Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chapter 7


Tommy handed me a small garbage bag of what felt like clothes and asked, "You gonna be ok?"

"The bag isn't that heavy Tommy.  If I can carry the big pots in culinary class I can ..."

"Not the bag.  Sawyer.  You didn't seem to like him much."

Trying to figure out how to explain it I asked him, "What would you think if Cindy Meechum walked up to you out of the blue and said the two of you were getting married."

Tommy's eyes got real big as the thought trickled through and then made a funny face.  "Uh ... ok ... I get it.  But why'd you have to pick the cheer squad leader?  That girl is mean."

"She's not really mean, just full of herself and doesn't even realize it."

"Well Sawyer isn't like that."

"So far he isn't but Tommy ... I don't want to sound pathetic but c'mon, can you imagine what they would say in school if some guy that looks like Sawyer suddenly asked me out?"

Tommy suddenly exhibited a bit of wisdom that made me uncomfortable.  "Stop worrying about what the package is wrapped in and look at what's inside the box.  Sawyer's ok.  He don't make fun of me and Linda at all and you know some of 'em have.  It might take Sawyer some time to get over your outsides too but you already made him smile and he don't do that much at all lately.  Momma will be tickled to hear it 'cause she was worried about putting two serious people together."

"You're mom's nice Sawyer but ..."

"I know.  She's nosey.  She used to give Linda advice about bedroom stuff all the time and right in the middle of company too ... and that was before we got married and were doing it.  One time she did it in front of the preacher's wife.  One of the reasons we live at Gramps is because Momma was great about us getting married, not been so great about us being married.  She was advice-ing us to death."

I smiled and he crawled back into the trailer to get more stuff out.  For Sawyer to think he didn't have much, compared to what I'd come with he had more than plenty.  He almost didn't believe me when I told him the pack was all I had.

"That's it?" he'd asked.

"Yeah."

"You're joking."

"No.  Why would you think I was?"

"Well, girls always ... I mean ..."

"Foster kids don't.  We only get one suitcase or one back pack and we have to be able to leave in just a few minutes if they come to move us around.  The suit case someone gave me wore out years ago and all I have is my school back pack so I had to make sure everything would fit in there."

He just looked and shook his head.

And now we were unloading I don't know what all from the trailer and the back end of the truck and putting it on the porch and all I could do was shake my own head.

--------------

I was standing in the kitchen looking around when Sawyer walked in and said, "They're gone.  Tommy said to give you this."

I turned and he had my ankle brace in his hand.  I walked over and snatched it away and then felt stupid.  "Sorry."

"It's alright."

"No it isn't.  Look.  I've been thinking.  If ... if you really want to do this you better know all of it."

Warily he asked, "All of what?"

"This," I told him pointing up and down at my body.  "But can we sit down?  Going up and down those stairs ..."

"Would a ramp make it better?"

Startled I looked at him but relaxed when I realized he wasn't being mean.  "No.  It's my own fault.  I should have put my brace on.  I have a spare.  That's one of the things ...  Anyway, can we sit down?"

"Yeah," he said willingly enough and he even pulled a chair out for me before sitting in one himself.

I sighed hating what was coming.  I couldn't even look at him square in the face and just kinda focused on the window behind him.  "I told you the doctors have fixed everything that is fixable.  Well I should let you know what isn't fixable.  I can't change that one leg is shorter than the other.  My leg was broken before I was born during the explosion and it was broke on a growth plate so it didn't grow the right way as I got older.  They put screws and rods to straighten and stretch the leg but this is about as good as it will ever be.  I don't need a crutch but sometimes ... sometimes in the middle of winter my leg and hip aches really bad and ... and I might use a cane to take some of the pressure off."

"Tommy told me.  He said you used to use one all the time but don't anymore."

Surprised at how calm about it he was being I said, "Oh ... well anyway it isn't just that my leg is shorter than the other one.  I've got drop foot."

"What's that?"

"It means that my foot drags because it's weak and doesn't want to lift.  It isn't as bad as it used to be and if I keep up my exercises it should be ok.  I have to remember to lift my knee higher on that side so I don't drag my toes as I walk.  But that gets real tiring real fast which is where the brace comes in; it holds my foot so that it doesn't drag."

"Like you've had a stroke or something?"

"Some people have ... hey, how do you know that?"

"Uncle Forrester - Gramps' brother - had a stroke and when he walks he kinda looks like you only he's a lot worse.  His whole right side is weak like that."

"Ok but ... well mine isn't from a stroke but from nerve damage.  When I'm real tired it’s worse and I can fall real easy so I try and sit when I need to sit.  Like now.  I hate falling.  It makes me look and feel stupid."

"Wish Uncle Forrester would have the sense to sit down.  Last time he fell we were worried he'd broke his hip on top of everything else."

