I was getting used to the subtle taste of hospital food. In front of me on a huge plastic tray was my meal of brisket, mashed potatoes and corn. I stared down at it and sighed. This wasn’t where I wanted to be. Not here, not now, not ever.
“So yeah, I was caught shoplifting with my friend. What we took made us look like a gay couple.”
I looked up and smiled at my new friend across the table. His name was Ernie. That’s it. No last names here. Only first names, ages, and reasons. He grinned and shook his head to the left, sending cheek-length bangs to the side of his face. His hair was dark and gleamed underneath the lights. Dark and shining brown eyes studied me, sending a wave of happiness through my very soul.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he answered in a voice that sounded so familiar.
“What was it?”
He smiled and scratched his ear. He was wearing a black shirt with a white button down over the top of it. I watched as he grabbed his milk carton and the sleeve on his right hand went up. My eyes found the scars I knew that would be there. The pink lines ran across his native skin, forming crisscross lines, X’s and O’s. He took a drink out of the carton and sat it down. Before I could look away, he caught me staring. I looked up to his eyes and felt heat rise to my cheeks. I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just different to find someone so much like yourself.
“We, uh, we stole eyeliner and condoms,” he said, smirking. I burst out laughing and he joined me. The other people in the lobby looked at us, some grinning like idiots who knew nothing and some raised curious eyebrows.
“Are you serious?” I asked, trying not to cough up my food.
Ernie nodded, his expression serious.
“Wow, you really need help!” I commented. Ernie was silent. I looked up at him and saw the grin on his face.
“Isn’t that why we’re here?” he asked, a chuckle escaping his seriousness.
“Yeah, most likely,” I answered.
“Exactly!” Ernie ended it. I laughed at this. When we had conversations, it usually turned into something of this nature.
I threw my plastic fork onto his tray and it landed in his mashed potatoes. He grinned and picked it up, staring at it diligently. I paused and thought about why I was here. How I had gotten this far. I thought about the day that could have turned ugly—at least uglier than it did. I thought about how Ernie and I were so similar. How we shared a lot of hurt with different faces, but same situations. Looking back, I see it all so clearly...
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