"Unknown" is the first story I wrote that I based in a city that I was actually familiar with, Salt Lake. I had the idea for a while but wasn't sure how to approach it until I decided to take a correspondence course from BYU on Creative Writing. My instructor was so impressed with the first draft that he offered me the opportunity of turning in a completely different story instead of revising this one. "You're story," he said, "is something I would expect anyone else to turn in as a final draft." I decided to go ahead and revise the story based on some of his editorial comments and it became another of my favorite works. (Note: There is a rape scene in this story. I mention this out of consideration for people who are sensitive to such things) I have since adapted this story into screenplay format. When writing a two hour film based on a short story, one has to go into much broader detail with the characters and setting. I also made some major changes in the screenplay that include changing the name of the main character and putting him in an existing relationship. I felt the puritan nature of the character as originally written just wasn't realistic enough for a man who's supposed to be an average unmarried adult. Despite taking place in Salt Lake City, the characters are not members of Utah's predominant religion. The screenplay has become something of a love letter to the non-mormon population (Roughly 30 to 40%) of Utah.
Ryan Jackson walked into the building where he worked in Salt Lake City, Utah. He quietly half skipped across the atrium of the building humming a piece from one of his favorite operas while looking up at the high ceiling of the room and the glass elevators as they traveled up and down the inner walls of the building.
Ryan stepped into an elevator still humming the piece and looked through the glass wall into the atrium.
A woman standing next to him looked at him and smiled. Ryan continued his humming until the woman asked, "Tosca?"
Ryan looked at her and said, "Yes, it is."
"Indeed." Ryan went back to his humming figuring the conversation was closed. Almost a regular attendant of the Utah Opera, he could always get away with a review of a performance or a profile of a performer for the paper where he worked, The Salt Lake Chronicle. But, most of the time, he dealt with national, international and regional issues.
Ryan's friend, Jayson Roberts sat in his cubicle in the Editorial Department polishing up one of his editorials for the paper when his supervisor, a relatively tall man of 49 named Randy Olsen, walked in.
"Is Jackson in, yet?"
"No, he's not."
"Well, when he gets here, call me. I have something for the both of you."
"You know, my son really enjoys opera. He has compact disk after compact disk in his room," said the woman.
Ryan looked to her again and said, "How nice."
"Oh yeah. He has all the great ones. Caruso, Pavarotti, . . . You know, the great ones."
A bell sounded telling Ryan he had arrived to his floor. Eager to get away from the woman's ramblings, he nearly forced the door open and walked into the crowded Editorial Department and to his small cubicle of an office. He switched on his IBM computer which hummed to life as he looked at a few photos of family and friends, one of he and Jayson in Park City, that he had pinned to the cloth covered partition as well as a small copy of his diploma from the University of Arizona. Ryan remembered being hired to work for the Chronicle as an editorialist when the paper was in its infancy. Few people thought it would be able to make it in Salt Lake, but its new approach to news, through the perspective of young journalists, appealed to the young population of Utah. The Chronicle had a larger number of subscriptions going to people under the age of eighteen than any other newspaper in the state.
Ryan checked his fax machine to see if he had received any tips for his editorials while he was gone. Picking up the few messages that truly interested him, he began to jot down a few notes in the margins.
Jayson peaked over the partition from the opposite cubicle and looked at Ryan, diligently working at his desk. He then picked up his phone and called Randy.
Ryan noticed Jayson looking over the partition and listened as his friend spoke on the phone.
"Mr. Olsen? . . . He's here. . . Ryan. . . Okay. . . see you in a few." Jayson looked back to Ryan and said, "Hey, Ryan."
"You want to hear a joke?"
"Oh, come on."
"No. I know what types of jokes you tell, and if this is anything like the others, then it's probably rude and disgusting."
"But it's still a good joke."
"I'll have to take your word for it." On that, Ryan looked back at his work.
"Have you met anyone, yet?"
"What?" Ryan looked back up.
"Have you met anyone, yet?"
"Just where are you going with this?"
"Come on, Ryan, you know perfectly well where I'm going."
"Well, if it's what I think you mean, you know exactly how I feel about that."
"But I've got the perfect girl for you."
"I don't want to hear about her."
"You don't have to. You already met her."
"Remember when we went to Park City last January?"
"How can I forget? You got totally wasted off your ass the second night we were there. I practically had to tie you to your bed to keep you from going . . . what did you call it? 'Skinny Skiing?' with that girl, Rebecca."
"I don't remember that."
"I'm not surprised."
"But you remember Rebecca."
"I saw her yesterday. She said she wants to see you."
"No, Jayson. Don't you have somebody else to bother or perhaps some work that you have to do?"
At that moment, Randy approached their joint cubicles. "Jackson, Roberts, how would you too like to attend a play tonight?"
"Sure, Mr. Olsen. When and where?"
"The U of U, tonight at 8:30."
"That's great," said Ryan. "The newspaper's treat?"
"Of course. You can pick up your tickets in my office after work." On that note, Randy went back to his office. Really, it was just another cubicle, but with plexiglass partitions.
Jayson took the walk around the group of cubicles to Ryan's desk and said, "Listen, if you don't want to see Rebecca, I know this girl who works in Research. What do you have to say about me setting you and her up? We could all go to the play tonight then, afterwards . . . who knows what it could lead to." Jayson put on a sinister smile.
"I know exactly what it could lead to. No, Jayson. I'm not going to let you set me up. I'm just going to the play tonight by myself."
"Have it your way, Your Holiness."
"Holiness?" said Jeffrey, a friend of Jayson's. He was a very strange person with beady little eyes and a face like a character out of fantasy picture.
"Hi, Jayson. What are you two talking about?"
"Nothing," interjected Ryan.
"Yeah, right," Jayson couldn't resist. "Ryan, here, took an oath of chastity about ten years ago."
"No kidding?" asked Jeffrey. "Why?"
"When Ryan was sixteen . . ."
"That's enough," Ryan begged.
"The first and last time he ever scored, the girl's father walked in on them." Jeffrey let loose with a loud cackle. "Boy, was that guy pissed?"
