Thursday Ken went into work for four hours. His headache intensified as he tried to concentrate on the paperwork and other things that had been neglected. He almost gave up trying to explain what he was doing while he was doing it, but he knew his successors needed to know. Ken didn’t bother eating when he came home. He just took a pain pill and crawled back into bed. He awoke with the smell of bacon.
Ken came out to the kitchen. “Good morning,” he teased. “I thought the sun was setting, not rising.”
“It’s morning to me. Are you hungry?”
“Famished. It looks good. You’re spoiling me, Evan.”
“Yeah, right. Just trying to make sure you recover so I’m not in for murder next time.” Evan turned from the stove and studied him. “How ya doing?”
“I’m recovering. And Evan,” Ken said softly. “There will be no next time. You’ll make it.” Evan turned to flip the bacon on the stove. Ken went to him, thinking he’d said the wrong thing. “I’m sorry.”
“I hope you’re right,” Evan said, concentrating on the food. “I don’t fit anywhere. I can’t be how I was, and I don’t know what I am.” Evan set down the spatula and turned to Ken. “Have you had a chance to talk to your friends about using the computer to find Dad?”
Ken shook his head. “No. I’ve been a little under the weather.”
Evan went back to his cooking, removing the last of the bacon from the pan.
“I’m sorry, Evan. I was joking.”
“I know.” But he didn’t face him again, draining the drippings.
“Actually, I do have an idea. I plan on making some calls tomorrow afternoon.”
Evan poured the shelled eggs from the bowl into the pan. Then he faced Ken. “You’re serious. You got a lead?”
“Hey. Don’t get your hopes up. It might not pan out. But no matter what we find out about Dad . . . .” Ken hesitated. It sounded like Evan was trying to define himself, but if Ken’s suspicions were right their father was the last person he should model himself after. “Evan, you are your own person. Who Dad is or what he’s done or what he says can’t change that unless you let it.”
“You think he doesn’t want us or care about us.”
“Even if he does, Evan, think about what we know. He wasn’t much of a family man. Mom and him were always fighting. He was cheating on her – hurting her and us by that – you can’t say that didn’t bother you. And when he’d drink . . . I think that’s what Mom tries to say, but she can’t. She doesn’t want us to be like that. She wants better for us.”
“What if I can’t be any better?” Evan looked at his eggs. “Oh, great. The centers are all hard.”
“I don’t mind.” Ken helped set the table, and they sat. After the blessing Ken said a silent prayer to ask for help. “Evan, you can decide how you want to be. Sure you inherited certain things, but you can work to improve the good stuff you were born with, and overcome the other. I’ve had to do it.”
“Oh, right. What have you ever done wrong or been tempted by?”
“Examples. You’re just saying that.”
“Okay, I got a couple that just happened recently. I get jealous easy, too. I got in a fight with Julie because you flirted with her, and I couldn’t handle it. And remember, I was so mad, I grabbed you first. I’ve got to work on my temper. I used to think I didn’t have one, but I was wrong. I was fooling myself. So I have to work on it. I have to learn self-discipline as much as you. Maybe it just doesn’t show to you because I’ve been working longer at hiding it.”
Evan shook his head. “It’s not the same. You don’t understand.”
“Good excuses. Just face it. You have the choice. What do you want in ten years? Twenty? Do you want to be like you are now? Back in prison? Or do you want to have a home, maybe even a family? And if you have a family, do you want it to be a loving one?”
“Like I would have a choice.”
“Of course you do. You’re the man. Choose the right wife, and set the right tone – one of love, not fighting.”
“Yeah, you don’t know everything. Mom wasn’t exactly a mouse. She contributed her fair share of yelling.”
Ken realized he was getting nowhere and just antagonizing Evan. He made an effort to lower his voice. “I’m sorry. I just know that I see families at church that care about each other, and that’s what I want. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes to have that.”
“What if things don’t work out like your little plans? What if you’re fighting all the time after the marriage?”
