Three Second Rule

This is a scene of fiction that I wrote. I don’t know where it’s going beyond this, but I wouldn’t consider it complete either. Any feedback would be great!

              “Okay, Ms. Anne. No, it’s fine. I was going next door anyway. Please, you don’t have to pay me back, it’s just a dollar. Okay. I’ll bring it to you.”

              Joshua regretted giving Ms. Anne his phone number. He’d unclogged her toilet, carried in cases of water, gone with her to Home Depot and moved her furniture around in the couple of weeks. He suspected that she’d waited until now to have all these chores done for her. But each time he saw the crutches by the refrigerator in her apartment and the boot around her foot, he sighed. Only another month.

              “Yeah hello? Yeah, can I get an order of chicken with broccoli with vegetable fried rice, and an egg roll? Yeah. Thanks.” He wasn’t that hungry, but it felt like a waste to walk next door to the restaurant just for an egg roll.

              Joshua looked out the window. Ben had started begging for money early today. He was standing in his usual spot, rocking side to side on his feet as his beltless pants sagged in the front. Joshua could see the lint in Ben’s hair from the second floor, dotting his hair like the salt and pepper of gray hair. Yet Ben was the same age as Joshua. He remembered Ben’s smile in middle school, a wide, lippy grin that turned down at the corners to seal his mouth shut. He sat up just a little in his seat when he knew the answer to a question. He didn’t raise his hand, but he wanted everyone to see that he knew.

              “Yo man, you got fitty sense?” Ben asked as Joshua walked in front of him. Sour air rolled out from Ben’s mouth, passing through jagged yellow teeth and over the gaps where they’d fallen out.Joshua felt the $10 bill rustling in his pocket.

              “Nah, sorry,” Joshua said without looking at him. All of Main Street, and you gotta stand in front of my building? Joshua allowed himself to get annoyed. It was an easier feeling to handle than guilt.

              Red Lotus was bustling as usual. Joshua was hit with the dirty smell of grease used over and over again. Flames leapt into the air behind the counter and engulfed the wok in the chef’s hands. The Chinese Food Lady was sitting behind the counter with the phone cradled to her ear and a pen in her left hand. “Po fri ri wi chicken wing? Fiteen minute,” she said before slamming the phone and looking up. “Hello.” She grabbed a bag and placed it on the counter. “Nine twenty fi.” He handed over the ten.

              The quarters clanking in his pocket sounded like bowling balls crashing together as he left the restaurant. Ben was standing in his spot. He hadn’t looked over and seen Joshua with his bag. Bags meant food, and food meant change. Joshua walked quickly past Ben, looking across the street to fix his gaze on some fascinating part of his neighborhood he’d never seen before. But it was the same as always, bodegas and churches clustered around crumbling lots.

              The steam burst forth from the chicken with garlic sauce as Joshua removed the lid. The broccoli was emerald green and crunchy when he popped one into his mouth. He surveyed the table to make sure he had everything, and noticed a lone egg roll sitting on the edge. Why did I order that? he asked. I don’t even like-

              Joshua sighed. He put the lid back on his food. He didn’t even bother to put his shoes on. As dirty as the hallway floor was, it would only take him a moment to run the egg roll down to Ms. Anne. He hurried down the hallway, sliding on his socks to the top of the stair case. His sock got caught on an exposed nail, and Joshua stumbled. The egg roll slid from its wax paper pouch, landing on the first step with a soft thud.

              He snatched it up before the three-second rule expired. He examined it carefully, removing a small hair stuck to the bottom before placing it back in its pouch. He thought about going to get her another one. But she wouldn’t even know that it had been dropped. And I don’t have my shoes on. And I don’t have any more cash. It’ll be fine. Joshua knocked on Ms. Anne’s door and took out his phone. He’d liked six statuses by the time she hobbled over to open the door. She was almost as tall as he was, with strong shoulders and her hair pulled back into a small pony tail at the top of her head. She readjusted her red-framed glasses as she looked at him.

              “Here you go, Ms. Anne,” he said, handing over the egg roll and a handful of duck sauce packets.

              “Thank you Joshua. Those Chinese folks must put something in this to make it taste so good.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a dollar.

              “Don’t worry about it,” Joshua said.

              “Just take it, it’s only a dollar. I ain’t paying you for the rest of the stuff you’re doing,” she laughed. She closed the door, and Joshua stood there for a moment, listening to her hobble back to the couch. He ran back upstairs. He decided to get a soda with the dollar. As he put on his shoes, Joshua thought about Ben out front. Better take the back door.

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