Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 14

Dave watched the carpet of chicks with fascination; his eye would latch onto one chick and see it flap it's downy wings, peck, dash forward, sit down and fall asleep before another chick walked over it and it stood up to start again.

"First time with chickens?" Hank leaned in the shed door and watched the antics.

"Yeah." Dave couldn't tear his eyes away from their new charges.

"Want to take care of them then? You'd have to come in everyday."

"Sure. What do I need to do?"

"Give them fresh water twice a day, fill the feeders, change the paper and watch for problems. You can ask me if you're not sure about anything. Also, keep the door padlocked; this is a big investment for the church and if a dog got in it could wipe it out in minutes. I'll handle giving the chicks to the parishioners as they come fetch them. So if anyone gives you grief, tell them I'm in charge and you have no say in it. Got it?"

"Yes, I understand." There was a hint of a smile in Dave's reply. Since he had met them when tilling the gardens, he was well aware that some of those buying chicks would be difficult and complain about everything. "What happens to the chicks that don't get sold?"

"I checked with the city to see if we could keep extras here, but we can only have six like everyone else. If there are extras we will open up the offer to the community."

"The church is going to have it's own chickens? For always?"

"That's the plan." Hank locked the shed and they went back to building chicken coops. "Have you thought about what you will do this fall? Are you going back to Wichita for school?"

"No!" Dave's response burst out, then he toned down his voice, "No, not there. I thought I'd have to go somewhere else, but it looks like we can stay where we are now. I really want to graduate here, where I grew up."

"What about after that?"

"I don't know. My friend is going into the Navy, but I always thought I'd go to college for accounting or software."

"Why not still do that? Lots of people get loans."

"I always planned to do it without loans. I've been saving since my first job and I figured on working part time during the school year. But when my dad lost his job, I gave them my savings to help; now it's all gone. Maybe I could get student loans, but does it make sense when there might not be jobs even with a degree?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Probably a good idea to stay flexible and see what happens."

Dave paused in his work to watch Hank measure a piece of wood twice before cutting it. "I'm enjoying learning to do real stuff with my hands. It's kind of cool to look at something and know I built it."

"Better get on with it then. Mrs. Shipley won't thank you for not having her coop ready tomorrow."

Dave bent to the work with a smile.

Part 15

Super Soup!

Some days just feel right to put a big pot of soup on the stove to simmer away and today was one of those days.

This is my favorite homemade soup. I start with about five pounds of carrots.


Diced tomatoes give a liquid base and lots of beans. I have cooked beans before, but canned beans are easy. The southwestern bean salad gives the soup an extra kick of flavor.


This is what it looks like when all the ingredients are in and cooking except the baked beans which would turn to mush. What else goes in depends on what's on hand; in the summer there is likely to be leeks and celery. This time the onions came from my freezer, bell peppers were dehydrated and broth from a jar.

How many baked beans get added depends on my tastebuds. It's also very thick and some would probably prefer it a bit runnier.

Nutrition is based on average ingredients; I don't weigh and calculate each time I make this.

1 cup serving: calories 180, fat 1g, fiber 9g, protein 8g

Monday, January 29, 2018

Knitting Stuff

This is my current project: a fuzzy scarf for my mom. I'm guessing it's about half done now. No fancy pattern; just knitting with this fuzzy yarn challenges me enough.


And this is my needle stash: all the sizes I'm likely to ever need.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 13

Mrs. Perkins pushed the shopping cart while Susan pulled the two-wheeled trolley around the grocery store. They both enjoyed these excursions; taking their time and discussing prices compared to quality. While Mrs. Perkins was careful with her money, she could still afford to shop here; yet never made Susan feel bad for buying her food at the discount store.

While making her tea selection, they were approached by a woman and three children, "Can you spare some money, please? I have nothing left until the end of the month and the food banks are closed. Please, for my children? My boyfriend cleaned out my bank account. We've got nothing to eat!"

"Oh, dear! I'm so sorry. I really can't spare much." Mrs. Perkins handed over a ten dollar bill.

The woman gushed her thanks before turning expectantly to Susan who said, "I don't have any money at all." There was a glint of anger in the woman's eyes before she herded the children away.

