These past three weeks on the job have been non-stop. Thank God they're wrapping it up today. Friday. Perfect. 10 hours a day six days a week is starting to get to him. He doesn't mind working and he likes the work he does, he'd just like to have a little time to take care of some other shit, and maybe have a little fun.
He's been working so many hours there are a couple of things that have slipped by undone. He's managed to keep his laundry up, he has to have work clothes. He paid the kid next door to cut his grass. Those things got done.
It's the really important shit he hasn't gotten to.
He hasn't been fishing or out in the woods for way too long. He's going a little nuts being stuck in the city. And groceries. He's been eating fast food the past three nights and he's sick of that shit, but he's run out of damn near everything except salt, pepper and ketchup. He needs to get his ass to the store and get some real food.
He'll get it all taken care of this weekend. He'll be up and out early Saturday morning, on the lake doing a little fishing. Just him, his fishing pole, a slice or two of leftover pizza and a couple beers. Surrounded by nothing but peace and quiet. All will be right with the world.
On his way back from the lake, and with fresh fish in the cooler for dinner, he'll stop at the grocery and load up on supplies so he can get back to some decent eating.
That's his plan for tomorrow, for now though, a man has to eat and he has to be at work and he isn't about to go hungry.
Just like every morning he loads his work gear in the backseat of the pickup, never in the bed. It'd be too easy to steal. The tools and equipment cost him plenty of dough, close to two grand. He takes good care of it all, he knows the value of a buck.
When he's completely geared up it totals as much as 200 pounds of extra weight. He carries all of that on his body. So far, through four years of apprenticeship and five years as a journeyman, it hasn't bothered him. He doesn't even think about it anymore.
Being determined to keep himself well fed on what will be the last day of this massive repair job, he leaves home at 6:00am. He's giving himself plenty of time to make a stop at D&L's before heading to the job site.
He pulls into the big travel mart and the first thing he does is head to the pumps. He fills the tank of his big F-350 pickup and when he's done pumping fuel he pulls it into a parking spot right up front. He heads in the store with nothing more on his mind than getting some fuel for himself, a lot of caffeine and a lot of grub. Everything he needs to get through the day.
It doesn't take him long. He fills his Igloo with two ham and cheese sandwiches, a large bag of chips, a package of 6 donuts, two breakfast burritos and a Hershey bar. He also grabs a quart of milk, a quart of orange juice, two cokes and finally stops at the coffee bar and fills up his oversized thermal mug with coffee, sugar and cream.
He doesn't much care for ready-made sandwiches or donuts in a package, it's not the kind of breakfast or lunch he'd fix for himself. It's not even what he'd necessarily choose to be eating period, but choices are limited so it'll work for now.
He gets in line at the register and his phone beeps, it's a text from his boss. He texts the man back, then checks his weather app hoping for clear and sunny fishing weather over the weekend. What he's not doing is paying any attention to the other folks waiting in line.
It's the smell that makes him look up to see who the hell is in front of him. That smell and one look at her is all it takes to know, it's been a while since she bathed. It isn't just body odor. She smells like she's been going through dumpsters.
Not that any of that is unheard of, it's a nasty fact of real life anymore. There are homeless people all over. He's just never seen anyone on the streets or anywhere else quite like her. Despite how dirty she is and her grubby and shabby clothes, he can see she's sort of pretty. In a real dainty kind of way.
For some reason he senses she hasn't been on the streets too long. Just long enough to be dirty and hungry and probably desperate.
He wonders how someone who appears to be so delicate manages to survive on the street at all. He also can't help wondering what shitty circumstances put her in this kind of jam. Then he catches himself, and quickly reminds himself none of it is his problem.
Her turn comes and she sets a pint of chocolate milk and a package with a one serving coffee cake on the counter. He hears her half whisper to the clerk, "Can I sweep the floor or clean the bathroom to pay for this? I'll do whatever you need."
