When I got back to my place, Kelly and two huge hunks were taking two beds upstairs. They set them up and there seemed to be about as much room in the bedroom as before. They had left the boxes with Andreas' things in the living room. While the two guys were getting the beds set up, Kelly came into the living room with a box with no top. I thought it was clothes because that was what was on top. Kelly sat it down in front of me and lifted the clothes to show me there were magazines beneath, a Blueboy on top. "That asshole bitch at the house in College Park kept trying to get that box picked up by those two in there" -- he motioned toward the bedroom with his head -- "they didn't see what was in the box and when I did, I tossed some clothes over the magazine and took charge of the box myself. I don't know anything about what's going on, but it was clear to me that asshole bitch was trying to get someone in trouble."
"Thanks, Kelly. Yeah, she's trying to get her son in trouble, can you believe that? Take the magazines with you when you go and do what you please with them. They are not needed around here," I said and thought, "Andreas can get new ones, if he likes".
I thanked Kelly profusely and he and the two bruisers left. The living room was covered with boxes and I decided I'd see if I could re-arrange things to make space for Andreas. He said he had never had clothes before he became a basketball star, but his "dads" had made up for it. That was obvious from the boxes of clothes I put away. His backpack and school books were about all that was left when it was time for me to think about dinner. I decided I had had a wild enough day to warrant going out, but I hated to eat alone. Jerry was with Susan, I was sure, and I didn't feel like listening to her. I thought about LaTonya Helms and looked up her number. "LaTonya," I said when she answered the phone, "Aaron. Just finished a wild day and don't feel like cooking and don't want to go out alone. You up to dinner with me?"
"Can you give me half-hour, forty-five minutes?"
"Sure. Probably take me that long to get to College Park. You think of a good place. You deserve a grand dinner for taking care of the kid. See you in forty-five."
I showered and got dressed. I looked around the apartment again and made myself a note to be on the lookout for a desk. I had a computer desk in the corner of the living room, but Andreas would need more than that for studying.
LaTonya had decided we should go to Showcase, a jazz cafe in College Park. The food was really great and the music grand. No-one rushed us and we had drinks, ordered and took our time eating, all the time talking about what we had been up to. I told her about my new assignment and she was thrilled for me. There was a tiny dance floor and we danced between dinner and dessert. It was a wonderful evening.
We were on the way to her place before she said anything about Andreas. "He tells me he is moving in with you," she said.
"Yeah. I went to see Ms. Allen today. She's his counselor and he trusts her. She said he needed a place to stay and suggested I take him in. What do you think?"
"You know he's gay?"
"Yeah. That's why his step-dad beat the shit out of him."
"And you don't mind?"
"No. Why should I?"
"Don't pretend you don't know about the black macho attitude which says there are no real black men who are gay."
"Yeah. I also know about there being only winning tickets in the Georgia lottery. I sometimes wonder if whites have as much shit they believe as we do."
"Take it from me, neither blacks or whites have a monopoly on fantasies. Sure you having a gay kid living with you won't cause trouble in your job?"
"It better not. It's not like I'm planning on having sex with the kid."
"Just keep your ears open. I'd hate for both of you to get hurt because you're being the kind of guy you have always been. You know, sometimes I almost -- notice I said almost -- wish I had never met DeWayne. You can mmake a girl feel real good about herself."
I felt myself blushing as I pulled into LaTonya's drive. "Come on in," she said as I opened the door for her. "You know you are not going to get away from here without speaking to my mama. She'll have both our heads."
Mrs. Helms was waiting up for LaTonya, just as she had done in high school. LaTonya was her baby and she was proud of her and rightly so. I chatted with her for a while and then left. It was almost two when I got home and the new bed felt good. I didn't even feel cramped. I fell asleep almost at once.
I went by to see Andreas Sunday afternoon after sleeping until ten. I told him his things were at my place and I had put them away. "Got two beds so there'll be no bed sharing."
"Afraid I'd jump your bones?" he laughed and winked, then said, "Thanks. The doctor will be by in the morning and should release me."
"I'll try to get by and pick you up. I start on day shift tomorrow so I'm not sure when I can get by. I've been partnered with a veteran detective."
"Sounds like a promotion."
"Yeah, I guess it is." We talked about first one thing and then the other. I had brought his books and assignments. "You can keep yourself busy with school work, I guess."
