“Hey, Babe, you coming?” James asks. The desperation is starting to show in his voice. He’s spent most of the day filling my head with horror stories of what it’s like to stay at one of the big shelters downtown.
It’s half worked, too. They are often short on space and you got to sleep on chairs or couches in the lounge cuz they don’t have enough beds. There are some rough people staying there, and women get raped.
The threat of rape would have done it except I got three guys leering at me the whole time they tell me this. Don’t go to the shelter, Babe, you might get raped. Come to the hotel with us, take some hydrocodone. You’ll be safer. God, do they think I was born yesterday?
Now we’ve officially been discharged and they are running out of time. I’ve fallen behind as we make our way down the hall towards the front door. I make a show of adjusting my purse to buy myself some time. It’s got everything I own it. That would be my ID, a prepaid cell phone with no minutes left, a charger and some pamphlets the case worker gave me.
There’s a tech walking the four of us out and James tries to draw him into the conversation. “I bet you’ve heard horror stories about what happens at the shelters, right?”
He gives an noncommittal shrug. “It’s hard being homeless.”
James spins a bus token in his hands and gives Tim and Nick a knowing look. He is thinking he still has the bus ride to work on me. At least I hope so. He’s dropped a few veiled threats already about “why do you gotta make me mad?” He’s a one man good cop, bad cop show.
Jack is sitting in front waiting room, reading from a two year old copy of Time magazine. My knight in pudgy armor. He was discharged early this morning, after giving the psychiatrist his solemn vow that he had an old friend who was going to house sit with him for the next several days.
James lets out a low angry hum as he spies Jack. Jack looks up. To his credit, he meets James’s stare evenly.
I look at the tech, feeling guilty. We aren’t supposed to have any contact with other patients after we leave. We are supposed to focus on our own recovery, not getting involved in someone else’s drama. Besides I can guess what this looks like.
I glance at James back, in front of us, and at Jack. The tech nods. I guess that’s the good thing about years in the psych field. I don’t have to say a word, he just understands. He might think this is, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Even if it was that sort of arrangement, it would be safer, kinder perhaps than going with James and his friends.
Jack stands as we approach. James walks right up to him, staring hard. This close, Jack is looking less certain. He’s glancing around cautiously. His thoughts are almost palpable, he wouldn’t try anything here, would he? I mean there’s witnesses and security.
James doesn’t try anything, just stares at Jack for a long moment.
“Bus will be here in five minutes,” the tech says. “Better get out there if you don’t want to miss it.”
“We should get going as well,” Jack says, fishing for his keys.
James gives a snort and stomps off, his two cronies in tow.
As we make our way to the parking lot, Jack runs the keyring through his index finger and spins the keys around, catching them in his palm with a slap. Swish, slap, swish, slap. The entire way. He has a smug, triumphant look on his face. He’s faced down James and he gets to be the hero of this particular story. He knows this. I can tell by his face that it’s been a long time since he got be the hero of any story, so I indulge him.
I wrap my arm around his elbow. “Thanks for coming for me,” I tell him. “I really appreciate it. I shudder to think what those guys would have done on the bus, or when we got downtown.”
“Don’t worry,” he says, his chest puffing out. “I won’t let anything happen. And you can stay as long as you need.” He smiled down at me. “Here we are,” he says with a gesture.
I almost laugh. I am looking at an 86 Ford Mustang. It’s Jack’s classic. It’s a powder blue piece of crap. The way he talks about this car, heck the word “classic” all makes me thinks he had restored it.
The rear bumper is a mess. When Jack changed his mind about suicide, he didn’t bother opening the garage door and just drove out. But it hardly stops there. There are rust holes along both sides and more small dents than I care to count.
“Pretty sweet, eh?” he says, spinning his keys one last time. Swish, slap. He is beaming at me, oblivious that his baby is a piece of crap.
I shake my head. Suicidal my ass, he should’ve been in for delusions. Still he he’s kind of cute in a lost puppy sort of way.
He unlocks the side door first and holds it open for me. I climb inside, pushing empty cans of Monster aside with my foot. He goes around and climbs in the driver’s seat. The engine chugs a couple of times before it catches. “Listen to that purr,” he says. The car continues to chug and belch.
Jack starts to pull out. I see my friend in black in the rear view mirror. I scrunch up my eyes and turn my head. He’s just standing there, staring at me.
“Is something wrong?” Jack asks.
“Just that guy,” I say, “I swear I know him from somewhere.”
It’s an innocent question. I glance at him and back. He is staring at the guy in black but he can’t see him. “Nothing,” I lie, “he took off.”
He was there, in the ICU. I seem to recall that, a short flash of something when I first came in, him being there. Something about a second chance. Was he an angel?
I shake my head as we drive out of the hospital parking garage in Jack’s classic 1986 Ford Mustang.