Lucas crept through the back door of his grandmother’s house. He arrived late, hoping that she had gone to bed. However, the living room light was still on which meant she was watching television.
He tiptoed quietly down the narrow hallway to his room. He could hear the television booming from down the hall. His grandmother was losing her hearing, so she had the volume up. Once inside, he carefully closed the door. He didn’t turn on the light because he was afraid she might see the glow coming from under the door. She had appeared in a good mood when he left the house, but her moods were unpredictable. By now, she might have changed her mind about letting him stay.
He removed his clothes, and he lay down in his boxers on the bed. He was still angry with the guys getting off the bus together as if to avoid him. He had always enjoyed the power he had over his smaller friends, but he never intentionally hurt them. He usually was able to intimidate them into doing what he said, so there was no need for threats.
However, that afternoon, things seemed to have changed. He felt that it was if it was them against him. They were even talking to Neil, and he had warned them not to do that. It was as if they had turned their backs on him, and now they were joining forces with Neil.
When he called Neil, it was just an attempt to regain his authority. He hoped that the others would rejoin him for fear of his reprisals. However, he now knew they wouldn’t. He saw the fear in their eyes. He had crossed the line, and he had lost the few friends he had.
“Fuck ‘em,” he muttered to himself. “I don’t need nobody.” He knew he was deceiving himself, but it made life more tolerable to think that he didn’t need friends. He closed his eyes, and sleep soon overtook him.
Someone barging into this bedroom suddenly awakened him in the middle of the night. His Uncle Raymond shouted, “There you are you son of a bitch!” Lucas raised his arms to prevent being hit by the baseball bat being swung at him as he attempted to raise himself from the bed.
“I’ll learn you to run away from me, Boy!” threatened his uncle. He continued to hit Lucas as he staggered with the bat in his hands.
Suddenly, the room went dark.
* * * * * * *
Neil was awake early. He was still haunted by Lucas’s threat the night before. He was glad that Owen had been with him. He still hadn’t accepted the fact that his best friend didn’t desert him. Without Lucas’s influence, all his friends had united around him. That fact kept him awake most of the night. He was afraid that now he was putting them in danger for being his friend once again.
He quietly dressed so that he wouldn’t wake up his little brother who was snoring lightly across the room. The glow from Brett’s fish tank illuminated the room enough for him to find his clothes without turning on the overhead light.
Once dressed, he grabbed his book bag and headed for the kitchen. He was surprised to find his mother sitting at the table drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. She looked up and smiled at him when he entered.
“Hello, Sweetheart,” she said looked up at the clock on the wall. “What are you doing up so early?”
“Morning, Mom.” He confessed, “I had some trouble sleeping.”
She gave him a worried look and asked, “Is something wrong?”
Neil walked over and sat down at the table beside her. “You know Lucas, right?” She nodded her head. “I think he wants to hurt me.”
Brenda seemed surprised by Neil’s statement. “Why would he want to do that?”
“He don’t want the guys talking to me,” replied Neil. “I think he wants to hurt them, too.”
“Oh, Dear,” she exclaimed. “I better call your father.”
“No,” insisted Neil. “There’s nothing he can do about it.”
“Then maybe we should call the police.” She reached over and grabbed her cell phone.
“Mom,” responded Neil as he took the phone from her hand. “They are not going to do anything until he does something.”
“By then,” she replied nervously, “It will be too late.” She took the phone from Neil’s hand and said, “I’m going to call Daniel.” She looked at Neil and corrected herself. “Mr. Collins. He should be aware of what’s going on.”
Neil didn’t say anything. He felt better knowing that someone in authority at school knew about Lucas’s threats. Maybe he and his friends wouldn’t be safe from Lucas outside of school, but at least they might be protected while they were there.
As his mother called Mr. Collins, he got up, walked over to the cabinet and took out a box of cheerios. He turned suddenly when he heard his mother say, “Oh, Dear. Are you sure, Daniel?” He waited anxiously as his mother looked up at him as she listened to what Mr. Collins was telling her.
Finally, she said, “Thank you, Daniel,” and put the phone on the counter. The expression on her face indicated that something bad had happened.
Neil asked, “What’s wrong?”
She informed him, “Something terrible has happened. Lucas is in the hospital.” She sat at the table and stared worriedly at her son.
* * * * * * *
Neil couldn’t wait for the bus to arrive. He wanted to see if any of the other guys knew anything about what happened to Lucas. Mr. Collins didn’t have any details. He told his mother that the police called the school as soon as he arrived. They wanted to verify that Lucas was a student. The only information they provided was that he was hospitalized in critical condition.