"You are not kidding. I'm behind a week and that is major behind in the science-math program."
"Well, I'm going to run so you can get busy."
"Thanks again, Mr. Johnson."
"I think since we are going to be roommates, you can call me Aaron."
I had just got back to the apartment when Jerry called. "How about we catch an early dinner," he said. "I don't have to sign in tonight until eight."
"Sounds good. I've got a lot of news."
"So have I," he said. "Buckhead Diner at six?"
I went home and gathered up a batch of laundry -- socks, underwear, that sort of thing. Uniforms and my slacks and shirts I had done -- and took it downstairs. By the time it was finished, it was time to head to the Diner.
As soon as I walked in it was obvious Jerry's news was good. He was beaming from ear-to-ear. We did the whole hand greeting bit and I sat down. "Don't tell me. You won the Big Game."
"Even better," he replied. "Bro, I am engaged."
"Susan finally got tired of saying no, I guess," I laughed and gave him a high five.
"Matter of fact, she asked me. So there!" He then told me the whole story and, sure enough, Susan had asked him. Jerry was real hung up about having been married and was afraid Susan would think he was comparing her to Linda, his first wife, and somehow or other Susan just came out and asked him. He told me about their plans and he asked if I'd be his best man.
"Don't you think one of your brothers should do that?"
"No. Because I want you. Honest to God, Aaron, there are times when if it hadn't been for you I'd never have made it. You were a real rock for me, something I had not had in Atlanta after Linda and Mikey were killed. No, you are my best man, if you'll do it."
"Sure I will. Good news, Jerry, really good news."
"And you have good news too?"
"I have news and I think it's good." I told him about my new assignment and we talked about that. Then I said, "And I'm getting a roommate."
"Andreas Jackson, know him?"
"Who doesn't? I mean you'd have to know nothing about basketball not to know Andreas Jackson. You don't mean THE Andreas Jackson, though, do you?"
"Jerry, you need to remember I am the only black man under sixty who knows nothing about football or basketball. So I don't know whether he's THE Andreas Jackson or not." I then told Jerry all that had gone on while he was wandering in the hills.
"Aaron, you have to be the nicest guy I know. Yeah, you are one nice dude. But I can tell you, you better start paying attention to basketball because you have the makings of an all-star player moving in with you.
Monday morning I showed up at the downtown headquarters to get with my new partner. I met Ralph and he said we had some routine work to do as we walked out to our car. Ralph told me he had asked for this assignment after his partner retired following a shoot-out with some drug dealers. "I'm too old for that shit," he said. "I asked for you because I wanted a young partner to keep me honest and I asked for you because I think you have something special. A kind of real concern for people. Don't find that often enough in today's police," he said as we headed toward Midtown.
"Hear you saved a kid's life out here last week," he said as we drove through Midtown, skirting the park.
"Not sure about that. Hell, that's a lie. I was just lucky enough to find him before it was too late." I told Ralph about Andreas, including why he had been beaten.
"They ought to hang that kid's step-dad up by his fucking balls," Ralph said. I was surprised because in spite of Atlanta's supposedly gay-friendly atmosphere, the police were certainly not known as gay-friendly, especially the old timers. "Sure learned my lesson about gays several years ago when my son came out. Made a real ass of myself, but he didn't give up on me. Kept asking how he was different after he told me from how he was before. Try as hard as I could, all I could come up with he was more honest after. 'Guess you like liars better,' he had said. That was like a real kick in the ass. He's the same son I've always had and I'm really proud of him. Finishing med school at Emory this year. Working at Grady now. Where's this kid going?"
"He's coming to my place."
"Old enough not to get you in trouble?"
"He's eighteen." Ralph nodded. "And I told his mom and step-dad I was holding my report back at his request. Kumba, his step-dad, is on the Red Dog Squad and would be out like a shot if I turned in the report or the kid charged him."
"Red Dog Squad is in a lot of hot water right now anyway, over use of excessive force and steroid use. I guess that bunch does some good, but at times I wonder. Every one of them is a big steroid user and that spells trouble -- excessive force on the job, uncontrollaable tempers, spousal abuse. So you are taking the kid in?"
"Yeah. Think that's ok?"
"He has no place to go? Sure it's ok unless you are planning on making him your candy-ass boy. But even as a lover, I think it's ok. He's eighteen and no-one's forcing him to do anything."
