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Authors: Rose von Barnsley

Home Is Wherever You Are

BOOK: Home Is Wherever You Are
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Chapter 1 – Stick ‘em up!

 

Matthew

It felt like it was going to be another cold night.  This time of year, the weather could be really unpredictable. I prayed the oncoming winter would be mild.  I shook my head at the thought. When you lived outdoors, homeless like me, prayer could be comforting, but it hadn’t been doing much for me lately. 

Actually, I couldn’t truly say that.  I still had my pack, which hadn’t been stolen or taken away from me forcibly. I was also able to get enough money every now and then to get something to eat, or a cheap motel room, so I could clean myself up a little bit and sleep the whole night without worrying about whether I was going to get shanked, robbed or molested in my sleep.  At least I hadn’t had to resort to crime in order to stay alive, just panhandling on street corners.  I couldn’t say the same for my present company, however.

Jeremy came stumbling my way, looking a little worse for wear. “I got some stuff we can pawn,” he said coughing.

He was covered in something red and oily looking. “What happened to you?”

“Some bitch doused me in pepper spray,” he spat through squinting eyes. “That shit burns. Fuck, I need to clean up in the creek,” he said, stumbling down the bank. He dropped his pack on the shore and tumbled head first into the water. He popped up after a few minutes. “This shit really fucking burns, man. Remind me not to mess with pepper spray bitches again,” he said, just before dipping his head back into the water.

Jeremy had been homeless for a year now. I had been surprised to find him on the streets. We had worked together for quite a while, before our company had started with the layoffs. He had been in the first group to go. He had been good at his job, but he hadn’t had the same seniority I’d had. In the end, it still hadn’t saved me, either.

I had been homeless for about a month now. I had run into Jeremy my first week on the street, when I had accidentally rested on the wrong corner, and some guy went crazy, saying I was in his territory. Luckily for me, Jeremy knew him and knew how to calm him down.

I’d admit I followed him around like a lost puppy after that. He knew where all the good places to sleep were already and where all the good trashcans were to find somewhat edible food. He also knew of a couple of patio-style restaurants that didn’t clear their tables quickly, so we could usually snag some leftovers over the railings when no one was looking. Of course, Jeremy would steal the tips, too, but I didn’t. It felt wrong enough that we were taking the food. He told me I needed to toughen up, or I wasn’t going to make it.

I only wondered where the heck it was I was trying to make it to.

I had gone from a middle-class peon average Joe in processing to being a homeless man in what felt like overnight. When I looked back at my life, I really didn’t see much of a difference, other than I’d had a roof over my head, and I wasn’t cold at night. I’d been barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, and now I was barely making it from meal to meal, really not all that different. At least I didn’t have creditors calling me at all hours of the day and night. I smiled to myself at that thought.

“It’s not funny, jackass, this shit burns.”

I let out a sigh and decided to help him. “I wasn’t laughing at you. I was laughing at how lame my life is. Just stop rubbing it. You’re going to make it worse.” I took out my water bottle and told him to open his eyes. I sprayed it directly onto his eyeballs, not letting him shut them. “Take off your clothes and scrub yourself down with this,” I said, tossing him a washcloth I had kept from my apartment. I hadn’t been able to take much, but I was right when I had thought it would come in handy.

Jeremy stripped down, grumbling about pepper spray bitches, and started washing up in the creek. “You should hurry up, the sun is going to be setting soon, and you’ll freeze to death if you’re wet.”

He pulled out some dry clothes from his pack and frowned. He only had a t-shirt and jeans. His warmer flannel shirt was covered in pepper spray, and there was no way he could put it back on.

“Here,” I said, tossing him the shirt off my back. “I have another one in my bag.” I dug around and pulled out a sweater. I hadn’t planned to use it until it was colder, but now was as good a time as any.

“Thanks, man. Hey, that’s a nice sweater,” he said eyeing it. It made me a little nervous, because I knew he wasn’t above stealing. That was what had gotten him into his current mess in the first place.

“So, what did you pick off of the pepper spray chick?”

“Just a GPS and a cell phone, but they’re nice ones. We can pawn them and buy some smokes and Jack, make a night of it.”

I wasn’t into smoking or drinking. “Or we can get a cheap motel room and wash up,” I offered.

