Habitat for Redemption (part 4)
Dutch Masterson watched his young protégé nail in the finishing touches on the banister, and then give it a firm shake to tests its durability, with a small sense of pride. He had reason to be proud. In the three short years that Dutch had known him, Kenji Lowe had become one hell of a house builder, and one of the best carpenters in the business. And that, Kenji always claimed, was due to nothing more than Dutch's patient tutelage.
Dutch wondered about the young Japanese man, sometimes. Why did he stay here with the Habitat Company, donating his time and talents to building homes for families in need, when, with his reputation and qualifications, he could be out there in the industry, making money hand over fist? Not to mention, where was he getting the cash he was living on in the first place.
:Kid must have inherited a fortune... Or made one. The only way he could afford to volunteer for three years would be if he were independently wealthy!: Dutch thought incredulously.
Three and a half years ago, a lawyer who represented someone with a LOT of fluid capital had approached him. The lawyer informed him that this individual has expressed an interest in resurrecting an old American non-profit organization, whose purpose would be to build or fix homes for needy people, free of charge. The lawyer then told him that this individual had been impressed with Dutch's credentials and wished him to be the on-site supervisor for this company. With a hefty salary.
At the time, Dutch had been making about one THIRD what this lawyer had been authorized to offer him, and he'd been quite impressed by the overall goal of the company. By the end of that afternoon lunch, he'd signed the contract. About a month later, he was on site of the company's first project, supervising his new crew.
Each member of his initial crew had been likewise approached by the lawyer, and offered positions. Also with fairly hefty salaries. But within a very short period of time, people in the construction industry had heard about Habitat, and had started sending some of their best and brightest to volunteer their time and efforts occasionally. People in the communities where they worked had begun to show an interest and also volunteer unskilled labor wherever they went. The sheer volume of goodwill people expressed towards the company and its crew overwhelmed Dutch sometimes. It could be anything from a local contractor dropping his workload and volunteering for a few weeks, to a little old granny, making them coffee and cinnamon rolls for breakfast; the communities where they worked always seemed to want to give them something.
Then about the third month after Habitat's birth, Kenji had shown up.
He was just a skinny little sixteen-year-old Japanese kid with no experience. He'd walked up to Dutch and told him that he'd heard about the project and had come from across the country to join up, if they'd have him. Not just for this house. Not just for this job. He wanted to join the company, and wanted an application to fill out.
Dutch had been dubious at first. After all, they could get all the unskilled labor they wanted at any community they were at. Why did they need someone like that to follow them around to every job? Something about the kid just got to him, though. It might have been that haunted, pleading look in the kid's Prussian blue eyes. It might have been his solid earnestness. It might have been the ex-Alliance military in him, seeing any number of his former soldiers in that kid's expression. He wasn't sure what it had been, but something prompted him to let the kid fill out some paperwork, and hang out on the site while they waited for the lawyer to get back with them.
The answer came that night when the lawyer called back. His client had said yes, and offered Kenji a small salary, which, surprisingly, the kid turned down.
"Maybe when I've learned enough to have earned it," he'd answered.
That began Kenji's training. Dutch took him under his wing and started teaching him everything he knew about the construction business.
Kenji had been amazing. It was obvious that he really did have no experience, but he learned FAST! By the end of that first year, Dutch had forgotten that Kenji had come to them with no skills at all. By halfway through the second year, Kenji had become the one other individual that Dutch felt he could trust, supervising the site in his absence. By the end of that year, Dutch, and his crew, wondered how they'd ever managed without Kenji. Also by then, Kenji had become a fully accredited Master Carpenter. He'd begun getting job offers from some of the finest construction firms in the world. And he'd turned down every one of them. He'd also turned down every offer of a salary from Habitat.
Dutch sighed again, watching as Kenji, without pausing for a break, headed over to give Axe a hand with wiring the new front porch light. It was a rare thing for Kenji to ever relax. He was always the first one on the site, usually elbow deep in some project or another that he'd begun before dawn, and he was always the last to leave. Dutch privately thought there were some nights where the kid hadn't ever left, and had simply worked through the night, pausing only to toss on a fresh shirt in the morning. The kid was dedicated... no. Driven.
Dutch found himself wondering, more often than not, what terrible thing Kenji was running from. What could possibly drive such a talented, sensitive kid to work himself to exhaustion day in and day out, and do it for free?
He wanted to take Kenji aside and talk it out. Dutch would never admit it to Kenji's face, but the kid had become something of a second son to him in the three short years he'd known him.
Dutch paused to wonder at himself. He realized that for the first time since his son had been killed during a MS battle in the war, that thinking about him didn't cause the searing jolt of pain that it had.
He'd spent the last four years of his life trying to bury the memory of the loss of his son in whatever work he could find. This project, this job, this company, had been something of a godsend to him. He'd been able to immerse himself in the whole thing for a short time, smothering his pain in the arduous work. Until Kenji came.
Dutch suddenly realized what it had been about the Japanese kid that had prompted him to want to keep the kid around. Even from the first moment he'd met Kenji, he'd pictured Kenji as something like a surrogate son.
That bothered him. Was he only trying to replace his dead son with another? He contemplated that for a few minutes before he came to a conclusion.
No. Kenji was as close to him as his son would have been, but he could still hold the memory of his real flesh and blood child to him without the two young men blurring into one. He could still make the distinction between the two youths, and hold them in the same regard. He could think about the memory of his child, and not have it strangle him the way it used to.
He was finally ready to let go and say good-bye.
For the third time that day, Dutch found himself sighing at the young Japanese kid who'd waltzed into his life three years ago. God, Kenji was amazing. Did he even realize the impact he had on peoples' lives?
Dutch could only hope that he did, and that would be some small comfort to the kid. That maybe the knowledge of how much good Kenji was bringing into this world, would help him heal whatever scars he held tight to his own breast. He deserved that much.
Dutch walked over to where Axe and Kenji were just finishing up the wiring and clasped the two on the shoulders.
"Hey, Kenji? Thanks. For everything."
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