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Out of the Cage book cover

Out of the Cage
Wes Boyd
©2010, ©2016

Chapter 18

Back when Frenchy got his Eagle a couple years before, he could hardly wait to tell his friends and drive around town looking cool, showing off the neat wheels he’d managed to get. It wasn’t quite the same thing with the Ford F-150 pickup with two-wheel drive that he and Sven bought off a guy’s lawn down in Albany River. The first thing Frenchy did after buying insurance was to stop off and get a roll of insulation and some nails from the hardware store out on the state road, then haul them over to Monica’s.

In that first day with the Eagle, he wasn’t about to let anyone drive his prized possession; that changed this time too. He offered to watch the kids while Monica drove it over to the Super Market to do some shopping. The truck may have been older than he was, and not exactly in showroom shape, but it was going to make some big changes in his life from the way it had been the last couple months. Being able to help out Monica with the transportation was one of them.

Monica was gone long enough that he was starting to get a little worried before he heard the truck pulling into the driveway. He went outside, to see that she had several bags of groceries. “I figured I might as well stock up a little while I could,” she announced. “And there were some good deals on the bargain rack. You’re staying for supper tonight, Frenchy. It’s the least I can do.”

“For once, I think I’ll take you up on that,” he smiled. “It’s the best way to celebrate I can think of.”

“Oh, I can think of a better way,” she giggled. “Come on and help me take these groceries inside.”

It took Frenchy two trips to get everything inside, while Monica worked on putting things away and the kids played in the living room. “I probably bought more than I should have,” she told him, “but it’s so nice to not have to worry about carrying things home that I decided to stock up a little.”

One of the things that surprised him was when she pulled a six-pack of Budweiser out of one of the grocery bags. “Frenchy,” she said in a low voice, “I know you’ve been missing being able to have a beer now and then. I want you to understand that I didn’t buy this for you. I bought it for me. But I’m not going to notice if a can or two happens to disappear every now and then. No more than that at one time, though. Can you handle that?”

“Sure,” he said. “A beer or two every now and then would be nice. I don’t have to have a dozen or whatever. I haven’t had a beer since last summer, but you’re right, it’ll make a good way to celebrate.”

He had one right away, sitting in the kitchen while Monica worked on getting dinner together. Rather than just racing through it, he took his time in enjoying it. “Maybe after dinner I can get back to work on the room upstairs,” he told her. “I really feel like I should have gotten more done on it the last few days, but I’ve been busy.”

“Well, no big rush,” she told him. “And you probably shouldn’t plan on working on it tonight. I have a special friend coming over later.”

“Well, tomorrow after I get done with the community service stuff,” he shrugged and took a sip of beer. “And I should be able to get quite a bit done on Sunday.”

“That would be good,” she replied. “You’ve been making good progress up there without much to work with. I’m just sorry that I can’t have you working on it tonight, but I’ll make it up to you the first chance we get. Maybe tomorrow night, or something.”

“Sounds good to me,” he smiled – he hadn’t been expecting that. Well, it was her call and he wasn’t going to turn her down if she made the offer.

“Actually, it sounds pretty good to me too,” she smirked. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow night more than I am to tonight.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

She let out a long sigh, and continued, “Frenchy, I think I need to tell you something. I ran into Lonnie’s dad down at the Super Market, and, well, I’m worried.”

“About Lonnie?”

“Yeah,” she frowned. “It turns out that he’s been in prison a while, which is why no one has heard anything from him. He’s out now, but his dad doesn’t have any idea where he might be. Maybe he won’t show up here, but I’m afraid he will. If he does, well, I can see him causing trouble for me and the kids. I don’t know why he was in prison and I don’t think it had anything to do with me, but having him thrown out of the house obviously doesn’t make him think any better of me.”

“Maybe he won’t show up,” Frenchy said hopefully. “If he really had it in for you, he’d have been up here as soon as he got out.”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself,” she shook her head. “But Lonnie’s dad didn’t say how long Lonnie had been out. He didn’t even know he was in prison until he was out. So I don’t know what to think.”

“Maybe he’ll realize that you’re trouble for him and stay away,” Frenchy replied hopefully.

