Chapter 4 – Dream Come True
Tom ambled along slowly down the sidewalk to school. He really didn’t feel like going to class anymore. Not after what Pops had just told him. Tom had a bad feeling about this thing that was going down tonight and wanted to take another look at the Walden Museum of History & Art ahead of time.
And he especially didn’t want to go to school now that he wouldn’t have time to hunt for a job after class. He could play hooky for the day and ask Tom for another note excusing his absence tomorrow.
But the museum was close to his school, and he was still hungry. So Tom continued walking in that direction while looking for a place to get a cheap bite to eat. He stopped at a couple of local mom and pop shops along the way to see if they were hiring.
The last shopkeeper all but threw him out of the building.
“Get lost, kid. Go back to school, kid. I might hire you on the weekends, but come look me up after school hours. I ain’t hiring no loser dropout.” he shouted after him.
Tom sighed and didn’t even bother to try to explain to the old man that he hadn’t dropped out, even though he had to admit that was what it had seemed like since it wasn’t even 9:00 a.m. yet.
The young lad almost gave up asking anywhere else. But Tom finally worked up the courage to stop at a few more potential shops along the way making sure to explain his need for a job after school hours so they would know that he hadn’t dropped out yet. They were polite but told him that they didn’t need any extra help at the moment.
Tom was close to the museum and remembered that there was a McDonald’s around the side of the building. His growling stomach reminded him that it was still empty and demanded to be filled. Tom decided to head straight there and fill out an online application using the free wi-fi while he was eating.
It wasn’t his first choice for work. But a job was a job, and he wouldn’t complain about it as long as they paid real money. It couldn’t be too hard to get a job there. Seriously, if he couldn’t get a job at McDonald’s and prove himself there, then he didn’t deserve to work anywhere. It was an honest wage and hold him over until he could find something that paid better.
Secretly, Tom hoped that he could make enough to get out on his own soon. He would soon be eighteen and could stay behind when his family moved on to the next city. Tom felt giddy with excitement over that thought.
Being able to settle down in one place for longer than three months would be a life-long dream come true for Tom. He had recalled the names at least thirty cities in four different countries that he had lived in over the years. And that didn’t count the ones he couldn’t remember as a child or even the ones they hadn’t spent more than three days in.
Yes, it was time for Tom Bentsen to settle down and create some roots for himself. Pops and Marshmallow could leave Walden and go wherever they wanted after this. But Tom crossed his fingers and hoped that he would have enough time to make some money and build up a little nest egg for a rainy day. Maybe find someone to room with and split the rent. He could start applying for local college credits to make sure he was accepted before he even graduated high school.
Tom smiled and looked up at the beautiful morning sky. He had barely even noticed the deep blue background behind the billowing white cumulus clouds that floated majestically through the air high above him. He breathed deeply of the fresh air that wafted off the lush lawn and garden flowers that surrounded the museum grounds when he rounded the final corner.
The Walden Museum of History & Art was a work of art in itself. A long row of steps led the way to the four towering columns that supported the museum. Three large doors led the way into the building even though it wouldn’t be open to the general public for another hour.
Tom paused to admire the large red and yellow flags that were unfurled and hung down the entire length of the walls. The whole building looked like something that may have been ripped straight from a medieval kingdom in some distant realm.
“You here to apply for one of the high school internships too? They aren’t open yet.” a voice boomed out behind him.
Tom spun around to see another young fellow with thick, black hair and small, beady eyes that didn’t look to be much older than himself standing behind a hot dog cart.
“Oh, hey. No. Well, that’s not why I came. But I am looking for a job. Do they pay anything? I’m still in school so it would have to be after hours. I haven’t dropped out of school.” he said uncertainly between the memory of the old shopkeeper chewing him out for quitting school and the realization that the young man in front of him probably was a high school drop out.
Tom winced as he said it. The dark-haired boy smiled easily and waved it off.
“No judgments. Life is what it is, and a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I’m Lucas, by the way. Would you like a hot dog, Tom?”
His stomach growled loudly, and Tom nodded quickly hoping it wasn’t loud enough for Lucas to hear at that distance. He suddenly realized the other boy knew his name and grew suspicious.
“How do you know my name?” he asked when he reached for the hot dog.
“We have a few classes together. You’re the new kid. I was there the day you introduced yourself to the class Friday before last.”
Tom nodded as he chewed on his hot dog and digested the information.
“So, what are you doing out here during school hours?”
Lucas smiled and shrugged. ” Like I said. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Gotta find a way to make ends meet. At the end of the month, I have to work more to pay the bills.”
