Chapter Forty-eight: Will's Project
Never mind that her version of hamburgers was so good that the Bakers' son came to the kitchen to compliment her personally, never mind that the oven-baked sweet potato fries were delicious, never mind that chicken and rice for the dinner meal came out perfect -- and nicely savory, thanks to Susana -- never mind that Steve asked her to go see a movie with him Wednesday evening. What got Gloria moving fast when she arrived home was seeing Will's car in the driveway, and her intense curiosity about what had been keeping him so busy at Salvi's house for the past few days.
Lolo's car was gone, so Gloria had no problem at all with bounding in the front door and shouting, "Happy birthday, Jackass!"
Both Will and Ben, seated at the kitchen table, jumped as though she had thrown a bomb into the room. "Gloria, you dirty hog, you scared the shit out of me," Will sputtered.
"Why, are the Feds after you?" she dropped her purse beside the door and tore off her coat, already too warm in the overheated house. "Do you mind if I turn down the heat until Mom gets home? It's like a sauna in here."
"Go ahead, I don't care," Ben replied. "I think it's kind of warm, too."
"It's nice if you just come in from outside, but you can't sleep right when it's this warm in the house," Will agreed.
Gloria turned the thermostat down and got Will's birthday gift from her room. "Here, Will, we've been thinking about how hard you work."
He untied the kitchen string and opened the grocery bag brown paper. "Aw, these are nice," he said, shoving his hands into the deerhide gloves. "Dang, they feel sweet." He got up and came to Gloria's chair. "Give your middle brother a hug, Witch."
Gloria's scalp prickled. A hug? From Will? What the hell?
"You too, not-so-little brother." Ben gave him a huge, hard hug, let Will go with his eyes welling with tears.
Oh my God, he's enlisted in the military, Gloria thought with horror.
"Will ... what's happening?"
"Gloria, I've been thinking ... You don't need me to come here after dark and eat up the money we're making -- it's got to go to keeping the house. And there's nothing I can contribute to this house except my pay."
She stared at him, but he looked at his newly-gloved hands.
"Listen, Salvi and his father are following the harvests south, to get a few dollars more during the winter. They're going down to southern California for the citrus harvest, won't be back until mid-January, when the almond orchards ramp up again. Salvi's mother and sister would have to be by themselves, and they don't want that. So we made a deal: I'm going to go live at their place, and ..."
"What? What? Will, you can't do that! Mom is not going to agree with you going off to live on someone's farm!"
He grimaced. "No, she wouldn't, but she doesn't have to. I'm eighteen now. And I'm going. Salvi's house is on Van Duyken's ranch, off in the south quadrant. I can walk to work with Mr. Van Duyken -- he's going to help me break into backhoe work -- Salvi's been training me -- and I won't need my car anymore, so you and Mom can stop paying on it."
"This is nuts, I can't believe you're even thinking about this."
Ben tapped on the table. "What I still can't wrap my head around is how a geek like you can go live off the grid -- no TV, no internet --"
"Things got different, I know you don't understand. But when I'm out there in the open, working in the orchards or barns, it feels like ... I dunno, like I'm a man, not a kid, like I'm allowed to be a wild animal -- a coyote, a hawk -- instead of being chained up in a house staring at electronics. Where can I go from here? Down town? More suburbia? Out in the back yard, to listen to neighbors arguing?"
"You've changed more than I thought," Gloria mumbled.
"I like the changes in me. I know we're all supposed to go to college and become white-collar millionaires and shit, but I don't want to do that for a while. The idea of going back to school makes me sick. Ben, I'm taking my laptop, and I can always go down to the library and get on line. Or use Mr. Van Duyken's wi-fi. I don't work seven days a week now that the harvest is done."
"And you'll get to the library how, without your car?"
"Show her your project," Ben said. "Quit making her worry that you'll be thumbing and stealing senior citizen bus passes."
Will nodded his head at the front door. "Come on." He led the way down the driveway and across the street, to a multi-colored Corolla that had seen better times many years before. "This is my new ride. Runs great, in spite of how it looks."
Gloria looked at the thing with astonishment. "It looks like you could get arrested on the spot if you got out of this at the supermarket."
"That's Pick-N-Pull customization. A part from this car, a part from that car ... It will get me into town when I need to, and get me from Salvi's to Van Duyken's if there's bad weather. That's all I need right now."
"Mom is going to shit her pants and go nuclear," Gloria prophesied.
"Yep, that's why I'm leaving my car here tonight and going to my new digs to live. Maybe Mom won't call Salvi's mother's phone to scream bloody murder at me."