After a few minutes of silence, Susan decided to discuss what had just happened. "If I may ask, you've been helping your family financially, haven't you?"

"Yes, of course. When needed."

"And when they ask for help, do you send the money right away?"

Mrs. Perkins quirked an eyebrow as though she suspected where this conversation was headed, but answered, "No, we talk it over together, considering what we can spare and how badly they are in need."

"So, you hold your family to a higher standard than a complete stranger." Susan kept her tone carefully neutral.

"Well, we know them so well, it's only natural. For example, we know our youngest son is a bit lazy and likely to ask for money from us first before trying to figure out his own problems. But if our daughter asks, it must be dire need. What else can be done for a stranger we have no knowledge about?"

"How about telling her to pick out ten dollars of food and you will buy it for her? Or ask her what she needs most and offer to buy it?"

"Hmm, she might actually learn more that way about getting the most food for her money. Now I'm curious about what she buys." Mrs. Perkins bustled away, looking right and left between the aisles, but they didn't find the family again. Susan kept silent about her suspicions that the woman wasn't spending the money on food at all.

As they left the store, they were accosted twice more by panhandlers in the parking lot. Mrs. Perkins was able to pass them by without a qualm, knowing all she had left in her purse was small change. Walking slowly so Susan could maneuver the trolley over the rough sidewalk, they discussed the lack of news about the ongoing depression.

Part 14

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 12

Susan frowned at the note she found in her mailbox asking her to come to the office to speak to the landlord. Normally, if a vacant apartment needed work she picked up the key and instructions from the secretary. Steeling her nerve, she headed straight there.

"Susan, please sit down. Am I right in assuming that you haven't found work yet?" Her landlord looked at her sternly, but the question didn't feel hostile.

"No, nothing yet."

"Well, that's good news to me. I have a situation where I need someone I can trust completely who has proven to be reliable. You were the first person I thought of." He leaned back in his chair and swiveled to look out the window. Turning back, he explained, "My grandmother has been in a nursing home for three years, but yesterday I was informed that between the rates increase there and the market drop, she can no longer afford to live there.

"I don't have room for her with us, but what I do have is a ground floor apartment in your building. I need someone to cook and clean and look after her. In exchange, you can stay rent-free."

Susan's thoughts dashed about considering the possibilities; she asked, "How is her health? Physically and mentally?"

"She moves slow; uses a walker. Her mind gets a bit wandery, might ask the same question a couple times. You would need to make sure she takes her medication. I'll buy her groceries and take her to the doctor as needed. I thought you could cook breakfast and do any needed cleaning in the morning, cook lunch then the afternoon would be yours until supper."

"You don't mind losing the rent on two apartments?"

He looked sardonic, "Believe me, that's a bargain compared to what the nursing home quoted."

"When do I start?"

"My wife will be stocking the kitchen this week in the evenings and Gran will move in on Saturday. I'd appreciate if you were available to help get her settled." He paused to take a piece of paper out of his desk. "And here's a refund for June's rent. I was fairly sure you'd agree."

Susan felt taller and more confident than she had in a long time when she walked out of the office; it was as if a weight had fallen off her shoulders. This opportunity meant the last three months of unemployment could be saved to help feed them when the boys went back to school and couldn't work as much. Plus she would still have afternoons to visit Mrs. Perkins and do any odd jobs she found.

When she got home she sat down and thought of questions and details that needed to be addressed. For instance, would she be expected to bring her own cleaning supplies and what about laundry? She started a list to discuss before Saturday.

Part 13

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Projects


Finished one of my pile of projects! A knitted infinity scarf.

The first project I meant to finish got put on hold because I didn't have enough of that color yarn, but I will try to get to the store and match the color sometime this week. I have an urge to start something brand new, but haven't figured out what yet. Any ideas?

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 11

Danny pushed his bike alongside Melody as they strolled towards her home. He cleared his throat nervously, trying to think of something to say. "What would make dogs attack Ben like that?"

"Haven't you heard about the dog packs?" She stopped walking and turned to face him.

"No. There have been others? Where did they come from?"

