Thicker Than Blood (Part 3)

Twenty-seven hours. That’s how long it was going to take Heather to drive to Prescott, Arizona. A flight would only be roughly nine hours total travel time. But the thought of being thousands of feet above the earth in a tight metal tube, that was out of the question.

Kyle had to stay behind to finish up the season with the crew, so Heather was on her own to make the trip. The furthest she had ever driven was Bloomington, Indiana, a mere 4 hour drive. So Heather and Kyle broke the trip up into 4 smaller sections and found budget hotels she and Jared could stay in on the way out, and Heather could repeat on the trip back. It was more than Heather expected to pay for the trip, but She could cover the expense of the trip with extra shifts. Just having the stress of Jared out of their lives—and Cheri’s case along with it—was worth the ten day trip.

John and Jane agreed to watch Jared without any pleading from Heather, but John insisted that Heather make the trip out to Arizona as part of her end of the deal. He did not hide the fact that he thought she, as Cheri’s sister, should be taking care of Jared. But being able to contribute toward Heather and Kyle’s IVF cause helped stem his guilt over not being able to provide financially. Like any other deal he struck with his girls when they were under his roof, Heather had to have skin in the game. It seemed to instill or encourage the work ethic in Heather, but Cheri, not so much.

Before leaving, Heather was forced to make a trip to Cheri’s apartment to get the rest of Jared’s clothes and toys. She’d been able to avoid the place by washing Jared’s clothes each night, but finding a laundromat on the trip was an ordeal she wanted to avoid.

Heather drove by the seedy apartment twice before she got the courage to go inside. This was not her world, and it made her grateful for their small ranch home outside of town.

When she pulled in to the parking spot by the front door, Jared yelled, “HOME!”

The dented front door creaked open and the dark apartment was quiet. Jared burst from behind her and ran into the living room that also functioned as a dining room.

“Jared! Stay with me.” Heather scolded.

“Hello? Anyone here?” Heather had no idea if Cheri shared this place with anyone before being put away and she wanted the option of leaving immediately. No one responded, but she checked the bedroom before Jared found his way out of the living room. She breathed a sigh of relief that the apartment was empty. Maybe it was a place to avoid after everything that went down, Heather assured herself. Clearly the police had upended every room, or at least she hoped this wasn’t how Cheri was living before they raided it.

The bedroom had a twin size mattress on the floor with dark blue sheets and a cream comforter, a set of Spiderman sheets was shuffled on the floor next to the bed. The window was covered with off-white blinds provided by the landlord. Heather started sifting through the drawers of the dresser by the bed but didn’t find any of Jared’s clothes. She opened the closet and found a handful of pants and shirts loosely folded on the built-in organizer. She grabbed everything and stuffed it in Jared’s book bag and grabbed the jacket hanging on the door handle.

Jared bounced around the apartment with his dearly-missed Spiderman action figure. When Heather returned to the family room she found a full ashtray and a few empty beer cans on the glass-top dinner table, even more on the floor. All of the kitchen cabinets were open from the search, most of them empty. The over-stuffed couch and love seat on the other side of the room were riddled with cigarette burns as the smell of stale smoke hung in the air. The walls were bare and only a few picture frames peppered the end tables and dresser top.

In the last five years, Heather had only seen Cheri at family functions or at her and Kyle’s house. She knew Cheri was living in various run down apartments but actually seeing the inside put a pit in her stomach. All she could think about was the old farmhouse they grew up in, where they dug through the trunk full of old dresses and Halloween costumes in the playroom upstairs. They would play for hours in that room, laughing and acting out their stories until the smell of mom’s cooking filled the place. It was safe and clean, and normal. This was not normal. It was gross and desperate, and the pit in her stomach turned to pity as the sound of Jared’s play broke the silence of the apartment and brought her firmly into the reality of their situation.

When Cheri gets out, we’re going to work on getting out of this hole, she thought to herself. No one should be living like this, especially not her sister.

“Come on Jared, we need to get going. I need to wash your clothes before we leave on our trip.” Heather said, wanting to leave before anyone showed up.

“But I miss home, I don’t want to leave.” Jared whined.

