CAN YOU SPARE A QUARTER
3 - Fate Takes a Turn
Once he had made his decision, the rest was easy for Jamie. Staying invisible was what took skill whereas being seen was simple. Jamie moved to the edge of the crowd he was staying hidden within and looked about rapidly. He quickly spotted a woman overloaded with shopping bags rushing along not watching where she was going and bumping unapologetically into people as she went. Knowing at once that she was the type that would provide the necessary source of excitement required to draw attention to himself, Jamie watched her direction through the crowd, picked out a spot slightly ahead of her, and moved to stand in the woman's path. Moments later just as Jamie had planned the woman, never once noticing Jamie, went barrelling straight into him.
"Watch what you're doing," snapped the woman as her bags went flying.
"I'm awfully sorry ma'am I guess I wasn't looking where I was going," said Jamie as he bent to help her pick up the bags strewn about on the ground.
"Pay attention next time. Kids like you shouldn't be allowed around here. Get away from me," complained the woman bitterly, as she took off again at breakneck speed without looking back still bumping into people as she went.
Jamie unfortunately had become used to being spoken to in that manner, but he did not mind this time. The commotion resulting from the collision with the woman had done the job that was needed. Graham had turned around to see where the shouting was coming from.
Jamie looked up as Graham turned and saw him. Their eyes met and Graham knew at once that Jamie had staged the accident with the woman for his benefit. They both looked at each other intently for a long moment. Then Graham took a step towards Jamie and Jamie took a step towards Graham. What would come from this neither of them knew, but somehow they both realized that from this moment on, everything in the future was going to change.
Graham did not want to frighten Jamie away, but he also did not want to lose sight of him again now that he had found him. At the same time he knew that if he rushed towards Jamie he might scare him and Jamie might change his mind and run off. Graham smiled with relief at finding Jamie and took another step towards him. Jamie was watching Graham warily but then took another step towards the man he had met only a few hours earlier. When Graham saw that Jamie had moved in his direction again, he abandoned his initial caution and quickly moved across the open space between them, not quite walking, but not running either.
"I didn't think I would ever see you again. I didn't think you'd come back," said Graham speaking first.
"I didn't think you would either," said Jamie. "No one ever came back for me before."
"I'm sorry I had to rush off like that. I've been feeling horrible all day for leaving. I didn't actually have a lot of choice though. My boss would've eaten me alive if I'd missed the meeting," said Graham.
"It's OK. You have to do your work. I mean it's not like you know me or something," said Jamie.
"I think I would like to though, if you let me," replied Graham. The moment that he said this, Jamie again searched Graham's face. However, finding nothing other than concern Jamie then allowed a brief shy smile to flicker across his face.
"I need to go up to my office for a few minutes to drop off my things and report to my boss, but then I'll come right back down. Maybe after we can go and have dinner or something. Would you like that?" he asked Jamie.
"I'll be here," replied Jamie.
Graham turned to go over towards the office tower but then reversed direction and said, "My name is Graham. I'm so pleased you decided to come back."
Jamie gave Graham another one of his stroboscopic smiles and said, "Jamie. My name is Jamie."
"I'll be back as quick as I can, Jamie," said Graham. He smiled at the youngster and then turned and ran quickly over to the doors at the base of the office tower.
Whereas a few minutes before Graham's heart had been heavy and his footsteps laboured, he now felt lighter than air and the knots his stomach had been tied in previously had totally disappeared. Graham rushed into the office tower and once in the elevator waited impatiently for the doors to open on the twenty-third floor. Graham's entire mood had changed and it felt for him like the sun had suddenly broken through a thick layer of cloud on a rainy day.
The elevator doors finally opened and Graham stepped out. Opening the main door to the office he smiled at the receptionist and hurried through the aisles of cubicles over to his desk. All that was needed now was to quickly drop the signed agreement off with his boss and then leave. Laying his briefcase on his desk, Graham pulled out the agreement and went to the photocopy machine. In less than a minute he had a copy made for himself and stapled it together. Walking over to his boss's office, Graham saw the open door and empty desk and realized that his boss was out. Graham quickly picked up a piece of paper from off the side of the desk and jotted down a note saying that he would write up a full report on how the meeting went overnight and have it ready for him in the morning. Graham then attached the note to the front of the signed copy of the agreement with a paper clip and went back to his desk.
