Virtuous - M.S. Force

Chapter 1

Winter in New York City is dirty business. A nasty, grayish hue hangs over the city from November through late March. During my first winter in the city, I’ve experienced everything from slushy puddles that soak through even the most resilient boots to icy sidewalks to the delightful combo platter of fried onions from vendor carts melding with mystery steam from the underground, creating a smell that defies description.

I love every stinky, icy, frigid inch of it. While others hide out inside, I take to the streets with my dog, Fluff, on a leash. Her full name is Fluff-o-Nutter, but don’t judge me. I was nine when I named her after my favorite food group at the time, and fourteen years later, she’s still my most faithful companion and the one tie to my old life that I brought to my new life. She goes everywhere with me, except school.

I tried to get her in there—once—but was stopped at the door by stone-faced Mrs. Heffernan, who told me school is no place for animals. Even after I swore I’d keep her under my desk and out of the way all day, the answer was still no. She cited health codes and rulebooks, her spittle hitting me under my left eye. Taking Fluff home cost me a personal day, and I swear Mrs. Heffernan still checks under my desk every day when I’m on recess or dismissal duty, just to make sure Fluff isn’t there.

Because I can’t take my twenty-pound baby to school with me, I hired a dog walker to care for her during the day. That’s working out well, except for the time Fluff bit one of the poodles. The dog walker was irked, but I’m certain poor Fluff was only defending herself. She was quite indignant and put out by the entire incident. I told her she has to behave herself or get stuck inside all day if the dog walker fires us.

Fluff has behaved admirably ever since.

I’m rewarding her good behavior today with a long walk through the Village. The wind is bitingly cold and snow flurries fill the air on this early January day. It’s the kind of bitterly cold New York day that keeps even the hardiest of souls inside, so Fluff and I have Bleecker Street mostly to ourselves.

As I’m still somewhat new to the city, everything about it fascinates the girl from Nebraska. I love the architecture and the chaos as well as the taxicabs and the bikes that zigzag the streets on even the coldest of days. I love the stylish women who put together amazing outfits I’d never conceive of on my own, the handsome men, the diversity, the dreadlocks, the tattoos, the music, the theater, the piercings and the food. I despise the poverty, the homeless sleeping outside, the grime, the graffiti. Overall, I love a whole lot more than I hate.

My roommate made fun of me for weeks when I first arrived because I gave money to every poor person I encountered. She told me I’d be broke before Christmas if I kept that up. So I stopped, but my heart still breaks every time I walk by someone in need, because I wish I could help them all. Most of all, I love that I feel safe here. If you’re someone who worries the city is dangerous, you’ll think that sounds crazy. But when you’ve survived what I have, safety is relative. The way I look at it, for every one person who might hassle you on the street, there’re a hundred good people nearby who’d come to