The City Council had approved Lane's audacious dream ......now they must secure the Mission House Board's okay. At least things were moving in the right direction.
It was just after three o’clock on Friday afternoon, scarcely a minute into his afternoon break. Already Lane was in the hallway outside the break room with Billy’s cell phone in hand. He had spent the entire week waiting for that moment....and the good news he hoped Maureen Kenyon had for him.
“Did the Council pass it?” he blurted out when he recognized Maureen’s voice. “Did they give you the okay?”
“Slowdown,” she cautioned. “Take a deep breath and let me explain.”
Maureen closed her office door and settled into her chair, knowing that her immediate task was to buy another few days of waiting from her anxious friend.
“The City Council did approve the plan. That means it’s up to the Mission House board now. Erin Brock is drawing up an agreement for them to review at their Tuesday meeting. We should know by......”
“So I could head back to Tanner this weekend?” Lane interrupted. “Right? I’m sure I could find a ride.”
“Lane. Will you just hold on?” Maureen laughed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We need to wait a couple days to be sure our board accepts the City’s terms. I’m sure they will. I don’t expect any glitches. But until everyone signs off, it’s not official. And once that’s done I’d need to run it by Mr. Barrington....to be sure he’s okay with it.
“I can’t be responsible for you quitting a good job and giving up a steady paycheck, then find out we couldn’t get an agreement. Why don’t you call me Wednesday afternoon. I should know by then.”
Of course Lane waited. What else could he do? It would be another dreary weekend....giving thanks for the growing roll of twenty-dollar bills stashed in his suit case and wishing he was home with Marla.
Reluctantly, he settled instead for a Saturday afternoon phone call, a few hurried minutes spent trying to tell her how he felt, knowing the sound of her voice was not enough to dull his sharp-edged longing.
He wanted to tell her of the warm and welcome changes in store for them, awaiting only Maureen’s formal confirmation. Maureen, however, had asked him not to tell anyone about what might be. In fact, it sounded as though she had something more in mind....her own way of announcing their grand plan.
So he kept what he hoped would be the good news to himself and returned to the packing shed on Monday....trying his best to concentrate on the passing stream of pears and apples and looking forward to Wednesday, when hopefully Maureen would have her answer.
“Did it pass? Is it finally a go?” Lane’s urgent questions spilled out at the first sound of Maureen’s voice when she answered his Wednesday afternoon phone call.
“Slow down,” she urged. “Give me a chance to explain. First of all, the papers are signed. And I’ve had a nice talk with Cat Barrington. He’s on board. He’s having ‘his people,’ that’s what he calls them, draft the paperwork for his part of the deal.”
“So everything’s ready?” Lane asked. “I can come home this weekend. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Can you get a ride to Tanner that soon?”
“You bet I can. I’ve been working on that. If I can’t hitch a ride, I can afford a bus ticket. Either way I’ll be there by Sunday afternoon.”
For a few seconds Maureen was lost in her spur of the moment planning. “Let me tell you what I have in mind,” she finally said. “If I came by your sister’s place Sunday evening, at say five o’clock, could you be there?”
“Sure. But why would you want to come to Sally’s? I don’t understand.”
“Humor me,” Maureen explained. “I like surprises. That lady friend of yours, I think you said her name was Marla....she still doesn’t know about this, does she?”
“No. You told me not to tell anyone. Besides, I wasn’t going to say anything until I was sure it would happen.”
“What if I was there to help you spring your surprise? Would that be okay with you?”
“I suppose so.” By then Lane was entertaining the possibility of his own, second surprise. “Have you talked to Robert about this?” he asked. “Does he know?”
“Of course not. Remember, it was just a crazy dream until yesterday. There’s been no time to tell anyone.”
“In that case, what if we tried for two surprises? That would be better than one, wouldn’t it? Could we do that? If so, I have something I’d like to run by you.”
A few minutes later his second call, this one to Joseph Ferry, confirmed Lane’s Sunday morning ride to Tanner. Then, with a special thanks, he returned the cell phone to Billy for the last time.
At eight-thirty Sunday morning Lane piled his duffel bag and backpack behind the seat of Joseph Ferry’s eighteen wheeler and the two of them started north on I-5. Just after two o’clock that afternoon Joseph coasted to a stop near the central Tanner interchange to drop Lane off.
Though the late morning drizzle had given way to a dark and threatening overcast, the rains held off long enough for him to make the brisk half-hour walk to Marla’s porch. By two forty-five he was knocking on her front door.
