Ben Holden fumbled with his key ring as he exited the building where he was a paralegal for Milford and Saxe. He had thought to go directly home, but was eyeing the donut shop across the street. It was 6:00AM and he was flat burned out and hungry. He'd been up all night with some of the rest of the M&S high priced staff preparing documents and making last minute calls overseas for the firm's top litigator Dirk Grimes.
To say it had been a long night would be an understatement of heroic proportions. Ben didn't mind the long nights though. The death of his wife the year before had left a hole in his existence that his work was being used to fill, or if not fill, at least mitigate.
Glancing left he noticed a figure huddled in the doorway. It looked like a kid. Lots of homeless in the area, he knew. The perception was that the high rent district offered a safer habitat for those who could not afford a roof over their heads.
Feeling a little bit guilty about his relatively high standard of living, he approached the figure preparing to offer him a picture of Alexander Hamilton.
"You okay," he said.
"Fuck off asshole," said a female voice.
Well, he'd been wrong about it being a boy and, whoever she was, she wasn't a kid. "Pardon me?"
"You heard me. Fuck off."
Looking closer now, he estimated that the woman was in her forties, small of stature, and woefully short of good manners. "I was just gonna ask if you wanted to have a cup of coffee and maybe a donut or two," he said indicating the donut shop across the street.
He'd had no such intention, but he had changed his mind on hearing the desperation in her voice. Without the slightest reason in the world to give a damn, he suddenly wanted to know more about this fortyish foul-mouthed child of misfortune.
She looked up at him. Struggling to get up she managed to stand. "Okay, Santa, I could use a cup of joe. But, no funny business."
Ben threw up his hands indicating that he completely understood her meaning and agreed to her condition. "Absolutely," he said.
They started walking toward the shop.
"It looks like it's gonna be another cold day," he said as they walked.
"Like what else is new," she said.
"You don't have a warmer coat than that?" he said as he appraised her raiment.
"You might've noticed; no limo came to pick me up," she said.
Ben was getting tired of the continued sarcasm, but for the moment had decided to write it off to a bitterness with life in general rather than anything directly related to him.
He stopped in mid-stride. The woman took a couple more steps before turning to see what the holdup was.
"I'm Ben. What'll I call you," he said.
"Melissa," she said.
They entered the shop and headed for the counter. A girl behind it was waiting on two other customers getting their morning caffeine fix.
"Whatcha like?" said Ben, as it became their turn.
"Can I get two of those?" she said, and Maybe a coffee.
"Hi Melissa," said the girl behind the counter.
"Hi Dot," said Melissa.
"You know each other?" said Ben.
"Not really. Guys sometimes by me coffee here hoping to get into my pants. I guess you could say I'm kind of a regular," said Melissa.
He collected their tray and moved to a booth at the back.
"Where do you stay? I mean really," said Ben.
"Around. Usually around here," she said.
Ben was thoughtful and she noticed it. "Look mister—Ben—I'm not into strangers banging me for donuts. Besides, what would your wife say?"
"Not married," he said.
"Divorced eh," she said.
"Wife died a year ago. I'm unattached," he said.
She eyed him. She figured he was telling the truth. "Sorry. Bummer," she said.
"Yeah, bummer," he repeated.
"Whaddya doin' on the street," he said.
She snickered. "What is anybody doin' on the street," she said. "I'm poor."
"Want a job?" he said.
"What kind of job?" she said.
"What can you do," he countered.
"Well, I don't do what you do," she said indicating his thousand dollar suit.
"Let's try again. What was your last job?" he said.
"If you mean my very last job, I was paid to fuck somebody in that building you just came out of," she said. "But, my last real job was grocery checker," she said. "Before you ask, I hit the till for a hundred and they caught me. How's that for telling it like it is."
"Checkers make pretty good livings. You needed a C-note that bad?"
"Yeah, I did," she said.
Ben looked down at his coffee and stirred the inky contents of the cup. He drank it black; the stirring was his way to suspend time while he made up his mind. He made it up.
