I was coming out of the store with a few groceries and other items. Most of the other things were cleaning supplies, as my sister and my two nephews were due for their annual visit. I'll admit that this year I wasn't looking forward to her coming. I had been divorced for two months now. My wife had moved out several months ago and I was now living alone.
The house was in terrible shape. The curtains were just as my wife had left them. I swept when I started tripping over things. The windows had their winter grime on them. The kitchen stove was a mess, but I did keep the counters clean. The dining room table was cleared off for I worked on that. About the only things that I kept anywhere near clean were the toilet bowl and the tub/shower enclosure. The second bath, I suppose I should clean that too as that is the one Sis would be using. At least I had two weeks to get it ready.
My brother-in-law wasn't going to be with them. He had been activated and although he wouldn't be going overseas, he was to be away most of the summer training other soldiers. It was a good thing for he was more particular than my sister about keeping things clean. As I pulled up to the stoplight before entering the main drag, I saw a young woman in cast-off clothes standing by a hand lettered sign that said she would do most anything for minimum wage. "Need food."
She was dirty and dressed in a ragged pair of jeans, but she had a bright look on her face. The top she had on was just a heavy sweater, equally as dirty. I studied her as I was waiting in line three cars back. Something about her made me think I had seen her before. Making a snap decision, I pulled up beside her and spoke out the rolled-down passenger side window. "Do you do housecleaning?"
"My specialty. Don't ask for anything personal though."
"You're safe with me. I don't trust women much anymore. I do need my house cleaned, that's all. Get in. Do you want to inform anyone where you are?"
"Nope, no one to tell. Mister, if I'm cleaning your house can I use your washing machine to wash some clothes?"
"I guess so. Where's your stuff?"
"Down under the bridge at the interstate overpass. I have two garbage bags. I just hope no one has run off with them."
"We'll swing by. I have just one more stop to make myself. I live about five miles from here over by the school on the edge of town. By the way, my name is Hank Rawlings."
"You can call me Angie." No last name or nothing. I guess maybe there was more that needed washing than some clothes. There was a distinct unwashed odor about my passenger. She must have known it for she cracked the window and sat as far away from me as possible.
The town supported a large dollar store and I pulled into the parking lot. "Do you need anything?"
"Maybe a candy bar. You can take it out of my wages." I nodded as I got out of my truck.
I went in and went down the aisle that held women's underwear and socks. I even found a bra that was one-size-fits-all. There were some shimmery things that I guessed were worn over the bra, and I grabbed a couple of those as well.
I almost forgot the candy bar as there were some women whispering to each other as I was checking out with the unmentionables. As I left the counter, face red, I asked of them, "Do dollar store clothes feel good on a man? I have never shopped in one before." That might give the whispering bitches something to think about.
When I climbed into my truck Angie said, "I thought you didn't trust women. You left the keys in the ignition. I could have driven away and sold the truck."
"You didn't though. So I know one more thing about you in addition to your name. You're honest. Actually it is my heart not my mind that doesn't trust women anymore." I found the bridge and Angie scrambled out just as another homeless person was opening her garbage bag.
Angie screamed at him and the guy ran off as I got out of the truck. There was a mattress there, but Angie said it wasn't hers although she had been sleeping on it--ugg! We threw the two bags in the back and in five minutes we were on the way to my home. I handed her the candy bar which was a Snickers and she nibbled at it until the final large bite which she popped into her mouth. "That was heavenly. Thank you."
My house was a modest three bedroom. There was a two car garage with a loft that was empty over it.
"Would you show me where the washing machine is? My clothes are filthy."
"Wouldn't you like to take a shower or bath first?"
"I would, but I don't have anything to put on."
"I think there is still a house dress in the kitchen cupboard that my wife used and didn't take with her. Would that do?"
"That would be great."
