Castle Roland

Forever 1 - Beginnings

by Jack Schaeffer


Chapter 1

Published: 08 Dec 14

FOREVER 1 - Beginnings
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2014 - 2015. All rights reserved.

_"A beginning is a very delicate time."_
from Dune (1984) by Frank Herbert, David Lynch

"Call on line 2 for you, Jack." Mary pressed the button to put the call on hold, then pressed a second one to take another call. God, what is it with this day? I had been running non-stop all morning and just couldn't catch a break. It was only Tuesday, but it felt like I had worked a full week already. I was both exhausted and stressed out and still had hours to go. I had finally finished payroll and gotten the paperwork sent to the payroll service so our checks would arrive for Friday's pay day – we couldn't have a mutiny now, could we. I still had accounts payable and invoicing to get done before I could go to lunch. Ugh!

"This is Jack," I said, speaking absent-mindedly into the phone while sorting out the vendor invoices needing to be paid this week. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mary pretending to work, all the while eavesdropping on my call from her desk across from mine, like she always did. Apparently her other call was dispatched quickly in case she might miss something from mine.

"Is this Jack Schaeffer?" replied the voice on the other end of the line.

"Yes, who is this?" I can answer a questions with a question, too.

"My name is Barry Wilson. I'm an attorney with Wilson, Matthews and Associates. Do you have a couple of minutes to talk, or is there a better time for me to call you?"

Attorney? Uh oh. I hesitated, quickly trying to think of anything I may have done recently which would have an attorney tracking me down. I lived a boring life - what could I have done? "Uh...I have a couple of minutes now I guess. What's this about?"

"Well, Mr. Schaeffer, I'm here in our Chicago office. A fellow attorney in Denver asked me to call and see if you would be willing to meet with me to discuss a legal matter that has arisen in Denver which concerns you. I am calling to see if we could set up an appointment as soon as possible."

Okay, he now had my full attention, and this sounded serious – and very much like trouble. It started - stomach doing flip-flops, palms sweating. I glanced over in Mary's direction, hoping she was no longer paying attention, but no such luck. I certainly didn't want her prying into my conversation with a lawyer. The Spanish Inquisition would have been child's play compared to what I would face if she knew the direction this call was going.

Trying for a non-committal tone, I answered, "You will have to explain a little further."

I'm sure he could sense my reluctance, so he quickly stated, "I understand that, Jack. May I call you Jack?" he asked. "Sure, that's fine," I replied.

"Okay, Jack, I don't want to get into too much detail over the phone, but I can tell you another lawyer, his name is Clyde Watson, in our Denver office, has been representing someone who has recently died. Apparently this person has possibly named you as a beneficiary in her will."

If he could have seen me, Mr. Wilson would have immediately noticed my narrowing eyes and mental defenses rising rapidly. This was starting to sound very weird and I was totally on guard. I was smelling a scam. We had people pretending to be one of our vendors call all the time wanting to confirm orders for printing supplies and such, when we had never placed such orders. And that was just one of the scams these criminals tried out on unsuspecting business peons like myself. But...none of the previous attempts had ever been personal, as I thought about it further.

"That's interesting," I replied, with a noticeable edge to my voice. I was still trying to hold a conversation with him without revealing the subject matter to other listening ears.

He must have noticed my reticence to his unfolding story. "Look, I'm sorry for the confusion, I know this doesn't make total sense, but would you be able to meet with me after hours this evening or tomorrow and I can explain it more clearly?" he commented.

I didn't know what to say really. Maybe it was fatigue and stress, maybe it was worrying Mary was listening a little too closely and I wanted to end the call. I don't really know. Barry Wilson was making no sense, but he somehow seemed genuine and real. Maybe this wasn't a scam. So against all better judgment, I replied, "I guess so. What did you have in mind?"

I listened as he outlined his plan for meeting in the lounge at a nearby hotel later in the evening. He suggested a 6:00 pm meeting time, which was doable for me, so I agreed. "That sounds fine. Thank you."

