"So he sent you?" I asked the man's back as I struggled to keep up. I had to take three steps to one of his, and that meant instead of taking slow, careful steps with my bad foot, I had to fling myself forward in a lurching limp. Which I wasn't supposed to do. Will, my physical therapist, had been really clear about that. Slow and steady and I'd walk almost normally someday.
"Uh-huh," the man said. I was puffing by the time we reached the fence that divided the tiny tarmac from the parking lot, and he stopped. He looked around at me and blinked rapidly. "Sorry. I can take the bag, if you want."
I shook my head, slinging the duffel around to my front and folding my arms over it. "It's fine," I said, jaw set.
He rubbed the back of his neck with his palm. "Forgot you were handicapped. Is that the right word? Handicapped? Or is it something else? I think it's something else. I think handicapped is wrong. Sorry."
"It's fine," I said again. I didn't want to have this conversation. I was grateful when he nodded. But when he set off again he walked slowly, peeking at me out of the corner of his eye, and I could keep up pretty well. I focused on lifting my foot all the way off the ground. If I let it drag, I'd trip eventually, and a fall was the worst thing I could do to my healing muscles and tendons and bones.
I hadn't realized before the car crash how much a body could break, and I hadn't realized until the months afterward how imperfectly it got put back together. Parts of me would always be broken.
"I'm Griff," the man said abruptly as we walked, and all I could think to do was nod.
• • •
THIS IS WHAT you need to know about Griff:
He's probably the nicest guy I've ever met, even though he's a bit odd. He looks like a mountain man but claims it's camouflage: mountain men won't eat you if they think you're one of them, he says. He tells a lot of jokes like that, but he has a totally deadpan delivery, so you can never tell if it's a joke or one of the strange things he believes. If you laugh at the wrong thing, he'll give you this sad look. He loves the color yellow. Jesus is his personal savior. And if anyone's coming for me, it's him.
But if he is coming, it's not for months. And maybe not at all.
These days I think about him a lot. He's on a list that cycles through my mind all day. Mom, Scott, Will, Dad, Griff. Lily. Not George so much, because George is an asshole. Michelle, Ronnie, and then I'm out of people I really knew, and I start picturing faces from all over the place. The guy who served me ice cream the day before the accident. The woman at the gas station with three blond kids who stood at the nose of her minivan and put a hand to her forehead like she didn't know if she was going to get back in it. The pilot who'd flown the first leg up to Alaska, who'd known my mom, who'd invited me up into the cockpit but hadn't said anything, and I hadn't said anything, and we just sat there being quiet and sad until I had to go take my seat.
I thought it would be food that I fantasized about, but so far it's people.
BACK THEN I was more than a little scared of Griff. Which was only smart—strange guy telling me to get in his car? Yeah, that seems safe. Only I didn't see another option. I had a phone number for my dad, but I'd already tried it during my layover and gotten a recording telling me it was disconnected.
I probably should have gone back to Seattle then. Explained to the social worker that something was wrong, and I couldn't go live with my dad after all. And yet I didn't. I didn't turn back when the call didn't go through, and I didn't turn back when Griff was waiting for me.
Griff's car was an old station wagon, probably older than he was. The back of it was full of takeout bags and soda bottles, a sleeping bag, three banker's boxes, a full set of suitcases, and two pairs of shoes. The front seat was full of receipts, which Griff scraped off onto the floor when he got in. I wedged my bag between my feet, making the receipts rustle, and shut the door.