I live in Clifton -- Gaslight District -- and usually get my groceries at Keller's IGA. It's a little bit more expensive than other grocery stories but I've come to know all the people who work there, and it's convenient. I pay for that.
One afternoon while walking up Ludlow Avenue to my apartment building, carrying two plastic bags of groceries -- one filled with fruits and fresh vegetables; the other with cat food, vodka and cigarettes -- I noticed a young girl sitting on a front step to an optical store that was closed for the day. Along side her was a puppy -- what breed I have no idea; it had to be mixed. The little dog was sleeping.
The young girl looked up at me with a timid look. She was holding a paper cup. She had freckles all over her face. Her brown eyes looked sad.
"What's your dog's name?" I asked.
"Freddy," she said.
"He's a cute looking puppy," I replied.
"I found him on my way getting here, beside the road," she said. "He just sort of started following me like he was lost or something."
"So now he's yours, eh?"
"Yeah, I guess he is."
She was holding that paper cup, but didn't ask me for money. I think she was embarrassed. She couldn't have been anymore than 20 years old. I have a daughter who's 24, and I thought of her as I looked at the young girl.
Beside her and the puppy was a black, dirty backpack. I started to put two and two together.
"Where you from?" I wanted to know.
"Seattle," she said.
She looked up at me with surprise in her eyes. "How did you know?" she asked.
I didn't answer, just smiled.
I spent a lot of time in Seattle in the early '90s when my twin brother was ill with AIDS. After he died, I would often take walks around Capitol Hill, where he lived. I took the walks to get out of his apartment and away from the sad memory of his passing.
I mostly walked down Broadway, the main drag. I would see young kids on skateboards, with wild hair, tattoos and body piercings. I suspected many of them were homeless and hung out together as a family. Some would ask me for money or cigarettes. I always did what I could.
Every so often I head back to Seattle and always take a walk on Broadway. Capitol Hill is a little dirtier now but hasn't changed much. I still see those kids, who look kind of lost; and I always feel sad for them.
The young girl I met on Ludlow that afternoon had the look of a Capitol Hill girl. Her nose was pierced, and I could see some kind of tattoo on her chest as her blue shirt was only halfway bottomed. It matched her blue hair.
"How did you get here?"
"Hitched," she said.
"That's where you met Freddy, walking on down the road?"
"You got a place to stay?"
"I think so," she said. "I got a friend of a friend who says she can put me up for a few nights."
"I don't know. Maybe move on, I guess."
"What's your name?"
I looked at my IGA bag filled with fruits and vegetables. I handed it to her. Her puppy woke up and started sniffing the bag.
I reached into my pocket, found a ten-dollar bill and put it in her paper cup. Her eyes got wide.
"If you're in trouble, if you need anything else, I usually walk down this way everyday," I said. "I'll keep an eye out for ya. I wish you and Freddy good luck."
"Thanks, Mister," she said, "thanks for the food and for the money."
When I walked away, I thought of my own daughter and tears filled my eyes. I felt sorry for this young girl and frustrated. There wasn't really anything else I could do -- just hope she would be all right. She said she had a place to stay. I hope she was telling the truth.
I haven't seem her anymore but I still find myself wondering about Jennifer and why she's here, why she left Seattle and Capitol Hill. I want to know who her parents are. I want to call and tell them to come take their daughter home.
They should tell her they love her. My little girl's name is Jennifer, too.
Larry Gross' book "Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories," is in bookstores now or can be ordered at Amazon.com.