Been sitting on this story for about two years. Finally finished chapter 1. It started hitting too close to home, but here we all are. Not updating other shit as usual. OH WELL. Hope you guys enjoy and review!
It was another cold ass fucking day in the city. The sky was the type of blisteringly bright grey that you could hardly look at. The sun was nowhere to be found, but the streets and buildings had a post-rain gleam that made everything look surreal. Despite the frigid temperatures and the air of gloom, Isaiah Washington found that he loved days like this.
The rain had come and cleansed the filth from the air, and he finally felt as if what he was breathing was, in fact, air. He could see his breath, but that at least made it so he could wrap himself in his favorite burgundy scarf and don his deep charcoal trench coat. Autumn was a cherished season for him. Winter was far too cold and it made walking to and from work a hell he'd rather not endure, but he felt alive in the Fall and he was sure that he looked insanely suave in his scarves and trench coats.
He tore one gloved hand from his pocket and with his other, he pushed back the sleeve of his coat to look at the gold watch wrapped around his chocolatey wrist. He still had about twenty minutes before his lunch break was over, so he had just enough time to cut through the park before he headed back to the office. After being locked behind a desk in a concrete and glass building all day, a little stroll through the park usually helped him to relax before getting back into the daily grind. To the park it was.
He hooked a sharp left turn, just barely catching the end of the crosswalk timer. He jogged briskly across the wet street, but decided that he wanted to keep up his pace and take the edge off the cold seeping through his coat.
His breath came in white puffs and he grinned to himself as he imagined what he must look like jogging down the street in dress shoes and a trench coat.
The smile on his face grew steadily as his jogging gained a little momentum and the edge of the park came into view. He was a bit of a fitness junkie, but since he'd gotten his new job last year, he had been exercising less and less. He made a promise to himself that he'd at least start going out for more jogs.
He entered the park and the wide expanse of soft greens buried between the hard greys of the sky and city were more than refreshing. It was like coming home.
Isaiah's father was a military man and they had moved around far too often for his liking, but he found that no matter where he landed, nature was always a safe haven for him. Growing up, he would always find the nearest park or forest and explore and introduce himself with his environment before even unpacking. He realized that despite whatever city or town or even country that he found himself in, one thing that held constant was nature. There was always that one place he could feel comfortable and free in no matter where he moved to. He'd uncovered the gem that was Weston Park on the first day he moved to the city. He was getting a feel for the walk from his apartment to his new job and had gotten so enraptured by the enormous park that it had gotten dark before he ended up just going back home and trying again the next day.
A small smirk twitched to life on his lips as he neared the edge of the fountain where he had spent most of his first day in the city.
A familiar head rose just above the back of a bench seated before the fountain.
Isaiah made his way to the bench after checking his watch once more.
"My man!" he said in his usual greeting to the slightly shivering young man huddled on the bench. The man clutched the crumpled cardboard sign in his lap as if it were a shield. His tired eyes rose to meet Isaiah's for a millisecond before they returned to looking at the ground.
"My man. Izzy. Hey. Hi, Izzy," the man said with a fleeting smile. The heavy lines on his face slid back into place as his rushed speech fell from his lips.
Isaiah reached inside his inner coat pocket and pulled out the other half of his sandwich from his lunch break.
"Lunchtime, man. You eat today?," he asked as he took a seat on the other end of the bench. He never sat too close.
The man mumbled something and continued his steady shivering.
"Dez? Desmond? Did you eat today?" Isaiah repeated while holding out the sandwich.
"Yes. Ate a little. Ate dinner. Dinner last night. Not today," Desmond said before reaching out for the sandwich without looking. He opened it and took a bite before wrapping it back up and putting it in his pocket. He grinned and his pale skin and lips looked dry against the cold. Isaiah furrowed his brow and then reached into his coat pocket once more.
"Hey man, use this," he said. He held out a tube of lip balm to the man.
Desmond looked at it, then with his eyes on the ground, he reached blindly for it. He took off the cap and rubbed it over his lips and closed it before handing it back to Isaiah.
"Nah, keep it. It's yours. Make sure you use that so your lips don't crack when you smile. You know how much smiling you do. It could get dangerous," Isaiah said.
The lip balm quickly vanished somewhere inside Desmond's stained clothing and a small smile came to his lips at the joke. It, too, vanished quickly.
"Th-tha...tha-thank you. Thank you," Desmond said.
Isaiah looked at the young man and his heart broke yet again. He had met him on his first day in Weston Park and had given him a few dollars. He had sat down on the bench with him and tried to talk to him, but Desmond was having none of it. He had looked a bit better back then. Now, Isaiah saw how the last year had shriveled the man. He was dirtier and his facial hair was more unruly. Those greenish-grey eyes were cloudy and pale skin was haggard. His hair was ratty and greasy and he looked as if he had aged more than one year should have allowed. Isaiah visited the park often and in that time he quickly grew to know Desmond. It took him a week just to get his name, but he always came to make sure the man was still there. He felt guilty going home alone to such a large apartment every night while Desmond and others like him didn't even know where they were going to sleep on a day to day basis.
