Home Is Where The Heart Is

Chapter One

That was the last straw, the night that Derrick the prick came home at half past ten at night and started a big commotion about dinner not being on the table. Both Jack and I tried to reason with him, that dinner was on the table at 6 just like he had told us to do, but he began throwing things at us and I told Jack to go to his room, he's only 9 and I didn't want him involved in what I thought would be a big deal with Derrick, plus at 13, I was the big brother and with my judo training I felt I could better handle our stepfather on my own if I didn't have to worry about Jack getting hurt.

Derrick was drunk, or on something, I would guess a bit of both. He was always an arrogant ass, but that night, just two weeks after our mother's death, I had had enough of him and his bullying. When he did try to attack me, I sent him sprawling in the kitchen, his big gut falling onto a large pot he had himself just minutes ago thrown at Jack as he had fled to his room. There were a few pot lids and a couple of saucepans on the floor also and he actually stepped on a lid as he struggled onto his feet and went flying again, but now he was enraged, and since Mom wasn't here anymore, and Jack was safe in his own room, I was still the focus of his rage.

He came after me again and I dodged him several times, that is until he grabbed my T shirt's neck and I was caught and his first blow was centered on my back and as I went down he tried to stomp on me, but I was already rolling over and was able to scramble to my feet and landed a goal earning place kick in his crotch and as he fell I landed another on his forehead, snapping his head back before it hit the floor and he lay there, not moving.

I knew this was the time for Jack and me to make our escape. I had been prepared for this since he had been acting so erratically since Mom's death from cancer. Jack and I had discussed our situation; alone with a guy we didn't like or respect, who treated us like dirt, even as Mom was failing and getting weaker by the day, and after her death, too. I had already packed a backpack for each of us, telling Jack we would know when the time was right for us to flee. Jack was in total agreement with me on this, so after I got my breath back, I went through Derrick's pockets and took his set of keys, his wallet, and a wad of cash from his other back pocket. He always did separate his money into different pockets, especially on his payday, which this had been.

I had placed our important papers in those packed backpacks and as I went to get some stuff from my bedroom, I told Jack to get whatever else he wanted to be packed into his and that tonight was the night we were taking off. As we hustled about in our rooms, putting our laptops and clean underwear in our packs and even more jeans and T-shirts, we talked and when we were sure we had everything we needed, I grabbed the big grocery bag from the bottom of the pantry cupboard which was loaded with a bunch of dry food and a dozen or so MRE's (meals ready to eat) that comprised our hurricane supplies, and with that bag and our stuffed backpacks we made our way to the garage and even though Derrick had parked his truck in the drive, I was able to back our mom's Kia Soul out of the garage and onto the lawn and around the big truck and back onto the driveway before backing out onto the street.

Once on the street, I shifted into drive and off we went, Jack looking out the windows behind us, checking that we were not being followed. When I made it out of our Big Pine neighborhood to Route 1, I asked Jack which way he thought we should go and he said I was driving, it was my choice. I drove us South, toward Key West.

We had discussed our escape and done some researches and we actually had plans for either Key West or Marathon Key. My favorite was Key West for a couple of reasons, one of which was we kind of knew our way around the island city as before Mom had met Derrick three years ago, she had taken us there with her many times when she visited old friends or when she took us to the Aquarium or for one of the street fairs or parades. Those were always fun times for us all and both Jack and I agreed we felt we knew our way around the town pretty well. Jack was counting the money from Derrick's pockets as I drove. Yeah, I knew how to drive. Mom had let me drive sometimes on our property and had instructed me since I was eleven and had I had reached a height that allowed me to see out the windows and use the mirrors and to reach the pedals for the gas and breaks.

I was just as tall as Mom had been by the time, I was twelve and she would let me drive when she thought no one would be able to see my face through the windows of the small, van like, Soul. By the time I turned thirteen I was taller than Mom and it was only then she slipped me a special birthday present, a doctored driver's license that had once belonged to her. It had my picture on it and the dates of birth and issue had been altered, as well as the sex stated on the original. Otherwise, nothing else had changed, it stated that Terry Holt had a valid driving license.  Yeah, my legal name was Terrance, but everyone called me Terry, just like my Mom had been named. It was a very good doctored ID and the one time, at a Labor Day drunk driving roadblock, I had to hand it to a county sheriff's deputy, it didn't raise any eyebrows, but man was I sweating it. Mom was in the front seat next to me and she told me I had handled that well.

