Heart Strings

Chapter Six

Wednesday morning found Terri speaking with the agent for the house on Ward Avenue that had caught her attention. She found that the home was in a rather nice quiet neighborhood with a neighborhood watch group. She knew this because she had been there at different times of the day in her old Corolla and the police dropped by to see what she was up to. They accepted her explanation of checking out the area before moving in and gave her the phone numbers of the Block Captains of the Watch Group.

She had called and received a glowing recommendation for the whole area. She was told that other neighborhood watch groups all shared information as well so problems didn’t just move a block away.

It was an area of nicely kept early twentieth century homes, the most recently built was in 1919.

The agent gave her a copy of the rental agreement and the keys and shook her hand. “You’ll love it here,” she said.

Terri got on the phone straight away and worked out delivery times for furniture and beds. A stove and new fridge were already provided, but she would need to buy dishes and cooking things as well as groceries. Some things would have to wait such as curtains in Danny’s room as she wanted him to choose what went in there. She planned to let Danny spend Friday and Saturday with Liam so she could surprise Danny with his new home. The beauty part was the construction company that caused the problem with her old building would continue to send her a reimbursement until the building was habitable. That could be a month or more do to the sewage back up that eventually ravaged even the upper floors, including their old apartment. Terri would file a claim of course and based on replacement value, it would offset some of the outlay she was currently spending. Years of living at the poverty level had made her quite savvy about how to maximize the benefits of any situation that arose. Still it would give her immense pleasure to send back the next A.F.D.C. check and of course, the welfare check. Those two had nibbled away at her pride for years.  

Terri uttered a quiet prayer of thanks for sending Connor to her rescue. He was a kind, intelligent and honest man. She hoped the acquaintance would build into something more, but not at the cost of her newfound financial independence. She also gave thanks for Liam, he was indeed a blessing for her and her son.

She found she had spent a lot less time than she planned and went back to the company facility.

“Hey you’re just in time for pizza,” Duane called out, as she passed through the security door. “I got to pick today, so Marino’s is delivering a bunch of pies and cannoli so I hope you’re hungry.”

“I could eat,” Terri piped.

“Hey, while we’re alone I need to ask a couple of security related questions. That’s one of my functions here and this deal with your former boss is a little worrying from that standpoint.”

“Well, what would you like to know?” She asked evenly.

“What was your motivation for collecting the information and, of course, why haven’t you transmitted it to the authorities?”

“Primarily I wanted to demonstrate that I was not participating in his illegal activities. I kept every email and instruction he or his wife wrote and collated the whole mess for my own protection. I’ve rethought the whole thing, waiting until he made good on his future payments. I suspect they will cease as soon as he’s under indictment.”

“I’ve decided instead to make an appointment with my attorney to turn everything over to the District Attorney’s office. I will probably have to give a deposition and possibly testify. I have to make sure that Danny is protected before I can do that. There will be no connection that they can trace to try and find me.”

“Whoa, that’s pretty intense. But from my standpoint, you can understand why I might be concerned.”

“Certainly, but you do R&D work here; you don’t rip-off vulnerable people who can’t go to the authorities. You’re not conducting tests on puppies and kittens are you?”

“Absolutely not, I don’t think there’s a valid reason to use live animal testing these days. I find it revolting that some companies still engage in it.”

“The other thing is that I never signed a non-disclosure agreement with Ramone.”

“Well thanks, Terri, I appreciate you being candid about the situation.”

“It seemed fair and you presented your concerns politely. I hope I’ve allayed any worries you might have had on the subject.”

“Absolutely, let’s go and join the other four. Wendell can go through pizza like a twelve- year-old, which coincidentally is his approximate emotional age. But Jesus, he’s smart.”

“So, Duane, are you responsible for the security system here, I mean did you design it?”

“Yeah, it was designed to be unobtrusive. Did you like the motion-activated external cameras? There’s also a button that allows you to lock the front door in-case you get an unwanted visitor. There’s a remote also in-case you’re away from your office and someone rings the bell. And you can see anything on the cameras with your phone. I’ll send you the app I designed a little later. I didn’t want to overwhelm you with security stuff.”

“Hello, Wendell, how are you today?” Terri called to the mid-twenties man. He was tall and awkward and had a slight build. He was a stereotypical nerd boy; not a bad thing in her book.

Wendell blushed like the shy teenager that he basically was, at least emotionally.

“Hi, Terri,” he managed, but didn’t make eye contact.

“Oh, Hi, Terri,” Anders said cheerfully. Anders was Dutch and still retained the accent and like Liam and Connor, he didn’t completely surrender his national identity.

“Hi, Anders, how are you today?”

“Excellent, My wife is off with her sister so I can relax at home.”

“So, Sausage and good beer?”

“You bet, kiddo, I’m livin’ the life now, at least for the next week-and-a-half.”

“Where’s Bender?”

“Dentist appointment,” Duane supplied.

