A quiet humming of guitar strings filled the afternoon air of an early autumn. On the corner of Lace Lane and Brewer Street sat Cooper Greenlund, a handsome, musical man. In his hands rested a guitar; his right fingers plucked away at the strings in a rhythmic fashion. The guitar case next to him sat open and almost empty, spare a few shiny coins and greenbacks.
Cooper continued his playing, his foot tapping rhythmically, his eyes shaded behind black sunglasses. Today was slow for him. The street wasn't very busy, which meant that the spot he had chosen early this morning was not beneficial. Deciding that the best thing to do would be to move from his spot to find a busier area, Cooper stopped his playing and packed his guitar away momentarily. The cash he got so far today was a mere five dollars and fifty four cents. One of his worst days this month.
Slinging his guitar over his right shoulder, Cooper headed down Lace Lane. He knew that just past Lace Lane was Castle Hill Lane, one of the busiest streets in Shutford. It was always a risk, those busy streets. Either there was a lot of kind people willing to give money, or there was a lot of annoyed people, willing to walk past without a second glance. Today, though, Cooper was willing to take that risk.
After a few minutes of walking, (well, more of dodging people hurrying past) Cooper set down his guitar case and pulled out his guitar, slinging the guitar strap over his shoulder. After double-checking the tuning of the strings, he began to play a song that most everyone in the community knew: Payphone by Maroon 5.
A brunette girl stopped in her tracks, a black coat hugging her tiny figure and a bright colored scarf contrasting the monotony of the coat. She gave him a warm smile, then stood next to him and started to sing. It was a beautiful kind of music. The way that she hit each note to perfection made Cooper's skin tingle.
To Cooper's amazement, a rather large crowd gathered around and listened with full intent. The soulful way the girl sang and the carefree strumming of the guitar made the usually annoyed people stop and listen. It was Cooper's biggest crowd, hands down. He looked at the girl. Well, she was definitely talented. She had a mysterious sort of beauty to her, too. Cooper smirked to himself. He could have this girl in three seconds if he wanted to. But a careful observation of her clothing showed that she wasn't his usual style. She was rich, and a little too young.
Before he knew it, Cooper played the last notes of the song and the crowd that had gathered clapped. The girl turned towards him, a warm smile on her face.
"Thanks for letting me sing with you," she said quietly. Her cheeks were bright red, as if she had just been horribly embarrassed.
Cooper gave his signature crooked grin. "Any time, love."
The girl laughed, then waved her hand and walked away. He wanted to call to her, but he didn't know her name, and he didn't want to admit that he needed her for the crowd. Most of the crowd left with the girl, but some stayed to hear more. Cooper played for four hours after that, gathering five hundred and thirty six dollars and eighty seven cents.
"All in a day's work," he muttered to himself, pocketing the cash and putting away his guitar.
It was ten thirty-four at night, and it was time to retire. He walked down to Lace Lane, turned right on Brewer Street, took a left on Church Way and arrived at the Shutford Homeless Shelter. A cold burst of air raced down the street, making the chilly air nearly freezing. Cooper took off his sunglasses and put them in his coat pocket, quickly heading into the shelter.
The second Cooper stepped in, he could smell the remains of dinner: pumpkin and leek soup. He scowled, not pleased with the cook's choice. Nobody liked pumpkin soup. Nobody liked leeks. Why in the world would anybody combine the two? He changed his smile into a flirtatious face; he knew that he could charm one of the female servers into giving him something better.
On his way to the kitchen, Cooper spotted a girl in the corner of the shelter. She had a paintbrush in her hands and paint smeared across her cheeks. He stopped where he was and stared at her. Her blonde hair was pulled on top of her head in a messy bun, an intent look on her face. She's rather attractive, Cooper thought. Deciding that he'd rather have a girl than dinner, Cooper abandoned his mission of food and headed towards the painter.
Carefully coming up behind her, Cooper said into her ear, "What a beautiful painting."
The girl jumped, dropping her paintbrush onto the floor. She turned around quickly, nearly bumping into Cooper.
"Sorry, love," Cooper said, a crooked smile dangling on his face.
The girl's eyes widened. She stood frozen in her spot, staring at Cooper.
After a moment of silence, Cooper bent over and picked up the paintbrush. He handed it to her, which seemed to let her relax a bit.
"I'm Cooper. You are...?"
The girl wiped her face, which successfully smudged red paint on her forehead. "Vida. Vida Marta." She turned around quickly and stared at her picture with a fake interest. "Good night."
Cooper slid next to her, not willing to give up his game so easily. "Come on now, love. Don't be upset. I know it's always hard when you first come to a place like this."
