Stuff People Do

Chapter 25

“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

 

I awoke early and crawled out of bed so I wouldn’t disturb Trent. I wanted to make a good breakfast for him and Hayden. I wasn’t planning to go in at my usual 6:30. I hoped that Mrs. Thatcher would understand if I wasn’t there. Besides, Mr. London probably assumed that I would be late.

I know Hayden likes omelets because we prepared them for the students and staff one day. He even asked me for seconds. I took the eggs, sliced ham, onions and cheese from the refrigerator. I also grabbed the bread on the top of the refrigerator to make toast.

I was almost finished when Trent entered the kitchen. He sat on the counter and yawned. “How are you,” I asked. I looked quickly at the door to make sure that Hayden hadn’t got up before I gave him a quick peck on the lips.

“This is going to be a busy day,” he replied. “I’m going to be tied up with Hayden’s paperwork.”

I asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

He laughed and said, “Not unless you have a law degree.”

I turned and placed the omelets on the plates and put the bread in the toaster. “Do you think we should go wake up Hayden.”

“I’m up,” I heard him say as he entered the kitchen. He was still dressed in my sweatpants and tee shirt. He sat beside Trent on the counter and dropped his head on his folded arms. “Who invented mornings,” he moaned. Trent laughed and patted him on his back.

He sat up when I placed the plate of omelets in front of him. “Oh, boy!” he said excitedly as he took a big forkful of omelet. “My favorite.”

When he finished, he let out a big burp. Trent and I laughed. “What?” he asked. “It was good.” He then started grinning mischievously. “Did you guys sleep together last night? I looked in your room, and there was only one bed.”

I glanced over at Trent to see what his reaction was. I didn’t know if he wanted us to come out to Hayden. “Um…Um…” stammered Trent.

Hayden started laughing. “It’s okay,” he giggled. “Evan and I made a bet when you two would finally get together.” He smiled and asked, “So, you are together?”

I replied, “Yes, Hayden. We’re a couple.”

He smiled and responded cheerfully, “Cool. You two deserve each other.”

“Thanks,” I replied with a smile.

Trent told Hayden that he should get dressed. He told him that we had to go to the center and deal with what happened. Hayden seemed close to tears when he asked, “I won’t have to go back home, will I?”

“I’m not sure,” replied Trent. “This involves a criminal complaint, so the judge may decide to let you stay at New Morning. At least for a while.”

“A criminal complaint?” asked Hayden.

“According to Mr. London,” explained Trent, “your father assaulted you pretty violently.” Hayden still had a scar on his forehead, and there was still light bruising on his face. “The court usually won’t send a child back into a home under those conditions.”

“Is my father still in jail?”

“I don’t think so,” answered Trent. “I’m sure he’s home by now.”

“I won’t go back,” replied Hayden angrily. “If they send me back, I’ll just run away again.”

“We don’t want that,” I assured Hayden. “If you ever get in trouble again, you come here. Okay?”

Hayden looked around the kitchen. “I like it here,” he remarked. “I wish I could stay with you guys.” I glanced quickly at Trent to see his reaction.

“That involves a lot of paperwork,” he said. “Something like that could take months.”

“Okay,” replied Hayden sadly. “It was just an idea.” He got up from the counter and headed into the bedroom. A few minutes later, we heard the shower running.

I looked at Trent and said, “I wish Hayden could stay with us. How hard of a problem would it be?”

“First, you have to apply to be a foster parent,” he said. “That’s a pretty hard procedure. When I applied last year, they interviewed me for an hour. Then they came to the house to inspect it.”

I asked excitedly, “You’re approved to be a foster parent?”

“Yes,” he replied. “There was a kid who needed a foster home, and Mr. London suggested that maybe I could foster him. I went through the process and got my license. Since I was already experienced working at New Morning, they expedited the application.”

“What happened?”

“He didn’t know what we were planning,” he said. “We were keeping it from him until everything was finalized. He ran away one night and carjacked an old man. They sent him away for a few years.” Tears were welling up in Trent’s eyes.

“Do you think we could foster Hayden?”

Trent shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I can ask Mr. London when we get to the center.” He frowned and added, “Your past could be a problem, though.”

“Yeah, right,” I responded with a frown. Even though I was making a new life for myself, my past would always haunt me.

