Gruff

By, hionlife

A/N: AU, another riduculous endeavor of my time. So, Christopher's not so different (although, I have misplaced his mother), Jalil's buckets of crazy, David's poor as dirt, and April is...not on my list of favorite people lately. Eh.

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Dad's sober Christopher realizes, even before the flimsy screen door has a chance to slam shut behind him. That's weird. And dangerous. The man stumbles through to the kitchen, banging into doors, hitting walls, yelling at the roaches that creep along the floor, angry in a way that only coming off a month long binge can make you.

Dad drunk is Dad calm and laughing, no matter how much life sucks. Dad sober, well, not as nice. Clarity is not a good look on him and usually results in Christopher not looking so good either.

"Christopher," his father bellows, hunched over the leaking kitchen sink. "What the hell happened to my wallet?" Christopher remains quiet, two feet inside the door. There aren't many options here, and he doesn't take long to consider them.

"Christopher," his father hollers again, but his son has already backed out of the house and the only response he gets is the screen door slapping shut.

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Jalil twitches as he leaves the apartment. It isn't a response he can control anymore. He taps the dusty stairwell on each side, right and then left, before going down and then does the same when he reaches the ground landing, right and then left, and he's out the door.

The stairwell rituals are fairly new, but avoiding them quickly leads to shaking hands, hitching breaths, and a deep ache where his chest becomes stomach. He tried to take the elevator once. Doesn't work.

He shoves his hands deep in his pockets, rounding his shoulders as he starts down the shadowed sidewalk. The fridge is empty, and it's too late to go shopping, so eating out is the only option left. Alone tends to be the routine since Jalil's social circles tend to involve more books and compulsions than people. He hasn't seen his parents in awhile, though he's fairly certain they're still living at the apartment, someone must be paying the bills, but it's just as well. He doesn't need them around, pointing out how crazy he is all the time. He knows it well enough himself.

There aren't many places this side of town that he would even consider eating at. Too much grease, and spit, and who knows what else. But there is a Taco Bell, a few blocks down, just past the gas station. At least, he thinks, there may not be bodily fluids that are not his own in that food.

He pauses at a crosswalk, waits for the little walking person to light up across the street. When it does, he bends and touches each side of the reflective white paint outlining the walk, right and then left, before jogging across.

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April is a smart girl, usually. A good girl, but not necessarily a nice one. She prefers brutally honest to bitchy, if you must know. Sure of herself to a fault she doesn't hesitate to pull in at the Taco Bell when she sees the sign. Never could deny a craving.

This isn't exactly her part of town. Her family occupies a town house quite a few blocks north. Nice, by anyone's standards; Rich, by most.

Mrs. Palavino, head of the theater department at Chicago U, recommended full emulsion. To play a part, she had said, you have to know it. April was hoping for the lead in the upcoming production, some inner city drama, student written work. So, she drove downtown to… observe.

Hate to say it Mrs. Palavino, she thinks, but the whole 'emulsion' thing is crap. And now she's hungry.

She smiles as she strolls into the restaurant. It's Monday night and the place is dead, completely empty save for one thin black kid in the back. He glances up for a second as she walks past, strangely lizard like eyes meeting her own, before returning to his food.

Observe, April reminds herself, observe. Not that she'd ever find real inner city drama at a Taco Bell, but you never know. She places her order quickly, receiving more than a few curious stares from the employees. Clearly, she is the outsider here and it's not a feeling she's accustomed too. She crosses her arms as she waits, glancing over at the boy again; startled to find his eyes on her. He blinks slowly in response to being caught staring, but does not look away as he stands and tosses his trash in the bin. She watches him curiously as he finally turns and heads toward the restroom, pausing before he goes in to touch the doorframe. First on the right side and then on the left. Strange.

When her order comes up, she grabs the bag from greasy hands and hurries out of the restaurant.

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David digs deeper into his pockets as he slouches down the dark street, coming up with a good amount of lint, dirt, another dime, and a penny, which brings his total to a whopping one dollar and seventy-three cents. What luck, he thinks grimly. The hunger that turns his stomach is all too familiar, and he has about enough to buy a Tootsie roll at the Piggly Wiggly. Optimism David, his mother's voice reminds mockingly. Sure.

He slinks past the Taco Bell, which is overpriced, he doesn't care who you ask, and slips into the gas station. The place is grimy, but then again, so is the whole neighborhood, so it's fitting. There's only one guy on duty at the counter, old, slouched, and overly friendly.

"How ya doing?" the man asks jovially as David counts out his change to pay for the meager purchase.

"Fine," David replies tightly, handing over the money.

"Lovely weather, isn't it?" the man grins toothlessly, not in forced politeness, but because he really doesn't have any teeth. He types in the amount and carefully separates the coins into their proper slots in the cash drawer. David wants to tell him no, it isn't lovely weather, it's cold as hell, especially working down by the water all day, where the wind comes off the lake with just enough moisture to bite at your skin. Instead, he nods silently, and focuses on resisting the urge to slam the man's bony fingers in the cash drawer.

"Last year, this time," 'Phinny' his nametag reads, straightens and shakes his head. "It was cold as all get out. Remember all that snow? We set some kind of record, all that snow, remember that?"

"Sure," David forces between clenched teeth. The man shakes his head again and begins to count out the change. If David didn't know that seven cents could very well be the difference between turkey and bologna, he'd have left right then. The man picks out a nickel first, holds it up, squinting in the light.

"1980," he reads and grins. "Year my son got married." He winks at David. "That's good luck." David can only stare, reminding himself to breath, as the elderly man proceeds to pluck two pennies out, one by one, with the same speed. He holds the coins in a fist and David reaches out to accept them, thinking he is finally out of there, when the man detours and drops his fist to the counter to support his weight.

"Something bothering you kid?" he asks, but continues before David can speak. "Sure there is. I can tell a weighted soul when I see one." He nods wisely and opens his fist to reveal the change lying in his palm. "Money?" he guesses correctly, to which David only blinks. "Aren't many in the city not worrying about that, but you son, are too young for it." David wants to tell the man not to call him 'son' and to mind his own business, but he doesn't, instead waiting for the man to finish. "Things are going to change for you," he says gruffly. "Very soon. I can feel it and I'm not usually wrong about these things.

"I doubt it," David replies lowly.

"Can't doubt fate," the man intones with a gummy smile and drops the change into David's waiting palm.

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