Homeless. The word was bitter in my head.
Alone. Scared. I shook my head, desperately trying to keep my thoughts in check.
Abandoned. I gasped quietly as I felt my cheeks turn damp. They were tears, I realized belatedly. Quelling my emotions, I felt a hard mask of forced indifference slide onto my face as I roughly scrubbed all evidences of crying from my face and tried to focus on some of the more pressing matters at hand, like where I would be sleeping.
It was November, the weather just beginning to turn cold. Though it was warm during the day, it was noticeably chilly during the later hours after the sunset. If I didn't find myself a roof over my head by the end of the month, I'd freeze and die. Not if you die from hunger, first, the voice in my head argued, just as my stomach growled. Fine, I conceded to the voice, maybe you're right, and dug into my pockets for the fifth time that day. I sighed, knowing the result would be no different from the first time I checked, but I still couldn't help but hope.
A fiver, three quarters, two nickels, and penny.
That's only $5.86, you idiot, my subconscious berated.
Pushing myself off the brick wall I'd been leaning against, I stuffed my meager savings back into my jeans pocket and looked around to fully absorb my surroundings.
After waking up in quiet alley in an unfamiliar side of town with nothing but the clothes on my back and a letter in the pocket of my sweatshirt, I had walked the streets for hours in a disoriented haze. I patted the front of my sweatshirt and felt the paper of the letter crinkle from the pressure. It was from my mother and hadn't said much, only that I would come to appreciate her actions one day and that if I couldn't learn to survive on my own, I didn't deserve to call myself her son. It had been a harsh call to the reality of my situation. I had no desire to read it again, but I couldn't bring myself to discard the note written in my mother's familiar hand into the nearest trash can just yet, either.
Looking around, I was grateful that I'd at least been left in a place that had quite a few restaurants. I quickly sobered, though, realizing that I'd barely be able to buy a meal before having nothing left in my pockets except the letter. Starting to stroll down the street, hoping to find some inspiration as to what I should do, I left the silent brick wall behind.
Walking around aimlessly had done nothing to help me figure out what to do, nor had it helped at all with the growing gnaw of hunger I felt at the pit of my stomach.
"Hey, you, watch where you're going!" snapped a passerby as I nearly ran into her. A young woman with a fashionably haircut and some sort of fancy leather purse, she looked well to do. Inwardly cursing my mother, I mumbled an apology and hurried off, the thoughts in my head still revolving around my mother.
Why had she just left me? I hadn't been a bad kid. I mean, yeah, at fifteen, I'd had some episodes of general teenage moodiness, but I didn't do drugs and I did do fairly well in school. I even completed my homework. Well, not all the time, but missing school work was by no means any justification for leaving a kid in an alley in a town far enough from home to discourage walking back.
My stomach growled, louder and more insistent than ever, effectively pushing any thoughts of my mother out of my head and shifting my focus to my new task at hand: getting enough money to buy a proper meal. With the day I was having, there was no way I was going to settle for some crappy half-rate sandwich. I deserved to treat myself to that much, but with the little change I had, the idea of a steak and potatoes dinner was just wishful thinking. Unless you get money, the ever present voice of reason in my mind slyly suggested.
Glancing around at all the pedestrians surrounding me, all were preoccupied in their own worlds. Surely picking a pocket couldn't be that difficult. Searching the crowd, I eventually settled on my mark: a lean man who looked to be in his early thirties about a hundred feet down the street and walking in my direction.
I slowed my walk, trying to resolve myself to what I was about to do. Commit, do it, then run like hell. Thanks, inner voice of reason, will do. I glanced at the man. Sixty feet. Fifty feet. My heart pounded painfully against my chest. Twenty feet. Ten. Now! My subconscious urged. Stumbling slightly, I straightened myself out. Just as the man was walking by, I extended my arm and snatched the wallet peeking out the top of his pockets.
Feeling its absence, the man turned and glared at me. Run. Run, you idiot! Move your feet now, my subconscious commanded. Trapped in the gaze of the man's angry stare, my feet felt glued to the street and refused my orders to turn and run. Yanking my eyes away, I abruptly turned and ran, trying to get back to the only place that was somewhat familiar to me, the brick wall.
In hindsight, that wasn't the smartest location, as it was relatively secluded from the bustle of pedestrians. Gasping, I leaned against the cool hardness of the bricks, only to hear a set of feet pounding right towards me. You imbecile! How did you not lose him? Why didn't you run faster? My mind screamed at me.
Straightening, I turned and found myself staring into the same set of eyes as before. Only this time, they had a steely glint and looked decidedly more angry.
"Uhh…" I remarked intelligently as the man shoved me against the wall.
"I believe you have something of mine," the man hissed. "I'd like it back"
"I can explain. Well, sort of."
"Please, do tell."
"Well…" I trailed off, not knowing how exactly to explain my situation.
"I was hungry." Lowering my head to stare at my feet, I held out the wallet. "Here," I sighed, "Sorry."
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw him raise his hand. I flinched, thinking he was going to hit me. Instead, I felt a strong set of fingers grip my chin, forcing me to look into the man's face. Staring reluctantly back into his eyes, I watched wearily as he searched my face. Perhaps sensing I was telling the truth, something in his sharp blue eyes softened slightly and he released my chin.
"Darren," he introduced himself. "I'm headed home, you eat with me tonight. C'mon, I'll explain some ground rules along the way if you are going to be joining me tonight."
Once again fixing me with his stern glare, I stared at my shoes and nodded in acquiescence the man, no, to Darren's demand. Afterall, he hadn't threatened to call the cops, and who was I to turn down a free meal?