I wake on a bench. I can’t believe I have slept here, on a hard backed bench in the mall. Then again, I have been awake all night. I wandered the streets of Kansas City all night. I avoided downtown and any neighborhood that looked rough. I avoided staying in place, I didn’t want anyone calling the cops on me.
By the time dawn came, I was dead on my feet. I headed downtown, mostly to get my bearing. I came across a mall just as they were opening. I went inside and sat on the bench to rest my feet. I watched the early morning mall walkers. I don’t know when I passed out.
I look around, trying to figure out what time of day it is. Did I sleep long? I must have, the afternoon sun is already slanting through the skylight.
Someone is staring at me. It’s a soft gaze. It feels odd. I think about the way James looked at me, his predator’s gaze. Drunk Jack had those eyes too. Sober Jack had a look that was filled with longing.
This gaze isn’t like any of those stares. Warm brown eyes just take me in, expecting nothing. The owner is a young man with short brown hair. He is thin, wearing a T shirt and jeans that are several sizes too big. He looks almost comically small in them. He gives me a shy smile and comes over to my bench.
I sit up to make room for him. “Who are you?” I ask as he sits.
“Nobody,” he says. Then, “Mouse.”
A tall androgynous blond comes skipping our way. He, I am pretty sure its a he because he’s flat chested, is wearing skin tight jeans and a feminine top. Mouse waves and calls out, “Ty, come here.”
“Ty, this is,” Mouse pauses.
“Tina,” I supply, shaking Ty’s hand. Ty sits.
“What are you up to?” Mouse asks.
I shrug. “Just hanging, I guess,” I say.
“That’s what we do,” Mouse says, “hang out.” We talk for awhile. Getting-to-know-you chit chat is pretty abbreviated with street people, no jobs to discuss, no “where are you from.”
“You hungry?” Mouse asks. “I am.”
My stomach rumbles. I haven’t eaten since last night. I nod. “I don’t have any money,” I say.
Mouse pats himself down and comes up with a dollar bill and a handful of change, a buck fifty. “Ty?”
“I ain’t got fuck all,” Ty says. “You know that. I bought supper last night with my last dime.”
“I don’t think a buck fifty is going to get us much.”
“I guess one of us is going to have to hook,” Ty says with a nod. I follow the nod. A man in a business suit is sitting on the bench opposite us, reading the paper. I look back at Ty, hoping he’s not serious.
Mouse laughs. “She ain’t got it in her,” he says. To me he adds, “some people can do it and some can’t. You just ain’t the type for sex work.” He looks over at Ty, “I would, but I don’t think he’s into boys.”
I am not sure what shocks me more, Mouse’s casual admission that he sleeps with guys or that he seems willing to do it for money.
“Well, I guess one of us has to put food on the table, and maybe get us a place for the night,” Ty says. He stands and shakes his shaggy blond hair. I swear it grows several inches with each shake. Was his face always so feminine? “Let Tanya provide,” he purrs in a silky voice. He turns, a noticeable swish in his hips.
By the time he reaches the man, I swear I am looking at the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. I shake my head. “What’s going on?”
“Do you believe in magic?” Mouse asks.
I raise an eyebrow. I think about the man in black, how he crashed through the window at Jack’s place but Jack couldn’t see him. Maybe I shouldn’t be quick to doubt magic. I shrug. “Okay, I’ll bite. Magic?”
“Titanya is an elf,” Mouse tells me.
“An elf? Like from fairy tales or something,” I ask.
“In ancient times there were many like him,” Mouse explains, “but there was too much trouble between humans and elves. So the king of the elves decided to create a wall between the worlds. A few, Titanya’s family, were on the wrong side when it happened.”
I shake my head. I don’t know if I buy it. “So what’s going on?” I ask, nodding across the way. Ty, now Tanya, is sitting next to the businessman. He is leaned in close, telling the guy something.
“It’s a glamory,” Mouse says. “Its a kind of magic, like an illusion.”
“An illusion?” I don’t want to buy this, but the man is listening to Ty- Tanya purr into his ear, his mouth slack and his eyes distant. After some time Ty straightens. The man fishes out his wallet and pushes some bills at Ty, his eyes still vague and unfocused.
They both rise and go their separate ways. Ty is looking more masculine and irritated as he comes back. He tosses a handful of bills into Mouse’s lap. He sits next to me again.
“By all the gods,” he swears. “I remember a time when rich men carried wads of cash everywhere. Now it’s a handful of bills and a bunch of credit cards.”
“What was that?” I ask. Ty laughs.
“I told you,” Mouse said, “it was magic.”
“Glamory,” Ty corrects me. “I spun him a tale.”
Ty’s body is next to mine, naked. He is painfully beautiful in his own androgynous way. His arms are behind him, bound in a red silk rope. I am standing next to him, so close we are almost touching. I am wearing a black leather corset and fishnet stockings. There is a crop in my hand, he arches his back to present his buttocks for striking.
I jerk and shake my head, startled and aroused. Ty laughs, a high pitched sound in my ear. “Just a story,” he says. “A simple story about the enjoyment we might find in each others company.” He sighs. “I kind of hate it. It cheapens the magic to be used like that. But hey, it’s better than having to actually do it with a stranger, eh? This way is no harm, no foul. No diseases to catch.”
“And the guy?”
“He walks away swearing it was all real,” Mouse supplies. “This haul really sucks.” He holds a twenty and few ones.
“I know,” Ty agrees. “With a suit like that I was hoping he’d have two, three hundred on him. We could have gotten a hotel for the night even. A week at one of the long stays.”
“I don’t like going near those,” Mouse says. “I’d as soon camp.”
“Like you,” Ty purrs in my ear, “and despite what he says, Mouse ain’t cut out for hooking. Especially not getting propositioned by the kind of riff raff that hangs out in those flea bag places.”
He stands suddenly and takes my hand, pulling me to my feet. “Oh well,” he sounds chipper, cheerful again. “Let’s make the most of our haul, such as it is. We can get something heavy, like pizzas down in the food court. That should keep us going tonight and leave us enough for some cheaper, lighter fare for tomorrow.”
I am starving now but I shake my head. “You did all the work. I can’t.”
Mouse stands and grabs my other arm, interrupting my protest. “Nonsense, we girls gotta stick together.” I catch a twinkling in his eye and laugh out loud. I promise myself that if I ever have the chance, I will repay both of them. For now, I give in to their generosity and let them lead me towards the food court.