Jayson and Jeffrey walked away laughing and Jayson decided to tell Jeffrey his joke.
Ryan just sat at his desk, a little bit humiliated, but he kept on reminding himself that Jayson was an insensitive jerk and that he shouldn't dwell on an experience that happened so long ago. Of course, now Ryan could have kicked himself for telling Jayson what happened in the first place.
Before he left work, Jayson approached Ryan and said, "Hey, man, don't worry about what I said this morning. I was just razzing you."
"That's okay, Jayson. As long as you don't do it again."
"Okay. Listen, I've got a lot of respect for you. I wish I had your will power."
"Practice, Jay. Practice."
"Okay, man. Say, let's go to a movie some time, okay? A guys' night out, or something."
That evening, Ryan picked up his ticket on his way out from work and went home. He took a shower and got ready for his evening at the theatre. He picked up a bite to eat at a nearby fast food restaurant before finally going to the University.
It was a nice play written by a lesser known American playwright. After the performance, Ryan took the bus to a spot east of Temple Square. He decided to walk the rest of the way home and considered walking through the Square if it hadn't already been closed for the night. Instead, he decided to just walked around the block and admire the architecture of the Mormon temple and tabernacle within its walls.
As he walked down the eastern sidewalk of the block, looking to the top of the granite temple, he bumped into someone. A pair of sunglasses fell to the ground as well as a number of odds and ends from an old and stained ZCMI shopping bag. There were scraps of newspapers, small, broken toys, styrofoam food containers arranged neatly by size and shape as well as about a half dozen old combs and brushes.
"Excuse me," said Ryan.
"No, excuse me," said the young homeless woman as she groped around the sidewalk with her eyes closed. She was looking for her sunglasses.
Ryan then got on his hands and knees and picked them up for her. He handed them to the young woman and said, "Are these what you are looking for?"
Her eyes still closed, the woman took the sunglasses into her hands and placed them on her face. She then looked up to Ryan and said, "My other stuff. Where's my other stuff?"
Ryan decided that since he was already on the ground, he might as well pick up her other things. He didn't understand why she carried around stuff like that at first, but he then saw the stained clothes she was wearing and her unwashed dirty blonde hair and rationalized that she must have been a transient. He handed the odds and ends to her and then helped her up from the ground and said, without thinking, "Do you want me to walk you home?"
"No!" said the girl.
Why did I say that, thought Ryan. "I'm sorry. Listen, do you need anything?"
"Me? No, I don't need anything. I'm just fine. I can take care of myself."
"Uh, you're not blind, are you?"
"Me, blind? Oh no. I can see perfectly well."
"Then why are you wearing sunglasses this close to midnight?"
"Uh . . . I've got to go." She placed her things into her bag and began to walk away. Ryan watched her as she stopped by the side of the road and added a penny to her collection.
Not knowing if he was speaking loud enough for her to hear him, Ryan said, "Nice bumping into you."
That night, Ryan wrote his review for the play and turned it in to Mr. Olsen the next morning. He knocked off two editorials and then decided to take an early lunch. It was around 11:40 but he didn't feel too hungry so he decided to get a hot dog at a corner stand and go for a walk in the mall.
After his walk, Ryan headed back to his office. For the second time in as many days, Ryan bumped into the homeless girl. But this time, her things didn't fall all over the ground. "I'm sorry," said Ryan, a bit embarrassed.
"No, don't be," said the girl. "I should have been looking where I was going."
Ryan tried to look into her eyes, but, once again, she was wearing her sunglasses. He wanted to ask her about them but all that came out was, "Why?"
"Sorry, gotta go." She started to leave, but Ryan followed her.
"Wait a minute. My name's Ryan Jackson. What's yours?"
"I have to leave." She picked up her pace.
When she was a good ten feet away, Ryan said, "Will I see you again?"
"Maybe we'll bump into each other some time."
Days passed. Then weeks. Ryan went through his daily routine of getting up, going to work, seeing an occasional play, writing his review or editorial on which senator accepted money from what organization.
It was a sunny Saturday morning when Ryan was sitting on a park bench reading a book when he heard a familiar voice from behind say, "Hello, Ryan Jackson."
Ryan turned around and saw the homeless girl. "Hello," he said bashfully.
"Mind if I join you?"
"No, not at all." Ryan almost wished he hadn't said that, afraid that his sitting with a homeless girl would draw attention. But he looked at her and what she was wearing. Her clothes were dirty, but they weren't too torn up, she didn't have her usual ZCMI bag, but she did have on her sunglasses.
She sat down on the bench next to him trying to look a little dignified. "What are you reading?"
Ryan looked down to his book and said, "The Fisher King."
"Really? I don't do much reading."
"I don't have much of a choice. It comes with the job."
"What do you do?"
"I'm an editorialist for the Chronicle."
"You work for a newspaper?"
"Yes. That's not a problem, is it?"
"I don't think so. You write a lot for the paper?"
"I manage to get in just about everyday. Sometimes, I'll be out on assignment."
"Assignments? For editorials?"
"Sure. Sometimes my supervisor asks for crossfire pieces. You know, 'Yea or Nay on Toxic Waste' or something."
"Interesting. Maybe I'll read something by you one of these days."
"That would be nice."
They sat for what seemed to be a long time. Only an occasional bird or squirrel would draw their attention to the same thing. Finally, Ryan said, "You know, I still don't know your name."
She looked into his eyes through her dark glasses and said, "It's . . . Julia."
"Why did you run away from me the other day?"
Like a shy child, Julia said, "I don't know."
"Why do you always wear those sunglasses?"
"Can we talk about something else?"
Ryan felt a little ashamed for prying. "Sorry. Sure, we could. What do you want to talk about?"
"I don't know."
"That's okay." He felt a little anxious for a moment, then said, "Could I see you again?"
Julia was a little surprised. But not much. "Sure," she said. "When?"
For some strange reason, Ryan was very excited by this. "Oh, I don't know. Do you know where the Chronicle building is?"
"I think so."
"Okay. Tell you what, meet me outside of the building on Monday at about 12:00."
"Sure. What are we going to do."