Normally he would just donate something and be on his way, but every time he saw Desmond, he felt such a sense of aloneness from the other man. Even other homeless people tended to stay away from him as if he repelled any human contact at all. Isaiah wondered when the last time Desmond had even had a conversation with anyone other than Isaiah himself. Desmond was not a talker by any stretch of the imagination.
Somedays Isaiah would just sit and watch as the sea of people shuffled through the park while completely avoiding Desmond. His cardboard sign was the only thing that seemed to connect him to the other human beings walking around him, and they would sometimes notice the "Homeless Please Help" sign and they would sometimes actually look at him and they would sometimes give him food or loose change. Maybe even a few dollars. Sometimes they would say things like "God bless you" or "Have a blessed day" and Desmond would nod. Avoid eye contact. Stutter out a thank you-Isaiah had noticed that the man struggled with the "th" sound- and carry on.
Every time he went to the park and didn't see Desmond, his stomach would sink. What if something bad had happened to the man? Why hadn't he done more to help? What was the point of gaining wealth and doing well for one's self if he did nothing to improve the lives of others? Why was Desmond so damn alone?
Isaiah was snapped out of his recollection and his eyes landed on the man slightly rocking back and forth. Desmond's right shoulder gave a violent jerk toward his ear and he grunted.
"Yeah, what's up, man?" he said.
Desmond put his hand between his shoulder and ear before the spasm subsided and he pointed to the large clock tower on the other side of the park, barely visible over the hedges. "You're gonna be late. Again."
Isaiah's eyes widened as he turned to the clock tower. "Fuck!"
"Fuck!" Desmond parroted with a small smile. "Run, Izzy, run!"
"Shut the fuck up!" Isaiah said as he got to his feet and indeed started running back to work.
Isaiah lifted a hand in parting at Desmond as he sped off. This happened almost every time he stopped in the park before work or during his lunch break. He needed to start setting a timer. Hopefully his bosses were still out on their own lunch break and wouldn't notice his absence. At least he did good work.
Isaiah woke the next morning feeling like he wanted to do nothing more than to shower and go right back to sleep. Unfortunately, it was Friday and he had to go to work one last time before the weekend began, so he was only able to do the first half of his wish list.
After his shower, he began dressing and caught a glimpse of the calendar that hung beside his door. Shit. He couldn't believe that it had already been a year since he'd moved to Weston. He had accomplished so very little that it frightened him. He had only met about five actual friends since starting his new life and two of them were his coworkers and two of them were his coworkers' spouses. His weekends were often filled with daydreaming about all the awesome things he could have been doing if he'd had closer friends or, heaven forbid, a girlfriend. He was doing well at work, but not well enough to call home about and he wasn't even sure if moving in the first place had been worth it so far.
Regardless, he was making a place for himself and despite his isolation, he felt pretty good about where he was in life. He'd figure things out. One day. Maybe.
He jogged to the laundry closet and opened up the dryer. He rummaged through the recently warmed clothes to find the article he was looking for. He snatched it up and ran back to his closet to dig around for a bag. He found a brown paper shopping bag and tossed the thing into it and went to the kitchen to grab a fistful of newspaper. He stuffed that on top.
"Done," he said.
He shook his head at himself. He had always been really bad at this kind of thing, but it was the thought that counted, right?
He glanced at the clock on his microwave before deciding that he had enough time.
He went to his closet again and reached for a deep blue scarf set slightly further back and behind a few pants. He grabbed the bag and slid on his scarf and grey trench coat before leaving his empty apartment and heading out for his walk to work in the brisk morning chill.
His feet followed the path that he'd been taking for the last year and the familiarity brought a small smile to his lips. He knew the city pretty well by now and the walk was always refreshing and comforting.
He purposely left early enough to stop by a cafe, grab a hot tea and scone, and still have time to dilly dally in the park before work began.
It wasn't until he started his usual path to the fountain bench that his stomach began to tighten and panic attempted to settle within him. Was this weird? Was this out of bounds? It should be fine, right? Well it was too late to go back, now. He was already there.
Unfortunately, he had been too caught up in his thoughts to realize that the bench he was approaching was empty and his friend was nowhere to be found.
"Well, fuck," he muttered to himself.