“I sure hope you’re right, but I’m not holding my breath. Frenchy, don’t get me wrong. Lonnie was a nice guy when we were in high school, but well, I realized later that it took his dad to keep him under control. When his dad couldn’t control him any longer, then things went bad. I’m pretty sure there was some meth involved too. It’s the only thing I can think of that would fuck up his head that badly. I’d be willing to bet that he was flying high as a kite again as soon as he got out.”

“So there’s no telling what he would do,” Frenchy finished the thought for her. “I may have done some crazy things but there’s no way I’d touch that shit. It really messes up your head and can keep it messed up. Look, I don’t know what to tell you, but if you think he’s going to be a problem and you need me to stay here with you to protect you, well, I’m willing.”

“I don’t think we have to go quite that far just yet,” she replied. “If he comes back to this neck of the woods, I might just have to think about it. The problem with it is that if you’re living here it’s going to make it a little more awkward to return the favors that I have to return. I mean, awkward with you, as much as anything else.”

“It’s something I can live with if I have to,” he shrugged. “I know it’s something you have to do, and I’m willing to help where I can. The thought happened to cross my mind that, now the weather is warming up and I have the truck, maybe I could take off with the kids and go to the park sometime when you’ve got a friend coming over. That would mean that you wouldn’t have to wait till after the kids have gone to bed.”

“That would be nice,” she smiled. “I know that puts you out a bit, but you’ve been very nice to me. But the joker with this is that I’m going to have to come up with some car seats for the kids if you’re going to take them in the truck. I think they have some kind of a loaner program down at the Community Improvement Agency, so I think I need to check that out as soon as I can.”

“If there’s any expense to it, let me know and I’ll cover it,” he offered. “I find it absolutely amazing that I do, but I like being with your kids. They’re good kids, both of them.”

“I’m glad you think so,” she smiled. “Most guys your age wouldn’t want anything to do with little kids like them.”

“Well, they’re good kids,” he said. “I think that sort of says that they have a good mother who’s done a good job with them.”

“I’ve tried. God knows, I’ve tried. Go help the kids get cleaned up for dinner. We’re pretty close to eating.”

Frenchy didn’t get anything done on the room that evening and had to leave right after dinner. Since he didn’t want his folks knowing that the truck was going to be his and not Sven’s he had to drive it out to the barn, then walk back home. As usual, he got ambushed at the door by his father, who wanted his fifty bucks and he wanted it now. Of course, his father wanted more than the agreed on fifty, but once again Frenchy wasn’t about to give it to him. As always, Frenchy was steamed about it but didn’t say much of anything. The time was coming when he was going to head for the door and stay out, but the time wasn’t quite right yet. That time was getting closer, and having the truck only made that more possible.

Frenchy also didn’t get a lot done on the room after he finished with the community service work on Saturday, at least partly because he and Monica had other things to do not long after the kids went to bed. He made up for it on Sunday when he got an early start on the room. He managed to nail down the pieces that he’d tacked into place the weekend before, got the insulation on the outside wall, and managed to fit several pieces of the wallboard over it. By now it was clear that it wasn’t going to be a great job, but at least the room would look better than it had before he started.

He didn’t get a lot done on the project at Monica’s during the following week, at least partly because he was back to working full days again. That didn’t leave much time to work on the room in the evening. The first week he had the pickup he worked three days in the woods, and two at bundling firewood and taking it to dealers, a job that seemed to go pretty slow when he did it all by himself. Although working in the woods was as tiring as it usually was, it felt good to be back out there after the break. The ground was still soft in spots, but it wasn’t so bad that they couldn’t make it around and do what they needed to do.

A couple weeks passed without a lot to make them noticeable – just the work in the woods several days a week, and delivering firewood. One day Sven told the crew that one of the big campgrounds was getting set to open as Memorial Day weekend approached; they took a day out of the woods to bundle up enough firewood to fill the chip truck and make a delivery. The next day Sven left Buck with Frenchy for the day to load the pickup and service the smaller ones with several loads. It was a long and tiring day, and Frenchy was glad to have it over with.

