Friday, August 29, 2014

Chapter 28


All three men turned to look at me as the patrol car turned around and then left the property by way of the gravel drive.  I ignored them until I heard Sawyer start to snicker.  I looked at him and just stared and he finally just broke down laughing.

In my best imitation of Mrs. Valdez's voice I said, "Hospitality is nothing more and nothing less than managing people.  If you make them comfortable and happy they are more likely to be amendable to what you need them to do."

Uncle Mark whispered, "My gawd."

Uncle James was laughing at him and Sawyer as much as he was laughing at how I'd managed the law enforcement officers.  "My gawd is right.  That was slick as cow snot.  Coffee and French toast.  You had them eating out of your hands."

"They didn't seem a bad sort, just tired of getting calls out to the Baffa place.  They reminded me of the high school’s Resource Officers.  Once I explained that Mr. Baffa wasn't here anymore and that I was really, really sorry to bother them but that I was worried that those men might go out and try and hurt someone else and cause more problems for the sheriff's department ..."  I shrugged.  "To be honest we all know they didn't really buy it, they just played along to be polite and see how much they could get out of it.  I mean they believed that something happened, it just gave them an excuse to not have to be a couple of hard cases.  What I didn't like was when they asked if Sawyer had hit me."

Uncle James snorted and said, "I do believe that got straightened out real quick.  Especially when you said how the heck could it have been Sawyer when he was fighting a bigger guy and looks worse than you do."

"Well he does.  I still don't see why they had to smile about it."

Uncle Mark snorted and said, "Because they started wondering if you had beat on Sawyer."

"What?!"

Sawyer laughed.  "Don't worry about it Kay-Lee.  It was funny to think that you would be able to.  Why don't you go upstairs and sit down or change or something while Uncle James and Uncle Mark and I check around things one more time."

I was just about to object that I didn't need to sit down when I realized what he really meant was that he wanted to talk to his uncles privately.  I trudged up the stairs even though it was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment and decided that changing clothes didn't sound like such a bad idea after all.  I was changed and threading a new shoe string in my dry tennis shoes when I heard a vehicle leave and then Sawyer come up the stairs.

"Uncle Mark thinks you're going to be in a snit."

"Why would he think that?"

"'Cause he thinks that modern girls don't like being excluded from men talk."

I sighed and just kept threading.  "Don't take this the wrong way Sawyer but your Uncle Mark has issues.  One, he doesn't like that I'm a Baffa.  Two, he doesn't like that a Hartford married a Baffa.  And three, there's probably a whole lotta things he don't like that has nothing to do with me being anything other than female."

Sawyer barked a laugh.  "For such short acquaintance you sure do have Uncle Mark nailed down."  He came over to where I was sitting on a stool and kneeled down and took my shoe from me and asked, "You sure you're ok?"

"Yeah."

"You don't sound ok."

"Well I am.  But can I ask you one thing?  Who is Mason Penny and why would he be out to hurt you?"

"He's Buttface's little brother."

"Your brother in law's brother?"

"Yeah."

"Mason is the guy that let you get in all that trouble instead of owning up to it?"

"Yeah."

"He's a jerk."

"He is.  And worse."

"Why isn't he in jail for stealing that money?"

"He was for a couple of months but he got out for time served and overcrowding."

"Jerk."

"You said that."

"Well he is.  What's his problem anyway?  Or is this some kind of feud?"

"Not a feud exactly," Sawyer answered as he started playing with my ankle which tickled.  I tried to pull my foot away but that seemed to only encourage him more.  "Buttface and Delly are having money problems.  I paid the rent on that garage apartment before I did anything else.  Buttface moved his brother in and Mason ain't paid 'em a lick yet from what I hear and is using a lot more ‘lectric and water than I ever did.  Now Delly is hacked at Buttface for kicking me out and not finding a way to replace that income."

"She didn't stop him," I said, finding I had a dislike of his sister even though I'd never met her.

"True but Delly, from what family gossip got said yesterday, has put Buttface on notice.  See the house is in her name and she's angry enough that she refused to let him use the house as collateral to consolidate some of his business loans.  She told him that if he could get rid of her brother than he could get rid of his and that he better hire someone that actually does something besides sit around collecting a paycheck - that he doesn't pay his bills with - to help him with the business 'cause she ain't happy about all of the economizing she is being forced to do.  I guess Buttface finally got a brain cell working because he did just that and now Mason is running through his other relatives only most of them ain't buying what he's trying to sell."

I was listening to him but I was also getting lost in the sensation of his hands messaging my foot and calf.

He got up on his knees and leaned over and asked, "That feel good?"

"Uh huh."

"Wanna see if I can make you feel better?"

For the life of me all I could do was nod.


 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chapter 27


"Go to sleep Kay-Lee."

"You sure?"

"No so stop looking at me like that.  I'm practicing restraint."

"Why?"

"Kay-Lee," he groaned.  "You are not making this easy."

"OK."

He laughed and then groaned again before he turned out the lamp and started kissing me again.

----------

I was limping down the back stairs to start my day and praying that the naproxen was where I left it.  Before I headed for the pills I stopped to make sure the coffee pot had kicked on.  I opened the door to check the weather and nearly came out of my skin when four beady eyes were there waiting for me.

"Stop that," I told the dogs who were winding up like a couple of overexcited five year olds.  Their tales were wagging so hard their butts were gonna knock them off the porch.

"What did they do this time?" Sawyer grumped while making a beeline for his coffee transfusion.

"I wasn't expecting them to be there at the door and now they're looking all pathetic, but they're wet.  What do I do with them?"

"Leave 'em on the porch.  I'll get them some pooch food now."

I was more than happy to do that very thing though they weren't happy when I turned and walked away.  They both whined like a couple of babies.  I hobbled to the frig and then to the stove to put in the pan of oven French toast I had set to soak the night before.  While that was baking I turned and looked at the mess that still covered the kitchen table.  First thing I needed to do was get some of the gallon jars washed out and dried.

I was in the pantry when I heard the screen bang and the dogs start snarling and someone yell.  I froze but when I heard boots running across the linoleum, the screen door slam again and then another yell and then something crack ... all while the dogs kept making a fuss ... I limp-ran to the door with the big flashlight I had bought yesterday at the flea market because of the lights not working in the pantry.

I slid almost as soon as I got onto the porch because the rain had blown during the night and we hadn't scrubbed the algae off the boards yet.  Nearly going down kept me from being plowed into and taken down by another person.  Instinct had me bring the flashlight down on the person trying to grab me and they cursed and backed off.  I didn't.  I swung and caught them in the jaw and they fell over the porch where one of the dogs started harrying him.  The other dog was snapping at someone that was trying to get in the middle of a fight that Sawyer was in with a third person.  I didn't know which way to move until the guy that had fallen off the porch got up again and tried to grab my leg.

I brought the flashlight down on his head and he was down and out.  The dog seeing this turned to help his pack mate and took the second guy down and he started screaming as they got some meat with the clothes they were ripping at.  I wanted to put my hands over my ears and do some screaming of my own.  Right as I found the courage to finally start down the porch steps the guy that by the porch came to, went to help the guy fighting off the dogs, and then they yelled at the guy that Sawyer was fighting with to just forget it and come on.

Sawyer heaved a brick from the flower bed through their windshield as they took off in the rain right as I reached his side.  Sawyer took one look at me, swore, and put an arm around me and helped me back into the kitchen.  "Did they hurt you?"

"What?  No.  Scared me but didn't hurt me.  Are you ok?"

"Yeah," he said before walking over to spit pink into the kitchen sink and pick up the phone.

"Gramps!  Three guys - I'm pretty sure one of them was Mason - were here."  I could hear him saying something on the other end.  "I don't know, it just happened.  I've got to go look.  They knocked Kay-Lee around though and ..."  There was hollering and Sawyer gave me the phone.

"Try and answer his questions while I go look around and see what they were doing.  They couldn't have been here long or the dogs would have said something sooner."

"Gramps, it's me Kay-Lee.  Sawyer says he needs to go look around outside."

"Are you ok Honey?"

"I'm ok.  But Sawyer was fighting with one of them and the inside of his mouth must be cut up because he spit blood into the kitchen sink."

"Do you know what those men looked like?"