“Then I’m going to ask for help from the people that do have the good marriages. And I’m not going to be too proud to follow their advice.” Ken laughed a little at himself then. “I pray I’m not too proud. Pride’s another one that sneaks up on you when you think you’re doing good. Maybe it’s pride on my part now to think I can do something just because I see other people doing it. But it’s better than doing nothing and whining about having nothing when it’s my own fault for drinking up the rent money. Sorry, Evan. Maybe you didn’t hear that one, but even before he left I knew I didn’t want to be like him.”
“It’s not fair,” Evan said standing. “None of it’s fair. He probably left because you didn’t love him. You’re not even giving him a chance. You’re trying to turn me against him.” Evan left, and the front door slammed. He hadn’t eaten a bite his food.
Ken didn’t feel like eating, but he decided to finish what Evan had taken the time to prepare. Then he set aside Evan’s portion and cleaned up the kitchen.
Julie called as he rinsed the last of the dishes. He sat in the living room to talk and watch his fish. She told him about her encounter at the police station, and Ken was glad that Lt. Redding had been so kind to her. “I wish I’d been able to see you, but that must have been while I was at work. I suppose you’re long gone now.”
“Yeah. I’m in Muskegon. I just got here, but the drive wore me out. I probably won’t go out again tonight. I miss you. How’d it go today?”
“Evan’s mad at me again. I guess I said the wrong thing. I want to help him, yet I’m not sure what the right words are. Whatever I say he takes a little different than I expect.”
“That sounds frustrating.”
“It is. I thought we were getting along now, but this time I’m not sure it isn’t my fault. I was praying to find my father, but now that I think I know where he is, I don’t know if I should.”
“Because you’re afraid he won’t want to see you?”
“No. If I’m right, he may want to see us. Julie, my dad wasn’t anyone to be proud of. I want better for Evan. He’s searching for his niche right now. I don’t want him to settle for the easy way and be miserable his whole life.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
“I think Thomas might be right about my father. I don’t know how he knows when I don’t….”
“Oh, Ken, don’t let Thomas hurt you, too. He’s just a liar.”
Ken regretted mentioning Thomas’s name. She had been so relaxed until then, but he had to know how she’d react if it were true. “I know, Sweetheart. But just like you had to find out about me, I have to find out if that’s true about my dad.” He paused, but she didn’t fill the silence. “Julie, will you still love me and want to be with me if it is true?”
“Oh, Ken, you don’t think I’d hate you now, do you? Not after all this. Like Jim said, your brother answers for his own sins. That means your father also. You don’t hate me because my mom has sent the police to you, do you? I can’t stop her from following Thomas even though I wish and pray so hard that I could.”
“No, Julie, that’s not your fault,” Ken said softly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Romeo. We won’t let this hurt us. Oh, Ken, sometimes I think that even if Paul Israel says you’re the rottenest guy in Michigan, I’ll still want to marry you.”
“You’ve said it. You actually want to get married.”
“Didn’t you?” Her voice held an uncertain note, as if she were afraid he wouldn’t want her after she’d declared herself. He knew exactly how she felt.
“Yes,” he reassured her. “I want to marry you. This isn’t exactly how I planned my proposal though.”
Julie laughed. “I’ll let you do it over when we’re together some time. Oh, I wish I could tell someone. I think I’ll try Nicole again. She has to be home some time.”
“I love you. Let’s not wait too long.”
“No. Not too long.”
They spoke until Evan came in, changed to his uniform, and was ready for Ken to take him to work. He couldn’t help his enthusiasm when he set down the phone and stood. “Guess what? She says she’ll marry me. I’m gonna have a wife.”
“Great. Are you ready, or do you want me to drive myself in tonight?”