The clerk is downright cold, he supposes maybe she's just burned out on this kind of stuff. A place like this, she probably gets asked questions like that a few times a day. She's harsh when she snarls, "Cash or card. If ya can't pay then get out."
The young woman doesn't argue. She leaves the things on the counter and hurries out the door.
The clerk looks in his cooler, rings up his items, and then fuck him if he doesn't do it. Even though he knows he's an idiot he points to the young woman's things and says, "This here stuff too."
The clerk nods, rings it up and tells him what he owes, as she whispers under her breath, "Sucker."
He figures she's right and he shrugs, "Yep. I guess that's me."
He picks up his Igloo and her things and walks out.
He finds her over on the side of the building. She's sitting on the ground with her small canvas bag next to her and still wearing her backpack. Her knees are up and she's leaning forward with her forehead resting on them. Her arms are clasped around her legs and he's worried it's crying he hears.
He bends over and sets the two items next to her on the ground. When she looks up at him he nods his head and tells her, "Eat up 'fore someone takes it from ya."
She nods her head and whispers, "You didn't have to. Thanks," as she quickly tears the bag open and shoves at least half of the coffee cake in her mouth. It's obvious it's been a while since she ate.
She doesn't look like she's on the dope, and he knows exactly what that looks like. He has a brother whose been on and off that shit for years.
It doesn't matter, he can't stand here dwelling on any of that stuff. He has work to get to. He walks away from her, sets the cooler in his pickup, climbs in and drives off. The trouble is his mind doesn't drive off with him. It stays right there and on her.
It isn't much and it doesn't come close to filling her up, but it's something. She almost smiles as a little bit of her faith is restored. There are still good people in the world. He just proved that to her.
He gets to the job site staging area and starts gearing up. It's a routine he goes through every work day, but he still believes in paying close attention to the details. His life depends on it.
He's already wearing some of it. He left home in his fire-resistant shirt and his climbing boots. The climbing boots are different than his regular boots. They're designed especially for his line of work. When he bought them he splurged and went for the best, it made sense. They're thick with a no-flex heel and a high no-flex instep. They're designed that way for both comfort and safety. They're also designed to accommodate his climbing spikes, called gaffs.
He's careful as he straps the gaffs to his boots. They have sharp steel tips for digging into the wood of power poles. Next he secures them with his climbers, the contoured leg shanks that strap just below his knees to help secure the gaffs in place.
When he's sure the gaffs aren't going to budge he starts adding the serious weight. He puts on his implement belt with clips, D-rings and loops all designed to hold his larger tools including his hot stick. It also holds a separate tool pouch for smaller tools like pliers and wrenches.
He hooks his ditty bag to the back of the belt, it hold nuts, bolts, wire connectors and the like. He carries every tool he might possibly need on the belt. When the fit is comfortable and secure, he finally clips on one of his most important tools, his safety strap.
He rechecks his hand line and the attached pulley, he depends on them and always triple-checks. He sets the hard hat on his head, slips his hands into the big insulated leather gloves that resemble oversized oven mitts, and rests the large coiled hand line on his shoulder. He's ready for work, just like every day.
Except this morning everything's not quite the same. The gear and the order in which he geared up, that's all the usual stuff. But he's used to thinking about the job at hand while he gets it all on. This morning his mind hasn't been on work. He's been thinking about the woman at D&L's.
Shit. He keeps reminding himself over and over, she's not his problem.
Despite knowing that fact, he can't seem to stop thinking about her.
Just as the boss and the crew expected it would, the job wraps up by two-thirty. As everyone's removing and packing their gear they're also busy making some after work plans. Plans to stop by Big Ed's Tavern for celebratory beers and wings before heading home.
He lets them know he isn't going. He tells them he has other plans. His buddies start teasing him about meeting up with some hot chick for a crazy weekend and he just smiles and nods like yeah, that's what's going to happen.