“You live alone? Where are your parents?” Tom asked.
He wiped his hands on a white paper napkin and pulled out his five dollar bill. Lucas waved it off.
“Nope, first one is on the house. But I’ll sell you another one if you want it. As for parents, I don’t know. They abandoned me along with the other kids around here about twelve years ago. Alan found me and took me in. He was a hot dog cart guy back in the day. Taught me everything there is to know about hot dogs. But he got a new job and travels a lot. He’s pretty much only here in the winter. So, I use it to make a little cash.”
Lucas handed Tom another hot dog and coke with a bag of chips. Then took the five dollars from him.
“Teachers don’t complain about you missing class?” Tom asked through another mouthful of hot dog.
“Nah, I grew up here. Most of them know my story and feel sorry for me. They take it easy on me. Besides, I hook them up with extra hot dogs and stuff at events. It’s a win-win situation.” Lucas said with another one of those easy grins.
“And you said you along with the other kids around here? What’s that all about?”
“Nobody knows, but the official story is that about fifty kids just showed up in different places around town the same night Alan found me. Most of them got rounded up and shipped off to the orphanage. It was a dark, cold, snowy night. Alan almost ran me over. Said I was wandering around in the middle of the street. Alan grew up in an orphanage himself and felt sorry for me. So, he promised to let me stay with him if I was willing to help him sell hot dogs.”
“Like a child slave!” Tom asked incredulously.
“No, it’s not like that. Not as bad as it sounds. He was just giving me a choice. I had to tag along with him of course because he didn’t have a babysitter for me. But he’s always been real nice and treated me right. Once I was old enough to stay home by myself, he would let me if I wanted. But I hated being alone, and I loved counting Alan’s money. Now, I run the ‘family’ business.” Lucas said with air quotes around the word family.
“Sorry to hear that,” Tom muttered unsure of what else to say. “Don’t you miss your family?”
Lucas shrugged his shoulders.
“Can’t say that I do. I honestly don’t remember anything about them. Alan’s guess is that I was about four or five when he found me. He adopted me and said that my birthday was January seventeenth, the day he found me. So, I guess I turned out alright. Anyway, enough about me. What’s your story? What are you looking for a job for? To buy a new car?”
Now it was Tom’s turn to shrug.
“Not much to tell, other than the fact that we move a lot. I live with my mom and her four brothers. And one of my uncle’s sons. He’s alright, but Christian is a bit older than me and thinks he’s better than I am. We move like four times a year. I’m sick of moving. I need to make some money and find a place to stay, so I don’t have to leave with them in a few months.”
Lucas grinned and handed Tom another hot dog. Tom shook his head and was embarrassed to say that he didn’t have any more money on him.
“Oh, c’mon. Take it,” Lucas insisted. ” I can tell that you’re still hungry. It’s on the house. Besides, if you don’t find another job, look me up again. You can help me out with the hot dog cart. When you get the hang of the ropes, I have an extra cart in the garage at home. You can run it and pay me a cut of the profits.”
Tom smiled gratefully. It sounded about as exciting as working at McDonald’s but did have the advantage of being able to choose his own hours.
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Hey. Don’t mention it. I can always use an extra hand this time of year, and you’ll help me make more money. You’ll be the one doing me a favor. If it works out, I can talk to Alan about letting you have the extra room in his house. He never uses it, and probably won’t even charge you rent if you’re helping me with the hot dog carts.”
Tom’s eyes lit up at the thought of making his own money and a place to stay when Marshmallow and Pops left town. Sure, he would miss them. But it’s not like it was about time for him to leave home anyway. He’d soon be headed off to college anyway. Now, he just needed to find a way to tell them nicely and help them to see it was a good thing for all of them without Marshmallow going into a tizzy over it.
“That would be great,” Tom said excitedly.
Lucas smiled and nodded as he turned to wrap up a couple of hot dogs for a customer. After the man left, Lucas turned back to Tom and explained several important things like how the business worked, how to make the meanest hot dogs in Walden, how to upsell the customers more food.
Tom found it interesting that Lucas always gave his customers the first item they asked for free.
“Don’t worry,” Lucas said when he caught Tom’s dubious looks. “We actually make a lot more by giving a customer something free. Alan’s tested it over the years, and his tests consistently show that we make 40% more profit when we give them the first thing they request free. It surprises them and causes them to trust us. Then they open their wallets and practically let us take the money out and count it ourselves.
Continue Reading Chapter 5 – Lucky Stars >>>