With a lot of pride I drove my Jeep into the student parking lot the first day of school. Although the town was small the school was midsize. A large portion of the students were bused in from the rural area and other small communities. In the past I tried to blend into the crowd and not be noticed. Today was different. I wanted to be seen and be a part of the school society. Only a few students seemed to notice me as I locked the Jeep and proceeded toward the school.
As the day went by I began to realize that I was still seen as the loner whose mother was the town drunk. I'll admit I was a little disappointed. However the Turners treated me great and I would still be happy. I wondered how many knew that I now lived with the Turners. When I got home from school Mom was busy in the kitchen cooking dinner. "Set down and tell me about your day," She said.
"I'll tell you later," I said. "I need to go help Dad and then go back to town for my martial arts class."
"He doesn't expect you to help on days that you have an after school activity," Mom said. "Besides, your dad drove to the city to get a part for the tractor. So, you have time to tell me about your day."
"It was okay," I said as I poured myself a glass of juice. I didn't want to sound as though I might be unhappy.
"Is something wrong?" Mom sounded worried.
"No, not really, I guess it wasn't what I expected."
"Why not, it's the same school?"
"I don't know. I guess I expected everything to be different since I live here. I kind of think of myself as the new me. I guess it was silly of me to expect the kids to see me differently."
"Are the kids at school spiteful to you?"
"No Mom, it is almost as if I'm invisible to most of them. Nobody came up to me and mentioned that they noticed my Jeep."
"Son, I know you're proud of that Jeep, and you have every right to be. But, remember that Jeep isn't you. You're the one that has to make friends. I suspect that in the past you avoided interacting with your classmates. Try taking the first step in making friends."
"I guess I don't really know how to do that. I'm used to being a loner."
"Be the wonderful young man that Don and I know. Sometimes you have to take that first step, just as you did when you discovered the steps leading to your basement room. You didn't know what was down there, but you went down there anyway because you knew that there was a good chance that it was better than what you had."
"I hadn't thought of it that way. Most of the kids at school think of me as being aloof since I have good grades and keep to myself. It is kind of hard to start a conversation with them."
"Being smart doesn't mean you have to be aloof. But, you can use it to make new friends. For example, if you notice a classmate struggling with a math problem you might offer to help them."
"If I do that they might think I'm just showing off that I'm smart."
"It's all in how you do it. Instead of asking, 'Do you need help with that problem,' you might say, 'I had a lot of trouble with that problem until I figured out my method of working it'. That way you're letting them know that you're just like they are. Just take baby steps to begin with."
"Mom, you're so wise. It won't be easy for me, but I'll try."
"Maybe I'm just wise with age. But, mostly I grew up with wonderful parents who cared more about my brother and me than themselves. When Patrick died I wanted to die also. I guess that's the way it's supposed to be when one is a parent. So, what time is your martial arts class?"
"Don should be home soon. We'll eat as soon as he gets home. Do you have homework?"
"I don't have any tonight, but I expect there will be plenty later on. I hope I haven't over loaded myself with all of these AP classes that I've taken."
"Don and I have already talked about your classes. Your education is more important than you working here on the farm. Don and I managed it before you came to live with us, and we can manage fine now. Don needs the most help in the summer when school is out anyway."
"If I see that I'm getting behind with any of my classes I'll drop out of my martial arts class."
"You will not!"
"What will he not do?" Dad asked when he overheard Mom as he entered the kitchen.
"He will not drop his martial arts class to help on the farm," Mom said.
"Look Son, when you came to live with us we said that you'd have the same rules that Patrick had," Dad said. "He loved baseball and we encouraged him to participate. Having outside interest is part of growing up."
"But Patrick was your real son," I argued.
"You're our real son too," Dad said with a quiver in his voice. "When we invited you to come and live with us we did so because you were being abused. Now that we know you we have come to love you as our son."
I couldn't help but cry. For the first time in my life I felt loved.
My martial arts classes were more of a workout than I expected. Muscles that I didn't know existed hurt. Mr. Alcantara was a great instructor with a sense of humor, but he expected hard work. Mr. Alcantara's classes combined different types of martial arts into one. The students in my class ranged from teenagers to a lady who was in her late fifties.
