A Second Chance -- Chapter 3

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A Second Chance -- Chapter 3

I have five chapters of this written, so I am going to post daily until the backlog is gone. Hopefully this will allow readers to get into the story easier. The first two chapters have been a bit tumultuous. Until I posted, I had always had the story in one file, and didn't realize how very dark the first chapter was. You will all find the rest of the story more like the second chapter in tone. Cheers: Dawn.

By Dawn Natelle

WEDNESDAY, April 26, 2006

The next morning Rachael was up at 6:30 as a result of having gone to bed early. She showered and stood naked in front of the mirror, looking at her hair. She decided to act as if the tattered look was intentional. She had to cut off a few more locks, and that seemed to even things out … a lot. She told herself that it looked like a $200 hairstylist had cut it. Then she giggled and called herself a liar. But it did look better. Like if the apprentice to the $200 hairstylist had cut it. Just before getting fired. She giggled.

She was dressed and out of the bathroom by 7:15, and went in and woke Bobby. While he was lying in bed fighting consciousness, she went to his closet and chose an outfit for him. It was slightly less nerdy than the stuff he normally wore. When she was done, she announced that if he didn’t go to the bathroom NOW, she would go in there to start doing her makeup, making him wait. That got the boy up and moving.

Rachael headed down to the kitchen, chuckling because she already had done her makeup. She had thought it would take a long time, but found that her memories led her into doing it. At first her memories fought to present a very Goth look. She actually had to steel herself to keep the look more conservative. It did look better on her face, complementing her natural-blonde complexion instead of fighting it, like the Goth makeup had.

Rachael had peanut butter toast and a bowl of cereal for Bobby when he came down, and toast for herself. Rachael normally drank coffee, but now she decided to forego that, although she did brew a cup for her mom, who came down in her nightgown at 7:45 in a panic, expecting to have to get Bobby ready for the 8 a.m. bus. When she saw him putting his dishes into the sink, she let out a sigh of relief. Rachael handed her the cup of coffee.

“I thought I was late,” she said as she took a sip.

“I told you I was going to look after it,” Rachael said, turning to Bobby. “Get your books.”

“I thought yesterday was a dream or something,” Maria said.

“Me too,” Bobby chirped in. “I’m glad it is real. I like the new Rachael.”

“Remember not to take the bus home,” Rachael said. “You and I are going to walk together.”

“Okay,” the boy said. With that Rachael shooed him out the door and walked him down the corner to the bus stop. When she had gotten him on the bus, she headed back to the house. Her bus wouldn’t come for another few minutes.

She got back to find her mom relaxing on the chair, the coffee cup nestled in her hands. As Rachael closed the door behind her, she heard the toaster pop. “Stay, mom,” she ordered. “What do you want on your toast?”

“You don’t have to do that, honey,” Maria said, starting to get up.

“Honey it is,” Rachael called back, giggling.

“I meant … never mind, honey is fine.” Maria wrapped her arms around her daughter who was busily preparing the toast. “You know I love you,” she said.

“Especially when I make your toast and coffee,” Rachael said.

“No, all the time. But it is so nice to have someone do it for me. I wait on people all day long, and I just realized how nice it is for someone to wait on me for a change.”

“Well, I expect a big tip,” Rachael said.

“I think I have a few quarters,” Maria answered.

“Actually, I was thinking like $20.”

“What kind of restaurant is this? I almost never get a tip of over a dollar,” Maria joked.

“Well, I was going shopping after school,” the girl said. “There really isn’t another meal in the house for tonight … and I do NOT want you bringing dinner home. I could make do with $10 if that’s all you have, but with a bit more I can probably get a couple of days worth.”

“I was teasing,” Maria said. “You are looking after Bobby, so I don’t have to pay Mrs. Hubble this week. She bent over to get her purse. At the same instant the belt on her robe fell loose, so that when she stood, she inadvertently flashed her daughter.

Rachael stared at her partially naked mother. “God, you are beautiful,” she said with a whisper. Maria quickly covered herself and belted the robe again, but Rachael couldn’t get the image of her mother’s body out of her mind. Her body looked as good as any Ron had seen in Playboy magazines. Breasts just a bit less than too large, a thin waist and toned, shapely legs. Looking at her mom’s face, Rachael realized that it could pass for 20 instead of 30.

“Good thing Bobby didn’t see that,” Maria said nervously.

“Yeah, you could ruin him for life. At least, in a year or two, when he starts caring about that kind of thing. Tell me, Mom. When did you start to develop? Your breasts are just so … perfect. And mine are so … nothing.”

Maria chuckled. “Well don’t worry sweetie. I was pretty much a nothing before high school too. I blossomed in grade 9. AA to C in the one year, and D then DD the following two years. And then I had you, my high school diploma.”

Memories told her that Maria was ashamed of not having a high school diploma. “You could still get a diploma, Mom,” she said.

“Yeah, like that will ever happen.”

“You are the smartest woman I know,” Rachael retorted, unwilling to let her mother belittle herself again.

“Ha,” she said. “The teachers at your school must not be too bright then.”

“They have degrees and stuff. But not one of them would be able to look after two kids, including a psycho daughter, on the salary you get. I’m so proud to have you as a Mom,” Rachael said, wrapping her arms around her Mom.

