The porch was a lot easier than I thought it would be and it was all thanks to the hurricane that seems nearly a lifetime ago. When they were rehabbing the coast they didn’t bother cleaning up beforehand. If something was in their way they would just throw it up into the bushes that lined the area. A lot of rich people complained about it but they were basically given the finger and told if they wanted it done to organize their own cleanup crews. Some did, most didn’t, or all they did was clean up in front of their own property.
Well I hadn’t. I kept meaning to but it isn’t like I’ve got a lot of spare daylight hours and no way am I digging around in stuff at night when I can’t see if there is a snake, scorpion, river rat or some other biting or stinging member of the varmint population. Well, needs must when the devil drives. With a less than cooperative Feena strapped to my back in her old sling riding me like a bareback bronco I went along the road and collected the straightest pieces of scrap lumber I could find. Couldn’t have ants or termites either and if it was pressure treated that was even better. It took four or five wheel barrow trips but I managed to scavenge enough wood to make most of the repairs.
I couldn’t replace the main column that was at the head of the porch steps so scrapped out as much of the burnt wood as I could, sanded what was left and then filled the resulting cavity with wood putty that I had bought in preparation of doing the rest of the insulation on the outside walls. Well, that’s unlikely to happen until Juvember at this rate so I put the putty to a different use.
It took me a couple of pieces to figure out what I was doing despite having a “Mr. Fix-It” book opened as I was working; but soon I had a rhythm down. And lucky for me the property management company had left the remainder of the paint behind after they had finished and there was enough porch paint to hide the repair … well mostly hide the repair. The paint had aged out in the heat of the barn and wasn’t a perfect match but I figured I could crochet a big rag rug and hide it completely. All that matters is that no one is going to break a leg stepping through the wood that was there before.
I was outside cleaning up when I heard Cal’s truck; being diesel it has a distinct sound. Instead of stopping where he normally does he drove on around the house to where I was standing. He looked in the first good mood he’d had since … well, for quite a while now. He looked at the porch then at me then back at the porch and said, “I’ll ask how you managed that in a little bit. Help me get this stuff in the house before that stupid drone makes its way here. Oh good, you’ve already covered the panels.”
“Drone? They don’t usually come until later in the day.”
“Uh, well, this one might … I’ll tell you in a minute, let’s just get this stuff in real quick.”
I so did not like the sound of that. “This” turned out to be several card board boxes, some of them heavy. As soon as the boxes were on the rear porch he moved his truck and then came back to help me finish moving the boxes inside.
“Let’s just go ahead and close the shutters.”
“Most of them are already shut,” I told him suspiciously. “Someone was burning something and the wind was blowing a rank smell this way. And don’t get me off topic. Cal … you gonna tell me what gives?”
“In a minute,” he answered. Then he ripped a sheet off of pad of paper I keep in the junk drawer and clicked the pen from his pocket and wrote, “Call me paranoid but I think PP is tailing me.”
I looked at him and it felt like my eyes were going to roll out of their sockets. I opened my mouth and shut it and then opened and shut it again. I must have looked like a beached fish … I certainly felt like one.
OK, I am so not going to go word for word the rest of our “conversation” as it would be too irritating. It was hard enough to do it the first time around.
The boxes contained groceries. I nearly flipped when I saw them. I wanted to be happy but the way Cal was acting just didn’t ring right. We put them away quickly and as we did I realized that most of it was something that we would have normally need a ration card for – another new rule meant to control the flow of things in the county.
The purported reason for the rationing was fairness. Yeah, there’s the F word again. With ration cards no one got too much while someone else got too little or nothing. Everyone got treated equally and fairly. Yeah right. Of course they didn’t. I’d already heard reports on the radio that people had been caught selling their ration cards for things like drugs or other things just as illegal.
So the question became where did these groceries come from. When I found out I was really upset. He wasn’t doing a thing illegal … that just is not who Cal is. He was moonlighting and doing some security work at a food distributor’s warehouse. On those nights I thought he was sleeping at work he was actually standing guard while food trucks came in and went out. Before I had a chance to absorb that he went on to explain to me through notes and hand motions that Percival Perfect was now working for DHS … and they’d had a bit of a tiff.
“What do you mean he is working for DHS?”
“I mean he’s working for DHS, don’t ask me how or why. I don’t know and could care less.”
