CRASH, p.4Pepper Pace
“I have some at the house.” She smiled. “I’ll even sign them for you.”
He grinned broadly. The waitress returned with their beverages and took their orders. Lucas had shoved his money into his coat pocket when he had undressed at the hospital and knew that he only had thirteen dollars.
“Grilled cheese, please.” He said, because that was the cheapest thing on the menu.
Sophie eyed him. Lucas noted that her eyes were in fact black and they looked really tired. “Lucas, please order some real food; my treat.” She didn’t say things as if she hoped you’d take her suggestions. Sophie spoke as if she expected you to because it was the smart thing to do.
He looked at the waitress. “I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries along with a bowl of chili…and could you still bring the grilled cheese?” Sophie ordered a ham and roast beef double decker with American cheese and barbecue potato chips instead of the plain. She also wanted it on toasted white bread and dragged through the garden along with extra onions.
She looked at him again. “You were telling me how long you’ve been homeless?”
He fiddled with his napkin. “Well, I was raised by my grandparents. My mother left me with them when I was seven. I don’t know about my father.” It wasn’t as if he could ever have a normal conversation with his meth head mother to ask her about the man. “Anyways, my grandmother died a few years ago and Pawpaw took ill right after. I was used to taking care of Granny. She’d had a stroke years before and needed help with everything. So after school, I always just came straight home, did my chores and helped out with her. Pawpaw would need a break about then.” He wasn’t sure why he was telling her all of this; other than that he was probably babbling due to the drugs.
Taking care of his grandparent’s is the reason that he didn’t really have any friends. He couldn’t play sports or go over to friend’s houses or invite them over to his house when he was always busy trying to help the household run smoothly. He couldn’t get an after school job or even one after graduation because Granny needed him, and then Pawpaw did. But then Pawpaw died, mostly of a broken heart.
Lucas had never realized how precariously life balanced until after Pawpaw died. And then everything went tumbling down hill.
“When my grandfather took ill and died, I was kind of at a loss for what to do. I never had a real job in my life. The house was paid for but there were utilities and insurance and taxes…Pawpaw had paid for his final arrangements when Granny died, but not the hospital bills.” Lucas frowned and swallowed. He was staring at the napkin as if it was a picture into the past.
“I got a job at a grocery store; bagging and stocking, but that wasn’t enough and well, they foreclosed on the house. A friend from work told me that I could squat there and they couldn’t kick me out, but…I didn’t want to. I decided to strike out and just start fresh.”
He paused and noted that Sophie was watching him with interest. He drank down half of his water and continued.
“I had a few hundred dollars saved up and I took a bus to Cincinnati. Don’t ask me why Cincinnati, but it was cheap and far enough away from Columbus.”
“Why didn’t you stay in Columbus?”
“Because…there was nothing there for me anymore,” except for the job, which he had since regretted quitting.
“I found a job at a diner, right off.” It was busy and hard work and the owner was an asshole and so were the customers. “The pay sucked. Sometimes I only cleared enough to pay my weekly rent and bus fare to and from work. Did you know that Cincinnati was the bedbug capitol of the country?” He said out of the blue.
She grimaced. “I know.”
“Did you know that if you go to work at a restaurant covered in bed bug bites that you will get fired?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Maybe it’s not a law or anything, but it is a fact. No one wants to come to a restaurant and see sores on their server or bus boy-slash-hostess.”
The waitress came at that exact moment and gave Lucas an alarmed look. She left their order, cringing, without offering to freshen Lucas’ drink.
Sophie didn’t like the idea of bedbugs either, but she hadn’t seen any evidence of it on the boys pale arms or legs while he was wearing the hospital gown.
“So what happened after you lost your job?”
“I tried to find another place to live-one without bed bugs.” He stared out into the distance with a thoughtful look on his face. “Being that Cincinnati is the bedbug capitol of the world…perhaps the universe, this was not to be an easy feat.” He looked at her then, “especially not for someone that only had a hundred fifty-seven dollars in their pockets. I went to the free clinic and got ointment and then I went searching for a new job and a new place to live,” and then he just stopped talking.
“What happened next?”
“Last night happened next.” He stirred his hot chili, not yet eating.
She squinted at him in that curious way that she had. “You’ve been jobless and living on the streets since…For a year?”
