It was Day 50 of Schwartz holding the court settlement check, and he and James were going to the bank together on the coming Monday to deposit it. James had given his notice three weeks ago that the family was moving out; when asked where, he gave a general and public "Back to Missouri."
That wasn't true, and only those closest to the Evans Family knew it. They remembered all too well the last time that it was thought by the general population of the projects that the Evans came into money; when James had found the grocery store's bank deposit and had returned most of it, and the grocery store officials went to the media crowing about a "large reward" they'd given James, when in truth, it was a paltry gift certificate.
JJ had been threatened by some of the young toughs, when they thought that the family'd had money. Then for a time, James was considered the laughing stock of the projects when they found out he gave much of the money back. What he'd kept ended up being donated to the church, but it didn't stop some from thinking that the Evans thought themselves "better" than some of the project folk.
Small mentions were made in the paper after the court's award from the wrongful death case, but no figure, mercifully, was ever quoted. Only Wilona knew, but again proved she could be trustworthy, and didn't breathe a word of what many would see as a windfall, almost like a lottery win.
With almost $750,000 waiting to be put in the bank, James could've chosen almost anywhere in the world to relocate his family. The trick was to do it quietly. Anyone thinking that the Evans had 'got too much' could make their last days in the projects a living hell.
Three weeks ago, as James sat in Schwartz' office, they met with an accountant, who was advising on what to do with the money, to shelter it from taxes as well as plan long-term. Holding onto the check as they did was the smartest move they'd ever made, the accountant stated, as had it gone to deposit, the Housing Authority not only could've evicted the Evans Family immediately, but gone after the money retroactively to pay the rent at fair market value.
"Which is hardly fair, as that building's condition is hardly worth the hundred dollars a month rent you pay," Schwartz said to James, who nodded. This wasn't cheating the system; this was conserving resources wisely. What people with money do. What James was being taught to do. And those three weeks had flown by.
"But now there's just ten days to get out," James sighed, back in Schwartz' office. Everything that was going with them in the apartment was in boxes, and as he and Schwartz spoke in the office, JJ, Thelma and Michael were back in the apartment having a moving sale. Lisa was at Wilona and Penny's, and all were waiting to hear from James to see what their next move would be.
He was now in a position to buy a home for his family, and was about to accompany Schwartz and the accountant to look at a few available houses in Cook County. Schwartz would handle the real estate closing and told James that it would be a smooth transition, once the process was set in motion.
"James, I already told you that if for some reason, things get held up, your family can stay with mine. It's only temporary. I have a good feeling about the house in Bellwood..we'll have to see what you think, though."
"Although the two homes in Evanston are also good values," the accountant added, "Only you know what you require, James."
James shrugged, putting his coat on. He didn't want to move his brood into the Schwartz residence, but he didn't want to make a snap judgment, either. Oh, how he wished Florida was with him now. He could picture her, in his mind's eye, walking beside him, gasping at one of the homes...all of the room, "Oh, James," he could hear in her voice, "It's lovely. Look how the sun comes into the big window..."
She'd notice those things. The big windows or how the light filtered in. The things like that that made a house special, which helped make it a home. Damn. He had no eye for those things. He'd be looking at it for structural soundness, or for what work needn't be done...Damn.
They departed the law office and headed down to Schwartz' car, the accountant taking the back seat. As they got onto the highway, James asked if they could take a detour past the projects.
"You want to look in on your children?" Schwartz asked, getting into the right lane to take the next exit. "No, man, if you don't mind, I'd like to have Wilona come along and see, to help me pick. I don't want to pick the wrong place. You know how women are."
Schwartz nodded and made the appropriate turn. James went up and got Wilona, and he bundled Lisa up. How big she's getting, James thought to himself, as she scowled deeply at him as he zipped up her jacket.
"Daddy, I can do that all by myself," she frowned, unzipping it and then struggling to get it back up, to make good on her word. "Yes, I see that, yes you can, baby girl," he chuckled, and picked her up. She beamed brightly up at him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "We're goin' out?"
"Mmhmm, we're goin' out. You gonna behave"
"Yup. And you're gonna buy me a cookie"
"We'll see, baby girl. Just mind your manners"
"Penny, honey," Wilona said, kissing Penny's forehead, "Go help JJ and the kids now, I'm sure that apartment's full of bargain hunters and they could use a hand." They'd seen a short yet determined line of tenants outside the place, but it was orderly. Most of the shoppers were walking out with one or two items in their hands..a blanket, a dish, a vase, a frying pan. James opted against popping in and telling the children he was coming by. Instead, he told Penny to tell Thelma that he'd be back soon, and had to take Wilona on an errand.