As usual, Frenchy left the truck at Sven’s and rode home with Red to discover that his dad wasn’t waiting at the door to hassle him, a pleasant surprise. They weren’t home at all, which was even more of a pleasant surprise, although he expected that they’d be home sooner or later. He was just thinking about seeing if he could find some food to sneak before they showed up with the usual inadequate supper when the phone rang. The call couldn’t be for him, he thought; the only calls he’d had in the two and a half months he’d been out of jail had been from Sven, and then rarely.

But he answered it anyway, and the caller proved to be Matt – his old buddy and sidekick from days gone by. “So what you been up to?” he asked, thinking that he hadn’t heard from Matt since the day he’d gotten out of jail. As close as he had been with Matt in the past, it seemed strange to think that two and a half months had gone by without a word.

“Same shit, different day,” Matt told him. “If I don’t fuck up in the next couple weeks I ought to be graduating all right. I should be leaving for the Army in about a month. So what have you been up to?”

“Working in the woods, mostly,” Frenchy said, still thinking that it was strange to be talking to a friend from the days before he’d gone to jail. “For Sven Stromsen, if you happen to know him. It’s a lot of damn work but at least it’s bringing in some money. He’s got me delivering firewood some too, so it’s not quite the same shit every day.”

“At least you’re working,” Matt told him. “There’s a lot of kids in school who have no idea what the hell they’re going to be doing in a month. I’m not the only one who’s heading to the Army. At least it looks like Larry is going to have a job.”

“Out at Clark Construction?”

“Yeah, probably won’t be much, just helping out. I hate to tell you this, Frenchy, but he still doesn’t have much good to say about you.”

“That’s his problem,” Frenchy said, a surge of the old resentment about the way Larry had treated him beginning to rise in his gut. There was still a score to settle there, but like a lot of such scores, now wasn’t the time to deal with it. “I got more important problems to deal with. My folks are really being pains in the ass, and I got to do something about that first.”

“Yeah, well, I wish there was something I could do to help you, but I still have to stay away from you, you know that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Frenchy replied, thinking that things could have gone a lot better the last couple months if he’d been able to have Matt help him out from time to time, at least a little – as much as giving him a ride or something. Not being able to take the truck home with him was a pain in the butt, but at least it kept his folks off of his ass a little bit. “Too bad, but I guess that’s the way it is. You still doing community service?”

“I’ve still got to do a few more hours,” Matt said. “I hit it pretty good when we were on spring break, and they have me working independently on some stuff at the Community Improvement Agency. I’ve been laying off the Saturdays since I’ve been having to study my ass off, but as soon as school is out two or three more days will finish it up. I know you’ve been doing it, but I guess we just haven’t crossed tracks.”

They talked for a few minutes about Porter and some of the things he’d had them doing, which was pretty much the same thing. The talk turned to school; things were really different than they had been the year before, when Payne had cut them a lot of slack because they were football players. Now, Matt was having to hit the books hard to be able to meet the requirements he needed for getting in the Army; at least there were only going to be a couple more weeks of it left. Frenchy told some stories about working out in the woods and about getting going on the firewood deliveries.

Finally, there wasn’t that much to talk about anymore. It wasn’t until the phone call was over that Frenchy realized that his life had pulled away from Matt’s in a lot of different ways. Matt had been his best buddy back in the old days, but they didn’t share that much anymore. He had new friends now; Monica, of course, but Sven and at least some of the guys on the crew. It was a different kind of friendship, and Frenchy was just as happy that he’d decided that whatever happened he wasn’t going to go back to school in the fall. Things weren’t necessarily better, and it was nice to wish that last summer had never happened, which included things like being able to play football and still having Payne around the school so he could have slid through it. But what had happened had happened; he was leading a different life now, and he wasn’t sure that he would have wanted to go back if he could.

*   *   *

As May progressed things warmed up in a hurry. These would have been nice days to have been out in the woods, except for the fact that the black flies were coming out. They were nasty little critters that buzzed around the heads of the crew as they worked, and when they bit, which they often did, they raised a nasty welt. The guys on the crew tried several different types of fly dope to try to keep them off, but nothing worked very well. About the best thing that could be done was to wear long sleeved shirts and pants tucked into their boots, and that solved at least some of the problems with the bites, although on the warmer days it got more than a little uncomfortable. Several of the guys broke out head nets, which kept the biting flies down but were hot and miserable to work in. “Dat’s one of da things dat ya gotta learn to live with when ya are workin’ in da woods, yaaah,” Sven commented.

