Summary: His mother is at the psych ward, he can't shower and he has locked his keys in. And to make the whole thing even worse, the landlord refuses to open up the door, since he is supposed to be staying at a group home. Yeah, things could've gone better. But he tells himself that he's quite content on the streets, and he is. At least until some events lead up to the moment where he accepts the offer to go and take occasional showers at his art teacher's house.
Rating: M, because of language, under-age drinking, drug use and teenagers having a little more sex than they should. On or off-screen.
A/N: Well, this is the product of an angry plot bunny that wouldn't leave me alone. It's also part of why I haven't been updating Dehydration as I should. But, this'll be my main focus now –mostly because I can see the end of it – and I hope you'll enjoy Cole and his escapades for some time now~
Stray Cats Don't Sneak Showers
or Cole Jensen's Survival Guide to Temporarily Homeless Street Kids
Chapter 1: Cole vs. the Landlord. And Life in general.
There are three things that I hate waking up to more than anything in the world. I hate waking up as it is – doesn't everyone – but the things on this little list make it a hell of a lot worse.
1) For you to guess the first one is easy. 'Cause I think the whole world would agree with me if I were to say it's the most annoying sound in the world. And I bet almost everyone on the Northern Hemisphere has sometime woken up to this awful sound.
And you guessed right: it's the sound of an alarm clock.
During the almost seventeen years I've spent on earth, I'm pretty certain I've accidentally broken at least two of them by just knocking them onto the floor while groping for the snooze-button. But then we're not including the ones that I've broken on purpose.
2) The second thing on the list is drilling. Any kind of drilling, really, but especially when the bastard who drills lives in the adjacent flat, and your bed is pressed up against the wall. Seriously, the people who get up – or haven't gone to sleep yet – at four o'clock in the fucking morning and think they should get some drilling done – they have a screw loose.
You all see what I did there, didn't you? My puns are awful, so get used to it, 'cause I love to make them. Blame Ma, she's the one how plagued me with them throughout my whole childhood, together with Pho food and sped-up punk-rock songs. She loves to play her LP's meant for 33 on 54 instead.
Yeah, puns, Pho food, sped-up Green Day songs and a mostly normal – but sometimes manic – Ma was the quintessential of my childhood.
In any case though, drilling is a lot worse than the alarm clock. First of all there are the vibrations, but there's also the fact that you can't make it stop with your bare hands. Unless you stomp over next door and strangle the motherfucker, so to say. And even you have to agree with me when I say that it's a bit on the drastic side, right?
Anyway, back to my list.
3) The third thing on the list is not a sound. To be honest, every sound that is considered a noise can fit on that list, but the third thing – the thing I hate waking up to the most – is actually a smell. And not just any smell.
I hate – with emphasis on hate – to wake up by my own body odor.
If it wakes you up… well, it's not 'til then you really understand how fucking bad you need a shower.
I love showers more than anything in the world. Nothing can beat the feeling of warm water running down your back, the soap-scented steam filling the bathroom, the feeling of being clean… I love it. But even if I were to hate showers, I would still want to get one if I smelled as bad as I am for the moment...
Let's just say that I stink like no other.
And that's 'cause I've been living in the same old t-shirt and red flannel shirt for almost two weeks, since it has been that long since I accidentally locked my keys in at my and Ma's apartment.
There you have another thing I hate, by the way; doors that automatically lock themselves when you close them. 'Cause you can't make a single mistake with those motherfuckers. If you forget your keys, your keys are gone forever if no one has a copy of them. The devil's roar I let out when I realized what had happened probably woke the whole fucking neighborhood up.
Back to my keys. I locked them in by accident, and don't tell me to go see the landlord, because I have already done that, you see. And that son of a bitch won't open up the apartment, since he somehow pretends not to know that I also live in our apartment.
Apparently it has something to do with the fact that Ma didn't write my name on some damn paper when we moved in. So, as the sneaky, greedy bastard he is, he's has already rented out our flat to some Mexican family whom he'll throw out when Ma gets back. It doesn't matter that she's paid for four months' rent in advance.