“Thanks honey. And I’m proud of you too. And you are not a psycho.”

“Not anymore,” Rachael giggled. “But I was pretty nuts for the last few months. Hey, I’d love to keep this lovefest going, but my bus will be here in a minute. I’ve gotta run.” She picked up the bills Maria had set on the table. As she looked out the door, she saw her bus coming, and literally had to run.

As she did, she felt a slight jiggle on her chest. Maybe she was starting to grow. She tried to imagine what such a jiggle would feel like for her mother. Perhaps she would learn in the future.

She reached the bus just as it got to the stop. “Thanks for hurrying,” the driver said with a sincere smile. Rachael smiled back as she walked midway to the back. She realized that in the past Rachael would have sauntered slowly to the bus, making it wait for her. She sat at the last of the open seats (those with both sides free). She set her bag on the spare seat and looked through the money her mom had given her. There was $30. She put it into the otherwise empty wallet and then looked through her book bag. She was happy to find a class schedule for the term scrunched up at the bottom of her binder. She looked over the courses: History, Math, English, French, and Science or Phys.Ed. On alternate days the order reversed, with Science and Phys.Ed. as double periods on alternate days. As she studied the schedule, her memories told her who each teacher was, where each classroom was, and who the others in the class were. She was astonished to realize that she really didn’t have any friends at the school.

At the next stop, five girls and two guys got in and moved to the cool-kid seats at the back of the bus. One, a pretty red headed girl, snarled at Rachael as she went past. She was Carly Henderson, one of the more popular kids in the school, who seemed to delight at teasing Rachael.

At the last stop only one student got on. It was Michaela Murphy. Michaela was about 30 pounds overweight, and possibly the only student in Grade 8 that was less popular than Rachael. The girl had stringy black hair and the start of what could turn into severe acne in time. She looked down the bus, and saw no seat empty. Correction, no seat not in use. Almost everyone without someone next to them had set their bag on the empty seat, as Rachael had. The girl turned, heading to the front where she knew the driver would make someone clear a seat for her.

“Michaela,” Rachael called, as she moved her bag to her lap. She patted the seat next to her.

“Me?” Michaela mouthed. Rachael nodded as the driver yelled back for the girl to “Sit somewhere.”

Michaela moved to the seat, and practically fell into it as the bus lurched forward.

“Thanks, Rachael,” she said.

“No problem. You can’t have too many friends.”

Michaela hesitated, and then said: “I don’t have any friends.”

“You do now,” Rachael replied.

“Are you serious?” the girl asked with wide eyes.

“Sure, why not. I get tired eating alone at lunch. Join me then?”

“Yeah, sure.”

At this point the bus was at the school, and the two girls managed to get off before the horde at the back were able to push their way through. Sit at the back, but expect all the others to let them off first, Rachael thought. Not all of them were happy about it, and Carly snapped at them as she got off.

“Nerd one and nerd two.” The others in her group laughed. Rachael knew she had to say something or the nicknames would stick.

“I like that sweater,” she said. “Is it new?”

The compliment flummoxed Carly. “Yes it is. Although it isn’t something POOR people could expect to have. It cost $120 at Carithers in the Galleria Mall in London. You probably don’t know where that is,” she said snidely.

“Actually I do know it. I can’t afford to shop there though. It really looks good on you. It’s the perfect color for you. It makes your eyes pop like a TV star.”

“Uh, thanks,” Carly said, walking away somewhat confused. The girls in her posse immediately started gossiping about the new sweater, agreeing with Rachael’s opinion without admitting her input.

“Why did you do that?” Michaela asked as they walked into the school.

“Do what?”

“She insulted you, and you were nice to her.”

“Yeah, I guess I was. That is going to be my new thing. Being nice to people.”

“Like being nice to me. On the bus today?”

“Kinda. But you are easy to be nice to. Girls like that take a bit more work.”

“Well, you seem to be pretty good at it. I like your new look too.”

“My new look?”

“Your makeup. It looks much nicer than your Goth look. Even if you are still dressed partly in black,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks. Why are you smiling so much?” Michaela had the widest grin.

“It’s just nice to have someone to talk to. I’m not real popular at this school.”

“You are looking at it the wrong way,” Rachael said. “You see, if you look at it the right way, we are the popular ones, and all the others are the nerds. They just don’t know it.”

Michaela stopped and stared at her new friend, then started giggling uncontrollably. “You are so funny. I never thought of it that way. I like it.”

With that the two girls entered the school and went their different ways to their lockers, promising to meet up at lunch.

Oh God, Rachael thought as she looked into her locker. Everything was a mess, just thrown in. As a senior in the middle school, she didn’t have to share a locker this year, but she certainly hadn’t taken advantage of the privilege. Books, dirty gym suits and scads of miscellaneous papers and junk were scattered at the bottom of the locker. She picked up the gym suit, a memory telling her that she had skipped the class the past few weeks. The odor of the kit backed that memory up. She next had gym on Thursday, tomorrow. If she was to go, and she intended to, the gym gear would have to be washed tonight. She put it in her bag, hoping its unique odor would not spread to the other things in her bag.