Ryan hadn't thought of that. "I don't know. I guess I could treat you to lunch."
"Then, maybe we could talk."
"That would be okay."
Julia smiled and Ryan gave her the address for the building. She then walked away, turning back only a few times to wave at Ryan.
A few weeks passed and every day at lunch, Ryan met Julia outside of his building. He treated her to lunch and they often sat on a concrete bench outside of a mall and talked. Ryan was still a self conscious about being seen with Julia, as far her appearance was concerned, but eventually he got to a point where he would try not to think about it. To hell with everybody else, he thought. Julia got to know Ryan very well. He told her almost everything about him. But whenever it came down to Ryan wanting to know more about Julia, there was silence. So, all he was left with was speculation. Did something happen to her? Was she beaten or perhaps . . . no. All he knew for sure, was that Julia Kowalsky was perhaps the most mysterious person in the world. Mysterious and beautiful. Ryan couldn't help but note her soft, almost innocent, voice. Her hair, if it was washed, would probably be incredibly beautiful. He imagined what it would look like in the sun. And her eyes . . . Her eyes. Always behind those damned sunglasses. As they walked on the sidewalk back to Ryan's building, one day, he asked her, "Why do you always wear those sunglasses? I don't know what color your eyes are?"
She looked away for a few moments and said shyly, "I don't want you to know what color my eyes are."
"Because they're ugly."
"I guess I'm supposed to take your word for it."
"Maybe," she said, sounding almost disgusted. "I'm sorry."
They stopped in front of his building and just stood there. Julia looked to Ryan and said, "Can I see you after work?"
"Do you think we could go to the Administration Building?" She was referring LDS Church's headquarters.
"Yes, of course."
"Cool." Julia then approached Ryan and almost kissed him on the cheek. She quickly changed her mind and walked away.
After work, Ryan walked out of his building and found Julia waiting for him, sitting on a large concrete flowerpot. Without saying a word, Julia took Ryan's hand and walked him all the way to the Administration Building.
When they got there, Julia led him through the lobby and to the main elevator. She held his arm tightly during the ride and didn't say a single word through the whole trip until they arrived at the top.
They stepped out of the elevator and walked to the west side of the building and looked out over the city. They could see the temple, the capitol and the Great Salt Lake.
"What are we doing here?" Ryan asked.
Looking around, Julia said, "I come here sometimes, when I just want to think."
"What do you think about?"
"Lots of things. Children. My . . . friends. But lately, I've been thinking a lot about you."
"Because you're nice to me."
God, thought Ryan. What am I going to do? What do I say?
"I wish I'd met you a year ago."
"Because then you wouldn't know me like this. Like some homeless person." They headed to the glass enclosed reception area where they could sit down.
"I don't "
"Don't try to sound like you had no idea. It's only obvious."
"You're wrong. I wasn't going to say that at all."
"Really?" she looked into his eyes. "What were you going to say?"
"I don't care about how you live. Sure, I would like to have met you a year ago, but I'm glad I met you now. I've never had a friend like you, before." They entered the glass room where they sat together on a polished wood bench.
"You mean like someone who has to look inside of a garbage can for food?"
"No. I mean someone as . . . I don't know, mysterious as you are. I don't really know you. And yet, I feel very close to you. I feel I can trust you and if I could know you better I . . ."
"You would know that you trust me?"
Julia put her hand to her face and touched the frame of her sunglasses. She almost pulled them off but then changed her mind and just pushed them back up the bridge of her nose and turned to face the opposite end of the room.
Ryan gently touched her chin and brought her face toward his own. Ever so slowly, he touched the frames of her sunglasses and pulled them away from her eyes. He placed the glasses behind him on the bench and turned back to Julia. Her eyes were closed and she held her chin against her chest, trying to hide her face from Ryan. But he just touched her chin again and raised her face until he was able to look into her eyes.
With a single tear falling down her cheek, Julia slowly opened her eyes to reveal what she tried so hard and for so long to hide from the rest of the world. Her eyes were a beautiful green surrounded by what seemed to be pure white and, themselves, surrounding two small dots of ebony.
Ryan released a sigh of awe. "Julia. Your eyes are beautiful."
Still crying, she said, "No, they're not."
"Why are you crying?"
"I hate my eyes."
"Why?" Ryan took her hand and held it, trying to comfort her.
"Because . . ." Julia couldn't go on. She couldn't bring herself to tell Ryan that she was raped one night because her attacker couldn't get over her eyes. She just placed her free hand over her eyes and cried on Ryan's shoulder.
"It's okay, Julia. It's okay."
"Can I have my sunglasses back?"
"Yes, of course. Here." He handed her her glasses and and watched as she fumbled to place them on her face. After a few moments, she was more composed and even gave Ryan a kiss on the cheek.
Ryan wiped away her tears and said, "Would you like to do something this Saturday?"
"Tell you what. We'll go where ever you want to go. Okay. I'll meet you here Saturday morning at around 11:00 in the lobby."
"Okay, Ryan. 11:00."
Ryan went home that night, wondering why Julia was so upset. Did something happen to her? Was she hurt? He asked himself over and over again, why he didn't ask her if she needed any help.
"Me? No, I don't need anything. I'm just fine. I can take care of myself." He remembered her saying, that first night they met.
But that night, he tossed and turned in his bed worrying about how she was doing. Where she was. If she was even eating. Saturday. He'll try to do something for her on Saturday.
Saturday, 11:06. Gray clouds were beginning to gather themselves over the city. Already, a few scattered drops of rain were beginning to fall. Where is she? Ryan asked himself. 11:10. He sat in the lobby. 11:17. By this time, he was counting cracks in the marble floor
He looked around the almost empty room and, hoping, maybe, that she would answer, said, "Where are you?"
"Over here!," yelled Julia as she ran through the south entrance. "Wait a minute. I'm on my way." She ran into the lobby, almost tripping over her feet on the polished floor.
To slow her down, and to keep her falling on her face, Ryan grabbed Julia and held her still. "Whoa. Slow down, there."
"Sorry," she gave him a quick peck on the cheek and caught her breath, "I'm so late."
"So, where are we going?"
