By Karen Singer
Chapter 9 (Part 2 of 3)
Roger’s day at school was almost normal… if you could call having to go to the men’s room to adjust bra straps a dozen times a day normal! Carol didn’t do or say anything in class to irritate him, other than to smile at him once in a while. And he thought he did a fairly good job of teaching all day. He even found the courage to announce a major test for next Tuesday to several of the classes, including Carols.
Two minutes after the last bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, he jumped when his cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Are you going to be long, Mr. Brinkley?” Mrs. Stokley’s voice asked. “You have a lot of materials overflowing the garage.”
Roger smiled. It sounded like everything he had ordered had gotten there. Well, he had called early enough. “No, Mrs. Stokley, it’s Friday. No meetings or students to work with after school today. I should be ready to leave in just a minute.”
“Good, Mr. Brinkley. Because I’m waiting out in the parking lot… and I see Carol coming out of the building now too. Pot roast for dinner tonight, Mr. Brinkley. I need to get back to the kitchen.”
“Pot roast!” Roger’s mouth suddenly began watering. “I’m on my way, Mrs. Stokley.” He closed his phone and grabbed his expandable bag, quickly throwing his books and materials into it. Then he half ran for the door. The fried chicken last night had been excellent… but pot roast was a rare treat!
There was a fairly stiff breeze blowing, although the sun was shining and the day had turned warmer than it had been for a while now. Mrs. Stokley parked his car in the driveway, well back from all the materials spilling out of the garage. Roger carried his case out of the car with him, but he set it down as he surveyed the materials in front of him. Despite his situation, he felt nothing but the thrill of expectation at seeing it all. It meant that he was about to start building something again.
“I checked off what I could on the invoice, Mr. Brinkley,” Janice told him, “but I’m afraid there are a few things that I couldn’t tell if they were what you ordered or not. You’ll have to check them. And that orange thing in the corner… I didn’t see that in the list the man showed me at all.”
“That’s the hoist from the rental company,” he explained. “They usually deliver a lot faster than the lumber company.”
“I suggest you get busy then, Mr. Brinkley. Time is wasting. I’ll call you for dinner.” What she didn’t add was that, unfortunately, Roger wasn’t going to get much work done tonight at all. She had other plans for him that couldn’t wait any longer.
Roger hurried into the house and found the work clothes he wanted amid the jumble of his things in one of the unfinished bedrooms. Reluctantly, he left his bra and panties in place. Since the weather was warmer and he would be working mostly inside, he opted for an old tee-shirt instead of the heavier warmer shirt he had worn the day before. Since he wasn’t planning on going anywhere, he wasn’t as worried about his bra showing under the shirt.
Once he was dressed, he surveyed the two rooms again. He had everything he needed to get started. He saw the hole in the floor where he had cut out the urine soaked subfloor last night. First things first – that hole needed to be fixed!
“Mr. Brinkley!” Carol yelled for the second time over the noise of his saw. The saw noise stopped and she tried for a third time. “Mr. Brinkley!” Finally he turned. “Momma says it’s time to wash up for supper.”
Roger smiled. “I can’t wait! It smells great!”
Carol wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know how you can smell anything in here with all the sawdust!”
He laughed as he removed his tool belt. “You get used to it.” A few minutes later, washed and ready, he entered the kitchen. Carol was already seated and the food was mostly on the plates again. Mrs. Stokley was pouring iced tea into his glass. “Thank you, Mrs. Stokley,” he said as he sat down. It all smells great!”
Mrs. Stokley put the pitcher of tea back on the counter and sat down. Following the example that she had set last night, Roger didn’t make a move to touch any of the food. He noticed that Carol hadn’t either. “Let’s bow our heads for grace,” Janice said. Her short prayer was the same as last night – minus the extended part about being grateful for being back with her daughter again.
Roger dug into the food on his plate. The roast was tender and moist and perfect. “This is wonderful,” he said with his mouth still full of food.
“Thank you, Mr. Brinkley,” she replied. But her eyes stayed locked on him. This was the first chance she had to see him today since he changed out of his school clothes into his work clothes. And what she saw bothered her. Somehow, the tee-shirt he was wearing showed off way too much of the manly body he had underneath. Yes, she could definitely see the outline of the bra he had on, but it did nothing to disguise his male shape. She tried eating a few bites, but she simply hated seeing so much masculinity at the table – right in front of her. “Carol dear, will you excuse Mr. Brinkley and I for a moment? We’ll be right back.” Roger was surprised. What was going on? “Come along, Mr. Brinkley. You can finish your dinner in a few minutes.”
Roger got up from the table and followed her into the unfinished room where all his clothes were. He watched while she searched through his clothes for a few moments, finally finding two pairs of socks that were rolled up into balls. “Pull your shirt up, Mr. Brinkley.” The moment his shirt was pulled far enough out of the way, she inserted each sock ball into the cups of his bra. “You can pull your shirt down now, Mr. Brinkley.”
Shocked and outraged, Roger pulled his shirt down. He now had two distinct bumps on his chest resembling breasts.
Janice smiled. “Much better, Mr. Brinkley. From now on, I’ll expect to see those little breasts on you whenever you’re working around the house here.”
Roger wanted to scream his indignation, but he was well aware that it would probably only bring him more misery. Feeling more than a bit sheepish, he followed her back to the kitchen where Carol burst out into a giggling frenzy the moment she saw him. Just great! He didn’t enjoy his dinner half as much after that.
