“He can’t be exempted from all sport and physical education,” the senior clerk exclaims, “It’s a requirement of the school curriculum.”
Mrs Smith sighs, and says, “My son, Hal, is exempted from all sport and physical activities beyond a slow walk, due to a medical condition. I’ve a medical certificate here signed by his doctor, his specialist, and the doctor the Department of Education sent him to last year.” She hands over the certificate, one of several she has, and adds, “Also, here’s a signed letter to authorize Hal to leave the grounds for lunch, when he wants, and to come home early if he has no more classes that day.” She hands over another document. “Now, can we please look at both his schedule and the list of other classes on at the same time as Physical Education is for his class?” Seeking time to gather herself and check things, the clerk hands over the copy of the Hal’s class schedule and her copy of the master class schedule. While the mother and son look over the papers, the clerk goes to a desk at the back of the room to make a phone call to get clarification on the situation.
It’s the Wednesday of the week before the first day of school for the year, and a lot of parents are at the school to finalize the registration of their children as new students, especially those who’ve just moved into the area. Which is the case with the Smith family. Mr Smith took up a post as a senior administrator with the city council the Monday of the week before. Today Mrs Smith is registering her son at Central High School. At sixteen years of age Hal is her eldest child, and in year ten this year, while his eleven year old sister, Joanna, is in year six at the primary school just down the road, and she’ll be registered when Mrs Smith is finished here.
“Well, Hal, your PE classes are just before lunch on Monday and last period on Wednesday. Thursday afternoon is sports day, as expected. Let’s look at what’s available in those two PE periods.” Mrs Smith and Hal look over the master schedule for what classes he can do. They have to be subjects that stand alone, and don’t require passing lead up classes last year. As expected, most are academic subjects that are ruled out, subjects like Maths and English, etc. “Well, you can come home early on Wednesday, but it looks like the library on Mondays.”
Hal frowns, and sighs, then smiles when he taps the listing of a class on the schedule. “Given a choice of that or the library,” he says, “I’ll take that, even if it is a year nine class.”
His mother looks at the class he’s pointing to, and smiles. “Yes, that would be useful to you in later life, too! Let’s hope they let you do it.”
The senior clerk comes back to the counter, it’s clear she’s not happy with the results of her calls. “Missus Smith, the regional office confirms he can avoid the physical aspects of the curriculum, they have a file on the matter. But he does have to stay in school for the periods unless he’s finished for the day and going home.”
Hal looks up, and says, “Yes, Ma’am, we know that because it was made clear to us at my last school. I’ve got PE just before lunch on Mondays and on last period Wednesdays. So, on Wednesday and Thursday I can head home as soon as I finish the class before PE and sport.” The clerk gives a weak smile, and nods; she really hates it when someone has a valid reason to do something out of the usual pattern. “We’ve checked the master schedule, and I’d like to do this class here,” he says, while pointing to the class he was showing his mother. “It has no prerequisites, and shows as having room for a couple more students. There should be no trouble with me doing that year nine elective, I would think!” The clerk looks at the class, and nods while she pulls over some papers to note the class change for Henry John Smith, called Hal Smith.
The school bus pulls up outside Central High School at 8:30 a.m. on the Tuesday morning, the first day of school for the New Year, and lets off the students. The last off is a boy of average height and build for his age, 170 cm and 65 kg, with collar length light brown hair and grey eyes. With a wry smile, Hal Smith makes his slow way up the path to the school. Armed with the map of the school and his class schedule, he heads to his first class while most of the students stop to chat with their friends before class starts. On his way to his first class Hal checks the location of his next two classes, since he has to pass very close to them on his way to his first period class. At his regular slow walk he gets there with several minutes to spare. He walks in, and sits at a desk.
A few minutes later other students start to wander in, and stand around near the front of the room, only a few sit down; to the smiles of the standing students. Hal thinks, They must know something we don’t know. I wonder if only the students new to the school have sat down!
Just before the bell goes a tall and very stern looking man walks in, and goes to the teacher’s desk. He has a small carry basket with some things in it. After putting the basket down he takes a clipboard out of it, and looks up at the students, saying, “OK, you new students sitting down need to get up to stand up the front until told to sit down.” We all stand and join the rest of the students. “The first student to be named will sit at the desk in the front row on the left as you face the front of the room. The next student will take the seat beside the first student. When your names are called you take the next vacant seat, going across the row, and then starting the next row. Please note where your seat is, since you’ll be seated in those seats for all your classes, except some of the electives. That’s the way things are done here, and you will do it that way, or explain why to the principal.” The teacher starts to read names from the list. While he does that the students start sitting down, while Hal looks at the desk arrangement in the class room. He assumes most of the rooms must be set up the same, six desks to a row with five rows, seating thirty students. Beside the window is a single desk, then a walk space, followed by two desks side by side, another walkway, two more desks, a walkway, another single desk against the wall.
It doesn’t take long to work through the list. The nineteenth name read out is Else Smit, and a nice looking blond walks to the seat beside the window. This is followed by Freda Smit, and her duplicate takes the seat across the aisle from her. Hal Smith is next, and he sits beside Freda. The class has twenty-five students, and all are soon seated.
