Audio book version can be found here
It was March 1986. Kathy Johnson had just moved in to a small but comfortable unit in the Manor Royale apartment complex. At age 22, her marriage to "Mister Wonderful" had fallen apart. When she couldn't take the drinking, verbal abuse, controlling and running around by her husband anymore, she packed as much as she could into her small car and left, getting away as far as she could. They had no children, so it was easy enough to break away.
As she slowly got settled in, she had lots of mixed emotions. She was now completely alone. She didn't miss her estranged husband too much, and she liked being able to finally do things for herself and make her own decisions, but she was also lonely. She didn't really know anybody in the city she moved to, and she wasn't ready to start dating again. She landed a second shift job at a factory doing light assembly and packing boxes, which kept the bills paid, but it was a rather dark, depressing, restrictive work environment where the people weren't particularly friendly. She wasn't Kathy, she was Employee #2281.
She would get home at around 11:30 at night, watch some late night TV for a few hours, go to bed, get up again the next day and if she didn't have to go grocery shopping or run some other errand, she'd sit in her apartment, watch TV, sip black coffee, eat, and smoke cigarettes. Lots of them. Then, later in the day, go back to work at her less than thrilling job.
There were a lot of kids at the Manor Royale apartments where she lived. Some were from in-tact families but a lot of them were from divorced or otherwise single parent households. Like 12-year-old Jacob Petersen, who lived with his mother a couple floors down.
Technically he was living with his mother but in the grand scheme of things he was fending for himself because she wasn't home very often. She got up early for work and came home late, and she had a social life too. But Jacob was rather mature and responsible for his age, and could get up, get dressed and get to school on time, and then come home and heat up his own frozen dinners in the oven. He had a few friends that he sometimes hung out with after school, and for the most part they stayed out of trouble. A big motivation for Jacob to stay out of trouble was to prove to his mother he didn't need a stinkin' babysitter at age 12.
Kathy started to notice Jacob a lot when summer came, and school was out. Sometimes he and his friends were coming and going in and out of each other's apartments or roaming up and down the halls or doing something outside, but a lot of times Jacob was by himself, especially during the day on weekdays, because his friends had other activities going on.
Kathy knew nothing about the kid, but she wondered about him. She sensed he was neglected and maybe as lonely as she was. Seeing him around stirred some maternal feelings in her, thinking about how nice it would be to have a son or daughter and how she would be a much more loving, nurturing parent to this kid than his own mother apparently was. She found herself thinking about him while engaged in her tedious, redundant tasks at work.
"Okay," the kid said with a relieved smile as he opened the door and went into the front passenger seat. But Kathy only pulled up a little further to the side of the road while traffic zoomed by.
"Just what do you think you're doing," she demanded.
"I'm just trying to get home,” Jacob said. “I live at the Manor Royale apartments. They're just over…"
"Sorry!" the kid said.
Kathy took the cigarette from her mouth and exhaled. "Oh, you're sorry. Is that all you have to say? If you were my kid you'd be getting a spanking from me and I don't care how old you are!"