Graham's boss being out of the office was actually a stroke of good luck. In fact it was a big relief for Graham. His boss was not a bad sort when it came right down to it, but he loved to talk. What for anyone else would take five minutes of discussion would last twenty with him. While normally that did not bother Graham, after everything else that had happened today, being delayed was not something Graham wanted. Fortune had handed Graham a second chance and he was not going to let go of it for anything. Nothing short of wild animals was going to stop him from getting back down to Jamie, and if the wild animals were not too big or hungry he might even try tackling them too. One did not tempt fate more than once in a day and Graham had no intention of doing so.
With everything now taken care of at the office, Graham went back to his desk and placed the photocopy of the agreement in it along with a few other papers to help him write the report tonight. Instead of wending his way back through the cubicle's to the front entrance, Graham went out the back way and shortly was standing in front of the elevators waiting once again to go back down. This time Graham did not feel nearly as anxious as he did earlier feeling certain that Jamie would be waiting for him.
Graham emerged from the elevator when the doors opened on the ground floor and quickly spotted Jamie waiting for him outside. While he had felt confident that Jamie would be there, seeing him standing and waiting just outside put a big smile on Graham's face. Graham quickly walked towards the revolving exit doors and moments later he was standing beside Jamie.
"Sorry I took so long, I had to drop off some papers and leave a note for the boss," said Graham, as he smiled at Jamie.
Jamie smiled back briefly, "I wasn't worried," he said. "This time I knew you'd be coming back."
"It's a little before regular quitting time, but I'm done for the day," said Graham. "Would you like to come home with me? We can get something to eat and maybe we can talk a little."
At the mention of Graham's home Jamie once again regarded Graham with some suspicion, but his acute eyes told him that nothing was hiding behind the suggestion. All that he could sense coming from Graham was concern. It was very strange to him given his experiences to date with men, but there it was nonetheless.
"I guess ... where do you live?" he asked cautiously.
"I have a small basement apartment near here that I stay in during the week, but I have a little house on Valdez Island and I fly back and forth so I can stay there on the weekends," Graham explained.
"You live on an island?" Jamie exclaimed.
"Yes, but it's not just me of course. There's lot of other people there too," Graham replied.
"Wow. Why do you do that? I mean it's got to be difficult getting to the city being so far away and all," asked Jamie.
"When I don't have to be at work, I like to get away from all the people, the noise, and the city. Also I'm getting older now and I wanted to get myself a nice place I could retire to," Graham elaborated.
"I wish I could get away from everyone like that," Jamie muttered quietly to himself, although not quietly enough to avoid Graham hearing it.
"To get to my apartment we'll have to use the bus. I hope that's OK with you. I don't bother to bring a car to work usually," explained Graham.
"It's OK, but I don't have enough money for a bus," said Jamie getting worried.
"That's alright, I was going to take care of that for you," said Graham with a smile.
They went along the walkway between the office tower and the subway station and then took an escalator down to the street level where the bus terminal was located. Graham reached into his pockets and found a book of bus tickets and tore off two handing one to Jamie.
"Just pop that into the machine on the bus when you get in," said a smiling Graham.
"Thanks Mister," said Jamie, taking the ticket from Graham.
Graham felt a bit embarrassed at the honorific and said gently, "Graham. Call me Graham."
"Yes sir ... Graham," Jamie replied, feeling rather uncomfortable. He could remember clearly times when he had been belted across the room by his father for forgetting his manners and it felt scary to call this man he had only just met by his first name.
A bus pulled into the loading bay where they were standing and they got on. The driver looked sternly at Jamie, but then looked away when Jamie showed him the ticket that he had in his hand and the validating machine had beeped its assent when Jamie put it into the slot. Graham followed right after and they walked along the aisle down the centre of the bus and sat in the first empty pair of seats they came to.
"It's a short trip. We'll only be on here for just a few stops," said Graham.
Not sure what to say, Jamie nodded. He knew that he was heading off into an unknown adventure, but he was not sure yet exactly what sort of adventure it was going to be. Hopefully, it would be one where he would still be around after it was over.
