Oliver watches as people pass by, all busy looking down at their phones or talking to their friend and laughing about irrelevant things. He remembers a time when he was one of those people, living to the fullest, partying, getting drunk, sleeping with any girl that threw herself at him. He was so reckless and an asshole. He can’t say he misses that part of himself. Sure, life was easier then, but… A part of him prefers living like this, a much better person, no matter his misfortunes.
With a sigh he looks around the street. He never liked the busiest part of the city because people tend to be focused on themselves, which makes it harder for him to be noticed by them. In the quieter part of town people are more inclined to help him when he struggles. They’re kind and thoughtful. Here, they just think about themselves.
That’s why for months he stayed just a few blocks away from the Glades, because people passing by easily noticed him, and helped him as best as they could.
But last night the new owner of a minimarket complained that Oliver’s presence bothered his costumers. So, when this morning a policeman woke him up to make him leave, Oliver didn’t want any trouble and decided to find a new place. Which is why he’s walking in the middle of the business center, looking for his new ‘home’.
Not far from a coffee shop, he finds a rather clean alley. Down that side street, he sees a man in his early seventies in his same situation. The man gives him a silent nod in greeting and Oliver nods back. He motions to the entrance of the alley.
“Do you mind?” His voice rough from disuse.
The man shakes his head. “Might be good to have some company.”
Oliver thanks him, drops his worn-out backpack and places a folded blanket on the ground. He sits leaning back against the wall, the man twenty feet to his left, and the busy street only a couple to his right.
From his position he can see the tall building that used to be his family’s company. Now there’s a new sign on it. He read on a newspaper, a while ago, that the person who bought it after it went bankrupt was able to offer jobs to the people who already worked for his parents in the past. At least he knows the company is in the hands of someone with a heart, since they didn’t fire QC’s employees to hire new people.
The loss of his parents and the lack of a relationship between him and his sister, still pains Oliver so much. He’d give anything to have them all back, even with their flaws.
“My name is Gary.” The old man catches his attention again.
Oliver looks back at him, receiving a salute sign. It makes him chuckle, and he starts to think that maybe this part of town isn’t as bad as he thought it’d be.
She’s almost running now. Her day started with a dead phone, which didn’t wake her up, then her coffee machine wouldn’t work, and she found a flat tire on her car. Deciding against changing it when she’s already late, Felicity makes her way to work by foot.
Her bag hanging from her shoulder, while her hands are full with documents she needs for today’s meetings, Felicity realizes that walking under the sun in a summer day with high heels is not a good idea. Maybe she should’ve called a cab. But then again, she’s the boss, she shouldn’t have to worry about being late.
Just then, she thinks her day can’t get any worse. She’s wrong.
Felicity is only a few blocks away from the building, when suddenly a person collides with her, knocking her to the ground as she feels a hard tug on her shoulder.
As she looks up, she sees someone wearing a baseball cap and dark sunglasses running away with her purse.
Felicity is too shocked to react in any other way, still on the ground, surrounded by her documents all scattered on the pavement. Her left knee hurts and she’s sure there are scratches on her hands too.
It all happens so quickly that she barely realizes a man appears out of nowhere from her left to run after her mugger. It takes him only a few seconds to reach him and grab a handful of the guy’s shirt. The man turns them around and her offender tries to escape, but the man walks him back toward her with a strong grip.
Felicity takes in the man. He’s wearing worn-out jeans and a dark green t-shirt, it fits him perfectly and doesn’t hide the muscles underneath it, or his toned biceps. He limps when he puts weight on his right leg, but his grip never falters. From the way he walks and the dog tags around his neck, she guesses he could be in the military.
As they get closer, Felicity notices he’s very handsome. His hair long enough that it almost covers his eyes, and a beard too long for her taste, but he’s still handsome. He has the bluest eyes she’s ever seen.
When they’re just a few feet away from her, the man holds out his free hand to her. He’s a little dirty but she doesn’t care as she slips her hand in his. His hand is warm and his hold is gentle, such a contrast to the hard grip he still has on the thief’s shirt. The thief lost his sunglasses and cap, and she now realizes he’s young, probably around twenty years old.
Her savior helps her to stand. “Are you okay?” His voice is rough, and his genuine concern is clear in his eyes.
“I’m- I’m fine.” Felicity replies, still a little shocked by what just happened.
The man looks at the struggling guy next to him and glares. “Give her back her purse.” He does as he’s told, and Felicity takes it from his shaking hands. “Now apologize.”
“Good. Now we wait for the police.”
At the man’s words, the thief starts to really panic. “No, please! I’m sorry, I really am! I’ll never do something like that again, I swear!”
Felicity feels bad for him, who looks genuinely sorry and regretful. He also looks more scared of her savior.
“Let him go.” She says in the end.
The man looks at her with a frown. “He tried to mug you. And he hurt you.” He points at her knee.
She looks down and sees it’s red and bloody. “It’s just a scraped knee. And he didn’t take anything from the purse.” She says after quickly checking it. “He’s sorry, and I believe him.”
“Are you sure?” His blue eyes stare into hers.
“Yeah, it’s okay.”
He turns to the squirming kid. “Next time you do something like this, I’ll make sure you end up in a cell.”
“I won’t, I won’t!” He swears.
