Hot summer days were the worst, Reggie thought as she reached up and brushed the back of her hand across her forehead to mop the sweat out of her eyes. She took a deep cleansing breath then looked at the fence and picked up the paint brush again. This fence would be painted before sunset, if it was the last thing she did, she whispered as a mantra to keep going.
“Reggie! Hey Reggie!”
Reggie turned and shielded her eyes from the sun to see Yvonne, her best friend, waving at her from the back porch with the house phone in one hand. It was a large two story colonial she had used all her savings to buy but it needed a lot of work to make it the valuable property it could be. Located in Madison, a small town an hour west of Chicago, and surrounded by houses in much better condition with manicured lawns, Reggie was doing her best with upkeep and struggling with the sheer amount of work the place needed.
“Phone call from the precinct,” Yvonne called out. “We got another one!”
Reggie put the paint brush back down into the tray and dusted her hands off the back of her overalls as she hurried across the garden to take the phone. Yvonne was shaking her head with a tight lipped smile as she handed the phone out to her.
“Thanks Yvie,” Reggie said and she took the phone and continued her momentum into the house. “Hello, this is Regina Buckley.”
“Hi, this is Officer Cullen at Precinct 13, I was told you were the right person to call if I have-”
“The child, what age are they?” Reggie rummaged through the bowl in the centre of the kitchen island to fish out her car keys.
“No, a little boy, ma’am.”
“Okay, I can be there in thirty minutes.”
Reggie hung up the phone without waiting for confirmation that the police officer heard and turned to face Yvonne who was back in the kitchen busy making sandwiches.
“Boy, aged seven,” she said and she saw the dismay cross Yvonne’s features before she quickly schooled them and turned away to focus on what she was doing before.
Regina stepped around the island and came up to Yvonne’s side to drape an arm over her shoulder and rested her head against the side of Yvonne’s.
“We have room for one more, don’t we?” Reggie asked even though she knew the answer.
“We’ll make room,” Yvonne declared.
Reggie smiled then looked at the chaos on the counter. Slices of bread were laid out across the whole surface, some plain, some with butter, some with mayo, and the veritable factory line of toppings in various tubs Yvonne was using to make the sandwiches, one of the few meals she could make without setting off the fire alarms.
The original plan had been to rent out the rooms, and make money from lodgers to help pay for the renovations. But before she could even put the advertisement up, there was a fire in the neighbours house that resulted in both parents being hospitalised. Reggie had taken the three kids in for a few days and discovered a new passion.
She registered as a foster parent, and immediately started taking kids in. In the last year she housed almost twenty three kids. Some stayed for short periods, some for longer. Some went back to their parents or guardians, others were adopted out, a few even aged out. The Home, it’s official title because she was too flustered at the registry office to think of anything else, was usually full or close to it which had her run ragged most of the time.
After a few months of near exhaustion, she advertised for live-in help and Yvonne moved in. They shared most of the duties and the kids were given chores such as laundry and garden work so more often than not, the place ran like a well oiled machine. At the moment they had six kids under ten staying with them, and one teenage boy so with this new child, they would be at capacity.
“I’ll be back in a little while,” Reggie said as she snagged a piece of ham from one tub. “I’m going to pick the kid up now.”
“I’ll have food ready, and save some from the horde. They should be back any minute.”
“Oh wait… you’re meeting George later for your date right?”
“We can postpone it!” Yvonne said with a wave of her hand.
“I’ll be back in time, it shouldn’t take too long.”
“Don’t worry about it Reggie, drive safe!”
Reggie looked up to the clock and noticed it was almost half three. The kids would be off the school bus soon so she needed to get her ass in gear.
“If Gus doesn’t have any homework, can you ask him to keep painting the fence?” Reggie asked as she backed out of the kitchen.
“Thanks, see you later!”
Reggie waved at Yvonne’s back and raced out to the car, affectionately known as Hank. She uttered a silent prayer to whoever was listening that the hunk of junk would start and make it to the precinct, and then thanked them when the engine sputtered to life on only the second try.
Crosstown traffic was light enough and she made it to the precinct in record time but only after turning off the engine did she realise she was wearing a pair of paint splattered overalls with a neon pink tank top underneath. She tugged on the rear view mirror to take a closer look and groaned in dismay when she saw her mop of tight red curls were held at bay with a tie dye bandana which was also paint splattered and frayed. She had a splotch of bright green paint on one cheek, and a white streak on the other. She wished she had at least stuck to one colour with that god damned fence.
“Shit,” she muttered as she brushed her fingers over her cheeks but it was no use.
She climbed out of the car and looked down at the tattered sneakers she was wearing, one green converse high top and one grey low top.
“Shit!” she muttered again as she looked in the back of the car to see if there was an alternative pair she could wear but saw nothing.
She knew she didn’t have time to go back to the house to change, and there was a little boy waiting for her in the precinct that she hated to leave behind. She dusted her hands off her ass and shoved the keys into her pocket as she hurried up the front steps and hoped the cop wasn’t the observant type.
The precinct was busy and she had to wait her turn to talk to the cop at reception. For a suburb precinct she was always surprised at the hustle and bustle she found when she walked in here. Or maybe it was because she only ever walked in here to pick up a child, and anything that got in her way during those moments seemed infinitely annoying. Finally when it was her turn she smiled warmly at Jerry, the cop who was always on the reception desk.
He was close to retirement age, looked like he had more than his fair share of morning donuts and his uniform was straining to keep it all contained. But his face was warm and open and he was the perfect face of the precinct for anyone that arrived in duress.
“Hi Jerry, I got a call from an Officer Cullen about a pick up.”
“Hey Reggie, yeah, 11-80 out on the interstate,” Jerry said with a sorrowful shake of his head, and Reggie knew from experience that code to mean a car crash with major injuries. “Both parents were airlifted to Cook County, the kid seemed to have gotten away with only a few scratches.”
“Lucky,” Reggie said with a wince. “He is in the family room right?”
“That’s right.” Jerry pressed a button and the buzzer sounded to unlock the side door.
Regina smiled and pushed it open then hurried through the bull pen to the back of the building where the break room and family room were located. She had been here more times than she wanted to think about but every time felt like the first time. She took a deep breath and tried to make her smile seem warm and welcoming as she pushed the door open.