"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?"
"Yes, I suppose so, but I'm not going to stay that way and I'm not going to sell myself either. I've signed the pledge of abstinence and I'm big enough to make people listen to me when I say no. If I wasn't, my stepfather would have me doing what my mother does. Living here the last couple of months has helped a lot and has relieved a lot of my worries."
"Any hope at all for your mother?"
"Not while she is with him there isn't. She's afraid of him and would like a divorce, but she knows if she does get free and leave, he will find her. He might even kill her. She is to the point now where she feels that might not be so bad. It has become a hopeless situation."
"I can see that. And of course, the police can't do anything until a crime has been committed. Maybe things will get better for her."
"I doubt it. She is relieved, though, now that I'm not living at home to see her degradation."
"Say I can almost smell those cookies. Let's go over and sample them and you can meet your neighbor. She is a great old lady and has been a grandmother to me since I can remember."
We stayed an hour and Candy had a soda pop while Mrs. Henderson brewed me a cup of coffee. The nice thing about Mrs. Henderson, she didn't try to pry and when we left didn't know any more about Candy than her name and which school she attended. As we were leaving Mrs. Henderson asked her to come over often. Candy didn't know how to answer because she knew that she had to settle her status with me. I covered for Candy. "Oh, I'm sure she will. I have hired her to watch the house for me until I make up my mind what to do with it, but it will still be mine for a while yet."
Candy flashed me a look of relief and pleasure. Mrs. Henderson caught the expression and looked at me. I winked, so she knew I would come back to visit and explain.
When we returned to the house we sat again at the kitchen table. "Did you mean that? I can live here awhile longer?" She was looking at me hopefully.
"Yes, the house shouldn't be empty. I'll tell you what, I'll give you some spending money. You shouldn't be eating the food you are consuming. You need vegetables and fruit. I'll also have the phone connected in case you need to get in touch with me. Worse case scenario, you might need to call 911 for some reason."
"Then it is okay to turn more lights on? I have a heavy study load and I've just been using the one light in the bedroom."
"Sure, whatever you need. Also it won't be long before you will need some heat. Turn up the heat as you need it. That will keep the pipes from freezing this winter."
Candy's eyes were a little misty as she asked, "Why are you being so nice to me?"
I looked at my hands on the table and then raised my eyes to meet her glance. "Candy, I honestly don't know. Let's just say, because I can."
She was silent and then without looking at me, she asked, "Do you expect favors of me? That is the only reason I can think of why you are doing this."
"No, there are no strings attached and there won't be. What do you think Mrs. Henderson would say to me if I tried something like that? It is just as I have outlined, you keep the house open and let me know of any problems. People pay to have their houses looked after, so this is just a job."
Candy didn't gush or say anything except thank you. I gave her my phone number and asked her to call me when it was put back into service. I assumed she had studying for her bag of books were on the sideboard, so I said as I was leaving. "How much money do you need for food?"
"Not much if it is okay to eat what is here."
"That won't last very long. Let's say I give you a hundred and fifty a month for food and for what you do around here. You've been here for two months--that's three hundred and I'll give you another hundred and fifty for this month in advance. I'll make out a check for four hundred and give you fifty in cash so you will have something until you get to a bank to cash the check. Will that be agreeable?"
"I should be paying you. It has been a long time since I have had more than a few dollars at one time. I don't know why you are doing this, but I appreciate it more than you know."
"That's okay, maybe this is a lucky day for both of us. Call me for sure when the phone is in. Goodnight."
As I was walking down the street to my car, I was thinking maybe I was a damn fool, but the girl certainly needed a hand. Who knows, maybe it would be a good investment. When I got home to my bungalow, I called one of my buddies that worked in the police department. "What do you know of a Leon Stopes that lives on Central Street?"
"Not much except he is a scumbag. No one likes him and he treats his wife like shit. He'll make a wrong move someday and you will see his name come through your office. His daughter has tried to have him arrested a couple of times, but the investigating officer hasn't found enough on him to bring him in."
