I Love You Becauseby_Lynn_©
Note from Jake Rivers
This is my sixth semi-annual "invitational". The initial one was based on the Statler Brother's song, "Bed of Rose's". The second used the Marty Robbins El Paso trilogy: "El Paso", "El Paso City", and "Faleena". The third had stories based on the various versions of "Maggie May" or "Maggie Mae". The fourth invitational was based on any Country & Western song and the fifth on songs by Merle Haggard.
The current invitational is based on any song written or performed by Willie Nelson.
I've chosen "I Love You Because" that Willie Nelson, among others, sang. Thanks for reading this fictional story, and know that I appreciate all your votes, comments and feedback.
Trying was useless, and Wade understood that. As a young boy, he'd tried to behave only to have his mama whip him so bad the bruises stayed for a month. By twelve, his attempts to stay away from trouble resulted in broken arms and ribs. Before he was nineteen, he had given up all efforts.
It wasn't long before his so-called friends talked him into a crime spree. For fifteen years, he'd been behind bars more than on the street. Each time he'd tried to turn his life around, something knocked him back down. With his latest boss stomping through the warehouse aisles now, Wade knew nothing had changed.
"Flynn, yer fired. I warned ya ta keep yer hands clean. Git yer stuff outta the locker room'n git ta the office fer yer pay. See if'n I hire me another con agin," the pudgy man yelled. "Yer all worthless. They aughta' put all yer sissy asses in'a room an let ya fu—"
Wade didn't stick around to listen to the rest of the man's tirade. He'd heard the same thing before anyway. The bored redhead sitting in the dingy office figured out his hours, taking her time to write out a check, daring him to complain. Tossing it his direction, she picked up her nail file and turned her back to him.
Check in hand, he walked out.
"God damn this town! There has to be somewhere better than this!"
Eyeing the almost empty gas gauge, Wade decided there was enough to make it to the run-down trailer park across town. He'd cash his paycheck and put some gas in the truck in the morning, then hunt for a new job.
Stale cigarette smoke, old beer, body odor and cooking grease mingled to leave a horrid stench. The rickety screen door sprang back on its rusted hinges as he went inside. A judge berated those in her courtroom on the old TV in the corner. Piles of clothes, clean and dirty, littered the worn carpet and hid the recliner. Torn cushions covered the sagging sofa. This was his reality; what he called home.
"Ain't time ta be home," a raspy voice shouted from the corner.
"Short shift today, Lou," Wade replied, kicking aside an empty pizza box on his way to his room.
There was no reply, nor did Wade expect one. The old man had already gone back to watching his television show. His mother's third husband, Lou had taken him in when there was nowhere else to go. She'd died in a car accident while Wade was in prison, and he had no siblings. It wasn't as if he didn't pay more than his share though, Wade thought as he closed out the noise and stench.
Dozing on the lumpy mattress, the unmistakable rumbling of a train woke him. He waited for the whistle, knowing it would be next. The tracks ran right next to the trailer park, a perfect view from his window.
Today he wanted to pack a bag, run alongside the slow-moving train, and hop into one of the empty cars. Visions of the bums he saw as a kid made him smile. Where would he end up? Would anyone miss him? The desire to leave was so deep, he found himself starting to sit up.
"Ah hell, I can't leave Lou," he muttered, resigned to staying.
The clanking of the wheels was almost hypnotic, and Wade fell asleep before the caboose chugged past his window. A cool breeze floating across his face woke him during the night. His alarm clock showed ten after three, yet Wade swore he heard the television.
"Now he's falling asleep in front of the damn thing? What next?" he whispered into the darkness.
Knowing it wouldn't do any good to wake the old man to get him to move, Wade rolled over and ignored the sounds. It was close to ten before he made his way into the cluttered living room the next morning.
"Lou, you need to get up and have some breakfast. It's time for your pills."
Wade touched the old man's shoulder, recoiling in shock. His skin was gray, mottled, and cold. Feeling for a pulse, he found nothing. The sounds of a morning game show droned on in the background, reminding Wade how he'd heard the TV during the night. Now it was obvious why. After dialing 911, he sat on the filthy sofa and waited.