Thank goodness he wasn't a complete dumbass and had given himself enough time to allow for hiccups in the plan. He veered left across the park square and searched around for any sight of that ratty mop of hair he had been looking for. He went to the complete opposite side of the park to the bridge and creek only to find homeless men and women that he did not know at all. He thought about asking them if they had seen Desmond, but he didn't want to assume that they would even know who Desmond was. Desmond didn't talk to anyone as far as he knew. He adjusted his grip on the paper bag and switched the recycled cardboard cup of tea to his other gloved hand. He wasn't expecting to go on a hike this morning, but there he was dashing across the grassy terrain in a business suit. Again. Where the hell would the man go?
He headed west back toward the direction his home was and into the denser greenery that the park offered. It was a bit off the path that the cyclists and runners used, but he knew that it offered a little privacy and many homeless took refuge in the thickets. Insects and birds fluttered about him as he made his way to the spot that he was pretty sure he remembered the way to. It had been months since he'd gone this way, but sure enough, a faded greenish-brown tent came into view on the other side of the creek. He kept looking down and forgetting that he was wearing his work clothes and cursing at every tree or bush that rubbed up against him in a sinister attempt at staining or tearing holes into his clothing.
He hopped across the muddy bank of the creek's end and toward the tent that he recognized as Desmond's.
"Dez. You better fucking be in there or so help me I'll…I will be very displeased!" Isaiah said. He must have looked preposterous out there.
There was a rustling in the tent and Isaiah became nervous again. What if it wasn't Desmond? What if it was some strange aggressive hobo that forced Desmond out of his own tent? What if Desmond was a bloody heap somewhere? Lifeless and cold?
The tent unzipped and Dez's slightly-less-filthy-than-yesterday face poked out of the side of it.
"Izzy? Th-that you?" Desmond had the nerve to say. He looked so positively confused and absolutely exhausted. Isaiah's features softened.
"Of course it's fucking me. Who else would search the entire fucking park for your ass at this time of day?" He walked closer to the tent, but Desmond made no move to unzip it the rest of the way. Isaiah looked at him expectantly. "You gonna invite me in?"
Desmond frowned and his eyebrows furrowed. "You wanna come in here? Th-the hell for? It ain't nothing good in here," Desmond's deep and gruff voice said.
"Well, I wanna sit down and I'm certainly not getting my clothes any dirtier, that's for damn sure. Hey, you decided not to go to the bench today and now I have nowhere to sit. You going to offer me a seat?" Isaiah said. He made no attempt to leave or advance.
Desmond stared at him and disappeared into the tent. A few seconds later the tent began to unzip further. Desmond slowly and shamefully put his head down as the entirety of his possessions came into view. Isaiah couldn't help but look over the dirty man's shoulder and into the tent packed with clothes and blankets that looked dirty and he saw the holes in the tent and the insane amount of toothbrushes still in their packaging. Isaiah had forgotten about those. Little trinkets and bags and general disorder filled the tent, but Desmond grabbed a blanket and set it up just on the outside of the tent.
Isaiah smiled and sat down on it heavily.
Desmond said nothing. He looked at the ground before his shoulder gave a violent lurch toward his ear and he grunted.
Isaiah continued smiling before the nervousness set in again.
"You're gonna be late, Izzy," Desmond mumbled out from the opposite corner of his tent. His shoulder slowly relaxed.
Isaiah tried to relax as well. He felt so unsure, but decided to just get it over with.
"Hey, so…" he started. Desmond's eyes landed on him for a second before they went back to the ground.
He tried again.
"So I moved here a year ago. You remember, right? I was lost in the park the day we met and you were a total jackass for a guy in your situation. I mean! Sorry, man. Shit. Well, you know what I mean. You didn't say a word to me after I tried to talk to you. I went back to the park every day that first week and I always saw you on that bench and gave you some money or something, but you were being a little bitch as usual. You really gotta work on that, Dez. It's not cute. Anyway, do you remember what you first said to me? After a week of me trying to sit down and talk to your stoic ass, you finally spoke to me. You didn't even look at me. Just staring off like you do, you suddenly said, 'It's my birthday,' and then that was it. I had to ask you again for your name so I could actually talk to you and you finally told me," Isaiah said this all in a rush and stopped when he noticed that Desmond had a small tight grin.
Desmond still said nothing.
"Yeah well you don't talk much and I know you're worried about your stutter and whatever else, I can tell, but I really am glad you talked to me and that you listen to me talk shit every time I see you. You were kinda the first friend I made out here and I know we seem so different, but you know, thanks. I guess. For talking to me and shit. You've…helped me more than you know. Fuck, I'm gonna be so late. Happy birthday, man," Isaiah finished, handing the tea to Desmond. "I got you some hot tea to warm you up. October is cold as shit and I know you don't like coffee. And, this isn't quite cake, but here ya go."
He opened up the plastic container that held the pumpkin scone and a single birthday candle that he managed to snag from the barrista at the cafe. He put the candle in the scone and pulled out a lighter from one of the pockets of his coat.
