Adventures in Parenthood

By: Dawn Atkins

CHAPTER ONE

“YOU SAVED MY family.” The grateful client grabbed Dixon Carter into a bear hug. Rattled, Dixon managed a back pat or two, hoping that did the trick. Emotional stuff threw him.

“We just gave you some advice, Eric. You earned the job.” A laid-off auto tech, with an ill wife and two young boys, Eric had recently secured a job with the city, thanks to the help he’d gotten at Bootstrap Academy.

“You gave me the guts to apply,” Eric insisted. “You taught me how to interview, what to say on my résumé. You got me the leads.”

The man had tears in his eyes. Tears.

Dixon blinked back the moisture in his own eyes, pride making his chest burn. We do good work. “That’s why we’re here.”

Dixon sometimes got so caught up in the business side of the agency he forgot the rewards. Bootstrap Academy was a last-chance job-training and placement agency in Phoenix. The place was his brother Howard’s dream, and Dixon had been privileged to help bring it to life a year ago.

“All I know is that if it weren’t for this place, my boys wouldn’t be stepping off the bus next fall with new backpacks, new sneaks and snack money burning holes in their pockets,” Eric said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Tell them your story.” He nodded toward the new clients in a meeting room down the hall. “That’s all the thanks we need.” Ideally, Eric would give hope to the men and women who’d been beaten down by economic hard knocks or their own mistakes.

“Thank your brother and his wife for me, too.”

“Absolutely. They get back tonight.” Howard and Brianna had taken a vacation to celebrate their fifth anniversary—their first trip away from their girls. Dixon was watching the four-year-old twins—and counting down the hours until their parents returned.

Not that he didn’t love the girls. He adored them. But adding them to his own work, plus what couldn’t be put off of Howard’s, had been tough. Single parents deserved medals. Dixon would like a family one day, but not until he stopped putting in sixty-hour weeks here.

Oh, and found a woman to have one with.

Howard and Brianna were due back before the girls’ bedtime, thank God. Dixon hadn’t yet performed the elaborate night rituals to Sienna’s satisfaction. Ginger was more tenderhearted, but a challenge in her own way.

Eric headed for the workshop, and Dixon saw his assistant barreling down the hall toward him. “What’s up, Maggie?” he asked.

She nodded across the lobby to the small shop where they sold donated business clothes. “Tonya’s about to lose her nerve with the interview.”

Dixon backed up so Maggie could beeline for the young woman dressed in cutoffs and a tank top, who was glancing from a rack of blazers toward the exit door, ready to bolt. When Maggie reached her, she said something that made the girl smile, then led her deeper into the shop toward the manager.

Maggie had uncanny people instincts. She gave pep talks without being condescending, help without pity, support without being pushy. Tonya would walk out today with more confidence, a business suit and bus fare, if that’s what she needed.

The smallest gesture could change everything for their clients. A smile, a word of praise, a phone call—all could be a lifeline for someone about to go down for good.

Maggie had been one of their first clients. Howard had wanted to hire a social worker, but Dixon had had a feeling about Magdalena Ortiz. And he’d been right. Dixon wasn’t used to trusting his feelings. Facts and figures were predictable. People not so much. People were the whole show around here, though, so Dixon often found himself at sea.

Checking his watch, Dixon sprinted for his office. He had twenty minutes to finish and send the email to the foundation before he had to get his nieces from gymnastics. Late pickups were not tolerated, according to Brianna. What are they going to do? Put me in time-out?

Dropping into his chair, Dixon pulled up his draft of the intent-to-apply email due by five today. It looked good. Complete. He clicked Send, hoping he wasn’t too bleary to judge. They had to win this grant if the agency was going to survive another year.

He’d been up half the night finishing the app. He’d laid out a convincing argument, based on Bootstrap’s high success rate, efficient operation and range of services. Today he’d tried to bring it to life by weaving in the client stories Howard and Brianna had given him. Howard had been a social worker for seventeen years before starting Bootstrap. His wife Brianna had been a high school teacher. Now she ran their workshops and basic skills program.

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