Being homeless isn’t that bad when home is a tricked-out conversion van from the eighties parked next to a surf shop near the Santa Monica Pier in California.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a home. I just refused to live there.
My mom no longer lived at my home so there was no reason to live there. Maybe someday my grandparents would tell me who my dad was and then I could meet him, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t need him or anyone else. Well, I needed mom, but she wasn’t around anymore.
The only things I did need were the surf and the sand and an easel and some paper and charcoal pencils.
I had other needs, of course. Food, water, clothes, a place to wash my clothes, a place to sleep, and crap, and eat, not necessarily at the same time, but, you know, depending on how much of hurry I was in. The waves weren’t going to surf themselves. They needed me for that. So, the sooner I could wake up and get out there for dawn patrol, the better.
I needed to surf before the tourists showed up. Not that I didn’t like to surf alongside the tourists. Some guys are seriously good at surfing and fun to watch. I learn a lot watching other guys ride tubes beside me.
No, I needed to get to the pier. Tourists paid me a boat load of money to draw them on the pier. Some of them wanted a caricature. Some wanted a memento. Some of them wanted me to catch their first kiss or proposal.
Many people didn’t even know I was drawing them until they walked past, and I stopped them to show them the stunning portrait I’d created on the fly. They always paid me for that drawing, some more than others. Some gave me their business card and asked me to come draw for a party or event. Support myself with my art? Heck yeah!
One guy invited me to apply for art school at UCLA. I think he was the chair of the art department or something. I told him I had a year of high school left but he told me that was the perfect time to apply. I told him I’d need a full ride with room and board, because, you know, I’m homeless, but he didn’t need to know that. He said, “No problem,” so I gave him the name of my high school and told him to get all the details to my guidance counselor so she could set me up. He said he would. We’ll see. High school was still a month away. Until then, I was going to keep drawing, and keep surfing. Nothing else mattered.
Until I met her.
Good thing I’m a pescatarian because Maggie’s a vegan and she probably wouldn’t have given me a second glance if I’d ordered a hunk of cow on a bun.
I knew the day she started working at the Surf & Sub shop because I frequented that particular restaurant nearly every afternoon. They had the best tuna sandwiches this side of the continent, probably on the planet but I didn’t know because I’d never been out of California.
There were only four items on the menu I ordered, and I tried to rotate them so as not to eat the same thing every day. But when she smiled at me from across the cash register and asked me what I wanted, the word that came out of my mouth was, “You.”
She giggled and tucked a lock of curly brown hair behind her ear. “I’m not on the menu.” She bit her lower lip, and I couldn’t tell if she was shy or coy. I was going with coy.
“Good, I won’t have any competition from other guys.”
“How do you know I don’t have a boyfriend?” she asked.
“I’m quite confident that you do have a boyfriend,” I said. “Me.”
“I don’t even know your name.” She giggled again. I decided that was the most beautiful sound in the world and I vowed to make her giggle as many times a day as I could.
I held out my hand in greeting. “I’m Chad. And you are Maggie.”
“How do you know my name?” She asked me in a way that she thought I’d asked around ahead of time to find out her name, but this was the first time I’d laid eyes on her, so she was wrong.
“Unless your nametag is lying to me, your name is Maggie.” I said.
She rolled her eyes and sighed as if she’d completely forgotten she was wearing a nametag.
“You gonna leave me hanging here, Maggie?” I still had my hand out waiting to take hers. When she placed her hand in mine, it was even softer and warmer than I could have imagined. “I think I’m gonna marry you someday.” I still hadn’t let go of her hand until her manager cleared his throat from beside her.
“I think I need to take your order, Chad.” She pulled her hand back and lifted her chin, all business.
“What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” I asked.
“The vegan sub, of course,” she said. “That’s the only reason I came to work here; to feed my addiction.”
“I’ll try the vegan sub,” I said, but added a caveat. “Can you throw some provolone and tuna salad on that vegan sub.”
“Then it’s not vegan anymore.”
“That’s okay. I’m not a vegan,” I said. “Don’t let that stop you from being my girlfriend. I’m still your guy no matter what food I eat.”
“Shaking things up today, huh Chad?” the manager, Braden asked.
“Had to try my new girlfriend’s favorite sub, Bray.” I didn’t take my eyes off Maggie’s.
“I’ll go get that started for you while you pay the lady.”
“Come here often?” Maggie raised her eyebrows.
“Couple times a week,” I said.
“Every day,” Braden faked a cough.
“I will be now…” I quirked one eyebrow at Maggie.
“I knew this little gal was gonna drum up business,” Braden said. He was halfway through making my sandwich, exactly the way I liked it.
“You keep an eye on my new girlfriend, for me, will ya, Bray?”
“Absolutely.” He finished wrapping my sandwich and handed it to me over the counter. The freshly baked bread was still warm from the oven as if I’d ordered Braden to place my sub under the broiler, which I hadn’t.
I slipped a formerly waterlogged ten-dollar bill into Maggie’s outstretched hand and said, “Keep the change. Your first tip of the day.”
“Second tip,” she corrected me. “A couple of cute guys were in here earlier and they each gave me a tip. So, I guess that would make yours my third tip.”
“Them are fightin’ words, woman.” I backed away from the counter clutching my vegan sub that smelled suspiciously like tuna salad. “Thanks for the sandwich. See ya on the beach later. You’ll know where to find me.”
“What if I don’t want to go to the beach later?” she called out as I was heading out the door.
“You will.” I turned and winked at her as the bell above the door to the sub shop chimed to announce my departure. I chuckled as I walked away from the Surf & Sub shop.
This summer just got a thousand times better.
I sighed as I unwrapped my sandwich.