"It's late, how are you going to move your stuff? In this old car?"
"Been moving out what I need since Thanksgiving. I'm basically going home tonight."
"You'll be coming back when Salvi returns, though, won't you?"
Will frowned at her. "No, you're not listening to me. I'm moving out."
"I think you need to tell Mom in person, though, Will, that's a lot more grown up than just taking off and letting her find out when she gets home from work."
"Well, when I'm more grown up I'll make sure I do that, but although I'm eighteen, I'm just eighteen, and I don't want to go through the whole 'you can't ruin your life like this you have to go to school you can't make a living on a farm you have to live out my dreams' thing that she'll go on about for hours. For one thing, I don't feel like getting yelled at, and for another, I don't have time. I told Carmen I'd be back by 8:30 or so."
"Well, thanks for letting us endure the screams," Ben said. "You know that she's going to put a ball and chain on my leg so I don't run off to join the circus, too."
Gloria threw her arms around Will. "Go, then, before she shows up. We'll get through it."
"I need some deposit slips so I can take my sweaty-working-man money to the bank."
"Right! Let me get my purse." While she trotted back across the street to the house, Gloria thought back to Maria saying that their mother didn't feel the need to fuss over them because she knew that they were old enough to take care of themselves. Well, Will sure took care of himself. And he's still going to take care of us.
She and Ben watched Will drive away until he was out of sight. "I hope he's not making a big mistake," she said as they turned toward their house.
"Me, too, but he was really excited about moving out there."
"I noticed that he didn't actually give us his address ..."
Ben chuckled. "What we don't know, Mom can't torture out of us. He took me down roads I didn't even know existed when I went out there, and told me not to memorize any house numbers. He doesn't want Mom to show up and demand that he come home."
"Nice for him, not so nice for us. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing. He must have been planning this for a while."
"I don't know, he only told me the other day because he needed an extra pair of hands. Made me swear I wouldn't spill the beans to you."
"Did you meet Salvi? And Carmen, that's Salvi's mother?"
"I did. They are really sweet. Spoke mostly Spanish -- you ought to hear Will rattle on in it -- it was inspiring. He's about a foot taller than any of them, I think." Ben's eyes seemed to see something closer to him than Gloria, sitting at the table. "I kind of envy him. His room is in their barn, fixed up nicer than you can imagine, from scrap wood and stuff that Salvi got free from people he knows -- like that junker car. The cool part is that there isn't a lot of furniture, a lot of stuff to take care of, you know? Just his bed, a dresser, a tiny table and a chair. And one electrical outlet. What I envy is that -- well, that's all he needs now."
Gloria shook her head. "He thinks that's all he needs. Wait until he catches a cold, or needs new shoes, or falls for some girl, then living like a monk won't be so appealing."
"And what if the girl is Salvi's sister, and she doesn't need a whole lot of impressing anyway?"
"Are you serious?" she hissed at him. "He's in love with Salvi's sister and he's moving in with her family?"
"No one said anything about being in love. But she's really pretty -- has eyelashes about an inch long, and she looks at Will like he was some kind of hero. My guess is that he'll notice that pretty soon, if he hasn't already."
"God, this is insane. Mom's going to freak out. I'm freaking out, and I knew he really liked working on the farm."
"Yeah, about Mom ... she's due home pretty soon. How are we going to handle telling her?"
"I don't know what the right way to tell her is," Gloria said tiredly. "And I don't think there is a good way to tell her that her son has moved out." If she even would notice that he was gone. Hey, Mom, did you know Will moved out of the house last Tuesday? "Unless you want to be in on the anger and accusation, which there is going to be, without a doubt, you can hole up in your room until she calms down a little. I can handle it. I pretty much have to."
Ben nodded. "You take the first explosion, then I'll come out and let her lecture me for a while. Got it."
"I still doubt that Will has moved out permanently ... what do you think, can we just say that he's moved out there until Salvi and his dad get back?"
He grinned evilly. "There you go. And when Will shows up for a visit, he can be the one who tells her he's not coming back. That sounds like a solution to me."
Gloria laughed, a snorting bitter chuckle. "Outsmarting Mom and getting Will in trouble -- we've been practicing for this all our lives. Too bad we don't have any sodas, I could mix Mom a vodka drink to mellow her out."
"Oh, we do," Ben said. "I have a personal stash for special occasions. From my income as a can-and-bottle scrounger. I can lend you one."
With no more discussion, Gloria opened the top cupboard and got the bottle of Smirnoff's and a glass.