‘The whole idea is lacking something,’ Roxie says. She strokes her chin and stares at Robert. ‘It’s not right.’
‘But what is it?’
‘Dunno.’ Roxie gazes around the room. Disappointment flickers through her body, like a shock. She’s planned this. For months. It’s supposed to be perfect. Her shoulders slump forward and she falls into the arm chair, beside the makeshift bar. ‘I should move this chair,’ she continues absentmindedly. ‘In case anyone spills their drink.’
‘Your mum’s going to love it, Rox,’ Robert says. He’s crouching in front of her, rubs her arms encouragingly. ‘She’ll just be overwhelmed and she’ll appreciate your efforts.’
‘But it’s not enough. There’s no pizzazz here in this room.’
‘Maybe once all the guests arrive you’ll feel differently.’
Roxie nods. Considers Robert might be right. Strange to think this fine man used to be homeless. A vagrant who’d fallen hard, down on his luck. She’d found him one night, nearly ten years ago, when volunteering in the soup kitchen.
A cold, frosty night. Roxie had made sure the pea and ham soup they were serving was fresh and extra hot. Dusty drove the van around to a spot where a few regulars gathered. Before long, a queue had formed, and Roxie was rushed off her feet. She barely looked at the people as they took their cup of soup, muttered their thanks. Not her usual style; she ordinarily took time to chat with each one. Nothing huge, not while handing out food, anyway. But a smile and small talk, to break the ice, make them feel welcome. Human, even.
That night, as she handed out the last few servings, she lifted her head, used her wrist to drag away hair from her eyes. She looked directly at the man as he reached for the cup. New. To the soup kitchen and to the streets—not dirty enough to be sleeping rough for too long.
‘Hello,’ she’d said. ‘You’re new here?’
‘Yeah.’ It was a mumble. Averted his gaze. A sign, she’d guessed, that he didn’t want to talk further. But she made a mental note to find him when the last of the soup had been handed out.
And so she did. He opened up about losing his job, his home, his savings. Eventually his friends, too. He had no choice but to turn to the streets. Over time, their friendship grew. She’d introduced him to a colleague who worked in social housing, and he soon moved into a flat in a high-rise building. Shortly after that, he’d secured employment—trolley duty at the local shopping centre, but it was a start. They went on their first date three months after they’d met that night.
Now, Roxie touches his hand. Thinks back to that moment. He thinks she saved him. But truthfully, they saved each other.
‘You’re right. It’ll be who’s here that counts for Mum. Thanks, my love.’ She places her arms around his waist and leans into his strength.