There were some who claimed I had all the advantages in life, but being born into this world as James Michael Somerset III left me wondering at times. Neither James nor Michael were bad names. They were just common. Making them even more common was the fact I had two preceding me with the exact same lineup. The most distinguishing part of my name was the triple I’s tacked on to mark me as a new one. Despite this, I couldn’t really complain.
My father owned a modest hotel chain and my mother was an artist. This seemed hard to believe for some, but I attended public school. My father had this notion that a man should really know the “gritty parts of life” (as he put it) in order to appreciate what he possesses. He also made me fix plumbing, paint rooms, and other such tasks to “build character.” The newest task assigned to me seemed the strangest notion yet, especially before breakfast on a school day. “Get a job,” he said.
Being 18, I couldn’t really claim that getting a job was a horrible idea. I was plenty old enough, and high school was almost over with only a few months left. The part that really bugged me was that he told me two years ago, “Son, you have no need for a job right now. Focus on your studies, enjoy your extracurriculars, and we’ll take care of the rest when the time comes.” I wasn’t prepared for him saying, “I’ve spoken with your mother, and you’ll need to pay for college soon enough.” What happened to the “we” which I had taken to mean my parents?
Honestly, how was a person suppose to pay for college after working a single summer? My dad truly lost his mind. What was I suited for anyways? Yes, I could do a bit of this and a bit of that, but I didn’t even have a car. I thought about all sorts of part-time work I could pickup for now; I could work at a cafe, wait tables in a restaurant, or do a number of other things. There were just a few major issues working against me.
First off, I really don’t like working under someone. Having someone nag me about what they want me to be doing always set my teeth on edge. Then there was the problem of time constraints. Arriving on school at a given time annoyed me enough. Another clock ticking away in my head all day could very well cause me to crack. The worst problem was that I got so incredibly bored with repetition. I needed to find a job that would mix things up a bit. The only person I knew of who pulled all this off was my mother. She attended meetings with big clients at times, but she generally set her own schedule and worked from home. Too bad I never inherited any of that artistic talent.
As I was roughly halfway to school, it hit me out of nowhere; Jarod’s fist connected soundly with my shoulder. “Ouch, man! Must you REALLY do that,” I exclaimed. “Only when you’re not paying attention,” he laughed. Jarod was my friend clear back in primary school. He was always a fan of the words “sucker punch,” but otherwise a great friend. “So what’s bugging you,” he asked.
I explained to Jarod how my father dropped a bomb on me this morning. “Whoa,” was his pearl of wisdom in response. The next bit was considerably more helpful and led to new territory in my mind. “You could help me pick up some parts for my father tonight. He wanted me to ask you and is going to pay. It would be some extra cash at least” Jarod’s father had a local auto body shop and would occasionally get Jarod to scrounge junkyards in search of parts for his personal renovation projects. Where my mind took the idea was different.
“Jarod, do you think people would pay me to be their friend,” I asked. “What are you on about now,” he inquired while looking rather confused. “You know how I always am helping people out here and there with various projects. What if I made a business out of it? I could be a sort of best friend for hire.” Jarod stopped walking and simply stared at me with his mouth partly open. Then the corners of his mouth slowly crept up into that ear-to-ear grin of his. “You’re mad, but you may be onto something. I have no clue how you’ll pull off getting this started, but I think you should give it a shot. I can’t really imagine you flipping burgers.”
We discussed my new business plan the rest of the way to school, and then through the first two periods, which we shared. My school never went to the block system, unlike so many others. Third period saw me dodging Regina Gretchen Smith yet again. Regina was class president all four years despite not being the nicest person around. For whatever reason, she harbored a crush for me since a party my mother forced me to attend at age eleven, so I tried to be nice about avoiding her.
The rest of my school day went fairly smoothly, though several teachers claimed I wasn’t paying attention. Their statements had some merit. I knew generally what was going on around me, but I was planning a website for my new profession in my head. Also, I kept running through the considerable dilemma of dinner tonight. My father obviously told me this morning to give me time to think before confronting me fully tonight. That was just his nature. Selling this business idea to my parents, so they’d help me setup a business bank account and other such formalities, could be tricky to say the least.
After school I went to track practice as usual, but I ended up staying late. Coach Cooper could tell I wasn’t focused, so he had me running extra laps. The exertion turned out to be rather pleasant. I felt more relaxed, despite being dead tired, and managed to get some more planning done. Unfortunately, Regina “happened” to be talking with her friends right off the field. “Hey, James. Need a lift?” Normally I would make some excuse not to ride with her, but I wanted to confront my mother before my father got home. “Sure, Regina. Thank you. I love that necklace on you.”
Regina was wearing a dove on a wheat chain of a matching white gold. “Why thank you, James. I’ve treasured it ever since you gave it to me.” For her sixteenth birthday, Regina had a huge party. My mother was working on a commission for her father’s business at the time, and felt that my attendance was mandatory. She picked out the dove necklace due to Regina’s friends coincidentally dropping off my missing history textbook and passing on that Regina desperately wanted that particular necklace. My experience at the party led me to believe a purity symbol wasn’t quite the appropriate present. I avoided her bedroom more times than I can count that night.