His real plan is simple. Stop and pick up a 12-pack for the weekend, go home and shower up, order a big ass pizza, eat at least three quarters of it while he vegges in front of the TV, and then hook the boat to the pickup.
Not long after that he'll likely be falling in the sack. He wants to be on the lake at first light, when the water is still cool and the fish are hungry.
He pulls into D&L's to pick up the 12-pack and wills his eyes not to look that way, yet they go right to the spot where he saw her last. There she is over by the side of the building. She has her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she slowly sways side to side and he'd swear he can almost see the desperation he knows she's feeling.
Taking a good look at her now he notices how slim she is. He'd bet his overtime pay she hasn't eaten since he gave her that coffee cake, and who knows how long it was before that.
He reminds himself he can't get involved. As sorry as he feels for her, he just can't. But there's a little something he can do. He still has half a quart of orange juice left, a half sandwich and three donuts. He's pretty sure she won't be offended by his offer. A person who looks as hungry as she does won't mind eating after someone else.
He carries the items to her and stretches out full hands as he asks, "Ya want this stuff?"
She looks at him with the most beautiful blue eyes he's ever seen. Beautiful but sad and hopeless. She starts to reach for the food, then quickly pulls her hands back and questions him, "Are you sure? You're just gonna give me this stuff?"
"Yeah I'm sure. I know you're hungry, go on an take it."
She whispers, "Thanks. Thank you," as she practically snatches the food from his hands.
"Yeah, sure," he mutters. He's telling himself that's it, he's done his part, it's not his problem. But as he hurries toward the store entrance he wonders why he feels like such a piece of shit.
He grabs a 12 pack from the cooler, a bag of pork rinds and a package of jerky from the rack. He pays his money and heads back out. Shit, he mumbles to himself as he jogs toward his truck, a summer cloudburst is about to dump on him. Then he can't help grinning when he thinks, well at least I ain't up a pole.
He sets his purchases on the floorboard of the back seat and as he climbs into his seat he tries forcing himself not to look in her direction, but he can't keep from it. Dammit. She's been haunting him all day and it doesn't appear that's going to end any time soon.
There she is with her back flat against the building and her arms resting on top of her head, as if that's going to keep her from getting drenched.
Fuck it. Fuck him. Fuck it all.
He practically flies out of the pickup and goes over to her. That's when he sees there's puke on the ground next to her. It happens like that when you're too hungry, he knows from experience. He wills his voice to be calm and nonthreatening when he asks, "Ya eat too fast?"
She doesn't look at him, he figures she's probably too embarrassed.
Yeah, he knows he's screwed. He's deep into this shit now, but dammit, he can't just leave her, "C'mon girl, it's gonna rain. I'll give ya a ride."
She knows better than to get in a vehicle with a stranger. She's been warned about that stuff her whole life, and she's seen plenty of news stories and crime shows about what happens when women let their guard down. But at this point what does it really matter? Her life is already a complete disaster. How much worse can things get?
She's feeling so desperate and so out of it she doesn't even think to ask him where he's giving her a ride to. All she's thinking about is getting off the street, out of the rain that's coming, and into a nice comfortable, dry vehicle. At least for a while.
No sooner are they in his big pickup than the sky opens and the summer rain comes down in buckets. He fires up the engine, looks over at her and says, "Get your seatbelt on."
It almost makes her smile. It seems like such a long time since someone has shown concern for her.
He drives her to the only place he knows of. It's a private shelter run by some charity outfit or another. He can't remember the details for sure, but he thinks he heard about it on the news or something.
He stops in front of the place and she looks at him in a panic. He can hear the anguish in her voice when she starts begging him, "No. No. Please don't leave me here. Just take me back to that store. Please. No. Never mind. You don't have to. I'll just walk."
Her hand is clutched on the door handle when she remembers her manners, "Oh, and thanks for everything, but I just can't stay here."