He scurried on the bus when it arrived. Ned and Robbie were sitting in the back with Sammy. He hurried and took his seat beside Sammy.
They shook their heads when he asked excitedly, “Did any of you hear about Lucas?”
“No,” responded Sammy. “Did that asshole get hit by a truck?”
“I’m being serious,” Neil responded excitedly. “Mr. Collins told my mother this morning that Lucas is in the hospital. He’s hurt pretty bad.”
“Oh, my gosh,” replied Sammy. “What happened?” The first thought that crossed her mind was that Alex might have gotten into a fight with him because he messed with his little brother.
“Mr. Collins didn’t know,” remarked Neil. “All he said was that he was in pretty bad shape.”
Just then, the bus came to a stop and Owen boarded. He could tell that something was wrong by the expressions on his friends’ faces. “What’s happened?” Neil excitedly explained what he knew. Owen listened attentively and shook his head.
“I wish I could say I was glad,” he remarked sadly, “but Lucas has been our friend for a long time. It’s only been the past couple of weeks he’s been a total dick.”
“Yeah,” responded Ned. “I wonder if he’s going to be all right?”
“First, we have to find out what happened,” replied Owen as the others nodded their heads in agreement. The rest of the ride to school involved speculation on what had happened to Lucas.
When they arrived, things seemed normal. As they walked down the hall, they listened to hear if anyone was talking about Lucas, but no one was. Alex was at his locker when Neil arrived.
Alex looked over at Neil and asked, “How’s it going?”
“I don’t know,” replied Neil. “Have you heard anything about Lucas?”
“No,” he responded, “Why?”
“My mom called Mr. Collins this morning, and he said Lucas was in the hospital.”
Alex looked puzzled. “Really?” he said. “Maybe that’s why Collins has called all the sophomore Student Ambassadors to his office.”
Just then, Sammy stepped up beside Alex and asked if he had gotten the message from Mr. Collins. She asked, “I wonder if this has anything to do with Lucas?”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” replied Alex. He put his arm around Sammy and told Neil they would see him first period. Neil shrugged his shoulders as they walked away.
When Neil arrived in biology class, he headed for his regular seat, but Robbie called out to him. They pointed to a chair beside them. It was the seat where Lucas normally sat. He hesitated before walking back and sitting down.
He looked around for Owen, but didn’t see him. Then he remembered that Owen was also a Student Ambassador.
Robbie whispered to him, “What’s going on? Where’s Owen?” Neil explained that Mr. Collins had called him to his office.
The bell rang and Mr. Norris began writing formulas on the board. He told the students to take out their notebooks and take notes. Ten minutes later, Mr. Bowers announced on the PA that all sophomores were to immediately report to the cafeteria.
Robbie gave Neil a puzzled look and asked, “What do you think this is about?”
“Dunno,” replied Neil as he stuffed his notebook into his book bag. The class began to file out of the classroom and walk quietly to the cafeteria.
Neil immediately knew something was wrong when he saw Owen and Sammy standing beside Mr. Collins at the front of the cafeteria. Sammy was crying, and it appeared that Owen had tears in his eyes.
Ned stepped up beside Neil and Robbie and asked, “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” replied Neil, “but it don’t look good.”
Mr. Collins walked around and asked students to take a seat. The boys sat down at a table near the front so they could be closer to Owen and Sammy. Alex had joined Mr. Collins in trying to get students to sit down.
When they were seated, a hush fell over the room when Mr. Collins asked for their attention.
“Young Men and Women,” he began nervously, “I have called the sophomore class here this morning to share with you some sad news.” Neil quickly glanced over at Ned and Robbie.
He continued, “Last night, one of your classmates was seriously injured. He is Lucas Prescott.” There was a collective gasp in the silent room. Sammy began to cry, and Alex walked over and held here as she buried her head against his shoulder.
“I don’t have all the details to share with you,” informed Mr. Collins, “However, he is presently in the Intensive Care Unit at Southwestern General Hospital.”
“Damn,” muttered Ned. Neil looked over and tears were forming in his eyes. Robbie looked like he was going to burst out crying any second.
“I know that Lucas has been an important member of this class since the first grade. You’ve grown up together, and when one of you is hurt, then it affects all of you. That is why I have called this meeting.”
He paused a minute before continuing. “I’ve asked the school counselors here this morning, as well as your Student Ambassadors, to help you deal with this situation. I have also asked a couple members of the clergy to be in attendance this morning.” He looked over at two men dressed in suits who were standing beside the wall. Most students knew them because they attended their various churches.
“I want you young people to know that the situation does not look good for Lucas. He could die.” He stopped and choked back tears. He looked over at one of the pastors. “Reverend Downing was at his room this morning to pray for him.”