After describing himself a little bit so I would know who to look for, he signed off by thanking me for agreeing to meet. Crazy! But I was curious now, too.

Mary, whose desk sits opposite mine, was looking at me with a question on her face. I can only imagine what hearing only one side of my conversation sounded like.

"What was that all about?" she asked, clearly curious herself. I turned to a tried and true subterfuge and said the guy on the phone was trying to sell me something (which was sort of true) and would be getting me more information later (also true). I hoped she would drop it at my nebulous explanation. Thankfully the phone rang again and she had to answer it, effectively ending her inquisition for now.

I like Mary, and working with her was sometimes fun. She could make a long day go by faster with her sense of humor and good nature. But she was a notorious gossip and loved to involve herself in everyone's affairs. So I quickly decided to not reveal all that was said in the phone call. I didn't really know myself what was going on. Yet.

With Mary now chatting away on her call, I quickly busied myself with gathering invoices and accounting registers to review accounts payable with my boss, the CFO, and got up to go find him. Mary looked like she had accepted my answer, and I was saved from any further interrogation by yet another call coming in she had to answer. Literally saved by the bell.

As I walked towards the CFO's office, I noticed, not for the first time, the drab, worn out beige-colored office cubicles and mismatched fake wooden desks, with antiquated touch tone phones and five-year-old computers outfitting our humble workspace. Not the picture of a high-rolling enterprise, but it was my home away from home, most days. Actually, I spent more time in this place than anywhere else. It was okay. Don't despise small beginnings, right?

I was the current office manager/bookkeeper for a very small, 15-person company in a suburb of Chicago, located in a light industrial office park just west of O'Hare airport. Not worth mentioning the name, cause no one has ever heard of it. We sold some specialized communications equipment to large Fortune 500 firms, and it was all done over the phone. We had five sales guys who cold-called all day long and every few days, one of them might get someone to agree to take a trial on one of our units. If they liked how it worked, they would buy it, otherwise they would return it and the cycle repeated itself. Last year we had just over three million in revenue, which sounds like a lot, but the margin on it was not great, so profits were almost non-existent.

I didn't care too much, as long I got paid. Which I made sure I did since I was responsible for payroll every week. When you are the guy who hands out the checks on Friday morning, you always make sure there is enough cash in the account to cover those checks. In fact, my boss and I have an unwritten agreement. There will always be at least three weeks payroll in the cash account at all times, no matter what. Nothing gets paid out to anyone if we start to look short on cash. Thankfully, it has only happened once in the nearly two years I've been here, and we got a surprise deposit from a deadbeat customer in the mail just in time, so I went home relieved I was still employed – at least for the next three weeks.

An hour later, after reviewing the payables with my boss, I was still thinking about the mystery lawyer's phone call. It really made no sense, and I laughed at myself when the thought crossed my mind wouldn't it be cool if I was suddenly left millions from a long lost relative. Problem was, I didn't know anybody in Denver, I had no family there that I knew of, and besides, I don't know anybody who has 50 bucks in their pocket, let alone millions to leave behind. With my luck it was a case of mistaken identity entirely, or the inheritance was a pile of bills I would now be legally required to pay off. Ugh!

My stomach grumbled and I still had paperwork to do before I could knock off for lunch, so I got back into my work. While the company where I plied my trade was nothing to write home about, I loved my actual work. I did payroll, accounts payable, accounts receivable, and some general ledger work for the boss man, Marcus Thompson, the President & CFO of our happy little group. And speaking of the boss man, I liked him okay. He was very nice to me for the most part, and we worked pretty well together. He was the father of a college buddy of mine, a little older than my mother, and he was a good teacher of all things accounting.

