A Second Chance -- Chapter 22

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

So I promised no new story till Wednesday. I lied. Sometimes a writer’s got to write (and there will be another one tomorrow): Dawn.

MONDAY, May 15, 2016

The minute Mikki got on the bus, Rachael gave her the good news: “We’ve got a new house.”

“What? Where? I thought you were getting an apartment.”

“Grandpa’s house. He wants us to move in with him,” the excited girl said. “They were going to make him move to a seniors’ home, because there is no one to look after him. But we will be there, and that means he can stay.”

“It is a bigger house than you have now, and only a few blocks further away from mine. We can still be friends.”

“Mikki, you know better than that. We are BFFs. No matter where I move, you will always be my friend.”

“Thanks Rach. That means so much to me. I have lots of friends now, but for a while you were … “ Mikki stopped talking, and stared at the front of the bus.

It was Carly’s stop, and she and Becca were getting on. No sign of Layla today. But it wasn’t the same Carly. Her long hair was cut in a short bob cut, with long bangs that she swept to the left. The bob was uneven, with the front longer than the back, making long points that curled slightly under her chin. It was gorgeous, and fitted her face perfectly.

“I love it,” Rachael said. “I told you before that you looked like a movie star, now you do for sure. Where did you get it done?”

“At Xcuts,” Carly said. “She was setting up on Sunday so I popped in to make an appointment for after she opened, and she said she could do me right then. I’m the first person ever for that salon. Do you really love it?”

“I do. And everyone in the school is going to be so jealous. What does Leon think about it?”

“He hasn’t seen it yet. He liked my hair long. I hope he will like this,” Carly said hesitantly.

“He better,” Rachael said. “’Cause looking like that you can have your pick of all the boys in the school.”

“Yeah, but Leon is the one I pick,” Carly said.

“He will love it,” Mikki said. “How could he not? It looks so glamorous. I have to get my name in for a cut there. How about you, Rach?”

“This hair?” Rachael ran her fingers through her short mop. “I’d like to go back to blonde again, instead of this two-tone Pepe LePew style that is growing in. But there isn’t really enough there to cut. Stupid girl with scissors made sure of that. I certainly couldn’t get any kind of glamorous style like Carly has, or that you could get,” she told Mikki.

Becca also said she wanted to get a cut at the new place, and planned to go in after school. “You can walk with us, that far,” Rachael said. “We go right past there on the way home. How will you get to your house after, though?”

“I can take the city buses,” Becca said. “It is a little long, but will be worth it. I’ll try to get an appointment right after school, if she isn’t busy. Maybe she can do me on the spot, like she did with Carly.”

“I doubt that,” Rachael said. “I bet after everyone sees Carly, more than half the girls in the school will want to get an appointment.”

At school, Carly was the center of attention, to her complete and utter delight. Rachael saw Leon standing just inside the doors and went up to him.

“Just a heads up, Leon,” Rachael told the boy. “Carly got a haircut. You love it. Got it?”

“She cut her hair,” the boy moaned. “I loved her long hair. Why did she do that?”

“Girls do that,” she said. “Get used to it. And if you moan and complain about it, she will be heartbroken. Do you want that?”

“No, of course not.”

“So you love it. If you don’t, say you do anyway. Tell her she looks beautiful, older, more sophisticated, like a movie star. Got it?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it. Thanks for the warning, Rachael. You are the best.”

Morning classes were normal, with French first, and PE following, where Rachael and Larissa’s team of former misfits again won their game against the former best team in the class. The others were ahead at the halfway point, and started trash-talking about how much better they were. But again they were playing only their top six players, leaving four others on the bench. As a result, they tired in the second half and our girls pulled ahead at the end.

At lunch Rachael went around the cafeteria, stopping to see all the kids from the Movie Night. All paid their $2 to go again on Thursday, except for Neal, the artist, who no longer had a date. Rachael’s main goal was to get votes on the movie to be shown. Both Sound of Music, and The Longest Day were options. In the end the boys won out in choosing the war movie. Rachael didn’t mind, and in fact she had voted for it too. And she told the girls that next week the options would be Sound of Music, or West Side Story, so either way they would get a musical love story.