The man lets him go and he runs away faster than when he first took her purse. When Felicity turns her attention back to her savior – she really needs to ask him his name, – is only to find him kneeling in front of her, gathering the papers she dropped earlier. She kneels too, and picks up the documents, thanking herself for stapling those that needed to stay together, so it won’t take long to put them back as they were.
When they’re done, he hands her those he gathered and then helps her to stand up again. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
She’s touched by his concern. Felicity gives him a smile and nods. “Yes. And thank you. For this and… that.” She points where the thief had disappeared.
He looks down at the ground before stepping away. “I’m just glad I could help you.”
She watches as he limps toward an alley a few feet behind her. Her heart constricts as she sees him sit on a blanket there, leaning against the wall, with a backpack next to him. She wouldn’t have thought he was a homeless. Yes, he was a little dirty, and he might need a haircut, but she didn’t think…
Felicity shakes her head and walks to him, rummaging through her purse and cursing herself for not keeping cash on her, or food, or water. “Hey, uhm… unfortunately I don’t have cash, because I always use a card or my phone app, but… I do have this.” She finally finds the piece of paper she threw in there a few weeks ago.
The man tentatively takes it from her and stares at it.
“It’s a coupon for the supermarket on the Fifth. It’s not much, but you can buy whatever you want up to ten dollars. I’m sorry it’s not enough to thank you for what you’ve done for me, but I don’t have anything else on me right now.” Felicity quickly tells him.
He shakes his head, holding out the coupon to her. “I helped you because it was the right thing to do, I didn’t do it to get something in return.”
“And this is the right thing to do for me.” She insists. “You’re the only one who stood up and helped me, everyone else just ignored a woman on the ground. People I actually know, they walked by and ignored me. But you didn’t. You helped me when you didn’t have to, which means you’re a good person.” Felicity carefully crouches next to him, wrapping her hand around his. “I received this as a promotional gift by email, I don’t need it. But you do. And, more importantly, you deserve it.”
Her words ring in Oliver’s head.
You deserve it.
He’s heard those words so many times, but it was always in a negative way. That he deserved to live on the streets, he deserved to suffer, he deserved to starve.
But this woman… This woman just said that he deserves a ten-dollar gift.
He looks at their hands and his grip on the paper tightens, then notices the writing on the back.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot about the algorithm I wrote the other day when I didn’t have my phone on me. I promise the coupon is still valid. You don’t have to worry about it.”
His eyes find hers and Oliver realizes he could get lost in them. They’re both still, staring at each other, when her smartwatch starts beeping with a message. She quickly shakes her head and glances at it with a groan.
“I’m sorry, I really have to go.” She stands again and takes a few steps backwards.
Oliver nods his head in understanding and lifts the piece of paper in his hand. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”
She gives him a soft smile. “You’re a good man. I wish you good luck.”
When her watch beeps again, she waves him goodbye and he awkwardly waves back, before she’s sprinting as fast as she can on her heels.
Oliver looks down at the paper in his hands. That woman just gave him the possibility to buy himself food for a while. Ten dollars might not be much to other people, but he knows that for him is a lot. If he’s careful enough, he could go on more than a couple of days thanks to it.
He turns the coupon and reads what she said is an algorithm. He’s not a genius, but he knows that this type of writing is actually used for coding. To him, it seems so complicated, but she must be really smart to write something like that out of the blue.
And she’s also beautiful.
The thought takes him by surprise. Everyday, he sees women walking by, some even stop to give him something, but never before he felt so attracted to one of them. Maybe it’s her bubbly personality, or her kindness as she wanted to help him too. He’s not sure, but he knows that it’s been years since he’s felt this way.
He’s never seen her before. It’s been almost three months since he found this place, and he’s sure she never walked by. He would’ve remembered her.
Carefully he folds the paper and hides it away in his pocket. He’ll hold onto it like the most precious thing he’s ever owned.
The next day, Felicity finds herself driving her car through second roads, instead of the main one she usually takes. This one takes longer with a car because there are more red lights that delay her way to work, but she really wants to see him again.
She even packed two bottles of water, a sandwich, and a few packs of chips. She knows it might be weird, but she really wants to make sure her savior has something, because she knows ten dollars are not much considering the prices of some articles. Felicity wants to help him in any way she can.
When the alley comes into view and she doesn’t find him there, Felicity tries to not feel disappointed. But she should’ve guessed he wouldn’t be there, seeing how it’s been raining since last night. She really hopes he found some place with shelter, it’s pouring pretty heavily and she doesn’t want him to get sick.
And for the next three days Felicity repeats the same process. She packs something to eat and drink, drives the slower streets, and hopes to see him now that the hot sun shines again.
But every day she’s disappointed when she finds the empty spot in the alley. She guesses he found a new place to stay.
When Monday comes again, she goes back to her usual route.
The rain forces him to stay at the bus station for an entire day. He doesn’t like the stations, because guards or policemen force him to leave as soon as it stops raining. And that’s what happens again.
The next few days, he explores the part of the city he often avoids, looking for some place to spend his time, but whenever he picks a place, he has to leave it. One alley is too close to the center and people constantly complain about his presence. Another one is used by hookers. One night he’s sleeping at a new corner and some idiots pee on him. His next stop is used for drug dealings, and he doesn’t want to get in the middle of that.
By the end of the week, Oliver is back to the alley with Gary. The man accepts him as if they were old friends.
Oliver feels like they are.