She really shouldn't be sleeping out here on the steps, and I wonder why she is...
He watched her for a moment, looking to see if any of the apartments nearby had their doors ajar, or any other indication that she wasn't out here alone, but it didn't take long for him to realize they were the only ones there. Nathan looked at the child again. She seemed so peaceful, but he felt bad just leaving her there alone. Gently, he touched her shoulder and gave it a light shake.
The girl drew a deep breath and brushed his hand away, but otherwise didn't stir. Nathan sighed. Maybe he should just leave her alone. He was about to stand and go on his way when she moved again, this time stretching her arms and rubbing her face. Nathan backed up still to give her space, and when the child opened her eyes and looked over at him, he smiled. "Hey..."
But the little girl didn't give him a chance to ask any questions, her green eyes widening as she scrambled to her feet. She rushed the rest of the way up the steps she'd been sleeping on and onto the next landing, ducking behind the next flight and staring out at Nathan from behind the railing. The writer wasn't surprised he'd startled her, and he kept his distance so he didn't frighten her more. "Hey," he gently said again. "It's alright. I was just..." He was about to ask her where her parents were, but noticed she wasn't responding much to him at all, just staring. Maybe she doesn't speak English, he thought, but while he was trying to figure out another way to approach this, he noticed something else:
The little girl wore a hearing aid.
Nathan's heart stopped a beat, and he hesitated, but tried his question again. "Where are your parents?" he signed.
This time, the child responded, but only by ducking back a little more and chewing on her lip. Nathan mirrored her and tried again.
"Are you on your own?"
She peeked out again and nodded a little, then stopped, shook her head and ducked back again.
So many more questions came to mind, and it pained Nathan to see her so frightened of him. He tried to keep his smile calm and drew another deep breath. "My name is Nathan," he signed, slowly spelling out his name. "Can you tell me your name?"
Another long stare, but he spotted her little hands moving just behind the railing. She was so shy, and it was hard to see what letters she was forming, so when she stopped, he made his best guess.
"L-I-D-I-A?" he spelled back. "Is your name Lidia?"
She nodded quickly. Nathan smiled at her, hoping to encourage her.
"That's a very pretty name, Lidia."
"Why were you sleeping on the stairs?"
The child's smile faded, but she moved out from hiding. Raising her hands, she finally answered him. "Sleepy."
"Sleepy?" Nathan repeated, and she nodded. "Why out here? Why on the steps? Where are your parents?"
Lidia rocked on her heels and smiled shyly again, shaking her head. "No parents."
Every question she answered seemed to create a dozen more. Nathan stood and followed her up the stairs, and Lidia didn't run this time. When he stood beside her on the landing, he wondered if he was doing the right thing. "Would you like to come inside, where it's warmer? You can nap on the couch if you want."
Lidia's smile became ten times wider and she wrapped her arms around his waist. Nathan started, not expecting that reaction, but still smiled down at her. "Guess that's a yes..." He brushed the hair carefully out of her face while she released him, then offered her his hand. The child continued to smile as she took hold and let him lead her up the steps to his apartment.
As they reached the door, Nathan heard the familiar tune of his cellphone and went for his pocket to answer it. It took only a second of panic (finding it missing) to realize the sound was coming from inside the apartment. He'd forgotten it when he left to go to Gabriel's. What if it was his parents calling him back? Quickly, Nathan fumbled for his keys, making Lidia giggle when he dropped them in his flurry to unlock the door. The tune stopped just as he got the key in the lock, and by the time he'd gotten the door open, his cellphone was beeping to alert him to a missed call.
"Damn it..." Nathan growled under his breath, hurrying over to the kitchen table where he'd left it, his heart sinking even more when he read the number and saw it had been his folks. They'd left a voicemail, so he quickly called it back.
"Hi, sweetie! Sorry we missed your call," his mother's voice chirped in the message. "Your dad and I have been very busy. Since we hadn't heard from you, we made plans to visit my sister out in Nevada for the holidays this year and we've been scrambling to get things packed for the trip. We'll be out west through mid-January. Sorry to hear about your car, sweetie, but it's good to hear you're okay. Send us an email and tell us how you've been! We miss hearing from you. Hugs and kisses!" The pause and sound of the phone hanging up before the voicemail asked him if he wanted to save the message. Nathan sighed and deleted it instead.
"Well, I guess the Thanksgiving question's been answered." As much as he appreciated the invitation to Alton's, part of him had hoped he would have at least been able to talk to his parents. So lost in his thoughts, he almost forgot he had a guest until Lidia came up to him and tugged on the edge of his shirt.
"Help, please," she signed, pointing to her hearing aid. Nathan set the phone on the table again to look at the device and noticed the volume was turned all the way down. It was similar to the one Marni used to wear, so it was no trouble for him to adjust it for her. After a few clicks she hollered, tugging on his shirt again to let him know it was set where she liked it. A small knot twisted in Nathan's chest; she liked it on the same setting Marni used to wear hers.
Lidia smiled and gave him another hug for the favor, then skipped over to the couch and climbed up, curling up in one corner and looking over at him. "Can I have a snack?"
"Um... sure," Nathan told her, nodding so she would understand. Lidia bounced in her seat while he went into the kitchen to see what he could fix up.
I wonder if she really is all alone. Where did she come from? She was indecisive about whether or not she was on her own, but still... maybe I should call the police to at least report that I found her. Maybe they can better find her family. But... I don't know if I'm comfortable calling about this. God, what should I do?