She leaned back against a large oak tree that was buckling the sidewalk and pushed her hair behind her ear. Danny zoned out briefly as he watched her, admiring the way the setting sun added colors to her dark brown hair and glinted off her nose ring; her only makeup appeared to be eyeliner. He came back to earth when she began speaking, "I guess I hear more of the local stuff because my mom works for the city. There have been cutbacks everywhere and they laid off some of the dogcatchers. Now, with more people abandoning their pets, they can't keep up. The dogs are scavenging for food and form packs."

"Why don't the owners take their dogs to the shelter if they don't want them?"

Melody looked sad, "The shelter is full. It's no-kill, but they have no choice other than send the excess to the county shelter which does have a kill policy. So, you get people who feel guilty about taking their pets in to be put down and figure if they let them loose somewhere else in the city, maybe someone will take them in. But what really happens is the dogs get run over or starve or join a pack."

"That's terrible. Aren't you worried about walking alone?"

She pushed off the tree and walked up the path to the house they had been standing in front of, turning at the door to grin at him, "I wasn't alone and I drove to work."

Danny stood with his mouth open as she went inside and the ramifications struck him. Shaking his head and laughing, he swung onto his bike and turned towards his own neighborhood.

Part 12

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 10

It was a slow evening; Danny paused in sweeping and glanced at his boss leaning against the counter, "Do you ever wonder why people still order pizza when so many other businesses have closed?"

"Of course. You know, I thought about opening one of the big name fast food places. Glad I didn't now. Pizza is special around here; it's a comfort and a reward. So, if someone is having a bad day and comes home to bland, cheap food, they decide to treat themselves to pizza. Or if dad gets paid, he celebrates by picking up a pizza for the family. There's a tipping point where the economy could get so bad that we won't be profitable, but as long as there are a few dollars on the SNAP cards, we should be okay."

They were interrupted by shouts and shrieks coming from the back door and they ran through the kitchen. There they found the delivery guy with his back against the door, clutching his hand and shaking. The girl who should have been boxing the next order kept screaming until the boss barked, "Shut up, Melody! Ben, what happened?"

As soon as she quieted down, they could all hear the snarling sounds coming from the alley. "Dogs, man! They were tearing open garbage bags but when I came by, they went for the delivery bag. One of them bit my hand." Ben held out the wounded hand but, as soon as he saw the torn skin and blood, he gave a little moan and fainted.

Danny grabbed the first aid kit and helped Melody clean and bandage the bite wound while their boss called the attack in. "Hooray for Mr. Barger, huh?"

Danny looked up in surprise, then laughed as he made the connection between what they were doing and the high school health teacher who insisted all his students learn CPR and first aid. They helped Ben stand up as their boss came back. "Okay, we're closing early tonight. Ben, you're going home now; I'll walk you to your car. You two finish that last order and start closing up."

Melody finished boxing the pizzas as the customer came in the front door. After she waited on him, she came back to where Danny was washing the dishes. Leaning on the counter, she said, "You looked disappointed to get off early. I thought we might go catch a movie."

"Oh!" He stared at her in surprise, "I wish I could. I can't afford it."

"Hmmm," she studied him with a lifted eyebrow. "Alright, then."

Mentally, he kicked himself as she went back to work. He kept stealing glances at her; he didn't know her well since she had only been working there a couple weeks and the school was too big to know everyone, but he was interested. "Hey! Maybe I should walk you home in case the dogs are still around."

"Maybe you should."

Danny turned back to the dishes with a smile. Today wasn't so bad after all.

Part 11

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 9

"Oooooh! I may never move again." Dave groaned.

"What's wrong with you?" Danny prodded his friend's prone body with his foot.

"New program at work. Helping all the church members plant gardens and digging up the church yard too. They rented a tiller and I'm the one who gets to run it for everyone who asked." He held his hands up. "It feels like my hands are still vibrating and I have to do it again tomorrow."

"But that's brilliant. After paying the rent, food is our biggest expense. Imagine if we had space to grow some for ourselves." Danny threw himself into the beanbag chair. "I never thought I would say this, but I am so sick of pizza."

"Could you bring some home instead of eating there? I'd kill for leftover pizza."

"I could try. It might work out on the nights I close and I'm the last to go."

"Which is about every night lately."

"Yeah, I knew the boss's in-laws would be flakes. They only show up half the time and usually have an excuse to leave early. So, are you ever going to tell me about your big idea?"

