Castle Roland

Ten Steps Down

by Owen Hudson


Chapter 5

Posted: N/A

I couldn't believe it, the man that used to be my dad walked out on me when I was eight and never looked back. Now he wanted to see me. I wanted to hang up on Dan Phillips, but part of me was curious as to what he had to say.

"Why would you want to see me now?" I asked. "You haven't bothered to see me for the last eight years."

"Look Son I don't want to discuss this over the phone," Dan said.

"I'm no longer your son," I said unable to hide my anger. "I'll talk to Uncle Jason and see what he has to say. Uncle Jason is my attorney."

"You don't have an Uncle Jason," Dan said.

"I do now," I countered. "I also have parents that would never walk out on me."

"I guess I deserved that," Dan said.

"You can call back and I'll let you know what Uncle Jason has to say," I said.

"Okay," Dan said. "Bye, Son."

"You can call me Craig," I said. "You gave up the privilege to call me son." I hung up before he could respond. It gave me some satisfaction by not saying bye, as he had done to me eight years earlier.

"Are you alright?" Dad's question interrupted my thoughts.

"Yeah Dad, I'm fine," I said. "Should I see Dan?"

"Son, that's up to you," Dad said. "But, before you decide you should call Jason."

"Jason will be here tomorrow and you can talk to him then," Mom said.

Uncle Jason and I had a long talk about seeing Dan. I had mixed feelings about seeing the man that was once my dad. I was very angry at him for abandoning me, but I was also grateful that I now had a great mom and dad. I was also grateful that I now had a little brother.

"The decision is yours," Uncle Jason said during our conversation. "If you do decide to see him I will be present. I don't want you to accidently say something that he might use against you in court."

"I guess I'm curious enough to see him," I finally said.

"Alright when he calls I'll talk to him and set up the ground rules," Uncle Jason said. "He has to agree to letting me be present and to allowing us to record the conversation."

When Dan called I had him talk to Uncle Jason. Needless to say, he wasn't very happy with the ground rules. However, he did agree in the end. Dan was to meet with Jason and me the evening before our court hearing.

I was a nervous wreck by the time Dan arrived. I was surprised at how young and handsome he looked. But, since he was only 27 when he left, he would be young compared to Mom and Dad. I could tell that he was as tense as I was.

"Hello Craig," he said when we met. He tried to hug me, but I stepped back and extended my hand for a handshake instead.

After we were settled in the den Uncle Jason turned on the tape recorder and stated the ground rules. "Do you agree to these rules and to having this conversation recorded?" Uncle Jason asked.

"I agree," Dan said.

There was a minute or two of uncomfortable silence before Dan said, "Craig, I'm sorry."

"Your sorry is about eight years late," I said.

"You don't know what it was like to live with Sharon all those years," Dan said.

"Oh but I do," I disputed. "You left me with her. I'm the one that had to put up with her drinking. I'm the one that had to hide from her boyfriend to avoid being raped. I'm the one that was beaten up when he caught me in my room before I could hide. Don't tell me how bad you had it living with her."

"I'm so sorry, but it just wasn't possible for me to take you," Dan said.

"I don't know your reason for leaving, but you left without so much as a goodbye," I said while trying to hold my emotions in check. "Eight years you were gone without so much as a visit, a birthday card, or even a phone call."

"I'm so sorry," Dan said.

"Yeah you already said that," I said. "I wondered what I had done to make you leave."

"You didn't do anything wrong," Dan said. "It was me."

"I know now," I said. "Mrs. Cochran said that I had nothing to do with your leaving. You keep saying that it wasn't possible for you to take me with you, but you haven't said why."

"Craig, this may not make sense to you, but you have a sister," Dan said.

"I have a sister?" I asked in shock. "How old is she?"

"Nicole is eight," Dan said.

"So, she was on the way when you left?" I asked.

"Yes," Dan admitted.

"I still don't understand why you couldn't have taken me with you," I said.

"Because my new wife wouldn't agree to letting you live with us," Dan said.

"You bastard," I yelled. "It's bad enough that you chose a new wife and an unborn child over your own son, but you didn't even have balls enough to stay in contact with me."

"I guess I was wrong," Dan meekly admitted.