“We need to go Jared. Remember how we talked about seeing grandpa?” Jared nodded. “Well, we have a long car ride to see him and the sooner we leave, the sooner we’ll get there.” Jared hung his head but made his way toward the front door without protest.

As they left the apartment, Heather thought maybe she should take some of Cheri’s things with her in case the landlord locked it up. But as she looked over the place one last time, she decided it was time to leave all this behind, to start new. Maybe Cheri needed that clean break, even if it meant leaving behind some valuables. So Heather buckled Jared in and threw his bag in the front seat, and they both sat in silence as the car sped away.

———————–

The Clayton County Jail was mainly filled with DUI charges, possession of methamphetamine, and the occasional larceny or assault. Most of the women would hold over in the county jail to serve their sentence instead of moving to the penitentiary across the state.

That didn’t mean it was a fun place to be.

“I told you to keep your shit on your side.” Crystal wined.

Cheri rolled over in time to watch Crystal kick Cheri’s toiletries across the floor and under her bunk.

“What the hell Crystal? They were on my side.”

“Next time, I smash ‘em.” She looked Cheri in the eye as she raised her arms from her 95 lb. frame. Cheri had her by at least 20 lbs. but had no desire to start a fight on her third day.

“What’s your problem?”

“You’re my problem. Comin’ in here thinkin’ you can just put your shit wherever you like. This is my space. Keep YOUR shit under YOUR bed.” Crystal sat down on her bed across the room with a puff and continued reading one of her sappy romance novels. The cover had a long-haired, shirtless, chiseled man with a damsel in distress swooning in his arms.

Why do these couples always look like they’re in the middle of a hurricane? Cheri thought.

“Where’d you get the book?” Cheri delicately asked.

Crystal squinted at Cheri suspiciously.

“What do you care?”

“I like romance novels too and I’m bored out of my mind already so I was just wonderin’.”

Crystal squinted at her for a few seconds.

“My sister brings ‘em to me.”

“Cool. That’s nice of her.”

“She outta bring ‘em. She owes me after everything that went down.”

“Mmm.” Cheri thought better than to pry. The silence hung in the air for a few minutes. Until Crystal couldn’t take it anymore.

“I mean, she really owes me.”

Cheri nodded her head and let the silence fill the room again.

“I mean, she’s why I’m in here anyway. She went and got herself in trouble with a girl down the street who said she was goin’ to beat her ass. So I stepped in and beat HER ass. You shoulda seen it. I thought I killt her.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, blood everywhere.” Crystal’s eyes got big as she waved her skinny arms around. “I’m just glad she moved. I mean, I can’t protect her from in here.”

“You were willing to do all that for your sister. That’s crazy.”

“That’s my sister.” Crystal was getting louder. “Blood is all we got. I take care of mine.”

Cheri sat quietly.

“You got any brothers or sisters?”

“Yeah, one sister. She’s older.”

“I bet you’d do anything for her. And she’d do anything for you.”

“Well…”

“Exactly. Family is all we got, man. All we got.” Crystal sat back against the wall of the cell and continued reading.

“Inmate Harris.” The officer’s voice boomed around the corner. Cheri sat up, anxious for a visitor.

“Yes, sir.”

“You have a visitor. Come on.” She didn’t recognize his voice at first but it was Officer Delgado. He had escorted Cheri to her bunk the day she came to Clayton. He was patient with her, but Crystal let her know that he was only patient the first day. Cheri followed him, anxious to see her little boy again.

When she walked into the visitor area, she immediately recognized the broad shoulders and the long, dark slicked back hair.

“Derek? What are you doing here?” Derek came in for a hug and Cheri reluctantly returned the gesture. They were quickly interrupted.

“No touching inmate.” Delgado scolded. Cheri backed off and nodded.

“I wanted to see how you’re doing.” They each sat down on one of the stools connected to a table in the large, vanilla visitor area.

“I thought you were still locked up. But you’re out. That, that’s great. For you.”

“Yeah, my brother bailed me out.” Cheri could hear his leg fidgeting under the table.

“Good, good. Do you have a lawyer?”

“Yeah, he’s a good guy. The same one my brother had with the assault charge.”

