We woke to the awesome smells of a hearty breakfast coming from Carol’s kitchen. After showering Mason and I joined the others for breakfast. There were various fruits, sausages, waffles, and eggs. Breakfast conversation was friendly with each avoiding the reality that the Arkansas group would be departing in a short time. “It has been so nice having all of you here,” Carol said. “You feel like family, and I hope you will all come back for visits often.”
“Jeff will be back when the house sells,” Bruce said.
“Oh, I guess I hadn’t even thought about that,” I said. “I also need to know how much I owe you for representing me in court.”
“Like Carol said, you’re like family,” Bruce said. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“Family or not, I want to pay you for what you’ve done,” I said.
“I know you’ve heard the proverb, ‘One good deed deserves another,’” Bruce said. “Steve told me what you did for a young client of his by the name of David.”
“I didn’t do anything for David except talk to him,” I argued. “You took time away from your practice, and I want to pay you for your time.”
“Look Jeff, I’ve seen what physical and mental abuse can do to a child,” Bruce began. “Carol and I have been fighting for the rights of abused children for years. What your case did to let parents know that they may have to pay for what they’ve done was important to our cause. Yes, I did this for you, but I also did it for our cause. If you feel you must pay, then just repay in the future by doing a good deed for some young person.”
“I’ll do that, but I still want to pay you,” I said.
“I understand that you want to be an attorney,” Bruce said.
“That’s my plan,” I said.
“Then when you become an attorney, devote a portion of your time to some young person like you and that will be my payment,” Bruce said.
“Jeff, there’s no need in arguing with him,” Carol said. “He has made up his mind.”
I then looked at Roy, and he said, “Don’t even think about paying me. Bruce did all of the work.”
“But, you flew us up here and that had to cost something,” I said.
“If it will make you feel any better, I’ll let you pay for the fuel,” Roy said. “And then I’m donating that amount to CASA.”
“Susan and I are matching that amount too,” Steve added.
“Even if the plane ride scared the shit out me, I’ll match that amount too,” George said.
“I knew what you said in your valedictorian address wasn’t a lot BS,” Mason said. “You really did mean you wanted our class to make a difference. So, I’m also matching the donation to CASA. By the way, what is CASA anyway?”
“CASA is Court Appointed Special Advocates,” Carol said. “They are volunteers who sort of backup the child welfare system and become the voice for children. Bruce and I donated each year to CASA. I’m a volunteer to CASA.”
“What a wonderful idea,” Susan said. “I think I’ll volunteer to CASA when we get back home.”
“If they would let an old man like me, I think I’ll volunteer too,” George said. “That is if Roy’s plane doesn’t go down on the way back.”
“Grandpa, my plane isn’t going to crash,” Roy assured him. “I arranged for a mechanic to check it while we were here. Now, we had better get out to the airport and get on our way before Grandpa strokes out.”
We were soon loaded into the SUV with Carol as our chauffer since Bruce needed to go to the office. After arriving at the airport Roy excused himself to pay the mechanic and for the refueling. We all said our goodbyes to Carol and boarded the plane.
It was obvious that George was edgy about the flight, but Susan escorted him to a seat and sat beside him. She seemed to have a calming effect on him, and he was soon laughing and joking with the rest of us.
“What did the mechanic say?” I asked Roy in a voice low enough that George couldn’t hear.
“What I had expected,” Roy said. “It was some bad fuel, but he said that everything should be fine now since most of that fuel was used up on the flight here.”
The flight home went without a hitch and we were all happy to get back home. Since Steve and Susan had flown to Chicago after we had, their SUV was at the airport along with Roy’s. Roy drove George and me home since it wasn’t much out of his way home.
“I understand that you and Mason are looking at property east of town,” Barry said. “Do you think you’ll buy it?”
“Probably not,” I said. “I would hate to leave Grandpa alone if I move.”
“Don’t worry about me,” George said. “I have an offer on my place from a developer who wants to build a hotel and restaurant on the land.”
