Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-One : Returning the favor

Chapter Two Hundred and Fifty-one

Returning the favor

Three days later

Wednesday midday — 12:07 p.m.

“There he is.” Sandy jogged to open the door of her salon for MJ.

MJ nodded to Sandy. He remained silent as Sandy shook the snow from his outdoor coat and hat. He didn’t say anything when Jill came out from the back. He just kept nodding.

“Are you freaked out?” Sandy whispered as they walked to the back.

“No,” MJ said.

“Why aren’t you talking?” Sandy whispered.

“Habit,” MJ whispered back.

Sandy looked up at him and he grinned. She chuckled. Jill gave him a hug. MJ put his hand on her belly to say hello to the boys.

“Where’s Delphie?” MJ asked.

“With our lunch.” Sandy smiled.

“You mean she’s in some conversation with the sandwich clerk’s dead great aunt’s sister,” MJ said.

“No,” Delphie yelled from the back. “She’s cutting the homemade lasagna.”

“Who made it?” MJ mouthed.

Sandy pointed to herself and MJ looked relieved. Delphie’s lasagna was only a tiny bit better than her casseroles, which wasn’t saying much. They took seats at the round table in the back of Sandy’s salon. Still in LA, Mike’s head and shoulders appeared on the laptop via Skype. Delphie sat down next to the computer and then popped back up to get the rolls from the microwave. Everyone filled their plates before looking at each other.

“What’s going on with Charlie and the kids?” Mike asked.

“We haven’t heard anything about it since Sunday,” Sandy said.

“Weird,” Mike said.

“What did you find out?” MJ asked Delphie.

“I got the household budget from Sam,” Delphie squinted. “It’s more than we thought. I gave it to Sandy.”

“Why is it more?” Mike asked Sandy.

“Little expenses, mostly,” Sandy said. “Hot tub, house cleaning, garden stuff, groceries, and then the kids.”

Sandy swallowed her guilt. They had the most kids, the most mouths to feed, and spent the most on them.

“Listen,” Jill said. “We are all in this together. Jake, Sam, and Honey aren’t taking Lipson salaries. It’s our turn to support them for a change. I’m kind of glad too. Jake and Sam have been so generous. It feels great to return the favor.”

“But our kids, they . . .”

“They bring so much joy to the house,” Delphie said. “I love having them. So don’t think about it. We are all in this together.”

Mike and MJ gave a casual nod, while Jill’s head bobbed up and down with emphasis.

“Plus, MJ and I have babies,” Mike said. “They’re more expensive.”

“What did you figure out for Katy’s horse?” MJ asked.

“Colin’s going to take care of it,” Jill said. “There’s a deal at the stables where you get half off your boarding if you help clean out the stalls. We’re going to pitch in with that so it will reduce our overall fee. Colin said they felt like they owed us.”

“You practically raised Paddie when they were having marital problems,” Sandy said.

“I guess,” Jill said.

“The LC wants us to be horse trained,” MJ said. “Some of the guys have never been on horses. The team’s going to use all four horses for training.”

“Right,” Jill said. “That will help out with the fees too.”

“Katy doesn’t mind?” Mike asked.

“Katy?” Jill smiled. “No. She thinks things are better if they’re shared. She’s thrilled. Plus it’s good for the horses to have a lot of interaction.”

“She’s a special girl,” Sandy smiled.

Jill nodded.

“Okay, we know how much we have to cover,” Sandy said. “Do we agree on the charity fund?”

“We don’t use the charity fund,” Mike said.

“I’d rather go without something than dip into our giving fund,” Jill said. “There are people who really need the help.”

“Especially now,” MJ said.

“Then we agree,” Sandy said. “What can everyone put in?”

“My salary is split in two,” MJ said. “Half goes to my sister and brother. My younger sister just graduated college and is looking for a job, but . . . She found a nanny job, but not a real professional job. My brother’s waiting tables. He’s graduating early in a couple of months, so he’ll have that, but . . .”

“They need half your salary,” Sandy nodded.

“Sorry,” MJ nodded.