"Hell yes you were wrong," I said in anger. "You left me and let me believe I'd done something wrong. Now you expect me to welcome you with open arms. Why did you finally make contact with me?"

"My wife and I are now going through a divorce, and I see things differently now," Dan said.

"Could I see my sister?" I asked.

"I don't know if Diane would approve," Dan said.

"Grow up and grow a pair," I said in anger. "Do something for Nicole that you never did for me. Sue for custody or at least visitation rights. When you have Nicole you decide who she gets to see unless there is a court order. Isn't that right, Uncle Jason?"

"Yes, you're correct," Uncle Jason said. "Dan, I have a question for you. What are your intentions for the court hearing tomorrow?"

"I would like to get custody of Craig," Dan said.

"After eight years you want custody?" I yelled.

"I doubt the court would agree to that," Dan admitted. "However, I would like to have contact with Craig."

"That will likely be up to Craig," Uncle Jason said. "Since you've had no contact with Craig in eight years there is virtually no chance that the judge will give you custody. Craig would have to request that for it to even be considered."

"That isn't going to happen," I said.

"Will you at least agree to let me see you?" Dan asked.

"Are you going to let me see my sister?"

"There is a problem there," Dan said. "She doesn't know that she has a brother."

"Don't you think it is about time you tell her?" I asked.

"I don't think she is old enough to understand," Dan said.

I shook my head in disgust and got up to leave when Dan said, "After I have established visitation rights I'll see what I can do."

"Either you do or you don't," I said. "You decide."

"Will I get to see you again?" Dan asked.

"I don't know," I admitted. "Right now you need to be a dad to your daughter. That's something you weren't for me."

After Dan left James came to me and asked, "He isn't going to take you away is he?"

"Not a chance, Bro," I said. "We'll always be brothers."

James gave me a big hug and said, "I have the best brother in the world."

"No you don't," I argued. "I have the best brother in the world."

We were all uptight before the hearing the next day. Uncle Jason was sure that parental rights for our natural parents would be terminated, but we were still concerned. I wasn't sure if Dan would be in the courtroom, but he did show up. I wasn't surprised that James' mother wasn't there, but I was somewhat surprised that Sharon wasn't in the courtroom.

Judge Young began the case by asking for a report and recommendation from the Children and Family Services. "Your honor in the case of James Gibson there has been absolutely no contact from his natural mother in well over two years," Mr. Frazier began. "Her parental rights should have been terminated more than a year ago. It is our recommendation that parental rights be terminated. In the case of Craig Phillips the natural father had not seen him in eight years until yesterday. Daniel Phillips is in court today. The natural mother no longer has contact with him. She has refused to follow her case plan and does not provide a safe home for him. She is still dating the man that physically attacked Craig. Craig and James are both happy where they are and wish to remain there. It is our recommendation parental rights are terminated for the natural parents of Craig Phillips and James Gibson."

"Mrs. Upchurch does CASA have a recommendation?" Judge Young asked.

"Yes your honor," Mrs. Upchurch began. "I concur with Mr. Frazier's recommendation. "These two young men are very happy where they are. There is a lot of love in the Turner home. Both of these young men have stated that they wish to remain where they are and hope to be adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Turner. I visited with the school counselors for both boys and the report is very positive. James has made incredible progress since going to live with the Turners. He has improved from a B and C student to an A and B student. He will most likely make the first semester honor roll. Craig is a straight A student and is enrolled in advance placement classes for college credit. According to his counselor, Craig will likely be the class valedictorian."

"Mr. Phillips, are you represented by an attorney?" Judge Young asked.

"No your honor," Dan said.

"Do you wish to make a statement, Mr. Phillips?" Judge Young asked.

"I do," Dan said. "I had every intention of asking for custody of Craig. However, he has made it clear to me that he does not want that. I walked out on him eight years ago. The least I can do is let him stay where he is happy."

"Mr. Phillips, why did you not have any contact with your son for eight years?" Judge Young asked.

"I was young, foolish, and selfish," Dan admitted.

"I appreciate your honesty," Judge Young said. "It appears to me that it would be in the best interest of James Gibson and Craig Phillips that parental rights of natural parents be terminated. Both will remain in their current home and will be eligible for adoption."

