Chapter Thirty-two: Moving Day
The rain ebbed to a gentle shower, just enough to melt almost all the hail, then amped up to a soaking downpour. Maria used an umbrella to get to her car to leave for Mass.
Steve had his arm around Gloria as they saw her off from the porch. "I'm going to miss her, I'm going to miss your brothers, I'm going to miss you," he said, looking at the fallen branch across the street.
"I'm going to miss you, too, along with them. But you said it isn't a permanent move, just temporary."
"That's what I've been led to believe. Leonard Baker says he just needs to find out where the inventory glitch is occurring -- it's consistent but he can't figure it out. Might take me a couple weeks, maybe a couple months, I don't know."
"Or if Mr. Leonard sees your value, a couple years. To me, it sounds like a paper chase, and an on-site inspection. If shit was missing from the Baker kitchen, we would damn sure be on it with clipboards and eyeballs from morning until after the dinner cleanup."
Steve chuckled. "Exactly. That's exactly what I'll be doing."
"If it's just that, do you have to be doing it Monday through Friday, or could you be doing it Friday through Tuesday? If you've got a theft situation, it might be more likely happening on the weekend, when everyone is off."
"And then my schedule would coincide with yours ..."
"Yeah, you think?"
"You're as smart as your brothers, aren't you?"
Gloria elbowed him in the solar plexus, making him whoof in astonishment and distress. "No shit, Irving. If I couldn't stay ahead of those lice, I'd give it all up and become a ... oh, wow, I can't even name a job that's crummy. I almost said, 'a cleaning woman.' But that's what Mom did to make sure we stayed in our house and didn't go to a shelter. Or my mind darted to 'waitress,' but I'd gladly have done that, too. This whole economic crash-and-burn has changed the way I see just about everything."
"But its been good for your family, hasn't it? Of course, I didn't know you all before you started to work for the Bakers, but you and Ben and Will are happier than any other family I know, and uhh ... not as dysfunctional as a lot of other families I know." His face reddened. "That didn't come out right."
"Oh, I get what you're saying. We are doing better with our dysfunctions, thanks to me making peace -- at least for now -- with Mom. Will still has issues, but he's going to have to take care of that himself. And Ben is getting along, maybe even accepting Joe as part of the family. So am I, I guess. He fell for my mom, and he married her, and no one can turn back the clock ... he's a nice guy, from everything I've seen." She shrugged a little. "Feels odd to say that nearly losing your house and scrambling to stay afloat has been good, but you're right, it has been. We all had to -- I was going to say 're-evaluate' -- but we'd never evaluated our place and purpose and importance in the family dynamic in the first place, none of us kids. Never had to.
"Then suddenly, we all had a reason to get out there and grow up. We got ... bigger. Bigger than kids, bigger than suburbanites, bigger than anything we had imagined. I mean, I had no idea what I was going to do in life -- I went to college classes because that was what all the good high school graduates do, and although one particular class, one teacher, got me hired by the Bakers, I hadn't a clue that I wanted a kitchen to be my passion."
Steve laughed a little. "First time I saw you, I thought you were pretty," he said, "but after your first week, I peeked into the kitchen and your eyes were riveted on whatever it was that Maria was showing you, like you'd been weaponized. Then you looked up, and I could tell you didn't really even see me, you were still focused on your job; it was already becoming your ... passion. After that, I couldn't stop thinking about you."
"Well, here's a question for the future, Steve. Is it me or is it the passion that you have a thing for? Because the passion kind of shoves the me into the background. At this point, I'm not thinking about me, I'm so absorbed with the passion. The job I have, it's all I want to do. I feel like I want to be a kitchen spider, crawl up the wall and make my web there and guard it with my life."
"That's going to give me nightmares, Gloria."
"Maybe it should. Because that's how crazy I am about my job."
A low rumble grew louder from the street. A U-haul truck approached, came noisily into the driveway, and expertly turned to back up toward the porch. The driver's door opened, an umbrella popped out, and Lolo gracefully dismounted the truck and walked up the steps.
"Like my ride?" she asked, grinning.
"What is up?" Gloria cried. "You were going to work until nine tonight! Where's your car?"
"There was a big ice storm," she began.
"Yes, we were watching it here -- tons of sleet!"
"And some blessed dimwit was speeding in his Humvee on McHenry, lost control and hit a pole right in front of the dealership. Snapped it off at the base. Power went out, and PG&E said we wouldn't have electricity in the building until six. Boss told us to just go home, just come back New Year's Day at three. I get two days off! So I picked up my car, went to U-haul, got my furniture from the storage unit. I'll need a ride back to U-haul to get my car, but I'm not going to complain about a couple days off!"