He had been planning his return for days. During their last phone conversation he had carefully avoided any mention that might have offered a clue. As far as Marla knew, he was scheduled to be in Medford for at least another two weeks, maybe more.
As expected, Marla was surprised. She took one look at him standing there in the doorway, let out a squeaky squeal, and asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you had another two weeks in Medford.”
Her next words were lost in Lane’s smothering embrace. A moment later her welcoming kiss reminded him how much he had missed her, and provided the obvious answer to her disbelieving question.
“What I’m doing, Ma’am, is coming home. I’ve been thinking about that for the better part of a month....about ‘home’ and who’s there. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being home was about being with you. So here I am.”
“That’s because it is your home, silly.” Marla tugged him inside and closed the door behind him. “Now take your coat off. Were you born in a barn?” She turned and walked to the kitchen to start a fresh pot of coffee.
Lane set his baggage against the end of the sofa. He was fishing through a side pocket of the backpack when she returned with her next question.
“Did you come up on the bus?”
“Nah. I hitched a ride. Walked over from the freeway.”
“And you’re home for good? You’re not going back?”
“Nope. I’m here to stay.” That was enough to earn him another warm kiss. Then, stepping back, he reached into his pocket. “Now close you eyes and hold out your hand.”
Marla did as she was told. A moment later she was squinting warily at the stack of twenty dollar bills he had placed in her hand.
“That’s what all this was about,” Lane said. “That’s why I spent four weeks living in a basement. There’s thirteen hundred dollars worth of twenties there.”
“Oh my. That is nice.” Her silly grin had returned. “I can’t say it was worth having you gone so long. But it’s certainly nice. You said when you left that you wanted to make enough to see us through until spring, when the farms start hiring again. This will go a long way towards that.”
He was laughing to himself as he pulled her close again, soaking up the affirming way she welcomed his affection....knowing the warmth of her had been absent for far too long.
“By the way,” Marla said as she returned to the kitchen to pour their coffee. “Sally stopped by a while ago. She asked me to come over later. About five, she said.”
“What’s that about?”
“I don’t know. But you can bet she’ll be surprised when I show up with you in tow.”
And indeed Sally was surprised....and Robert too. For a few seconds she stood in the doorway, wondering if his job ended, or if he had simply grown weary of being away from Marla? And why had he returned just then? Was it a matter of chance, or part of a more puzzling question?”
“I’m glad you’re back,” Sally told Lane when the four of them had gathered in the front room. “But I’ll admit, it feels to me like there’s something going on. Something I can’t quite put my finger on.”
“What’s that, Sis? Am I getting blamed again, when I wasn’t even here?”
“I’m not blaming you for anything. I’m talking about a phone call I got last night. A rather mysterious phone call. I didn’t understand it then. And I don’t understand it now.”
“What kind of call?” Marla asked.
“It was from from a lady I’ve never met. Her name is Maureen Kenyon and she works at the Mission House, the homeless shelter. She said she knew Lane and Robert, and that she wanted to come by here tonight to talk to me. And she wanted to be sure that you and Robert were here too.”
“She knows Lane?” Marla was growing more interested by the second. “Did she know that he’d be here?”
“She didn’t say,” Sally explained. “She said she was coming to visit with the rest of us.”
Suddenly, Lane was feeling their wondering stares. Why had Maureen put him on the spot like that? He had some idea of what she was up to, but there was no way he could tell them. She was the only one who knew for sure what came next.
“Look,” he said, “It sounds like Maureen has something to tell you. That’s got me curious too. So, if she’s coming over, why don’t we just wait and see. Let her tell us what’s it’s all about.”
Sally’s smug grin was leaking through. “You know what it is, don’t you? You know why she’s coming. And that’s why you’re here instead of in Medford. You never were a good fibber.”
“I do have an idea of what she has it mind.” Lane pulled Marla closer to his shoulder. “But that’s not the reason I’m here.”
“Okay,” Sally nodded. “It sounds like we have to wait for her. She said she’d be here by five. Let’s hope she’s on time. In the meantime, the coffee’s ready.”
Maureen Kenyon was not on time. By five-fifteen Sally had run out of small talk. Marla was more anxious than ever, wondering why a lady friend of Lane’s would be venturing out to their modest trailer park.
Meanwhile, Robert was settled silently on the couch, reading and rereading the Sunday classifieds, with Lane sitting across from him....doing his best to deflect their increasingly harsh stares.
