"Where's Willie?" Jennifer asked, as she stepped through the door, laundry basket balanced on her hip. Her voice barely carried over the humming of the clothes dryers. Several people sitting in chairs around the small laundromat looked up from their magazines, then looked back down.
An older woman sitting in the corner near the front window next to a small boy, stood up and walked towards Jennifer, her eyes red, her face blotchy. She moved slowly, not quite keeping up with Jennifer, as the younger woman moved to the back of the room, watching everyone with puzzled eyes.
Jennifer put her basket down on the wide table in the middle of the room and turned around.
"Hey, what's going on?" she asked more loudly. The older woman reached Jennifer, and took her hand.
Patting it gently, she said, "He's gone, dear."
"He's gone. He's not here."
"Mamma Maria, what do you mean he's gone?"
The old woman continued to pat Jennifer's hand as she looked up into the younger woman's face. She didn't answer.
"What is going on?" Jennifer demanded. She looked around the room to the regulars she saw every week. Old Man Jack. The Gutierrez sisters. Amy. A half dozen others. They were all avoiding her eyes.
"What? Where is he? He's always in front asking for change. He's always there. Where is he? Why isn't he on the step outside?"
The hum of the dryers continued.
No one answered.
One stopped, and buzzed.
"Willie went to stop Paco from getting beat up by some kids," Old Man Jack said quietly. Jennifer turned to look at him.
"What happened to him?"
"He didn't make it." Jack said.
Jennifer pulled her hand from the patting grasp of the old woman. "Where is he?"
"Last I heard, he was at St. Grace's, but, he didn't make it. He was gone before they took him."
Jennifer looked down the rows of washers and dryers to the small boy huddled in the corner. Her eyes softened as she saw Paco hunched in the corner, looking fearfully back at Jennifer.
She walked back down the laundromat aisle to Paco, and sat down next to him.
"You want to talk about it?"
He shook his head.
She looked at him for a bit, then said, "He was smart, wasn't he? Always sitting where he knew people would have change."
Paco nodded again.
"You okay if I cry?"
The small boy nodded again.
Jennifer wrapped her arms around her legs, put her head down, and started crying for her lost friend.