I had pizza.
Tomorrow, I may have nothing at all, but that day, some kind soul bought me a three dollar slice of plain, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
“Honey?” she’d said, her sweet, concerned, round face peering down at me cautiously. “You eat pizza?”
“Sure do,” I’d told her.
“I don’t have cash, but I’m gonna get you some, okay? You like soda?”
“I…” my eyes welled as I looked up at her. “Yeah. Any kind.”
She walked across the street with a bit of a limp.
Huh. A woman in pain. It just figured that she’d be the first person to look at me all day. I bet it must be nice to see someone who has is worse.
When she came back, I swear I drooled all over myself at the sight of melted cheese.
“Here you go. You keep warm now, alright?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said quickly. “Thank you. Bless you.”
“And you, honey.”
And off she went. I hoped her limp got better. I hoped someone did a kind thing for her. I hoped a lot of things.
None of them were for myself.
“Jack,” I heard someone call. I turned to see Rosco hobbling toward me, his arms laden down with everything he owned.
“Hey, man,” I answered back with a wave.
“I was gonna share a Twinkie with you, but it looks like you’re all set.” Rosco plopped down next to me.
“Appreciate the thought. You want a bite?”
“Wouldn’t mind one. Thanks.”
There were an awful lot of creeps and thieves on the street, but Rosco was one of the good guys and about a year ago he’d decided that I was, too. We’d been looking out for each other every since. I didn’t see him every day, and I had my suspicions he was shooting up again, but there was no point in telling him off. He’d been living like this much longer than I had. I couldn’t lose the only person who ever bothered to check up on me. Maybe that was selfish. Maybe it was just survival.
Rosco handed me back the greasy paper plate that held my pizza and I polished off the rest without a word.
“Hey, where’d you sleep last night?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer. “You weren’t in your usual spot.”
“Nah. Found a new one.” It was exactly the kind of answer that told me he wasn’t going to give up anything more. His quiet way of telling me to butt out.
“Oh,” I said simply, sipping the remainder of my Coke.
“Sandwich fairies oughtta be coming by tonight.”
“Sounds good to me.”
That night, I was fast asleep against the base of some statue when a light flashed bright in my eyes.
“Hey, man,” a voice said, “you can’t be out here.”
Fuck. The fucking park patrol. They’d been slacking off a lot lately, so I hadn’t bothered to worry about them.
“Seriously, man, I mean it. You gotta-”
“Yeah, I know. I’m going.” I stood on unsteady feet, gathered my pack and my sleeping bag, and stumbled away. Maybe the bus depot had some room.
I tried to avoid the bus depot, because a lot of unsavory characters hung out around there. You’d think I would have gotten used to them by now, but I wasn’t. I tried to avoid anybody who wanted me selling smack, and I really tried to avoid the ones who wanted me selling my body. Like life hadn’t already dealt me a tough enough hand of cards.
I settled into an empty corner far from the benches. I didn’t mind sleeping sitting up. I’d done it plenty in the Marines.
The next night, after a too long, too cold day of sitting on my ass with a piece of cardboard, I lucked out with the dumpster behind the donut place. Hey, there are way worse things than day old bagels, I tell you what.
“Hey, honey, you need some sugar?” I heard from down the alley.
“Can’t afford any sugar tonight, sweetheart, but thanks.”
I picked my head up to see who it was. Did I know them?
No fucking way.
“Whoo! Haven’t heard that name in a while. It’s been Lainey for so long I forgot who knew me back then. Get your fine ass over here, Jackie boy.”
I hadn’t seen Lance Marcusen in years but there was that face – those twinkling eyes and that impish grin. The woman standing with her hand on her hip waiting for me to make my way out of the dark alley where I hid, though, was a happier, more confident person than the kid I’d known.
“Jack, honey, what in the world are you doing here?”
“Looking for food, I guess. What about you, man? I mean…” I fumbled. Thank God she laughed.
“Don’t you worry, baby. Come here. I’ve got plenty at home. It ain’t much but the water’s hot and the microwave works just fine.”
“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to-”
“Jackie, sweetie, you shush up and get walking.”
“Baby, what happened?”
About an hour later, I was as clean as I’d been in weeks and dressed in an old hoodie and some pink polka dot flannel pajama pants. There was even a heaping bowl of cereal in front of me. Lainey had Hot Pockets going in the microwave. She’d taken off her eyelashes, her platform heels, and her sparkling silver corset top. She was sitting on her ottoman in front of me wearing nothing but an embroidered kimono.
“Mom passed. Haven’t heard a peep from Dad since I joined up.”
“When did you get back?” she asked, genuine concern deep in her voice.
“Four months ago.”
“You didn’t call nobody?”
I shrugged. The truth was I hadn’t. I’d been… I didn’t know what. Too embarrassed?
“Well, you’re staying here now.” Lainey clapped her hands together and stood up, making her way back to her small kitchen.
“I can’t let you do that. I’m-”
“Yes, you can and you’re gonna. I ain’t hearing another word about it.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I ate my cereal.
That night, I slept in those polka dot pants. The next day, Lainey and I went grocery shopping and I convinced her to get a bag of apples and some eggs. The rest was total junk, but I let her be.
The day after that, I met her friend Jeanine, who ran a night club and needed a bartender.
It only lasted three months, but that was three months Lainey didn’t pay the rent on her own and I took care of the grocery shopping. She’d never eaten so healthy in her life.
About a week after I quit bartending, I answered a job ad looking for a mechanic. Lainey said she liked having a “hunky grease monkey” for a roommate and I liked the work.
When I’m not fixing cars, I’m keeping homophobic skinheads away from my friend (not that she can’t take care of herself) and searching for Rosco. I ask around plenty, but the streets are funny that way. Either they don’t remember me and think he’s in trouble or they do remember me and think I left him behind.
I hope I find him. I hope I can give him one of Lainey’s Twinkies and a slice of pizza.