When I first took the job, I was sort of desperate. At first I was like, oh man, what did I get myself into with this job? It was accounting crap, and I really did not like accounting in college. I took the required two classes to get my degree, but no more. Now I was doing bookkeeping all day long. But surprise, surprise, after a few weeks of Mr. Thompson's tutoring, it turned out I was good at it. He eventually even let me assist in preparing quarterly SEC report filings, which I really, really did not understand at all. But it was cool to work on them just the same. Made me feel like I was doing something important somehow.

The other thing I loved about my job was the computers, old as they were. I talked Mr. Thompson into letting me get an inexpensive computerized accounting system to do the bookkeeping tasks. I managed to set up the accounting software all by myself and got things running fairly easily. Eventually we were able to cut the time it took to do the books in half. It took almost a year, but he eventually trusted the printed reports which came out of the software, so he did away with most, but not all, of the hand written ledger books we used to use.

When I wasn't doing accounting, I was office managing. Meaning I was doing everything that an office requires which Mary, the sales secretary, did not do. Mary worked pretty hard, and she was faithfully at her desk every day. But she had her hands full answering the phones, processing orders and filing other paperwork to support the sales guys, so a lot of the other stuff fell to me. Ordering supplies, generating invoices, mail processing, etc. We were a small company, in size and dollars, but there is still a certain amount of paperwork and crap that all companies have to do to function.

What to say about Mary? I probably talked to her more than anyone else. We had almost nothing in common other than where we worked. I'm 24, she's 44, and divorced, and estranged from her two kids, and generally lonely, I think. She has some friends she plays cards with or goes to theater shows with and every Monday morning she has several new dirty jokes to tell me which one or more of her girlfriends came up with over the weekend. Some of them are funny, most just make me uncomfortable, but I try to smile and play along. She doesn't seem to notice my discomfort at the subject matter, especially the sexual ones, but that's okay. I'm not going to clue her in. It could lead to more unwanted conversations.

While she talks about her love life all the time, as well as her friends', I never, ever discuss that part of my life. In the beginning she would ask if there some special girl in my life, and I would try to say things like I'm not comfortable sharing those personal things with coworkers, but it made me seem pretentious and aloof. So now I made excuses - I was too busy to date, or never went anywhere to meet anyone. It was a crock, and she probably knows it, but she's nice and never mentions it. Now she never asks.

The reason I avoid the subject is there has never been a girl in my life, special or not. I know I am gay – I've suspected since junior high – but I don't even discuss this with myself, let alone anybody else. I am terrified of it, and there is nothing I can do about it. So I do nothing. Well, not nothing. I am, after all, a 24 year old male, and I can take care of my own desires by myself, thank you very much. Yep, me and my five best friends – the fingers on my left hand. Sigh.

Growing up gay in a small Midwestern town is basically a death sentence if you are found out, so no one found out. Not going to happen, no two ways about it. So like I said, I didn't even allow myself to think too much about it. I just ignored it. Or tried to.

I never really had any problems until junior year in high school; the prom arrived just in time to terrorize me. Feeling tremendous pressure to have a date or risk exposure or ridicule for being gay, I reluctantly asked a nice girl from our Drama team to go with me, and she was ecstatic to be asked. We doubled with her best friend and her date. It was okay, I had a nice time. I danced one slow dance with her, no sexual stuff, and avoided any of the faster songs. I love music, especially singing, but cannot seem to figure out the dancing thing. She didn't seem to mind. She was very pretty, and I liked getting her the flower corsage - it looked beautiful with her dress. Plus dressing up in a tux was cool, too. After the dance and a later dinner, it was time to call it a night, and since I wasn't driving, we dropped her off first at her home. I walked her to the door, shook her hand, thanked her for a lovely evening, and said I better get back to the car, they are waiting for me. She smiled and said she had a nice time too. Whew, kissing avoided. We never dated again.

