Thunk, thunk thunk. Her duffel bag banged against the back of her hip as she walked. More often and harder on blocks she wished to cover faster; where the heroin addict stood shivering under construction scaffolding, or where the underdressed woman sized her up. Less often and softer everywhere else.
It hadn’t been the best day. Only two hours ago, she had emerged from the shower to find her roommate standing in front of her bedroom door, hands on her hips, fingers tapping away impatiently.
“You’re four months behind in rent.” she had said, “You need to leave, NOW.”
“It’s 11:30. Can it at least wait until morning?” Kennedy had asked, toweling her hair. She was annoyed but not surprised.
“No. I’ve been more than patient. I’ll call the cops.” The roommate asserted. Kennedy could never remember her name. She hadn’t argued, only sighed and went into her bedroom to pack her duffel, the one currently bruising her hip. On her way out, she stole gulps from the bottle of tequila that her roommate got at a friends wedding and tossed her keys on the counter.
“Enjoy the furniture.” She tossed over her shoulder as she slammed the door shut.
I am still pissed about the furniture, Kennedy thought as she kicked a Four Loko can down the street. Every time her boot made contact, she felt a jolt in her toes that was reassuring. Her luck to get evicted on the one night where the temperature was below zero in over a month. All of her was in pain. Her thighs in their thin jeans were being stabbed by pins, her nose was frozen. The tequila swirled in her otherwise empty stomach. She wanted to change the music playing in her ears, but her fingers were useless.
If I continue in this silence, have I surrendered to this all?*
It was a good song, one of her favorites, but it made her sleepy. If she fell asleep and no one found her, she would die. If she did and a cop found her, she would have a record, which would be just as bad as dying. If a kind bystander found her, she’d have a hefty medical bill. If an unkind bystander found her, well…
Kennedy stared north towards the bridge spanning the river. She’d have to turn before she crossed it. Or did she? She imagined jumping, of cracking the thin ice over the sluggish river. The panic and cold and inability to breathe.
NO. It was not that bad. She refused to let her mind make plans like that. It wasn’t genuine despair, just mild self-pity and morbid curiosity. This entire trek was about self-preservation. She set her jaw and sped up, eager to make it to her destination. She focused on mouthing the lyrics of every song to stay alert.
This part of town was not being gentrified quickly enough. A mix of trendy everythings, boarded up storefronts, and buildings like the one she rang the buzzer of. If you suspected that it had roaches, you’d be wrong. If you suspected that it had mice, you’d be right.
A surprisingly alert male voice rang through the speaker. “Yuh?”
Kennedy sighed. “It’s me. Can I come up?”
A crackle of static. “Do you want to?”
She nodded before she remembered that he couldn’t see it. “Please?” The buzzer echoed off of the crumbly brick walls. The act of standing still had taken some of the ability from her legs. She found she had to pull herself along the wall to open the door.
“Little Orphan Annie!” Phil swung the door open before Kennedy could knock. He stood out of the way to give her room to come in, taking in her bright red face and stiff walk. He caught sight of the duffel bag. “Evicted again?”
“Hey, Joe Dirt.” Kennedy mumbled, lowering her shoulder and sending her bag crashing to the floor. She realized that her extremities were too numb to do any further undressing and looked to him for assistance.
They had known each other since middle school. She had been in sixth grade, and he in eighth when they had been placed in foster homes across the street from each other. Her parents had died two years prior in a fiery car accident on their way to claim her tenth birthday present, a puppy to be named Klaus. Her parents had a thing for the dead Kennedys and The Dead Kennedys. She wore the burnt up dog tag on a satin choker, and a pendant with a picture of Jack and Jackie inside.
Phil was 13 when his parents sat him down at the kitchen table. It was a Tuesday night in late spring. “It’s not you, it’s us.” They had said. “We’re just not very good parents.”
Phil had thought they were doing a decent job of it, and told them so. He numbly begged them to hang on until he turned 16 and could be legally emancipated.
“No no no. You need a proper bringing up.”
Right. Because foster care and juvie did an incredible job.
Phil liked Kennedy because she had a cute butt and spoke French. Kennedy liked Phil because he was a Cool Boy. He smoked, and drank beer and stole shit. He looked toned because there was no fat to cover his muscle, not because he was particularly muscular, but all of the girls said he was ripped. She had been in love with him, like 12-year-olds love, until he started dating his first real girlfriend, and then irrationally found him ruined. Phil had loved Kennedy when he got out of a summer stint in juvie. He thought of her as somewhat used when she had her first kiss with a girl. They had grown out of the immature attitudes that killed their attractions, but not out of the effect of not being attracted to each other.