That was Mom, not that she was a bad person or anything, but she was an older hippie and a pot smoker. She didn't expose us to any of that, or any of her boyfriends for that matter, that is until she met Derrick a few years before she died. He had been a divorced fishing boat crew member who had fallen on hard times and she thought she could clean him and his life up. That worked until she died and the same day, he started drinking heavily and he sometimes even had trouble getting to work for the town's street department where he worked as a laborer on a road crew filling potholes.

Jake announced that I had taken nearly two thousand dollars off Derrick in total and I told him to stuff it all in the wallet and he put it in my lap when done. We reached the turnoff for College Road before reaching Key West proper and I took the right-hand turn onto it and drove down about a quarter of a mile until we reached the turnoff for Mount Trashmore, as my mother had called the dump. It really was a dump for the trash collected in the city and she had once had a boyfriend who had operated an earth mover there and he had once shown her an entrance the employees used to enter the fenced property. It would have to do for the rest of the night. It might even be good for the next day too as the sign on the big front gate said the dump was closed on the weekends and it was now just after midnight on a Friday night. I needed some rest and my back was killing me where Derrick had slugged me.

In better days past Mom had rigged up blackout curtains so every window could be curtained off and one even ran behind the front seats so no one could look in from the front windows or the windshield. We used to sleep in the small cargo area in the back when Mom took us on some of her travels to visit people, and now Jake took that space and I took the middle bench seat. We were bigger now, and we wrapped ourselves in blankets after I parked the van behind a recycling dumpster in the corner of the dump's parking lot. The doors were locked, the windows covered, and the hidden gate was once again closed and latched. That was how we spent the rest of the night, talking over our circumstances as we both fell asleep.

The flocks of seagulls squabbling about their finds in the mountain of trash woke us early on Saturday morning. It wasn't the most pleasant way to wake up and I soon realized that without all the workers and machinery running this noise would most likely go on until Monday morning. It was time for us to scout out a better spot to park the van in.

I drove us from our Stock Island location over a humped bridge and into Key West itself. The sun was just beginning to rise so there was hardly any traffic as I drove, so we took our time, cruising various neighborhoods, looking for some of our Mother's friends, but it seemed they were no longer renting at the places we drove by. Several of what had been small bungalows now were million dollar renovated or totally rebuilt homes, and as it got later in the morning we knew it was time to park somewhere for the day. We were driving along Elizabeth Street and on the next corner was a place I recognized, the Key West branch of the County Library.

Our mother had dropped us off here when she wanted to spend time visiting friends alone, so even Jake had some memories of the place, and there was a parking lot behind the sprawling building. That was where we ate one of the MREs and I'll tell you, those are going to get old really fast. Once we had a chance to use the restroom in the library and cleaned ourselves up a bit, we could walk down the street to the grocery store and maybe get some other things to eat, I mean we did have a cooler so maybe we could get some milk, peanut butter, and bottled water too.

We made use of the washroom as soon as the building opened, and we even made use of our toothbrushes which we had in our jean's pockets. Once done in there we went into the children's section to see what activities were going on that week and I took one of the fliers with the schedule on it and we went to the kids' reading room and we each found something to read for the next hour or so. This would be our routine for the next couple of days until it finally dawned on me that some of the staff were beginning to notice our arrival each day and making comments or asking us questions. I knew they were asking out of concern for us, but I wasn't ready yet for Jake and me to be turned into the authorities for murdering our rotten stepfather.

One of the things I bought at the grocery store was that morning's newspaper. Once Jake and I had a bowl of cereal back in the van (I had also bought us a bag of ice, a quart of milk, plastic forks, knives, and spoons, paper napkins, and packages of paper plates and plastic bowls, along with a loaf of bread and some packaged lunch meat, mustard and ketchup, and the peanut butter). I carried most of it and Jake said he could handle the bag of ice. We ate almost as soon as we had returned to the van and we left for the beach soon after. I had to wear my driving disguise for this, as it was nearing noon by then. I had a baseball cap on and a pair of sunglasses, and by sitting on the extra cushion my Mom used to use when driving, at least I didn't make heads turn as we drove over to Smather's Beach on the airport side of the island.