"I don't think so, at least not much.  Things were happening so fast and the rain is coming down pretty hard.  Let's see ... the guy that Sawyer was fighting with was bigger than him.  He seemed ... I don't know ... older too for some reason but not that much older.  The ones that the dogs went after screams like a girl but that's all I know for sure because he never came into the porch light.  The one that tried to tackle me was dark blonde, smelled like a two-pack a day habit and had on a black t-shirt with some faded old rocker band picture on it.  Actually they all were dressed in dark clothes."

"James and Mark are on their way over there right now.  Don't let Sawyer take off after them."

"Uh oh."

"Did the boy already leave?"

"No.  He's cursing about his truck tires being slashed."

"Whew boy, I'd be me some kinda hot too ... am hot but we need to use some sense.  If we ain't got any proof ..."

"The one I hit is gonna have at least one goose egg.  One of them is going to be dog chewed.  I don't know about the one Sawyer was fighting with but the car they left in is going to have a brick hole through the windshield at the very least.  If that isn't proof I don't know what is."

"Well that won't hurt that's for sure.  Is that Sawyer I hear snortin' and snarlin'?"

"Yes sir.  I'll give him back the phone."

Somehow Gramps knew just what to say to get Sawyer to calm down and he stayed on the phone with him until Uncle James and Uncle Mark drove up.

Uncle James went and talked to Sawyer and Uncle Mark snapped at me, "Get that stuff put away before the Sheriff gets here.  We don't need them noticing anything.  Use some sense girl."

I started moving things and Sawyer noticed.  "What are you doing?"

Trying to put the best light on it I told him, "Your uncle thinks it would be wiser to put this stuff in the pantry before the cops get here.  Less for them to notice."

"I didn't do anything wrong," he snapped.

"Of course you didn't.  That's not the kind of noticing he's talking about.  I think he's talking about the kind of noticing your grandfather was talking about."

He grumbled and I said, "There's clean mugs in the cabinet behind you.  You all three are soaked and should get something warm inside of you.  Breakfast will be ready in just a minute."  My answer was more unintelligible grumbling but he did turn around and take down two more mugs.

I started picking up packages and taking them to the darkest end of the pantry and placing them on the shelves that could not be seen through the one window in there.  I nearly tripped twice until Uncle Mark came in and said, "Honestly, you remind me of Tommy.  Boy can't find his head half the time.  You ever heard of a light switch."

"Heard of and tried to use.  And tried new light bulbs when this one wouldn’t work.  It's not the fuse either," I added as he started to open his mouth.

"Well you’re saucy this morning."

"Almost getting clobbered by a guy twice my size does it every time.  What I'm really irked about is that his head broke my brand new flashlight.  I just bought that thing yesterday."

I moved around him and grabbed the next load trying not to let him see me wince as I was beyond stiff and sore.  I came out after sitting that load on the shelves and almost rain into Sawyer who was carrying two of the large sacks of grain and the other two men who were carrying several cases of canned foods.  With all four of us it was a much shorter job and was finished just in time as a sheriff's car pulled up.

I stayed inside to save the French toast casserole from burning and Sawyer and his uncles went out to meet the two men coming up the porch.  I looked out after a minute and saw Sawyer's face getting all puckered up and hacked off.  I grabbed the coffee pot and stuck it under his nose and asked, "Anyone need their cup refilled?"


 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chapter 26



"I am not sleeping in that truck.  I don't care what it takes or where it is, but it ain't going to be in that truck," Sawyer groused as he moved stuff from the front room to the kitchen.

With a smile I told him, "I thought you said you liked sleeping in your truck."

"I do smarty pants, just not all the time for days on end.  Besides we've got the dogs here now."

"What's that got to do with it?" I asked.

"They sleep outside except in really bad weather.  They'll guard what is left on the porch so I don't have to worry so much about it."

"I didn't know you were worrying," I said feeling somehow stupid to not have realized it.

Sawyer noticed and said, "It wasn't your worrying to do.  The dogs and having all those fancy boxes off the porch help too.  Don't figure on being able to do any laundry tomorrow.  Gramps said his arthritis is singing like it is really going to be a humdinger tomorrow.  I don't even think we're going to be able to get out and go to church.  The county hasn't finished clearing that washout and traffic is going to back up like crazy.  You mind?"

"Mind what?"

"Not going to church."

I shrugged.  "I only went if the foster family I was staying with went and most of them didn't."

"Well we go most of the time."  He caught me in a surprised look and he blushed.  "I know.  I need to work on my mouth.  I got out of the habit the last couple of years.  Let's just put this stuff on the table and cover it and try and finish getting the bed set up."

It had taken several days but we'd finally gotten the smell out of the house.  It was a combination of stale air, dirt, sweat, old boots, rotting junk, and a few small plumbing leaks that had been repaired but not cleaned up after that had allowed small patches wood root and mildew to appear.  In the master bedroom Sawyer had sealed and painted the plaster walls, the bead board, and chair rail plus the trim that ran around the top of the ceiling.  I took down the old antique light fixtures and washed them really good ... they were full of dust and dead flies ... so when the light came on it didn't smell like smoke or look like a haunted house anymore.  I re-hung the cleaned shades, shears, and drapes yesterday and we'd changed out some of the pieces of furniture for some that we had found upstairs in the attic and other parts of the house.

When we put the box spring and mattress on the bed and then I'd put the sheets and bedspread on it I was almost been afraid I was dreaming.

"Wow."

"Wow what?" Sawyer asked as he wiped a hand print off the wall where they'd brought up the mattress.

"It just looks so nice.  I can't believe we get to sleep here."

He turned to look at the room and then at me.  "You gonna get bent if I hug you?"

"Huh?"

"Are you going to be upset if I give you a hug?"

I blushed and said, "I guess not."

"Good.  'Cause I've wanted to do this for a while.  And it isn't just because of how the room looks.  It’s about how you look when you see things.  Like how you see Tommy and Linda.  How you didn't mind shopping at the scratch-n-dent.  How you didn't throw a hissy when my dogs knocked you down."  With each sentence he took a step closer and then he was there and put his arms around me.

Not knowing what to do or say I finally said, "I had fun today."

"Me too.  I still say we should have walked the market together."

"You wouldn't have liked it."

He stepped back.  "Did someone say something?"

I snorted and said, "People always say something but your Aunt Pearl is funny how she knows how to put them in their place."

"Who was it?"

"Just some girl from school.  But Aunt Pearl basically called her a brat to her face and said we didn't have time for that kind of immaturity."

Sawyer snorted.  "Oh yeah, that must have gone over well."

I giggled.  "I know I shouldn't get so much satisfaction from it but I did.  Her face was priceless."  Then more seriously I asked, "Did you get picked on?"

"Are you kidding me?  When enough of us Hartfords get together in one place people have trouble breathing much less having enough air for bumping their gums.  Is that all you bought?" He said pointing to what I had set on the floor before finding a place to put it away.

"Yeah and some of it is yours."  I bent down to pick it up and a pain in my hip socket caught me off guard and I went all the way down to the floor.

"Kay-Lee?!"

"I'm ... I'm ok."

"You don't look it.  Here, let me ..."

"No.  Just give me a sec.  I need to stretch it out."

"Dang those dogs."

I shook my head.  "Wasn't the dogs.  When I was walking around with Linda things got really crowded then some guys from County HS started getting rowdy and I got stepped on.  It wasn't bad at the time but to keep my balance I twisted.  That's all it is."

"You got stepped on?  You didn't tell me that."

"Who doesn't get stepped on when it gets crowded?"

"Kay-Lee ..."

"I'm fine Sawyer ... really.  Just sore and tired.  I don't care if you are a Greek godlet, you have to be tired too after tossing those groceries and things around all day."

He sat on the floor beside me as I pulled things out of the bags.  I handed him his socks and underwear really quick and he just sort of stared at them and then tried to see over into the bag.  "Watcha got?"

"Shoes."

"You got more than shoes."

"I picked up ... socks ... and stuff."

"What stuff?"

"Never mind."

He reached around me and dumped the bag and out slid the nightgown I had bought. I tried to stuff it back in the bag but he grabbed my hands and then leaned against my back but didn't lean on me.

"My turn to say wow."

"Your turn to be crazy."

"I'm already crazy, remember?"

"You can say that again."

"You gonna get bent if I kiss you?"

Slowly I said, "I guess not."

"Good."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chapter 25


After the scratch-n-dent Sawyer took us through a fast food drive since it was going to be late when we got finished with everything.  While we ate we finished up the game plan for the rest of our time in town.  We decided that instead of going several different places we'd save the gas and head over to the big box store and pick up everything in one place.

