Soldier Mine (Chapter Four: Claudia, page 1 of 4)

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At around eight, after my shift, Todd and I arrive home to the apartment I'm renting near the edge of town. Our belongings are meager. We usually only take what we can carry. The Goodwill store in town is well stocked, so every payday, I go down to buy something else. We have a sofa, an old television on a TV stand, small dining room table with two chairs, mismatched lamps, and a kitty condo for the cat. Each of us has a twin bed and dresser and a few other odds and ends. The apartment came with major kitchen appliances, and the building has a common laundry area in the basement.

We have everything we need and more. The apartment is cozy and well lit and on the third floor overlooking a large courtyard with huge maple trees in the last stages of shedding their purple leaves.

"You want your second dinner?" I ask Todd. In his current stage of growth, he eats twice as much as I do.

"Soup." He crosses to his room and slings his backpack inside before going to see the cat like he does every day. "Hi, Snickers."

The diner is generous - a real godsend. I take home a meal every night and eat two free meals a day on my ten-hour shifts. It cuts our expenses down, and I'm an expert at stretching my dollars at the grocery store. I make a huge pot of chili or stew every weekend, so Todd has something to snack on in the evenings.

I nuke Todd a bowl of chili then tuck my tips into a cookie jar in the cabinet beneath the sink. The cheerful snowman is filled with loose change and dollar bills. It's my emergency fund, though this year, I'm hoping I can spend it on a Christmas present for Todd instead of travel money to get us away from here.

I change into old jeans and a sweatshirt before returning for Todd's chili. He's seated at the table with Snickers, the cat he's had for over half his life.

"You thinking about karate?" he asks.

"Omigod!" I groan. "Why do you want to do it so bad?"

"Because I'm tired of running."

The maturity in his response deflates my irritation. He's growing up fast. I pull out the other chair and sit down, watching him eat. "I'm working on it," I murmur, well aware of what that eventually will mean for us. "Why stop now? Why not in Florida where it's warm all year round?" We spent most of our lives in various places in Florida or Texas. I'm not sure I'm ready for a New England winter. It's two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I'm already too cold.

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