I had taken a pill the night before, otherwise I would've heard him the first time. Father Cash had to knock twice, rapping at my door with his bony knuckles until I emerged from the rare blessing of a hushed and dreamless sleep.
"Let me in, Judith."
I'd been acquainted with Father Cash long enough to know he wouldn't leave until he'd gotten what he came for. Priests, especially defrocked ones, could be aggravatingly persistent. I wrapped a blanket around myself and padded to the door. "What do you want at this hour?"
"Almost one in the afternoon, I know. This northern climate is deceiving, isn't it?" Father Cash offered a crooked smile as if to say he knew full well that it was more than just the gloom of the far north that had kept me in bed so late. He pushed his way into my bare room and stood rubbing his hands. "Is your heat out again, my child? I thought you cleared that up with Mr. Landsdowne."
I shrugged and went to put a kettle on the hot plate. "Deal fell through. He let me keep the electricity for now, though."
"Yes." I wiped two mugs with a rag and when the when the water was hot, offered Father Cash a cup. Whatever my faults, no one could say I had bad manners. "Sorry no tea, but it'll warm you up, at least."
"Thank you, dear." He took the chipped mug in his chillblained hands.
I took my own cup and sat on the edge of my unmade bed with my feet near the electric space heater. Father Cash was usually a regular visitor, but I hadn't seen him for a few weeks and I still wasn't sure how I felt about that. He was the closest thing I had to a friend in this town and had been a useful ally when I arrived penniless and on the run, but I had no patience for his religion or his occasional pleas for sex. I blew on my hot water and savored the steam rising off of it. "You can sit down, you know."
Father Cash started, then gave a nervous smile. "I've come to ask a favor."
"Does it have to be right now? I only just woke up."
"No, not that." He took my one chair, pulled it up to the bed and sat down. "Although I could use some of that, too, if you're feeling better later."
To keep from having to answer, I took a sip of water.
"I've had a visitor for the last couple of weeks; my niece, Sella."
It crossed my mind to ask what Sella had done to screw up her life, since no one came to Cold Haven for kicks or opportunities, but the expression on Father Cash's dark face was so pained that I remained silent.
"She seemed okay at first. Wouldn't say why she was here, but I figured it could be anything; a fight with her mother, a bad breakup with a boy...you know."
As if I didn't know all the reasons a person might run here. "What does her mother say?"
Father Cash cupped his mug in his thin hands and gazed into it, as if it held clues. "Sella wouldn't let me call her at first, except to say she was here and safe. But now when I try to call Lena, I get no answer."
"Is that unusual?"
"Yes. And now Sella isn't talking. She won't speak, won't eat, hardly even leaves the couch except to use the bathroom."
"She's depressed," I said. "This miserable place will do it to anyone."
"I hope that's all it is." Father Cash raised his head. "Would you come talk to her?"
I drew back at the intensity of worry in his brown eyes. "She doesn't even know me."
"But you're a woman, and you're close in age."
"How old is she?"
Father Cash frowned. "Seventeen, perhaps?"
"Then we're nearly a decade apart."
He waved a hand, as if he were annoyed. "Not important. You hate this place, so if it's the town or the cold and dark that's doing this to her..."
"I'll know what to say?"
"Misery loves company."
"I guess so."
Father Cash smiled. "Then it's settled? You'll come?"
Nothing was settled, but I supposed I was on the hook now. "Does it matter what time? A customer paid me in Xanax last night and I'm still not all here."
The ex-priest unfolded his lanky body from my chair and patted me on the knee. "You were careful?"
"Yes, Father. You won't catch any diseases if you want to fuck me later."
His eyebrows arched in dismay. "I genuinely care about you, Judith. You know that."
I bowed my head over my cup. He was right of course. Just because he was a letch didn't mean he was any less concerned about my welfare.
Father Cash set his still-warm mug of water on the chair. "I have no plans for the rest of the day, and Sella refuses to leave the couch, so anytime will be fine. If you come around six, there will be hot soup. Navy bean and onion."
In spite of myself, I smiled. "A bribe."
"Think of it as payment for your service."
"I'll try to be worthy of it."
After he had blessed me and gone out, I set my mug on the floor and burrowed back under the covers. Who was I to give a pep talk to someone when I couldn't even give one to myself?
Damn Father Cash to hell.