Janet Pilkington sighed as she closed her study books in order to prepare for bed. She’d managed to luck out on her motel style room which had originally been a granny flat a distant cousin had installed for her widowed mother now deceased. It had taken some persuasion as her cousin had decided to save it for any relatives who planned a visit from time to time but her cousin had agreed to let Janet occupy realizing her five-bedroom home was quite sufficient when children returned on vacation from their respective colleges or other close relatives visited. The rent charged was far below what she would have had to pay in other places because of high student demand for cheap housing as she was a relative.

Cousin Beth was considerably older than Janet so apart from the distance of their relationship there was also that distance in years, so their interactions were pleasant friendly but not close. That was OK with Janet and she was grateful for being allowed to stay there with all the facilities available close by in this University town. The house was within several blocks of the University Janet attended and she relished the bike ride from home to student parking areas. Well, perhaps not in wintertime, when she wished she had the protection of a car.

Janet’s sigh was for her present financial situation. Her parents had divorced when she was in her high school years and she’d been ferried between them up to the time she received a scholarship from this University and learned through her Mother, they had relatives in this town. She remembered the awkward first meeting with Cousin Beth who had no idea she even existed as a relative up to that meeting. Photo album pictures had helped with common relatives they knew, and Janet was given her chance.

While the scholarship covered tuition and related costs that did not cover rent, food and clothing. Janet’s father had sired other children since his remarriage and had only promised meagre help with her personal expenses and her Mother who was struggling to keep afloat financially made enormous sacrifices to try and establish her daughter but none of this help was enough. She made up for the uncovered debts by waitressing after lectures and this with tips did see she got by with a little surplus.

The pandemic with its restrictions had put that all in doubt and she’d begged the various casual places of work to keep her on. She had to drop one restaurant when the owner promised to fully support her through her education for favours in return which were not specified but broadly hinted at so there could be no doubt between them as to what those favours were but his caution would provide a way of escape if the owner were sued by her for inappropriate behaviour.

So, Janet’s sigh before climbing into bed at 11pm was for good reason. She couldn’t see any possibility of finishing her education and she so much wanted to be a teacher. She pulled the covers up to her chin and sobbed silently until at last she fell into an exhausted sleep.

The alarm trilled at exactly 5am and Janet groaned. All this study and hard work to survive had an effect and she was tempted to sleep a little longer but dared not give in.  She arose mechanically and began her exercise program. Exercise was the only weapon she had to fight depression and keep her focused and though she hated to exercise when she was so tired, she felt a lot better for it afterward. Then the routine for the day began in earnest with quick shower, hurried breakfast, and attention to make up after dressing for the day activities.

Soon it was off to University to arrive in time for library to open and keep an eye on time for scheduled classes. Not one minute of the day could be wasted though she realized she needed sustenance from a cafeteria quick meal before afternoon class and library then a hasty dash downtown for scheduled appearances when the evening shift began wherever she was assigned on different days. There was intense competition among students for these evening jobs, but she had three remaining restaurants she was scheduled on different days and needed to be faithful showing up for her shifts or others would eagerly take her place.

That night when she returned home after an exhausting shift, she opened the door to her room and noticed letters pushed under the door by her Cousin Beth. She looked eagerly for the customary monthly letter from her Dad. Usually there was a brief note and some money. She’d long stopped shedding tears about his seeming neglect of her in her extremity. Nothing from Dad, he was rarely on time. There was a long letter from her Mom with money Janet knew would be a huge sacrifice for her. She dreamed one day to be a teacher earning regularly and comfortably settled and she’d do all in her power to care for her Mom when she was too tired to work anymore. But there was a third letter addressed to her with no hint as to who the sender was or its origin. She opened it up and gasped in surprise. Green currency notes fell out but no letter. She counted five hundred dollars and burst into tears.

Next morning, she knocked on Cousin Beth’s door and paid her current rent and rent for the next month. Cousin Beth looked surprised but nodded as she counted out the notes. Janet asked if she knew who had delivered the unmarked letter to their mailbox and Beth shook her head stating it was like that when she collected it from the mailbox. So that reaction convinced Janet it wasn’t her cousin.

This was the first of monthly receipts arriving addressed to her name in a plain envelope but no other identifying marks. Sometimes it was one hundred and sometimes more. Janet was very appreciative but each month she became more curious. Now and then there would be a five-hundred-dollar contribution and she suddenly realized one day this would match a significant event in her life such as a birthday or holiday. For the first time in her life, she was able to start building a savings account keeping up her hard work and study.

Janet felt a desire to thank this anonymous donor for their support. This had significantly reduced her stress levels and for the first time in her life she began to have positive thoughts about her future. She’d made a number of friends among classmates as well as from library contacts though she had no time for dating. So, one day in the cafeteria she noticed Ted the computer whiz join her table group and after they’d finished their meal she asked if she could talk with him. Without going into details, she wanted to know if there was a way to check on who was making mail deliveries to her address.

Ted laughed. “Someone stalking you Janet?”

“Not at all, on the contrary they are leaving me something nice each month in a plain envelope but without any identity of the sender disclosed.”

“Janet has a secret friend shall I call the gang back to the table and share that news? The guys are always trying to get a date with you, but you claim to be too busy. Maybe they’re trying this approach and will confess when they’ve worn you down.”