We arrived at the center, and Hayden was warmly greeted by the staff and the students who knew him. A few had left, and there were five others he hadn’t meet. He hurried to Mr. Bell’s class while Trent and I went to see Mr. London.

He said he had spent the morning talking to the police and judge assigned to his case. Apparently, they contacted Hayden’s parents, and they insisted they wanted nothing more to do with him. Mr. London said he was surprised that Mrs. Morris was still supporting her husband after he had viciously attacked Hayden. However, they felt that Hayden had instigated the situation, and she was upset with Hayden for having her husband arrested.

I shook my head in sorrow. Hayden’s parents had rejected him the same way that my parents had rejected me. It didn’t make sense. Hayden was a good boy. He didn’t cause any problems at the center. He seemed intent on getting a good education. In fact, Mr. London had shown us his previous school record. He maintained excellent grades and did not have a disciplinary record. It was as if our lives came from the same mold. However, I hoped he was given chances that I was never given. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure that happened.

“Mr. London,” I asked. “Would it be possible for Trent and me to foster Hayden? We talked about it at breakfast. Hayden would love it.” I looked over at Trent. “Trent says he has already been approved as a foster parent.”

Mr. London sat back and stared at us for a minute. I was becoming very uncomfortable. Finally, he said, “I think that is a great idea.” I let out the breath of air I had been holding. “I’ll have to look into it, however. Trent has been approved, but you haven’t.” He leaned forward and warned, “It means you’ll have to go through an intense investigation. You do realize that?”

“Yes, Sir,” I replied. “I’ll do anything for Hayden.”

He smiled and said, “I’m sure you would. Now, you two go to work and let me make a few phone calls.”

“What do you think?” I asked Trent as we walked down the hall.

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “At least London liked the idea, and he didn’t say no. We’ll wait and see what he can do.”

I stopped and gripped his arm. “If it means I have to leave your house, I’m willing to do that. I just want Hayden to have a safe place to stay.”

Trent smiled and replied, “You know I love you, don’t you? You’re always thinking about others and never yourself.”

“I mean it,” I said tearfully. “Now that I have money, I’ll help pay for him to stay with you. I’ll get a place nearby and we can see each other there.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” he said. “Mr. London has a way of making things turn out okay.” I could tell that he wanted to kiss me. I know I wanted to kiss him at that moment. However, there were cameras in the hallways, and we would have been seen.

I saw Hayden several times during the day, and he appeared happy. I couldn’t imagine what could have happened to him if he had stayed on the streets. He assured us at breakfast that he hadn’t done anything bad. When we found him, he said he was trying to beg for money. Trent asked him if he thought he should have an HIV test, but Hayden confessed that he was still a virgin. When I asked him about Evan, he said that they had done nothing more than feel on each other a couple of times.

When Trent and I left the center for the day, I suggested that we stop by his Aunt Marie’s restaurant for dinner. For some reason, I felt it was important to get her blessing for our relationship. Her face brightened when we entered. She immediately came over and pulled me in a hug and pinched my cheek. “Here’s my handsome nephew-in-law,” she smiled cheerfully.

“Hey, what about me?” asked Trent.

She laughed and replied, “It’s this one we have to keep happy.” She put her arm around me and led us to a table. “He needs a little meat on his bones.”

I almost fell onto the floor laughing when Trent responded, “I like his bone just fine.” Aunt Marie walked away laughing uproariously.

Dinner was enjoyable. Aunt Marie returned minutes later with three plates of spaghetti and meatballs. A server brought us a big basket of bread and three glasses of wine. She said she hadn’t eaten all day, and she was going to join us.

“I read the wonderful article in the newspaper about you,” she said as she reached out and held my hand. “You’re a very special person to want to help so many people.” She asked me a couple of questions about my past, but she was more interested in my plans for the future.

She grinned mischievously and asked, “Is marriage in your plans?” I looked quickly at Trent. Marriage was something I hadn’t even considered. I was still getting used to having a boyfriend.

Trent winked at me and replied, “Maybe.” Of course, Aunt Marie took that as a yes, and she spent the next twenty minutes planning our wedding. She insisted the reception would have to be at her restaurant, and she would make sure that our guests left with beautiful memories. I think my face was a scarlet red the entire time she talked. I kept looking at Trent, and he seemed very interested in her suggestions.