"Only if it works out; it's a long shot. You want to hear about the next project they've thought up at the church?"

"Sure. It's cool that they do real stuff instead of just throw money at problems."

"As soon as the gardens are started, Hank and I will be building little chicken coops. Every house can have six hens so they ordered hundreds of chicks. People will just pay for the materials used and Hank will order feed in bulk so it's cheaper for everyone.

"Hank says in the old days it was the churches that ran the charities and took care of the poor, not welfare and food stamps. Oh, they gave me a chance to pick something out of the clothes drive. I thought we could share these." He pulled a bag out of his backpack and threw it over.

"Socks! This is great, but you should have got something for yourself. You're the one working hard."

"Tell me about it!" He rolled over with a grin, "I'm getting a raise. 25 cents more an hour. Hank even called me 'good value'."

There was a knock on the door and Susan stuck her head in, "If you guys are ready to celebrate?"

They followed her out to the kitchen. "No-bake cookies! We haven't had these in ages."

"Well, they use a lot of sugar, but this way we can celebrate without heating up the apartment with the oven."

Dave grinned as he reached for a cookie, "I'm not complaining. I need the calories today. Actually, I asked if I could have food instead of the extra money and they told me not to worry, they'd make sure I got produce from the gardens since I'll be helping the elderly with their growing this summer. One little old lady offered to plant zucchini just for me; I don't know why that was so funny."

Susan chuckled, "Because zucchini is the gift that keeps giving and giving. I'll look up recipes to use it in next time I go to the library so I'm prepared."

Danny noticed a pensive look cross his mom's face, "What is it? What are you thinking about?"

"Oh, I was just remembering the zucchini bread your grandma made and wondered how they were doing. They don't bother with email much and now that we don't phone...it just feels like my focus has gotten very narrow and I only see what's happening to us directly." She shook her head briskly, "Never mind that. Here's to Dave and his raise! Hooray! Have another cookie."

Part 10

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 8

"Drat!" said Susan as her bra strap tore. Grumbling, she dug around on the dresser until she found a safety pin. Dressed, she sat on the bed with her eyes closed and concentrated on her breathing; every little crisis had her in tears lately. When she was certain her emotions were under control, she headed down to meet Mrs. Perkins; this was the morning they walked to the library together.  Susan had expected that tensions would ease with the warmer weather, but it seemed to be having the opposite effect. Even though they were obviously just carrying books, they had learned to be careful. Rarely did they make the trip without being accosted by someone; usually a beggar, but sometimes worse.

As they walked, Susan spoke of her thoughts, "Have you noticed the different reactions when we tell someone we don't have any money? Like that older man who just said 'bless you' and walked off. I bet that young woman up ahead doesn't respond politely."

Mrs. Perkins eyed the person under discussion and coughed discretely, "I won't take that wager. We've met this one before."

Susan sighed. They were in for a few unpleasant minutes of foul language at high volume.

After passing out of range, they exchanged glances. "You know, it's not just her; there's a lot more anger in general and it seems to be growing faster."

Meanwhile, Dave was working under Hank's direction. Today he was on a ladder scraping the peeling paint off a window frame. Hank liked to keep an eye on the teenager, but he kept being pulled away to deal with people looking for help from the church. Dave watched as another family approached. He couldn't hear what was said, but there was something strange about the children; they just stood listlessly behind their parents. When Hank returned, Dave climbed down, "Those kids, they weren't acting right."

Hank rubbed his rough hands over his eyes, "They were hungry. Past the stage where they whine and cry."

"Starving? You mean kids are starving here?" Dave couldn't believe his ears. This wasn't some third-world country.

"No, no. Not yet at least. Listen, kid, this is just the beginning; the people who were already living borderline and running out of money each month were asking for help last year. Now we start seeing the families who had a cushion between themselves and poverty; that's when it gets bad."

"What more can be done?"

Hank's head tilted to one side, "Know anything about gardening?"

Part 9

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Unfinished Projects

When I take an interest in something, I tend to go all out. So, when I began knitting, I stocked up at all the yarn sales and bought all sorts and sized of needles. Seven years ago I lost interest and it's been gathering dust since. Now that I have time, but no money, I thought I'd dig out those unfinished projects (I've found six so far!). The first thing I need to do is refresh my memory on how to knit...so where is the knitting book? No idea! I found the crocheting book - yay - but that's not where I wanted to start. I did find two books on knitting socks; which is something I never tried. I'll try again to find the knitting basics book, then I'll look online.