He rolled his eyes at me. “I just bathed,” he said, pointing to the creek. “No need to waste the money on crap we can get for free.”

“Right, what was I thinking?” I said sarcastically. Of course, he didn’t catch the tone and headed to the pawn shop. I didn’t go with him, because I didn’t want anything to do with that mess.

I sat under the bridge for a while, watching Jeremy’s pack along with mine. I scratched the scruff on my chin and ran my hand through my long hair. I had been in need of a cut for a couple of months before I had been evicted, but I hadn’t gotten it done, trying to save money and make ends meet. It hadn’t worked, and now I was just another long-haired, shabby-looking homeless man.

I heard sirens going off and hunched down a little more. I didn’t know what was in Jeremy’s pack, and I didn’t want to go down for anything I hadn’t done.  I heard shouting, and it sounded like Jeremy. I guess he would be getting a warm room tonight after all. I eyed Jeremy’s pack warily again and then tucked it safely behind some bushes. I didn’t know what was in it, and I had a feeling I didn’t want to know.

I decided to head down to the corner by the home improvement store. I had a black marker, so I snagged a piece of cardboard from the side of the road for a sign. I figured I was picking up litter and recycling at the same time. I made a sign saying I would work for food, and I really would. I knew some people thought that was a load of crap, but it wasn’t, at least not to me. I’d want some dinner in a few hours, so I had to hustle if I was going to get something to eat tonight.

I stood on the corner and made one dollar and twenty-five cents. Looked like the dollar menu it was. I was getting ready to head to the closest fast food joint, when I saw another wave of traffic queuing up to come through. I held up my sign one more time, and I was surprised when a huge old pickup truck with a small female driver slowed a little, looking at my sign curiously. She didn’t stop or offer me anything, but the way she looked at me pinned me in place. I tried to offer her a smile, but she had sped through the intersection before I could.

When the light changed, I crossed the street and headed out to get dinner. I got my sandwich to go, because I didn’t like the way people looked at me or cringed away from me, when I sat in the restaurant. I was walking back to my night spot with my dinner bag, when some headlights blinded me. I put my hand up, squinting. I was unable to make out who it was or what they wanted.

“What’s in the bag?” I heard a woman’s voice ask.

“A double cheeseburger,” I answered, because that was what it was.

“Throw it over here.”

“What?  No, this is my dinner.”

“Fine, set it down and back away from it.”

“NO! I’m hungry. What the heck is your problem?”

“I have pepper spray,” she threatened.

I dropped my head in defeat. I didn’t have another shirt, and it was too cold to wash it off at this time of night.  I set the bag down, giving up. “Come on, please, it’s my dinner. I don’t have any more money.”

“Back away from the bag.”

“Please don’t take it,” I begged like a weak little girl.

I still couldn’t see her features, but I could see the outline of her form in the headlights. She was holding her hand out, like she was pointing something at me. I was guessing it was her pepper spray. She opened the bag, looked in it and then stood up, not touching the burger inside or picking up the bag.

“Take off your shirt.”

“Ma’am, I’m not that kind of person. I don’t just…”

“Shut up, take off your shirt and hold your arms out.”

“It’s freezing cold tonight, Ma’am. Why are you doing this? You’ve got a car to sleep in.”

“Now!” she demanded, holding up the pepper spray.

I did as she asked, taking off my shirt, shivering when the cold damp night air hit my skin. I’d stayed pretty muscular from working out before, when I’d had access to the company gym, but I’d lost some of my body fat that helped keep me warm, since I didn’t get to eat very regularly.

“Toss me your shirt and hold out your arms,” she demanded, and I hesitated. “Hurry up, before you freeze your butt off,” she snapped. I tossed her my shirt, and I noticed she sniffed it. She walked toward me cautiously. She was just out of arm’s reach and eyeing my arms. “Turn your hands up,” she commanded, so I did. “Now take off your shoes.”

“Look, you can have my sweater, but please, leave me my shoes.  They’re the only ones I have, and they won’t even fit you.”

“Take them off now!” she snapped. I sighed and toed them off. “Your socks, too, and sit on the ground and stick your feet out. Do it now,” she commanded.

I dropped my head and pulled off my socks. To my surprise, she squatted down and looked at my toes. “You got some freaky toe fetish or something?” I asked annoyed.

