Chapter 1I stepped off the city bus pulling the hood of my rain jacket over my head. Once again it was another rainy day in September. Fall was moving in with quick strides, colorful leaves were falling from the trees and blowing everywhere. A cold wind from the Sound was gusting through the streets of Seattle. I only had one block to walk to my work place. It usually took about ten minutes.
The bus closed its automatic doors behind me and with a loud engine roar pulled away from the stop, leaving a cloud of environmentally compliant exhaust behind. People who had stepped off the bus with me now scattered into all directions. It was crowded in the city with the usual morning commuters flocking into the city from the suburbs. Traffic in Seattle was a relentless chaos, too many cars, too many construction sites, and too many people.
I had been taking the bus for two years. I lived up in Queen Anne in a tiny apartment but that was all I could afford with the cost of living in this city. I worked in the customer service department of a large bank, ironically specializing in real estate financing and brokerage. The numbers that ran over my desk on any given day when it came to Seattle real estate were numbers I would never earn in my life time.
I rushed over to the cross walk waiting for the light to turn and then squeezing across the street with lots of other pedestrians. I walked faster than usually. I had plenty of time to get to work though, but I was cold and tired and wanted to get inside the warm building. My work day usually started at eight and it was only seven thirty now.
I arrived in the lobby the same time some of my coworkers arrived from other bus stops, public transportation sites, or from the actual employee car garage. I stood in the elevator and was chatting with other employees going up and getting out on different floors of our bank. The Real Estate Finance Department was on the tenth floor.
As I stepped out of the elevator, I met Matt in the hall way. At the employee entrance he held the glass door open for me.
“Good Morning Shay. How are you?”
I took off my hood and shook it out somewhat, splattering drops of rain everywhere including Matt.
“Good Morning Matt, I’m sorry. What a mess out there?”
We stepped inside the warm hallway of our department with the lights on since it was still dark outside. I shook myself again, letting my blonde hair fall loosely over my shoulders and running my hand through it. Matt stood by and was already taking off his coat.
I looked up at him and smiled, “We’ll have this for the next seven months. I don’t even want to think about it.”
He laughed, “Right, it’s not a good thought. I miss summer already.”
He then actually helped me with taking off my coat and handed it to me.I thanked him and we both clocked into work. A few other coworkers came in through the door and we all greeted each other.
I had a cubicle in a row with five other cubicles. Matt sat two cubicles down from me. Now as I walked into my cubicle, I saw through the window it was raining even harder now. As I glanced down onto the streets for a moment, I saw the trees across from our building were swaying in the wind. I hung my coat on the hook, stashed my bag in the corner, and turned on the desk lamp over my computer. I sat down at my desk with my back against the window front. I had been occupying this cubicle for two years.
It was personalized with a variety of my things, from a stuffed animal my older brother Chad had given me for Christmas to my college degree in a wooden frame, Bachelors in Finance. Scattered throughout my cubicle were other personal items but still decorated tastefully and not too playful. I had my professional integrity to protect and keep things somewhat conservative, especially with my wealthier clients.
As I got situated Matt stopped by once again, “Maybe we can grab lunch together today if you want?”
I looked up at him, “Yeah, maybe, let’s see how the morning goes.”
“Okey dokey, have a good morning then.”
Matt left and I switched on my computer. I knew that Matt had been crushing on me for a while but I had recently gotten out of a four-year relationship. Matt had just started working here about a year ago when I had still been in that relationship. Ever since the break-up, Matt had been lingering around me quite often and a few times we had gone out for drinks or lunches but I just wasn’t ready yet to get into anything else. Matt was a very patient guy.
My morning was busy and I had two clients come in for financing of homes.
I didn’t even realize how fast the time had gone by when I finally was done with my second client and Matt peeked around the corner of my cubicle, “Hey.”
I looked up from a stack of paper, “Oh hey Matt.”
“Do you want to go to lunch?”
I leaned back in my desk chair, “Oh wow, it’s already that time, isn’t it?”