"We're going to go to my place."
"But I thought . . ." Ryan cut himself off before he made a total and complete fool out of himself.
But, he was too late. "You thought being homeless meant not having a place to stay? Well, you're wrong. At least in my case. I happen to have a place of my own."
"What? An apartment?"
"Of course not. But I was lucky in finding this place."
"What is it?"
"Just wait a little while. You'll see."
They walked together to the south west side of town ducking into doorways and under awnings on their way. They passed many homeless people. The problem had been getting steadily worse over the years. From tent cities under bridges to people camping out in front of the capital building.
They walked through alleys and through welfare apartments dodging drug dealers and prostitutes on the way. They finally arrived to their destination. Julia led Ryan to an alley strewn about with shreds of cardboard and old paper wrappers now soaked with rainwater.
Ryan followed as Julia went toward a concrete stairwell that went into the ground leading to a locked basement door. The basement hadn't been used for years, but that wasn't Julia's destination. She went down the stairwell and when they were both at the bottom, Julia said, "This is it."
Ryan looked around himself. The ZCMI bag was hanging on the door knob. There were pictures from old magazines and news papers held to the concrete wall with old pieces of chewing gum. Ryan found it hard to accept the fact that a human being could actually live under such conditions. On the "floor" was an old piece of carpet. Next to it, an old tattered blanket and a small piece of foam rubber. Her pillow. "What do you do about food?" he finally asked.
"Oh, Mrs. Santangelo gives me food almost every day."
"Who's Mrs. Santangelo?"
"She owns the restaurant on the other side of the alley."
"Restaurant? I didn't see a restaurant."
"Actually, it's the back end of one. That's where the kitchen is. Mrs. Santangelo comes out sometimes and leaves me some food. Spaghetti, lasagna, a slice or two of pizza. She's a really nice lady."
"So, she takes care of you?"
"No. She just gives me some food now and then."
Ryan sat on the steps and wondered for a few moments what on Earth was happening. He was very confused.
Julia sat next to him and held his hand. "What's the matter?"
"How can you live like this?"
"I don't know. I just do. To tell you the truth, I really haven't thought about it that much."
Ryan felt a lump in his throat. "Where do you come from?"
She hesitated for a moment then said, "The Midwest. Nebraska."
"Did you come from a big city or a small town?"
"An average sized community."
"How did you end up here?"
Her voice became very somber, "I had a boyfriend who was supposed to take me with him to California. But he dumped me."
"Couldn't you have called your parents?"
"No, I couldn't. They didn't want me to go to California in the first place. And besides, I couldn't go back after . . ."
Ryan tried to understand her, but he couldn't. "Didn't you try to find work?"
"I tried to get a job, but there weren't any to be had. Pretty soon I ran out of money and I started living on the streets. And because I was homeless, no one would hire me when jobs picked up."
"What has it been like for you? Living the way you do?"
"It hasn't been fun."
"I can imagine."
"I've had to beg for food and money. I'd look in garbage cans for anything to eat. Pizza crusts, half eaten hamburgers, soggy ice cream cones. I didn't care. You don't care when you're hungry. Then I found this place to live and Mrs. Santangelo would give me food, fairly regularly."
"Do you have any homeless friends?"
"Not really. There are a few people I know. I don't talk to them very often though. Then there are . . ." Her voice broke.
"There are what?"
Julia began to cry, but continued to talk, "There are the bad people."
"What bad people?"
"They're always in groups. They follow you around until you're alone. And then . . . they hit you. And they . . ."
"They what? What did they do to you?"
"There was one man. He was with his friends. They chased me into an old warehouse."
"And what did they do?"
Breaking down with tears almost streaming down her face, she said, "He raped me."
Ryan couldn't help but to cry with her. He put his arms around her and held her as she wept. "Hey, hey. It's alright. Nothing's going to happen to you, now."
"He said he liked my eyes."
Now Ryan understood why Julia was so concerned over the way her eyes looked. She knew that she had beautiful eyes. She just didn't want to admit it, or show them to anyone out of fear. He felt so sorry for her.
"Julia, let me help you."
"No. I can't let you do that."
"Please. I want to be there for you. I don't want you to be scared anymore. I want to take care of you."
"No. Please. Don't do anything for me. Just be my friend."
He looked into her eyes, through her sunglasses, and said, "I already am."
Before he left, they decided on a new place to meet for lunch the next week. After it was decided, Julia gave Ryan a kiss on the lips before saying goodbye.
While walking home, while eating dinner, while lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, Ryan thought only of Julia. Of her voice, of her smile, of her eyes, of her lips. How he cherished that first kiss. Before finally falling asleep, he whispered to himself, "I think I'm in love."
It was about 9:30 in the morning while Ryan stood by the Xerox machine waiting for his copies to come belching out of the plastic and metal monolith. They were articles about the city's homeless. Ryan felt that it was about time he wrote an editorial about one of the cities most serious problems and what could be done to solve it.
Copies in hand, he walked back to his cubicle, where Jayson was sitting at the computer reading Ryan's outline. "Can I help you, Jay?"
"Oh, Ryan. Sorry, I was just looking at your outline here. Pretty interesting. When are you going to have the article written?"
"I don't know. I talked to Mr. Olsen about it. He decided to let me take as much time as I needed to finish it."
"So, what inspired you to write this?"
Jayson got out of Ryan's chair and let him have it back. Ryan sat down and thought of Julia. "Jayson, can you try to keep this between you and me?"
"I met a girl about two months ago."
"No kidding? Did you . . ."
"Don't even start."
"Sorry, Ryan. Well, what's she like?"
"Oh, she's pretty. She's in her mid twenties. . . She's homeless."
"Wait a minute. You're telling me that you're seeing a homeless girl?"
"Yes. What's wrong with that?"
"Well. . . Nothing, I guess. It just seems a little weird, that's all."
"Jayson, you've got to understand. She's no ordinary homeless girl. She's really special, you know."
Jayson tried to understand Ryan but he just couldn't accept the fact that his best friend was seeing, of all types of people, a homeless person. If she had a room in a welfare hotel, maybe, but this girl probably lived on the streets. "No, Ryan, I don't know."