“No,” Sandy said. “You’re very generous. Thanks for putting it in.”

“Of course,” MJ said.

“What about the apartment building?” Mike asked. “Don’t you have tenants there now?”

“The building’s about half full,” MJ said. “But Jake says not to expect a profit for another couple years. ‘We grow slow.’ That’s what he said. We want to give great customer service. If we screw up now, it can really ruin our reputation. It’s just not worth it. Or that’s what Jake said before all of this. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this.”

MJ’s eyes flicked to Delphie.

“I didn’t,” Delphie shrugged. “It’s either too close or I’ve been distracted by . . . everything or . . .”

“No one blames you,” Jill said.

“I should have . . .” Delphie started.

“Stop it.” Mike’s voice was firm. Everyone stared at the laptop. “It doesn’t help. Plus, if we hadn’t had Jake’s prediction and your follow up, people would have died. I’d rather never go out to eat again than have people die.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“I’ll go next,” Mike said. “I gave the money I got from the art museum sale to Otis.”

“Why?” Jill blurted out.

“He’s still in hot water over our stepfather’s theft.” Mike sneered at the word “stepfather.”

“He is?” Jill’s voice betrayed her surprise. “Why didn’t you . . .?”

Jill stopped talking. Her face flushed and she looked down.

“Mike’s given me the details of his commissions,” Sandy said. “They’re going to be a big help.”

“Later,” Mike mouthed to Jill.

She nodded.

“Why isn’t Val here?” MJ asked.

“Val’s money is going to the school,” Mike said.

“We’re not willing to cut back at the Marlowe School yet,” Jill said. “People need quality day care, more so when things are tight. Val’s generously stepped forward to help support the school.”

“I’m teaching weekend retreats through this month and next,” Delphie nodded. “Six total. They sold out in a number of hours.”

“I thought you couldn’t do more than one of those a month,” Mike said. “They were too much, too exhausting.”

“They are tiring,” Delphie said. “But . . .”

She shrugged.

“I’ve been through this kind of thing before,” Delphie said. “Sam and Celia had this problem when they took over the airport work. They had to expand the company, buy new equipment, and hire people, but they didn’t get the money until the work was done. I led groups almost every weekend for the better part of a year just to keep food on the table. I’ll do it again.”

“Speaking of food, did you get a chance to look at our reserves?” Sandy asked.

“The chest freezers are full of food from the garden,” Delphie said. “Last fall, Val and Sandy stocked the pantry with pasta sauce, jelly, peaches, and . . . well, everything they could put in a jar or can.”

“Jake and I are going out this weekend to see if we can bag a deer,” Mike said.

“With the bison we have left, a deer would be enough meat for most of the winter,” Jill said.

“I’m going with you guys,” MJ said. “Me and Troy. Between the four of us, we can get four deer.”

“And you think you will?” Jill asked.

“Troy’s a great shot,” MJ nodded. “If we don’t get enough, the twins have a late-season bow license. They’re going out later this month. They were going to take Nash and Teddy.”

Sandy nodded.

“We’re going to be sick of wild game,” Jill said.

“Nah,” Sandy said. “It’s just a chance for us to try out new recipes.”

“No more eating out,” MJ said.

“No more eating out,” Jill nodded.

“What about you, Jill?” Sandy asked.

“The rehab business is going pretty strong,” Jill said. “Some of the Lipson employees are coming over to help with drywall, painting, and stuff like that.”

“That’s an expense,” Sandy said.

“But it means we’ll finish jobs early,” Jill said. “Finished jobs are paid jobs. Jake’s not going to be able to help because he’s out looking for work for Lipson. We agreed that I can put all of what I make into the household. I’m working to complete the plans and get them approved so that I’m just going to oversee things after the boys are born.”

“I’m going to work part time with Jill when we get back,” Mike said.

Sandy bit her lip and looked down at her spreadsheet.

“What about you, Sandy?” Delphie asked.

“Can you spend those gold coins?” MJ asked.

“No,” Sandy shook her head and looked miserable. “Most of them were taken by the Feds. The rest are tied up in trust funds for the kid’s college and for the non-profit I want to start. Plus, I can’t touch the money for two years or the Feds will come and take all of it. Same with Andie’s money.”