To make a long story short, when I asked him to open up the door, he just told me to go sleep at my group home or at the shelter instead.
Cole – The Landlord: 0-1
Since then, that fucker and I are at war.
'Cause you see, I refuse to go to the group home, since I fucking hate being there. Why you ask? Well, first of all it makes me feel like a second class citizen. Especially if I stay at the home I'm supposed to be staying at, since most kids live there because they're retarded. No offense.
Second of all is that it's overcrowded – there are literally kids everywhere. Some of them even sleep right on the carpet in the hallway. Plus it's dirty and the people in charge don't have any control over anything at all.
I really don't know why Ma made it so could stay in the group home whenever she gets bad, 'cause I'm perfectly fine in the head. Maybe since she thought that she never would get a down again, but still wanted a back-up plan?
I don't know if she has signed a contract or anything though, because I can just walk out of there and no one ever tries to get the hang of me. Maybe they're just glad to get rid of me? I don't care. I know they only want the contribution or something.
Now you'll probably ask me why I haven't gone to the shelter instead then. Well, I don't even want to get started on explaining that to you. Been there once; never going back. I almost got killed when I stepped through the door. Plus I get to keep my money for myself.
You thought I'm broke just 'cause she gone? Well, she's not that bad as a mother, you know. You see, ever since the first time she got sick, Ma and I've had this system. Before she takes in, she takes money from her abandoned college fund and divides it equal into some envelopes – every sum big enough to buy some food for a month, even though I have to cut it close every time. So once a month I go to the open psych ward, take out my ID-card and say "Hi, I'm Cole Jensen and my mother has stocked an envelope for me amongst her belongings." And the nurses can't say no to that.
That way I can survive without her. See? I don't need no group home; I would've been perfectly fine living alone in our apartment. Despite me having no fucking clue when the hell Ma will be back.
Fuck Manic-Depressive disorder and super expensive medicines. It fucks up our lives.
Ever since I locked my keys in, I've been sleeping in various nooks and crannies of the apartment building, just to fuck with the landlord. He gets furious whenever he finds a trace of a hobo sleeping on the staircase, so I always leave my space as dirty as I can. And he'll never catch me.
You'd think that I have trouble finding places to sleep. I mean, most people don't know how many places you can sleep in when in an apartment building. But I do, so right now, I'm sleeping in the recess under the basement stairs.
Like always when I wake up, I hastily scramble my things together and stuff it all into my black messenger bag. It's not that big, but it's big enough to fit my jacket, a warm hoodie, my wallet, a water bottle, toothbrush, my bottles of spray-paint, the color pencils, paintbrushes and an extra shirt. If I were to have one shirt to spare, so to say. Now I don't – it's the only thing missing, except a deodorant – so I can still manage to put my books into the bag when I'm at school.
I started to carry my bag around the second time Ma took in at the psych ward. The first time she got bad, I stayed at the group home the whole time, but since I hated every minute of it, I decided that I would take care of myself if it happened again. And since Ma gets a down on approximately a four month basis, I knew that she would. So I stuffed my bag with basic survival things and started to carry it around everywhere.
That was three years ago. Since then I haven't left the house without it. Now I'm damn grateful for that. Without my bag I would've been screwed for real by now. You don't realize how much you're relying on basic things like toothpaste until it's gone. It's not until then you feel like you need it.
When I've packed all my things, I get up from my sleeping spot and make sure that there are no traced of me sleeping here left. I brush out the sand and but some old boxes in the way. When I'm done I take a quick look at my work.
Perfect. He won't be able to tell that his worst nightmare is coming true; right under his nose.
Cole – The Landlord: 1-1. Oh yeah.