"This is super fucking ghetto, but…happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Desmond. Happy birthday to you! Okay hurry and blow out the candle so I can go to work," he said.
He held the scone out to Desmond after his quick and monotone song and the pale man stared slack-jawed at the flickering flame.
"Seriously, hurry up. I have to go to work and I am not leaving until you blow out this fucking candle."
Desmond looked at Isaiah dead in his eyes for the first time in maybe ever for a second before crawling across the tiny tent to lean over and blow out the candle.
"Wait, wait wait! Make a wish! Don't just blow the fucking thing out. But just don't say the wish out loud. Okay go," Isaiah said with a stupid lop-sided grin on his face.
Desmond looked serious and confused and so lost, but he seemed to take a moment to contemplate before blowing out the candle and slowly taking the scone from Isaiah's hands. Holding ice would have been less cold than accidentally brushing against Desmond's hands and Isaiah worried that the man may have been sick.
"Congratulations, you're officially thirty. Welcome to it. Now drink that tea. And here," he said. He really was taking his sweet time. He had about fifteen minutes before he had to get to work even though he left almost two hours early. Typical.
Desmond looked down at the paper bag that the darker man had offered him. "What's th-th-that?"
"Your present. Ignore the shitty wrapping and open it. Hurry! I have no time for your doe-eyed awkwardness, right now."
"You can't. I don't. Th-there's more?" Desmond asked. He looked so absolutely perplexed that it was almost sad.
"Yeah, man. Cake is mandatory so the scone and tea don't count as presents. This is your real present. Do you not know how birthdays work?" Isaiah asked.
Desmond took the bag from the man and looked at the newspaper stuffed on top. He slowly pulled the newspaper out and folded it neatly as he muttered, "Been a while…"
Isaiah pressed his lips together as a pang of sadness hit him in the gut and suddenly was replaced by excitement as the scarf he had shoved into the bag earlier came into view.
Desmond pulled it out and ran his hands across the luxuriously soft burgundy fabric with his face set in a heavy grimace.
"Ain't th-this yours?"
Isaiah rolled his eyes. "Not anymore. Put it on."
"But…you wear it all the time. It's your favorite, or someth-thing. Hell, you wore it yesterday. I can't. I can't take th-this from you."
"Desmond. If you don't put on the fucking scarf right now, I will murder you with it. I'm giving it to you. It's yours now. I have others. See? Blue scarf today. I'm good."
Desmond looked at the pool of rich cashmere in his hands and, to Isaiah's surprise and slight discomfort, he shoved the entire bundle into his face and took a deep breath.
"Uh…" Isaiah managed.
"You washed it. That smell…I miss it. Fresh laundry. Reminds me of …better times. Izzy, I-" and the weathered man's voice choked and cracked as silent tears began to wrack his body.
"Shit, Dez, don't make this weird, man," Isaiah said as discomfort swam through him.
"I'm s-s-s-orry. Th-thank you so much. Don't be l-late for work," Desmond said as he wrapped the scarf around his neck and hid his tears behind a face full of fabric.
"God fucking damn it, Dez. Every fucking time. I try to do something nice for you and I always have to fucking run and shit…hey. Try to have a good day, okay? Keep your head up, man. Where you are isn't where you'll always be, you know?" Isaiah clapped the man's shoulder quickly, stood from the blanket and grabbed his forgotten briefcase from the grass beside him. He wiped it off as best he could and shook his head at the thing.
Desmond's silent tears were quickly soaked into that burgundy scarf wrapped around his face and neck, and those cloudy green eyes seemed just a little more alive against the red of the fabric.
The man nodded at Isaiah's words and it seemed he couldn't bring himself to say anything else, so the dark man waved and jogged off to work. He made a silent vow to himself that he would start wearing his running shoes to work and just keep his dress shoes at his desk. This was just foolish.
It was pouring.
It seemed the sky hadn't quite emptied all of its contents that morning and had decided to finish off right at the end of Isaiah's shift. In his hurry to get everything together for Desmond, he had forgotten to bring an umbrella and was now running home with his briefcase over his head. He wasn't even halfway home when the rain started and though the walk from his home to his office building was only thirty minutes, it seemed to drag on as the soft sprinkling swiftly escalated into the downpour of Poseidon's wrath or some shit. It made no sense how quickly this storm had appeared.
The park came into view and he quickly ran to the outcropping of one of the bathroom facilities and he slipped into the safety of the men's room.
He was soaked and he didn't even want to think about the financial reports inside his briefcase. They probably weren't doing too well in there. He decided that even though his apartment was only eight blocks away, he was going to call a taxi. There was no way he was going to run through that hell water for fifteen minutes. It was Friday night and he just didn't have it in him. The sky was almost completely black now and it was barely even six o'clock. That's what he got for working an extra hour of overtime to make up for being late pretty much every day this week. It was all a damn plot to drive him insane.