Evan had effectively doused his ardor. Ken took his keys from his pocket and went outside. Evan followed. Ken drove in silence, and his mind went over their conversation. “Evan, about earlier. I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing. It’s not that I didn’t love Dad. I said it because I love you. I want better for you than what we saw growing up.” Ken knew Evan was staring at him now, but he didn’t take his eyes from the road. It was a little embarrassing to speak of love. They never had. None of his family had. It was different than speaking about it to Julie. With her he was so sure of his feelings that he couldn’t help but speak, and after the first attempt at telling her, he knew she’d accept it. He also suspected she needed to hear it.
Evan needed to hear it, too, he reminded himself. It was different, but it was still love, wasn’t it? Evan wouldn’t still be in his house if it weren’t for this love. Sometimes Ken had wondered if it was love or duty that kept him tied to Evan, but he was beginning to see that fulfilling duty no matter how difficult was part of love – not all of it – but part of it. He’d have to go back and reread that section in the Bible on love that Lt. Redding had so nonchalantly partially quoted to Julie. Perhaps he needed to apply more of it to Evan. Maybe that would show him since he didn’t seem to believe Ken’s words or the motive behind them.
Ken pulled up beside the entrance to the restaurant.
“I get off at five,” Evan said, and then left abruptly.
Ken drove by Jim’s, but it was late, and Ken decided not to disturb him. His headache reminded him it was time to go home for some medicine anyway.
The next morning Ken went into work after he’d brought Evan home. He stayed four hours, and then came home to sleep. The phone woke him from a short nap. The bank informed him that the closing would be next Thursday at one. Ken called the pet store, and Linda assured him that she had room for more gouramis, bettas, and mbunas. After that call, Ken knew he better make the phone calls he’d been resisting. Evan wanted to know the answer.
The calls confirmed his suspicion. There was a William Kenneth Wright in a Jackson prison, but they’d give no details. Ken called for visiting hours and directions. When Evan emerged from his room, Ken pushed the paper he’d written his notes on across the table. “I don’t know if he’s the right one, but we can go tomorrow afternoon if you want to check it out.”
“He’s in prison? What’d he do?”
“They won’t give that out on the phone. I couldn’t even confirm his birth date to make sure it’s him.”
“But . . . Did he go in after or before Mom divorced him? That’s been a long time. I mean, I just got five years, three with parole, and I know guys that got way less for theft.”
“I don’t know, Evan. Maybe it’s not his first offense. I thought of calling Mom, but if we just go down, we don’t even have to bother her. You know how sensitive she is.”
“But she left him when he was down.”
“We don’t know that. Besides she didn’t make him do whatever he did.”
“But . . . .”
Ken stood from the table and went to the refrigerator. “I don’t care what excuses he has, Evan. He’s responsible for his actions. Mom is responsible for hers. You’re responsible for yours, and I am for mine.”
“But sometimes things happen because other people do stuff, and we don’t have any control.”
Ken put his hands on the table. “Really, Evan? Is that really what happened to you? You had no decision? Your friends held a gun to your head and made you go with them? Or did you decide you’d rather have their approval than do what you knew was right.” Ken stood and looked around the kitchen. He didn’t feel like cooking. His head was pounding, but he didn’t know if Evan had gotten the point. But did he need to? Or was he just lecturing like a jerk again? Ken looked back at him. “I’m sorry, Evan. I’ve got to go back to bed. I hope they’re right about these headaches, and they go away soon.”
He slept until the phone rang beside his bed. He reached for it. “Hello?”
“Hi, Ken. It’s me,” Julie said, somewhat cheerfully.
“Hello?” asked Evan on the extension.
“It’s for me, Evan.” The extension clicked shut. “So how’ve you been? Before I forget the closing is Thursday at one.”
“Great. I can’t wait until it’s over. I’ve been shopping again. This time I bought clothes. A nice blue business suit for job hunting.”
“Job hunting? You think it’s come to that?”
Julie paused and when she spoke her voice cracked. “I’ve decided that when I go back I’ve just got to tell mom. It’s me or Thomas. I won’t work in the same firm.” There was another pause. “I just know she’ll choose Thomas.” Julie sobbed then.
