puddle

A girl broke down crying in front of me tonight, in a discount department store on Broadway. A teenager. I don't know how old. Sixteen, if I had to guess?

Terence was with me. I was shopping for, well, props for the business. I had my hands full and was a million miles away, thinking of everything I needed to do. "Excuse me," I heard a halting voice say. "Can you take me to the nearest Starbucks? I'm lost."

Take, she'd said. Lost, she'd said. This phrasing, along with the fact that she was with another girl--and they both carried smart phones--made me suspect I was the target of some sort of scam. Because what teenaged kid these days can't navigate her way to a Starbucks?

"Well I can't take you," I answered with friendly, reassuring briskness (in case she really was lost), "but I can tell you where one is? It's super close." I pointed towards the store's front doors and began to give directions (one street up, one street over), and that's when she started crying. She just sort of dropped her head into her hands and lost it.

"Hey! Hey, it's okay!" I snapped out of my distracted state and turned to her and her companion. "Are you lost?" She nodded, looking pitiful. "You're okay, you're totally safe, okay? You're safe." More nodding. Friend didn't say anything. Friend had a lot of eyeliner and the last three inches of her hair were dyed lilac. I got the sense that being lost wasn't the real problem so I said, "Listen, whatever it is, it's temporary. You're safe and it's gonna be okay." I gently rubbed the top of her arm, petting her like a distressed Chaucer (who probably would have been a great help in this situation).

"I don't want to go home," the girl suddenly announced, jolting the mood from after school special to CSI: DTLA. Or maybe it just did for me, because I felt my spine go rigid. I looked at Terence, who was watching quietly from a few feet away. "Hey--will you give us a sec?" He nodded and moved off.

"Listen, it's okay," I repeated to the girl. Then with the best calm-but-concerned-outsider vibe I could channel I asked, "What's going on at home? Is everything okay?" It occurred to me that for whatever reason, I was playing Trusted Adult in this scene. I introduced myself. "I'm Ellie. What's your name?" She told me, but I forgot within minutes. Let's call her Emily. "Listen Emily," I said. "I know I'm a stranger and I don't want to intrude in your life, but are you safe at home? Is anyone hurting you at home?"

Let it never be said that I'm not direct.

Emily shook her head and I looked at friend, who didn't give me any kind of furtive, She's lying glance. "It's fine," said Emily. "I just can't deal with them right now." Deal with them right now sounded good to me. Like typical, sixteen-year-old hating-her-parents type stuff.

"Where do you live?"

"Atwater Village."

"How did you guys get here? Did you take the bus or something?"

"Lyft." (Duh. It's a new era, Ellie.) "But my mom canceled the credit card." Ah. A picture emerges.

"Okay, well...do you have bus fare to get home or whatever?"

Nodding. "I just want to go to Starbucks and chill for a little while."

So I reissued my directions, because I judged (based on my vast experience with angsty adolescents) that she was probably fine. Or would be in a couple of hours, anyway. At the very most in a couple of years.

Poor kid. Not much worse when you're that age, than thinking every puddle is an endless ocean.