"Okay, Uncle James," Penny said, smiling brightly and dashing out, wiggling her way through the line. Wilona grabbed her handbag, locked up her door and then she, James and Lisa headed to the elevator. They stood around, waiting, and James hoped that Schwartz wasn't getting annoyed at the wait..they were as quick as possible. It was the elevator acting up again. That was one part of the projects he wasn't going to miss. Just when he was about to forget the elevator altogether and take 17 flights of stairs, the doors opened and a woman from the second floor, who was famous in the building for her cattiness..and who made Wilona as a gossip look like a mere amateur...emerged.
"Afternoon, Elsie," James said as he carried Lisa inside. Elsie looked James up and down, giving a glance at the little girl, then a smirk at Wilona as she stepped on.
"Hm." Elsie turned her nose up after looking at Wilona, and shook her head.
"Somethin' you want to say, Elsie?" Wilona asked, one eyebrow lifted"
"Fine, I'll say it. Ain't only me thinkin' it," Elsie said, hands on hips as she stood in the elevator doors, preventing it from closing. "Some fine friend you was to Florida"
"WHAT?!" James and Wilona asked in stereo, blinking.
"Carryin' on with her husband. I'll pray for both of you." She got out of the doors and went on to the moving sale, shaking her head. James had a look of disbelief and Wilona looked horrified.
"What the hell was that about?!" James asked.
"Daddy, don't say 'hell', that ain't a nice word," Lisa piped up.
"Don't say 'hell', little girl, or I'll warm up your behind"
Lisa shut up, knew that Daddy's threats weren't idle, so sulked a little and looked to Wilona.
"You haven't heard the gossip, James?" Wilona asked in a deadpan tone, rolling her eyes slightly. "Apparently, you and I are an item"
"You and I is friends"
"Well, according to the building, we is a LOT more than just friends"
"Good Lord," James said, shaking his head, in disgust. Wilona scowled at him. "Why you givin' me that look?!" James asked.
Wilona continued to scowl. "Am I that horrible to be thought of in that manner, James Evans"
"That ain't what I meant"
"Well, it's how you acted." The elevator opened and Wilona got off first, James having to walk quickly to keep up.
They arrived at Schwartz' car and Wilona and Lisa got in the back with the accountant. As James got back into the front passenger seat, Schwartz made a big fuss over the little girl after exchanging pleasantries with Wilona. "Let me guess," Schwartz said, after Lisa was settled in between Wilona and the accountant, "The elevator was acting up."
"You sound like you live in the projects, man," James chuckled. They were now on their way.
They met the real estate agent, and followed her vehicle with theirs. The first two houses in Evanston were decent, but something was lacking. In the first house, Wilona's verdict was that it was "too cold looking. Like there ain't no love allowed." He took a good look at it..and damn if she wasn't right. The front was nice enough..nothing special, but the placement of the windows on the sides of the one story home made it look like a warehouse instead of a residence. And the yard was, as Wilona said, "weird." It was true; the lot was irregular and would make resale of this house for anyone a problem. The shape of the lot was similar to a slice of pizza lain on its side.
"And the cellar stinks bad, Daddy," Lisa said, adding her two cents. It did have a strong stench, which would turn out to be a very expensive fix for the next owner, a problem with the foundation that was allowing water to seep in.
On they went to the next one. The kitchen and roof were new, and Lisa liked it fine, to the degree where she walked into the master suite and yelled, "Daddy! THIS is MY room!", causing Schwartz and the accountant to crack up laughing, but Wilona put the brakes on this one as well.
"I don't -know- why, James, but there's one more to look at. This house just don't feel right"
"What do you mean, don't feel right"
"Fine, I'll tell you," she said quietly. "I'm tryin' to picture Florida in it. If I can't see her in it, then it ain't the right house."
James didn't answer...nor did he admit he was doing the same thing.
"C'mon, little girl, this ain't gonna be your room, we're gonna get somethin' better," he said, scooping up his daughter and telling Schwartz no on this one as well. Schwartz nodded and looked to the agent, who locked up the house and asked them once more to follow, that perhaps the house in Bellwood would be the right fit.
"Third time's the charm," Schwartz said, the old cliche maybe having something behind it...
(To be continued..and feedback most certainly welcome. :)