Apparently it was a paycheck weekend so the place was busy.  To keep from bringing too much notice to ourselves we took separate carts and checked out in different lanes.  We didn't even act like we knew each other until we got to the truck and Sawyer said, "Need a lift pretty lady?"

"You're crazy," I told him but he just laughed and started unloading the carts as quick as he could to keep people from gazing over into the camper top to see what all is in there.

Last place we went was the dollar store and the manager turned out to be the mother of one of the girls I knew from school.

"Kay-Lee! How you doing Sugar?"

"Fine Mrs. Blaine.  Um ... I'd like to introduce you to Sawyer Hartford.  My ... my husband."

That stopped her cold.  She looked up and then gave Sawyer the evil eye.  I squeaked, "It's not like that!"

Sawyer looked at me and asked, "Like what?"

I gave him a look and he still didn't get it.  I hissed, "She thinks we haaaaad to get married."

"She thinks ...?"  Then he made this funny kind of yelp.  "Gramps would kill us both."

I admit Sawyer looked kind of funny but Mrs. Blaine thought he looked hilarious and nearly couldn't stop laughing.  She finally gasped.  "Oh my goodness.  Yeah, Mr. Hiram would have something to say about it I guess.  I still remember that time he found my sister and her soon-to-be behind the bushes on Pioneer Day.  He marched them both over to our mother and Priscilla still won't talk about it to this day."  She laughed some more and then had to go take care of something going wrong on a register.

"Your grandfather sure has a reputation."

Sawyer laughed.  "And he deserves it too.  Gramps has what some people call a velvet fist.  We get away with a lot but he'll be the first in line to knock our heads together once we get too far over the line.  But there isn't anyone better to have in your corner.  You have to pay consequences if you've done something to deserve it but he will also be there when you’re finished paying to help you get back on your feet."

I looked around and decided to use Sawyer's strategy and waited until Mrs. Blaine had a moment.  "Mrs. Blaine?  I don't want to make you have to restock stuff.  Is there any way for us to get cases before they've been opened?  We've got a list for the family and ..."

"Oh sure Sugar.  If I've got it in a closed case we'll just pull it from the back room.  I might not though.  They aren't letting us keep our inventory as high as we used to."

Lucky for us most of what I'd wanted Mrs. Blaine still had in cases and by buying in bulk we were able to knock a few pennies off here and there.  Sawyer wound up pulling the truck around back and Mrs. Blaine herself checked us out and rolled the handcart out to the truck and set it down.  "I'd help you load but store rules say we can't.  I tell you though that I'm glad to see this sell.  We're supposed to make so many bulk sales a month and I've only gotten about half what we normally do.  I'm not looking forward to having the regional manager come around again and tell me I need to work harder.  I can't make people buy more than they have money to spend."

She didn't need me to respond but just listen which is what I did.  When she added that it didn't help that everyone was running out to that new discount place on Rt. 2 I filed the information and then went out to see that Sawyer was putting the last of it in the back like a jigsaw puzzle.

I asked, "Have you heard of some new discount store out on Rt. 2?"

"Someone mentioned it today.  Where'd you hear about it?"

"Mrs. Blaine was complaining it was starting to take some of her sales volume away."

"Maybe we should check it out."

"Maybe we should.  Do you know where it is at?"

"Only place it could be is that old strip center where the Food Mart used to be.  I think there is a feed store on one end unless it’s closed."

I nodded but still didn't remember ever seeing anything like that.  I'd lived in foster homes all over town but rarely got outside the city limits.

We got there and the parking lot was about half full.  When we got inside about two-thirds of the store was clothes, cheap toys, and housewares with a small corner for furniture and the rest was groceries, cleaning supplies, and garden stuff.  Sawyer mentally counted what cash he had left, telling me to keep what he'd given me back for reserves, and we carefully filled another cart with odds and ends for ourselves.

There was a lady in there doing what we were doing and she tapped my shoulder and said, "You drink coffee?"

"He does."

"Go around the other side of this aisle here and get your man a couple of those containers.  I haven't seen prices like that in a couple of years and I bet when it’s gone I ain't gonna see them again for another long time if ever.  My husband is barely human without his morning coffee and I hate to think what we'll have to give up so I can keep buying it."

She told me about a couple of more things she had seen and I thanked her before she had to go back to listening to her daughter complain about the fact she was out of data on her phone again and the mother basically telling her tough that she'd have to wait until roll over to get more.  I pushed the cart over to the coffee only to find Sawyer already there with a cart of his own.  "There's a limit of three so you take these and I'll put three more in this cart."

I did as he said and told him, "There's limits on almost everything but it doesn't seem to stop people from shopping."

"No it don't.  Glad we could get what we got from the dollar store though.  I'll have to tell Aunt Pearl about this place."

"What is that other stuff in your cart?"

He answered, "Back in the clearance section they had a bunch of lids and rings and I decided just to get them all.  Aunt Pearl told me to be on the look-out for some for you.  They've put an order in with the Mennonites but until they come in she's afraid they might run short.  And that might be the last they get to order.  The store owner was telling Gramps that the government is looking at coming down real hard on people that do their own home canning."

"What business is it of the government?"

Sawyer gave me a look that said "not so loud" so I lowered my voice and added.  "That doesn't make any sense.  Next they'll be telling people what to cook and how."

Sawyer said, "They're already trying to do that in some places."

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

"Harley!  Davey!  Down!!  Get back!!"  Tommy was pulling on the two dogs' collars and Sawyer was bending over to help me where I was trying to get up off the gravel driveway.

"Are you ok?!  Damn dogs," he growled.

"I'm fine.  I just didn't expect them to be so ... er ... friendly.  That was friendly right?  'Cause they weren't growling."

"They know better than to jump on people.  Did they sit on you?  They weigh a hundred pounds each and it’s all muscle.  Dang mutts."

"Sawyer I'm fine.  Just ask 'em not to jump."

Tommy snorted and so did a couple of other people in the yard where we'd pulled to deliver the stuff that's we'd found in town.  Tommy said, "Dogs aren't like people Kay-Lee.  You can ask 'em but they might or might not do it.  Usually not."

"That sounds exactly like people to me," I said as one of the huge dogs tried to get me to ride it like a pony.

"Ok, that's enough," I snapped trying to regain my very lost dignity.  "I'm head of the kitchen where you're going to live so if you want to eat you'll mind or else."

While some people snickered the dogs actually looked like they were listening and began to calm down after Sawyer paid some attention to them.  Watching I told Tommy, "They're as bad as the little kids when they get all sugared up.  They want attention and they'll get it anyway they can."

Linda walked up and said, "Dogs are like that.  Smart half the time and the other half acting like little kids with ADD.  These two though are smarter and because of that can get up to mischief if they don't have enough to keep them occupied.  Don't leave your brace where they can get it or one of them might wind up wearing it or eating it."

I was familiar with having to keep everything put away because of the other foster kids I lived with so already had the habit.  I just reminded myself not to get lax.  As soon as the dogs got enough greetings and people stopped laughing at the fact they'd run over me the guys started shifting stuff around in the back of the truck.  Some things came out and some stuff went in.  I followed Linda over to a bunch of picnic tables put end to end where things were being divided up.

"Aunt Pearl is there something I can help with?"

"Sure Honey.  First thing, Linda says you can make your own bread."

"Yes ma'am."

"Well that'll take some pressure off.  I'll give you flour and baking fixings and give the other girls the store-bought stuff.  What all can you do?"

"If I have a recipe just about anything.  But I already have some favorite recipes that I use that are real easy."

"That's good, real good.  And Linda also tells me you know how to dry things for storage."

"Yes ma'am.  Linda taught me last year.  Her parents do all of that stuff 'cause they're real health conscious."

She gave me a grin then said, "Even better.  I've got a dehydrator I picked up at the flea market for you.  Take it home and I'm going to give you some of the fresh stuff we bought too.  You'll need to be careful of the ziploc bags though, they're getting precious."

"There's a lot of big jars that I can use for storage if you need to keep those baggies.  Sawyer was going to pick up some at the scratch-n-dent store but I told him to wait because they were the cheap kind that were real thin."