As we were leaving the courthouse, Dan came up to me and shook my hand. "I no longer have any parental rights, but I would still like to see you," he said. "As soon as my divorce is final and my custody rights to Nicole are settled I'll arrange for you to see her. I will explain to her that you're her brother."

"I would love to see her," I admitted. "I appreciate what you said in court today."

"I realized that I didn't deserve a son like you," Dan said. "I would give anything if I could go back to that day that I left you crying for me. I certainly would have done things differently. I'm sorry for what you had to go through, but you now have a wonderful family that loves you. You may not believe this, but I do love you."

"I honestly don't know how I feel about you," I admitted. "I've hated you since you left me, but it isn't worth the energy to hate you anymore."

"Do you still see Sharon?" Dan asked.

"No, the last time I saw her was in court after she and Neil tried to beat me up when I went to visit Mrs. Cochran," I said. "She became an alcoholic after you left."

"Craig, Sharon has had a drinking problem for years," Dan said. "She is what they call a functioning alcoholic."

"She wasn't that bad the first two years after you left, but when she went to work at the bar she would come home falling down drunk."

"I wish you would have called me," Dan said.

"Call you?" I questioned more loudly than I intended. "How was I supposed to have called you when I didn't even know where you were?"

"Sharon had my address and phone number, I assumed she would have given it to you," Dan said.

"You assumed wrong," I said. "If you had bothered to maintain contact I would have had it."

"I was really stupid, wasn't I?" Dan asked. "Here is my new address and phone number," Dan said as he wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

"Yeah you were," I agreed as I walked away and stuffed the paper in my pocket.

"I'll call you," Dan called out as I was walking toward my family without answering.

James, I, and the entire family were in a jovial mood when we arrived home. "How long do you think it will take for the adoption to take place?" Mom asked Uncle Jason.

"The caseworker that I talked to think she can get it done in about three months," Uncle Jason said.

"That long?" James asked.

"That's really pretty fast," Uncle Jason said. "Just be patient."

"Alright, I'll try," James said.

After dinner that evening I was in my room finishing my homework when James came and sat on my bed. "Hi James," I said. "Did you need help with your homework?"

"No, I finished it already," James said.

"Is something bothering you?" I asked.

"A little," James quietly said. "My back is still ugly."

"Remember that the doctor said that it would take while and that he may later do dermabrasion," I reminded him.

"I know what he said," James argued. "But, it still looks bad. See for yourself."

James stood and took off his shirt. His back was still red, but the scars were small and much smoother than in the past.

"See what I mean?" James said.

"It looks a whole lot better," I said. "You see it every day and don't notice the changes. Uncle Jason took pictures of your back before the surgery. Let's go see if he has them."

Uncle Jason did have the pictures in James's file, but the picture didn't convince him. "Let me take another one of your back now and let you compare them side-by-side," Uncle Jason said.

"It does look better," James admitted after comparing the pictures.

I too was amazed at the difference when seeing the comparison.

Both James and I were happy when our Christmas break came. James had me drive him into town so that he could shop for Christmas gifts. "I already got your gift," James proudly said as I drove toward town. "I bought it when Mom took me to Topeka to see the doctor."

"What are you going to get Nicole?" James asked.

"I don't know," I hadn't thought about a gift for my newly discovered sister.

"You are going to get her a gift, aren't you?" James asked.

"Yeah, I think maybe a game," I said.

"I'm getting her a Disney movie," James said.

"You're getting my sister a gift too?" I asked.

"If she is your sister, then she is my sister too," James said. "After all we are brothers."

My brother amazed me. He had been abused all of his life until he came to live with Mom and Dad, yet he was the most loving and caring person I knew. He met and liked Mrs. Cochran and she immediately became Grandma Cochran. Nicole was my sister and thus she was his sister too.

James and I decided to pool our money to buy better gifts. We decided on a gift certificate to a nail salon for a manicure and a pedicure for Mom and Grandma Cochran. We got Dad the Carhartt jacket that he had been looking at. We couldn't decide what to get Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan until we saw a poster for The Blue Man Show. We ended up getting some really good seats for them.

"Aren't we getting a gift for Dan?" James asked.

"Why should I?" I asked. "He never remembered me at Christmas or on my birthday."