“No,” she said and threw my sweater at me. I quickly put it back on, thankful she had given it back.  “Put your shoes back on. Where are you sleeping tonight?”

“What’s it to you? Are you going to try and steal my pack or something? Look, lady, whatever you want, just tell me now, okay?”

“Get in the truck, and don’t try anything funny.”

“You’re kidnapping me?”

“Are you homeless?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Are you really willing to work?”

“Yeah, but I’m not a gigolo.”

“Shut up and get in the truck,” she commanded.

“Can I bring my dinner?” I asked.

“Of course, now hurry up, it’s getting cold, and we have a lot of work to do before we turn in.”

When I reached the door, I recognized the truck. The cab illuminated when I opened it, and I could make out the face of the girl who had driven past earlier. I stood there, staring at her confused.

“Move it, slowpoke, I need to get this stuff unloaded and secured before it rains tonight.”

“It’s going to rain tonight?”

She let out a huff. “Get in already.”

I saw her move the pepper spray to her pocket, and then I climbed in once I knew it was safe.

“So, you don’t smoke or do drugs?”

“No,” I answered.

“Why are you homeless?”

“That’s a personal question I’d rather not answer to someone who just tried to steal my stuff.”

“I didn’t try to steal your stuff.”

“Well, you assaulted me, holding me at weapon point, making me strip.”

“I had to make sure you were safe. It wasn’t an unreasonable request for someone in my position to make.”

“What exactly is your position?”

“Employer, I want to hire you to fix a few things. I already have the stuff I need to do it, but I realized as they were loading it into my truck that I wouldn’t have enough muscle to move it on my own. I remembered the sign you’d held and decided to hire you.”

“Gee thanks. Next time, why don’t you let me know that, before you hold me at weapon point and tell me to strip? I would’ve done it with a smile and not have freaked out the whole time about losing my clothes and freezing to death.”

“I wouldn’t have stolen your clothes.”

“Well, some people do steal clothes, so just remember that next time you pull crap like that.”

She rolled her eyes at me and turned the heat up.

 

 

Chapter 2 – Out of the Storm

 

We pulled up to a small rundown house, where she opened the back gate. “There’s a shed in the back where I want this stuff moved to,” she directed, dropping the tailgate of the truck. She had several sheets of sheetrock and a few boards, along with some pipes, a large bucket of spackling compound and several boxes of wire. We worked together, moving the stuff into the shed quickly, and just as we slid the last piece of sheetrock into the shed, it started to rain. I looked at the sky and frowned. Tonight was going to suck. I doubted I would get much sleep, and I was fairly certain I was going to be very cold and probably wet. I rubbed my face, resigned to my situation.

“Um, you can, ah, stay in the shed if you’d like. I mean, if you don’t have a place to stay.”

I looked down at her unsure form. She was tiny. It was dangerous for her to be picking up homeless people. If she would have grabbed Jeremy, he would have robbed her blind, maybe worse. I nodded okay and headed towards the gate, so I could go pick up my pack.

“Wait, where are you going? I said you could stay,” she called after me.

“I need to go get my pack.”

She let out a huff. “Fine, let’s go,” she said and stormed over to her truck in the rain.

She slammed her door and waited for me. I climbed in, a little confused by her. I saw my cheeseburger still sitting in the cab and decided to pull it out and eat it.

She looked at me sideways. “So, where’s your pack?”

“In some bushes not far from where you picked me up.”

She looked at me nervously. “I still have my pepper spray,” she warned me.

“Hey, I didn’t ask you to take me to get my pack. I would’ve walked.”  She just looked at me and shook her head.

She hurried through the raging storm, and I told her to slow down just after we crossed over the bridge I usually stayed under. It would not be a good place to sleep tonight. It would most likely get flooded out, judging by how hard it was raining. “I’ll be right back,” I promised and hopped out of her truck, running into the brush. I hitched my pack up on my back, so it was sheltering me from the rain a little and hurried back toward the truck. I put it inside between us and then hopped in, shutting my door. I looked around my pack and noticed her eyeing it.

“Your stuff is wet.”

“Yeah, that happens when it gets rained on.”

She started the truck, and we headed back to the little house. Once we arrived, I headed straight for the shed. I needed to get my stuff unpacked and drying if I had any chance of not freezing to death overnight.