"Oh, well. Just promise me that you won't tell anyone. People just wouldn't understand."
"Okay, Ryan. I promise. Hell, you know me. I'm not one to keep many promises, but when it's something really important, you know you can count on me."
"No problem." Jayson started to walk back to his own cubicle. "Hey, Ryan."
"Listen. . . I am happy for you. Really. I just wanted you to know that."
"Thanks, Jay. I appreciate it."
Jayson started back then said, "Do you love her?"
Ryan had to think about it, "Yes. I think I do."
Throughout that week, Ryan and Julia met to have lunch and to talk. Most of the time, he treated her to lunch with a corner stand hot dog or some Chinese takeout. Once, though, Julia gave Ryan lunch. She took him to the restaurant she lived behind and introduced him to Mrs. Santangelo, a nice, middle aged Italian woman with graying, brown hair. She was apprehensive about having a customer, that could pay, be the guest of a homeless girl that she only gave food to out of the goodness of her heart. But Julia eventually convinced Mrs. Santangelo to do it, explaining what Ryan had done for her over the past couple of months.
As they sat eating a couple of slices of pizza on Julia's steps, Ryan said, "Would you like to go out with me on Saturday?"
"Sure. Where to?"
"Oh, I don't know. Just out."
"Why don't you meet me outside of Temple Square and I'll pick you up."
"Okay. What time?"
"Let's make it early. Around 10:00."
"10:00 it is."
This time, it was Ryan's turn to be late. But, only by ten minutes. Julia waited for him in front of Temple Square. He walked up to her and apologized for his tardiness. He then said, "Are you ready to go?"
"Okay." He led her around the corner where his car was waiting. They pulled out of the parking lot with fifteen seconds of parking time to spare. A few minutes later, Ryan pulled into the parking lot of the apartment building where he lived.
Julia looked out of her window, "You live here?"
"What are we doing?"
Ryan parked his car and got out, "You'll see." He opened the door for Julia and, taking her hand, led her to the building. They went into the main lobby and took the elevator to Ryan's floor.
When they entered his apartment, Julia was afraid to touch anything. Not that Ryan had anything of real value, she was just afraid that she would smudge a picture or stain a chair. "What are we doing here, Ryan?"
Unsure of what she was doing, Julia walked to Ryan, who again took her hand and led her to the bathroom. On top of the counter, was a set of clean clothes and some towels.
Ryan looked into Julia's eyes, as usual, through her sunglasses, and said, "You can clean yourself up here. I don't know how long it's been . . ."
"Mrs. Santangelo let's me wash up in her restaurant bathroom all the time."
"Well, now you can at least do it in privacy and not one body part at a time."
Julia looked at the clothes and in the shower.
"I'm not to sure if those clothes are going to fit you, they belong to my sister. She left them behind, the last time she came over to visit. Soap, shampoo and anything else you might need are in the shower."
Julia looked at Ryan and smiled. "Thank you, Ryan. You're too good to me."
"It's no big deal." Ryan started out the door than said, "Don't worry about using up all of the hot water. I tried once. This building's got about a million hot water tanks. So take your time."
After Ryan left the bathroom, Julia closed the door and began to undress. She didn't take off her sunglasses until very last. She stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror and took off her glasses. For the first time in many months, she looked at her own eyes. For a few moments, she actually liked the way they looked. She smiled, then quickly closed her mouth. She looked around the counter for an extra toothbrush.
There was a knock on the door followed by Ryan's voice, "Oh, yeah. There's a new toothbrush in the drawer on the far right as well as some dental floss and a new tube of toothpaste. Feel free to indulge."
"Thanks. I was just about to ask you about that."
"Okay. Well, now you know."
She opened the drawer and grabbed the toothbrush, still in its plastic wrapper from the drugstore. She ripped open the plastic and grabbed the tube of toothpaste. After putting a generous amount on the brush, she began to brush rigorously. Her gums began to bleed, but she didn't care. She just continued to brush. After a few minutes, she spit into the sink and rinsed her mouth out. She then looked into the mirror and smiled again. Her teeth still had a slight yellow tint, but it wasn't too noticeable. Something was still wrong. . . Her hair, her face. Still stained from months of city dirt and trash.
She turned and opened the door to the shower. She pulled out the single knob for the shower head. A steady spray of water shot out of the fixture. She put her hand under the water and adjusted the knob until it was just the right temperature.
She stepped in and closed the door behind her. At first, she just let the water fall over her body allowing the pressure to massage her back. She looked to the floor of the shower and saw a steady stream of brown colored water swirl on the floor in tiny eddies until they finally seeped through the openings in the drain.
Julia tipped her head back to soak her hair. Again, the stream of brown water fell to the floor, only this time, it was from her head. She looked at it, and though she felt lucky that she had never contracted head lice, she still couldn't help but to quietly say, "Ick."
She grabbed a bar of soap from the nearby dish and started to do some serious washing. Ryan was right. It was a lot more convenient to wash her entire body instead of one part at a time. She washed her hair about a half dozen times with three different types of shampoo. She washed her face the same number of times, if not more. She even found a new razor in the shower which she used with some shaving cream that was right next to it.
After a nice long rinse, Julia turned off the water and stepped out of the shower onto a clean bath mat and grabbed a towel. She proceeded to dry herself off. Her body seemed almost pink from scrubbing. She turned to look in the mirror, which was now fogged over with steam. She wiped it clear and looked into it. For the first time, in a long while, Julia felt beautiful. After brushing her teeth again until they were gleaming white, she looked at her reflection and smiled.
Ryan looked up from his novel, an installment from Arthur C. Clarke's "Space Odyssey" series, and checked the clock on his microwave. Damn, she's been in there for almost an hour.
At that very moment, he heard the bathroom door open. He looked while a beautiful blond, green eyed young woman dressed in a pair of white denim jeans and a pink sweater walked out of his lavatory. She wore a clean pair of pink socks and white Keds. "Hello, Ryan. Do you recognize me?"
Ryan couldn't talk at first. All he could say was, "Venus?"
