Ok. Can we talk about this picture Emily sent me for a second here? Everything about it makes me smirk– the title of the book, the boy’s expression (those eyes!), the plate of chocolate next to him… So much fun stuff! I had no choice but to make a cute little tale out of it. There are no big, unexpected plot twists like Wednesday, and you may not learn a whole lot of new info. In fact, there really isn’t even the big turning point that is so common in pretty much every story. Despite all of that, hopefully this will bring a little smile to your day like it did mine 🙂
Here’s ‘Guys’ Day Out’:
~~ “Well he can’t stay home five hours alone!” Angela was about a decibel away from shattering the glass sitting next to her on the counter.
Marcus raised his eyes to the ceiling as he figured out how best to tell her why her plan was stupid… without telling her the plan was stupid.
“Look,” he said, meeting her eyes again. “You know what I do.”
“Oh, come on! You’re the nicest loan guy in existence. So was your daddy. So was his daddy. It’s laughable.”
“What if I have to beat some faces in?”
“You won’t. Last time you did that was Jim from the pawn shop. What was that? Four years ago?”
“Still. It could happen.”
“Fine. If you have to beat some faces in, send Carmelo around the corner or something.” She gave him that look that dared him to come up with another excuse.
“This is not a good idea.”
“It’ll be fine. In fact, it’ll be good. His dad hasn’t been around in a while. He needs some guy bonding time.”
Guy bonding time? Guys didn’t bond. How could she not know that?
Sighing, Marcus leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. Even though he and Angela had only been dating two months, they’d been friends for years. He couldn’t argue with her because she knew him inside and out. She’d see right through any excuse he came up with. And he couldn’t deny that he had never been close to ten-year-old Carmelo. If he wanted to make his relationship with the woman work, he probably needed to get close to her son.
“Fine,” he blew out. “Tell ‘im to meet me at my car in ten minutes.”
“Thank you, Marcus! You know I wouldn’t normally do this, but three girls at the salon called out with the flu.” She slid off the counter. “Make sure he gets a decent lunch and try not to ask him about school.”
“Just some issues with his classmates. I’m working on it. I’ll go tell him to get ready.”
When Carmelo met Marcus at the car, it was clear the boy was less than thrilled with his upcoming day out. He didn’t say a word as he climbed in.
“Work or lunch first?” Marcus would have preferred getting the business of the day knocked out, but it was coming up on noon, and he figured the boy might be getting hungry.
“Ok, then.” Marcus spotted the hotdog vendor at his usual spot by the park entrance. Hotdogs were a decent lunch, right?
Finding an open spot along the curb, Marcus parallel parked and got out, Carmelo close behind him.
“Want anything on your dog?”
The boy shrugged.
“Two classics with everything,” Marcus told the hotdog man.
Food in hand, he led the way to a bench right inside the park, and they sat down.
Silence stretched between them as they ate. It went on long enough that Marcus was starting to feel downright uncomfortable. Darn kids and their lack of conversational skills. Guess it was up to him to fill in the empty space.
“Your, uh, your mom told me you’ve been having some problems at school.” Wait. He wasn’t supposed to start that conversation.
What else were they going to talk about, though?
“Why’s that?” he found himself asking.
“Asa,” Carmelo mumbled around a bite of beef frank and bun.
“That’s a classmate I’m guessin’?”
“What’s this Asa do to you?”
“Takes my lunch. Makes me give him the dollars I earn off of chores. And he calls me Marshmallow Carmelo.”
“Marshmallow Carmelo? What the heck is that? You ain’t even fat.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t like it.”
“You’re just gonna have to teach him to not wanna mess with you.”
“I don’t know how to fight. Even if I did, Mom would get really mad at me.”
“Fight? It’s not about fightin’. I mean, sometimes it is. Look at this nose of mine. But fightin’s a worst case thing. Like, if your life is threatened or somethin’. I’m talkin’ brains here.”
“Yeah. So the kid steals your lunch. What do you do about it?”
“Ummm, not give it to him?”
“You gotta give it to him, or he’ll hit you. See, what you do is take some laxative—“
“Makes you have to go to the bathroom. Really bad. And not the good kind of go, if you get my drift.”
“So what you do is, take some laxative, put it on a sandwich. Then you spit on top of that. Spread it in real good with peanut butter or somethin’. Hand over the sandwich.”
“That’s the point. Kid’s gonna start associating your food with havin’ to go to the bathroom all day. Pretty soon, he’s not gonna want your food no more. Now, you said he takes your dollars sometimes. What do you do about that?”
Carmelo’s face scrunched up in thought. A smile lit up his face.
“I’m not allergic to poison ivy! It doesn’t bother me when I touch it!”
“I like where you’re going with this. Continue.”
“There’s some growing over there by the skate park! I can rub my dollars in it, then give them to Asa when he asks for it!”
“Atta boy. Don’t nobody want money that makes ‘em break out in a rash, right?”