The next year, senior year, I was propositioned by a guy on the debate team when we were hanging out in our hotel room during an out-of-town meet. He came right out and told me he was gay and asked if I had ever thought about doing anything with a guy. Laying there in the dark, I on my bed, he on the other, I was literally shaking, breaking out in a sweat, feeling like I was going to throw up any second. Yes, I knew I was gay, but he was not someone I was attracted to at all. I liked him as a friend, but not in that way. And how did he know I was gay? I was so, so careful. I never expressed any interest in anyone, never a hint. My world was caving in around me, and I was trying not to panic. Then he suggested maybe he should move over to my bed for the night, leaving the other bed open for another guy who was sharing with us and was still out with the team doing who knows what. Stomach nearly heaving, I somehow found my voice and said as confidently as I could muster I think we should just leave things as they are. He said okay, no problem. Then he told me the names of a couple of other guys who were also apparently gay, none of which I was surprised by. He was mostly gossiping about them now, and was not talking about me anymore. Thankfully he ended the conversation soon afterwards. I did eventually fall asleep, but I know it was a long time coming. I don't know what I was more frightened of, that guy coming over into my bed or the idea someone might find out I was gay.

Apparently he got the word out to the other gay guys in school I was not playing for their side, so no one else ever bothered me. I was fine with that. But my self-esteem and self-image continued in a long, slow slide downhill. I had my grades, which were excellent, and my singing talent which got me solos in concerts, but not much more. I couldn't wait to leave home and go to college and start a real life out of this small, small world I lived in. So I continued my asexual existence. I skipped my senior prom – I think I pretended I was on an out-of-town college visit. When I graduated ninth in a class of 600 plus, I was proud of my accomplishments – including keeping my secret. On my way to college, never been kissed.

College was more of the same pretense, and a chronic loneliness descended, taking up residence in my soul for the duration. I had friends – including a really nice roommate, so I had guys to eat meals with and play cards with and do similar kinds of inconsequential things. They all seemed to accept me for who I was, sort of an asexual kind of guy, but then, none of them were really dating or pursuing relationships much either. We mostly focused on school work and playing cards, not much else. I enjoyed my time with them, but I was missing those real close, caring connections to anyone.

Another plus about college was it got me away from my family. My mother is my mother – I guess she loves me in her own way. I could be nice and say she wants the best for me, but it would be more accurate to say she wants the best for herself, so she hopes I will turn out to be a good reflection on her. I knew without a doubt she would not ever accept me being gay. Never. So I kept her happy by being a good boy, getting good grades, doing what I could to help out around the house, and generally tried not to cause her any worry or bother. It was easier that way.

Screwing up was my brother's job. Terry is a year younger than me and a perfect asshole. Alcoholic, drug-addicted, violent and unpredictable, and those are his good points. Pure evil, if you ask me, but no one ever did. I made it my business to avoid him at all costs since junior high when he started running around with total losers. He was such a fool – he let them use him to do the illegal stuff, like drive the stolen car when he had no license – and then left him to take the rap for it. So dumb.

He was always picking on me, calling me faggot, and worse, and generally just terrorizing me. I tried to avoid him and for the most part he left me alone. I do remember one night though, he came home particularly wasted on who knows what, and my mother was not home. He never really bothered me too much when she was around. Probably because he was too busy fighting with her. Anyway, for some reason, which I have never understood, he took one look at me and attacked. Calling me all kinds of vile names, he got me down on the couch and had his hands around my throat and was strangling me. I was starting to blackout, and I knew I was going to die that night. And I remember asking myself, But why? What did I do? At the last second, I flailed my arms towards his neck and somehow broke the gold chain he always wore, which he loved. He roared backwards and screamed at me his many obscenities but he had taken his hands off of me to clutch at his necklace. I was able to push with everything I had, got out from under him and ran 10 blocks through the dark before stopping to breathe again.

As I calmed down and the adrenaline drained from my body, I started to cry, which morphed into wretched sobbing, as the despair descended onto me. I realized I had nowhere to go, no money, and no options. With no choice, I slowly walked back home, and watched the house from the shadows of the neighbor's hedge, trembling with fear he would somehow know I was out there and come finish what he had started earlier.

