Neil’s face reddened as his father and Dwight bantered at the table. He looked quickly at Sammy to see her reaction. She seemed amused by their antics.
Neil almost choked on his cobbler when Sammy asked, “Are you two a couple?”
Brian glanced worriedly at his son. He wasn’t sure how he should answer. He didn’t know if Sammy was aware that Neil was gay, and he didn’t want to out himself to Neil’s friend without his permission. He sighed with relief when Neil nodded his head and said, “Yes, they are.”
Sammy smiled and replied excitedly, “That is really cool. I’ve never met a gay couple before.”
Dwight held up his hand and showed Sammy his wedding ring. “Now,” he laughed, “You can say you’ve met your first gay married couple.”
“Really!” squealed Sammy. “You’re married!”
Neil’s face became a glowing red when she looked over and said, “Maybe you’ll find a guy and get married someday.”
Neil quickly glanced at his father and stammered, “I..I...doubt it.”
Dwight laughed and said, “Never know, Boy. I certainly wasn’t expecting it when I met your father.”
The rest of the conversation continued in a casual manner. Sammy felt right at home with Brian and Dwight. She talked to them as if she had known them for years. Her mood became somber when Brian talked about Lucas and the fight at school.
“Lucas is a horse’s ass,” replied Sammy angrily.
She looked over at Neil and stated, “No one has seen him for a couple of days. The rumor around school is he ran away from home.”
Neil asked, “Really? Where would he go?”
“No one knows,” she responded. “Ned said he called his house and his grandmother told him to mind his own business, and then she slammed down the phone.”
A worried expression appeared on Neil’s face as he asked, “You don’t think he’s looking for me, do you?”
Sammy shook her head and replied, “I doubt it. If he was around, someone would have seen him by now.”
Just then, her cell phone rang. She took it out of her pocket to see who was calling. “It’s Mom,” she announced. “She’s waiting out front.”
When she stood, Brian embraced her and told her she was welcome to visit anytime. Dwight cut two slices of peach cobbler, put them in a container and handed it to Sammy. “Here’s a couple of pieces of cobble. Be sure your mother gets some.”
Sammy laughed and said, “This is too good. I’m not sharing it with anyone.” After more hugs from Brian and Dwight, Neil escorted Sammy outside.
When they got to her mother’s car, she turned, faced Neil and asked, “When are you coming back to school?”
Neil shrugged his shoulders and replied sadly, “Don’t know. Maybe never.”
She quickly kissed Neil on the cheek. “I’ll come by again. We’ll talk about it.” She then turned and got into the car. Neil watched the car drive off down the street. When it disappeared from sight, he went back inside.
* * * * * *
The judge sat stoically on her bench looking down at the large boy seated at the table in front of her. He appeared nervous as he fidgeted in his seat. A small woman sat beside him. She was a representative from the juvenile court. There was no one else present inside the small chamber.
Lucas looked up when the judge asked, “Mr. Prescott. What were you doing inside the warehouse?”
Lucas glanced at the woman to his left before speaking. When she nodded her head, he responded, “I wasn’t doing nothing. I was just trying to find a place to sleep.”
The judge looked over the top of her glasses and asked, “And why were you sleeping in a warehouse? Why weren’t you at home in your bed?”
Before he could answer, a side door opened. Everyone watched as Lucas’s uncle came barging in. He was dressed in his usual wrinkled and tattered overalls. He glanced angrily at Lucas before plopping down in a seat behind his nephew.
The frail woman from the juvenile court looked back at Raymond and then she leaned over and whispered something to Lucas. The judge waited patiently as she conferred quietly with her client. After a minute, the woman stood and addressed the judge.
“Your Honor,” she spoke respectfully, “Mr. Prescott wishes to offer a plea of delinquent. He also wishes to remain under the jurisdiction of the court. He agrees to be placed immediately into a juvenile facility to fulfill the sentence of the court.”
