Shelter from the Rain

Shelter from the Rain

By H. Danielle Crabtree

Drew pulled his knees to his chest and tugged his faded black sweatshirt down to cover them. He shivered, drawing his body back as far as he could into the covered doorway. The rain fell heavy tonight instead of the usual drizzle that most Oregonians considered rain. The drops splashed his worn, holey tennis shoes and the ends of his tattered jeans as they rebounded off the pavement. His warm breath came out frozen, crystallizing before dissipating in the cold, humid air.

He dropped his forehead to his knees and tucked his hands between his thighs to warm them. His thin gloves only kept his hands warm when it wasn’t damp, but it was always wet. The marine climate of the Pacific Northwest west of the Cascades was unforgiving in that way. No matter what he did, he would never be warm or chase away the bone-deep chill that made it hard for him to move.

He let out a shuddering breath and curled deeper into the doorway, listening to the rhythmic pounding of the rain. He closed his eyes, trying to remember what it felt like to sleep beneath warm blankets in his bed back home, and it was these thoughts that carried him into sleep.

“Hey,” a voice called, waking him. A flashlight danced across his sleeping space.

Drew turned his head, just enough to find the source. A Portland Police cruiser sat at the curbside. An officer had his window cracked. His eyes were locked on Drew. Not even he wanted to be out on a night like this.

“You can’t sleep there,” he said.

Drew nodded. He unfolded his body from his sweatshirt and immediately the shivering became uncontrollable, but he forced his legs to straighten before he bent down to pick up his backpack and guitar case. He slung the backpack over his shoulder.

“Why don’t you head to the shelter?” the man said. “It’s probably full on a night like this, but you could at least get warm and a hot cup of coffee.”

“Okay,” Drew said hoarsely. He nodded his head in compliance, mostly to appease the cop.

He knew where the shelter was; he avoided it. The people who ran it always asked too many questions. They always wanted to know the details of his life, and he didn’t feel like opening up to complete strangers and then attending a group prayer.

He started walking south, staying close to the building to avoid as much of the rain as possible. The police car passed him, driving slowly at first, before it raced down the street. When it turned the corner, he stopped, looking back at the dry spot he had just left. He almost turned back to the shelter of the entryway. However, if they drove by again and he was still there, they would arrest him for loitering. Since he was also underage, that left two destinations afterward—juvenile hall or a call to his parents, if not both. He was better off without either option, even with the current weather.

He turned onto Burnside, heading west toward the shelter. There was a convenience store across the street where many of the street kids and homeless hung out. The night clerk, Eddie, was pretty cool about them loitering, so long as they didn’t cause any trouble, although no one seemed to be around tonight. It was also a better option for coffee than the shelter, if he had enough change.

He stepped inside, fishing in his pocket for his money. He had two crumpled dollar bills, a nickel and two pennies. It would be enough for coffee and maybe something to eat. The store wasn’t exactly highbrow in its prices.

“How’s it going, Drew?”

He looked up. Eddie, a tall guy in his early twenties, was kneeling in the candy aisle. He had several boxes in front of him. He sliced the top of one with a box knife and pulled out a box of candy for the shelf.

“Would be better if I wasn’t soaked,” Drew answered.

“Cops kick you out again?”

He sighed. “Yeah.” He shook off the water as he joined the clerk in the aisle, setting his guitar down.

“You really need to find a new spot.”

“I usually can get a couple hours of sleep before they wake me up and tell me to move, but there seems to be more of us on the streets now—and the shelter’s always full in winter.”

Eddie snorted. “Like you’d go, kid,” he said. He stopped what he was doing, giving Drew an intent look like he was going to say something else, but instead, he went back to his stocking.

Drew shrugged it off. He left his guitar with Eddie and went to the coffee machine. He recounted his money and decided on the medium-sized cup so that he’d have enough for one of the packaged blueberry Danishes. He filled it to the brim and sighed when he picked up the hot cup. His hands thawed instantly and the constant shivering diminished to an almost functional level. He snagged a Danish as he rounded the counter and stopped at the register.

“Give me a sec,” Eddie said. He finished the last few items on the floor and then came up to the register. He dusted his hands off on his dark denim jeans before he unlocked the register. The machine beeped. “Two-twenty-nine,” he said.

Drew handed him his crumpled cash and change. He was twenty-two cents short.

Without a word, Eddie reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter, making up the difference, then dropped the three cents into the little tray meant for the next customer.

“Thanks, Eddie,” he said sheepishly, trying not to blush. “I think I grabbed the wrong size.”

“Eh, no worries, kid.” Eddie shrugged it off. “But don’t tell anyone. I’m not supposed to do that.”

He didn’t really need the explanation. Drew knew exactly why Eddie wasn’t supposed to do that. If he did that for any of the other street kids or homeless, they’d constantly have people “coming up short,” and Eddie couldn’t really afford to help every stray off the street. He was a student and lived with four other people in a small apartment near Portland State University.

“I’ll catch you later.” Drew forced a smile, still feeling slightly embarrassed over his mistake. He grabbed his guitar and went back outside into the wet night.

He moved to the left of the door and just around the corner where the overhang still protected the sidewalk, but out of view from the front in case a police cruiser decided to stop. He’d gotten lucky with the cops; most just told him to move along, but it only took one asking for ID to get him sent to juvie. He was pretty sure his parents still didn’t want him—not that he really blamed them.

He leaned against the wall and slid down until he was sitting on the concrete. He sipped his coffee and tore open the package of his Danish. He took three large bites before he remembered to chew the stale pastry. He took a swig of coffee to chase it. When he finished, he rested his head against the wall and listened to the roar of the occasional car speeding down Burnside toward the bridge that spanned the Willamette River or stopping at the store. The bell dinged periodically; he heard laughter and fell into a half-sleep as he listened to the sounds of the city.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep when he heard a car door slam particularly loud and the thumping of subwoofers. It jolted him awake. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and took a deep breath. The rain had faded to a slight drizzle that at least wouldn’t soak him through. He debated heading for the bridge or Waterfront Park to hide out for awhile.

Making a decision, he stood up, rolling his neck to stretch out the muscles. He bent down to pick up his guitar, and that was when he heard it—a distinct pop, pop, pop that made his heart skip a beat with each ignition.

He threw his body flush with the wall and inched to the corner, looking at the front of the store. Two men ran out and jumped into the only car in the parking lot. The tires squealed as they sped out.

Drew watched them turn onto Burnside. He heard their tires screech again as they took another corner, and then they were gone. He let out a breath and ran to the front of the store. Through the glass doors, he couldn’t see Eddie. With shaking hands, he pulled one door open and crept in.

“Eddie?” he called, his voice cracked slightly. “Hey, Eddie?”

As he approached the counter, he noticed a pair of shoes, and then the calves of Eddie’s legs spread out on the floor behind the counter. Drew’s heart pounded with every inch he moved forward. He stopped when the body came into full view, and it was a body. Eddie was covered in blood, unmoving, with three bullet wounds in his chest.

“Oh, shit, oh, shit,” Drew swore, gasping for air between curses. “Eddie?” He tried to plead away the sight.

He ran a hand through his hair as he panicked. He glanced between the guy and the front door. His gaze paused on the entrance when he heard sirens approaching. He let out a breath, sucked in another and then bolted out the door just as a cruiser pulled into the lot. Drew rounded the corner, grabbing his guitar, and ran as fast as he could.