Vanessa was excited to see Avery walking through the park. She leapt up from where she sat under a shady tree and ran across the large parcel of grass.
"Avery! Avery!" She called.
Her friend turned and squinted in the sun, shielding his eyes with his hand to make out who was calling to him.
"Hey," Vanessa said when she reached him. She was an attractive woman underneath the grind of her street life, although her brown hair was unkempt and greasy as it hung on her shoulders. "How's it going?"
"Vanessa," he smiled. "Hello."
"I haven't seen you in a while," she said. "I thought you moved on."
"From the shelter you mean?"
She nodded affirmatively.
"No, I'm still around," Avery smiled. "Now that the weather is better, I have a tent in the woods."
"A tent?" She said with surprise. "Really?"
"It beats the shelter when the weather is nice," he explained.
"That sounds great," she said, clearly envious.
Avery studied her for a few moments. "Would you like to stay with me for a while?" He offered.
"How big is the tent?" She wondered.
"Big enough," Avery replied.
"Would this be on the up and up?" Vanessa asked with concern. "No expectations? No demands?"
"As long as you keep the location secret," Avery replied. "I don't want half the shelter showing up."
"I wouldn't tell anybody," she assured him. "If you'd have me."
"Let's get your stuff from the shelter," Avery suggested.
"Okay," Vanessa said with excitement.
Street folks were always looking for a better deal and it was easy for Vanessa to accept Avery's offer. They met a few months earlier at the shelter. Because they were close to the same age and had similar personalities, it was natural to hang out and shoot the shit together while killing time.
Vanessa seemed like a nice enough person – she hadn't been accused of stealing or drugging while at the shelter and that was half the battle. Of course, one could never truly trust anybody when it came to shelter life and surviving on the streets but Avery was willing to give Vanessa the benefit of the doubt and having her company in the woods would be a welcomed change of pace.
Vanessa walked at a brisk pace as she chatted with Avery about the past few weeks since last seeing him. He could see that she kept her hygiene acceptable and her clothes presentable.
The Greenville Shelter run by a local non-profit health services agency was located in a former hotel on one of the side streets off of Main Street. It housed up to forty eight people but in the summer 'residents' weren't allowed inside the shelter between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
"I'm here to get my stuff," Vanessa told Sam who was manning the front counter when they entered the lobby.
He was a big burly guy with long hair in a ponytail and thick lumberjack beard. Nobody messed with him. "You're out of here?" Sam asked.
"For now," Vanessa said.
Sam opened a file drawer and fished out the form Vanessa filled out when she arrived. "Sign yourself out," he said. "Remember, beds are on a first availability basis if you do come back."
"Thanks," Vanessa said, signing the form before trotting up the stairs to the room she shared with three other women.
Sam gave Avery an interested look. "You doing okay?"
"I'm hanging in there," Avery replied.
"Temp Stuff right now," Avery answered sheepishly.
"She going with you?"
"For now," Avery replied.
"Watch her back," Sam requested.
Avery nodded with understanding just as Vanessa bounced down the stairs with a large duffle bag swung over her shoulders. "Thanks for everything, Sam," she said cheerfully. "Say 'bye to everybody for me."
"Be careful out there," Sam said with authority.
Vanessa nodded as she and Avery walked out the front door. They strolled to the end of the street, crossed Main Street, walked behind the small strip mall that housed a convenience store, a Chinese restaurant, and a tee shirt store to the woods behind it. They walked down a trail, crossed the train tracks and another street and then into some thicker woods that led to the Blue River.
Avery led Vanessa off the main trail into a thicket of brush and pine trees that opened into a small concave that housed Avery's green tent nicely hidden in the camouflage of the woods.
"Wow," an impressed Vanessa remarked. "It's like being in a snow globe."
"Yeah, it's pretty well masked," Avery said proudly. "Nobody can see this little hideaway."
There was a small campfire pit made of stones. Avery opened the flap of the fair-sized tent and Vanessa stuck her head inside. There were a couple of air mattresses, some bed rolls, and two sleeping bags. Cases of water bottles were stacked in the corner along with some junk food – chips, cookies, crackers, and granola bars.
"I'm not your first guest," Vanessa detected.
"The other person moved on a while ago," Avery said. "The Blue River is not far from here, but there's also a small pool in the creek nobody knows about just over the next embankment. The bathroom is the woods unless you want to walk to the gas station down the street a ways.
"I guess we're roughing it," Vanessa said as she backed out of the tent and took a seat on a log that was close to the fire pit.
Avery sat next to her. "None of this is new to you," he remarked.
"I've been living this life since I was a teenager," she confirmed.
"Refresh my memory," Avery requested.
"My father died, there wasn't any life insurance, my mother lost the house and we bounced around after that, moving from place to place - friends' houses, camp grounds, wherever." She sighed. "I thought things would eventually get back to normal but they never did."
"They still might," Avery said optimistically.
"Now I'm on my own on this strange journey, still struggling trying not to succumb to self-loathing and being defeated by the stigma of being a hobo and a failure."
"You're not a failure," Avery told her.
"Haven't you ever given up hope?" She challenged.
"Sure," Avery admitted. "But I've never considered homelessness as a personality disorder. It's a housing status."
"When you live like this with no guarantees, you're constantly dealing with a fight or flight mentality," Vanessa said. "It's a different level of stress necessary for survival."
"You don't have to flee from here," Avery assured her.
"I take nothing for granted," she said seriously. "Food. Bathing. Peace. Privacy. No wonder I'm frustrated and depressed most of the time. Being looked down on, stigmatized, ignored, insulted – it gets to you after a while. It's as if we don't exist."
"I stopped worrying about what other people think a long time ago," Avery said.
"Even during these dark and miserable times struggling every day to find hope?" She wanted to know. "All the stresses of never knowing when and what we're going to eat next or where we're going to sleep every night?"
"Got me a tent right here," Avery said proudly.
"I just want a safe and secure serene life," Vanessa sighed.
"Look, right now you and I are brother and sister of the streets," Avery told her. "You're safe here."
She glanced at him and forced a smile.
A/N: I saw 'Hobosexuals' on some foolish social media meme and figured there had to be a story in the title.