Ralph had been around the block a few times. He had a gay son so he must have something to say on the subject. I had already decided I could trust him so I said, "Ralph, that's the only thing that worries me."
"That you might make him your candy-ass boy?"
"No, I think I can handle that." Ralph looked at me out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing. "It's what people might think."
"None of their damn business. So long as you can live with your decisions, you're ok. Just be sure you don't just drift into something. You both can get hurt real bad if you do."
I thanked Ralph and that was the extent of our conversation about Andreas and he never asked if I was gay or made any assumptions about me then. But I was sure he knew, probably more than I did.
We had to go check out a burglary reported in Vine City and after that bit of business -- Ralph asked some strange questions I thought -- when we got back in the car he said, "Burglary my ass. That woman's grandson who lives with her sold stuff to buy drugs and she wants the insurance to pay for it. All she wanted was a police report to turn in. I'll bet my next pay check on that."
We rode in silence for a few minutes. I don't know where my thoughts were and I was surprised when I realized we were parked outside my apartment. I was puzzled, but all I said was, "Can we park here?" Ralph had parked in a no parking zone in front of the apartment building.
"Yeah. I don't see any cops around. Do you?" he said and laughed. "You did say the kid is getting out of the hospital today, didn't you?"
"Yeah. But why are we here instead of Grady?"
Ralph laughed and said, "You might like to see his nice ass hanging out of a hospital gown, but I don't think he'd believe it was the latest fashion."
So help me, I blushed. "Guess you're right," I said. "Come on up."
When we got to the apartment I said, "Ralph, take a look around and give me any suggestions you might have to help make the place comfortable for me and a teenager."
"Aaron, it's been a few years since I had a teenager in the house." He did look around while I got an outfit together for Andreas. When I had the clothes together, Ralph was standing in the small dining area, rubbing his chin. "Well, what do you think?"
"You asked me about a desk, and the kid will need a place to study. But I was thinking, you have this dining area with a very small table. Ok for your meals and probably not at all too small for the two of you. But if you had a larger table... well, you could have a place to eat and the kid would have a place to study, a large place. Most of the time, he could just leave his stuff on one end and you'd still have a place to eat. I think we still have a table with six chairs. The ends drop down and it has a leaf. Without the leaf and one end dropped, it would be just about half again or a little more than what you have. Then, should you have people in, you could swing it around, put in the leaf and raise the other end and seat six. I'll check on that and let you know. Otherwise, I think this is a fine place. Who's in it and how they treat each other is what's important anyway."
Ralph looked at the clothes I was holding and asked, "His shoes weren't messed up?".
When he asked, I had a flashback to Andreas lying in the park and got sick at my stomach and very light-headed, and the room started spinning. "Whoa! Take it easy!" Ralph said, as he pulled a chair from the dining table and eased me into it. "Head between the knees. You know the drill." The next thing I knew, he was washing my face with a wet cloth.
A few minutes later, I raised up and said, "I think I'm ok now. Don't know what got into me."
"Yeah, well, I guess I do. I suddenly had an image of Andreas lying in the park all beaten and bloody. I guess it was the mention of the shoes that did it. That night while I was trying to find out if he was dead or alive, I was staring at his shoes which looked as if they had been dipped in blood. He has shoes in the second closet to your right," I called to Ralph who was headed for the bedroom.
When we reached Grady, Ralph parked in the tow away zone out front, winked and said, "The salary's not so hot, but there are perks."
When we reached the sixth floor, Andreas was sitting in his room using his tray table for a desk and busily working on something. "How you doing today, Kid?" Ralph asked. Andreas looked up, saw the uniform and got a frightened look on his face.
When I saw that I stepped out from behind Ralph and said, "Andreas, this is my new partner, Ralph Hicks. Ralph, Andreas Jackson."
"Didn't mean to give you a scare, Kid," Ralph said as he extended his hand to Andreas. "Got something here to cover your hinny," he said as he took Andreas' things from me. "Scoot in the bathroom and get changed and we'll be out of here."
"Thank you, Officer," Andreas said with an ear-to-ear smile. "Back in a sec."
