Seventy-Four Choices by T.L. Baker

Home of the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company


T L Baker Seventy Four Choices 01


Everybody assumes I’m one or the other, at first. Sometimes it becomes a game, a mental tally of points in each column, trying to prove the original guess. Two points one way for ear-length hair, and another three or four for thick, dark brows. A solid ten for a squarish jaw. Middling height of 5’7”, no points there either way. My hands and feet are small, and my eyes are big and dark, so that’s eight points for the other column. Men notice. Protruding clavicles and long fingers. The girls like my bony knuckles. You’re so skinny, so cute, like that guy in that terrible, acoustic Euroband. Maybe something like that. Or another time, it’s a man with biting stubble, confessing in the back of a pickup truck, somewhere in New Mexico, that he did some stuff once with a guy friend as a boy, but he’s not gay or nothing.

Where I am now, it’s hip. I’ve learned exactly what to say. I’m a Hipster Dyke, or a Beatnik Guitar Guy, depending on who I hang out with. Being Roma makes me trendy and exotic, if people care enough to ask. The nomad life is ‘in,’ and I’m that indie kid every new college student wants to meet. How I dress and what I am is more important than how I kiss—said no one, ever, who was kissed by me.

And somehow that’s as true now as it was then.

*

Before I kissed college kids, I used to suck dicks in a place called Love’s Truck Stop, for food and rides from nowhere to anywhere but. It’s amazing how two- or three-, four-inch cocks can get you just shy of three-thousand miles. Not like I was proud, but a cumulative quart of semen and spit is a helluva lot cheaper than a three hundred dollar bus ticket. Most of them were old, sad as shit, lonely. Ex-cons that got busted for the meth their uncles and moms were making in a ratty trailer on a two-acre plot in Bakersfield. Or divorced guys. Turning out the lights in their cab, faces pasty in the white light of a truck stop, looking at the picture of their six-year-old daughter and crying while they ejaculated into my mouth.

Watch the teeth. She’s twenty-three now, older’n you probably. Open your mouth more. I haven’t seen her since Marlene got custody. Baby, yeah. Oh god, my baby.

Lots of times, they just wanted a warm body to sleep next to. Life on the road is real lonely, they’d say, and ask to brush my hair. One big guy named Hector faked an English accent, wore pink nail polish, and bought me six cheeseburgers. Then he asked me to fuck him in the ass. I pulled my hoodie sleeves over my hands to avoid blood or shit, petted his hair and gently used the handle of a hair brush to do as he asked. The nice ones bought me cheap little teddy bears from the truck stop gift shop. Holding up a satin red heart between two, soft white paws. You’re Beary Special. I Love You. Hector did that.

I’ve finally put those times behind me. Not far behind, but still. I worked the truck stop game for a couple years before I discovered college campuses. Life got easier after that. I don’t have to carry my deer knife anymore. I still carry it, but I don’t have to.

*

The first time I actually met a college kid was at a hop-on a few towns outside of Pittsburgh. I’d been lying low after getting slashed across the back by three fat Kentucky teens, pretending to be thugs with a pissant, two-inch knife at a Flying J near a place in Ohio called Pleasant Grove. It didn’t turn out to be that pleasant. A wiry black trucker who called himself Titus J. Wilson grabbed a heavy-duty lug wrench from his rig and chased them off. I was crying, desperate as hell, offering to suck him off if he took me the rest of the way to Pennsylvania. Shaking his head, Titus J. helped me up into his cab, and took me to an emergency clinic. He gave the waddling nurse tech the finger and a fake name when she asked him to fill out paperwork while they stitched me up. When I got out, Titus J. was gone, but the red-faced nurse pointed at an envelope. It had an oil-smeared fingerprint on it, and inside was a twenty-dollar bill. Your father left that for you, she said, aggressively clawing the air with quote fingers.

That twenty dollars got me some aspirin, and the rest of the way to Pennsylvania. I was waiting near the Allegheny for the train that would come across the river, loitering in the parking lot of a Sheetz gas station with a few other hoppers. Brown leather skin, long legs in denim, and the faint outline of a hunting knife near the thigh. Long beards and dirt like armor on their scarred up hands. I asked with my eyes, and an old Willie Nelson-looking guy nodded. I was in the right place, and when it was time, we’d get somewhere we were going. Only for them, for me, the going was the whole point. Keep roaming until you find something, or know nothing will be finding you.