"Good, I'll dig it out and put it in the bedroom. There are towels and soap and even some shampoo of hers that is left. The scent reminds me of her, but I can stand it for today. What size shoe do you wear? Your sneakers are about shot. There is a box of odds and ends of shoes out in the garage. I'll bring it in and you can look through it."
"You are being awful good to me. Are you expecting more than just cleaning?"
"No. You appear to be having a tough time at the moment. I just want you to be comfortable while cleaning my house. Everything I'm giving you would be tossed sooner or later. I'm glad someone can use it."
"Thank you, I'll accept."
I gathered up the house dress, found the box of shoes and laid the stuff from the dollar store out on the bed as promised. It was only ten a.m. but I surmised that Angie would be hungry, probably from missing breakfast. I mixed up some pancake batter and put bacon and sausage in the skillet. I waited a half-hour and I was putting the meat on a plate and had just turned the pancakes over when she came out of the bedroom.
She was eyeing the one place I had set. "Where do you want me to start while you are eating your breakfast?"
"I've had my breakfast. I suspect you missed yours. Why don't you sit down and I'll put this on your plate. I have morning coffee, but it is pretty strong."
"I'll drink it. Coffee is my weakness. I'm still wondering what all this is going to cost me, but--oh hell, I'll worry about that later." Angie was a dainty eater and savored every bite. Every once in awhile she smiled at me. Finally as the last pancake disappeared she sat back with the last of the coffee as well.
"Okay, I'm full now and I'm clean and I am going to have clean clothes to wear. By the way, how did you know what size to get me?"
"You are about the same size as my former wife. I was married to her for seven years. What I got you was cheap stuff, but I didn't think you would mind."
"Mind? They are much better than what I have been wearing. Would you tell me why your wife and you are divorced? After that I'll tell you the story of my life. I know I'm supposed to be working, but I'll work doubly hard this afternoon to make up for it. You know I'm not going to get all this done today?"
"I know. Would you stay until it is finished? I need it completed by the time my sister and her two kids arrive. That is in about two weeks. You can use the bedroom where you changed earlier. I sleep upstairs."
"Of course I will stay. I haven't had it this good since my parents asked me to leave. I'll get to that later, but it is your turn."
"Short version. My wife was cheating on me. She was cheating with someone who I thought was a good friend. I discovered this had been going on for more than a year. I still gave her a choice of staying with me and not cheating or our being divorced. They are living together at the present. The last I knew he hadn't asked her to marry him which upsets her. She was crying on my shoulder about it the last time we spoke. I think she wanted me to ask her to come back. I waved the final divorce papers I had in my hand at the time in her face and walked away."
"And how do you feel about that? Are you sorry for making that decision?"
"No, but I have a pretty lonely existence."
"No, not yet. Someday maybe. I'm twenty-eight and I would still like a family. It has to be with someone that won't cheat. How can I tell? I can't, so I've been putting it off. Your turn. How can a woman as young as you and obviously well educated, be homeless?"
"Made some wrong decisions and assumptions, that is how. I'm twenty-four and I graduated from a teachers college last year. I met a black man while in school and I fell in love. My parents hated him. Maybe not so much the man, but the thought of me giving myself to a black person. They kicked me out and I went to live with him.
"I was hoping for marriage and assumed we would tie the knot. I became pregnant, which upset him, and we started fighting. I fell down some stairs and he walked out after telling me he didn't want anything more to do with me. This happened when I was laying at the foot of the stairs. Ten hours later I aborted the fetus because of the fall. We were living half-way across the country from here and I was alone without friends with no one to turn to.
"So as they say, I hit the road and have been slowly working my way toward home. I have no idea how my folks are going to receive me when I get there. I guess this morning happened to be the lowest point in my life until you stopped to pick me up. I have met a lot of people in the last couple of months since I lost my baby. Some of them were pretty weird, but some were really nice. So far you have been the nicest.
"You know with you promising to give me some work for the next two weeks, I might just arrive home looking like a decent person and can approach my parents with my head up. If they had seen me as I was when you picked me up, they wouldn't even open the door."