I spit out a mouthful of wine when she gripped Trent’s hand and playfully said, “You’re going to make a beautiful bride.”

When we returned to the house, I expected Trent to say something about the conversation, but he didn’t. I was beginning to realize that Trent tends to keep things to himself until he’s ready to commit. So, it wouldn’t surprise me one day if he does propose to me. I just hope he doesn’t decide to do it at Aunt Marie’s restaurant. She’ll announce it loudly to everyone in attendance that night.

When we arrived at the center the next morning, Mr. London asked to see me when I finished my duties in the kitchen. When I entered his office, he smiled and asked me to have a seat. He held up a stack of notecards. “I’ve been delaying discussing this with you,” he began, “because I knew you needed time to settle into your new job, school and home.” He smiled and asked, “By the way, how is that going?”

“Fine, Sir,” I replied as my face reddened. For some reason, it seemed strange to discuss my love life with my boss. However, he didn’t seem to mind.

He thumbed through the cards. “Ever since your article appeared in the newspaper, I’ve received numerous requests for you to do interviews or speaking engagements. How do you feel about that, Matt?”

I was very skeptical. I admired Mr. London, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. He had done so much for me. He was the main reason I was able to turn my life around. He believed in me, and he made me believe in myself. “I don’t know, Mr. London. I don’t think I can be good at that.”

“Nonsense,” he replied. “You gave Miss Harding a wonderful interview. She said talking to you was one of the easiest interviews she’s ever done. And I, myself, watched you talk to that group of boys in Mr. Bell’s class. You motivated each and every one of them to do better in turning their life around. One of the boys, Roger, returned home last week. His mother called me on Friday and told me the change she’s seen in him since coming here. She said he hasn’t stopped talking about you. She wants to meet you soon.”

“I don’t know, Sir,” I replied. “I’m scared.”

“You scared?” he laughed. “You have endured more than I could ever do. I don’t think speaking to a reporter or a group of people would be anything compared to some of the hardships you’ve faced.” He frowned and said, “I’m not going to take no for an answer. I’m not going to order you to do it, but I’m going to ask you as a friend. You have a gift, Matt, and it would be a shame not to share it.”

I hung my head and held back the tears. “I’m still scared.”

“I have a friend who teaches at a school for troubled boys,” he said. “It’s about fifty miles from here. He has asked for you to address a couple of classes. I’m going to set it up, and I’ll be there with you. Can you do that, Matt?”

I couldn’t tell him no, not after all the kind things he said. “I’ll try, Mr. London, but I may disappoint you.”

We rose and he patted me on my back. “You’ll do fine, I promise.” I left his office still skeptical that I could do as well as he expected.

Later in the day, Mr. London again summoned me to his office. When I arrived, he was on the phone. He motioned for me to sit. He put his hand over the receiver and said, “This is your mother on the phone. Do you want to speak to her?”

“What does she want?” I asked angrily.

Mr. London shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me.” He held the phone towards me. “Do you want to take the call, or should I tell her you’re busy?”

I reluctantly took the phone. Mr. London silently left the room. It took me a minute to finally gain enough courage to speak. “Mother?” I had no idea why she was calling.

“Matthew,” she spoke sternly. “We read that horrible article in the newspaper. We want you to stop spreading evil stories about us.”

I hung up the phone. After five years, she still had no love for me. All she was thinking about was herself. I didn’t expect to receive any love from my father, but I thought my mother might have remorse for the way she treated me. But she didn’t.

I didn’t need them anymore. They no longer mattered to me. They were no more than strangers, and I didn’t care how they felt. What I said in the newspaper was true. Her call only validated that. I didn’t even care enough about them to get upset.

I left Mr. London’s office and went to the kitchen. Her phone call wasn’t going to ruin my day. Mrs. Thatcher asked me to prepare chicken for the evening dinner. She loved the idea when I suggested that we could marinate it for a few hours before baking it. When I finished, the chicken looked good enough to serve to a king.

Trent found out about the call, and he came into the kitchen to check if I was alright. “Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded tersely. “I don’t give a shit what she feels. She’s not my mother anymore.”