I walk up and down the grey streets for a bit, while trying to find a surface that I can catch my reflection on. Some days I actually manage to get right up and look like I live like a normal person, but most days I look like the hobo I really am. Today, I manage to find a particularly shiny car to catch my reflection on, but since the dangerous looking guy inside it gives me a nasty glare when I slow down to take a look at myself, I kinda just walk right past it.
I try the shopping windows as well, but since today's all overcast and it looks like it's going to rain any time soon, I give up and just assume that I look like shit.
My next stop is the subway station, where I jostle with the businessmen to get to my favorite toilet, aka the one which always has a relatively clean and non-broken mirror. Once there, I lock myself in and wash my face off while trying to make myself look decent enough to go to school. I wet my hair under the tap to get rid of the worst dirt – black hair doesn't cover everything, you know – and then I dry it off under the hand drier.
You know, hand driers are my saviors. You can dry your hair under it; you can dry your clothes after being out in the rain… as long as no one catches you, 'course.
I bet you wonder why I even care about looking decent at all. Well, that's 'cause it'd be a nightmare if anyone were to find out that I'm practically homeless for the moment. Dylan and Greg – my best friends – and Edith already know, but if the teachers were to find out, it would cause a fuss without equal. I would be forced into foster care – or maybe even juvie – and Ma would lose custody of me.
And neither she nor I want that.
As usual, I take a piss when my face is considered done and then I brush my teeth by applying some toothpaste on my finger. Funny thing is that I first packed the toothpaste in case I wouldn't have any food. Apparently you can survive up 'til three days on toothpaste only.
I rinse my mouth out and then I leave the kind of funny smelling toilet. Or maybe I'm the one who smells funny? I sniff the armpits of my flannel shirt and cringe. Mother of God. Yes, I'm most definitely that one who smells funny. I know that I stink, but I'd no idea that I actually do reek.
Even though the sky's overcast, it's not as cold as I thought it would be. But April's been mild up until now, so I'll just cross my fingers that it won't get cold again for a while. At least not until Ma comes back. Which, according to the agenda, should be in about two or three months.
You should know that I'm not new to this life. Ma has been sick on and off for since Dad died, so it's not like I'm really worried or anything. She'll be back; she always comes back. Ma would never leave me totally on my own, and if she didn't care about me, she wouldn't even be at the psych ward now. She's just there because I want here to take in there whenever she feels down.
'Cause if she doesn't do that, then things becomes really, really difficult for the both of us. And if it's something that she wants, it's to make life as easy for me as she can. That's how I also know that she'll always be back in the end.
I walk around for a bit to kill some time before school, but when it's half past seven, I walk down the few blocks to the alley behind this little café named Elsie's. I go here every morning 'cause this is where I get my breakfast. Breakfast, by the way, is the only meal I know for certain I'll never be without – at least not on workdays. All thanks to Edith.
When I round the containers, Edith's black mane is the first thing I see. As always, a cigarette is hanging loosely from her red painted bottom lip and she looks utterly bored as she suddenly drops it to the ground and crushes it with her Converse-clad foot.
"Hey, Edith!" I shout as I jog up to her. She looks up at the sound of her name and even if she doesn't smile, I know that she's quite happy to see me. "Got my sandwich?"
"Good morning, Jensen" she mutters tiredly as she scrambles around in her handbag. "Here you go."
She hands me my daily sandwich and I plop down beside her on the little staircase, then starts unwrapping the little piece of art.
It's a shame that she hates all kinds of sandwiches, but I guess that will only make her that much better good cold-buffet manageress. I mean, since she won't take a bite of anything. She's really good at creating beautiful sandwiches, but her family isn't rich enough to let all of their five children go to college, so Edith's stuck here. As a dishwasher at Elsie's.
I've never heard her complain about her life, though.
"Cole?" she asks casually after a while and one cigarette later. Yeah, she smokes a lot.
"What?" I ask with my mouth full of bread and other delicious things.
She scratches her eyebrow before she adjusts what I assume is her dad's Rolling Stones t-shirt. "You know that you stink, right? Real bad even?"