Vida glanced at him momentarily. He wasn't a horrible looking person. But he was homeless, so he must have done something not so wonderful to get himself stuck in the shelter. She took a deep breath in, then turned around. "Look, I understand what you're doing. You're trying to be nice so I'll give you money. But I don't have any. Obviously." She motioned around her, then turned back towards her painting, now not only trying to ignore Cooper, but trying to gather back the shreds of inspiration that had been briskly ripped to shreds when Cooper scared her half to death. She felt his breath down her neck. Presently in a bitter mood, she spun around, successfully getting the red paint on her paintbrush to end up on his jacket. Her eyes widened in horror, and before she knew it, she was apologizing.
"Oh my gosh, I'm sorry! I didn't intend that I'd get this paint all over–"
Cooper stopped her with a forced smile. "It's... fine." He took a deep breath in, then let it out slowly. "Let's make a deal, yeah?"
Vida nodded quickly, biting her lip to keep herself from talking.
"You let me play a song on my guitar for you, then we'll be even." A mischievous sort of look shone in Cooper's eyes. He had more of an idea to his deal, but he'd never reveal that. At least, not at the moment.
Vida looked at him hesitantly. "How does that even–?"
To silence Vida, Cooper just put his signature lopsided grin on his face, swinging his guitar case around and setting it down on the ground so he could take out his instrument. He worked quickly, his hands moving in swift motions, and brought out his guitar. He slung the strap over his shoulder, walked over to the wall nearest him and sat down, tuning his instrument with skilled hands. Vida followed after, not quite sure of what to think. After tuning the guitar, Cooper smiled and began to play the most beautiful love song he could think of. He wasn't even sure if what he was singing was one song. It was just beautiful music.
Vida listened intently. Cooper was good. He could play the guitar, and his voice was perfect. She wasn't quite sure what song he was singing, but whatever it was, it made her feel safe and warm on such a cold autumn night. When Cooper finished the song, she smiled. "That was... beautiful," she mumbled, watching Cooper move the guitar out of the way so they were sitting closer to each other. They were so close, it made Vida uncomfortable.
"Not as beautiful as you," Cooper replied, used to using the same tag line. He waited for Vida's response, but only got a raised eyebrow.
"Uh..." She stood up, brushing herself off. "That's sweet and all, but I just met you." She quickly headed away, leaving Cooper to scramble after her.
"What does that mean?" he asked, a hurt look coming to his face. Nobody had ever flat out rejected him like that before. Sure, he had gotten angry slaps the morning after, but before he even began his magic?
Vida gave a small laugh. "You're cute, don't get me wrong." She paused, looking him up and down. When she looked back into his eyes, she had a look of –what was it?– pity in her eyes. "You're homeless. I'm a smart girl. If I'm getting involved, it's with somebody that can help me back off my feet. Not another lost soul like me."
Cooper's jaw dropped. "Excuse me?" he asked, anger showing on his confused face. "Lost soul?"
Vida nodded solemnly, returning to her painting. "You're just a drifter, and I'm not looking for a one night stand."
Face contorted with anger, Cooper went over to Vida's painting and smashed it. Just like that. His temper was short; almost as short as his relationships lasted. And what Vida had said put him overboard. He took her paintbrushes and snapped them all in half, pleased to see the horrified reaction he was getting from her. Yes, he was acting like a child. No, he didn't care. He was just angry, and this seemed to be his only solution. Once he was finished with Vida's things, he grabbed his guitar and headed out of the shelter, still raging to himself. He shoved past people, not happy in the slightest. He could see his breath from the dim street lights with every word that he muttered to himself. There were a few people on the street, and he managed to shove past every one of them. He bumped into somebody with a black jacket, who squeaked and nearly fell over. He whipped around, ready to let out all of his rage, when he realized who it was. The girl had the same scarf on, but instead of a happy face, she looked frightened.
"I'm sorry, Love," he said quietly, helping her right herself.
The girl looked at Cooper. She blinked a few times, then realization washed over her face like a pleasant breeze. "You headed home, Guitar Man?"
Cooper shook his head, a sad smile appearing. "No; the shelter was full." It was a lie, but it was a good one. The shelter was nearly always full, so he may not have been lying.
The girl gasped, bringing a hand to her mouth. She looked so worried for him at the moment, he almost believed she cared. "Well, you can't be left out here in the cold, can you?" She offered her arm, which Cooper gladly took. "I'm Gail, by the way. You are?"
"Cooper. Well, you're coming home with me tonight. No arguing. No buts. Don't want you to be lonely on such a cold night." She smiled at him then lead him in the supposed direction of her house.
The signature lopsided grin wormed its way onto Cooper's face. "That would be lovely," he replied. "Just lovely."