He gave me a worried look and said, “We’ll talk about this at home later.” I nodded and he left the room. We didn’t talk about it, though. Instead, I took Trent to a wonderful restaurant downtown. I had often passed it when I wandered the streets at night. Men in suits and women in beautiful gowns would eat there. Trent and I dressed in suits we had bought at the mall over the weekend. I had never owned a suit, and Trent thought I looked extremely handsome in a blue three-piece suit with a striped tie. It made me proud that I now had the money to afford to take Trent to dinner. When I paid, I left the server a nice tip.

As we left the restaurant, I ran into a woman I knew when I was on the street. I took a fifty-dollar bill from my wallet and handed it to her. “Get you something to eat, Sarah,” I said as I kissed her cheek. She looked at the bill in her hand, smiled and scurried off.

“That was nice,” remarked Trent as he put his hand around my waist.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I’m never going to forget where I came from.” I looked around at the dirty street as tears filled my eyes.

A few days later, I was again summoned to Mr. London’s office. When I entered, there was a nicely dressed woman sitting at his desk. I looked around for Mr. London, but he wasn’t in the room. She smiled and asked me to have a seat.

“I’m Mrs. Napier,” she said as she held out her hand for me to shake. She had a friendly smile. She appeared to be about forty. She was wearing a brown dress with an orange scarf around her neck. I instantly felt comfortable with her friendly manner.

“Where is Mr. London?” I asked as I looked around the room.

She smiled and replied, “He was generous enough to loan me his office for a little while. I wanted to talk to you.”

“About what?”

She reached into a briefcase beside her and pulled out a folder filled with papers. “I understand you wish to be added as a foster parent along with Trent Remington.” I nodded my head. I was beginning to understand what was going on. Trent had told me that I might have to be interviewed by a foster agency if I wanted to remain in the home with him and Hayden.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied politely. “I would like that very much.”

She remarked, “I’ve spent the past couple of days going over this case.” She leaned forward and asked, “What makes you think that you would make a good foster parent to Hayden Morris?”

“He’s like a brother to me,” I replied as tears welled up in my eyes. “I love him very much, and I want to make sure he is safe. We’ve come from a similar background, and I don’t want him to make the same mistakes I made. I want to give him a chance that I never had as a boy.”

“Yes,” she replied as she pulled out several newspaper articles and held them up. “I’ve read your interview.” She smiled and added, “I admire you very much. From what Mr. London has said, and by what I’ve read in this article, you have made remarkable changes in your life.”

I hung my head and replied, “Thank you, Ma’am.”

She then asked, “You have never been charged with a felony, have you?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “There were some charges filed against me after Pastor Simpson shot me, but I don’t know what happened. I was never told.” I remembered Sergeant Lattimore telling me that I was going to be charged with a few things, but I had never received anything about them. I was too busy with other things, and I had completely forgotten about them.

“Those charges were dropped,” she informed me. “I’m surprised you weren’t told.”

“No Ma’am,” I wasn’t.”

“It’s remarkable that you have never been charged with a crime,” she said. “Most people who lived on the streets like you did often get arrested for vagrancy, theft or some other crime. Yet, I couldn’t find anything in a police record that indicated you every violated any laws.”

I looked into her eyes and replied, “No Ma’am,” I didn’t. I’ve done stuff that I shouldn’t have done, but I never did anything to anyone to hurt anyone. I’ve always tried to be a good person and do what is right. I would never consider stealing from anyone.”

She smiled and replied, “I believe you.” She then asked, “What makes you think that you can provide Hayden with a good home?”

“I want to teach him right from wrong,” I replied. “I don’t want him making the same mistakes I made.”

“You do realize that Hayden is gay?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied. “I am too. I want to teach him to accept that. His parents rejected him because he’s gay. I want him to know it is okay.”

“I don’t know if you want to answer this, but are you and Trent a couple?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied. “Will that affect us fostering Hayden?”

“No, it won’t,” she replied. “We often place gay children in same sex relationships. I’m more concerned with making sure he receives a good education and that proper parenting skills are enforced.”

“He’ll receive a good education,” I assured her. “I’m also going to pay for him to go to college when he graduates from high school.”

She gave me a puzzled look. “How do you plan to do that working at this center?”

I informed her, “I recently received a large sum of money from an inheritance. It will more than pay for Hayden’s college education.”

“I see,” she said as she wrote something on the folder.