There had been the meal earlier of course and it sounded like there might be another one tonight. It would be the most he had eaten in a single day for a couple of weeks. That part was clearly good. He also knew, however, that eventually there would be the inevitable. He was going to have to pay for the food and the kindness being offered. There would be no escaping that part of the deal. Still, this man seemed a bit different than the others and perhaps it might not be too bad when it came to that. Jamie stared out the window at the passing cars and shops along the road and tried not to think about what would come later in the evening.
Graham peeked at Jamie while he sat next to him and noticed that he appeared lost in thought. His face had a completely blank look on it and was totally expressionless. Graham was about to say something, but then realized that Jamie was not on the bus with him, but instead had escaped to somewhere in his mind. Watching Jamie while the bus made its way along the street, Graham found himself speculating on how Jamie had come to be asking for spare change in order to eat. No matter how he looked at it, none of the likely answers were comforting. A few minutes later an automated voice announced their stop. Graham gently touched Jamie on the elbow, jerking him back to reality.
"Sorry for startling you," said Graham. "This is our stop. We need to get off here."
Jamie shook his head, focused on his surroundings, and obediently followed Graham to the rear exit of the bus and out onto the sidewalk when the bus came to a halt at the stop. Graham indicated with his hand the direction they needed to go and they started to walk.
Graham took the opportunity to look Jamie over, while trying to be discrete about it, as they walked along the street towards Graham's apartment. Jamie definitely needed a good wash. It was obvious that he had not cleaned up for quite a while. Even in the cold weather, Graham had rather quickly noticed an odour which lingered about Jamie. He could also see that Jamie's clothes were not in very good shape either. Of course they could be laundered. Graham would see to that while Jamie gave himself a good scrubbing in the shower. However, something told Graham that he was going to have to suggest all this very carefully. He was quite sure that Jamie might get the wrong idea if he did not phrase it just right.
Graham readily admitted to himself that he was not entirely sure what he was getting himself into. All he knew at this point was that he could not leave Jamie to fend for himself out in the cold. Graham had rather vague ideas of what boys on the street had to do in order to survive, but he was aware enough to realize that what he knew was probably only the tip of the iceberg. How closely his suspicions reflected reality was something that he did not want to think about right now, if he could possibly avoid it.
While they walked the couple of remaining blocks to the apartment Graham tried to engage Jamie in some conversation to learn more, "So how old are you?" he asked.
"Twelve," responded Jamie who was looking down at the sidewalk as they went along.
"Have you been ..." Graham was not exactly sure how to put it, "... on your own for very long?" he asked.
Jamie looked up and said, "Since early in the spring."
Nine maybe ten months on his own! How could a youngster survive for that long by himself, Graham wondered. How could that be? Perhaps something had happened to his parents and the Child Welfare people simply were unaware of the problem. That had to be the reason. Graham's mind was still not quite ready to fully embrace other much darker explanations.
"It must have been hard to lose your parents," Graham said after a pause.
"Lose?" asked Jamie uncomprehendingly. "What do you mean?"
Graham started to feel that he was moving onto shaky ground and attempted to regain his footing.
"I'm guessing that something bad must have happened to them and that's why you're on your own," suggested Graham.
"Nothing happened to them," said Jamie with anger. "Unfortunately," he then added quietly.
Graham realized that he had made a big mistake at that point. He obviously did not know the details, but there was clearly much more to this than he had initially guessed. He had no way of knowing what exactly had happened, but he knew it was important to try and mend the damage he had just caused.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I was just wondering if that might have been why you were on your own," Graham offered in explanation.
Continuing Graham added, "I'd like to help if I can. Perhaps if we talk about whatever it is that happened, then maybe there is something that I could do to help."
"I doubt it," replied Jamie bluntly. "No one is ever interested in really trying to fix things!"
Graham tried to restart the conversation onto a different track, "It must be difficult taking care of yourself all on your own."
"I get by," Jamie said.
"But what if you get sick or something?" asked Graham.
"Then I get sick," replied Jamie harshly, getting irritated with the questions.