"Bless you.  I know just the kind you are talking about and you're lucky to get one use out of them before the zipper goes or it gets a hole.  Money wasters is all they are.  Jars will be better anyway, just make sure to store them out of direct light and to keep an eye out for moisture.  You have any questions just ask Honey.  More of us that can do what needs doing, less problems all around.  And what was that boy thinking?"  That last was said with a laugh when she saw all the bottles of mustard that Sawyer had picked up.

Each family group had a table where things were being set after being bagged up or separated.  Aunt Pearl explained that Sawyer and I were considered part of Gramps' family group and that Linda was bagging things up for our group in smaller containers since we would be taking our share with us to the house.

"And Honey, when you get a chance I need you to look around your place and make a list of what you've got in the yard."

"Excuse me?"

"Like the kind of trees and bushes.  Sawyer will help with that but I hope your handwriting is better than his.  His isn't much more than chicken scratch."

Having already noticed that I tried to hide a grin.

"You laughing at me?"

I turned at hearing Sawyer's mock snit and I told him, "If you're the guy who can't read his own writing then sure seems like it."

He grinned and said, "And yours looks like it come off a typewriter so I guess that means you can do all the writing from here on out."

I rolled my eyes before turning back to what I was doing while Sawyer grabbed a box that Aunt Pearl told him to move out of her way.  When he walked off several of the girls and aunts made comments amongst each other then one said, "Been a long time since I've seen Sawyer not be so flaming touchy about everything."

I looked up and she added, "I'm Beth ... Cutter's wife."

I almost told her she had my sympathies and something must have showed on my face because she giggled.  "Yeah, he has that effect on people but we get along.  I don't know if you remember me or not.  I was a senior your freshman year."

"I'm sorry, I don't.  My freshman year was a little crazy."

"I can imagine.  That was the year you had those rods in your leg."

"Yeah.  I guess you remember me because I stood out."

"No.  I remember you because you petitioned Coach Edgars to use the football team as Culinary's guinea pigs.  Some of the teachers were a little bent about that when they found out."

"How was I supposed to know that the teacher's thought they were entitled to all of that going to the teacher's lounge?  They always left stuff to spoil and I hate to waste food and the cleaning ladies were always complaining.  I thought I was helping."

"You were," she laughed.  "Some of the teachers were just brats and probably still are."  I didn't disagree but wasn't going to gossip about it.  You never knew where things like that might end up.

Soon after that Sawyer said it was time to go or it would be dark before he could get the mattress out of the truck.  Gramps said, "Don't move so fast boy.  A couple of us are coming over so we can grab them boxes off the back porch."

"Well then meet us over there.  We'll unload the truck and somebody can help me haul that mattress upstairs when you get there.  It ain't exactly light."


 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chapter 24




"You don't have a problem shopping here do you?"

"Of course not.  A lot of my foster families came to this place or places like it."

He relaxed.  "Lisa always hated it when I insisted on shopping here.  She said it was embarrassing."

"Lisa was your fiancé?"

"It was never official."  Then he got grumpy and said, "And it's in the past.  Let's not talk about it."

I shrugged and let him lead.  We walked in, grabbed a buggy, and started taking things out of bins and shelves that worked with our lists.  We wound up having to use two carts and then switching that to a flatbed as we added flats of canned goods that were slightly dented but otherwise just fine.  I spotted several bottles of off brand salsa and other condiments that we stocked up on.  Every time I would put one of an item on the flatbed Sawyer would double, triple, or more if it was there to be had.  I let him choose until he tried to put forty-eight bottles of honey mustard on there.

"Sawyer!"  I said laughing at the serious look on his face.

"What?"

"You know what you just put on the flatbed?"

He looked and then frowned then slowly it changed to a grin.  "Yeah, I know it looks funny but Gramps said to pick the good deals up and we'd spread it amongst the family.  If you think of it that way, that's not really all that much mustard."

I had to agree to that.

We left there and the manager even came out to wring us up and to get nosey.  Sawyer looked at me and said, "You know, it's not fair being the youngest newlyweds.  They think it's funny to send us to town with all their grocery lists and tell us it's to save fuel but I'm telling you I don't think it is that funny at all."

"Well they're your family," I responded.

"Yeah I guess but now I gotta break this down and make sure everyone gets what they told me to pick up and give them back the right change and everything.  And you know Gramps is going to want a full accounting right down to the penny."

The manager smiled and said, "Got one of those in your family too do you?"

"Uh ... sorry ... guess I shouldn't complain.  Things are bad enough as it is."

"We all need to blow off steam some time.  At least they didn't tell you to write a check.  For this amount I would have had to call the bank and they're closed now."

I didn't say a word until we had everything loaded in the truck - I discovered the mattress was on the bottom covered by a tarp - and he opened the door to help me up into the cab.  "You getting tired?"

"No."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

"Then what's wrong?"

"What was all that about back there?"

"Gramps warned me people were getting nosey and that we don't need them thinking we're hoarders or stockpiling or anything else.  Most people know we've got a big family so when we make purchases in town we try and make out like any one purchase is for all of us even if it isn't."

"Oh."

"You don't approve?"

"It's not that.  I don't like lying but since we did buy some of that stuff to share I can probably work my way around that but ... I guess it gets a little more real every day."

"What does?"

"Those things you tell me your grandfather says and thinks.  It also makes me feel kind of dumb."

"Why would it do that?"

"I didn't think much about that manager coming out to ring up the order or the questions he was asking ... not until you pointed it out by acting the way you did.  It just seems so ... cloak and dagger."

"You don't believe Gramps?"

"No, it's not that I told you.  It isn't that it isn't believable it just seems so strange that one family would know about it but no one else acts like they do."

"More people than you imagine have an idea of what is happening all around us ... it’s just that too many of them think it can be fixed or put off longer or that the worst of it won't happen to them for some reason.  Gramps says that's a good way to wind up hard up, hard off, and maybe even dead."

I shivered.

"You ok?"

"Yeah," I answered but I was beginning to wonder if I was.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chapter 23


"Move over a bit," Sawyer told me as I sat on the tail gate of his pick-up.

"What's that?"

"What's it look like?" Sawyer asked looking determined as he shoved in two cases of ginger-ale.

"I know what it is," I told him as he hopped on the tail gate and finally started eating his sandwich that the Hartford aunts had been passing around from some seemingly bottomless picnic basket.  "I meant where'd they come from and what are they for?"

"Tommy said that's what you like to drink."

"Uh ... it is ... when I drink pop ... which isn't often.  And we didn't put it on the list."

"I know."

"Sawyer ..."

"Relax, it isn't going to break me."

"I didn't say it was but why are you all grumpy all of a sudden again."

There was noise all around but he still leaned over and said, "I didn't think about a ring."

"A ring of what?"

"A wedding ring."

A whole bite of bologna sandwich nearly went down the wrong way.  When I got my breath Sawyer asked, "You didn't think of one either?"

"No.  It was enough that you were marrying me.  Kinda crazy to expect anything else."

He opened his mouth to say something then didn't.  He did scoot closer and we let it go at that.  I've never had jewelry except for maybe a beaded necklace I made in the hospital to pass the time or to work on my hand/eye coordination so a ring just never occurred to me.  It actually meant more that he was upset that he hadn't thought of one than actually getting one would have meant.

Soon enough the Aunts were satisfied that no one was going to perish from hunger and said that unless the men had anything else they wanted that we needed to get to the Mennonite store.

I turned to Sawyer and he said, "About that ... you mind if I drop you off and then go get a mattress?  I've about had it with sleeping in the truck and the smell is gone."

"Ok," I told him at least as eager as he was to get off that air mattress.  It was getting harder and harder to get up in the mornings and I was beginning to snap, crackle, and pop like I did when I had to sleep on the mattresses at the group home.

----------

All I could do was stand inside the store’s front door and stare.  Slowly and carefully I started walking down the first aisle and Linda started laughing.  I heard someone ask if I was ok and Linda answered, "Kay-Lee just saw the Promised Land is all.  She really likes to cook but regular food, not the fancy stuff.  She was constantly doing battle with the teachers to let us cook more than just party and special occasion food.  I remember one time someone asked her what she wanted to do when she got out of school and she said be a cook at a truck stop.  She's just like that."

I wasn't really paying attention or I might have objected to her telling my business in public like that because I was too busy drooling over what I was seeing.  There were barrels and plastic bins of bulk items.  On the shelves where prepackaged amounts of other bulk ingredients.  Over on one wall was a cooler with cheeses and sausages in it that made me want to have a little taste of each one.  I started thinking about the money I had in that envelope buried in the backpack and trying to figure how much I could buy with it without upsetting Sawyer's budget.