"I think he is really sorry, and he is trying to make up with you," James said.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," I admitted. "I don't know him well enough to know what to get him though."

"That's when you get a gift certificate," James wisely said. "How about giving him a gift certificate from Applebee's?"

"Sounds good to me," I admitted.

It was decided that we would have Christmas at our house since we had Thanksgiving at Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan's. Also, we wouldn't have to hire someone to do our chores. James and I had mailed our gifts to Dan and Nicole. To our surprise we received a package from them a few days later.

Christmas morning James was the most excited I had ever seen him. Mom told him that he could open his presents, but he wanted to wait for Grandma Cochran. James barely gave her time to remove her coat before he was handing out presents.

Mom and Grandma Cochran were both pleased with their gift certificates. "This is something that I can certainly use," Grandma Cochran said. "It is difficult for me to do my nails with my arthritis."

Dad loved his new jacket and he even modeled it for us. Uncle Jason and Uncle Ryan were surprised that we got them tickets to see the Blue Man Band. "I didn't know that they were even going to be in Kansas City," Uncle Ryan said. "This is a great gift."

I opened my gift from James and was surprised that it was the book I wanted to read, Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. James and I were surprised that Dan gave us each a game for our Wii. He must have seen it the day he came to see me. Grandma Cochran gave us movie passes. I gave James a new jacket that I knew he really liked.

Both James and I were surprised to see that Mom and Dad gave each of us a new set of luggage. Inside the package from uncles was a book about Machu Picchu. Everyone started laughing when I realized what was going on and James still had a confused look.

"James, your Uncle Ryan and I are taking you boys to see Machu Picchu in Peru at the end of your school year," Uncle Jason said. We saw how interested you boys were in the TV program about Machu Picchu when we were here the last time."

I don't know who was more excited about the trip, James or me. We were all giddy about the trip when James, the thoughtful one, said, "We can't both go. Who would help Dad here on the farm while we're gone?"

"I think I can manage," Dad said. "I had it all to do before we were lucky enough to get two great sons."

"I have some money saved and I'll pay Jon or Seth to help you," James offered.

"No son," Dad said as he hugged James. "I really can manage it by myself. You keep your money. Remember when you're sixteen you will want to buy a car."

"Dad, that's a long time away," James said.

"Not that long," Dad said. "You'll need to save around $5,000 to get a decent car. Remember that your mom and I will match your money."

"This is the best Christmas I've ever had," James said. "At Mrs. Powell's we only got a pair of jeans. But, best of all I have a real family."

I had to agree with James. This was indeed a great Christmas. However, I was ready to return to school when the Christmas break ended. There weren't a lot of things to do in a small town in Kansas during the winter. James and I did take advantage of the movie passes that Grandma Cochran gave us.

"Have you met the new guy?" Rachel asked when I joined her and Jon for lunch our first day back in school after the Christmas break.

"What new guy?" I asked.

"The guy in the grey sweater sitting over there by himself," Rachel said.

"No, I haven't met him," I said. "Why didn't you invite him to join us for lunch?"

"I did, but he said he was okay where he was," Rachel said. "He reminds me of how you used to be."

"He is in my English class and he moved here from Olathe," Jon said. "His name is Seth Payne."

"He is really cute," Heather, a girl who sometimes joined us for lunch, said. "I'm going to invite him to sit with us."

"Too late," I said. "He's leaving."

It was beginning to snow when I drove to the middle school to pickup James. "Maybe we won't have school tomorrow," He said as he buckled his seatbelt.

"We were just out for two weeks," I pointed out.

"Oh yeah," James grinned. "But, do you think we will have school tomorrow?"

"Most likely," I said. "We were out before because it was a blizzard. This doesn't look like a blizzard."

"Who is that walking in this weather?" James asked as we drove past the high school.

"That's the new guy, Seth," I said as I pulled over to offer him a ride. "Do you need a ride?" I asked.

"Yes, thank you," Seth said as he climbed in the back seat behind James. "I was getting an assignment from one of my teachers and missed the bus. I hope you don't mind, but I'm about eight miles outside of town."

"That's okay," I said. "I'm Craig and this is my brother James."

"It's good to meet you," Seth said. "I'm Seth."