The two pastors joined Mr. Collins in the middle of the cafeteria. “I am going to ask for a moment of silence.” An eerie quiet filled the room. Neil looked over at Sammy and Alex. Sammy was still upset.
After several minutes, Mr. Collins asked for everyone’s attention. “For those of you who wish to remain, please stay seated. Reverend Downing and Pastor Fields will be available for those who need them.” He looked over at the four students to his side.
“I have also asked our Student Ambassadors to assist as well,” he said. “They will circulate around the room and be available to help you deal with your grief. For those of you who wish to return to class, you may do so now.”
About thirty students rose and quietly exited. Neil, Robbie and Ned decided that they should remain. Sammy and Owen walked over to the table and sat down. Alex sat down at a table filled with athletes.
Sammy was still upset when she sat down. Owen looked around the table and asked, “Are you guys okay?” Robbie and Ned nodded their heads.
Neil asked, “Do you know what happened to Lucas? Mr. Collins is just saying he’s in the hospital.”
Owen shook his head and said, “I heard Reverend Downing tell Mr. Collins he had been beaten with a baseball bat.”
“Shit,” muttered Ned. “Who would do that?”
Sammy responded, “He’s been weird lately. He probably picked on the wrong person.”
“I think we should wait until we learn the facts,” said Owen. “We don’t want to start any rumors.” Everyone at the table nodded their head in agreement.
They sat for about forty-five minutes talking about what had happened. Alex joined them for a few minutes before moving on to another table. He seemed to be taking his role as a Student Ambassador seriously. Neil watched as he moved from table to table trying to comfort other students. Sammy joined him as he moved around the cafeteria.
Owen remained at the table with his friends. He was upset because he felt guilty for having turned against his friend. The others tried to convince him that he wasn’t to blame for what happened.
Ned said, “Lucas brought all this on himself.”
“If I had only kept my mouth shut,” he said somberly as he glanced at Neil.
“It’s not your fault,” insisted Ned. “Lucas has been bullying everyone for years. We were all too scared of him to do anything about it.”
Owen shook his head sadly and replied, “I just hope he’s alright. He was our friend. I don’t want to see anything bad happen to him.” The others agreed.
Halfway through third period, Mr. Collins told everyone that they should return to their classes because the lunch period would be starting shortly. He said if anyone still needed to talk to a counselor or pastor, they would be available in the library. It appeared that everyone decided to go to class.
As they made his way toward Ms. Yarber’s class, Mr. Bowers announced over the PA that teachers were to allow students into their classes without a permit. Alex and Sammy walked together with Neil. He glanced over and noticed that they were holding hands.
The lunchroom was buzzing with excitement when Neil, Owen, Sammy and Alex entered. Ned had already saved them a table, and he was standing waving everyone over. They went over, put their bags on the table and headed for the lunch line.
As they stood in line, they could hear comments being made by other students. They were making wild speculations as to what had happened to Lucas. One girl said she heard he had tried to commit suicide by drinking bleach. Another said he had been shot trying to rob a carryout. Neil and the others hurried through the line so they could avoid the rumors.
“People are so stupid,” remarked Sammy as she sat down between Neil and Alex. Robbie, Ned and Owen were opposite them.
“Until we learn the truth,” said Owen, “People will continue to come up with their own stories.
“It is strange,” remarked Ned, “that Lucas changed so much lately. Now, he’s in a hospital. It’s kind of scary.” The others nodded in agreement.
Neil was playing with his fries on his plate. He wasn’t hungry. Just yesterday, he was worried that Lucas was going to hurt him. Now, he was lying in a hospital bed. His last contact with him had been the threatening phone call.
He jumped when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He looked around to make sure no teachers were watching before answering it. It was his father.
“Hi, Dad,” he said as he leaned down toward Sammy to avoid anyone seeing him. Owen glanced behind him as a lookout.
“Are you okay, Son?”
“Yeah, Dad,” he responded. “Why?”
“I was just watching the noon news in my office,” he informed him, “and they were talking about an incident that happened late last night involving a boy from your school. Wasn’t the kid you had that fight with in class named Lucas?”
“Damn, shame,” remarked his father.
Neil became worried as he asked, “What happened to him? Did they say?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “It appears his uncle was drunk and almost beat the boy to death with a baseball bat, and then he shot himself. It looks pretty bad. Homicide detectives are on the scene.”
Neil’s face went white, and he thought he was going to vomit. Sammy gripped his arm and asked him what was happening. Neil raised his finger to indicate he would tell her when he finished. She tightened her grip on his arm.