He watched as they lowered the wooden casket into the ground a few days later. The pastor nodded and mumbled his sympathies before escaping into a blue mini-van. Any other time, Wade would have chuckled at how the man went out of his way not to touch him. Today, he just didn't care.
Slamming the door of the old pick-up, the words bubbled up in his chest. The last thing that had held him to this judgmental town was gone. Pulling out of the cemetery, Wade grinned for the first time in years.
It took less than a week to tie things up after his stepfather's death. The few items that weren't trash went under the topper of his old truck. Inside one of the storage containers, he'd hidden the lock-box that held the small amount of money he'd saved over the years. The total wasn't much, but it was a start.
Wade left the next morning, following the road to an unknown destination. He just knew that for the first time in years, he felt alive.
"Mr. Flynn," the dark-haired woman standing in the doorway said.
Holding his fingers up to get her attention, Wade stood.
"Follow me this way, please."
They stopped at a small office where she pointed to an empty seat, then slid behind the desk and sat down.
"My name is Suzanne Harwood. I'll be your new parole officer, Mr. Flynn."
Hearing those words coming from this woman somehow embarrassed Wade. The long list of misdemeanors and other offenses projected the image of a hardened criminal. He'd been on the wrong path for years, and deep inside he knew it.
Only half listening to her speech on the rules for reporting in, he tried to visualize a life without all the crap in his past being an issue.
"Do you have any questions, Mr. Flynn?"
"Where's the local employment agency?"
He watched as she scrawled something on his paperwork before replying. "I've already set up an interview for you at one of the local factories. They're looking for second-shift help, a straight forty-hour week."
"Thanks, appreciate it," he replied.
"It's just something I do, Mr. Flynn. I'll expect a report within two days on how the interview went. Here's the form, you can drop it off up front once you've completed it. Is there anything else?"
Shaking his head, Wade took the papers and stood. As with all his parole officers lately, he felt as if he left her office dirty when he walked out. He hated it and longed to know what it was to be clean.
His back ached and his feet burned. It was his third day at his new job and Wade hated it. The building didn't have air conditioning, and all the machines put out an exorbitant amount of heat. Yanking the lever to keep the production belt moving along, he felt the pull on his muscles and winced.
Sweat poured off his face and ran down his neck, saturating his collar. Even though he'd guzzled a bottle of water during his last break, his mouth was still parched.
Glaring at the over-weight shift manager as he tossed orders around from his glassed-in office, Wade wished he could just walk away. Already his past was out all over the factory, despite the promise of confidentiality on their employment forms.
"Boss wants ta see ya. I heard he's been missing his girl."
The voice came from his right, an unspoken challenge in it that Wade knew well. Reigning in his temper, he took off the heavy protective gloves and turned.
"Hope ya like em big."
Three steps took him within inches of the sneering co-worker. Wade didn't say a word, but he didn't have to. His fierce glare wiped the look from the man's face. Waiting until the bully moved back, Wade smiled at him and went to see the manager, knowing the outcome even before he got there.
The quaint town of Boden wasn't any better than the one he'd left. But it was as far as his old truck had taken him before it gave out.
Knocking on the rusty door, Wade shook his head at the piece of cardboard taped in the middle of it. The word manager printed in black marker was faded and stained from what he assumed was years of hanging there.
"Yep, bout time ya got yer ass up here, now git it inside."
Stepping inside the stuffy office, Wade felt his stomach lurch. Foul body odor and nauseating cigar smoke assaulted him and almost choked off his air. Years behind bars taught him how to project a blank look, and he called on that skill now.
"Yer not keepin' up, boy. All them machines down there need men runnin' em, not wimmen. Ya bin a wommen a time er two, eh girlie?"
"Sir, I'm working hard, but I've had to learn how to run the equipment on my own," Wade replied.
"Whatcha sayin' girlie? We ain't done takin' time ta teach ya'?"
"I understand everyone is busy."
"We don't gotta be busy. That's why we gots ya girlies fer," the boss said.
Wade just stood there, knowing that nothing he said would be satisfactory. He waited while the sloppy middle-aged man scrounged around in a drawer, an unlit cigar dangling between his lips.
"Take yer sissy ass and git. We don't need no girlies here. Git!"