“My diamonds are the same,” Jill said. “If I try to sell them, I lose all of them by the terms of Celia’s will.”

“Our pots of gold are off-limits in one way or the other,” Sandy said.

“Who needs them?” Delphie asked. “We can do this. We have a place to live.”

“Most of our food,” Jill said.

“What’s left?” Delphie asked.

“Well, groceries. Even with the stores, we need flour, sugar, eggs, . . . uh, heat for winter, water bills, gas and insurance for all the cars, clothing, and . . .” Sandy rubbed her forehead.

“Did Jeraine ever pay Jake for the house?” Mike asked.

“He did,” Jill said. “Jake’s using the money to back the company health insurance. If the company runs out of money, the employees at least will have health insurance.”

“Good thinking,” Sandy said. “And, shoot.”

“No pots of gold,” Delphie said.

“I’m taking in two other stylists,” Sandy said.

“Really?” Jill asked.

“It will reduce my overhead,” Sandy said. “I can bring home more of what I make. I’m adding hours too. Early and late. Pete has agreed to stay on and help with cleaning up even though I can’t pay him. He feels like he owes it to me.”

Sandy shrugged.

“Speaking of clean up,” Jill said. “Did you find out about Rosa?”

“She was angry,” Delphie said.

“Why?” Jill asked.

“Like Pete, she feels like we’ve done a lot for her,” Delphie said. “She wanted to keep her same schedule for less money, but she also understands that might not work long-term. They’re going to only come in every other week for major clean-up. The rest is up to us.”

“Noelle and Nash have agreed to help with the cleaning,” Sandy said. “Rosa went through the house with them and told them what needs to be done where. They’re excited to do it.”

“If Noelle and Nash do the work that pretty much means you do it,” Jill said.

“Yeah,” Sandy nodded. “But it helps us get closer to breaking even. You know Katy’s on laundry duty.”

“I heard,” Jill said.

“How close are we?” MJ asked.

“Thousand dollars. A month,” Sandy said. “As compared to our expenses last year. Aden bought a couple cords of wood to keep the fireplaces going. That should help with the heat bill.”

“And the solar,” Jill nodded.

“Even with that,” Sandy said.

“We’re still a thousand short,” Mike said.

Sandy nodded.

“Any ideas?” Jill asked.

“None,” Sandy said. “You?”

Jill shook her head. Sandy looked around the table. Everyone shook their heads.

“We’ll just have to do our best to cut back,” Sandy said. “Wear sweaters, shorter showers, stuff like that.”

“I’ve certainly done that before,” Jill said. “Gosh, before we moved in with Jacob, we were always short.”

“Us too,” MJ said.

Delphie and Sandy nodded in agreement. They ate the rest of their lunch in an uncomfortable silence.


Wednesday afternoon — 3:07 p.m.

“What’s the final word?” Charlie asked Nash.

Nash clicked through his computer and read down the spreadsheet.

“Thousand dollars,” Nash said. “Short. A month.”

Charlie nodded.

“That’s a lot,” Sissy said. Noelle nodded.

“Noelle and I are doing the cleaning,” Nash said. “Katy’s going to help, mostly with the laundry ‘cuz she’s so tiny.”

“That saves money but doesn’t bring any in,” Charlie said. Nash nodded.

“What did you come up with?” Nash asked.

“I got a job at Sam’s No. 3 downtown,” Charlie said. “Busing tables and prep cook. After school.”

“What about basketball?” Noelle asked.

“Coach cancelled the season,” Charlie said. “He was pissed, but what can you do? Half the team is in jail.”

“I thought they asked if you could play at Regis,” Sissy said.

“They did,” Charlie said. “Doesn’t change the fact that we need a thousand dollars a month. What did you get?”

“I got two jobs,” Sissy nodded. “I’m going to help out with the little kids at Denver Ballet. That’s three days a week. And I took a Scottish dance class on Sunday.”

“Scottish dance?” Nash asked.

