Copyright © 2012 - 2014 by Rilbur and the Revolutions Universe Partnership.
All Rights Reserved
Church, as usual, was dreadfully boring. Joe didn't have anything against church services, not really, but sitting around being lectured was nowhere near any teenager's idea of a good time. The fact that he had to handle the twins without any help just made the situation even more trying. Normally, a single glance from Mrs. B would be enough to straighten the twin's spines and stop their fidgeting, but she'd driven out of town. She wanted to reunite all the families that had been broken up as soon as possible, and part of that required her to drive to each out-of-town foster home to visually verify who was there. A simple phone call, they'd already discovered, didn't necessarily elicit accurate answers.
Thankfully, Mom didn't let the girls pick the music for the drive home. Joe wouldn't have picked an eighties station, but the music was less objectionable than the children's songs the girls insisted on. In fact, though Joe would never have admitted it in a thousand years, some of the songs were kinda catchy. Still, he was glad when they finally pulled into the drive.
Stepping out of the car, he took the time for long good, long stretch before closing his door. The twins piled out and rushed up to the house, predictably avoiding any work with helping the girls get out. Joe shook his head and decided not to call them back. He would have ignored them, except they suddenly froze halfway to the door before backing away slowly.
After the last week, Joe's instincts were on a hair trigger, and he turned to figure out what was wrong. Then he heard it.
"-Ock sucking whore-son bastards!" Mrs. B's voice was faint, but Joe was reasonably certain he made the words out correctly. Except they didn't exactly make sense. Oh, sure, cock sucking, whore-son, bastards, the words all made sense independently of context, but coming from Mrs. B's mouth? No way! And the stream of invective that followed was equally out of character, and more instructive than Joe would have ever anticipated.
"What's wrong?" Mom rolled the window down to ask as the twins turned to walk back to the car.
Joe turned to face Mom, mind reeling. "Why don't you take the girls out for ice-cream," he suggested.
"That actually sounds good," she said thoughtfully. "Why don't you go check and see if Laura is in the house?"
"Mom," Joe said firmly, "you want to take the girls out for ice-cream. Maybe the twins to, if they want to go. Let me stay."
Mom frowned, then a particularly loud crash managed to cut through the music. "What was that?" she asked, hand reaching for the radio.
"Don't," Joe warned her. "Little pitchers have big ears, and I don't want them to hear what I just heard."
"You're scaring me," Mom said. "What is it?"
Joe looked over at the house. "Mrs. B is mad. I mean, furious. Swearing. Inventively."
"Oh Lord," Mom rolled her eyes, "she promised to reform when we married, and again after we had the girls. Has she started discussing the… Reproductive habits of the individuals she's upset with yet?"
Joe shuddered. "I think she started there, and just kept rolling," he said after a moment.
Any trace of a smile vanished instantly from Mom's face. "What on earth could have happened?" she said thoughtfully.
"Mommy, are we going in?" Abi asked.
"Yeah, I'm hungry!" Ami agreed.
"We're going out for some ice cream, girls," Mom said quickly. "Joe is just going to go ask the twins if they want to join us," she ordered before rolling put the window.
"Did you catch that guys?" Joe asked the twins. "You wanna stick around, or go for ice cream?"
The twins took one look at the house and started arguing. "I think I'll stick around," Tom said.
"Are you crazy Tom?" Tim protested. "Listen to her! She's pissed!"
"Not at us," Tom pointed out. "Unless you did something you didn't tell me about, Timmy."
"I didn't, and you don't know what she's angry at!" Tim protested. "And if you want to risk being wrong, you're bat shit crazy!"
Tom opened his mouth to argue, then looked at Joe. Whatever he'd been planning to say, he clearly rethought it in favor of something else. "Chalk it up to a learning experience," he said instead. "Learning from a master."
Tim actually looked thoughtful at that, even as he turned and walked away. "If you live, make sure to take good notes," he ordered before climbing into the car.
