Another benefit to the little house came shortly after the death of Grace’s mother; a new family moved in at the end of the street with a daughter Grace’s age and Susan Price or as Grace renamed her Suze soon became Grace’s best friend. Suze moved in shortly after Beth’s death and became an instant distraction for the horrors of reality for Grace. Her family had money but they didn’t act like it. They lived in a modest looking ranch over a basement that had been remodeled in the mid-90s. Even though to the naked eye it just looked like a basic house Jay knew all the little things that made the house worth double what it looked like. During his youth or the “pre-fat days” as he had renamed them he himself had almost come from money and he had a pretty good idea about what nice things looked like and what they cost. His father had made money in the seventies as a car dealer and when the money was good the money got spent “good” he would always say. Unfortunately Jay’s father was also a trusting man and his business partner had embezzled every bit of the money from the dealership and ran away to Mexico and Charles Branch had to close the dealership leaving Jay’s family without a dime and with a lot of outstanding bills. So Jay was very familiar with nice things and he was even more familiar with a man trying to keep up appearances when the money was gone. When the Prices had moved in, they would have 2 new cars on lease every other year. Now they drove a couple of 5 year old paid off cars. Sheila Price’s Audi SUV was replaced by a mid-2000s Volvo station wagon and Robert Price who once drove a Range Rover now drove a Ford F150. Both nice enough but very far from what they had become accustomed to. On the same note there had been a time when their slight over spending benefitted Grace very much. Every 6 months Suze was getting a new iPhone and she would always give Grace what appeared to be a brand new phone when she would get the next latest greatest version and she had even given her an iPad and a laptop for Christmas a couple years back. But Jay had noticed when the new 5c or whatever the hell the kids called it came out Suze didn’t get one of those and there was a new iPad and she hadn’t gotten that either. Possibly the most interesting thing was that she decided to get a job with Grace over the summer at the new yogurt shop in the strip mall that Dantello’s was in.
“You know because it would be fun.” She had said.
Grace had gotten the summer job because she wanted to save up so she could fix up the International Scout that her mother had owned. It still turned over and cranked but it had been sitting for almost 10 years in the garage because Jay couldn’t bring himself to drive it or sell it. But when Grace asked if she could start driving the Scout after she got her license Jay knew that this was the right thing for the old beast, not to mention he knew that it was made out of iron or something even stronger and she could never get hurt in it. All she had left on the repair or replace list was to get the four oversized tires and she had already picked them out online. Jay had made sure to keep the old truck insured and paid the taxes on it every year. Once a year when a new decal for the tag would arrive he and Grace would walk into the garage, open the door, sit behind the wheel and start the engine and then take the old monster for a 20 mile circle around Smyrna which would usually almost run it out of gas. Then he would put another gallon and a half in it and drive it home. Grace had spent the better part of a year getting all of the hoses and lines replaced, getting new plugs, getting the transmission serviced, the brake pads replaced and of course before putting the new tires on she made sure to have them put in a new stereo that played music from her phone via Bluetooth. Jay thought was hilarious because it reminded him of the time her mother had called him from the side of the road (back then we didn’t all have cell phones) and asked him to come change a tire. When he got there he asked her why she was driving around with a bald tire with a bubble on it, knowing that she wasn’t broke and could have just bought one. She looked at him and made that innocent smile she always did when she had done something crazy and said right to him “Those big ass things cost a lot of money and they had a CD changer that plugged right into my radio for the same price and I figured I had at least another month worth of rubber on them.” He could just imagine the joy she would find in MP3 technology, being able to have all of her CDs in a cute little package and never being angry again because for some odd reason her favorite CD would be scratched (probably because when not in a CD player they would be sliding around on the floor of the Scout). Just think about the millions of dollars saved and the vacations they could have taken if they weren’t always rebuying The Cure’s Staring at the Sea or Morrissey’s Viva Hate he would joke with her. So to see that Grace loved that old truck and she loved music even more almost brought tears to the weathered old punks face. He could have just imagined the times that they would have spent, Grace and Beth torturing him by dragging him to the botanical gardens and art exhibits at the High museum, the Art Festival at Piedmont Park and who knows what other “girly excuses for art” he would have been gladly forced to go to watch with the two of them. Grace had grown up to be a little Mini Me of a woman she had hardly known and the bittersweet sight of this could instigate tears or an ear to ear grin from her father at the drop of a hat.