I only deadpan her, which only causes her to giggle. So I whack her in the back of her head, only 'cause I know for sure that it'll make her shut up.
The first time I met Edith was a year ago when I was running from a bunch of really angry kids. 'Cause once when I was exceptionally late, I had stolen this kid's skateboard – which I returned to the same spot where I took it, mind you – but he had still gathered a couple of friends and they were chasing me down the street to beat me into a pulp.
Actually, they haven't caught me yet. So maybe I should be more careful around in this neighborhood. I don't know. Hopefully they've forgotten about it by now.
Anyway, since they had chased me so far that I didn't recognize myself any longer; I decided to hide in one of the containers in the nearest alley. But to my disappointment they were all filled to the brim with garbage, so I couldn't get in. Good thing was that Edith was sitting on the stairs, smoking, since she was on her break. She literally saved my life when she let me stay in the hallway leading to the kitchen while the kids searched the alley for me.
While I was hiding, we started talking for some reason. She commented about how skinny I was – even though she herself is a bag of bones – and I don't why, but I told her I have trouble getting food sometimes, aka when Ma's sick. Then she told me that she loved making sandwiches, but hated eating them. And we came to an agreement.
The rest is history.
"Man, this is really good" I tell her as I munch on the artwork. "What is it?"
"Turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato… cucumber and mayonnaise" she says thoughtfully while trying to light her third cigarette without burning herself on her whimsical lighter. "Is it better or worse than the other one?"
"The one with ham, cream cheese, paprika, sprouts, cucumber and tomato" she tells me and folds her impossibly long and bony legs so she's sitting cross-legged on the top step.
I lick some mayonnaise from my fingertips as I'm trying to remember which one she's talking about. I've had a lot of sandwiches over the year, but when I've thought for a while, I suddenly realize she's talking about the one she gave me about two days ago.
I shake my head. "This one's really good, but the other one was even better" I tell her and she shrugs.
"Thought you'd say that, Jensen. You're a ham-person. Just like most cats."
I snort as I press the last bits of the sandwich into my mouth and brush the last breadcrumbs of my jeans. "I definitely am, milady. Thanks for the breakfast, but gotta go. School's about to start. And since I stink like a garbage dump, I fucking need a shower." I say as I fold the plastic foil into a ball while walking backwards.
"Wait! You're going to shower? Give me your shirt!" she says, just before I turn around to walk away.
"We'll switch them. If you're going to take a shower, at least put on a clean shirt afterwards. Otherwise you'll still stink" she says, as she hurriedly pulls her two sizes too big t-shirt over her head. She's only wearing a black laced bra underneath and her ribs are showing off. "Come on, give me yours."
"Yes, Mom" I say mockingly, but she ignores me.
I take off my flannel shirt and my t-shirt, before I put her Rolling Stones t-shirt on. It's even bigger than my old one, but it doesn't smell and the black cotton fabric is smooth against my skin. Edith gives me thumbs up, while she proceeds to pull my grey t-shirt on. It's only one size too big and looks good on her.
To be honest, almost anything looks good on Edith. But that's only 'cause she's just as fucking skinny as I am. She's like… three or four years older than me – I haven't asked – but she still has the body of a prepubescent girl. Only that she's much, much taller. I'd guess she's about my height, and I'm anything but short.
"Goodbye, Cole, see you!" she shouts as I'm already about to round the corner.
The first thing I do when I get to school is to go the doors to the locker rooms are open. They usually are, but every now and then they're still locked because the basketball team doesn't have practice that morning. So every time I come to school early, I'm worried that they might've locked them anyway.
But they never are. I really shouldn't be so worried; it's not good on your health.
Once inside the locker room, I lock the doors from the inside before sauntering over to my locker. I pull out my towel and a bottle of shampoo I've had for ages, and then walk over to the showers and turn one of them on. Throw my clothes and towel over a nearby bench, and then step underneath the hot spray of water.
