He stumbled into the doorway, wearing his oversized t-shirt and baggy shorts. She tiptoed in after him, her cotton dress brushing against her skin, falling just below her knees. They sat down, side-by-side, ready to be judged, while off in the distance a baby was crying and a bird was chirping. His head began to move in the direction of the sound, but she rested a hand on his thigh and his attention was retrieved.
He was lucky to have her — she was always pulling him back from the street, out of the rain and nudging him in the right direction. Just a year earlier, he was aimless, distraught, lost. His business major was getting him nowhere and everything started to blend together. The homeless man on the street by his apartment had always appeared in his dreams, asking him if this was how he’d wanted his life to turn out. He never gave an answer, could never find the words, so he avoided sleep altogether. Somehow, the drip of the kitchen faucet and the creak of the floorboards were enough to keep him awake at night. And then he began to think of the future and his head started to spin and suddenly his knees were weak. Staying awake made time stand still, the clock ticking slower and even slower yet, as midnight turned to dusk and then it was day again.
Then he met her at the local grocery store, in the meat aisle, a vision of beauty before a backdrop of lamb chops and drumsticks. His cart bumped into hers and he murmured a quick apology, too focused on his sweaty palms, which were nervously clutching a tray of chicken nuggets. She nodded and went along with her cart towards the bagels and English muffins and he knew something momentous had just taken place.
He stopped to think, to recap every detail of their meeting, because this was it, she was it. He took his thoughts past the checkout counter, down the street and up into his small, one-bedroom apartment for another sleepless night.
Meanwhile, she was sitting on a park bench, thinking about the boy she had just met. He needed her, she decided. And the next day, she had a craving for chicken nuggets.
They met again in the same aisle, and again the next day too, and eventually in the park, or his place, or her place, or they just wandered.
She felt safe with him, and was intrigued by him, ignoring the baggy shorts and oversized shirts and his tendency to go astray. His whole life seemed to be going astray, but then she was there, easing his trembling hands with her steady ones.
Her mother told her she would never find a husband because she was too demanding. She needed things to be fixed, and what man wanted to be fixed? Her therapist diagnosed her with a hero complex; she was no damsel in distress, and instead sought out those who needed help. But no one seemed to want her help, and she began to question her purpose in life. Her thoughts were always like this: too complex for her brain to understand, too big and too overwhelming to keep up with. When she got this way, sleep was the best remedy; her brain occupied itself with aimless, pleasant dreams. The feathers in her pillow and the wallpaper in her room comforted her; so simple, easy, nice. Outside there was rain and snow and heat and noise and war and death and dirt and darkness. But inside her room, inside her dreams, she was safe. And she was also safe with him.
Now, whatever was before them didn’t matter. Her hand was still on his thigh and he covered it with his own. They would leave the room soon, hand in hand, his baggy shorts brushing against her cotton dress as they stepped through the doorway together.