It had started to rain when the class was over, and Rachel, a girl that I recognized from school was outside on her cell phone. "When can you pick me up?" I heard her ask. "It's raining and I'll be soaked by the time I get home. Never mind, I'll just walk home in the rain."
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
"My mom had to work late and can't pick me up for another hour," Rachel said.
"I'll give you a ride home."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"No I don't mind at all."
"Thank you, Craig. This is very nice of you."
I didn't realize she even knew my name.
"I live about two miles from here out on Rock Creek Road," Rachel said as she buckled her seat belt. "You're in my history class, right?"
"Yes, I am. Have you had Mr. Haskins before?"
"No, but it doesn't matter because I hate history. I struggle to even get a C in history."
"Maybe you hate history because it doesn't interest you."
"Well, duh," Rachel said with a giggle
"I used to not like history until I started visualizing it as story that told history, rather than just history."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know why they do it that way, but history books are written chronological with mostly dates and facts. Mrs. Cochran, who used to be my neighbor, gave me a history book written in story form with real characters and places. It made history more real. Now when I read a history book I visualize real people and places. That seems to make history more interesting for me."
"Thanks Craig, I'll try that. Turn at the next mail box on the right. Thank you for the ride, and I'll see you in class tomorrow."
"Hi Craig," Rachel said as she sat across from me in the cafeteria a few days later. "I tried studying history the way you said, and I made an eighty-six on my test."
"What way is that?" Jon asked. I assumed that Jon was Rachel's boyfriend since they were always together. I had a few classes with Jon and knew that he was a football jock, and that he was also an honor student.
"Craig told me to read my history book as a story and visualize the people and places, rather than chronological dates and facts," Rachel said. "I tried it and it worked."
"That's just the way I do it," I said.
"That's a good idea," Jon said. "I told her to write down the important facts and just memorize them."
"I did both," Rachel said. "I made notes as I was reading."
Normally I ate alone, but today I was enjoying the company of Rachel and Jon. I discovered that Jon and I liked the same books and that we had both just finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.
I could hardly wait to get home and tell Mom of my good news. However, when I arrived home there was a note on the refrigerator telling me that Mom and Dad had gone to the city to look at a new stock trailer. In view of the fact that I didn't have a martial arts class, I decided to change out of my school clothes and start the chores that I normally helped Dad with. I was finishing feeding the breeder sows when Mom and Dad arrived home towing a new fifth wheel trailer.
"I'm sorry son about not being here to help with the chores," Dad said. "That damn dealer in the city wouldn't give me what I wanted for my old trailer and I had to drive all the way to Wichita to get a decent trade in."
"I didn't mind, Dad," I said. "You do it by yourself when I have martial arts."
"While you men finish up here I'm going inside to check on my crock pot pot roast," Mom said.
After we finished with our feeding chores Dad put his arm over my shoulders as we walked to the house for dinner. It felt good to have my new parents show affection. "Dad, how long have you owned this place?" I asked.
"This farm has been in the Turner family for three generations," Dad said. "My grandfather passed it on to my dad, and dad passed it on to me. When the time comes, I'll pass it on to you."
"Why would you do that?"
Dad stopped and turned me so that I was facing him. He put a hand on each of my shoulders and said, "Look Son, you are our son. We thought about trying to adopt you, but then there would be no child support. It isn't that we need the money, but we're putting every penny of that money in a college fund for you. We haven't discussed it yet, but I don't know if you even have an interest in farming."
I stopped and looked around at the barns, the recently harvested corn fields, and the livestock. It occurred to me that a lot of hard work had gone into developing all of this. I thought for a moment and then said, "Dad, I guess I hadn't thought much about my career objectives. Until I came here to live my main objective was to survive without being molested."
"I sometimes wonder if I shouldn't have pulled the trigger when I had my gun at that bastard's head," Dad said. I couldn't help but notice the anger in his voice.
"Then Mom and I would have been stuck here running the farm while you were cared for by the state of Kansas," I joked. "Besides, Sharon is just as much to blame as Neil. In fact Dan is also guilty since he went off and left me with her."
"So, you haven't decided on a career?" Dad asked as we entered the kitchen and the wonderful aroma of Mom's delicious pot roast.
"I haven't decided, but Mrs. Oxford suggested that I might look into veterinary medicine," I said.