“Great.” Cheri sat back and stared into Derek’s eyes.

“Look, I’m working on getting some cash together to bail you out. I’m really sorry about what happened. I really am.”

Cheri crossed her arms and nodded her head, fighting back the tears. “You know I’m losing Jared because of all this.”

“What? What are you talking about? Isn’t your sister or mom around?”

“I haven’t heard from my mom in months and Heather’s too busy trying to start a family to take care of the one she’s got. She’s taking him to my dad in Arizona.” Cheri wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Ah shit.” Derek leaned forward, slicked back his hair, and took a deep breath. “Alright, alright. I’m working on it. I’m sorry you’re in here. But it’s a lot of money and I don’t have it. I’m only out because my brother scraped together what he could. I’ll have to call in some favors to see if I can get it all, and I’ll see if I can get some help from my lawyer.”

Cheri nodded and wiped more tears.

“Please hurry.” It was all she could get out without breaking down.

“I will.” He seemed sincere, but Cheri knew Derek’s disappearing acts all too well. “I miss you, I miss Jared, and I feel terrible. I want to pick up where we left off that night. I think we can be something, all of us. I can be the father he needs.”

“I don’t know, Derek. I’ve heard that for the last three years.”

“I know, I know, but it’s different this time. I’ve got a plan for us and you just have to trust me. Jared needs a father, and I–”

“He needs a dad, not just a father. But look what happened when we started hangin’ out again. I have to watch out for Jared. I can’t keep lettin’ these things happen. I have to distance us from this bullshit.”

“You’re right, you’re right, and I’m with you. I’m goin’ legit. I’ve been goin’ legit. I’m seein’ things differently now. I have a, uh, a vision. I just need some time and a good amount of cash to get things rolling—”

“Right. Well, you can start by putting your money where your mouth is to get me outta here. I need you to come through. Now. Then we can see where things go.”

“Yes. I need a week, two tops–”

“Time’s up inmate.”

Cheri stood up and made her way around the table. Derek reached for her hand and held on just long enough to feel her respond with a quick squeeze.

——————–

This trip might be doomed.

Kyle had to be on the other side of the county for a job, so Jared and I slept in. I wanted to be fresh for the first day of driving. I’m a strong, competent, savvy woman. I can do this.

So there I was, all packed up—our first lunch and dinner were in the cooler in the front seat of my 2003 Toyota Camry. Wait, 2004 Toyota Camry, I think.

I’m in the front seat of my car.

My suitcase was in the trunk, Jared’s bag was in the back seat. I had my music ready to go, an audio book cued up for when Jared falls asleep, and a coffee in the console. Let’s get this shit done. Get back, get to work, get busy (as busy as you can be with IVF), and have a baby.

But as I buckled up, put the car in reverse and started backing out of the drive, I noticed a small problem—the kid. The freakin’ kid. As in the freakin’ kid wasn’t in the car. Oh, and maybe my purse. There’s a lot of things from this trip that I’ll take to my grave. Not even Kyle will get this nugget.

Okay. Phone—check. Coffee—check. Purse—check.

Kid—check.

All the essentials were present and accounted for, twice.

For the next two hours we blared some old school Justin Timberlake, Counting Crows, and Backstreet Boys. After the coffee, and Jared’s juice, we made a pit stop and headed back on the road with our sandwich lunch.

You can’t go wrong with PB&J, right? Guardian of the year, folks.

I believe Jared’s exact words were, “I want two.” I want two? What? You’re so impressed with my sandwich skills that you already want another one?

Wrong.

He said it three more times, at least, until it hit me (as he attempted to rip his sandwich into two pieces) that he wanted his sandwich cut in half. Turns out, he hated his ripped sandwich more than his whole sandwich. I looked back in the rear-view mirror just in time to see his follow-through as the first half of the sandwich hit the dash of my 2004 Toyota Camry. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a PB&J sandwich smack a car dash, but it’s a sounded a lot like the time I hit the brakes while Kyle was texting and his forehead hit the dash. I missed us.

The second half went on the floor and the crying and fit followed.

I’m not dumb enough to think that Jared wouldn’t throw a fit on this trip. But this was too soon, things were going so well. I had planned ahead, I had made the sandwich for him. As I handed him a bag of chips to try and calm him down, he slapped them out of my hand. That’s when I was done. I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t anything else to do. I wasn’t stopping. I was too mad to stop. I put in the effort, and he was completely shitting on it.

The good news is Jared doesn’t know how to unbuckle himself from the car seat. He was stuck with me and stuck with his fit.

I’d like to say I did this on purpose, that I had a great idea, a grand tactic or plan. I didn’t. Really, I was mad. Too mad to console, to try to fix it. I just put my ear buds in, turned up the music, and ate my lunch as we cruised down U.S. 31 south. Every once-in-a-while there was a quiet moment in the song and I’d hear Jared’s screaming. I’d glance back to see his read face with tears down his cheeks. The fall sun was shining in the car and I’m sure it was entertaining for all passers-by.

As I finished my PB&J sandwich–which I wasn’t about to attempt to cut in half to give him–I came back to reality and had to do a double-take on the child sitting in the back seat of my 2003 Toyota Camry. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t throwing things. He was looking out the window. Every couple seconds he’d sniffle. The fit was over. The storm had passed. Maybe he realized he wasn’t going to get his way by throwing the fit.

I took my ear buds out and asked him if he wanted the sandwich I had picked up off the floor. He folded his arms and shook his head and screamed, “NO, I WANT ANUDDER ONE!”

Okay, maybe it wasn’t over. So I put my ear buds back in and got lost in the music. And about an hour later, when he was good and hungry, he finally caved and ate what was left of the ripped sandwich. In a way it pissed me off. That it had to be this hard to, of all things, eat lunch. Something so simple and so vital, yet he made it so difficult. But in the end he ate, and in the end he didn’t get his way. Jared’s in for a rude awakening if my dad’s temper hasn’t changed.

__________________

Lord was I optimistic about this hotel. Kudos to the photographer, she did an amazing job for the website. Or maybe it was the three glasses of wine I had when I booked it. I thought I was safe booking a hotel in Springfield, Illinois, most of them should be nice, right?

It didn’t really matter in the end. After 6 hours on the road, with countless stops, I just want to stretch out and relax. I could shoot the front desk for booking a room down the hall from the indoor pool. I wish Kyle would look at me the way Jared looked at that pool. You’d think we had walked past Disney Land.

I was too tired to fight him. The problem was we didn’t have a swimsuit, but I figured no one would be offended by a little boy’s Spiderman underwear. I held his face in my hands as I pre-scolded him about not leaving the steps. He held onto the railing and seemed to get the rules. So I sat on the edge with my feet in the water and he karate-chopped the waters and stuck his face in as long as he could. I have to hand it to the him, he’s got guts. He figured out how to swing on the end of metal rail at the edge of the steps. Eerily similar to a stripper move—which he may’ve got from his momma.

Kyle was out having a beer with the crew when he texted me to make sure I made it to Springfield okay. I missed him already. I don’t have to second-guess every decision when he’s around. He catches my mistakes and he’s so grounded. With Jared working against me all day, it was nice to have someone on my side, supporting.

I was finishing up a text when I noticed ripples just above the top of my phone, my subconscious must’ve kicked in because I didn’t really think before my heart skipped a beat. When I looked up, Jared was four feet from the steps, flailing underwater. I don’t know why but I yelled “JARED!”, as if he could hear me or it was going to help, and I jumped in. Rushing toward a child at the speed of swimming heightens the panic. Thankfully the water was only up to my chest and I could pull him out the water without swimming him back to the edge.

When I finally gripped his body and lifted him above the surface, he coughed up a lung full of water. In the middle of his flailing, I heard him come up for a quick gasp of air and he must’ve swallowed water in the process.

As we made our way back to the steps, he gripped me with everything he had left. We made our way to the steps and sat to catch our breath. When I pulled him back from my chest to ask if he was okay, his eyes were full of fear and he nodded as he coughed up more water. He was so afraid I couldn’t even be mad at him. Don’t get me wrong, I was still mad, but I don’t think it would’ve done much good to scold him. The pool had done all the work.

So we sat on the steps until he stopped coughing, we dried off as much as we could, and quietly made our shivery way back to the room. As I helped Jared get his dry clothes on, he blurted out through shivering lips that he missed his momma. I was surprised it took this long for him to say it. In his pitiful state, I genuinely felt sorry for him. I didn’t ask for him to be dumped on my doorstep, but he didn’t ask for it either. I’m just grateful for the ability to control how it affects me. I can help him move on in Arizona, he has to live with his mother the rest of his life.

I filled Kyle in on the debacle at the pool and within minutes I heard Jared’s heavy sleep-breathing over the cartoons. His straight blond hair was still a little damp and wild, as usual. I haven’t been around Cheri enough lately to see how she treats Jared at this age. As bratty as he is, I’m starting to wonder if she let’s him run wild, or not at all. Or maybe it’s because she hasn’t been present, I don’t know. It’s a good thing Jane will have plenty of time to make sure he stays under wraps.

——————–

Turns out, Jared’s a ninja while he sleeps too. I took two hands and one foot to the face, and those are the ones I remember. When I woke up, there were 5 bare toes on my forehead. I pushed back the polyester covers and looked back to find him in a running man position. He managed to move from the other queen-sized bed all the way to my side of my own bed to torment me throughout the night.

Our clothes weren’t quite dry yet in the bathroom, which didn’t help the musty smell of the room, but we didn’t have time to wait for them to dry. We needed to get on the road for our longest drive of the trip. If we could get from Springfield, Illinois to Tulsa, Oklahoma, it would cut almost an entire day out of the trip. As well as yesterday went, I was feeling good about getting it done. The way things were going, I could still get a few days at home before my ovulation schedule was in what I like to refer to as “prime time doin’ it time.” I could tell Kyle didn’t find it that funny, but he wasn’t going to disagree, and a little part of me liked to see him fake it.

We finished off the last of our meals out of the cooler, so it was all chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers from here. Thankfully, this hotel had a continental breakfast—which translates to toast, donuts, and bagels. But Jared loved the donuts, so it’s hard to complain. I filled my coffee mug and we emptied our bladders one last time before hitting the road. It was a crisp October day and after buckling Jared into his seat, I took a few seconds to take a deep breath and prepare myself for whatever Jared was going to throw at me today. Hopefully, no sandwiches.

As we merged onto I-55 South and eventually crossed Lake Springfield, I turned down the radio and we both ooh’d and awe’d over the lake and the Fall reds, yellows, and browns that lined its coast. The rumble strips quickly brought us back to reality. Jared laughed, my heart jumped. As we left the lake behind us I reached for the volume, but I heard what sounded like a wet rag dropping on a table over and over again. The car was pulling to the right, so I pulled over to check things out, eyes wide with my stomach in my throat.

“Stay in the car,” I told Jared before I got out. He didn’t know how to unbuckle his seatbelt yet, but with four lanes of traffic, it made me feel better to say it. I was getting the voice down where he could tell I meant business. After what happened at the pool, I suspected he’d listen to my pre-scolding a little more.

I waited for the closest lane of traffic to be clear before I opened the door. As I ran around the car, I could hear the speed of the other lane. My stomach went from my throat to my feet as I found the front tire completely flat. After feeling the wind of the cars passing on our side of the highway, I got back in the car and pulled over as far as I could without going off the pavement.

My hands were shaking as I dialed Kyle. No answer, voicemail. Kyle had a habit of leaving his phone in the truck when he was hands-on at a job. We had lost too many good phones over the years.

“Hey honey, everything’s okay but we have a flat tire outside Springfield. I’m on the side of the road and I’m not sure what to do. Call me. Please.”

It had been years since my dad taught me how to change a tire and I hadn’t changed one since.

“What’s happening?” Jared asked, as the car rocked from the wind of a passing semi-truck.

“We have a flat tire, bud. But I’m calling grandpa and we’ll get it fixed.” He seemed to buy my faked optimism but kept an eye on me as I dialed the phone.

Three rings and I almost lost hope when picked up.

“Hello sweetheart!”

Thank God.

“Hey dad, sorry to rush but I have a problem. We’re on the side of the road with a flat tire.”

“Oh boy. You okay?”

He was so good at checking on me first.

“Yeah, it’s just I’m on the side of a huge highway, with semis flying by, and I don’t remember how to change a tire, and I don’t know what to do. I know you told me a long time ago but I don’t remember. Can you please help?” I was talking so fast I wasn’t sure if he even understood me.

“Of course! Put your hazards on if you haven’t already.”

“Check.”

“Alright, now you probably have a spare and jack in the trunk underneath the bottom of the trunk liner. Pop the trunk and pull up the liner of the bottom and make sure it’s there.”

“Okay.” I opened the door just in time for a car to rush past and honk. Shit. I ran around the back of the car and pulled my suitcase out of the trunk and lifted the liner. No tire. The only thing there was what must be the jack.

“Dad, there’s no tire, just the jack.”

It hit me that Kyle had mentioned needing a tire for one of the equipment trailers. Thanks hon.

“Crap.” I could see my dad running his fingers through his short, curly hair. “Alright, get back in the car and lock the doors. I have a triple-A membership and I might be able to talk them into taking care of you on my account. Do you know what mile marker you’re at so I can tell them?”

“Um, I don’t know. We just went over the long bridge on I-55 South outside of Springfield. We’ve only been on the road for about half an hour. Is that enough?”

“It should be. I’ll call you back either way. Don’t open your door or window for anyone in the meantime. Love you.”

I kept the phone in my lap to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Another semi-truck passed us and rocked the car. I jumped and glanced in the rear view mirror to see Jared’s eyes widen in worry. It was time to turn the radio back on. Maybe for him, maybe for me. I handed him his puppy and started the car, and the heat. I glanced into my mirrors to make sure people saw us on the side of the road. I watched Jared looking out the window and bobbing his head to the beat. The kid has rhythm.

With Jared in a good place, I took a minute to text Kyle and let him know what was going on. Still no response. I bet he’ll keep his phone close by after this.

Minutes on the side of the road pass amazingly slow. It only took 10 for my dad to call back, but it felt like an hour. Despite expecting it to ring, the vibration startled me.

“Okay, triple-A let me add you as a member to our account. If anybody asks, you still live under our roof.”

“Oh gosh, alright.”

“There’s a tow truck on its way.”

“A tow truck?”

“Yeah, they can patch some tires on the spot and they’ll bring a spare tire in case they can’t patch it.”

“Wow, okay. Thank you so much dad. You’re just awesome.” I took a deep breath and leaned my head back against the headrest. All that stress had me balled up and I didn’t realize how nerved up I was until there was a little relief.

“Of course, sweetheart. I haven’t had a chance to rescue my little girl in a long time. Not that I’m complaining. Kyle just does such a great job of covering the bases that I haven’t had to do something like this for a while. Why don’t we stay on the phone until the tow truck gets there.”

“I’d love that.”

“Good. So how’s the trip, other than this little hiccup?”

Little hiccup? My frickin’ wheel almost fell off.

“Oh, alright. Jared’s been…” I turned the music to the back speakers so he wouldn’t hear me. “Jared’s been difficult at times. He’s thrown a fit over the fact that I didn’t cut his sandwich in half, and he almost drowned last night in the pool.”

I could hear my dad chuckling.

“I remember you used to throw a fit if you didn’t have your drinks in a clear cup. Can you imagine how hard that is when you go to McDonald’s? If we forgot your clear cup at home, you would throw the cup.”

“Oh my gosh, I don’t remember that. Are you sure that wasn’t Cheri?”

“Oh no, it was definitely you. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part you were easy going, but the few quirks you had were, well, intense.”

“Well, Jared has a lot of quirks, and it seems like they’re all intense.”

“I know. But he hasn’t had the best parenting in the world. Either too much to too little. I can never tell if Cheri hovers over him when we’re around to make it look like she’s a good mom or if she’s actually like that. I have my doubts that she’s putting up a whole lotta effort.”

“I have my doubts too.”

“She’s a single mom, though, and that’s real tough, sweetheart. Even when you’ve got your shit together. I remember when your mom would go on a trip with her friends and I’d be dying for her to come back home because it was so exhausting to work and then come home and cook, clean you up, and make sure you went to bed at a decent hour. It’s not easy and Jared’s suffering for it. I know it’s hard not to blame him for it, he’s the brat. But have you noticed he doesn’t know how to do much? Kids don’t come pre-loaded with a whole lot. Just the basics. It’s up to us to help them with the rest.”

“Well, even what I’ve been working on with him hasn’t stuck much.”

“Yeah, it’s going to take some time. He’s going to look out for number one. Until he sees and hears the right thing as much as he’s missed out on it, you won’t see a whole lot of change. Kids are really good at showing us the best and worst of our nature. You know what I mean?”

“Yes, I’ve seen that. You and Jane have your work cut out for you.”

“Old habits die hard. Keep your head up. You’re helping him start in the right direction. Kids take in more than you think. It’s terrible that Cheri’s locked up, but the bright side is we get some time to help. You know I’ve tried to help Cheri with the little guy, but clearly she hasn’t listened. Cheri does what Cheri wants. Now she’s opened a door for us with Jared, whether she meant to or not, I don’t really care.”

I’ve heard him and seen him try to help first-hand, more times than I’ve wanted to. Mainly because I felt like he was wasting his breath. The brat always gets the attention, the second-chances, and gives back nothing but heartache and worry. I know my dad loves Jared and wants what’s best for both of them, but here’s Kyle and me, doing the right thing and we hear nothing, get nothing. I don’t expect a lot from my dad, I expect to be responsible and do it myself. But if there’s going to be money and attention spent, why should it go to the child who won’t listen? We’re trying to do the right thing, and are struggling to do it, and we get less. Nothing, really.

The flashing lights of the tow truck caught my eye as he pulled in behind the car. Sweet relief.

“The tow truck is here, dad. Thanks again for your help with this. I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

“Meh, you would’ve figured it out eventually. You were just a little frazzled. I’ll stay on with you until it’s all done if you don’t mind. He may try to sell you on something you don’t need. Tell him you’re on the phone with your dad.”

“Okay, I will.”

The tall, thin tow truck driver climbed out of the truck with greasy jeans, a standard shop shirt with a “Brian” name patch, and a hat that covered his brown mop haircut. He had a kind face and he smiled without showing his teeth.

I rolled down my window.

“Hang on dad, the tow truck driver is here.” I blurted out, as I moved the phone from my mouth. I winced at how awkwardly and loudly I said it. I’m so smooth.

“Hi there, I’m Brian. I got a call from triple-A about a flat tire. I’m assuming that was you?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s the front tire on that side.”

“Alright, you can stay in the car or you can stand over in the grass, whatever suits you best. I’ll take a look and if I can patch it, I’ll do that. If not, I’ve got a spare in the back and I’ll get you fixed up.”

“Okay, that’s great, thank you so much.”

Brian worked quickly and I could feel the right side of the car lift as he jacked it up to take the tire off. He rolled the flat tire to his truck and within a few minutes rolled it back and torqued it onto the car. The car shifted down and he took his tools back to the truck and made his way to my window again.

“Good news, the scrap metal piece you got was in the tread and I could patch it up. You must’ve picked something up on the bridge ‘cause it was pretty good sized and you wouldn’tve been able to get far with it.”

He handed me a yellow receipt that detailed the services provided, with his card stapled to the top.

“Yeah, I may have wandered off the lane when we were going over the bridge.” I said out of the side of my mouth.

“Happens more than you’d think. You’re son’s a handsome little devil by the way.”

“Oh, he’s not—”

“You guys have a good day now and a safe trip, you’re all set.”

Brian ran back to the truck and I heard my dad chuckling on the line.

“What’s so funny?” A wasted question, I already knew.

“’You’re son’s a handsome little devil.’ He got part of it right.” He kept laughing.

“I love you dad. Thanks again for all your help.”

“I love you too. Call me when you get to your next stop.”

We were back on the road, but I was already exhausted. We ended up stopping in Springfield, Missouri after almost 6 hours on the road, in a hotel that didn’t have a pool.

TO BE CONTINUED…