A Life Lived

Chapter 4

By Dabeagle

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We ordered in lunch, and Annabelle had the kid smiling, which was nice, I guess. In the mid-afternoon a lady who was clearly pregnant walked in with a guy trailing behind her.

“Hi - I saw a van on your site I wanted to look at,” she said and showed me a picture on her phone.

“Oh yeah, was lucky to find that one. Let me grab the keys.” Daisy and the kid trailed me out to the van, and I walked them through its history, all the features, and popped a plate on it for them to test drive. Back inside, the kid went to use the bathroom, and Annabelle poked her head in.

“McKenzie. You need to get Bailey some clothes.”

I was scrolling through the marketplace and grunted at her. “Who?”

“Bailey.”

I looked up. “Who's that?”

She put her hands on her hips, one greasy hand holding an wrench. “Bailey. You can't let him run around in your sweats. Why is he with you anyway?”

I leaned back in my chair and slipped my reading glasses off my face. “UPS dropped him off. I tried to tell them they had the wrong address, but their phone line was jammed up. I'll call again for a pickup tonight.”

She glanced at the bathroom and then back at me. “Seriously.”

I leaned forward. “He hopped my fence last night. Cops are having me hold him, because his parents seemed to not be feeding him, and his dad's a sheriff. Staties said someone from the county will reach out.”

“Shit,” she breathed, eyes wide. “Still. Get him some clothes.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

The kid came back from the restroom, and I gave him some filters to use on my phone to look for cars while I looked through my PC, but he knew less about phones than I did, so we looked together. That lasted until a sheriff's car pulled into the lot, and a guy who I would have pegged as a douche even without the uniform came toward the door.

“Kid. Take my phone. Go in the bathroom and call the trooper from last night. It's in my contacts under trooper. Stay in there and lock the door.”

He dashed for the door without any questions and was just closing it as the deputy walked in. No fool, he'd seen the kid dashing to the door through the big plate glass window. He stomped his shoes on the mat and took his hat off.

“I think you know why I'm here.”

“I think you'd better turn back around and leave.”

He jutted his chin. “Want to step outside?”

I smiled. “No. No, I can't step outside with you. I have a reputation.”

He pressed his lips together. “Bailey. Front and center.”

Annabelle appeared in the doorway, and the deputy looked over at her and then back to me with disinterest.

“You don't suffer from an overabundance of schooling, do you?” I asked, slowly standing.

He placed his hand on the butt of his gun.

“Now, before you go breaking laws, you should know this office has cameras.” I paused to let that sink in. “It really helps when someone claims you said or did something you didn't or vice versa. So since you're here to get that kid, and since the county hasn't reached out, I'm going to go ahead and say you know you shouldn't be here.”

“That is my kid,” he growled.

“Don't you know you're supposed to feed those things?”

“His mother's in charge of discipline.”

“Tell that to the judge,” Annabelle said. “Meanwhile, let me tell you what a monumental amount of fuck up you just stepped in, deputy dip shit.”

I listened in stunned fascination as Annabelle tore verbal strips off this clown. Most cops I've dealt with got into the business for the ability to bully other people. This fellow was getting a dose of it, and I wondered if his wife were like this. Maybe he's used to it? A flash in the parking lot caught my attention. The trooper was climbing out of his cruiser, parked right behind the sheriff car. He took long steps to the door and opened it, surprising the deputy.

“I think you know we should talk outside, Deputy Nola.” The trooper stepped to one side and waved the deputy through. The deputy looked back at us, put his hat on and stepped outside. The closed door did nothing to hide the fact that the deputy was being given instructions on where to shove it, how to shove it, and what depth the shoving should achieve. I went over to the bathroom door.

“Kid. All clear. Come on out.”

A moment later the lock turned and then the handle as he opened the door cautiously.

“You're okay. I'll get him all greasy if he comes back in,” Annabelle promised, showing her grimy hands.

The voices dropped in volume, but still could be heard. The kid moved over by me and handed me back my phone.

“Good job,” I told him.

“Good thing you don't have a lock on that thing,” Annabelle said.

“How would you know?”

“It's how I order food on your account,” she said with a grin.

“What? Thief!” I woke my phone and looked for the food delivery app even though I was nearly certain she was just trying to wind me up. I looked up as the trooper came back in the door and closed it behind him. Through the window I saw the deputy get into his car and leave.

“The deputy says you claim to have a camera in the office?”

“The deputy is mistaken,” I said, putting my hands in my pockets.

