DISCLAIMER: I do not own any member of FTSK or any other people mentioned herein. Purely fictional, people.
Warnings are: language, references to past drug useage, sadness. Review review review :) This is my next attempt at a chaptered story, so we'll see how this goes.
"Spare some change, ma'am?"
Those words leave Caleb's mouth with desperation, his arm shaking as he lifts it from the folds of the ratty blanket he's buried under, what little change he has rattling nosily in the white plastic cup he's clutching between his thin fingers. The woman passes him and keeps her eyes firmly glued to the sidewalk in front of her. She shakes her head minutely but doesn't say anything.
Caleb's seen this a hundred times today already: the people that pass by like he doesn't exist. Like they don't notice the needle marks on his arm, the sallow complexion to his face. The people nice enough to actually drop change into his cup do it from a distance, like just being in the proximity of him would give them diseases.
He's not addicted, not anymore. That lesson he's already learned.
He sighs when she's gone and retracts his arm again, pulling the blanket tighter around his body. A shiver runs up his spine as the wind picks up, blowing leaves and bits of debris along the street and bringing a deep chill with it.
You don't know how good you've got it until it's all gone, Caleb thinks remorsefully. He feels like a crappy Dickens' character—and he doesn't even like Dickens—and if he had room to complain he would. But he's seen the guys in the alleys, the women pushing shopping carts, muttering to themselves.
Caleb Turman is sane in a world of crazies.
Not in any way it is ironic. Not in any way is he fucked. Not in any way is he bitter.
He's just… numb.
Truth be told, Caleb is afraid to even see his appearance anymore. Back when he'd lived at home and had three square meals a day he still didn't look healthy, so being out on the streets? He's sure it's not doing wonders for his complexion, that's sure.
Like his life, his humor has gone down the shitter, it seems.
Caleb's stomach rumbles with hunger but he swallows it down, closing his eyes tightly. He's grown used to the feeling of being empty, grown used to what feels like his stomach caving in.
Right now he kind of wishes he had been anorexic when he became homeless, because at least then he'd like the way his bones jut out too, too far and his skin stretches tight across his frame. He's far from being a walking skeleton, but even that's not a lot of comfort.
An anorexic heroin addict, how commonplace.
He humorlessly laughs into the twilight. This is what he gets for listening to his stupid fucking friends—looking back, he's aware that they weren't really his friends and he should be ashamed to even think of that—and taking that first hit.
That first hit, that first prick of the needle into the vein at the crook of his arm is what fucked up his life. The heroin poured into his system, flowing through his bloodstream, and as he slumped against the wall of a shitty makeshift barn bathroom, he'd never felt more alive.
Caleb regrets that more than anything in his life, because here he is, some pale street kid with a mind full of regrets and a body full of scars. He's seen the mothers hurry their kids past him, heard their whispers as they leaned down.
"This is what drugs do to you."
"He's just a junkie. Don't pay him any mind, dear."
His most favorite: "Don't talk to him. I'm sure he just wants money for more drugs."
Drugs. That's all anyone thought when they saw him. It's what his parents thought, it's what his friends thought, hell, he'd even thought it. And, well… sometimes after-school specials are right.
Caleb's long-forgotten the high of shooting up in favor of starvation and desperation and the faux high of just eating. He tries to forget the day he got kicked out after his mother saw the needle marks on his arms. It hadn't gotten so severe that he'd had to resort to the Nikki Sixx level where he had to shoot up through his dick due to lack of useable veins, but it was enough for her.
He doesn't tell her about the ones on his thighs.
Live and regret, forgive and not forget.
She still doesn't know he's gay. Doesn't know that back when he was sixteen he'd had a boyfriend, Pete, who was twenty-five. It was statutory rape. He never told her that on the first night he'd gotten high, first time he ever felt that sweet kiss of the needle, he'd blown one of his supposed friends, Jack.
All the while he was seeing colors, Jack's voice was distorted and fuzzy as he said, "Fuck, yeah, like that. Come on, you stupid whore." With the music pounding in Caleb's ears, and Jack's cock down his throat, maybe whore was a fitting word.
The aversion that he hosts for that word, he's sure, comes from this night.
Caleb could make lists upon lists, fill all those fucking great libraries of old with the things his mother doesn't—and will never—know.
He sees the last of the sun's rays rapidly sinking behind the buildings of Dallas, the concrete jungle swallowing down the last remaining bits of warmth like a hungry monster. Above him the red of the sky tapers into dark velvet, stars pinpricking the heavens like individually set crystals.
This hardly brings any relief to Caleb. He knows it's winter, and even winter in Texas gets cold at night. He's fully prepared to slink off to an alley—at least there's shelter there, and hopefully a dumpster or two with some semi-decent food left in it—when he sees the figure of someone else start up the street, beanie pulled low over his white-blonde hair, hoodie zipped up over his long, skinny torso.
Caleb fumbles on fingers already numbing for his cup, and he brings it clinking out of the blanket. He opens his mouth to beg—his dignity isn't even half-there anymore—when the guy stops in front of him and fishes out his wallet.
"Hey, dude, I think you need a lot more than just change," the guy says. Caleb looks up, shocked at the friendly tone of his voice, and he's stunned by the wide, wide smile the guy's giving him.