“She used to do it when we were kids,” Charlie said.

“What about joining a ballet company?” Noelle asked.

“What about it?” Sissy shrugged. “If it happens, it happens. I haven’t heard anything final and we need money now.”

“How much is that?” Charlie asked.

“Um, twenty-five dollars every Sunday,” Sissy said. “And just minimum wage for the weekdays. You know they’re all about the honor of working with the theater.”

“Did you try the private schools?” Charlie asked.

“This is what I could get,” Sissy’s voice rose with anxiety. “I’ve been so focused on dance and school and getting better that I don’t have the contacts with the private schools, or kids to teach or . . .”

“It’s good,” Charlie smiled. “You did good.”

“Where does that leave us?” Nash asked.

“I’ll make about four hundred a month,” Charlie said. “Maybe more. I was thinking of getting my driver’s license so I could deliver pizza.”

“That’s a good idea,” Noelle said. “We could help.”

Charlie nodded.

“With Sissy and Charlie’s money, we came up with six hundred,” Nash nodded.

“It’s not a thousand but . . .” Charlie smiled. “It’s really good.”

“We can babysit,” Noelle said. “My friends at school do it every Friday and Saturday night.”

“You have to take the Red Cross class,” Nash said.

“How much is that?” Charlie asked.

“Twenty-five dollars online,” Noelle said. “I have enough left over from last summer for me and Nash to go.”

“I can babysit too,” Sissy said.

“Not with everything else,” Charlie said.

“Sometimes people make good money babysitting,” Sissy nodded.

“You’re doing enough,” Charlie said.

“You’re sure?” Sissy asked.

She gave Nash and Noelle a worried look. They nodded. Charlie nodded and went through the spreadsheet again.

“Shit I could make a thousand dollars a day selling drugs,” Charlie said under his breath.

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t live long,” Noelle said.

“Don’t do it, Charlie,” Sissy said. “You wouldn’t be able to live with us anymore.”

Nash gave him a long look and Charlie nodded.

“We’re close,” Nash said. “That’s what matters. We’ll keep our eyes and ears out. Maybe something will come along.”

Nash looked at Noelle and then at Charlie and Sissy.

“We’ll get through this,” Nash smiled.

“We’ve had to do this a bunch,” Sissy said. “Seemed like every time we stop working, we’d have to start again.”

“Yeah, but we had Sandy’s money to make up the difference,” Charlie said. “We don’t this time.”

“We also have food and clothes and a nice place to live and . . .” Sissy nodded.

“We’re helping,” Nash nodded. “Not just sitting around like some dumb kids.”

“Right, that’s what matters,” Charlie said.

“Right,” Sissy said.

They smiled at each other because no one wanted to admit that they felt sad that things had changed.

“Have to get to work,” Charlie said.

“Me too,” Sissy said.

Nash and Noelle watched them go. They looked at each other and set off to do their Wednesday cleaning tasks.


Wednesday afternoon — 9:07 p.m.

“How did it go?” Heather whispered. She got up from their bed.

Blane was standing over Mack’s crib. He smoothed Mack’s hair and turned to her. Heather’s eyes scanned his face. He gave her a quick, tired smile and held out his arms. They hugged. He stepped back and touched her face. She smiled at him.

“How did things go?” Blane moved into their bathroom. “We delivered a healthy baby boy, if that’s what you mean.”

He stuck his head out of the bathroom.

“They paid us in chickens,” Blane smiled.

“Again?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“I think we should raise them,” Blane said. “He said we could come to get them in the spring. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Heather smiled.

“I know, I know, who would have time?” Blane smiled at her. “If we collect our chicken debt we’d have fourteen or something like that. He said he’d build us a coop.”

Heather chuckled.

“I think we should do it,” Blane went into the bathroom.

Heather waited while he took a quick shower. He came out with a towel wrapped around him.

“Before you ask, I’m feeling good, strong,” Blane said. “How are you?”

He put his hand on her belly.

“How’s my boy?” he asked.

“Good,” Heather said.

“What’s the word at the Castle?” Blane asked.

He started putting on his pajamas.

