The streets are extremely unforgiving. Once you’re spit out onto its barren concrete like a piece of gum that’s lost its flavor, you’re stuck there, forced to take the abuse handed to you on a silver platter.
How do I know this? Well, I’ve been in a love/hate relationship with the streets for almost a year now. One day, I’ll have some money in my pockets and it feel s like I’m on Cloud 9. The next, I’m shivering on the side of some road with chapped lips, and pockets as empty as my stomach.
My only possessions are the clothes on my back, a pair of scissors that could barely do anything except cut my hair, and a guitar. I earn whatever money I can playing that guitar. I’ve found that people are more generous when you have something to offer them in return.
I don’t know how I’ve lived out here a year. Guess I’m just fast enough to run away from any adversaries that try to shank me. Or maybe I’m just lucky. After today, I’d probably lean towards the latter.
I was playing my normal street corner when a pair of leggings stopped in front of me and listened to me play. After a few minutes, I was beginning to get a little impatient. Are they gonna pay or what?
Once the song was finished, I heard clapping. “You’re really good,” a female voice said.
I pressed my lips together to form some semblance of a smile aimed at the ground. She still hadn’t walked away, so I looked up. A pair of the most startling blue eyes looked back at me. My mind went blank. “Th- thanks. I uh, get a lot of practice.”
She didn’t seem to notice that I was frozen solid when she asked, with her pretty face cocked to the side, “do you play around here often?”
Everything seemed to thaw out all at once as my mind started racing. Do I tell her the truth? Do I lie? I don’t look like someone who just does this for fun, but how would she react if I told her I’m homeless? Would she walk away in disgust? “Eh. On and off.” That works.
She pulled out a piece of paper. “I have a performance tonight and our guitar player is missing. Do you want to play?”
I knit my eyebrows together. “Is it paid?”
“Of course.” She pulled out a pen and paper, and a small stack of bills. “Here. Be at this address by six and I’ll give you the rest.”
Good ol’ Alexander Hamilton was staring at me from the top of the pile. My mouth started watering. “You’re giving me all of this?”
“Mmhm.” She started walking away. I thought about running after her, but my stomach started protesting. Food first. So I made my way to the finest eating establishment I could think of. McDonalds.
People were staring at me as I pulled out my wad of bills. “I bet he stole that.”
I avoided eye contact as I paid for my meal and sat down. More people seemed to stare at me and whisper while I ate.
I struggled to swallow the bite in my mouth. Can’t they just mind their business?
“He looks like he hasn’t bathed in weeks.”
I snapped. “Thank you, Captain Obvious! I never would’ve realized, had you not said that.” Good lord, that’s probably the most condescending I’ve ever sounded.
The woman just stared, a startled look on her face. Slowly, she looked back down at her food. No one bothered me after that.
I needed to get cleaned up.
The bathroom had mirrors, so I made a beeline there once I finished my meal. There were whiteheads dotting my face and I was covered in a thin layer of grime. I looked like absolute shit. I turned on the sink and tried my best to wash my face, and pop any of the offending pimples. This would have to suffice until I could find a gym and bum a shower off of someone. I’d probably ask for the time too.
My next destination wasn’t too far away; I managed to make it to the gym with only a few minutes walk. The woman at the front desk gave me a strange look as I entered.
“Do you have a membership?” She didn’t seem malicious. Just curious.
“No, I… just want a shower. I can- I can pay,” I moved to pull some money out of my back pocket, but the woman held up her hand.
“It’s fine. If anyone bothers you, tell them Julie said it was okay.”
I couldn’t help but grin. “Th-thank you. I’m going to play a gig, and I wanted to look presentable.”
The woman smiled. “Well I hope you do well.”
I expressed my thanks once again, then went into the shower room. Luckily, there wasn’t anyone around. As the water cascaded down my back, I let out a long sigh. I felt like I had more energy. My dark eyes had a bit of life behind them now. I actually looked like I wasn’t half dead for once. Probably because I wasn’t, but I digress.
I contemplated washing my clothes too, but there wasn’t any way for me to dry them out. Guess I’ll have to buy a second pair…
I headed to Goodwill to get a somewhat nice looking outfit as cheaply as possible. There was no way I was going to waste all my money on clothes. It seemed like I was a little more welcome there as the clerk didn’t even do a double take as I walked in.
