This is my version of Spike returns. It has nothing to do with what we'll get on Wednesday, I can pretty much guarantee. However - it's my story :)
It was late evening when he finally found the house. The streets of LA seemed a maze to him, and walking alone, exhausted from his long search, he’d despaired of ever finding it. He looked down at the white paper in his hand, then up at the number beside the door. He placed his index finger on the buzzer and pressed.
A burly young man opened the door. “Can I help you?”
He ran his fingers through long, curly dark hair. “Yeah, I ... Uh, can I come in?”
“No.” The door keeper crossed his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”
He shuffled back and forth, hands in his jeans’ pockets. “Look, I met this bloke. Evan. Said you could help me. Said I should ask for Anne.”
“Evan?” The man stepped aside and let him through the door. “I’ll see if she’s busy. No guarantees.” They didn’t get past the front foyer. “Wait here.”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
Within a few minutes he was back. “Anne’ll see you. Follow me.”
They passed through the living room, where assorted teenagers lounged on the couch, talked, and read. One had Trainspotting, another a well-worn copy of The Fantastic Four. He barely had a chance to glance at them before they came to the door of a small office, probably formerly a downstairs bedroom, where the other man tapped on the door. “Come in, Brian,” said a woman’s voice.
He followed Brian into the office. She was standing beside her desk. She was tall, blonde and ...
“Don’t tell me. I’m younger than you expected.”
“To be honest, didn’t know what to expect.” When she held out her hand to him, he took it. Her grip was surprisingly firm.
“My name’s Anne, as if you didn’t know. And you’re ...?”
“I wish I knew.”
Her eyebrows raised at that. “Have a seat, Mr. Whatever.” She gestured to the other man. “You can go. I’ll call you if I need you.”
Brian nodded, shooting a less than pleased look at the visitor. “I’ll be right outside.”
She smiled. “I know you will.” The door shut, leaving them alone, she sat on the top of her desk. “Okay, mystery man. Spill. Who are you, and what are you doing here? You’re a little older than the average teen runaway, so I’ll rule that out.” She pointed to the chair, and he sat. “If Evan sent you here, that’s one point in your favour.”
“Where should I start, then?”
“At the beginning. How do you know Evan?” She folded her arms and prepared to listen.
“The beginning. That’s easy enough.” He sat straight-backed in the chair, gripping the armrests. “The beginning was last night, least much as I know of it. Woke up in a closet, starkers.”
“I don’t get you. Starkers?”
“No idea who I was or how I got there.” His grasp tightened on the arms of the chair, whitening his knuckles. “Look, I know it sounds crazy ...”
“You don’t have some weird ability to remember trivia, do you?”
The question took him aback. “Not that I know of.”
“Just a TV show I watched a few times. Evan?”
“Found me in the closet, when I started banging on the door. He’s a security guard.”
“I know that. He’s one of our success stories.” She stood from the desk, looking down at the stranger. “And he gave you my address? Just like that?”
“Not quite. Asked me questions, which I couldn’t answer. Got me some jeans, this t-shirt. Told me you might be looking to hire a handy man. Don’t know why he helped me, really.”
“Evan’s a great judge of character. He must have seen something in you.” She tapped on the phone receiver. “I have to call him. Check out your story.”
“‘Course you do. Wouldn’t have it any other way.” He folded his hands in his lap, staring at them. “No reason you should help me. But I don’t know where to go.”
“S’okay. It’s what we do.” She put her hand on his shoulder. “If Evan vouches for you, you can stay. But you have to work. No slacking. I’ll get a doctor to check you out. That memory thing’s scary.”
“You’re telling me.” He looked shyly at her, mouthing a quiet “thank you.”
Her smile was wide and genuine. “You’re welcome. But we’ll have to call you something. I guess ‘English guy’ wouldn’t cut it.”
“I’m English?” He tilted his head, and she knew he was joking.
She laughed at that. “I think you figured that much for yourself.” Anne sized him up and down. “We have to give you a name. Do you mind if I call you Richie?”
“Richie.” He rolled the name around in his mouth. “Yeah. Good as any, I guess.”
“Okay, Richie. I’ll call Evan, and you can wait in the front room.”
“Anne? What if ... what if I’m not ... What if I’ve done things ...”
“Hey, Richie,” she opened the door for him, “We’ve all done things.” She stopped for a moment, staring at him.
“Nothing.” She paused, her hand on the doorknob. “You just seemed really familiar for a second there. Guess you just look like someone I’ve met before.”