"Oh, I don't know. Have you had any contact with them since you left? They may feel they have made the wrong decision by kicking you out."
"Don't bet on it. They are pretty prejudiced. I'm totally tainted. I do want to contact them to find out though, just to have things settled between us. I'll call them before I leave if I may."
"Do you have your teaching certificate?"
"Yes, not in hand, but I can get it before the fall semester."
"Most of the teachers have contracts by this time. You may have trouble finding work."
"There is always a teacher shortage."
"Sure in the inner city or out in the boonies somewhere. Is either one of those what you are looking for?"
"Well maybe you will get lucky and be able to work steadily as a substitute. Angie, would you tell me your last name, seeing as how you are working for me?"
"It is Watkins. Angie Watkins. You aren't going to take tax out on me are you?"
"No, no tax." I was shocked. I knew Angie looked familiar when I first saw her and now I knew why. Her mother's name is Helen and her father's name is Frank. Well they would be happy to know she was alive. I was thankful I was the one to pick her up this morning. I had met the Watkins' at a teachers convention four years ago and every year since then, my wife and I made sure we had adjoining rooms. We always went down to dinner together and went out afterward for the evening.
Last year wasn't as joyful as usual for any of us. Shirley, my wife, had just left me and I was alone. Before the convention was over I learned that Frank and Helen were having problems of their own concerning their daughter. I was a little more liberal in my thinking so I couldn't quite agree with them about how they felt when they found their daughter was in love with a black man.
"So what has happened to your man? Did you ever hear from him again?"
"No and I made the decision he wasn't for me. Before I left the city this all happened in, I heard he was looking for me. I guess you can say I ran away. You know it isn't easy being with someone of a different race. My people hate him for being with a white woman. The blacks have the feeling that a white woman is with a black man for just one thing. He was a charming bastard and that is why I thought I was in love with him. We were just too different and it wouldn't have worked even if he was white. I guess you can say I have lost everything."
I looked at Angie. There were tears in her eyes. I wanted to give her a hug, but I knew instinctively she would push me away. I changed the subject. "I think I'd better show you what I need done. You probably know what is needed more than I do. When we get to the outside windows, I have to remove the storms. We will have to do that in the mornings. In the afternoons I have three students I tutor in math."
"You're a teacher? My father is a teacher too. I think that is why he is so disappointed in me. For awhile he thought I would apply to the same school where he works. Maybe I can watch you a little this afternoon and see how you teach."
"Sure. The students arrive after lunch at one o'clock."
I put Angie to work upstairs sweeping, dusting and eventually washing the inside of the windows. I had my usual lunch of cold cereal, just saying I would put together something for dinner after the students left. The students were from disadvantaged families and the city had a program and a grant from the state to give them help if they would promise to return to school in the fall. They were all old enough to legally leave school, and all would be seniors this coming year. The school board knew that if they did leave without completing the last year, they wouldn't be of much use to society. So I volunteered this summer as I didn't have a wife to worry about.
When the session was half over I looked up and Angie had come in and unobtrusively sat in the corner of the dining room where I had the students around the table. "Hey guys, this is Miss Watkins. She is planning on teaching somewhere this fall. Right now I have hired her to do some housework for me. Angie, meet Gail, Debra and Pete. Get to know each other while I get us a snack."
I went out and brought back a coffee ring with a bottle of orange soda. I had plastic cups and I poured all of us a drink and split the ring into five pieces, placing them on a napkin. Gail spoke to Angie, "You have beautiful blonde hair. It is such a pretty shade of gold. It is almost bronze."
"Thank you, I've often thought about cutting it short, but my last boyfriend liked it long."
"You have a boyfriend? Tell us about him."
"No use, we aren't together anymore. Do you have someone you like Gail?"
"I have a someone I like, but he doesn't even know I'm alive." She blushed red. "I'm fat and have zits so I'd die if he knew my feelings. It would embarrass me so."