He turned on the hot air dryer and put his hands under it for a bit before reaching into his inner coat pocket to retrieve his cellphone.
All one god damn plot. National fuck Isaiah Washington day.
He had just given the cabbie his location when a violent cough echoed throughout the less than clean brick bathroom. He had thought he was alone in the restroom, but maybe he wasn't the only one who sought shelter from the storm?
He hung up and figured he had about ten minutes before his cabbie would arrive. He was not one for investigating, but there was something eerie about being in a public restroom during a storm and thinking you were alone only to hear a terrifyingly human noise come from the last stall.
Isaiah crept over to each stall and cautiously lowered his gaze to just under the door of each stall.
No feet. Good.
No feet. Great.
No feet. Cool.
Foot. One foot quickly disappeared up and behind the metal stall door and Isaiah's heart leaped out of his chest. It was just some guy sitting with his knees to his chest right? That had to be the reason.
Yeah, it can't have been anything weird. Certainly not a demon snatching people up in bathroom stalls. But who shits with their knees to their chest? Despite Isaiah having read an article stating that it is actually the correct way to defecate, who would even do that in real life? He decided he would act like a normal human being and just use words to figure out if he was truly alone or not.
"H-hey, man. You cool in there?" He asked with a knock on the locked stall door.
He chanced a glance under the door again and saw, with such relief and then with sudden terror, that two feet landed back on the concrete of the floor into view and he was definitely not alone.
The person didn't answer but he heard a bit of shuffling over the sounds of the storm.
"Hello? You don't need any help, or anything, right man?" he said. There was silence for a while and he stared at the door wondering if the other guy was deaf for a moment before he heard a deep voice that rumbled in time to the first crack of lightning, "Izzy?"
"What?" He said. His face screwed into one of utter confusion and another tremor of fear shot threw him as he realized this person knew his name.
"Th-th-that you, Izzy?"
Isaiah's face and neck released every ounce of tension he was holding and he dropped his head with a breathy laugh of relief as he realized who the voice belonged to.
"Fuck, Desmond, is that you? Get out here, you scared the shit out of me," he said.
The latch to the stall slid out of place and the stall door pushed open slowly. Desmond's face popped out and he hesitantly revealed his sopping wet self and stepped out of the stall with a handful of useless, drenched newspapers and the burgundy scarf tied around his face and head oddly.
"I thought you were some kind of ghost or something. Or maybe just somebody who wanted to kill or mug me. What were you doing?"
"Waitin'. For th-the rain to stop. Damn shelter is too far from here. Gotta wait. Too wet to sleep in…in the tent. Got holes in it," Desmond said. He idly rubbed the edges of the scarf together as he talked.
Isaiah frowned at his friend. That sounded awful. But what could he do?
"Hey, I got a Taxi coming if you want a ride. I really need to start taking my car to work when it gets rainy like this. I got stuck trying to walk home from work. Some damn bullshit, but yeah I can tell the guy to make a stop at the shelter, if you want?" He said and raised an eyebrow as he looked down at the substantial puddles of water that bloomed around where each of them were standing.
Desmond waited a few seconds before nodding and looking down.
"That color looks good on you. I have good taste," Isaiah said as he eyed the scarf.
Desmond's eyes flashed down at the scarf he was toying with and nodded again.
"Th-th-tha-thaaank. Thaaaank you," Desmond said. His eyes remained on the floor.
"Of course. But let's go out to the street so the cabbie can find us. I just want to get my ass home and into a hot shower. I am not trying to catch a cold on a Friday night, no sirree," Isaiah said.
Isaiah returned his briefcase to its overhead position and he grimaced as he watched Desmond straighten out the wad of wet newspaper and put it over his head as if it were going to do anything at all. The two skipped across the muddy lawn to the sidewalk and made a mad dash to the bus stop awning by the street. The two crowded under it while trying to avoid a homeless man and woman sitting together on the bench in a shivering embrace. Isaiah's heart broke again.
He glanced at Desmond attempting to wring out the wet newspapers and he shook his head as they waited in silence until the taxi came into view.
"This is us, let's go," he said. He grabbed the door and held it open while Desmond practically dove across the back seat to the other side and Isaiah swooped in after, slinging his briefcase in between their feet.
He pulled up the name and address of the shelter on his phone and told the cabbie the destination before they were on their way.
Despite the heavy rain, there was traffic closer to the downtown area and they were barely halfway there when they came to a complete stop at a green light.
"Where do all these people have to go in a damn typhoon? I know it's Friday night, but are they just like 'Oh girl, let's go to the club, I got this cute new rain slicker I've been trying to wear. Oh girl and my Gucci Umbrella to match?' I don't think that's a conversation anyone should be having. Seriously," Isaiah said. He threw his hands up in exasperation and leaned back against the seat. The cabbie laughed openly as Isaiah pouted and he crossed his arms and looked over at Desmond's half-concealed grin.
