The Pregnant Homeless California Runaway
A chapter preview of my debut novel, Last Chance California.
I pretended not to hear Hank. He crawled to my face. I squeezed my eyes shut. He nudged me with his nose. I’d throw up if I moved. Hank slathered me with his tongue in an attempt to drown me. I scratched Hank’s back and got out of bed.
I sparked a half-smoked bowl and chugged a water bottle before I left the bed. I waited a minute. I packed more weed into the bowl and took a rather large hit. My throat burst into a fit with each cough rattling my brain.
Coughing meant I’d be really high.
Which could only help me forget about my debilitating headache. And the fact that the woman I chased to California was probably fucking someone else.
I took another hit.
And that’s how I cured my hangover.
I threw a leash on Hank and left my place in what I wore last night.
Jimmy, one of the recovering crack addicts who lived next door, struck up a chat with me on my way to the dog park. He wore one of his standard dirty white T-shirts, torn jeans, and beat-to-hell boots. He smoked a pack of cancer sticks a day, which was obvious when he spoke.
“And that’s when I says, ‘I’m not clocking in. You can’t violate my rights like that.’ I never went back. I got paid for the day, though.”
Hank loved the way Jimmy scratched him.
I endured his rants in exchange.
Hank and I walked towards the rich neighborhood that had luxury apartments, fancy restaurants, and a dog park. But as we passed a horrid-smelling trash can a block from the dog park. I folded in half, clutched my stomach, and threw up all over the side of the street. A decent pile of yellow vomit and colorful chunks lay on next to the curb.
What did I eat last night?
What were those chunks?
I’d be damned.
I couldn’t figure out what the fuck it was.
“Ugh. What’s wrong with you?”
The Sunday dinner crowd made aggressive sounds of disgust as they hurried by me.
I imagined some rich housewife would peek down from her penthouse window, speed-dialing 9-1-1: “Someone puked outside my home! We don’t tolerate that type of behavior on Front Street. He’s a hooligan. Oh my God! He’s getting closer to it. Arrest him!”
If I were back home in Jersey, I could have paid a homeless guy five bucks for each correct thing he named in my puke. But these fuckin’ California snobs.
It was at that moment I realized I was staring at my own puke.
If I didn’t move soon, someone would call the cops.
I was high and still drunk.
Not ideal for a conversation with an officer of the law.
By the time I made it to the dog park, sweat leaked down my back. I slouched on a bench away from the world. It was getting dark out, which meant that civilized people weren’t out. I couldn’t handle engaging in California dog park small talk, anyway.
In California, everyone said hello and expected you to listen to them brag about their lives. People confessed their passions and dreams in a five-minute dog park conversation.
In Jersey, anything more than “how are you” was offensive.
I missed that.
I found a bench in the back corner of the park, away from everyone. My stench screamed, “Leave me the fuck alone.” I sagged down, avoiding eye contact with humans and animals.
Someone approached me.
I didn’t feel like playing nice.
I snuck a peek at her without moving my head.
She had smooth, toned legs that led right up to a short white sundress. I followed her dress up past her chest to the diamond stud that protruded from her nose.
I could deal with humans today.
“Which dog is yours?” she asked.
The recent dad-bod craze helped my cause, but she was too sexy to be sitting next to someone in my condition. Case in point, I wasn’t entirely sure I cleaned the puke remains from my beard. I snuck a smell of my armpit.
Hannah introduced herself and sat down next to me. Her dog’s name was Sir Dunk-A-Lot. It was an awesome name for a bulldog. I told her how I rescued Hank from Alabama after my breakup. She told me how she got Sir Dunk-A-Lot from a friend’s accidental litter. She was from Chicago. Hannah had more issues with the cold than me, and rightfully so. She was a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. She pretended to get mad at me when she found out I didn’t read all of his works.
Hannah didn’t mind my stink or didn’t smell me. I forgot about my hangover, mostly. Every so often, a shooting pain would fire through my brain. I also caught a few whiffs of dog shit, which caused me to gag. Twice.
“What brought you out here?” I asked Hannah.
“Drove from Chicago straight to California a week ago,” she said. “But you don’t want to hear my sob story.”
“Sure I do.”
I did not.
Hannah paused before she spoke.
“I don’t want to kill the mood.”
“You want a sob story? Met the love of my life. Blew it. Because I’m a piece of shit. Got a terrible job. Left the East Coast. Fell for a California girl. Haven’t seen her in weeks. And my job is somehow worse than that.”
Brutal honesty scares most people off.
But not Hannah.
She pointed at our dogs a few feet away from our bench.
“At least our dogs are friends.”
I was at the dog park.
Forgot about the little guy for a second there.
“Now you have to tell me your sob story,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m too hungover to beg.”
Hannah put her hair behind her ears. “Well, my boyfriend broke up with me before I could tell him I was pregnant.”
Everyone always had better stories than me.
But I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear this one.
“Well, that’s brutal.”
“He was cheating on me. The whole time we were together. Got the other girl pregnant. Bought her a ring. They’re getting married in May. He never told her about me. He told me to take care of our problem. That’s what he called her.