I finally saw the light in his bedroom window go out. I waited another 30 minutes and there was no movement in the house, so I got back in as quietly as I could and went to the kitchen. I got a glass of water and could feel the soreness of my throat as the cool water trickled down. I was still kind of shaking a little, I think. I then grabbed the biggest, sharpest knife we owned and went to my room. Unfortunately my door did not lock. It was the first of many nights I slept with that knife under my pillow. My mother asked me the next morning if I had seen her chef's knife, but I just shook my head no. My brother apparently slept off whatever he had taken and was actually civil to me the next morning, sort of. He seemed to have forgotten all about what he had tried to do the night before. But not me. I would never forget.

What did my dad do to protect me? Absolutely nothing. He's gone - moved to Montana or somewhere and I haven't seen him for over twelve years. And I don't miss him for a minute.

So with that sort of immediate family, there was absolutely no way I could come out to them. I would be dead. Period. And I haven't even mentioned my redneck extended family. My mother is one of 6 children, and all of them are bigoted and homophobic to the core, as are all my cousins. Gay jokes and gay bashings are some of their favorite conversation starters. No way will I ever risk exposing myself to a death sentence from them.

So I decided I would be celibate the rest of my life. Well, I still had my left hand, so it wasn't totally hopeless, I guess.

Graduating college was anti-climactic for me, as I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I was not going to stay at home, which was a small Illinois town, less than an hour outside of St. Louis. I had had a taste of life outside of the pressure cooker of my family, and I was not, under any circumstances, permanently stepping back into that nightmare. I seldom went home during the school year, except for those times the dorms were closed, leaving me no choice. Sometimes I would get a campus work assignment during a break so I had an official reason to stay. I didn't want to go back "home" at all, but I still had no job after college, no money, and nowhere else to go. My buddies in the dorm had sensed my increasing depression as our undergraduate college careers were winding down, and they asked me about it during dinner right before finals week. I told them I was fine really, just absolutely did not want to go back home, but I was stumped as to what else I could do for the time being. No job, no options. Life sucked.

My mother didn't even bother to come to the graduation ceremony, even though it was only a four hour drive. My brother had taken to disappearing for months at a time by this point, so no idea where he was. Even though I was the first in my generation to complete a four year college degree, you can forget anyone in the family thinking it was worth celebrating with me. After changing out of my cap and gown, as I was packing up my few belongings into my beat up Ford Fairmont, one of the guys from my floor, Fred Thompson, stopped me in the hallway and asked me if I had a minute.

"Sure, Freddo, what's up?" I replied.

"I just wanted to say it's been great living with you and the others these past four years. I'm glad we all decided to stay in the dorms. It kind of kept us all together, you know?" He was looking a little sad eyed, which was not normal for him.

"Yeah," I agreed. "It's been good, but I'm kind of glad it's over now, too. Aren't you?"

"Well, I'm glad I've got my diploma, but I'm gonna miss the card games and pizza nights with my buddies." He laughed as we both remembered some of our more raucous games.

"Yeah, me too! That part's been real fun," I agreed.

"Hey, what I wanted to ask you was, would you like to come up to my parents' house in Schaumburg (a suburb of Chicago) and stay for a week or two? You could maybe look for a job up there. I start my new job like immediately, so I won't be around much but you could use my car to go on interviews if you can line any up. It's my mom's idea." He seemed a little sheepish asking me this, like he was only doing it because his mom said he should. I had met both his parents on a couple of Parents' Weekends, and they were very nice people. They always took all of us guys out to a dinner on a Sunday when they came down to campus, which was a big deal for all of us. Steak was always better than another slice of pizza.

"Wow, Fred, that's huge. Yeah, that would be great. But I don't want to put your family out on account of my needs." I reluctantly said.