The judge studied some papers before her. She then lifted her head and responded, “This appears to be Mr. Prescott’s first time before the court. Except for a few minor complaints, I see no serious infractions.” She looked down at Lucas and continued, “You were taken into custody for trespassing. Even you admitted that you only entered the building to get some sleep.”
Lucas responded nervously, “Yeah. But judge, I did break a lock on the door. Shouldn’t that get me some time?”
“Not necessarily,” she replied. She gave the boy a puzzled look. It appeared he was trying to remain in custody. “It is normal in this type of case to just have you pay for damages as part of your restitution.”
“But I ain’t got no money,” replied Lucas. He was trying desperately for the judge to keep him locked up. The last thing he wanted was to be returned to his uncle. If he did, then he would certainly punish him severely for running away.
He jumped when his uncle barked from behind him. “How much damage did the boy do?”
The judge lowered her glasses on her nose and looked over them at the unkempt man behind Lucas. “And whom might you be?”
Raymond pointed to Lucas and said, “I’m this here boy’s relative. I can pay for whatever damage he did.” He cleared his voice and added, “That is if it ain’t too much. I ain’t a rich man.”
The judge continued to stare skeptically at Raymond and asked, “Do you have custody of Mr. Prescott?”
“Mr. Prescott?” laughed Raymond. “You make him sound like he’s some sort of a gentleman.” He laughed again and said, “He ain’t nothing but an ornery cuss. Should be locked up, but his mama is already in prison. Don’t seem right that he should be behind bars, too.”
The judge seemed to be getting irritated with Raymond’s disrespectful behavior. However, it was nothing that she hadn’t dealt with on almost a daily basis. Many of the families who came before her were usually uneducated and boorish. “I asked you, Mr... Mr.,” she looked over her glasses, “What is your name?”
“Me?” asked Raymond. “I’m Raymond Corker.” He pointed to Lucas. “I’m this here boy’s uncle.”
The judge asked, “Does he reside with you?”
“You mean does he live with me?” asked Raymond. The judge sighed and nodded her head.
“No,” replied Raymond. “He does stay with me sometimes, but he lives with his grandmother.”
“Why isn’t she here today?” asked the judge.
Raymond laughed and said, “My mama ain’t a well woman. She’s got that Old Man Arthur in her body.”
The judge gave Raymond a puzzled look and asked, “Old Man Arthur?”
She shook her head when Raymond laughed and replied, “Yeah. You know. Arthritis. Get it? Old Man Arthur?”
The judge frowned and asked, “So his grandmother can’t take custody of him?” She shuffled some papers before her.
“I don’t see anything here that says Mr. Prescott has a home to return to.”
“Hell, Your Honor,” insisted Raymond. “I can keep the boy with me.”
Lucas turned and scowled at his uncle. His uncle looked over with a smirk on his face. He knew that Lucas didn’t want to return home. He knew what awaited him if he did. However, he was determined to teach the large boy a valuable lesson: you don’t run away from your uncle.
Lucas turned and began to talk animatedly to the woman from the juvenile court. He was pleading with her to keep him in the custody of the juvenile court.
After a minute, the judge looked impatiently at her watch. She informed the woman, “I have a very busy schedule. I don’t have time to sit here and waste my time.” She picked up the gavel before her and slammed it down on the table. “This case is closed. Mr. Prescott will be placed in the custody of his uncle.” She looked down at the woman beside Lucas.
“Please see that the proper paperwork is carried out.” The woman nodded and the judge hurried out a side door.
The hair on Lucas’s neck raised when his uncle snarled, “You’re mine now, Boy.”
* * * * * * *
Neil was nestled comfortably in bed with Midas curled into a ball at his feet. Since his arrival, Neil had become his constant companion. At first, Dwight was upset because Midas had been his dog, but he realized it would make Neil’s stay more enjoyable if he had someone to play with. The night before he had watched the two play for hours in the pool. Midas never tired of retrieving the ball that Neil tossed into the water.
Neil was awakened when the door opened. Midas sat up and eagerly barked out a welcome to Brian as he walked across the room and pulled back the covers off Neil.