"Alright bud," Joe draped an arm around Tom. "Lets go face the music."
The volume level skyrocketed when they opened the front door. "Mrs. B?" Joe called out.
"-And shrivel up into nothing!" Mrs. B continued to shriek, not even noticing.
"She's pissed," Tom said.
"I noticed," Joe agreed. "Hey, we're home!" he shouted more loudly.
The racket vanished, instantly, and Mrs. B poked her head out of the kitchen. "Bad timing," she growled. "Shouldn't you still be at church?"
"Ended thirty minutes ago," Joe pointed out. Mrs. B looked at a clock, then snarled as she stalked back into the kitchen.
"Okay," Joe shook his head. "I dunno what is going on, but somebody is not having a good day. At all."
"Let me guess, you're about to say something like let's jump onto the breach," Tom smiled.
"Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead," Joe quoted. "And that's definitely appropriate. When did you start reading Shakespeare?"
Tom shrugged. "Heard you in your room," he said.
Joe snorted. "One of the many joys of high school is being expected to learn from and enjoy high culture. Look forward to having to memorize a couple of speeches of your own."
"Bleh," Tom wrinkled his nose as they walked into the kitchen.
"So," Joe asked, "why is the mayor-to-be busy imitating a sailor?"
Mrs. B's glare had killed stronger men than Joe, but he met it with the equanimity of someone who know she'd never actually harm him. Hurt him, sure, his butt still remembered the numerous spankings she'd felt necessary to hand out, but harm him? No. Never.
"Sailor?" she hissed. "Those pansies don't know the first thing about swearing. Are the girls around?"
Joe almost winced. She was just a tad bit more than merely 'pissed'. What the hell had happened? "I convinced Mom to take them out for ice cream. What is going on?"
Mrs. B's eyes settled on Tom for a moment, then she nodded. "He's old enough," she muttered to herself. "Boy, if you ever let me hear you use language like I'm about to, I'll tan your ass so hard that your underwear catches fire. Y'hear me?"
"Yes Mom," Tom nodded, eyes wide.
"Good," Mrs. B snarled, snatching a glass out of the dish drainer. "I drove out to look at one of the foster homes today. I found one of the Richardson boys there."
"Good!" Joe interjected. "He's home with his uncles then!"
"Not good!" Mrs. B bellowed. "Those rat-faced two-timing double-dealing motherfucking bastards pulled a god-damned fast one on me!"
Joe had heard enough. "Mrs. B!" he cut in. "Perhaps you should practice explaining this without the language?"
She spun on her heel to glare at him, then some of the anger melted away. "Maybe I should," she agreed. "I'm going to be telling it to enough people. Those bastards, and I'm not going to bother finding a nicer term for them, convinced me to attend church with them. A church, I discovered, that was on the other side of the state line. As soon as they got in their car, they must have called the local cops, who were more than happy to meet us at the church. I was informed that my writ was only good in the state of West Virginia, and while my court order might be valid, I'd have to wait for them to confirm it."
"And while I was busy being nice, and patient, and doing things by the f-" Mrs. B cut herself off with a snarl. "By the book," she said instead, "their local social services office did some quick shuffling of the paperwork. And suddenly Brian had been assigned to a different foster family, in a different city, and no one really knew where. After all, it was our local services department that issues the transfer order, so of course I could ask them for a copy."
Joe winced. Ouch. "So you're going to have to start over from scratch?"
"Worse than that!" Mrs. B snapped. "One of the cops confided to me that the entire thing seemed off. Especially since the car went north, not south. Further away from us. When I finally got them to give me a copy, it was clearly a forgery. The local cops never caught on because they were used to seeing that form. The problem is, our state uses a different form. Someone in their Social Services department forged it. No records, no trace, no…" Mrs. B took a large gulp from the glass of water she'd filled. "No hope," she said sadly. "And I get to go explain that to the Richardsons. After they agreed to make me mayor. Some mayor I'd be. A fucking idiot."
