Thanks For Everything
By Shawn Bailey
Tired, hungry and cold, eighteen-year-old orphan Kai Turner must resort to digging in the trash cans for food and sleeping on the streets just to survive. Kicked out of the home of his foster parents when his state support check ran out, Kai now has to fend for himself with just a backpack filled with his only belongs.
How was he going to get a job with just a high school diploma, no marketable skills, and no roof over his head? It would be easier just to walk out in a path of a car and just end it all.
Giancarlo Rossi took one look at the unconscious youth lying on the sidewalk where he’d fell and wondered how someone so young could have ended up homeless. He’d been watching him begging for money most of the day and huddling in corners the rest of the time to escape the frosty November weather in just a threadbare jacket.
Something in his heart broke. What parent in their right mind could just throw away a child?
Giancarlo looked out of the window and peered down at the traffic moving on State Street in the Chicago Loop. It was a cold day in November and the people on foot wore heavy coats and hats to fight against the blustery winter winds. Others huddled at the Chicago Transit Authority bus stops located right outside the doors of his restaurant and another one across the street going in the opposite direction. Giancarlo spotted a young man begging right outside the premises. What is this? His first thought was to alert security, but something kept him from doing so.
“Are you paying attention, Giancarlo?” Leonardo Esposito asked him.
“Yes,” Giancarlo answered, still watching the young man down below. He had moved away and now sat on a bench at the bus stop. Giancarlo walked away from the window. All he could make out was a mass of curly hair and a lithe body. The area had problems with vagrants before, but the cops usually ran them off. “Please continue.” He sat down at the head of the conference table. Besides his manager, Leonardo, the meeting was also attended by his lawyer, Angelo Greco, Giancarlo’s two younger brothers, Claudio and Fabiano, and the head chef, Giancarlo’s uncle Alberto.
“We’re trying to make some decisions on what we’re serving at this year’s Thanksgiving banquet.”
“Turkey,” Giancarlo answered.
“Very funny,” his uncle said.
“I don’t know what the fuss is all about. We’ll just serve the same thing we served last year.” Each year every restaurant in the area participated in the Feed the Hungry program in the greater Chicago area. And each year each chef brought along their specialty. Last year his restaurant served grandmother Rossi’s spaghetti and meatballs. It was a huge success. The event always took place on Thanksgiving Day at eleven in the morning and ended when the last guest was fed. The local health department was joining them this year, giving free physicals, and one of the biggest names in sports equipment would be handing out new tennis shoes to everyone who needed them.
“Can we count on you to prepare the tiramisu?” Leonardo asked. Leonardo usually ran the place when Giancarlo was absent. He was married to Alberto’s sister. Tiramisu was a popular coffee-flavored Italian dessert made of ladyfingers dipped in coffee and layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese and flavored with cocoa. It was Giancarlo’s favorite dessert as a child and he only made it for special occasions.
“Sì. The children will love it.” His grandmother had taught him just about everything he knew about cooking and baking and the rest he learned from the fancy culinary school she shipped him off to right after he graduated from high school. Giancarlo also looked forward to the banquet because it was a rare occasion when he got to cook with not only his uncle but with Claudio and Fabiano. Claudio was chef at the Rossi restaurant on the south side of the city, and Fabiano cooked at the family’s restaurant on the north.
“Have you heard from your parents?” Alberto asked. “Will they be returning for the holiday?”
His parents had retired early and turned the running of the family businesses over to Giancarlo. They spent their free time now jet-setting around the country with their friends. “Yes, I talked to them a couple of days ago, but they don’t know if they’re coming home right now. They’re having too much fun in Monte Carlo.”
Alberto chuckled. “Your parents know how to enjoy life. You can take some pointers from them.”
Giancarlo frowned. He was a fun guy.
“When was the last time you went out on a date?” Alberto asked him.
“If you have to think about it, that means it’s been too long,” Angelo said.
It was easy for Angelo to talk about him since he had a live-in lover. “I know it was sometime this year, Uncle.”
All the guys in the room laughed at him including Uncle Alberto.
“That means you haven’t had sex in a while,” the older Italian teased. “We Rossi men are lovers. The young women used to flock here in droves to see me, your father and your uncle Gaspare when we first opened this restaurant. Your father was a real ladies’ man in his younger days.”
Giancarlo wondered how much bragging he would do if Aunt Adriana were there. For a sixty-year-old, his uncle was still full of spunk and vigor. Could it be possible that he was still sexing it up with his wife after all of these years? “Can we get back to the subject?” Giancarlo asked, trying to get them off of his back about dating. He couldn’t help it if he was too busy managing three restaurants to date. And besides, he hadn’t met a guy in a long time that he was remotely interested in. Even though he lived in Andersonville, home of Chicago’s biggest lesbian and gay communities, he still failed to meet up with Mr. Right. He was giving up until someone he could truly love fell into his lap.
The meeting ended several minutes later because everyone had to get back to work. Giancarlo’s younger brothers left, and then Giancarlo called for his driver, Emilio, to come and pick up him and Angelo because they had a meeting with a prospective new supplier.