A lady in a simple dress came over and asked, "May I help you?"

All I could do was look at her and say, "It's beautiful."

She grinned and said, "It is that.  Look your fill but don't go away empty handed."

She walked over to someone else and I pulled out my list and started calculating.  Linda came over and said, "Kay-Lee can you help?  I forgot my calculator."

Linda had a hard time with anything math beyond simple addition and subtraction; division beyond the basic fractions she used for cooking were like a completely foreign language.  I soon had her straightened out and went back to putting some things in a hand basket.  Aunt Pearl was right, the vanilla was better here.  I also threw in some other flavorings and extracts then put most of them back realizing it was a luxury to have anything beyond vanilla and almond though I did keep the lemon extract.  I next went to go look at the sugars but Aunt Pearl said, "We're picking up a bulk order out back - that's where the men are now - and you'll get some of that.  Stick to things you need to flesh out basic staples."

I looked at my list and asked, "What about cornmeal and flour?"

"We're getting that.  And don't get any meat either unless you want to pick you up some burger when you go to town.  We're going to be clearing out the deep freezes starting next week.  You help with that then you'll get a share.  Linda says you know the basics."

"Only because she taught me."

Aunt Pearl smiled.  "She's a good girl and makes Tommy so happy."

One of the other aunts called her over so I started looking to get a little creative with my list.  If I wasn't going to have to spend money on sugar, flour, or cornmeal that was really going to help.  Linda came over and said, "I'd go ahead and get salt and pepper.  Canning and preserving take a lot of salt and I don't know if they ordered it this time or not."

So into my basket went salt, pepper, and some other seasoning like hot sauce, bay leaves, the Italian seasonings, and then the baking spices like cinnamon and that sort of thing.  There didn't look like much in the basket but the price tag was already high so I quit that aisle and grabbed some of almost every dried bean they had including the bean mixes.  I also got some bulk dry soup mixes.  I wanted peanut butter but it was fresh, organic and pricey so I left that on the shelf.  I added a bag of rootbeer drops when I heard from one of the other aunts that they were Sawyer's favorite.  If he could buy me ginger ale then I could buy him those candies.

In the end I didn't do as much damage as I thought I would but it was bad enough that I worried about trying to explain to Sawyer.  When he showed up looking flustered and irritable I really started to worry.  When we got into the cab of the truck to pull out and head to town while the others went back to the Hartford farm I quietly handed the receipt to Sawyer.

"What's this?"

"Sawyer I swear, none of it will go to waste.  I know it seems like a lot of money - I mean I know it’s a lot of money - but ..."

"Don't do that."

I tried to figure out what I was supposed to stop doing and then he put his finger under my chin and turned it towards him.  "Don't cringe like ... like I'm going to hit you or something."

"I don't mean to, didn't mean to I mean.  I just don't want to make you mad.  We didn't talk about this stuff before I bought it."

"You need more cash?"

"Huh?  No.  No you gave me a ton and there's still a lot left.  But didn't you hear me?  I spent ..."

"Well whatever you picked Aunt Pearl sure seemed pleased.  She's normally so involved with her coupons and sales that it’s hard to get her attention.  She just about yanked my ear off pulling me over to load up those groceries and telling me the whole time that I'm luckier than should be allowed, me and Tommy both, and she wished some of the other new wives would take note and follow suit."

"She ... she did?"

"Yeah.  Nearly yanked my ear completely off."

"Sawyer!"

He suddenly laughed.  "You're too easy to tease.  Yes, Aunt Pearl said that."  He started the truck, put it in gear, and then pulled out in the direction of town.  "Look, I knew it was going to take money to whip the house into shape and then to get groceries to hold us until the farm started producing.  I'm just thankful I won't have to figure out how to stretch my savings to do it.  Even with that crazy windfall I'm going to need to hunt up a job pretty soon even if all I can find is temp or seasonal."

"I'll find one too."

"Uh ... actually I'd ..." he stopped and sighed.

"What?"

"Do you mind not working?  I know some of the other wives aren't as happy doing that as they thought they would be but ... but ... My mom never worked and Delly didn't work once my nephew was born.  And most of the aunts don't work ... outside the farm I mean."

I squirmed.  From somewhere I heard the words "kept woman" but wasn't even sure exactly what that mean beyond the obvious so I tried to find something good about it.

"Well ... it'll save gas not having to run both of us to work.  And ... hmmm ... I won't have to pay for a uniform or anything like that.  I ... hmmm ..."

"That's great," he said enthusiastically.  "You'll stay at home and I'll find a job and we can really get rockin' and rollin'"

I didn't tell him my brain already felt like it was on an out of control spin cycle most of the time.  Rockin' and rollin' would probably put me into the stratosphere and give me hives.


 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chapter 22


It was a push to get through the crowd as everyone seemed to be going the opposite direction.  Aunt Pearl said, "My goodness, they must really want to get over to the bread store before it closes."

I looked at Linda and she explained, "There's a couple of local businesses that bring their day old bread and stuff like that to sell it off rather than watch it go bad.  Towards the end of the day they deep discount what is left and people go nuts."

I frowned and looked over where people were heading but Linda said, "Trust me, by this time of day it is the really nasty stuff that tastes like used sponge.  Besides, you can make your own bread."

"Yeah ... when I have the ingredients for it.  I've already run through a lot of that cornmeal you sent which reminds me, don't I owe you or somebody for that?"

"No and shut up.  Try and talk Sawyer into letting you go and you can get everything you need."

A voice behind me said, "Talk Sawyer into what?"

I jumped.  "Oh."

"Did I scare you?" he asked with a grin, obviously back to how he normally was ... or at least the way I had seen him most often.  Aunt Pearl and Linda looked at him strange though.

"Yes you do and you meant to."  He just grinned even bigger.  "It's ... well ... do you ... Look, Linda said they're going by the Mennonite store and I know you have things you need to do in town but is there time to ..."

"Oh is that all.  Sure, if you want to go we'll go.  Bet Aunt Pearl was talking about their fantastic prices.  We'll have to ... er ... work the budget."

"I bought two pairs of shoes maybe I shouldn't have but that's about it."

He slapped his forehead.

"Stop that, you're going to give yourself a concussion.  What did you forget this time?"  Linda snickered in surprise but jumped back and stuck her tongue out when Sawyer tried to pull her ponytail.

"I didn't forget anything," he said turning back to me.  "I just should have figured that you'd need special stuff and ..."

Some of the fun went out of everything but I tried not to let it show as I said, "I don't need special shoes.  I have my braces.  So long as the brace and the shoe fit together I'm good to go."

A shrill voice to my side said, "Oh Kayley ... you got off so lucky.  You used to have to wear so much hardware you clanked everywhere you went."

I turned to see Rose Marie Lobaino, heir apparent to the captaincy of the cheerleading squad.  "Hey Rosie."

She made a face but I didn't care.  She knows my name is Kay-Lee, not Kayley, and she also knows I used to let it irritate me when people made the mistake whether it was innocent or not.  But in return I know she despises being called "Rosie."  Just a small shot across her bow to remind her that she wasn't the only one with claws.

"The rumors are so stupid.  They say you got married."

"I did."

"Nooo."

"Yeeesssss.  Look, I'm kinda busy with family stuff so ..."

"But you don't have a family."

Aunt Pearl was a very no-nonsense kind of woman and told her, "She does now.  So if you have something to say then say it otherwise scat and stop trying to start a fight.  I don't have time for that kind of immaturity."

Linda and I couldn't even look at each other after seeing the horrified look on Rose Marie's face and how quickly she disappeared over into her clutch of friends.  Aunt Pearl shook her head.  "You know, I'm less sorry every day I didn't have any girls of my own.  I'm not sure they would have survived to adulthood had they acted like that."  She said it loud enough that there was some outraged squawking from the clutch of ninnies but I didn't have time to even tell myself it was rude to gloat because Aunt Pearl was directing us into helping her to grab some of the deals left at the end of the day.