First, it's time to bundle up, take water to the chickens and collect the eggs. Of course, every trip outside includes stopping off at the wood shed for another load.

Editing to add: still looking for the book, but at least the search got me to dust my bedroom - very long overdue.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 7

Dave sat down at the dinner table, "I got a job. Mom's old church runs this charity to feed senior citizens. They used to drop off a box of food once a week, but to save costs they want to reuse the cardboard boxes, so I ride along and help put the food away. The other days I'll be doing whatever they need help with. It doesn't pay much and I have to bring my own lunch." He watched Susan, hoping for a positive reaction.

She smiled at him, "That's good news. Thank you." She finished slicing the bread and placed it next to the pot of soup before sitting down. Fortunately, flour was still relatively cheap so they always had bread. The soup was mostly beans with a few carrots; meat never made the menu anymore, not on their budget. "Is it in walking distance?"

"Yes, I can get there in about forty minutes. Hank, the old guy who does all the maintenance, is kind of crabby, but he needs help. Oh, I almost forgot!" Dave jumped up and got a bag from near the door. "This was leftover fruit from packing the food boxes. The workers get to take home the perishable extras."

"Listen to you talking 'perishable'," Danny laughed.

"Hey! I did work at a grocery store. I know stuff." Dave pretended to take offense.

Later that evening, the boys sat in their room and talked. "You know, it was weird being at Gran's house, but it was so different that it didn't seem quite real. Here, well, it's even weirder because I've spent so many nights on the bottom bunk that it feels like home. And it's like someone robbed you of all your electronics. I don't know how to say it, but it feels more real."

Danny sank a bit lower in the bean bag chair and thought about it. "Yeah, I guess so. It happened so gradually that I didn't really notice, then sometimes it hits me. It got bad when you moved away; it's easier having someone to talk to. I don't want to dump on Mom, you know?" He sat up to emphasize his point, "We have to make things as easy for her as we can. There isn't anyone else who will help her."

"You know I will."

Two days later, Danny came home early when they let school out at noon to celebrate the end of the school year. Stopping to pick up the mail on the way, he stared at the envelope addressed to his mom. 'Eugene Dickson' was the name on the return address. He knew the name of his grandfather and wondered why he was writing to them. Shoving the rest of the mail into his backpack, he ripped the envelope open and read the letter. "What the hell? Bastard! How dare he!" Furious, Danny tore the letter to shreds and left them on the ground.

That night he told Dave about the letter. Dave sat up so fast he hit his head on the top bunk. "Wait a minute, he said that about his own grandson? What kind of freak is he?"

"Mom must be desperate to ask him for help," Danny said glumly.

"But he really said he didn't care if you starved?" Dave shook his head. "I don't get it. As much as I hate my cousin, I don't want him to die and you've never done anything to hurt your grandfather."

"Well, that's why I tore up the letter. Better Mom thinks he ignored her than to read that crap." Danny threw a pillow when Dave didn't respond, "Hey! Are you listening to me?"

Dave turned slowly, "I've got an idea."

Part 8

Monday, January 8, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 6

Susan stared bleakly at the letter in her shaking hands. This was the final straw; she hadn't been accepted into the nursing program. The form letter suggested she try again next year. "Ha! And will you want me after I've been homeless for a year?"

There was a catch in her chest and suddenly she was wheezing and gasping for air. On some level she knew it was a panic attack, but that didn't mean she had any control over it. Tears were streaming down her face, her lungs burned and she clutched the wall by the time the attack passed. Sinking to the floor, she whispered, "I don't know what to do."

She sat and thought about the stories Dave had told them. There were entire families hitchhiking, trying to find someplace they could afford to live and work. Even more disturbing were the children that had been abandoned at truck stops by parents who couldn't feed them. At least those that were taken by the state had a chance for shelter and food, but Susan couldn't imagine the despair those parents must have felt to drive away from their own children, not knowing what would happen to them.

