I Love You Becauseby_Lynn_©
"I won't let you down."
Walking home, Wade saw nothing. He stepped around bicycles and toys and stopped at corners. If the old man living next to him hadn't spoken, he would have gone right past his apartment building.
"Sure is a nice day."
"Um, yes, yes, it is for sure." Wade nodded, and then turned up his sidewalk.
"You look like you had shocking news, boy."
Wade looked at the old man, and smiled. "I got a job."
"I should have known it was something like that. When you starting?"
"Monday, so I'll be hanging around here a few more days."
"Congratulations. A man always feels good about doing an honest day's work."
"Thanks. I agree on that one," Wade replied.
"Well, it's time for the news. I'd better get inside," the old man said.
"My name is Wade, by the way."
Grinning at Wade, his neighbor picked up his rake before speaking. "Call me Johnnie."
"Have a good night, Johnnie," Wade said as he opened the door to his apartment.
Lying in bed that night, with the euphoria of the day still with him, Wade realized he'd had a normal conversation earlier. Though it was short, he hadn't felt defensive with the elderly man this time. Offering his name was something new for him, too. It felt strange, yet it didn't seem wrong at all. Turning over, he pictured Suzanne Harwood and knew her faith in him was going to be a turning point in his life.
Saturday morning Nelson Strassburg dropped off a company vehicle. Even scratched and dinged, the five-year-old Chevy truck caught Wade's attention.
"Wade Flynn, thank you for this opportunity."
"Nelson Strassburg," he said, "glad to have you with us. Either Cody or I will make sure you get the right employment forms for tax purposes this next week. We used Suzanne as your reference, so that's all good. Do you need directions to the site?"
"They're on the paper from Suzanne, and I have an idea where it is. I thought I'd drive that way tomorrow, unless there's a problem with using the truck off-hours for it?"
"Go right ahead, Wade. We'll discuss more of this Monday, but by all means, use it tomorrow. If you need to do any errands, take care of those while you're out too."
"Thank you, Mr. Strassburg."
"Make it Nelson, all right? Sorry I can't stay, but my wife planned a party for our daughter's birthday, and I'm on the way to pick up tables and chairs. See you Monday, Wade."
The two men shook hands, and Nelson got into the car waiting for him at the curb. Keys dangling from his finger, the excitement bubbled over and Wade let out a whoop that echoed through the trees.
"You okay out here?"
"Johnnie, sorry if I disturbed you," Wade said when he saw his neighbor standing on the steps.
"It was time I woke up from my nap anyway. New wheels?"
"This is a company truck, from my new job."
"So you're working for Baxter Builders?" Johnnie asked, pointing to the lettering on the door.
Wade didn't really know who his true employer was, so he just nodded.
"That's a good company. They been around a long time," the old man said.
Wade only half listened as his neighbor talked about a subdivision built twenty years ago by Cody's father. A family business, the man passed it on to his son when he retired, according to Johnnie.
"Yep, a darn good company, boy." Johnnie smiled and went around to his workshop without another word.
Sitting behind the steering wheel, Wade touched all the buttons and knobs. He'd never had anything but old worn-out cars or trucks. Though this wasn't his, just being able to drive it each day was going to be a rare treat for him. After starting it up, he moved it into his assigned parking spot and pulled the keys out. The alarm beeped when he pushed the remote to lock the doors on his way inside his apartment.
The delivery of the company truck proved to Wade that the job was real, and not a dream. All along, he'd waited for someone to tell him it was a joke. It gave him the drive he'd lacked for so long. By dinnertime, he'd scrubbed his apartment, done his laundry, and made a grocery list.
Relaxing after a shower, he heard his cell phone ringing from where he'd left it on the kitchen table.
"Yes, hello," he said, not recognizing the feminine voice.
"It's Suzanne Harwood. I just wanted to check with you this weekend and see how you're doing."
"Mrs. Harwood, I'm great."
"Why don't you make it Suzanne when we're not in the office, Wade? You're making me feel every bit of my age," she replied, chuckling.
If any of the inmates housed with Wade over the years saw the way he blushed at that moment, they'd have teased him forever, and he knew it.
"I didn't mean—I was only—if you're sure."
"Yes Wade, I'm positive. Did I mention that one of the houses going up out in that project is mine?"
