwrapped was a cheap dime-store snow globe. She shook the globe and watched the plastic snow fall around the feet of the Wizard of Oz characters. She'd debated over bringing it. The memories it evoked were strong and painful. It reminded her of Tommy, and no matter how desperately she wanted to forget, he'd always be a part of her.
The rumbling in her stomach reminded Gabrielle that she hadn't eaten since this morning's muffin. She headed down to the kitchen for a late lunch. She hit pay dirt in the first cabinet she tried, pulling from it a small can of tuna. She opened the tin and spooned its contents into a bowl. Gabrielle looked into the refrigerator and located some mayonnaise and relish. Before she had a chance to mix the ingredients, the front door opened and a large cat darted into the kitchen, hopped up onto the counter, and began eating Gabrielle's lunch.
"I swear, that cat can smell an Amoré tuna dinner a block away," Stephanie informed her. "Who are you?"
"Gabrielle. I'm the new boarder," she explained weakly. Gabrielle felt like vomiting. She'd been making tuna salad out of cat food.
"Thanks for feeding Barclay. Usually I get stuck doing it," Stephanie said, curiously examining the condiments lined up on the counter. It looked as if the girl was making lunch. Nah, it couldn't be, Stephanie thought, dismissing the notion from her mind. She couldn't help staring at Gabrielle through skeptical eyes. The woman had a body like a centerfold and a face that could stop rush-hour traffic. And in all probability her eyes were truly blue. "By the way, his bowl is out by the back door."
"Ah, my cat . . . back home . . . ate tuna . . . the way we did," Gabrielle explained weakly.
Why aren't you here to help me? Gabrielle screamed in her head at her mother. You promised you'd always be here to take care of me. I almost ate cat food. There was no cat on the label, only words. How was I supposed to know? Why did you leave me?
"So, where did Beatrice find you?" Stephanie asked. "Hello. Gaby? Anybody home?"
"What?" She hadn't heard a word.
"I asked you where you met Beatrice."
"I--we-- I'm sorry," she cried as she ran out of the room.
"Oh, great," Stephanie said to the cat. "Beautiful and flaky."