Mrs. B's words weighed heavily on Joe's mind as he trudged out to school the next morning. One of her deputies had been a little smarter than her, and had insisted on staying in close proximity to the child while the local police investigated the warrant. It hadn't helped. She'd been called out that evening to bail him out of jail. His refusal to let a 'social worker' take off with the child had landed him in court, and still hadn't kept the other Richardson boy from being carted off on forged papers.
No matter what Judge Haran thought, at this point Joe was sold on the concept that 'The Opposition' existed. Oh, the judge had made a few good arguments. It would be just plain difficult to hide such an organization in the modern world. Too many ways for it to all fall apart and blow wide open. As the judge pointed out, such a group just wouldn't be able to recruit anyone. At least, not fast enough to do the job they appeared to be doing. Occam's razor said that the simplest solution — that a bunch of idiots were just cooperating in their bigotry — was the right one.
The problem was, Joe just wasn't sure he bought that anymore. Bigots cooperating was one thing, even planning ahead maybe, but this was too widespread. Too coordinated. The Opposition was real, whatever the judge thought, and his arguments only cemented Joe's opinion that it wasn't a loosely organized clique. It was a single entity, one that had been in place for a long time, and was intent on maintaining it's secrecy. He just couldn't find any proof. His careful, cautious internet searches hadn't turned up anything helpful, but it wasn't just their town. Florida had gone fucking nuts. Even after the Supreme Court declared the Executive Order unconstitutional, they'd just plunged ahead and continued to enforce it, kicking kids out into the streets rather than let them remain in loving homes.
It. Was. Insane.
Almost as insane as today was. Joe might have his doubts about some of the classes they were supposed to attend, but the yearly trip to the museum drove him insane. Even after the state funding for the trip dried up, local 'art supporters' pooled together to keep the torture going.
Finding his assigned chaperone, Joe waited for the bus to start loading, half-empty bag slung over one shoulder.
"Hey Joe," Susan sidled up to him. "Have a seat partner yet?"
"No," Joe smiled at her. "Why, you volunteering?" After last week's events, his popularity had undergone a surprising drop. Not only was he convicted of a crime, but there was a strong rumor that he wouldn't be able to play football next year. Worse yet, half the campus felt that his stalwart defense of the Moms proved the rumor that he was gay to be solid, verified fact. Joe couldn't decide which was worse, the crude come-ons in the restrooms — one of which had nearly ended with him decking the idiot who wouldn't take no for an answer — or the way a couple of girls had just laughed off his suggestion of a date, saying they didn't want to be his beard.
It was… Unfun. Extremely unfun.
"Why yes, I am," Susan smiled. "You'll need all the support you can get, especially-" she cut herself off and glanced around. Lowering her voice almost to a whisper, she leaned in so only he could hear. "Especially once you become the 'First Son' of the town," she said, her low, throaty voice sending shivers up and down Joe's spine. For a moment he was so busy dealing with a rebellious body that he didn't quite catch what she'd actually said.
"You heard about that?" he asked.
"Mmm-hmm," she agreed, leaning in close and pulling his arm around her.
"You know, it was nice of you to agree to another date," Joe commented.
"Nice is one word," she agreed. "You needed some support, though. Certain individuals are milking recent events for all they're worth. Curtis Benson is pushing the rumor that you're gay, and that he managed some necking with you in the restroom the other day."
"More like I had to slug him to get him to stop raping me with his mouth," Joe grumbled. "If I weren't already in so much trouble I'd have reported him for sexual harassment."
"Ooh, that's a juicy rumor," Susan giggled. "Want me to throw that out there to discredit him?"
"With my luck, people will decide I liked it and was just playing hard to get," Joe complained.
"Probably," Susan agreed. "But not for very long. There are at least three other guys who have reported similar issues, and they'll probably get behind you and push, if you give them a chance."