“Off and on. I got a job as a dish washer but sometimes my bus wouldn’t show or it’d make me late, and I got fired over it. I had a job delivering meat off a truck; you just got paid straight cash for that—but not much. Finding jobs hasn’t been that hard, but having enough money to find a place to stay is really hard. I can’t save enough even for a cheap efficiency.”
“What about shelters?”
His face took on a grim expression and he looked down at his chili. “Not safe.” He began to eat.
Her mind mulled that information over. They ate in silence. She called the waitress over to refill their drinks and then she paid their bill and they left. When they pulled up into the driveway, Lucas got a chance to admire the outside of the house for the first time. It was simple but pretty. It looked like…Sophie.
As soon as they entered the house, he eyed his duffel bag that was still sitting on the kitchen floor but Sophie led him into the office instead of the kitchen. Music was still drifting from the room and the overhead light was on. She opened the blinds and turned off the light. She then tapped out something quickly on her laptop computer and the music stopped.
He wished she hadn’t stopped it. The music sounded like Sophie.
He looked around and took in all of the little details of the room. This is where she wrote. She had like a hundred books shoved into the large bookshelves. His eyes scanned the titles. He hadn’t read them all but knew a lot of them by title. She began pulling thin paper backs from one of the shelves; only one of the books could be considered big.
She went to her desk and grabbed an ink pin and scribbled something into each of them. He beamed when she handed them to him.
“Thank you, Sophie. You’re the first writer I’ve ever met.”
“Not a problem.” She said with a genuine smile. She led him out of the room and he turned to head for the kitchen and she turned towards a small closet and they almost collided.
“I’m going to make up the couch for you to sleep on.”
She busied herself searching for blankets and pillows. “You need some rest and so do I. I can’t think about what to do about you until I sleep.”
He bit his split lip lightly. “I really appreciate everything, but you’ve done enough.” He meant that. He didn’t expect her to give him a place to stay.
Sophie turned to him. Robbed, assaulted, half-starved with no place to go; and he still retained his manners.
She took on a distant expression. “Nobody…can ever really do enough.” And she remembered the conversation that she’d had with her mother when she was just nine years old, a conversation that had never been far from her memory since.
“I don’t know Sophie, I just don’t know.” Her mother was driving as she spoke, her eyes either very focused on her task, or reflecting on the past—it was hard for Sophie to tell. “I just know that my first memory is of a penis spilling semen. I was just
But how could her mother still continue to have a positive relationship with her Grandfather, now that she was older and understood how bad that was? Sophie was shaken at this revelation and she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to utilize this information. She was nine years old and her mother had just revealed that her childhood had been filled with abuse and incest.
Her and Mama went to Grandmama and Granddaddy’s house all of the time, spent every Christmas holiday there in a big family celebration, Aunt JoJo always came with her kids and her husband…and and, her mother had left her with Grandmama and Granddaddy alone; ALL OF THE TIME! Why would she do that if he was a molester?! But she didn’t ask that question, nor did her mother ask her the most obvious question that should have been asked under the circumstances. Sophie loved her Granddaddy. She was actually his favorite grandchild, just as Sophie’s mother had been his favorite child. Sophie was the only one that could go up to Granddaddy while he napped on the couch, and bite his cheek waiting for him to wake up and grin at her and sweep her up into his arms and lathe her face with kisses calling her Sugar Sugar. No, Granddaddy had never molested her; he was just a sweet man that she loved dearly…that she used to love dearly before Mama had told her that story.
She swept past Lucas with her armful of bedding and she made up the couch. After a moment Lucas followed and helped her. He tried to meet her eyes but this time it was she that avoided it. He took a deep breath.
When she finally looked at him, his one good eye looked at her straight on.
Fear of bedbugs caused Sophie to place Lucas’ duffel bag into the basement so that she could get his clothes washed later. He was taking a shower; at her prodding. He really smelled bad.
Lucas hadn’t scrubbed his hair under a nice spray of water in weeks. Usually he did the best he could in the sink of a gas station. Other times he went to the YMCA but…those places weren’t safe for someone that looked like a soft little boy instead of a 22 year old man.
When he left the bathroom, he saw that Sophie’s bedroom door was closed. He headed for the living room and stretched out on the sofa. It was nice and big, even for someone as tall as him. Even though he’d napped at the hospital, the drugs had left him weary down to his very bones. He didn’t hurt much, not even his rectum, but the pain would return and when it did it would be huge.