With that done, the man takes a moment to study the class, and takes a pen out of his basket when he puts the clipboard back. He turns to the whiteboard to write, ‘Mr Jackson - Year 10 Maths’ on the board. He turns to the class, “Many of you know me from previous years, I’m Mister Jackson. I teach Mathematics. You are here to learn Mathematics, and you will pay attention and learn Mathematics.” The class starts in earnest while they all take out their text books to start in on the work.
This school uses five one hour periods per day, starting at nine with a one hour lunch at noon, and ending at three in the afternoon. The bell for the end of the period goes at ten o’clock, and everyone packs up and leaves. Hal is last out of the room, moving at his usual slow walk. This room is about as far back amongst the classrooms as you can go in this school, only the gymnasium and the sports fields are behind it. Hal’s next class is back the way he came in, near the front of the school, just down from the administration office; that’s about as far apart as two classrooms can get in this school. He’s a long time getting there.
Hal arrives at his history class just as the teacher is writing her name on the whiteboard. She gives him a glare while she watches him make his slow way to his seat. She says, “Get a move on, young man.”
Hal glances over his shoulder, “Sorry, Ma’am,” he says, “but I’m going as fast as my doctors say I’m allowed to go. It’s a long walk from the top floor of F Block.” The teacher and students watch while he walks to his seat, with slow care, and sits down. The teacher, Mrs James, is watching so close she can see it’s more than a normal limp with his left leg, and that his left leg and foot don’t move like normal - especially the foot. She nods at him while she wonders about what his mobility problem is.
After an hour of history Hal is off to B Block, just back a bit from where he is in A Block. Even with the block so close he’s the last to arrive in the classroom. Again, all watch while he makes his slow way to his seat. After an hour of English the bell goes, and it’s time to go to C Block, the ground floor of which is the school cafeteria.
Hal makes his way to the drinks cabinet to select two five hundred millilitre fruit juice drinks, both orange and mango juice. He pays for them, and heads to the first empty table he can find. Lucky for him the students tend to fill the ones near the back of the room first, to get as far away from the adults on duty as they can. He smiles when he sits down, and opens his bag to get his lunch out.
A few people, students and teachers, watch when he takes out a box with two sandwiches, a measuring cup, an apple, a bottle, and a spoon. He takes care while he pours three hundred and fifty millilitres of juice into the measuring cup, and adds two spoonful’s of powder from the bottle. While he stirs the drink with his left hand he uses the right hand to open the sandwich box, and take out half a salad sandwich. He starts to eat the sandwich, and soon finishes the first half. When he picks the cup of juice and powder up to drink a teacher stops in front of the table, and asks, “What’s that powder you just put in your drink?”
Hal looks up, “A vitamin and nutrient supplement, Sir,” he replies while he pulls papers out of his bag. “I used to take a drug as a single tablet, but the department rules about administration of drugs by staff made it hard to ensure I had the drug at the right time each day. So my specialist had me switch to a much tighter diet with a larger dose of a natural vitamin supplement, which is outside of the drugs rules.” He hands the papers over while also pushing the bottle towards the teacher, so he can read the label. “I’m to have one and a half sandwiches for lunch plus two juice drinks of three hundred and fifty millilitres with two spoonful’s of nutrients in each one. If you know anyone who wants half a sandwich and the rest of the juice, please call them over to finish this off for me.”
The teacher is quick to scan the papers, which give a very detailed diet to stick to, and also reads the label on the bottle. He notes down the name and details, as well as taking a sample to have it tested. Hal smiles when the teacher takes the sample, showing he has no concerns, and has had this happen before. The teacher says, “I’m Mister Barber, the senior science teacher. I’ll check this out, and I’ll get back to you if there’s a problem.” He looks up, and waves a young girl over, “Miss Denning here usually can’t afford a lunch, so if you don’t want the rest, I think she’ll finish it for you.”
The girl arrives, and Mr Barber explains about the tight diet, and the excess half salad sandwich and juice. She smiles at Hal, and says, “If you really don’t want it, I’ll be very glad of the food.” Hal nods, and she reaches for the half sandwich left in the box while he slides the part bottle of remaining juice across the table.
“I’m on a very strict diet for medical reasons, and my mother hasn’t worked out how to make half a sandwich, so I usually have to throw the remains away. I hate to see it wasted, so please enjoy it.” He stops for a moment of thought, and adds, “Why don’t you talk to the cooking teachers about getting the student cooked food that they don’t wish to eat themselves. It may not be the best made food, but it’s still food.”
“Please call me Jenner. My mother is an alcoholic, and nearly all the money goes on booze, so my sister and I are glad for any extra food we can get. We do get a bit of food at home, because someone set up for some of the money from the government to be provided as food from the local IGA supermarket, but it’s not nearly enough now, due to price rises. I can usually scrounge a bit here, so I make sure my sister has a lunch, and I worry about what I can find for myself.”
Hal looks at her thin frame, and wonders how much she does get to eat. “Well, as I said, talk to the cooking teachers. They usually have food to throw out they’ll happily let you take home.” She smiles, and nods in reply. Both make a note to speak with the cooking teachers about unwanted food from the classes.
The rest of the day goes in a very similar way to the morning, and Hal takes the bus home. It’s not all that far, only several streets away, but way too far for Hal to walk in any reasonable time frame. The rest of the week goes along similar lines, and passes very well.
