Evan’d remembered why he’d left in the first place before he even got home. During the hot, sticky ride from the bus station to his house (his mother’s house), with his nephew on his lap, his nieces squeezed together in the middle and his littlest brother on the far side, his sister had turned around and said “I hope you don’t mind, but we made up a bed for you on the couch in the basement. Dan’s got your room now, so that me and the kids can share the big bedroom.”
Evan nodded numbly. What was he supposed to say? He’d been gone for months. He already knew that Chris slept on the pull out in the living room when he was around, and that Sara stayed at her dad’s place when she visited. It sucked though. That basement was hot as balls in the summer.
It only got worse from there. It wasn’t that his ma and his sister didn’t love him. It was just that - with Helen dealing with her shithead ex and his ma worried about losing shifts at the factory - they loved him more when he wasn’t eating all of their food and accidentally swearing in front of his nieces and nephews.
After the third time in as many days that his ma had looked up from whatever she was doing and snapped “Evan, honestly!” because he’d stepped on a kid’s drawing or he’d woken Chris up with his irregular sleeping patterns or Helen was mad because he smoked on the back patio and the smell got into the bedroom, that Qtip decided he needed to get out of there.
All of that had led him here, to Jacks’s depressing divorce apartment with its scratchy couch and blinds which were never open. He hadn’t started here, but Lilley’s girlfriend had started looking worried and annoyed at the empty beer cans, and then Budweiser had had to go out of town and that left him with Manimal.
As long as he stayed out of the house during the day when Manimal was drinking in front of the tv and yelling at his lawyer, it wasn’t so bad. He only had to make it through ten more days until his leave was up, and he’d slept in worse places. At least Jacks didn’t mind that Qtip couldn’t sleep for more than two or three hours in a row.
Unfortunately, he was starting to grow sick of the library, and he didn’t think the Starbucks down the street was going to keep letting him use the wifi all day if he didn’t buy more of their shit. Qtip was considering which of Starbucks’ seasonal beverages he should try next when his phone buzzed and brought him sweet salvation.
WYNN: Heard you were homeless. I’ve got a spare bed. Dinner’s at 6:30.
God Bless Gunny and his sixth fucking sense for Marines in need. Evan had no idea how Wynn knew he needed rescuing, but real food and a real bed sounded like heaven.
(Okay, he might know who tipped Gunny off. His last text Christeson had been a little desperate.)
Qtip liked Gunny’s house. It was cheerful and comfortable, and he didn’t feel like he was in someone’s way every time he took a breath. He liked Gunny’s wife too. She didn’t take any shit, but not in a mean way. He liked Gunny’s kids. They were grown up enough to grasp that there were grown up words and kid words, so no one tutted if he slipped up and cursed in front of them, but they were still little enough that they shrieked and ran away when he played tickle monster. He was also the coolest guy they knew, because he knew shit about Pokemon.
Qtip tried to make himself useful. He cleared the table after meals and mowed the lawn and tried to keep the kids entertained. On his fourth day there, Gunny dragged them all out to the yard, and Evan and the kids helped take the outboard motor on the skiff apart to see why it kept choking. It was the most at home Qtip had felt since he could remember.
A few nights into his stay, Qtip jolted awake with a yell. Staring at him from a few inches away, just at the side of the bed was Michael, the Wynn’s youngest.
“Shit, little man. Sorry.” Qtip was flustered. This kid shouldn’t be in his room, hovering like a creepy doll come to life, but he probably shouldn’t have shouted at him.
“S’ok” Michael said around his thumb in his mouth. “Mommy says that good guys yell sometimes when they wake up because they think you’re a bad guy. But they won’t hurt you cause you’re a good guy too.”
Qtip nodded, still a little fuzzyheaded.
“Can I sleep with you?” Michael asked, “Mr. Pinky had a bad dream.”
Mr. Pinky was a greying stuffed animal that Michael carried everywhere. It maybe used to be pink, but it wasn’t now. Qtip still wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a mouse or a bear.
Before he could answer, Michael handed him Mr. Pinky and clambered up into the bed. Evan pulled back the covers, and Michael immediately tucked himself under Evan’s raised arm, took Mr. Pinky back, tucked him in between the two of them.
After a few minutes, Michael asked, “Will you sing me a song so I could have good dreams?”
Qtip thought for a moment then settled on the most comforting song he knew, Tupac’s “Baby Don’t Cry.”
Softly, he rapped the hook, “Baby don't cry, I hope you got your head up , Even when the road is hard, never give up, Baby don't cry, I hope you got your head up, Even when the road is hard, never give up, Keep ya head up”