And sweet Jesus, does it feels good! Don't look at me like that. Do you know how fucking good it feels when the warm water is running down your back; how it warms up your whole body from the inside? How it rinses four days of dirt from your hair and skin? No? Then you better shut up, 'cause that's the best feeling in the world.
Since I'm so damn pale, my skin immediately turns red and starts to itch like mad when the hot water sprays over me, but it's definitely worth it. Being clean is worth every fucking minute of the slight pain.
Now you'll probably wonder why I don't shower every day if I love it so much then. And the thing is that it's only on Tuesdays and Fridays that the basketball team doesn't have morning practice. If they were to find me in their locker room, they'd kill me for sure.
So, since I don't want to be caught, I shower as quickly as I can, but I take the opportunity and hastily wash my flannel shirt with soap to get rid of the stench. I then dry my hair, shirt and towel under the hand drier in the adjacent toilet before pushing everything but my clothes and bag into my locker again. Don't pack more than you need.
On the way out I catch a glimpse of myself in a glass door. I actually look as good as new. It's amazing what a shower can do to you.
Thereafter I seek out the art room to kill some time before my first class, like I always do. 'Cause you know, art is the only class where I might get something that's better than a B –, since I like to draw, and I like to paint. To be honest I love literally everything that has to do with colors and stuff.
And for being in my situation – meaning homeless – I like to think that I've got relatively good grades. I do my homework and always attend all my classes. I don't know why, but I think it is 'cause I put some kind of value in not being a part of a stereotype, you know? I've got the brains – Ma has 'em too, even if they don't shine through when she's manic – and I don't want to waste them. 'Cause I want to go to college sometime, since Ma didn't.
I love her, but I really don't want to end up like her.
I turn on the back half of the classroom lights and proceed to take out the slightly wavy paper with my half-finished watercolor painting. For now it's just this simple painting of the subway station during rush hour, but I'm going to paint it in off-color later, using a lot of bright colors, like green, blue and yellow.
I've been painting for less than ten minutes when the other half of the classroom lights suddenly goes on. I jump in my seat, almost ripping the paper in two as I hurriedly begin to clean up my space in case it's Ms. Wilkins who's coming. She's your typical strict lady and she's certain that I'm a delinquent, even though I always attend her lessons and try to behave.
But I hate World History, so you can't really say that I pay that much attention.
I don't have to worry though, 'cause it's only Mr. Reeves, the other art teacher. I recognize him immediately thanks to his tall frame and the mop of unruly, dark blonde hair. I like him, 'cause he always helps me out with my pictures by teaching me how to use other techniques and stuff.
Just like an art teacher should.
He's also the one who told me that the art room is open for everyone, as long as the school's open. But not all students know that, so that's why they manage to avoid sabotage.
He saunters in with his briefcase in hand, and it almost looks like he gets a heart attack when he sees me down in the far corner. If you've ever surprised someone on purpose, then you know exactly what it looks like. His whole body jerks and his hand goes up to his heart.
"Oh, God… Cole, you really scared me…" he smiles when he has caught his breath again. I just nod and return to my painting. The background is almost done.
He puts his briefcase down on the desk and then stares out the window for a while before he opens a folder and starts going through some students' paintings. I know, 'cause I watch him in the corner of my eye.
Somehow, Mr. Reeves always makes me feel a bit worried. It's something about the way he looks at me that makes me think that he knows that I sleep under stairs and don't have a home in general. But since I'm chased by neither the counselor nor the child-services, I understand that he hasn't said anything about his suspicions. I'm always very careful around him though; much more careful than I am with my other teachers.
"Still working on that subway-painting?" he asks curiously after some time, but he leaves me alone when I just nod in response.
After a couple of minutes – and about ten minutes before my first class starts – I'm done with the background, so I clean up my space and put the painting back on its shelf to dry. To prevent it from getting all too wavy, I fasten the corners on a writing tablet with four paperclips.
But just as I'm passing the corner, Mr. Reeves calls my name. I stick my head back and he looks at me from his place behind the desk.