I must have looked like shit, because when two twenty-somethings my age approached, my new hobo friends got sour looks on their faces. Fucking Flintstone Kids, Willie Nelson said and spit hard. What’s that? I asked, using my voice for the first time in days. It hurt. He looked at me. But I think he saw me, too. If he did, he didn’t say nothing.

‘Sese college kids, graduating from their little school an’ come out here, trying to ride. Think it’s fucking Disneyland or some shit. Most get us caught by ‘bo chasers with bein’ so stupid.

I listened and stuck a dirty hand down the back of my hoodie to check for torn stitches or blood. Meanwhile, this real thin girl with bright red hair, skinny knees, and a North Face jacket caught up to the guy she was with. The guy, maybe her boyfriend, looked like a football player, with shiny teeth and clear skin. He had a huge pack ornamented with ropes, water bottles, climber’s clips. A whole big pile of shit on his back that must have cost well over two hundred dollars. Not a scuff on his new hiking boots.

The girl was staring at me. She was looking, but I don’t think she saw me like Willie Nelson. She tried hard, though, tallying points in each column to try and see through the dirt and hoodie and slouch.

The way the three older ‘bo’s were moving, I thought the kids were going to get robbed. I didn’t want any part of it, but I got hungry wondering if the ‘bo’s might give me a couple bucks from the footballer’s wallet. I hadn’t had a Snickers in a long time. The two others looked at Willie, but Willie shook himself out and sighed. We’d try to make it with the Flintstone Kids, then.

They almost didn’t make it though. The train came slow over the miserable iron bridge, and me and the ‘bo’s were on it, easy as breathing. But the kids ran alongside the tracks like it was the hardest thing they’d ever done, until they’d stalled so long the train started picking up speed and it was almost too late for them. Then they jumped, the girl first and then the boy. They celebrated their daring with a kiss that made one of the ‘bo’s whistle long and low.

The Flintstone Kids’ names were Matt and Sharon and they were post-docs from Pitt. We sat in the rattling rust-rotted cargo hull, and the Flintstone Kids talked and talked and talked. They tried to talk to the hobos. Willie Nelson wouldn’t look at them, but one of the other guys Willie called Bricker would talk for a bag of Cheetos. Mostly the kids just talked, while Bricker ate Cheetos.

The system failed us. The economy is in the shitter because of those fucking bullshit Conservatives in Congress. The university system is a fraud. Privatized, authorized thievery. Twenty-six and owing fifty-thousand dollars each in student loans. A moneymaking circus. They wanted Matt to be an adjunct, teaching in some pisspoor little town in New Mexico. He’s been published in six journals, and they want him to adjunct. They sell you dreams that you can lead this wonderful life of intellectual inquiry, and then they want you to pay up once you’ve bought it. Sharon’s a woman, and that’s even worse because of our capitalistic, patriarchal fuckshit society and…

After a couple of hours, the sun was gone and Matt and Sharon were getting hoarse from screaming in the noisy car. Bricker had finished the Cheetos, and crumpled the bag, tossing it into the darkest corner of the car. I watched it roll away into a puddle of urine. Maybe urine. Well, they say I messed up this girl in ‘Bama, Bricker said, but I ain’t, and I didn’t finish eighth grade, so I just don’t know. And he licked his orange and brown fingers.

Cold beat my shoulders, and my stitches burned and itched. Everyone got quiet. After four hours of the cold and the dark and the piss, and Bricker farting sick-people farts, and Willie spitting, and them wasting six or seven fancy protein bars just eating to make themselves feel better, Sharon started crying on Matt’s shoulder.

*

We got lucky, Willie said. No ‘bo chasers bothered us, because this bit of track wasn’t much worth riding. The Bessemer line was going to take us up north. Several tons of iron ore was coming back, but not me. It was still summer, but this coast didn’t seem to notice. It was freezing. My kneecaps felt like chunks of ice holding my legs together. When it was time to go, we got, and cut out somewhere north of Youngstown. The Flintstone Kids looked fifty years older, and I felt it. Sharon’s face was mucked up, except for a web of white skin radiating from her eyes where her tears had cleared a path. Matt held her, and checked for cell reception. He was calling his dad to come get them.

Willie and the others left, to panhandle in a nearby town, maybe work an odd job if they could get it, he said. Bricker asked Sharon for another bag of Cheetos, but after she caught him watching her piss in the corner of the car, she didn’t talk much to him. He and Willie and the other man exited, laughing like crows. They didn’t ask me to come along. I didn’t want to.

