Friday, August 8, 2008

Spare Change #13

I place the strawberry smoothie on the table in front of TJ then slide in across from her and take a sip of mine, blueberry of course. The diner is pretty quiet and the counter girl seems to be enjoying the brief break between the lunch and after work rushes.

“You’re looking well,” I tell TJ and mean it. Her short curly black hair looks recently washed and cut, she looks alert and well rested. Same dirty white t-shirt as always though.

“Thanks, you’re… not,” she says with the smallest hint of a smile.

“Well share your secret and I’ll start catching up.”

“I’ve been clean for a while,” she says while stirring her drink with a straw.

“I guess that would do it,” I admit. “How long?”

“Since the day after I last saw you,” she says matter-of-factly. I let that stir around in my head for a few seconds before replying.

“You saying you couldn’t have done that with me around?” I try to keep the anger out of my voice with limited success. This is typical TJ, always blaming me for the choices she makes.

“I’m saying, J, that it was a lot easier without constant temptation to -”

“I never forced you to do nothin’!” I say in a harsh whisper, jabbing a dirt covered finger at her. I’d yell but I like this place and want to be able to come back. “I never paid for your dope, I didn’t say I’d leave you if you went clean, I -”

“J lower your damn voice,” she says in her best high school teacher tone. “I’m not blaming you for anything, okay? I’m just too weak to get clean when you’re not. Besides, this isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. Sit down.”

I didn’t even realize I had stood up. I glance around and slump back down, glad the diner is still mostly empty. Why do I let her work me up so easily?

“Alright, so what is?” I ask quietly.

“I heard you got yourself a proper job -”

“Oh, you need money, no wonder you -”

“If you can’t keep your mouth shut for five seconds,” she hisses at me, “I won’t waste anymore of my time here.” I glare at her for a full minute, exactly sixty seconds. Counting the seconds out, that’s how long it takes me to settle down enough to speak calmly.

“Fine, say what you’ve come here to say.”

“Thank you. Now, with a proper job comes proper money,” she says as I nearly draw blood by biting my tongue. “And with proper money comes some pretty serious temptations in our world. Do you have a plan for that money? I care about you J, God knows why, but I do. I don’t want to see you dead in a ditch because your new money got you into trouble you couldn’t handle.”

“I’ve got an idea or two,” I reply. I haven’t told her about the account with Karl and I’m in no mood to do so now. “I’m not planning on buying so much of Tommy’s dope that he’ll be able to retire, if that’s your concern. Although a hut on a warm beach somewhere might be exactly what he needs right now.”

“J this could be your chance, what you’ve been wanting for years,” TJ says, giving me an uncomfortably intense stare. “A chance to get off the streets.”

“How do you figure that?” I squirm a little in my seat but manage to maintain eye contact. This crazy cow will be the end of me.

“Just think – you keep this job for a while and maybe you find a landlord that’ll rent you a place. A steady job, a roof over your head, hot water, a bed… if you went clean you’d never see the streets again.”

“Sorry, what was that last bit again?”

“You could do it J,” she says, leaning across the table, close enough to smell her strawberry breath. “I’ll help, if you let me. We could do it together – support each other in the weak times, celebrate the successes. Be a real couple.”

I’ve heard enough. I stand up, leaving my glass half empty… or is it half full? I don’t trust myself to tell up from down right now.

“Please don’t leave J. Sit down, let’s talk this through. Let me help you.” She’s practically begging. God damn her.

“I’ll see you around TJ,” I tell her and walk away.

“What are you so bloody afraid of?” she yells after me. It’s a good question and I don’t have an answer for it. Not yet, anyway. I just need some time, some space, this is all too much.

“When I figure that out,” I call as I walk out the door, “you’ll be the first to know.”

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