"Can't they push it without me?" Joe complained.
"No," Susan told him flatly. "You've made yourself a lightning rod, and while they'll follow, they have no interest in leading."
"Lightning rod?" Joe complained.
"Your entire family is one giant lightning rod right now," Susan told him. "Oh look, time to get on the bus."
"Oh joy," Joe complained as they joined the crowd.
"Now now," Susan chided him, "this trip isn't all bad. They opened a new exhibit just last month. I've been looking forward to seeing it."
"You were saying about lightning rods?" Joe asked as they squeezed into the bus.
Susan nodded. "Yes, precisely. You're a lightning rod. When that idiocy occurred last week, you didn't just sit back and endure it. The story of how you tricked Ms. Dixon into letting you call your parents has made the rounds, and everyone loves it. Even the bigots who think she was in the right enjoy how easily you outmaneuvered her. And then the way you defended your sister, well, every last one of them insists they'd do the same. Maybe a tenth of them actually believe they could, though. And while all this was happening, your brothers avoided the entire state police department, or so the story goes. Hell, some people insist that the army was involved in searching for them."
"The army?" Joe protested as they found an empty seat to slide into.
"Yes," Susan nodded. "A good rumor is like any story, it grows in the telling. By this time next year, the Navy Seals will have been part of the search, too, and maybe a couple of marine divisions."
Joe laughed. "Good luck," he commented. "The problem is, my brothers probably could have pulled it off even if that was true. They're damned good in the woods."
"Hence why people believe the stories," Susan nodded. "Anyway, as I was saying, between what your parents and the twins did, your own legend was enhanced. It's not just you bucking the trend, it's an entire family. You aren't superheroes, yet, but you're definitely more than human. Give it two or three years, and your sisters are probably going to have a great deal of trouble with everyone expecting them to show some sign of unexpected talents."
"Which means that people are going to be attacking me to try and bring them down to their level," Joe said thoughtfully. "And those that support me will do so because they think I can win, where they'd lose."
"You get the idea," Susan smiled. "It's stupid, but… It's human."
Joe sighed, leaning back in the seat as the bus rumbled off.
Joe loved the company, hated the museum. "Oh look at this one!" Susan gushed. "It's one of my favorites!" Joe smiled and pretended to enjoy it, all the time wishing that he could smoke whatever the artist was high on. It must have been some pretty incredible stuff, judging from the absolutely insane results.
"And this one!" Susan gushed over another one. "Oh, I just love the balance of it, even if it is an imitation." Women. Can't live without them, and they like the most impossible things. Like a painting consisting of a couple of lines and colored squares. Joe had seen real impressionist art. He was willing to concede the brilliance of artists such as Van Gogh, whose Starry Night could still entrance Joe for hours. But Picasso and the other cubists just turned Joe off. All the way off. 'Ugly' was a good name for them, whatever his date thought.
And then their class entered the next hall, and Joe almost tripped over his own shoes as his eyes met Brian Richardson's. "Holy shit," he swore softly.
"What is it?" Susan asked.
"Stay here," Joe ordered firmly. "Watch my back." There was a trick to moving through a crowd without causing a commotion, and from the way Brian was looking cautiously around, Joe decided that a no-commotion approach was the right one. Slipping and sliding his way through the momentary gaps, Joe slowly made his way across the large room, eyes fixed on a sculpture near where he'd seen Brian.
It was actually a kinda pretty sculpture, though a little simplistic. A large, curving mass of golden metal, arcing gracefully up into the air. More importantly, the base was large enough to hide behind. A quick flick of his eyes, as if scanning the crowd for gaps, showed Brian making his way to the same sculpture. Good, he'd gotten the idea.
They met beside the statue, which Joe rapidly realized was much shorter than he'd first thought. The graceful golden curve of it had made it look like it had towered up to the ceiling, but up close it just wasn't that tall. It just felt like it should be. The title 'Bird in Space' felt oddly appropriate, and Joe had to admit an appreciation for the artist, a C. Brancusi.
