It's 1994, 4:30 in the morning, and the sun is rising on Pike Place Market and turning all the cobblestones gold. The smell of saltwater drifts from past the sign, and meets him where he stands. Merlyn has just come to Seattle from Billings with two things: $2,000 in collectible coins and his best friend Boyd.
These days, the streets of Seattle are a tangle of gutter punks and grunge heads, junkies and techies. The two friends wander from downtown to Beltown (stopping to become some of Real Change's first vendors) to Capitol Hill.
Time passes, a couple months. In Chinatown, they get rooms in the Publix Hotel, count their coins, sell Real Change and pass the time.
And while time passes, the thing is everywhere: lying coagulant in needles in gutters, drawn in lazy grins along faces, in ziplocked bags of powder, in squats and in mansions. Everywhere. So, why not try? Why not?
And Merlyn and Boyd do. Together in everything, even junk. For a while.
And then one day Boyd's shower is running, his shoes are out in the foyer, but he won't answer the door, no matter how hard his friend pounds. When Merlyn pops the lock, Boyd has taken too much. He's just lying there.
The months that follow ooze along, dark and festering. Experience has undermined Merlyn: a best friend taken by an evil he can't live without.
And that's when he meets Darcie.
"I might have met her, but it wouldn't have been the same," recalls Merlyn of meeting "the love of his life" after losing his best friend. Long since clean, he's been with his wife since they met 13 years ago.
Says Merlyn, "She's made me who I am."
Now, you can find Real Change, Merlyn, and Darcie at the Red Balloon at Seventh and Olive.