“Ma’am,” I said as tears filled my eyes. “I really want to see Hayden have a safe life that I didn’t have at his age. I would do anything to see that happen. Trent and I have even discussed me moving out of the house so that Hayden can move in with Trent if I become a problem. I don’t want to see him returned to his home. He’ll only run away again, and then he’ll end up on the streets like I did.” She handed me tissue to wipe the tears from my face.

“I don’t think you’ll have to do that Matt,” she replied with a smile. “Now that I’ve met and talked to you, I believe that you and Trent can provide Hayden with the love and support he needs for the next two years until he reaches eighteen.”

“Do you mean?”

“Yes,” she smiled warmly. “I’m approving the foster application for Hayden Morris.” She rose and walked around the desk. I stood and hugged her tightly as we both cried.

That night, Trent, Hayden, Mr. London and I went out to dinner to celebrate. Mrs. Napier arranged for the foster placement to take place immediately. Hayden came home with us that night. We made up the spare bedroom to be his temporary room. Trent’s home has a large, dry basement, but it is a typical basement. There are pipes running throughout it. In addition, there is also a laundry room. We walked around, and I could envision making it into a living area for Hayden. He could have his own place with a private bathroom. It would also give me and Trent our own privacy.

I made calls the next morning to a contractor, and he came by the next evening to give us a quote for the renovation. In about a month, it will be completed.

Hayden was excited about having his own place. As we walked around the basement making plans, he grinned and asked, “Can I invite Evan to a sleepover when its finished?”

“Of course,” I replied. I laughed when his face reddened as I added, “Although, I’m sure you’ll won’t be getting much sleep.” He punched my arm and hurried up the stairs.

Three weeks later, Trent, Hayden and I had spent the night watching movies on television. They really enjoyed the action movies. I just enjoyed watching them. We were quickly settling into being a family. Hayden was enrolled in school, and his favorite class was theater arts. He was excited because there was going to be auditions for the next musical in a couple of weeks. They were going to do a student production of In the Heights. He was coming home late every night because he was practicing with a group of other boys who also planned to audition. I may be biased, but I think he is a talented singer and dancer. He’s always dancing around the living room showing us the latest dance steps he learned after school. If he makes it, Trent and I will have front row seats every night.

Trent and I had gone to bed and fallen asleep. When Trent’s cell phone rang, I looked at the alarm clock, and it was almost one. Trent grumbled, and then he shot up in bed. “Yes, Mr. London,” he said nervously. “This is Trent.” I tried to listen to the conversation, but I couldn’t make out what Mr. London was saying. All Trent kept saying was “yes” and “okay.” When he hung up, I asked him what had happened.

He jumped out of bed and said, “Get dressed, Matt. We gotta go.”

“Where?” I was quickly putting on my pants. If Mr. London had called so late, it must be important.

His response broke my heart. “A twelve-year old boy is sitting on a highway overpass. He’s threatening to jump off into traffic. Mr. London says a police cruiser is on the way to pick us up.”

“What can we do?” I asked as I put on my shirt.

“He said a juvenile counselor at the bridge asked for you.” My heart started pounding. I didn’t want to be responsible for a young boy dying. Just then, Hayden entered the room and asked what was happening.

“Matt and I have to go out,” he said. “Someone needs our help.”

He asked, “Do you want me to go?” I think he knew something had happened to another boy.

“No,” Trent replied. “You go back to bed. You have school in the morning. Keep your phone on in case we have to call you.” He hugged us and then returned to his room.

We waited outside for the cruiser to appear. He came down the street with his lights on, but he wasn’t blaring the siren. Trent jumped in the front seat while I sat in the back. We asked the officer what was happening, but he said he didn’t know. He said he was only told to pick us up and bring us to the scene.

When we arrived, there were numerous police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance at the scene. I looked down the road and saw about ten people standing about. I looked further, and I could see the silhouette of a small boy sitting on the edge of the wall with his legs hanging over the side. Mr. London turned and saw us. He approached with a worried look on his face.

“This doesn’t look good,” he said sadly. “He’s been sitting there for almost an hour. He says if we approach, he’s going to jump. I think he’ll do it. If he does, he’ll die as soon as he hits the pavement below.” I looked at the lonely boy as he dangled his feet against the concrete. He looked lost and desperate. My heart began to ache.

“What can we do, Sir,” I asked. I couldn’t just let him die. I had to do something.

