People scurried back and forth on NYC streets barely noticing me sitting on the corner with my bent cardboard sign. There was no reason to, I was one of the many homeless of this city. Vagrants trying to get enough money for a hot meal or a ticket back home. My reasons are simple, a hot drink to get me through the cold winter night. The liquor store across the street with the protective glass around the counter is the only place that will sell to someone like me. The old man didn’t have many upstanding customers anyway and didn’t shirk cold hard cash. A small brandy would numb the feeling of sleeping on concrete while chasing away the chill.
New Yorker's rarely gave any money to us sitting on street corners, and why would they? It’s a city inundated with people asking for money everywhere you go. News articles tell stories of a scam being run through the homeless in New York where they go back home to their luxury apartments after a day of begging for money. Such bullshit. I wish that were true or I wouldn’t have to hide the fact that I’m a woman everyday to protect myself. I would be standing in a hot shower right now and not sitting in my own filth. A hot soup, bread, as well as sweets would be in abundance and I would be able to chat with friends about the latest T.V. show people are obsessing about. Being here would hold no importance to me. Just another day on the job. Accept this is very real to me and I would kill for a chance at a better life or hell, even my old life.
I was a former EMT that had a bit, wait, who has a drinking problem. A few meetings at A.A told you that you needed to acknowledge the problem to overcome it. More bullshit. I acknowledged, but never overcame. I lost my job one night when I failed to report to work on time again due to my drinking, and when I did show up I smelled of booze. They let me go the same day. I lost the apartment that I shared with two other roommates, I couldn’t afford the rent. The shelters here are more dangerous than the streets at times. At least here they won’t steal my shoes and there is a chance that I can get a few bucks.
It’s not all bad though, there is an old lady that comes by and gives me a plate of food when she can along with a few dollars. She said I reminded her of her granddaughter. Lucky me. When she made it out I helped her walk the busy two lane street and carried her groceries back to her luxury building. Her front door men never let me inside and took the bags from me the second they saw me. She tried to argue, but I told her it didn’t matter I was used to it. I never went up to her place when invited. I feared that if anything went wrong, she was pushing one hundred years old it seems, they would lock me up. Easy target, the homeless. So I walk her to the building and go back to my corner until the cops came and made me move. Then I waited the usual amount of time to pass, came back and settled in for the night.
Weeks passed and I didn’t see the old woman, oh I forgot to mention, her name was Betty, like Betty Boop. Those were her words not mine. I wished for her mashed potatoes and chicken, but mostly I wished for her kindness, she treated me like a person and after a while I felt less invisible.
I jumped at the deep voice coming from a few feet away.
“Hey! Hey you dude.”
Turning I saw one of the doormen from her building staring at me.
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving.” Gathering my things.
Raising his hand to touch me, I ducked out of the way glaring at him, he froze.
“Look, Mrs. Worth wanted us to get you and her lawyer together when she passed.”
“Mrs. Worth, Betty Worth?”
“Betty as in Betty Boop?”
He cracked a smile chucking, "Yea that Betty.”
“Why? Wait, she’s dead?”
Face falling he continued, “Yea three days ago, she was bed ridden for two weeks then passed.”
Nodding, I waited for him to say more.
He cleared his throat, “She wanted her lawyer to meet you, can you come inside?”
“Through the front?”
He nodded, “Her words were, 'bring her inside like a fucking human being, and I do not swear so you know I mean it!'”
I laughed, the first time in weeks. “Ok, I’ll come in.”
Following him inside, he took me into a side room where a small man with gelled hair and glasses stood in his tailored suit. The man looked unassuming, yet wealthy.
“Hello, Ms. Lane, Josephine Lane?”
“That’s not your real name is it?”
I froze, how the hell did he know that?
I watched him scrutinizing my reaction, he then nodded to himself.
I heard the doorman behind me suck in a breath at my name. He must have finally realized I was a girl. My sharp bark of laughter startled them both.
“You sound like you already know me.”
“Yes I do and no worries you're safe.”
“Really?” The sarcasm in my voice would even be unmistakable to a deaf man.
“Yes, your parents are dead.”
I sucked in a breath. I wanted those assholes to die every day of my childhood. Abusive alcoholics. As soon as I hit eighteen, I got out of there and moved as far away as I could. I started laughing again, I guess I didn’t get far enough. A drunk homeless person just like them.
“Good, now what?”
“Did you know your mother's history?”
“What, no she wasn't the sharing type.”
“Please sit down and we can cover everything.”
The soft leather conference room chair was soft and warm. I knew my stench was filling the room, but the lawyer made no notice of it, the doorman on the other hand was obviously breathing through his mouth.
The lawyer looked up at him, "You can bring Ms. Lane a hot coffee, and those donuts you offered me a few minutes ago.”
The door slammed behind me.
“Don’t mention it.”
He gathered up his folders and sat across from me and began talking. Apparently my mother was a known grifter, but she didn’t start that way.
“Wait are you saying Betty Boop, is related to me?”
“No she isn’t, but she ran several charities that made it possible for some homeless kids to make something of themselves.”
“Ok, what do you mean?”
“Your mother was a student at one of the schools she sponsored and Betty took an interest in the girl, but lost her to drugs, alcohol and then she disappeared.”
“Sounds like her.”