I wouldn't let Sawyer descend into depression again as I started using him like a pack mule to hold all the dollar bags of produce that Aunt Pearl was buying.  Tommy got roped into the same job and soon enough all the Hartford men had something in their hands as we cleared out several of the booths like locusts before the first Passover.  When the other vendors saw we were in the mood to buy, even if something was a little bruised or on its last day of freshness we got a lot of deals and everyone seemed to have a good time ... Aunt Pearl and the vendors both got what they wanted in the give and take of haggling.  I got a few special deals when a couple of vendors found out I spoke Spanish.  Aunt Pearl had me tell the old Spanish guy that seemed to be in charge that he had the biggest, prettiest this, that’s, and the others that she had ever seen for sale this time of year.  I then got caught in the middle of a conversation the two had until Aunt Pearl and the old man decided it was time to close his booth up.

"Come along Children, let's get this to the coolers.  The day has warmed up and I don't want to risk anything spoiling," said Aunt Pearl in a voice not even MacArthur would have dared to disobey.


 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chapter 21


"You sure you don't mind pushing this stuff around?"

"No."

"And you sure no one has given you a hard time."

I shook my head.  "You're gonna get left behind if you don't hurry."

"Dang it.  Send up a smoke signal ...," he said as he hurried to catch up with his grandfather.

Linda looked at me, "You didn't tell him about them girls from school."

"Oh puh-leeze.  Like those girls can do anything but run their mouths.  Besides, they looked a little ... I don't know ... something."

"They probably got their feelings hurt because they're having to shop at the flea market instead of at the mall.  They were doing fine until they saw us and it reminded them things aren't like they used to be.  We're the ones that are married and comfortable and they’re the ones still trying to keep their heads above water."

"Linda ..."

"Yeah I know it sounds like sour grapes but seriously, what goes around comes around and they were awful snobs in school."

"I guess.  I kinda get the feeling through that people are hurting worse than I knew."

"That's because you've always been down and didn't notice when everyone else started joining you on the bottom."

"But if everyone is on the bottom it isn't the bottom anymore, just a new top."

Linda laughed.  "You always did have a strange way of looking at things."  She gave me an impulsive hug and then told asked me why I hadn't bought anything yet.  "You're gonna run out of time."

I shrugged.  "I've got a list, just haven't found anything on my list yet."

"Let me see."  I pulled the piece of paper out of my jeans pocket and handed it to her.  "Oh right.  Most of that stuff is usually on the next aisle though you might have to get some of this in town."

"Sawyer said he needed to go to town after this for a couple of quick stops."

Suddenly I got knocked into real hard and my bad foot got stepped on.  "Oh my gosh Kay-Lee are you ok?"

"I think so.  The brace took most of it."

"You twisted your leg though didn't you?  I saw the face you made."

"I'll be fine.  Let's just get out of this crowd.  This is worse than halls on the last day of school.  Gosh."

We got to the end of the aisle and she pulled me out of traffic and asked again.  "You sure you're ok?"

"Yeah.  I'll ask for a rest if I need it."

"Promise?"

"Promise.  You're as bad as Sawyer."

"Good.  You need someone that looks after you.  I can't believe those jerks were running around like that.  Stupid County boys."

"County?  The high school?"

"Yeah.  They were here last time and caused a ruckus.  Security guards wound up having to trail them over the whole market.  Hey look, it's an Avon dealer.  Let's look."

From there we hit a booth that sold socks and underwear and I bought some for both me and Sawyer.  Linda giggled and I said, "Stop that.  It's no big deal.  I've been doing the laundry all week and know what he has and what he doesn't."

"I bet you do."

"Linda!"

She just giggled again and all I could do was shake my head.  She was wound up and that's a fact.  But then I forgot about being irritated when I found a pair of earth shoes like the ones that I'd always wanted.  They were second hand but looked new and I was able to dicker the guy down to ten bucks if I agreed to also buy the other pair in the same size but a different color.

"Wow.  I didn't think I'd ever have one pair of these much less two.  These are the kind that the podiatrist recommended."

"A foot doctor?"  At my nod she smiled.  "Good deal Lucille.  I guess you don't really have many clothes do you."

"I need a couple of pairs of jeans but I think with all the clothes ... assuming the smell comes out ... I can piece out some stuff and I'll have more than enough."

"What about night clothes."

"Uh ..."

"Yeah, that's what I thought.  C'mon."

"Linda, I am not going to go where I think you want to go."

"Kay-Lee, don't act like an old granny.  Now C'mon."

I reluctantly let her drag me into a large booth that had lingerie on racks and hanging up.  Some of it looked like it belonged on a hooker but she pulled me passed those to another rack.  It felt like my face was on fire the entire time we were there and I nearly died when the cashier smiled and winked before handing me the bag which I quickly stuffed into my back pack.

"I cannot believe I let you talk me into ..."

"You'll live," Linda said then added, "Sawyer might not."

"Linda!"  She took off laughing and telling me to keep up.

It's when we got to the grocery aisle that we both got serious.  I had a list of things in my head that our culinary teachers had always considered absolute essentials to have in the pantry and every one of them was missing from the kitchen when I'd made the inventory.  That's where Aunt Pearl found us as I debated the price difference between vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring.

"Hi Aunt Pearl!"

"Hi yourself Linda girl.  Whatcha found?"

"Kay-Lee said her pantry is in miserable condition and she figures to start at the bottom and work her way up."  She put her arm around me and said, "Kay-Lee this is Aunt Pearl.  She's wonderful."

Wonderful is a word that Linda used sparingly and only for a few people.  I looked at Aunt Pearl and figured she must be something special.  "How do you do?"

"Fine thank you Honey. Now let me see ... that's not a bad price but I think you can beat it at the Mennonite store."

Linda explained, "It's the one that Mrs. Valdez was always going on about.  We plan on going there after we leave the flea market.  You wanna come?"

"I'll have to check and see what Sawyer wants to do."

"Hopefully he'll say yes 'cause I ain't been too impressed with what I've been seeing."

Aunt Pearl nodded.  "We'd best get over to the Farmer's market area.  Junior rang me up and he said things are going faster than he's ever seen them go."


 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chapter 20




"There you are!!"

Linda's happy yell made me smile despite worrying about Sawyer being in a strange mood since the day before when he went to the bank.  When he came back from town he picked at his dinner, hardly said anything the rest of the evening and then told me to come to bed whenever I felt like it before heading out to the truck before it was barely dark.  He wasn't any better this morning and hadn't even opened up despite having drank his third cup of coffee.

Linda came over and Sawyer walked over towards his grandfather.  She looked at me and went, "Whew, what bug flew up his nose?"

"I don't know.  He's been like that since yesterday when he got back from town."

"Getting irritating?" she asked.

"No.  It's ... I don't know ... I wondered if I had done something but he came back in that mood and ... and I guess I'm kinda worried about him.  He's hardly eaten.  I don't know if he is getting sick or just what."

I jumped when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I looked up and there stood Sawyer.  I looked daggers at Linda but she just smiled and walked back towards Tommy and started hanging all over him.  Sawyer said, "I'm ... I've just had stuff on my mind.  Didn't mean to worry you.  And no, you didn't do anything if you're still wondering."

I shook my head.  "I don't want to be in your business but ... is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, not really."

"Um ..."  The quietly I asked, "Did they give you a hard time at the bank?"

"No.  It wasn't at the bank.  I just ran into some people I wish I hadn't."

"And they made fun of you for marrying Igor Baffa."

"Hey!"

"It's alright Sawyer.  I mean it isn't alright that they’re picking on you I just mean it’s alright you don't have to hide it from me to be nice.  I know what people think of me."

"How do you know what happened?  I didn't say anything."

"I had kinda wondered last night but didn't want to ask because you seemed so down.  But if we are going to get through this until people get used to it and get bored and go onto the next thing that makes them feel like they are better than us then we might as well be honest about it.  I'll hang out with Linda and whoever she is with ... at least until I can figure out what I'm supposed to be doing ... and you go hang out with whoever else and ..."

"No."

"You sound like someone who doesn't want to eat their vegetables even though you know their good for you."

"No."

"Sawyer ... trust me.  Linda, Tommy, and I have had almost a life time of experience dealing with this kind of thing."

"And I haven't?!"

"You've had some and a really bad some at that ... but not a lifetime.  Please, just let us handle it ok?"

"I can't ... I mean ... believe ..."

"It isn't about running away or abandoning me or whatever is turning your head inside out.  It is just some people are jerks.  And then there are some people that know how to ignore that and some people who don't or won't.  You're the kinda person that has a hard time putting up with being picked on.  That kinda stuff just doesn't matter to me."