She spent a couple minutes tidying up, collecting quite a pile of papers for the trash, and an astonishing large number of slips from the office that were supposed to have been signed by her mother and returned to the office. Then first bell rang, and she realized that she was going to have to rush to get to English before second bell.

She almost made it. Mrs Cathcart saw her running towards the door, but started to close it. “I’m coming,” she panted, and the elderly teacher stopped with it just barely ajar.

“Really, Rachael,” she said. “I’m surprised that you have decided to join us today. You haven’t for the past few days, have you? Of course, I’m quite certain that you have mastered the parts of speech during your independent study.”

“I’m sorry I have missed, Mrs. Cathcart,” Rachael said as she took an empty seat at the front of the room. “I’ve had a rough time and I really appreciate all you have done to make things easier on me.” That confused the teacher, who really had done nothing except complain to the office about her absences. “I do know a bit about the parts of speech, though.”

“Well then, please enlighten the class,” the teacher smugly said. The class tittered, feeling this was going to be amusing. “Please start with the difference between nouns and verbs and proceed from there.”

Rachael drew on her Ron memories, and started reciting various parts of speech, giving detailed definitions of noun, verb, adjective, adverb, article, conjunction, interjection and was in the middle of a rather detailed explanation of gerunds when the teacher stopped her. The students in class were staring at her open mouthed.

“I don’t know how you did that, but it was impressive,” the teacher said. “We don’t get into gerunds in this course … if fact, I don’t think they are usually taught until university. Please be seated.”

Rachael walked to her seat, and as she did one of the boys near the back started a slow clap. After a few seconds, others in the class picked up on it and soon more than half the class was making the slow clap, to the clear annoyance of Mrs. Cathcart, who rapped her ruler on her desk several times to get the class to stop.

“I don’t know how you do it, Miss Cartright,” she said, “even when you do something right you manage to disrupt my class.” She said it with a smile, though, so Rachael was pretty sure she was not in trouble.

“Now class,” she continued, “your major essay for this term is due tomorrow. It needs to be six pages long, and that is normal-sized handwriting, or better yet, on a computer. Anything about your life or something you know well. Hands up if you are done, or nearly done.”

Less than 10 hands went up. Rachael realized that she couldn’t raise hers … the other Rachael hadn’t even started the paper. “The rest of you had better get working on it tonight. Each student will randomly be asked to read their paper. Don’t count on being chosen to read later in the week. The way she was looking straight at Rachael made the girl fairly certain that the “random” order would include her name on the first day. She needed to be ready with that paper.

The other two classes in the morning went well. Math came up next, and Ron had been a wiz in math until Trig in High School. He had no problems with the long division being covered in Grade 8. And History followed, and that seemed even easier, since Ron had been a history buff. Using Ron-memories, these classes were little more than extended reviews that Rachael used to make sure she wasn’t showing off too much knowledge, like she had in English.

Lunch followed. Rachael made her was to the cafeteria quickly, since her locker was only a few yards from the door. She had a packed lunch and a refillable water bottle that she took into the large room. Looking around, her memories told her where not to sit. Over there was where the jocks and cheerleader sat. The nerd table. The kiddie tables for the younger grades. The Goth table, where she used to sit along with all the other sullen outsiders. She chose a seat at the end of the nerd table. The boys who sat there might not like it, but they weren’t likely to say anything. She felt that she needed to break away from the whole Goth thing. None of those kids had really been her friend … they more or less had just tolerated her moody behaviour.

Michaela came over, carrying a tray. “Are we eating here? Did you still want to eat with me? I can go somewhere else.”

“Sit down,” Rachael said with a smile. “You have to get your self confidence up, girl. This is the headquarters for the new cool kids of Ainsborough Middle School.”

Michaela looked confused, then remembered the conversation they had walking into the school. “Oh yeah, the whole new cool kids thing.”

“Yeah, but some of the cool kids have food that is clearly uncool.” Rachael looked at Michaela’s tray. “Tonight we are being served mystery meat, floating on a greasy layer of mystery sauce. Similar to gravy, in some strange and eerie ways. Large scoops of white stuff, trying and failing to meet the grade as mashed potatoes. Mushy orange cubes. Diced carrots, or merely a science experiment gone bad? To be swilled down by 6 ounces of cow juices, trapped in an impenetrable cardboard container. Yum for you.”

“Yuck,” the chubby girl said laughing aloud at the colourful description. “What do you ha …” She looked up at five or six nerd boys standing near the table, looking confused at actual girls sitting at the table they normally sat at.

“Sit down boys,” Rachael said cheerfully. “I can promise that Michaela and I have both been tested for girl cooties, and neither of us are carriers. You can sit at the end of the table and talk about Star Wars vs. Star Trek, or you can sit here with us and carry on an intelligent conversation with us about important world events, like Care Bears and Barbie’s Dream House.”

Most of the boys headed towards the end of the bench, but a short, tanned guy with more than a little acne put his tray down next to Rachael’s. The other boys drifted back, although none of them took the first seat next to Michaela.

“You’re funny,” the brave boy said to Rachael.

“Why thank you, Sir Robert. This fair damsel is honoured by your gallantry.”

“You know my name?” he stammered.

“Of course I do. We’ve been going to school for the past seven years in this stupid town. You have been in my class at least half the time. Of course I know your name. Robert Jackson. And your fellow knights are Neal, George, Jerome and Bill. I don’t know the other lad though.”