"Nonsense. It was my mom's idea," he repeated. "She was asking how all my friends did with college, and I told her we all got jobs or were going to grad school, all except you. She asked me what we could do to help, and I said I know you really don't want to go back home, and she said, well, have him come here. We will help him find a job."

I was shocked. They were basically almost total strangers yet they were concerned about helping me find a job?

"Seriously, Fred? I don't know what to say." I was stunned.

"Say you'll come. If I know my mother she will have interviews lined up for you already when you arrive."

How could I say no to that? "Okay Fred, you've convinced me. How should I get to you guys though? Not sure my car will make the trip in one piece getting home today, let alone all the way to Chicago." I was seriously concerned my car would literally crumble into pieces on the side of the road.

"Take the train, silly. It will drop you off at Union Station downtown and then you grab the Blue Line train out to O'Hare airport. I can get you from there." He outlined this travel plan for me, most of which I think I followed. I was still amazed at the offer and not thinking too clearly.

"Okay, I'll look into it and call you with a plan. Thanks, Fred. A lot. You're a life saver." I was slowly accepting this new turn of events.

"Save your thanks for my parents, and only after you find a job. Then the pizza's on you!" He laughed as he grab his last bag and headed out of the dorm.

I know how it may have looked to the casual observer, but Fred was straight as an arrow. He had at least three different girlfriends throughout college, and one got very serious. He was even talking engagement, but then like often happens with young love, they wised up and acknowledged it was more hormonal than true love. They parted friends. I knew my virtue was safe with Fred. Too bad though, because he was kind of cute. He had a killer smile.

As expected, my car barely got me home. I had many white-knuckled moments during the 4 hour trek, with strange sounds coming from the engine, and at one point, some especially dark, smoky exhaust coming from the rear of the car. Thankfully it stopped almost as soon as it started. After two days at home, I had had more than my fill of my mother's bad attitude and hateful, judgmental conversation about everyone and anyone. She started in on me about a job within the first hour I was home.

Desperate for escape and some kind of path to any future different than the one I was on, I started to seriously think about Fred's offer, or rather his parents' offer, to come up for a visit. What was throwing me a lot was they seemed like they genuinely cared about me. And I was not used to that kind of attention. I don't want to sound pitiful, but I'm being honest when I say feeling cared for was not an emotion I was super familiar with.

I was beyond stressed out and feeling trapped – my car was nearly dead and I wasn't sure it would ever start again. It was parked in the driveway and even looked like it had died. So I called Amtrak and asked about tickets to Chicago. There were four trains per day, so schedule was not a problem. I had very little money, but one of my aunts had been gracious enough to give me a small graduation gift, and with the money I had left from my campus library job, I thought I could swing a ticket and still have enough money to live off of for a short while.

So I did it. I bought a one way ticket to Chicago for the next morning, and packed a bag with some clothes and the few meager things I thought I might keep with me. It was kind of sad my whole world summed up in possessions fit into one duffle bag. I was thinking even then I would probably never return. At least I hoped not.

The next morning I awoke with an unfamiliar excitement. I was ready to venture out into the big bad world and find my place in it - as long as it was nowhere near here. My mother didn't bother to wake up to say goodbye to me, even though she knew I was going to Chicago. She had a few choice things to say the night before about a fool's errand and wasting good money on a train ticket instead of on gas money for a job search here. Bye Mom, thanks for the memories.

I asked a cousin who lived nearby to drive me to downtown St. Louis to catch the train. He talked incessantly about the girl he'd met at the bar the night before and the many different positions they'd had sex in. It all sounded a little forced and made up to me, but then, I really had no interest in the subject and had nothing to contribute. His parting shot to me after dropping me off was, "Watch your backside up there in the big city. They have a lot of fags running around." He took off laughing with a squeal of his tires. I looked at the fading car, and sighed deeply. I said a silent prayer I would find a job quickly and not ever have to come back to this hell hole.

