Once Brianna gets back out on the streets, the cold really hits her. After the warmth of the train, the wind that blows in her face chills her body unbearably. The streets are filled with cars, and the sidewalks are empty, an occasional passerby hurrying by, wrapped in layers of clothing, eager to get out of the cold. Their warm winter coats make Brianna feel colder, if anything. Her sweatshirt suddenly seems thin and ragged. Her cheeks and nose turn red, and she shivers. Looking around desperately for somewhere to get out of the cold, she begins to wonder if this is a huge mistake, if she's going to kill herself slowly by doing this. Finally she ducks into a fast-food restaurant, the warm air making her fingers and toes tingle. The warmth floods her, and she feels a sliver of hope. Something, maybe it's the relief in her body, maybe it's the feeling of freedom she finally has, tells her that everything is going to work out fine. She reassures herself that she's strong enough to survive on the streets, that she has a little bit of money for food, and that she can get a job which pays under the table to buy food when she runs out of money. She tells herself that she can put a life together for herself in this new place.
The voices don't let this feeling last for long. that's never gonna happen you're always going to be a failure you worthless girl you ruin everything the accident all your fault now your mom is practically dead and your dad doesn't want to come home anymore no one loves you no one cares they won't even come looking for you they don't care you failure
She ignores the voices, but they've achieved their goal; to get rid of any hope she's found. She's reminded of her little secret, the voices, which she's afraid to tell anybody, the thing that scares her more than anything in the world. More than anything, that is, except for the fact that she caused the accident which destroyed her mother's life. They both started at the same time…as the accident was happening the voices helped her, telling her that everything was going to be okay, to stay calm. They saved her, but now they're killing her. As that day rushed by, the flurry of stretchers, the white walls of the hospital- another reason she hates white- and the doctors concerned face as he called the family into the room and told them the news…the voices became malevolent, not letting her forget that this was all her fault.
The voices fade away eventually as they always do. She can't stay in the restaurant forever, so she takes a few minutes to warm up, and then ducks back out into the freezing cold snow. Not knowing where to go, she walks, looking up at the buildings, their formidable height, yet elegant beauty. She looks at the way the windows are like many eyes, threatening her, yet watching over her at the same time. The sidewalks are icy and she slips several times. Her stomach aches and she realizes she hasn't eaten in days.
She walks into another fast-food restaurant and buys a hamburger and a soda. Grudgingly, she parts with a little bit of her money, because she knows she has to eat something before she passes out. The food does scarcely anything to fill the gaping hole that is her stomach and before long she's back out on the street, vaguely fuller and more comfortable.
That night she sleeps behind a building, wrapped up in her sweatshirt and the blanket she thought to bring. She manages to find a place that's not covered in snow or ice to lie down, and before long, despite the cold she's asleep.
It's a pathetic sight, the tiny girl sleeping, shivring, with only a blanket to protect her from the cold. That night she has nightmares of the accident, and what happened afterwards. She dreams of her mother, as she once was, the loving woman in who's arms she felt like nothing could ever hurt her. The same woman now wonders around the house aimlessly, confused, not knowing what to do, or even who she is. The only thing that's the same as before the accident is her knitting. That seems to be the one thing she enjoys. She doesn't eat, scarcely sleeps, and at night Brianna hears her crying, or screaming from her nightmares. The only time she remembers the accident is in her vivid dreams, when she sees it exactly as it happened.
Now Brianna knows how it feels. She dreams flashes of the accident, feels her own pain and fear, then dreams of the events afterwards, up to the time when she realized it would never be the same, that things could only get worse. She awakes with a start to see herself surrounded by about half a dozen kids, all looking as raggedy and cold as she knows she looks. One girl steps forward.
"What are ya doin here? This is our spot."
One of the boys puts in "are you stupid or something? Don't you know better than to sleep at night? Any street kid knows you sleep during the day, so you don't freeze in your sleep."
Brianna is terrified. "I'm sorry…I don't know these things, I just needed a place to sleep."
The girl who spoke first looks at her suspiciously. "Ya don't talk like a street rat. What are ya, one of those rich kids that run away because mommy and daddy don't buy them their I-pod or car?" She sneers.
Brianna stays silent. She doesn't want to admit that she's a runaway or that she was too weak to deal with her problems.
The girl's face softens. "Listen kid, it don't matter why you're here. Obviously ya got nowhere to go, and you don't know nothing about livin' on the streets, so ya can chill with us and we'll teach ya a little bit about bein' a punk, and how to stay alive. Cause you ain't gonna last long without us."
Though Brianna doesn't trust them completely, it's nice to know she's not alone anymore. She reminds herself to be careful with them, and accepts the offer. "Thanks. That would be great."
One of the kids rolls his eyes. "First of all you can stop talkin' like you went to freakin' Harvard or sumtin."
"Tex, chill wit that." the girl says sternly. It's apparent that she's the head of this little group. She offers Brianna a hand and helps her up. "I'm Jess by the way. Ya can call me Jay.I'm 14" She smiles at Brianna.
"I'm Brianna." Brianna forces a smile back but she's thinking about how unfortunate it is that this 14 year old girl, two years younger than her, has been homeless for long enough to know all the rules of the streets."I'm 16." She adds.
One by one, the others introduce themselves. 'Tex's real name is Harvey, but they call him Tex because he comes from Texas. Rikki is a 17 year old black girl. The boy that yelled at her for sleeping at night is Jace, short for Jason, and he's 15. Finally, a tiny girl, who looks skinny enough to blow away in the wind, is Lex, and she talks so quietly that Jay has to translate for her. She's only 12. When she hears this, Brianna is shocked. This girl is her baby sister's age and hanging around with a group of bums. She realizesshe's now one of those 'bums'.
"Brianna, we're gonna call ya Bree." Jay tells her. "Ya don't want nobody hearin' your real name, especially if you're a runaway, which I'm pretty sure you are. Where are you from?"
Brianna hesitates, but remembering that these kids are going to help her, starts to answer, "I come from-"
Jay cuts her off. "First lesson. Don't ever tell nobody where you're from. Not even other street rats, ya never know who's gonna turn you in."
Brianna nods. It makes sense.
Then Rikki puts in, "Do you have any money?"
Brianna's heart sinks. She should have known that these kids, who have nothing, would want something in return. "Nope." She responds.
"I don't believe that." Rikki states, "I'm not tryin' to take your money, ya know. But in any case, if you do, use it wisely. Only buy food when you can't take the hunger no more. And save most of it for when you really need it."
She's relieved. At least these kids aren't trying to take her money. Maybe, just maybe, things are going to get better from here.