“Tony DaSilva. He is new to the school this year.”

“Please to meet you Sir Antonio,” Rachael said. “I am Rachael Cartwright, queen of this colony, and this fair maiden is the lovely Michaela Stoner, my lady in waiting, who I was just showing what real food looks like.”

Rachael opened the jam sandwich she made the night before, along with carrot and celery sticks. “Notice that all ingredients are actually food, although the jam itself could be somewhat suspect.”

Most of the others had cafeteria food. “I used to wish that I could afford to buy food here,” Rachael noted. “But when I see it up close it becomes apparent that there are benefits to being poor.”

The group chatted through the meal, with the girls explaining Rachael’s theory that they were really the new popular group at the school, and that the A-list were actually the nerds. As they laughed and giggled about this, one of the boys noted someone coming towards them from the A-list table. It was Sean Hunt, the boy who had started the slow clap in English.

“Do you think he heard us,” one of the boys said nervously.

“Which of yon knights will defend me from this interloper,” Rachael intoned. The boys pretty much all looked away.

“Hey, Rachael,” Sean said.

“Yes?” Robert stood up. Sean glanced at him, and then focussed back on Rachael.

“That was pretty cool what you did in English today. You really set old Cathcart back on her ass. How did you do it?”

“Do what? You mean explaining parts of speech? It is just something I know.”

“Yeah, but how? We haven’t ever taken some of that stuff.”

“I read. You learn stuff that way.”

“You mean like books?”

“Yeah, exactly like books.”

“I didn’t think people read books anymore. What with the Internet and all.”

“I don’t have Internet at home,” Rachael explained. “So I read books.”

“Wow. So then you won’t know that you are a YouTube star.”

“No. Wait … What?”

“Lucy Davners filmed your little show on her cell. She thought … heck, we all thought you were going to get all messed up when Cathcart called on you. But your schtick was amazing, and Lucy posted it on the net during Math class. I think there are already 5000 hits.”

“Oh. Did it make Mrs. Cathcart look bad?”

“Oh, totally. Look, I just wanted to tell you it was cool, what you did.”

Rachael gulped as Sean walked back to his group at the cool table. This might be a problem.

She stood up. “I must leave, fair knights. Note how the new nerds have started coming to us in supplication. And you Sir Robert … I noticed how of all my knights, it was you who stood to defend me.”

Robert had only sat down again when Sean had left. Rachael bent over and kissed him on the top of the head, and headed out of the cafeteria. A few steps later she heard Michaela call.

“Wait up.”

“Are you finished?” Rachael asked.

“Enough. After you made it sound so appetizing. I think I will bring a sandwich tomorrow too. Where are you going?”

“To the library. I need to see that video.”

“Can I come? It was cool at lunch. I didn’t think there would be guys … even if none of them would sit next to me.”

“Well they were terrified of you.”

“I was terrified of them,” she said. “But Robert sat next to you.”

“Yeah, Robert is cool.”

“He is almost in shock right now, after you kissed him.”

“I didn’t kiss him,” Rachael said. “Just a peck on the top of the head. It wasn’t even on skin, let alone his lips.”

“Doesn’t matter, he looked like he went into shock. And the other guys were all staring. That’s kinda why I wanted to come with you. I dunno if I could stay with just guys.”

“They won’t bite you,” Rachael said. “So Robert is mine. Which one do you want?”

“Me? A boy? Oh, oh, no. I couldn’t. I mean … No, no.” Michaela stammered. “Well, Tony was cute. But he’d never …”

“Oh, he will. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day, in one world, as God is my witness, you will date Tony DaSilva.”

Michaela was silent for the last few steps into the library, where they quickly found a free computer with Internet. They quickly went to YouTube and started to search for the video. It took a few minutes to find it … apparently Lucy has spelled her clever title of Gerund Stuff as Jerund Stuff.

“Oh my God, look,” Michaela said as they played the presentation. “It’s at 250,000 hits. It’s going viral.”

On viewing the recording Rachael didn’t think it actually made the teacher look bad. She was more concerned about her own appearance. The lighting was horrible and the camera jumpy, but she actually thought she looked okay. The spiky black hair actually looked better, framing her face nicely, although she could see her blonde roots coming through. They didn’t look bad in a mirror, but on the video, when she bent her head down, they really showed. But the subdued makeup made her look much prettier than she was, and far better than a Goth look would have.

“We have to tell Mrs. Cathcart about this,” Rachael said as the video ended. “It is only fair. It is her class.”

The girls headed off to the staff room, where they tapped on the door to get Mrs. Cathcart to come out. Rachael quickly explained that the video was up, that it was not her idea, and that Lucy was the one to contact to take it down. The teacher clearly hadn’t heard of the video yet, and thanked Rachael for notifying her.

By the time that was over, it was time to rush off to the first afternoon class, a double period of Science. On alternate days this was a double period of Phys. Ed. Again, class was boring more than exciting as Grade 8 science matters were discussed. The fact that it was nearly 2 hours instead of 1 just made it worse.

