Sarah Redmond sat in the backseat of her mom's Hyundai, staring out the window onto Kensington Avenue. She is 8, and she was going to the place where her Sissy died.
She had her big pink headphones ready, and a SpongeBob episode on the tiny DVD player that hung from her mother's headrest, in case she didn't want to hear any more talk about her older sister, Rhiannon Broderick.
Sarah had been to the neighborhood where her Sissy had slept on the street. She'd go sometimes with her mother, Meredith Redmond, to bring clothes and bags of food from Sam's Club. But her older sister, who used to do Sarah's hair for school and makeup for Halloween, had been addicted to heroin and living on the streets for two years, and never wanted to come back with them to their house in Florence, Burlington County.
And now her Sissy was in heaven, her mom said, and they were going to meet the people on the street who her mom said loved Rhiannon the way her family did.
"Look at the unicorn, Mommy!" Sarah said as they pulled up on Cambria Street, where friends had laid out teddy bears and flowers and a colorful stuffed unicorn. That lifted Meredith's spirits.
Meredith had not allowed herself to break down since she got the call Monday from the hospital. Rhiannon, 22, had been hit by a driver on Cambria, where she slept on a mattress. A hit-and-run. The nurse told Meredith that she shouldn't come to the hospital alone, and Meredith knew then that her daughter was gone.
She and Sarah got out of the car. Sarah pulled her hoodie tight around her face as her Sissy's friends hugged her. A crowd had gathered to pay their respects on Cambria. A funeral on the avenue.
There was Meredith Griffin of Mayfair, who slept next to Rhiannon and would talk with her about how much they hated being where they were. How their addictions wouldn't let them leave. "Our feet walked the avenue," she said. "Our hearts didn't."
And the outreach workers, shocked still by the circumstances of her death. It was the second time she had been struck by a car while sleeping on a mattress on the sidewalk. The first was in April, and Rhiannon was seriously hurt. Outreach workers had helped her get a wheelchair, ushered her into shelter while she recovered, and patiently tried to coax her back inside when she walked away. In the weeks before she died, they had wrangled another shelter space for her. She was not ready.
At the vigil, Tim Sheahan, a city outreach worker, stood in the crowd with his arms folded respectfully. He had joked with Rhiannon only days ago that he'd gotten her inside once before, and was determined to do it again. And now he thought of all the people like her who still aren't ready but who want something better. The people he can't give up on.
The vigil over, people told Meredith and Sarah how much they had loved Rhiannon — the feisty girl Meredith raised, with dark hair and a tentative smile, a girl who shared her mother's sense of humor, who danced in talent shows, who had been "such a smart baby."
Meredith thought she had been prepared, as much as any parent can be. She had watched her daughter fight. Rhiannon had watched her father die in front of her, of an aneurysm when she was a young girl. She never got over it, her mother said.
And so now Meredith was planning a funeral. Her dead daughter's friends were telling her they would be there, even if they had to pool their money. An outreach worker took Sarah by the hand, and they looked at the flowers and the rubber duck someone from the shelter had left, and that unicorn.
Sarah went back to her mother. She had had enough. She wanted her SpongeBob. She wanted her Sissy. She put on her headphones, to drown out the avenue, and the people coming up to the car window to hug her mother, and there, in the backseat, she began to cry.