“Celia, I think there’s been a misunderstanding. I’m not doing this because I think you need my help. I’m a giver. I’ve been blessed with good fortune, that’s true. But my dad raised all of us the same way his parents raised him and his brother.” Celia looked at him, unconsciously holding a breath. “We were taught the value of generosity. Even if I was as poor as a church mouse, I would still give. My mother gave her life to give me mine. The very least I can do is pour out her generosity on others.” Celia’s hand flew to her mouth.
“Oh Pollo I’m so sorry. Here I was worried about you judging us when I did the same thing to you.” She gave him a quick hug, then set about heating up the food. “Jasper should be home in about thirty minutes. Will you join us for dinner?” Apollo smiled.
“It would be a pleasure,” he said. Jordan and Jake came barreling into the kitchen and drug him off to their tiny bedroom. They showed him the shelving their father had built for them to house all their hockey gear. Their names were carved in collegiate lettering. “Your dad made this?”
“Yeah he sure did!” Jordan beamed with pride. “Dad can do anything, build anything, make anything. He made our beds for us when we outgrew our last ones.” Apollo let his hand slide down the beautiful stained oak of the bunkbeds. He could see the love Jasper Clifton put into every part.
“Wow. That’s amazing! Has he ever thought of doing this for a living?” Jake flopped on the bottom bunk.
“He says he has to finish raising us first.”
“Well, that’s a full time job in addition to his regular job,” Apollo chuckled. “You two are a handful!” The boys laughed and tackled him to the floor. The three of them wrestled around, Apollo pinning the younger Cliftons with ease.
“Aw man! No fair!” Jordan whined.
“Totally fair, little dude! I got five brothers, remember? But my sister is the meanest. She can still pin me without breaking a sweat. She’s a beast!”
“Boys!” Celia called from downstairs. “Dinner is ready! Go wash up! That means you too, Pollo!” All three crammed into the little bathroom, jostling each other around. Bounding down the stairs like a herd of elephants, the two smaller boys ran straight into the arms of a giant of a man. He was the spitting image of an older Jordan so it could only be Jasper Clifton, his father. Jasper laughed and hugged them close, kissing each on their heads. Then he reached his hand out to Apollo.
“Very nice to meet you, sir,” Apollo said. Jasper barked out a laugh.
“Who’s this sir you’re talking about? It’s Jasper.” Apollo laughed and clasped the man’s large shoulder. Dinner was a huge success. Apollo was glad he stayed. He really liked this family.
“The boys showed me that awesome shelving unit you built them to store their hockey gear. Not to mention those bunkbeds. You got some real talent, Jasper.” He could swear the big man’s chest puffed out with pride.
“Yeah I love working with wood. I don’t get to do it very often with my work schedule being so heavy but I find time when I can.”
“He’s amazing,” Celia said, giving her husband a loving squeeze of his hand. “He built this table as a matter of fact. Built it when we got married. Said he needed a family table for when we had children.” Jasper kissed her cheek. Apollo took a good look at the solid table beneath him.
“Man whatever you’re doing, you are in the wrong line of work. This is beautiful.” Jasper shrugged his shoulders.
“Thanks, man I appreciate it. Sadly, it doesn’t put food on the table or pay the bills. Maybe when the boys are grown, I can revisit the idea of making a living at it but it will have to stay a dream for now. Family comes first, you know?”
“Yes I do, Jasper. My dad always put us first, no matter what was going on. He still does and we are all grown with lives of our own.” Jasper smiled.
“You’ll understand when you have your own kids, Pollo. You never stop being there for them. You never stop being a parent.”
“That’s what Pop says too so it must be true,” Apollo chuckled. “I gotta tell you, I am in love with your boys. They are amazing.” Celia kissed Jasper’s cheek and rose to clear the table. Apollo got up to help but she waved him aside. Jordan and Jake had disappeared back to their bedroom, leaving just him and Jasper.
“We got lucky with them, that’s for sure. I was so worried about them for a long time, especially with all the trouble Jordan kept finding himself in. This isn’t the greatest neighborhood to raise your kids but we can’t afford to move. Tess came along just in time. She saved my boy.” Jasper’s chin trembled slightly from the emotions he was feeling.
“She has a talent for that,” Apollo said softly. “She sees things in others that no one else does. I still haven’t figured out what the hell she sees in me.”
“I say the same thing about my Celia,” the big man chuckled. “We’re a couple of lucky bastards, aren’t we?”
“Yeah we are.” Apollo leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “I don’t want you to think this is some kind of stunt to up my popularity or some shit. It’s not. I truly like your boys. I’d like to help them as much as I can, as much as you’ll let me.”
“I don’t think that at all, Pollo. I think your heart is definitely in the right place. We don’t want you feeling like you need to adopt us as a charity case either. You help me keep my sons out of trouble and we’ll call it even.”
“Damn man you are so much like my Pop. I don’t think you guys are a charity case. I can tell how hard you work but I can also tell how much you love your kids. You may not have much but what you have is priceless. You have the one thing that makes life worth living. Love, man.” Jasper nodded his head.
“We got that in spades, brother,” he laughed.
“So where do you work, if you don’t mind me asking?” Jasper sighed, stretching his arms behind his head and linking his fingers.
“The GM plant. It’s grueling work and often thankless but it’s a job. Been there for fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years of misery,” Celia interrupted. “He’s been there every day, most weeks all seven days, never calling out sick or clocking in late. Do they appreciate that? No. Barely a cost of living raise in the last eight years. Somehow he’s missed all the layoffs and downsizing.”
“Shh, woman,” Jasper growled. Celia rolled her eyes, paying him no attention. It was cute.
“We both work there. That’s how we met. I didn’t miss the last round of layoffs so I’m having to work two jobs to make up for the loss of my salary.” Apollo sat in silence, letting Celia ramble on much to Jasper’s chagrin. When he felt he could get a word in, he jumped on the opportunity.
“If you could do anything, Jasper, what would you do?” Jasper stopped for a minute, stroking his bearded chin thoughtfully.
“I’d build my furniture. In a perfect world, I would build my furniture and it would be enough to support my family. I would set my own hours so I stopped missing every damn milestone my kids are making.”
“Don’t lose that dream, Jasper. It may be closer than you think. When’s your next day off?”
“Uh, Sunday I think. Next Sunday.” Apollo nodded. He rose from his seat, preparing to leave.
“Come to my dad’s Sunday. I promise I’ll make it worth your while. And I’m not taking no for an answer,” he smiled. He had an idea for a new business venture he knew would pay off. He just needed to talk to Tess and the rest of his family. He was hoping he was about to change the life of the Clifton family, for the better.