"Nice-looking kid," Ralph observed. "Seems to have some manners as well. Yep, you are doing the world a good turn, Officer Johnson." As he spoke, he reached out and rubbed my head. I guess he would have messed up my hair, but hair a sixteenth of an inch at the longest doesn't do a whole lot of anything regardless of what you do to it. "Good job. By the way, while it's on my feeble mind, we don't have to wear uniforms. I did today because I was sure you would. Only if there's someone important involved or some other reason to wear a uniform... a neat shirt and pants is fine. I keep a uniform at the station and a tie in the car. Otherwise it's button-downs and khakis. And if you're not hung up on labels, Penney's outlet in Forest Park can probably fix you up for what you paid for one uniform."
"Shirts are no problem as I wear button-downs a lot when I am off duty, but usually with jeans."
"Jeans won't do," Ralph laughed. "I think it's because the commander might have to wear them some time and his ass is so flat it sinks in instead of sticking out!" We were both laughing when Andreas stepped out of the bathroom.
"Well, I can't say much for your make-up kid. I never did think purple, green and yellow looked good on a young kid but, otherwise, you look great." Andreas' face was still multi-colored from his bruises, and he still had that fake skin holding healing wounds together, but he did look great. "Ready?" Ralph asked.
"Let's roll," Andreas answered with another huge smile.
When we got to the nursing station, the charge nurse said, "I have called for an orderly to take you down, Mr. Jackson. Checkout has called up and you are free to go. Everything's been taken care of. Take care of yourself," she said and hugged the young man to herself.
When the elderly black orderly showed up with a wheelchair, Andreas told him he didn't need it. "Son, you knows dat and I knows dat, but Mr. Grady, he don't knows dat so you either sits or you stays a guest of Mr. Grady." Andreas smiled and sat down in the wheelchair.
When we got to the car, Ralph helped Andreas into the front seat. "You get the back seat, Johnson." After Ralph had buckled himself in the driver's seat, he turned to Andreas and asked, "Where to? Your new home or an eating establishment?"
"After a week plus of Grady food, you can ask that?"
"Landmark Diner coming up," Ralph said as he pulled away from Grady.
When we were seated, Andreas seemed ill-at-ease as he picked up the menu. "Kid, I can recommend the Landmark burger. It's a half-pounder with whatever you want on it along with the 'comes with it' bacon, two kinds of cheese, mushrooms. I don't know. I've never been able to handle more than one but, after Grady, maybe you need two. Large fries, what to drink? Coke? Hey, take advantage of this," Ralph said. "It may well be the last time I treat you."
I could see Andreas visibly relax. Only then did I realize he was concerned about not having money. We'd definitely have to work on that.
Andreas handled the burger, fries and Coke and when Ralph asked if he had space for dessert, Andreas smiled and nodded. Ralph ordered three hot fudge sundaes which, I knew from past experience, were worth dying for. Andreas polished his off as well as part of mine I couldn't eat.
It was about two when we finished. Ralph got the check and when I protested, said, "Get the tip," which I did.
By the time we were back at my place and Andreas had walked up the stairs it was obvious he wasn't in the best of shape. I showed him the bedroom and suggested he take it easy. "You have my cell phone number and the lady in number one knows you are my new roommate and will do anything you ask her to do if she can. I'll be back as soon as I can after work."
"Take it easy, Kid," Ralph said. By now it was clear that "Kid" was going to be Ralph's name for Andreas. "If you can't get a hold of either one of us, call the station and someone will be right here. As of now you are a police brat and we do take care of our own." In the weeks to come Ralph and my colleagues made that abundantly clear.
After we left the house, Ralph wanted to go back to Vine City. "There's a pawn shop there that's more than a little shady and I suspect we might find some of the stuff the old lady claimed was stolen from her." Ralph walked into the pawn shop and the man behind the counter was immediately nervous. "How's business these days, Waldo?"
"No good, Ralph. No good at all. What can I do for you?"
"Got a list of items here I want you to check." Ralph handed him the list he made of missing things from the woman he had questioned earlier.
"Sure, Ralph, sure. Anything you ask. Is this stuff stolen?"
"Old lady Jefferson claims it was. That worthless grandson of hers pawn anything recently?"
"I'm not sure, I'll have to check."
"You do that, Waldo.
Waldo -- I guess that was his name, but I had already learned you could never be sure with Ralph -- took the list, looked at it and said, "Think I might help you here, Ralph. Think there are a few items here the kid did bring in. He said someone had given him the stuff for working for them."