Hal starts his day at the administration office, he got word on Friday to see them first thing to return a special letter signed by his parents. They have to give special permission for him to do the year nine class, and the letter is about that. The department is concerned about a year ten student later complaining about being in a year nine class, so they want it in writing they all agree and it’s his decision. When he hands over the letter at the office he’s given a note to give to the teacher.
The first two periods go without any trouble. By now all his teachers are aware he sometimes arrives a little late since he’s slow moving between classrooms. The shift from the second period class to the third period class isn’t that far, but he’s still the last to arrive.
Everyone else has taken places at the two person work benches, and the teacher is calling the roll when Hal walks in. The students are murmuring when he arrives. But all noise stops and their eyes turn to him when he makes his slow way to the front desk to hand the note to the teacher. She reads it, and her eyebrows go up. She puts her class roll on the bench to write his name on the end of it, before waving for him to find a vacant work spot. There’s twelve benches in four rows of three across. All but the back two corner ones are full; the one on his right has a girl who gives him a dirty look when he starts walking toward the class, so he moves to the vacant spot on the bench nearest the back window. The blond girl there looks a little familiar to him, but he can’t quite place her.
The teacher goes back to calling the roll. He’s almost at the target bench when the teacher calls out ‘Greta Smit, ‘ and the girl there says, “Here, Miss.” The roll is soon finished with his name being called last, and he acknowledges his presence.
The teacher says, “My name is Missus Wells, the correct etiquette for addressing me is to use my full name or Ma’am, not Miss, and definitely not miz. I noticed you all have carry bags of gear, so I take it you have the required self-supply items for this class for the next few weeks. Speak up if you don’t, or if you have any questions.”
Hal puts up his hand, along with two other students. When pointed at, he says, “Missus Wells, I’ve got a medical condition that has some odd dietary needs. As such, there are things in the class plan that we have which I can’t consume. I’ve no intention of trying to have the plan changed, but I do seek permission for someone else to do my tasting for me when we have something I’m not allowed to have, and I’ve extra containers so I can take my creations away for others to consume.”
Mrs Wells looks at him for a moment, and asks, “Greta, do you mind helping Hal out with that?” Greta indicates she’ll help him. “Hal, you’re a year ten student, and a boy, mind telling us why you’re doing a year nine elective cooking class?”
He grins, and replies, “I’m exempt from all physical education and sports. My class is doing physical education in this period. Of the other classes happening at this time this is the best choice. I’ll be learning something I can use later in life, but more importantly, when faced with a period in the library under the eye of Missus Hall or being in a class with a group of pretty girls, well, I don’t see there’s any choice at all. Do you, Ma’am?” The whole class grins at his comment.
“I’m not sure our senior librarian would agree that time with young students would be more productive than time with her. But, for a teenage boy, I can see your priorities are different and our wonderful librarian isn’t of the same grade. Since this is an elective of advanced cooking, I gather you have basic cooking skills from other studies?”
“Yes, Ma’am, my mother made sure I could cook the basics and look after myself. She’s a great believer in individual independence.”
“Good. Now let’s get started on our first recipe.” The class goes well, and all have fun cooking nice sponge cakes. In some cases it’s a matter of attempting to cook nice sponge cakes. Mrs Wells is starting off with a recipe that’s very close to what they finished with in last year’s basic class, to help the students slip back into proper practices and skills.
During the class Hal notices Greta isn’t as exact with measurements as she should be, with the predictable results. The cake is edible, just, but looks a real mess. Hal offers to dispose of the evidence for her.
At lunch Hal has five cakes to give Jenner to take home. Not exactly the best food, but better than nothing. She enjoys his half sandwich and extra juice, as well. He’s also getting to know the fourteen year old girl well, and learns all about her family: father’s whereabouts unknown, mother’s a drunkard, and an eleven year old sister. Hal wonders if she’s at the same school as Joanna, and if he can organize some help there, as well. A few more questions, and he learns Jenner’s sister, Julie, does go to the same school as Joanna. A text message to Joanna on his mobile phone should have her seeking her out during the afternoon. Hal also learns they live just one street away from Hal, so he gives Jenner an open invitation to come to visit any time, and to bring her sister, as well.
While they’re talking Greta joins them. She can see her failed cake on the table beside Jenner, and wants to know what’s going on. Seeing Greta at the same table as Hal has Freda and Else stopping by on their way out, to ask them about them being together. They both have a good laugh at him doing a year nine cooking class, and a bigger laugh at the explanation he gave in class on why he’s doing it. Hal knows they catch the same bus as he does, so he gives them an open offer to drop by his house any day. They say they’ll think about it, but they live several streets further away, and don’t like the idea of the long walk home after a visit.
The rest of the day and week go as well as can be expected.
On the Saturday morning following the fourth week of school Hal and Joanna are at the nearest major mall to their home, they’re with an older cousin, Liz, who lives next door and drove them over in a dark blue Subaru WRX STI hatchback. This mall is a few kilometres from their homes, but is much bigger than the small set of half a dozen shops two streets over from where they live. The local shops are handy for groceries etc., but for real shopping the girls have to come to the mall, and Hal is with them to get out of the house. They don’t mind his slow walking since it gives them more time to window shop, and they like his insights into what clothes look good on them. There are many other reasons, too, including their personal feelings for each other and how well they get on as a group. Liz is twenty-three, but the three fit well together.
