Excerpt: Outside the Lines

As I paid for a few bags of groceries at the market in downtown Denver, I was still quite a few minutes early for my shift at Trinity House, the old house a few blocks away that had been converted into a youth homeless shelter. And it was not, as my father had insisted, named for the Holy Trinity. I’d grown up a good Catholic boy and sure, I’d been curious about the name since I hadn’t known the Catholic faith I’d grown up with to be all that accepting of LGBT youth, but a simple conversation had cleared that up for me. Trinity referred to the two sisters that had founded it in memory of their third sister, a woman that had taken her own life after their parents had rejected her after coming out. It was a story all too familiar to me, even though I’d only just started my internship at the shelter.

It was ten minutes to five when I pulled out of the market’s parking lot, my old car rumbling along narrow city side streets as I hurried to get to work. I had plenty of time and I could have walked there and still been on time. But I was trying to make a good impression on my boss, the director and one of the three sisters. She was considered the boss even though she didn’t technically work there anymore, but she kept a close eye on everyone that did, and I had my heart set on getting a full-time position there as soon as my internship was over. There wasn’t a spot open, yet, but I planned on showing her my good side until one opened up and I could snatch it.

I was at a red light two streets away from the house when I heard one of those big metal dumpsters slam closed in the alley beside me. I wouldn’t have even heard it if my stereo hadn’t crapped out on me the weekend before. Too many long drives blasting my music had finally gotten to it, I guessed. It sucked, but I sure as hell didn’t have the money to get it fixed anytime soon. Not with an unpaid internship and a pile of student loans I hoped to pay off sometime before I was fifty.

I started to ignore the noise, figuring it was just a cat or something, but then I saw someone crouched down beside the dumpster. They were there one moment and then they weren’t, as if the shadows had gobbled them up much as I wanted to do to the tacos I planned to make tonight for the kids. The light changed and someone honked behind me. I lifted my hand in a silent apology and turned into the alley.

It could have been a stupid decision. And it probably was too. I was young, barely in my twenties, and didn’t know the first thing about defending myself. But as I pulled in, blocking the way out of the alley, a bowed body started to take shape as the child stood up only a few feet in front of my car.

“Hey, don’t run,” I said as I got out. I didn’t know if they’d meant to, but I knew that I didn’t have time to chase after them. And, bleeding heart that I was, I’d end up doing that if they took off. I couldn’t tell much from where I was, but what I did see was dirty clothes that were at least two sizes too big and a mess of bright, nearly white, hair that was pretty clearly tangled despite only going to about the kid’s shoulders.

Poor thing. I wanted to both hug them and kick the teeth out of whoever had put the child on the streets in the first place.

“I don’t want trouble,” the kid said, taking a step back as I moved forward.

I stopped moving and held my hands up, trying to show that I wasn’t going to hurt them. I was closer now. But I couldn’t tell if I was looking at a boy or a girl. It didn’t really matter though. If I could just get them to come to Trinity House with me, then I could get them some help.

“Are you hungry?”

Light blue eyes moved to the dumpster and then back to me. There was bundle in the child’s hands, something that looked like a food carton from a Chinese place.

“I work at a homeless shelter, it’s a short walk from here. We’ve got food there. And clothes too. Beds, books, friends…” I let my voice trail off as the child in front of me rounded their shoulders and took a step back.

“Don’t believe you.”

“Then how about I take you there?” I offered. I wasn’t sure what I was doing to be honest. I hadn’t found a child on my own. I knew that some of the counselors went with volunteers in the evenings to pass out hot meals to the homeless downtown. But I worked nights so that I could go to school and work part time during the days so I hadn’t been able to go. I didn’t even know if I was doing any of this right and was more than a little afraid the kid would bolt on me and I wouldn’t get to help them at all.

“Not getting in a car with you. Don’t know you.”

Smart kid, I reasoned. All right I had to figure out another way to do this. “I have some juice in my trunk. Want it?”

The kid shrugged, but I could see the interest in their eyes. And I think I knew how hungry they were. I had raw meat too, but not much else. Everything else for tacos was pretty much a staple at the house. I wished that I had more to give the kid if they refused to take me up on my offer. I went to my trunk and pulled out the juice. It was grape, something that the kids at the house liked, and I hoped this one did too. I shut my trunk and went back to the front of my car where the kid stood waiting.

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