She also had to warn everybody that the movie night would start at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, because the movie was nearly three hours long. There would be no chance for cartoons to preliminaries if they wanted to be cleaned up and out by 10.

After doing her poll, Rachael went to her locker and came back with a Tupperware container, which she dropped in front of Robert, along with a fork. “This is for treating me to such a great time at the farm on Saturday.”

“Thanking you? You practically saved the farm by helping Queenie give birth,” Robert insisted as he opened the container. “You make me cake?”

“Well, it was for the whole family,” Rachael said.

“Aww, she thinks of Robert as part of her family,” Larissa teased.

“Forget that,” Mikki said. “I want to hear about this Queenie person.”

“Queenie is a cow, the queen of our herd. And Rachael was up to her shoulder in helping her along. This cake is really good,” Robert said.

“What do you mean, up to her shoulder?” Mikki persisted.

“Well, Queenie was having trouble. The calf was big, and was in the wrong position, so Rachael and my older brother went in and turned it around,” Robert said, licking the last of the icing off the fork.

“What do you mean went in?” Carly asked.

Mikki got it first. “You mean you had your arm … inside of the cow?”

The others clicked into it, and there was a chorus of Eeewww around the table.

“She needed help,” Rachael said simply. “I just helped. It was JJ who did most of the work.”

“Don’t listen to her, girls,” Robert said. “Rachael is a born farmer. She tamed a wild horse earlier and then rode it bareback. She was going so fast I couldn’t keep up on another horse. With a saddle.”

“Come on guys,” Rachael protested, turning quite red. “It wasn’t that special.”

Right after lunch came History, and it was the first class devoted to the projects. Larissa, Rachael, Carly and Mikki all pulled their desks together and started discussing.

“I have an idea,” Rachael said. “I think Mr. Churchill will go for it. My new Grandpa fought in the war, and got a medal after D-Day. He has some wonderful stories about the war, and I would love to get them recorded. I asked him last night if he would do it, and at first he didn’t want to. But when I said it was to honor the men who didn’t come back, he said he would do it.”

“That sounds better than my idea,” Carly said. “I was thinking about the downtown, and how it changed over the years. Get pictures of Main Street in the past, and comparing it to now.”

“That’s a really good idea too,” Rachael said. “Does anyone else have one?” Neither of the others did. The girls voted, and it was 4-0 for Rachael’s plan.

“We should tell the other idea to Mr. Churchill,” Rachael said. “He might have another group that needs a good idea. Would you mind if someone else used your idea? They would have to put your name in their credits.”

“No, I guess that is all right. I like your idea better, so why worry if someone uses my idea.”

“Excellent. Now listen to this. Grandpa and two other guys from here were together from the war. One is the guy who runs Kings Taxi. Well, the father of the guy who runs it now. The other one died over there, so his name will be on the cenotaph in the town square. We will have Grandpa, wearing his old uniform, stand at the cenotaph and touch the name of the man. It was …”

“George Stiller,” Larissa finished. Rachael turned and stared at her.

“How did you know that?”

“Your grand-pere asked Marc to see if he could find M. Stiller’s grave, and get a photo of it. Marc e-mailed my uncle and he was able to find where it is, and will go out next week to take a picture of it.”

“Oooh, that is perfect. What if, instead of just the photo, we also ask him to get some video. What do you think, Mikki?”

“Those cemeteries are usually rows and rows of tombstones, aren’t they?” Mikki asked. Larissa nodded. “It would be cool if he could get a wide angle shot of like hundreds of stones, and then slowly zoom in on Mr. Stiller’s. I wish I could go and shoot it.”

“I think that airfare to France and back is a bit out of our budget, Mikki. But if Larissa’s oncle can film it for us, it will really add to the picture. Also, don’t let Marc give Grandpa the picture until we are ready to film it. I think it will make tears come to his eyes, and make a really moving scene.”

“The only other idea I have is to have a close up of the Victoria Cross at the end of the movie, when the credits with all our names roll by.”