I had my bedroll out and hung off of some standing boards, hoping to dry it out. Given the moisture level in the air, though, it didn’t look promising. The thunder was loud and shaking the shed, and I was thankful not to be out in the storm. I looked over at the stuff she had bought and wondered what exactly she needed done. I hoped I was competent enough to really help her.  Even if she was a bitch, she’d put a roof over my head, so I was thankful for her picking me up.

Speak of the devil, and she would appear. The shed door opened, and the girl hurried in, shaking her umbrella in one hand and holding something in the other.

“I brought you some dinner. You said you’d work for food, so here’s your food.”

I looked up at her confused. I thought the roof over my head was payment enough for moving her stuff.

“It’s just some meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a roll.”

“It smells good.”

She handed me the plate. It was still warm, so I pulled it closer to my body, hoping to draw some of the warmth into my cold skin. I took a bite and moaned. It was good. It had been a long time since I’d had a real meal like this.

“So, what time do you usually get up?”

I looked at her as if she was nuts. “I don’t have a watch. I get up when the sun comes up.”

“Oh, okay.  Well, if you get up and need something to do, you can read the directions that came with the outlets and stuff,” she said, pointing to a bag from the home improvement store. “Can you read?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, that’s good. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”

“Night,” I called after her. She was an odd little woman, strong and commanding one minute and then unsure of herself the next. I didn’t mind her, though.  As long as she let me stay in the shed and gave me awesome food, we would get along just fine.

My heavier blanket had soaked up way too much rain. The damn thing wasn’t going to be dry tonight. I still had my sheet and under blanket which were only slightly damp.  They were much lighter, but it was better than having nothing. Thankfully, I wasn’t out in the howling wind and blowing rain right now.

The shed would rattle every time the thunder rolled, but that didn’t bother me. I snuggled up next to the sheetrock and pulled the boxes of wire next to me, trying to insulate myself better. I was rubbing my arms with my hands, but it was no use. My sweater had gotten soaked, when I had run out into the rain to get my pack. I curled up in a ball and doubled my blanket, as I curled up in the corner. I wasn’t totally freezing anymore, but I wasn’t exactly warm, either. I tried to close my eyes and think about what tomorrow would bring. Tomorrow, my bedding would be dry, and I would be warmer and hopefully still sleeping in this dry shed. It looked like she had a few days of work in here.

I tried to think of warm things like fire, lava, the sun, and hot cocoa. Okay, I knew that last one was lame, but when you drank it, it warmed up your insides. Hot insides sounded nice, as I lay shivering with my teeth chattering.

I dozed on and off, waking when the storm would get particularly loud.  I was jolted awake by a loud crash of thunder and decided to check if my blanket was any dryer yet. The temperature had dropped sharply, and the light one was just not cutting it.  The wind had picked up even more, forcing the frigid wind through the cracks around the shed door, which had me shivering hard. I had been checking the blanket, when I heard the shed door slam open. I jumped, scared and surprised.

There stood the girl, shaking her umbrella again, but now she was wrapped in a robe.

“You’re awake,” she stated.

“So are you.”

I turned back to check and see how much longer it would be until my blanket dried, all while trying not to let her hear my teeth chattering.

“Your blanket is soaking wet,” she said with a small frown.

“It was raining.”

She let out a sigh. “Fine, come on.” I looked at her confused. “You’re coming in the house. I can’t leave you out in the shed during this storm to freeze to death. It just isn’t humane. Let’s go,” she said, holding up the umbrella.

“You want me to go in your house?”

“Yes, come on.”

“But that’s not safe.”

“I won’t pepper spray you, I promise.”

“I meant for you. You shouldn’t be inviting strange homeless men into your home.  What if I was a criminal?”

She rolled her eyes. “Are you coming or not?”

Another loud clap of thunder shook the shed, causing her to jump a little. “Holy beejebus, you can’t stay out here. Come on,” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me out after her.

I looked down at where she was touching me. I wasn’t used to being touched. People didn’t touch homeless people. I had almost forgotten how it felt. We stumbled in through the back door, and the warmth of the house engulfed me. I closed my eyes and hummed in appreciation.

“Sit at the table, and I’ll make you some warm milk,” she said.

