That’s all Rennie had when the Greyhound bus pulled into the Roanoke Bus Station, and this was as far as her ticket would take her. As usual, things didn’t go according to plan. Before she ran away, her boyfriend told her she could call his aunt who lived just outside of Roanoke and worked as a waitress at a truck stop diner. He said she would help Rennie get a job there and she could save enough money to get to Memphis. Unfortunately, when the bus stopped in Lynchburg, she tried to call the woman and of course the line was disconnected. So now it’s 4:00 pm on a crystal-clear Saturday afternoon in the fall and she’s got $1.62 with nowhere to go.
Dirty, hungry and tired, she headed to the women’s bathroom. At 16, she was blonde and pretty in a way that probably wasn’t going to last that long, but at the moment all she knew was she had to use whatever assets she had to figure out her next move. She knew the drill and had a small bag packed with the essentials: a change of underwear, jeans, a couple of tops, a nice pair of open-toed shoes with a built-up wooden heel that made her look taller, some makeup and nail polish, a toothbrush with toothpaste, a sweatshirt and jacket, a small flip knife for protection, some tampons, a candy bar, a pack of Newport’s, and her favorite book: “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl (she had stolen it from a library one day after reading it). It was easy to shoplift most of this stuff, and she could wash her clothes in bathrooms, drying them with hot air blowers when she could. Same with bathing – you’d be surprised how clean you can get in a roadhouse bathroom. When you’re young it’s not that hard to look good.
While she was changing and getting cleaned up in the bathroom, for some reason she remembered Ms. Barnes, her 5th grade teacher. She had just taken one of those mandatory aptitude tests and Ms. Barnes had kept her after school, clearly excited. “Well Miss Rennie, in all of my years teaching children I’ve never seen a score this high on an aptitude test. We’ll contact your parents and talk to them about putting you in a special school for gifted children – I’m sure they’ll be so proud of you.” Rennie felt bad for Ms. Barnes – she seemed so happy about the whole thing. But there wouldn’t be any special school for Rennie, her foster parents would see to that.
She looked totally different coming out of the bathroom. She had cleaned herself up, changed clothes, and put on some makeup. Looking older than her 16 years, she headed for a diner across the street from the bus station. She had enough money for coffee and a doughnut, and now that she was fixed up, she could get to work finding someone who could help her. A sixteen year old shouldn’t know how to handle a situation like this, but life can be hard on little things and this wasn’t anything new for Rennie. When you’ve always been on your own you learn how to depend on yourself. She just needed somewhere to stay for a night or two while she figured out what to do next.
Almost as soon as she sat down, an older man who appeared to be close to 30 approached her. He was kind of big and looked a little rough but flashed an easy smile like he’d known her for a long time and was just waiting for her to show up.
“Hey there, my name’s Burr – can I buy you a cup of coffee?”