The Right Price

Chapter 1

Collins

I clicked the key fob to lock my car, but there really was no point to it. Even though I lived in a bad neighborhood, my car was used enough that there was no real fear of it attracting any criminals. That was the thing about bad neighborhoods; theft wasn’t a huge crime here. Sure, assaults, rapes, killings, and drug dealing were common enough, but most poor people had nothing worth stealing, and that was me. I was one of those poor people that had nothing worth stealing.

Closing the gate behind me, it was only a matter of time before the rickety chain-linked fence that surrounded my house fell down completely. It was hardly a burglary deterrent, so much as it was a property line marker. The entire lot was maybe five-thousand square feet, but the rent was only nine-hundred dollars a month, and the landlord cared about nothing else but the rent. As long as it was paid on time, I never heard from him.

The house was a small two-bedroom, one bath, kitchen, living room, and washroom ensemble, and while not built by the best materials around, the roof didn’t leak, the water heater worked, and the central air ran a reasonable electric bill. I also made sure to keep it clean, even if none of the furniture matched.

Still, it was a million times better than being homeless.

Unlocking the front door, I made sure to lock it behind me, greeting my grandmother as I walked through the door. “Hey, Nan.”

She lifted the remote control, paused her television show, then smiled back at me. “Collins, honey,” she replied. “It’s nice to see you home.”

Mavie Spencer was the only family that I had, even though both my parents were still alive. Well, my mother was still alive; I couldn’t be certain about my father. He had taken off when I was only six-years-old, and that was the last that I’d seen of him. With that as the perfect excuse, my mother had ended up deciding that she was going to use alcohol to numb the loneliness, and that ended up leaving me with Nan, but I was a better person for it.

“Have you eaten dinner yet?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen to put away a few things that I had picked up at the grocery store.

“Yes, I did,” she answered. “A tuna melt.”

While I didn’t consider a tuna melt dinner, it was better than nothing. Plus, it was a simple thing to make. Nan was up there in age, and I worried about her trying to do too much when I was at work. I had three jobs, and while they didn’t leave me a lot of time to spend with her, they did keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.

Widowed at a young age, Nan had lost Grandpa Pembrooke to a sudden heart attacked when he’d only been forty-years-old. With my mother only being eighteen at the time, I hadn’t had a chance to meet Grandpa Pembrooke, but Nan had never remarried, so that told me a lot about her marriage to the man. She still spoke of him as if he were still alive, and it hurt my heart sometimes to hear her carrying on about him. I wasn’t sure if she was lonely, but it was apparent that she still missed him a great deal.

Now, while Grandpa Pem had left Nan a decent-sized life insurance, money flew out the door a lot more quickly when you went from a two-income family to a single-income family. With my mother being selfish and drowning in her own problems, she hadn’t been much help when Nan had been forced to move out of the home that she had shared with Grandpa Pembrooke. Unfortunately for Nan, she had owed more on the house than it’d been worth, so when the bank had foreclosed on her, she’d been left with nothing. By the time that I’d found out about her financial troubles, it’d been too late. I could have easily moved in with her to help pay the bills, but she hadn’t wanted to be a burden-her words, not mine.

So, after losing the house, I had immediately moved Nan in with me, and while it had put a huge strain on my finances, I didn’t regret it. With an absent father and neglectful mother, Nan had been the one to raise me, so taking care of her now was the least that I could do. Sure, I’d had to take on a third job, but I was still young enough to make it work. Plus, I had no husband or children to interfere with what needed to be done.

The only real concern was Nan’s physical health. Last year, old age had finally started making an appearance, and even though a lot of people considered eighty still a manageable age, eighty on medication wasn’t that manageable. People argued about wages and what was fair all the time, but health care was the real villain in life. Medication and doctors’ appointments were so expensive that it was hard to make it work if you didn’t have good health coverage.

Not health coverage, mind you.

Good health coverage.

Still, between Nan’s social security, my job as a waitress, stockgirl, and cashier, we made it work. We might not be taking family vacations or going on shopping sprees, but the lights were on, there was food in the fridge, and Nan had all her medicines. I’d take Nan’s health over a trip to the beach any day.

“Well, I’m going to put together a chicken salad if you’re interested,” I called back to her. Red meat was expensive, so we ate a lot of chicken and canned tuna.

“Oh, no thank you,” she replied as she unmuted the television. “I’m good, dear.”

After putting the groceries away, I automatically went to the pile of mail. Per habit, I separated my letters from Nan’s, then I tossed out all the junk mail. It surprised me how many companies still sent out paper mail when email was the norm. Even the utility companies wanted you to go paper-free. No one wanted your home address anymore; they wanted your email address, so that they could drown you in promotions and temptation.

With only the electric bill worth looking at, I placed it with the other bills that needed to be paid this month, then proceeded to go through Nan’s things. While she didn’t get a lot of bills, she did get a lot of information mail about her social security, medications, etc. I guess it’d be ‘old people’s mail.

Seeing an envelope from her pharmacy, I opened it, and my stomach dropped as I read how they were raising the price of three of her medications. Staring at the letter in my hand, I cursed Bronson and Opal Armstrong because I had no one else to curse. While it was unfair to blame all my stress on my shitty parents, it helped. If my father hadn’t left my mother, or had my mother handled the abandonment better, I might have had a bit of a leg up on this journey called life.

Instead, I was working three jobs at minimum wage because I hadn’t been wise enough to see the bigger picture at only eighteen. Mom had immediately began charging me rent as soon as I had graduated from high school, and had I been smarter about life, I would have worked my fingers to the bone back then for something better. However, I hadn’t been smarter about life, and I had begun working retail after graduation and had never stopped. With companies only offering part-time to get out of paying benefits, I was really screwed when it came to employment packages. Still, I was grateful for my jobs, and the plan was to find a really good job one day, so that I could finally live a little.

Running my work schedule through my head, it was possible to get a fourth job if it was willing to work around my current work demands. I had Tuesday afternoons free, and Friday and Saturday mornings free. Sure, I would be seeing Nan even less, but the income might be just enough to cover the additional medication costs.

Forgetting all about my dinner, I headed towards my bedroom to get my used laptop. I’d gotten it before Nan had moved in and money hadn’t been so tight. It still worked, though it didn’t hold a charge for crap. However, it was the only computer that I had, so as long as they still sold charging cords for it, I’d be using it. I just prayed that it had a few more years left of life on its computer years.

Hauling it into the kitchen with me, I turned it on and gave it time to come to life as I went back to making myself something to eat. Between making my chicken salad and replying to Nan’s idle chitchat, I searched her medications to see if I could find any help with prescription costs. Government health insurance really did suck donkey balls.

An hour later, I heard Nan call out to me from the living room. “Collins, shouldn’t you be getting ready for work?”

I glanced at the bottom corner of the laptop. “Shit,” I hissed, and I could hear Nan chuckle. Even though my jobs weren’t glamorous, I took pride in my work ethic, and I was never late.

“Relax, dear,” Nan said. “You have plenty of time.”

“No,” I corrected, glancing over the laptop at her. “I had plenty of time an hour ago.”

“Well, then, get going,” she replied. “I’ll make sure everything here is locked up nice and tight.”

Standing up, I quickly began cleaning up my dinner mess. “Thanks, Nan.”

“Will you stop thanking me for every little thing, child?” she chided. “It’s the least I can do for all that you’ve done for me.”

I shot her a look. “You raised me,” I reminded her. “I’m not doing anything but showing my gratitude for that.”

Nan smiled softly at me. “I love you, Collins.”

I raced over to her before heading towards my bedroom. Kissing her on the top of her head, I said, “I love you, too.”

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