I explained to Jake why I had picked this beach out of all the others on the island. There were condos and apartments across the street, so it wouldn't seem odd we were here alone. There were showers where we could rinse off after being in the salt water and on the sandy beach, and I could park the van in a secluded spot where others wouldn't be watching our every move. There were public restrooms, and we could return to the van easily for a late lunch or snacks if we wanted. Jake nodded his agreement, so we gathered our beach towels, a bottle of water for each of us, some sunscreen we had brought from home, and we changed into our swimsuits there in the van, putting our clothes and money into a plastic bag we took with us. I hid a few hundred under the right front floor mat just in case.

We had a good time there at the beach and I got to read some of the paper as Josh rested on the big beach towel he was using. I couldn't find anything in there about Derrick being found in the house, but maybe it would be reported on in the next day's paper. Once the sun was going down, we cleaned ourselves up at the outdoor showers and we dressed in the restroom before driving out to North Roosevelt and stopping at a fast food place for milkshakes before driving back downtown to try our luck at the waterfront off the end of Grinnell Street where I remembered a large parking lot by two restaurants.

I had parked behind the fast food place and we walked together to get our shakes inside after making sure the van was locked. On our way back to the van Jack spotted a small coin purse in the leaves by the front of the van as I unlocked the vehicle and he picked it up and we looked in it once we were inside and the doors were locked after us. There wasn't much in the small purse, but what there was like gold to us, another fifty dollars and a key with a fob on it that said, "Turtle Canning Museum" and a security code for an alarm written in magic marker pen on the other side.

At the library, that morning we had seen the poster for the Turtle Canning Museum with a banner across it saying that today was the last day of the season it would be open, and the next opening date was to be in three months' time. Both Jake and I had been there before. Our Mom had taken us there two years ago after it had opened. It was a long shack looking building, made presentable and usable for a good-sized walk-through room of displays of the former turtle industry in Key West a hundred or so years ago.

It was actually supposed to be an old processing room built right on top of a dock, and from the exterior, it sure looked it, but the inside was all finished off and looked like a modern room in a museum with wall mounted and table displays all over it. What was neat was I knew it had a restroom in one corner with a flush toilet and a small sink, I knew because I had actually had to use it while we had been there with Mom a few years ago.

At dusk, we drove over there, and I figured out that the big parking lot for the two restaurants and the wharf the turtle museum was on was right next to a public housing complex, the perfect place to park the van at I thought. There wasn't an attendant in the public housing parking area and there even was a small road leading to the wharf the bay's dredger was docked at. I parked the van there, hoping that the lack of a streetlight would make it easier for us to go in and out of the van. We packed ourselves what we thought we would need for the night and took off walking on the wharf which connected to all the others in the small bay where we were headed.

Once on the dock where the Turtle Canning Museum was we could see it was already boarded up and when we reached the entry door we paused before entering, looking all around to make sure no one could see us, and then, using the key I unlocked the door and entered and used the code on the back of the tag to disarm the alarm system, then I urged Jake to enter with our bags and I closed and locked the door behind him. We were in a safe and secure building.

It was pretty dark in there with the door shut and the windows boarded up. I had spotted the switch for a wall sconce as Jake hurried in and after the door was shut, and he looked for one of our flashlights in his backpack I turned the switch on the wall sconce and there was light, not much, but enough for our needs. At least we now knew that there was still power to the building and hopefully the plumbing worked as well, because I was about to burst, and I knew Jake had the same problem as he was dancing around. I pointed him to the restroom and soon I heard the flush and water running in the small sink. Which only made me have to go quicker than I already had to, so as soon as Jake was done, I went in and did my business and cleaned up myself in the small sink. We had some foam mats we could use as sleeping pallets with our blankets and we made ourselves comfortable under the display tables along the outer wall, well the wall that fronted on the parking lot, the other long wall faced the bay. Jake was out like a light after we talked for a few minutes, but I lay awake for some time. I was worried. Had I screwed up everything for Jake by bringing him along?

We had spent months talking about running away before we had done it, and now that we had it just seemed we had shut all doors to the regular parts of our life we had lived. I knew we still had a couple of months to worry about getting us into a school, and there was still hurricane season to worry about. That would last just into November, and it was only the third week of June now. I figured we had about two thousand dollars left, after I had stopped for gas before we came here tonight, but that would eventually run out and without a work permit, and being less than 16, I couldn't envision anyone hiring me. I thought and thought about that and just before working myself into tears I thought about something. What did most teens do to earn spending money? They mowed lawns or worked in people's gardens, and I could do that, and pretty darn good too!