"Hey Brian," Joe smiled. "Been a while."
"Thank God," Brian gasped. "I wasn't certain it was you!"
"My mom has been trying to find you," Joe told him.
"She did find me," Brian agreed. "Then the bastards moved me to another town. Whipped me for trying to contact her, and told my new school teachers I'd been 'brutalized' by my family. Convinced them that I had to be restrained from trying to contact them, for my own good. I can't go anywhere without them watching me, ordering me around. I can't stand it."
Joe sighed. "Give me your address if you can. Some way of contacting you would be nice."
"I know the address, but I can't call you or anything. No internet, no cell phone, no use of a regular phone. I'm locked up like it's a fucking prison," Brian said.
"Here, write the address down," Joe said, seeing a teacher scanning the crowd. Worse yet, the teacher's eyes locked on them, and he began muscling his way through the crowd. Joe flipped his worksheet over and shoved it and his binder at Brian. Brian followed Joe's eyes and paled.
"Shit!" he swore, then quickly scribbled down the address. Joe made certain he had the right address, then nodded.
"Stay there, don't make waves," Joe ordered. "We'll get you out."
"Thanks," Brian nodded, then moved off.
Joe moved slowly through the crowd, but a glance over his shoulder made his heart stop a beat. Brian was being escorted by two men, clearly unable to do anything they didn't want, but the teacher who'd been looking for him was now staring directly at Joe. And not bothering to hide his motion through the crowd.
Joe gave up trying to be unobtrusive and darted into any gap that presented itself. If he tried to just push through, his large size and strength would draw the attention of every adult in the building for bullying, but if he just let others jostle him, the teachers would stay off his back. They'd probably have quiet words with him later, but they wouldn't actively interfere just yet.
"Take this, give me yours," Joe hissed, shoving his worksheet at Susan. She didn't ask questions, just quickly traded papers with him. "Find Coach Kemp. Tell him that someone is hassling one of his football players."
She looked at the approaching teacher and raised an eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling that by the time I find Coach, that won't be a lie," she murmured, then vanished into the crowd.
"You, there!" a heavy hand landed on Joe's shoulder. "I want a word with you."
"What you want and what you get are two different things," Joe growled, letting the man turn him around. "And I don't think I want a word with you."
The man snorted. "I don't care what you want. I want to know why you were talking to my student. And you will speak respectfully to a teacher."
Oh what a wonderful line. "I always speak respectfully to my teachers," Joe avowed. It was true. He didn't say anything the least bit disrespectful. He just found ways to make his disrespect perfectly clear that didn't involve being verbally disrespectful "That said, mister, I don't know you from Adam." Joe ran his eyes up and down the man appraisingly. "Or judging by the looks of you, Cain. You know, the first murderer."
The man's eyes bulged at Joe's direct attack. Whatever he'd expected, clearly this wasn't it. "I don't know who you think you are-" the man began.
"Joseph Randolph Peterson," Joe took the opportunity to cut him off with a smile. "That's who I think I am. The boy who broke the jaw of the last person to threaten me or my family, you may have heard of me. I hear it made the news."
"Is that a threat?" the man demanded angrily, tightening his grip on Joe's shoulder.
Oh, too easy, Joe thought as he cocked his head sideways. "What, making the news? How could that be a threat?"
"No, breaking my jaw," the man growled.
"No, why?" Joe asked quizzically. "Are you planning to threaten me? That's about the only way it could be a threat. I think."
The laughter around him told Joe that this little quarrel was drawing plenty of attention, and that was exactly what he needed. So far he hadn't been able to do anything about what was going on, and he was ready to lash out any way he could. "Oh! Did you think that I'd be intimidated by a harsh voice and a hand on the shoulder? Because I have to tell you, I've heard worse language from some of the ladies I know, and as far as physical threats go, I'm a football player. A hand on the shoulder barely even rates as getting my attention. Speaking of which," Joe shrugged the hand off forcefully. "I think you've gotten that."