He allowed himself a smirk and a shake of the head and he looked over. If they went right, they could just U-turn and head back to his apartment and be there in no time. He was starting to shiver and he noticed that Desmond never quite seemed to stop shivering. Do they have hot showers in the shelter? Soup maybe? Were the beds clean and warm and safe? Why couldn't he just stop worrying?
He looked over at Desmond and the man looked a little less dirty from the rain, but it had plastered his hair and clothes against his skin and his beard was steadily dripping into the already soaked scarf. The worry lines on his young face seemed to never flatten out and his right shoulder jerked itself up against his ear and he grunted. His shoulder relaxed after a few seconds and he glanced over at Isaiah and gave his trademark fleeting grin before grabbing a handful of the scarf and worrying it with his fingers.
Isaiah couldn't handle the guilt anymore. It wasn't right. He had to do something. Something probably insanely dumb and totally ill-advised, but what was the worst that could possibly happen?
At least he'd be able to sleep at night, right?
"Hey, man. Scratch that, okay? Let's just turn around and go to 244 Westwold Street. This traffic is gonna make me kill somebody," he said.
Desmond's brow furrowed and he glanced at the cabbie and leaned toward Isaiah so he could whisper to him, "Th-th-that's not th-the address. It's 9933 M St. I-I haven't been to any other shelters."
Desmond seemed to be in a panic as he spoke rapidly and to tell the truth, Isaiah felt a little panicked, too. He steeled himself.
"It's not a shelter. You're not going to sleep in a fucking shelter on your goddamn birthday, Desmond," he said harshly.
The pale man started to look terrified and lost, but he kept his voice low as if everything he was saying was a secret from the patiently maneuvering cabbie. "Th-then where am I-?" He began.
"My apartment. I know it's probably not a good idea, but I can't let you stay in the rain or in some random shoddy little shelter that's probably jam packed with nasty ass people with colds and herpes and knives and shit. You're staying with me tonight," Isaiah said with what he hoped was enough conviction to silence both of their worries. He looked into Desmond's wide and petrified eyes and the man looked as if he was on the verge of tears again.
"Don't look at me like that. I've made up my mind. I'm not gonna let my friend have a shitty birthday, okay? Tanya and Mark are gonna kill me when they find out, but I already have my will sorted out. It should be fine," he said. he looked straight ahead.
"Izzy, I-I…I can't. I mean I shouldn't…"
"Well, you fucking will. Shut up. Don't make it weird, Dez. Just come hang out and spend the night, okay? Like regular friends, okay? We're friends," He said and placed a hand on Desmond's shivering shoulder.
Desmond was shaking his head as the cabbie merged into the right turn lane slowly.
Izzy tried to will the man to relax by increasing the pressure on the man's shoulder. "It's fine, Dez. I want to, okay?" he said.
"No…no no," Desmond said before his shoulder spasmed and Isaiah's hand was crammed between the man's bearded face and wet shoulder. Desmond grunted.
Isaiah kept his hand in place despite the other man's tick and he continued to firmly squeeze his shoulder until the spasm subsided.
"It'll be okay," he said, more to himself than Desmond at this point.
The man had stopped protesting and instead buried his face in the wet scarf around his neck.
The cabbie pulled in front of a sleek, grey building after a short drive and Isaiah handed him the fare before ushering Desmond out of the taxi. He nodded his thanks to the driver before the man sped off back into the exhausting Friday night traffic.
The rain was pouring still and Isaiah's briefcase was completely soaked, but it was all he could to to get Desmond to walk toward the apartment complex.
"Dez, I know this is weird, but I've been at work all day and I'm cold and wet and I want to not be. Please, just come inside. I…I trust you. And I know you trust me. It'll be okay, okay?" Isaiah said. His face was scrunched up against the onslaught of water and his briefcase was still held high above his head before Desmond seemed to focus and nod his acceptance. Isaiah let out a breath as he turned toward his complex and pulled out his keys. He swiped a keycard and a slight beeping was heard before he gained access to the lobby of the ten-story upscale building. He held the door open for the dazed man and followed in after him.
He took the lead and headed to the elevator, hoping that the lobby attendant wouldn't remark about Desmond or the fact that they were dripping water everywhere. The man just raised an eyebrow with a smirk before nodding his greeting to Isaiah.
When the elevator arrived, he hit the button for floor ten and Desmond shuffled inside behind him.
Silence followed them.
Isaiah attempted to remain calm, but every step closer to his apartment had his pulse elevated. This was not a mistake. Desmond was not going to murder him and steal his money in his sleep. Desmond was not going to do anything crazy or ridiculous at all because Desmond was his friend. He had to have some faith in the poor guy. But damn…he didn't think he even knew Desmond's last name.