The train ride was cool, and I was alone for 6 hours with my thoughts. They were a mixed bag of fear and excitement, wariness and hope for a better future. I knew a lot of things needed to fall into place quickly as my meager monies would not last long, and I was determined not to overstay my welcome at Fred's house.

I arrived in downtown Chicago around 2pm. I found an information desk and they directed me to where I could catch the Blue Line subway to O'Hare. Thankfully the airport was the last stop on the line and I wouldn't have to pay too much attention to all the names of all the stops in between. At first I was a little turned around when I got up to the street level and out of Union Station, but after walking to a nearby street corner, I could see the entrance to the Blue Line about a block away.

The subway was very interesting. Even at 2:30 in the afternoon, it was packed. And hot. And smelly, full of so many different kinds of people. And I loved it. I spent the next 40 minutes watching people get on and off the train at the various stops and kept fantasizing about what their lives were like. Some of the guys were incredibly hot looking, but I was still very deep in my self-imposed closet. I did find myself wondering if any of these guys might be gay. I knew a couple of them would feature in my upcoming jack off fantasies.

Fred met me as promised at the exit to the O'Hare airport terminal, and we beat the rush hour traffic back to his home in Schaumburg. His mother was incredibly welcoming to me, so different than my own, and I was instantly jealous of Fred and what he had. A supportive family, a good job coming up, and a beautiful, peaceful home to live in. Simple things mean everything when you have none of them.

I shook myself out of the pity party brewing and unpacked my clothes in the guest bedroom. I was told dinner was at 6, so I decided to rest a little beforehand. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the trip. I was also full of anticipation. I couldn't wait to find out what my next steps would be.

At dinner later, the conversation predictably turned to my looming job search, and Mr. Thompson surprised us all, I think, by asking me about my possible interest in office work. I said I was open to anything really, and he said they had a recent opening for an office manager he thought I might be good for. After explaining a little more about it, I was definitely interested, so after dinner, he and I headed to his office, which was about 15 minutes away. He showed me the small company, described what they did, and then told me the starting salary. I had never made anything more than minimum wage, and this was more, but not by much. Without hesitating, I asked, when do I start? He said how about tomorrow? Who knew it could be so easy to find a job? I didn't even have to go to Goodwill to buy a suit to interview in.

The next day I rode into the office with Mr. Thompson and began my education into accounting and being an office manager. Unbeknownst to me, as I was getting my first exposure to debits and credits with Mr. Thompson, his wife was working on her own project.

Dinner that evening was take-out, as Mrs. Thompson informed everyone she had had way too much to do that day to have time to make dinner. The Chinese food she brought to the table was delicious. I gathered home-cooked meals were the norm in the Thompson house, another thing to be jealous of. I couldn't remember the last time my mother had cooked a full course meal at home, which was too bad, because she was a pretty good cook.

After dinner Mrs. Thompson asked if I would take a ride with her to pick up some dessert for later. I could hardly refuse after all they had done for me in such a short time, so we headed out and were soon pulling into what looked like a fairly large apartment complex. The buildings were nicely painted, the grounds were beautifully landscaped and cared for, and there was no trash or junk around. As she parked, I asked what we were doing here and she said she had something to show me, so I followed her to one of the buildings and up a flight of stairs to Number 2105. She opened the door with a key and pulled me inside with her. There was no furniture to be seen, but the kitchen looked like it had some dishes in it, a trashcan with a liner, and some new-looking pots and pans sitting on a shelf above the stove. She motioned for me to follow and led me down the hallway, past the clean bathroom, which had nice looking brown towels hanging on racks on the walls, and into the single bedroom at the rear. Centered on the main wall underneath the double window was a queen size air mattress with some pretty sheets and a simple duvet cover. A plastic nightstand stood near the head of the bed, holding up a small lamp.

It was all clean, simple, and homey. Looking around with a smile on her face, she asked, "How does it look?"

