It's the middle of a very cold December, and Charlie Mayburn is in desperate need of a seasonal night manager at his self-storage facility. When he comes across a résumé from his childhood sweetheart, Lonnie "Mack" McDaniel, he’s beyond surprised. Mack left right after high school, determined to see the world and abandoning both Charlie and their small town for greener pastures. So what’s he doing back twenty years later?
As he's desperate and Mack is the most qualified applicant, Charlie hires him on the spot, along with leasing him a ten-by-ten unit. Mack does good work, but something’s off about him. He's very secretive, often bedraggled, and has holes in his well-worn shoes. Definitely not the clean-cut Mack Charlie grew up with.
When Charlie discovers, quite by accident, that Mack has been living in the storage unit he rented -- in the middle of winter -- he takes matters in hand. He offers Mack a place to stay, no strings attached. It takes some doing, but Charlie finally gets Mack to tell him how he ended up homeless. The tale almost breaks his heart, but Charlie is determined to take care of his long lost friend, no matter what.Perhaps this Christmas, both men can find their way through old hurts and forge a new beginning, with good will for all.
I was on my way back to the office when, on a whim, I decided to do a quick walk around the facility. It was brisk outside, and I shivered beneath my thick wool jacket. I turned the corner to check the row where Lonnie’s unit was located and noticed his car was parked there. The door to his rental space was rolled up, too.
I walked behind his Honda and came face to face with a half-dressed Lonnie, naked from the waist up. As it was freezing outside, he was shaking and his nipples were hard. I could see goose bumps all over his exposed skin. I was flabbergasted.
“What the hell’s going on here, man?”
“It’s nothing.” He quickly donned the sweater he’d been holding and ran his hands through his unruly hair. His eyes were red and a little crusty in the corners. “I just needed a change of clothes, and I, uh, forgot that there was a stack of sweaters in a box in there.” He turned and moved quickly toward the roll up door when I finally noticed what he had in the unit. Oh God, no.
“What the fuck?” Caught, Lonnie moved out of my way as I advanced toward him. He hung his head and stuck his hands in his pants pockets.
Before me, there was a bedroll, a couple of really flat pillows with mildew spots, a flashlight, folding chair and some food wrappers. His battered cell phone was on the floor next to a bottle of water. From a plastic garment rack that leaned to the left hung his winter jacket, the slacks I’d seen him wear a lot and two Henleys.
I couldn’t believe it. “Are you ... are you living here, Lonnie?”
Still not facing me, I saw him nod reluctantly. I hardly knew what to think or how to respond.
“It’s fucking freezing out here. How the hell do you keep warm?”
“I sometimes sit in the car with the heater on.” He hunched his shoulders. I looked at the car, uncertain how a man of his height could be comfortable in there over a long period of time.
Words threatened to fail me. Now that I thought about it, I’d seen the vehicle on camera in front of his unit a few times, but the why of it had never occurred to me. I mean, why would it?
I rubbed my face a few times, then let my gloved hands fall away. “Why, Mack?” My nickname for him came out without conscious thought. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He rounded on me. “Why would I? The popular kid in school who left town to conquer the world is fucking homeless? Brilliant, right? Must make you feel like saying ‘I told you so,’ huh?” He was like a wounded bear, his anger vicious, a live thing. I reminded myself that we didn’t have the kind of relationship we used to, and we were essentially starting over. Lonnie needed careful handling, but more than that, he needed a friend and a place to stay.
I made the only decision I could to help a proud man, down on his luck. “Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. You can sleep on the futon in the back room of the office until it’s your time to work. Then, you’ll do your shift, and in the morning, I’ll come get you and have Jenna work by herself for an hour or so while we get you situated at my place.”
His frank disbelief damn near broke my heart. “Why? Why would you do that, Charlie? After what I did, how I left you all those years ago?” Instead of making me uncomfortable, his use of my pet name told me how vulnerable he truly was.
“Mack, we were friends once upon a time, and I’d do anything to help a friend.”