Of course the City's attorney had not bought his hopeful "discrimination" story. That was not so surprising.
“Well, what did you expect the lady to say?” Sally looked up from the dinner casserole she was preparing. Wiping her hands on a dish towel she moved to the end of the breakfast bar, watching as Lane sank dejectedly into the sagging sofa.
“Did you really think she’d buy your silly idea.... putting homeless guys into empty houses?” They had hashed and rehashed all that before and still brother Lane seemed not to accept the truth of it
“She’s the City’s attorney," Sally continued. "Isn’t she? Did you expect her to go after the bankers and the real estate people? Besides, she’s not the one who makes the rules.
“Anyway, you told me yourself they’d never change anything,” she added. “You said those are the people who own the City government....‘Lock, stock, and barrel’ were your exact words. In that case, is she likely to bite the hand that feeds her?
“Those people, the ones with the money, are doing their best to turn a bad deal into something good for themselves, something profitable. I’m pretty sure a bunch of broke and rowdy fellows from the Bluff, who can’t afford to pay rent, are not their idea of ‘something good.’”
Neither Erin Brock’s blunt rejection nor Sally’s unsympathetic appraisal had changed Lane’s mind. At that point, however, he was not interested in repeating the whole of his logic, not after his sister’s abrupt dismissal.
“I really thought she’d at least consider it," he said. "To see if there was a way to have a trial run or something like that. If the people who would have to change their rules could see how it worked, you’d think that would make a difference.”
Wedging a pillow behind his head, Lane waved off the need for further explanation. “Anyway, it seems like I’m the only one who really cares that much. So let’s just forget it.” With that he closed his eyes and checked out.
No more that five minutes later his eyes blinked open with a new and different question. “We’re still having dinner here tonight, aren’t we? With Robert and Marla?”
“Of course we are. Why do you think I’m doing all this cooking?”
“Man. How does that guy rate? It seems like he’s becoming a regular customer.”
“Don’t you give me that,” Sally countered. “You’re the one who invited him the first time. Remember? That wasn’t my idea.”
Lane was laughing at his sister’s undisguised defense. “You’re right,” he admitted. “But that was the first time. You’re the one who arranged for the second and third dinners. And tonight? I hear this is supposed to be his reward for installing heat tapes. Of course the way it’s turned out, he’s getting his dinner before he does the work. How smart is that?
“I’ve probably seen the guy one or two times all week. But the way you talk he manages to stop by here just about every day for some reason or another. I wonder why that is?”
At the sink Sally had been sidetracked by pleasant recollections of an earlier time. How long had it been....probably fifty years or more....since her little brother had last teased her about a ‘boy friend’? Still, though she rather enjoyed Lane’s mocking attention, it was important that he understood her version of the truth about Robert and her.
“Of course he’s stopped by a few times,” she said. “He’s had to measure for the heat tapes and be sure that everything is ready for that.” Which raised another question. “I gave him the money to buy the tapes. He’ll be installing them tomorrow. I’m pretty sure he’s hoping you will help. Can you do that?”
Pushing himself off the sofa, in a matter of five steps Lane was in the kitchen, leaning against the counter as Sally rinsed out a mixing bowl in the sink. “How the heck can I give him a hand when I’m off helping Marla clean the doctor’s office? If you’ll recall, that was your idea.”
“You’re right. It was,” she teased. “Though it didn’t seem to take much arm twisting.
"Marla told me how surprised she was when you offered to help. ‘Right out of the blue,’ she said. About then she was grinning like a Cheshire cat. She couldn’t remember the last time a fellow had offered to lend a hand. Now, all of a sudden, you’re going to the food bank with her, then offering to help her with the doctor’s office.”
“Come on, Sis. You suggested I do that. It just seemed like I ought to lend a hand when I can. So I did. That’s all there is to it.”
“And you’re kind of looking forward to it.” She was trying to make contact with his downturned eyes. “Aren’t you? That’s why it took about two seconds for you to decide it was a good idea.”
“Come on. You made it sound like she could use the help.”
“Lane Tipton, don’t you be ducking the truth of it. She’s cleaned those offices by herself for months. It wasn’t about ‘needing’ the help. Though I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”
By then Lane was asking questions he found hard to answer. Why had he volunteered to help Marla? How many times had he warned himself not to get involved....ever. Still, the lady had doctored him when he was hurting, reluctantly perhaps, but effectively all the same. And what had he done in return? Not much, unless he stood to gain big points for pulling her little red wagon.
Returning to his original answer....he had offered to help because he owed the lady that much. Could that be considered ‘getting involved’?
From the kitchen Sally had noticed her brother’s obvious distraction. She knew him better than anyone, and had seen that look before. If he was unwilling to offer his thoughts she was not above asking.
“What is it? There’s something bothering you. I can tell. It’s no use sulking about it. Just tell me what it it.”
“It’s about money,” he said, realizing how surprising that must sound since he had no ‘money’ to speak of. “I’m just wondering how long we can afford to keep feeding Robert. I know you like him, and he’s helping out with the heat tapes and stuff. But it has to be expensive, all these meals and things. How long can we keep doing that?”
A second later Sally’s unsmiling reply signaled that she was setting sisterly love aside. “I can assure you that it has nothing to do with what ‘we’ can afford,” she offered in tones so chilling it had Lane shivering. “As long as ‘I’ can afford it I will choose how I spend my own money, and who it is I feed. Is that clear?”
Then, with a deep, defusing breath she tried for a lighter moment. “Just so you know, Robert stopped by with some salmon steaks his ex-brother-in-law had brought back from the coast yesterday. Along with the wine he is bringing, and my casserole, they will be our main course tonight. It’s been a long time since we had something that nice. I hope that’s okay with you.”
At that point Lane was in retreat, looking to escape the reality of sister Sally's high ground and his own unseemly pettiness. Of course she was right. How could he doubt that? The choices were hers to make and she was making them with no apologies. He reached for her shoulders and pulled her into a tight brotherly hug. Sensing her startled surprise, he stood with his chin resting on the top of her head, looking out the kitchen window as he offered his bemused apology.
“Damn it, Sis,” he half whispered. “This old world is so screwed up these days. There are times when I don’t know which way is up. Of course you’re right....about your money and Robert. He’s a hell of a guy. I just hope you two can work it out.”
Stepping back, he held her at arm’s length to explain through his embarrassed grin, “And if you can talk him into waiting until the afternoon to do the heat-tape job, I’ll be ready to lend a hand after I’m through helping Marla. After all, if he’s doing her place too, it seems like I ought to be giving him a hand.”