Day One: 11:15 p.m.
Loretha Johnson watched the young girl wobble along Long Beach Boulevard dressed in a halter top, cut-off jeans, black stilettos and sparkly red lipstick. She couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds. The awkward manner in which she forced her bony hips from side to side underscored her adolescence.
Standing in the doorway of an abandoned donut shop, Loretha waited for the right opportunity to approach. There was a steady trail of cars slowing down to check out the merchandise. She spotted two other girls on the opposite side of the street.
“You want a date, baby?” the girl in the halter top called out in a child’s voice.
A beige Camry pulled over to the curb a few yards ahead. The girl scampered over, barely able to balance herself on her too-high heels. She bent low, allowing the potential john to get a glimpse of her nonexistent cleavage. Loretha clasped her hands, then absently twirled a finger around her shoulder-length locs. She sucked in a breath, praying that the girl didn’t get in the car.
“Ten dollars!” the girl yelled, springing back to her full height. “You must be crazy! I charge fifty for a blow job.” She tottered away cursing as the man drove off.
Loretha glanced up and down the street, making sure the girl’s pimp wasn’t watching. With a kid this young-surely no older than thirteen or fourteen-her pimp had to be close by. If the girl was seen talking to Loretha, she’d get a beating. Hopefully, the pimp was busy keeping an eye on somebody else in his stable.
Confident that he wasn’t nearby, Loretha followed the girl, remaining a few strides behind.
“You don’t have to be out here on the street selling your body,” Loretha called out. “You know that, right?” Loretha pulled her sweater tighter across her chest and marveled at how the girl could look so comfortable dressed in next to nothing. It was barely fifty degrees.
“I’m from Harmony House,” Loretha continued. “I can help you get away from your pimp.” Though the girl wasn’t facing her, Loretha could see her body go rigid. She took a quick glance at Loretha over her shoulder.
“I ain’t got no pimp,” the girl snapped. “So just get outta here and leave me alone. My daddy warned us about you.” Good, Loretha thought. That meant the girl’s pimp viewed her as a threat.
“Don’t worry,” Loretha assured her. “Your pimp’s not around. I won’t get you in trouble. I know you can’t be seen talking to me. Just keep walking and I’ll stay back.”
“I told you, I don’t have no pimp,” the girl spat, continuing her stroll. “I have a boyfriend.” It would be a waste of time to explain to the girl that boyfriends don’t sell their girlfriends to other men.
“If you ever need a place to go, you can come to Harmony House. All you have to do is call. Anytime, day or night, and I’ll come get you.”
The girl stopped, put a hand on her hip, but didn’t turn to face her. “I already got a place to stay.”
The bravado didn’t fool Loretha either. She knew it was all an act.
“That’s fine. But if you ever want to leave, I have a place for you to go. What’s your name?”
The girl stepped off the curb and raised her hand high, trying to wave down a car that had reduced its speed. “You want a date tonight, honey?” she yelled out to the driver.
The man rolled down his window, gazed hungrily at the girl, then spied Loretha and sped off.
“You messin’ with my business!” the girl yelled. She finally turned around to get a good look at Loretha, but kept moving. “Get the hell away from me!”
“What’s your name?” Loretha asked again, matching the girl’s steps stride for stride, but careful to stay a safe distance back.
“Lady, I gotta make my quota. Leave me alone!”
“I’m just here to let you know you have options. What’s your name?”
The girl finally turned around. “Peaches. Why you messin’ with me?”
“Nice to meet you, Peaches. I’m Loretha Johnson. How old are you, Peaches?”
The streetlight provided a solid glimpse of the cocoa-colored, plump-faced girl. There was no way she was nineteen. Up close, she looked even younger than Loretha had first thought.
“Why you out here tryin’ to be somebody’s fairy godmother?”
“Because I used to walk this track myself,” Loretha replied. “I know what it’s like.”
That got the girl’s attention. She glanced back at Loretha again. This time, her expression had softened, but only for an instant.
Loretha had indeed lived this life. Every horrible second of it. Older and wiser now, she was doing everything in her power to rescue others. One girl at a time.
She understood that Peaches and girls like her saw no way out. But to meet someone who had managed to escape, meant that it was possible for them to find their way to freedom too.
“I don’t mean to hurt your feelings,” Peaches continued, “but you don’t look like you got what it takes. You must’a been out here a long time ago.”
Loretha didn’t take offense at the girl’s intended slight. “Walking the track is hard work,” she said. “Makes you age much faster than you have to.”
It had been years since she’d strolled this very block, but the memory was like a deep wound. Though healed, the resulting scar would never go away.
These days, Loretha put extra effort into not looking pretty. Her skin was no longer porcelain smooth. Her hair still fell past her shoulders, but she didn’t wear it bone straight anymore. Her locs were dyed auburn and were usually pulled back into a bun. She’d also picked up twenty pounds or so and found comfort in her bare face and loose-fitting clothes. Though her exterior appeared shabby, on the inside, she finally felt worthy. That was the kind of beauty she wanted these girls to experience.
Loretha’s smartphone buzzed. She pulled it from her pocket, instantly recognizing the number. Another child who needed her help.
“I have to go, but I want you to call me. My number’s easy to remember. It’s 888-373-7888. Loretha pointed up the street. “I’m going to leave my card on the bus bench underneath that streetlight over there. I want you to pick it up and keep it with you. If you ever need help, call me and I’ll come get you.”
Loretha rushed past the girl, dropped her business card on the bench and turned down a side street toward her car. Minutes later, when her Prius reached the corner, the card was no longer on the bench.
She smiled and shook her fist in the air. “Thank you, Jesus!”
In Loretha’s world, that simple act was a victory.
About the Author
PAMELA SAMUELS YOUNG is a practicing attorney whose fast-paced legal thrillers tackle law and crime. Recognized for her savvy female characters, Pamela brings a taste of diversity to the legal fiction genre. Her novels include the Fall 2013 release Anybody’s Daughter, Attorney-Client Privilege, Murder on the Down Low. A natural hair enthusiast, she is the author of Kinky Coily: A Natural Hair Resource Guide. To invite Pamela to your book club meeting or event, email Pamela via her website at www.pamelasamuelsyoung.com