Off Sides(10)

By: Sawyer Bennett

They range in, white, yellow, young, old, men and women. The only common denominator they have is that they are all poor...very, very poor apparently. Some are dressed in rags while others have dirt covering them from head to toe. I know I'm gaping at these down trodden people but I can't help myself. I finally turn my head slowly to Danny and she's looking at me like she expects me to bolt.

"I volunteer a few times a week here. It's my night tonight and I thought you could help."

My brow furrows. "And this is where you want me to take you for dinner? Not very romantic."

She doesn't say anything but just watches me carefully.

I sigh and take her hand, heading toward the door. "Well, let's get busy then."

I'm pleased when Danny rewards me with a blinding, dimpled smile as I lead her through the front door.

She takes me through a lobby area and down a flight of stairs to the basement. She points off to a door that heads into a wing of the building that she tells me houses full time residents. When I ask about the people standing outside, she tells me they are just here to eat but they live out on the streets.

Danny opens up a set of double doors and we are in a large dining hall. There are folding tables that seat eight with metal chairs around each table. I find it odd that each table has a small vase on it with a little bunch of plastic flowers in each one. Most of the seats are taken and I can see that as people finish their meal and leave, volunteers are letting more people in.

I follow Danny around the perimeter of the room to the back where there is a service counter which reveals a large kitchen behind it. A swinging door to the side allows people to go in and out between the kitchen and dining area.

"It's about damn time you got here, Danny. I'm up over my ass in trying to get the food prepared for tomorrow."

"Chill out, Maverick. I'm here now and I brought help. But we both expect a good meal after we’re done."

Danny looks at me and I mouth the word, Maverick?

She leans in and whispers, "Top Gun is his favorite movie."

I look over at Maverick. He's Asian and extremely short. He's wearing an apron over his clothes that's spattered with food and he's stirring a large pot on the stove. The hat on his head says, "Honey Badger Don't Care".

Danny opens a drawer and pulls out two aprons, throwing one at me. "Mav, this is Ryan. He's my wingman tonight."

I hate to admit, I don’t appreciate the Top Gun reference. The wingman is supposed to help the other person get laid and I’ll be damned if I’m going to help Danny do that.

Maverick looks at me, taking in my clothes. "He's dressed kind of fancy. Are you sure he can get his hands dirty."

Before Danny can answer, I say, "I'm sure I can get my hands dirty. Tell me what to do."

Mav just grunts at me but points to a pile of potatoes on the counter. I take my coat off and hang it over a chair, rolling my shirt sleeves up. After placing the apron on, I pick up a potato and start peeling. Danny comes up to stand beside me and starts helping. We work in companionable silence, mainly because Maverick is standing there and I'm thinking he might fillet me if we are not diligent in our duties.

When he leaves the kitchen, carrying the large pot that was on the stove with him, Danny leans her body toward me and gives me a nudge with her shoulder. "So, how are you doing?"

"Awesome. I love peeling potatoes. It's one of my favorite things in the world to do."

"First time, huh?"

I laugh. "Yup. But I always like to try new things so I can mark this off my bucket list."

We're both quiet for a minute, and then I say, "You know, Danny...bringing me here won't prove anything."

She looks at me and I can see shock on her face that I figured out her motive. She starts stammering about not trying to prove anything, but I wipe my hand off on a towel and place my finger over her lips. I lean in a little and murmur softly to her, "Don't deny it. It doesn't become you."

Her eyes are wide and confused, all for about three seconds then she bursts out laughing. "I guess I'm not going to be able to pull any fast ones on you."

"I got your number," I reassure her.

We talk about mundane things while we work as there is just no opportunity for deeper conversation. I do find out that Danny has been volunteering here a few times a week since she was sixteen, which also leads her to confirm that she's a Boston native like me. Maverick bustles back and forth between the kitchen and dining area, bringing in dirty pots and serving pans. While the residents and street guests actually clean their own dishes and utensils at a washing station in the dining hall, the lovely duty of scrubbing the cookware falls to me and Danny.