“Ava,” was overly comfortable to the point where I tensed. “This is a hard time. There is no power and no phones and no electricity. I understand your mistrust and my mistrust. We can sit and warm for a bit and we don’t have to talk. Truthfully, I’ve been deluding myself thinking this would get better but it may not. I have limited supplies. I hope your cat is ok and you are welcome to stay the night.”
“To be honest, I’m nervous. I miss my friends and family and no one has checked on me. I live alone with my cat and I became frightened immediately. There were riots near me, looting. I didn’t get as much as I needed and didn’t want to go outside. I’ve been slowly freezing. It’s been hard.’
I wasn’t crying so much as allowing tears to roll down my face. I didn’t want to cry or face reality. Not like this. Not with a stranger. Abruptly, I stopped, bit my lip, waited for the mood to pass. Don’t think about your family. We stayed in silence save the flicker of wood catching, staying on fire.
“We don’t have to talk about it. I have some supplies. I can take you home in the morning. Your cat has fur, right? She will be ok. Geneviece?”
“Yes,” I sniffled. “She hides when I leave.”
I laughed a little.
“I know because when I went out the first two times, I had to find her.”
I wiped my nose afraid to speak.
“You can walk me half way. I don’t want anyone to know where I live that I don’t know. No offense.”
I twirled the straw and stared at it. How many did I have at home? And how many more would it take? I felt him staring but made no move to speak. He was waiting. I was angry.
“I have a favorite game,” I said.
“Yeah,” he shifted his body so he was taller but leaning forward,  arms crossed.
We held gaze. I am unafraid of you.
“It’s called thirteen stories.”
His eyes lit up. He held back the adorable knowing I was actually an adult, capable and mortified of my display of nerves. His eyes gave it away.
“It’s a guessing game.”
“Sounds like it could pass the time.”
“You have to figure out which ending is right. That means I tell each story and at the end you tell me which one is true. BUT,” I stuck my finger in the air and smiled, inviting him to participate, “the audience asks the question I am answering. So everyone can play.”
“What do you mean?”
“So… you can ask things like how did you get here or what’s the weirdest thing about you or what’s your biggest secret or…”
“I get it,” he interrupted.
“Thirteen versions?”
“Long game.”
“I’m terse.”
“I can see that.”
He actually reached up and scratched his chin.
“What happens if I guess right?”
“I tell you a secret.”
“Oh yeah? So then I wouldn’t pick that for my question.
I bit my lip. I was warming, fed, becoming too excited. Temper.
“How about you tell me the weirdest thing about you.”
“For the stories or if you guess right?”
“If I guess right, and for the stories, you tell me how you got here tonight, generally, like to this area, past patrol, survived alone. I have a feeling you are well versed in the art of tales.”
I kept looking down.
“And you’re sure you will know the difference between the two?”
“Between a truth and a lie?”
I did look up and for a moment prayed to be giant.
“Between the weirdest thing about me and how I got here.”
He smiled.
Begin, dear sweet forlorn child.

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