"I—" Caleb starts. He stops, not sure of how to go on. He watches with wide eyes the long, nimble fingers of the boy in front of him dig around in his wallet for a few seconds, eyebrows creased in concentration, until he finally flourishes a ten dollar bill with a triumphant noise.
The guy folds it and drops it in Caleb's cup, then leans down and rests the calloused palm of his hand on Caleb's thin arm. "Buy yourself some decent food," he says softly, his bright blue eyes boring into Caleb's brown ones. "You're too pretty to be out here."
Caleb's awestruck and can only open his mouth, the cup in his hand feeling a thousand times heavier with the weight of the bill in it. He notices the guy's eyes linger down his arm he slides his hand away. Caleb knows he's seen the marks, but he doesn't say anything.
The guy steps back and flashes another bright smile at Caleb before he's disappearing down the darkening sidewalk. Caleb quickly reaches into his cup when the guy's out of sight, the sound of his footsteps long faded away, and digs around the meager nickels and dimes until his dirty fingers enclose around the still-crisp ten dollar note.
Caleb holds it up, still shocked at what just happened. Not only did he get handed a ticket to almost a week's worth of food, depending on where he went, but the way the guy had looked at him, all bright eyes and lingering touches, Caleb has a feeling that wasn't going to be the last he saw of the tall, willowy blonde.
The Burger King down the street is hardly a feast, but it's late and it's the only place that's open right now. And really, only a few of the employees give Caleb withering looks when he enters, the bell dinging brightly in his wake. He's never been more glad that the place is empty than he is now.
The money is clutched tightly in his hands, like he's afraid he's going to lose it at any moment. The girl at the register smiles briefly at him as he looks up at the menu before returning her attention back to the register. Caleb feels completely out of place here in his dirty hoodie and flannel shirt, torn-up Vans, ripped jeans and too-long red hair, not to mention his desperate need for a shave.
Caleb takes a deep breath and walks up to the counter, shakily orders a Whopper combo—small, he knows how dangerous it is to gorge on an empty stomach—and hands her the ten, flinching back out of instinct as she accidentally brushes over his fingers.
He doesn't like to think of himself as a jittery colt, but he so, so is.
"It's okay," she says, her voice light and sweet and as far from condescending as Caleb's ever heard directed at him. "I think it's good that someone gave you money for a proper meal." She hands him his change and pulls a cup out from under the counter, placing it on the tray.
Caleb grabs it and heads over to the soda fountain, chewing on his lip as he looks at the choices. He fills the cup with ice before deciding on Dr. Pepper, something he remembers he loved a long, long time ago (really, it's only been a year or so ago, but on the streets everything seems longer, stretched out to impossible infinity).
When they call his number and he gets his tray, he's absolutely sure for a second or two that's he's died and gone to heaven, because there's no way this is happening.
After he's taken a few bites of his food an employee pulls up a chair next to him with a loud, obnoxious screech. Caleb instinctively shies away a few inches, swallows, says thickly, "What?" and feels increasingly territorial.
This wouldn't be his first time getting made fun of for being skinny, for having ripped clothes and unwashed hair. He's certainly been given enough money before to go get food, and he knows how painful the stares and whispers of other diners can be.
The guy—Jonathan, his nametag reads—smiles in a friendly way. "You're usually up the street, aren't you?" On his left wrist is a neon green watch. Caleb focuses on it instead of meeting Jonathan's face, afraid that behind the mask of friendly words and cheerful smiles there'll be a nugget of disgust.
Caleb nods but doesn't say anything, idly pushing the fries around his tray, afraid to eat when he's being watched at such close proximity, afraid he'll give away just how desperate and starving he actually is. Jonathan keeps speaking. "My friend Kyle says he saw you today and gave you some money."
Immediately Caleb's spine straightens and he turns to face Jonathan. "Tall and blonde, right?"
Jonathan nods and pushes the dark bangs off his forehead. "That's the dude. He told me he's seen you there before and he couldn't stand to not give you money anymore. He also said to expect you tonight."
Caleb blushes. Jonathan notices and chuckles, says, "I don't blame you for coming down tonight, seriously. I don't go down your street when I go to work; otherwise I would've given you some money before."
Caleb nods and takes a sip of his drink. Jonathan is nice, and genuinely so, but Caleb kind of wants him to just go away so that he can eat in peace and get the hell out of here. But Jonathan stays and asks Caleb questions until the manager yells from the desk, "Cook, I'm not paying you to chat with the customers all night! Get up here and take over drive-thru so that Bello can take his actual break."
"Oh, gotta bounce," Jonathan says as he jumps up. He holds out his hand and Caleb eyes it warily before taking it. "Nice talking to you…" Jonathan stops, both of them realizing at the same time Caleb hasn't said his name.
"It's Caleb," he replies and shakes Jonathan's hand a final time before the dark-haired boy jogs up to the counter, apologizing to his boss before disappearing back into the kitchen, slipping the headset handed to him by a long-haired boy on over his work-officiated visor.
Caleb laughs to himself as he finishes his food.
After the warmth of the restaurant Caleb hates the alley more than he normally does. He's long since lost the huge cardboard box that had been left here—how cliché—and relies on newspapers and his blanket to keep him from freezing or catching pneumonia or something just as dreadful.
Some life of luxury he's living.
For once, though, Caleb's going to bed with a full stomach. The sated feeling reminds him if when he'd shoot up, how euphoric and happy he felt. He closes his eyes, draws the blanket closer to himself, and sighs happily.