It wasn't so much the severe voice that woke me, as it was being poked in the arm with hundreds of tiny needles. If I hadn't been wedged in the small space, I probably would have crashed to the floor, trying to get away. Instead, I pressed myself against the wall and defensively held up my hands, my mind crazed with the possibility that everything I thought had happened last night was only some sort of hopeful dream.
When I could focus enough to understand what was happening, I remembered, with great relief, where I was, still free still of Wescott and huddled in a random basement in New York City.
Sunlight streamed in the tiny window as the ample woman jabbed me once more with the broom that I'd used to clear away the spider web before falling asleep.
"Out!" she cried in a thick Chinese accent. "This no hotel!"
I instinctively batted the broom away, wondering how she expected me to get out while she blocked my exit.
Seeming outraged that I would actually move to defend myself, she swatted more vigorously.
"Out!" she cried again. "Shen!"
Tired of being prodded with the nasty broom, and figuring I should get moving before finding out whether shen was a some kind of curse word or if she was calling for back up, I grabbed the broom mid-poke and shoved the woman out of the way before slipping through the still open door.
I flew up the wooden stairs as the woman shouted behind me, too slow to be any kind of threat. Reaching the top of the steps, I rounded the small corner and nearly collided with a stunned looking Asian man who I assumed was Shen.
Not wanting to explain or hang around for the woman to catch up, I pushed passed him, running through the building and out the front door.
I didn't slow down until I was sure that I was totally indistinguishable in the massive crowd that now occupied the street.
A little winded from my early morning sprint, I stopped to assess everything, moving off to the side when I received a few angry comments about being in the way.
From what I could tell, I wasn't anywhere near where the cab driver let me off last night, but at least there seemed to be plenty of shops on this street. And even though I didn't see one, a pawn shop couldn't be that hard to find in this city.
Thinking of the pawn shop made me suddenly paranoid about my few possessions. What if I dropped something on my little adventure this morning?
I frantically patted my pockets, breathing easier when I still felt the ring and money, tucked away. The flashlight, though, seemed to be lost. Oh well. I suppose it served it's purpose.
I headed for the nearest shop to figure out where I needed to go, ignoring the growing hollow feeling in my stomach. As Mark emphasized, changing my appearance was my first priority. I could eat later.
"Where's the nearest pawn shop?" I asked once I had the girl's attention from behind the counter.
She stared at me for a few seconds, making evident her annoyance at the fact that I was apparently not here to buy anything.
"Two blocks over, on the corner," she nodded toward the street. Clearly finished giving me her attention, she examined hot pink nails that were long enough to make me wonder how it was possible for her to work a cash register.
"Thanks," I mumbled turning for the door.
"Those real?" The girl's voice stopped me before I could leave.
"Is what real?" I looked back surprised. The only thing that might make sense for that question, I wasn't well-endowed enough for.
"Your eyes." She smirked, understanding what I had assumed she meant. "Are you wearing contacts or something?"
And that was another problem about living in the city. I could only change so many things about myself and my unique eye color wasn't one of them. At least, not without a lot of money, which I didn't have and had no way of getting.
"No, they're real." I felt disappointed rather than a little happy like I used to. My eyes had always been the one thing about my appearance that were anything but average. It made me feel a little special when I could tell people they were my own color. Now I just felt like there was one more thing to worry about, and one more thing that made the goal of staying invisible seem harder and harder.
"How much for the sun glasses?" I asked, noticing the display on the counter.
"Ten bucks." She seemed confused about my train of thought, but pleased that I might be spending money after all.
Walking back, I grabbed a pair, not caring what they looked like, and handed her the money before leaving the shop.
I sighed as I put on my new glasses. That just about depleted all the money I had, but at least I was about to go get more.
I worried though. If I used up as much money as I did just to get to this point, how long could the money from the ring last? I hadn't even eaten yet.
I wasn't sure if I was more relieved or paranoid once I had the money from the ring in my hands. It was all twenties, and I hadn't realize it would be such a large wad of cash. On the other hand, now that I had it I could change my appearance, as was so desperately needed.
I realized on my walk to the pawn shop, that my hair had almost completely come loose and it was pretty obvious that I was wearing a wig. Which defeated the purpose of wearing it. I didn't have a mirror to check, but I knew it looked pretty bad, so I'd taken it off until I could find a place to fix it.
My relief and paranoia aside, I was irritated with the salesman in the pawn shop more than anything else. I'm not sure how accurate Mark's assessment of the ring was, but I knew that the six hundred he estimated was much closer to the actual value than the four fifty I'd received for it. And the salesman was well aware that I knew it. Unfortunately, he could also tell I was desperate for money.
I didn't have the luxury of holding out for another buyer and risk being seen the way I was, by the wrong person. I'd spent too long walking around like this already. But if I'd thought survival was going to be difficult before when I'd been counting on that six hundred dollars, it seemed almost impossible now.
How long could my money possibly last, living here? Two weeks? Three? I might be able to stretch it out for a month if all I had to worry about was food and clothes. But what about when I needed to sleep? The price of a hotel in the city, for just a night or two, would completely wipe out everything I had and then some. Then what?
Sleep was definitely an issue. In a little while I'd be having the same problem as last night. Anywhere possible would be too public, which made it not an option. And I couldn't break into a new place every night. Finding that last place had been alot of dumb luck, and even that only got me about three hours. Besides, I couldn't risk someone calling the police on me.
After thinking through everything, I settled on my irritation because the alternative was fear. I despised that helpless, uncertain feeling. It was much more appealing to focus on my negative feelings toward the salesman, than it was to think about what was going to happen to me in a few days.
At least trying to disguise myself would be a distraction for a little while, I thought as I pushed open the door of the first promising clothing store I found.