"I don't want to have to have a hip replacement so I try to be smart.  But they tell me that as I get older I might get crippled up unless I'm careful.  Then there's my legs.  It’s hard to explain and it grosses people out but ... but when the explosion happened ... anyway I basically got pushed out real fast and ... and ... I don't really talk about the details normally 'cause they're private but ..."

He told me, "I know.  You don't know me but Tommy and Linda ... now there's a pair you gotta see to believe ... but they asked me to take them to town a couple of days ago when all this come up and we watched you walking home from school."

"What?!"

"Take it easy.  They like you a lot and said they didn't want you to be made fun of or get hurt because you'd been nice to them in school and ... well ... they explained about the explosion when those eco-terrorists blew up the health center and your parents were there for a check-up and how ... anyway, they explained."

"I guess I need to remind Tommy I got boundaries but Linda should know."

"They both know and don't get upset with them.  They were doing it to protect you ... and me too I guess.  They got a lot more going on than most people give 'em credit for."

"You don't need to tell me that.  They'll find work arounds for things if people just give 'em time."

"That's a fact.  Now why don't you finish telling me what has you upset and we can get on to the next thing."

I didn't know quite how to take what he said so I did as he suggested.  "I got burnt right after being born and when I was about a year old they were having these pediatric trials for getting rid of really bad scars and they thought I'd be the perfect candidate.  The laser stuff they were using was experimental and only worked for less than half the kids in the trials so they don't do it anymore.  I was one of the kids that it did work on but the side effect was that it wrecked up my hair follicles.  It also makes my skin dry if I don't take care of myself.  So where most people are hairy ... I'm not."  He blushed and I yelped, "Not there!  I just mean like my legs and arms and stuff."

He blushed harder and said, "Oh.  Uh ..."

I shook my head and could barely look at him and said, "Just don't even think about it."

More than willing to drop his embarrassing thought that had slipped out he asked, "Is that why you've got that strip of white hair down the middle?"

"No.  It is my birth mark sorta.  When my hair grew in I had a strip of really light brown hair mixed in with the black hair.  The doctor called it a fawn and said most people's were hidden under their hair but I got lucky and it was all out front for everyone and their mother to gawk at.  Then in second grade I ... I got attacked by some dogs.  One thought it would be cool to try and crack my skull like a walnut.  By the time they were through fixing all the damage they had to shave my head and do a lot of stitching.  When my hair grew back it came in like you see.  I've tried dying it about a million times but the hair is funny and won't take color.  Or if it does take the color it winds up not being the color that it was supposed to be."

"Mmm.  Tommy told me you're scared of dogs ... and told me what Mooch did ..."

"Go ahead and laugh.  I probably would too if it had happened to anyone else on any other day."

He tried not to but the smile eventually broke through.  "You do got some kinda luck that's for sure."

"Tell me about it.  And I'm not scared of dogs.  I just respect what they can do and sometimes they make me a little nervous.  I try not to but sometimes they just do."

He nodded.  "Well that's why I left Harley and Davey with GW ... he's Uncle Forrester's son."

"GW Hartford ... is he the one that works the search and rescue things when hikers get lost?"

"Yep, that's him.  Anyway, I figured you might need some space and ..."

"They're your dogs.  I might as well get over myself sooner as later."

"Thanks.  They're good dogs but kinda extra friendly sometimes.  You'll have to be firm about them not jumping."

Feeling butterflies in the pit of my stomach I said, "Ok.  Do they bite?"

"They won't bite you.  They're partial to females.  Strange guy come to the house and they might chew on him some ... or a lot."

I heard the warning in there and decided not to get offended.  Some of the foster kids I'd been around were real territorial.  I could deal with it so long as he kept it under control.

He asked, "Is that it?"

"I've got scars.  They aren't too bad because my skin is the type that don't scar that easy plus I don't tan very much ... I guess it is that Italian thing with the black hair and light complexion ... but if you look you can still see them."

"I took a header from a four wheeler when I was twelve and I got some scars running up and down my side and leg too.  You don't get grossed out over mine and I won't get grossed out over yours."

I just shook my head.  "I still say you're crazy but ... but you're alright too.  If I say you remind me of Tommy you won't get mad will you?"

"Naw.  Tommy is a good guy.  But I ain't always good.  Maybe I should warn you about that.  Don't bother trying to talk to me before I get a cup or two of coffee in me in the morning.  And ... well ... back to them stipulations.  I don't wanna get burnt again and ... and ... well I might over react a little until ..."

"You're territorial.  That's ok.  So long as you keep to your promise not to hit."

He shook his head.  "I'd rather take a bullet that hit a female.  By the time Gramps would be finished with me it'd probably be less painful anyway.  But ... sometimes my mouth ..."

"Like I said, just no hitting.  I can ignore anything but that."

"Had trouble with that?"