French class ended the day. That was interesting, since Ron had been completely bilingual, having spent five years working as a reporter on a Quebec weekly newspaper in the late 1970s before going back to university to take his Veterinary degree. Rachael, on the other hand, had spent no time at all working on her French, and had tended to drift aimlessly through class. Today, however, she participated fully, much to the amazement of Mme. Lafleur. At the end of class Rachael had a long conversation with the teacher, explaining her desire to turn her schoolwork around. Of course, she spoke entirely in French throughout, and started to realize that her French was probably better than the teacher’s.

She left the school a few minutes later, and found Michaela waiting for her at her locker.

“Oh, Michaela. Sorry. I didn’t tell you. I’m walking home. I have to pick up my brother at Wislow Public.”

“That’s okay,” Michaela said, although her face was painted in disappointment. “Will you ride in tomorrow?”

“I’ll save you a seat,” Rachael promised as the other girl hurried off for the bus.

The two schools were on the same block of land, but the school ending times were different, to prevent congestion by busses and cars picking up students, as well as minimizing bullying. Thus Rachael had a short wait on the bench outside Wislow. She used the time to start writing an outline for her English assignment, since she had finished the homework in most of the other classes during class time, or to prevent boredom in the following class.

When the bell rang, it was only a minute or two before a stream of students exited the school. Bobby was in the middle of the pack, and his face lit up when he saw his sister waiting.

“How come we are walking, Rachael?” he asked as they started down the road.

“We both need the exercise, and we have to pick up food for dinner.”

“Cookies? I’m hungry.”

“You are always hungry. You are like a bottomless pit.”

“Yeah, I am. What’s a bottomless pit?”

“Hmm. It is a saying people have. I think it comes from how, when there is a very deep hole, you drop a stone into it and it takes a long time till you hear a splash or clunk when the stone hits the bottom or water.”

“I’m not a bottomless pit.”

“No, but your stomach is like one. We can never fill it up.”

“But I get filled up a lot. I just get hungry again later.”

Rachael had to laugh. “You are right. It doesn’t fit you. You are more like a conveyor belt. We just have to keep putting food on it for you to keep eating.”

“Cool,” Bobby said, and for the next block he made noises imitating a conveyor belt. This took them to a secondary commercial district with a half dozen shops and businesses, half of them empty. Ron-memories told him that a developer had bought up the houses along here 6 years ago and built a strip plaza with a half dozen storefronts with apartments over them. He had gone bankrupt just after finishing the building, owing the city a large amount for fees and back taxes. It had taken several years, but the city finally got ownership of the property. They had planned on putting a library branch into the area, and used one of the store units for it, renovating the apartment above into offices and a meeting room. The other units were put up for rent, and after a year of sitting empty a business incubator model was started where low rents would allow new businesses to get established. This seemed to be effective, as two more stores had been rented since the program started in January, with others to come.

The first unit Rachael took them into was a fruit and vegetable market that offered a limited arrangement of groceries. Rachael had been expecting a full grocery store here, but was happy to be able to stock up on salad fixings that would be much fresher than a small grocery. She showed Bobby how to pick out good vegetables, and then let him make the choices. In a half hour they had filled several sacks and Rachael let Bobby pick out an apple as a snack. As well as fruits and vegetables, there were spices, pasta, deli meats and other grocery items that Rachael needed. She decided she could get almost everything here.

At the counter the Italian woman who priced her purchases wore a tag reading Anna DaSilva.

“Pardon?” Rachael asked. “Is your son Tony DaSilva?”

“Si, si,” the woman said in heavily accented English. “Ma Bambino.”

“He is in my class at school,” Rachael said. “He is very nice.”

The woman had poor English, except with numbers, and totalled the bill to $27.13, nearly all Rachael had. But then she only took $25, saying there was a discount for “familia”. Rachael hoped that the woman didn’t think she was dating Tony. She realized she hadn’t even heard the boy speak today.

“What’s this place?” Bobby asked as they went into the library branch.

“This is a library. Not the big one. That is downtown. But this one is close to home, and we can get books here. Don’t start your apple yet. You don’t want to get the books dirty.”

“Do you have enough money to buy a book?” Bobby asked.

“I don’t. The books here are free. We can borrow them for a week or two, then bring them back and get new ones.”

“Wow. What are we going to get?”

“I’m going to get one called Harry Potter. You can pick out one yourself.”

Rachael took them in, and showed Bobby the kids section while she went to get a library card. With her school card, she was able to get an account set up, and found the first volume of Harry Potter. She then gathered up her brother, who had five children’s picture books spread out around him, trying to decide.

Rachael watched him trying to choose the best book and finally said: “The lady says we can take out six books at a time. I have one, so you can take all five of those.”

Bobby’s eyes got wide. “All of them? For free?”

“They are free if we take care of them, and bring them back just as they are. If we damage them, then we have to pay for them, and you know Mama can’t afford the cost. Can you take care of them?”

“Yes. Oh, yes. I will be so careful. Please can we take them. All of them?” It was the first time in the young boy’s life when he was able to sate all his desires without having to make a choice. He looked like he was in heaven.

With the books packed into the two backpacks, they then went into the bakery two doors down. This nearly drove Bobby wild, since it was full of cookies and pastries, as well as the bread that Rachael wanted. She reached for a loaf of multigrain bread, but a hand came out from behind the rack, and a man dressed all in white took the one she had and put another into her hands. She could feel the softness of the second loaf, and realized that it was fresher. She wound up with a dollar change from the $30 her mother had given her. She used that to get two cookies while Bobby was drooling over pastries at another counter. The woman clerk put the cookies into the bread bag just before Bobby came back.