"I understand that you moved here from Olathe," I said.

"Yeah, I did," Seth said. "Word travels fast here, doesn't it?"

"I guess it does," I admitted. "I guess it is small town gossip. Rachel said that she invited you to join us, but you declined."

"Oh, I guess I should have explained," Seth said. "I needed to eat fast and then get my algebra class changed. They put me in Algebra I and I should be in Algebra II."

"You can join us tomorrow," I suggested.

"Sure, I'd like that," Seth said.

"Why did you move here?" James asked. "Oh, I guess that's a personal question that I shouldn't have asked."

"That's okay," Seth said. "I came here to help my aunt and uncle on their farm. Besides, things were getting a little dicey back home. Turn right at the next intersection."

I was curious about what Seth meant that things were dicey back home, but I didn't ask. Maybe he lived with an abusive alcoholic like Jon had. "Next house on the left," Seth said interrupting my thought.

"Let me know anytime you need a ride," I said when Seth got out of my Jeep.

"I wouldn't want to impose," Seth said. "Thank you very much for the ride."

"I'm happy to help you out," I said. "It is snowing heavy now and you would have been really cold by the time you got home."

"I wonder why he couldn't have called his aunt or uncle when he missed the bus," James said as we drove away.

"I hadn't thought of that," I admitted. "Maybe they are both at work."

"Maybe," James said. "I think we need to be his friend though."

Again my brother amazed me. He seemed to sense when others needed friendship. "I think we can be his friend," I agreed.

I looked up from my tray at lunch the next day to see Seth walking toward us carrying his tray. Heather was all smiles when she saw him and moved over to make room for him to sit next to her. Seth was friendly and talkative, but somewhat vague in his answers when asked about his family in Olathe.

"Craig, where did you find your Jeep?" Rachel asked changing the subject.

"Dad found it for me," I said. "He seems to have a talent for finding a bargain. Why are you asking?"

"I guess Mom and Dad are tired of driving me to and from work, and have agreed to let me get a car now," Rachel said. "They will get a loan at the bank and I'll make the payments."

"I wish I could afford a car," Seth said. "I guess there aren't that many jobs here."

"Did you work in Olathe?" Jon asked.

"I worked part time at Wal-Mart," Seth said.

"Couldn't you work at Wal-Mart here?" Heather asked.

"I could, but I don't have a way to get to and from work," Seth said.

"As soon as I get my car I'll give you a ride," Rachel offered. "Jon and Craig will you give him a ride when I can't?"

"Sure," we both agreed. I realized that Rachel was kind caring person and I was pleased to have her as a friend.

"I can't ask you guys to do that for me," Seth said.

"You didn't ask, we offered," Rachel said.

"It may take me a while to save enough to get a car," Seth said. "You may be driving me for a long time."

"With the three of us it won't be that bad," I said.

"I hate to ask, but could one of you drive me to Wal-Mart after school?" Seth asked.

"Sure, I'd drive you there," I offered. "I'll call Mom to pickup James at school."

"What type of car do you want to buy?" I asked as I drove Seth to Wal-Mart.

"Cheap," Seth said with a smile. "If it needs some work I'm a decent mechanic and could probably fix it up. My uncle is also a mechanic and would help me."

"I'll ask Dad if knows of anything," I said.

"I only have $1200 that I'd save before I came here," Seth said. "I doubt I could get much for that amount of money. Then, I would still need to buy insurance."

"Could you be on your aunt and uncle's insurance policy?" I asked.

"Maybe, but I'd have to pay the difference," Seth said.

"I'll wait here for you here," I said as I parked the Jeep when we arrived at Wal-Mart. "I need to read an assignment for my English class."

After about a thirty minute wait, Seth came out of the store with a huge grin. I figured he had some good news.

"I start Monday," Seth said as we bumped fists. "I'll get to work twenty hours a week while school is in session and then forty hours when school is out. I'll get my old salary I got in Olathe."

"Cool," I said. "I'm happy for you."

"It is going to take me forever to earn enough for a car," Seth said.

"Maybe, but still faster than if you're not working," I suggested.

"You have a point," Seth laughed. "I thank you your friends for offering to drive me to work."