Knowing better than to argue, Wade walked out, never stopping until he was at his front door. Exhausted from the heat and the two-mile trek, he stripped and stepped into the shower. The cool water helped revive him, as did washing off the filth from the factory. He slipped on a pair of boxers and flopped onto the bed for a nap, not waking until eight the next morning.
After a light breakfast, he showered and then called Suzanne Harwood. She made room in her schedule to see him at two that afternoon, so the call was short. Grabbing a can of beer, he turned on the old television he'd taken from Lou's place and spent the time watching game shows.
"Mr. Flynn, come on back," Suzanne said, recognizing the quiet man waiting for her.
Once in her office, she sat down and pulled a file in front of her.
"Why don't you tell me what happened?"
"There isn't much to say. The guy let me go," he replied, not looking at her as he spoke.
"Did you get paid for the time you were there, Mr. Flynn?"
"I'll speak to them and see that it's mailed to you."
Wade nodded, but he knew from experience that after what happened yesterday, word would be all over town not to hire him. His past never went away, no matter how hard he tried to do right, and Wade was getting tired of it all.
"Those dumb asses at the factory will make sure nobody will talk to me, Mrs. Harwood. They'll spread all sorts of rumors until I won't even be able to buy a loaf of bread."
Suzanne studied the man across from her, frustrated at the limitations the system placed on her. Her instincts told her that all he needed was a break.
"Mr. Flynn," she replied, her voice going softer, "Wade, I'm willing to help you, but you have to talk to me."
"Can you find another job for me?"
"I'll see what I can do for you, but it might take me a day or two."
"I can live with that."
"Let me do some checking and I'll call you with what I find."
"Thanks Mrs. Harwood," he replied.
Deep in thought, Suzanne leaned back in her chair and chewed on the tip of her pencil. Yes, the man had a record. That much was obvious. But had anyone taken the time to look at the person inside and explore the real Wade Flynn? Still going over his file half an hour later, she doubted anyone had done more than the minimum their job required. She decided it was time for that to change.
It took a while to accomplish her goal. Just before five o'clock, Suzanne received the confirmation she'd hoped. After adding a few notes to the paper in front of her, she closed her office and went home.
Television was on, but Wade wasn't watching it. His mind wandered to his meeting that afternoon with his parole officer. Compassion filled her brown eyes, and he'd struggled to keep a nonchalant attitude. It was new for him, finding someone that seemed interested in helping him. However, he wasn't betting anything much would come from it until he had some proof either. Pushing the off button on the remote, he went in to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
A brisk walk helped Wade burn energy again the next morning. The neighborhood was waking, with kids carrying lunch pails on their way to school, anxious parents waving, and the hint of cooking breakfast wafting through the air. It all looked so normal to him, yet he wondered when his life had ever been even close to anything like this.
When he got back to his apartment, he showered and then sat out on the front steps. Too many years of being inside left him with a craving for fresh air.
"You must be the new guy."
Wade turned at the voice that broke into his thoughts, unaware anyone else was around.
"I heard someone new moved in next door again."
"Yes," Wade replied, not giving away any information.
"Don't you work? Oh, I bet you do one of them night shifts," the old man standing there said.
"No, I don't do a night shift."
Before he had a chance to say anything more, Wade's cell phone rang. Picking it up from the step next to him, he flipped it open and spoke into it.
"Wade? This is Suzanne Harwood. Could you stop by in about an hour? I have some information to go over with you."
"That's fine, I can be there. It's a short walk, so that's not a problem."
"What happened to your vehicle?"
"The junk I had stopped running just as I came into town looking for a place to get lunch. It wasn't worth fixing," Wade explained.
"I'll see you in an hour, Wade," she said, then hung up.
Snapping the phone shut, Wade turned to see the man still standing in the same place.
"You're walking all over town?"
"Yeah, my truck gave out," Wade said. "Excuse me; I have an appointment in town."
Wade went inside, unsure about the neighbor he'd just talked to. He seemed harmless enough, but others in his past had too, only to backstab him later.
While rinsing off, Wade realized he was finally adjusting to enjoying a shower instead of rushing. Losing that luxury all too often in prison, he knew he'd never take it for granted again. Making a mental note to do some laundry soon, he pulled on a pair of jeans and the last clean dress shirt. With only two pair of shoes to choose from, he slid the best ones on and called it good.