The little beggar, Giancarlo had discovered, had moved away from the front of the restaurant to the bus stop across the street.
Emilio arrived, and Giancarlo and Angelo got into the car. The meeting was taking place on the opposite side of town. When it was safe, his driver turned the car in the other direction and then stopped at the red light. Giancarlo looked out of the window. The little beggar was kind of cute, but he looked very cold in his lightweight jacket. Could he be a runaway? There was no other reason someone his age should be on the streets begging.
“What are you watching?” Angelo asked.
“Some kid. He’s sitting at the bus stop.”
Angelo leaned over him to get a look. “Cute, but he’s just a street urchin.”
The light turned green, and Emilio started driving again.
“What have you been up to, kid?” Angelo asked his younger brother, Emilio.
Giancarlo smirked. Emilio was twenty-five years old and hardly deserved to be treated like a teenager.
“Work,” Emilio answered. “Mr. Rossi keeps me pretty busy.”
Angelo laughed. “Mr. Rossi? You have known Giancarlo all of your life. Why are you being so formal now?”
“Because he’s my boss.”
Emilio was just five years younger than him and seven years younger than Angelo. The two of them looked alike, except Emilio was shorter and had a slimmer face. They both had dark hair and eyes, and Emilio was currently dating Giancarlo’s youngest sister Bianca. His other sister Eloisa was married and expecting a baby around Christmas. Emilio was an excellent chauffeur, and he knew Chicago better than a taxi driver. And he was discrete. Giancarlo never had to worry about him going back to Angelo and reporting about the guys he used to date.
“She’s okay,” Emilio answered. “You know her. She doesn’t complain except about you.”
Donatella Greco didn’t take the news very well that her oldest son preferred the company of men. She had finally come around to accept Oliver who Angelo had been steadily dating for several years now. Angelo had accompanied his mother to one of her medical appointments at the wellness clinic in Angelo’s old neighborhood, and he fell head over heels for the gorgeous red-haired, green-eyed medical assistant.
“You need to call her,” Emilio said to his brother. “And she wants you to bring Oliver over for dinner sometimes.”
“I will,” Angelo said. “So when are you and Bianca going to get married?”
“I haven’t even asked her yet,” Emilio said. “I’m saving money for our future. You know how Giancarlo is. He would kill me if I couldn’t provide for her.”
“I would. I really would,” Giancarlo agreed. “Bianca likes to shop, and get her hair fixed every week. He is going to need a lot of money to take care of her.”
Angelo laughed. “Don’t scare him off.”
“I already brought her a ring,” Emilio announced. “I plan to give it to her at her birthday party on Valentine’s Day.”
“Ah, my little brother, the romantic,” Angelo said, sitting back in the seat.
They finally arrived at the building where the meeting was to be held. Emilio got out of his seat and held the door open for them.
“We’re going to be about an hour,” Angelo said to him. “Try to stay out of trouble until then.”
“I have my tablet,” Emilio said. “I’m going to watch my favorite cooking show. Uncle Alberto is teaching me how to make cannoli and ribollita.”
“Oh, so now you want to be a chef,” Angelo said.
“He’s pretty good,” Giancarlo said as they walked up the sidewalk that led to the entrance of the building. “I’m about to send him to culinary school.”
“You’re serious aren’t you?”
“Very much so,” Giancarlo said, holding the door open for his friend. “He’s kind of cute, like you, but less threatening.”
The meeting with the supplier ended, and Emilio took them back to the Rossi Restaurant in the central business district. It was located near the Chicago Board of Trade Building and the Willis Tower. The little beggar was still sitting across the street, shivering and blowing on his hands to keep warm.
“He’s still there,” Angelo said, looking across the street. “He’s probably a prostitute or something, waiting on some poor unsuspecting John to come along and buy his time for the afternoon.”
Giancarlo frowned at his friend. “Where do you get these ideas?”
Angelo chuckled. “Oh come on. You act like you’ve never picked up a pretty young thing for sex.”
True, he had done that a couple of times in the past, but not lately. He shook Angelo’s hand and then Angelo got back into the car so Emilio could take his brother to the law firm where he worked.
Giancarlo watched Emilio pull away from the curb. For some reason he glanced across the street again just before entering the restaurant.
Kai had to pee. It was six in the evening and the sun was starting to set. The bone-chilling cold did not help matters. He rose. His gaze landed on the fast food restaurant on the same block. It would do. He went through the side entrance, out of the view of the employees working the counter. They had chased him out of the dining area several times for loitering and begging customers for change.
Kai entered the men’s room and locked the door. He took his backpack off and hung it on a hook on the stall he entered. After washing his face and brushing his teeth, he used the toilet. The room was just too small to do anything else. He would love to take a bath or even a shower. When his foster parents first kicked him out, he wandered around for a couple of days staying with friends before hooking up with some other homeless guys around the neighborhood. The job he had didn’t last too long because he had no permanent residence and couldn’t wash and dry the uniforms. Asking strangers for money became part of his daily routine. As demeaning and humiliating as it seemed, it was a lot better than starving.
A lot of guys he knew sold their bodies for money. Kai frowned. He just couldn’t bring himself to do that and he hoped things never got so bleak that he had to stoop to prostitution.
