complex - part one
Author's note: One of my favorite pieces I've written thus far.
hopeless caseT h e l e v e l of clientele was set to a moderate level when I walked in. Most of the people inside the coffee shop at this hour were college students and probably starving—or at least very thirsty—artists. I stood in line, unsure of what I wanted today; I never liked to drink the same thing twice.
Once I made it to the counter, she smiled. Emma was working today (oh yeah, I knew) looking just as pretty as ever: strawberry-blond hair, dazzling blue eyes, and even a few freckles that seemed to dominate most of my attention.
"What can I getcha, Jake?" she asked. If you're wondering why I'm not dating her, salivating for every command her perfectly golden heart might desire… you'll see in a moment.
"What's new?" Staying casual in front of her was always a challenge gladly I accepted.
Emma named something that sounded Italian—like everything else. It was quite a mouthful.
"Uh, what is it again?"
She giggled. "Just trust me when I say it's really good."
"Oh. I trust you, alright. I'll take it." When I smiled, she smiled. I guess I did have charm. Nice.
"That'll be three fifty." I only had ten bucks on me, out of the twenty I'd earned doing yard work. Gotta make a living somehow, am I right?
I reluctantly handed over four dollars in exchange for something that looked exactly like everything else: light brown and foamy. I sipped it. "It is good."
Emma smiled. "So, how've you—"
"Hey! There's a line." Emma looked startled, and I turned to find a business suit glaring down at us. "Get a Facebook if you two want to talk so much."
"Hey," I said. "I get it, alright? No need to be so rude." What the frick was a face book?
"Some of us have important things to do, unlike homeless teenagers like yourself."
"Sorry. Didn't know Starbucks catered to douche bags in Armani suits." I moved aside so he could go up to the counter. Emma looked shaken, and the suit didn't stop glaring.
"Mind your elders, kid," he said to me after he ordered. "Hopeless cases like you should spend less time talking about things they don't know about and get a damn job."
"Thanks, Dr. Phil. You've changed my life."
He glared at me some more before taking off. There were two more customers after him, who both ordered in subdued tones. Most of the coffee people had noticed and were now hurriedly looking away.
"Sorry about that," I told Emma. "The guy was totally asking for it."
She smiled. "It's cool, Jake. I get people like that, like, fifty times a day and nobody says anything. So," she said, leaning over the counter, "what've you been up to?"
I shrugged. "Stuff. How's, uh, Cory?"
"He's alright. His mom got sick. We're gonna head over to San Diego this weekend to check up on her. Cory's been worried."
I nodded. In case it wasn't blaringly obvious enough for you, Cory was Emma's boyfriend. She was also twenty and he was… probably twenty-two. I couldn't catch a break. I sipped my drink with a horrendously long name, frowning just slightly.
"Something wrong?" she asked.
"No, no. I'll see ya around. Tell Cory I hope his mom gets better."
"I'll pass it along." Ugh. Emma was giving me that kicked puppy look. Women!
Once I was outside—it never got old—I walked faster than usual. I just wanted to get away from this block. I passed some stores I couldn't afford to step foot in when I noticed my reflection in one of the windows.
Damn. No wonder I'd been getting sympathy all day—I looked like a mess. My hair was chaos; it could not decide if it was light brown or dark blond (if there is such thing). My face could've been a bit more cleaner. My green eyes could've looked a little brighter. My clothes… oh my clothes. I could've fit into something somewhat more stylish if I could afford it—no Kmart or Sears nearby (darn L.A.). I walked on, feeling hideous.
The Armani suit's words came back to me. Mostly the part about homeless teenagers have nothing important to do and the 'hopeless case' part. It wasn't the first time I'd been told those things from complete strangers, strangers who didn't even know me. Nobody knew me. The real me.
Emma only knew that I was homeless. She knew I didn't want to talk about it, and she never brought it up—for which I was thankful. She was the one who helped me find people who need yard work done and odd-jobs like that. I knew she wanted to help me, and she did so indirectly, which I very gratefully appreciated. In the rich side of L.A. I was known as Yard Boy Extraordinaire. I would tell you the owners of some lawns I'd done—trust me, you know some names—but Hollywood's A-list deserved some privacy.