"Huh?  Oh ... uh ... not me personally.  Just lived with too many messed up kids not to see it.  I mean I've been pushed around but that's just the way it goes.  I just don't want to have to live like that day in and day out."

"Reckon not.  Uh ..."

"What?"

"Can you ... I mean ... I ... hmmm."

"Spit it out.  It ain't like a question is gonna kill me."

"Ok.  But I sound like a jerk.  I was wondering if you can have kids."

The question stopped me cold.  "Kids?"

"Yeah."

"I guess I can.  Nobody ever said I couldn't. But ... er ... are you ... I mean is that a stipulation?"

"No.  Just ... if you can you figure you mind ... uh ... waiting?  Gramps believes things are going to ramp up and get rough for a little bit and until we get set up it might not be a good idea."

"Uh ..."  I stopped and sighed.

"Is that a problem?"

"No it's just ... I mean ... you're just crazy," I told him in exasperation.  "Yesterday when I was told I was going to come up to the Hartford place and do some housekeeping was the first time I tried to wrap my head around the idea of some guy and me doing it ... 'cause whether you want to hear it or not people in town have ideas on why so many of you have suddenly gotten hooked up.  Then your Uncle Mark informs me I'm getting married to one of the boys and my brain is spinning on that.  Then in you walk with all your Greek godliness and ..."

"Knock that off.  If you think looking like a pretty boy got me cut any slack you can think again.  Every guy and their brother decided to test me and see if they could mess up my looks.  I got tired of always losing so got good enough I win more than I lose.  I've tried everything ... growing a mustache, growing a full beard, in middle school I dyed my hair green to try and get them to lay off ... nothing works and it gets irritating as hell to have people riding me on it.  It's been a real handicap trying to find a job too."

"Tell me another clanker."

"I'm serious."

"Yeah sure.  I won't bug you about it but don't ask me to be blind.  I feel like I'm in the middle of the Twilight Zone or something like that."

"Well let me make it a little worse.  Gramps thinks we're in for some real rough times, maybe really rough."

"Things are already bad.  Or don't you count people rioting 'cause their dole checks ain't coming in on time bad?"

"Yeah, that's bad but Gramps thinks it's gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better."

"He's one of them survivalists like they were talking about on tv?"

"We're all survivalists - well most of us are - but not like them dumb dudes on tv that tell everyone and their mother what they got.  Which I guess is another stipulation.  You can't go blabbing your mouth over what you see and hear."

"Am I a prisoner?"

"No and don't get stupid, especially as you seem to got better sense than most if what little I've seen counts for anything.  You ain't a prisoner.  You just need to watch your mouth because people are gonna get serious mad when they find out just how bad things are gonna get and if they think you have more than they do they're gonna start thinking that it ain't fair and they just might decide to get together with some friends and come take what it is they want."

"Like they did during the riots."

"Yeah.  Only instead of just ransacking the stores and stuff like that, and it only being the ones from the projects, it'll be almost everybody and they'll start going house to house ... assuming the government don't start doing it first."

Mr. Brenser used to make fun of those survivalists on tv when he wasn't mad at them for things like hoarding or being scaremongers or whatever.  But Old Mrs. Brenser used to say her son needed a reality check and that she knew that the government was out to get us all and that they were spying on us all the time so they'd know what we had so they could come and take it and give it to someone else.  They were both a little crazy on the subject but I tended to believe Old Mrs. Brenser's flavor of crazy was a little closer to the truth which is why maybe she was a little crazy to begin with.

"You think I'm nuts don't you?" he asked in irritation.

"No.  Not really.  I've heard both sides for a long time now and for the last couple of months about the only thing anybody can talk about is the government isn't doing enough and with the next breath someone will say the government is doing too much and needs to mind their own business."

"Which do you believe?"

I shrugged.  "Haven't really had time to decide."

"Well time is running out and since you're gonna be a Hartford you need to throw in with us."

"Ok."

"Just like that?"

"Sure.  I guess.  I'm still trying to figure things out but so long as it means a roof over my head and food to eat I know how to keep my mouth shut."

"Good deal.  But you'll see.  Gramps ain't been wrong yet.  Only problem we've had is that more people know about stuff than they should because a couple in the family told people they shouldn't have.  And that's why you need to keep your mouth shut."

"You don't need to repeat yourself.  I get it."

"Fine.  We got a couple of hours to kill yet so let's take a look around."

5 comments:

  1. Excellent chapter Kathy. Thank you.

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  2. Kathy thanks for the new chapter, I am really liking this story.
    Wayne

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  3. Thanks for the Chapter Kathy! My dh has that birthmark. Right in the lower back of his hair. Its not that uncommon I guess. Interesting characters so far :)

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  4. This is really shaping up now. Glad I choose this to read first

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  5. Sure like this story!! Very interesting premise -- as ever, thank you Kathy!!

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