"Mr. Rawlings isn't helping you much by feeding you cake and soda pop."
"I know, but this is my lunch. Days I don't come for a lesson, I don't have anything."
"I know how it is to be hungry. You are just glad to have something."
Debra picked up on Angie calling me Mr. Rawlings. "How come you don't call Hank, Hank? We do."
"This is my first day here and he hasn't said I could."
I settled that. "Well, I'm saying you can as of right now. Okay guys, break is over. You can stick around if you want Angie."
"No Hank, I just came down for a minute. Thanks for the snack. Bye guys. I may see you again."
Debra hit me with, "She is beautiful. Even under that faded house dress you can tell she has a nice figure. Look at me, I'll never have half of what she has. Pete you can put your tongue back in your head now. You were positively drooling."
"Shut up Deb."
When the students left for the day I went into the kitchen and raided the freezer for something to feed Angie and me for dinner. I had a small chuck roast, but knew I didn't have time to pot roast it. I ended up slicing it thin when it was half thawed and pounding it with a meat mallet. I mashed it until it almost fell apart. I made a macaroni and cheese casserole and put that in the oven to bake.
I took a few leaves off a head of lettuce and made a bed for a salad in two cereal bowls. I sliced off two thick slices of tomato and put them one each on top of the lettuce. I then quartered an apple and lined the bowl with thin slices and a few thin bits of sliced onion. A big spoonful of cottage cheese in the center with a few raisins around the cheese and then a few sprinkles of Italian dressing on the onion and apples finished it off. I needed a cucumber to make it right, but we would have to make do.
When I knew the casserole was almost done I double dipped the meat in an egg and milk mixture and rolled it in flour. Before I dropped the slices into deep fat, I asked Angie to get ready for dinner. I drained the meat as it came out of the fryer onto some paper towels and put it on a platter. Placing the macaroni and cheese on the table I said, "Let's eat."
"Do you say grace? I want to thank someone for this." I shook my head no.
"Well you will have to do then until I meet God. Thank you. Oh goody, a salad. You know, if you are feeding those kids, you should give them something like this salad. Maybe you should put a cucumber in it though."
I was silent with a smile on my face until she looked at me. "I'm sorry Hank, I was thinking out loud. Tell me to shut up anytime."
"I was smiling for I didn't have a cucumber and knew the salad called for one. That is all. The meat may be tough for I didn't have the right cut although it is flavorful as you chew it and the taste comes through."
"Pure ambrosia. What's the cheese in the macaroni?"
"Extra sharp cheddar and a small amount of goat cheese. I sprinkled in some minced onion and put just a bit of garlic powder in it too."
"You should have been a chef. This is so good. Better than the Twinkie I had last night."
"I have some frozen strawberries for dessert. If you want we can wait to have them later. I didn't make coffee because it keeps me awake and then I can't keep my mind off what has transpired this past year."
"I don't blame you and I know just what you mean. Your mind goes round and round and you end up in the morning more tired than ever. Hank, not to get personal, but do the sheets on your bed need washing? I can run them through and make your bed up fresh. Tomorrow, I'll take stock and see what I can do to make the whole place better for you."
"That would be nice. Angie, it is nice having a woman in the house again and I'm glad it is you."
"Thank you Hank. How was I so lucky to have you stop for me this morning? To tell the truth I was about at ropes end. My own clothes were stolen three weeks ago and somehow whoever it was found what little money I had hidden. What I have in those garbage bags are just some cast-offs from some homeless people that didn't have much either and took pity on me. They do cover me and now they are clean. At least I haven't had to put out to get something to eat or wear, but it has been suggested sometimes."
She was silent before continuing. "I made up my mind this morning that I was going to tonight if I had to, just to get a good meal. When you get so far down, I suppose you don't care." Again she was struggling to say something. "Hank if you want me, I'll go to bed with you."