"Why you punk-" the man took a deep breath. "Fine then. I want to see that paper," he snatched the worksheet out of Joe's hands before Joe could react. "Bah, this isn't your paper! Where is this Susan Garibaldi?"
"I don't know," Joe told the man with a smile. "We must have accidentally swapped worksheets at the last picture we looked at. We are partners, after all. We're comparing each others work, making sure neither of us misses anything."
"And you just happened to leave her behind to talk to one of my students?" the man growled.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Joe smiled. "Oh! You're the teacher of the boy I ran into over near the bird sculpture? I just skipped ahead to look at it. It looked nice, and I wanted a closer view."
"I want to see your worksheet," the teacher demanded. "Now!"
"Well, as my mother always said, if wishes were horses-" Joe began, smiling.
"Now!" the man snarled, grabbing Joe by the front of his shirt.
"Is there something wrong here?" Coach Kemp demanded angrily. "I don't know who you are, and I actually don't give a rat's half eaten…" Coach Kemp swallowed back the word he was about to say and searched for a substitute. "Half-eaten rear," he managed. "And frankly I don't care. What I care about is your laying hands on one of my students. I suggest you let go of my star quarterback. Now. Before I get angry."
The man snarling at Joe looked over at Coach Kemp. And then up. And up. At nearly seven feet tall, Coach Kemp was anything but short. "My apologies," the second teacher let go of Joe's shirt. "However, your student had inappropriate contact with one of my students."
"Inappropriate contact?" Coach Kemp rumbled, glaring at Joe.
Joe held his hands up placatingly. "Whatever my reputation, Coach, I really don't go around punching people's lights out. Or pinching girl's butts."
"If I thought otherwise, we'd have had some words," Coach Kemp nodded. "Explain," he ordered the other teacher. "And what the hell is your name?"
"I'm Samuel Faulkner, teacher at St. Jute's Institute for Troubled Youth," the teacher explained. "The boy your student was talking to was removed from his family to get him out of an abusive situation. Social services has asked that we help keep him from contacting old associates until he feels safe enough to talk about what was done to him."
Coach Kemp only heard part of the explanation. His eyes had locked on someone in the distance, and then his head snapped to Joe. Joe risked a glance and saw that the coach had been looking at Brian. Seeing the clear question in the coach's eyes, Joe spread his hands and nodded. "I talked to a kid," he said. "He didn't give me his name. We just chatted, then he ducked away. Said something about his teachers and vanished."
"Sound innocuous to me. Just a kid trying to get some time out from under your thumb. So perhaps you should spend more time worrying about your students," Coach Kemp turned back to Faulkner, "and less time attacking mine. If I see you so much as speak a harsh word to one of my students again, you and I are going to have words. Understand?"
"Yes," Mr. Faulkner nodded, then scurried off.
"Do you need a moment to call your mother?" Coach Kemp asked Joe once the idiot was out of earshot.
"I suppose that would be wise," Joe agreed. "But frankly, I'd rather wait a while and tell her in person. Or at least, not over a cell, while in public."
Coach Kemp nodded slowly. "Susan gave me your worksheet," he added, pulling it out of the sheaf on his clipboard. "I suggest you don't loose it. Here's a second copy, put the first in your wallet or whatever."
Joe took the sheet and looked at the address on the back. "Thank you, Coach."
"Don't mention it," the coach replied. "Ever."
Joe pulled out a scratch sheet of paper and copied the address out a bit more legibly. Copying out his half-filled worksheet, he then secured the original copy of the address in his wallet. A few minutes later, he retied his shoelaces, carefully hiding the second copy of the address in his sock.
He didn't really think anyone was going to get his wallet from him, but better safe than sorry.