Jamie began to realize that Graham had pretty dim ideas as to what his life was actually like. The bit about losing his parents was beyond hilarious, thought Jamie. If only he could lose them. That would solve a lot of his problems in one stroke. At least out here on the street Jamie had a choice in whom he was going to have deal with. A choice of sorts at least.
Fortunately the awkward situation resolved itself temporarily by their arrival at Graham's apartment. Graham's in-town home was a small apartment located in the basement of an older house on a quiet side street. It was not a palace by anyone's standards, but it was clean, warm, and dry. Jamie looked at the door to the apartment as Graham opened it and wondered if Graham's claim of a house on Valdez Island was just a story and this was his real home. It did not really matter of course. It would be warmer than outside and Jamie had been in many places far less appealing. It was enough for now.
Graham unlocked the door and he and Jamie went through it and into the apartment closing the door behind them. Graham took off his coat, hung it on a hanger inside a small closet next to the door, and then took off his shoes. Jamie, watching closely, followed suit immediately afterwards. He slipped off his backpack, but kept a tight hold on it. He put his coat in the closet next to Graham's and removed his shoes. Unfortunately, removing his shoes merely exposed his dirty socks to Graham's view. Jamie looked down to where Graham was staring and felt embarrassed.
"I'm sorry. I don't get to wash very often," Jamie said with his head hanging down in shame.
"It's my fault," Graham replied quickly, feeling bad that he had embarrassed Jamie. "I should have realized. How about you go on into the bathroom, shower, tidy up, and so on. While you're doing that, you can put your things outside the door and I can stick them into the washing machine for you. Then they'll be all nice and clean for you by the time you're done. I'll look around here for something you can put on while you're waiting for them to be finished. That way you won't get cold while you're waiting.
"Thanks, that'd be great," said Jamie unenthusiastically. He knew the routine, and today it looked like it was going to be work first and then something to eat afterwards. Nevertheless, Jamie was thankful for the chance to clean up. It did not happen too often, but some of the men he went with would let him wash and get cleaned up. 'First you need to wash the chicken before cooking and serving it,' one of them had said roaring with laughter thinking himself a great wit. That was also a time Jamie did not relish remembering. He had limped for a week afterwards.
"Once you get your things off, just slip them outside the door and I'll get busy washing them for you," said Graham, completely ignorant of the fact that he was unwittingly repeating almost word for word the same thing that others with baser motives had said to Jamie many times in the past.
Jamie disappeared into the bathroom still clutching his backpack firmly. He put it down on the floor next to him and emptied the contents of his pockets into it. Then he quickly took off what he was wearing. Shirt, pants, socks, and underwear, none of it was in good shape and most of it had holes in more than one place. Reaching into his backpack Jamie took out the couple of spare things he had in it and added them to the small pile of clothes on the floor. It was not much, but it was all that he had to call his own.
Despite this rather sad state of affairs, he was alive and Jamie knew that was an achievement given everything he had dealt with in his short life. He would never give up and he hoped that someday, somehow, things would get better. He was not sure when and he had no idea of how, but someday they would. If he had nothing else Jamie at least had hope. Admittedly, it was a faint hope most of the time, but there was a stubborn streak inside Jamie. A faint flickering flame that he would not let anyone extinguish no matter what he had to do in order to survive.
Jamie listened at the bathroom door and heard Graham moving about in the other room. He quietly cracked the door slightly to look and saw that Graham was putting things away in the little kitchen that was at the side of the main living area. Jamie quickly slipped his dirty clothes just outside the door and closed it again. He then opened the cupboard under the sink and stashed his backpack at the very back out of obvious sight.
The sounds of running water coming from the shower alerted Graham who spotted the neat little pile of clothes just outside the bathroom door. He picked up the clothes and took them through a side door into a utility room and dumped them into the washing machine. Graham turned the water setting to hot and poured in a double dose of laundry detergent. Given the state of Jamie's clothes, Graham figured they could use all the help they could get while being washed. Graham turned the dial around on the timer, pressed it in, and the machine roared to life.
Graham went back into the apartment's living area and looked about in his dresser and the clothes closet. Graham reasoned that Jamie might be able to use some of his things at least for a little while until the clothes, now in the washer, were dry and ready to wear again. He selected an old pair of sweat pants and a large T-shirt. Graham knew that his underwear would never fit Jamie, but that was not a vital problem at the moment, however, one of his pairs of socks would certainly do. He placed the clothes on the floor just outside the bathroom door where Jamie's dirty ones had sat only a few minutes earlier.