“You would really sell your place?” I asked George in surprise. “Where would you live?”
“I’ve looked at a condo for seniors that I could buy and still have money left over to live on for the rest of my life,” George said.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to say anything just in case you didn’t win your court case,” George said. “Now that I know you will be okay, I’ve decided to sell.”
“What about the others that rent lots from you?” I asked. “Where will they go?”
“As a condition for selling, the buyer agreed to pay all relocation cost for them.” George said. “I’m giving them two months free lot rent to also help them. They will be fine.”
“Does this change your mind about buying the property that you looked at?” Barry asked.
“Not really,” I said. “We can’t both live in my little travel trailer and the house there isn’t livable.”
“I went out there with Mason the other day, and the house could easily be made livable,” Barry said.
“Sure, and at what cost?” I asked.
“You and Mason could do most of the work yourselves and save a bundle of money,” Barry said.
I laughed and said, “That would make that place a money pit for sure.”
“I could show you guys what to do,” Barry offered. “Mind you, I said that I would show you. I didn’t say that I would do all the work. You should have seen our house before I remodeled it.”
“You remodeled your house?” I asked in surprise.
“Well yes,” Barry laughed. “I may be gay, but I can be butch also. Tomorrow we’ll go out there and look the place over together.”
True to Barry’s word, I had just finished breakfast when he showed up to look the house over. “Let’s see if Grandpa wants to go too,” Barry suggested.
“What about Mason?” I asked. “Is he meeting us out there?”
“I didn’t tell Mason we were going out there,” Barry confessed. “I’ve already been out there with him. He looks at the place with his heart and you look at it with your brain. You’ll see what really needs to be done. When Mason looks at it he sees a palace.”
“Maybe there is a palace there after all,” I admitted. “When I first arrived here from Chicago my little travel trailer was my palace. It sure beat the hell out of the hollow tree where I went for safety.”
“Jeff, you’ve been through more than any person should ever have to endure,” Barry said. “I can’t imagine how horrendous that had to have been for you. In spite of how your parents abused you, you’ve turned out to be wonderful caring young man. I hope you can finally realize that all those things are in the past and start living for today.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling him,” George said as he joined in on the conversation.
“I know what you’re saying, but it’s hard to really believe that I can be happy and not worry about my parents,” I said.
“This is a million dollar view,” Barry said as we pulled into the driveway toward the house. “Let’s go inside and see what we have to start with.”
The house was much larger than I had remembered. The kitchen was just a room with a few old cabinets that had about 50 years of grease built up on them. The rooms were large and there was a single bathroom for the three bedrooms. The bathroom fixtures were beyond repair and would have to be completely replaced.
“The house appears to be well built,” George said.
“I thought the same thing,” Barry said. “It isn’t in much worse condition than our house was before I remodeled it. I offered to help get the boys started on the remodeling if they’re willing to put a little sweat equity into it.”
“I’ve done some carpentry in the past, and I could help some too,” George offered.
“Grandpa, you’re retired,” I said. “I can’t let you be out here working.”
“I wouldn’t be working, I’d be out here making sure you two were working,” George teased.
“After I looked the place over with Mason, I made some drawing for remodeling,” Barry said. “Look these over and tell me what you think.”
“Wow!” “This is nice,” I said as I looked over the drawings. “Do you really think this old house could look like this?”
“Of course,” Barry said. “Look at the master bedroom. There’s even room for a walk-in closet and a master bathroom.”
“How much will all of this cost?” I asked.
“I haven’t actually figured cost,” Barry admitted. “But, remember that a lot of the cost of construction is labor. It would be a lot less than new construction though.”
“Could you just give me a rough guess?” I asked.
“Roughly, I’d say that it would be somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000,” Barry said. “There would need to be new cabinets in the kitchen, vanities in the bathroom, new plumbing and electrical, and I would put in new energy efficiency windows too. I’m sure it would be best to take out all of the drywall and put in new insulation too.”