The men’s section was towards the back of the store. The racks were stuffed with old shirts of varying attractiveness. My eyes finally landed on a black leather bomber jacket. It was old, probably older than me. I couldn’t help but crack a smile as a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I used to wear stuff like this all the time. Everything was so much simpler when I was younger. I’d complain about all the homework I had to do, blow all my money on the arcade down the street, stay out until dark, and then…
Come home to an empty house, and eat my own dinner. Alone.
The nostalgia had given way to an unbearable sadness. But despite this, I couldn’t bring myself to put the jacket back. I guess no one ever truly loses their rose tinted glasses…
I pushed away these thoughts in favor of focusing on my chief goal. Finding an outfit. I could try to look for some skinny jeans. It wouldn’t be very hard to pull off a 90’s grunge look if I tried hard enough.
After much deliberation, I had finally pulled together a decent outfit. While the clerk was ringing up my clothes, a black hat with a flipped up brim caught my eye. It looked about as old as my jacket.
“How much is the hat?”
The clerk took it from my hands and flipped it over. “Two dollars.”
Two dollars. That wasn’t even the cost of a full meal. “I’ll take it.”
The clerk rang it up and gave me a receipt once I paid. I put on my old/new clothes and tried to figure out what to do until it was time to go to the show. I could probably try to earn some more money since I don’t look like a bum anymore. No, I should ask someone for the time. I can’t be late.
Why can’t we have a Big Ben in America? It would make my life and many others’ a lot easier. Then again, most people have a watch or some other type of device to tell the time, so maybe a giant clock would be obsolete.
Whatever, it’s only three.
Everything seemed to slow to a crawl, now that I had something to look forward to. People walking down the streets kept giving me times that were only a minute apart from the last person I asked.
To give myself an excuse to stop waiting, I decided to head to the address a couple hours early so I could practice. I had to be as amazing as humanly possible so I’d get invited back.
A performance hall finally came into view. The doors were unlocked, so I walked in. People seemed to be dashing around. Some were holding props, others were in flashy costumes.
“You’re the replacement guitar player.”
I jumped, and spun around. An older man was looking down at me. And scowling. “S-sorry, you scared me… Y-yeah. I’m the guitar player.”
Wait… he didn’t even ask a question. Before I could apologize again, he was walking away.
I had to run to keep up with the man as he led me to a room full of other musicians. Most of them had nicer clothes than me, but they probably didn’t buy their outfits at Goodwill. The girl who invited me here was absent.
A drummer approached me. “You’re replacing Joel, right?”
I hesitated. “Yes?”
He slapped me on the back. “Great! Take a seat. All of us are warming up right now.”
There was an empty seat beside a woman playing the keyboard. I pulled out my guitar and started tuning it.
“By the way, I’m Harrison. What’s your name, kid?” The drummer was talking to me.
“You want some of the sheet music, Jove?” The keyboardist asked me.
“Please,” I was handed a small stack of music. The notes almost seemed to come to life as the music they created started playing in my head. It was simple. Not in a bad way, just a bit minimalist. Same rhythm throughout, no time signature changes, not too many accidentals.
In other words, a piece of cake.
“Alright,” Harrison started tapping his drum sticks together. “One, two, three, four,” the band started playing.
Turns out we were performing for the Troupe Gramarye. I had never heard of them, but apparently they were famous which just made the butterflies in my stomach worse. I had never performed for more than five people in my life, and now I was expected to play in front of hundreds? Talk about an upgrade.
Harrison was letting me follow him around the backstage area. Occasionally, I’d trip over some piece of equipment, but he didn’t seem to mind. After a few minutes, he turned around and studied my face. “Hm… try to smile a bit. You look depressed.”
I smiled as broad as I could manage without opening my mouth.
Harrison frowned. “C’mon, show a little teeth.”
I hesitantly pulled my lips away from my teeth, and Harrison flinched.
“Er… never mind. Just do whatever you want.” He moved his attention to a row of seats. “I gotta get my drum set. You’ll be fine alone, right?”
I hid my mouth with my hand and nodded. “Sure.”
Harrison walked away and I was left alone to look around aimlessly and feel stupid.
“Get out of the way!” One of the cast members was carrying a huge set piece as they shoved past me. I moved to the wall to get out of the way of the other people trying to prepare the stage.
“I find that it’s better to get out of the way, too.”
I jumped at the sound of a new voice and turned around. Those blue eyes were smiling at me again. “Oh… yeah.” My eyes darted to the ground.
“I’m Thalassa.” She stuck her hand out for me to shake.
