“Yup. Both Chuck and I will be out.”
“I’ll look for you.”
Richard glanced down at the sidewalk. “You’d already guessed your brother was using, though, didn’t you?”
I nodded. “He was using before I went to prison. It’s better for me that I keep him out of my life. He messed me up once and I won’t let him use me again.”
“You’re a smart girl. You want me to let you know if I hear anything more?”
“I don’t know…probably not.”
“Your choice,” Richard said, and then his eyes filled with concern. “You ain’t been yourself all week. Something up I don’t know about?” he asked. “Seems like the light’s gone out of your eyes and there’s a hurt radiating off you like you got blisters on your heels.”
Sadie had been saying basically the same thing. It seemed I wasn’t nearly as clever at hiding my feelings as I thought. “I’m fine, Richard, just had a bit of a disappointment is all; nothing important. I’ll be over it soon enough.”
“Over it?” Richard asked. “Or over him?”
I decided to leave the question unanswered. “I’ll see you later tonight,” I said as I started toward the bus stop.
The Seattle Gospel Mission’s Search & Rescue nights were done with vans that traveled to areas where the homeless congregated. As soon as the easily recognizable van rolled into an area, people appeared. The winter night was bitter cold and I’d wrapped up as warmly as I could. We’d stopped at a freeway underpass, and I’d given my scarf to one woman who had to have been close to my age.
All too soon another woman appeared, and I offered her hot cocoa and a wrapped sandwich.
“Do you need anything else?” I asked after she drank the hot drink and took the sandwich.
“You have any candy?”
I knew candy was a popular item because the sugar rush helped when coming down off a high.
“Sorry, we ran out of sweets earlier.” I noticed her hands were badly chapped from the cold. I had lotion and wipes with me and offered her one, which she took and used to clean her hands.
“Thanks,” she said, using a fresh wipe over her face. “This winter has been hard on my hands and face.”
I reached for her hand, spread some lotion on the top, and rubbed it into the red, cracked skin.
“Should have a place of my own soon,” she said as I continued to massage her hands. “Never thought I’d be on the streets this long. Gonna find a place soon, though.”
“Good. You need socks?” I asked her.
“Not me, but Laurie could use a pair,” she said and glanced over her shoulder. “The only shoes she’s got are too big and her feet get cold, especially on nights like this.”
“No doubt. Wait here and I’ll get you those socks.”
I found the kindness factor among those who lived on the streets humbling. For the most part the homeless never took what they didn’t need. Often, if they knew of someone else who was doing without, then they would accept it to hand off to another.
“I’m Shay,” I told my newfound friend.
“Irene,” she answered.
I removed my gloves and gave them to her. “These will help keep your hands warm,” I said, pressing them into her palms.
Irene looked up. “But they’re your gloves.”
“I have another pair. Take them, please.”
“Thanks.” Her voice was warm with gratitude.
“I’ll look for you again,” I said, and then remembered what she’d said. “That is, if you haven’t found an apartment.”
“Right,” she said, grinning now. She accepted the wrapped sandwich and the socks for her friend and continued back to where her tent was tucked under the freeway overpass.
I found it curious that those who lived on the street rarely thought of themselves as homeless, and Irene was a good example. They considered it a temporary situation, a transitional period when they did the best they could with what they had. Most everyone I spoke to mentioned that it would only be a matter of time before they had a permanent address.
If I hadn’t met Drew that day, I easily might have ended up in one of these camps myself. If for nothing else, I would always be grateful to him for the guidance he’d given me. Because I’d found my way into Hope Center I’d never had to live on the street, but if I had, my attitude would have been the same. I would have considered it a temporary situation just until I was on my feet financially.
At eleven, we were scheduled to meet up with another van at a recently established tent city. I knew this was the area where Richard and Chuck were most often found.
Sure enough, the two men were waiting for me when the van arrived. The second van hadn’t made an appearance yet but would be by shortly.
“We spread the word you were coming,” Richard said, greeting me as I climbed out of the vehicle.
I could see that was the case by the number of people who had already lined up for food, water, and clothing. Bottled water was the most requested item, as there was no running water in the tent cities.
“If you want, we can escort you into the camp,” Chuck offered. Volunteers were never to enter a homeless camp alone. We always went with a partner. Over time I’d learned that our work was about building relationships. We were welcomed and it had nothing to do with what we brought.
“Sure, that would be great,” I told Richard’s friend. The other man shuffled along with Richard. I’d learned that Chuck was a man of few words.
Lilly Palmer ventured into the campsite with me while Richard and Chuck accompanied us as if they were our bodyguards. We stopped along the way to chat with a few others. Richard called out to people, introducing us.
As we started back to the street, I saw that the second van had arrived but didn’t have time to greet the other volunteers. Both Lilly and I were busy passing out sandwiches and hot chocolate. When we finished, I gave out the wipes and rubbed lotion into the winter-chapped hands of those who needed it.
When I felt someone behind me, I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was Drew. Seeing him was completely unexpected, and I nearly dropped the container of lotion. He set his hands on my shoulders, leaned forward, and whispered in my ear.
“We are going to talk, so don’t even try to put me off again.”
I stiffened and tried to jerk his hands free of my shoulders.
“Just so you know,” he continued, “my hot date last Saturday was with an eighty-five-year-old woman.”
My mouth dropped so fast and hard it was a wonder I didn’t dislocate my jaw. Tingling started in my feet that had nothing to do with the cold. I felt light-headed, as if my blood pressure had suddenly dropped significantly. I realized it was relief I was feeling. I’d convinced myself any explanation he offered wouldn’t make a difference. I hated the sense of hope that instantly filled me and how susceptible I was to Drew.
“I told Lilly Palmer I’d drive you home, so wait for me.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I insisted, needing to be strong. I was finished allowing men to dictate how I lived my life.
A hurt look instantly bled into his eyes. “Please.”
I wavered, uncertain. I’d been strong all week—strong and miserable. From the pleading look he gave me, I knew he’d been just as depressed.
“Okay,” I agreed, unsure if I was doing the right thing.
His relief was immediate. “Thank you.”
We didn’t get a chance to talk until after the vans returned to the Gospel Mission complex. By then it was after midnight and I had to be at the café early that morning. I’d be lucky to get in four hours sleep, if that. No matter. I needed to see Drew, to talk to him, to straighten out this misunderstanding.
I found him waiting for me in the parking lot. We were the only two volunteers who hadn’t left.
He stood beside his vehicle, waiting for me to join him.
When I was at his car, all we seemed able to do was stare at each other. This week had felt like the longest of my life. Longer even than my first seven days in prison. I’d been strong, but my heart hurt with the knowledge I would never be part of his life. I hadn’t realized how much Drew had come to mean to me.