Friday, June 17, 2022


                          Chapter 17

Antonio had called the night before to confirm that Delaney was still in the mood for a walking tour of downtown Tanner. As before, he was certain she had never received an invitation quite like his. It felt as though he owed her a chance to change her mind. After all, she was a California girl and proud of it....self-confident, outspoken, and cute. That, in his mind, made her an unlikely candidate for a long walk with a lawn-mowing Hispanic guy.

Yet, in spite of his trepidation, Delaney sounded as enthusiastic as ever about seeing the ‘highlights’ of downtown Tanner. True, she had a few irreverent comments to register about what the town was likely to offer compared to her favored Los Angeles haunts. Perhaps she was daring him to prove her wrong. If so, it was a challenge he was willing to accept. He would be at the Padgett home by eleven o’clock Thursday morning. Delaney promised to be ready.

Then, on Thursday morning, Antonio called again with a new ‘heads up.’ He was running ahead of schedule and would be there by ten-thirty. When he rang the doorbell at ten-fifteen Delaney was laughing to herself. Apparently her new friend was eager for them to be on their way. Gathering her purse and sunglasses, she nudged him toward the family room, where her grandfather sat watching his stock-market show.

“Antonio’s taking me to town,” she announced. ”He’s going to buy me lunch and show me all the highlights of Tanner. So we probably won’t be gone long.”

“Just don’t be spending any big bucks,” Dan Padgett cautioned. “The market’s not treating us very well today.”

Delaney turned to Antonio to explain, “Don’t you be thinking I have anything to do with his silly stock market stuff. Grandpa sits there all morning, watching those silly screens with the numbers scrolling across the bottom....the ones that make me dizzy. He talks to himself and drinks his coffee, and sometimes sounds like he’s in pain. I just try to stay out of his way.”

“Don’t worry, sir,” Antonio said, aiming a soft jab at Delaney's shoulder. “This will be a low-budget affair. We’ll be doing lunch at a fast food place. But the tour itself will probably take longer than she thinks....partly because we’re walking, and partly because there’s more to see in beautiful downtown Tanner than she realizes. 

“She’s from California, you know,” the boy added. “I’m pretty sure she has no idea what real culture looks like. I’ll try to show her the best we have to offer.”

By then Delaney was tugging on his arm, pulling him toward the door. “Then lead on, dude. It’s time to put up or shut up. So cut the BS and show me what I’ve been missing.”

They started off down the gentle hills of the southern suburbs, the easiest part of their trek, strolling toward the central business district, which spread across a broad riverside plain. Fifteen minutes into their walk Antonio paused to point out a side street leading down the hill to their right.

“It’s four, maybe five, blocks down there to Southside alma mater and your school-to-be. After all your misspent years in those California schools, you’ll be able to tell right away that Southside is the real deal.”

“The real deal?” There was no holding back her laughter. “My God, Tanner kids wouldn’t know the ‘real deal’ if it fell on them.”

“You’ll like it. Trust me.”

“Actually, I’ve already seen it. My mom drove us past there last weekend. I thought it looked a lot like one of the correctional facilities they build in L.A. We call them ‘holding pens.’ I’d have to say I wasn’t overly impressed.” 

Seconds later she had remembered, “I’m supposed to stop by there sometime in the next couple weeks to get registered. This will help me find my way.”

“Just doing my ‘tour guide’ duty. If you’d like, I could try to get away and walk over with you. It wouldn’t do to have you get lost trying to find old Tanner Southside.”

A few blocks later Tony pointed off to their left. ”On the other side of that big church over there is one of the best skateboard layouts in town. There are usually some pretty-good skaters working out there.”

“I’ll have to judge that for myself,” Delaney said. “I know all about boarding. After all, we invented it. Remember? We have guys in Venice turning pro. I’ll have to check it out sometime. That’ll be one way to find out how Tanner stacks up.”