"Well, she is actually his stepdaughter. Her mother is on a fast slide downhill, but she was a beauty at one time and still retains some of her looks. How come you want to know all about them?"
"I met the daughter this afternoon and was interested, that's all."
"Well don't cross her. She gave old Hap a rough time when she came to the precinct. He felt bad he had to tell her there was nothing he could do to help her."
I hung up and made a couple of more calls. Working where I did, I met all kinds of unsavory characters. Leon Stopes was bad, but no matter how bad he was, I could point to several that were worse than him. And some of them owed me a favor. I was calling in a couple of those favors.
It was two-thirty when my phone rang. "Johnny, how involved are you with Leon Stopes?"
"I'm not, why?"
"He got the shit kicked out of him. I mean he really got the shit kicked out of him. He'll live, but he won't be much good to anyone again. He and his wife were in a bar and from what we can find out he was trying to get his wife to go with someone for sex. There were a couple of hard types that took the little lady's part. When Stopes, who was pretty drunk himself, slapped his wife and knocked her onto the floor, these guys took him outside and kicked the shit out of him. Nobody knows who they were, but the consensus is Stopes got what he deserved."
"Where's the wife now?"
"She's in the emergency room. She will be going over to the battered women's shelter when they release her. I don't suppose you would know where the daughter is? She isn't home."
"I can reach her later. She doesn't have a phone. I wouldn't want to upset her now."
"Somehow Johnny, I don't think you are telling me everything."
"Hey, my life is an open book."
I was sitting on the back step when Candy came out to go to school in the morning. She looked scared when she saw me. I knew what was going through her mind. "This man was so nice last night and now is he stalking me."
"Hi Candy. I came to tell you that your Mom is in a shelter. Your stepfather hit her last night and the police were called. She had to go to the emergency room and now she is being cared for at the shelter. She should be okay."
"When can I see her?"
"Not this morning. I think you should go to school. She is being evaluated and will be there for several days. I can take you over this afternoon if you wish."
"Can I call to see how she is?"
"When you get to school."
"Have you seen her?"
"How come you are involved? How did anyone know you knew me?"
"My buddy at the police station called. I guess your staying here hasn't been a too well-kept secret. Someone must have given out my address and the fact that you lived here."
Candy got in the car and sat with her hands folded in her lap all the way to school. I assumed she was thinking about her mother. When she got out in front of the school she looked at me. "Mr. Caramel, I think you are lying or not telling me everything. I guess that is okay, but in a few days I'm going to be an adult and I shouldn't be lied to."
I stared at her. Unbelievably she broke into a big smile. "That's a joke. I'll see you this afternoon."
Maybe she will be valedictorian yet. She certainly saw through me and would most likely get all the details from me as well. She was pretty smart for a kid of seventeen. She was a person with her feet planted solidly on the ground. Suddenly, I wished she was just a little older and nearer my age.
I had no idea what June Stopes would look like and she wasn't a pretty sight when Candy and I went into her room. She had a severe blackened eye and her upper lip was swollen and discolored. I followed Candy in. "Hi Mom, it looks like Stopes did a number on you this time. Now maybe you will get rid of him so you can clean yourself up and get on with your life."
"I'm done with him. The people here have helped me see about filing for a divorce. They say they will protect me for as long as I am here. I just have to find a place to live where he can't track me down. I'd go back to Wisconsin where I grew up, but I don't know anyone there. I've been away so long."
She turned her attention to me. "Who're you?"
"I'm John Caramel. Candy works for me."
"What do you mean, works for you? She has been staying at a friend's house for a couple of months."
"Mr. Caramel is my friend. He pays me to house sit for him."
"I'll bet he does. How long before he is going to want something else?"