Frenchy wasn’t affected much less than anyone else, although he at least managed to get away from the black flies a bit while he was doing wood deliveries. For some reason the flies weren’t quite as bad in town, although they could get really irritating when he was out behind the barn bundling firewood.

He didn’t get away from the black flies much on Saturdays, when he still had his community service sessions. At first it was more picking up trash along county roads in the middle of nowhere, which meant that the black flies weren’t any better than they were elsewhere. Toward the middle of the month that began to change – they were in town at least some of the time, mowing lawns at houses that were more or less abandoned or empty, places they’d shoveled snow at earlier.

He still didn’t run into Matt at any of the sessions, and slowly Frenchy began to realize that the reason that Matt didn’t work the Saturday sessions was that he didn’t want to risk being around him. Matt still had the restriction on his probation against seeing him, but still, it was hard to think that an old friend like him was required to avoid him.

These community service sessions ran their full length – there was no getting off early like had been done back in the breakup days. That meant that it was late in the afternoons on Saturday before Frenchy could make it over to Monica’s to work on the room some more. Over the course of a couple weekends he got close to finishing the paneling of the room. It certainly wasn’t world-class carpentry, but at least the room looked a little better. The composition board was going to take several coats of paint to make it look decent and it still wouldn’t hide all the flaws and imperfections of his carpentry, but it would serve.

Sometimes he’d have a beer over dinner or when he’d wrapped up work on the room for the day, but more often not – the need for a beer wasn’t as strong as it had once been, and when he thought about it, that was fine with him. It wasn’t as if he had to have a beer, or better, a lot of them, to impress the guys he was with.

Progress on the room was slowed because Frenchy took some time whenever he could to play with the kids. All in all it only added up to two or three hours a week, but they were fun hours that Frenchy always enjoyed. There were times that Cindy brought a book and one of her stuffed toys – a rabbit was the favorite – into the room when Frenchy was working on it. It was nice to have her for company, nice to be able to talk to her. She often sat and read the book to the stuffed toy.

Frenchy still read to Cindy and Chad fairly often. He really came to enjoy sitting on the couch with them, usually with one or the other of them on his lap, and reading whatever book Cindy had chosen. Once again, he couldn’t help but reflect that it was something his parents had never done with him, at least that he could remember, and it didn’t help his attitude toward them any.

Once in a while they loaded the child car seats that Monica had gotten at the Community Improvement Agency into the truck, then the four of them took off and went someplace, more for the sake of going someplace than anything else. A few times Frenchy double dipped the rides, taking Monica and the kids with him when he made evening firewood deliveries. A couple of those times were expressly to get the kids out of the house so Monica could do a favor for a different friend. Frenchy still wasn’t about to take the pickup and the kids down to the local teenage hangout, the Frostee Freeze along Lakeshore, but once the Dairy Queen opened for the season down in Albany River that made a nice trip for them. A couple other times Frenchy just took the kids down to a nearby park so they could swing on the swings and play on the slides while their mother returned a favor.

Toward the end of the month, Frenchy and the kids returned from one of those trips not long after Monica had finished up. “Frenchy,” she said, “it’s really sweet that you’re doing this for me. I don’t know how to thank you, but it’s really appreciated.”

“No big deal,” he told her. “I’ve told you that I really like hanging out with the kids. It sort of reminds me of what I missed when I was that age since my folks had their heads up their . . . uh, hind ends so bad.”

“Still, you’re a true friend, and I really appreciate it,” she sighed. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but even with your help it’s about the only way I’m able to keep things going.”

“Well, I wish I could help you more than I am,” he replied. “But what with everything, I have to give you time more than I can give you money.”

“Don’t think I don’t appreciate it, because I do,” she told him. “It would be a whole lot more difficult to get along without a friend like you. I don’t want to say that things are getting easier, because they’re not, but I don’t think they’re getting harder, so maybe that’s a plus.”

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To be continued . . .

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