When I was able to stop crying and explain, to Mike, what happened, he agreed that I probably did the best thing under the circumstances. Although he wasn't overjoyed about me walking around last night alone or climbing down fire escapes, he acknowledged that I didn't have much choice.
I hadn't realized how dead tired I was until I slumped in his arms, after getting everything out. But when I thought about it, I'd only gotten a few hours of sleep last night. It wasn't even the very restful kind, since I was so worried about Jodi's mom finding me there. And then with my traveling around the city last night and this afternoon, I was exhausted.
I slept like dead in the makeshift bed, finally able to fully relax with Mike watching out for me. I knew he'd keep me safe.
At about six, he woke me up to have some dinner and then at nine he closed the store and was finally able to join me back in our little hide-out.
He'd made a fort, sort of. He put a sleeping bag and blanket, along with his other things, in the middle of a bunch of boxes and you couldn't see any of it unless you went around to a specific spot. He assured me that hardly anyone ever came into the back room at all. And no one ever came over here.
I wasn't super tired after my long nap, but Mike had to get up early to go to his other job, so before long he was sound asleep. I was just so happy to finally be able to be in his arms and to feel secure.
But I couldn't help wondering how long we'd be able to get away with this. It couldn't be legal and I'd hate to think what his boss would say if he caught us. But we really had no where else to go right now.
At some point, late in the night, I drifted off to sleep and was only aware of Mike leaving me later on to go to work. He gave me a kiss and reminded me to stay quiet, before he left.
I'm not sure how much later it was when I woke up, but when I did I was disoriented, having slept in a strange place.
I sat up to try to remember where I was, and froze when I realized there was a strange man standing at the opening of our little fort, watching me curiously.
We just stared at each other for a few seconds. He seemed to be waiting for me to say something and I was trying not to panic and scream because, hey, strange man watching me sleep!
He finally cocked his head to the side and said. "Would you mind telling me why you're sleeping in my store?"
Today had been the longest day of my life. I hated leaving Christina like I'd had to this morning. She seemed so fragile and scared when she came to me yesterday. But if I missed my shift at the warehouse, I wouldn't have this job anymore. They wouldn't care if I was bleeding to death out on the highway. Either I showed up or found another job.
I still couldn't believe that Christina's parents kicked her out. I knew they'd be mad and probably hate me, but I was sure they'd support her.
Well, she didn't need them. She had me. I was more convinced than ever that I'd done the right thing in leaving home when I did. We didn't need anyone.
Finally done with my shift for the day, I headed back to the hardware store to get back to her.
I was practically running when I pulled the door open and started towards the back.
"Hey, Mike," Steve called from his office. "Come over here for a minute."
"I'll be right there." I said, anxious to see Christina and make sure she was alright.
I glanced at Steve on my way passed and stopped when I saw that Christina was sitting at his desk, looking nervous.
"You're pretty early for your shift." Steve noted with a raised eyebrow as I came over. He obviously knew I'd been sleeping here.
"Steve, I..." I wasn't sure where to start.
"Man, I trusted you." He said, sounding disappointed.
"I know." I said. "I'm sorry."
"Do you know how much trouble I could get in if someone else found you two back there? Especially since you're both minors?"
"I'm sorry." I said again. "I just...we didn't have anywhere else to go."
He sighed. "I know."
"You know?" I repeated, surprised.
"Christina and I have been getting acquainted." He half smiled.
I looked at Christina who shrugged and looked unsure.
"I wouldn't have stayed here." I said. "But no one will rent to me until I'm eighteen. Please, just...just let us stay till then." I hated having to beg like this in front of Christina. She needed to be able to count on me and know I could take care of her. She didn't need to see me like this.
"Mike..." Steve shook his head.
"Please." I said again. "Look we'll be better about it. No one will know we're here."
He seemed torn but then finally said. "I can't."
I looked back at him, disappointed and wondered what we were going to do now.
"You know I'd help you out," He said. "But those people have been after me lately for all those stupid codes and garbage. If they found you here....Besides that's no place for anyone to stay, let alone someone in Christina's condition."
I nodded unhappily and looked down trying to think of where we could possibly go. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just me. I could crash with Jeremy for a few days until I figured out where to go, but with Christina, that wouldn't work.
Steve sighed loudly and mumbled something to himself. "Look, I have a room..." He started hesitantly.
I looked back at him, hopeful and eager.
"It's not much." He added quickly. "A hole in the wall, really."
"Yeah?" I pushed.
"You two could stay there." He offered.