"And you believed him, of course. Just get the stuff together and I'll take it home. It's up to you to get your money back. Or you can press charges and we'll pick up the kid."
"I'll handle that, Ralph. Here's the stuff." Waldo handed Ralph a box with some silver and other things in it. "Glad I can help out."
"Thanks. Waldo. 'Til next time," Ralph said as we walked out the door.
"He buys stolen goods often?" I asked, wondering why he got off easy.
"Sometimes. I could bust him, but he's a good source of information. Any new dealers around, anyone selling who hadn't been into drugs before, he lets me know. Sometimes I can get to them before they are really hooked. Well I guess Mrs. Jefferson will have to find a way to get her money since there'll be no insurance check. She would have gotten a lot more than the stuff was worth. You can bet on that."
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly as we had little to do except drive around town. Ralph was a firm believer in keeping in touch with the man on the street and I would soon learn it paid off.
He dropped me off at my place at five and said he'd be home around six if I wanted to come pick up the table and chairs. I told him it would depend on whether or not I could get one of Kelly's trucks.
When I got upstairs, Andreas was sitting at the dining table, his head on his arms, fast asleep. I didn't want to disturb him, but I thought he must be uncomfortable. I considered picking him up and taking him to bed, but thought better of it since I might pull something loose or hurt him. I touched his shoulder and he opened his eyes slowly, looked confused, then saw me and his face became one huge smile. The kid had a smile that could melt the heart of anyone. The two big dimples didn't harm his looks either.
"Not a very good place for a nap," I said.
"Right. Especially since I drooled on a calculus problem that just about drove me nuts. Guess I wasn't as strong as I thought."
"Ralph has offered us a table and six chairs to replace the dining room table so you can have one end for studying, but I think we'll wait to pick it up. I'll get dinner and you can go to bed early."
It had taken me about a month to realize that there was no way I could live on frozen dinners, so I had worked out a system. On the my days off I prepared main dishes that could be frozen so I didn't have a lot of work to get dinner ready. Last weekend I had been pretty busy, but did manage to make a batch of meat sauce. I usually made enough for six meals. All I had to do was take out a frozen packet and add chili powder and beans for chili, mushrooms and Italian seasoning for spaghetti, cheese for lasagne. "You up to spaghetti tonight?" I asked Andreas.
"You'd think I was still full from lunch," he answered, "but I think I can put away some pasta, Yeah, I sure can."
I popped two packets of sauce in the microwave to thaw, put water on to heat for the spaghetti, took a loaf of French bread I had picked up yesterday and put garlic butter on it. The sauce was thawed so I put it in a pan, added some mushrooms I had cooked in butter and Italian seasoning and let it simmer while I fixed a salad. I put the bread in the oven and in a few minutes we had a grand meal. "I'm having a glass of red with my meal, Andreas. You're underage, but if you'd like one, you can have it."
"Thanks, I'd like that," he said. Andreas removed his books and papers from the table while I was preparing dinner and asked where the china and silver were. He set the table and when I had the food ready, lit candles he had placed in the center of the table.
"I'm surprised you know how to set a table, Andreas. Most people don't know how and don't these days."
He blushed and said, "I wouldn't have, but when I was invited to a big dinner downtown after being named to the State All-Star basketball team, Ms. Allen gave me a crash course in how to eat with more than a spoon. I started doing it at home. Mom liked it, but Kumba thought it was a waste of time."
"Not me. I set the table when I am eating alone just to remind myself that I am civilized." I sat down and filled the wine glasses, and was about ready to dive in when I noticed Andreas was sitting, head bowed. "Just who's the adult here?" I asked myself. "Andreas, would you say grace?"
I expected a quick kid's table grace, but I was surprised. Andreas offered thanks for friends who help someone in need, for me by name and the food. When he looked up, he was misty eyed as he said, "Aaron, thank you very much for not letting me die. I didn't want to live when you found me, but now, I'm glad I'm alive."
"So am I, Andreas, so am I."