Suzanne couldn't pick just one thing about Wade Flynn that made him stand out from the other eight men in the waiting area. Ex-cons all had a similar look, she'd discovered over the years. Yet, he had something else.
"Wade, I'm ready for you."
Whispers and chuckles followed Wade as he left the room. He had a good idea what the others were thinking. Suzanne Harwood was the only female parole officer at this location, and took a great deal of ribbing. He'd always respected women, but not all men did.
"Ignore them, Wade. In my position, you get used to it."
Confused as to how she knew what he was thinking, he opened his mouth to speak.
"You clenched your fist," she said, pointing to his side. "Now then, I made several calls yesterday after you left. What do you think about working on a construction site?"
"That's good. I mean, how you noticed that."
"I see many things, probably more than you want me to, Wade."
"No, you just think you do. No one sees what I don't let them," Wade replied.
"You think so? Care to try me on that?"
Tipping his head as he contemplated her questions, parts of his past ran through his mind. He pictured his ex-wife, her long brassy red hair and cheap perfume. She always either had a cigarette or a beer in her hand, Wade remembered. Comparing Suzanne Harwood's classy business suit with Lucy's revealing mini-skirts and tube tops was a joke.
"All right," he said, hoping he didn't regret his decision.
Suzanne stood and stepped from behind her desk. Moving a stack of books from the chair next to Wade, she sat down and faced him.
"Your file gives me the basics of your record, Wade. It's the man here," she said, tapping his chest, "that I see parts of."
Wade wanted to tell her it was all a joke. He needed to hear what she was going to say.
"All those years that your mother physically abused you, she never understood that you just wanted her to love you, to see the good in you. No matter how hard you tried to do the right thing, it backfired on you. Every attempt to turn your life around went wrong. Until this mask covered the real you from the world. Your pain is deep, Wade. It's been eating at you for years, until you don't even know what it's like not to carry it around with you."
"All good guesses, Mrs. Harwood, and they could fit any ex-con."
"You just want a break, don't you Wade? For someone to forget that you have a record, and let you start fresh. Almost like a new life," she said.
He looked into her brown eyes and saw the truth. Suzanne Harwood wasn't guessing. Some uncanny sixth sense gave her the ability to get inside him.
"I've done my time, Mrs. Harwood. Why can't people just let my past go, and give me time to prove I've changed? How do I ever get ahead if no one lets me try?"
"Wade, this job I have lined up for you. I promise they don't care about your past. It's not an issue with them. They won't treat you as a lower-class citizen, nor will they be looking for reasons to fire you."
"How can you know that?" he asked.
"There's a new subdivision going up just north of here. Right now, there are several homes in various stages of completion. First, I talked to Nelson Strassburg, the primary investor. After getting the okay from him, I called Cody Baxter, who's the head contractor for the project. I have firm commitments from both men they'll hire you."
"Construction isn't one of my skills, Mrs. Harwood."
Reaching over and pulling a paper from her desk, she handed it to Wade."I think these are."
Scanning the list took several minutes. "Who would I report to each day?"
"You'll get a worksheet with the basics on it once you start."
"How many others will be doing this? I mean, there must be someone watching me, right?" he asked.
"You'll be on your own. It's up to you to figure out the best routine for getting it all done."
"How far away is it from my apartment? I'll have to see if there's a bus stop close by."
"Check the bottom of the list, Wade," Suzanne said, grinning.
He ran his finger over things like picking up scrap lumber, accumulating extra siding for recycling, hauling sod and numerous other tasks until he stopped at the last item.
"A truck?" he asked. The thought was incredible to him as he just stared at the paper.
"Yes, it's a company vehicle."
"You hardly know me, Mrs. Harwood."
"I have faith in you. Don't prove me wrong. Cody said someone would contact you in the next day or so about getting the truck to you. Today is Thursday, and you don't have to start until Monday. Did you have any questions?"
"Is this really part of your job? I mean, none of my other POs ever went this far," he said.
"I see the good in you, Wade. Maybe I did a bit more than my job requires, but is that so bad?" she asked.
Words didn't come out, as Wade tried to find the right thing to say. Nothing fit, so he just stood and reached out his hand. It was a gesture he hadn't made in his other appointments with his parole officer, though she had attempted it in the beginning.