Ken finally made it home and sat at his small kitchen table eating a TV dinner. His day had gotten progressively worse after his alarm failed to go off at 4:30 a.m. As soon as his shift was over at SaveMart, he’d gone straight to his friend, Jim Greene, at his convenience store on the south side of Flint. A new sign hung over the single plate glass window — “Jim”s Market.” Ken had waited until two customers left and the store was empty except for Jim.
“How’s it going in the big time?” Jim asked with a smile.
“Rotten. Bob promoted Nanci.”
“Nanci? For my job?” Jim shook his head. “I hoped it wasn’t true.”
“What do you mean?”
Jim shrugged. “I heard a few rumors before I left. Nanci is Jack’s niece.”
“Jack Farman?” Ken asked in disbelief. Jack was the silent co-owner of Save-Mart, and Bob Haven the working owner. Jim had been the manager until two weeks ago, and Ken worked as the assistant manager.
“Yeah. I hoped it wasn’t true,” Jim repeated.
“But that’s not right! I was the best qualified.”
Jim put a hand on Ken’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Talk was that she wanted your job three years ago, but I chose you. At the time she had been there less than a year, and I didn’t think she was qualified.”
“Well she can have my job now!”
“That would have been the wiser decision. She’s going to need you to teach her what to do.”
Ken’s anger flared, but he kept it in check. “I don’t know if I can handle that.”
“You can always look for another job,” Jim suggested. “I’d hire you, but I don’t have the resources or the work for someone with your skills. I do all the management myself.” He laughed a little. “Even most of the clerking. I’ve just got a few part time clerks and stockboys.”
Ken knew before that Jim had no place for him. His store was little more than three aisles of necessities and munchies with coolers along the back and one side for pop, milk, juice, a few prepackaged meats, eggs, and microwave dinners. He clenched his jaw as he went over his options.
“Buy your own store,” Jim suggested.
Ken smiled then. “And I can come to you for all the free advice I need, right?”
“Whenever you need me, you know where I’ll be.” Jim laughed again. “I’m always here. You get your own place, you’ll be working sixty to eighty hours a week or more to get started. Your fish would miss you.”
Ken let Jim lighten the mood. “Yes. I should get home. I’ve got to take a batch to the pet store. I’ll see you later.”
Ken had gone home and readied his gouramis and bettas for transporting. Since it was cold, he wrapped a few old towels in the bottom of the box and then set a few more over the fish. He warmed the car before taking them out. They should have been fine in the few seconds between the car and the building. But then that klutz of a woman had run right into him, knocking the fish to the cold ground.
She was a klutz, but she was pretty, he admitted. Julie, an angelfish breeder, Linda had said. Her medium-length, straight, deep brown hair with the front bang was familiar. Was she a customer at SaveMart? He saw her in his mind again, this time standing near the stained glass window beside an older woman. No. She went to Cornerstone — Jim’s church. Well, now it would be his church also, since he’d decided to switch. He should give her back that five dollars. He shouldn’t have charged her for a dead fish and taken his anger at Nanci and Bob out on her. If he hadn’t been rushing, he probably could have avoided her.
But then at Wet ‘n Wooly Ken had joked with Linda. “I don’t suppose you have an opening for a manager here.”
“No. You’re not getting my job. But you could try for owner, as long as you promise not to fire me.”
“I can’t promise anything,” he teased back. “Unless you start giving me better prices for these fish.”
“If you owned it, you’d get every cent of profit.”
Ken laughed. “On a place like this I bet it’s not much. How much are they asking?”
“I don’t know. Do you want their number?” Linda wrote it on the receipt. “I’ll see you next week.”
Ken had stuffed the receipt in his pocket and taken his broken box and towels back to the car.
Now he was home, trying to relax and not think about everything, but it didn’t work. He was tempted to look into the price of the pet shop. He’d be the boss, and he’d get to work with his fish all day. Of course, he couldn’t fire Linda. He stood and threw away his dinner tray. Before he could reach for his equipment to begin water changes, the phone rang. Ken reached for it. “Hello.”
“This call is from a Michigan Correctional Facility, from…” The recording paused.
“Evan,” his brother inserted.
“This call may be monitored unless it is to an attorney or an elected official. Please answer the following questions by pressing one for yes, or two for no. Will you pay for this call?” Ken pressed the one on his phone.
“Congratulations to the new manager,” Evan said cheerfully.
“I didn’t get it.”
“What? I thought it was a sure thing.”
“Yeah. So did I.”
“So… can you still get me a job?”
“I never could.”
“So what am I going to do,” Evan asked. “I get out in two weeks, you know.”
“I can’t go to Mom’s.”
“I know!” Ken said a little more heatedly than he wished to sound. “I didn’t say you couldn’t come here. You’ll just have to work a little harder at finding a job.”
“Yeah. Who’s going to hire me now? If you can’t get me in, no one can. You’re just like Mom and her new hubby. You churchies are all the same. Big talkers, but when it comes to actually doing anything….”
“Wait a minute, Evan. Cut the attitude. I promised to help you all I could, and I will, but you can’t keep playing the victim. It doesn’t fly in the real world.”
“You don’t know what it’s like….”
“I grew up in the same home you did. Don’t give me that.”
“But you were older when Dad left. You….”