"Hey…what's your last name, man?"
Desmond jumped a little at the sudden noise. It seemed that he kept spacing out. Isaiah felt himself grimace yet again.
"I just thought…well mine is Washington. I probably have told you that before, but I don't think I ever got yours."
"T-T-Tiernan," he finally said. The elevator door opened.
Desmond followed Isaiah as he led him to the end of the hall to the door there.
"This is me," Isaiah said as he opened the door marked '104'. "Welcome to my home, Mr. Tiernan. After you."
Desmond's shuffled into the apartment before Isaiah closed and locked the door behind himself.
"Here, give me your jacket. Take off your shoes, please! I know it's weird, but muddy footprints are not what I like to wake up to. I'll take your socks, too, they must be soaked." Isaiah busied himself with taking care of their soaking wet problem before he let any awkwardness settle in.
"I'll go get you some clothes to change into. I have two bathrooms for no reason at all, so you can use the other one. Hold on," he said before running off. He threw the clothing piled in his arms into the washing machine and put his briefcase down on his master bathroom floor. He removed his suit jacket and his own socks and grabbed a clean towel and a washcloth. He went to his dresser and rummaged through it to find a pajama set of long pants and a long-sleeved button up shirt that was relatively warm, but too small for him.
He headed toward the living room to find Desmond still standing motionless at the tiled entryway and a puddle of water forming around his now bare feet. He was holding his arms across his shivering chest.
"I'm gonna turn the heater on. Come over here, man."
Desmond quickly padded across the soft and plush beige carpet and followed Isaiah down the hallway to the guest bathroom. Isaiah waved a hand into the room after turning on the light.
"Here you go," he put the pile of clothing and towels on the counter. "I put some, uh…underwear…in there, too. I mean…it's like a new pair that I haven't worn really worn that much, but you know. Yeah. So just leave your clothes on the floor and I'll come get them later and I'll wash them and stuff. Uh, I brought you a disposable razor if you want to shave or something. I have this electric one too, if you want to use it. You got like a forest…on your chin…Soap and shampoo are in the shower already and yeah. I'm gonna go shower. You…gonna be alright in here?" Isaiah said. he spoke quickly and without looking at the other man too much. He felt a little guilty for not trusting the man with a razor, but if a man wants to shave he should be able to fucking shave. If anything happens, 911 is only three numbers. He should have enough time to call, right?
"Y-yeah. Th-th-thanks. A lot. Okay," Desmond said before staring at Isaiah's soaked shirt and then closing the door in his face. He heard a the slight clank of the toilet lid being lifted up.
Isaiah laughed. "Should have said something if you had to take a shit, man!"
He headed back to his own bedroom and locked the door. He then locked his bathroom door and felt like a shitty person for doing it, but he couldn't be too careful. He peeled the freezing cold fabric off his mahogany skin and he shivered as he dropped it on the tiled floor with a disgusting sound. He turned the hot water on quickly and jumped in.
He stayed in the shower just long enough to warm himself back up and get clean. He turned off the water and got out to wrap a towel around himself while going over everything he needed to get ready for the homeless man that was going to be sleeping in his home.
He dressed in loose fitting pants and decided to put on underwear in respect for his guest. Didn't want to be flopping around with company about.
He threw on a grey t-shirt and a pair of warm slippers before he grabbed his wet clothes and threw those in the washer, too.
Desmond was still showering so he decided to make some tea and soup or something.
He put the kettle on and began to chop some vegetables.
"I-Izzy?" came a voice from behind said man. He turned from the boiling pot of vegetable soup that was almost done and he looked at the man standing pitifully in the hallway.
He didn't really know what to say, but the thought that Desmond seemed to appear much younger after a shower and a shave came to mind.
"Damn, you clean up nicely, man. I mean…well. You know. You look good," he said. He quickly turned back to stirring the soup, suddenly feeling dumb.
"Better. Not good. I look dead with-witho-without a beard. I put my clothes in the wash. Got my stuff out my jacket" Desmond said while walking closer to the kitchen.
Isaiah looked him over once again. "Don't beat yourself up man, you look good. Take the compliment. And I told your ass to leave your clothes on the floor. Come sit down," he said. He turned the burner off and filled a bowl with soup and put a spoon in it before placing it in front of where Desmond sat and quickly followed with a mug of tea.
"I made soup." He said before walking to the washing machine in the hallway. He was going to add detergent and wash the wet clothing, but he saw that it was already started and working and he raised an eyebrow before closing the doors to the laundry closet. He peeked in the guest bathroom and saw that it was virtually spotless and Desmond's towel and washcloth were neatly folded on the counter andabout 3 toothbrushes in their packaging still and the razors were lying quaintly on top of them. There were still some pieces of stray hair that Desmond must have missed while cleaning, but Isaiah looked in the trash can and saw pretty much all of the man's beard sitting in there. He'd had about two or three inches going on in there and now he had it down to a 5 o'clock shadow that framed his face nicely. He had a strong, angular jawline underneath that monster that was growing. It was a shame that he thought he looked bad. Isaiah turned the light off and went back to the kitchen to see Desmond bent over his bowl of soup.