I contemplated her. "Angie, I thank you for the offer. Really though, I hired you to clean my house and that was the agreement when you got in my truck. I think we should stick to that agreement."
Angie giggled, and then laughed. "I knew it. I know now why one of your students is in love with you. You're a nice, nice person. I can tell by your face you didn't know how Gail felt did you? I bet all the girls in your classes are in love with you."
"You could be wrong about me being nice. Why did my wife leave me for another man then? Tell me that."
"It's nothing wrong with you, I'll bet. It has to be her fault from what I've seen so far. Okay, I'm off to make you a comfortable bed to sleep in--alone." Angie went giggling up the stairs.
I decided I would go back to the grocery store and stock up with food if I was going to be feeding my cleaning lady. She said I needed cucumber, so cucumber she would get. I went into the garage and got another box of stuff my wife had left and carried it into Angie's bedroom. Her clean clothes were folded on the bed. I thumbed through them. They ran from size seven to sixteen. And I knew Angie must be a ten.
I shouted up the stairs. "Angie, I put a box of stuff my wife left that was in the garage in your room. I think they are your size. I'm going to the store. I'll be back after awhile."
When I got away from the house I called Frank Watkins on my cell phone. "Hey Frank, I was thinking of you the other day. Thought I'd give you a call. How are you and Helen doing?"
"Not good. We have never heard from Angie. It has been months. Hank, we made a mistake in pushing her away. What were we thinking? I mean she is an adult and we had no control over her. We are just so disappointed in the choices she made. You know that black man she claims to have loved showed up looking for her about a month ago. He claims she left him. He also said she was pregnant at the time.
"Helen is about crazy with grief thinking our daughter is out there somewhere pregnant and alone. According to her man she would be about five months along now. I still don't like the son-of-a-bitch, but the kid needs a father and she needs someone. I've got his address if she ever contacts us. Oh well, enough of our problems. How are you doing? Are you divorced yet?"
"Yeah, two months now. I'm kind of lonely. I feel like seven years of my life has been wasted. I've just hired a housekeeper. She laughs at me. I'm doing some tutoring this summer. Anyway, my housekeeper says my female students are all in love with me. If I can attract girls that young, maybe I can find someone my age to love again."
"I'll bet you can too. How come the housekeeper? Shirley bragged about how much help you were around the house."
"I've let things go lately. My sister is coming in a couple of weeks for the usual two. I thought I'd shine the place up for her. Frank, don't give up on your daughter just yet. I feel she will contact you someday and you can resolve any differences you may have. Hey, we will have to get together before school starts in the fall. Call me sometime in August and I'll take a break from my students and come up. Give my love to Helen."
"Thanks for calling, Hank. You start dating and find that good woman you deserve. I'll be talking to you. Bye."
I went along to the store and got what I needed to fill my housekeeper up on all the meals she had missed. When I got home Angie met me at the door in slacks and a white blouse. "Hank are you sure your wife won't be coming for these clothes? They fit me perfectly and some of these things are really beautiful."
"No, she told me to trash everything she left. She came in and I let her take everything she wanted. Her boyfriend makes more money than I ever did so I'm sure he replaced her wardrobe first thing. I have no idea what she left. I just emptied out her bureau drawers and stripped the hangers into some boxes. There are a few more out in the garage."
"I don't think I would like your wife very much if I met her. I think you were lucky to get free of her."
"I think so most of the time, but then I remember the good times we had too."
"I'm sorry, Hank. It isn't my place to pass judgment on her. I apologize."
"Okay. How about a beer or a glass of wine? I stocked up at the store."
"Beer would be fine." My favorite comedy was on and shortly after it was over, I went up the stairs to bed. Following me up was a "Goodnight Hank. Thank you for everything." I slept without dreams. Maybe it was the freshly made bed or maybe it was having someone to talk to and share a beer with.