Matt stepped into my cubicle, “It sure is. I was thinking Teriyaki.”
He sat down on one of the chairs in front of my desk and smiled at me, “Looks like you had a productive morning.”
“I did, I finished two deals, people happily overpaying for houses in the Seattle area.”
Matt laughed and nodded. I pushed a stack of paper together and moved it all into a folder on my desk, then set it with several other folders over on the side of my computer, “Yeah, I need to eat something.”
Matt shifted, “All right, let’s grab some lunch then.”
It was about ten minutes later when we sat in the Teriyaki place across the street from where we worked. It was still raining and we were watching people rush by outside, their coats pulled up and over their heads, some umbrellas in between, probably tourists. Of course, Seattlelites didn’t use umbrellas, we wore our rugged outdoor clothing from places like “The North Face” or “Columbia Sportswear”. Tourists on the other hand were usually known to carry umbrellas, it was somewhat of an inside joke amongst the locals.
Matt turned to me, “So how have you been?”
I finished a bite, “I’m doing good. Just getting used to living in my tiny apartment.”
After my break-up I had moved into the apartment in Queen Anne. Before that I had lived in a slightly larger apartment with my ex, maybe about fifteen more square feet but like a thousand dollars more rent every month.
Matt then stated, “I told you, you should have moved out of the city and gotten a larger apartment for the same rent you are paying for your tiny place.”
I remarked, “And commute like an hour longer every morning and every night. No thanks.”
The living conditions were tough in Seattle and its suburbs. Rents were sky high, mortgages pretty much unaffordable unless you were rich out of your ears, and the homeless problem grew every day, people living on the streets in very large numbers.
Matt lived out in Tukwila, which was about a thirty-minute drive if the Interstate was open.
We chatted about work and living in Seattle like we didn’t already talk about that enough in our jobs. Matt specialized in commercial properties though whereas I took care of people buying houses and apartments. I dug into my Teriyaki chicken and rice bowl and looked out the large window of the restaurant. We sat next to each other with view out to the sidewalk and watched people rushing by and hurrying to wherever they needed to go.
Matt then asked, “What are your plans for the weekend?”I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know yet. No plans yet. Depends on the weather I guess.”
Most of my friends also lived in the city and some of them were still friends I had from my previous relationship so depending on what was going on I always had to make sure I didn’t see my ex.
Matt then said, “Shay, I would really like to take you out for dinner or a movie or something.”
I had expected it was going to happen sooner or later that he would ask me out. He had been patient long enough I guess. He was an attractive guy in his mid-thirties, a few years older than I.
I looked at him and smiled nervously, “I don’t know Matt.”
“What don’t you know?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “I just don’t know if I’m ready yet to date.”
“Shay, it’s only a dinner or a movie or both.”
He was right with his statement. It didn’t really mean anything but there were things I wasn’t sure about when it came to myself. I was dealing with some things and I didn’t really want to commit to anyone.
I met Matt’s blue eyes on me. They were very nice eyes and he was an attractive guy. He wore his hair in a trendy cut, longer on top, short and faded on the sides and in the back. At work he usually wore a suit and tie and he was really an attractive man. Sometimes at work behind his desk he wore glasses and they made him look a tad bit nerdy but in a very sexy way. When he took off his glasses, he really did look very sexy and his bright blue eyes were prominent in his face.
Right now, I was looking at him and thinking to myself how I could actually be hesitant about his offer. I knew there were women in the bank who had a crush on Matt and some had tried unsuccessful to get with him or get a date out of him.
There I was sitting and looking at this very attractive man who asked me out and I was uncertain.
Matt tilted his head and smiled at me his very sexy smile, “Come on Shay, don’t leave me hanging. I want to take you out. I know a very nice Thai restaurant out in Montlake. We could go to a movie after or a drink if you want. I know you like Thai.”
I laughed softly, “I do like Thai.”
“So, what’s it going to take? Just say yes.”
The wrinkles in the corners of his eyes made him look even sexier. His blue eyes coincided with his teal tie.