Ken wished he could reach through the phone and hold her. “I love you, Julie,” was all he could think to say to comfort her. “I love you,” he repeated. “I wish I could hold you. I wish….” Ken waited until her breathing evened out. “Will I see you soon?”
“At the closing?”
“I’ll talk to Mom afterward, or maybe I should get it over with and talk to her Monday and give her until Thursday. Or maybe….”
“Tell her over the phone, Julie. If it gets bad you can hang up. Call her back the next day. Stay firm. You’re right. You can’t work with Thomas.”
“I’m scared. What if I can’t get another job? What if they say bad things to anyone I talk to? What if….”
“Julie, we’ll make it. I don’t have much, but we can make it. I’m sure you’ll find work, but if not, we won’t starve. I promise.”
“I just feel like such a dirt bag going to her competition.”
“Then don’t. Go to a corporation or form your own company. What do you need for that? Just an office in your home and a computer setup? Do you have that?”
“We can even put your office in the pet store so we’ll be together.”
Julie laughed then. “Oh, Ken. That sounds so crazy. Get your books done at Wet n’ Woolly. I just might try that. Do you really think I could?”
“I know you could. In fact I think I know the perfect spot. There’s a corner in that breeding room near an outside side door. Remember it? We’ll put your sign over that side door.”
Julie laughed again. “You’re crazy, Ken. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.”
Ken took Evan to work at ten-thirty. “How’s your head?” Evan asked.
“Better,” Ken was surprised Evan cared. “I think stress makes it worse. Frankly I’m a little nervous about seeing Dad again.”
“Really? I thought you didn’t care.”
“I care. I wish I didn’t . . . care what he thought, that is.”
“You don’t have anything to worry about. He’ll be proud of you. I’m the one who screwed up. ‘Course he can’t be too hard on me if he did it himself, can he?”
“Hey, Evan,” Ken paused. He’d vowed not to lecture anymore. Evan already knew what he had to say. “No matter what he says, you still got me, right? I’m not gonna leave you. I promised you that when you were ten, and I still mean it.”
Evan turned away from him and stared out the side window. He didn’t speak, and Ken stopped in the parking lot near the door. Evan left him without looking his way. Ken watched as he entered the building and went to the rest rooms. Ken didn’t think he’d messed up, but he wasn’t sure. “Lord, only You can reach Evan’s heart. Please help him. You know I can’t. I’ve already failed.”
Ken went straight home to sleep. He didn’t have to work, so he slept in a little longer after he brought Evan home.
After breakfast, he left Evan to his sleep and went to run some errands. He took an assortment of fish to Linda. She hadn’t heard about his accident. “It just goes to show you what bettas can do when they get mad. You better watch these guys.”
Linda laughed. “I’ll put them each in their own cell,” she said, holding up the betta barracks. She attached it to the inside of one of the tanks. She set the fish in different tanks to float while she went to the account book in front. “I don’t know why I’m doing this. You’re going to own it all in less than a week.”
Linda glanced around. “She doesn’t want anyone to know that, I thought. Have you talked to her recently?”
“Yes. Last night.”
“Ken, what’s going on. This guy keeps coming here, almost every day, asking if we’ve seen her.”
Linda nodded. “He seems nice, but Julie said no one. And he’s said some weird things about….” Linda shrugged. “Never mind.”
“No. He was telling you lies about me, wasn’t he?”
“Ken, you said everyone keeps their jobs, right?”
“This guy says he’s an accountant, and he knows there’s no way for there to be a mortgage and for everyone to keep their job.”
“Julie’s an accountant, too. We’ve worked it out. I know there are going to be months I don’t eat too well. We’ve considered all the possible problems.”
“I hate to say this, but Sue’s looking for another job. Please tell me the truth. Give me at least a month notice, more if you can.”