"Veterinary medicine is a magnificent profession," Mom said as she took a pan of hot rolls out of the oven. "You two wash up. Dinner is ready."
I could hardly wait until Mom asked how my day at school went, however both Mom and Dad were interested in my plans for a career. Finally when Mom was serving dessert she asked, "How was your day at school?"
"Mom, I took your advice and gave Rachel a hint on studying her history," I began with excitement. She made an eighty-six on her test after she had been struggling to get a C. She and Jon ate lunch with me, and I discovered that both are really nice."
"What advice did you give her?" Dad asked.
"I told her that most history books were written in chronological order with dates, places, and some facts," I said. "I suggested that she visualize it as a story with real people and places."
"I wish I had known that when I was in school," Mom mused. "We're pleased that you're making friends at school now."
I looked forward to having lunch with Rachel and Jon at school the next day. After going through the food line I looked around for them and spotted them having lunch with a group of other popular kids. I took my tray and found an isolated table to eat alone. I should have known that I was setting myself up for disappointment. After my last class I rushed to my Jeep to avoid running into Rachel and Jon. I had started the engine when my cell phone rang. It never rang since I really had no friends to call me.
"Craig, where are you now?" Mom asked when I answered.
"In student parking at school," I said.
"Would you mind dropping by the store and picking up some milk for me?"
"I wouldn't mind at all."
While I was inline waiting to pay for the milk I saw Sharon entering the store. I hoped that she hadn't seen me and I quickly paid for the milk and left the store. I was no longer afraid of her, but I didn't want to see her either.
"Alright, what's wrong?" Mom asked as I was putting the milk in the refrigerator. I don't know how she does it, but she can sense when something is wrong.
"I saw Sharon at the store."
"Nothing really, I'm not sure she even saw me."
"I'm sorry, Craig. I shouldn't have asked you to stop at the store for me."
"Mom, it's a small town. It was bound to happen eventually. I'm going to my room to do some homework before I go to my martial arts class." I decided to not tell Mom about Rachel and Jon ignoring me at lunch.
"Alright Son, I'll call you when dinner is ready. You're dad has a coop board meeting so we'll be eating a little early."
I was having trouble concentrating on my chemistry homework. Still I managed to have most of the assignment done when Dad came to my door and announced that dinner was ready. "I understand that you didn't have a good day today."
"I'll survive it."
"I know you will, son. You're a survivor. Remember that you can always talk to Libby or me anytime you need to."
"I know that I can."
Mom was on the phone when we entered the kitchen. "He's here now and I'll ask him," she said. "Rachel wants to know if you will give her a ride to your martial arts class."
I really didn't want to see Rachel, but I knew I'd have to face her at the class anyway. "I suppose I could do that," I said. I tried to hide my reluctance to give Rachel a ride and hoped that Mom wouldn't notice. Mom had a funny expression, but she didn't say anything to me.
I normally looked forward to my martial arts class, but this evening was different. I dreaded facing Rachel. I'm sure dinner was delicious as usual, but I hardly tasted it. I ate because I didn't want Mom and Dad questioning me about today.
When I pulled into Rachel's driveway the porch light came on and she came bouncing out. "You're a life saver," she said when she opened the door to the Jeep. "Dad is out of town and Mom is still at work. You're lucky to have your own wheels."
"Yeah, I guess I am," I said. I still wasn't sure about Rachel after being ignored at lunch.
"As soon as I save half Mom and Dad have agreed to pay the other half toward the purchase of a car."
"That seems to be the thing in this town. I paid for half of my Jeep."
"Oh, I assumed Mr. and Mrs. Turner bought it for you because..."
"Because my biological mother is the town drunk and they had pity," I finished the sentence for her.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I'm just happy for you that you got to go live with them."
"I don't know if you are aware that Jon's dad is an abusive alcoholic. Jon always had an excuse for the bruises. As you can see, Jon is a big boy. One day his dad started in on him and Jon fought back. He beat the crap out his dad. Jon's dad kicked him out and he moved in with his grandparents."
"I would never have guessed since he is so popular at school."
"You could be too if you would just open up and let people get to know you. Like today at lunch, we saved you a seat and you went off to yourself."