Andreas thought he was up to returning to school Tuesday, but I vetoed the idea. "Not until you have been checked out by the doctor," I told him emphatically. "Maybe you don't know how close to death you came, but I do. Call Grady and see when you can get checked out and we'll see about school after that." I knew that Andreas had been in absolute tip-top shape when he had been beaten. He was young, so healing could be expected to proceed rapidly, but I wanted no surprises. "You might call Ms. Allen and get any new assignments and work on those this morning. I don't know whether I will get by at lunch or not. If not, I stocked the fridge Thursday so you should find something to eat. I'll see you at lunch if possible, if not when I get off work. Promise me you'll take it easy."
"Yes ma'am, Mama," he laughed. As soon as he said that I realized that he didn't know how right he was! I sounded exactly like my Mom before she decided to check out of my life. I gave Andreas a careful hug and went to work.
About 11:30 Ralph said, "Got anything to eat at your place?".
"Sure. What did you have in mind?"
"Why don't we see what we can come up with at your place and check on the kid?"
I told him we might be able to do that. "He seems fit and wanted to go to school today, but I nixed that until he sees the doctor again."
When we got to the apartment, Andreas had books and papers spread all over the dining table and was so busy he didn't hear us come in. "Hey, Kid," Ralph said. "Time for lunch."
Andreas was startled and let out a yelp. "You guys must be real gumshoes. I didn't hear you come in. I'll get this mess straightened up shortly."
While Andreas cleared the table, I got out stuff for sandwiches. By the time I had everything on a large tray, the table was clear and the three of us sat down to eat. Andreas again bowed his head and I was surprised when Ralph said, "Good friends, good meat, good God, let's eat. Amen."
Andreas got a case of the giggles and when he got himself in hand enough said, "Kinda funny, but it says it all."
He had called Grady and the doctor who called him back asked a lot of questions and said he'd like to see him Wednesday morning. He had told Andreas to get in some walking, but nothing strenuous, and definitely no lifting and no running, jumping or twisting his body. "He said he sure didn't want anything inside to tear loose and start bleeding again."
When we were ready to go, I gave Andreas fifty dollars. "You need to go to Five Points and get a MARTA card. There's only a week left of this month. I doubt that they have the new month's cards ready. If they do, get one. Otherwise, just get the week's card. You'll be riding MARTA to school, I guess. You'll have to ride the train to College Park and take the school bus from that. Going to make a long day but, until we can figure something out, I'll have to have my car, at least most days."
"I had to ride the bus from College Park before," he said. "The only difference will be getting up early enough to get to College Park in time to catch it. Ok if I fix something for dinner?" he asked as we were ready to go out the door.
"Sure, delighted," I said.
Wednesday after work, I didn't have to invite Ralph up when we arrived at the apartment. "Got any cold beer?' he asked.
"Sure, want one?"
"Wouldn't have asked otherwise."
When we got upstairs something smelled very good. Andreas was working at the stove, but when he saw us, walked over and gave both of us a hug. "Stay for dinner Ralph?"
"Better not or I'll be in the doghouse, but I could use a beer."
Andreas took two beers out of the fridge and three mugs from the freezer. He gave us the beers and filled his mug with iced tea. When he sat down with us he said the doctor had released him, but told him to call if anything, anything, concerned him. He also told him he'd like to see him in six weeks. "Guys, I'm afraid my basketball career is over. The doctor didn't say so. In fact, he just grunted when I asked him, but I think I can hang up my shoes. Good thing I hit the books. Also I got two MARTA cards -- one for the week and one for next month -- so I'm all set to catch the train in the morning."
"I was just thinking about that, Kid. I think you need a police escort your first day in case someone gives you flack for laying out of school," Ralph said in his "Officer Hicks" voice. "My partner and I will take you to school."
Ralph arrived Thursday morning, in uniform, well before either Andreas or I were ready to go. When I opened the door, he walked in, said good morning and headed for the coffee pot. He had brought the morning paper and took it and his coffee and went out on the small balcony off the living room. It didn't take long before I expected him to do that. Even if he came after Andreas left for the train, he still came in, got coffee and headed for the balcony. He had never said anything about it one way or another until one morning it was raining and he had to stay inside. When we got in the police car, he said, "I hope you know you have a excellent place for just relaxing with the morning paper." Over the next three or four years Ralph became a regular part of our morning routine.
When I went to the bedroom to get dressed, Ralph called after me, "Uniform today, I think". I put back the pants and shirt I had taken out and got my uniform.
We got to school early and Ralph walked up to the receptionist and said, "We are here for the Jackson conference". Andreas looked at me and I looked at him and we both shrugged.