“Never say never,” one of the guys had said to him. “You haven’t hit rock bottom yet. After the first time, all the faces begin to look the same. And you don’t have to do women. There are plenty of guys who would pay a lot of money to sleep with you too.”
Kai didn’t know how far he had to sink to reach rock bottom, but he hoped he never found out. He left the men’s room and headed toward the side door. Frowning, he looked at the help wanted sign. What a joke. He had hitchhiked up to the Loop area after hearing this particular place was hiring. The manager wouldn’t even interview him. His options were to either go back to the place where he left or stay here hoping to find a job to support himself. If he didn’t get enough money for a room, he would have to sleep on the streets yet another night.
Kai headed back to where he’d been sitting all day. Delicious aromas from the restaurant across the street floated in the air. All day long he’d seen diners coming and going from that place, and he had even hit up a couple of them for some change. Kai sat back down on the bench and glanced across the street. A group of people got off a bus, spotted him, turned up their noses and then continued on their way. Kai had reached a point of not caring what others thought of him. It hadn’t been easy trying to survive for a year out here, alone in the sweltering heat and the bitter cold. Had he known the Bings were going to toss him out on his ass, he would have made better provisions for himself. They kept pretending to like him, but as soon as the checks stopped, they just tossed him out on the street like day-old garbage.
Speaking of which, Kai watched two guys across the street rolling a cart containing trash cans to the side of the restaurant. They emptied those cans into a big dumpster. Kai had a good view from where he sat. His stomach growled. After a year on the streets, he’d learned that people threw away perfectly good food.
A big gust of wind blew. Kai shivered, wondering where he’d sleep tonight. He supposed he could just go behind one of these buildings and hunker down for the night like he’d been doing for the last few weeks. He almost got caught one night by a security guard, but Kai hid behind some old boxes and the man never saw him.
The guys from the restaurant rolled the cart back into the building. A couple came out of the front door and held hands walking down the street. Kai rose. Every muscle in his body was starting to ache. If he didn’t get over to the dumpster now, he might not get another chance. As soon as the traffic stopped, he hurried across the street to see if he could scrounge up dinner.
Giancarlo heard a noise coming around from the side of the restaurant just as he stepped outside for a couple of puffs on his electronic cigarette. He was trying to give up smoking, but old habits were hard to break. Putting his hand in his pocket, he touched his cell phone just in case he had to call the police. His first priority was to make sure his diners ate in peace and left undisturbed on their way home. He walked to the edge of the building and saw a pair of slim denim-clad legs hanging out of the dumpster. Seconds later the rest of the body appeared. The beggar? Giancarlo stayed hidden in the shadows. He’s eating something. Ah, poor thing must be starving. Still, what he was doing was not only dirty but dangerous. What if that big metal lid would have fallen on him? Giancarlo ducked back around to the front of the building and hid under the eaves where he couldn’t be seen. The young man came out, looked around, and then quickly crossed the street.
Some diners opened the door from the inside.
Giancarlo stepped onto the sidewalk so he wouldn’t startle them. “Have a pleasant evening,” he said. He glanced across the street just as a bus came along and then left. The young man didn’t get on. He just sat there moving around, trying to keep warm. Giancarlo sighed. Why did this bother him so much? This could very well be Claudio or Fabiano, or god forbid, Bianca. He went back inside the restaurant before he worried himself to death. Two hours later, he and the maître d’ said goodbye to the last diner and then they began cleaning up the restaurant for the next day.
A loud ruckus erupted just as Giancarlo was about to step outside to go home. He had called for Emilio, but his driver said he might be late because there was a lot of traffic. Giancarlo hurried to the door. His employees were leaving, and he wanted to make sure that nothing had happened to any of them. He stepped out and saw several teens in the middle of the street fighting. Traffic was sparse in this area around this time of night, but the drivers that were there honked at them to get out of the way. The young men were cursing very loudly and two of them were seriously battling.
Giancarlo stepped onto the sidewalk. Some of the guys spotted him and broke out running down the street, leaving one…the beggar. The young man stumbled as he attempted to get out of the street.
He’s not going to make it! Without thinking he ran across the street and snatched the other male onto the sidewalk and out of the path of an eighteen-wheeler hurdling toward them. Giancarlo landed on his ass. “Ouch.” The younger man laid spread out on his stomach. He was coughing badly and bleeding. “Are you okay?”
The other guy raised his head. “No. Those mother-fuckers beat me up and robbed me.” He moved off of Giancarlo and flopped down on the pavement beside him, coughing.
“Maybe you should go home. It’s too cold for you out here.”
Bold and defiant hazel eyes glared at him. “I don’t have a home.” He stumbled to his feet and began to walk away without a thank you. Spasms from coughing racked his body.
Giancarlo saw him stagger toward the street again. Car horns blew at him. Giancarlo hopped up and ran after him, catching him just as the guy fainted.
Giancarlo called out, “Bring the car over here quickly.”
Emilio drove over and got out. “What do you have there, Giancarlo?”
“Trouble,” Giancarlo answered. “Open the back door. I’ve got to get him to the hospital before he dies on me.”