“Rachael, can I get a cookie?” he begged, using his biggest puppy dog eyes.

“Sorry Tiger, I just spent my last dollar,” Rachael said, winking at the elderly bakery clerk so she wouldn’t say anything. “Besides, you have an apple. You don’t need a cookie.”

“Awww,” the boy said sadly. It wasn’t the first time he had been told they couldn’t afford something he wanted, so he stoically followed Rachael out of the store.

“Are we done yet? I’m getting tired.” Bobby complained.

“I hope not. It’s a long walk to the house.”

“We should have taken the bus.”

“Don’t complain. The bus doesn’t stop for stores. Is that a good apple.”

“The best apple ever,” Bobby said enthusiastically. “Juicy and sweet and it is filling up the bottomless pit.

“Home now?” Bobby asked.

“Home now,” his sister replied.

It was about a 12-block walk, and about three blocks in Bobby was starting to complain about being tired. Rachael encouraged the boy, who was not used to exercise. About six blocks in Rachael wound up carrying all the bags, and near the middle of the next block Bobby finally flung his apple core in frustration and plopped down on the grass next to the sidewalk.

“Bobby, what did you do?” Rachael rebuked her brother.

“I finished it. I’m soooo tired,” he whined.

“I don’t care, you don’t throw your garbage on someone’s lawn. Go get it. We’ll put it into one of the sacks.”

“I don’t want to.”

“I don’t care. Do you want me to leave you here? Do you know the way home from here? Won’t you be scared all alone?”

The boy looked around, and realized that he didn’t know the street, or his way home. “Oh all right,” he said, slowly getting to his feet. “Look, there is an old man on the porch. Let’s just go.”

“No. You have to get that apple core, and apologise to the man. Don’t worry. I’ll come with you.”

They approached the house, and Bobby found his apple core in the middle of the lawn which was somewhat ragged looking, at least two weeks late for being mowed. “Sorry for throwing it,” he said to the man. “I was tired and didn’t think.”

“Zat is okay,” the man said. To Rachael he seemed old, and even her Ron-eyes realized that he was far more than the 65 Ron had been. Perhaps in his 80s? “If you are tired, perhaps you could rest here. Your sister, she has quite a load.”

“It’s just groceries,” Rachael said, but I could use a bit of a rest, and Bobby is tired. “I am Rachael Cartwright. I live with my mom, Maria, and Bobby, about three blocks down the street. We picked up groceries after school.”

“Bon, bon,” the man said. “Tell le garcon petit not to worry. I remember stealing apples from the orchard out here before the war, when I was his age. My name est Pierre Verdun, and I am pleased to meet you, Rachael and Bobby.”

“You were in the war?” Bobby asked. War was one of his current interests.

Oui, oui, ” Mr. Verdun said. “Just a private in the Vingt Deux. I was one of the lucky ones at Dieppe, and then came back to France a few days after D-Day.”

“Did you kill anybody,” Bobby asked.

“Bobby. That isn’t a nice thing to ask,” Rachael said in a shocked voice.

“It is all right,” Mr. Verdun said. “It used to bother me. A lot. But now, I think it is important that the young ones like you two should learn about the war. There aren’t many of us left. But oui, mon jeune fils I have killed Nazis. I am not proud of it, but it was a job that had to be done.”

They chatted for another 10 minutes, and then Rachael had to beg off to get home and start dinner.

“You are tres welcome to visit again,” the man said hopefully. “It makes me feel young to talk to young people again. I don’t see many. If you find yourself walking along again, feel free to stop and rest here, whether I am here or not.”

“Thank you sir,” Rachael said and stepped up on the porch to kiss the man on the cheeks, French style. “And thank you for all you did in the war to make Canada safe for us.”

Merci, my dear. That makes it worthwhile, to know that the young ones still care. I hope to see you again.”

“I think you will,” she said as she picked up her bags. Bobby took his again, wanting to look brave in front of the old soldier. He even carried it the rest of the way home. His vivid imagination turned the rest of the walk into an army march with full pack, similar to the ones Mr. Verdun had mentioned in their chat. He was clearly enamoured by the old gentleman. He also didn’t complain once on the rest of the way home.

“I’m tired,” he finally admitted when he got into the house, and sprawled on the sofa. Rachael got his library books out. You read these and I will make dinner. I think we just have enough time before Mama gets home. First I have to get another load in the laundry.”

“I have to make the salad,” Bobby insisted. “I bought the stuff for it.”

“Okay, let me chop everything up while you read, and I’ll call you to put it together. We are having spaghetti tonight. I won’t put the pasta in until Mom gets here so it doesn’t over cook. I wish I had time to make a sauce, but I think we will have to make due with canned stuff today. Maybe on the weekend we will have home-cooked sauce.”

“Spaghetti and meatballs,” Bobby cheered.

“No meatballs. We had meat last night. But we do have cheese for it, and this nice bread. I think it will make a good dinner for us. Did you like the sandwich I made for your lunch today?”

