Work had been hectic. Too many people needed to be trained to replace him, and Bob had finally come to him and asked if he’d stay on another week or two. It gave Ken a small amount of satisfaction, and allowed him to specify when he’d be able to work. He’d work Saturday, but not Friday or Sunday, as Nanci had wanted. She wasn’t happy about it, but if she only knew what chaos Bob had prevented by keeping him. She didn’t realize all Ken did to keep things running smoothing. She would learn quickly after he was gone.
He was afraid he cared for Julie more than he should. She was pretty, smart, had a sense of humor, loved God and even fish. No one had tempted him to take the risks involved in a relationship since Lynn had betrayed him. And it appears she knew what it was like to have difficult relatives also. He wished he could confide in her as easily as she had in him. He had stood in the parking lot of the bank with Julie, holding her hands, and he noticed the blue grey color of her eyes. Like Lake Huron in winter. So beautiful. He almost reached up to touch her cheek when he caught himself. His emotions were too much for him, and he had left her quickly. But Sunday… Sunday perhaps they could relax and get to know each other.
Sunday? Oh no. Evan would be here. And Mom expected them Saturday, but now he had to work. His perfect Sunday would be ruined.
Ken called his mother as soon as he arrived home. His stepfather, Gary Little, answered. “She’s still at work, Ken. I can have her call you back.”
“If she wants to talk. I just need to let her know that I have to work Saturday until three, so I can’t bring Evan down to visit.”
“I know she’s anxious to see him. How about Sunday?”
“Sunday… Gary, I’ve got other plans.”
“When you knew how much your mother wanted you to come?” He paused, but Ken didn’t respond. “Well, I’ll give her the message.” The line went dead. Ken tried to fight back the anger and hopelessness. It seemed they were never satisfied no matter how Ken tried to do the right thing.
By Friday morning Ken had regained some of his equilibrium over the situation. The only thing he didn’t know was how he would work with Julie if she decided to date Evan. Anyone else, he’d have to accept, but he didn’t think he could contain his jealousy if Evan ruined another relationship for him. As if she would even be interested in Ken. Besides he had forgiven Evan, he reminded himself. And Evan had grown up since then.
Forgive and forget had always been a hard concept. He’d discussed it with Jim once. “The Bible says forgive. It doesn’t say, leave your brain at the door. If you’ve been burned, certainly be cautious. Just don’t let the pain fester until it eats you up inside.” Jim had been his mentor in more ways than one, and he’d seen him through some very rough times. The question Ken had now was whether he was being cautious or letting the pain of the past eat at him. It seemed he could ignore the past, and even forget it was a part of his life, until someone brought everything to the fore again. He wondered why the past was bothering him now that his heart was pricked again – now, when everything else was happening.
Ken arrived at the prison in Ionia at ten minutes to eight Friday morning. He checked in at the desk and then waited. Several other people sat in chairs, waiting for newly released inmates also. Ken looked around the familiar, dingy room with its lockers and change machine. It was the same room he waited in when he came to visit Evan. Soon the furthest set of glass doors opened, and Ken saw Evan come through. He stood and watched as Evan and a guard walked the length between the glass doors, and the second slid open, releasing Evan into the free world. Evan had only a duffle bag of belongings and his television. He had let his brown hair grow longer in the last month, and he had it tied back. Ken took the television to carry, while Evan double-checked his release papers with the guard. Then they were outside.
“Oh, this feels great!” Evan said. “You don’t know what that place is like.”
“You’ve told me about it enough. I think I’ve gotten a pretty clear picture.” Ken opened the back of the Sunbird and put in the television. Then Evan set in his bag. “Mom’s gonna love that pony tail.”
Evan grinned. “Just as long as the women do. That’s all I’m looking to impress. Think you can loan me a few bucks to get the front styled?” Ken wanted to protest, but he couldn’t. He was Evan’s sole support until he got a job. Evan’s face lost its grin as he got into the car. “Don’t worry. I’ll pay you back. I’ll get a few weeks of welfare. Maybe you can get me a job by the time it runs out. Did you get the store? You haven’t answered your phone all week.”
“I’ve been busy. I didn’t have enough money, and I had to get a partner. I can’t make any decisions without checking with her,” he added.
“Her?” Evan grinned. “Old? Young? Married? Good looking? I can handle her.”
“You keep your hands away from her.”
Evan laughed. “Good looking and single. You’re a little touchy, aren’t you? You never said anything about a girlfriend.”
“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my business partner.”
“Then you shouldn’t mind if I ask her for a job.”
Ken stopped at the light a little too quickly. “Evan! You go somewhere else for a job. Anywhere. I’ll help you any way I can, but if you… just leave her alone.” He paused, and then accelerated as the light changed. “I have to work with her, you know. Don’t cause trouble for me.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t cause any trouble for you. Man, you don’t trust me at all. Chill out a little.”