I nodded, “Okay.”
Matt smiled and pretended to wipe sweat from his forehead, “Phew, I did it. Got the prettiest girl in the finance department to go out with me.”
We laughed together and he added in a more serious tone, “Thanks Shay, you won’t regret it. What time and day this weekend is good for you?”
“Saturday for sure.”
“Okay, what time?”
We decided on six o’clock on Saturday evening. Matt was going to pick me up at my apartment.
We kept eating and as I was looking out to the sidewalk with all the people passing by, my eyes caught a figure across the street. A few cars passed by and a bus and I then got a good view again. It was a person in a wheelchair pushing the rims and coming to a halt under one of the storefront roofs. I could see it was a man and he looked like just another homeless guy out on the street, now parked in his wheelchair and begging for money.
I watched for a moment and then pedestrians blocked my view again.
Matt pulled me from my observation and followed my eyes out to the street, commenting, “It’s coming down harder now.”
I looked at my cell phone quickly and added, “I guess we have to get back too.”
Matt looked at his cell phone and agreed. We finished our lunch bowls and then slipped into our jackets. I grabbed my purse and we left the bistro.
Matt stayed close to me as we stepped outside and prepared to cross the street. I had my hood over my head and we waited at the light. My eyes wandered to the homeless person in the wheelchair. He was still there. I couldn’t see his face because he wore a hoodie and had the hood pulled far into his face.
The light turned and we crossed with lots of people to the other side, dodging the oncoming pedestrians trying to get across to the opposite side.
I kept glancing over to the guy in the wheelchair. I hadn’t seen him in our area before. Usually the homeless had their regular corners and they defended those corners with all their might. I had seen fights erupt among them before when a new person would come too close to their regular corners. I had never seen this guy in our area but I kept glancing over there now as we crossed and reached the other side. We had to pass right by him and I saw his hands held open in his lap. I felt the urge to give him some change or a few dollars. I don’t know what it was because usually I had become quite numb to the homeless begging on the corners. There were so many of them in our city that it was almost a nuisance that they were everywhere. Full homeless camps were set up under bridges or in abandoned industry lots and it was a constant topic on the evening news.
As we passed by him I saw the hoodie he wore was pulled into his face but looking at his hands held open, they were not hands of an old person. His legs were in some torn jeans with stains and his feet were in some worn out Nike sneakers. I couldn’t see his face and we passed by without my being able to give him some money.
His wheelchair had caught my eyes too. It wasn’t one of those old raggedy or bulky wheelchairs homeless people sometimes had from written off hospital inventory or donated from a charity organization. His wheelchair looked more like a regular wheelchair non-homeless, disabled people would use. His wheelchair looked like something I would see on pictures or in video clips of disabled men who lived normal lives. It didn’t look new but it was definitely a wheelchair a person would have if they had a disability affecting their walking or couldn’t walk anymore at all. This looked like a wheelchair the paraplegic guys I followed on YouTube had, maybe an older, worn out version of a wheelchair but definitely not a bulky old hospital wheelchair.
We hurried by and got back to our office a few minutes late. Matt helped me out of my jacket again as we got to our cubicles.
“You’re welcome. Shay…” I looked at him and he smiled at me, “I’m really looking forward to Saturday.”
I smiled at him, “Me too.”
He stood there as I hung up my jacket on the hook in my cubicle.
“How many clients do you have this afternoon?”
I looked at my desk calendar, “One more today, penthouse suite on Mercer Island.”
Matt whistled softly, “Penthouse huh?”
I grinned at him, “Yeah, it’s the big bucks coming in.”
We laughed and he then wished me a good rest of my day and headed to his cubicle.
I got organized and pulled the files for my next client up on my computer with the property they were interested in, valued at almost one million. And I kept thinking about the guy in the wheelchair sitting under a storefront roof about ten floors down from me begging for money.