"Mother, I'm not like you. He knows what you are and he knows I'm not like that. Besides there is a nice lady next door that watches out for me. Not all men are like Stopes, either, thank god. So what are your plans? You aren't going back to the apartment, are you? Stopes will find you and you'll be right back in the same mess again. You'll be drinking and going with anyone he tells you to. This time he may not stop at just hitting you."
"No, Candy. There are some nice people here and they have been talking to me and telling me how I can stay away from him. I just need a place to go. Can I come stay with you?"
"No you can't Mother."
I broke in. "What did you do when you lived in Wisconsin?"
"I grew up on a farm. I never should have left, but I met and married Candy's father. When he died I was lost for awhile and slid into this mess I'm in now."
"What did you raise on your farm, vegetables or animals?"
"A little bit of everything. We had a little dairy farm and milked cows. We raised pigs, chickens and a couple of sheep for our own use. God, I wish I could go back to those times."
"Pretty hard work wasn't it?"
"Yes, but it had its rewards."
I turned to Candy. "Have you enough money to get a taxi? I have some work I have to do on a case, so I have to leave. Can you arrange to get here to see your mother for a few days? It will be a couple of days before I see you again. Remember about the phone, though."
"I have enough money now and thank you Mr. Caramel. I'll call if I need anything."
I turned to June Stopes. "I'm glad to meet you Mrs. Stopes. I hope things work out for you. I may stop in to say hi, if I'm over this way. That is if you don't mind?"
"I would like that. Thanks for bringing Candy to see me."
Two days later I was sitting down to enjoy a salad I had put together, when the phone rang. "Mr. Caramel, the phone is working now. I thought you should know. I've been to see my mother every night. She is feeling a lot better, although she doesn't know what she is going to do. I think she wants to go back to rural living, but doesn't know how. Anyway, I said I would call and I have as you can hear." There was a little chuckle at this.
"Candy, do you have any personal stuff at your Mom's apartment you would like to get out? If you do I can help you move it into your room."
"I do, but I didn't want you to think I was moving in permanently."
"With the situation you have at home and with your Mom, why don't you consider moving your things to the house for awhile. I'll talk to your mother and convince her it is okay and that I don't have any ulterior motives concerning you."
"She may need a lot of convincing. She is down on men right now. I trust you but she might not."
"Maybe I better take my extra special convincer with me then."
"That would be Mrs. Henderson, wouldn't it? She can do it if anyone can. I swear the woman loves you."
"And I love her just as much."
"Mrs. Stopes. This is Mrs. Henderson. I brought her along to be my character witness. I know it isn't any of my business, but with Candy's situation at home, I think she should move into my house permanently. Mrs. Henderson has known me since I was born and lives just next door."
"I do worry about what will become of Candy. Lord knows I have messed my life up. Sometimes I wish a person could have a second chance to live their life over. I want Candy to look up to me and be proud that I am her mother, but I guess it is too late for that."
"Not if you change. A lot of times all it takes is the will to change what is bad to something good. You said the last time I was here that you would like to go back and live on a farm. Honestly, I do know someone that would let you live on their farm. He owns a few sheep and his family lives there and helps out. One of the boys is a long-haul trucker and comes through here occasionally. If you thought that is what you would like to do, I can contact him." I didn't tell her I already had.
"I don't know. Is it near enough so Leon Stopes could find me? I wouldn't like to bring trouble down on anyone."
"Believe me even if he did, you would be well protected. When is he getting out of the hospital?"
"I think he will be confined for a few more days. His knee was pretty badly smashed and he can't walk. Even when he gets out he will be in a wheelchair for awhile. He is really peeved that I am divorcing him."
"New Mexico is a long way away. I doubt he would follow you there."
"New Mexico? That is a long way. How much would I have to tell them about me, or more to the point, how much are you going to tell them about me?"
"I'll just say you are a friend of a friend. You can tell them whatever you want to. Just don't lie. They are honest people. I've known them for many years."
"It sounds like a good thing. Do you know them, Mrs. Henderson?"