“Oh. Well that's a relief. If you decide to do that, you have to post signs to warn people,” he said conversationally. He looked at the kid. “Bailey. How are you doing, buddy?”

The kid moved a little closer to me. “Okay.”

“Good.” The trooper tipped his hat at Annabelle and then looked back to me. “Deputy Nola was advised that he is a subject of interest in an open investigation. The judge is set to hear testimony tomorrow for the siblings as our removal lasts 48 hours unless extended by a judge, and he will.”

“Siblings. That's right, you said something about that at the hospital. I'd forgotten.”

He nodded, his expression grim. “Yeah. Three. They were removed last night in similar condition. There was a home that could take two of them. The third is in a therapeutic setting.” He shifted on his feet. “I reached out to the county, as we were relying on information that had been provided previously by the last worker.”

“You do this that frequently? I mean, state cop...must have more important things to do.”

“We start where the county sheriffs stop. Some towns don't have contracts with the sheriffs for patrols, so we cover it.” He sighed. “You won't need to appear – either of you – but expect to hear from me about the terms. I'd expect someone from human services has to be in charge, so I'm sure we'll get you into contact soon. Hopefully have something for you by tomorrow night.”

“Oh. Well, okay.”

“He should take him for clothes, right? I mean, you can't wear that if he needs to go to court. Right?” Annabelle stepped in.

“He just said we didn't have to appear,” I grumbled.

The trooper gave her a little smile. “Mr. McKenzie, you will be reimbursed to a point for such expenditures. Right now we don't have access to anything of his, but what I saw there might not be suitable anyway.”

What a way to say the kid was basically living in rags. “Okay. Thank you, Trooper.”

He tipped his hat and nodded at Annabelle before heading out the door. He paused, door still open, and looked back at me. “If you have any other trouble, please don't hesitate to call.” Then he was gone.

The pregnant lady waddled back through the door and sat down, huffing a bit, and we talked terms on the van. She liked it, she could use it, she just needed to be able to afford it. So we spent time looking at the options. Her credit wasn't great, but we found her something she could fit into her budget without too much stress. Not a bad day when you can make a sale.

“Okay. Let me wash my hands, and we're going shopping! Time to let the moths out of your wallet!” Annabelle made a show of slapping her hands together and giving me a wide grin before heading back through the door to the garage.

I looked at the kid. “Women are a complete other species.” I glanced over at the couch and was surprised that Daisy was curled up there. With all the stupidity with the cops it would have been normal for her to have howled at the raised voices or at least sniff them liberally, but no. Something in my chest turned cold and I called out to her, but she didn't stir. I got up quickly, if a little unsteadily, and moved to the couch. When I sat down beside her, her head popped up, and I let out a breath.

“Shit, Daisy. Don't do that to me.”

“What's wrong?” the kid asked, appearing by my side like a god damn ghost.

“She has cancer,” I said quietly, stroking her ear. “I guess she's just harder of hearing than I thought, too. I thought she might have left me a little earlier than I'd like.”

“Oh,” the kid said, his voice small. He sat down beside her and started to stroke her back. It was nice of him. I watched his thin fingers stroke her along the spine, causing her to shift and flop over to expose her belly. Dogs. At least you know what they want.

“Okay. Let's do this.” Annabelle had washed her hands and taken off her overalls, so she looked more like a thirty-something mom-ish figure rather than a grease monkey with a nerd for a boyfriend. He was nice enough, smart. Fixed my computer once when I was ready to piss on it and then set it on fire. He's the good kind of nerd – smart, nice to animals like his girlfriend. Maybe they were made for each other.

I reluctantly agreed to meet her after bringing Daisy home. Buying clothes seemed kind of permanent. I wasn't sure it was a good idea. We drove over to the house and got Daisy settled before going the forty minutes to a mall. We could have gone to someplace that has cheap clothes, but there's a reason they are cheap – they wear out before you leave the store. That's why I get Annabelle real work clothes for the shop and why I buy well made things rather than whatever is off a boat from some factory with child labor.

I will never tell this to a living person, and maybe never to a dead one either, but I had fun. Not cartwheels kind of fun. The kid claimed he had no preference about style, which left a blank slate to work from, and I thought about that for longer than I should have. I thought about those cool kids. Those kids I'd always wanted to be near. The put together ones. I thought about how Brian used to dress. How he matched, and how it lent him an air of...something. Something intangible.