I looked at her confused. “Milk?”

“Yes, to warm you up. Can you have milk? Are you lactose intolerant? I also have tea and cocoa.”

“Ooh, cocoa, please,” I said excitedly, and she smiled.

I sat down at the table, a little embarrassed at my display of enthusiasm for such a childish drink.

To my surprise, she sat down next to me with two cups of cocoa. “I love hot cocoa, too,” she said, sipping from her mug.

“It warms up your insides,” I said and then felt like an idiot for saying it.

“That it does,” she agreed.

Once I was done with the cocoa, I let my eyes wander over her house. It was pretty torn up inside. “What happened to your house?”

She pouted a little. “Nothing happened. I bought it this way.  It was a HUD house.”

“Well, I hope you got a good deal.”

She scowled at me. “For your information, I did. I only paid fifteen thousand dollars for it.  I put ten percent down and got a really good low fixed interest rate.”

“Really?  That
is
a good deal.”

She shrugged. “The plumbing is mostly okay, but someone had stripped all the wiring from the inside and from the A/C for the copper to sell. I ended up wiping out the rest of my savings buying new wiring to replace it and to get some lights working. I can’t afford to hire another electrician to install the rest of it, though.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for.”

“You’re an electrician?”

“No, but we’ll figure it out, right?”

“I did have the directions all looked up on my phone, but some idiot stole it along with my GPS earlier today. I don’t have a computer, so I have no internet access.”

I really wanted to beat Jeremy for stealing from her. The poor girl was obviously struggling, trying to make ends meet, and he had stolen that from her.

“We can go to the library,” I suggested.

She perked up, excited. “Of course, why didn’t I think of that?”

“Glad to be of help.”

“I’ll have to go in between shifts,” she said, scrunching her forehead in thought.

“I can go. I mean, I’ll look through the directions we have in the shed in the morning and then go to the library while you’re at work.”

She looked at me hopefully, and I felt kind of bad, as I saw tears form in her eyes. She suddenly jumped up and hugged me. “You’re really going to do this?” she asked in disbelief. “You’re really going to help me?”

I patted her lightly on the back, not sure what the heck had  happened. Normally, people didn’t hug homeless people, and they didn’t like to be touched by them, either. “Well, yeah. I told you I’d work for food.”

She giggled a little. “I can’t believe how lucky I am that I found you.”

I was thinking the same thing.

“Oh, look at me, I’m a blubbering mess.”

“It’s alright, I don’t mind,” I said.

She giggled again. “You know…I don’t even know your name.”

“Matthew,” I offered.

“Matthew, huh? I guess it works.”  She reached out to shake my hand. “I’m Addy. It’s nice to meet you, Matthew.”

I took it nervously, so much touching was almost making me feel human again. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Addy.”

Her house was very sparse. We sat at an old worn folding table with mismatched folding chairs. There were only two, but that was all that would really fit at the tiny table. I glanced toward the front room and saw there was a old chair and a low bookshelf. There was no TV, couch or coffee table.

When I looked back at her, she was blushing. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have much.”

“You have more than me,” I pointed out.

She sighed. “I just realized I don’t have a couch for you to sleep on or anything.”

“The floor is fine.  I’ve slept outdoors on cold dirty concrete and park benches for a month, so a wood floor indoors will be an improvement.”

“Ugh, these floors are horrible.  They desperately need to be sanded and refinished.  They’re so bad, but it’s just so expensive to do it,” she said yawning.

“Well, the chair will work.”

“It doesn’t recline, just rocks.”

“I guess I’ll get to rock myself to sleep then,” I said smiling.

She nodded okay and glanced at the clock on the stove. “I have to get to bed, or I’ll be dead on my feet tomorrow.”

I nodded in agreement. It was going on midnight. She disappeared down the hall, and I went to settle into the chair, bringing one of the folding chairs over to prop my legs up. I was surprised when she came back with a blanket and pillow in her arms. “Here, just in case you give up and are brave enough to try to sleep on the floor.   I don’t know how comfortable the chair is to sleep in, but at least you’ll be warm.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely. She hurried down the hall to what I assumed was her room.  I settled into the chair, glad to finally be warm. I fell asleep to the sound of the storm raging
outside
.

BOOK: Home Is Wherever You Are
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