Ken concentrated on the road and refused to look Evan’s way. It was as if he didn’t even remember ripping apart his relationship with Lynn. Ken willed his body to relax. God was in control. Evan couldn’t ruin anything if God meant for it to be.
“If you want to support me the rest of your life, go ahead. I just figured it’d be easier on you if I had a job.”
Ken tried to ignore Evan’s attitude. “I have to work tomorrow, so I don’t know when we’ll get down to see Mom.”
“What am I going to do?”
“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“Without a car, there’s not a whole lot.”
“I picked up that book. You can study for your driving test.” Evan hadn’t been able to renew his license while in prison so he had to start over. “We can get your state ID today.”
“After the haircut.”
An hour and a half later Ken pulled into his driveway. His tenant came from the back of the house. He waved a greeting as he got into his car. “Hey, this is bigger than I thought,” Evan said. They gathered the things out of the back. As the other car left, Evan asked, “Who was that?”
“Pete Cramer. He and his wife rent the upstairs.”
“Hey, you didn’t tell me that. I can have my own apartment.”
“As soon as you get a job, I expect you will get your own place.” Ken unlocked the door and carried Evan’s TV to the room he’d prepared for him.
“I can live upstairs.”
Ken set the television on the dresser and turned to face him. “Only if you can pay my mortgage. I need them to keep the house.” It was a partial lie, but Ken only felt a small amount of guilt. Besides, he reasoned, who knew how bad things would get without a steady salary, much of a savings account, and the extra bills of having Evan here.
“So what have you done on your own? Do you have to have someone help you do everything?”
Ken pulled the second set of house keys out of his pocket. “Here. If you’re ready we can get your hair cut, then get to the Secretary of State for your ID, and report to your parole officer,” Ken said, trying to ignore Evan’s dig.
“I need some new shoes and some clothes.”
“Yeah. We’ll go shopping.”
“Wow. You think you have enough fish? Hey, look at all these fighting fish. Do you ever put them together?” Evan studied the jars of bettas on the shelf. He lifted a quart jar and held it up. Then he picked up another.
“No. Their fins will be destroyed.”
“I bet it’d be a great fight.”
“I breed for show. See.” Ken pulled down a trophy. “I won this for that fish there. Hey, Finster, how ya doin’?”
Evan studied the red show fish in the gallon tank. “He’s not real active. And his fins aren’t even as pretty. Not like those.” He pointed to the jars of young bettas waiting for room in the pet store.
“Of course not. He’s old. He won that almost two years ago now.”
“What were those fish in my room?”
“Mbuna. Ready to go?”
“Do you show them?”
“I haven’t yet. There aren’t really shows just for them. They’d mainly be an entry in a general fish show.”
It was a long day, and Ken ended up spending almost three hundred dollars for clothes and other expenses. Evan wasn’t satisfied with the off brands that Ken usually settled for.
Ken granted Evan’s request and took him by the pet store. Linda was working. “Hey, Linda. How’s the fish business?”
She laughed. “You’re going to be my new boss, aren’t you?”
“Me and Julie Hansen. We decided to team up. They haven’t set the closing date, but you’ll know when I’m here every day.”
“I have to work.”
“But Julie and I both decided to keep everyone on. Don’t worry.”
Linda visibly relaxed. “You don’t know what a relief that is, Ken. Hey, we’re running low on bettas and gouramis if you want to bring a few more in.”
“Sure. I’ll stop by Monday afternoon.” Evan made a noise in his throat. “Oh, and this is my brother, Evan.”
“Really? You barely look alike.”
“It’s the pony tail,” Ken teased. “Without it we’re twins.”
“It’s just that he’s an old man, and he’s jealous,” Evan said. “If he wore his hair like mine, he’d probably have a bald spot.”
“Not a chance, Evan. Notice I don’t have as much hair to hide a bald spot as you do. Anyway, Linda, I hope I don’t crowd you too much when I start in. You’ll have to train me to what’s going on – you and Sue.”
“Julie plans to keep working at the accounting office, but she says she’ll stop in every day, also. We’re going to restock the breeding room from our homes.”
Linda laughed. “I believe it.”
“And I’ll be here, too. Ken’s going to hire me.”
“Evan, we already discussed this,” Ken said firmly.
“I’ll raise snakes.”
“Yeah, I bet. Like I said, Linda, we’ll keep all the people here. I’ll be working, and it looks like that’s all the budget can afford. Besides you don’t need any more help here, do you?” He gave Linda a look that said she better agree with him.
“No. We’re doing fine. I hope you’re not too bored, Ken.” Linda said, quickly catching on. “Of course, setting up the breeding room… oh, excuse me.” Linda moved away from the counter and into the fish room to help a customer. Ken had plans to do more than breed, but he’d take it slow, learning what he could from them while trying not to make them feel unneeded.
They looked around the shop. “Hey, get me this boa.”
“Evan, are you five?”
“You’ve got a million pets. Can’t I have one?”