Neil asked his father to come get him. “I want to go to the hospital,” he informed his father.
Brian agreed, but he explained that it might be a couple of hours before he could leave work. He told Neil he would pick him up outside the school when it let out for the day.
“Thanks, Dad,” he said sadly. “I love you. Okay?”
“Love you too, Sport,” replied Brian. “See you after school.”
Sammy started crying when Neil told her what his father had said. Owen and Ned had to wipe tears from their eyes, and Robbie looked like he was trying hard not to cry. Alex put his arm around Sammy and attempted to comfort her.
Owen wiped his eyes, looked at Neil and insisted, “I want to go with you.”
Neil nodded and replied, “Okay.”
* * * * * *
Raymond staggered into the kitchen. Blood covered his body. He stumbled and fell into his mother’s lap.
She shoved him onto the floor and shouted, “What the hell has happened to you, Boy?”
Raymond began to sob as he lay drunk on the floor. “I think I done something really bad,” he cried.
The old woman rose to her feet and looked down. “What you done wrong?” Looking at her son’s blood covered body, she knew something terrible had happened.
He sobbed uncontrollably, “I think I kilt the boy.”
“What are you talking about?”
He pointed toward the hallway. “I kilt the boy,” he cried as he tried to pull himself to his feet.
The old woman shuffled past her son and headed toward Lucas’s room. She let out a shrill shriek when she opened the door and peered inside.
“Oh, Sweet Jesus!” she wailed as her body slumped to the ground. “What did you do, Raymond?”
Raymond stumbled down the hallway and fell beside his frail mother. “Momma,” he begged, “What am I going to do?”
She glared into her son’s face and moaned, “Why, Raymond? Why?”
“I only meant to learn the boy a lesson,” he cried. “He ran away, and I wanted to learn him a lesson.” He reached out and clutched his mother, but she shoved him away.
She rose to her feet and looked back into the bloody room. “We gotta call for help,” she said. “The boy might still be alive. We need to get him some help.”
Raymond stood and begged his mother not to call the police. “They’ll lock me up,” he pleaded. “I can’t go back to prison.”
The old woman shuffled down the hallway to the kitchen. She picked up the phone and dialed 9-11. As she informed the dispatcher what had happened, she suddenly heard a gunshot come from the garage.
She let out a sorrowful wail and fell to the floor.
* * * * * *
Brian was surprised to see Owen standing beside Neil when he pulled up outside the school. He had met Owen on a few occasions when Neil had invited him to join them when they visited Six Flags. Emily and Brett were too young to go on most rides, and Owen went along to ride them with his son.
“Hi, Mr. Michaels,” said Owen as he climbed into the backseat.
Brian smiled into the rearview mirror and gave him a warm greeting. He then gave Neil a puzzled look. When Neil stayed with him for a week, his biggest regret was that he was sure he had lost his best friend because of his actions. He was glad that Neil and Owen were able to mend their friendship.
Neil looked worriedly at his father and asked, “Has there been anything else on the news? No one at school knows anything that is going on.”
Brian laughed slightly and replied, “I don’t know. I do have a job to do. I can’t sit in front of a television all day.”
“I know,” sighed Neil. “I just hope Lucas is alright.”
“It doesn’t sound good, though,” responded Brian. “You better be prepared for the worst.”
“How do I do that, Dad?” asked his son. “We’re only sixteen. No one should die at sixteen.” Brian looked in the rearview mirror when he heard Owen sniffle. He looked as distraught as Neil.
As they walked into the hospital, Neil was worried because he didn’t know what to expect. Lucas had been their friend since the first grade. After everything that Lucas had done to him recently, he still couldn’t forget that he had been a part of his life for so many years. He couldn’t just turn his back on Lucas, as Lucas had done to him recently. It didn’t make much sense, but he felt he was doing the right thing. He glanced over at Owen, and he knew he was probably feeling the same way.
Brian placed his arms around the boys as they walked into the lobby and over to the registration desk. An elderly woman looked over her glasses at them and asked, “May I help you?”
“Yes,” replied Brian. “We’re here to see Lucas...” He looked at Neil.
“Prescott,” responded Neil.
“Lucas Prescott,” said Brian. “Could you tell us what room he is in?”
The woman typed Lucas’s name into the computer and scanned the screen. She looked back up at Brian. “Oh, Dear,” she replied. “Was that the young man they brought in last night?"
Brian looked worriedly at Neil and Owen, and then he nodded his head.
The woman stood and informed Brian, “Wait here a moment. I’ll go get the hospital chaplain to speak to you.” Brian put his arm around Neil as they watched the woman hurry away.