With her thoughts spinning around in fruitless circles, she gave up on finding any answers on her own and made her way to the Perkins' apartment. Mrs. Perkins gave her tea and a friendly ear. Finally, when Susan ran out of things to say, her hostess spoke, "You never talk about Danny's father."

"Oh. Well, it all happened so long ago, I don't think about Ryan much. When Danny was little, my husband killed himself. He wasn't a bad man; he just couldn't cope. We lived in California and one day he walked into the ocean. Danny doesn't remember him."

"What about his family? His parents?"

"I haven't seen or heard from them in fifteen years. They blamed me for his death." Susan sat lost in long ago, sad memories. "Do you recall a movie where the parents blamed a teacher for their son's suicide? Because, of course, it couldn't have had anything to do with them. That's what it was like with Ryan's family."

Mrs. Perkins nodded, "So, if you have no relationship with them, you have nothing to lose by asking them for help."

"What? They would never help me."

"But maybe they would help their grandson."

"I don't even know if they still live in the same town or if I have their address anymore."

"Swallow your pride. Write them a letter. It can't make things worse."

Susan went back to her apartment and began searching. She dug through the files of bills and receipts. Then she pulled out the photo albums and scrap books; these slowed her down as she flitted backwards through Danny's childhood. Finally, she dug out the boxes from the back of the closet; the ones that held her high school diploma and letters from long forgotten friends. There she found a birthday card to her husband from his parents with the return address still attached. Armed with the address, she sat down at the table and began to write.

Part 7

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 5

Danny leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling while he thought about his best friend's dilemma. Times like these were when he missed talking directly instead of through email. They would be able to bounce ideas off each other; even just venting out loud sometimes helped. 

Dave's family had moved in with his grandmother and, at first, it had worked out fairly well. Now, though, two more families had joined them. His sister had to share a bedroom with four other girls while he slept in the living room with his six male cousins. This meant they couldn't get to sleep until all the adults turned in for the night, but with none of them having to get up for work, they tended to stay up late into the night.

Bad as this situation was, a more pressing problem had arisen; Dave suspected one of his uncles was dealing. If caught selling from the house, his grandmother's house could be seized and they would all be homeless.

Danny thought about how Dave's parents would likely react, but was unsure if Dave's dad would stand up to his older brother. Leaning forward, he typed his reply: Tell your mom. 

That evening Danny told his mom about the email. Susan chuckled, "Wise choice. That woman is like a force of nature for what she believes is right. Anything else happen today?"

"Career Day." Danny drew a deep breath, "Listen, Mom, I've been thinking. I know you want me to go to college and it wasn't something I was really interested in, but since Uncle Bill was going to pay for it I was willing to try. Now, though, that's all changed."

"I know. He had to use his savings for medical bills. You understand why I wanted you to go, don't you?"

"Sure. It was so I'd have more options than you did. I get it, but there's something I really want to do instead." Looking her straight in the eye, he continued, "I want to join the Navy."

"Oh! Oh, but..." Susan's brain stopped communicating with her mouth and she ran down.

He waited while she absorbed the information, knowing this was an emotional moment for her. While he had no doubt that she wouldn't try to stop him from making this choice, he really wanted her to be happy about it.

"Why the Navy? I mean, could we live any farther from an ocean?" She raised her hands expressively.

He leaned forward to explain and she watched as his eyes lit up and his face came alive in a way she had never seen before. 'This is it,' she thought to herself. 'This is his passion. What kind of mother would I be if I held him back?'


Spring came and the school year was winding down. With a week left, Danny approached his boss at the pizza place to ask about more hours. 

His boss shook his head, "I'm sorry. You're a good worker and reliable, but I've got family that need the work and they figure I owe them."

Danny narrowed his eyes, then nodded, "I'll make a deal with you; you can call me anytime to fill in when one of them lets you down. But, I want to be bumped up to the shift lead pay-scale."

"No, no. I can't do that unless you were running the shifts."

"Really? Then why is Marv getting it? He's never been lead. In fact, he has yet to do a full shift without screwing up orders."

"I have no control over that. Corporate hired him as shift lead and they won't let me fire him."

"Fine. Cut his hours, send him home whenever he messes up, tell him he's on his final warning. You know he costs more then he contributes."