"I have met some of the family several times. From what I could gather it is a large family. They are a little noisy and always full of fun. I went there once, years ago, and had a great time. I hated to leave. John, if you go out this Christmas, you have to take me with you."
"I could plan that. Candy and June would like to see each other and see how each is doing. Candy can be the chaperone, so you have to behave."
"When would this take place if I decide to go?" June was definitely interested.
"Within the next week. Why don't you come stay at the house with Candy? It will be Christmas before you see her again and this will give you a few days together. In fact why don't you pack your bag and you can sleep there tonight. I was going to move Candy's stuff in tomorrow night and you may have some of your own to store at the house. You won't be able to take anything with you, but you will be taken care of with everything you need when you arrive."
When we reached Candy's, I let June Stopes go in to tell her daughter her plans as I walked Mrs. Henderson home. "You're mean, do you know that? Wait until she finds out this is your aunt's family and she was married to a Mexican American. And those few sheep, what is there, about a half million? Which cousin is she going to be riding with, Pedro? It is too bad your aunt isn't alive and are you looking for a wife for your Uncle Jiminez?"
"I am not answering any questions. June wanted a second chance and right now she is about to be born again."
I went back to the house and Candy met me at the door. "You convinced her didn't you? It couldn't have been too difficult. Mom is lying down for a few minutes. Really though, is mother going to be safe out there?"
"Perfectly. She wanted a second chance. I also promised her I would take you out there during the Christmas holidays and you are going to have a wonderful time. By that time you won't even recognize her. Would you take tomorrow and the next day off from school? Your mother's ride will be here about ten on Thursday. Pedro, who she is riding with, will only stop for coffee and take the time to load your mother into the sleeper. So if you have any catching up to do, you only have the two days."
"You will be here when he comes, won't you?"
"Yes. Look, if you aren't in school, I'll take the day off myself and we can get you moved and sort over your mother's stuff. I said she could store it here. Will there be enough for me to need to rent or borrow a pickup?"
"I don't think so. A couple of trips with your car should be enough."
It was a pathetic apartment. At least I could see that June had tried to keep it clean. This must be where the lesson in housekeeping came from--why Candy had tried to keep my house clean even though she could have just squatted.
In the course of packing I learned that June had married Candy's father when she was only eighteen. He had been killed during the time of the first Gulf war. He hadn't made it over, but was killed in a night practice accident at Fort Benning in Georgia. June was only ten years older than me at thirty-seven. The last few years had been rough ones for her. I hoped her second chance would peel some of the years away to where she would again look her age.
"What should I do about the car Leon and I own? Should I give it to Candy?" We were loading the last of June's and Candy's belongings.
Candy spoke up and said, "I don't want it. I don't want anything connected to him." That settled that.
I helped Candy take her stuff up to her room. "Mom is getting cold feet about leaving. Are you sure she will be okay? She is worried about traveling with a man she doesn't know." I looked at Candy. "I know what you are thinking, but Mom won't be drunk or have Leon there pushing her."
"She will be riding with Pedro. His wife, Maria travels with him sometimes, so he knows what it is for a woman riding in a big rig. When they stop, he will be right with her to protect her if she needs it. You can have her call from the different truck stops if you want, but it won't be necessary. They will be reaching New Mexico sometime late Sunday. He has a drop-off within thirty miles of their destination and his car is parked there. Your mother will call you Monday afternoon when you get home from school. Talk to her and tell her this is a new beginning. Tell her it will be just like being born again and she can make of it what she will."
"Okay, I'll talk to her. She has something to ask of you. I told her I wish she wouldn't but she won't leave if I keep her from asking you."
"I'll speak to her and she can ask me anything. She'll have to trust me about her new life because I'm not telling her a thing about that. Mrs. Henderson thinks I am being mean, but June will appreciate being reborn more if I don't tell her."
I found June in the living room. "Candy said you wanted to ask me something?"