“Hey, Richie. Slow down.”
The man looked up from the bowl. “Sorry. It’s just ... this tastes so good.”
“Yeah, well not if you choke to death on it.” The carrot-topped boy grinned. “I remember what it was like, when I first got here. Real food after trash can cuisine. No comparison.”
“Don’t remember that. The streets, I mean.” Richie stopped to lick the gravy from his spoon. “This really is bloody good.” He smiled back at Glen. “Can’t describe it, really. It’s not just that I’m hungry.”
“You should be hungry after all that work you did on the roof this afternoon.” Karen lay a hand on his shoulder. “I’d be so scared up there, and you just hammer away like you don’t care. Aren’t you afraid of falling?”
“Guess not,” he shrugged.
“So, if you’re not hungry,” Glen interjected, “why do you eat like that? I mean, it is good stew, but ...”
“It’s like ...” He thought a moment. “It’s like I haven’t really tasted anything in a hundred years. Does that make sense?”
“Naw.” Natalie ladled out a generous bowlful for the newcomer who arrived at the table. “It’s my cooking.”
The thin young girl sat as far as she could from the others, her spoon shaking as she picked it up. Without a word, she dipped into the stew and raised a taste to her mouth.
“Don’t be scared, pet,” Richie told her. “We’re all friends here.”
The girl nodded. “M ... Mary,” she said, with hesitation.
“Welcome, Mary. I’m Richie, new myself of late.” He pointed around the table. “Red here’s Glen. Watch him; he’s a bit of a joker. Karen’s just sitting down, aren’t you luv? She loves to hover. Regular mother hen. And Nat’s our cook du jour.”
The dark-haired girl smiled, but she didn’t make eye contact. “Hi.” Tears filled her eyes. She dropped the spoon on the floor and began to sob.
Richie picked up the spoon and gestured to Karen, who knelt down beside the newcomer. “You want to go up to your room, Mary?”
Mary nodded, and let Karen lead her out of the kitchen.
“Bolloxed that up, didn’t I?” Richie’s eyes burned with frustration. “Poor kid.”
“No,” a voice from the door stated. “You didn’t.” Anne was leaning against the doorframe, her arms folded across her chest. “You’re the first person she’s spoken to since she got here.” She pointed to the stove. “Nat? Give Richie another bowl.”
He was painting the backyard fence when the young girl sat down on the lawn, watching him. “Feeling any better, luv?” he asked, but she looked down at the grass and started plucking at it.
“Never you mind.” He bent down and dipped his brush in the paint. “Nice to have the company.” From the corner of his eye he could see her staring intently at him again. “Want to help? I’ve got another brush, if you’re so inclined.”
She just shook her head and watched him work.
“Fine. If you want me to have all the fun.” He flashed a grin at her, then turned back to the fence. After fifteen minutes of silence, Mary stood up, took the other brush from beside the bucket and tentatively dunked the bristles in the paint. He didn’t comment, just let her start to work beside him, her strokes even. Together, the extra set of hands made light work and they soon finished. He stood back to survey the finished result. “Good job. You’ve got a nice, even hand.”
“Th... thank you,” she stuttered, shyly meeting his eyes before she turned and ran back into the old house.
“And once again, you get her to talk. Good job yourself.”
He spun around to see Anne leaning against the back wall, her arms crossed, a smile on her face. “I think maybe we’ll just have to keep you.”
“Yeah?” He sealed the can with the lid, picked up the brushes, and headed towards the tool shed. “Gotta wash these out before the paint hardens.”
She followed after him. “Really. You were great with her. I don’t know who you were before, but I think you’ve worked with kids. Teens, maybe. Maybe you have sisters.”
“It’s no big deal.” He turned on the hose and ran the bristles under the stream of water. “She just helped me paint a fence.” Satisfied that the brushes were clean, he put them on the shelf. “Sisters? Really?” He turned to face Anne. “I wish to hell I could remember.”
“I know this is hard for you.” She put her hand on his arm, leaving it there when he didn’t pull back. “But whoever you were, here and now you can make a difference with these kids.”
He searched her face. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
She placed the hand on his chest. “Start here. Your instincts seem pretty good so far.” She looked into his eyes, realizing how very blue they were. “Anyway.” She stepped back and took a breath. “The basement needs cleaning. Grab a few of the kids and get them to help.”
He snapped a salute and clicked the heels of his running shoes. “Aye, aye, captain.” But his eyes were soft and his smile warm. “And thanks for the vote of confidence.”
Continued in Chapter 2