Sunday, June 19, 2022



    Chapter 18

After their long walk from the south-side neighborhood and a quiet lunch, taking in the ‘highlights”’of downtown Tanner was not a particularly daunting task. From Water Front Park, through a couple malls in the compact business district, and beyond to the State Capital Building and its surrounding grounds was little more than half a mile. Including a quick tour of the Capital itself, they covered it all in an hour and a half.

With those sights behind them, Antonio steered Delaney to the shade of Courthouse Park. There, on the grass across the sidewalk from the ornate fountain, he asked timidly, “Well, what do you think? How does it stack up with what you’re used to?” He watched as she bit her lip, probably to keep from laughing out loud. “It’s not much, is it?” he finally said through his grin.

Stretching out on the sweet-smelling grass, Delaney looked up at the sea of tree tops surrounding them, searching for a civil way to frame her critique. 

“Well, I saw the tallest building in Tanner, at least that’s what my guide told me. It was what, ten stories high? I’d have to say that in the real world that’s not much, kind of like a pimple or something.”

“Come on, this is the real world. This is Tanner. And remember, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in heart.”

“Yeah. Right.” Pulling herself to a sitting position, she wrapped her arms around her knees. “But I will say I saw a couple coffee houses that looked sort of promising, like they might be my kind of places. Though of course I’d have to come back some night to hear their sounds before I could say for sure.

“As for the skateboard park down by the bridge, the one you said was one of the best around, that was pretty lame.” There was no holding back her laughter. “They were wannabes, for Gods sake. If you set them down in Venice they’d find out in a hurry how really-bad dudes work their boards.”

“Don’t kid yourself. There are some ‘really bad dudes’  hanging out there, and at the other park too for that matter. They may not be the greatest boarders, but some of them are seriously bad. Those parks are not good places for a nice girl to be on her own.”

“A ‘nice’ girl?” Delaney repeated. It was not a label she was willing to accept gracefully? “Who says that’s me?”

“Come on, California. That was supposed to be a compliment.” 

Pushing himself up on one hand, Antonio was assembling what seemed to him an appropriate response, and wondering if he had the right to be so blunt. 

“Look,” he said. “I’ve known girls like you before, the ones who want folks to think they’re tough. To tell you the truth, that doesn’t look so good on you.”

Her silly grin was gone. Delaney seemed to have suddenly turned quite serious. “Mr. Calle, I’ve grown up around the most macho bad guys in L.A., the baddest of bad dudes. I know all about them. Don’t you doubt that. The thing is, I am tough. I’ve had to be. It’s not an act. Skateboard outlaws don’t scare me a bit.”

By then her grin had returned. “But walking home, going uphill all the way, that has me wondering if I’ll make it.”

He stood, brushed loose grass from his jeans and offered her a hand. “We’ll make it, even if I have to carry you, which I don’t want to do. Just remember, it’s not a race. We’ll just take our time.”


They started south, toward the sprawling Tanner Hospital complex, then on to the oak-shaded greenness of Granger Hill Park. There they paused for a few minutes to watch a pair of frisbee-catching dogs put on a show. All the while their sparse conversation was a matter of quiet, unobtrusive small talk until, as they left the park and started up the first long hill Delaney was asking her next question.

“Earlier you said something about having a business....besides mowing lawns. Is that right? What’s that about?”

A few strides later Antonio offered his succinct, understated reply. “Digital photography.”

“What kind of photography is that? What do you mean?”

“That’s what my business is about,” he said. “It’s what I do. I take old pictures, and photo albums, and slides....stuff like that. I scan them into my computer. Then I edit them, touch them up a bit, and copy them onto a disc. If a customer wants, I can create a slide show, one that they can watch on their TV. Or I can make hard copies of their pictures and put together a new album.”

“And there’s enough of that to make a business?”

“Oh yeah. You wouldn’t believe how many folks have books and boxes of old photos and slides they never look at, mostly because it’s too much hassle. Lots of times they don’t even own a slide projector anymore. 

"My job is to make it easier for them. At the same time it’s a good deal for me....something I can do at home, working nights and weekends, whenever I have a few hours. I’m hoping I can make enough at it to get me through college.”

They walked on in silence, while Delaney continued the imperfect process of fleshing out a mind picture of her new friend. It was not an easy thing....selecting the shapes and colors from which to construct a mental image of someone she hardly knew.

On the sidewalks of Venice Beach she had learned to rely on gut-level intuition to create those impressions. There, like most of her friends, she had favored guys who were at ease around girls, yet able to hold their own in the competitive universe of aggressive young alpha males.