Sharon saw me picking grit from my boots and walked over, squatting next to me, holding her sides to keep the warm in.

So, you don’t look like those other guys, she said, nodding after the denim jackets fading away into the wooded area near the tracks. I shrugged.

I’m not. I mean, sort of. But not all the way.

She pulled something out of her jacket and handed it to me. A Wet-nap. I couldn’t decide if the gesture was kind or laughable.

I let her give me stuff. A protein bar, a tiny bottle of mouthwash, a small comb. I held the Listerine cap in my mouth and poured it over my stitches. I wiped my face with the Wet-nap, and didn’t bother with the comb. It wasn’t going to do no good with my thick curly hair anyway, not after the past two weeks. She started to talk again.

We must look pretty damn stupid to you. You don’t look like some college kid trying to find himself. What’s your story? She asked, but I saw her slipping her phone out of her pocket to look at the screen. I didn’t really know what to say to that. A real answer, seemed like to me, would take a real long time. This girl didn’t look like she could sit still that long. I asked her for another protein bar, but then felt like I should pay for it somehow.

Got adopted. Then got unadopted when I was nineteen, I guess. That was the core of the story, so what did the little stuff matter? She cooed and moaned over the tragedy like my pain was hers, but truth was that riding the rails was better by far than what I’d left behind. I had freedom, even if they do always forget to tell you what it costs.

I wanted to shove the bar down my throat so that it would make the ache in my stomach go away, but I ate half of it in two bites, and carefully folded the rest away for later. I might have got up and walked away to wander into town, but I saw the boyfriend come back with a relieved face. Dad is pissed, but they’ll be here in a few, he said.

I stayed, because I knew they’d probably give me a bunch of shit. Charity, they’d tell themselves, because they’d learned so much about hardship in a handful of hours. And their parents might give me some cash—like saying thanks for not slashing their kids, maybe, or thanks for not being their kid. I was right, because the kids got real generous with their water and food. Sharon unzipped her jacket and gave it to me, saying she had another one just like it. It smelled like fruity shampoo and sweat. A chain glittered on her thin wrist, with a rectangle like a medical bracelet neatly engraved with the boast gypsy soul.

So, are you an immigrant, Matt asked while they waited, and Sharon hit him, I don’t know why. He’s adopted, she said. After that, Matt looked at me, and I felt him trying to watch for little tit bumps, so he could correct Sharon, because he wasn’t sure about things. He was tired and didn’t care that much, so he was quiet.

Not Mexican, if that’s what you mean, I said. I’d lived in Southern California, I knew what football boy really meant when he asked, if I was alien, illegal. He hadn’t looked at me for more than ten minutes in the past several hours, but now he wasn’t sure about a lot of things, and he was looking at me hard. Not Mexican. Not a him. What then, his eyes said. No one ever guessed, at least not the Roma part. No one believed in real gypsies now, just gypsy souls. I was baiting him to ask more questions, because the girl seemed to get real generous when he asked questions she thought were insensitive. Like, real generous. I eyed their backpacks with the bedrolls.

Three mostly silent hours later, a big SUV pulled up, and the Flintstone Kids were rescued. I focused on looking sad and hungry instead of jealous. Sure enough, Sharon dropped her backpack, left me her coat, and football mom rolled down her window and pushed a wad of small bills into Matt’s hands. He walked over, delivered the money, and grabbed my hand a little too hard, checking for strength, aggression, something. Take care, man, he said and left. I sat there for a long time, after watching the SUV pull away. I ate another two granola bars and counted my money. Seventy-three bucks was more than I’d had in a long time. Money made choices. I had seventy-three choices in my fist.

I wanted to get drunk to remember how it felt to be warm and stupidly happy. Instead, I caught a bus to the nearest Walmart. I got some shitty but new boots, the cheapest pair of jeans, a few other things, and then, when I was about to leave, I saw a cotton shirt on clearance. Northstead University. I bought it, and at the register, the doughy-faced guy there made a sign with his fingers. Go Bears. I made the same sign. Go Bears, I mimicked. I sat outside on a bench and watched some college kids hop on the bus that would take them the forty minutes back to their campus. An Asian kid sat next to me, and his friend took a picture of us. Then, he leaned back and shot a selfie. I lifted his wallet when he leaned over.

