Autumn had arrived, bringing with it days that were bright yet crisp without the burden of the deep chill that always seeped into vulnerable bones. There would be plenty of that come Winter, when the snow drifted over shabbily clad feed and up over bare ankles. While the city was dirty and unsavory, the trees that grew unhindered along the outskirts boldly declared to the world that they, too, held the honor of competing with the sunsets. Reds, oranges and golds blazed from leaves that were going from tender to rigid, and the sidewalks in the suburban yards were littered with a royal carpet of their beauty.
Within the city, the ever changing colors of graffiti marred the alley sides of stores and abandoned buildings. Litter was tossed about with the chilly winds and people walked by without offering a second glance to a pair of huddled forms sitting on the ground in the mouth of an alley. They were too preoccupied to notice being ignored as they shared warmth while they picked through last week's Sunday paper.
"Let's see," Loren said thoughtfully as he shook out the torn page of the coupon section. "We definitely don't need tampons."
Jesse chuckled at that as he leaned in close to his twin. They were fraternal, Loren, who was five minutes older, was also five inches shorter than Jesse. They turned eighteen late in the summer, and had celebrated by buying each other a cupcake at the local bakery.
"We could use some laundry soap," Jesse said. "Too expensive to buy it straight from the laundromat."
Loren hummed a soft agreement. "Halloween's almost here," he murmured. "I can't wait to save up and buy some aftermarket candy."
"Yeah," Jesse answered with a smile. They were interrupted when a quarter bounced between their feet and both sets of eyes lifted to gaze at the stranger standing before them.
"You know, you wouldn't be in this predicament if you'd go out and make something of yourselves," the man said with barely concealed contempt. "I bet you two would rather do drugs and sleep all day instead of doing an honest days work."
"Well," Jesse countered with a tilt of his head. "We didn't ask you for your most generous contribution," he said as he plucked the quarter off the ground. He held it in his fingers and turned it, as if examining a fine gem. "But rather, we were sitting here, minding our own business before you rudely interrupted us. If we want money, we know where to go to get it. People are always willing to pay us to help unload at the docks. If we want dental care, or medical care, there is the free clinic, and we do take care of ourselves, thank you very much."
"We don't do drugs or drink," Loren finished for his twin. "We don't judge you, we ask that you return the favor." Together, after Jesse slipped the quarter into his hip pocket, they dismissed the stranger and went back to the coupon section. "Hotdogs are on sale for .99," he said. "Think we should get a pack, Jess?"
"I don't see why not," Jesse said. "We'll build a little fire and huddle at the river tonight."
Loren lifted his face, his storm gray eyes beaming at his brother. "Just like camping!" he said with a grin. "I love it when we go camping!"
Jesse chuckled as he continued to peruse the already picked over coupons. "Me too, Lo. Me too."
"Speaking of the loading docks, why don't we go there tomorrow and see if John won't let us put in a day. We need some money so we can hit Goodwill. We both need some new gloves, my fingers are already stiff and it's still kind of warm out."
"Sure, no problem," Jesse agreed. "And socks."
"And socks," Loren echoed as they rose from their spot. Jesse folded up the ragged paper and tucked it into his pocket. They would use that to light the kindling for their riverside fire that night. "I looked in the bin when we got our shoes, but it had already been picked clean. The only socks they had were thin and didn't look that warm."
"No worries," Jesse murmured as they began to weave in and out of pedestrians. "We'll buy 'em brand new if we have to. No frozen fingers or toes this year."
They walked in silence for a while, pausing to cross a street at the light before conversation picked up once again. "I wonder if we can get in and get a shower at the rec center?" Loren asked as he walked quickly to keep up with his brother's long-legged pace. "Please slow down, Sasquatch, or give me a piggy back ride!"
"Sorry," Jesse chuckled as he eased down to a pace Loren could easily match. "Yeah, let's hit the shower, and then see what we can eat. How much money do you have left over from the dock job last week?"
"Thirty dollars and some change," Loren answered as he gazed up to his twin. Jesse's beauty was simple; pure and golden. His bright blond hair curled rebelliously at his shoulders, with bangs that framed his brow, shielding his light brown eyes. They shared a set of full lips and handsome jawlines. Loren was often mistaken for female with his thick, dark blond hair that fell to his waist, and his lovely almond shaped eyes. Sometimes they liked to surmise who they must have looked like the most; their mother or father, though they barely remembered her. She, known only as the pronoun, had died when they were four, and after she passed, the streets took over her job of raising her children.
They wore grace the way a body of water in the wintertime wore mist from the rising sun. Gratitude was their demeanor, along with joy at the pleasant, simple things of life. They didn't consider themselves homeless, but home free. They belonged to all around them, taking only what was to be given, and giving what they had to spare to those who needed it.
"What do you want to be for Halloween?" Jesse asked as he stuffed his hands into his pockets to warm them from the brisk afternoon.
Loren pulled his lower lip between his teeth and gave it some thought. "Good question. Why not do what we did last year?"
"Because you sitting on my shoulders and me going "Arrr" wasn't a very convincing pirate and parrot ensemble," Jesse smirked.
"Yes, but we did put some smiles on people's faces," Loren pointed out.
"Yeah, until those high school kids tried to throw eggs at us!"
"We out ran them!" Loren contested as he paused at a shop window and peered in. Jesse turned when he realized Loren wasn't by his side, and walked back to his twin, peering in as well.
"Look, they have charcoal grills on sale for twenty bucks," Loren said as he pressed his nose to the glass. "We could get one and stash it by the river."
"Yeah," Jesse said. "Let's do that."
"And then we can get our hot dogs, too?"
"Yeah," Jesse grinned. He moved away from the window and held open the door for his brother to step through.
"How much money do you have left from the dock job?"
"Fifteen bucks," Jesse sighed. "But at least we have new shoes."
"Thank you again," Loren said kindly. The shoes were donations to Goodwill, but to the boys, that didn't matter. They were new to them, fit well and best of all; were in great shape.
"Always," Jesse said gently before he held open the door for his brother.