Alli was in the attic of her house. She came up there to study, to read the articles in the green leather-bound encyclopedias, with gold letters on their binding. She was a freshman in high school. Her dream was to go to Cambridge and stroll across the fiery, green lawns, which only graduates could walk across.
The sky groaned under the weight of the rain, morose and the color of graphite. The attic had a wide semi-circle window that gave her a panoramic view of the town, its squat little apartments lining streets, that went downhill. The attic had no carpeting. The wooden boards were soft from years of damp weather. Other than the light from the window, the attic was quite dim, almost foreboding, but Alli was used to that. What she wasn’t used to, was the red-haired girl now curled up in her perch.
“Hey,” Alli said, “What are you doing up here?” She tried to hide that she was startled. Hardly anyone ever came up here. Alli’s voice seemed to have awoken the girl. She jumped and then struggled to get up. “How did you get in here?” Alli asked again. How had she gotten in? Perhaps, she was homeless or a petty thief. The back of Alli’s neck tensed; she was ready to run back down the stairs if the intruder lunged at her.
The girl looked frightened too. She was dressed in ancient jeans and a jacket frayed at the shoulders. “Hey, don’t rat me out,” she whispered, “It was just so cold out there last night. I was going to catch pneumonia out there.” Her voice was more delicate than Alli thought it would be, soft and immaterial, like satin curtains, trimmed with lace.
Alli lowered her shoulders a little and came in, off the landing. “Alright, come down with me later and no one will suspect anything.” The girl nodded and sat back down, her face a little calmer. She couldn’t have been more than a year older than Alli. The girl went over to Alli’s pile of books. “Are these your books?” the girl ventured, with a light smile.
“Yes, they were my cousins’ and now they’re mine,” Alli plopped down cross-legged and picked up the ‘R’ volume.
The girl nodded. She turned back to the window, glazed with rainwater.
Curious, Alli looked up from the book and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Nealy,” the girl said. Alli later found out her real name was Elizabeth, but she didn’t ask then.
“I’m Alli,” she said. “Hey, if you want something to eat, I have some odds and ends that I can throw together.” Alli didn’t feel too bad about offering, since they both looked about the same age.
Alli took Nealy downstairs and made her a sandwich. The linoleum was a shade of pea green, the table old, its wooden legs pockmarked. Nealy tried not to wolf down the rye and salami.
“Where are you headed?” Alli asked.
“My aunt’s place in Rochester,” Nealy replied
Alli wanted to fix Nealy some lemonade, but she didn’t have any lemons, so she just gave Nealy a soda. Nealy turned the can around, on the faded tablecloth, with her long, thin fingers, before opening it.