Eventually Graham heard the sounds of water ceasing in the shower and someone getting out. Graham waited a couple of minutes and then called out to Jamie.
"I've put some things just outside the door for you so you'll have something to wear until your clothes are ready," said Graham.
"OK, thanks," came a muffled reply from behind the bathroom door.
A few minutes later Graham heard the washing machine buzz a warning that its cycle was done. He went through the side door and opened up the washing machine to move the clothes into the dryer. While pulling the clothes out, Graham could see that despite the extra soap they still did not look very clean or fresh.
Inside the bathroom Jamie continued to be surprised with Graham. This was not how it usually worked out. He knew that usually he was expected to come out with a towel wrapped around his waist and then ... events would take their course. Jamie reminded himself, however, that he had not yet seen what Graham had planned for him. For all Jamie knew Graham was into something weird and when he opened the bathroom door he was going to get a big surprise. It might be diapers or something even stranger for all Jamie knew. Whatever the price was, he knew he had to pay up and Jamie never went back on his part of a deal, no matter what it was.
Once he had dried himself off with a big fluffy bath towel that he found in the bathroom, Jamie opened the door just a crack and looked out. Seeing no sign of Graham, Jamie looked down and saw the promised clothes. Sweat pants, a T-shirt, and socks - exactly as advertised. Jamie opened the door a little bit wider, quickly picked up the clothes, and then closed the door again. Jamie was becoming more and more baffled by Graham and what was happening, or more particularly by what was not happening.
Jamie could deal with a known situation, even when it was unpleasant, but the usual pattern was not unfolding and that did not make any sense to him. Jamie knew what was expected of him and he knew his part in it all, but it did not seem to be happening the usual way and he felt confused. Why would Graham provide him with clothes when Jamie knew very well that he would be expected to be out of them in only a few more minutes?
Despite being perplexed Jamie put on the clothes that Graham had left for him. They did not fit especially well, but they came reasonably close. Jamie realized of course it was because they were Graham's. Graham was not a tall man, he was on the shorter side actually, but he was naturally much heavier set compared to Jamie. Consequently, while the shirt fit Jamie, the sweat pants were rather loose on his thin frame. Jamie debated as to whether he should bother retying the pants and then decided that he would. Graham seemed to be laying out a role for Jamie to play and he figured it would be best to try and fit into whatever it was that was being planned for him in order to make Graham happy. The clothes would do, at least until Jamie was told to take them off again.
After putting the clothes on Jamie looked at himself in the mirror in the bathroom. The accumulated grime and dirt was gone and the transformation from his previous state was quite dramatic. In place of the grubby youngster that had entered the bathroom earlier, now stood a boy that would catch anyone's eye. In addition to physical appearance, there was an unfortunate secondary reason that would cause attention to be drawn to Jamie. Now that the dirt had been washed away, the bruises on his face and neck were much clearer and easier to see.
A couple of the bruises were fresh and dark, but others were clearly older and had turned colour and faded somewhat. While the bruises obviously marred his looks, there remained a certain indefinable quality about Jamie that could not be hidden by dirt or anything else.
Opening the cupboard under the sink again Jamie retrieved his backpack and gripped it tightly. Bracing himself, Jamie took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob. Jamie knew that it was time to pay for his lunch and the shower. Perhaps if things went well he hoped that he might be able to earn some dinner and a warm place to sleep for the night.
Jamie turned the doorknob and wondered what Graham would be like. He appeared to be a decent man, but it was hard to know sometimes. In his experience, Jamie had learnt that the most ordinary of men could transform radically once he was alone with them. Something in their minds would snap and in a matter of a few seconds they could turn into worse than a wild animal. He wondered if Graham would be one of those. Often the better they seemed to be at first, the worse it would turn out later. On the other hand, Jamie had also discovered that some of the toughest and roughest looking men could turn out to be surprisingly gentle. There was simply no way to know for certain, but Graham did not appear to harbour a hidden beast. Jamie pulled the door open and prepared to accept whatever was in store for him.