Rick aka Bender is called such because he did a spot-on imitation of the Futurama character. “Bite my shiny metal ass” is more of a salutation for Rick.

“And the Boss man?”

“Arguing with the vendor over specs or the lack thereof, for a supply of carbon fiber that arrived without documentation,” answered Duane.

“Well shit, they have to know you can’t use the material until you know the specs.”

“Ooh, you keep talking like that and we’ll make you our goddess and Jason will divorce me and I’ll have to date again.”

“Okay, Duane, I’ll dial it back a bit.”

Duane laughed, “You didn’t bat an eye.”

“Sorry?”

“I just as much as told you I was gay and you didn’t even flinch.”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Oh no, I meant, well I was actually paying you a compliment and you’re taking the piss with me, aren’t you?”

“Just a little, but I’m pro-gay rights in case you wondered.”

“Hey, am I too late for lunch?”

“Hey Richard, you need to meet Terri.”

Terri turned to see the largest Asian man she’d ever laid eyes on. He was easily six-feet-four and very robustly built.

“Hello, how do you do?” said Richard with the faintest of accents. Not Mandarin though, Australian? No, it was familiar but elusive.”

“Trying to place my accent? It’s Cape Towne Afrikaans. It throws most Americans. Ethnically I’m Manchurian, but my grandparents on my mother’s side were from Fujian so I get my size from both sides.”

“That’s odd, we just ate at a Fujian restaurant last night; it was great.”

“Yes, the Dancing Snake, I’m glad you like it. My wife and I own it and she runs it.”

“Well, it’s great. It totally hit my reset button on Chinese food.”

“Yes, it does that for a lot of people, it’s not what they’ve come to expect.”

“I know Liam loves it and now my Danny does too.”

“Yes, isn’t he an amazing boy. You would think he was much older until you actually see him.”

“Yes, and he’s getting my son Danny out of his shell, too. They are great friends now.”

“I see the pizza has arrived, I hope he ordered enough Canadian bacon and pepperoni,” Richard said.

Terri was no slouch and grabbed a couple of slices and was mid-bite when Connor walked in.

“Did anyone say Grace?” he said, stopping Terri in her tracks.

Peels of raucous laughter told her it was a joke.

“Hey, do any of you know a college kid that would like some part time work as an assistant?” Connor asked. “He, um… they couldn’t work on anything classified but there’s a lot of set up and drone work that holds you guys back and I’d like to free up your time.”

“Sure, I’ll call Laser Larry and see if he has any recommendations,” Richard offered.

“Great, and don’t worry Wendell, the kid will just do the rough set up and you’ll do the fine tuning,” Connor said, addressing Wendell’s OCD tendencies where equipment set up was concerned.

“Okay, good,” Wendell agreed.

                                                  **

At McAuliffe Liam was trying not to win the “Nerd Hat” a second time while still taking part in the classroom discussion.

Liam raised his hand and Mr. C pointed at him. “Will you be discussing cellular entropy, sir?”

“Eh, the concept or the measurement?”

“Well, it’s all of a piece isn’t it, sir?”

“I hadn’t planned to, but it seems apropos, let me put some notes together and I’ll tackle it in our next session. It does have an application in organic chemistry. It’s an interesting question, why do you ask?”

“Well I’ve an idea for a bioelectric battery and maybe even lighting in the home.”

“Oh yeah, that’s my kind of talk.”

They finished up and he and Danny chatted about what they might like to do. Cheri joined them and asked about their plans for the long weekend.

Liam asked if she’d like to come over Friday and play some music and sing a bit.

“I have nothing planned, as long as Mom doesn’t have me doing something, it sounds good. Can I get your number?”

She sent him a smiley and a thumbs up as a test.

“Got it.”

“Anyone else coming?”

“Sean Cleary? D’yas know him?”

“Oh yeah, cute, red headed guy, eighth grader right?”

“That’s him, I thought you fancied girls?”

“I’m a lesbian but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes, cute is cute. You’re cute and so is Danny, you just have some extra skin that I’m not interested in.”

Liam laughed but Danny blushed terribly.

“Sorry sweetie, the truth can be hard, or is that the problem?”

Danny giggled softly and continued to blush.

“Oh, he’s so cute.”

“Yeah he is,” said Liam.

                                                **

Later, Daniel was fighting his way through pre-algebra. Actually the course work wasn’t difficult but staying awake was. He hadn’t slept well the night before. He couldn’t stop thinking about his Liam and how cool it would be to spend the night in his bed, in his arms and… ”Are we having trouble concentrating, Mr. Sullivan?” Ms. Rolling chided gently.

“Sorry, Ma’am.”

She went on with her explanation of nomenclature critical to higher math functions. When she was finished, she invited Danny up to the white board to demonstrate the use of brackets and the less than caret, each of which he did quite well using both in a complete algebra problem with a group within a group.

“Okay, you’ve been paying attention Daniel, have a seat, and Monica, you can come up and demonstrate a matrix please.”

