Monday, March 14, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 2 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“Mom?” James asked as they pulled into the mud and grass parking lot next to the football field.  “Are you really planning to get a job?”
Diana Hill tilted her head, as if considering the idea.  “It’s probably a good idea.  Your father needs some time to find the right job, and our savings won’t last forever.  It’s not like I have no experience.  I worked right up until I went into labor with you.  Of course, the school would be happy to keep me selling T-shirts and hot-dogs at the games like I have since you started football, but that’s just volunteer work.
“I just think it would probably be better to get paid for my labor, for a while, don’t you?”
James hadn’t given much thought to the problem of where the money came from.  Right up until the moment Dad came home without a job, he had been planning to push the idea that they needed another car, preferably a Jeep Wrangler with a good stereo, raised suspension, and huge balloon tires.  There were three drivers in the family.  They needed three cars.  Something like that would be perfect to take mudding—and to drive himself to school, too.
I need wheels.  I’m too old to have Mom drive me everywhere.
He ducked out of the pickup and headed for the locker room.  He was suiting up when it occurred to him.
If Mom works, she won’t be able to drive me to school.
That was a perfect reason to get a car, but it was the absolute worst time to bring it up.  He’d have to think about this some more.
James set the box on top of the stack a few days later.  He wiped the sweat out of his eyes.  The garage door was wide open while they moved the family junk out of the storage shed, but it wasn’t air-conditioned and even in the fall, Central Texas could boast some hot days.
His father was right behind him, carrying a large canvas tent over his shoulder.  They hadn’t used it in years.
“Dad, it’s four o’clock.”
Bob looked puzzled for a second after he stashed the tent on the growing pile.  “Oh.  Yes.  Your weight room.  Can it wait a little longer?  I need to get the storage shed emptied out while there’s still daylight.”
Mom had been working for a week now at the department store, and her hours were getting long.  It was falling on Dad to ferry him around.
“I could drive myself.”
Bob Hill frowned.  “Diana doesn’t like that.”
James nodded, “I know.  I’ve heard it all.  But this isn’t a joy ride.  I do the driving when Mom takes me anyway.  If Billy Timmons hadn’t wrapped himself around the light post right in front of her, I would’ve been driving myself for a year now.”
He caught himself before he went into the unfairness of it all.  That would hardly impress Dad.  Logic worked with his father, not griping.
“Anyway, I’ve got to get to the weight room before it closes and do my leg presses, or Coach won’t let me start next week.  If you take me, that’s there and back, twice.  Let me drive myself and save yourself the time.”
His father glanced at his wristwatch.  Since the day he announced to his family that he was going to set up a home office and start his own consulting business, Dad had been working long hours every day.
“Okay, but no side trips.  I don’t have time to calm her down if you’re late.”
James nodded, “Thanks Dad.”  He went straight for the pickup, trying to keep a lid on his glee.  Dad expected him to be responsible.  He’d let it all out on the road, once he was out of earshot.  
“Hello, James.”  Her voice was melodic.
“Hi, Suzie.”  Dripping from sweat after his workout, he was surprised to see her poking her head into the passenger side window of his pickup.  Blond and doing full justice to her orange and white cheerleader outfit, she was the last person he expected.  He was embarrassed for his sweat, and the empty plastic bottle trash in the floor.
“I like your new pickup.”  She looked it over, not seeing the wear, obviously.
“Hardly new.  I’ve inherited it now that Mom’s gone to work.”  That was still wishful thinking, he knew.  He had driven himself to school five times now, and each was a separate plea.  Mom still didn’t like it, and Dad kept giving him approval ‘this time’.
The past two weeks had been interesting.  The storage shed had gradually become Dad’s office.  James helped clean it up and together they’d buried a phone line and a power cable, just a glorified extension cord, from the house.  With a space heater, a fluorescent light fixture and a desk, Dad had a new office.
He grinned, “Finally!  I have an excuse to use my driver’s license.”
“Wheels are wheels.”  She glanced around at the interior speculatively.
James patted the old bench seat affectionately.  “Yeah.  I love being the one to give rides to my buddies.  My time at last.”  Squeezing into the back seat of Frank’s car with too many guys was fun, but it had been a bit tight.  
He hadn’t explained to his parents that he’d been driving his friends, not yet, but he intended to.  Mom was still too worried about him—still too afraid he would kill himself in an accident. 
Suzie smiled at him.  “Do you think I could get a ride from time to time?  Maybe after practice or after the game?”
“Sure!  No problem.”  
Just then, Drake and Slick came out of the gym and gave him a wave.
Suzie tapped the windowsill.  “I’ll take you up on that, then.  See you tomorrow?”
He nodded dumbly as she sauntered away.
What was that all about?  
Guys asked for rides all the time.  But girls rode with girls.  Unless they were more than classmates.
Suzie Shannon was a junior, like him, and they had shared more classes over the years than he could count, but she’d never paid him much attention.  
Girls aren’t interested in me.  Football took too much of his time, and he suspected they knew that.  That and homework kept him busy.  Academic suspension was always just close enough to make him nervous.
Slick and Drake dumped their bags into the pickup bed and piled in.
“Hey James, what’s up with Suzie?” asked Slick.
He shrugged, starting the engine.  “Just looking at my pickup.”
Drake rolled his eyes, patting the bench seat.  “She’s checking out the upholstery.”
Slick elbowed him in the ribs.  “Be nice, Drake.”
James felt hot.  He turned the air-conditioner on high.
“Want to hit Wag-A-Bag on the way home?  I could use a Gatorade.”  James asked, to an assenting chorus.  The only convenience store in town was a regular stop off on the way home.  Drake didn’t bother him—he’d had a dirty mind since sixth grade.
Still, James felt energized, tingling all over.

No comments:

Post a Comment