"Hi there young man, it has been so long since I have seen you. How are you doing after losing your parents so tragically? It must have been such an awful blow to you. I've been hoping you would stop by sometime so I could tell you how sorry I am. Your Mom and I were such great friends. She was like a daughter to me you know, and you dear man, are still my grandson."
"Mrs. Henderson. It is good to see you too. I'm sorry I don't come to see you more often. I will stop next time I come over to check on the house. Do you still make cookies?"
"I do. I don't keep them on hand like I used to, but if you give me warning, I'll bake some especially for you. I'm glad you have someone staying in your parents' house. She is keeping the windows washed and I know she has washed the curtains. I haven't spoken to her yet, but she waves to me. Is the girl still going to school? She always has a book bag over her shoulder. What is her name?"
Thinking fast I said, "Tell you what, I'll have her come over and introduce herself to you. I'm going over there sometime today and I'll make sure we come so you can become acquainted. You might make some of those cookies. My mouth is watering already."
"I'm going directly home and do that. It will be just like it used to be."
Mrs. Henderson hurried away down the aisle. The office building I worked in housed several small offices and I assumed she was here on business. She had given me a mystery to solve. As far as I knew my folks' house was uninhabited, but apparently not. Mom and Dad had been killed by a drunk driver several months before. They were firm believers in insurance and I suddenly found myself with a good-sized bank account. However, it was in direct proportion to the loneliness that was in my empty heart from losing them.
I must have a squatter living in the house. I had my own home, such as it was, on the other side of town. I lived alone, for my wife left me a year ago. She had been my constant companion all through college and we had married during the last year there. Mom and Dad gave us a down payment for a two bedroom bungalow. We had been party animals in school and Mavis wanted to continue even after we married.
Me, well I wanted to start a family and put that all behind me. Mavis realized this difference in our goals, so a year ago we parted amicably. I still talked to her occasionally and sometimes she came around and we spent the night together. She was never able to drag me back into her lifestyle though. She had been by my side during the double funeral for my parents, which I appreciated. To her this was an indication that life was too short and she was gone again the next day.
My parents owned a beautiful stucco four-square in the older section of town where I grew up. The house was mine now. I couldn't make up my mind whether to put it on the market or not and as the utilities weren't that much they were still connected. The phone was the only item I had discontinued. This squatter couldn't be using much, for I hadn't seen any increase in the monthly bills.
Mrs. Henderson lived next door. She was my baby-sitter when I was small and I did chores for her as I got older. She had seemed ancient during my childhood, but she couldn't have been more than fifty-five when I was born. She must be nearly eighty now. She had given me a few clues as to who was living there. The person was female, still going to school and shy. If she was there tonight, I planned on finding out more about my mysterious unknown house guest.
I excused myself from work early and got to the house shortly after three. I parked down the street from the house and entered through the side door into the kitchen. The place sparkled, the floor was swept and there wasn't any dust anywhere. The only item that was out of place was one dish and one spoon in the sink. I opened the door and looked into the refrigerator. There was an almost empty gallon of milk stored there.
The pantry was off the kitchen and I opened the cupboards. There was canned food in all of them just as Mother had left them when she died. In one, cans had been crowded aside to make room for some dented ones and a huge family-size box of corn flakes. This person was furnishing her own food anyway.
I wondered where she was sleeping so I made my way upstairs. Of the four bedrooms, she had chosen the smallest. I looked into the closet and could see one dress, four tops and one well worn pair of jeans on the hangers. I assumed there were intimates in the dresser, but I did not check. The bed was made. I didn't recognize the coverlet, but that wasn't surprising for I hadn't stayed here for a few years. There was a ratty looking robe and a dry bath towel lying on the bed. I checked the bathroom. All of the handles and knobs were polished and the tub was clean as well as the toilet bowl. She must be using the tub because there was no shower curtain.
Going downstairs I went into the living room and sat in my father's chair. Nostalgia washed over me as I remembered my days growing up here. My family was a loving family. My parents didn't coddle me or allow me to have all of the toys of the day. I earned what I received by doing chores in and around the house for both my mother and father and as I got older, Mrs. Henderson. I think this gave me a strong work ethic. I had slipped some when I was at the university, but got back on track when I married.
This was the one difference between my ex-wife and myself. We resolved it by splitting up, but remaining friends, each understanding the differences and only wishing we had realized it earlier before we married. Almost asleep, I thought I was hearing my mother moving around in the kitchen. Sharply coming awake, and knowing that wasn't to be, I went and stood by the door. There was a tall girl, several sizes larger than my ex, standing with her back to me. There was a dented can on the counter and she was getting a can opener out of the drawer.
"There is a can of ham in the pantry. If you will open it, I will join you this evening." She flinched, and not looking at me went into the pantry. When she came out she of course was facing me. There was a doe-in-the-headlights look on her face. "Maybe a can of beans will go good with that too. I'll go borrow some bread from next door and we can make a ham sandwich to go with the beans."
I walked by her and out the door to Mrs. Hendersons. I could tell by the smell when I walked in that she had baked cookies. I said I would be back after supper and have a cookie and I would be bringing my tenant with me. Coming in the door, this girl/woman had set the table and was pouring a glass of milk. She tasted her milk. I could tell she wanted to make sure it was sweet. "There is an unopened bottle of catsup and a jar of mustard in the cupboard, if you want. I like catsup on my beans. I guess we can make a meal."
"Oh yes this looks wonderful." She emptied the beans and the ham onto the plates giving me the largest portion. When she got up to get napkins, I switched plates. She sat down and took a mouthful, not realizing until she swallowed what I had done. Too late to switch back, she gave me a half-angry look, but wiped her plate with the last piece of bread when the beans were gone.
"Where do you eat most of the time?"
"Here for breakfast, and at school if I have the money at noon. I finish with soup here in the evening. Thank you for letting me open the canned ham. I have been very tempted several times. You sit and I'll do the dishes."
I watched her as she moved about the kitchen. She was tall for a woman and moved with a fluid grace. She did not have what you would call a pretty face, but very attractive. She was nicely proportioned as well. Some day, if she hadn't already, this person would turn heads. "Would you sit, please? First I would like to know your name?"
"It is Candy Barr. That is with two rr's."
"You must know then that I am Johnny Caramel Jr. That is with one C."
Candy smiled at my attempt at humor. "I do know. Some of your things are still upstairs. Are you going to call the police?"
"No, probably not. How did you come to be here? I mean other than the obvious. I know you broke in, but why, and why have you stayed?"
"Things are bad for me at home. My mother and stepfather live a few blocks closer to the center of the city. My dad is dead. My stepfather drinks and when he does that, he slaps my mother around. Not only that he makes my mother bring home men for sex and he takes the money. Mom has to get awful drunk before she gives in and she doesn't know how to stop him. She is becoming an alcoholic and the other is obvious. I was out for a walk a couple of months ago and this place looked empty, so I broke the window and came in and looked around. It was so nice here, I just stayed."
"You come and go freely now and the door was locked when I got here this afternoon."
"I fixed the window I smashed and found a set of keys here in the kitchen. I have kept the house locked when I'm not here. Actually I lock it when I'm here, too."
"Tell me about yourself. I guess I have the right to know."
"I'm a senior in high school and I'm seventeen, almost eighteen. I'm intelligent and if I had gone out for sports for a well-rounded curriculum, I would have had a real shot at being valedictorian. I've applied for several scholarships, although I don't know if I will ever get to use them. You can guess from what I've told you what my financial situation is."
"Up against it aren't you?"
.... There is more of this story ...