So we went shopping. Jeans. Khakis. Sneakers and dress shoes. Socks – athletic and dress – and underwear. A dressy coat with toggle fasteners and a puffy one for playing or working outside. A ball cap. A knit cap, what fancy people and people who like to think they are as nice as Canadians call a toque. Gloves – leather for everyday use, mittens for working or playing. Three belts – one casual, two dress. Undershirts to match with button up shirts, graphic tees for hanging out and shorts – but not those things that hang down like they're voluminous pants. Middies Annabelle called them. Sweatpants that Annabelle said were called joggers. We looked at pajamas, but he didn't want any.

Brand names were a fortune, but he walked out of there looking like he could get into a magazine to show off everyone's brands. The watch was just icing. The bill was impressive, and not in a positive sense.

We got back to the house, and he went up with his bags, then came down to join me at the kitchen table for the roast that had been slow cooking. We'd talked a lot while shopping about what was appropriate for when, and he'd come down in the joggers and a tee shirt and socks. He looked completely unlike the person who'd hopped my fence less than 48 hours ago. Dog help me, he looked happy.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

I made the kid shower that morning. Kids at that age get this funk whether they sweat or not. It's the hormones. They got some that say 'Dump a lifetime of oil on the skin,' another that says 'Grow hair in patches,' and another that tells their body, 'Sweat in strange places'. That combination gives you the stench of teenager.

He came down in rust-colored jeans and a red button-up left open over a black undershirt. It was one of the combinations Annabelle had told him looked good on him, and she was right. He looked like a proper young man.

“Did you put on deodorant?” I asked.

“Um. I don't have any. I don't know what that is. So...no?”

I grunted and hooked my thumb at him to follow me. In the bathroom I pulled out a new stick and showed him how to pop the stick up and apply it. “Don't press too hard, just swipe it a little bit. You don't need a smear of this stuff on your skin, just enough to keep you from driving people away and attracting vultures.”

“Oh. Okay,” he said, sounding a little down.

“What? What's the matter?”

He shrugged. “I just thought your advice for the day would be more interesting than how to put deodorant on.”

“It's useful information,” I said and picked up the stick. “Plus look here. See that symbol? Looks like bunny ears?”

“Yeah.”

“Means this wasn't tested on animals. That's something of value, isn't it?”

“Yeah,” he said, dragging the word out. “But not as much fun as yesterday's advice.”

I paused and thought for a moment. “What was yesterday's advice?”

“To not let anyone stop me from going to a bathroom.” He looked at me solemnly. “Do you know what it feels like to have something pushing out of your butt and be told you can't go yet?”

I cleared my throat. “Can't say I do. Okay, well, here's something. When you go to sit on a toilet, make sure you push the pants and underwear all the way down. See, sometimes the bowl is cold, and it'll make your clothes cold, and they'll feel wet without being wet. Make you paranoid.” I held a finger up as the ends of his mouth started to turn up in a hidden smile. “Sometimes there's condensation on the bowl, and you might actually get your stuff wet. Also, sometimes if you're really unlucky, you'll sit down and you'll pee and – don't know if you've realized this yet, but aiming your water isn't always as straightforward as some might think – and instead of going right into the bowl it'll sneak out between the seat and the bowl and get your clothes wet. So push them all the way down, and make sure to push down so you aim for the water and not some random place your dick picks for you.”

He started to giggle.

“What? That's good advice right there!” I said, smiling at him as his grin kept up. “Come on. Let's get to Lulu's, and then we have work to do.”

Jeannie complimented the kid on his clothes and how nice he looked, and the kid really smiled like that was a new thing. Maybe it was. What a shit world where you can't rely on basic things like...your mother is supposed to say you look great, even if you look like a truck ran you over. After breakfast we went to work, and Annabelle cooed over the kid some more, which I guess was good for him. Then he settled in with me, and we started looking for cars online.

I got up at some point to go make room for more coffee, and when I came back out Daisy and the kid were gone. I glanced into the shop area, but Annabelle was sitting in a car with the scanner in her hand, looking up a problem – no kid in sight. Well, that was strange. I went back over to the door and saw him out in the lot, Daisy sniffing not too far off, talking to a middle aged guy beside a sport sedan. I plucked my coat off the rack and walked on over to see what was what.

“Uh oh, here comes the sales manager,” the guy said with an indulgent smile.

“I see you met our newest salesman,” I replied, smiling at the fellow and holding my hand out.

“You've trained him well,” he said with a smile. “My car dropped the transmission yesterday and it's just too much to put into it. Guy told me you had fair prices, so....”