"Yes. I know I haven't been much of a mother to Candy lately, but I have my wits about me now. Are you going to be moving into the house here? I'm asking because I hate to think of her living all alone this winter. Somebody should look out for her. I don't know you, but I have the feeling I can trust you to make sure she is all right."
"You think it would be okay then?"
"Yes. I am just starting to get a conscience and I am thinking of my daughter's welfare."
"I will if you wish and you have just made up my mind for me. Something I have had trouble doing." I left shortly after that, promising to return for supper the next night and wait for Pedro.
I lay in bed that night, wondering. What made women trust a man? I had talked to both Candy and June and they believed everything I told them. Of course I had Mrs. Henderson to tell them I was trustworthy, but if I had wanted to do these women wrong, I could have got around that. Not to worry, I didn't intend to hurt either one, but really, how could they be sure of that?
I thought of June Stopes. She, at one time was very attractive and soon would be again as she became happier and her troubled past receded. And Candy, she was ready to bloom and be even more attractive than her mother. Why? It wasn't because she was prettier. Humm, maybe because she was so much more intelligent. That must be it. And what about me. I was about halfway between them in age. I wouldn't be interested in June--but Candy. How long would I have to wait before I could show some interest in her? Not before school was out next spring, that is for sure, and by that time she may have found someone her own age.
I thought about my ex-wife Mavis. I still was very fond of her and we still got along great. She had been honest with me by asking me to cut her loose before she cheated on me. I appreciated that. If she had wanted to stay with me and be faithful, we still would be married and hopefully happy. But then she was gone and now only the fondness remained. I still wish the best for her and she still shows up here occasionally to relive old times. What was she going to think when she found me living in a house with a school kid, and a lovely one to boot? Would she be jealous--I hoped just a little bit.
How would Candy feel when Mavis came to visit? Would she be jealous? Again I hoped so--just a little bit. Anyway it was going to be an interesting winter for me.
June, who was an excellent cook, had prepared the evening meal; pot roast and all the fixings, even homemade rolls. "Candy you must have used a lot of your money to buy this."
"Yes, but Mom is leaving and cooking dinner is her gift to me, even though I paid for it. Mom doesn't have any money. I gave her all I had. Payday for me is only ten days away."
"Well we are going to have a different agreement when I move back here. I think I should pay you to keep house for me and I will take over all the bills, including the food. You can do the cleaning and laundry, etc. Will the same amount be enough?"
"Yes, if it is okay with you. That is still pretty generous." June was listening to this exchange.
"Where were you when I needed a new husband?"
"I imagine still in school. I would have been too young for you, just like Candy is for me now."
"Are you sure she is too young for you?"
Candy exploded. "Mom, we were getting along so well. Stop it!" Candy went rushing upstairs. June looked at me and followed her to her room.
June came down in a few minutes saying, "I'm supposed to apologize for what I said. Would you tell her I did if it ever comes up? However, I want the best for my daughter and if you start having any feelings for Candy, you have my blessings. I don't have any right to advise her what to do after the mess I have made of my life. I do think you would be good for her and that is what I meant."
"Thank you June. I don't think you have made more of a mess of your life than what can be straightened out. I will watch over Candy. I think the mistakes you have made have been a good lesson for her and she won't make the same ones." June sat down on the couch.
I was sitting in a chair and eventually Candy came down and sat holding her mother's hand. At twenty minutes of ten, I said, "Pedro will be here shortly. Would you make a pot of coffee? Make it with one and a half scoops to one of what you usually do. He likes his coffee strong." It was three minutes after ten when we heard the big rig stop on the street.
I went out the front door and embraced my cousin as he stepped down. When we went in, I was asking how Maria was and how the kids were. "She's fine, pregnant again, of course."
"This will make number six won't it?"
"Yep, it will be six in eight years. I keep telling her she has to slow down, but she wants to keep up with my brother. Too bad we waited so long to get started. Oh well, a lot of kids seem to run in the family. Too bad your Mom and Pop didn't have more. You need brothers and sisters to be happy."