I took it in mine. What do I say now? “That’s a really pretty name…” And you blew it.
Thalassa smiled. “Thank you. I don’t hear that often.”
Wait… she doesn’t think I’m the most awkward human being in existence?
“What’s your name?” She was talking to me again.
I stood up straight and took a deep breath. “I’m Jove.” And of course my voice chose to crack right there.
“You clean up nicely, Jove.”
Was that a compliment? I’ll take it as a compliment… “I-I try.”
“How long have you been playing the guitar?”
And now we’re small-talking. Wait, is that a word? “Since I was thirteen. Uh, how long have you been…”
“Performing magic… I’m a performer.”
I knit my eyebrows together. “You’re part of the Troupe Gramarye, aren’t you?”
“Mm hm. I’ve been performing ever since I was a little girl.”
“Thalassa.” The man who brought me to the other musicians was talking. He recognized me and frowned. I gave him an awkward wave, but only received a deeper scowl in response.
“Yes, Father?” Thalassa was pulled off to the side where she and her father talked. After a few moments, they both walked away.
What do I do now?
“Hey, Jove!” Harrison had returned and was calling out to me. “We’re all sitting over here,” he gestured to a row of seats right in front of the stage. The rest of the musicians were already setting up when I sat down.
“Alright guys, we start in ten.” People were starting to file into the seating areas. It looked like a full house. And… the butterflies are back. The rest of the band was chattering with each other and exchanging the occasional laugh. I hugged my guitar to my chest and sank deeper into my chair.
Before I knew it, Harrison was tapping his sticks together, and we started playing. I looked up and caught a glimpse of Thalassa. I couldn’t help but freeze for a moment or two. She looked magnificent. She was wearing a long skirt that moved with the slightest provocation. Her short hair was pinned to the side of her head with a rose-shaped hair clip, and she had makeup that brought out her eyes more than I thought possible.
I pulled my attention back to the music, hoping I was with the rest of the band. Occasionally, my attention would be pulled back to Thalassa and I’d stop playing for a moment. Our eyes met once, and she smiled at me. Or maybe she was just smiling at the crowd…
Once the show was over, she paid me.
“Thanks,” I tipped my newly procured hat and picked up my guitar case. Before I could leave, Thalassa reached for my arm.
“…Do you have anywhere to go?”
“I’ll figure something out,” I replied. “There’s gotta some hotel I can afford.”
She hesitated for a moment. “We have an empty room you can stay in. If you want to stay, that is.” Thalassa actually looked nervous. Did she think that I wouldn’t want to stay the night?
“I-I mean… is it okay with your Dad?” Never mind, she was right.
Sonia hesitated. I had begun to utter another apology when she said, “it’s fine with him. So do you want to stay?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll try to be as quiet as possible.”
A grin crossed Thalassa’s face. It was brighter than any of the other polite smiles she had given me. “C’mon, I’ll show you to your room.”
I smiled back, careful to keep my mouth closed. “Th-thanks…”
Thalassa led me to the room I was going to stay in. It was pretty bare bones with just a bed and a window crammed into the tiny space. “I hope this is alright…” She said.
“It’s great. Thank you so much!” Just to show her that I was grateful, I flopped down on the bed. “I haven’t slept anywhere this nice in a while.”
An awkward atmosphere filled the room. “Well, I’ll let you get some sleep.”
I nodded. “Yeah, thanks… again.”
Thalassa turned and left, leaving me to try and get some sleep.
“What do you mean you’re letting him stay the night?” Thalassa’s father was shouting. “I don’t care if he has nowhere else to go! That’s not our problem.”
I curled up into a ball, trying to block out the shouting. Well this is awkward.
“And now you’re concerned that I’ll wake him up. Thalassa, you know you have to ask my permission before you just lend out rooms to strangers! What if he steals something?” There was silence; Thalassa was probably talking. “How can you trust someone you just met a few hours ago?”
I took a deep breath. Should I leave? That might get Thalassa’s father off her back…
“Alright, he can stay one night. But that’s it. I don’t want you letting him back in. You hear me?”
He turned around quickly… I guess now I can get some sleep. I pulled the thin quilt up to my chin, and let out a long sigh as I was encased in a cocoon of warmth.
. . .
The young man looked up at the sound of his name. Thalassa was talking. “Oh, hey.” Jove put aside the sheet music he was writing and looked up at his wife.
She was frowning.
“I have something to tell you.”