*Author’s note: This is an unedited sneak peek into my upcoming novel, 2050: Psycho Island. Please excuse the block formatting and errors.
Chapter 5: Derek and The Boys
The mechanical picker suctioned oranges from the tree, the hose moving up and down and forward and back with the precision of a 3-D printer. Derek used the handheld hose attachment to suction undamaged oranges from the ground. The four-wheel machine inched forward, making efficient work of the harvest. Satisfied that he’d gleaned the suitable oranges from the ground, he hung the hose on the machine. Knowing he had a minute to rest before the picker moved to the next tree, he twisted his torso, stretching his lower back. He needed to be careful about bending over all day when running the suction hose. He was still young, thirty-eight, but not that young.
As Derek stretched, he glanced up at the morning sun, already bright yellow and glorious. Something caught his eye, something in the treetops a few rows over. Something big. Derek paused the picker, and walked between the rows of trees. He frowned at the two skinny boys hiding in the center of an orange tree, about twelve feet up. They looked to be about ten-years-old, dirty, one tan, the other pale.
“This is private property. What are you two doin’?” Derek said.
“Um … nothin’. We just wanted to climb. That ain’t a crime,” the tan boy said.
“You’re stealin’ my oranges. Get down before you hurt yourself.”
The boys climbed down the tree, their faces solemn. Their shorts pockets bulged with round oranges. The tan boy wore a backpack, no doubt also filled with oranges.
“Shouldn’t you be at school?” Derek asked.
“Don’t you know nothin’?” the tan boy asked with a scowl. “Everyone goes online, unless you’re rich.”
“Shouldn’t you be in front of a computer then?”
“We go at night,” the pale boy said. “Internet’s cheaper at night.”
“Where do you two live?” Derek asked.
The pale kid pointed to the government assisted apartment building in the distance. “Over there at Hillside Grove.”
“Don’t tell him,” the tan boy said through gritted teeth.
“Do your parents know you’re here?” Derek asked.
“We can do whatever we want.”
“How would you like it if I stole somethin’ from you?”
The boys didn’t respond, staring at their dirty sneakers.
“What are your names?”
Still no response.
Derek took off his wide brimmed hat. “You’re not in trouble, but we need to make a deal.”
The boys looked up.
“What kinda deal?” the tan boy asked.
“The kind that’s good for both of us,” Derek said. “But I don’t make deals with people I don’t know. Again, what are your names?”
“I’m Ricky,” the pale boy said.
“Nice to meet you, Ricky,” Derek said.
Ricky wore a stained baseball cap and had a splash of freckles under his eyes and across his nose.
Derek looked to the tan boy. “And you?”
The boy shrugged. “Carlos.”
“Nice to meet you, Carlos.”
Carlos had dark eyes, disheveled brown hair, and teeth covered with a yellow film.
Derek said, “Here’s the thing. I don’t make much money. It’s a struggle to keep this farm goin’ year after year. If I let people steal from me, it makes it difficult to stay in business, and take care of my family. You understand?”
“We only took a few. There’s lots of oranges,” Carlos said.
“How many do you have?”
“Like four.” Carlos looked down at his bulging pockets.
“That all? What about your backpack?”
Carlos blushed. “Maybe like ten.”
Derek arched his eyebrows.
“Okay, maybe fifteen.”
“I sell these oranges for half a Fed Coin each. That means you stole seven and a half Fed Coins from me. That’s enough for a decent meal. How would you like it if I came to your house and took your dinner?”
“Go ahead and try,” Carlos said, his arms crossed over his chest.
“What if I told you there was a way to have all the fruit you can eat without stealin’ a single orange?”
“I’ll show you.” Derek started walking back to the mechanical picker. “Come on.”
The boys followed.
“That’s so cool,” Ricky said, gazing at the picker.
“Only rich people have robots,” Carlos said.
Derek ignored the comment and pointed to the row behind the picker. “This row has already been harvested, but there’s still good oranges on the ground. It’s fruit that I can’t sell because it might be oddly shaped or slightly damaged, but it still tastes great, and you two are welcome to take as much as you like, but only the leftover fruit after the picker has been through. Understand?”
The boys smiled from ear to ear.
“That’s way more than we can eat,” Ricky said.
