Ken watched Julie leave the church beside a dark man he didn’t know. He wasn’t sure why he felt so let down. Jim watched him. “She’s a nice girl.”
“But taken, right?”
Jim shrugged. “Not that I know of.” He grinned. “Why don’t you ask her out? It sounds like you have a lot in common.”
Ken stared at the door she had left through. “I don’t have time to start anything like that. Evan gets out in less than two weeks.”
“Evan. Why should that stop you?” They moved toward the door. “Come eat lunch with us.”
Ken ignored Jim’s question. He still didn’t understand if he was feeling cautious or unforgiving, and he wasn’t ready to confess his turmoil to Jim.
Ken spent most of the afternoon with Jim’s family. Then he kept busy the rest of the evening attending his pets, but for some reason he felt very alone. He used to be able to push the feelings aside. He wondered if Julie watched her fish alone or if that dark haired man was with her.
Evan called at seven thirty, breaking his introspection. “Hey, how’s it going? Did they fire that girl yet?”
“Nanci? No. But I’m thinking of quitting.”
“Quitting? Then both of us will be out of work.”
“I’m buying a pet store.”
“You’re kidding? You have that much money?”
Ken hesitated. What would Evan expect if he did? He had always acted as if everyone owed him something. “I don’t know. I probably won’t get the mortgage. If I do, I’ll be broke.”
“But you’ll have a whole store. Wow. You’d give me a job.”
Why didn’t he think of that? Of course Evan would expect a job. He expected that Ken would be able to pull strings at SaveMart. “I don’t know that they need any more people. It seems to be running fine on….”
“What do you mean you don’t need any more people? I’m your brother. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Yeah, but I can’t just fire all the people who work there now.”
“Sure you can. Everyone does it.”
“No. I can’t. I’m not even sure I’ll be bringing home as much as I am at SaveMart after all the expenses. Besides you could probably get a factory job that pays a lot more than what I could pay you.”
“Yeah, right. Liar. Here all this time you’re over there hoggin’ your money while I’m sitting here with nothing. All those times you could have brought me money….”
“I’ve given you money every month.”
“Fifty dollars. It’s nothing.”
“You don’t have any expenses.”
Evan swore. “What do you know about what it’s like in here? You rich b….”
Ken hung up the phone. He didn’t want to listen to any more. He didn’t know what to do with Evan. He was his brother. He had to help him, but if he’d given in to all Evan’s demands he wouldn’t have this house or the opportunity to buy this store. Even now he didn’t know how he’d been able to do it. Ken looked around his apartment. Most of his furniture was second hand. Aside from his aquariums he had wasted no money on decorating or gadgets, and the aquariums paid for themselves now. He had a shelf of books and a few trinkets Evan had made him in hobbycraft, but that was all. Even his television was a thirteen inch secondhand bit of junk that only was in color fifteen percent of the time. But Ken rarely watched television. He’d sent Evan a new thirteen inch television because he knew he had little to do.
The phone rang again. After the lengthy introduction by the Department of Corrections, Evan came on. “Hey, Ken. You still mad at me?”
“What do you think?”
“Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just that you don’t know what it’s like.”
“I’m tired of that excuse. You don’t know what it’s like out here trying to get ahead so I don’t have to live like we did growing up.”
“It’s a lot better than in here. You’re going to be here at eight when I get out, right? I don’t want to stay a minute longer than I have to.”
“Yeah. I’ve had the day scheduled off for the last six months. Don’t worry. I’ll be there. Unless the car breaks down.”
“Good. I can’t wait to see your place.”
“You’ll probably be disappointed. It’s nothing fancy.”
“But it’s yours. That’s all that matters. I kind of expected you’d come to see me this past week.”
“It’s been busy with work and this store thing. It depends on how this pet store deal works out whether I’ll be able to come visit before you get out.”
“You know I don’t get any other visitors.”
“I know.” Ken agreed. He knew their mother tried to visit every other month or so, but it was hard for her to get away with a new family to take care of and a part-time clerk job. “Well, I’ll let you go before they cut us off. See ya.”
Ken hung up the phone. Evan never seemed to realize that it took most of the day to visit. Ken readied himself for bed, prayed, and went to sleep.
Tuesday morning Ken received word that his bid had been accepted for the pet store, and now he needed to get financing. He went to the bank he had his home mortgage in and talked to the loan officer. “It’s going to be close, but you’ll probably get it,” he assured him. Ken was relieved that it appeared things would go through. It was getting harder and harder to tolerate Nanci’s gloating, and the other employees didn’t seem to be treating him with the same respect as they had before. But Ken wondered if that was just his imagination.
Friday Ken looked at the new schedule. “Hey, wait,” he said to no one in particular. “Why am I scheduled for next Friday?” Nanci was not scheduled to work. She had given herself a three day weekend, working Ken all three days, although he had requested all his Sundays off long ago. Ken looked for Nanci, and found her at the service desk. “I have to have next Friday off. I requested that months ago.”
“You didn’t ask me.”
“It was posted in the records. You knew.”
“Sorry. I’ve got plans,” Nanci said lightly, not in the least remorseful.
“Well, so do I, and I can’t change them. I won’t be in.”
“Are you quitting?” Nanci’s smile was slight, but Ken suddenly knew she’d planned it this way.