While they move through the mall, with Hal carrying some bags of gear they’ve already bought - stuff the girls got in teen clothing shops, he spots Jenner and another girl walking around the mall in clothes his mother would throw out as rags. They’re standing in front of one of the cheapest teen clothing stores, looking in the window with a big longing.
Pointing to the girls, he asks, “Jo, is that Julie Denning?”
“Yes, and that must be her sister, Jenner.”
“It is, I know her from school, but not Julie.”
All three Smiths watch the two girls for a moment while the girls point at items of clothing, and discuss them. “Jo, Liz, take them into the store and buy a couple of outfits, get them to give you their thoughts on the outfits to see how good their opinions are. I want the four of you to end up in new outfits that are the same, please. I’ll pay.” Both his sister and cousin give him a quick glance, but go to do as he asks. They’ve seen him in this helping out mode before, and know things will go better if they just do what he wants them to do.
Hal lets them move ahead of him, and watches when Jo greets Julie, and the others are introduced. A few more words, and they all turn to see Hal still approaching from several metres away. More words, and they all enter the store together. Hal is in no hurry, and not able to hurry, so it’s some minutes before he reaches the store to make his slow way through to the corner of the store where the change rooms are. He has to go very slow through the store, because the displays are very close together, and there are a lot of girls in the store moving about.
Jo sees Hal looking the four of them over while they stand there in some nice matching outfits. They all look good. He nods his head. Before the two sisters can react Jo rips the labels off the clothes they’re wearing, adds Liz’ and hers, saying, “Now find some clean underwear to put on, as well.” Both Jenner and Julie start to argue. Jo hands the tags to Liz while she responds to Jenner and Julie. Liz takes the tags to the cashier, who is near where Hal is. He diverts, and arrives in time to hand over his credit card for the payment.
Smiling, Liz takes the receipt back to the girls to show them the clothes are paid for, so they have to keep them, now. Both girls are not happy about this trick to give them charity. The argument is still going on when Hal arrives. They all turn, when he says, “Jenner, Julie, I never give charity, but I do give help to those who need it. But that doesn’t apply here. I want you two to join us for a few hours, and I refuse to walk around with someone in those rags you had on earlier. I paid for the clothes. Now accept the situation, and go get some clean underwear to wear, too.” Both girls are taken aback by his very forceful manner, Jenner especially, since he’s so quiet and compliant at school. She looks into his eyes, and sees he’s not taking no for an answer. Gulping, she nods, and moves over to the underwear racks. Julie follows her.
Half an hour later all four girls are wearing new matching outfits that look good while they show off the girls’ assets. All dressed from the skin out at Hal’s expense. Even down to new socks and shoes, comfortable slip on walking shoes that aren’t quite running shoes.
The next few hours are fun while the five of them explore the various stores, with Jo and Liz buying many things. Jenner and Julie don’t realise some are for them, because they didn’t spot Liz getting their sizes, earlier. The stop for lunch is at Hal’s expense, too, he has his usual gear with him in a backpack. He buys two salad sandwiches and the usual two five hundred millilitre fruit juices. Despite being in a mall food court, the way he sets up his lunch is so like at school that Jenner is eating the extra half sandwich before she remembers she has some other food of her own to eat as well. This automatic reaction causes a few smiles from the rest the girls.
When they’re nearing the end of the shopping trip the group runs into the Smit family out shopping. Freda and Greta introduce Hal to their parents, and he introduces his group to them. They join forces for a couple of shops, before going their separate ways.
Liz offers Jenner and Julie a lift home, and both girls love the idea of a car ride instead of a long walk. At the car the girls ooh and ah over the sporty looking car while the purchases are placed in the back. Hal holds the door open for Jo, Jenner, and Julie to sit in the back, before holding Liz’s door open for her, then sitting in the front passenger seat. Julie is sitting in the centre in the back, with Jenner on the passenger side.
After Hal sits down he uses his left hand to lift his left leg to hold it up while he turns to sit in the car properly. Jenner watches this with a frown, and doesn’t see Jo watching her. When Jenner goes to speak Jo reaches over to tap her arm. Jenner turns to her, and Jo shakes her head no, indicating she’s not to ask about it. Her eyes go wide, but she nods her agreement.
Several minutes later Jenner and Julie are getting out at their home, and Jo is handing them a few bags from the back. Jenner goes to argue, then sees Hal giving her an intense stare, and she just accepts the bags.
He smiles, “Most of those outfits are acceptable to wear at school. I’d like to see you in them, some days.” She smiles, and nods when she shuts the car door. The car sits there while the two girls walk up the path to their front door. When she shuts the door, Jenner sees the car pull out, and drive away. She’s very thoughtful when she goes inside to put her new clothes away. The first new clothes she can ever remember having, it’s always been used stuff before, often free from the welfare shops.
On the drive home the Smiths have a discussion about the two girls and Hal’s mother-hen gene kicking in. Nearing their two homes Liz hits the remote garage door opener, and enters the space nearest the house. She parks the car, and they all get out. After unloading their plunder the car is locked. Hal helps Jo carry her gear into the house through the door connecting the garage to the house while Liz leaves by the front garage door, hitting the manual garage door button when she walks out on her way to her home next door.