I had done it last summer, before we knew just how bad Mom's cancer was. I took care of four lawns for neighbors. That turned into eighty dollars a week, and I naively thought that might be enough for the two of us. First, I needed a lawnmower.  When Mom had gone shopping for anything that wasn't food, she always checked out the resale shops, but those were good for mostly clothes I thought, but in driving around we had seen the Salvation Army store on Flagler Avenue, just below the big high school there. We drove over there, after we each had a chance to use the restroom and clean up after our breakfast of cold cereal. I made note that we would need more milk and ice before dinner.

The drive out to Flagler went all right, but we had to park at the end of the long strip mall so no one would question why I was driving the van, and as we walked along the length of the covered sidewalk back to the store, we needed I saw a newspaper box. The front inside of the box had a folded in half newspaper showing the top half of the front page, and there it was, in big letters; MAN ATTACKED BY HOME INVADERS. I used some of the loose change in my pocket and bought a copy from the machine and folded the paper under my arm as we went into the store.

When we explained to the guy behind the counter that we wanted to buy a used lawn mower to run a lawn care business the guy couldn't have been more helpful. He told us he had three for sale as well as well as a gas weed whacker, and he took us to the back of the shop and there they were. I chose the one mower with the battery starter, as I had always hated ours at home with just the pull cord starter, and the weed whacker was almost as new as the mower, and the guy let us have them both for only eighty dollars. We were finalizing our transaction when two older guys came up behind us at the counter in front and asked if they had heard right, that we were going to be starting to mow lawns for the summer.

I told them we had done it last summer and we now wanted to do some more this summer. We talked about it and I told them it really would depend on how large an area it was and how much trimming would also have to be done and they invited us to stop at their house on Eaton Street to see the yard and give them a price for the work they wanted done. We arranged to stop by their house after lunch and they left. Jake and I lugged the mower and weed whacker to the van, and after putting the newspaper on the front seat we wrestled the mower into the small cargo area behind the back seat and using the pliers from the car's toolkit I was able to get the long handle folded down so the rear hatch door could be closed. The weed whacker and a new plastic gas can went into the space behind the front seat.

We drove to the beach again, and as Jake played in the water near the shore, I read the front-page story in the newspaper. Of course, it was a pack of lies, Derrick telling the cops that he had been home alone, his stepsons staying with friends of his late wife for a while, when he answered the door late at night and was attacked by what he thought was two really big strong men. He claimed they had knocked him unconscious and robbed him of his just cashed paycheck, leaving him lying on the kitchen floor. Well, that last part was true, I guess I did knock him out, and I did take all his money, but I was only 13 and weighed about 120 pounds. I guess he was trying to save face by saying two big guys attacked him.

I couldn't find any other mention of us, the kids that lived in the house, or my Mom's missing van, so either he knew we were on the loose in the van, or the dolt hadn't even looked in the garage to see if it was there or not. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that he wasn't going to be looking for us, and neither were the police. That was a big relief to me. We ate a sandwich lunch there at the beach and cleaned up real good in the restroom before driving to the neighborhood the Eaton Street house was located at where we hoped to find our first lawn care job.

We walked to the house from where I had parked around the corner. It was a big place. I mean really big, about sixteen rooms and I just figured it was either apartments or condos, but as we went up the front walk to the front door we both saw there was only one doorbell and I let Jake push it and we only had to wait a few seconds for the door to open and there were the two guys we had met in the Salvation Army store, Bert and Dan. Although I've said they were old men, I guess I should have said they were older guys. Jake and I found out, after they invited us in and to their big kitchen for glasses of iced tea, that they had just retired from jobs up North in Virginia. It was really cool; these guys were so nice to us and it was fun to learn about their former jobs. Dan had been an FBI agent, and Bert had been a lawyer. We found out they were only 55 and that they had actually owned this house for several years and when they decided to retire, they moved here permanently.