"Ah, no, I don't remember that you did."
"They've only started, but I'm really excited. However, that isn't why I called. Did you hear from Cody yet?" she asked.
"Mr. Strassburg brought the truck a few hours ago."
"The big man himself, eh? He's one of the good guys, Wade. You'll like both of them."
"He was very kind and helpful. Suzanne, I don't know how to thank you for all of this."
Wade shook his head, overwhelmed by all this one woman was doing for him. He wanted to say more, but the right words still eluded him.
"You'll figure it out. If you need anything, just call me," she replied, her voice sincere.
Still holding his phone long after they'd hung up, Wade wondered what his life would have been like if his mother had been more like Suzanne Harwood. Maybe he imagined it, but he swore there was a bond of sorts between them. She was more than just a parole officer. For the first time ever, he felt as if he had a friend.
The new subdivision project was alive with activity. Wade drove right to it on Monday morning after finding the best route the day before. Only a few of the homes were close to finished, but from them he knew they weren't cheap places. Two and three stories high, three stall garages, pillars, walls of windows, and wrap-around porches made them all mansions to Wade.
Unsure where he needed to be, he looked for the place with the most vehicles and pulled over.
"Wade, good morning," Nelson called out from atop the frame going up there.
"Hello, how are you?"
"I'm ready to see this place take shape. Hey, there's Cody. I'll let him introduce you to the rest of the crew," Nelson said, turning back to the papers in his hands.
"Cody Baxter, it's nice to meet you Wade. Most of the time, you'll be answering to me, although Nelson is a hands-on investor, as you've already discovered."
It took several more minutes but soon Wade had met the men on Cody's construction crew. Each one welcomed him as if he were just another employee. Being accepted and included was new for him, and it put a true smile on his face for the entire day.
His duties weren't difficult to understand or learn, and by the end of the third day, he felt confident in his ability.
"Well, Wade, what do you think?" Cody asked as they walked to their trucks.
"I've never had a job where people treated me as if I was normal. My past has always been an issue," Wade explained.
"Suzanne saw the good in you, Wade. I trust her judgment explicitly. From what you've done so far, she was right."
"I owe her so much."
"Ah, but that's what friends are for," Cody said, patting him on the shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Wade."
Thursday evening, Wade sat on the front steps just taking in the fresh air. Just up the street, several children played tag on the grass, laughing and shouting. He assumed it was the father standing next to a grill on the porch, keeping an eye on both dinner and the kids. They looked like a normal family. At least what he imagined that to be. He envied the man, even guessing at the responsibilities his life must have.
"How's the job?"
Wade turned to see Johnnie coming his way. "It's great, Johnnie."
"Mind if I have a seat? I been in that darned workshop of mine all afternoon. You'd think when I retired I'd been smart enough to relax, but heck, I'm busy all the time."
"I've heard that happens," Wade said, moving over to make room for the old man.
"Nice family down the street. Three kids, momma's a teacher, daddy sells cars, but they always find time for others."
Unsure what to say, Wade waited. He wondered if Johnnie saw him watching the family earlier.
"Not everyone has that kind of life, I know that. Sometimes, those hurting make a friend that helps turn their future brighter. You never know who is going to be there to lend a helping hand, Wade."
"I was never on the outside long enough to make a real friend," Wade replied, focusing on the ground.
"The world has some wonderful people in it, son. It's all a matter of opening your eyes to see who's right in front of you."
"I'm learning, Johnnie," Wade said, looking straight at the elderly man next to him.
Standing, Johnnie smiled. "Yes, you are. It's time for my TV shows now, so I'd better go inside."
"Have a good night, Johnnie. You take care."
Wade watched as the old man made his way across the lawns and into his house before he went into his own apartment. Friends looked out for each other, he thought with a smile. He really was learning what that meant after all these years.
Suzanne showed up at the construction site on Friday.
"Good morning Wade. I had some free time and wanted to check on my house," she said, waving to him as she walked across the cluttered lot.
"Morning, Suzanne. I'm not sure about any of that, but Cody's around here somewhere. Oh, by the way, I got my paycheck in the mail, from the factory. Thanks for taking care of that for me," Wade said when she'd stopped in front of him.
"You're welcome. They knew the law was on my side, and didn't want trouble. I'm sure there'd be discrepancies if there was an investigation into their books."