At lunch the next Monday Hal smiles when Jenner walks up in one of the new outfits he bought her. She sits down to start on her half sandwich while eyeing the seven plates of spinach quiche sitting on the table. A few of the girls didn’t wish to eat their cooking class results. It looks like she and Julie will have some nice food for a few days. The extra food from the cooking classes is helping, and they don’t feel so hungry all the time, now, even if it is an odd diet. She gets something from the cooking teachers each day, now, but usually only a couple of items each day. Except for Mondays, when Hal brings things from his class, the count varies between five and nine items on those days.
After a few minutes Hal looks up, asking, “Would you and Julie like to earn some money?” She nods. “Good. Mother is having trouble hiring a full-time person to help clean the house. I said I should be able to get some girls to work part-time, after school and some weekends. She’s agreed to let me organise it, but insists we pay proper rates and get all the proper legal approvals.” He pulls some papers out of his bag to hand them over. “You need to fill these in, and get your mother to sign them. We’ll get the rest sorted out.” Jenner nods while she takes the papers, and thinks on how to get her mother to sign the forms. She smiles when she realises her mother will probably sign completed forms she thinks are from the school, and she now has to work out how to give that impression without lying to her.
Later that day, on the bus home, Hal has a similar talk with the Smit girls, and hands them a bunch of papers, as well.
Jenner and Julie arrive home from school at the same time. As per their current system Julie talks to their mother in the lounge room while Jenner takes the food through to the kitchen to put it away without their mother seeing it. After putting the food away Jenner sits down to complete the papers Hal gave her. A couple of hours later she and Julie prepare dinner. When it’s ready their mother gets up from her chair to stagger into the kitchen for dinner.
After they’ve eaten, and their mother has sobered up a little, Jenner gets the papers out to place them on the table with a pen. She turns to her mother while she slides them across the table, saying, “I was given these papers at school today, and need you to sign them. They’re for Julie and me to do some extra stuff after school, so we’ll be home a bit later each day, once this starts.”
Their mother drags the papers to her, and tries to read them. She stops to look around for her reading glasses, but she can’t see them. A smiling Julie is holding them in her lap, where they can’t be seen. Both girls know if their mother learns they’ll be earning money they’ll never get to see any of it. Not seeing the glasses in the room, the woman goes back to squinting at the papers. But without her glasses, and being half drunk, she can’t read anything apart from the big ‘X’ put in the four places she needs to sign the papers, and a few other familiar symbols.
She looks up, and asks, “How much is this going to cost?” She saw, and recognised, some figures that looked like prices, and doesn’t want to spend any more on the girls than she has to. She’s still upset with the social worker who organised for some of the welfare money to go direct to the store for food, and that was done three years ago.
Jenner smiles, and truthfully says, “It’ll cost us nothing, as someone else has agreed to pay all the costs involved for us.” Mrs Denning smiles at the response, nods, picks up the pen, and signs at the four well marked places. Jenner collects the forms to put them in her school bag to hand back to Hal tomorrow.
Mrs Denning smiles at the thought she won’t have the girls around underfoot so much, and someone else is paying for it. Jenner and Julie are smiling at the thought of having got one up on their mother, and also at having some money of their own to spend how they want to.
At lunch the next day Jenner hands the papers over to Hal. He checks to make sure the signatures aren’t too shaky, because he knows their mother would have been drunk when she signed the forms, but the signature doesn’t look like she was drunk. He smiles at Jenner, and tells her to plan on starting next Monday, unless she’d rather start tomorrow. They agree for both girls to start work the next day.
Jenner and Julie have a good long and happy talk when the bus stops at the primary school and Julie gets on the bus with Jo.
When he gets home Hal goes next door and gets Liz to drive him to her father’s work. Once there, Hal goes in to explain everything to his Uncle Roland. Certified copies of the forms are made, other forms are filled in, and he promises to organise the proper approvals. There are major issues with employing anyone under the age of fifteen to do anything, but approvals can be organised for some types of work, provided it doesn’t interfere with the child’s schooling, is limited hours, and at, or above, the approved pay rate. Roland Smith works for a firm that resolves employment issues for people.
Next stop is the bank where the Smiths bank. They get the papers to open several new accounts. This is to direct-deposit the girls’ pay into an account of their own on which they can draw using a debit card.
During the day Hal gives the papers to Jenner and the Smit girls to open accounts at the bank. He also makes arrangements with Jenner for her and Julie to get off the bus at their house after school, and they’ll be driven home after their work is finished for the day. The Smit girls won’t be starting work yet, because their parents are still considering the deal. Each girl will only be working ten to twelve hours a week, most will be for two hours after school Monday to Friday, with provision for extra time on Saturday mornings, as required.
The first task for both girls, today, is to go with Mrs Smith to visit Roland and the bank, finalising the paperwork. They have the identity papers with them that they were told they’d need. That takes an hour to sort out. The second hour is a show and tell of what work they’ll be doing around the house. Most of it is simple cleaning work. Both girls are surprised to see Hal and Jo also do some of the housework needed to maintain a clean house. In a gender change situation, Hal does the vacuum cleaning while Jo does the various handyman type tasks of changing lights, washers, etc. you usually associate with boys and men. For some tasks she has to call in Hal or their mother for extra muscle.