As open as they were being with us, Jake and I were a bit reluctant to open up to them. We told them the bare facts, our ages, what grades we were in school, that our Mom had died, and we lived with our stepdad (well we had until the other night). We could come to mow one day, and Jake would start the trimming on the day I mowed, and then the next day I would finish the trimming and Jake would weed the flower beds. I asked what they had paid the previous yard care provider and they didn't even blink, they told me they had been paying over two hundred a week just for lawn and flower bed maintenance. Without batting an eye, I asked them to try us and we would only charge one hundred and fifty a week, and we'd make sure the back looked as good as the front would look, and for every referral, they gave us we'd drop ten dollars a week off their bill.

I don't think they expected that, but they both smiled at me and then said they were prepared to give us a try. I asked them what time next Wednesday they wanted us to start, and they both shot me a questioning look and I explained that in today's paper it stated that it was going to be a wet or at least damp rest of the week and showers were predicted for the weekend also. So, if the grounds had at least two full days to dry out, we'd be ready to work on Wednesday, plus in this location, everything had a growth spurt after a rainy period, so we'd get it trimmed up before the new growth had a chance to show.

They seemed impressed with my answer and after a second Dan asked if we needed to use anything they could provide and I asked if they had a wheelbarrow and a yard waste trash bin and he said they had both and they showed us out the back door to a real pretty backyard which was a lot smaller than the big front yard. There was a big in-ground pool surrounded by a big paved pool surround and a huge patio off to the left side with a lot of outdoor furniture on it. There was a poolhouse beyond the backside of the pool and a storage shed next to that and just beyond the big furnished patio was a small cottage, that they said the former housekeeper had lived in, but it was empty now. They showed us where the key for the storage shed was hidden and there inside the shed was the wheelbarrow and some shrub nippers which could come in handy, and a bunch of rakes and other tools and stuff. Around the back of the shed was where the properties trash bins were stored and there was one marked yard waste which would make clean up after trimming easier.

We left them and went on our way, agreeing to check in with them over the weekend, rain or shine and we drove to Higgs beach at the end of White Street where our Mom used to take us to watch the beach volleyball games. There was a beach restaurant there where we got a big ginger ale to split and we found a spot for our beach towels that had a bit of shade and we actually relaxed and enjoyed ourselves until the sun began to set and then we brushed ourselves off and put our shorts back on and went back to the van and started for the Turtle Museum again. On the way there we stopped at a gas station and picked up another bag of ice and another half-gallon of milk before going to where we had parked the night before. While I was turning around to park on the side of the road where the dredger was Jake asked me where the small side road went, and since I didn't know I told him that after we got the ice and milk into the empty museum building, we ought to check it out.

The little road led behind the public housing units ran for a short way and then became a big parking lot almost surrounded by huge garages, all housing what appeared to be school buses. On the opposite side of the parking lot was what looked like one of those prefab houses on a tiny plot of land. Being the snoopy type, we crept up to the overgrown plot of land and looking through the windows of the little house we saw that the house was empty. There was a note on the mailbox that said all mail for the supervisor of the bus yard was to be forwarded to a Mr. Thomas Young at 714 Elizabeth Street until further notice. The note was dated just the previous week.

It was getting darker out now and we chanced going around the back of the place and there was a small deck off the back door of the place and even a parking spot there next to a good sized shed, but the best part was that the back looked out over the bay, the only section of it that had no big docks or wharf on it so you could see all the way out to the rays of the setting sun on the top of the bay water. It really was beautiful, even Jake said so.

By the time we walked back to the museum we were ready for bed, so we turned in and I thought about that small empty house behind the public housing complex. With fences and hedges growing along the dividing tall chain link fence there wasn't much anyone from there could see of the little house and the weekends would be quiet as there were no school buses running then and the offices in the garages and the small separate office building there among the garages would be closed then too. We would have to stay inside until all the buses were off on their runs, but we could always hop in the van and drive out if we had to, that is if we were going to make use of the little house made out of two sections of pre-fab buildings. From what I could see through the windows there was a living room in the front a kitchen in the back and two bedrooms with a bathroom between them on the left side of the structure. Of course, the museum had running water, a flushing toilet, and electricity, but if the house had all that too, we might just be moving. I figured out that if we got some heavy craft paper or maybe even big plastic bags, I could cover the bedroom and bathroom windows at night so we could use the electricity and not be seen from outside, and maybe we could also do the same in the kitchen and living room, but those windows were a lot bigger.