“And where do you expect to get a Victoria Cross medal, girls?” Everyone jumped, not realizing that Mr. Churchill had been listening to them.

“My Grandpa has one,” Rachael said.

“I don’t know of any Cartrights winning the Victoria Cross,” the teacher said smugly. Perhaps you are mistaken, or your Grandpa is stretching the truth. In fact, at your age it would probably be a great-grandpa if he was in World War Two.”

“His name is Pierre Verdun. He served with the Vingt Deux and was awarded the Victoria Cross by the king, shortly after D-Day,” Rachael said.

“Let me see,” Mr. Churchill said, and he went to his teacher’s computer and started to search.

He came back, sheepishly apologizing to Rachael for not believing her. “He is listed in Wikipedia. Sgt. Pierre Verdun of Ingersoll, Ontario. I didn’t know we had a VC recipient in town.” He paused nervously. “You don’t think I could see the medal, do you. To be able to touch a Victoria’s Cross would be such an honor.”

“Maybe, or you could show up when we film it,” Rachael said. “So our project is okay?”

“Definitely. It sounds like you girls are well on the way. Some of the other groups haven’t started yet.”

“Well, we had a second good idea,” Rachael explained Carly’s idea.

“That is also an excellent one,” Mr. Churchill said. “I will offer it to one of the boys groups.”

“Leons?” Carly said.

“That was the group I was thinking of,” the teacher said.

“Just make sure that they know that they have to put Carly’s name in the credits,” Rachael insisted.

“I will, and I will make note of it in my notes. Carly will get credit for it, although something tells me that you are all going to get top marks if you pull off your movie.”

And finally, after a dull Math class, the group was surprised when Mrs. Cathcart in English noted that she also had completed the required work. She asked the class if they wanted to make the History film project an English project as well. She would mark the films for proper use or English, while Mr. Churchill would mark for content.

No one in the class objected. After all, making one project and having it marked twice was like getting a free period. She did require a written prospectus about their project for Friday from each group. Rachael’s group practically had one done, with the description that she had given the others making a rough prospective. She volunteered to clean it up by Thursday, so the others could approve of it for their presentation.

School was finally out, and Rachael, Larissa and Mikki went over to pick up Bobby and Marc. Then they headed towards the shops. Rachael asked the other girls if they would mind if she didn’t come all the way home with them. She wanted to stop in at the bakery for a few minutes. She asked them to say Hi to Grandpa if he was out when they went by, and warn him that Bobby and her would be a bit late today, but would stop in to see him.

When they got to the shops, there seemed to be a huge jam of people at Xcuts. Looking closely, Rachael saw that most of them were girls from the school. Carly’s hair cut had led to a swarm of girls wanting to get appointments.

“You can’t get an appointment today,” one of the girls standing outside the shop said. “She is totally booked up.”

The girls went in anyway, after Rachael took Marc and Bobby to the bakery. They could play on his flour ‘fort’ for a few minutes without getting bored. Geoff was probably gone.

Inside the tiny shop there were at least 20 girls standing at the counter, and another four sitting on chairs, smug in the knowledge that they would get a cut today.

The hairstylist, Carly had said she was Ariel something, was working on one girl’s hair, but looked up and said: “Sorry girls, I can’t help you for a few minutes. I can’t jump up to the counter when I’m doing a cut. It’s going to be at least another 15 minutes, and all these other girls are ahead of you. It will probably be a half hour before I can book you in for something in about a week.”

“No problem,” Larissa said. “We just wanted to peek in and look around. We can come back when you are less busy.”

“Are you in high school?” Ariel said. “I could use someone to take appointments for me.”

“No, Not until next year,” Larissa said.

“Damn, worth asking though,” Ariel said before turning back to clipping hair.

“Mikki, you’ve done appointment booking for your dad’s photo shoots, haven’t you. Could you do this?” Rachael turned the appointment book and they looked into it.

“Yes, it is pretty simple. Name, time, task, and phone number. I could do that. But I’m not old enough.”