"I think it is very nice. I love the sun coming in through the windows in the front room and the bedroom. But, if you don't mind my asking, who are we meeting here?"

She laughed sweetly and grabbed one of my hands gently. "No one, sweetie. This is all for you. You live here now."

I felt my mouth drop open and a wave of something warm and wonderful wash over me. I immediately felt the tears well up and I so did not want to cry in front of her, but there was no stopping it now. As the tears fell, I just stood there, looking around the apartment and then back at her, questioning and wondering. Why? Why would someone I barely knew do all this for me? I was nobody to her. Nothing made sense.

I tried to ask her my questions, but I think she already knew what I was going to say and stopped me.

"Jack, you don't need to say anything. I hope I haven't overstepped in doing this for you. It's husband and I talked about it and I know you have not always had an easy time of things, and right now you need a little help to get things going right in your life. If you are going to work with my husband then you need a place to live you can afford. I knew the rent here would be doable...and they rent for 6 months at a time, so you can always go somewhere else when you have a chance to explore the area a little more. There is a bus stop right inside the complex here and the bus takes you within two blocks of the office. That should work until you can find a different car. I went to Wal-mart and added a few small things to hopefully make it feel a little more like home for you. I know you didn't bring anything with you but some clothes. I hope you like it."

I wiped my eyes and face with the bottom of my shirt, having nothing else for the task, and looked at her in wonder.

"No one has ever done anything like this for me before. Ever. I don't really know what to say. I appreciate it very much, it all looks perfect. But why me?"

"Why not you? You are a smart, good-looking, gentle, nice young man who has every right to have a great life. You've worked hard in school, been responsible to work and take care of things, and you strike me as a diligent sort of person. I think you are well worth investing in, and I wanted to help."

"Well, I will pay you back for everything just as soon as I can."

She gently laughed. "Nonsense, you will do nothing of the sort. I won't accept it. This is not a loan, it's a gift. Besides, you have to pay your own rent and utilities, so save your hard earned money for those."

"But I can't just let you set me up in a home and do nothing in return," I pleaded. "There must be something I can do to say thank you."

"There is Jack...there is. Do this for me. For the rest of your life, remember someone once cared for you and helped you when you needed it the most. Then go and do the same for as many people as you possibly can. I believe, Jack, you are a true giver, someone who has an infinite capacity to care for others. Fred has told me how you are the one who was always there when one of the guys needed something. How you would always share your pizza with someone who didn't have the money for their own, or how you would always offer to buy gas if someone else was driving you guys somewhere, or even how you worked to collect enough money for a bus ticket for Tim when he needed to get home to see his sick father. You made it possible. You even helped the guys who needed tutoring, and according to Fred you would not accept anything back. He says you're the reason why he passed calculus his sophomore year. You just haven't been taken care of very well yourself, and so right now you are the one who needed a little help. So accept my help humbly, and continue to be you and go discover your life and all the people you will care for in the future."

I smiled, hoping what she was saying was true. I didn't see myself like a giver, but I was glad she did. She made me sound like the kind of guy I could be proud to be.

"I will do my best. I promise."

"I know you will, Jack. Now, here are your keys. Let's go get the ice cream for the crew back home, and if you want to, you can grab your stuff and come back here tonight. But Jack, you are always welcome in our home. Always."

She hugged me, and I tried to hug her back. I didn't have much experience in hugging. I was close to crying again, which was getting embarrassing. So I just nodded to her and took the keys from her. I put my hand in my pocket as if to drop the keys in there, but I held on to them in my closed fist as we walked back out to the car. They felt good in my hand. Those keys were the first sense I had my new life was real...and it was going to work out.

Author's Note: If you are enjoying this story, please take a moment to comment in the Forum on CastleRoland – you can click the link labelled "Forum Discussion" just under the story synopsis at the top of this page. Or, if you prefer, send me an email to I would love to hear your thoughts about the story.

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