“It was yummy,” Bobby said. “Best jam sandwich ever.”

“Go read, you silly thing,” Rachael said, tousling his hair. “Tomorrow’s will be better, because we have better bread.”

It didn’t take long for Rachael to make the salad (Bobby tossed the ingredients, so he could claim to have ‘made it’), and start heating the canned sauce. She had a pot of water boiling, and dumped in a half package of pasta when she heard her mother coming up the steps. She opened the door and gave her weary-looking mother a hug.

“Oh good,” Maria said. “I was worried that you two would be fighting by now. And is Bobby reading? I really didn’t think this walking thing would work out. And dinner is ready too?”

“Yeah Mommy, it was fun. We went to the store and I got an apple. Then we went to the library, where we got free books, but I have to look after them nice so we can get some more next time. And the bakery, that had cookies and great smelling stuff, but we didn’t have enough money except for bread. And the walk home was too long, but we stopped and met a War Hero, and he was super nice and told me stories about the war. Then we had a long walk home, and I didn’t complain a bit so I can tell the War Hero I was brave like him. He is a War Hero, isn’t he, Rachael.”

Maria and Rachael listed to the boy’s speech with amazement. Bobby usually wasn’t that talkative.

“Yes Bobby,” Rachael said. “He was a real war hero. All those brave men were heroes, and we owe them all so much. I think today we should say a prayer for all of them.”

“What’s a prayer,” Bobby said.

“It’s the way we thank God for all He has done for us. And after meeting Mr. Verdun today, I feel like there is a lot we need to say to Him.”

With that the three of them sat down around the tiny table and held hands as Rachael said:

“Thank you Lord, for the meal we are about to have. For our health when so many others are ill. For having food, and this fine house and good schools to go to and a good job for Mother. And thank you for having men like Mr. Verdun who did so much for us, and for the many, many men who didn’t come home, and for the men who came home broken, some in mind, some in body. May their souls all live with you in Heaven. Amen.”

At the end of the prayer both Maria and Rachael were in tears, and Bobby was confused. While Rachael, after wiping away her tears, served the salad, the boy asked his mother: “Why do we pray if it makes you cry.”

“We cried because … well, because what we said was so important.” Maria said. “I haven’t been very religious lately, but right now I am so thankful for what I have. Such a great daughter and a fine son. Amen.”

“I need to pray too,” Bobby decided. “Thank you Jesus, for giving me the bestest, prettiest Mom in the whole World, and the best sister any boy ever got. Aye-man.”

“Oh look, my prayer worked too. Everybody is crying again.”

It was a weepy salad and when it was finished (many compliments from Maria to Bobby on his preparation, and he chattily explaining to his mother how one selected vegetables) the pasta was ready.

Maria and Rachael had one helping of pasta each, while Bobby put away three. And he had a slice of the multigrain bread, pronouncing it “The Best Bread Ever”. Rachael explained about the nice baker who had given her the bread.

“He was pretty cute,” she told her mother.

“Rachael,” Maria sounded shocked. “You are only 13.”

“Not for me, Momma. He is your age. I think you should try to meet him.”

“ME!? I am a mother. I don’t go around dating young men.”

“He is probably your age,” Rachael said. “He looked about 35. You are 30, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t need your help in finding dates.”

“I dunno. How many have you had finding them yourself,” the teen retorted.

“Touche,” Maria said. “But I’ll start dating when I feel ready. It’s just with my hours … and I am so tired when I get home. Although with you looking after Bobby, and making meals, and doing the shopping: it takes a lot off my shoulders.”

“We are a family. A team. We need to work together. We can do anything if we work together.”

Bobby cleared the table without being asked, and Maria and Rachael washed and dried the dishes. After they were finished, they found Bobby reading his library books again, and Rachael sat down next to him in the big chair.

Rachael had Bobby read to her, and learned to her astonishment that the boy could barely read. He tended to use his wild imagination to make up a story about the pictures in the book, without looking at the words. Rachael convinced him to slow down, and soon had the boy sounding out the words. They spent over an hour nestled together in the big old chair, and by the end of the hour, Bobby was already reading markedly better.

“Off to bed you,” Rachael finally said. “If you are in bed in three minutes, I will read you a story.”

“This one,” Bobby said, holding up his favourite of all his books.

“Nope. My book,” Rachael said, pulling out the Harry Potter.

“There are no pictures in that one,” Bobby complained.

“There will be a lot of pictures. They come from up here,” Rachael said, touching her brother’s head. “Wait and see.”

“Ok,” he said sceptically, and then dashed off to his room.

Rachael read Harry Potter to Bobby for a half hour, until the boy was fighting to keep his eyes open. “That’s enough for now, Tiger,” she said softly.

“But I want more … you were right, there are so many pictures in my head.”

“That is how you know when a book is good. When there are pictures in your head,” Rachael said. “We will read more tomorrow.”

“I love you Rachael,” were the last words the boy said as he fell asleep.

“I love you too, Bobby,” she whispered as she left the room, even though it was more to herself than him. He was sound asleep.

When she got downstairs, Rachael saw that Maria was also asleep on the couch. She thought about just getting a blanket to cover her, but she knew that the old couch was lumpy and not fit for sleeping on. Instead she nudged her mom.

