I was actually really productive that weekend. I got the gutters and gardens cleaned up, finished painting the living room downstairs, and actually got all of my laundry done. That was in addition to my usually dinner with Jeff, my best friend, and staying up all night watching the History channel. I even got some time in on the computer. Did someone add an extra hour on the weekend clock?
Sunday was a beautiful day for a ride. I'd saved and saved and saved and finally I got the bike I wanted last summer. I deemed it an early birthday gift for myself, even though I'd bought it months before my birthday. After things with Bethany fell apart and I had to watch her new boyfriend do most of the raising of my child, I decided I deserved a treat.
Jeffrey came along with me on my ride. He'd just gotten his own bike not too long before, so any chance to take it out on the road he took. There was this diner we stopped at when we went on the road together. It was just like the ones in the movies.
Just like everyone else on the planet I hated my body. I was far from fat, and that was just the problem. I mean I didn't want to be fat, but I was so skinny. At that diner I could scarf down two Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, an order of sweet potato fries, a large shake, a slice of fresh apple pie, and lose a pound. Jeff hated watching me do it.
"You lucky dick," He'd say to me while munching on a salad and drinking ice water. No shakes for him. He did break and order a slice of pie though.
There were these amazing helmets we were saving up for. They had microphones in them, so we could talk while we were on the road. I was excited about them and all, but in a lot of ways I really enjoyed the silence. Well, silentish, anyway.
We played video games at his place when we got back into town. I offered to order a pizza, so we got our favorites. Neither of us really drank, but Jeff always had plenty of diet Pepsi in stock. If we were ten years younger I'd have stayed and toughed Monday out, but that was no longer a possibility for me.
Monday morning ended up being hard enough with me going home after midnight like I did. Ultimately, I was able to recover enough to have a halfway decent shift.
I was bothered, though. I hated seeing people hurting or going without. I was one of those suckers putting dollar bills in the bucket at Christmas and giving my kid all kinds of change to put in the neat donation containers at the mall. At work, we had collections for food pantries, and around the holidays we had paid casual days, and the proceeds went to toys-for-tots. It didn't stop there. I like to actually help people; in high school and college I used to volunteer at homeless shelters. I didn't have time to do that anymore, but I did have time to make an extra sandwich so my latest trainee didn't have to starve.
I saw her come in every day. She brought her keys and her I.D., but nothing else. No phone, no lunchbox. She never ate. Even once when someone brought cupcakes for their birthday she didn't eat. Well, not at first; the birthday girl eventually noticed and gave one directly to her. That didn't seem like such a bad idea; she didn't turn down food that was given to her, just food that was in general offered to her.
Now, I didn't like that I was skinny, but I knew that that's just how I was. Amber was skinny too. She wasn't supposed to be. I could tell. She looked…hallow. She wasn't quite sickly, but she definitely wasn't healthy. I wanted her to be healthy. Moreover, I wanted it ultimately to be my doing that she became healthy.
"Hey," I greeted her. I let her beat me to the break room. I took my time heating up the extra bowl of mac and cheese that I'd brought, just for her. There were chunks of hot dog cut into it, like how I made it for Caleb every other weekend.
"Hi," She smiled a little. I could tell she was confused; we both usually sat alone. I set the bowl down in front of her. "Oh, no, Brandon. You really don't need to…"
"I know," I cut her off. "I don't need to do anything. I want to though," I speared a hot dog slice and bit it off of my fork. "Eat," I told her, "before it gets cold."
She looked down at the macaroni. I could tell she was hungry.
"You can't focus on your work if you're busy thinking about how hungry you are," I bribed her.
"I'll pay you back," She murmured.
"I won't let you," I replied.
There was a long silence between us while she pushed the macaroni around her bowl with her fork.
"My cousin works at a food bank," I started.
"I go to one," She replied.
"And you still go hungry?" I said, shocked. "I-I mean…I'm sorry," Insert foot in mouth.
"It's okay," She smiled at me. "I get food for too, and not as much as others because I 'make too much.'"
"Oh," I was oddly disappointed. "How long have you two been together?" I asked.
She looked confused.
"Your…husband?" I half-asked. She giggled and then I looked confused.
"You mean the food for two?" She asked me. "It's for me and my daughter."
"You have a daughter?" I was astounded. She was so thing, and so young. I mean, I guess maybe that wasn't so uncommon anymore. It wasn't like I had room to talk. I had a son after all.
"Yes," She seemed a little on edge.
"I have a son. Caleb. He's two," I told her. "How old is your daughter?"
"Uh…" She hesitated. Was she thinking? "Anna's six."
"Wow," That just popped right out of my mouth. "You…must be older than you look," Don't judge a book by its cover. Just because she looked eighteen or nineteen didn't mean she was. I hoped, anyway.
"Not really," She replied. Oh shit… "How old do you think I am?" She asked, smiling a little.
I guessed she was nineteen. She smiled bigger and shook her head 'no.' "Guess again," so I guessed twenty-five. It seemed like a good guess. It wasn't; I gave up.
"I'm twenty," She told me.
"And you have a six-year-old little girl. Annie?" I clarified.
"Anna," She corrected. "And yes."
I was quiet for a moment while I thought that over.
"I was a freshman, he was a senior," She started talking, "we dated the whole school year, I was his date to prom. He got me pregnant at an after part. I didn't even think to take a test until after he moved across the country on a scholarship and dumped me."
It was plain to see how upset she was over this.
"So…no dad in the picture, eh?' She shook her head 'no' again.
"It's always been just me and Anna I couldn't afford to finish high school or go to college and my parents refused to help take care of her. They said they had other children of their own to raise," She rolled her eyes as she spoke, the first age-appropriate thing I'd seen her do.
"That sounds…." Amazing, "terrible. You seem like a good mom, though."
She thanked me and wiped at a tear that was forming in the corner of her eye. I saw he open her mouth to speak again but the bell cut her off.
"Back to the grind," I collected the dishes and packed them away in my lunchbox.
"Thank you again," She said to me before I turned away. "For the food and the conversation."
"Anything," I smiled back at her. It was odd, but I was genuinely sad to see her walk away. What was going on with me?