“Hey,” squealed Neil as he pulled the covers over him. He had been dreaming of Alex, and there was an obvious protrusion in his tight, white underwear. “What are you doing?”
Brian ordered, “Get up and get dressed.” Midas jumped off the bed and hurried from the room when he heard Dwight holler out his name.
“Why?” asked Neil as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Brian answered, “Because you’re going to work with me.”
“Work?” Neil sat up and looked at his father. “What do you mean work?”
Brian laughed and responded, “You didn’t just think I was going to let you lay around her all day and do nothing.”
“I have homework,” replied Neil. “I can do that.”
“You can do that when you get home,” insisted his father. “Right now, you’re going to go to work with me.” He yanked the covers off Neil again. “Now, get out of bed. You have ten minutes.”
“But Dad,” moaned Neil. “I don’t understand why I have to go to work with you.”
Brian walked over and looked down at his son. “You have been suspended from school,” he replied. “I’m not going to let you sit around here all day watching television and swimming in the pool with Midas.”
Neil looked up, grinned and said, “That works for me.”
“Well, it doesn’t me,” responded his father angrily. “Be in the kitchen in ten minutes.”
“Dad,” whined Neil. “What if someone from school sees me?”
“We’re thirty miles from Farmersville,” he replied. “No one will see you.”
Neil continued to whine, “What are you going to make me do?”
Brian turned and said, “Whatever odd jobs I can find for you to do.” He then turned and headed out of the room.
Neil climbed out of bed and mumbled, “This isn’t fair.” In ten minutes, he was dressed and sitting in the kitchen eating a bowl of Cheerios.
* * * * * * * *
Sammy was sitting at a cafeteria table eating lunch with a couple of her friends. Since the incident with Neil, she had alienated herself from most of her former friends. She hated the gossip. And even worse, she despised the pity other girls gave her. Most were aware of the feelings she had for Neil.
They were discussing an assignment that Mr. Norris had assigned in first period when Sammy noticed Alex approaching the table. He was in a couple of her classes, but she had never talked to him. Since he was athletic, he seemed to hang with most of the popular jocks in the school. He was quickly becoming the heartthrob of many of the girls in their class, particularly the cheerleaders.
It surprised her when Alex stopped at her table and looked down. “If you’re though eating,” he asked nervously, “Can I talk to you for a sec?”
Sammy looked at her two friends and asked, “Me?”
Alex laughed slightly and replied, “Yeah, you. That is, if you have the time.”
Sammy gave her puzzled friends a look, picked up her tray and stood. “Yeah, I guess.” Alex took the tray from her hands and deposited the contents in a trash container. Sammy walked beside him as he headed for an exit. Many of the girls stared at her as she crossed the cafeteria with the tall, handsome young man. She knew that by the end of the day, there would be rumors as to why they had left the cafeteria together.
They continued to walk silently until they arrived to a door leading outside. Alex held the door as Sammy stepped out into the warm air. She continued to follow Alex until he sat on a bench usually designated for visitors to the school.
When he sat down, she nervously took a seat beside him. She had never paid much attention to his appearance, but she was surprised how handsome he was. His dark skin was flawless. His dark eyebrows seemed like they had been arched, and his hair was immaculately sculptured. She thought that he probably spent more time on his appearance than most of the girls in the school.
Alex looked nervously over at her and said, “I guess you wondered why I wanted to talk to you.”
Sammy in her usually sarcastic tone replied, “It did cross my mind.” She then giggled and gave Alex a wide grin. His strong appearance didn’t feel threatening. In fact, she felt comfortable sitting beside him. When she looked over at a window in the cafeteria, she saw a couple of girls staring at them. Her first instinct was to flip them off, but she fought the temptations. Besides, she wasn’t sure how Alex might have reacted to her gesture.
Alex turned and asked, “You’re friends with Neil, aren’t you?”
She gave him a puzzled look. Neil had never mentioned Alex to her. “Well, yes,” she replied. “Why?”
“Have you talked to him? How’s he doing?”
She gave him a puzzled look and asked, “Why?”