Liam didn’t want to seem bored. He had slept a bit but had the same concerns as Danny. He was better at looking interested in the proceedings but a nice nap would really be the thing right then. Catherine noted his lethargy and asked if he felt okay.

“Yes, Catherine, I’m fine, I just didn’t sleep well last night and it’s catching up to me. I’ll try for a short kip at lunch.”

“Very well then; but try to stay awake in class please.”

“I will, Catherine.”

When class had finished and everyone dismissed, he approached his teacher.

“I’m sorry about my concentration level, last night was very, um… hectic I guess. I didn’t sleep well so I’m feeling it about now. A bit of caffeine and sugar and I’ll come ‘round.”

“As long as you don’t make a habit of it you’ll be fine. But I sympathize. I have nights when my brain won’t shut down and I suffer for it the next day. You seem to have a good grasp of the class work so no harm done. Enjoy your lunch Liam.”

“Thank you, Catherine, I appreciate your compassion.”

Liam left to meet Danny who was talking with Cheri and another girl.”

“Oh Hi, Liam, this is Amber, a really good friend of mine, would you mind if she joined me Friday?”

“I’ve no objection, I called a friend that’s been wanting to meet Sean so we’ll have plenty of voices on hand.”

“Thanks Liam, nice to meet you, what time are we talking about?”

“Well, me Da has something on at the office til’ around noon, so after that I would guess. We have a bit of business in the morning with some men flying in from Pennsylvania and they’ll be keen to get back to Nazareth with their findings.”

“Hey, isn’t that where Martin guitars is located?” Amber asked.

“Yes, it is, these guys are coming to assess a rare instrument at my Da’s lab.”

“Oh, that sounds cool, is it like a secret?”

“For now Amber, we’re keeping quiet. Once it’s confirmed the news will get out.”

“Well, I can keep my mouth shut so don’t worry.”

“Thanks Amber, I think I’m going to get an apple and a drink and find a place to take a nap.”

“Oh there’s a nice quiet place at the back of the science building. People go there to read mostly, but you should be able to find a good spot.” Cheri offered.

“Ah thanks, I’ll do that; how about you Danny?”

“Yeah, I’m dead on my feet. I didn’t get any sleep at all last night.”

“Well, have a seat and I’ll get us something to eat and we’ll go find a place to catch a snooze.”

“That sounds great, just an apple and a coke for me,” he said as he reached in his pocket.”

“I got it, I’ll be right back.”

Amber asked Cheri what she wanted and then followed Liam to the Cafeteria.

The four walked to the rear of the science block and found a very soft lawn to stretch out on. There were a couple other people there already but they just nodded and kept reading or looking at their phones. The boys folded their jackets and laid their heads on them and slept until Liam’s phone vibrated to tell him that time was up. Liam was instantly alert and his eyes popped open to catch Cheri and Amber sharing a kiss.

“That’s cool, you make a nice couple,” Liam said.

“Oh, hi Liam, um… yeah, thanks.”

“I’m guessing that’s not your first kiss.”

“Nope, not even close,” Amber giggled. “I’m glad you’re cool with it.”

“Oh, Cheri didn’t tell you then?”

“Tell me what?”

“I’ll let her tell you, is that okay Cheri?”

“Sure, see, I told you I wasn’t the blabby type.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have doubted you.”

“It’s okay Liam, I understand.”

Liam shook Danny gently, “Oy boyo, clear yer head, it’s time to join the battle.”

“Mmm? What’s, Oh okay, I’m awake.” Danny mumbled and sat up. “Oh man, that was wonderful. I think I can make it through the rest of the day.”

Phys Ed was pretty much the same as Monday except when they were done. Liam was drying off when Brian sat down on the bench next to him.

“Hey Liam, how’s it going?”

“Great now that school is done mate; how about you?”

“I had a good day, I talked with a couple friends about what happened the other day and they told me to my face that I had been acting like a dick lately. Thanks for the reality check. I was kind of taking my anger out on other people that had nothing to do with it.”

“What are you angry about, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My old man, he’s changed, we don’t get along anymore and all he ever does is work and bitch about his job.”

“Sounds like he needs a different job, what does he do?”

“He drives local freight, depot stuff. It’s not the work, it’s his boss. I kind of had it out with him last night. Quitting and getting a better job never even occurred to him. So he said he would go to the chief dispatcher and either they get the dispatcher off his back or he would walk. He sent me a message that they fired the dispatcher because he was so abusive. They gave my Dad the job instead.”

“That sounds great; I hope he likes it better than driving.”

“I just wanted to say thanks, in a weird way, getting owned really helped me get my head straight so I’m not holding a grudge or anything. Just so you know.”

“That’s good news Brian, I hope things improve at home, give me your hand.

Brian stuck out his hand and Liam shook it. Brian smiled and returned to dressing.

“My Mom is on her way to get us so we better snap it up.”

“I’m about ready are you?” Liam asked.

They arrived at the pick-up zone just as Terri arrived.