He was too angry to care. “Yeah. I’m quitting. Thursday will be my last day.” Ken went into the back to cool off. Now that was a stupid thing to say. What if the mortgage didn’t come through. He needed to go eat humble pie, and get his job back. Ken leaned against the wall. No. Not until he had to. “Lord, please let the mortgage go through. You know what’s happening here,” he prayed silently. Another thought hit him then. “And I’m not much of the witness I’m supposed to be, am I? Not like Jim was. Why can’t I ignore all this petty back stabbing, Lord?”
Ken went out and resumed his duties. Bob came in before Ken left, detaining him. “You’re not really quitting are you?”
“I’m buying my own store.” He almost told Bob that he wasn’t quitting, but he couldn’t back down.
Bob took a deep breath. Then he shrugged slightly. “If that’s what you want to do.” Bob left. Ken stared after him. Five years at the store and that was it. No farewell, no caring, nothing. As if he was completely expendable.
Jim had a more practical motive for Bob’s behavior. “He can probably divide up your duties among the clerks. It’ll be rough on him for a month or so, but he’ll adjust and cut his expenses by one salary. That’s quite a bit.”
“But I don’t understand. You can’t just cut people out.”
“It’s the trend. That and sales have been down since that warehouse grocery went in down the road.”
“You shouldn’t have lost your temper. If that mortgage doesn’t go through, you’re going to have to really grovel. Evan would have waited until you got off at three.”
“Yeah, right. Evan doesn’t understand about anything except what he wants. He expects me to fire someone at the pet store to hire him.”
“You can’t do that. Besides, doesn’t he want a little more than part time? If either one of those full time employees quit, you’ve got to take over those duties and only hire a part time person to save money. You have nothing to play with. Your budget is tight, especially with the mortgage. Once you get it paid off you might be able to do something.”
Jim was right. Ken was giving up a salary for a bunch of problems. But they would be his problems. Ken went home and spent the rest of the evening transferring his fish, taking the two tanks from what would be Evan’s room and setting them up in his room. It made it crowded in there, but there was no other place without throwing out the couch or the recliner.
Saturday evening Ken’s mother called. “Hi, Ken. How are things going over there? Are you all ready for Evan?”
“About as ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Evan said you were buying a store.”
“I’m trying to.”
“And you won’t give him a job.”
“Mom, I don’t even know if I’ll get it. Besides it’s not the kind of store where you have full time people – just part time.”
“Oh, don’t be one of those kind of bosses. Pay the people what they’re worth.”
“I’ll pay them enough that I can stay in business so they have a job to come back to. I wish I could pay everyone a good salary, but I doubt I’ll even make what I’m getting now.”
“Then why do it? I don’t understand. I didn’t even know you had that kind of money.”
“What kind of money?” Ken closed his eyes, and tried to offer a quick prayer for patience. “Mom, I’m getting a huge mortgage. I’m broke.”
“Can live here.”
“I’m so worried about him, you know.”
“He really needs a job to get back his self-esteem.”
“Yes. I know he needs a job, Mom. And I’ll help him get any place he needs.”
“Are you sure you can’t fire someone, and….”
“Yes, I’m sure. Look, I probably won’t even get the place.” It’d probably be a lot less headaches if he didn’t. Now he would have to be the bad guy, saying no to every little request.
“Evan won’t steal from you. You’re not afraid of that, are you?”
“No, Mom. That’s not it. I’m helping Evan all I can. I always have.”
“I just wish you would have hung out with him more when he was younger. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten involved with those friends.”
Ken was stunned for a moment. She was blaming him? He was working his way through school and then working full time. What was he supposed to do?
“Ken? Are you still there?”
“Yeah, Mom. I’m here.” His voice cracked slightly, and he hated that it betrayed him.
“Why don’t you bring Evan down for a visit next Saturday?”
“Sure… if I don’t work,” he corrected, remembering that Nanci had scheduled him if he didn’t quit.
“We’ll be looking for you around noon,” she said, as if the issue was settled.
Ken let it go. “Sure. See you then.” He set down the phone. Ken went to his room, prayed, slept, prayed, and slept some more.
Ken saw Julie at church Sunday. She sat near the dark haired man, and he didn’t have the opportunity to speak with her. He had a hard time concentrating on the sermon. He wondered if she was seeing that man. He wondered if Evan would be here with him next Sunday. He wondered if he’d have a job next Sunday. He still wondered what he could have done differently in the past. He spent the afternoon alone with God and his pets.
Monday afternoon the bank called. His mortgage would be denied unless he had a much larger down payment. Again, Ken took his troubles to Jim, but he knew it was hopeless.
“If you’re willing to have a co-owner, most likely a silent co-owner, I know a few people who might be able to invest.”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t want you to feel differently about them if they can’t help. Just tell the bank you’re looking into getting a silent partner. They should give you a few days.”
“Do you really think they’ll help?”
Jim hesitated. Then he shook his head. “Truthfully, no. There’s not much money in fish. But the property is in a good location. If the business goes under the property will retain its value. But I’ll ask anyway.”
“Thanks, Jim. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I better talk to Bob.”
“Give me one day, okay?”
Ken agreed, but he’d given up hope. It was for the best anyway, he consoled himself. Now Evan can stop expecting to work there. He would just expect that he could spend that money.
Go to Chapter 6
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.