I bought a few more things I needed to make this work, and headed to the back of the Walmart to look for an exterior spigot to wash and change. I came back, and looked a lot like one of the students I’d seen waiting at the bus stop an hour ago. A scarf, a pair of black plastic glasses without a prescription, Sharon’s North Face jacket, a red beanie, a plastic bag around my wrist, the Northstead University shirt on. Go Bears, I told the bus driver, smiling maybe too wide as I dropped precious quarters into the slot. Go Bears, the bus echoed.

*

I didn’t suck dicks in truck stops after that. I did a few times for drunk frats, but that was for fun, not food. Food comes easy on a college campus. And looking dirty, skinny, and poor is cool. I went to parties, and some of them I was even invited to. Greek houses are easy after the first few rounds of drinks. I borrowed the stuff I needed from the frats, but college kids lose shit all the time. During the day, I’d get bored, so I started sitting in on the big classes, just for curiosity’s sake. The real big ones with over a hundred kids in them. No one noticed. College is like a lot of seedy places—as long as you act like you belong there, no one thinks to ask.

By the time summer started turning, I was volunteering at the homeless shelter, not to make a statement but to stay warm. No one saw me slip in the back and sleep there when I couldn’t crash with some hipsters on campus. But only a few weeks later I was wandering, picking up some bottles in the front yard of an old house, and an old lady, whose rickety body looked as decrepit as her house came out to thank me with fifty cents. I tried to tell her I was going to get money for recycling the soda bottles, ditched there by piggish university students, but Mrs. Miller insisted on the fifty cents. I raked red, green, and golden leaves in her yard the next day, and she invited me in for dinner. Mr. Miller was a decade dead, and her son Richard didn’t call much what with Marsha and the kids. I buried the cat corpse she’d been keeping in the downstairs closet for eight days. Mrs. Miller cried with her face in her hands and kept saying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just let things go, I forget, I forget. I cleaned the house, used the widow’s benefits check she got every month to buy what groceries I could get with it. I helped her shower sometimes, and other times, I let her call me Rich. Or Leonora, if she remembered on good days. Other days I weathered her calling me a Hispanic, and putting her fragile white hands up, afraid and confused. She let me stay, without ever asking where I’d come from.

But every morning, she got up earlier than I did, and made eggs for me and the cats. And once, when one of her neighbors called the police on me, thinking I was using and abusing the Sweet Little Forgotten Old Lady Next Door, I thought about crying when Mrs. Ophelia Miller got huffy with the policeman. Mercy me, mercy me. Leonora, do you hear this? Well, officer, this is my granddaughter, and I’ll not have you saying anything else. The officer looked at my dark eyes and almond brown skin, and then at Mrs. Miller’s pansy blue eyes and her skin, rice-paper white and liver-spot purple. Sorry to trouble you. You take care Mrs. Ophelia. You take care of her, young man.

I swore to myself that the next cat Mrs. Miller accidentally locked in a closet for a week, I was going to toss the dead thing over the fence with her none the wiser.

*

Maybe it was having a place to stay every night that changed things, made me feel a little more normal, a little safer. Because one cold morning, with a few bills so rumpled from Mrs. Miller’s purse they felt like fabric, I walked into a Starbucks, gave the barista my name, my money, and more than a little of my attention. He was as tall as I was, with a short, messy crop of reddish brown hair, freckles, and big shoulders. What’s the name? Leonora. What? Leo? Okay. Caramel Latte for Leo. When I smiled, I saw him looking for breasts. I kept smiling, and after a moment, he stopped looking and smiled back, looking unsure of himself and eager. I felt the same way. I kept the cup with the green mermaid on it that said Made By Mitch.

Three days after, I left the same Starbucks carrying a cup with Made By Andrea written on it. Drained of sixteen ounces of milk and cream and sugar, it had been cupped by a girl with soft-looking black hair and the same green eyes as Mitch—not the same face, but the same eyes. Related, maybe.

What’s the name for the order? Leonora. What? Nora? Okay. Peppermint Latte it is, Nora!

I kept the cups in the window of the room I had been staying in with Mrs. Miller, and went back to the Starbucks every day after that, after I met Peppermint and Caramel. I knew their names were Andrea and Mitch, but Peppermint and Caramel sounded more romantic. Or at least more delicious. They worked opposite shifts.

Every other day, I got to see one of them. Caramel, with his big shoulders, worked Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Peppermint, with her cutely droopy ponytail, worked Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Peppermint took the hint first, and started to come talk to me during her breaks, and after her shift. Nora, right? So, do you take Women’s Studies classes on campus? I took a long sip, and answered her veiled question with a smile, giving her too much eye contact. Oh, yeah, for sure.

