Annalee needed a way out, and the only idea that seemed to work was Neal and his chipper. She called him on a morning in April, when he wouldn’t be mulching. Gave him some bullshit about Trevor.
His ma had given him some ritzy soap opera name because she had Plans for him, and her plans had shat the bed when he’d shattered his femur in Senior year on the grid. Trevor Hinson- Salvage Man. Wife Beater.
Annalee knew at least three purse dogs named Trevor.
Trevor had taken his fist to their son the night before. That had never happened yet, and she knew better than to bide her time, but she had. Her pop had been free with the fist, and she was good about standing and taking it or avoiding it altogether. The boy was a different matter. Trevor had given him a twelve year head start, and now that he was turning handsome and smart- way smarter than his dad- well…
The boy had no skills. Trevor was only home for about four hours a day anyway what with his whore up in Hoke letting him stay. He’d married Annalee when she was knocked up, promised a big paycheck, didn’t deliver, and skedaddled. The arrangement was fine by her, except he came home for nightly dinners and bedtime for the boy before leaving again. Trevor never beat her in front of their son, and she did have skills.
When Trevor’s fist flew over a glass of tea on the floor the boy never even saw it coming. Annalee screamed, the fist found her, the boy screamed- no cops arrived. Trevor gunned his Z-28 and threw up gravel on the way out.
Annalee got the boy settled into bed- angry and scared as he was. He was making noises about getting a gun. He was shouting about calling some “friends” he knew, although he didn’t have many. She shushed him, let him listen to his iPod for an extra thirty minutes, and told him his dad wouldn’t be trouble anymore. She made noise about calling the police and filing charges. The boy had a good sized bruise on his jaw, and Trevor hadn’t taken precautions with her either this time.
The next morning she called Neal instead of the cops. Neal was her best friend in middle school and as far as she made it through high school. Still was. Neal was a “bachelor,” in the old fashioned sense of the word, but he took his activities out of town. He stayed in Robeson for his parents, and Annalee always figured maybe for her, too. Annalee thought whatever floated a person’s boat was just fine as long as it didn’t hurt anybody, and Neal wasn’t hurting anyone.
She didn’t make the call until she had Trevor in a Hefty. The hurting part was over. Annalee told Neal she needed to borrow a chipper because Trevor had said he’d be by to take down loose branches for her before the weather got bad. Neal wouldn’t believe a word of it, but she didn’t want him lying to the Sheriff. He said that was fine, and he’d have it over by lunchtime.
Neal delivered it with a simple, “There ya go. Call me when you need it gone.”
He’d put it in the back half of the property, being careful not to gouge up the earth with his wheels, and even with a wheelbarrow it was hard to move that Hefty back there. She pushed and turned, and then two large hands were on top of hers.
“Let me do it, Momma.”
Annalee almost threw up. “You’re supposed to be at school.”
“I cut. You’re going to want to put it on the burn pile first. Hard to clean a chipper right. Ash and chips are easier.”
Annalee looked at the boy. So smart. Where did he come from?
He pointed at the garden beds. “When it’s done we can turn it in there. Let’s stick with flowers this year, okay?”