I sighed in relief and smiled. "I can pay you rent." I said quickly.
"No. That's ok." He waved me off. "You don't have to."
"I can't take it for nothing." I said. I might not have alot of money yet, but I wasn't going to take advantage of anyone.
"Like you can't stay here for free?" Steve raised an eyebrow at me.
I smiled sheepishly. "I was gonna leave some money later." I lied.
"Uh huh." He smiled, not buying it. "But really, it's ok. You haven't seen the state of my apartment yet and the food's worse."
"I can cook." Christina spoke up, over at the desk.
"Yeah?" Steve looked at her, assessing. "You any good?"
She shrugged and smiled.
"She's great." I said beaming at her.
"I guess anything's got to be better than my cooking." He said. "Alright then, you cook and keep house and we'll call it even."
Christina nodded and looked so proud to be able to contribute.
Steve looked back at me. "Now that that's settled, we need to get you taken care of."
"Me?" I asked, confused.
He nodded. "If you're gonna keep working for me, we're gonna start doing things right - get you officially employed, I mean." He sighed. "Man I hate paperwork..." He muttered.
"Sure." I happily agreed.
"And I assume you're not going to school anymore?" He asked.
"No." I said hesitantly. Was he going to tell me I had to go? That would make things alot harder...
"Well, if you're not going back, then you need to get your GED as soon as possible." He said. "I'm positive you at least need that if this is gonna be legal. You take off today, get settled and find out how soon you can get that test out of the way."
"You sure?" I asked. I was anxious to get Christina somewhere more secure, but I didn't feel great about skipping out on work.
"Positive." He said. "The sooner you two are out of my back room, the better. Just come back to work when you're finished."
"Ok, thanks." I agreed and looked at Christina. She looked as relieved as I felt about the direction this conversation went.
After Steve made us copies of his key, Christina and I headed over to the apartment that was, thankfully, only a few blocks away.
When we opened the door and went inside, I realized Steve hadn't been kidding about the condition of the apartment. It was a total disaster. Not run down or anything, just messy. I never realized he was such a slob. There were old dirty dishes on various surfaces, clothes thrown all over everything, and just random piles of clutter everywhere. The floor looked like it hadn't been vacuumed, ever.
I glanced at Christina to see what she thought of having to clean all this. She didn't look discouraged, she was taking everything in, looking determined.
Of course, she wasn't afraid of working hard. Hadn't she been doing that all her life? Just not necessarily in the physical sense.
We went through the apartment to find the room that Steve said we could use.
Again, he wasn't joking, it was tiny. Once we got a bed in there I doubted there'd be room for much else. But at least we had a room.
We stood in the doorway of our new room that was in desperate need of cleaning, looked at each other and shared a relieved smile.
At least for now, we would be just fine.
I moved the heavy stuff out of our room to where Steve said to put it and then made some phone calls trying to find out how and when I could get my GED.
It turned out that the next testing was this Saturday, so that gave me almost a week to get ready. Even though, I wasn't really sure how to get ready for it. I'd always gotten pretty decent grades without having to study too much. And wasn't this basically just an evaluation to make sure I could do the important stuff? I shouldn't really have to study for it. Still, I felt a little uneasy about going into a test without having studied at least a little.
Christina was probably much better prepared for it than I was, but she didn't want to go. She was scared to go almost anywhere, convinced her parents would somehow find her. She'd been a nervous wreck on the walk over here, from the store.
I didn't push her, either. I figured she could go take it anytime she wanted.
After figuring out the specifics for that, I called a few stores to find a not-too-expensive bed. I was disappointed when the cheapest one I could find was still way more than I was hoping to spend. I was getting the feeling that most things were going to be that way and, not for the first time, I felt overwhelmed by all of this.
I was still a kid, how was I going to be able to take care of a family?
At least for now, we'd be alright. I'd just have to make as much money as possible while we were staying with Steve. I couldn't worry about later, yet.
With that in mind, I got up, kissed Christina goodbye, and went back to the hardware store.
When Steve and I returned at about 9:30, we stood just inside the door and looked around, amazed. It was completely spotless. If I didn't see Christina, sound asleep on the couch, I'd think we'd walked into the wrong apartment.
Steve let out a low whistle. "Man, your girl doesn't mess around. It looks like a completely different place."
"No, she doesn't." I smiled.
Steve and I both looked over and saw the picture perfect dinner waiting for us on the table.
"Did I have that much food here?" Steve wondered before he looked at me. "Mike, I think this arrangement is going to work out nicely."
I just grinned at him before I went over to kiss Christina awake.