A Second Chance
By Dawn Natelle
The story is nearing its end, but there are so many things to get in first. I think there will be 10 more chapters before school is out: Dawn
FRIDAY, June 17, 2016
It was raining steadily when Rachael got Bobby up, so she made him a hearty oatmeal breakfast, and then had him put his yellow raincoat on. She walked him to the bus, hoping it would stop: Bobby had ridden his bike to school recently, and while he was perfectly fine with doing that again today, Rachael did not want him sitting all day in the wet pants and seat that would result.
At the bus the driver stopped, and Rachael popped in, handing the driver a small paper bag. Inside was one of Mike’s croissants. They would have been a bit stale from Wednesday, except that Rachael had sliced up some left over ham, covered it with cheddar cheese, and zapped it in the microwave just long enough to freshen up the roll, melt the cheese, and take the chill off the meat. The driver took a bite, and her eyes widened. “This is wonderful. I was in rush today, what with the rain and all. I missed breakfast. Let me know if you ever open a restaurant. I’ll eat there every day.”
“Not likely,” Rachael said. “I only like making food for special people. Like you. Look after my little brother. He is precious to me.”
“They are all precious to me,” she said, taking another big bite before putting the roll down and closing the door.
This all left Rachael too late to catch her bus. Since she had stopped riding, the driver no longer pulled down her street, but took a shorter route. If she had time, Rachael could have walked around the corner to the other stop, but instead she just packed her backpack with a spare set of clothes and headed to the bakery and then school using an umbrella of Grandpas.
At school she changed into a different pair of jeans in the washroom, and hung the wet ones up in her locker, hoping they would dry by the end of the day. Otherwise she would have no change of clothes after riding Blacky tonight. It was her last practice before the races, and she hoped the weather would change before too long. She didn’t want to ride the horse in the rain. Not as much because of her own comfort, but because on a rough cross country course it was possible for a horse to slip or skid on bad ground and sprain something, causing a small injury that might cost him a race.
When class started, it was with an assembly. The Grade Seven and Eight students all got ballots for Best Boy and Girl, and the younger students also filled the hall. After the voting was done, the boys’ movie was played: ‘The Big Cheese’.
Rachael had seen bits of the video, and had actually colored in a hundred or so cartoon panels. The movie was super cute. Most of it was live photography of Ingersoll and the museum. But what made it was the cartoon character ‘Cheesy’ Neal had made, which appeared on the bottom corner of many scenes, making some cute or informative comment. It was halfway through the video when Rachael realized that her boyfriend Robert was doing the voice of Cheesy, although with a unique cartoonish voice.
The video received tremendous applause from the students, with the youngest ones especially enhanced by Cheesy. Then it was time for ‘For Valour’ the girls’ video.
This also received strong applause at the conclusion, although not as much as Cheesy had gotten. The students had sat quietly, and seemed to be reflective as the video played. A few had brothers who were in the action shots, and all seemed to pay attention through those scenes and the local shots as well.
After the movie the Q and A session was dominated by questions for Cheesy. Rachael had brought Grandpa’s Victoria Cross medal, and that did divert some attention to her side. About half the students wanted to touch the medal that the King had given to an Ingersoll man. Some didn’t care, which hurt Rachael a bit. She knew that these would be the ones who would ignore the veterans and Remembrance Day in the future. She consoled herself that maybe some of the ones who did touch the precious medal would be among those who Remember.
Mr. Churchill came forward as the assembly was filing out. “Who won Best Girl?” Rachael asked.
“You don’t get to know until Grad on the last day of classes,” the history teacher said. “But I can announce the grades for the videos. I viewed the others last night, and there were several Bs and a C grade for the other groups. I had planned on giving A+ to the girls, and A to the boys, but after watching the response to the showings today, I have decided that both groups get A+. I liked ‘For Valour’ best personally, but the reaction of the kids showed me that the cartoon movie was every bit as good, and you boys probably put in twice the work of the girls. I know how laborious cartooning can be.
“Neal,” he continued. “Mrs. Windross in the Grade 5 class wants you to draw her some Cheesy cartoons over the summer for her classroom next year. She wants to show the video to the students on the first day of class, and then have Cheesy as a class mascot to encourage the kids. She said she will be able to pay you a bit: hopefully enough to draw some stills.”
“I could do that,” Neal said. “Stills only take a few minutes. Even less if they are not colored. The kids could color them in art class. As for the film, I guess we can allow her to show it for her students every year.” He looked at the other boys on his team, and they nodded.
“Oh my,” Mr. Churchill said. “I forgot that you four own the copyright to the video. I will make sure it is not spread about freely. What about you girls?”