The door opened and the doorman brought in the coffee along with cream, sugar, and a platter of bagels. Once he was gone I grabbed a few and put them in my bag. Then I loaded the coffee with sugar and cream. I hadn’t drank coffee in so long, the taste was heaven. Coffee was too damn expensive in this city and any stimulant was hell when you didn’t have anything to do with the energy. I needed it now. I didn’t want to admit it, but the news of Betty’s death created a lump in my throat that I was trying to hide, but I was failing. I felt drained and emotional.
“Betty tracked her down, but it was too late, you were born and your mother was too far gone in her habit to listen to reason.”
A memory nagged at me in the back of my mind, a woman at our front door at the trailer park and shouting.
“Betty then tried to make a case to adopt you?”
“What?!” I almost dropped my damn coffee.
“Yes, and then your parents disappeared with you again, unfortunately her health began to fail and she wasn’t able to track you down until you moved into this street.”
“You mean on the sidewalk?”
He nodded, clearing his throat.
“Why didn’t she say anything?”
“I don’t know, but she wanted me to handle her affairs and one of those is you.”
“So what does that mean?”
“She set up a trust for you and is leaving you her apartment.”
My scream made the doorman come running back in the room. I guess he thought I was going to kill the lawyer and didn’t want blood on their expensive carpets.
“Leave us, we’re fine.”
“Ms. Lane, there are terms that must be met before you can live the life she is giving you.”
I felt the tears well in my eyes, someone was giving me something? I didn’t have to be homeless? The tears began to dry, of course there are terms. I narrowed my eyes.
“There is a facility for people detoxing from alcohol and drugs, you go there, get clean, it’s all paid for.”
“Then you visit a therapist she has set up for you twice a week, A.A. meetings she also set up for you once a week, and you check in with me every two weeks on your progress.”
“Why are you helping?”
“I was you once, she gave me a chance and I became a lawyer, I have a home, kids, a husband.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“My parents are Christian, kicked me out because I was gay, Betty gave me a new life.”
“You don’t know how hard it is to beat a habit though.”
“I do, heroin was my drug of choice, the urge is still there, but it’s less because of my life now, my family means more to me than the desire to shoot up.”
I whistled. Heroine, damn that’s one hell of a demon.
“I do all this and then what?”
“School, you go back to school, or go back to being an EMT, with everything she has set aside for you, you can become a doctor if you wanted and then there would be one last thing.”
“She hasn’t picked anyone yet, but in five years she wants me to choose who will take over her size able foundations, charities, businesses, and properties to keep helping others.”
“Why didn’t she pick you?”
“I didn’t want it, I was one of the people she was considering, but I pulled out.” He shook his head. “It would take time away from my family and I won’t do that.”
“So I get clean and I am in the running to help others?”
He laughed at the incredulity in my voice.
“Yes, she chose you because she sees something in you, she called ‘A fight’ she says you have the ‘gumption’ to fight like hell to help others, that’s why you became an EMT.”
I swallowed the lump that had formed again. She’s right I wanted to help people, it’s why I became what I became, then I lost it all.
I studied the man.
“What is your name?”
“Okay Mr. Anderson… Anderson really?”
I began laughing. He cracked a smile and shook his head, "I hate that damn movie.”
I couldn’t stop laughing, and he finally joined in.
“OK.” I had a hard time catching my breath. “Okay I will do it.”
His broad smile reminded me of Betty’s.
I stared out at park avenue from my penthouse apartment. Those damn rich assholes were all too busy waiving their dicks at each other and congratulating themselves to even listen to Alfred’s fucking story. Damn awesome kid. Crackhead mom, Jefferson projects and now child prodigy accepted to five ivy league schools. He just needed a sponsor, and I needed a funder so that he can have a free ride. He’ll get one of course, everyone wanted to be a part of the Betty Worth project, it made them look good. The door behind me opened.
“Angie you can't go around calling men cocks.”
I laughed at the exasperation in Ross’s voice “Yea well when they stop acting like one I will stop saying it.”
He laughed, “I’m glad you wore the dress Armon picked out for you.”
I glanced down at the black beaded, tight, ankle length dress his husband picked out.
“He has good taste, but my ass sticks out in this, I could feel their old cocks on me.” I grimaced.
“Mrs. Falcon!” The perfect spanish pronunciation of my last name made him sound more like an angry dad instead of a friend.
“I know, I know Betty would say ‘enjoy your youth and your curves.’”
“Yes, she would.”
He held out his arm, my cue to get back out there. I chugged my orange juice and put my arm through his, “Okay, let's get some more kids some money to do awesome things.”
I watched his brown eyes warm, “Betty made the right choice.”
“You picked me.”
“Yea, but Betty advised me to.”
I felt the lump in my throat grow, “I’m a regular charity case.”
He shook his head, “I like rags to riches story better.”
“Hey I never wore rags, they were hobo chic.”
We laughed while making our way to the front door where a portrait of Betty hung showcasing her white long hair, crimson lipstick and her elderly decolletage in full view.
“She had some nice hooters.”
Ross doubled over with laughter pulled me with him out the front door.
“Peace out Betty!” I waved at her portrait and like always.
I squatted in a very unladylike manner and began bobbing from side to side.
“Can you see it? Her damn eyes always follow me.”