The next day it was a bit drippy out. Not a constant heavy rain, but it had rained heavily during the night and now, at about nine in the morning, it was a light drizzle. We had gone on my laptop and done quite a bit of research. Thank god there was a strong Wi-Fi signal here that still worked. While we worked on mine, I had Jake plug his into an outlet to make sure we had the two laptops fully charged. We learned that Mr. Thomas Young was recently married, and the new couple was residing in the bride's family home on Elizabeth Street. He had been granted the use of the prefab house in the school bus yard when he had been hired a few years ago, and according to his contract with the city, he was responsible for the maintenance of the structure until he either resigned his position, or found a suitable tenant for the little house.

That meant a lot of things I thought. Mr. Young worked in one of those offices in the bus yard, he'd be checking on the property often and since he had been the last tenant, he knew exactly how he had left the property. Add to that he was more than likely going to be showing the house to prospective renters, and that could happen at just about any time. It sure didn't look like we would be able to safely move in there.

We spent the rest of the day mostly at the library, dashing the two blocks there in between the frequent rain showers. We read, we used the free computers, and played with some of the other kids in a game tournament. Jake met a nice kid his own age and he asked if Jake lived nearby so they could get together sometimes, and I head Jake tell him that we came here to the library just about every other day and that things at home were pretty messed up right now so it would have to be here they saw each other, and that he looked forward to seeing Jim here in a few days so they could hang out together.

On our way "home", I bought another newspaper and I read it as we ate our dinner that evening with the rain beating down on the roof overhead. Covering the windows with sheets of black construction paper let us have more lights on and after dinner we each watched our own shows on the internet. The paper had a small follow up story on the imagined home invasion Derrick had reported. The small article said that no new information had turned up in the police investigation, and that with no clues there wasn't much to go on.

By Sunday night we were about crawling the walls with boredom. Monday morning, we woke to a bright and sunny warm day. We were up early and so we decided to drive up to the next island, Stock Island and visit the Botanical Garden there. We wouldn't have to pay to get in and we could always just drop in a dollar or two in the contribution box on our way out. We packed up some sandwiches and bottled water and snuck out of the museum building and locked it back up before walking the docks around to where it ended by where the van was parked.

We made it out to the garden which was really a bunch of trails through a natural woodland, a tropical woodland with a lot of the trees and shrubs labeled so you knew what they were. One particular trail led to a swampy area with a pond and wooden walkways and bridges over parts of the pond. From these, you can look down into the somewhat murky water and see native fish and turtles living there. Our Mom had taken us here a couple of times and we felt like explorers out here. We sat on a bench by the pond to eat our lunch and we even fed some of our crusts to the ducks there by the water's edge. Once we had cleaned up after ourselves, we returned to downtown Key West and the library.

Jake met up with his buddy Jim and they were off playing a video game on one of the gaming computers in the kids' area and I had found a good book to read so I was on the window seat at the end of the same room where they were playing. It made for a nice way to spend the afternoon after tramping through the tropical woods all morning. After a while, I realized I was getting anxious about tending the lawn at Dan and Bert's on Wednesday. I guess I was anxious for a few reasons. One was that I really did like these two guys and they were smart guys too, I mean you didn't become an FBI agent by being dumb, nor did you become a lawyer unless you had at least some smarts. I would have to warn Jake about being too free with his talk around them, and I'd have to be careful too about revealing too much information about us too.

Tuesday, late in the afternoon, after the dredger crew had left the wharf, we went to the van and unloaded the mower and trimmer and gassed them up from the full gas can and we tested them out along the roadway where I had parked the day before. Thankfully everything worked just fine and after I had returned the mower to the van, I showed Jake how to get more line out on the bottom of the trimmer by tapping the bottom on a hard surface and he soon got the knack. I'd say we were ready to go to work the next morning. On the phone on Sunday Bert had said that any time after nine thirty on Wednesday would be a fine time to start, so at 9:15 we were unloading our equipment around the corner from their house and I locked the van and with our work gloves and a lunch packed we set off around the corner for their home.

We set up our stuff in the shade of a big old Banyan tree on the right side of the front lawn and Jake went and rang the doorbell to let the owners know we were there. I started the mower and began just as I saw Jake talking to Dan on the front stoop and then he waved to Dan and began with the front flower and plant beds at the front, weeding and placing the weeds on a cut open paper grocery bag. Once the cut grass catcher was filled on the mower, I had Jake dump the weeds pulled on top and I lugged the cuttings and weeds to the yard waste bin out back and then reattached the cuttings catcher back on the mower and started the other half of the front yard.