Caramel, though, was like a Pennsylvania train, slow to start, but reliable and made of metal. He didn’t come at me as aggressively as Peppermint. He played a coy game. He would clean tables, using it as an excuse to look at me. To see what I was pretending to read. Something very stolen, I thought. He brought me little presents. A blueberry scone. A packaged sandwich. He slipped the brown paper bags onto my table without pausing on his way to the next table. I caught him outside one night in October, lighting a cigarette behind the dumpster, smoking poetic as hell. He pulled up my hoodie, so that when he pushed me against the dumpster to slip his tongue inside my mouth, I wouldn’t get garbage stink on my hair. I wanted to tell him that a Starbucks dumpster didn’t smell nearly as bad as the ones I’d known. But, sweet as apple pie, he kissed my cheek, and in this lost puppy way told me he wanted to bring me home to mom and dad, but they’d freak. Then, he offered to give me a blowjob in his car in the last ten minutes of his break. It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me. I gave him one instead.

*

After three months, I’d mostly stopped calling Andrea and Mitchell my Peppermint and Caramel. Except as a pet name. Andrea was a Women’s Studies Major, an active member of the LGBTQ community, and a major disappointment to her parents for both reasons. She had long dark hair and nice tits, and there was a freeness to her that was new to me. She liked to talk a lot, and smile a lot. Most nights after her shift we sat in the Starbucks, filled with warm, spicy smells, the cloying aroma of coffee, strangely uncomfortable chairs, and the crooning of some Canadian on the speakers, and talked.

Really? You were adopted, that’s so cool. Why is that cool, I asked. I dunno, I just, like, it’s different, so that’s cool. Your parents could be anybody. My mom and dad would shit themselves if they knew I was fucking a girl. And a real life gypsy!

I liked not having to pretend so much with Andrea. I put the bagel she bought me between my teeth, stood up, and took her hand.

Put up or shut up, I said a minute later, while she laughed and undid her bra in the women’s bathroom.

Mitch was getting his degree in Pharmacy Science, liked Tom Waits and Dizzy Gillespie, and fucking me in the ass in the back of his car when it was late at night, outside of his apartment. I’d look away and pretend to hide what I didn’t have. He always wanted to go slow, to touch me first, but I couldn’t let him do that. It usually wasn’t too hard to make him forget himself, but after he would hold me and whisper apologies. I’m sorry. You deserve better. It’s just my roommates, he’d say, looking genuinely sorry.

I didn’t know how to tell him that it was good enough that he wasn’t a fifty-three year old trucker with crotch rot and a mouth full of chew. I didn’t know how to tell him that the back of his Mazda was warm and clean and smelled nice, unlike a lot of places I’d been last winter. I didn’t know how to tell him I didn’t have the dick I knew he wanted. I didn’t know how to tell him I loved him. And I really didn’t know how to tell him I called his cousin Peppermint when I fingered her.

It couldn’t last.

*

It didn’t last.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon. I’d bathed Mrs. Miller, drove her in her piece of shit Buick down to the equally piece of shit church, and left her with the judgy piece of shit people. It made her happy, though. Water was on the road, making it hard to keep control of the car with its worn-out, misaligned tires. Driving was still weird, after spending so long in the passenger seat of the monster trucks that now wanted to run me off the road. I was driving too fast, but I’d gotten an ominous text from Andrea last night, asking to meet her at the park across from campus, and there was a strange feeling in my stomach that I’d forgotten was once so familiar. It was late November, and the few leaves left had turned rusty reds and decaying yellows, littering the wet, blue-black road. The rain was falling so hard, it bounced off the asphalt, making the surface look white and shivery with movement. I checked the stolen, but functional phone in my hoodie pocket several times, before I got to the park.

I drove through a thick crop of forest along a little dark road, leading in farther and farther toward the picnic areas. Trashed Lunchables, Gatorade bottles, and candy wrappers from a kid’s birthday party huddled up against the trees on the side of the road. The rain beat down hard, but the trees provided some cover. The blue-black sky was soft, but threatening. The trees that weren’t native were bare, like skeletons here and there, in between the sturdy evergreens that didn’t care if winter was coming fast.