Janet blushed. “Don’t you dare Ted its not like that at all.”

Ted saw she was embarrassed and backed off. “The only way I can think of finding this Romeo is to set up a camera that records who places mail in the box each day. Do you have a door that gives a clear view of the mailbox?”

“My granny flat is at the side of my cousin’s home but the glass sliding door at front has a diagonal view of the box.”

“Do you have a video recorder?”

“No Ted I can’t afford anything like that.”

Ted sat thinking. “OK my Dad has an old one lying around as he loves all the latest technology and hordes the old stuff. Let me talk with him. I’ve got several cameras and will loan you one until we solve who the Romeo is. I’ll come and set it all up for you and teach you how to review the recordings each day and delete to make room for the next day recording until we solve the problem. See you tomorrow in the Cafeteria.”

So, the next day Ted stopped by her table to tell her he’d set it all up on the weekend much to the interest of those sitting at the table with her. They all looked at her for an explanation, but she ate her lunch and ignored their curious looks.

Janet reviewed video of the days activity each evening and deleted when she was satisfied no unusual deliveries had been made. Toward the end of the month as usual an unidentified envelope appeared under her door and she hastened to the video to play back. Sure enough there was someone delivering to the box she had vague recollections of but could not exactly place that face. She waited another month, and another envelope was delivered with money and the same person was disclosed at the box on video. She could not get this out of her mind now. Why was this person doing this?

Then on her way to work one evening she saw the young man in question entering a restaurant she used to work at before an attempt was made by the owner to compromise her. She exhaled in surprise. Of course, while the owner made his presence felt in hiring and firing this young man was the manager of that restaurant and he’d somehow guessed the owner had attempted to compromise her and had privately expressed his sympathy when she told him she’d not be available to work there anymore. He’d been very kind to her and often steered the well-paying clients her way so she could be assured of high tips. She had a deep respect for him. But she was determined to know why he was doing this. Was the owner doing this as a bribe to keep her from talking about his behaviour? She’d found out there were a number of girls making accusations about him at the University so perhaps he was feeling threatened and paying them off? If this young man was doing this on behalf of the owner, she’d feel obliged to return the money but that would put her into financial distress. The thought of receiving tainted money made her feel sick. This had to be solved.

So, after her shift was over, she headed for that restaurant and stood in a place where she could see inside without being observed. Eventually the restaurant was cleared for the evening and final moves to clean up commenced before locking up. She waited peeping around the newspaper opened to conceal her face. She observed the hated owner was not in sight and the manager came to the front to lock up.

The paper came down and she spoke recalling his name now. “Ronald, we need to talk!”

Ronald looked around in surprise. “What are you doing here Janet. It’s late and you should be home.”

“I’m not leaving until we’ve had this conversation Ronald.”

“OK wait. I must finalize with the night crew and then I’ll lock up and come out. You shouldn’t be here.”

Soon he was back. “What on earth are you here at this time of night. It’s not safe!”

“Why Ronald?”

“I don’t know what you mean Janet.”

“Perhaps an unmarked envelope each month and the fact I have your image at the post-box each month on video might explain why I’m here. Were you sending that for your boss?”

Ronald was irritated. “No, not from the boss, he knows nothing about this. Let me walk you home as its late and unsafe for you to be out.”

“Then why Ronald?”

They walked in silence for some time and Janet asked again.

Ronald turned to face her. “Janet my boss is a despicable creature, but I need that job. I know his game with the girls and presume he tried his luck with you and that’s why you quit. I know you need money to complete your education as you’re shared some of your background with me when we worked together, and I thought you had potential and should deserve a break in life just like I was lucky to get a break. Our backgrounds are similar, so you have my sympathy. Nothing sinister about the money and I’m sorry you figured out it was me as I had no ulterior motive in mind. It was supposed to be secret and with no expectations in return.”

Janet stopped to consider this. “What does your wife think of you giving me that much money each month when it’s a struggle for most of us these days with expenses?”

While she couldn’t see his facial expressions in the dark, she heard him chuckle. “No wife Janet but I’d love to have one.”

Janet was relaxed now. She laughed. “Well, if you spend all your money on me Ronald how do you expect to be able to afford a wife. They’re costly commodities.”

Both laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind Janet, I know you are really busy but perhaps you could find time for a lonely bachelor to have a date with someday. I’d even wait until you graduate if you’d give me that encouragement.”

Janet gave Ronald a spontaneous hug. She felt safe with him. Then she pulled away.

“I’ve got a heavy day tomorrow Ronald and need to get some sleep. I’ve never been on a date and think it would be nice to get away from study and work to destress sometime. Maybe I could find time this Sunday but wonder who’d have the time to take me out?”

She pulled out her calling card and handed it to him. “If you can think of anyone who might be willing to take me on my first date perhaps you could call the number on this card.”

She rushed down the path to her home waving as she went. Then turned off the video machine showered, changed and leapt into bed heart racing in expectation. A half hour later the phone trilled, and she picked it up expectantly.

“Is that you Mom?” She pretended.

The male voice at the other end of the line laughed. “How about 10 am Sunday. I’ve found someone to cover for me at the restaurant.”

“I’ll be ready Ronald. Am really looking forward to this date.”

Janet slept stress free that night.

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© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved

© The above image is hosted by laurel-madsen Microsoft photo library

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