When it’s time to go home, Mrs Smith gives them a slice of apple pie and a popper container of fruit juice each, and drives them home.
Thursday afternoon sees the Smit girls get off the bus at the Smith house as well. They leave with Mrs Smith to finalise paperwork, while the other four kids get on with the house work. While they’re working Jenner wonders if this work is another form of charity by Hal, since the house isn’t all that large, it’s a four bedroom house with formal dining room, lounge room, family room, kitchen, and what was a playroom, but is now a family home gym. Yes, it’s bigger than the Denning house, which is a housing commission one, but not that large.
After a while, she turns to Hal, “Why do you hire people to clean the house for you, Hal?”
He half smiles, “Jenner, I can’t get up or down well, neither can mother, because she has a bad back. She also works until mid-afternoon most days. Father is busy at work, and not interested in cleaning when he gets home. It’s unfair to leave it all to Jo. So mother and father pay to have people do the work for us. We do what we can, since it’s only right we should help look after the place.”
“Oh. Will there be enough for five of us? And why do you always call your parents mother and father, instead of Mum and Dad?”
He smiles, “Yes, there’ll be enough work for the five of you, since there’s also the outside work to do. You’ll all get cross trained, at some point. Mother was brought up in a very strict school, and has passed a lot of that training on to Jo and me. So it’s always mother and father, and a bloody sore bum if we ever say otherwise.” This last get a laugh from both the Denning girls.
A little later Mrs Smith comes back with the Smit girls. Julie and Jenner are busy washing the main bathroom with Jo, having finished the two en-suites. There’s a schedule of what gets done on which days. The whole house gets done over the course of the week. Hal is assigned to take the twins outside to show them how to use the ride-on lawn mower. While they leave the house for the storage area built on the back of the garage, Hal asks, “How are you both doing with your driver training?”
Freda replies, “We’ve got the hours up, already, and the instructor thinks we’ll pass first go. We just have to wait a few months until we’re old enough to sit the test. Why?”
“That’s good. Showing you how to use the ride-on mower should be easy, and once you get your licences you can help out with the driving for some shopping etc., later.” Both nod their agreement.
It only take a few minutes to get the mower out of the storage area by the simple process of Hal sitting on it while he shows them how to start it up. He also shows them how to use the couple of hand controls to duplicate the left foot controls which are to allow Hal to use it. He drives the mower out while they walk beside it. They’re soon out past the bushes at the back of the garage, and can see the full backyard, now they can better understand why there’s a ride-on mower.
Both girls look at the huge expanse of lawn before them. They had no idea anyone in the area had such a large lawn. It goes back over fifty metres, most houses only go back another ten metres or so. Also, they can see where the fence between this house and the one next door has been removed, and turf put down to cover the gap the fence used to make. The next-door backyard is just as big, and is now merged with this one. However, a part nearest the house next-door is taken up with a twenty-five metre by ten metre swimming pool.
Hal looks over at the mid-twenties girl lying beside the swimming pool with only a very skimpy bikini bottom on. He smiles, and calls out, “Hey, Liz, are you busy this afternoon?” She looks up, and shakes her head no. “Good. These are two of our household help and will have their licences in a month or two. Mother will have them doing some of the driving after that, so they need a run through on The Beast. Can you please take one for a lesson while I teach the other how to use the mower? We can switch off in about half an hour. And we’ll have to try to work out a schedule with you for further lessons, later.”
The girl addressed gets up to go in the house while Hal explains the controls to both girls. A few minutes later Liz is back out with t-shirt on and carrying a handbag. Freda looks at Else, and waves her towards Liz. Those two leave for the garage while Hal and Freda continue with the mower. He has Freda sit on a part of the mower while he mows part of the lawn. They change places, and she mows a part. He then gets off, and leaves her to do more of the lawn while he trims some bushes.
Liz leads Else to the garage, saying, “You’ll do better to quickly get a handle on Hal’s weird sense of humour, or you’re in real trouble. The car’s full name is ‘The Big Beast of Blue Beauty.’ Most of us call her Beauty, but he calls her The Beast. So you can see what I mean about him.” It’s at that point they reach the garage, and Liz opens the door to point at the dark blue Subaru WRX STI hatchback. Else’s eyes go very wide. “As you can see from the registration, this lovely is only four months old. If you get asked to run down the shop in the car to get something, or to drive someone somewhere, this is what you’ll be driving. Uncle John and Aunt Mary both have their own cars, and no one drives those cars but them. This is solely for use to take the kids somewhere or for someone to get something for the house. The deal I have is I get first dibs on borrowing her when she’s not otherwise in use. But I’ve got to act as chauffeur for Hal and Jo. They aren’t pushy, and will often adjust their schedules to fit mine. I try to limit use to shopping and going out, but I’m allowed to drive her to uni, most days, too. To date, I’m the only person to drive her since she was collected from the dealer, so be gentle with her, please.”
Since entering the garage Else has been slowly walking around the lovely looking sporty four door sedan while she runs her hand along the body work. She looks up, “If I ever pull up in front of Mum or Dad in this, they’ll have a fit. She’s a real beauty.”
Liz unlocks the car to reach into the glove box. In a moment she has ‘L’ plates in the plate holders attached to the number plates, which is HAL 666. She hands the keys to Else, and gets in the passenger seat, saying, “Get in and start her up. I also think the number on the number plate is part of why Hal calls her The Beast.”