Antonio had her arm, tugging her on down the hill. “You let me know when you’re ready to do that. I’ll tag along, if you don’t mind. It’s kind of a rough place, with some pretty seedy characters. Not all of them are user friendly. I’m not sure you’d be smart to show up there alone.”

“Are you kidding me?” Delaney hurried to keep up. “When it comes to bad dudes and gangsters, we invented those too. I’ve hung out with them all my life. I guarantee you, no ‘seedy’ ole Tanner dude is going to spook me.”

The day was warm, even in the shade of the spreading trees that lined the sidewalks in the older parts of residential Tanner. By the time they reached the foot of the last hill, on the edge of the downtown business district, they were ready to rest in the welcoming, air-conditioned McDonalds.

“I think they put this place here just for us walkers,” Antonio observed as he held the door for her. “A cone or a coke usually sounds pretty good by the time I get here. I know it’s a little early, but today we’ll do lunch. Is that okay?”

“Are you sure? You were saying you’re always broke. I don’t want to dent your budget too bad.” Delaney paused, laughing softly. “That’s what Gary calls it. He’s my mom’s boyfriend, at least he used to be. When she goes a little overboard, like she does sometimes, he says she’s ‘putting another dent in the budget.’”

“I promised you a lunch, remember? And that’s what we’re doing. Don’t you worry about my budget, California Girl.” 

He was teasing in a quiet, easy-going way that made her feel good. “I may be thrifty. But I’m not cheap. Anyway, spending a few bucks to make the right impression seems like a worthwhile investment.”

“Oh God. You’re not one of those ‘investment freaks,’ like Grandpa. Are you?”

“Probably not like him. This is a different kind of investment. It’s too early to tell what kind of return to expect. But I’m willing to risk a few bucks to find out. Why don’t we take our lunch out back, to the patio.”

At a table on the far side of the shaded patio, Delaney was ready to address a couple of the questions she had gathered during their long walk. “Does everyone in Tanner walk to town? Or is this an ‘Antonio’ thing?” 

She paused, wondering if that was too abrupt. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s probably a good idea. I’m sure it’s healthy. But it does take a long time to get from one place to another.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “Especially with all the hills. Though coming to town is mostly downhill. You’ll probably notice the difference when we start back.” He was silent for a bit, concentrating on his burger, asking himself if he was about to sabotage his ‘impression making’ efforts. 

“Anyway, most of the guys around here have cars. Lots of the girls too. But I don’t. Neither does my mom. Our apartment is half a block from the bus stop. When we’re not walking, that’s how we get around.”

“No car at all?” Delaney’s incredulous frown nearly had him laughing. “I don’t think I’ve ever known a family that didn’t have any wheels at all. It sounds like you work at lot. Wouldn’t that pay for a car, or at least a bike?”

“Welcome to the real world, Delaney Padgett. You’re right. I do work a lot. So does my mom. In fact, she works three jobs. My little sister is sixteen, like you. She works all day at a daycare center. During school she’s there three hours every afternoon. As for a bike, I’ve had two of them. They got ripped off about as fast as I bought them. So I quit doing that.”

“And you mow lawns all summer?”

“Right. I mow lawns, and I run another little business. This fall I’ll start classes at the Community College.”

“And your dad?” She asked her question and waited for his response. The longer she waited the more it felt like one of those questions that should have been left unasked. 

“From what you’ve told me, I’m guessing that my dad must have been something like yours,” Antonio finally said. “He checked out a long time ago, right after Erica was born. Seems like he just kind of went missing in action. 

"I don’t remember him at all.” He looked up to notice Delaney nodding her understanding. “That leaves the three of us to look after ourselves. As long as we’re all working, we get by okay. There’s always food on the table.”

There was more he could have said. But, on second thought, why let a promising afternoon get bogged down in that kind of talk? Instead, he crumpled his burger and fry wrappers and set them on the serving tray. Seconds later she had done the same and he was tugging on her hand. “On your feet, California Girl. It’s time for you to meet Tanner, up close and personal.”


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