Home > No Tomorrow(4)

No Tomorrow(4)
Author: Carian Cole

“Would that really be so bad?”

I frown. “Of course it would. I can’t not work. I’d be broke in a month. I’d lose my car. I wouldn’t be able to buy clothes or pay rent….”

I want to eat my words immediately. I may have just insulted the only guy I’ve actually felt any sort of connection with or had any real conversation with in months. “I’m so sorry,” I say quickly. “I didn’t mean—”

He shrugs casually. “Don’t apologize. I’m okay with what I am and what I do. I chose to live this way.”

I narrow my eyes at him, thinking that I must have heard him incorrectly. “You chose to be homeless?”

“Yup. One day I grabbed my guitar and a bag of clothes and started walking. And I kept on walking.” His eyes meet mine, all blue and serene with a splash of wild. “I still haven’t stopped.”

My imagination soars with visions of Evan walking non-stop, from one town to the next with Acorn. Sleeping under bushes and huddling under freeway bridges during downpours while cars race past them. I’m fascinated and also a little skeeved out over the concept of choosing to live on the streets. Just thinking about how he must live—not having a clean bed to sleep in—makes me feel itchy.

“Don’t you worry about being able to eat… or where you’re going to sleep…? Or—I don’t know—where you’re going to shower and all that?”

He shakes his head, the feather earring swinging against his mane of hair. “Nah. It all just works out. Like it did today. The girl I’ve had my eye on for days bought me and my dog the best lunch I’ve had in a long time, and now she’s talking to me.”

A blush heats my face, and now I wish I could blow off work and sit here and talk to him. But I really do have to get back to the office, so I stand and brush off the back of my pants.

Before I walk away, he grabs my hand and pulls it closer to inspect my tiny wrist tattoo.

“Ladybugs are supposed to mean good luck,” he says.

“I know.” That’s why I got it, actually. Because ladybugs are cute and dainty and lucky. Everything I’d like to be. But instead, I’m awkward and clumsy and not very lucky.

“Did you also know in Norway, there’s a myth that if a man and a woman see a ladybug at the same time, they’ll fall in love and are destined to be together forever?”

The warmth of his rough fingertips gliding along mine is comforting, like slipping into a pair of favorite sweatpants on a chilly day. I slowly pull my hand away from his.

“No, I didn’t know that.” How does he even know about the myths of bugs in Norway? Is he some kind of guitar-playing bug studier?

“We just looked at yours at the same time.”

“That doesn’t count,” I throw back with a smile. “It’s a tattoo. It’s not a real ladybug. And we’re not in Norway.”

“I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” He grins as he picks up his belongings and walks away with his dog. After a few steps, he looks back and flashes me a smirk that’s a jarring mix of boyishness and sex appeal. I shake my head as he heads back toward the park.

I tear my eyes away from the way his jeans hug his butt in the most perfect way and how his hair flows down his back, and walk in the opposite direction. I’ll have to work an extra half hour tonight to make up for being late, but that’s okay. I did my good deed for the day and bought a homeless guy lunch. Even if he claims he’s homeless and jobless by choice, I don’t really believe him. No sane person would do that to himself.

“Honey, if you’re going to be late for dinner, you should call. I was starting to worry.” My mother peers into the oven at whatever she’s got baking in there.

“I’m sorry. I had to work late, and then I got stuck in some traffic.” I wish for the millionth time the tiny apartment-like space I rent in my parents’ basement had a kitchen, instead of the tiny refrigerator, single countertop burner, and microwave I have in a small nook down there. If I could cook real food in my own space, I’d decline having dinner with my parents and my sister every night so I could feel more independent.

Mom pushes her short black hair behind her ear. “Please don’t let them take advantage of you in that office, Piper. First it’s a half hour. Then it’s an hour. I know how managers take advantage of their more submissive employees.”

Cringing at the way she characterizes me, I drape my coat over a chair at the kitchen table, reach into the cabinet above the counter, and pull out four dinner plates.