I made introductions. Pedro was a small man of thirty and carried the coloring of his ancestors. He complimented Candy on the coffee, and then said to me, "Johnny, would you get the lady loaded up? I'm going to have to make a detour about a hundred miles up the road and I want to make time or Maria will kill me for not getting there on the dot."
June was looking uncertain again, and I was glad she wasn't going to have time to change her mind. She and Candy clung to each other for a few minutes and then June turned to me and whispered, "Remember what I said earlier. I mean every word of it." Candy and I stood watching the end of the box go out of sight at the end of the street.
When Candy and I returned to the kitchen, she said, "Okay Mom is gone. Tell me what's ahead of her. Who is Pedro and how do you know him?"
I was laughing. "Pedro is my own cousin. My father and his mother were brother and sister. She died before my father, so really my uncle and aunt's family are all that I have left. My aunt married a Mexican/American by the name of Jiminez Allegro. His family own a valley that started out as a Spanish land grant. My aunt had four boys of which Pedro is the oldest. All are married. He was right when he said they love kids. The four boys have nineteen kids and counting among them.
"What I called a farm is a huge sheep ranch and the family all live in a compound. The ranch runs between 400,000 and 600,000 sheep depending on the time of year. They grow food for themselves and for the sheepherders that work for them. There is a school in the compound funded by the state right there on the premises. The thing that will strike June the most at first is the noise. When we go out at Christmas time, you will see what I mean. At lambing time which starts in late January, you have 400,000 ewes bleating, trying to keep track of their young. That is when it gets really noisy."
"Where will my mother be staying?"
"I imagine with my uncle. He has a bungalow away from the family compound. There are any number of things for June to do, she just has to pick something. Even if she doesn't want to stay there, this will give her time to get over Stopes. By the way, I'm supposed to send along the results of some health tests your mother took that the shelter arranged for her. I'm to keep her notified on the progress of her divorce, too. This just gives her a second level of security from Stopes."
"I started something when I broke in here didn't I?"
"Yes and it has made my life much more interesting. That's the fun of living, there is always something new around the corner. Nothing ever stays the same."
"You can say that when nothing bad has ever happened to you."
"I have had some bad moments. My parents were killed and died fifty years before their time. That wasn't good and nearly ripped the heart out of me. I had a wife who I loved, but she decided she didn't love me enough to hang in there with me until we had a family. This would have made us more satisfied with each other. Maybe I don't show it, but that hurt. Believe me, sometimes I would like to go off to New Mexico and make a new life for myself just like your mother is doing."
"Why don't you? You don't have that much holding you here do you?"
"I can't for awhile. I have responsibilities."
"I bet you could if you wanted to." Candy didn't get what I meant, which was just as well. Then she asked, "Are you sleeping here or at home? Mom and I made up your bed when you said you would be moving here."
"If the bed is made, I guess I will stay here. It is getting late and I have to work tomorrow and you have to go to school."
So started a new chapter in my life. We collaborated on breakfast, packed the same lunches and made supper together. I was doing some studying, for I wanted to pass my bar exam someday. With Candy studying her school work across the kitchen table, it gave me the impetus to buckle down myself. Candy asked if I minded if she went out for basketball and I assured her I thought she should. I saw her outside my home for the first time at practices and then at games. I deduced that Candy was liked well enough, but kept herself apart from having any close friends. I knew that occasionally a boy asked her for a date, but she turned him away, just saying she was busy.
When I asked her why she didn't go out she said, "If I go out, the boy will want to kiss me. When I see a boy I want to kiss, I will go out. Until then, I'm happy just the way things are. Would you drop it, as it is very personal and makes me uncomfortable. My birthday is next month and I will be eighteen and an adult. Adults, especially women, can do a lot more things than a teenager. They can ask a guy for a date and they can accept or reject any advances without people thinking they are weird."
I didn't have a clue as to what she was saying or meaning. I took her advice and dropped it.