Morning found Angie positively glowing. "I slept in a bed last night. First time since I got robbed. I slept like a baby. Hank you read the paper while I get breakfast. I can cook you know. Mom insisted that I learn." Angie went silent remembering her mother.
"You should call her. She must be worried about you. I know I would be if I was your mother."
"I'll think about it. They hurt me terribly when they wouldn't listen to me."
"Maybe they didn't know how deeply you cared for this person. Did they know you were pregnant at the time?"
"No, I wasn't pregnant until later."
"You should tell your mom about that then. Tell her how you felt when you lost the baby. From what I have seen of you, you must have felt bad."
"Worse than I did when I lost Sam. It was a terrible time for me. All behind me now. No Sam and no baby." Angie turned so I couldn't see the tears glistening in her eyes.
"Call your mother soon. I think you need her."
"This morning when I take a break. What do you have planned? I think we should do the windows outside. You said you would remove the storms for me."
"Okay boss." Angie came out in shorts and a halter. I had seen them before on my wife, but either I forgot or Angie looked better in them than Shirley for I couldn't keep my eyes off of her.
She caught me staring. "I'm sorry Hank. I shouldn't have worn these. I didn't think that it might bring back memories." Little did she realize that I wasn't looking at the clothes. Helen had knobby knees and Angie's legs were perfection. I couldn't even describe her butt--I would have to think about it to describe it. Her breasts bounced every step she took on the ladder going up and coming down. My phone rang--thank God.
I went inside to answer it. "Mr. Rawlings. You have three students you are tutoring. One of our tutors has had to leave the program. Would you be willing to take on three more? These students are younger and need help in English grammar mostly. They won't be starting until the day after the Fourth of July."
"Can I think it over for a day and call you back?"
"Yes. We are really in a bind. We have already accepted them into the program and find we don't have a teacher to help them. Be sure to call."
"I will by tomorrow at ten. I may have a solution for you. Thanks for thinking of me. I know this program is really making a difference." I went back outside. "Angie, what are you planning to teach when you get a position?"
"English grammar and composition, why?"
"Would you like to have three kids to tutor after the Fourth of July if I can arrange it for you? It is a paid position. Probably about the same as cleaning houses."
"You've got to be kidding."
"But I don't have a place like you have, or do I go to the kids' homes?"
"You can use some of the space here. I can find out more if you are interested."
"Hank, I don't know. You are doing too much for me. I feel obligated to pay in some way."
"No you won't. I'll give you the same deal we have on the housework. No sex. I'll even put it in writing."
"Why? I mean why are you doing this? You must have an ulterior motive."
"I do, but I promise it won't harm you in anyway. I will tell you this, you are helping me get over the divorce from my wife by just being here. Maybe I'm helping in the same way with what happened to you in the last few months. I would like to think so. You will be moving on when you find permanent work. You may even go home to your parents. In fact why don't you call them before you decide for the summer?"
"Okay, I will. I will call my mom right now."
It was more than an hour later before she came out with tears of happiness in her eyes. "I didn't tell her all of my problems and I didn't tell her where I was living. I just said I was staying with a friend and was working part time. I said I hoped to get a job teaching during the summer. I told her I would see her before school started in the fall."
"There's more. You talked for an hour."
"Yes, Sam is looking for me. He has the same address. I'm going to write him and tell him I won't go back to him. I told Mom about losing the baby and how it happened. She cried when I told her. I forgave her for sending me away. I apologized for causing them so much pain."
"How come you aren't heading home right now?"
"I said I couldn't because I had promised the person I'm staying with I would help him. That's you. If the tutoring job doesn't pan out I will at least go visit and then maybe come back and teach in the same school as you if I can get a contract."
"I'm not holding you to our agreement about cleaning the house. My sister can screech all she wants to. She will still love me."
"No, I want to do it this way. Mom knows I'm safe. That was what was worrying them."