"Cole, have you ever thought about joining the art club? I mean, you're really good –everything I've seen you do is brilliant, so it would be fun if you wanted to join. It'd be good on your grades too…" he says hesitantly, as if he's been meaning to ask me for a long time.
He has barely finished the sentence before I shake my head. "Thanks, but no."
"Why? You could make so much progress."
You guys should know that I want to: it seems like real fun, but it's too dangerous. And people would probably drop dead when I have a bad day and smells like no other.
"I just don't want to."
And with those words, I up and leave.
My first hour is English and while we're waiting for our teacher, Ms. Atherton, Dylan and I decide to play a bit of tic-tac-to. Even though we both know that I'll win before we even start.
Greg, who takes school and English very seriously, has taken a seat in the front instead of sitting in the back and goofing around with us. For the moment he is idly writing something in his notebook. He's careful to take notes, and he always lends them to us if we need it.
I'll do okay if I don't listen, but Dylan would've failed a long time ago if it weren't for Greg.
I would like to say that I consider Dylan my best friend. We've been hanging around each other since middle school, we've always helped each other out and he was the first person I told that I'm gay – my mother was the second, Greg the third– plus, he knows everything about my situation with Ma.
And yes, there is a reason I'm not living with him. Stop making assumptions all the time.
Dylan is a real foster kid, and his foster home is almost as crowded as my group home. He has tried to run away and live on street like I do, but his foster parents caught him the one and only time he tried. Not just because of reasons, but 'cause they care about him. Plus, he kind of likes knowing that he has a roof over his head and a bed to sleep on.
His dark brows furrow when he looks down at the paper and tries to save himself from an inevitable loss. I've got to say that he's kind of good-looking with that dark hair and slightly darker complexion of his – he once said that he's quite certain that one of his biological parents were Mexican. But before you ask me if I'm the stereotypical gay guy from all those lame stories – that means having a crush on your best friend –I have to tell you that he's too much of a douchebag for me to ever consider loving him on anything other than a platonic level.
"Lena and I thought about just hanging around at her house today. Are you coming, or are you going to sit behind that diner and do your homework?" he says as he randomly puts a cross in one of the squares.
Lena is the Swedish exchange student he has as his girlfriend. And those two are seriously having sex like there's no tomorrow; I've no idea how many times I've accidently walked in on them. The most awkward thing with that is that they won't stop even when you're in the room. Sometimes they go at it even though we're in the middle of a conversation.
Of course it's not like I'm surprised or anything; Dylan's always been an exhibitionist and since Lena seems to be one too, they fit each other. They've even asked me to you know, watch them and stuff. I haven't answered yet, 'cause I've already done it involuntarily so many times already. But I don't think that they count that.
I put a circle in another square and shrug. "I'll join."
He erases a cross from one square and then put it in another; totally oblivious to the fact that he just screwed himself.
Bad thing is that I don't have the time to show off my skills, 'cause just as I'm about to put a circle in the winning square, Ms. Atherton decides to come in and start the lesson.
I listen with half an ear at her while I lazily sketch some trees in my notebook. My study mood wasn't even here to begin with, and I can always ask Greg what the lesson was about anyway. But about halfway into the lesson, Ms. Atherton cast me this really unnerving glance – like she knows something's up – and I directly look down in my book. When I look up three seconds later though, she's already back to teaching and I curse Mr. Reeves for making me all skittish.
But then again, I would've assumed that she knew something even if I hadn't talked to him this morning.
See, kids? Living on the streets is not good.
It'll always make you go all paranoid.
A/N: ... and that's the first chapter! If you're having trouble composing a review, just copy this little text below, fill in the blank space and sign with your name! (Thanks, the milk bottle, for the idea)
Why would you start with a new story? Now you're going to lose focus, and get nothing done, you little procrastinator. This thing… well I don't know what to say…It was (…), I guess. And I do hope that you've read it through for typos.