“You didn’t hear this from me because it’s illegal, but you could sell them to your neighbors,” Derek said. “Say ten for a Fed Coin. It’s up to you, what you think they can pay, but you’re young enough that if you do get caught, you won’t get into too much trouble.”
“I bet we could make like twenty Fed Coins in a few hours,” Carlos said, still grinning.
Derek grabbed two empty boxes from the back of the picker. “Here, you can use these boxes. I have an old hand cart you can borrow to take your haul home with you.”
“Thanks, Derek!” Ricky said.
“If I were you, I’d keep our little agreement a secret. You wouldn’t want other people to take your fruit.”
“Yeah, don’t tell anyone,” Carlos said to Ricky.
“I won’t,” Ricky replied, annoyed.
The boys went to work and Derek went back to the picker, restarting the machine. Shortly thereafter, his cellphone chimed. Derek answered while suctioning oranges from the ground, leaving the imperfect ones for the boys. He grabbed his phone and checked the caller ID. It was the call he’d been dreading. The one where Lindsey backed out of her visit at the last minute, and Rebecca made an excuse for her.
Derek swiped right. “Hey, Becca.”
“Hello, Derek. I’m calling to let you know that Lindsey won’t be able to visit this weekend. She has a very important school project and she needs VR access. I know your internet doesn’t have the capability for reliable VR.”
“It’s slow and pixelated, but it’ll work.”
“Well, like I said, it’s a very important school project and I don’t want her hindered by an unreliable internet.”
Derek sighed. “I’d like to see her. She missed last time. I feel like we’re driftin’ apart.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Rebecca took a deep breath. “I have something else to tell you, but I need you to be calm and openminded.”
“Lindsey wants Jacob to adopt her.”
“What? You can’t be serious.” Derek’s entire body tensed. He hung the hose on the picker and paused the machine. “Where’s this comin’ from?”
“Well … from all of us. Jacob has grown very close to her over the years, and I think it’s a good idea. It’s been hard for her to fit in with the extended family, and this is a step in the right direction.”
“That’s bullshit. If they don’t accept her now, then they don’t deserve her.”
“I agree, but it’s complicated. Bloodlines are very important to them. A large trust fund is given to Roth children. If Jacob doesn’t adopt Lindsey before her eighteenth birthday, she’ll be ineligible for the trust fund.”
Derek pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. “It’s always about money.”
“No, this is about Lindsey.”
“We actually could’ve made it. You didn’t have to leave.”
“I’m still hangin’ on here. We could’ve been happy. We wouldn’t be rich but we would’ve been happy.”
“Let’s not do this. It was eight years ago. What’s done is done.”
“Are you happy?” Derek paced, his gaze on the ground.
“This isn’t about me.”
“Answer the question.”
Rebecca hesitated for a beat. “Yes. I’m very happy.”
“I guess it all worked out for you then.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t make me feel guilty for taking responsibility for my life.”
“Responsibility? That’s priceless comin’ from someone who doesn’t have to work. Shit, you don’t even have to be a mom with that robot.”
“How dare you. You have no idea. I left you because I wanted more for my life, but you were happy with the status quo. And now you’re holding back our daughter. She’ll be set for life. She’ll be able to do whatever she wants to do. Don’t you want that for her?”
“She’s my only child. I don’t wanna lose her,” Derek said.
“All the more reason to do what’s best for her,” Rebecca replied.
“I wanna talk to her.”
“She getting ready for school.”
“You want me to sign her over like a used car, and I can’t even talk to her for five minutes?”
Rebecca let out a breath. “Fine. Hold on.”
A minute later, Lindsey spoke with a tremor in her voice, “Hello? Dad?”
“Hey, honey. Your mom told me about the adoption. Is this what you want?” Derek felt a lump forming in his throat.
Lindsey hesitated for a moment. “It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
“But you do want Jacob to adopt you?”
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
“Don’t be sorry. I’m sorry. I wish I would’ve been a better …” Derek swallowed hard. “I have to go.”
“Then you’ll let Jacob adopt me?”
“It’s a big decision. Can I think about it?”
“Yeah.” There was disappointment in her voice.
“I have to go.” Derek disconnected the call and started to throw his phone in frustration, but thought better of it mid-windup. He didn’t have the money for a replacement.