"Yeah, but still, they listened to you."
She gave him a little smirk and wink before getting serious. "How are things going for you, Wade?"
"I can't believe how fast the week went. The guys here are all great. But you knew that already, didn't you?" he asked.
"The few I've met seem very nice, yes. Nelson and Cody both have excellent standards, and have this knack for finding the best employees. I think Cody picked up those traits from his father."
"I heard he took it over when his father retired. Having a family business to pass along to my son some day . . ."
"Never give up hope, Wade. You're young enough that it can happen yet," she said, touching his arm when she saw the pain on his face.
"No, I'm already thirty-two. Even if I found someone now, I have nothing, not even a clean name."
"You're a good man, and that's what they'll see. Now then, what do you think about this shack I'm having them build?"
Linking her arm in his as she changed the subject, she walked toward what would soon be her new home. Not for the first time, Wade wondered what it would have been like to have Suzanne for a mother.
It didn't take him long to fall into a routine. Weekends were for catching up on laundry, cleaning his apartment, and going to the grocery store. Evenings Wade often spent on the front steps, with Johnnie joining him many times. If he had to describe his life at that point, Wade would have said it was pleasant.
"You meet any women, son?"
"Where would I do that, Johnnie?"
"I heard on Oprah that lotsa people find mates when they go do their laundry," the old man said, grinning.
"Guess you haven't been to 'Lucy's Laundromat', have you?"
"Well, I drove by it a few times, if that counts."
He laughed and shook his head at the sheepish look Johnnie gave him. "Nope, it's not the same."
"What about the grocery store, then? You could bump your cart into some perty young girl to get her attention."
"First, I'd have to see one there. Maybe you should go with me and check out all the 'perty young girls' that shop there on Saturday," Wade said, grinning.
"Shoot, son, there's got to be some place you go to see women."
"I guess Boden has the wrong generation of ladies, Johnnie."
"Heh, we'll have to work on that. Time for my shows, have a good night son."
"See you, Johnnie."
As he did every other night now, Wade watched the old man go inside his house. He never would have figured that someone like Johnnie would become a friend.
"We need to talk," Cody said, early one Monday afternoon.
"Sure thing, Cody," Wade replied.
Wade tossed the load of scrap siding into the bin and turned. The serious look on Cody's face startled him since his boss always seemed to be smiling.
"You know your record has never been an issue for Nelson or me," Cody said.
"There's some tools missing."
"I might have a record, but I'm not a thief," Wade replied.
"I'm not saying you are, Wade. Until I have proof, everyone's a suspect."
Wade watched his boss walk away, a sick feeling in his stomach. He'd never heard such an accusatory tone in Cody's voice before. It made him jumpy for the rest of the day.
"You okay?" Johnnie asked, tapping on the truck window. "I bet you been sitting there fifteen minutes, son."
Forcing himself to move, Wade jerked the keys out of the ignition and opened the door. Rubbing his temples, he tried to make the headache go away.
"Someone's stealing from Cody."
"And he figures you did it," Johnnie said, making the assumption on his own.
"He didn't blame me, but that doesn't mean I won't have to prove I didn't take anything."
"Why do you say that? They'd need evidence—"
"There was a drill tucked under my seat this afternoon, Johnnie. Someone singled me out to take the fall for the theft."
"I'm guessing you found it, not your boss."
"This guy, Jeremy, smirked when I locked the stupid thing up where it belonged. All week he's been extra cocky, but I just brushed it off. He's only twenty, and has this attitude that the world owes him everything," Wade replied.
"So you think it might be him. Why blame you and not someone else?"
"That's simple. Comments he made today tell me he knows about my record."
Johnnie nodded, seeing the logic in the implication.
"I knew it was too good to last. No matter how hard I try, there's always something that messes up," Wade said, stifling the urge to kick the tree he stood by.
"Then you just got to fix it, son."
"What, you think I should go to Cody and tattle? I don't have any solid proof; just the punk's actions that make my gut churn."
"Follow the same instincts that got you through all those years behind bars."
The connection made sense. Wade took a deep breath and looked at Johnnie. "You're right. I don't have anything to hide, so I'll just do my job. Only I'll keep my eyes open and let the thief do something stupid."