“Then why the tiff?” At the look on his face I added, “I mean besides the fact that he is a jerk.”
He sighed and wrote, “He was complaining at me that I was holding up the divorce papers.” I gave him a questioning look. “I know, I told him the hold up wasn’t on my end. Her lawyer keeps coming back threatening to ask for alimony. I told him she is the one that keeps changing things, not me. Every time she tries to take it before a judge the judge throws it back because she had already signed the original agreement and the judge had approved it.”
“What did he say to that?”
“Called me a liar. I told him if he didn’t believe me to check the court records because I knew he had access to them even though they are technically supposed to be hidden from the public.”
“And I think he did because he was really angry about an hour later. Then I get a call from Lily screaming at me and I finally shouted her down and said that it wasn’t my fault that she’d been lying to her lover and stringing him along while she tried to get a better financial settlement out of me.”
“Yeah. I hadn’t really meant anyone to overhear it but …” He shrugged after I read his sentence and raised my eyebrows.
Then I wrote, “Did he actually threaten you?”
He shook his head and wrote, “Of course not. He may be stupid but he is still clever and wily enough not to show his hand to anyone else. He buzzed me with the drone during a demonstration and tried to play it off as a joke and then explained how it was possible for someone to be specifically targeted, tailed, and observed all without their knowing it. He said it pointedly enough that he made some of the guys uncomfortable. And Josh completely understood where he was going with the implied threat and he and I have had a long talk.”
“Did you report him?!”
“PP? To who?” he shrugged. “And with what kind of evidence?”
“So are we supposed to spend the rest of our lives with the shutters closed and locked and passing notes back and forth like mutes?!!” And yes, I included the exclamation points in my note.
He shrugged again and then his stomach growled. I got up and flipped on the TV, not loud enough to disturb Feena who was upstairs playing in the room we had emptied just so she would have some place kid proof to cut up in, but louder than we normally had it. “I made pinto beans and rice for dinner. You might as well eat so you can get some rest.”
After a pause he said quietly, “I didn’t mean to bring trouble.”
I rolled my eyes. “I could give a rip about what PP thinks, wants, or anything else. Let him buzz around like the little German cockroach he is. What I am upset about is that you worked what had to be a lot of extra hours, making yourself so tired you’re nearly sick, and you didn’t even bother telling me.”
After raising his eyebrows like he’d just heard a kitten roar he tried to rationalize it by saying, “It was supposed to be a surprise.”
“You in a hospital bed or a coffin is not the kind of surprise I want or need Cal.”
He blinked at me. “You’re exaggerating.”
“No I’m not. Have you taken a good look in the mirror lately? I’ve taken your uniform pants in twice. You’re going to need a new belt if you lose any more weight. You are putting yourself at risk when you didn’t need to. And now you tell me it was for a surprise. How do you think that makes me feel to know that you are killing yourself like that to give me something nice?!”
I had to calm myself down before I picked up the glass for his tea or I would have shattered it. He came over and put his hand on my arm forcing me to stop what I was doing. “Hey … I’m OK.” I made a face but he continued on. “I’m tired and need some sleep. Everyone does. I’ve lost some weight. We all have … even you. I would not have done it except it was a chance to get a step ahead Aria. You haven’t said anything but I can tell you’re worried. You look at the stuff in the pantry and you see that more is going out than is coming in right now. I had a chance to alleviate some of that worry and I took it.”
I closed my eyes and knowing that he just was not going to get it so I tried to let it go. But not before I gave it one last shot. “Cal … I don’t need someone to take care of me and be my Keeper. I need a friend, someone I can trust and talk to. I need YOU. I know we bicker worse than real brother and sister do sometimes but … I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you. And if it was somehow my fault …” All I could do was shake my head because my voice was starting to crack.
Cal shook his head. “Hey you. We’ll get through this and nothing is going to happen to either one of us. I didn’t mean to worry you but it was a chance I might not get again and I took it … and I’d do it again. You need to understand that and accept it.”
Sighing and throwing the dish rag in the sink I said, “I know you would and I’m done beating a dead horse; you are who you are and I shouldn’t complain because most of the time it’s cool. Just next time … if there is a next time … tell me. OK?”
He nodded and then ate his dinner, took a shower, and finally crashed for some much needed and well-deserved sleep.