Mr. London looked hopefully at me. “I want you to do what you did with Evan. I’m going to ask the chief to pull everyone away. I want you to see if he will talk to you. It’s the only chance we have. He refuses to talk to his parents or anyone else.”

Mr. London walked over to a man in a police uniform, and they spoke quietly for a minute. The police officer than began to walk around and ask people to assemble where the ambulance was located. When they were gone, Mr. London approached me and wished me good luck. Trent leaned over and kissed me quickly.

I nervously made my way to the boy and stopped about ten feet away. He stiffened and screamed, “Get away! If you come any closer, I’m going to jump!”

He looked so young. He had long brown hair that flowed over his forehead. He was wearing a silky blue floral blouse and a pair of beige polyester pants. I moved over to the side of the bridge and sat down about eight feet from him. I didn’t say anything. I waited for him to speak first. He kept staring at me, and then he looked down the road to where the others were standing.

Finally, he asked angrily, “What do you want?”

“I want to help you.”

“I don’t need no help.”

“Yes, you do, or you wouldn’t be sitting on the ledge. Everyone is worried about you.”

He started to cry. “They don’t care about me. No one cares about me.”

“I do.”

“So, who are you?”

“I want to be your friend. And I don’t like seeing my friends being sad.”

He started crying even harder. “I don’t want to live anymore. I would be better off dead.”

“Why?”

“You’d never understand.” Now, I felt we were beginning to get somewhere.

“I’m a good listener,” I replied. “I would like to understand.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t want me to jump.”

“I don’t even know your name,” I said. “What is your name?”

He cried and replied, “Charlene.” For a minute, I was confused. I thought I was dealing with a young boy, but now I realized I may have been mistaken. Everyone told me she was a boy.

“Charlene is a pretty name.”

“My dad hates it,” he cried.

“Why?”

“He likes the other name.”

“What other name?”

“Charles,” he cried.

Now, I was beginning to understand. Charlene was a young boy who felt he was a girl. I had met a few trans people in the past, and I was still confused about it. However, I knew it was real to them, and now I had to help Charlene accept it.

I smiled and responded, “I like Charlene better. It’s a pretty name.”

For the first time, she smiled. “You do?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied, “But you must not like Charlene very much.”

“Yes, I do!” he responded excitedly.

“Then why do you want to kill her?” She looked over and stared at me. I think I was beginning to reach her. Her eyes filled with tears, and she began to cry again.

I took a chance and inched myself a few feet closer. “I don’t think Charlene wants to die.”

“But no one understand,” she cried. “My father hates me.”

“Are you up here because of him?”

She nodded and said, “He came home from work and caught me dressed up like Charlene. He yelled at me and said some really nasty things.” For the first time, I noticed that she had on makeup and lipstick.

“He doesn’t understand, and I don’t think you do either. Do you?”

She hesitated a few seconds and then shook her head. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” I assured her as I scooted a few feet closer. I was now close enough to grab her if she tried to jump. “It’s not your fault you were born with an outy instead of an inny.”

She began to giggle. “That’s what I’ve been feeling since I was little. I never felt like a boy. I always felt like a girl.”

“And you are,” I assured her. “There are thousands of people just like you.”

She smiled and asked, “There are?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I know people who can explain it to you and your father. But you have to give them a chance.”

“So, I can be Charlene if I want to be?”

“Yes,” I replied. “And you know what Charlene wants to do right now?”

“What?”

“She wants to come over here and give me a big hug.” I rose and extended my arms to her. She smiled, jumped off the ledge and stood before me.

“Come on,” I giggled. “I’m waiting for my hug.” She approached, and I hugged her tightly. I put my hand under her chin and lifted her face until she was looking into mine. “And you be proud of who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.” She grabbed me around the waist and hugged me again.

We pulled away, and I grabbed her hand as we made our way toward Mr. London. Everyone circled around us. “Mr. London, I want you to meet my new friend, Charlene.” Mr. London pulled her into a hug.

She turned toward me when I said, “Mr. London is a nice man. You can trust him. He’s going to help you understand Charlene.” He nodded his head as if he understood what I was saying. She pulled me into another hug, and then Mr. London grabbed her hand and led her to his car. She waved as they pulled away.

Trent came up behind me and kissed me on my neck. “You did it again,” he said proudly. I turned and we kissed.

THE END

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