“So you have no tools,” the salesman said, and Jack could clearly hear “you are an idiot” in his tone. “Well, then I’d recommend one of our tree house packages.”
He stood in the monstrous home center gazing at piles of lumber. He ran a hand through his hair.
“Is that a pre-fab kind of thing?”
“Come this way.” The salesman led him through the huge warehouse and stopped in front of a structure. It was a house, all right, but it wasn’t in a tree. It was a raised structure with a small house – an awesome house, Jack had to admit – a slide coming off it, and a set of swings.
“She already has a swing set,” he said doubtfully, eyeing the structure. “And it’s not in a tree.”
“Well, no,” the man said, patience stretching out his words. “But it’s ready to build. The walls, roof and floor are all modular and pre-assembled, so there’s nothing to saw. All wood components are painted to protect them from weather. You can paint the outside and shingle it however you like. Paint and shingles aren’t included.”
Jack gulped. He was pretty sure that didn’t mean twenty nine dollars. But what the hell. He had nothing but money. No home. No car. Not even a single piece of furniture. He’d basically banked and invested all his earnings the last five years, so yeah...he had money. “How do I get it home?” As he said the word “home” he knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t his home. Whatever.
“We’ll deliver it to your door,” the man replied. “We can have it there this afternoon. Somebody has to be home to take delivery, though.”
“Yeah, okay. I can be there.” He had nothing better to do.
The salesman helped him with the basic tools he was going to need to put the thing together, then he pulled out the credit card and made arrangements for it to all be delivered.
Brittany met him at her place to let him in, then went back to work. Sarah was at daycare. As he waited at their home for the delivery, he felt as much in a foreign place as he had when he’d arrived in Iraq. It was just too weird to contemplate, sitting on Brittany’s worn couch in her little duplex, watching daytime TV, studying Sarah’s paraphernalia lying around – a doll, a pair of pink runners, a baseball cap.
He couldn't help remembering how close he'd been to jumping all over Ally last night. He'd seen something in her eyes that looked a lot like the need and hunger he felt. But she'd said good-night and turned away and that was probably a good thing. Dammit.
He jumped up when the big truck arrived with the delivery, relieved to finally be doing something. Soon he had Brittany’s entire back yard filled with pieces of wood, shingles, a big plastic slide and stuff he didn’t even know what to do with.
He considered reading the directions on how to assemble the house, then set them aside. Nah. He could figure it out. How hard could it be?
The California sun grew warm and eventually he had to shed his sweatshirt to work in a short-sleeved T-shirt. He wiped the sweat from his brow but it trickled down his back, and he knew part of it stemmed from frustration and fear, rather than the sun. The volume of pieces and different types of materials overwhelmed him.
He took a break for a bottle of water from Brittany’s fridge, at her invitation before she’d left for work, and stood surveying the mess he’d made. Hell. This wasn’t going well and-he glanced at his watch-Brittany and Sarah would be home in a couple of hours. He hadn’t planned to finish it by then, he knew that wasn’t realistic, but he’d hoped to have a good start. All he had was chaos.
When all else fails, read the directions. He sat down on the grass with his bottle of water and the book of instructions and started reading.
Okay, he just needed to take an organized approach to this. He sorted parts and pieces, and little by little began to assemble the structure. He’d completed the base of it by the time Sarah and Brittany arrived home.
“Hi Jack.” Sarah ran into the yard and stopped dead. “Wow.” Her eyes were huge in her small face. Brittany came to a stop behind her, stunned amazement also shading her face.
“Um...that’s really big,” she said in a choked voice.
Jack nodded, pleased with what he’d managed to accomplish so far.
“But it’s not in the tree,” Sarah said, and her bottom lip jutted as she gazed at the beginnings of the house.
“No, but it will be up high,” Jack said. “Come see the picture.”
Sarah took a step nearer. He showed her the picture on the front of the instruction book. “See. It has a slide and swings attached.”
“But I already have a slide and swings.” Her bottom lip quivered. “And it’s not in the tree.”
“Sarah,” Brittany’s sharp voice interjected. “Jack is going to a lot of trouble to build this for you, you know.”
Jack looked from Sarah’s pout to Brittany’s frown. “That’s okay ...”
“No,” Brittany said. “Sarah, when someone does something for you you’re supposed to be grateful, not complain.”
“But it’s not what I wanted!” Sarah turned
and ran back into the house on her skinny legs.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 15