“Charlie came up with a plan where all the kids work,” Heather said. “Jill was furious. Sandy cried. But truthfully, they need the money.”

“Are they still short?” Blane asked.

“Four hundred dollars,” Heather said. “They think. Everyone’s scrambling. Do you think we could . . .?”

“Sure,” Blane said. “Sam and Jake bought this house, did all the remodeling. We’d be scrambling if you didn’t have the job at Simply Moore and we didn’t get money for fostering Tink.”

“We’d be in real trouble without the health insurance,” Heather said.

“Right,” Blane said. “Plus, I’m not going to be working much. I can always take on a few more acupuncture clients.”

“Jake doesn’t need you?” Heather asked.

“We’re running smaller teams,” Blane said. “Jake’s going to be in the field all the time. I can manage his calls, email, and stuff from wherever I am.”

“It seems like a lot,” Heather said.

“I’m glad to do it,” Blane said. “There’ve been lots of days when I was too sick to work but took full salary. This is just a chance to return the favor.”

“I feel bad because you had all that time off for Mack, but Jake won’t have it for the boys,” Heather said.

“Sucks, but there’s nothing he can do,” Blane said. “I’m hungry. You?”

“I’d like some tea,” Heather said.

He nodded his head toward the stairs and she followed him to the kitchen.

“What jobs did you guys end up taking?” Heather leaned against the opposite counter.

“Sewer lines,” Blane shook his head and took out a loaf of homemade bread. He turned on the electric kettle. “Sure you don’t want a sandwich?”

Heather nodded.

“With the drought, a lot of people’s sewer lines have broken,” Blane said. He took turkey, cheese, and sandwich fixings from the refrigerator. “Especially in this drought. The Hargreaves’s rooming house is the first one on the list. That’s two lines. Bambi’s working a team through that neighborhood. She’s doing the rooming house, Colin’s house, and Erin’s. They went today to check it out and the people across the alley asked if they’d do theirs. They’re going to offer free sewer scopes around the neighborhood and see what pops up.”

“They can give people good deals since they’re there already,” Heather said.

“That’s exactly right,” Blane nodded. “Rodney’s running a crew in Five Points. They’re already booked out for a month. People need clear sewer lines.”

“Who’s closing up shop?” Heather said.

“Jerry, a couple other site managers, Sam, a couple crews,” Blane said. “They should be completely out of the large site by the new year. They sold the trailers to those guys who left Lipson. I was there when they brought the checks. They were so smug. I don’t know how Sam kept his cool, but he did.”

“He knows he’s doing the right thing,” Heather said.

“What’s necessary,” Blane said. “These guys are so sure they are right. They won’t even listen to what Jake and Sam are saying. I just hope . . .”

Blane gave her a worried look. Heather patted his chest. He shrugged and went back to making his sandwich.

“Sam was able to return the leased equipment,” Blane said. “Mostly the big excavators, loaders, and scrapers. We’re left with the smaller equipment.”

“What will happen when you’re off the site?” Heather asked.

“We close all our state projects,” Blane said. “I assume those guys will follow along behind us, buying up trailers and taking over the jobs. It’s going to take a couple months to transfer all the work to other companies.”

“Then what?” Heather asked.

“Who knows?” Blane noticed how worried Heather looked. He set down his sandwich and hugged her. “It’s going to be all right. Sam’s been through this very thing a couple of times. He doesn’t seem worried. Why are you?”

“It’s my specialty,” Heather smiled. “I come by it naturally.”

“Because your mom is so good at it,” Blane laughed.

Heather smiled. The kettle clicked off and Blane moved to make her tea. She finished making his sandwich. They sat down at their dining room table.

“My guess . . .” Blane said with his mouth full. He smiled at himself and chewed. After swallowing, he said, “My guess is, that by the time we’re out of all those state jobs, we’ll be plenty busy. Work has a way of finding Jake and Sam. They’re already fielding calls from cities to do road work this summer. It’s not high paying but we’ll get by.”

“I hope you’re right,” Heather said over the rim of her tea cup.

“Me too,” Blane said.

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