“He what? Why that dirty liar,” I said with a grin. “So what sort of car are we looking for?”

“Well, as I was saying to your man here, I've been driving an SUV. I don't really need that kind of size, but I do need a bit of room for the family. So nothing too small. This fellow brought me over to this one here.”

“Well, it's larger than a commuter or compact. Has an eight in it to get you moving and pull the family with you. It gets better mileage than a six would just due to how much weight it has to move around. If you check around, you'll find this is also below book value.”

“Why below book? I mean, I checked before I came over, and I was kind of surprised.”

“I sell more that way,” I said with a shrug. “Car sales is a volume, repeat customer business. If someone has the same car, but I'm lower, you'll come see me first. If I can meet your needs, you won't even go check the competition.” I smiled. “If I take care of your needs, you'll come see me next time. It's why I've been here so long.”

“Would you like the keys?” the kid said.

The guy smiled at him and replied he'd like to test drive the car.

“Check with Annabelle. She'll get you a plate,” I told the kid. He nodded with a pleasant expression and went back in the office.

“Nice kid. Seemed pretty smart, too.”

“He follows directions. Pretty quick on the uptake.”

“I thought I was just humoring him when he came out to ask me what I was looking for, but he walked me right to this car. He's damn near a mind reader.”

I grunted. Odd that he'd picked up that much from, maybe, one observation with a customer? That must mean he'd had to be very observant with his parents to avoid their wrath, if it were avoidable. I was suddenly unsure about how much praise should be given to his observance, considering the likely cause. Humans really are the worst.

“Here you are, sir,” the kid said as he returned with the plate and keys.

“Why don't you pop the trunk and start the car for this gentleman? I'll pop the plate on.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, but with a note of excitement in his voice. He got in the car and paused before leaning out. “How do I pop the trunk?”

“Little switch on the door.”

He glanced at the door, and I went to the trunk to wait.

“I don't – oh, this?”

The trunk made a clicking noise, and I lifted it up. “You got it.” I put the rubber straps into the trunk and closed the lid on them, displaying the dealer plate. I patted the trunk. “All set. See you when you get back. I'll get some paperwork in order for when you tell me you loved it.”

The guy gave a little smile at that and got seated. I stayed by the car, since he was looking around, and I pointed out a few things, reminded him to belt up and closed the door for him. The guy put the car in gear and pulled out of the lot, accelerating up the street. I turned to the kid.

“Nice job taking initiative. The customer was impressed enough to stick around. Let's see if we get a sale,” I said, patting his shoulder.

“Sorry about the trunk,” he said, falling in next to me.

I stopped and looked at him. “You earned the compliment. Don't apologize for what you haven't been taught. One thing about life is you have to accept responsibility for things, but they should be things you're responsible for. When you're ignorant – lacking knowledge – that isn't your fault.” I placed my hand on his shoulder again. “I say that because I get the feeling you skipped over the compliment and just went right to blame. Trust me, kid, you did nothing wrong.”

He sprouted an unusual smile, maybe something in him didn't quite accept or know what to do with what I'd said. Not something I could control. Maybe whoever he ended up with could do better than I had. I let go of him and headed for the office, calling Daisy. I looked around and didn't see her so we spread out until we found her – and she'd found a dead pigeon. She thought there were treats inside.

“Daisy! Drop that thing!” I moved in, and she dodged me, faster than you'd think for a dog of her age. I growled and chased after her while she did her best to keep me away from her prize. “I give you ham and chicken and turkey, but you still go after dead birds? Jesus H Christ!” I grumbled, latching onto a few feat\hers – and the wing came off in my hand. “Yeargh!” I let out a strangled cry as I jerked my hand back from the gross...thing. That seemed to be what broke Daisy's focus though, as she turned to try and go after the detached wing. I pushed my foot out to block her and grabbed her collar, then picked her up. She struggled a bit as I headed for the office door.

“That was so gross,” the kid said, laughing the way little boys do about gross things. He'd laugh that way if someone farted in an enclosed space; it just seems to be a thing boys his age are hard wired to do.

“I need to get a broom and get that rotting thing out of here,” I said as the kid opened the door ahead of me. “Go ahead and close it so I can put her down.”

I plopped her on the couch, and she looked at me reproachfully. Gathering the broom and a garbage bag I opened the door, then had to block the sneaky brat from getting by me to race me to the carcass. Outside, I scooped it up – detached wing and all – and that would be when the guy on his drive pulled back in, while I'm holding a garbage bag with a dead, rotting bird in my hand and a strong desire to go wash my hand.