"You were with your friends and I didn't want to intrude."
"I thought we were becoming friends. Further, a lot of the kids at school would be your friend if you would let them in. Many of them have problems at home too."
When we went inside for our martial arts class I was feeling better about my friendship with Rachel and Jon. The workout again was intensive and I was surprised to see that Rachel and I could take down even the largest classmates.
"I'm meeting Jon at the Dairy Barn," Rachel said after class. "Come and join us." The Dairy Barn is one of the few teenage hangout places in town.
"I'll drop you off there. I don't want to impose."
"Didn't you hear anything I said on the way here? You're our friend."
"Alright, let me call home first."
"Do you need to use my cell phone?"
"Thank you, but I have one. I rarely use it thought," I said as I dialed the number. "Mom," I said when she answered the phone. "I'm going to the Dairy Barn for a snack with Jon and Rachel."
"Okay Son," Mom said. "Have fun and don't be out to late. Tomorrow is a school day."
"Wow, how cool that you can call her Mom," Rachel said when I hung up.
"The Turners are my parents now. After what I've been through I can no longer call my biological parents mom and dad. To me they are Sharon and Dan."
"It looks like Jon isn't here yet," Rachel said when we arrived at the Dairy Barn. "He works at his grandparent's feed store after school and weekend. Oh, there he is now."
Jon got out of a beat up old Ford truck still dressed in coveralls from work. "I'm sorry I'm late," he said. "Mr. Huber came in just before closing and I had to load his truck."
"How long have you worked at the feed store?" I asked as we took our orders to an empty table.
"Right after my dad kicked me out," Jon said. "Do you work anywhere?"
"I work on the farm for Dad," I said.
"He calls Mr. and Mrs. Turner mom and dad," Rachel explained when she saw the puzzled look that Jon gave me.
"It sucks having lousy parents, doesn't it?" Jon asked. "Were you abused too?"
"I wasn't beaten the way you were. But from the time I was ten until I moved in with Mom and Dad I hid from Neil. The pervert tried to rape me."
"How did you avoid him?" Rachel asked.
"You've probably heard rumors about a secret room in our house," I said. "I found it."
"Wow, I didn't think there really was one," Jon said. "Where was it?"
"It's a secret room," Rachel said. "Maybe he can't tell us."
"I don't need it anymore," I said. "There is a trap door that leads to some steps down into a basement room. I spent more nights in that basement room than in my bedroom. I guess it became my bedroom since there was a bed down there. It all ended one day I fell asleep in my room and, Neil caught me there and tried to rape me. He beat me up, but I managed to get away and ended up at the Turners."
"Did your mom know about Neil?" Rachel asked.
"She knew," I said. "But she refused to do anything about him.
"What about your real dad?" Jon asked.
"As far as I'm concerned, Don Turner is my real dad," I said. "My biological dad left me when I was about eight. I haven't seen him since."
"Do you hate your biological parents?" Rachel asked.
"Hate requires too much energy," I said. "To me they are Sharon and Dan, the people that gave birth to me. I do not care to have any type of relationship with either. The day may come that I can feel differently, but I doubt it."
"Jon, how long have you lived with your grandparents?" I asked.
"Just over two years," Jon said.
"And, you've been working at the feed store since you were fourteen?" I asked.
"Yes, but I started out just doing odd jobs around the store," Jon said. "I've always been a big kid, and as I grew bigger I began doing more of the physical jobs."
"See what it has done for his muscles," Rachel said as she patted Jon's bicep.
"I lift weights at the school also," Jon said. "I know that my grandparents can't afford to send me to college. But, if I'm good enough I might earn a football scholarship."
"Jon, you're smart enough to get a scholarship for your grades," Rachel said.
I learned that night that Jon and Rachel had been dating for a little over a year. Jon was saving most of the money he earned at the feed store for spending money at college. He was confident that he would be offered a scholarship, but if he played football he wouldn't have the opportunity to work for spending money. It didn't bother him driving the old truck that had been his grandfather's. He has a married older sister living in Germany with her military husband.
Rachel lives with her parents and a twelve year old brother. Her father is a loan officer at the bank and her mother is a RN for the nursing home. She has good grades in all of her classes except for history. If she can earn an A in history she has a good chance of earning a scholarship.