As their dinner wound to an end, Janice looked to her daughter. “Carol, do you have any homework that needs to be done?”
“No, Momma. I did it all in study hall earlier.”
“Then you can do the dishes again while Mr. Brinkley goes back to work on your room.”
Carol sighed obviously. “Do I have to?”
“Yes dear, you have to.”
“I know I probably shouldn’t be mentioning this,” Roger suddenly found himself saying, “but I did announce a test in her class for next Tuesday.” Roger was surprised that he had found the courage to bring the test up. Hastily he added. “Of course, I know you’ll want me to give her a passing grade anyway, so I’m sorry I mentioned it.”
“No, Mr. Brinkley. I’m glad you mentioned it. Carol is in your class because she failed the subject last year and she didn’t do very well in math the year before either. I suspect that my situation is to blame of course, but I insist that she learn some subjects thoroughly. And math is one of those subjects.”
“Momma!” Carol protested. “But you know I hate math! Why can’t you just order him to pass me and leave it at that?”
“No Carol, and that’s final. From what you’ve told me, Mr. Brinkley here has been the first teacher you’ve had in a while to do anything at all to help you.” She looked up at Roger. “Mr. Brinkley, I’d like you to continuing giving Carol some extra help, perhaps a just a few minutes each evening after dinner. That shouldn’t take up too much time for either of you. And I will expect to see every test and quiz that she takes!”
Roger was very surprised. “I’ll be glad to, Mrs. Stokley. Um… we can start right now if you like.”
“A very good idea. And when you’re done, then Carol can do the dishes.”
Before anyone could move though, they were interrupted by the ringing of Roger’s cell phone. Noticing that both Janice and Carol were watching him intently as he pulled his phone out, he pushed the speaker button when he answered it. “Hello?”
“Roger?” An older woman’s voice replied. “This is Elaine Whittaker.”
“Yes, Mrs. Whittaker,” Roger replied. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, but I’m afraid that poor Frank has gone and nearly broken his ankle. He was out on the deck when one of the boards broke and his foot went right through it. Fortunately, it’s only a sprain, but the poor dear is in horrible pain.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Mrs. Whittaker.”
“We’d like you to come out and give us an estimate on a new deck as soon as possible. You told us last time that it needed to be rebuilt, and I’m afraid we can’t put it off any longer.”
“Uh… Mrs. Whittaker, I can’t do that right now. I’m sorry, but not only is school still in session, but now I have…” he looked at both Janice and Carol, “other commitments.”
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Whittaker replied. “Are you sure? We really don’t trust anyone else and I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of who to even call about it.”
“I can recommend Mike Clemmons. He’ll do a good job. Besides, he’s licensed and I’m not.”
“But someone like that will charge an arm and a leg. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
“I’m sorry, but like I said, right now I have… other commitments.”
With a large sigh, Mrs. Whittaker replied, “That’s so disappointing.”
“Yes, I know it is,” Roger replied, “for several reasons.”
When the call had ended, Janice was the first to speak. “You do work for others as well?”
Roger shrugged, “Sometimes. Mostly in the summer months when there’s no school.”
“And I take it you’ve worked for this Mrs. Whittaker before?”
“Several times. I think the last time was to repair a door that had come off its hinges.”
Janice nodded. “I’m sorry you won’t be able to help her this time, Mr. Brinkley. But right now, I’m afraid my needs have to come first. And your top priority is to finish those rooms… right after you help Carol with her math.”
With a nod, Roger went and got his expandable case while Janice went to her bedroom – and Carol fumed at the kitchen table.
Janice pulled out her cell phone and phoned the foster home. “Hello, Mrs. Faye? This is Janice Stokley. I just wanted to tell you that since it’s Friday night, I’ll be bringing Carol back a little bit later. Will that be okay?” She listened for a few moments. “Thank you, Mrs. Faye. We’ll, see you later tonight then.” She hung up the phone. Things had to look perfect!
She went back to the kitchen and watched as Roger worked with Carol on one of the problems. “Good! You’ve got it,” he said as she finished. “See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
Carol shook her head. “Maybe not. But it’s still confusing.”
Roger smiled. “You’ll get it. It just takes practice.”
“Are you finished yet?” Janice asked. “Mr. Brinkley has a lot of work still to do.”
“We’ve just finished now, Mrs. Stokley,” Roger said as he started shoving his things back into his case. He got up and headed back toward the unfinished rooms he was working on.
Janice followed him. “I appreciate you taking an interest in Carol and helping her,” she said as soon as he reached the work area.”
Roger looked at her, not happy at all. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it,” he replied with more than a bit of frustration. He thumbed the bumps sticking out of his chest for emphasis.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brinkley, but desperate times call for desperate measures. And I’m afraid you are simply caught in the middle.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it!”
“No, it doesn’t. And I don’t expect you to.”
Roger searched for something else to say. “You know, I believe your daughter is really very bright… much brighter than her grades reflect. I think that somewhere along the way she’s had some bad teachers who not only couldn’t teach, but I think they actually did more harm to her understanding of the subject than good.”
“That, plus all the legal proceedings against me, Mr. Brinkley. It all hurt Carol very much.” She smiled, but it was a cruel smile. “And now we have you to help us fix all that.” She turned and walked out on him then, leaving him to get back to work.