I called the program manager an hour later and after telling him about Angie, I said I would bring her in for an interview tomorrow morning. We finished the outside windows by noon. She joined me in cold cereal for lunch. When the students came she was busily working. Break time she brought in a salad and some raisins. She also had a bowl of peanuts. Tomorrow I stated that we would have the salad before we started in on the daily work. For break we would have an apple and raisins and peanuts would be available.
That is the way it went for the rest of the week. Saturday morning I said it was pay day. Big argument! She ended up finally accepting a hundred dollars from me. She said she was overpaid even then as the board and room I was providing was worth much more. She had put Shirley's clothes in order and back in the closet and bureau from whence I had taken them. Saturday night I took Angie to dinner and a movie afterward.
This was almost a date. Angie was intelligent and interesting to talk to. She told me of some of the slights she encountered by being with a black man. "People are so mean. He was no different than you. I don't mean that exactly. You are nicer than he was. Alone when we were together he was mostly nice. When we were out with his black friends I was looked down on. I guess it is a cultural difference. Maybe it was only a perception and I can't really explain it. I didn't feel like I am less than an equal when we went out tonight. With him I always had my guard up."
"I think you explained it very well. How much do you miss him?"
"Not so much right now. You know, I worked so hard to get beyond the way my folks felt. I thought I could change the world. My friends all told me I was letting myself in for a lot of heartbreak and I laughed at them. But then when he and I lived together for awhile, everything they said came true. So it was me that was wrong and not the people around me."
"It takes a big person to admit something like that. What was the thing that you were fighting about that suddenly changed you?"
"It wasn't a thing, it was what he called me. He said I was his white slut. This was when I was on the floor hurting from falling down the stairs. I have to admit he didn't push me. I swung at him and lost my balance, but he came down and stood over me. He walked out and then I called 911 with cramps. Three days later I went back to where we were living and I packed up. Everything went into a big suitcase and an hour later I was in a car that stopped for me on the entrance ramp to a freeway."
"Angie, I think you are a very brave person in several ways."
She cocked her head and looked at me. "No sage words of advice?"
"Not this time. None needed."
I waited outside the program office while Angie was interviewed. When she came out she said, "I think I'm in. All they need now is my scholastic records. He said also that if I decided to stay in the area, to contact him and he would help me get placed. Hank, you are my good luck charm. Take me home. I have a house to clean."
My sister was coming in on Sunday afternoon. The house shone--I mean it was spotless. Angie and I worked so well together. Not only that she always came in for a half hour to see how I taught my students. They started coming early and we did institute the salad lunch. While eating she told them about college life and how she coped with the change from high school and home to living alone.
Friday afternoon I announced that Angie was going to be their teacher some of the time in the next two weeks as I had company coming. They seemed thrilled with the idea. I moved the study area up into the loft over the garage and said that is where we would be holding classes for the rest of the summer. I even installed a small air conditioner in case it got too warm.
I also put a cot up there for myself to sleep on while my sister was here. Angie objected strongly saying that she should be the one to move out of the house. I grinned at her reminding her that I was the boss. She went away shaking her head. Sis was the typical Army wife and could cope with whatever was asked of her. I suppose she had to be, with Gus away so much. My two nephews paid no attention to her and were kind of brats, but I loved them.
When Mary and the kids arrived, we hugged all around. Angie stood back until introduced as my housekeeper. I didn't let it lie there. "Angie has just graduated from college. She is staying here with me doing my housework until she finds a job teaching. In the meantime she is taking on students next month who need tutoring. I have three and she will have three. I've converted the loft to a room to study in."
The first thing Mary said when we were alone was, "She had on Shirley's slacks and blouse. I know for they were a Christmas present I picked out especially for her."
"Yes, well Shirley didn't want them when she left. Angie's wardrobe is pretty skimpy and I gave her all the things that Shirley didn't want."
"They certainly look better on your housekeeper than they did on your wife. Are there any other benefits she provides you with besides looking good?"
