"Hey, Roger, get up!" yells Collins, pounding on his friend's bedroom door. "Come on, Roger, we said we'd meet Benny at the Life Café!"
Roger groggily sits up and shakes his hair out of his eyes. "I'm up, I'm up," he mumbles, feeling much like a fifteen-year-old version of himself, which is nothing new for him. He feels like that all the time. "Keep your pants on, Collins. By the way, can you throw me mine?"
Collins snorts. "No way'm I coming in there, Roger. Last time I was in there, something bit me."
"What something?" laughs Roger. "Me?"
Collins shrugs. "Didn't stick around to find out," he points out reasonably. "Anyways, just put on your pants and get out here, unless you want everyone to know that you wear anime-themed boxers."
"Hey," argues Roger. "They're quality television."
"Not that you'd know," Collins retorts. "'No, Collins, let's not get a TV – let's get a heater instead!' Smooth, Roger. It's August."
"Shut up and lemme get dressed," mumbles Roger, who often recognizes the stupidity in that particular decision. And moments later, he's tugged on a pair of jeans that's comfortable – for now, anyway. "Kay. Let's go."
And they step outside, feeling the warm air for once, because of course Roger had the great idea to put the unwanted heater in the window, meaning, naturally, that there is never any way for them to get air, even if the heater's off. So they spend as much time outside as possible – on the roof, on the street, in the garden of the Life Café.
By the time Roger and Collins get to the block on which the café is located, they're a half hour late, and they see Benny's Range Rover pulling up to the block.
"Race ya!" yells the still-acting-like-a-fifteen-year-old blonde, and dashes ahead…
on a huddled mass on the ground.
"Hey, what the hell are you doing on the street!" yells Roger – and pauses.
Upon taking a closer look, Roger determines that the object of his fall is not, in fact, a homeless man – but rather, a small child.
Collins and Roger step backwards. The little boy on the ground has tears pouring down his cheeks, and he looks up at Roger. "I'm sorry," he sniffles, and wipes the tears away.
Roger, startled, stares at him. "No, no," he says in a voice that isn't quite his. "It was my fault. Really." He extends a hand to the boy, hoping to help him up, but the boy shakes his head.
"Nuh-uh," he says. "I shouldn't've been lying on the ground like that. Just that Daddy said I shouldn't move and I didn't want to disobey him…" The child trails off. He does not take Roger's hand.
Collins blinks. "Your father told you to just sit on the street?" he asks, baffled.
"Yes," replies the boy softly. "He said I'm stupid and un-nessity," he says, stumbling over the word, "and I shouldn't bother him all the time and I should sit outside with the garbage bags."
Collins and Roger stare at him.
Collins is the first to react. "Damn."
"How old are you? What's your name?" asks Roger.
"Five," says the boy. "I think. And I'm Mark." He looks up at Roger. "You have pretty eyes," he observes.
All of a sudden, a new voice says, "Roger? Collins? What the hell is going on?"
Mark buries his little blond head in his too-large white T-shirt.
"Oh, uh," begins Collins, "This is Mark. We found him sitting on the street. Roger here tripped over him. Mark, this is Benny."
Benny raises an eyebrow. "What's he doing sitting on the street? Begging?"
"No," snaps Roger, "his father apparently told him to sit down here with the garbage bags."
Benny rolls his eyes. "Right," he agrees. "And then, I bet, he rolled around them." Benny indicates the marks all over the small boy's body.
"Mark, where did you get this from?" asks Collins gently, pointing to a black-and-blue mark occupying most of the boy's cheek.
"Daddy gave it to me," says Mark. "I made his coffee bad. It was too cold. Too much milk. He said I should learn a lesson."
Benny softens. "What's your last name, kid? Where do you live?" he asks.
"I don't know," says Mark. "Please don't hurt me…"
Roger's jaw drops.
"I'm not gonna hurt you," Benny promises. "Do you know which building is yours?"
Mark shakes his head.
"Okay," says Collins. "He can't just sit out here alone, can he?"
"No," chorus Benny and Roger.
"So let's take him to the café with us. Or just go home. Are you hungry?" he asks the boy, kneeling down next to him so they are of a height.
Mark shakes his head vehemently. "Daddy says I… Daddy says being hungry is bad," Mark admits. "He says if I feel hungry it's because I don't have anything to do."
"Okay," says Benny, breaking the silence that follows the child's remark, "So he's hungry. Come on, Mark," he says, helping the boy to his feet. "Let's get you some food."
Ignoring Mark's protests, Benny, Collins, and Roger usher the boy into the Life Café, sit him on Collins's lap, and order the works, courtesy of Benny.