"Still ..."

"Still nothing.  If they think that we're trying to ignore them it will be like blood in the water to barracudas.  It will just get worse and worse.  But if you go with your grandfather they won't want to be a jerks while him and your uncles are around.  And they won't want to be too obvious with Linda and whoever she's with because they won't want to look like jerks.  Usually it is divide and conquer but this time it is we divide and they have to split their forces too which makes them weaker."

He just looked at me and then said, "We'll try it your way for a little bit but I want to know if ... someone ... gives you problems."

"Don't be a worrywort.  I'm a big girl and I've dealt with bullies for as long as I can remember."

He stood around for a moment looking like he was searching for some other solution but then sighed and pulled something out of his pocket and told me to put it down deep in my pocket since I didn't bring a purse.  "What's that?"

"What do you think it is?"

"OK, so it's money but why do you want me to hold it?  Won't you need it?"

"I've got some, that's yours.  I stopped by last night and told Gramps about what we'd found and how and I thought he was going to laugh himself sick.  He said God works in mysterious ways.  He also agreed about all them medical supplies and said if no one could get by to get them tonight we should probably tarp them over better than we've got them done right now because the weatherman is starting to see things his way."

I grinned.  "Don't check the weather channel, ask Gramps."

Sawyer was starting to relax just a little and said, "You aren't the first person to say that."  Then he sighed.  "I feel like a heel."

"Why?"

"'Cause."

"Well don't.  It is a waste of energy.  You aren't hurting my feelings and in a way it makes me feel better."

"What kind of screwy logic is that?"

"You kinda got the raw in the deal here and this makes me feel that I can at least contribute something besides a bum leg and people's criticisms."

"Aw now, don't say that."

"That's how I feel.  This makes me feel like you trust me, at least a little more than you did at first.  And this is me showing I trust you because I believe you honestly feel bad about people being jerks.  But really, you don't need to feel so bad you make yourself miserable, ok?  People aren't worth it."

He did that thing with his hair and then said, "Alright.  We'll try it your way.  We'll probably cross paths a couple of times.  I got the list from Gramps.  You try and pick up ... uh ..."

"Yeah.  I've got my list too."

"Ooookay then.  Uh ...  Dang it."

"What?!"

"I meant to pick you up one of those disposable cell phones yesterday.  How could I have forgotten to ..."

"I'll send up smoke signals or something.  Will you go?  You're grandfather looks like he is ready and waiting on you."

"Are you ..."

"Go already."

"Uh ... there's one more thing."

"What?"

"We're going to swing by Gramps' after we get everything done we can and pick up my dogs.  Do you mind?"

I tried not to wince but asked, "They don't have the same digestive issues as Mooch do they?"

He was surprised for about two seconds and then started laughing.  "No."

"OK then I guess so long as they don't think I'm a tasty snack I'll learn to get along with them."

Gramps called, "You coming or getting left behind Son?"

Sawyer ran over to his grandfather's side where he was standing with several other men and I turned to find Linda laughing.  "I didn't think he was ever going to let go.  You find out what was wrong?"

"Yeah.  Someone made fun of him marrying me.  It upset him."

"People are jerks."

"Yeah and some of the people that act like jerks would probably really surprise him.  I figure this way he doesn't have to feel so bad and we can actually get something done."

She grinned, "You bet.  Aunt Pearl has already taken the rest off and they are scouting out deals.  You can come with me if you want to."

"I want to," I said with a grin.  "So how does this place work anyway?"

"About like the farmer's market they have downtown during tourist season only bigger with less arts and craft stuff and more like a giant garage sale.  Then there are the scratch and dent booths where you can pick up some decent deals on groceries if you're careful.  First thing you need though is to get you one of these carts.  They're a little pricey but dead useful.  I even use them for hauling stuff around in the yard.


 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chapter 19


I came out of the closet covering my nose and mouth.  "Whew, every time I think I've found the last of the stink I run up on more of it."

"What did you find this ... whoa ... what is in that closet?"  The face that Sawyer was making mirrored my own disgusted expression.

"Old boots, old coats and some old boxes with ..."  I gingerly pulled back the lid of one of the boxes and said, "With old magazines in them."  I had to back out of the closet because it was making me want to gag; I had just eaten.

"Why in the hell would he put a book case in front of a closet door?  I swear he was crazy."

Coughing and sneezing I walked over to the window to get some fresh air.  "Whatever he was it sure wasn't healthy to live this way."

Sawyer walked over to join me.  "You ok?"

"Yeah just that stuff stinks even worse than that upstairs closet did.  This is more like a frig that hasn't been cleaned out for a long time.  Something is definitely rotten in there."

"Well you got the one upstairs so I'll get this one, just hand me a clothes basket and hold the screen door open for me.  I'm just going to pitch this stuff out into the yard."

The boxes of magazines were too heavy to just pitch so they sat on the edge of the porch while Sawyer and I sat in the swing giving our sinuses a chance to recover.  "Man that was powerful," Sawyer griped. "I hope that bucket of bleach water you set in there hurrys up and does its thing."

I shook my head and voiced a fleeting thought.  "Maybe he was a hoarder, like on those tv specials ... only the mentally ill kind not the kind that the government is always warning against."

"You mean the kind Gramps is?"

I snorted and then sneezed what felt like a field of dust bunnies out of my nose.  When I got my breath back I told him, "Your grandfather isn't like the government says.  He's taking care of his family.  The ones the government is talking about are selfish."

"Betcha the government really doesn't care one way or the other, they just don't want some people to have more than others."

I shrugged.  "Maybe.  The government is just another form of mental illness if you ask me.  They're all crazy and make no sense most of the time."

Sawyer laughed and then got down and reluctantly crawled over to put the boxes into the wheelbarrow to take them to the burn pile but the first one he picked up fell apart as he tried to lift it.  Magazines started slipping and sliding all over the place and I bent down to help him.  We both noticed it at about the same time.

Sawyer said, "You have got to be kidding me."

"Is that ...?"

Sawyer was flipping pages in a magazine he picked up and said, "Yep.  There's a one dollar bill between every page.  See if any of the others are like this."

After we had unboxed all of the magazines Sawyer looked down inside the grocery bag I'd brought over to keep stuff from flying around.  "Dang that old man was craaaazy.  I mean really crazy not just half crazy.  Have we put anything else like this on the burn pile?"

"No."

"You sure?" he asked double checking.

"I'm sure.  Remember we just stacked those other magazines and books in that back room until we could decide which to keep and which to pitch.  They smell and we didn't even mess with them, just stacked them in there."

"Well let's take this inside and then go look.  And we need to start looking in coat pockets and all other kind of weird places.  I'll need to go over the mattresses before I start burning them too."

"Why?"

"'Cause that's what crazy people do with their money or so says this book I read one time.  One of the stories in it was about this old guy that died and when they came to clean out his house they found money in all kinds of weird places like the freezer, the phone book, the back of pictures, inside his mattress, you name it.  A couple of years later the person that had bought the house went to remodel and found that the crazy guy had even taped money to the plaster and then wall papered over it."

I'd seen crazy in the foster system but that even sounded strange to me.  I shrugged and told Sawyer, "I guess it takes all kinds."

----------

I wiped the sweat off of my forehead and said, "Ok, I'm beat and just about as weirded out as I care to be."

"You and me both.  And Baffa didn't say a word about this in those papers.  Not a word.  Gramps is never going to believe this and if we tell any of the others they'll be around here tearing up stuff and trying to 'help' find more."

"Maybe that's why Mr. Baffa didn't want anything to be taken from the house.  I mean he taped dollar bills to the bottom of just about every piece of furniture we've gone through so far."

He didn't respond and I looked at him.  He had a troubled expression.  "Sawyer?  You ok?"

He looked at me and said, "They'll think I stole it.  It'll be just like last time."

"You didn't steal it.  We found it."

"You know it.  I can probably get Gramps to believe me, especially after we show him; but most everyone else will think I stole it from someplace."

"'Cause anyone that knows me will know I don't have any money."

He glanced at me real quick and then relaxed when he saw I wasn't being snarky, just stating a fact.  He mumbled, "Gotta think about this."