He's confused. A place to stay seems a whole lot better than no place to stay. He reaches across her, puts his hand over hers and asks, "Why? Ya been here before? What's wrong with the place?"
She's trembling and she doesn't look at him, she looks straight down at her feet when she answers, "Yes…I..I…a while back. It was, well someone…someone tried to bother me."
She doesn't need to say anymore. He knows what she's getting at. Shit, just looking at her, how small and defenseless she appears to be, he can imagine there are plenty of lowlifes who would see her as easy prey.
He doesn't say it out loud, he just thinks it when he tells himself, "Dixon, you are one dumb ass mutherfucker," and he can practically hear his brother Merle laughing at him, "You always was the sweet one little brother."
Fuck it, he starts driving toward his place.
She has no idea where he's taking her next. Maybe some other shelter, maybe some other travel mart. She just knows he looks deep in thought and she's a little afraid to ask him anything. She's grateful too, at least he didn't make her get out at that place.
He pulls in the driveway of a little house. It's one of those bungalow-style places. It's painted a nice shade a pale green with yellow trim and she thinks it looks cute and very homey. There's a pretty front porch and lots of plants, bushes and some cool old trees. She can't help but smile at the perfect little picture it paints.
He pushes a button on his rear view mirror and the garage door begins to open. He pulls the big pickup inside and she asks the obvious, "Is this your house?"
He looks at her like he's pissed and his voice sounds like he's growling at her when he answers, "Yeah, I only brought ya here cuz I don't know where the hell else ta take ya. And don't worry, I ain't gonna be botherin' ya. I ain't that way."
Her own voice is barely a whisper when she responds, "I didn't think you were." He's so mad and she's not sure why. If he didn't want her here, why didn't he just drop her off somehwere?
Then he gets out, opens the pickup's rear door and grabs the big bag that holds his work gear. As he lifts it out he mutters an apology, "Sorry." That's all he says, but she feels like it didn't come easy for him and she believes he means it, and that's enough.
He stows the bag in a large wood box in the corner of the garage, securing the lid with a padlock. Then he rests a foot on the edge of the box, bends over and pulls up one leg of his work pants, revealing the big leather boots. The heavy-looking boots come all the way up to his mid-calf and she watches him as he loosens the laces on first one, then the other. He pulls them off and sets them on a boot warmer next to the wood box. Then he slips on some sports type shoes and ties them up. It's apparent this is a regular routine.
As everyday as it is, for some reason she thinks what he's doing looks kind of sexy. She catches herself, the last thing she needs in her life are complications with men. She's had enough of that crap to last a lifetime.
So she only watches him for a moment before she forces herself to look away. She takes in her surroundings and they're quite something. Never has she seen a garage like his. Everything is so clean and organized. Most people don't keep their houses up as nice as he keeps his garage.
He comes back to the truck, grabs the beer and the snacks then walks around and opens her door. His tone has changed, he sounds much more pleasant when he asks, "Ya okay? Ya need me ta carry anythin'?"
"No, thanks. I have it."
He knows how people who live on the streets get about what little they have. They don't want other folks touching it. Maybe that's it. He doesn't ask again. He simply nods and says, "Okay, c'mon then."
She's tentative when she takes his hand, like she's not sure she should. So far though, even with the brief outburst, he's been nicer to her than anyone has been in a long time; so she lays her hand in his as she climbs down. When her feet are on the ground she mentions, "That sure is a pretty boat, and gosh, the motorcycle. I've never seen anything that shiny."
Talking boats and motorcycles always makes him happy and he smiles, "Yeah? Ya like em? I'ma be takin' that boat out fishin' in the mornin'. It's been a while and man I'm ready ta get on the lake."
She has a melancholy smile when she tells him, "Being out on a lake sounds so nice."
That's when the question finally dawns on him, what the fuck is he going to do with her while he goes fishing?
Shit, what the fuck is he going to do with her period?