After I got home I spent at least an hour telling Mom and Dad about my evening. I even confessed that I thought Jon and Rachel had shunned me at school. "Mom, you were right about the Jeep," I said. "Jon drives a beat up old truck, and most all of the kids at school like him. It isn't what a person drives but the person that drives."
"I should write that down," Mom said. "I like it."
"Craig, I talked to Dr. Schuler at the meeting about your possible interest in becoming a vet," Dad said. "He said that you were more than welcome to spend some time in his clinic with him."
"I would love to do that," I said. "But, I don't know when I'll find time. I'm already leaving most of the chores for you to do while I'm in my martial arts class."
"Look Son, we've talked about this in the past," Dad began. "Your education is more important than your chores here on the farm. Anyway, this is a slow time of the year and I can manage fine. Remember that you will be away at college for at least seven or eight years if you become a veterinarian. I'll manage fine then just as I can now."
"Son, that's what parents do for their children," Mom said. "We love you and want to see you happy with your career. You may decide that you don't want to be a veterinarian, and that will be fine with us. If you decide to become a shop keeper, a teacher, or whatever, we'll support your decision. I think your dad only wants you to become a vet so that he can have free vet service."
"Free?" I joked. "Who said it would be free?"
"Do you hear that? He's already sounding like Dr. Schuler," Dad laughed.
The next few weeks were both rewarding and challenging. I was making friends with a few kids at school, but it wasn't easy for me. Rachel and Jon made sure I was becoming a part of their group. There were times that I felt like a street kid looking through the window of a toy store and wishing I could go inside. Other times I felt like that same kid inside the toy store playing with all sorts of wonderful toys.
I was also busy at Dr. Schuler's clinic the days I didn't have a martial arts class. I loved working with the animals and Dr. Schuler said that I had a natural talent in handling them. Dr. Schuler even offered me a job working in his clinic. I declined the offer. I would have loved it, but I felt an obligation to work on the farm with Dad.
"One afternoon when I arrived at the clinic after school Dr. Schuler called out from his office, "Craig, could you come in here for a minute. I need to talk to you."
"Oh no, what have I done wrong," I said to myself.
"Have a seat," Dr. Schuler said when I entered his office. "I've hired a young lady to work part time here in the clinic. I know you were reluctant to spend time here because you felt an obligation to help Don on the farm."
"Did I do something wrong?" I asked. I had a feeling that something was seriously wrong.
"Oh no," Dr. Schuler said. "You have a natural talent in the way you handle the animals. That's what I want to talk to you about. I think you will make an excellent veterinarian. Anytime you have free time I'd like for you to come and spend more time with me. The time that you've been here you have been busy caring for the sick animals. I'd like to have you spend more time actually assisting me."
"I would like that," I said.
"If you wouldn't mind I'd like for you to show Rachel around when she gets here," Dr. Schuler said.
"Rachel?" I wondered if it was my friend Rachel.
"Yes, Rachel said that you two were friends," Dr. Schuler said.
"We are friends," I said. "I'm glad you gave Rachel the job. I also want to thank you for letting me come here. I'm leaning more and more toward a career in veterinary medicine."
"I'm a graduate of Kansas State Veterinary College. I would be happy to write you a reference when you get ready to apply."
"I haven't made up my mind for sure that I will become a vet, but as I said I'm leaning more in that direction," I said.
"You're a natural at it, but only you can decide," Dr. Schuler said. "I see that Rachel is here now. I'll let you go and show her around."
"Rachel, I didn't know you were coming to work here," I said.
"I didn't know either until Dr. Schuler called me when I got home from school today," Rachel said. "Mom brought our dog in today and he mentioned that he wanted you to work more with him. He said he was looking for someone part time."
During the next few weeks Dr. Schuler taught me how to suture animals, how to administer medications, and I even got to give the animals their shots. I still had some guilt about not helping on the farm as much as I had, but Dad assured me that he was fine with it.
One evening during dinner Mom said, "Craig, I ran into Mrs. Cochran in town today and she was wondering why you hadn't been by to see her. I told her that you had been busy with school, your martial arts class, and at the vet clinic."
"Mrs. Cochran was always nice to me," I said. "I'll make time to go by and see her. I guess I avoided going because she lives next door to Sharon."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Dad asked.