“You could volunteer and do it for free,” Rachael suggested. “It would be good experience, and you might get a free styling out of it.”

“Okay. What should I do?”

“Miss. My friend here is experienced in appointments. She is only 13 too, but is willing to do it on a voluntary basis for today, since you are so busy. She could shout out what people want, and you could tell her how much time it will take.”

Ariel looked up. People had already left the line, and as a new business she wanted to make sure more people didn’t walk out. “Okay, let’s try this.”

Mikki moved to the other side of the counter, and asked the first girl in line what she wanted. “Just a shampoo and cut,” the girl said.

“Shampoo and cut,” Mikki called out.

“Forty minutes,” Ariel replied. Mikki took the girl’s name, and found an opening on Wednesday for her.

“How much time between appointments. For clean-up and prep,” Mikki called.

“Wow. Someone who knows her business,” Ariel said. “Five minutes.”

Rachael watched her friend set up another three appointments, and several of the girls who were loitering outside came back in when they saw people were starting to come out with appointments. Rachael also slipped out, and went to the bakery.

Geoff was still there, working on the computer. It was in a niche in the front, so that the flour that was always drifting around in the back wouldn’t clog up the works. “You, mister,” Rachael ordered,” should be upstairs in your bed.”

“Yes, go to bed,” Maria echoed from the counter.

Geoff got an exasperated look on his face. “Now there are two Cartright women nagging me. I just need to get this order in before I go. All done now.”

“Did you know that your new neighbor opened up next door?” Rachael said. “The beauty parlor opened today.”

“I saw the new window this morning,” Maria said. “It is really impressive.”

Geoff tousled his flour-covered hair. “Do you think I need a trim?”

“I don’t think she does men,” Rachael replied. “But I was thinking that you might want to make her a little platter of treats to welcome her to the area.”

“What a great idea. Maria, can you make a platter up of the left-over pastries. Maybe some cookies and brownies too. I’ll take it right over.”

“No, you are going to bed. I’ll take it over, and Rachael can watch the store.”

“Okay, okay. I’m going. I’m going.” After he left Rachael asked her mom if there were any cold cuts in the fridge.

“Yes. Geoff keeps some in there to make his lunch, when I can get him to eat. I think there is a part loaf of seven-grain in there too, and some lettuce. He’s starting to buy from DaSilva’s after I told him how good they were.”

“Do you think he would mind if I borrowed some? Mikki is working for Ariel, the salon lady, and they both will be getting hungry soon. I could make them some sandwiches to nibble on when they have a second. She is really busy over there today. One of girls came to school with a new cut she did yesterday, and almost every girl in the school wants a cut now.”

“I’m sure Geoff won’t mind two sandwiches out of his stash, especially if you make two more and wrap them up for him to have for his breakfast meal. In fact, use up the rest of the bread. After I can get back you can take them over. Check on your brother and Marc in the back. They are supposed to stay on the flour pile.

With that Maria left with a platter containing two dozen nibbles of sweets. Rachael made her sandwiches, and then peeked in the back. It was the first time she had been back there, and it was filled with large and ominous looking machines. In one corner there were huge bags of flour, piled about six feet high, with two young boys playing war on them. Rachael smiled, and went out into the store, hoping that there would be no customers before Maria returned.

There was one, a woman who had never been in the store before. Rachael explained that a lot of things were sold out, and that the best to come was in the morning. The woman complained a bit about the lack of selection, but Rachael pointed out that this policy meant that the goods were always fresh, unlike bread in the grocery store where it might sit for four days before you buy it.

“We don’t use all the preservatives they do, either,” she said. “It’s actually better to buy just one loaf of bread and then come back in a day or two for another, instead of buying two or three loaves at once.”

“Well I usually buy four loaves at one time, which bread do you recommend?” the woman asked.

“As I say, I would just buy one loaf of the seven-grain bread. It is healthy, but it tastes almost like cake. And it is better fresh than a week later, even if you put it in the fridge or freezer. The Danish pastries are ‘to die for’ and the chocolate chip cookies are recommended by my brother. He is nine, which makes him a cookie expert.”