"I think they're your friends too," I suggested. "Jon and Rachel are my best friends. Both are really great to have as friends."

"What about Heather?" Seth asked. "You didn't mention her as a good friend."

"Heather is alright," I said. "I don't know her as well as I know Jon and Rachel."

"I thought she was a little strange," Seth said. "She is always staring at me."

"She likes you and thinks you're cute," I laughed. "Maybe you should ask her out."

"I don't have the time, money, or transportation to be dating," Seth said. "It looks like my uncle had to work late," Seth said as we pulled into their driveway. "I'll be doing the feeding by myself."

"I'll help you," I offered. "I'll call Dad and let him know. He and James have probably already done our chores anyway."

"That's okay," Seth said. "You still have your school clothes on."

"In the winter I always keep coveralls in the Jeep," I said. "I learned that from Dad."

"Where is your farm?" Seth asked.

"Do you know where Green Tree Landscape and Nursery is?" I asked.

"Sure," Seth said.

"We live across the highway from there," I said.

We had just finished feeding when a pregnant woman drove up and got out of a Toyota Camry. "Did Seth miss his bus again?" She asked.

"No, I didn't," Seth said. "Craig drove me to Wal-Mart about a job. I start work Monday. Oh Craig, this is my Aunt Stephanie."

"Pleased to meet you," I said.

"You too, Craig," Stephanie said. "I'm pleased that Seth has made friends at school. Seth, how do you expect to get to and from work?"

"Craig and a couple of other friends have offered to drive me until I can afford a car," Seth said.

"That's asking a lot of your friends," Stephanie said.

"He didn't ask," I said. "We offered."

"Your Uncle Steve or I can drive you on weekends," Stephanie said. "Be sure to pay your friends for their gas."

"I will," Seth said.

As I drove away I was more confused about Seth. His Aunt Stephanie seemed nice and he seemed to interact normally with her. Although I wanted to know more, I wouldn't dare ask and embarrass him.

"Did your friend get a job at Wal-Mart?" Mom asked during dinner.

"He sure did," I said. "He doesn't have a car, so Jon, Rachel, and I will take turns driving him to work until he can afford one. His aunt and uncle will drive him on weekends. He has $1200 saved from his job in Olathe."

"Who are his aunt and uncle?" Dad asked.

"The name on their mail box was Carpenter," I said. "Seth referred to them as Aunt Stephanie and Uncle Steve."

"I know Steve," Dad said. "He is a mechanic at the Ford dealer, a really nice guy. Maybe Steve could get him one of the older trade-ins."

"Wouldn't that be expensive?" I asked.

"Not for one of the older ones," Dad said. "The older models are sold wholesale at auction."

"I'll ask Seth about that tomorrow," I said. "Dad, Rachel is looking for a good used car. I think she needs to keep the price under $8000."

"Brenda Richardson got a new car and is selling her 2000 VW Beetle," Mom said. "I think she is asking $5000 for it. It is in excellent condition."

"I'll call Rachel now," I said as I rinsed my plate and put it in the dishwasher.

Rachel was thrilled to hear about the Beetle when I called her. "I'll have Dad take me to look at it," she said.

"I'm going to look at the car right after school," Rachel excitedly said the next day as she joined our usual group for lunch the next day. This group now included Heather every day since Seth had joined us.

"Wow, I'm envious," Seth said. "I wish I could afford one now."

"Dad said that you should have your uncle check on one of the dealer's trade-ins," I said. "Dad said that the older ones are sold wholesale in an auction."

"I didn't think of that," Seth said. "I'll ask Uncle Steve about it tonight."

"That's crazy to buy an old junk car," Heather said. "You should buy a newer one, especially if I were to ride in it."

"I didn't hear him ask you to ride in it, much less to help pay for it," Rachel said in a stern voice.

"My uncle is a mechanic," Seth said. "I'm pretty good myself at fixing cars. I was able to keep my friend's car going back in Olathe."

"I'd be embarrassed riding around in an old junk car," Heather said.

"Heather, you don't even have a car, much less a junk car," Rachel said. "Stop acting like you're better than the rest of us."

"I need to go to class," Heather said as she picked up her tray and rushed off.

"I think you pissed her off," Jon said.