“How long would it take to get it ready?” I asked.
“That would depend on how hard you guys want to work, and if you want to hire some help,” Barry said. “I do think we can have it livable by the end of the summer.”
“That would mean that I’d have to find a place to live until then,” I said.
“Why is that?” Barry asked.
“Grandpa is selling the trailer park and I have to move out,” I said.
“Move your trailer here,” Barry said. “There’s a well and septic tank here already.”
The fact that I would be able to move my trailer to the property helped me decide to go forward with the purchase of the property. “If it’s still available when the house in Chicago sells, I’ll agree to the purchase,” I said.
“I think that’s a wise decision,” George agreed. “This view is worth the price of the property alone.”
Fortunately the Chicago property sold within two weeks and the closing was scheduled. I declined Roy’s offer to fly me to Chicago and said that I would just take a commercial flight. Mason, of course, offered to go with me. Mason and I decided to make an offer on the purchase of the land when we got back from Chicago.
Carol pick us up at O’Hare and drove us to the closing the day we arrived. I was surprised that the house sold so quickly. However, it was a nice house. I never figured out how my parents could afford a house like it on my dad’s truck driving salary. Roy had suggested that my dad had been involved in some drug transporting. I tended to believe that Roy was onto something.
The couple that purchased the house was a nice Italian couple with two young daughters. I was happy that the house might finally have a loving family living there. The signing took less time than I expected so I called Tom to see if he could meet us. Tom’s mom said that he was working, but she would have him call when he got home from work.
Tom called about four to say that he would pick us up to take us out to dinner, but Carol wouldn’t hear of it. She had planned a dinner for us and said there was plenty for Tom and Craig.
Dinner was awesome, and I could tell that Tom and Craig enjoyed it too. Mason and I had the opportunity tell about our plans for purchasing the property. Carol had suggestion for the remodel that Barry, Mason or I hadn’t thought of. When Mason showed pictures of the property they all agreed that the view alone was worth the price of the property.
“I’d love to see that,” Tom said.
“You’ll always be welcome,” I said. “In fact, you’re all welcome.”
“Susan and Steve have been trying to get us down for a visit,” Carol said. “I think it would be a nice vacation for us.”
‘Maybe Craig and I could go before we start classes this fall,” Tom said.
“We may not have the house ready by then, but you could all stay with my mom and dad,” Mason offered.
Following dinner, we all had a nice visit and plans for visits to Arkansas were developed. It was decided that the Fourth of July weekend would be a good time. I realized that I had developed a kind of kinship with my friends in Chicago. It seemed as though I had family in Illinois and Arkansas.
After another of Carol’s hearty breakfasts, Bruce drove Mason and me to the airport on his way to his office. On the way to the airport Bruce said, “Jeff, are you aware that your parents left Chicago. From what I’ve heard is that they moved to Indiana.”
“As far as I’m concerned, they are no longer my parents,” I said. “Maybe a time will come when I can forgive them, but I doubt it.”
“I can understand that,” Bruce said. “Just don’t let your feelings make your life miserable.”
“I won’t,” I said. “I now have a loving family in Arkansas, and I know that this has been the best for me in the long run.”
“Did your parents ever mention any family?” Bruce asked.
“I overheard them talking about Tennessee at one time, but nobody in particular,” I said.
“You should see if you could find any relatives,” Mason said.
“I’m not interested in that,” I said. “If I found relatives they would probably be just like my parents.”
We arrived at the airport and Bruce offered to see us off. However, we insisted that we could find our way to our departure gate. Mason and I both were of the opinion that Bruce had already gone out of his way to drive us to the airport. We knew that he likely had a busy day ahead of him at his office.
“Let’s go make an offer on the land as soon as we get back,” Mason said as we waited to board our plane. “I’ll need to withdraw my college fund money.”