“Linda, I can’t say it any clearer. This Thomas has so lied about Julie and me that she’s had to take a vacation just to get away from it.” Ken had another thought. He almost kept it to himself, but Linda was being honest with him. He owed it to her. “What we have to worry about right now is any drop in sales that might be caused by lies that Thomas is spreading. He’s after me, because he wants to marry Julie. When his lies didn’t convince her to dump me, he began lying about her. You must be prepared to fight these lies so we don’t lose any customers. You’ve known me for years, Linda. I know he’s told you I’m a thief. Have I ever cheated you? I’ve been assistant manager for three years at SaveMart, worked there for five. I’ve got good references. Don’t let him fool you. This gossip is tearing Julie apart. When she comes home, let’s not have any of it here. Let’s give her a friendly place to work.”
“She’ll be working here, too.”
Ken smiled. “Julie plans to stay in accounting, but of course she’ll hang out with her fish and her favorite guy when she’s not working. She’s planning to breed rainbows and cory catfish along with her angels. By the way, if you have time could someone clean out those tanks back there for me. Make sure they don’t use any cleansers.”
“I know how to clean an aquarium,” she teased.
“Good. I’ve got to breed some more bettas soon, as in next weekend.”
“Maybe I’ll get to watch. Did you lose many in the accident?”
“Yeah. Too many. Some of my best breeders, but it was just males. And I’ve got enough to start over. Why don’t you give me some of those blackworms to help condition them?”
Linda got the worms from the back. When she returned she looked beyond Ken nervously. Ken glanced behind him, and then turned when he saw Thomas Randall.
“I heard you were still buying this store. Guess you didn’t need Julie after all? Who’d you con for the rest of the money?”
“I didn’t con anyone, Thomas. I don’t need to resort to lies and innuendos to reach my goals.”
“Just stealing. Your father taught you that, didn’t he?”
“My father didn’t teach me much, Thomas. You know that. In fact, how do you seem to know so much? Not that what you say is all that accurate; I’m just wondering where you get your information.”
“So what did the police say to you about the burglary at Hansen Accounting?”
“I was not told about a burglary,” Ken stated, simply because it was not a burglary but an alarm being set off. Two different things. “What was stolen?”
“That was it?”
“You obviously panicked.”
“Someone broke into the accounting firm, stole two aquariums, and didn’t touch the computer equipment?”
Linda laughed out loud. “You mean Ken panicked and grabbed a couple twenty gallon tanks filled with water and fish. What’s that? Four hundred pounds a piece or something like that? You’re the bionic man, Ken. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“No,” Thomas said in irritation. “They were little plastic tanks with those fighting fish.”
“Aw, Ken. You went and stole Julie’s bettas. Don’t you have enough of your own? Five hundred and seventy eight weren’t enough?” Linda laughed. “Or were you afraid she’d start breeding them, and you’d lose those pennies we give you for them.”
“What can I say?” Ken teased back. “I couldn’t stand the competition.”
“You will not marry Julie Hansen, you thieving con artist,” Thomas said firmly. Then he turned and walked quickly from the shop.
Linda laughed. “You’re right, Ken. That guy is nuts.”
“Yeah, but he’s nuts enough to try to put us out of business. Reassure anyone who’s concerned.” Ken shook his head, staring out the front window. “We’ll stick him out. He has to get bored and move on some time, especially when he knows he’ll never control Julie.”
“So when’s the wedding?” Linda asked.
Ken grinned. “I still have to get her a ring. I should do that now. See you later.” Ken grabbed his bag of blackworms and left the store.
He went to one of the many jewelers on Linden Road, as he had been planning to do. As he looked at the diamonds, he knew he couldn’t buy her what he wanted. He settled for what he could afford, vowing to get her a nicer one as soon as he was able. He prayed she wasn’t disappointed with it.
Ken went home. He separated the females he wanted to breed and picked out the males for them. He fed them their first serving of worms as Evan emerged from his room.
“Worms. Yummy,” Evan said, watching Ken feed his last breeder. He covered the rest of the worms and placed them in the refrigerator. “Are we still going to Jackson?”
“Whenever you’re ready.”
Go to Chapter 18
© 2013, 1997 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.