Lucas threw his arm over his face, careful of his injured eye. He then pulled up the blanket to his chin and quietly cried. Lucas cried as much for the things that had happened to him the night before and even earlier-- as much as he cried for the kindness that had been shown to him by Sophie.
Lucas was more tired than he could ever remember. But when he awoke on Sophie’s couch, warm and with a full belly, he felt content for the first time in a long while. He could tell by the setting sun that it was late in the evening. He stood, feeling aches and pain slowly being reborn in his body. He took the time to strip the couch of the blankets and to fold them neatly even though she’d probably wash them.
He saw Sophie sitting quietly at the dining room table. She seemed lost in thought.
She didn’t budge; her eyes were distant and glazed. He hesitated, unsure. Then he moved to the bathroom taking his medicine with him. When he returned to the dining room Sophie offered him a broad smile. She had cleaned up nicely, wearing jeans, a button down blouse with her hair pulled back into a neat ponytail.
“Hi Lucas. Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you.” He put a tentative hand on the chair that he had sat in earlier, examining the seat. She’d cleaned it.
“Lucas, I’d like to talk to you.”
Now he was nervous. “Okay.” He sat down in the chair. It didn’t hurt as bad to sit but it still wasn’t comfortable.
“How would you like to be my assistant?”
“Assistant. I could use some help. I need to finish this last book and,” she chuckled, “frankly, I’m easily distracted.”
He was at a total loss of what to say when he stuttered out his question. “What does an assistant do?”
“Take messages, help me around the house; dishes, garbage, maybe some dusting. And it would be a great help if you could do things like go to the store or make dinner. It’d only be until I finished this book; a few months.”
After a moment he nodded. “I can do that.” It’s what he’d done for his Granny and Pawpaw and they’d just referred to it as his ‘chores’.
“I can’t pay you much; despite the fact that I’m a writer—I’m not a successful one so I’m not rich. But I can offer you a place to sleep, food and maybe $150 a week so that you have some spending cash.”
He blushed and nodded. A place to stay would have been sufficient. Sophie had already done more for him than anyone else ever had; except for his grandparents. But he’d never have enough to strike out on his own if he turned down the cash. He met Sophie’s eyes.
“I’d like to be your assistant. I’ll help you any way I can.”
Sophie’s hands clapped together once, as if to say, ‘that’s settled’, then she came to her feet. “I have a basement, and you can make it your own personal space.” She led him through the kitchen, turning on the light. He could see the room for the first time. It was nice and big, kind of old fashioned but not in a bad way. Sophie had modern, stainless steel appliances but it was easy to see that it was the only upgrade she’d made. Her cabinets were white metal and the floor was linoleum. There were even formica counter tops.
She led Lucas to a closed door adjacent to the backdoor. She reached for the light switch and the stairwell illuminated.
“It’s a little dusty.” She said as she headed down the narrow stairs. “I haven’t swept them in a few weeks.” More like a few months but she wouldn’t admit to that. When they reached the bottom of the stairs Lucas saw that it opened up into a huge expanse that ran the span of the entire house. It was used as a storage space but it didn’t smell damp or moldy, it was warm and it was clean. To one side was a laundry area, the opposite end held a door that he thought must lead to a utility room and the furnace. Sophie headed to another door that opened up into a small bathroom and shower.
Lucas nodded his approval. It too was clean and warm.
Sophie gave him an apologetic look. “I know it’s a little cluttered-”
Lucas smiled. “I think it’s great.”
She looked around. “Well I figured we could move these boxes closer to the back and that will give you this entire half for yourself.”
“You just tell me where to move it, and I’ll take care of that,” he said.
She nodded and squinted at the clutter then she headed to a particularly crowded area.
“This is where I put my old mattress.” It was propped up against the wall with a blanket draped over it. She had gotten a better mattress when she bought her new bedroom set after signing her contract. She had intended on fixing up this lower level to create another bedroom with maybe even an ensuite bathroom, but her writing obligations took up more of her time then she would have ever thought possible. It wasn’t just the writing. Clarion sent her on book signings all over. She’d attended a black author’s convention and had once even attended a Black Family Reunion celebration where Clarion had set up a booth with several of their other popular writers. Doing that type of thing made her very nervous but once she got warmed up it was okay.
CRASH by Pepper Pace / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes