Against the Heart(3)

By: Kat Martin


His dad grunted. At sixty, his hair was completely gray. He’d been a tall man, six-two, an inch taller than Ian. Now he was stoop-shouldered, his face too thin, and somehow he looked smaller. The white bristles on his cheeks said he hadn’t shaved in days.

"You want a beer?" his dad asked. He was watching a football game, blue eyes the same shade as Ian’s glued to the screen.

"No, thanks." Ian blew out a breath as he glanced around the dismal room. "Listen, Dad, like I said on the phone, I’m here to help you get the place in shape. I’m going to carry my duffle up to my old room, put on some work clothes, and get started."

His father just shrugged. "Suit yourself. You always have."

Ian let the remark slide. After all, he deserved it. But he was here now and he wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Two hours later, when all he’d managed to do was repair the rain gutters around the perimeter of the house and pick up the trash in the yard, hadn’t even begun the job of cleaning up inside, he decided he could use some help. There was plenty he could be doing outside while a cleaning lady put the inside of the place back in order.

There was a supermarket in a shopping center down Argonne Road, he recalled. He hadn’t been there in years, but he remembered the bulletin board just inside the door that held cards and notes left by people who were looking for work. They were usually locals, trustworthy folks. He’d start his search there.

Ignoring the unpleasant odors inside the house, he went back into the den. "You need anything from the store, Dad? I’ve got an errand to run. I’ll be right back."

"Get a couple of those TV dinners. We’ll heat them up for supper."

Ian’s stomach rolled. "I’ll get something. I’ll be right back." He left the house and stepped outside, trying not to sigh in relief. At least his room was the same as he’d left it the last time he was there. He’d opened the windows to air it out, but the bed was made, the floors clean. A little dust didn’t bother him.

Ian slid behind the wheel of the Jeep and headed back down the road to the grocery store. Maybe he’d get lucky and find an experienced woman who could help him get the place in order.

Ian sure as hell hoped so.





CHAPTER TWO




Meri was almost out of gas. Her credit card was maxed out and she was almost out of money. Worse than that, she was almost out of ideas.

"I’m hungry, Mama. Can I have a candy bar?" Lily sat in her booster seat in the back of the old brown Chevy. They’d been stopping at FoodMarts and fast food restaurants along the freeway all the way from California. At the last stop, Meri had bought Lily a chocolate milk and a packaged bologna-and-cheese sandwich. But that had been hours ago.

The child had slept for awhile, but she was only a little over four and she was getting tired of the endless driving. They’d traveled over thirteen hundred miles so far.

She had a friend in Portland, a girlfriend she’d met at community college. She and Pam had stayed in touch and Pam had said there were plenty of jobs in the area. Meri had spoken to her last week and told her she planned to head in that direction.

She had hoped to make it all the way there, but only a few gallons were left in the gas tank, and she didn’t have enough money to fill it. When the fuel light came on, she took the first off ramp, Argonne Road.

"Mama, I’m hungry."

There was a Safeway up ahead. Food came first. Meri pulled into the parking lot of a small shopping center that included the grocery store, a Rite Aid, and a row of smaller businesses.

Taking Meri out of her bumper seat, she took the little girl’s hand and headed toward the store. There was only a ten-dollar-bill in her wallet, but it was enough for a snack and a small carton of milk for Lily.

Meri started for the door, which opened automatically, and the two of them walked inside. The first thing she noticed was the bulletin board. Dozens of cards and notes had been pinned up there, addresses and phone numbers of people looking for various types of work.

She could do just about anything, from waitressing to secretarial, bookkeeping, cleaning, cooking. She’d even worked as a trainer at a Riverside gym. But even if she left her cell phone number, she couldn’t wait around for someone to call. Either she had to keep driving or find a place to stay. Maybe she could find work in Spokane. It wasn’t that far away.