Andrea’s purple Fiat was parked next to the covered picnic area. The moment I saw Mitch’s silver Mazda, parked a couple empty spaces away, my lungs seized up. I parked, and remained quiet behind the wheel, knowing they were both looking toward the Buick. Any existential crisis I had over my Peppermint Caramel romance lasted for three minutes, exactly. Then, I got out of the car. I pulled the hoodie up over my head, and gritted my teeth against the chill, though it wouldn’t have felt so cold four months ago. Mitch and Andrea were waiting at the long picnic tables.

Mitch had more of a reason to be upset, technically, I think. It was hard to keep track. I sat down, out of reaching distance from both of them. If this went south, I wanted to be able to get away. I felt the weight of my deer knife in my pocket. It felt wrong to feel better with it there, but I did. I knew what could happen when these things fell apart, and I didn’t have a knife. When I was too young to know I needed one. When I was eighteen, and my body, and father’s fists talked.

I’d let them talk. It would make them feel better. Then I would go.

I waited.

Andrea started in. The usual. If you’re a fucking he-she, whatever, fine, but you need to fucking tell people before they get into something with you. Mitch is GAY. He thought you were a guy! He told me you let him fuck you in the—Andrea, stop. Mitch’s tone was sharp, and it surprised me. I’d gone to my quiet place, but Mitch’s reaction baited my curiosity. This was a bad idea. An ambush. This is high school shit, Andrea.

Andrea went off like a firecracker, spitting, hissing, flaming and crackling. At him, then back at me, then at the world, then me again. She cracked, popped, and sizzled. And then fizzled. She didn’t even know what she was so angry about. I didn’t say anything when she jammed her hands in her coat, slammed her car door, and ripped out of the parking lot. The rain rhythmically abused the paneling over our heads. Mitch rubbed his face. He sighed. I waited.

I’m not mad about the two-timing. I never asked you to be with me, and just me. I fucked you in the back of my car. I know it wasn’t… it wasn’t like it should have been. That was my fault. The tips of his ears were turning blue. His eyes were punch black with exhaustion. I knew mine were, too. Mine had been for a long time. I didn’t think the dark circles would ever go away. This was some piddly ass Starbucks romance shit, nothing compared to truck-stop creeps and days without food, and I was going to go home, shower with real hot water, and forget about it—until I suddenly realized it wasn’t.

I think I love you, I said. The scar between my shoulder blades ached with a cold, dull pain. He rubbed his hair, and looked at me. His nose was crooked, and he had bad skin, but boxy shoulders, nice biceps, and eyes that looked unbelievably green when he cried.

Yeah, I think I love you, too.

More silence.

She was telling the truth about the gay part, he said quietly.

I didn’t know for sure, I said, trying. But I sorta did.

I thought you were shy about your dick or something. I wondered a couple times but I thought you would have said something, he explained, trying to make sense of it. Trying to make sense of how he could enjoy my body so much, kissing me so much, even if I didn’t have a dick. How he missed it. Like one of those dime store mysteries.

I didn’t know what to say. Does it matter? I asked, feeling the blowing rain wet against my skin, turning icy. My scar pulsed. He got up, and I tensed. Here, he said, and offered his jacket. I let him put it on my shoulders.

I don’t know, he answered honestly. So is your name really Leo?

Leonora, I said. You missed the last part when you took my order the first time. He started laughing. I guess it really was my bad, this whole time.

I smiled without wanting to. Yeah, your bad.

He started walking to his car. I didn’t call him back. He turned, just before getting. So, are you really a gypsy?

Roma, I said.

He mouthed the word. I knew he wanted to ask more questions. Like what a Roma was doing in Ohio. Or if I was a man, or a woman. Or what was going to happen next. I didn’t have any answers for those things. No one else ever really asked.

So, is that why you roam around? He had his hand on the car door. I gave him an unfriendly look, and I knew I’d broken the rule. I’d showed my hand.

I don’t roam. I was fucking homeless, you shit.

He lifted his hand for a second, like he was reaching for something, then dropped it again. He got in his car and left. I thought I saw him smiling, just a little as he drove off. I got into my car. I felt a weight next to my hand, in the pocket of the jacket I realized he’d left on my shoulders, and pulled out Mitch’s wallet. Mechanically, I went through it. Seventy-four dollars. Slowly, I folded the bills back into the leather, and then I put the car in reverse.

T. L. Baker is currently pursuing her MFA in creative writing from Purdue University. For the moment, she resides in Indiana, where she spends her days reading, writing, teaching, and praying for rain. This is her first publication.

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