Phil motioned for her to sit down on the couch so he could work on her Docs. Kennedy was shivering because she always shivered around Phil.
“Did you walk here all the way from your place?” Phil asked as he rubbed her feet to warm them.
“I didn’t have bus fare.”
“Why didn’t you call?”
Kennedy nodded towards the closed bedroom door. “I figured Rain was here.”
“So she wasn’t going to sit out.”
“So I’d have brought her.” Phil put her socks back on her feet and unzipped her coat. Kennedy’s teeth began to chatter.
“Tea or smokes?” Phil asked, reaching into his back pocket. He always had different brands, because he always stole them off of people at the club. Phil remembered most things about Kennedy, but he always forgot that she didn’t smoke. In a way, this meant the truth was that she only smoked around him.
“What kind of tea?”
“Mint or something? It was for Rain, when she got sick.”
A sour taste rose into her mouth. “Just smokes, thanks. Rain won’t mind the smell?”
“I’ll open a window later. You’re staying the night, right?”
She shrugged. “What time is it?” Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed at her phone. Her hands burned from the feeling returning to them. After three in the morning. “Yeah, I guess. I’ll be out of the way in a few hours.”
He snorted. “You know you can’t overstay your welcome, right? Why not just crash here? At least until you head to- let me guess- Chicago for a few weeks, that will actually mean I won’t see you until July?” She always spent the fourth with him.
“I hadn’t considered Chicago.” In the whole long walk, she hadn’t really considered anything.
“What the hell do you even spend the social security on?” Phil asked incredulously. He had over ten thousand dollars in various places, including a decent pile of cash under his mattress. Kennedy was the only one who knew this because she was the only one who would never steal from him. She fumbled more with her phone and showed him the screen. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was reading the figures correctly. “Then why the fuck don’t you just pay rent, or crash somewhere you’re welcome for free?”
Kennedy considered this but didn’t have an answer. “Um.”
He knew this meant that she didn’t have an answer. He flicked his lighter at the cigarette in her hand and brushed back a strand of dark hair sleek with sweat. “You hungry?” He asked, moving towards the kitchen before she could answer yes. She leaned forward to flick her cigarette against the ashtray. The radiator hissed in the corner in an effort to keep the high ceilings filled with warm air. Phil had always been a good housekeeper. He filled the holes in the floor so the mice didn’t make it into his unit. He never left food or dirty dishes out so that they would never stay. Kennedy figured Rain was worth the effort.
Phil shook as he got to work warming up leftover Chinese. He always shook around Kennedy. Rain will be pissed if Kennedy AND her food is gone before she wakes up, he thought. She would think that Phil ate it to be mean. Kennedy barely looked up from the twisting smoke between her fingers as he set the plate down in front of her.
“I don’t want to talk.” She said as she set the cigarette down to eat.
“You know Rain loves you, right? Why are you so afraid of her?” Phil sank onto the couch next to her, but not too next to her. She never liked to be crowded while she ate.
She swallowed before she answered. “Not my place.”
He nodded, understanding. “Breakfast, at least? All the hotcakes you can eat?”
“I’ll think about it.”
He moved his head silently to music that wasn’t playing while she finished her chicken and broccoli. She carried her bowl into the kitchen to wash it while Phil took pillows from his bed and blankets from the hall closet and tossed them on the couch for her. He didn’t say goodnight before he closed his bedroom door behind him.
Kennedy crawled under the blankets and scrolled numbers on her phone in the dark, figuring what hour would be the best alarm. She thought of taking off her jeans and changing into pajamas. She thought of brushing her teeth…
“Auntie Kennedy!” A small figure hurled herself at her, burrowing into her stomach and breathing in her scent. “I thought I heard you last night! I saw your boots and I said, ‘Daddy, those are Kennedy’s boots!’, but he told me to be quiet so you could sleep. Auntie, did you get evicted AGAIN?!”
“So why the heck didn’t you let me sleep?” Kennedy ignored the question. She pushed the five year old off of her and rubbed her lower back. The downsides of couch surfing.
“Ummmm… I missed you silly!” Everything was so simple for Baby Rain. Her mother was serving two to five. She would always be serving two to five. Her father would always have custody. Kennedy smiled and accepted the wordless apology from Phil, standing in the doorway of his bedroom.
“Are you going to stay, Orphan Annie?” He asked, looking down at his fingernails.
Kennedy shivered and sniffed Rain’s hair. Phil still used Johnson’s baby shampoo.
“I was promised hotcakes.”
*Film School, Compare. Hideout.
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