"Andreas, the conference is in the counseling center," the receptionist answered. I could see the wheels spinning. She could hardly wait until she spread the news that Andreas Jackson came in the office with two police officers.
As we walked toward the center, Andreas whispered to me, "I wasn't told about a conference".
"Neither was I," I whispered back.
A group of teachers were gathered in the counseling center reception area and all started asking Andreas how he was doing, telling him they were sorry he had been hurt, generally making it known they had been concerned about him. He, in turn, introduced Ralph and me. Ms. Allen arrived, opened the conference door and ushered everyone inside.
"Officer Hicks called yesterday and requested this meeting. Of course, we will need to find out where Andreas stands with school work and all that, but first Officer Hicks has something for us." Ms. Allen smiled and turned toward Ralph.
"Ladies and gentlemen, most of the time when I show up at a high school, someone is in trouble. I'm here today, not because Andreas is in trouble, at least not with the law, but because you have an outstanding young man in your hands. I wanted you to know enough to be a help to him, not only with his education, but also with his larger life."
"I know Andreas has been working hard since he got out of the hospital, but I am sure he is still behind some. I ask that you give him time to get all his back work in. Don't short-change him by letting him slide by. While I am not at liberty to go into all the details, I will tell you that Andreas was severely beaten. His beating was so severe, had he not been found when he was, you would have been attending a funeral. I hope you don't think I am exaggerating. Officer Johnson was late making his final rounds and found Andreas, passed out. He was sure the young man was dead. When he felt a faint pulse, he called Grady and, as I'm sure you know, Grady is the best place in Georgia to be when trauma is involved. It was a close call, but Andreas made it." Ms. Lisco, Andreas' AP English teacher, was sitting beside him and she reached over and started rubbing his back.
"Andreas is doing well. However, he MUST NOT run, engage in any strenuous activities or lift anything heavier than a book. He suffered internal bleeding and almost bled to death. His insides are back together -- we think -- but he dare not risk tearing anything loose."
"Again, I am not free to go into details about how all this happened or why. In time I am sure Andreas will tell you some of his story, but right now it must not be told. I know there will be speculation and I am sure wild tales. Andreas did nothing wrong. He was not and is not involved in any criminal activity. He is safe and well cared for. At least until he completes high school, he will be living with Officer Johnson who, for all purposes, is his guardian and any communication concerning Andreas should be addressed to him."
Ralph nodded to me and I took out my card case and passed out cards. "Here is my card. My home, the police phone where I can be reached and my cell phone number are all on it. Feel free to call me anytime, day or night."
"If for any reason you cannot reach Officer Johnson, call me." Ralph gave everyone his card as well. "Thank you for coming. Any questions?"
"Officers Hicks, Johnson, Coach Roberts. I'm sure you are aware of Andreas' athletic abilities, especially in basketball. I know he's a senior here and won't be playing for us again, but will he be able to play at all?"
"Coach, the prognosis is not good, but it's really too early to tell at this point," Andreas answered.
There were other questions, some pretty prying, which Ralph handled well. When the meeting broke up, Andreas hugged both of us and left with a teacher. I was surprised that he had hugged us, but liked it.
"Officer Hicks, do you think you can keep two of my boys on the right track?" Ms. Allen asked.
"I'll sure try," he laughed. "Thanks for setting up the conference. I hope it prevents some of the speculation. Especially any that might try to find out the reason for Andreas being beaten."
"Happy to oblige. And I will stay on the teachers who might want to give him an easy time, at least those in subjects that count. But I think he will take care of that himself. He's a really good student, one of few I have ever known, and a real athlete. Do you think he will play again?"
"I talked to his doctor and he is afraid he won't be able to -- well, he might be able to play, but either would run a serious risk, or be so cautious he wouldn't be good. His insides took a real beating. But we'll see. I don't think I'd push the Georgia Tech scholarship too hard just yet. I hope it is an option, but it may not be," Ralph answered.
When we were back in the car, I said, "Man, you have been busy as a bee".
"Just wanted to make sure the kid got all he could going for him."
"And you did speak with his doctor?"
"One of them. Look, there's no use to worry the kid any more than he will from what was said in the conference, but his doctor doesn't hold out much hope that he will be able to play basketball again and certainly not as well as before. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."