“He looks healthy. I know he’s eating.”
He shrugged. “He waits until dear old mommy is on her back keeping the men busy while he lifts their wallets. She takes a cut of course and I've been dropping food off on their front steps when only he’s home for the past three years. He thinks the church has been leaving it.”
“I-I didn’t know.” She backed up now. He stalked forward.
“Tell me something, Madison, since you’re intent on pushing me out of the picture, are you planning on f**king for your cut as well? Might come in handy.”
She slapped him, hard. “I hate you.”
His tongue darted out to lick up the blood on his lip. “You didn’t answer me. How are you going to take care of a sixteen year old boy when you can’t even take care of yourself?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I talked to Grandma tonight she’s going to give me some hours here.”
“Scrubbing toilets? Yes, that’s perfect for someone with a college degree and a full time job.”
“Candy offered to help me, too.”
“She’s going to see if she can get me a position waiting tables.”
Ephraim didn’t dare move a muscle for fear that he would put his fist through something. In a deceivingly calm voice he asked, “Oh, and what percentage of your tips does she want if you get the job?”
“Twenty-five percent,” she muttered.
“Wow, you have a great mother, Madison. First she overlooks you to f**k everything with a dick and then she leaves you to raise her two kids. Now she’s willing to have you strip so she can make a profit. I can see now why you keep your legs closed, she’d probably sell the grandkids on the black market the first chance she gets.”
When he expected another slap she scoffed, “I don’t think we have to worry about that when it comes to you.”
He suddenly turned his back on her. “Go away, little girl. I’m sick of these games and I’m done with you.”
She didn’t move as Ephraim viciously yanked on a black tee shirt and jeans. He sat on a chair, pulling on socks and shoes. “What are you still doing here? I told you to leave.”
“Where are you going?”
“You don’t get to ask that question anymore.” He grabbed his wallet, keys and left her standing there feeling like her world just ended.
“I told you already that I’ll pay you tomorrow. It’s just been hectic at work. They screwed up on the checks, but I’ll have it by tomorrow,” Jason, the man who moved in over a month ago, promised yet again from the hallway.
Everyone in the dining room pretended they couldn’t hear Mrs. Buckman in the hallway practically begging for the rent.
“She’s going to have to raise the rent,” Mrs. Adle said. “I heard her talking on the phone to someone from the bank last week. She’s thinking of getting a mortgage.”
Madison dropped her fork. Great, just one more thing to worry about. Her grandmother was under too much financial pressure as it was and they were adding more. She should be paying her way and for the kids. Her eyes shot to Candy. She definitely should be paying for Jill and Joshua and her own way. Guilt twitched in her gut as she looked at Chris. One more mouth she added to the already straining mix.
His cheeks flushed as if he knew what she was thinking. “Madison, do you think you can get the school to give me a work permit? I’d like to pay for my own room and food.”
They heard the door close. “I won’t hear any of that nonsense, Christopher. You belong in school fixing your grades not pushing fries in some fast food joint.”
“Grandma, I don’t feel right about this,” Chris said as he looked guiltily at his food.
She slapped him upside the head. “Ow! What the hell was that for?”
“I said to drop it. You are part of this family so stop it and put some more food on your plate. I won’t have you losing weight and looking like a skeleton when I’ve been working so hard these last two weeks to put meat on your bones.”
When he didn’t move fast enough to eat she raised her hand to hit him upside his head again. “Okay!” He took more corn and potatoes. “Slave driver,” he muttered.
Grandma sat down at the head of the table. “Everyone, eat please.”
“Grandma, I was thinking that with us here that’s five rooms you’re not collecting on and five mouths to feed. I think I’m going to get another job to help out.”
“Madison, you already work a full time job and you clean here ten hours a week, that’s help enough.” She shot a look of warning at her daughter. “And don’t even think of suggesting my granddaughter go work at that obscene place again, Emma.”
Candy pouted. She hated being called Emma and she hated not getting her way even more. She threw a fit when Madison declined the job offer. She’d really been looking forward to her cut.
Grandma pointed a finger in Candy’s direction. “I looked the other way when you started working there, but when you tried to bring my granddaughter there,” she shook her head in disgust. “You’re lucky I didn’t throw you out on your backside then and there.”
“But, mama, I was just trying to help.” Candy’s pout deepened.
Grandma narrowed her eyes on her only child.
“I wish Ephraim was here,” Joshua mumbled.
“Has he called?” Jill asked, jumping on the change of topic.
“No, can we talk about something else, please.” She pushed her meatloaf around her plate.
“Did you try his cell phone?” Chris asked, drawing her attention.
Chris looked so uncomfortable. His clothes were already too small and worn. They looked even smaller after two weeks of eating properly for the first time and a growth spurt. He needed new clothes and she didn’t have the money. He didn’t complain though. He probably knew. She would have to get another job to keep clothes on his back. Jill and Joshua clothes were in the same condition as Chris’s. They all needed new clothes. Great now she felt even more depressed.
Grandma’s eyes roamed over all three children’s state of clothing as well. Her frown deepened. This was bad, but Grandma was in denial and she did what she always did when something unpleasant occurred. She tried to hide her feelings from everyone and move on, dragging everyone with her.
“Everyone please leave her alone and finish dinner. Chris and Jill, you both have dish duty tonight.”