I limped over to the dining room and sat down in a chair and looked at what we'd found thus far.  Most of the magazines held twenty to thirty dollars; some held more and some held less but that was the average.  We found one's, five's, and ten's taped to most of the drawers in the house.  There were one's and five's between a lot of the pages in the books and magazines we had set into the old kitchen.  There were some bills stuck in picture frames and it was tedious to check each one, not to mention a little creepy.  The worst though had to be when Sawyer got the idea to check the smelly boots.  There was a roll of cash stuck in the toe of each boot and the smell was so bad I found a plastic tub and started gathering all of the cash, putting a layer of bills down then sprinking it with baking soda.

Looking around before speaking Sawyer asked, "You've been keeping a rough count?"

"Yeah.  Have you?"

"Yeah.  That's why I said people were going to think I stole it."

"I'll tell them ..."

"No.  No I don't want you to have to get in the middle of that stuff.  We're just going to have to be extra careful how we spend it."

"I'd say just let everyone think it came from the bank but one whiff and no way anyone would believe that."

Sawyer gave a surprised and unwilling chuckle.  "You ain't kidding.  I think we'll need to wash it or something.  At least it is in small bills and they're worn so we don't have to have people complaining about accepting anything bigger than a $20."

"There's a lot of small bills.  I don't think anyone will appreciate being paid in only one's either."

"Like I said, we'll have to be careful and pay attention.  At least now ... you know, I got an idea."

"What?"

"Friday I'll go to town and stop by the bank and make a withdrawal from savings - I was planning to anyway.  But I'll gripe about having to buy a new mattress and box springs and how expensive everything is.  The tellers are always so nosey and wanting to know why you take more than a couple hundred out anyway.  Telling them that will give them something to chew on.  We do need mattresses - Gramps was right about that especially now that I've cut the old ones up looking inside them - but I know a place that sells them off the truck so we won't have to pay showroom prices."

"How much does a mattress cost anyway?"  When he told me I almost wilted.  "Every time I turn around that pile of money looks a whole lot smaller.  I should feel rich but something tells me I'm just fooling myself if I go that direction."

Welcome to the life of the working man.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chapter 18


"I can't believe you found even more of that stuff."

Trying not to yawn I told him, "Yeah.  There were more boxes under the beds upstairs.  I had to use a broom handle to push them out.  The rooms on the second floor I mean; I haven't even made it to the third floor yet."

"I'll help with that tomorrow.  I'll also drag those mattresses out and down the stairs.  Did those movers happen to say what we are supposed to do with the unopened boxes and the spare sheets and stuff?"

"I didn't come right out and ask them but kinda mentioned it the long way around; but when I did those movers seemed to act like I was going to ask them to haul the stuff off and they got all defensive - guess people are getting kind of funny about their jobs.  They told me if I wanted to get rid of the stuff I'd have to call someone that dealt with medical waste.  By putting together what they said apparently a box of that stuff should have come every week and that Mr. Baffa had been sick enough to need hospice almost two years and was getting medical supplies for dialysis and wound care and stuff like that even before then."

"That's a lot of dang boxes."

"Yes it is and when I get the last one down I hope I don't have to haul them all back up.  I think the cardboard has absorbed some of the smell so I'd rather just unbox things if I can."

"Trouble is going to be finding a place to put it all.  I suppose we can turn some of those upstairs rooms in to storage."

"Actually, you said there were shelves down in the basement right?"

"Yeah.  There's also a lot of junk down there too."

"OK but I can clear off shelves a few at a time.  But my idea is that there are a lot of unused milk crates out in the barn and ..."

"You went out to that barn?!  What if there had been a snake or something?!"

His yelp of agitation surprised me so much my mouth must have fallen open and hung in mid-air.  "Uh ..."

"Don't do that no more.  Or at least let me go first to check things out ... like I did with them basement stairs."

"Uh ..."

"Don't take this the wrong way but if something was to happen I can move faster than you."

"Uh ..."

"What?  Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Uh ... um ... I ... I guess I just never had anyone that ... I mean ... you know ... care like that."

"Wha ... oh. Well what about them foster families and stuff?"

"Some of 'em did, some didn't, and some were just plain awful.  Linda's family was the exception, not the rule.  Foster homes are supposed to be temporary housing, not potential adopters.  They move the kids around a lot to try and avoid letting attachments form.  But none of them ever ... at least for me ... I mean every time I turn around ... and you don't even know me.  Not really anyway."

"We're married."

"Yeah and from what I've seen and heard that doesn't always mean anything.  I ... look it just feels funny I guess.  Not funny in a bad way just ... like weird.  But not in a bad way."

He yawned, "Well get used to it ‘cause that's the way it is.  Promise you won’t go crawling in places you could get bit or stung or ... hurt."

"Well I won't do it on purpose but accidents kinda just happen ... that's why they're called accidents."

"Ok ... just don't get hurt."

I wanted to tell him he was over reacting but didn't.  Instead I changed the subject.

"I think I can piece out the food here in the house through the weekend but Sawyer, we gotta use some of that money to get some groceries.  A lot of what was in the cabinets was way passed spoiled though there are some syrups and things like that that are still ok, just crystallized.  I was worried what to cook for breakfast until Linda sent those eggs and cornmeal.  I looked over the stuff that was in that pantry and some of that stuff was just gross.  I started a trash fire like you said but ... yuck."

"Linda was asking me what all there was and I had to tell her I didn't really know.  Aunt Pearl and some of the others got into a discussion about what it would take to feed us all and it sounds like they plain on feeding an army."

I snorted.  "All you Hartford boys put together are an army and that's just the ones I know of.  Add in the ones I don't ... and there have to be some because I didn't know you existed until yesterday ... geez was it just yesterday ...?"  I stopped and shook my head.  "Anyway, guys need a lot of calories.  Guys who work need more calories or they aren't going to be able to keep working.  If you're sitting around all day playing video games you won't need as many."

"There's a few that try and be that way but Gramps put his foot down and said they wouldn't get much more play out of it.  Some of the parents tried to get irritated with the way he's being about it all but Gramps said if he is paying the bills then he gets to have some say and that if they didn't like it they knew where the road was back to town."

"Wow.  Did anyone take him up on it?"

"Yeah.  One of Uncle Forrester's daughter in laws took her kids and went to live with her parents over in Mississippi.  She'd been making noise about doing it for a couple of years and this was just the tipping point.  Bud ... Uncle Forrester's son ... may follow her there when he gets done working the oil fields.  He's got an itchy foot and has a hard time settling any place.  Uncle Forrester knows it and says that he can live with him being gone.  Every time Bud comes around he always causes a flap in the family and then leaves in a huff.  Last time he was around he and I even started to fight and Bud and I used to get along ok."

The idea of this huge extended family he kept alluding to made me really nervous.  "How many of your family are going to be at the flea market?"

"Don't know.  We don't pile on top of each other when we're there, usually just meet out in the parking lot afterwards for sandwiches and hellos.  This time though Gramps seems to have some kind of game plan.  Everyone is going to have a list and we're to get things on that list first off before going after anything else ... unless we see a deal we just can't pass up."

I thought about something I had been wondering and said, "I know that paper Mr. Baffa left said that nothing from this place was to go anyplace else but when you get right down to it you can probably read into it just stuff that is like heirlooms ... like antiques and stuff."

"I ... I guess."

"It just doesn't make sense to have eleventy-dozen bottles of alcohol and peroxide and enough gauze and bandaids to mummify everyone on Consolidated Central's football team if no one else has any right?"

"Well ... sure."

"And I don't know about you but finding a place to store all this stuff is going to be a real puzzle.  And it's a shame to just burn those boxes before someone else can get a use out of them.  So if you really do have that much family and Gramps really does think that things are going to get bad why don't we just tell him to divide that stuff up and have 'em come over in dribs and drabs and pick it up right off the porch."

He laughed. "You just don't want to have to carry it anyplace else."

I gave him a silly smile.  "Well, this would save those milk crates for something else wouldn't it?"

He laughed again and then we spent some quieter time going over what we thought we would need and what we thought it would cost and then multiplying it out so we would have a year supply.

I sighed.  "That money isn't going to go very far.  Looking at these lists it doesn't look like near as much money as it did to begin with especially if we take out for new mattresses."

"I've got some savings.  We'll ... we'll just have to be careful.  I'll see if I can't pick up work here and there but running all over looking for work isn't cheap given the cost of gas."

As we were climbing into the truck I finally admitted that making those lists and trying to figure out a budget hadn't been as relaxing as I thought it would be.  I'd rather have kept cleaning.