“Wha … oh Rachael,” Maria said sleepily. “I just had the nicest dream. A rich man … I think it was your baker … swept us all away to live in a big castle down by the lake.”

Rachael laughed. “My baker probably works as hard as you do. And I bet that we are happier than the rich people. I know some of the girls at school have more money than brains, and I bet it doesn’t make them happy like simple things do. Bobby is thrilled to get an apple to eat, and he didn’t make a scene or anything when I told him we couldn’t afford cookies or pastries at that bakery. And oh, Mom, the smells in that place were incredible.”

“I know you and Bobby want to lose weight,” Maria said. “But he needs a treat now and then.”

“I know. I used our last dollar to get two cookies. One for lunch tomorrow, and one for Friday. A surprise. And that reminds me, I have to make his lunch. And mine.”

“I can do that,” Maria said.

“I want to,” Rachael said.

“Okay, but I will help,” Maria insisted. “What do you want me to do?”

“Slice up about 40 carrot sticks, and 20 celery sticks. I’ll make his sandwich. Jam is all he will eat.”

“Rachael, where did all this food come from? I only gave you $30.”

“And I spent it all. There is more in the cupboard. We will have Chicken Fingers tomorrow, and spaghetti again on Saturday. Tonight’s dinner only cost $8 for the three of us. Saturday will be a bit more, because I bought hamburger for meatballs.”

“Three meals for three people for $30. You are hired as the household shopper.”

“It looks like we will need another loaf of bread tomorrow. There will only be enough of this for toast with breakfast tomorrow. Can I get $5. That will be enough for an apple for Bobby, and more bread. It is easier for him to resist the goodies in the bakery if he has an apple in his hand.”

When Maria finished cutting, she saw that her daughter had a cookie sheet on the burner, and had opened a bag of chocolate chips and had placed them on the pan. She took each carrot and celery stick and stuck the melted side of the chip onto one end.”

“What are you doing, honey?”

“I am making him soldiers. With chocolate chip helmets. After meeting Mr. Verdun, he is war crazy. He will love these.”

“He will. You are so imaginative.”

“He told me on the way home that tomorrow is pizza day at school. I hope this will ease his disappointment for not being able to buy some.”

“Don’t be silly. I can afford $5 to buy my son pizza,” Maria said. She opened her pocketbook from her purse and then her face fell. “Oh, maybe I can’t. This is my last $5. I get paid tomorrow, but this will have to last us. I guess we really need to get bread, don’t we.”

“Don’t cry, mom,” Rachael said, putting her arms around her mom. “You do so much for us. Bobby didn’t even ask for money for the pizza. He knows we can’t afford it.”

“But I feel like such a loser. I can’t even buy my kids food.”

“You do buy us food. We are never hungry. We are never cold. And we know that we are never, ever not loved.”

“I don’t know,” Maria said tentatively. “Maybe I should take that other job.”

“What job is that?”

“Well, about nine months ago Sandra Wilson left the café and took a job at the strip club at the edge of town. She says that she makes $15 an hour, and averages $300 a night in tips.”

“Wasn’t Sandra that skinny red head?”

“Yes, but she isn’t skinny anymore. She used the tips from the first few months to get boob implants. Her tips went from $100 a night to $300.”

Rachael had a giggle fit, and Maria looked at her quizzically. “What?”

“I was just thinking of you after a boob job. You’d be humongous. “

“Well I wouldn’t need that,” Maria said. “But with that kind of money we could afford … well, stuff. For you and Bobby.”

“How would you get to work? There is no bus out there, is there?”

“No. I’d have to get a car. But I wouldn’t be able to afford one. I guess it would be taxis at first until I could afford a down payment. And it will be nights only, so I would only see you kids a couple days a week.”

“And do you want to work in a place where women take off their clothes for men?” Rachael asked.

“Not really, but for you kids …”

“Well stop right now,” Rachael ordered. “Do you think Bobby and I want to be known as the kids with the mom at the strip bar. The fact you aren’t a dancer won’t matter to most people. You will be thought of the same way. And if I am as lucky enough to inherit your body, then all the boys in high school will be teasing me about when I will become a stripper. Is that the career path you want to put me on?”

“Oh God no,” Maria said. “I never thought of it that way. It is just that I’m getting tired of having no money.”

“We have enough. Don’t sell our self-respect for more money.”

“You are such a sweet girl, Rachael,” Maria sobbed. “What would I ever do without you?” The pair hugged again, and Rachael went up to her room to finish off her English paper before going to bed. Luckily, as a former newspaper writer she was able to write quickly, noting that her handwriting was smaller and neater than Ron’s had ever been.

An hour later she felt she had an acceptable paper, hoping it was what the teacher was looking for, and she knelt down to pray again.

Dear Lord

I think it was a good day. I’m pretty sure I made a friend, and it seems that Michaela needed one. I tried to be nice to the ones who don’t like me. I surprised them a bit. It is easy when you don’t have the teen angst that all the rest of the kids have. I guess Rachael was shy before, most teens are. But with all the years behind me, I know that isn’t important. Let’s hope tomorrow makes a better day. Let me know somehow if I am doing wrong, or not doing enough. I’m trying, but I can try harder if I need to.

Amen

Rachael again felt the warmth flowing over her that told her that her message had been received.



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