Jake had finished the front planting beds by the front walk and had started on the beds in front of the front porch which ran along the whole front of the house with the front door in the middle. This second half of the front lawn was all lawn, not having a hundred-year-old tree covering half of it, so this took all the rest of the morning to cut.

We had used up almost all our water during the morning and when the mower was finally shut down and the last of the clippings from the front were dumped in the yard waste bin Dan and Bert came out front to look over what we had already accomplished. They left the front porch and walked down to the front walk and then back toward us at the front of the house. Dan was looking pleased and Bert was looking us over, as we were both drenched with sweat by this time. He looked concerned as he asked if we needed anything and Jake spoke up and said we had run through all our water and could we refill up our bottles? Bert said we sure could, in fact, he thought we might like some time to rest before we moved into the back to assess whether we would continue today, or if we should come back tomorrow to tackle the back-yard areas. He then produced a house key and led us all to the little house keeper's cottage out back and he unlocked the door and told us that it was ours to use so we would have a place to use the bathroom if we needed and to refill our water bottles as we needed to, without having to come into the house to do so. Dan spoke up and told us that we were always welcome in the house, but this way we could be more independent and plus we wouldn't be tracking dirt and clippings into the house. We thanked them for this courtesy and both Jake, and I told them we would clean up after ourselves, and Jake took off to go get our lunch from the bag under the big tree.

Dan suggested we all eat lunch together at one of the covered tables out on the big patio and I told him we must stink after all that sweating out in the sun this morning and they both said that we could either rinse off at the outdoor shower by the pool, or if we wanted, why not go dunk in the pool while they got their own sandwiches. I told them that would be doable as we did have our swimsuits in our bag as we were thinking of going to one of the beaches this afternoon.  They went into the big house to get their lunches and I called out to Jake to bring the whole bag and I told him we were going for a swim. We changed in the small cottage and even got to look around in there. It had a small equipped kitchen, and the small living room and bedroom were both furnished. It was a cute place. After we both had a chance to use the bathroom we dashed out to the pool and had a good soak while we played around in there, but when the guys came back out with a tray laden with plates and bowls and a pitcher of iced tea we hopped out and rinsed off under the free-standing shower at the edge of the pool. We used our own beach towels to dry off a bit and then joined them at the table, Jake unbagging our meager sandwiches, well, compared to theirs, which looked really good to us.

They had four of these big sliced roast beef sandwiches and some potato salad on their tray and they insisted they share with us, even pouring us big cups of iced tea and putting a bowl of chips in the middle of the table for us all to share in. I made the decision for us and slipped our thin sandwiches back in our bag and gratefully accepted their offerings.

The talk around the table was mostly about what a good job we had done out front, and that with this heat they thought that we should leave the backyard spaces until the next day, that is if we had time to come back tomorrow, and I admit I pretended to think about it, and then told them that would be doable. That was when Bert said he would make something special for lunch tomorrow, so we shouldn't bring our own, we should be prepared to eat with them again. They asked us some questions about living down here and we answered as best we could, and they told us some of what their lives had been like living up in Washington DC.

They told us about their decision to leave their hectic lives there behind after Dan was injured in a shoot-out with a nutcase that had attacked a group of senators playing a baseball game. Dan pulled up his shirt and showed us the healed spot where he had gotten shot in the side. We both got a good look at it and Bert had a teary eye as he put his hand on Dan's shoulder and squeezed it gently, (boy Dan was really built for an older guy, he had a real muscular body and it looked like he still kept himself really fit). Both Jake and I helped them clean up after we all had finished our lunches and then Jake and I went back to the cottage to get dressed again and clean up after ourselves.

When we were done, I went up to them in their kitchen and went to hand them back the key to the cottage and they both told me to hang on to it. They had no plans to use the cottage, and they wanted us to be able to use it while we were on the property. We were chatting about a few things when their house phone rang, and Bert answered the kitchen extension.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was prompted by a loyal reader, Dan, who came up with a premise and couldn't make a story out of it.  Thank you Dan for the hint ! Art

Comments appreciated at Art West