"Come on. I'm not that pretty."
"Pretty isn't the word. Beautiful can't do you justice. Julia, . . . you look great."
She blushed and said, "You're just pulling my leg."
"No, I mean it. You look exquisite."
"You're really shoveling it on, aren't you," she laughed.
Ryan got off of his couch and almost tripped over his coffee table trying to get to her. When he did, he brushed her hair away from her face and looked into her eyes. She wasn't wearing her sunglasses. "You do have beautiful eyes."
She blushed again and touched his chest saying quietly, "Thank you."
"Where are we going?"
"To the mall."
"I want to get you some new things."
"Oh, Ryan. I don't know."
"Come on. We'll at least have some fun."
Julia was hesitant. "Oh, okay."
As promised, they toured the mall. Ryan bought her a number of new outfits and a few toiletries that she needed. They shopped the whole day and late that afternoon, Ryan took her out to dinner at one of Salt Lake's finer restaurants where they talked and laughed.
After dinner, Ryan took Julia back to his apartment where they sat down together in his living room. He held her hand and looked into her eyes and said, "Listen, don't worry about the things that I got you today. I'll hold onto them for you. You just come over here whenever you need something to wear or a place to wash up."
"Thank you, Ryan. I don't know where I'd be right now, if it wasn't for you. How can I ever repay you?"
Ryan was waiting for that. Ever since he asked Julia to be with him this Saturday, he knew he wanted to really help her. "Let me help you?"
"Julia, after seeing how you live and what your life is like, I want to help you."
"No, Ryan. I can't."
"You won't have to worry about anything. You can stay here with me until you're ready to get back on your feet. I know how hard this must be for you "
"Do you?" Julia was very upset. "Do you know what it's like to be in my position? I can't do what you want me to do! I can't be some sort of welfare project for you!"
"Julia, I don't mean it like that. I just want to help you."
She got up and went into the bathroom. A few moments later, she came out with her old clothes. "I can't do this, Ryan. I can't go back. Not like this." She headed toward the door, but Ryan followed her.
"Julia, please. Let me explain." She opened the door and walked briskly down the hall. "Julia, please stop."
"Because I love you."
She stopped for a moment. But she didn't turn back. She just continued down the hall and hit the elevator button.
"Julia, can I please see you again."
The elevator doors opened and, as she stepped in, she said, "No, Ryan. I can't see you anymore."
The doors closed and Ryan stood, by himself, in the hall.
He turned around and went back into his apartment. His empty apartment. Oh, how he hoped that Julia would have accepted his offer. She could have stayed in his apartment that night. Instead of . . . Only God knew where she would be sleeping now. Perhaps at her place. If you could even call it a place. Living like a mole in a concrete burrow.
He grabbed the bags of clothing from the floor and took them to his hall closet. He slammed the door and then went into the bathroom. When he walked in, he saw Julia's sunglasses on the counter. She hadn't worn them all day. She hadn't worn them because for that entire afternoon, she felt beautiful. He picked them up and went into his bedroom, sat at the foot of his bed holding them in his hands, looking at them, thinking of Julia's beautiful eyes. Clutching the glasses in his hands, he leaned his head against them and began to cry.
Ryan didn't see her for most of the next week. The first three days, he went to her place to see if she was there at lunch and after work, but every time, the place was empty. She even asked Mrs. Santangelo, but she didn't have anything to say except, "She's not my daughter. She has her own life to run. I try to help any way I can but she is the one who makes her own choices." Every day, though, Ryan carried a small plastic bag with the toiletries he had bought for her, just in case. The bag contained her toothbrush, the tube of toothpaste, a hairbrush, some soap and a washcloth. When asked by Jayson what the bag was, he replied, "Nothing. Just a few things I need to take to somebody."
Ryan tried to drown his sorrows in his work. He wrote six or more editorials a day, some of them on completely ridiculous topics. He didn't care too much at the time, rationalizing that Mr. Olsen would intercept them soon enough. He did go to a play at BYU that Wednesday, though. It took his mind off of his worries for a little while. His review made the next morning's paper.
On Thursday, Ryan took a long lunch and spent most of it walking around central Salt Lake. He was walking along the same sidewalk as the night that he met Julia. Off in the distance, through a crowd of people, he saw some familiar, flowing blonde hair, as well as a pair of familiar green eyes, normally hidden behind a pair of cheep sunglasses. Ryan picked up his pace until he met Julia. She looked into his eyes. He brushed her hair away from her face. Simultaneously, they said, "I'm sorry."
"Please," said Ryan, "don't be. I shouldn't have acted the way I did. I'm sorry if you feel like I've been treating you like some sort of welfare project."
"I shouldn't have said that, Ryan. It's just that I'm not ready to go back, yet. I need more time."
Ryan held her close to him and said, "I understand."
Julia then looked up at him and, placing her hand on his face, she kissed him on the lips. "I knew you would."
Ryan reached into his jacket pocket and brought out the plastic bag of toiletries for Julia, "Here. I brought these for you."
She looked in the bag and said, "Thanks.
"I really do love you."
Unsure about how to take it, she said, "I know, Ryan."
Ryan saw her again after work and they had dinner.
The next day, Ryan was sitting at his desk when Mr. Olsen approached him. "Jackson, What is this?"
"What's what, sir?"
"This editorial about putting drinking fountains at every crosswalk in Salt Lake City."
"Well, sir, I was just thinking about it one day and I wrote up an article on it."
"You didn't actually expect this to go in the paper, did you?"
"No, sir, I just wrote it up as . . . an exercise of sorts. It shouldn't have even gotten to you."
"Well, try to keep your practice material out of my IN box, alright?"
When Mr. Olsen left, Ryan let slip a quiet chuckle.
Ryan saw Julia again after work. When he asked her if he could see her on Saturday, she politely said no. She wanted to have a day to herself without having to worry about anything. Ryan understood and told her that he would see her on Monday.
For only 10:30 in the morning, it was looking like a good week. Thanks to some important national events over the weekend, Ryan had enough material to keep him busy with editorials for the next two weeks. As he sat in his cubicle, Jayson peered over the partition and said, "So, Ryan, how's that girlfriend of yours?"