But then I remembered I had a helper.

“Kid. I'm going to wash my hands. Go ahead and collect the plate and keys and bring him into the office; offer him some coffee or tea to help things along.”

“Yes, sir,” he said cheerfully and headed off.

I tossed the bag in the dumpster and then went in and washed my hands down to the bone a few times. Fucking gross. I heard the front door open and the kid talking, presumably to the customer about how the kid liked the color of the car and it sounded cool.

I joined them. “Dog found a dead bird, and I felt the need to sanitize my hands,” I told the customer. I looked at the kid and asked him to go give the plate to Annabelle to put back in the cabinet, and he headed off into the garage.

The guy gave a little smile as the kid left the room. “My son is probably half his age, but it's funny. You want your kids to approve of you, to find you cool while they can. Now I feel like I have to ask my son if he thinks that car sounds cool.”

Kid scores again.

We sat down and worked out the details, but the end result was a sale. If I'd known kids could be a positive in making a car sale I'd have rented one a long time ago. Annabelle brought the kid back into the shop and said she was going to walk with him down to the deli for some lunch. I fished my wallet out and handed her cash for us all and requested a sandwich for myself.

After they'd gone and the customer and I had shaken hands and I'd said I'd reach out as soon as the car was ready to be picked up, I sat down in my chair and let out a breath. Eyeing my dog, who still looked at me as if I were a criminal, I growled, “It's your own fault. That was the grossest thing you've done in a while, and there is a long list of gross things you've done, missy.”

She just looked at me.

“You could try looking sorry,” I muttered. My phone rang and I answered.

“Hi. My name is Elizabeth Rodney, and I'm trying to reach Colin McKenzie.”

“That's me,” I replied cautiously as she sounded official in some way.

“Oh, hello! I got your number from Trooper Cooper. He was involved with you the other night with a young man, Bailey Nola?”

“Oh, yeah. You're the person from the county, then?”

“I am,” she said in a tone that sounded oddly satisfied. “So I wanted to bring you up to date and connect with you on the next move. Judge Rincon heard the county's case via teleconference today – the mother appeared for the adults in this case – and he's ordered that the family have no contact and that the children be evaluated and kept in county custody for the next three months. There is to be a therapist assigned to the children, though I'm not sure yet if therapy will be group, individual or both.” She took a breath. “So tell me, how is Bailey?”

“Who?”

Sounding a little mystified she said, “Bailey? Bailey Nola? You do have him, don't you?”

“Oh, the kid. Yeah, he's out getting some lunch. Good kid, as kids go. Smart. Kind of obvious his parents are not qualified.” The trooper had said 48 hours; I wondered if they'd come to pick him up tonight? I'd been thinking about rewarding him by cooking steaks, since he'd secured his first sale.

“The trooper said Bailey seemed to be comfortable with you. Would you say that's accurate?”

“Uh. Well, I guess so. He hasn't given me reason to cause him to get squirrely or anything, so. We did go get some clothes last night. He looks more human, now.” For some reason I added, “He was holding going to the bathroom yesterday morning. He said he didn't have permission and made it sound like his parents made him hold it like it was a privilege to use a toilet.”

She sighed. “That's disturbing, but in line with some of the things the other children have said so far. We'll need to get him to the school to be evaluated for classes.” She made another small noise. “Colin, I don't see a vendor number for you in our system. Do you happen to have that handy? We can use that for reimbursements.”

“Vendor? I'm not a vendor. I sell cars.”

She laughed lightly. “That's just the generic term we use with the financial end of things in foster care.”

“Oh. I'm not a foster parent.”

“Oh, you're not? Well what's your address? I can send some paperwork to you and we can get you the required training-”

“Wait, what? What are you going on about? I don't want to foster.”

“Oh,” she said, her tone falling. “I'm sorry. I thought you wanted to help Bailey.”

“Who?”

“Mr. McKenzie, please. I think we both know you know who Bailey is. He's bonded to you after some very traumatic things in his life. I think it would be a lot worse for him should we have to try and move him so soon, and the options are limited right now.”

“You say that without ever having met me,” I grunted.

“While that may be true, you did the right thing. It gives you some leeway. I'll tell you what – I'll send you this paperwork, and why don't we talk about it in a couple of days? I'll know who his therapist will be by then and have a better sense of what he's going to need.” She sighed. “I'd come right away and get this over with, but I had to take some vacation time. My mother passed, and we've finally gotten through probate, and I can't head back home just yet. You understand.”

