“Does this purse go with these shoes?”

“For the last time, yes baby. Now let’s go grab some burgers for lunch.”

“Burgers, you know those things go straight to my thighs!”

Ah, Saturday at the mall – it’s been too long. I’d forgotten the teenagers who don’t have a dime to spare for me but have a few hundred bucks for Nike. I’ve missed the seniors who either jab their canes at me or drop bills in my hat; thankfully I’ve seen more of the latter than the former in the last three hours.

Three hours and no sign of TJ. I’m in our usual spot, just to the left of the east mall entrance, just far enough from the bus stop to avoid confusion about my purpose here. It took a few weekends before we finally found the sweet spot where we no longer got asked if we needed change for the bus but could still work the traffic going in and out of the mall.

Waiting here may not be the most efficient way of finding TJ but at least I’m making money doing it. In that area it sure beats checking the shelters and wandering the streets. If she doesn’t show today, I’ll come back tomorrow. If she still doesn’t –

“What would you do,” a man asks, leaning in much too close. How can I describe his proximity? Imagine you have a tiny hair in your eye. Now picture yourself stepping outside yourself and turning to face your body. Imagine how close you’d lean in to find that elusive hair. That’s how close he is.

“What would you do,” he repeats, recognizing that I’ve figured out how to describe his closeness and have rejoined him in the moment, “if I gave you ten thousand dollars right now?”

What a stupid question. I’d do what any man in my position would do: go down to Cherry’s, pick out the two hottest strippers (Doll and Candy, for the record) and ask what ten grand would get me. Well, nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-six dollars and sixty-nine cents, after the mandatory drinks.

But something in the look of this guy says he just might have that kind of green and I don’t think that’s the answer that would convince him to hand it over.

“Well,” I tell Blue Eyes (for what else can I name him but what takes up 90% of my field of vision), “I’d probably start by getting some new clothes, then I’d splurge on a motel room for the night. I’d take the longest, hottest shower in recorded history, order some pizza and then sleep until checkout.” Or until 7 am if Phakov found me; I’m pretty confident he would.

“Is that right?” he asks, only his lips moving as his eyes burrow into my skull. I can smell his breath – there’s a trace of fine wine, of a three course lunch, of a life I’ll never know. “You wouldn’t get drunk or high?”

“I don’t do that garbage, man.” Not this early in the day anyway – a man’s gotta have limits. His eyes narrow, his nose twitches as though he can smell the lie.

“You know what I think?” he casually asks as he straightens to his full height. “I think you’re just saying that in hopes of getting my money.”

“Why should I even believe you’ve got that much money at all, much less on you?” I ask, trying to swerve the conversation around that nasty pothole. He stands there, unblinking, trying to decide which of our questions should be pursued first, when a well dressed redhead appears at his side.

“Darling, are you being mean to the homeless again?” she purrs.

“Of course not dear, we were merely discussing finances,” he says with a stiff pat on her arm. She sniffs daintily and looks away, losing interest already. Having no idea what to say, I remain silent. “He doesn’t believe that I have ten thousand dollars on my person.”

“Oh stop being silly darling,” she says without looking back, “nobody carries cash these days.”

“Sad but true,” he murmurs as he reaches into his front pocket, pulls out a five and drops it into my hat. They turn together and stroll away, arm in arm, never looking back.

“Making new friends J?” a voice asks from my right. It’s been a while, so it takes me a moment to recognize it. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, open them again.

“Hello TJ.”

The End

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