"Thanks Dad," I said. "But, I'm not afraid of Neil anymore."
"If that bastard tries anything with you I'll do what I should have done that night I had the gun to his head," Dad said.
"No Dad," I said. "He isn't worth it."
"Honey, Craig is right," Mom said.
After school the next day I drove to my old neighborhood to see Mrs. Cochran. I'll admit I was a little nervous about being in the neighborhood. I was glad to see that Neil's truck wasn't at Sharon's house. Mrs. Cochran hugged me and then reprimanded me for not visiting her. I filled her in on all of my recent activities and about my educational plans. When it was time for me to go I hugged Mrs. Cochran and promised her that I would come back for a visit soon. She also promised that she would visit me at my new home.
When I opened the door to my Jeep I felt an arm around my neck in a neck lock. "I knew I would get the chance to eventually beat the crap out of you," he said.
I recognized the voice to be that of Neil. My anger and martial arts training kicked in and I flipped Neil to the ground with a thud. He appeared to be very surprised at my ability to take him down. He got to his feet and charged me while swinging his fist. I quickly stepped aside and tripped him. He again fell to the ground hard. I sat on Neil's back and pulled his arm into a hammerlock. Neil was screaming in pain when Sharon ran out of the house and began hitting me in the head with her fist. I wasn't about to release my hold on Neil.
"You stop hitting him this instant," Mrs. Cochran yelled. "I've called the police and they will be here any minute."
Sharon stopped hitting me, but she continued yelling at me to let Neil go. Neil was screaming in pain as I increased the pressure on the hammerlock. Other neighbors began to come out of their homes to see what the commotion was as the police arrived.
"I want him arrested," Sharon screamed. "He attacked my boyfriend."
"He did not," Mrs. Cochran yelled. "It was the other way around."
"I saw the whole thing," Mrs. Harris, the neighbor from across the street, said. "This man attacked Craig and Craig was defending himself."
"You can release him now," Officer Addison said as he put Neil in handcuffs.
"You need to arrest her too," Mrs. Cochran said. "She's the one that bloodied his nose."
I hadn't realized that my nose was bleeding until I put my hand to my nose and felt blood. Mrs. Harris went into her house and came back with a wet washcloth to wash the blood from my face. But, before she could do that, Officer Addison asked her to wait until he could take some pictures.
Sharon and Neil were in handcuffs and in the police car when Mom and Dad arrived. I wasn't sure who called them, but I could see fire in Dad's eyes when they arrived. "I should have killed that son of a bitch when I had the chance," Dad was saying.
Officer Addison informed us that he was taking Sharon and Neil to the jail to be booked. Officer Lander would be getting a statement from me. Officer Lander got statements from Mrs. Cochran and Mrs. Harris as well.
Dad was still irate when we finally arrived back home. Mom and I finally got him calmed down some by the time we ate dinner. We had finished dinner and were still discussing the earlier event when the doorbell rang. Mom went to see who was at the door and came back escorting a middle age woman carrying a briefcase. "This is Mrs. Gray from Child Protective Services," Mom said.
"Are you Craig Coleman?" Mrs. Gray asked when she saw me.
"Yes," I said.
"I need you to gather your things," Mrs. Gray said. "I'm here to remove you from this home."
"Like hell you are," Dad yelled.
"The only way you're getting me out of here is if you physically remove me," I declared.
"Why are you trying to do this?" Mom asked as she tried to maintain her composure.
"Sharon Coleman reported that Mr. Turner held a gun to her head and forced her to sign over guardianship of Craig to you," Mrs. Gray said.
"He did no such thing," I said. "I was there and so was Mrs. Cochran. Mrs. Cochran signed as a witness."
"He isn't going without a court order," Mom said. "We have a signed and witnessed document giving us guardianship of Craig."
"I refuse to go even with a court order," I said.
"I'm sorry, but this isn't an approved foster care home, and you never got official approval to foster him," Mrs. Gray said. "Craig will have to be removed."
"We are an approved foster care home," Mom said. "We got approved to care for a child whose parents were in the military in Iraq."
"If you had gone through proper procedures I might agree to leave Craig in your care, but you circumvented the foster care laws. He will have to come with me."