Author's note: This year, I want to give thanks for my family and friends and for always having a full belly and a warm place to sleep. This isn't always true for everyone. If interested, you can read more of Sammy and John's story in the Project Fierce Anthology.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Sam took a sip of his Carmel Macchiato, almost groaning in appreciation as the flavor burst on his tongue and heat spread in his chest. He shivered in his damp clothes, wet from the sudden downpour outside the coffee shop. The afternoon had been gray and drizzly, and he’d decided to come in from the park a minute too late, caught in the cloudburst over Portland. Oregon was known for its rain, but he was sure sleet was mixed in with those heavy drops thundering on the rooftop.
“Hey Sammy, finish up, man. We close in five minutes.”
What? He glanced in confusion at the barista. It wasn’t even four o’clock yet. The guy shrugged, pointing to a sign by the register Sammy had missed.
“Thanksgiving, man. We’re closing early.”
Fantastic. He’d planned on spending the next couple of hours right there, nursing his drink and chatting up any familiar faces that wandered in. Should have gone to the 24 hour diner around the corner, could have found a booth to curl up in and sleep. But he’d been used hard the night before and wanted a treat. Stupid, since he’d spent his last cent on it.
He hunched over the cup in his hands, blew on the creamy surface of the coffee so the steam caressed his cold face. His clothes would never dry in five minutes. Besides, he’d be drenched again the second he stepped outside.
A gust of wind splattered rain against the picture window, emphasizing his point. Just great. Chin on hand, he morosely watched as the rain fell even harder, impossible as it seemed. The barista started his closing chores as the last of the customers filed out the door, making a dash for the sedan parked at the curb. Probably going home to a warm house and family and a huge Thanksgiving feast. Hope they got sick.
No. He took the wish back immediately. Wasn’t their fault he had nowhere to go. The barista slammed the till shut, making an impatient sound in his throat, Sammy’s hint to get moving. He finished his drink and took the cup up to the counter. “Thanks.”
The guy nodded absently, his thoughts elsewhere. Probably on the fat turkey and piles of mash potatoes and gravy waiting for him. Sam’s stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten that day. Damn, he hated the holidays.
Pausing at the door, he took a breath, reluctant to leave the heated room, then stepped outside into the downpour. Bits of ice stung his face as he slogged across the flooded street and crossed the sodden strip of grass to the waterfront. He sank on a metal bench and hunched into his too thin coat, cursing the rain pounding against him. The storm precluded any hope he had of scoring a trick and warm bed for the night.
The depression he’d been struggling with all day laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. He could cross town to the men’s shelter and find a meal and bed, but at the moment he couldn’t gather the energy to care very much. The river slid by at his feet and he wondered what it would be like to float on his back on its grey surface, let the current sweep him away from his loneliness until an undertow dragged him beneath the surface into forgetfulness.
Footsteps approached him on the sidewalk and he hunched further into his coat. Just walk on by, man. The guy glanced at him from under his umbrella and stopped abruptly. Swathed in a heavy coat, scarf and snow cap, Sam could only see the warm brown eyes looking down at him.
“You okay?” the guy asked.
Sam shrugged off his concern. “Sure.” He looked away, urging the guy to just go away so he could get back to his dream of the river.
The grave brown eyes studied him. “No, I don’t think you are. My car’s at the corner there. Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“Sure.” What the hell. He climbed to his feet, stiff with cold, and raised his chin defiantly. “The men’s shelter of off Burnside.”
The stranger blinked, then nodded once, taking Sam’s elbow. “I’m John, by the way,” he said, escorting Sam to his Honda parked at the curb.
Sam didn’t reply, settling into the passenger seat when John opened the door. A niggle of fear traveled his spine, but he shrugged it off. He’d gotten into plenty of men’s cars and was still alive. They didn’t speak while John drove them across town, Sam growing sleepy as the heater flooded the small space with warmth. He dreamed of the river and escape.
He startled awake when the car stopped and blinked stupidly at the restaurant outside the window. “What’s this?”
“I haven’t eaten and hoped you’d join me,” John said, a hesitant note in his voice. Sweet.
“Your dime.” Sammy climbed from the car, hurrying out of the rain into the welcoming interior of the popular restaurant. John removed his coat and scarf and hat, showing a mop of brown wavy hair. Attractive. Sam studied the prints on the walls while they waited for a table.
Once seated, Sam read over the menu, ignoring John’s gaze on him, and ordered the holiday special when John did. He stared at his hands afterwards, tongue-tied. If John had been a trick, Sam would be chatting him up in preparation for the long evening ahead. He wasn’t sure what to do with the man’s kindness. Would John want something in return for the meal?
“I’ve only recently moved to Portland and don’t know many people,” John broke into his tumbled thoughts. “I hope you don’t mind sharing a Thanksgiving meal with me. I didn’t want to eat alone.”
Sam shot him an incredulous look. “You want to be friends with me?”
John shrugged. “You look like you could use one. And besides, a meal and ride to the men’s shelter isn’t exactly what I’d do for a date. So yeah, friends.”
Sammy shook his head. Just when he’d given up on people, here’s one that had to be nice. Their food arrived, a plateful of turkey and mash potatoes and cranberry sauce, more food than Sam had seen all month.
It surprised him when John slid a business card across the table to him. “This has my phone number on it. Listen, I don’t want to interfere in your life, but if you ever find yourself staring at the river like that again, please call me. I just want to help.”
Sam swallowed the painful lump that formed in his throat. “Thank you,” he said, slipping the card into a pocket.
John held up his water glass. “Happy Thanksgiving, Sam.”
“It is now,” Sam assured him, hope spreading through him, and he grinned as he dug into his meal.
Nobody deserves to be without a home. In collaboration with several authors, Less Than Three Press offers up an anthology of stories about young people who find that home and family are not always where you expect to find them.
All proceeds from this charity anthology will be donated to Project Fierce Chicago.
Dianne is the author of paranormal/suspense, fantasy adventure, m/m romance, and anything else that comes to mind. Oh, and a floral designer, which is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.