Else gulps when she sits in the driver’s seat and puts the key in the ignition. When she starts the car Liz hits the button to open the garage door. Liz watches like a hawk while Else takes care to check all is clear before backing out onto the driveway. It’s a wide driveway, so she uses it to turn around. Thus making it easier to see the street as she enters it. In a moment she’s driving down the road while checking out for kids and traffic. Liz has her drive to her place and to the Denning house, to make sure she knows how to get to them. Then to the local shops, and back to the Smith house. The rest of the half hour is just driving around the area while getting used to the car and how it handles.
When they’re heading back at the end of the lesson, Else asks, “The number plate, is this to be Hal’s car when he gets a licence?”
Liz sits for a moment, and says, “That’s a question you better ask Hal. I’m not allowed to answer it.” That gets her a strange look.
A few minutes later Else is working hard to hide a big smile while she anticipates how Freda will react on seeing The Beast. Because she’s not what either of them were expecting, after the way Hal spoke.
About a third of the lawn is mown, and Else sits on the back of the mower when Hal shows her how to use it while explaining each of the control. A few minutes later they change positions, and she’s mowing. While she drives the mower, she asks, “Hal, is that car going to be yours when you get a licence? I asked Liz that, and she said I need to ask you, because she’s not allowed to answer the question. What’s the deal?”
He doesn’t answer for a moment. “Else, are you, Freda, and Greta doing anything on Saturday afternoon and night?”
“I’m not. I know Freda isn’t, and I doubt Greta is. Why?”
“I want to take the three of you out to a movie and dinner etc. on Saturday night. Is that OK?”
“I’d like that. I’m sure the others will agree. But don’t let Dad know you want to date Greta until after he and Mum get to know you better.” He gives her a hard look. “If you wanted to date just me, or Freda, or both, you wouldn’t be including Greta. But if you ask only her the Olds will naturally say no. And you’re smart enough to know that. But an outing of the four of us as a group of school friends, they’ll have a hard time saying no and making it stick. I’ll have a word with Mum, and she’ll soon be onside, but Dad is another matter. Only time and getting to know you will work with him.”
“I was told you were smart, and that proves it. OK, I’ll take your advice on this. So look forward to a lot of four person outings until this gets sorted. The car. I’m sure Liz told you her full name!” He gets a nod in reply. “I gave her that name, and I also got the number plate I wanted after finding out HAL nine thousand was already gone. It’s already my car, because I bought it myself.” They nearly have an accident when Else turns to look at him, and turns the steering wheel at the same time. She’s quick to realise her mistake, and fixes it quick smart.
“I’ve seen those on the Internet, and know how much they cost. That’s a bit rich, isn’t it? I even thought it a bit rich for two working parents.”
“Look, I better explain this to you and Freda a little later. That way I only have to say it once, and you can help me with running interference with your parents and Greta. I wish to keep the information secret for as long as possible. OK?” She nods her agreement. When she stops to turn a corner in the yard he hops off to go back to trimming the hedges while she continues to mow the lawn. About two thirds of the lawn is done when Freda and Liz arrive back.
Freda strides up to Hal and Else, “The Beast he says. I expect an old second hand car on its last legs. And what does he have, a brand new top of the range sports sedan.”
Else smiles, “Nice to drive, isn’t she?”
“Bloody nice. Much better to ride in, and to handle, than Mum’s or Dad’s car. I wish I could take it for the test, I’m sure I’d pass it then.”
Hal jumps in, “No reason why you can’t. As long as she’s not being used for something else at the time. Just work the test schedule in with the other uses, and you’re OK. I’m sure that you’ll spend more time driving The Beast than any other car over the next couple of years. At least while you work here, that will be the case.” Both Smit girls smile. He waves at the ground, “Pull up a seat, for a moment, please.” All three young ladies sit down. He thinks for a moment.
Giving his head a hard shake, Hal says, “I don’t want any of you telling this to anyone without my express prior permission, OK?” All three nod. “A few years ago my left leg got badly hurt,” Liz gurgles and stifles a comment. He glares at her. “I got a compensation payout that was quite good. The majority of that money is in a well-managed trust account, and I get a healthy allowance from it. The trust owns a few assets, such as two lovely houses side by side, which I rent to family members because they like them, but can’t afford to buy them.”
Liz interrupts, “I wondered how we finally got to live in Mum’s dream home!” She sees Hal’s glare. “Sorry, cuz. But I did wonder.”
He continues, “When I told the trustee I wanted a good car, he told me my options were to buy a cheap car from my own funds, or a very expensive one from the trust funds. The Beast is owned by my trust, and the trust pays for all the expenses: services, fuel, the lot. I can’t drive yet. I’ve got some troubles with learning to drive, as well. So I’m not sure when I’ll go for my licence, but I’ve still some months before that’s a worry. However, having my own car, I can use it whenever I can get someone to drive it for me. Thus this situation with you as drivers.”
All three smile, because they love the idea of driving such a nice car. Liz speaks up, “I’ll get you girls a copy of my schedule, so we can work out when you can take driving lessons with me. I know Hal will find a way to cut you loose from Aunt Mary from time to time, but you’ll need to do the work she’s paying you for, and still get more time behind the wheel.” Both girls nod their agreement.