“I’m glad I didn’t go with the gold drama mask then,” I laughed. Her expression was less than pleased, so I continued, “Since you were the lead in our class play, I thought you would love it.” Her glossy, red lips impersonated a smile as her eyes bore their normal, calculating expression. This girl creeped me out more than I cared to admit aloud, despite a more than pleasing figure. She was the picturesque popular girl. Regina could be ruthless and cold in pursuit of anything she wanted, and I felt too much like her prey each day at school. Our conversation continued light and polite for the rest of the short drive to my house.
“Thank you again for the ride, Regina. I was lucky you hadn’t left yet.” She gave me her sweetest smile and leaned toward me, saying, “Something I want was still at the school. Feel free to ask me for a ride anytime you like. I don’t mind waiting.” I stepped out of the car before she could lean any closer, grabbing my bags from her backseat in the process. She gave me a little wave as she drove her silver convertible away.
“I see why you’re late,” my mother said from the doorway, making me jump as I turned toward her. “Regina is so sweet to give you a ride. I don’t see why you never invite her for dinner.” I shook my head as I walked toward her. Many conversations were spent attempting to explain that Regina was competition for the devil’s rule over hell, but my mother always explained such comments off as girls always being ruthless in pursuit of their man. Then she continued into an all-too-familiar anecdote of her pursuing my father back in the day, which always made me feel like running as I blocked out what was being said. Why must my own mother think of me as Regina’s man?
“School was great. Thank you for asking,” I said, leading to a particular arch of her eyebrow which implied I was sidestepping something. “Do you have a few minutes to talk before dinner,” I asked, “There’s something I would like to speak with you about before father arrives.” She looked me over before declaring, “You’re not wearing your track clothes at the table. Go get cleaned up. Then we’ll talk.” I sighed as I hurried to shower and change.
The heat of the shower was so nice on my tired body that I took too long. I heard my father’s voice as I pulled my blue polo over my head. I then took extra time to make sure I looked pristine before tossing my dirty clothes in the laundry and heading to the table. My father was always hungry after work, so he rarely did more than freshen up before we ate, which I felt was a message about my place in his life ever since he said, “Appearance is always important, son. You never know who will be part of your business life in unexpected ways, so never cease making a good impression.” He was about to sit down as I entered the room.
“Sorry for springing that news on you this morning, son, but you know how I feel about delaying business matters. Your mother and I feel the experience of earning your keep would be good for you.” He then went into his usual story of starting his first hotel as my mother started placing dinner on the table. I took my seat beside him before replying, “Well, father, I’m glad you brought that up. I thought about what you said all day and decided on a course of action. I want to start a business myself.” My father laughed.
“Let’s hear our son out, dear, before you crush his dreams entirely,” my mother encouraged as she took her place opposite my father. I gave her a quick smile before continuing, “Well, I was carefully considering my needs in a job all day, trying to determine for what I’m best suited.” The doorbell interrupted me before I made any more progress. “Please excuse me. I believe Jarod wants to join us for dinner.” Interruptions such as this were considered an ill omen by my father. I completely forgot that I was to be helping Jarod tonight until I had started speaking.
I answered the door and quickly whispered instructions to my friend. Jarod Davis was always a reliable sort. He knew my parents well enough that he showed up looking his best, despite planning on going to the junkyard afterward. On the other hand, he knew we always ate at 6 and purposely arrived for dinner, albeit slightly late. When we entered the room, Jarod apologized for surprising us, claiming that he had unexpected work with which he needed assistance.
“You know you’re always welcome, Jarod. I just appreciate some forewarning. You and James could devour an entire cow by yourselves,” explained my mother before fetching a drink for my friend. “Thank you, Mrs. Somerset,” said Jarod with his best grin. “As I was saying before Jarod arrived, I would like to start a business. Thanks to you and mother, I know the basics of many trades.” My father nodded but maintained a serious expression. “I realized that I could offer my services helping others with these skills in a professional manner.”
My father’s eyebrow raised slightly, an inquisitive expression on his face. “How precisely would you find clients for these unspecified services, son? People need something they can grasp before entering a business arrangement with an unknown party. You don’t truly believe you can just say, ‘Here I am,’ and have flocks of people come to you.” Jarod smiled slightly, looking like he might say something before he caught my eye. He apparently thought I might be able to pull such a thing off, or had some other twisted joke in mind.
“I plan on setting up a website listing off detailed examples of my accomplishments in various trades. I won’t claim any expertise that I do not possess or even set myself apart as a professional in any vocation you would guess. Instead, I’m going to call myself a best friend for hire, explaining throughout my site that, for the right price, I’ll be the friend needed for whatever circumstance might arise. You know how quickly I pick things up. Contracts will be priced by the service required, my availability, and the preparation time allowed before my services would be rendered.”
My mother gently rested her hand on my father’s shoulder before setting a plate with shaved roast beef, potatoes, and various greens before Jarod. Father gazed up at her briefly and then replied, “Setup this website. Let me test it. If I am pleased with how well you cover the details, I’ll assist you with the necessary arrangements, but if you do not show reasonable profit within three months, I will choose a job for you.” I was beaming. I never dreamed he would accept such a thing with so little argument. Best Friend For Hire would be born.
There were more questions about my business strategy throughout dinner, but I was high on the possibilities of what was to come. Jarod and I changed clothes and took off to the junkyard shortly after dinner. We managed to find most of the parts his dad needed, and the man gave me a twenty for my time, as if I needed money to spend time with my best friend. On the other hand, I was about to have people start paying me to be their best friend.