“The whole Marshmallow Carmelo thing, well, you’re just gonna have to get over that. If you start lettin’ things like that bother you, you got no hope for handlin’ things in the future.”
“Good. We got work to do. Finish up that hotdog.”
“What do you do?” Carmelo asked when they were back in the car.
“I lend people money when they can’t get none from the bank.”
“How do you make money off that?”
“They have to pay me back more than what they borrowed. It’s called interest.”
“What if they don’t pay you back?”
“This business has been in the family for generations. That means trust with most my clients. I don’t charge no four-hundred percent interest like some of the others. I’m a good guy. Most the time.”
“Still, what if someone doesn’t pay you?”
Marcus squirmed in his seat, wondering how best to answer that. He finally settled on, “I’m a persuasive guy.”
“What’s persuasive mean?”
“Means I can talk them into giving me my money.”
“I once tried to talk Harper Lawson into giving me a kiss on the cheek. It didn’t work. I guess I’m not persuasive.”
Marcus laughed and said, “Just means Harper Lawson’s a smart cookie.”
He made a turn into the small, pot-holed parking lot of The Costume Castle. The bell over the door chimed as they walked in, drawing the attention of the three or four customers in the shop. Brent stuck his head out from a back room and gave Marcus a nod.
“Be right with you,” he said.
Carmelo’s eyes bounced from costume to costume hanging on racks along the wall. He walked up to a plastic ensemble of armor and ran his hand down it.
“Woah,” he said.
“You like it? Try it on.”
Marcus lifted the chest plate from its hanger and slid it over Carmelo’s head. It was a little big for him, but the kid didn’t seem to mind. He smiled as he looked down at himself.
“Wait one second,” Marcus told him.
He walked a few steps away and grabbed the plastic sword that was sitting on a nearby display. When he held it out to Carmelo, the boy’s smile got a little bigger.
“Now you look like a real warrior,” Marcus said.
Brent came out from the back room and discreetly handed Marcus a wad of cash.
“It all there?” Marcus asked.
“Yep, including the extra from last month.”
“Good.” Marcus pulled out a couple of the bills and handed it back. “For the armor set and sword.”
“Where to next?” Carmelo asked as they walked outside.
“Blood and Ink. It’s a tattoo place.”
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to take a kid to a tattoo parlor. Wasn’t like there was anything he could do about it, though. Angela said she didn’t want her son to be alone, so he’d have to tag along.
Lacey had her money ready to go as soon as Marcus got there. She handed it over, then smiled down at Carmelo.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“Carmelo? Wow! You’ve gotten so big since I last saw you. And so manly, too.” She rapped at his armor with the knuckle of her finger.
Carmelo smiled in return, then looked at Marcus. Not really at him directly. More like at his arm.
“What are you looking at?” Marcus asked him.
Carmelo turned back to Lacey and said, “I want one like that.” He pointed at the black skull on Marcus’ bicep. “I have two dollars. Is that enough?”
Lacey sat in stunned silence for a second, then threw her head back and laughed.
“I think you’re too young, Carmelo,” Marcus told him.
“No, no,” said Lacey. “I got you covered little man.”
She opened a drawer on her desk and rummaged around until she emerged with a temporary tattoo. A skull, but one that looked a lot friendlier than the one Marcus had.
After fetching a damp paper towel and instructing her client to be still, Lacey applied the tattoo.
When she was done, Carmelo looked down, and his eyes got big.
“I know, right.” Lacey stood to her feet. “It’s on the house. I like to treat my clients good the first time so they come back again.”
“Angela’s gonna love that,” Marcus muttered.
“It’ll be off in a week,” Lacey assured him with a wink.
The next stop on the list was at the Snacks and Snuggle café.
“What are those?” Carmelo asked as he studied the prickly, little animals the café was known for.
“They look scary, but kinda cute, too.”
“You can hold one if you’d like.” A short woman in jeans and a shirt with the café’s logo walked up and held out a pair of gloves. “If you wear these, you won’t feel a thing if they put their quills up.”
Carmelo looked up at Marcus, who nodded down at him.
“Go ahead. You’ll regret it later if you don’t. Don’t be no man with regrets.”
Carmelo took the gloves and slid them over his hands, then accepted the hedgehog the café worker handed to him.
Marcus spotted the café’s owner by the register.
“I gotta go talk to someone. You stay here, ok?”
“Payment time,” Marcus told Rod Baker as he approached the man.
Baker’s face lost some of its color, the telltale sign he was terrified of the news he was about to break.
“I don’t have all of it,” Baker said, his voice squeaking on the last word.
“How much do you have?”
Shaking his head, Marcus said, “That’s less than last time.”
“I know, I know. Please, give me one more week. Business has been a little slow lately, but it’s spring break next week. Parents will be trying to entertain their kids. It’s always a busy time for us.”
“I feel I’ve been more than generous, don’t you?”
Marcus cracked his neck and knuckles, then looked over at where Carmelo was still holding the hedgehog. The boy’s face was lit up with happy pleasure as he studied the little creature, firing off what looked to be a dozen questions a minute at the worker.