My afternoon passed by quickly and I had a successful appointment with my client. Throughout the afternoon though I couldn’t get my mind off the guy in wheelchair. I was hoping for some strange reason that he was still going to be there and I could give him some money and maybe get a look at his face.
Everyone got ready at the same time. Matt came over and we all slipped into our jackets and headed for the elevator. My coworkers wanted to go for happy hour drinks but I really didn’t feel like it.
Jenny, a girl who worked in the same department tried to persuade me into going with them, “Come on Shay, you didn’t go last week either. What’s going on with you? Are you getting lame on us?”
We laughed and Adam, another one of my coworkers then added, “She’ll go if Matt goes.”
With that he looked at Matt and Matt smiled, “I’m up for a drink.”
I sighed and smiled, “You guys are annoying. Why are you forcing me to drink?
Matt stood next to me in the elevator and said, “I’ll go for a drink. Come with us Shay.”
I was eventually persuaded into going with them and as we stepped out onto the sidewalk my eyes quickly travelled over to where I had seen the guy in the wheelchair. He was still there and I really wanted to give him some money.
Whereas everyone was about to head into the other direction I then told them, “Hey, I’m going to run into Rite Aid really quick and I’ll be over at The Black Bear in about fifteen minutes.”
I was glad when no one protested but instead Matt just said, “I’ll hold a seat for you.”
“Okay, thanks Matt. I’ll see you guys in a bit.”
They all headed into the opposite direction of where I was going. The guy in the wheelchair was at the corner of the Rite Aid drug store. I didn’t have to get anything from the store really. It was cold and rainy still; the roads were wet and as the cars were driving through I had to watch out for them going through puddles on the street. I pulled up my collar and tugged my scarf in some more. My hands were already getting cold and I debated getting my gloves out of my purse but decided I would be okay for a short time.
I walked toward him and even though there were lots of people walking by, no one stopped or gave him anything. He sat there hunched over in the wheelchair, and with his hood pulled into his face, his hands still open on his lap.
I had reached him and stopped in front of him. I fiddled with my coat and pulled out the five-dollar bill I had taken from my wallet earlier. He moved his head and looked up somewhat and even though I couldn’t make out a whole lot, I saw a little of his face with dark bangs hanging into his forehead and over his eyes some.
As I was about to give him the money, I saw how his hands were red and calloused. His whole upper body was shaking from the cold and now I wished I would have bought him a hot coffee or something. There was a Starbucks around the corner and I could run in there and get some coffee for him. I handed him the five-dollar bill and he took it and looked up some more and now I got a glimpse of his dark eyes below the bangs. A shadow of a dark beard was visible.
It was the voice of a young man when he said, “Thank you very much. I appreciate it.”
For a split moment our eyes met and I replied, “You’re welcome.”
I really wanted to say so much more and my mind was racing but he lowered his eyes, his face invisible again under the hood, and he stuck the money into the pocket of his hoodie.
I stood for a few more seconds with all kinds of thoughts in my head but then realized this was awkward and I had to keep moving with the crowds of pedestrians who didn’t even waste one moment on this guy.
I decided to run into Starbucks and as I stood inside, I looked at the board with trembling hands and when they asked me what I wanted I ordered a venti drip coffee. I waited for a few moments until they called my name and I grabbed the paper cup with the sleeve around it. I put some packets of sugar and creamer in a small bag and I hurried back outside. It had been at least twenty minutes already and I knew I needed to get to the pub.
Outside I mingled once again with all the people on the sidewalk and when I got to the spot where he had been, he wasn’t there anymore. I had this large coffee in my hand now and stood there clueless. I looked around for him but it was almost impossible to spot one specific person among all the people rushing along and hurrying to their busses, cars and homes.
And then I did spot a wheelchair on the other side of the street and realized it was him pushing the rims and wheeling along with the crowds of people.
He sat hunched over in the wheelchair, his hood still pulled far into his face, and his bare hands on the rims of his wheelchair.
I ran across with the next light and I felt silly when I ran after him and called out, “Hey.”
