"Greg told me you stole from him," Ben says in monotone, "he talked about it with me at lunch."
Donny sighs heavily. "It's true," he says, "I'm not gonna lie. Not anymore. I stole drugs from him. He helped me and I did him wrong."
"How do I know you won't do the same to me?" Ben asks pointedly. They exchange a look.
"I've done so many bad things," Donny says, "some I can't account for. But I swear to you right now, Ben, on my father's name. I will repay you for helping me. I will try to rectify my mistakes. I'll find a way to make things better with Greg. I give my word, on my dad Ronald's soul."
Donny wasn't certain he believed in something like a soul. But by invoking his father's name, he made a solemn vow. A vow he meant to keep, even through hardships. It was an extended version of the same promise Donny had made at the gravesight of Ronald.
"Okay," Ben says with a shrug. They continue their drive back to the house.
John Kiefer called the next day. He asked to speak to Donny, and Ben handed the phone over. They made an arrangement to meet later that day, at the YMCA.
For the first instance in a long time, Donny was motivated by something other than pills. John was a kindly man who fell on black days, like many others in the Great Recession. John had been working at the meat department of the local grocery store chain. He was 3 years out from collecting his retirement pension when he was laid off. He managed to coast on unemployment for 2 years, but no one was looking to hire. He looked and looked, to no avail. He eventually got a job at a meat warehouse, but they let him go at just under 3 months. The job did little more than to fuck up his unemployment status, and cut off his benefits.
John's wife divorced him and took the house, car, and most other valuables. Despite all of John's hard work through the years, it all crumbled for him. His wife did not stand by her man for poorer.
Despite his adversity, John did not start drinking, or doing drugs, like so many others who were equally destitute. Donny liked him right away.
John was bright, and a diligent student to boot. He took copious notes as Donny ran through all the aspects of computer operation. Nancy provided a non-working computer to use as a model for Donny's teaching.
"I think Nancy had the wrong idea," Donny says, as he tries to power on the computer, "you needed to learn about the software, right?"
"What do you mean?" John asks with a frown.
"The software is the programs and applications," Donny explains, "the hardware is the physical device itself. The computer won't even turn on. WIthout power, there's no way we can get to the applications we need."
Donny phones Ben and asks him to bring an ATX power supply, as well as the basic office programs John needs to train on. Ben readily comes over, delivering the needed components. As Donny takes apart the computer case, he points out the various aspects of the motherboard. He points out the RAM slots, the CPU, the PCI extension bays, everything. Not that John will use that knowledge, but it might be impressive to the interviewer if John can show advanced awareness of how a computer functions.
Once the power supply is swapped, the computer turns on. Donny dimly recalls how Gus and he had replaced the Blazer battery in similar fashion.
Donny and Ben installed the programs one by one. John continued his strict note-taking. Donny started off by asking what the company did primarily day-to-day. John replied that the insurance company mainly dealt with spreadsheets and data reports. Donny did a mockup of a fake company, along with expenditure columns, and profit reports. They progressed smoothly through it all.
John was dignified. Donny got a sense of John was like being around Gus. Not all homeless people were addicted to drugs. Some were just victims of circumstance. Without the drugs to drag them down, a person could resort to living in their vehicle. John confided that he had lived in an RV in a campground after losing the house. Times got even tougher, and he couldn't afford the RV gas, or maintantence any further. The campgrounds were closed in the winter, and John moved around from place to place overnight. The RV also made him a target of the police. Such a large conveyance stuck out in the Wal-Mart, or shopping mall parking lots. John sold it, and used the proceeds to buy a minivan. He ended up sleeping in the van for almost a year.
John got by with odd jobs, things like mowing lawns and yardwork in summer, and shoveling walks in winter. Thankfully, John was able to get on there at the YMCA and secure a bed and living arrangements.
"So, when do you test for the job position?" Donny asked, as he sipped a soda in the breakroom of the Y.
"Well, I actually took it last week," John says, "but I failed it. I talked to HR and they agreed to give me another shot at it tomorrow. I was really starting to worry, for a second."
"I think that with the training I've given you," Donny says, "you'll be more than capable of passing."
John bids them farewell, and closes the door of his public housing room. Donny turns in the computer Nancy had supplied.
"Here ya go," Donny says, "good as new."
Nancy cocks her head sideways in puzzlement.
"What?" she says, "you mean it works now?!?!"
"Sure does," Donny says with vigor, "it just had a bad power supply."
Nancy claps her hands in joy. "You two boys are amazing!!" she says, "I'll have to keep you in mind if ever we have further computer problems."
"Ben's the go-to guy," Donny says, "you should consider hiring him on as an IT consultant. He can work on an as-needed basis, whenever issues with the network come up."
"I tell you what," Nancy says, "when our next approved budget comes about, I'll contact him for a contract. He'll have to submit a bid through our application process."
Donny smiles. The methadone is now going strong. If an Oxy high was an A+ scale, methadone was a solid B. Donny wasn't high, but he also wasn't in the midst of junk pains. He now knew what it meant to be content.
The time spent with Ben at his house was cherished by Donny. They had LAN parties together every night. It was always a team effort, with them fighting side-by side in the game, and computer-to-computer in real life. It was never against each other, but only as teammates.
They ate junk food and drank soda. Game time was always proceeded by movie time. They watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy all the way through. Then, it was Steven Segal movies, and Stallone flicks. They made fun of them all, imitating voices and cracking jokes. Donny felt normal. There was no worry about robbing for opiates, or where he was gonna sleep. Stability was something taken for granted, but Donny knew better. The basic needs were not available to everyone. He appreciated the roof over his head, and the blankets on his body.
John got the job. It was blissful to receive the call from him on Benjamin's cell. There was a room at the inn now. To expedite the process, Donny helped John move out. The newly-employed Mr. Keifer showed him the credit card he was given as part of his hiring. Normally, an expense account isn't implemented until 90 days from the hiring date, but a special exception was made in John's case. The situation had been explained during the job interview. John had confided that he was taking refuge at the Y. Donny thought there was probably some incentive for the company to hire on people of a certain income bracket (no income, to be certain).
Because of Donny's addiction, and the proof of his enrollment in the methadone program, Nancy agreed to let Donny stay there as of that moment. Against all odds, Donny, the meager pawn, had crossed all the squares alone. Having avoided the strikes from opposing figures, Donny was set to take over his own section. Although he was the lowest position of power, he still had the ability to advance.