“We have decided to donate our film to the Legion,” Carly said. “They are showing it there tomorrow for the first time.”
By now the gym was empty and the shop class was putting chairs away under the stage. The eight students had to hurry off to class.
----- -- ----- -----
Luckily the rain had stopped at about 10 a.m. so at lunch that day the girls all headed over to the bakery plaza, along with many other students from the middle school. Technically they were not supposed to leave the school during lunch, but it was almost the last week and a lot of students were willing to risk it. The result was that they got to the new meat market just after a rush of high school students had left.
The specialty of the shop for the students was a hot dog lunch, with a choice from the medium to super hot and spicy mixtures, according to their desires. There were eight different condiments and seven different sauces to use, and some students got the works piled high for their $5. Pints and half pints of milk were also big sellers, especially for those students who had gotten a slightly hotter mix than they had expected.
Ruby was at the counter most of the time, unless someone came in for regular meat. There were two men from the Hobo Army volunteering at the counter for the hot dog section, keeping the line moving and the money coming in. Ruby reported later that they had sold out of three of the four hot dog types, and a total of 150-plus sales between the skippers from the middle school, and two rushes from the adjacent high school. She took in nearly $1250 during the day, and made a first-day profit.
Most of the students liked the meals, and there were a lot of kids claiming that they would be coming back on Monday, and right through to the end of school. After that, summer vacation would start, and smaller crowds would be expected.
------ -- ---- ------ ---
Rachael rode the bus to the farm with Robert again, and when she got in asked Donna if she could put her still-damp jeans on the clothesline. Then she went straight to the stable planning to get Blacky, but was delayed. The twins were in the corral, and were gentling a new mare. They had given up their old habit of trying to break a horse, and were using Rachael’s technique.
Rachael immediately went into the ring and up to the timid new horse. Steve said that she was named Lady, and Rachael started speaking softly as she approached the mare. When she finally touched the horse, it shied for a second, then immediately calmed at her touch. Rachael checked her out, and found her in excellent health, but scared of her new surroundings and the new people.
“She’s had apples?” Rachael asked.
“Two,” Peter said. “One from each of us.”
“That is enough for now,” Rachael said. “Come closer now, Peter, and stroke her mane.” The boy did so, and as he did, Rachael fed her energy into the horse, pointing out that the boy was a friend, and had given her an apple. He would give more apples if she was nice to him.
“Now Peter,” Rachael said softly. “You go back and get her saddle. Stevie, you come up and meet her now. Calmly now.”
“A saddle? Already?” Peter said as he slowly backed away. Steve moved into position and started to stroke the horse.
“She is ready for it.” Rachael said. “I don’t know if you can ride her today, but she should be ready for the tack.”
Steve backed off as Peter approached with the saddle, and then went to get the reins and bridle. As Peter put the saddle on her back, Lady jumped, but Rachael just fed more calmness and confidence into the mare, continually telling her what a good job she was doing.
After Peter had cinched the saddle, he backed off and Stevie and Rachael put the reins and other harness on her. Soon she was comfortable with the gear, and the boys, and they were leading her about the corral, getting her used to them.
Inside the barn Blacky neighed out a complaint. He had smelled his girl and she had been ignoring him for some other horse. Rachael picked up a couple apples as she came in, putting one in her pocket, and gave the other to Blacky as a peace token for ignoring him.
She brushed him down as Robert put the saddle on the stallion, making sure that there were no nagging injuries from her rides by the various Jackson’s over the past week. Blacky was now comfortable with any of them, other than the twins, who still could not ride him.
Rachael pulled herself into the saddle, and rode out the back door of the stable, so they came out on the outside of the corral. “Keep walking her until we come back,” she shouted to the twins. “She might take a rider when she sees Blacky carrying me. We won’t be long.”
Blacky was interested in the new addition to the stable, and Lady had stopped walking to watch the big black leave the stable with the friendly girl on his back. He smelled so … enticingly different, Lady thought.
When Chocky and Blacky were out to Robert’s makeshift course, Rachael was confident that the track was dry enough to run on. It was not ideal, but a horse needs to learn to run on a muddy track. The footing was fairly stable, but it was going to be a messy run.
Rachael ran the track twice. She had initially only planned on one run, but Blacky seemed to want to take two laps, like they usually did. When they got back, Robert was laughing quietly.
“What’s so funny?” she snapped. “Was my time that bad?”
“No, you were only 20 seconds behind your average,” Robert giggled. “But I think you picked up at least an acre of the farm with you. Your back is covered in mud. From the back you can’t tell that you are blonde.”
Rachael reached up and ran her hand through her hair, or tried to. She wound up shaking clumps of turf and dirt out of it instead. Robert brushed off the back of her blouse, and some of the mud from Blacky’s withers.