"I don't care," Rachel said. "Last week she made fun of Ashley's dress just because she bought it at a resale shop. I let her know that most of my clothes came from a resale shop."

"I wonder why Heather doesn't have a car," I said. "She said that her dad is a doctor."

"Ha," Rachel said. "He's the worst doctor in town and can't keep office help because he doesn't always pay them. He hardly has any patients."

Monday as James and I were driving Seth to work, Seth said, "I didn't want to say anything at lunch in case it doesn't work out, but I might be getting a 1999 Blazer S10."

"Wow, that's great," James said before I could respond.

"Uncle Steve said that it runs a little rough, but that he could fix that," Seth said. "It has a dent in the fender, but Uncle Steve also said that he could fix that too. Uncle Steve said that he wanted to talk to me before he made an offer on it."

"How much do you plan to offer?" I asked.

"Uncle Steve said that Mr. Foster, the owner of the dealership, was out of town until today," Seth said. "Mr. Foster likes Uncle Steve and will give him a good deal. Uncle Steve thinks he can get it for around $800. It will still be a little tight for me to get the truck running good and get insurance. Uncle Steve and Aunt Stephanie did say that I could pay the difference and they would add me to their insurance."

"We can continue driving you to work until it is up and running good," I said.

The next morning as I was walking across the student parking lot toward the main entrance, Rachel drove up in her newly purchased Beetle. "How do you like it?" She yelled out as she slowly drove by.

I rushed over to where Rachel parked to admire her car. I was surprised at the mint condition it was in. "I can't believe the bargain you got," I said.

"Dad was really pleased," Rachel said. "We're not even going through the bank to finance it. I'll just make monthly payments to my parents until it is paid for."

"I guess you really did piss Heather off," Jon said during lunch when he spotted Heather at a table with some football jocks and their girlfriends.

"Good," Rachel said. "Maybe she'll stop picking on Ashley."

"What is she doing to Ashley?" I asked.

"Mostly name calling," Rachel said. "She calls Ashley white trash. Ashley's dad is a janitor at the hospital and her mom is a cook at the nursing home where mom works. "

"That's bullying," I said. "Did Ashley report it?"

"She said it wouldn't do any good," Rachel said. "She said that Mr. Langley wouldn't do anything."

"Mr. Langley is a poor excuse of a principal," Jon said. "He caters to the kids who have money."

"Mom is on the school board," I said. "I'll talk to her about the school's policy on bullying."

When I talked to Mom about the bullying at school, she became angry. "I asked Mr. Langley about a bullying policy and he said we didn't have a problem and didn't need a policy. I've been researching policies from other schools and planned to have it put back on the agenda for discussion. I'll request it for discussion at the next meeting."

James and I were doing our homework one evening when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it," James said as he jumped up and rushed to the door. "Hi Seth," he said. "Oh wow, you got your Blazer."

"Yeah, I wanted you and Craig to see it," Seth said.

After introducing Seth to Mom and Dad we guys went out to kick the tires on Seth's new pride and joy. "It looks like a nice vehicle," Dad said.

"I like it," Seth said. "Mr. Foster let Uncle Steve have it for $600 because it was running rough. All it needed was new spark plugs and plug wires. I have under $700 in it now. That's good because I had to buy new tires. I'm nearly broke after buying them, even using my Wal-Mart employee discount."

"I can lend you some money," I offered.

"Thank you, but I'll be fine," Seth said. "I've already made my first insurance payment, and I have enough money for gas."

"I'm pleased that all of you kids now have transportation," Dad said.

"I don't have transportation," James said.

"I don't think they would issue a driver's license to a twelve year old," Dad laughed.

"I'll be thirteen next Friday," James argued.

"Well they still won't issue you a driver's license," Dad said. "You'll have three more years to go."

"So, Friday you'll be a teenager," Seth said.

"Yeah, do you want to come to my party Friday?" James asked. "Mom said that I could invite some friends."

"I'm off Friday and I'd be pleased to come," Seth said.

The Friday of James' birthday I hurried out of class to get home and help get things ready for James' party. I saw a gathering around the lockers and Rachel was consoling Ashley who was upset and crying. I couldn't believe what someone had written on Ashley's locker. I took my cell phone out and took a picture.

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