He didn’t hear or acknowledge me, most likely not even wasting a thought that anyone was actually calling him. And I felt like a crazy person, running after this homeless guy in a wheelchair with a hot coffee in my hands. I didn’t want to just waste five dollars though and it would have been weird if I showed up at the bar with a Starbucks coffee in my hand. And when I did get Starbucks every once in a while, it definitely wasn’t just a regular drip coffee. I usually had some fancy overpriced coffee cocktail like everyone else who made this company a multi-billion-dollar business.
I was right behind him now and said, “Hey.”
He stopped in his pushing motion and came to a halt on the side of the building. I now saw he had a backpack on the handles of his wheelchair.
I got in front of him and he looked up at me, probably very surprised at seeing me again.
I held the coffee in my hand and the rain was drizzling onto the plastic lid of the cup. I looked at him and he actually moved his hood up some and I saw more of his face. His eyes were dark and flickered nervously. I saw he was still shaking and his hoodie had wet spots on the shoulders where the rain drops were landing.
I now felt sillier than ever at this feeble attempt to be a good citizen and do something good for someone less fortunate.
I felt really dumb actually but now offered the coffee to him and tried to explain with a stutter, “I…You were not…not at the same spot but I…wanted to get a coffee for you since…since it’s pretty cold out.”
I could barely finish the sentence I was so nervous. I really didn’t know why I was so nervous. Somehow it felt like I was doing something wrong instead of something good. I felt awkward having hunted him down and basically forcing my charity on him. It seemed so selfish in a way even though it was meant to be just the opposite.
He seemed cold and nervous too but he reached for the coffee with his cold, dirty, and red hand. It was a large hand though, a strong hand from what I saw. His fingernails were trimmed but dirty.
He took the coffee from me with a shaking, blotchy hand and I tried to think of something else to say, “I’m sorry I hunted you down. I just thought…”
I really felt even sillier now saying anything else. I felt like a complete snob.
He then sat up some and looked at me directly from under his hood and through the dark strands of hair.
He did something to his wheelchair with the free hand and then added this second hand to holding the cup and now had both hands wrapped around the cup. I saw his hands were shaky and the cup trembled in his hands as he brought it down to his lap.
His voice was nervous but sincere when he now said, “That’s very kind of you. I’m sorry I wasn’t…at the spot anymore.”
Even though he sounded nervous I also heard gratefulness in his voice. It was a young man’s voice but also a defeated voice.
I wanted to say something else but he added softly, “My hands are cold. The warm cup feels good. Thank you so much.”
He still had both hands wrapped around the cup and just held it there in his lap.
I managed a smile, “Well, hope you enjoy.”
He nodded slightly, “I will.”
I stood up taller again and was ready to make my getaway.
Just as I was about to take a step he said again, “Thank you so much. It means a lot.”
His voice trembled and I could hear the insecurity in it.
“You’re welcome. Have a good evening.”
The moment I said the last sentence I wanted to disappear. How was this guy going to have a good evening? He surely wasn’t going home to his apartment with the fireplace on. More likely he was heading to one of the many shelters in town or one of the illegal homeless camps scattered throughout Seattle always on the verge of being cleared out and the people driven away just to find another spot to set up their tattered tents with all their belongings in shopping carts or backpacks. He possibly would actually end up sleeping in one of the entrance ways of a store or unoccupied building.
His evening was probably going to be one of survival of the fittest and I felt like a complete idiot.
I was stunned when he smiled nervously and said, “You have a good evening too.”
I needed to leave because I could barely stand looking at him anymore and feeling like a snobby diva. At the same time there was something about him that made me nervous in a strange way. His being in the wheelchair which didn’t look like some fake wheelchair thing but a real wheelchair that belonged to him and one he most likely depended on to get around interested me. I wondered about his disability and I wondered who he was. He was someone’s son for sure and whereas any other homeless person never occupied my mind any further because I had developed a numbness living in Seattle, with him something was different. I walked away and my head was spinning.
Of what I had seen, he had beautiful dark eyes.