I was quiet for a moment. “Yeah. Well, all right. He's not much trouble anyway.”

“Thank you. I'll keep you updated. Good afternoon.”

I sat in silence, thinking about that call. The other kids said similar things – that kind of kept coming back to me. What goes through someone's mind when they say things like a person can't use the bathroom unless they have permission? That they have to hold it. It's about control. Reducing people to obedient objects.

I was shaken from my thoughts when they returned. I shared some of the meat from my sandwich with Daisy and the kid, and I spent the afternoon going over paperwork for selling a car and then on the computer looking for likely candidates for purchase. We broke from our work only to take Daisy out and to give her attention, provided she wasn't sleeping. We had a couple of tire kickers late in the day, but then it was time to close up. I decided to follow through on the steaks, so we headed to the grocery store.

As I scanned the lanes on entry I was dismayed to see that old bag Delia Jurgens. She was a holy roller who liked to bless people in her line. I think she would like the idea of baptizing people without their knowledge, thinking her deity would approve. At the end of her register, however, was a new bagger who was something of a ringer for the Brian Repecki of my youth, and I knew I'd want to get in his line just so I could see him up close.

We went through the store getting supplies – steaks, of course, but also a nice marinade. We got a head of cauliflower and some cheese and milk so that I could make a cheese sauce; I had rice at home. We got into the line, and Delia nearly rolled her eyes at me, but then she spotted the kid.

“Bailey! Oh, Bailey!” She started coming around the register, and the kid moved behind me, so I took the hint and blocked her.

“Back off,” I told her.

“Don't you tell me what's what!” she snapped. “He's been missing! Why do you have my grandson?”

I saw red; it's the only explanation I have. I've been called a lot of things in my day, and a fair amount of them are deserved. I've argued and said nasty things, even been unfriendly on general principle. This woman, who annoyed me at the best of times, had entered rarefied territory. She knew Bailey. How much did she know?

“Because your daughter and son-in-law abused him, that's why,” I said, moving forward to force her back from Bailey.

“That's a lie!” she said, practically hissing. “Kids need discipline! Proverbs chapter 19 verse 18 says Discipline your children, for in that there is hope!”

“Yeah? Kiss my ass chapter one verse one says you'll keep your discipline between you and your dildo, you cock juggling thunder cunt.”

Her mouth went wide to match her eyes, but then she started to shriek. It wasn't actual language; it was just noise. I did pick out the odd word, but they were few and far between to my ears, and to be honest I wasn't trying that hard. The manager bustled up, not knowing the details, and just worked to calm her down. He tried to guide her away while calling for someone to take over Delia's register, but she fought like the pimple on the ass of humanity that she is, so it took him a few tries. The bagger, who did look a lot like Brian had, rang my things up quickly and popped them into a paper bag. I paid and we headed out to the truck. Once we were inside I took a deep breath and tried to let go of the anxiety that always accompanies any situation where there are raised voices.

In a small voice the kid asked, “What's a dildo?”

I blinked a few times and looked over at him. “It's...well, part of a larger conversation.”

He nodded as if that made perfect sense. “What about a cunt? Do they go together? Are they where thunder comes from?”

I widened my eyes and opened my jaw, but how do you even start? “Okay. Listen, kid, I'll teach you about these words, but you should know that these words are the kind you don't say in public.”

He frowned a little. “But you just said them in a grocery store. Isn't that public?”

I coughed. “Well, yeah, but you saw what happened. Right? Your...grandmother. I guess, kind of lost her shit.”

His eyes went wide and a smile started to curl the edges of his mouth. “She pooped her pants?”

“What? No. I mean...I don't think so. She did smell kind of funny.”

He looked at me solemnly. “She's not very nice.”

I nodded. “No. She's not.” I cleared my throat. “Some people like to say there are bad words. But there aren't, not really. Like the word fuck. Sometimes it can be really therapeutic to say that word. The thing is, lots of people think kids shouldn't know all the words, that it looks bad for a kid to say them – when adults don't really look any better. So the thing is, I'll teach you what they mean, but I'm going to tell you also that you're really not old enough to use those words without getting into trouble; so you can know them, know what they mean, but I'm going to tell you it's a bad idea to use them. That make sense?”

He considered me for a minute. “Yeah. I think it does.”

Awkward conversation. Glad it was over before dinner.




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