"I still can't have a sixteen-year-old as shift lead."

"Good thing I'm seventeen now," Danny replied with a smile.

His boss threw his arms up in defeat, "Okay! I'll get you the pay bump. But you better be serious about always being on call. I'm going to make you work for it." Honestly, any other employee he would have let walk, but Danny not only did good work himself, but he somehow influenced his co-workers to do better when he was there. Except for the millstone that was Marv, of course.

When Danny finished cleaning up that evening and was locking the door behind him, he felt a presence standing too close. Whirling around, he put his fists up. "Hey, man! Chill, I'm just looking for any leftovers." The voice had a grating whine.

"The leftovers went home with the workers who have kids at home. There were some burnt breadsticks that ended up in the dumpster at the back, but nothing else gets wasted these days." Danny kept a wary eye on the stranger who muttered as he headed for the alley. 

As he turned to the bike rack, a quiet voice behind him said, "Danny."

Spinning around again, Danny gasped, "Oh my god, Dave? Is it really you?"


Danny pushed his bike while he and Dave walked to the apartment building. It was a dark night with only every third streetlamp lit (another cost saving effort by the city). Dave didn't seem in any hurry to talk, so Danny had to ask, "What happened? Are you okay?"

"No. Yes. I don't know! It's all such a mess." He kicked the curb angrily and turned away. Danny stopped and waited. Finally, shaking his head, Dave came back and resumed talking. "There was this girl, Clarice. She really liked me and we were hanging out a lot. I was showing her how to lift weights and we liked the same games. It was great until my cousin decided I should pay for Mom getting after his dad about the drugs. He started a rumor that I'm a pedo and I like little boys. Clarice won't even look at me anymore and I got beat up twice in the last week."

Pausing to take a ragged breath, he continued in a low voice, "I couldn't take being in the same house with him laughing at me. I punched him once and he pulled a knife on me. I didn't even dare sleep with him there and now that school is finished he's always around. If I had stayed, one of us would have ended up in the hospital."

"What about your parents? Do they know where you are?"

"Yeah, I told them where I was going." He looked embarrassed, "I told them you were expecting me. I just couldn't take one more day of it."

Suddenly, Dave's stomach growled loudly. Danny exclaimed, "Dude! You're going to wake people up with that."

"I haven't had anything to eat for two days."

"Wait a minute; how did you get here?"

"I hitchhiked."

"No way your parents agreed to that!"

"No, I told them I was riding with a friend from school who was heading through here."

Danny frowned as they kept walking; it wasn't like his friend at all to lie like that. He had a feeling a lot more had happened that Dave hadn't told him yet.


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

"Okay, boys, it's time to talk budget," Susan handed papers across the table to each of the young men. "Let me make it clear that I have no problems with Dave staying here. I'm happy to have him, but we will need to do some adjusting financially. 

"Look at the budget sheet and you'll see that what I get from unemployment barely covers the rent and electricity. That's only happening because we cut our electric usage to the bare minimum. It's going to seem extreme to you, Dave, but we don't have a choice. Don't turn a light on unless you have to, only open the fridge long enough to get what you need and underwear and socks get hand-washed, other clothes wait until we can smell them.

"Any money I make from odd jobs plus what Danny brings home has to buy everything else: food, soap, toilet paper, shoes...you get the idea. You probably remember we sold everything of value before you moved away. It's gotten so bad now that the pawn shops are stuffed full of electronics and jewelry. Some of them have stopped taking game systems and televisions. Questions?"

Dave looked horrified, "You can't afford to feed me. I shouldn't have come."

"It's not impossible. I get $97 a month in food stamps and I'll check if you can be counted as part of our family. I do need you to try to get a summer job as soon as possible. Danny still has one week of school so if you can get out there before the local schools are out for the summer, you might have a better chance."

"I stocked shelves at the grocery store last summer; I'll try there today. Then I can talk to the guys Dad worked with and Mom's old church, someone might have ideas."

"Good idea. Please remember to lock the apartment all the time; I had to give up renter's insurance. We may not have much, but I'd hate to lose the food there is." As she started putting away the paperwork, Susan glanced up, "Oh, and tonight I'd appreciate if you could tell us more about your journey and what things are like between the cities."


Part 6