“I heard what happened to him,” he replied. “I just wondered if he is okay. That Lucas guy sounds like an real asshole.”
“He is,” huffed Sammy. Her tone softened when she said, “Neil is okay. He’s at his Dad’s house. I took him his assignments last night.”
“Good,” replied Alex as he sat back and stared at the girls looking at him through the window. “Jesus, these are some nosy ass people,” he mumbled.
“Welcome to Farmersville,” giggled Sammy. “Gossip is the biggest excitement around here.”
“I reckon,” said Alex. “I thought it would be cool living in the country away from the city, but it’s nothing like I expected it to be.” He frowned and added, “It’s even worse for my little bro. No one talks to him.”
When Sammy remarked that she didn’t think she had seen his brother, Alex said, “You won’t. He’s kind of shy.”
Sammy looked up into Alex’s eyes and replied, “I guess he isn’t much like you.” She didn’t want to appear awestruck by Alex’s good looks, but she knew that is how it must have sounded to him. He smiled when her face reddened and she looked away.
Alex looked at his watch and said, “The bell is getting ready to ring. We better head inside.” He held out his hand and helped Sammy to her feet. She couldn’t help but look at the faces on the jealous girls as they stared out the window at them.
“It was nice meeting you, Sammy,” smiled Alex. “The next time you see Neil, would you tell him I asked about him?”
“Sure,” replied Sammy. A million questions were running through her mind that she wanted to ask him, but she didn’t. The most important one was if he was gay and liked Neil. She couldn’t wait to see Neil again and tell him about their conversation.
It surprised her when Alex wrapped his arm around her as they walked toward the building. “This don’t mean nothing,” laughed Alex as he looked at the students at the window. Several more girls had gathered to watch them.
He chuckled and added, “This should keep their mouths running the rest of the day.”
Sammy smiled with a smirk at the girls as she wrapped her arm around Alex’s strong back. “Jesus,” she thought to herself. “Neil is one lucky guy.”
* * * * * * *
“Dad!” whined Neil as he walked into this father’s office. He held up a pricing gun. “Would you show me how to use this again?”
Brian stood and walked over to his son. He took the pricing gun from his hand and showed him again how to use it. “Why didn’t you asked Margaret?”
Neil frowned and said, “I did once. If I asked her again, she will think I’m some kind of a moron.”
Brian shook his head and replied, “It doesn’t hurt to ask for help.”
Brian put his arm around Neil’s shoulder and led him back into the store. He stopped and asked, “What do you think? Are you enjoying your first day?”
Neil kidded, “It would be better if I was getting paid.”
Brian responded, “You are.”
“I am?” asked Neil excitedly.
“Sure,” laughed his father. “You’re getting three square meals a day, and you can swim in the pool anytime you like.”
Neil’s shoulders drooped as he responded, “I thought you were talking about getting real money.”
Brian patted Neil on his shoulder and laughed. “You’ll be working for real money all your life. Right now, enjoy your youth.”
Neil took the pricing gun from Brian’s hand. As he walked away, he said loud enough for his father to hear him, “Right. Before I become an old man like you.” Brian laughed and headed back into his office.
* * * * * * *
Raymond was waiting in the lobby of the juvenile center when Lucas entered followed by the woman who had sat beside him at the hearing and a uniformed officer.
She walked over and handed him a folder and a pen. “I need you to sign a few papers,” she informed him as she pulled some sheets from the folder.
Raymond asked, “What for?” Lucas stood behind her with his arms folded and a scowl on his face.
He had tried all morning to convince Mrs. Stallworth, his case worker, to keep him in detention. He knew what awaited him if he was forced to live with his uncle. Sooner or later, he would have to stand up to Raymond. He was big enough now to refuse his uncle’s sexual advances. However, by doing so would probably result in a violent confrontation. Either, he would be hurt, or his uncle.
As he looked over at his uncle as he signed the forms Mrs. Stallworth had handed him, he thought to himself, ‘If that bastard touches me again, I’ll kill him.’