"Man, guests aren't supposed to be doing chores and shit. I didn't know you actually started the laundry. Stop cleaning things and just relax," he said as he got himself a bowl as well.
Desmond stopped slurping and looked at him.
"Th-this is the best soup I ever had, Izzy. You made it?" he asked.
Isaiah felt a smile break out across his face. "You're full of shit, man. Yeah I made it."
"S'good. Real good," he said after slurping another mouthful. "Don't get much produce living like thi-this. Don't remember th-the last time I had a vegetable."
Isaiah's smile faltered. "Well how do you stay regular? Everybody shits man," he said trying to keep the mood light.
"Sometimes I don't."
Isaiah looked sadly at the man before sitting next to him at the bar counter and starting in on his own soup.
"Well eat as much as you'd like because this soup is guaranteed to make you shit in an hour or so. You just wait. Good but deadly. You like spicy? Have you had sriracha before?" Isaiah said as he pulled a bottle over and drizzled some of the red sauce into his soup.
Desmond eyed the bottle.
"I ain't never heard of th-that. I love spicy food," he said.
"Well now you have. Taste that shit. I swear it's bomb. I don't even know how you're alive without having tasted it," Isaiah said. He handed Desmond the bottle.
The man drizzled a surprising amount into his soup
"Uhh…" Isaiah eyed the now red broth with a little grimace.
Dez slurped it down with an exaggerated exhale and it was clear that he loved every bit of it. Isaiah only shook his head and slurped at his soup.
"Oh hey, so what was up with all those toothbrushes again? I feel like you told me once about your dad being a dentist or something? Please don't tell me you brush your teeth more than you eat," he said, half serious.
"Yeah. Used to beat me. If I didn't brush my teeth. Twice a day. Every day. Brush brush brush. 'A good smile will take you far' he'd say. I like it. Even when I can't get a shower there's always somewhere I can brush my teeth. Only good th-thing Daddy ever taught me," Desmond said between mouthfuls of soup. His brows furrowed and he stared hard into his food.
"Fuck, man. I used to get beat, too, for stupid shit. But maybe not...not like that. Sorry I brought it up," Isaiah said feeling awful but also intrigued. This was the most Desmond has ever spoken and it was about his past. He wanted to ask more, but also felt like he'd already overstepped his boundaries by inviting the man over. He was wearing his fucking underwear. He thought he had gotten personal enough for one night.
He cleared his throat in the awkward silence.
"I ain't...had no birthday in five years. I been...on the-the streets for th-three. Not sure I remember how to do it. Guess it don't mean much as it used to. Th-this is good, th-though," Desmond said. He clanked his metal spoon against the now empty bowl.
Isaiah couldn't help the sad smile that settled on his face or the strange little twinge of pride that swelled in his chest. He felt like he had made a difference in some way.
The smile fell from his face when he noticed the rain had slowed and that it would be clear soon.
He would have to send Desmond back out onto the street at some point. How fucked up was that? He decided he would at least drop him off at the homeless shelter the following morning. He looked at the now clean-shaven man and made up his mind. Dez was a grown man. It wasn't his place to take care of him.
He didn't owe him anything.
He grabbed the empty bowl that Desmond was fidgeting with and stacked it into his own. He rinsed them and put them into the dishwasher with as little eye contact with the man as possible.
"I'm gonna go get you some blankets for the couch. It's more comfortable than it looks, I promise," he said. He then realized the man had been sleeping on dirty, moldy sheets on the ground of a park for years and felt like an idiot. He walked out a little quicker.
He came back in and walked behind Dez who was still twiddling his fingers and staring at the counter as if the soup was still there.
When he was done Isaiah threw a pillow down and stood.
"There you go, man. All yours. I'm gonna head to bed now. Uh...tv is there. I'll uh...see you in the morning, I guess," he said. He walked behind Desmond one last time and the man turned to look up at him. He awkwardly, but firmly put a hand on the man's shoulder.
"Happy birthday, Dez."
He gave a slight squeeze and then snatched his hand back. He balled it into a fist and shoved it into the pockets of his sweatpants.
"Th-thank you, Izzy. I…" he trailed off as Isaiah quickly disappeared. "Goodnight," he said a little louder than he meant to.
Isaiah waved a hand without looking behind him and vanished behind his bedroom door. He stared at the closed door that separated them.
He locked it and took a deep, shaky breath before crawling into his bed and whispering dejectedly into his pillow.
"What the fuck am I doing…"