“They’re not taking advantage of me, Mom. I was late coming back from lunch, and I had to make up the time. That’s all.”

Donning oven mitts, she pulls a meatloaf out of the oven and then nudges the appliance closed with her knee. “I worked in an office for a long time. I know how some people get stepped on and taken advantage of, and I don’t want you to be treated like that. Once you set a pattern, it will follow you forever. You need to have a firm backbone, okay?”

“Her? A backbone?” my younger sister Courtney repeats as she enters the kitchen. “She’s the mushiest person I know.”

“Is it pick on Piper day?” I ask as I place the dinner plates on the oak table. Meanwhile, our formal dining room—with a beautiful view of the flower garden in our backyard—sits unused, only to be occupied on holidays and rare special occasions. If I ever have a nice dining room, I’m going to eat in it every night, even if I’m noshing ramen noodles all alone.

The comments from my mother and sister bring back uncomfortable yet all-too-familiar memories of being the middle child, sandwiched between two sisters who are pretty damn close to perfect. They’re both gorgeous, tall, confident, athletic, raven-haired beauties. They’re graceful, popular, and excel at everything they set their minds to.

Then there’s me, sticking out like a sore thumb with blond hair and light eyes. I’m so short the top of my head barely reaches their shoulders. I’m shy, socially awkward, and look like I am perpetually stalked by a dark cloud. The utter misfit in all our family photographs.

Years ago, I stopped trying to compete with them for attention and slipped into the background of our family. Nobody seemed to notice.

“No one’s picking on you. I’m giving you some professional advice. That’s all.”

Just as the last serving dish is placed on the table, my father—tall, smiling, and handsome with just a touch of gray at his temples—joins us at the table. We each take the same chairs we’ve been sitting in since I was about five years old. The only difference in this family scene is the empty chair belonging to my older sister, Karissa, who’s now in law school and happily engaged to a fellow law student. A man my mother describes as a gorgeous hunk of perfect man and the kind of man she wishes I would find.

I don’t want to find a man at all. I’m open to meeting one, but the term finding one scares me. I’m lost enough on my own. I don’t need to find a man equally as lost and disoriented with life as I currently am.

I think I need a man with his own compass.

After dinner, I make a quick exit to my space downstairs, a sigh of relief leaving my lungs as soon as I’m on the other side of the door that separates me from them. My plan is to get my own place next year, once I have enough money stashed in my savings account to give me a decent safety net.

Ditra, my best friend, has been after me for months to move in with her, but she’s a major slob. She keeps food in her refrigerator until it can’t be identified anymore. The stains on her carpet are oddly sticky and hard. And she’s going through an experimental phase of fooling around with random men and women—sometimes at the same time—and that kind of oogs me out. I can’t picture myself sleeping in the next room with my cat while she’s just on the other side of the wall with her latest petri-dish date.

Living with my family for a while longer won’t kill me.

Archie, my striped tiger cat, is staring at me with accusing green eyes from beside his food dish, which apparently has fewer morsels of food than he requires, even though I filled it this morning. Like the obedient human he’s trained me to be, I add more food and give him fresh water before I change into cotton shorts and a T-shirt.

I do one hundred crunches.

I do fifty donkey kicks per leg.

I do fifty squats.

I wash my face, brush my teeth for two minutes, and comb the hairspray out of my hair so it’s not a sticky mess when I shower in the morning.

I check Archie’s dishes one more time and set the outfit I plan to wear tomorrow at the very front of my closet.

Nightly rituals complete, I grab Archie and carry him to the bedroom with me. I slip Titanic into the VCR and crawl under the comforter to watch it for the tenth time. I’ve seen it in the theater twice—once with Ditra, who was bored by it—most likely due to the lack of sex scenes—and once with Courtney, who cried but enjoyed it, even though she cursed out Rose for not letting Jack onto that floating door.

I love the movie and find some new special moment every time I watch it. I can’t get enough of the romantic connection, the angst, and the unwavering fight for love and happiness. The hope and devotion, even in the face of heartache and tragedy, is fantastic.

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