Sophia—Mrs. Romero, I should say—only knew my name and that I was a good kid—which was all she needed to know. It was… weird, knowing her. Frank Romero had only referred to his wife and kids as vaguely as everyone else on the force. Mostly, the guys on the force brought up families to lightheartedly complain about them—in reality, they were crazy about them. As I got to know some of the guys, some of them would show me pictures of their families if they weren't already on their desks.
Frank had showed me a family portrait from a long time ago. It'd just been him, Sophia, and a baby Kyle at the time. Sophia had been a little round then, and Frank would tear up a little when talking about his future little baby gir.—by then he'd suddenly turn away, lying about having something in his eye.
I found myself in a park—not sure which one—so I sat at a bench, sipping my fancy-sounding drink.
The only people who knew the real me were the leaders of the police force, a tight-knit group of friends in the office, and Captain Robert Lewis. Robert had been the one to discover, and later, unofficially employ me. They all kept my secret in exchange for help in the areas they couldn't get to. My abilities served a better, much higher purpose than stealing from stores and banks; I'd lived in New York in my bad days. But after almost getting caught, I left behind all the rumors and editorials for a fresh start in L.A., almost getting caught in the same situation my first week. Robert, thankfully, hadn't been an extortionist.
I'm guessing you're wondering what I could possibly be. A young Clark Kent? I wish, but at the same time I don't; he had an obvious weakness that any idiot could use against him (and how did everyone have it, if it was supposed to be rare?). Of course, I wasn't sure if I had a weakness; it's not like I go around looking for one or anything. I hadn't reached a limit to anything I could do—yet (you never know). I don't think there's any Kryptonite or other space rocks lying around on the streets of Los Angeles; you can go look if you want.
I don't know how long I was sitting on that bench. Had I fallen asleep? The sun was blazing, directly over me. It was so frickin' hot. Darn sunny California.
Well, I shouldn't complain; New York is unbelievably much worse in the summer (sucks for whoever is in my place over there). Only hardcore athletes were in the park around this time of day, running or playing basketball on the court. I didn't need to exercise, so I took off in search of a bus stop.
This was one of the many things I didn't like about being homeless: there was nowhere to go, nowhere to just sit and take a nap without someone bothering about 'you can't sleep here' and all that crap. I mean, I can sleep there, they just won't let me. It was so annoying.
I found one not too far from the park. Two other boys were sitting in it, lapping up the only shade within a hundred feet, and I took the leftover space. They didn't care; judging by their topic of conversation, they'd just ditched school. Smart. Ditch class in the middle of a hot day with nowhere go—probably with no money. Hopefully they would show up for class one of these days and actually learn something.
Ten minutes had passed… and no bus. The guys' conversation had dwindled to the point that they were talking about the class they were missing for this. Awesome. The heat was getting to me, and I was almost falling asleep when one of the guys suddenly shouted some obscenity. I was about to tell them to shut the hell up when I noticed a pink thing walking our way (Kirby comes to mind when I think about it).
It was an old woman, most likely in her fifties, maybe even late sixties. She was pale, so she probably didn't get out much. She donned the normal old lady clothing, and she was walking very slowly. The guys were now talking about some hot girl they had in a class they were missing as the old woman stopped just outside of the little bus stop hut.
I expected one of the boys to offer up their seat. She was closer to them. One of them had actually glanced at her, but then kept right on talking. I wanted to smack him upside the head.
Feeling tired, I stood up and approached. "Would you like my seat?"
She smiled. "Thank you." I helped her to the seat, and now the boys stopped talking and noticed. The one that had seen her first moved over so that she could put her bag next to her. She thanked me again. I smiled and nodded, then went around and leaned against the side of the shade thing (I don’t know what it's called; sue me) and closed my eyes, the sun glaring down on me.