“I asked my parents what to do. They told me to get an abortion. They even offered to pay. I thought about . . . you know . . . taking care of it. But it felt wrong,” Hannah said.
“What did you do?”
“I packed my things and headed west. I didn’t know what was right. You know? My first night driving, I tried to make it to a rest stop, but I pushed too far. I didn’t want to double back, but I couldn’t go any further. I found a perfect spot to sleep. It was on a quiet road in the middle of nowhere. You should have seen the stars. I’d never seen so many in my life. I fell asleep smiling. I can still see them still when I close my eyes. And that night, I saw God in my dreams. He told me to keep the baby.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“I told my family. They told me not to come home.”
“Their child having a child out of wedlock would make them look bad.”
“Aren’t they the Jesus types?” Hannah glared at me. “I mean, the religious types. Catholics.”
“I haven’t read the good book in a bit, but I’d argue that killing an unborn child would piss off Jesus even more than having a child out of wedlock.”
Hannah showed me her perfect teeth when she smiled. “Getting away from them is what’s best for me. And my family.”
She rubbed her flat stomach.
It all seemed too outrageous to be fake.
But I was too hungover to find out if she was full of shit.
The world hit differently when I was hungover. I could treat everyone as shitty as I felt, or I could show some compassion and hope the world would do the same.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Your baby is lucky to have you.”
“My little princess, Hope.”
It was too cliché not to be beautiful.
“Are you alone out here?” I asked.
“A couple people I grew up with moved out here. Anyone who escapes Ford Heights moves to San Diego. It’s like a tradition.”
“You have a place to stay?”
“Some nights. I sleep in my car sometimes. Don’t want to be a mooch.”
I hated it.
“What about work?” I asked.
“I’ve been doing Postmates for cash. I had a few waitressing interviews too,” she said. “I should hear back from one today or tomorrow.”
Hank flopped down in front of me, panting like a maniac. Between the blazing sun beating down on me and Hannah’s story making me feel worse than I already did, I needed an excuse to leave.
“Listen, Hank is dying here. I have to get him home. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I could use a place to stay,” she said. “Kidding. I appreciate you talking to me. It can get a little lonely out here.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Hannah rose to her feet. “I guess I’ll be going too.”
“I can walk you home,” I said.
“I can manage.”
“I insist. I could use a few more minutes to sweat out my hangover.”
Guilt and curiosity led me to Hannah’s beat-up, silver four-door hunk of shit from the late nineties. Two hubcaps were missing. It had its fair share of dents and scratches. The trunk wasn’t closed properly. A struggling rope barely held it shut. The back seat was stuffed with boxes. The front seat was empty, but the floor held two plastic containers with baby clothes and toys bursting out of them.
I pulled out my wallet and gathered what cash I had.
“I have, like, sixty bucks,” I said.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“I can send you some more.”
“You don’t have to,” she said.
Hannah took the cash.
“Are you living in your car?” I asked.
“Not every night,” she said. “Tonight, yeah. A car night.”
I should have “sucker” tattooed on my forehead. I didn’t like the idea of a stranger, no matter how homeless, desperate, pregnant, or hot, being at my place without me there.
But I couldn’t just leave a homeless, desperate, pregnant woman on the streets, either.
Curse my fucking luck.
“I have to get to bed early for work tomorrow. But maybe we can hang out this week. You could stay over.”
“I’ll clean the place. Cook. Walk the dogs. Take care of them.” She paused. “Take care of you.”
Hannah could help cure my loneliness. I had nothing valuable she could steal. Besides Hank.
“You won’t even notice I’m there,” Hannah said.
What if she was a con artist?
What if she was really alone?
Or tried to kill me in my sleep?
What if she texts her accomplices, gets them into my place, robs me?
What if I smoked too much weed and now I’m paranoid?
“It’s a small place,” I said. “A studio. I don’t know if we’d all fit.”
I made a mental note to stop watching serial killer documentaries. And to smoke less weed.
“I’ll sleep on the couch, if you want.” Hannah rubbed my arm. “But I’d rather sleep with you.”
When Hannah put it that way, it seemed like a great idea.
Was I really considering letting someone I knew for less than two hours stay at my new apartment solely because she was attractive and insinuated sex?
If it were a guy that approached me at the park, I would have ignored him from the get-go.
She was pregnant and alone. I imagined she’d do anything to keep her and her baby safe.
“Let’s hang out tomorrow,” I said. “If things go well, you can stay over.”
I was too hungover to think.
“Okay. I’d like that.”
I sent her a hundred dollars from my phone when we exchanged numbers.
It was all I could afford to lose.
And enough to quell my guilt.
“I have to take this.” Hannah pulled her phone from her purse. “It’s a friend. Might be a job. I’ll call you sometime.”
I didn’t hear the phone ring.
We waved a silent goodbye.
That was the last I ever heard from Hannah.
The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.
Just like California did.
Last Chance California is available on paperback and eBook on Amazon.