"Total coolness, Lolo," Gloria said, hugging her. "Maria's at church, but Ben and Will are inside, playing with Maria's new TV."
"I'm going to get out of this war paint and salesman clothes and get real for the holiday," Lolo said, grinning. "See you in just a few."
They heard happy voices shouting greetings from inside the house. "Listen to them! God, just this morning she was like a basket case when we got to her place, that horrible place, and brought her here. Now she's ready to dance."
"I guess getting out of hell can do that for you," Steve muttered. "When I saw the pictures of that -- garbage pile of a house that she was living in, I did a computer search of possible apartments and rooms in the city, and there was nothing."
"No shit. That was what got me so wigged when I found out last September we would probably lose the house. There was just nothing."
"It's a sad world," Steve said. "Until you step inside this door." He led the way into the kitchen, where Ben and Will were talking over the table.
"We have a proposition for a plan," Ben said. "But we have to wait on Maria's return for permission to implement it."
"Sounds ominous," Steve noted.
"Probably seditious," Gloria stated, looking at her brothers' enthusiastic faces.
"It has to wait on Maria's return from church," Ben nodded. "But in the meantime, if we get a break in the rain, we can unload Lolo's furniture. I can't believe she loaded it all in the U-Haul by herself in this downpour."
"If you live alone, you have to only keep stuff you can move yourself, mostly," Lolo said, coming down the stairs minus makeup, dressed in plain everyday jeans and a sweatshirt. "I had Maria's son's help moving that sofa, but that was all. The rest, today, I could muscle up onto the truck by myself. I backed it up right to the door of the storage unit, so nothing really got wet. The table was a little bit of a wrestling match, but not something I couldn't handle."
"You could have called us," Ben told her.
"No, I couldn't have," she replied. "I begged for help once this morning, I had ... no choice but to cry out to friends for help. For this, for moving my junk, I can't, I couldn't ask for more help."
"Sure you could," Gloria said.
"No. This is my choice, to move here. It's the best thing that's happened to me in months. I could wait a while, get some little moving company to bring my stuff here, but I didn't want to. After that break-in, I felt like I needed to get back in control. Being a victim is sickening. I can't wait to wake up in my own bed, knowing that I'm safe, knowing I'm not going to have to worry about what's between the door to the house and my car."
Ben stood up. "Now that's timing. Listen -- the rain stopped. Come on, you older people, let's get Lolo's stuff."
"The bed's the biggest thing," Lolo said. "The box springs are easy but the mattress is a pain to lug."
"Just get it all inside before it starts to rain again. We can take our time with putting it in the rooms."
Before long, the five of them had everything piled in the space between the kitchen and living room. "Can we get the bed upstairs first?" Lolo requested. "I don't want Maria to come home and see bed-guts in her kitchen."
"Bed-guts," Ben repeated, trying the words on for size. "Now I'll probably never make my bed again without thinking that I'm covering up guts."
Ben and Lolo carried the box springs, Will and Steve the mattress, Gloria the bed frame. "Do you think you want your table in here, too?" Gloria asked Lolo. "You've got plenty of room. Or we can put it in the upstairs sitting room with your couch."
"Sitting room, I think. That way we can all use it when we like."
A small dresser and the table with two chairs were the only big things left. The rest was boxes, a few for the kitchen, the rest for the bedroom. "You don't have much more than I have in my little room in the barn," Will noted.
"I downsized last summer. There was a lot I knew I didn't need any more. Sometimes you just get tired of ... looking at things that ... no longer have a use, or that remind you of -- listen, guys, I want to make my bed, and that's something I don't do in front of men. Go have a nice break. Gloria can help me unpack."
As Lolo shut the door of her room, Gloria commented, "That was pretty smoothly done. For a minute I thought you were going to blurt."
"I'm not a blurter. But I didn't want to open a box and have to explain why I have a picture of your father in my stuff. And I can't remember exactly which box it's in."
"Then open these and find the picture -- just in case you put it in with the kitchen things and we have to kick my brothers out to go through them."
"Wait, it's this one. It has a 'T' on it." She pulled at the packing tape and opened the box. Nestled in with some sweaters was a portrait of Gloria's father in a glassed frame.
Gloria felt her heart lurch. It was a picture she'd never seen before; in black and white, her father was framed by a city street, snow falling, snow caught in his hair. He was grinning, plainly delighted by the weather.
"That's ... beautiful," Gloria whispered. "Did you take the photo?"
Lolo nodded, unable to speak.