“Evan, we’ve talked about this before. Just drop it. I’m not exactly in a great mood myself, you know. I was just gypped out of a promotion to a woman they’ll probably expect me to train.”
Evan was silent for a few minutes. Then he said quietly, “Sorry, Ken. I’m just kind of worried about things, you know. I don’t want to mooch off you for the rest of my life.”
“We’ll work it out somehow,” Ken reassured him, and prayed it was true. Ken wasn’t sure that Evan was sincerely repentant for the burglaries he had taken part in. He didn’t seem to be, but he did say he wouldn’t do it again. It was the crowd he had been hanging around with, Evan claimed. He’d never have done it on his own.
They said good-bye when The Michigan Department of Corrections fifteen minute time limit was up. Evan promised to call back in a few days.
Ken wished he had the answers. He wished he could really help Evan start over. He went to his spare room and winced. He needed to move a couple aquariums, but Evan would just have to tolerate the other two. He probably wouldn’t mind. Ken and Evan had gotten a tank at a garage sale the summer after their father left. Ken smiled as he remembered them both staring for hours into the feeder goldfish tank at the discount store to choose the perfect ten of the ten for a dollar fish. They’d made every beginner mistake in the book back then, but Ken had caught the fish bug, and his hobby had kept him busy and out of trouble. Evan had shown some interest, but his attention span was short, and he was always going on to some other thing.
Ken already had all of Evan’s things packed in the closet of the guest room. His mother had given them to him when she had remarried and moved to Mount Clemens, almost fifty miles south of Flint.
His stepfather, Gary Little, was a widower with three junior high and high school aged children. He insisted there was no room at the house for Evan, but Ken suspected he was afraid Evan might be a bad influence on his two sons who were having growing pains to begin with after all the turmoil of their mother’s illness and their father’s remarriage. Or Gary may be worried about his sixteen year old daughter. She was pretty, and Evan already had one child out of wedlock. The girl had given the child up for adoption so Evan didn’t even have child support to pay. In fact, this three year stay in prison was the first time Evan had ever been required to take the heat for his behavior. Ken knew he had to learn. He just wished….
Ken went to his room and knelt to pray. He prayed for Evan first. Ken was really the only family Evan had left. Their mother was too involved with her new family to help him. Ken had played the role of father to his younger brother since he was fourteen and Evan was nine. Their mother had seemed to give up for a while after their father left her. “Thank you, Lord. If not for your grace, I would be with Evan in prison. But You revealed yourself to me before that, and You have guided me. Why, Lord, has it been so much harder for Evan? Please, Lord, show him Your love also.” Ken attended to his fish, and then went to bed.
Ken awoke the next morning with the remnants of a strange dream. An angelfish and a betta were swimming around a well-planted tank, but the fish looked strange. The angel was the size of the betta, which in real life an adult angel would be tempted to eat the little betta. But the strangest part about the fish was that they had human faces.
Just what he needed, Ken thought as he went into the bathroom for his morning shower. Just remember, she’s a klutz, he told himself. He was going to be disappointed if he kept thinking about her. Didn’t he have enough problems? Especially with Evan coming home in two weeks.
Ken clenched his jaw as he turned on the water. Especially with Evan coming. He thought he’d forgiven Evan for flirting with his last girlfriend. Ken had planned to ask Lynn to marry him when he saved enough money to buy her a ring, but Evan had interfered. He was just out of high school, and it was only a few months before his arrest.
It was just as well, Ken told himself again, as the hot water ran over him. If she could be swayed so easily then he didn’t want her anyway. He tried to tell himself it didn’t hurt anymore, but he hadn’t dated since.
Ken managed to forget Evan and concentrate on the work he had to do that day. As Jim had predicted, though, Nanci needed help. But instead of having her trained, Bob rearranged many of the jobs. By noon it was apparent that Ken would have most of the work Jim used to do. Ken went to Bob’s office and protested as diplomatically as he could.
“Look, if things go well, you’ll get a raise in a few months.” Bob didn’t glance away from the computer as he spoke.
“In a few months? What’s wrong with now?”
“I can’t.” Bob stood, coming around his desk. He rested his hand on the door knob.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Can’t. You already make too much.”
“I haven’t gotten a raise in over a year and my responsibilities….”
“…Are to get out there and make sure things are running smoothly. If it happens, maybe in three or four months….”
“Three or four months?” Ken didn’t even try to hide his disgust. “Maybe? And how much will this hypothetical raise be?”
“A hundred dollars.”
“A year.” Bob left the room.
Ken could only stare after him. He couldn’t possibly think that was right. It was only pennies an hour. He closed the door and sat at the desk. Then he called Jim and told him what was going on.
“My guess is that Nanci’s wage now is only slightly more than yours. He doesn’t want to raise hers, and she knows what everyone else is making, because now she does payroll.”
“That’s about the only job she hasn’t pushed off on me.”
“And you wondered why I wanted my own place,” Jim teased. “I know I’d be polishing my resume if I were you.”
“I’ve got another option. I just don’t know if I can afford it. I’ll get back to you. Thanks, Jim.”
“Any time,” Jim said, and then closed the connection.
Ken pulled out his wallet and found the receipt Linda had given him yesterday. Then he called and made an appointment with Mr. Martin for that afternoon.
Go to Chapter 3
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.