“How much those things go for?” asked Marcus.
“Those animals. The hedgehogs.”
“Usually around two hundred if it’s a young one.”
“Fine. I’ll take one of those. Throw in some food and stuff, and I’ll settle for the four hundred payment.”
Baker gave a quick intake of breath, then frantically motioned over his worker.
“Get me a cage and all the supplies for a new owner. Quickly!”
The woman nodded and hurried off.
Carmelo held the little cage up in front of his face as they walked out of the store.
“I love him! Thanks Mr. Marcus!”
“You gotta take care of him.”
“I will, don’t worry! His name’s going to be King!”
“Cause it’s a cool name!”
“Ok, yeah, I guess it is kinda cool.”
The next and last stop, Bill’s Books, was just a couple of doors down from Snacks and Snuggles, so they walked.
“Ok, here’s some cash. Go buy a snack from that little bakery in the back, get a good book, and sit over there and read. I’ll come get you when I’m done.”
As Carmelo walked off, Marcus moved toward Bill Cristo’s office. The old man was clicking away at his ancient looking computer.
“Got a minute?” Marcus asked.
Bill was one of his family’s oldest and most faithful customers. The man deserved respect.
“Who’s the kid I saw you walk in with?” Bill asked as he turned to Marcus.
“Ah, the girlfriend. She putting you on babysitting duty now?”
“Somethin like that. He’s good company.”
“He gonna be taking over the business one day?”
Knowing that Angela would have a pretty strong reaction to that, Marcus shook his head.
“Too smart for that,” he answered. “That kid’ll do things. Go places.”
“Pretty sure my old man said that about me, too.”
“You’re doing ok for yourself.”
“That wasn’t what he said when I told him forty years ago that I was opening a bookstore.” One side of Bill’s mouth raised in a smile as he bent over and opened one of the drawers of the desk. He pulled out a wad of bills. “Gotta feeling next month might be a little sparse so I’m adding in extra this month.”
After a few more minutes of general conversation with the bookstore owner, Marcus went in search of Carmelo. He found the boy in the back corner where the children’s area was.
He had the hedgehog curled on his lap, his plastic armor askew. A paper plate with two chocolate donuts was sitting next to him along with a bottle of soda. In his hands, he held a book, with the title jumping out in big, bold, yellow color: ‘Dino Poop’.
“What kind of book is that?” asked Marcus as he sat down next to the kid.
“It’s got all kinds of cool facts about stuff.”
“Ok, well hurry and finish your food. We gotta get goin’. Your mom’ll be home soon.”
Thanks to the afternoon snack of donuts and soda, Carmelo bounced in his seat the entire ride back to Angela’s house, his mouth in constant movement.
“This was fun! I like your job. Isn’t King awesome? Will Mom like him? She’ll like him. She likes animals. I want to go out with you again sometime. Can I go out with you again sometime? How often do you go out? Do you like your job? I like your job.”
“Yeah, you already said that, kid.”
“What have you done to my child?” Angela asked, hands on hips as she watched her jittery son walk through the door. “And why in the world does he have all this stuff?”
“Mom, Mom, Mom!”
“Yes, Carmelo, once was enough. I’m listening.”
“I got a hedgehog! Isn’t he cute? His name is King. He likes me, too. He hasn’t poked me once. We’re going to be good friends. I’m going to show him to Harper. Will Harper like him? Marcus told me how to take care of Asa! I can’t wait! Can I have a couple of dollars?”
The boy kept up his chatter as Angela put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him toward his room.
“Why don’t you go get washed up for dinner,” she said.
“I’m not really—“
“Yeah, get washed up for dinner,” Marcus echoed, giving Carmelo a warning look.
“Right. Dinner. I’ll go wash up.” Carmelo stopped before he got to his room and turned with a smile on his face. “I want to do what Marcus does when I get older!”
As soon as his door was closed, Angela turned to Marcus.
“Did my son just tell me he wants to be a loan man when he gets older?” she asked, right eyebrow raised dangerously.
“You know kids. He’ll change his mind tomorrow.”
“How much sugar did he eat?”
“Just a couple’a chocolate donuts and a bottle of soda.”
“Come on. He loves that thing. I heard they’re super easy to take care of.”
“Don’t let the name fool you. It’s educational.”
“Temporary. Be off in a week.”
“Makes him feel like a real man.”
“OK, what about Asa?”
“I told him how to take care of himself without havin’ to fight. You should thank me.”
Angela’s frown lasted another few seconds, then it dropped and she sighed. She walked up and wrapped her arms around Marcus.
“Thanks for taking care of him today,” she said, looking up at him. “I’m glad you two seem to have hit it off. And it was nice not having to worry about him. I knew he was in good hands.” She lowered her head and turned it so her cheek could rest against his chest.
There was a moment of silence as Marcus rubbed her back, then he said, “You’re not going to let him go back out with me again, are you?”
“No, no I’m not,” she said with a smirk.