“A long brushing for Blacky and then a shower for Rachael,” Robert pronounced.
“Well, you can help with the former, but not with the latter,” Rachael said.
They walked back to the corral, and when Peter saw them coming he opened the gate, while Stevie held a scared looking Lady. Rachael walked around the corral twice on Blacky, while Robert took Chocky into the stable. Lady stood stock still in the middle of the ring, only turning to keep the stallion and rider in her sight.
Then Rachael walked Blacky up to Lady, getting quite close. The mare was breathing heavily when Rachael leaned over to stroke her. She immediately calmed down. “Do you want to try a ride, Steve?”
“Yes, please,” the teen said. He slid back, and then put his foot into the stirrup, then swung his leg over. Lady started a bit, but Rachael kept feeding confidence into her, and soon the mare looked at her, then Blacky, as if to say ‘I have a person on me too. Aren’t I clever?’
With that they walked five times around the corral, with Lady and Steve following Rachael and Blacky. Then Steve slid off, and Peter mounted, again with the horse only starting for a second. This time Rachael was not touching the mare, but she still accepted the new rider. Again it was five laps around the pen.
“I would walk her again for each of the next few days. Have Robert and Blacky lead just like we did today. When you think she is ready, have Blacky go into a trot, and then see if she will follow. I think she will on her own, but make your normal leg pressures for a trot so she gets used to the signals. Now we have to go and brush them down.”
Robert and Rachael brushed down Blacky (Robert had already done the much cleaner Chocky) while Steve and Peter brushed down Lady in the next stall. The two horses gossiped with ninnies and neighs all the time while being brushed, clearly new friends.
After that all the boys were sent to the barn for a while. Rachael was a mess, but when Donna said that only her and Lisa were in the house, Rachael was able to strip to her underwear and dart into the downstairs shower without tracking mud through the house. Lisa was her attendant, getting some shampoo from the upstairs bath so Rachael wouldn’t have to use the men’s shampoo, and also getting the teen’s clothes from her backpack and the clothesline. During that time the younger girl got a few glimpses of Rachael naked in the shower.
“Do you think I will ever be as beautiful as you, Rachael?” Lisa asked wistfully.
Rachael smiled: “I’m sure you will be beautiful when you are 15. And even more beautiful when you are 18. You may be taller than me: your brothers are all tall, and so is your mom. You may not be as busty as I will be. Your mom is much smaller than mine is in that area. But it really doesn’t matter. You just need to know that you are beautiful, and not worry about what God gives you. The pastor at my church thought she was ugly, until she met a man who thought she was beautiful. They are married now.”
“Aw, that is a wonderful story. Do you think a man will find me beautiful someday?”
“I am sure of it. You are pretty now, and when your curves start coming in you will have your pick of the boys. The hard part for you will be to find a good one. Just think about your Dad, or your brothers. They are all good men: pick someone like them.”
“Even the twins? Yuck.”
“Even the twins. You don’t need to pick someone that looks like them, but someone who is like them inside. Hard working, honest, gentle, and faithful.”
Lisa stared at Rachael as she dressed. “I wish you were my sister, Rachael,” she said.
“All I get is brothers. That is a pretty top.”
“It is what I want to wear to the races next week,” Rachael said. “And if you wait, one day we may be sisters in fact, if Robert marries me. In fact, as long as Robert and I date, you can consider me your sister.”
“Really?” Lisa flew over to Rachael and embraced her in a tight hug. “Robert better not ever break up with you, or I’ll kill him.”
Rachael giggled, and then led her new little sister down to the kitchen to help with dinner. After, Maria came by with dessert from the bakery for the family, and to take Rachael home.
“Can you work for me tomorrow?” Maria asked on the ride home.
“Only for a few hours. I have to sing for John and Paul’s wedding tomorrow right after lunch, and then get ready for the video at the Legion. Why?”
“Bill Strong has interviews set up for his chef and manager tomorrow starting at 9. I really have to go.”
“I could go until noon, or 12:30,” Rachael said. “Why don’t you call Gary at the Hobo Army. Maybe someone there could do a fill in shift for you? It would also give you a backup person if someone is sick or needs time off.”
“That’s a great idea. I’ll give him a call when we get home.
----- -- - --------
Earlier that evening Chef sat in the car with two other members of the Hobo Army, outside the Women’s Shelter: “Listen you guys. This is important. These women are fragile. I picked you two to help because I don’t think you will flirt or try to get friendly with the women. They can hardly stand to be around men due to the beatings they have gotten in the past. Before I started taking food to them, they didn’t let men into the place. This dinner is a big step. Some of the women probably won’t even come down because of us.”