"Oh, she's fine. I'm seeing her for lunch today."
"Really. I was just about to ask you if you wanted to join me for lunch. Perhaps you and . . . what's her name? Julie?"
"Yeah, perhaps you and Julia would like to join me."
"That sounds pretty good. She usually meets me outside of the building at lunch. We'll see you there."
At lunch, Ryan went out a few minutes before Jayson to find Julia. When he did he said, "My friend Jayson wants to meet you. How about lunch?"
"Sounds fun," said Julia, excited to meet one of Ryan's coworkers.
A few minutes later, Jayson walked out and saw Ryan standing on the sidewalk with Julia. She was wearing an old pair of dirty blue jeans, a pink sweater(the one Ryan gave her, now a little dingy), dirty white Keds and she carried an old ZCMI bag. Despite her slightly disheveled appearance, Jayson thought that if her hair, which was a little dingy, was washed, she would look pretty good. Then he saw her eyes. Jayson froze in his tracks. Never before had he seen eyes so beautiful. He felt that he could look into them all day. With eyes like those, thought Jayson, she could be a leper and I wouldn't care. He approached them and said, "Hi there. I'm Jayson Roberts."
"Glad to meet you," said Julia.
"The pleasure's all mine," said Jayson as he took Julia's hand and kissed it. Okay, I guess I would care if she were a leper, he thought. I wouldn't want her hand coming off when I kissed it.
"Well," said Ryan, "Now that we've all met, who's up for some Chinese?"
As they ate lunch together, Jayson still couldn't get over Julia's beauty. He commented over and over again about how beautiful Julia's eyes were. In the past, Julia would have denied it and asked to talk about something else, but now, she took pride in her eyes. They provided a great boost to her self esteem and made her feel good about herself. The best she had felt in a long time.
After lunch, she walked Ryan and Jayson back to work, keeping pace between them and holding their arms. After Jayson said goodbye, Julia gave Ryan a kiss on the cheek before he went into the building and said she would see him the next day.
That evening, Julia was walking down a sidewalk, window shopping. It was an evening custom for her. She enjoyed looking into all of the shop windows, eying everything from dresses to toys and even sporting goods. She was looking into the window of a fabric store where there was a display of baby furniture. A white crib with a lace blanket, some oversized alphabet blocks, toy soldiers and teddy bears.
She stood in front of the display imagining what it would be like to be a mother. To be a wife. To just settle down somewhere when she heard an unfamiliar voice say, "Little kids sure are nice, aren't they?"
Without looking, Julia said, "Yeah, I guess so."
"Funny. The way you're looking at this little setup, somebody might think you wanted children." Julia began to get scared. Slowly, she began to walk away, but the stranger followed her. "Where you going?"
"I have to leave."
"Oh, come now. You don't have to leave so soon." He grabbed Julia's arm and pulled her towards him. Julia saw his face. He wasn't shaven, his clothes were dirty, he smelled. "Now, where do you think you're going?"
"I have to leave," said Julia as she tried to free herself from his grip.
"You know, you have got the prettiest eyes I have ever seen on a girl."
"Please, let go of me." Julia tried harder to pull away.
"Now, what's a pretty girl like you, with eyes like that, afraid of?"
"Just leave me alone!" Julia stomped as hard as she could on his foot. When he let out a cry of pain, Julia began to run.
"You little bitch! I'll show you!" He began to chase her down the sidewalk. They were in an out of the way part of town with very little traffic. He chased her across four blocks, disregarding Walk/Don't Walk signs and any pedestrians that he shoved out of the way.
Julia dropped her ZCMI bag after the first block, with it her set of toiletries that Ryan gave her. But all she cared about now was getting away from that man. She gasped for breath as she ran, occasionally looking behind her to see if she had outrun him. But every time she looked back, he was in pursuit. Finally, she ducked into an alley, hoping that it would lead to another street. But it didn't. It was a dead end. When she discovered this, she turned around to get out, but he was there. As she stepped back, he stepped forward. He was breathing heavily and saying, "You shouldn't have done that back there. . . All I wanted to do was look into your pretty eyes." He bent over and picked up a piece of wood from an old crate.
"Please," said Julia. "Please, don't hurt me." She backed up as far she she could, but the wall wouldn't let her go any further.
"Don't hurt you?" He stepped closer, gently tapping the piece of wood into the palm of his hand. "Maybe you should have thought of that before you stepped on my foot."
"Please," she cried. "Please, I'm sorry. Please, don't hurt me."
He was only a few feet away from her when he raised the piece of wood.
"NO!!!" . . .
Ryan sat at his desk putting the finishing touches on one of his new editorials when Mr. Olsen walked up to him and said, "I really enjoyed your last editorial, Jackson. I hope we'll be seeing more work like that in the future. It seems you've been on somewhat of a role since this weekend."
"Well, I try my hardest, Mr. Olsen."
"Great. Keep up the good work. Roberts."
"Yes, Mr. Olsen," said Jayson from behind his partition.
"I'd like to speak with you later today about the governor's press conference. You know, the one you covered last week. I haven't had a chance to speak with you about it."
"Yes, Sir." After Mr. Olsen left, Jayson looked over the partition at Ryan and said, "I sure don't hope it's a negative review."
"I don't think so," said Ryan. "I read it. I thought it was pretty good."
"Would you like to join Julia and me for lunch again?"
"Julia? You mean bright eyes? You bet. You know, Ryan, she is one hot chick."
"Okay. Then lunch it is."
When lunch time rolled around, Ryan and Jayson walked out of the building together. Ryan looked all around the front of the building for Julia, but he didn't see her anywhere. "Where is she?"
"Maybe she's a little late," said Jayson.
They waited for ten minutes. Finally, they went to the sidewalk around Temple Square. They walked around it twice. No sign of her. "Man, if she's not in front of the building I usually find her around here."
"Well, where else do you two hang out, Ryan?"
"Oh, the Administrative Building, I guess. And the park."
"The park? By the time we find her, it'll be time to get back to work."
"Come on, Jay. I need to find her."