“Well, I wasn’t planning on getting desserts, but if I’m only buying one loaf of bread. I guess it is a good idea. I may not even like it.”

“I’m sure you will,” Rachael said. She got the bread, a half dozen Danish and a dozen cookies for the woman, and was wondering how she was going to take the money for it, since she hadn’t learned how to use the till, when Maria popped back in.

“Oh Mom,” Rachael said. “This woman bought a seven-grain, six Danish and a dozen chocolate chip cookies. But I don’t know how to work the till.”

“Well let’s cure that now,” Maria said, and after quickly cashing out the woman, explained the use of the cash register to Rachael. As she did, she chatted.

“The salon is staying open to 8 p.m. tonight, so your idea of a sandwich will be well received. I guess it was Mikki’s idea for her to change her hours to 12 to 8 to allow her to do more student cuts. Mikki is nearly done with the backlog, and says she doesn’t need a sandwich.”

“I also found out who did that wonderful sign. There is a raggedy old man who has been sweeping the sidewalks since Saturday, and he painted it for her on Sunday afternoon. He wouldn’t take any money though. He says he is doing it for the angels or something. I gave him a couple of rolls on Saturday, and again today. I think the DaSilva’s give him some fruit.”

“Gary!” Rachael recognized the description. “I’m glad he is getting food.” Rachael decided to take the sandwich she had made for Mikki to him.

“You know this man?” Maria asked suspiciously.

“I gave him a sandwich on Friday,” Rachael said. “He looked so hungry, and I had that extra one I made Thursday night. He was so happy.”

“Rachael, I don’t want you going near him alone, do you hear?” Maria warned.

“Okay Mom. I’m going to give him the sandwich I made for Mikki, but I will make sure Larissa comes out with me when I see him.

Rachael took the sandwiches over to the salon, and found Mikki had gotten through her backlog of appointments. While she had been signing people in, Larissa had been making and serving coffee to the girls waiting to get a style done. And once the treats from the bakery had arrived, handing those out as well.

Ariel looked hungrily at the sandwich Rachael had brought. “Please put it on the counter in the washup station,” Ariel said. “I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast, other than that wonderful Danish pastry. And Mikki has me booked until 8 p.m. tonight. Even working that late all week, I have a full appointment book from 4 to 8 for a week.

“And you have that high school girl at 6 tonight,” Mikki said. “I bet when the high school girls see her, you are going to get another rush tomorrow.”

“Oh my,” Ariel said. “And I’m booked solid after school for a week, and all Saturday.”

“I’ll come in after classes again for an hour tomorrow,” Mikki said. “And high school girls will have spare periods, or study hall, and will be able to make appointments earlier in the day. We will be able to squeeze most of them in.”

“You are a dear,” Ariel said. “I will see you tomorrow then. And all three of you will get free stylings, once the rush calms down.”

“That was fun,” Mikki said as the three left the shop and went to the bakery to pick up the boys. “I really enjoyed helping people get a time when they could get their hair done. It was a lot like making appointments for Dad, when he is doing portraits, but different.”

Soon the boys were in tow, and the three girls were heading across the easement. Rachael looked around, and then saw who she was looking for. “Wait here for me, girls,” she said as she hurried towards her raggedy man.

“You are feeding your hobo again,” Mikki quipped.

“No, you are,” Rachael said as she walked towards the man. “This is a sandwich I made for you when I thought you were going to be stuck in the salon all night.”

She chatted with Gary briefly, and then headed back to rejoin the girls.

That night she spoke to the Lord again

Dear Lord

Thanks so much for my good life. I loved visiting the farm. Church was scary on Sunday, but I hope I helped. I doubt we will see Paul and John come back though. I’m sure that John, at least, will be in church somewhere next week. Please find him a place that will accept them. I haven’t heard about Rev. McNaughton. Please let him be okay.

And help me find a way to help Gary. He did a beautiful job painting the window to the salon, and is trying to make himself useful to the merchants. He deserves a better life.

Amen.



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