By the time Sonny pulled the old pickup truck into the driveway, Mae was pacing the floor. She’d prepared one of their favorites for lunch: ham piled high on homemade bread with thickly sliced tomatoes from the garden and pickles spears on the side from a batch she’d canned the previous summer. Before Sonny could sit properly at the table Mae began to tell him her plan. “Let’s offer the old house out back to Vivian and the kids. They could pay the electricity and it would bring them closer to us. Think of the fun we could have together as a family.” She was talking quickly, excitedly, hoping for a positive response from Sonny. But he couldn’t think of the fun, all he could think of was the work required to get the old house in shape. His parents had lived in the old house until they went home to heaven. It’d sat empty for at least three years and he was sure there was a roof leak among other things. “You think she’d want to live there after living in that mansion in Palm Beach? I just don’t see her leaving her friends and her whole life behind to live on a farm in Iowa; especially not to live in that old house.” Mae thought about what he’d said as she washed up the dishes. Why wouldn’t Vivian want to come here if it meant keeping her family together and putting food on the table? Surely her daughter was smart enough to understand a good offer when she heard one. Mae decided then and there to have another conversation with Sonny when he came in for supper. This could be the answer to all of their problems, at least that was her opinion.
Trevor was so glad to be almost done with school; just a couple of days to go. He’d managed to keep any conversations about his Dad to a minimum by staying silent when anyone brought it up. Trace, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. After the first couple of days of scrutiny he ended up in the office for throwing a punch that left another student with a bloody nose. “At least he’ll keep his mouth shut around me,” was the only explanation he gave. Trevor couldn’t blame his brother, people could be so thoughtless and sometimes even mean. He longed for summer when he could escape the stares of his peers. He was also ready for summer drills; he always looked forward to football season. He’d played since middle school. The way he saw it, football was a way he could hit those who’d been so rude lately and it would be totally acceptable, encouraged even. Yes, that’s what he’d do, he’d weaponize his resentment on the field.
Tatum was so weary. She was so glad track season was over and school was about to be out for the summer. The last couple of weeks had been nearly unbearable. The people she thought were her friends stayed away because of the rumors flying around about her Dad. Sadly, most of what people were saying was true. Her Dad was a thief and deserved to face justice. But, unlike most of her family, she wasn’t angry, at least she didn’t think she was. She just wanted life to go back to the way it used to be; back before the arrest and before her Mom cried all the time. Back when life seemed perfect and she was getting ready to start her sophomore year of high school. She’d been popular before, at least she’d had plenty of friends. Or people she thought were friends. Now, she walked to class alone and no one spoke to her in the lunch room. The last few days she hadn’t bothered to bring a lunch, she wasn’t hungry anyway. Most days she found herself sitting alone in the courtyard thumbing through her phone. Now, she was almost done with her sophomore year, and she couldn’t wait to be away from all of the glaring eyes and awkward moments in the hall. During one of her lonely lunch hours, Tatum had taken the time to write a letter to her Dad in prison, but, so far, she hadn’t heard back. She wondered if he even received it. He wasn’t the sort of Dad who had long and meaningful conversations with his kids, but Mom said he always provided well and they should all be grateful. And Tatum was grateful, or she tried to be. She’d often thought she would give up the big house and fancy cars if all seven of the Lancaster’s spent real, quality time together. She’d talk to other people who went bowling as a family or swimming at the lake, anything. She would always smile on the outside but lament on the inside that her own family never did much. Sometimes “most” of them would go out to eat or to a movie, but her Dad never went. He always had to work. Always. And, now that his love of money had cost them all so much, she despised his job and his work ethic. But, mostly, she loathed his greed.
Thomas Lancaster sat in a prison cell smaller than the walk-in closet he shared with his wife. He wore orange and sat in the corner of a dirty mattress that was propped up on the wall by a flimsy wire attached to the cinder block. He was miserable. The guard had come by and slid a piece of mail through the bars with his home as the return address. He hadn’t gotten up to take it so it dropped to the floor and slid over by the exposed toilet. How had his life come to this? He’d been so careful, he hadn’t left a trace. And it wasn’t like the firm couldn’t afford it, they were a multimillion dollar business, after all. If you’d been a stranger and talked to Thomas, something you wouldn’t find was remorse. He wasn’t sorry for what he’d done, on the contrary, he felt fully justified in it. The rich had money to spare as far as he was concerned. He hadn’t really hurt anybody by taking a little, what was the big deal anyway? He swore to himself as he picked up the letter and shoved it under the dirty mattress, he’d read it later when he wasn’t feeling so angry. It looked like Tatum’s handwriting, and he did want to know what she had to say, just not right now. He was too busy lamenting the unfairness of life.
After a couple of lengthy conversations, Mae and Sonny decided to offer the house to Vivian. Mae was a lot more optimistic than he was, but they’d agreed to at least ask. Mae picked up her cell and pushed the number two, where Vivian’s number was stored, and it immediately dialed her digits. Vivian picked up on the third ring and, as usual these days, it sounded like she’d been crying. It had been three weeks since the arrest. Mae knew the kids were finally out of school and there would be a mortgage payment due soon. She also knew Vivian didn’t have the money to pay it. “Hello.” Vivian answered softly. “Hey, hon.” Mae had long since quit asking how she was doing because she already knew the answer. “Hey, Mom.” There was a moment of silence, a moment in which they both understood the gravity of the situation. “I have an idea for you to think and pray about.” Mae took a deep breath and began to offer Vivian the old house out behind the main house for the summer, and longer, if necessary. Vivian didn’t speak as Mae listed all the reasons this could be a good idea. Once she’d finished her pitch, Vivian spoke hesitantly, “I don’t know, Mom. The kids have friends here and…” For the life of her Vivian couldn’t think of another reason not to accept the offer. The only person she’d heard from in recent weeks was her best friend, Abigail. The kids had been complaining they felt deserted by people they considered true friends. It was a tough time for their family. But, Vivian knew, even if she wanted to go, all five of the Lancaster children would never agree to it. But, to appease her Mother, she agreed to at least ask. “I will bring it up tonight, Mom. We’ve agreed to sit down together and map out a plan for the summer. Everyone old enough to work in this family is going to have to.” “The kids could work for your Dad on the farm, Viv.” A name she’d lovingly called her daughter for the better part of her life. “Yes, I suppose they could.” Vivian seemed lost in thought. “I’ll tell you what, you think on it, pray about it, consider it and ask the kids, then get back to me. Okay? We would love to have you and we could spend some time repairing the house. You know, make it feel homier.” “Thanks, Mom, I’ll let you know.” Vivian hung up the phone and shuddered at the thought of the very old, very outdated house. All she could remember was the doylies and afghans her Grandmother had placed everywhere. But, in her current situation, she couldn’t afford to be a snob. If living there meant they could all stay under one roof and keep food on the table, then she was willing. And, she could definitely get used to the doylies.