By that yardstick it was hard to know how Antonio Calle might measure up. True, he was dark and good looking, better groomed than the average California guy, and certainly more deferential to adults. Beyond that he seemed at ease with her, without being overly interested in making an impression. 

But he was short, not much taller than her, and rather thin. What did that mean when it came to looking out for himself. How would he deal with a pushy guy coming down on him. In what she considered ‘her world’ that was something worth knowing. 

So far her only clue was his pointed caution about hanging out around the skateboard crowd. On the surface he was looking out for her. Yet it seemed to her that his own uneasiness was not far below the surface. How would that serve him if ever push came to shove?

Finally, as they crested the first long hill, her thoughts returned to the present. “So you’ll be starting classes at the community college this fall,” she said. “While I’m dealing with Tanner Southside High, trying to get my senior year behind me.”

“You’ll like it. It’s a good school. Has lots of famous alums.”

“Like who?”

“Like me, of course. And your mom.”

The hills had grown steeper. Conversation was set aside as they marched on. Thirty minutes from downtown they were approaching the Padgett’s south-end neighborhood. Though Delaney was tired, it was a good tired. Moreover, she was enjoying the company of young Antonio Calle and the afternoon they had spent together. She could not remember being around a boy quite like him, with no apparent need to put on airs, so willing to admit what he was not.

Still, there were things about him that were not so easy to understand, such as his fiscal priorities. “You say you’re usually broke,” she observed, breaking a long silence. “But you’re saving for college and your photography classes. Wouldn’t it be more fun to use some of that money to live a little, maybe get a car? Most guys I know would say the wheels ought to come first.”

“How about you?” Antonio asked, glad to find she was still in a conversational mood. “What do you think is more important? How would you spend that money? You’ll have to decide that next year, won’t you? When you’re out of high school.” 

“First of all,” she laughed. ‘I have to get through my senior year. I’ve known a few kids who couldn’t get that done. It’s not a slam dunk, you know.... especially at a new school. Beyond that, I don’t know. My mom has already decided that I need to go to college, to get a degree of some kind. To tell you the truth I can’t see how that would help. It makes no sense to wait that long to start living your life.”

The boy walked on, chuckling to himself, wondering if being a year older gave him the right to be lecturing her like a parent. Delaney seemed to understand that her mother was right. He could hear that in her words. But would that be enough? Would she be able to make that her reality?

“You know damn well it makes sense,” he continued, hoping to downplay the parental tone. “Without more schooling of some kind, that ‘living’ you want to do will probably be pretty lame. Is there something you’d like to do when you grow up? Or will you settle for trapping some unsuspecting husband? Is that your idea of happily ever after?”

For the first time he had her hand in his as they crested the last of the hills, just two blocks from home “That is, of course,” he teased, “If you ever grow up. Either way, trapping a husband shouldn’t be too hard for someone like you. If that’s what you want.”

How about that, Delaney told herself, grinning as she looked down at their joined hands. The boy did know something about girls after all. A second later she turned back to his question.

“I don’t know what I’ll do, or what I want to do. Except it won’t start with ‘trapping a husband.’ I know that for sure.” Then, a couple steps later, “I don’t suppose ‘mall hopping’ qualifies as a career, does it? Anyway, you won’t have to worry about that. You’ve already got a head start with your business.”

“It’s a beginning,” the boy nodded. “And, I’m hoping the photography courses I’ll be taking will help me expand it. If I can earn enough doing that, I want to start working on an accounting degree. I’ve heard that guys get paid pretty well to keep track of other peoples’ money. That sounds like my idea of a career.”

Finally, on the Padgett front porch, Antonio was preparing to take his leave when Delaney decided she wanted his company a bit longer. “Why don’t you come inside for a second,” she suggested. “I’ll get us a glass of ice water. It’s a hot old day out here, and you still have to walk half the way back to town.”

In truth, it was not a hard sell....the ice water or her company. He followed her through the wide entry area and down the hall toward the kitchen, until she stopped so abruptly he nearly ran into her. Without a word the girl stood staring into the family room, taking in the pair sitting side by side on the sofa.

“Grandma? You came home.”

“So it would seem,” Nell Padgett replied. Her hand was resting lightly on her husband’s knee, offering an unspoken hint of marital accord. “Hello, Antonio. Dan tells me you were showing Delaney the sights of Tanner.”

“Yes, ma’am. I did. Though I’m not sure she was too impressed. Anyway, we had a good time. At least I did.”

“We did,” the girl nodded. “I was going to get him a glass of water before he starts home.” She nudged him toward the hallway, before turning back to add, “I’m glad you’re back.”

Together the young pair started toward the kitchen. By the time they reached the refrigerator he had hold of her hand again.

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