"No Sis. Actually I know her parents very well and I wouldn't want to cross a line by coming on to her. Don't say anything about it please."
The two women got along famously. It wasn't long before my sister became Angie's confidant and was told about her troubles. Mary couldn't keep quiet about my wife Shirley either and so Angie knew all about my love life as well. I spent all of my free time entertaining my nephews. Angie took over my tutoring position in the afternoons with my part-time guidance.
The Fourth of July was on a Monday. I announced Friday to my pupils that if they would like to go camping for the holiday I would take them up to a camp on a lake I reserved yearly on the Fourth. We would leave Saturday morning, stay over two nights and come back Monday evening late. Sis and my nephews would be leaving for home on Wednesday.
None of the students had ever been camping before and were overjoyed at the chance to go. Mary and the kids had been there of course and knew the area well. Angie pawed through Shirley's things and found bikinis for her and Debra. There was nothing that would fit Gail, so I sent Sis down to the clothing outlet with her to get something she would look good in.
Pete had a pair of cut-offs he was going to wear. While Sis was gone, Angie said, "No matter what Gail looks like, you tell her she looks nice. She has lost seven pounds in the last three weeks. If she keeps it up all summer, she is not going to look like the same person. You know, you are teaching these kids more than just math. I hope I'm as good when I get my own three students."
"You will be. These kids have all had it tough in one way or another. I can't see any harm in showing them a little about life besides what they are here for, and they have been studying hard. Some of this was your idea by pointing out what was needed. Let's plan what we need for food. I think we better stick to the basics of hamburg and dogs with plenty of salads."
"No chicken? Cooking out means chicken to me."
"Okay chicken. We'll get a watermelon too. If we want something sweeter, there is a creamie stand not too far away. I'm going down to the car rental and get a van for most of us to ride in. I'll put the boat on top of that. Sis can drive her car, but the boys will want to ride with me. Hey I think this is going to be fun!"
When Gail and Sis returned I asked Gail if she had found anything. "Mary did buy me a suit, but I look terrible in it. I'm so fat I look like a tub."
"It can't be that bad. I noticed you have lost some weight in the last couple of weeks and your complexion is clearing up. If you keep on losing I'll buy you another suit next month because the one you bought today won't fit. Look at Angie. She had the same shape as you have when she was your age. One day she looked in the mirror and decided to change her image. She almost went too far for awhile and lost too much and made herself sick. Look for someone to advise you just as Angie has been doing. You are going to be a lovely young woman."
"Do you really think so, Hank?"
"I do Gail." I happened to glance at Angie and that made me think of what I had just said. She was staring at me. Unconsciously I had repeated what Helen had told me about Angie's teenage years and how she had corrected herself. "Pete, let's go get the van and let these ladies talk bathing suits if they want to. Oh ladies, one other thing. I'll pump up the air mattresses for tonight and all of us men can sleep in the loft. We'll leave the house to the women. You kids get permission to stay over. Tell your parents there are three adults here so they won't worry. Come on boys, you're part of this."
We took off for the camp about ten in the morning. I guess the women had a slumber party in the house for Pete and I heard music and laughter coming all the way to the loft. In fact I went to sleep with it in my ears. Sis knew the way, so she took Debra and my two nephews and left early while I stopped and got groceries. Angie sat next to me in the van. "Okay Mister, how did you know I was a fat little kid and starved myself sick getting thin?"
"I didn't, but you said to build up Gail's self-esteem and that seemed a way to do it. Why, were you a fat little kid?"
"Yes I was. You said it like you knew it for fact, though. It was like you knew me when I was that age."
"Well I didn't. I never saw you before in my life. You sure turned out pretty good now that I know you were a chubby little girl."
"Is that a compliment?"
"Take it any way you want to. So how bad does Gail look in her suit?"
"Not bad at all considering. I think you hit the nail on the head and she will try to live up to what you said she was going to look like. She was asking me all kinds of questions. I still wonder how you knew to use me as an example though."