On one hand he wanted to explain, or perhaps even apologize. But he had promised Maureen he would leave the explanations to her.
Finally, at five-twenty, a firm rap on the front door announced her arrival. With a quick glance in her brother’s direction Sally pushed herself off the couch and walked to the door. A few seconds later, after a muffled doorway introduction she led Maureen into the cramped living room, where the others sat waiting, wondering what came next.
For her part, Marla took a moment to study the woman who claimed to be Lane’s friend. She was not particularly good looking....rather short and stout, with straight graying hair. What she noted first, however, was the lady’s presence. She was smiling and confident, apparently comfortable in the company of strangers. Then, to Marla’s surprise, Ms. Kenyon’s first words were spoken directly to her.
“You must be Marla,” Maureen said as she sat down on the chair Sally had pulled from the kitchen table. “You’re the one who’s managed to keep things stirred up these last few weeks.”
“How have I stirred things up?” Marla turned to Lane, looking for a hint, something to explain the stranger’s odd introduction.
Maureen was holding up a hand, wanting to calm Marla’s anxious response. “Don’t worry, ma’am. I assure you, it’s been a good kind of ‘stirring up.’ In fact, I’m very thankful for the way it helped bring things together.”
Accepting the coffee Sally offered, Maureen returned to the business at hand, winning over Sally and Marla....overcoming their obvious skepticism.
“You see, ladies, I’ve known these two gentlemen for a while. They’ve been more or less regulars at the Mission House, especially Robert. And along the way I’ve learned a bit about them.”
She paused to sip her coffee as she gauged the women’s reaction. A second later she was again looking directly at Marla as she explained, “Somewhere along the way I heard that your friend, this Lane fellow, has a thing about paying his own way. Does that sound familiar?”
Marla was not sure what to say. Why would Lane have told a complete stranger something like that?
It took Maureen only a moment to realize Marla was not in a conversational mood. So she continued on her own. “I thought at the time, when Robert was explaining that to me, that it was a rather chauvinistic attitude. But apparently that’s the way he is.
“In fact, it was so important to him that he went off to Medford for a month to earn that paycheck, even when he wanted to be here in Tanner. By the time I sorted that part out I realized there was something, or someone, providing a serious motivation.”
Maureen’s smiling wink was meant to calm Marla’s not-so-subtle anxiety. Marla’s frown signaled its failure.
“The thing is,” Maureen continued. “I already knew a thing or two about Lane. In fact, one of the very first times we talked I came away wondering what to make of him. He was explaining why we ought to move our homeless friends into some of the empty houses in town. Do you remember when he was trying to sell that idea?
“Anyway, by the time I learned that Sally called her brother a ‘dreamer’ I knew what she meant. I’d already seen that part of him first hand. Then, when I heard why he wanted a job so badly, I put those two things together.
"Lane was a dreamer, who had a special reason for wanting a job. Not long after that, I learned something else.” Maureen was pointing a finger in Lane’s direction as she elaborated. “The guy is a heck of a salesman.”
Sally had listened politely to the woman’s recital, hearing her ramble on about Lane. There was nothing new in what she had to say. Everyone in the room knew what she was talking about. So why make such a point of it? Why now? And why there? It was time to be asking.
“I don’t understand,” she finally said. “You’ve come here to tell us that my brother is a little strange....and usually out of work? We know all that. So what are you driving at?”
“Then let me get to the point.” Maureen was grinning apologetically. “You see, I already knew that Lane was full of surprises....a bit different than the run-of-the-mill Mission House client. So I wasn’t totally shocked when he stepped forward with a new idea. We had just let the air out of his ‘empty houses’ dream. But instead of sulking, he was right back with a new, even grander, idea.
“By then I’d heard why he was so motivated.” She was nodding in Marla's direction. “He had a special reason to pay his own way.
"So I hinted to him that if he could pull off his new, seriously ‘dreamy’ scheme, he just might be creating a job for himself. That was something of a long shot, but it certainly got him pumped. By the time the dust had settled he had managed to do that, and more.”
Across the room Sally, Robert, and Marla were shaking their heads in unison, until finally Sally spoke up. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, or why you’re even here. Are you saying that Lane has made a job for himself?”
“That’s part of it,” Maureen replied, laughing to herself, knowing her audience had taken the bait. They were ready to listen. “But there’s more. Let me explain.”