"I like your candor," he said. "Wanna place to stay? No strings."
She looked at him steadily weighing his motives. "Whaddya want with an old broad like me?" she said. "Why are you offerin' me a place to stay? I don't do windows."
"I could use a housekeeper, and we can talk about the windows thing," he said grinning.
She grinned back at him. "Any pay?"
"Don't know. I haven't thought about it," he said. "But, you'd have a roof. Maybe some new clothes. And your food for sure."
She leaned back in her seat and bit her lower lip. It had been unseasonably cold even in the day time. She was hungry most of the time anymore, and the clothes she had, really her rags, were limited to those on her back. She nodded.
"Is that a yes?" he said.
"Yeah, I guess so," she said. "At least I won't be hungry all of the time."
"Finish your coffee. We'll go home," he said.
"Don't you have to work?" she said.
"As you noted, I was coming out of the building not going into it," he said. "I worked all night. I'm going home to crash.
"You on the other hand are going home to clean up and relax for a few hours. We'll talk this afternoon."
"Okay. I can do that," she said without a trace of sarcasm. "I should tell you though, I've never been a housekeeper. But, I can iron clothes and do dishes okay, I guess."
"That's a good beginning," he said. "I hate to iron clothes, and I'm definitely no good at it."
He liked the fact that she giggled at his last words.
They pulled into the manicured compound where he had his condo.
"That's it over there," he said as he headed for a two car garage connected to his two-bedroom two-bath self-contained unit.
"Nice," she said.
"It's okay. You'll have your own room and bath. I moved here after my wife died. Couldn't bear to be around the place we'd shared for so many years," he said.
"How long were you together?" she said.
He looked at her. "Twenty-two years. I figured we'd make sixty. I was wrong. Sometimes life fucks you up," he said.
"Yeah, I'm familiar," she said, seeming to grow pensive.
Going inside He showed her around the thousand square foot residence. Her bedroom was small and spare. But the privacy it promised appealed to her. She hoped she could trust the guy. She'd had little reason to trust anybody in the three years since she'd been released from jail. Six months in the county slam didn't sound like much in the sayin' it. But, the doin' of the time was not fun. Plus it had almost guaranteed that she couldn't get a decent job, or any kind of job. Spreadin' her legs for assholes was the only way she'd been able to make a few bucks since her release. Oh yeah, she really hoped she could trust this guy; trust was everything to her.
"I'll get some sheets and stuff so you can kick back in here when you get cleaned up," he said. "Then, I'm goin' in there and crash," he pointed to the other bedroom. "I really am dyin' right now," he said.
"Yes, that'll be fine," she said.
"Oh, and there's food and stuff in the frig. You can have whatever you want," he said. Mi casa su casa."
"Thank you, Ben. Say, what's your last name," she said.
"Trent," she said.
He'd set her up with the things she needed immediately, and, as good as his word; he'd headed for his own room, closed the door, and crashed.
She had time. She sighed and started to relax for the first time in months. She took a second look around. Small front room but nice, an even smaller dinette, a convenient kitchenette, and a built-in closet like service porch with a stacked washer and dryer hidden behind a pair of latticed doors. Comfortable, she thought, comfortable.
She threw her rags in the washer and headed for the shower. A half hour later, wrapped in a towel, she threw her now washed clothes in the dryer and went back into her bedroom and laid down while she waited for her clothes to dry.
She wondered when he would put the make on her. She sure hoped she could get through at least a few days before he tried. And, when he tried, and he would, they all did, how would she react? Take it one day at a time, she thought, just one day at a time; it was better than sleeping in the damn doorways.
It was 3:00PM before he emerged from the bedroom. He was washed and refreshed. He smiled at her as she sat at the dinette sipping a soda she'd found in the frig.
"How are you feeling," he asked.
"Good. Relaxed actually," she said.
"We' have to go out and get you some clothes, and I mean now," he said. "We'll get a few things today and more next weekend when I have more time." As he spoke the phone rang.
.... There is more of this story ...