“The rules are that we never cross the halfway point of the room. That other side is their safe place. I don’t care if some knocks a platter on the floor. We don’t go over to clean it up. And never stare at the women. If you make eye contact with one, then smile and quickly look away. Staring can be aggression to them, and we don’t want to be aggressive. Our job is just to make them the best meal they have ever eaten, and to help them feel their lives are starting back towards normal.”
The men then gathered their food and supplies and headed to the side door to enter the kitchen. They wouldn’t go into the main area until it was time to serve the meal.
Dee, the counselor who worked at the home came into the kitchen, and pretty much repeated Chef’s message. None of the women came in, although as they worked there was a steady stream of younger visitors. Many of the women in the shelter had children, and they came in to watch the process underway. The fact that Chef always seemed to have a carrot stick, or celery bit close at hand also attracted them.
“They are cute,” Bruce said.
“Yes. Oh, there is my little set of Neapolitan ice cream,” Chef said with a laugh as three young children came and hugged his legs. “You wouldn’t know it looking at them, but they have the same mother. A pretty young thing who has been dealt a bad hand in her relationships. I call them Neapolitan because Mark, the young lad is vanilla, his older sister Ariel, is chocolate, and baby Tanya is my little strawberry. He picked the toddler up and gave her a hug.” The older girl was clearly from a black father, but they all were as happy as could be.
“Are my imps causing problems?” a slender girl with light brown hair asked from the doorway.
“Not at all Linda,” Chef boomed out. Dee then poked her head in, and rounded up the five or six kids still in the room.
“You kids can wait out here. Chef is going to be here for a while tonight,” Dee said.
“Tell you what,” Chef said as they were marched towards the door. “I brought a couple books from the library with me. While the boys are cleaning up, I’ll read you all a story, if your moms’ say it was okay.”
The men worked three hours, but finally had a wonderful smell filling the house. Some of the women who had planned to spend the evenings in their rooms had been lured down by the smells, although they clustered near the door, still fearful. The three men placed the dishes on the table, never getting too close to the middle of the room. Bruce and Adam retreated to the kitchen, while Chef took a position in the corner, as far from the table as possible. “Help yourselves,” Chef said.
About half of the women took places at the table, often with their kids on either side, with the other half of the residents sitting on the couch and other chairs further away in the room. Dee filled plates for those women who couldn’t bear to leave their corner. Chef followed his own rules, never making prolonged eye contact, although he did his glance-smile-look away with Linda more than once. Her kids really seemed to enjoy themselves, and often looked up happily at Chef.
When all had eaten, more and more women were looking comfortable after the gourmet meal. Some still clung to the corner near the stairs. One seemed ready to bolt upstairs at any time, when Chef announced that dessert was coming.
A crème brulee was brought out and its aromas seemed to keep the women on the stairs for a little longer. “Do you want to serve, Dee?” Chef asked. The woman took pairs of dishes to the women at the stairs first.
“Hell with this,” a brassy woman finally said. “I declare these three honorary women, and I’m happy to get some of that myself.”
That opened the floodgates, and most of the women at the table got up and took a dish on their own, and for their children: no longer afraid of the men who had just fed them. But many waited until Dee could get them a serving without entering into the room too far.
After dessert the two men went back to the kitchen to clean up, while Chef, as promised, took his library books and went to the corner as far from the stairs as possible and sat down flat on the floor. Almost instantly children flocked to him, with Mark and Ariel on either side, and Tanya squarely on his lap. There were nearly 20 children in total, and all listened raptly as Chef read the story, making voices for the characters. After the second book was finished, the first book was demanded a second time, and Chef complied. By then the other men had packed the car and were ready to go. There were many calls for another repeat story, but Chef told the little ones that he had to go.
“That went well,” Dee said in the kitchen. “There were a couple who ran back up to their rooms after the dessert, but a lot more stayed down and watched story time. It is important for these women to see good men interacting with their children, and hopefully one day, with them. Thank you for coming. Will you be able to do it again?”
“Definitely,” Chef said. “It will be another month before I get another check, but I still have something left of this one. I was wondering if we could have an ice cream night. I could buy one of those big drums of ice cream like they have in the parlors: maybe chocolate? We could do that in a week or two.”
“Definitely chocolate,” Dee giggled. “The favorite flavor of small children and hurting women alike.”
------- - -- --- ---
That night Rachael kneeled down.
That was a cool day, Lord. I hope Carly wins the top girl contest. And everyone was surprised when the boys’ video got more attention than ours. Good for them. A+ for everyone. Well, except for those who didn’t do any work on theirs. Ruby’s place seems to be a big hit. And it looks like Blacky had a new girlfriend. Next time I see him it will be the night of the races.
Thank you for everything.
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