Pizza from a food court vendor. God, that such a thing could taste so damn good. I have never had a meal like that before or since. Sitting with Ty and Mouse is good too, comfortable. They are both so androgynous, each in his own way. Are they gay? or Bi? They don’t volunteer and I don’t ask. But Mouse’s comment sticks with me, “we girls gotta stick together.”
I guess when you live on the street you can either be strong and tough or supple and smart. They’ve chosen the latter and it’s a good fit.
Afterwards we hit the nearest walgreens. We grab some canned soup and beans. I don’t know how we are going to open them, heat them or whatever, but they seem to know what they are doing and we only have so much cash left.
They both have satchels. Not purses, they inform me, satchels. I guess they like to keep one toe on the right side of the gender line, or maybe there is some other reason this is important to them. My purse is way too small, they say. The first order of business, the next time any of us has anything to spare, is to find me something bigger.
Outside the walgreens Ty takes a wistful look across the road at a run down motel 6. He shakes his head.
I spy James standing on the second story walkway, looking down the road. He hasn’t seen me, thankfully. I shudder and turn away. “Let’s get out of here,” I say.
Mouse follows my gaze and then looks at Ty. “I told you,” he says.
“Told him what?” I demand.
“When I first saw you,” he explains as we walk down the street. “I said, ‘she don’t look like she’s been on the street long, but she’s got the survival instinct, mark my words.’ and you do.”
We walk a long time in silence. Afternoon had given way to evening while we ate and evening is rapidly giving away to night as we walk. The neighborhood around us is starting to look rundown.
They both pause and look at me.
“That feeling when you saw that guy,” Ty says, “you feeling that way now?”
“Cause that’s what you bring to the table,” Mouse says.
“Mouse has had some close calls lately,” Ty explains. “It’s got him jittery. He thinks his instinct is screwed up or something.”
“And you?” I ask
“I have been camping, for awhile now. I am not used to the city yet. Neither of us fully trust our instincts.”
“But you trust mine?” I can’t believe it, but they both nod.
“Scared vulnerable women generally have the best instincts for avoiding danger,” Mouse says.
I shake my head, not sure how to respond. We start walking again. A few blocks later they stop again. Mouse points. I look in the direction he points and shudder slightly. That’s all the sign they need and we head in the opposite direction.
We are in a really bad area now, houses boarded up and abandoned. Occasionally we see signs of activity around a house. My stomach clutches and we go a different direction. I am starting to think they are right, if I pay attention to how I feel I can almost feel danger as a palpable sensation. I am not sure I want to trust my life to it, but they seem to.
We reach a row of mostly abandoned, darkened townhouses. “What do you think?” Ty asks.
“Very exclusive accommodations, I am sure,” Mouse quips, a smile on his face. “Every bit as good as any hotel, and much cheaper. Come on.”
He leads the way into the alleyway. Its dark and it smells of rotting garbage. My eyes slowly adjust to shadowy darkness.
“Want to know how Mouse gets his name?” Ty asks.
“Sure,” I answer.
Mouse is walking along the side of the building, looking down. He squats down suddenly. “Gimme the light,” he says.
Ty fishes a flashlight out and hands it over. Mouse is inspecting a basement window. It’s an old fashioned crank style window and its ajar. It leaves maybe a eight, nine inch gap. Mouse shines the light in and then sticks his head in. The gap is far too small for him to fit through. He lays on his back and starts to shimmy himself towards it anyway.
“Wait,” Ty commands. Mouse shimmy’s out. “There might be rats or something,” He bends over and pulls a flip knife out of his boot and opens it.
Mouse takes the knife. He smiles at me and says, “if there are, we’ll roast them up for breakfast.” I hope to god he’s joking. He puts the knife between his teeth and slides the flashlight into his pocket. He shimmy’s to the gap again and in moments he has wiggled his way through like a contortionist.
“The boy has a talent for getting into and out of places,” Ty says.
“Like a mouse,” I supply.
We go around to the back of the townhouse and wait. Before long there is a sound and the door opens. Mouse leads us through the empty house by the beam of his flashlight. It smells musty and moldy, but it’s dry and even partly furnished. There is a decaying sofa in one room and a coffee table. Ty pulls a candle stub and a can top out of his satchel. He lights the candle and uses the can top as a makeshift candle holder. By the soft glow of the candle we settle on the couch, side by side. We prop our feet on the coffee table. It’s surprisingly comfortable. We talk but I can feel exhaustion claiming me. Mouse is telling a story, but I can’t follow it. The last thing I recall is Ty’s high laughter as sleep claims me.