“When you can buy him, his food, and his accessories, sure, you can have him. I’ve spent enough today.”
“Yeah, but this is all yours.”
“Not yet. Besides you can’t just take anything you want out of inventory. You’d never make any money that way. You have to plan these things out.”
“That’s you all right. Planning out everything.”
“Let’s get home.” One day with Evan was as exhausting as working a double shift.
Saturday Ken left for work by five thirty and didn’t get home until almost four. Evan was not home. Ken didn’t know where he went because all his old friends were in Midland. It was after seven when Evan came in. “Where were you?”
“Hey, you sound like a guard. I was just out looking around, meeting the neighbors. It was a nice day.” Evan opened the freezer. “You really need to buy some more food.”
“I brought home a few things tonight. We’ll do fine.”
“Just a side benefit of working at a grocery, huh?”
“I did my shopping after hours, in case you’re implying anything else.”
“You know you have a real attitude. If you don’t want me here, just say so.” Evan slammed the refrigerator shut and faced Ken.
Ken tried to sort out his feelings. Finally he conceded. “Sorry, Evan. I’m just nerved up about this career move. I’m not sure about anything, even how much money I’ll be bringing home. That’s why every tiny expense is making me a little crazy. It’s not you.”
“Didn’t you work out your salary with Miss Julie?”
“My salary is partly based on profit. If we have no profit, I don’t get a salary at all. Nothing. And with no savings, that’s pretty scrimpy living.”
“You’re not serious. You agreed to that? She keeps her other job and lives as she wants, and you take all the risk.”
“It’s not like it sounds.”
“Face it. She conned you good.”
“You don’t know anything about business, Evan, so just keep your….” Ken managed to cut himself short before he blurted out an insult that would be hard to retract. He turned away and studied the gouramis. After a few seconds he asked, “How’d things go here?”
“Boring. Mom called. Her and hubby will be here tomorrow afternoon. Said you had plans or something but to make sure you’re here around two.”
“Plans means I might not be.”
“What are you doing?”
“It’s nothing. Probably nothing. Probably have to cancel anyway.”
“You’ve got a date,” Evan said in a teasing tone. “Who is she? Not the mysterious Julie, is it? She’s really got you. Even making you work for free. I can’t believe you’re letting her boss you and bully you into working without pay.”
Ken turned to his fish and pulled out the equipment to begin doing water changes. He wished Evan would shut his mouth. He didn’t understand anything, and he was twisting everything. It was a common business agreement. Jim said… Jim hadn’t seen it, they had signed it so quickly. But the agreement made perfect sense. Julie wasn’t getting anything out of the store until the mortgage was paid off. Nothing. Ken hated the doubts Evan had planted, and it was too late to go see Jim.
“You know, Ken, I don’t understand you. It’s not like me coming is a surprise or anything. You knew this for a long time, and you just go and quit your job and waste your savings at the last minute. You could’ve had a car for me, and everything to help me get started. It’s like at the last minute you couldn’t stand having any money left to help me out.”
Ken hooked the hoses to the kitchen sink, started the siphon in the dwarf gourami tank, and began vacuuming the gravel. “Hate to burst your bubble, Evan, but I never intended to buy you a car. I toyed with the idea of buying myself another car and giving you the Sunbird, but that doesn’t look feasible right now. I also never intended to put my savings account in your pocket, so how I spend it is my business. You’ve got free room and board, and I’ll help out when I can, but it’s up to you to earn your own money.” Ken carefully vacuumed around the plants. When twenty-five percent of the water was gone, he twisted the knob on the sink attachment to begin filling the tank.
Evan had not moved. He was still leaning against the wall beside the gourami tank. “How do you propose I earn money?” he asked, when Ken came back to the tank to make sure the hose didn’t jump out of it during the refill, as it had once before. “Should I start breaking into houses and start my own business reselling televisions and stereos? That’s about the only thing I have experience with.”
“If you bring any stolen property here, you won’t have a place to live, except that cell you were in. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Monday I’ll take you out to put in applications – everywhere. Be ready by eleven, and on my lunch I’ll pick you up and bring you to the west side. The mall is there and everything you could think of. You work all afternoon putting in apps while I work at the store. Afterward we’ll go to the unemployment office and sign you up on their jobs list.”
“It’s a waste of time.”
“All you have is time. You apply at every store, factory, gas station, and restaurant you can find.”
“To get me off your hands.”
“You’re the one whining about no experience. Any job will give you that. You can look for something better when you have a little.”
Evan pushed away from the wall. He swore, and told Ken where he could go. “If I’m in your way, I’ll just leave.” Evan slammed the front door on his way out.
“Well, Lord, Did I blow that or did he?” Ken sighed and went to work on another aquarium. Evan would be back. He had nowhere else to go. “Lord, please help me. If I’m at fault, show me. I wish I knew what to say to really help him.”
Go to Chapter 10
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.