They walked to the Administrative Building. They checked the lobby and the roof . . . nothing. They went to the park and toured the entire area looking for Julia. No sign what so ever. Ryan was really worried, now. "Where could she be?"
Jayson tried to be comforting. "Listen, Ryan. Maybe she forgot. Maybe she has something else she has to do."
"What else is she going to do? She's homeless, she jobless. Hell, she's lucky she lives behind a restaurant that gives her free food."
"Ryan, don't worry about her. She's a big girl. I'm sure she can take care of herself. If she's managed as long as she has in down town Salt Lake City this long, Without you, I think she can handle herself for one day. Now, come on. We need to get back to work."
Ryan looked around as far as he could. Still worried, he said, "Are you sure?"
"Have I ever lied to you?"
On their way back to work, Jayson stopped by a hot dog stand to get a quick bite to eat. "You want anything, Ryan?"
"No thanks. I'm not too hungry."
"For God's sake, stop worrying about her."
"Okay. I guess I can stop by her place after work."
"Fine then. Now, come on."
After work, as he promised himself, Ryan walked all the way to the alley behind Mrs. Santangelo's restaurant. He looked around, but saw nothing. "Julia?" he called. "Julia, are you here?" Nothing. Then, he heard a quiet whimper. "Julia? Is that you?" Ryan ran to the stairwell, where she lived. He peered down the steps and saw a young girl lying on the floor in a fetal position. He ran down the steps and put his arms around her. It was Julia. He lifted her up and held her in his arms. Her face was badly beaten. She had two black eyes which were so swollen she could barely open them to see Ryan. The whites of her eyes, which normally seemed to gleam, were now pink from punctured blood vessels. "Oh, my God. Julia, what happened?"
Julia just cried at first, then she said, "He raped me."
"Who? Who raped you?"
"I don't know his name. Some man. He hit me with a piece of wood and then he raped me."
"Oh, God. How could this happen? Do you know what he looks like?"
"It was dark." Ryan started to cry and to rock Julia in his arms. "He said he liked my eyes," she said, then cried harder.
"Hey you," said a woman with a heavy Italian accent. "What are you doing?"
Ryan turned around. It was Mrs. Santangelo. "Mrs. Santangelo, Come here, Julia's been raped."
"Yes, please, come and help her."
Mrs. Santangelo stepped briskly down the steps and and helped Ryan bring Julia to her feet. Then, they both took Julia into the back of the Restaurant where Mrs. Santangelo began to do her best to dress Julia's wounds. She gave Julia an ice pack for her eyes and a glass of water.
Mrs. Santangelo held Julia by the shoulders and said, "Julia, you know I have to call the police."
"No. Please, don't call the police. They can't do anything."
"But Julia, you have been raped. I have to."
"No, please don't."
"Listen, Mrs. Santangelo," said Ryan, "Maybe if you waited a while."
"You, I don't have to listen to," the old woman said. "I think you should go now."
"Well, I think I should be here for Julia."
"Julia, listen. Come with me. I'll take you to my apartment and then we can see a doctor tomorrow, together."
"How many times do I have to tell you? Leave. Get out of my restaurant. I'll take care of this. Don't you worry, she'll stay with me tonight." While their arguing persisted, Julia just kept on crying.
Reluctantly, Ryan finally left and told Julia that he would come back the next day to see her.
He went to the front of the restaurant and called a cab. He cried all the way home, feeling sorry for himself and for Julia. He wished he knew who raped her, but at the same time, he was glad he didn't know. If he knew who it was he probably would have gone out to find him and then beaten him to within an inch of his life.
At home, he couldn't eat and he couldn't sleep until exhaustion claimed him early the next morning.
Ryan forgot about work the next day. He went straight to the Alley behind Mrs. Santangelo's. It was empty except for a dumpster and the randomly strewn pieces of cardboard and paper wrappers. He went to Julia's place and looked down the steps. It was empty. No blanket, no foam pillow, no pictures, no ZCMI bag(but he had no way of knowing that Julia lost it the night before). Everything was gone. Only a few pieces of wet cardboard were in the place of her things. Worried, he ran to the back door of the restaurant and began banging on it. He banged on it for ten minutes until it was finally answered by one of the cooks.
"What you want?" said the cook, who only spoke broken English.
"I need to speak with Mrs. Santangelo," said Ryan.
Ryan waited as he heard the cook call for the old woman in Italian. A few minutes later, she came to the back. "Mrs. Santangelo, I'm Ryan Jackson, Julia's friend. I've come to see her."
"Well, she's gone," said Mrs. Santangelo.
"Gone? What do you mean?"
"Just that. She's gone. I wake up this morning and I go into my son's old room where I put her for the night and she was not there. I come down to see if she is in her stairwell, and she is not there. She's gone."
"Did she at least leave a message?"
"No. No message, no letter, nothing. All I know is she took a pair of my son's sunglasses."
Ryan couldn't believe it. The first girl he had fallen in love with in such a long time had disappeared. He looked all over the city for her. Temple Square, the park, almost every alley he could find. She was nowhere to be found. There was no use calling the police. Officially, she wasn't even a resident of Utah. She was one of the unknown.
Ryan felt very sick. He went home and tried to sleep. But he couldn't. He just held onto his pillow and cried.
On Thursday morning, Jayson Roberts sat at his desk and set about editing one of his latest editorials. Mr. Olsen then walked up to him and said, "Roberts, do you know where Jackson is? This is the second day in a row that he hasn't showed up for work."
"I don't know, sir. I tried calling his apartment last night, but all I got was his answering machine."
Mr. Olsen gave an expression of sincere concern then said, "Well, you're his best friend, aren't you?"
"Why don't you stop by his apartment at lunch and see if he's alright. I need an editorial from him for the evening edition."
Mr. Olsen began to walk away when Jayson's fax machine began to pour out an editorial titled, "One of the Unknown. by Ryan Jackson." When it finished printing, Jayson ripped out the paper and began to read it. It was the homeless article Ryan had been working on for such a long time. After he finished reading it, he found out what had happened to Julia.
"Mr. Olsen," said Jayson. "I think your editorial has just come in."