Short Story: The One That Got Away

5We were en route to D.C. on the Metro Blue Line; everyone forced to pack in closer to each other than anyone felt reasonably comfortable with. At each station stop a grumble passed through the crowd as we all politely, albeit reluctantly, squished in closer to our neighbors in order to allow the newcomers on board. By my side Lily snorted to herself as she witnessed an old man who had been surly the whole ride, and who had unabashedly denied giving up his seat to a woman and her child, suddenly smile as he got boxed in by a group of college girls. “Perv,” Lily smirked, as she tugged my arm to scoot in closer.

I didn’t mind the ride because nothing could ruin this Valentine’s Day for me. The kids were at the grandparent’s house for the night, Lily and I had reserved a hotel in the city and I had managed to get a reservation at Lily’s favorite restaurant. Check, check and check! By my reasoning, we were set up for the perfect night.

We pulled into D.C. soon after and after elbowing our way through the crowd made it off the platform and up top to the street. We hadn’t made it more than a few steps before Lily’s grip on my arm loosened and I lost her briefly in the swarm of the crowd. I made my way back to find her frozen in place staring sadly a small distance away. I tried to follow her line of sight but failed to see.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She pointed in the same direction she was looking at and began to pull me with her. I followed her lead to find a man in shabby clothes sitting on a milk crate holding a sign, “Homeless, need money for food.”

I called Lily a bleeding heart. Leave it to her to find the one homeless guy in a bustling crowd of people. I began to take out my wallet when I noticed he was staring intently at Lily.

She stepped in closer to him, “Billy?”

I was instantly in shock, “You know this guy?” I asked cautiously.

She nodded her head at me, “Billy, is that really you?”

The homeless man, or Billy if you will, flushed red and put his sign on the floor, quickly rubbing his hands through his hair as he struggled to stand up. A closer look revealed Billy had a prosthetic right leg.

Suddenly Billy advanced on Lily and grabbed her by the shoulders, yelling intangibly at her.

I quickly stepped in shoving Billy off as I pushed Lily ahead of me to walk away. Lily moved fast and was soon out of my line of sight.

Before I could run after her, Billy firmly gripped my arm. “You take care of her now, you hear me?” he gruffly demanded.

“Get your hands off me,” I growled back at him, tugging my arm out of his grasp.

Billy held his hands up in defeat and hung his head low, “Look man, she doesn’t need me in her life.” He looked off in the direction Lily had gone.

I wanted to go straight after Lily, but something about his demeanor–something in his eyes begged me to listen to him.

Seeing I wasn’t going anywhere Billy continued, “After I deployed I thought I could come back and sweep her off her feet from whatever loser she was with,” he shook his head just then. “I was in for 8 years, but after my last deployment I came back in bad shape, so I didn’t contact her. I didn’t even know she lived in D.C.”

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what I could say. Who was this guy?

Billy turned back to his milk crate and picked up his sign, sitting down he said matter of fact, “I’m nothing but trouble, man; I’m just a bum with a bad leg and a messed up head.”

I began to pull out my wallet again.

Billy held up his hand to stop me, shaking his head ‘no’.

I held out my business card to him instead, “Call me when you’re ready.”

Billy stared at the card then tucked it into his jacket pocket, giving me a quick nod. I turned to go find Lily.

A few blocks down I found her standing against a building.

“You okay?”

Lily shrugged her shoulders and ducked beneath my arm. Together we made our way to the restaurant.

“How do you know him?”

Lily sighed, “We were friends back in high school, but we ran in different circles.”

We walked another block. “I didn’t even know he went off to the military,” she lamented.

I simply nodded my head as we continued to walk in silence, the adrenaline finally wearing off.

We were around the corner from the restaurant when I stopped and turned to Lily, “I gave him my card.”

Lily looked puzzled for a moment and then lifted the corner of her mouth in a half smile, “Thank you.”

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