Johnnie clapped Wade on the shoulder. "Always knew you was smart."
"Yeah, look who my friends are," Wade said.
"I'm off to fix some dinner. Relax, son; it'll be all right."
Waiting until Johnnie disappeared through his front door, Wade marveled at the hidden intelligence in the man. It was almost impossible to fathom how different his life would have been if he'd had someone like Johnnie around when he was growing up.
Lightning streaked across the sky, breaking into Wade's thoughts. A cold sheet of rain burst from the clouds before he took a step. Drenched, he laughed as he sprinted toward his door. While the storm raged outside, Wade did just as Johnnie said; he relaxed.
He leaned over the tailgate and grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler in the bed of his truck. Most days Wade joined the rest of the crew at break time, but there was a tension amongst them since Cody mentioned the theft. Several men talked in groups, only to stop when Wade approached. Each time he remained friendly, keeping Johnnie's words in mind.
Recognizing Suzanne's car behind the row of company vehicles, he forced a smile, trying to hide his mood. Suzanne was fast becoming important to him, but he didn't expect her to help him through every problem he had either.
"What's wrong?" she asked after stopping in front of him.
"Nothing, I'm fine," he said.
"You might as well just tell me now, Wade. Else we'll have to play a silly game where I work it out of you eventually anyway."
"Yeah," he replied with a resigned sigh. "When's the last time you talked to Nelson or Cody?"
"I'd say it's been a few days. Why, what's going on?"
"Someone's been taking tools."
Suzanne sat on the bumper and nodded. "I'll assume you're a suspect."
"I have a record, what do you think?"
It took her several minutes to answer. By then, Wade was beginning to wonder if she thought he was guilty.
"I'd say someone here will be in a heap of trouble when they're caught. Wade, I believe in you. I've seen the good in you from the beginning. Hang in there and the truth will come out," she said.
"That's easy for you to say."
"I know, but take a deep breath and don't worry. Come and check out this shack with me instead."
This time his laugh was closer to real. "I can do that. Although I think you need to see a real shack, Suzanne."
She grinned as they walked across the dirt yards before stopping on her own driveway.
"Can you believe the progress, Wade? Another few weeks and Cody said it should be ready for me to move in. This is so exciting for me," she said.
"How are you moving in? Will you hire somebody?" he asked.
"I'll get a local company to move the bigger things like furniture, and then haul the rest myself. It might take me several trips, but oh well."
"Why don't you let me help? I can ask Cody or Nelson if I can use the truck. That would make it a lot easier for you."
"Are you sure? My little car won't hold much, so that would be a big relief," she replied.
"Consider it done. Just let me know when. I'll talk to whichever one I see next."
Reaching out, Suzanne pulled Wade to her and hugged him. "Thank you, my friend."
He longed to return the gesture, but he hadn't quite learned how yet. Suzanne stepped back and smiled.
"You're close, Wade. Soon you'll see that some people show up in your life for good things."
The canvas tarp didn't belong in his truck, and Wade knew it. Grabbing his cooler from the seat, he contemplated how to handle the discovery. Each day he'd found a small item hidden somewhere, and knew it was only a matter of time before the real crook sent Cody or Nelson his way.
"Sure takin' a long time over there," Jeremy said.
"Must be findin' somethin' good, Jeremy," a second voice replied.
Cursing himself for not paying better attention to where the young man was earlier, Wade held still. His instincts told him the two were ready to make their case against him.
"Think we should call the boss over, Ralph?" Jeremy asked.
"That tarp looks to be hidin' somethin' to me. I bet Cody won't like it."
"Yeah, you go get him, I'll watch the con here," Jeremy said.
With Ralph gone, Wade turned to face the young man trying to frame him. His cockiness faded when Wade took a step toward him.
"Did you ever think about what kind of cellmate you'll have, Jeremy? I can guarantee it won't be someone like Ralph that you can boss around," Wade said, the anger evident in his voice.
"Yeah, you'd know about that, since you been there. I'm not dumb you know. Do you think I put that stuff in your truck just for kicks? Hell, with your record, no one will question that you're stealin' it all," Jeremy replied, laughing.
"That's where you're wrong, Jeremy," Cody said, walking up behind the young man.
"Boss, I was just—" All the bravado in Jeremy crumpled when he realized who'd heard him.