“No, you might need that money for college,” I said. “I have enough money to purchase the land and remodel the house.”
“But, I have a scholarship to pay for my college, and besides I want it to be our home.”
“As a couple, it would be our home. What’s mine is yours.”
“I realize that, but it is important to me that I contribute. My mind is made up on this one. I’ll borrow my portion of the money we need for remodeling.”
“There’s no need to do that when I have all of this money now. And there will be no arguing about that.”
The boarding call for our flight was announced and we quickly found our seats. “Let’s go see the realtor first thing when we get back,” Mason said once we were in the air.
“First thing I need to do is deposit the check from the sale of the house. I also need to see a financial planner.”
We drove directly from the airport to the bank upon arriving home. The financial planner was out of the office for a couple of hours, so we decided to go to see the realtor. We discovered that the property was still on the market and made an offer of $5,000 less than the asking price.
After a quick lunch we went back to the bank and I met with the financial planner. We decided to put a portion of the money in an interest bearing checking account that would allow for me to pay for the land and materials for remodeling when needed. The rest would be invested for a higher return on my investment.
After I had finished with my business at the bank I found Mason in the lobby talking on his cell phone. I didn’t know who he might be talking with, but I could tell that he was pleased about something. “The owner accepted our offer,” he said as he ended the call. “The realtor will be scheduling the closing soon.”
“I think I’ll move my travel trailer there and we can live in it until the house is ready.”
“That would be a great idea, then we could watch to make sure nobody vandalizes or steals anything while we’re remodeling. “
“You don’t mind living in a cramped travel trailer for a few months?”
“Hell no, it will be on our land. Now, why don’t we go and take Grandpa out to dinner and celebrate. I’ll call Mom and Dad and have them meet us.”
“Call your dad at his office and have him invite Roy and Barry too since they are part of our family too.”
When we arrived at the trailer park, I was surprised to see that three of the trailers were already moved out. George was happy to see us and gave Mason and me a big hug as though we had been gone for months rather than overnight.
“I’m surprised to see that people have already started to move out,” I said.
“Yes, we should all be out by the end of the month,” George said. “I’ll be moving to my condo next week.”
I was suddenly saddened by the news that George would be moving. It seemed that my new life in Arkansas was swiftly changing. “It’s not the end of the world,” George’s voice brought me back to reality. “I left my family and that shack back home I’ve never looked back. You left Illinois to get out of an abusive situation. Those were big changes that were for the best. This will be too.”
“I know Grandpa, but here I felt safe for the first time that I could remember,” I said. “That other situation was one where I wasn’t safe or happy.”
“We’ll be in our own home soon and Grandpa will be just a few miles away,” Mason said.
“So, you bought the property?” George asked.
“We sure did,” Mason said with his happiness obvious to both George and me. “As soon as we close we will be moving Jeff’s trailer out there and living in it until we can get the house remodeled.”
“My condo is a two bedroom and you guys can live in the second bedroom until the house is ready,” George offered.
“Thank you, Grandpa,” Mason said. “But, as Jeff pointed out, if we live out there we can keep an eye on things and there would be less likelihood that the place would be vandalized or things stolen.”
“Yeah, the trailer will be small for two people living in it, but we’ll manage,” I said.
“Jason and Sarah Morgan are buying a house and want to sell their mobile home,” George said. “They are asking $7,000 for it. I know that it is worth at least $2,000 more than that. It’s a two bedroom 14 by 80 and has been well taken care of. Since the new property owners have agreed to pay for moving the mobile homes at the park it wouldn’t cost you anything to have it moved. When your house is ready you could get your money back.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” Mason said. “What do you think, Babe?”
“We can look at it tomorrow,” I agreed. “It sounds like it might be the answer to our housing problems for now. I know that my little trailer is too small for even one person, much less two.”
“You can keep your trailer,” Mason said. “I know it means a lot to you.”
“It has served me well,” I said. “But, maybe someday it can provide a safe place for another person.”