Else cuts in, “Freda, we’ve a date on Saturday afternoon and night. I’ll sort it out with Mum, but Dad has to be kept in the dark. Hal wants to date Greta, so we’re his cover until Dad gets to know him. OK?” Freda smiles, and nods - nice dates with no pressure. Sweet.
“Want me to drive you that day?” Liz asks Hal. He nods. She smiles, since she knows it means she gets a movie and feed, as well, that’s just the way Hal is. She’s between boyfriends at the moment, so she has a lot of spare time, and, anyway, she enjoys spending time with her cousins.
Hal glances at his watch, “OK, time we got inside, since it’s nearly time to go home. Will you be able to drive them all home, please, Liz?”
She nods. “If it’s OK with you, Hal, I’ll also take time to clear the girls having driving lessons with me. That way they can bring their log books, as well.” He nods in agreement, and they all walk inside. He’ll finish the lawn and put the mower away after the girls go home.
Mrs Smith has some vanilla slices and juices ready for everyone. The girls all have smiles when they leave, after Hal confirms Greta is available on Saturday. While Liz loads the girls into The Beast Hal sits on the mower to set about finishing the lawn. He puts the mower away about forty minutes later, after washing it down with the hose.
The Denning girls are dropped home first. They’re quick to race in to start dinner, just to keep their mother happy and off their backs. The meal is simple and soon eaten, with Mrs Denning happy to have had some extra time alone today to concentrate on her drinking.
Liz parks at the Smit house, and walks in with the girls. They’re a bit worried about this, because nothing was said to them to expect this. Inside, Liz is introduced to Mr and Mrs Smit again as Hal’s cousin and neighbour. Mrs Smit is wondering what this is about while she shows Liz to a seat in the lounge room.
Liz sits down, and smiles at the two parents. “Look, I know we’ve just met, but I’ve got a big favour to ask of you, if I may?” Both parents glance at each other and their girls, before they nod for her to continue. “One of the things I do, at the moment, is to drive Hal and Jo around, and to fetch things from down at the shops for Aunt Mary. To do this I use the four month old hatchback bought to be Hal’s car when he gets a licence. I know Else and Freda are due to go for their licences soon. It would be helpful to me if they do some of the driving for Aunt Mary when they get their licences. To that end, I’d like your permission for them to have a number of driving lessons in the new Subaru, so they’ll be familiar with the car when they drive it. If you have any more lessons booked with an instructor, I’d like permission to organise with them to have the lessons done in the Subaru, as well. Having them very familiar with the car before they have to drive her unsupervised will also make Aunt Mary feel a lot happier about their safety in the car.”
The two adults look at each other when Liz finishes talking. Mrs Smit is the real worrier in this family, and she asks, “Can I see this car?”
“Yes, she’s parked outside, right now. I just drove the girls home in her. She’s a real dream to drive, and very easy to control. I’m sure the girls will find her easy to learn to drive. When she was bought safety was the first consideration, with ease of use the second. That’s because Hal has a problem with his left leg and that had to be catered for.”
Everyone troops outside to look at the car. Mr Smit grunts, “A bit sporty looking, isn’t it?”
Liz smiles, “She’s intended to be the car of a teenage boy, what else would you expect? But she’s not a dangerous race car.” She opens the door to get the manual out of the glove box. “Here, look at all the safety features. Believe me, since the matter that caused the problem with Hal’s leg, his whole family are very safety conscious.”
They all look up, waiting for more about his leg, but nothing more is said. Mrs Smit says, “You think the girls could drive this now, do you?” Liz nods. “I see some L plates in the glove box. Care to put this car’s safety where your mouth is?” She has a grin while she says it, so Liz feels all is OK.
Reaching in, Liz pulls out the L plates and sticks one in each of the holders. She waves Mrs Smit into the front seat, tosses the keys to Else, and climbs into the back seat. Freda and Greta are quick to jump in the car too. Mr Smit is still reading the safety features while they shut the doors and Else starts the car. He looks up in surprise when the car starts, and they drive off down the road. Mrs Smit tells Greta to drive to her favourite ice cream shop. It takes about five minutes to get there.
After buying everyone a cone, and a large tub to take home, Mrs Smit tells Freda to drive them home. She smiles when Freda makes them wait a moment while she finishes her ice cream before getting in to drive. On the trip back, Mrs Smit, says, “While my husband can’t hear us, how long did you have the girls out driving today?”
Liz grins, “About half an hour each. After I quizzed them on their experience to date, I tossed them the keys and told them to drive. Both showed great care and concern for all safety factors. Which is why I’m happy to recommend them to be allowed to drive my favourite cousins around. My only remaining concern is that they get to know the car well, before then.”
“OK. He’ll hem and haw a bit, but it’ll happen. Mostly because this will also allow us more time for other things we want to do, instead of sitting in the car supervising the girls to drive. I’ll leave it all up to you lot to organise things. Just make sure they get enough supervised hours in their logbooks.” All three older girls smile and nod.
Else says, “Oh, Mum, before I forget again. Saturday afternoon, Liz, Freda, Greta, and I are going to a movie with Hal, and we’ll have dinner after the film. Any problems?” Mrs Smit smiles when she nods her approval.