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Note: Thanks to Tim
feedback on the draft chapters. I owe
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by Jeff Allen
We collected most of Rashod's clothes and things, including his violin, the morning after Sheriff Stuart brought him out to the house. In a matter of just a couple of days he had easily settled into the household.
After a couple of weeks, it was clear that Rashod's father was not going to change his mind any time soon about the unacceptability of having a gay son. If anything his animosity toward Rashod grew stronger over time. Rashod talked with his mother and sister on the phone when Rev. Roberts wasn't in the house, and his mother and sister came out to the house to visit as often as the could when the Rev. Roberts was out of town or busy with church matters. It looked like Rashod was going to be with us for a while.
It was late October when I got a demonstration of just how consumed Rev. Roberts had become with the "sins" of homosexuality.
Since the death of Isaac's parents, the boys and I had sporadically attended services at the First Presbyterian Church of Carterville. George Baker, Elijah Baker's father, was the minister there. He had been especially supportive and helpful after Isaac lost his parents. Being a preacher's kid, Rashod had gone to church all of his life. He missed not being in Sunday services so with Rashod's gentle urging we started attending services more often.
It's often been said that the most segregated hour of the week is during church services on Sunday morning. Very few whites attend services at "Black" churches and vice versa. Most times we went to church, Rashod was the only person of color in the entire congregation unless Tyrone was with us. If it bothered him, he didn't show it. The kid had a natural grace that continually amazed me.
That October Sunday, all of us including Tyrone and Robert, a lapsed Catholic, squeezed into one pew. Just before the start of the services Donnie Micheaux and his mother slid into the same pew settling down next to Rashod who had been on the end of the line of us seven.
Donnie and Rashod shook hands. Mrs. Micheaux gave Rashod a bone-crushing hug and then entered into a whispered conversation with him until Rev. Baker walked up the center aisle signaling the start of the service.
Donnie and his auto repair business were becoming well known in Carterville so after the service several folks came up and spoke to him. I waited until the crowd had moved away before introducing Robert to Donnie and his mother.
"I was kind of surprised to see you in church here," I remarked to Donnie.
"It was Mama's idea. She said she wanted to come to church, but she couldn't listen to Rev. Roberts again."
Donnie's mother entered the conversation, "That's right. All he's done for the last six or seven weeks is talk hate about sexual depravity and casting out sexual deviants. He's being consumed by hate, and I sure don't hear Jesus talking through him. He acts as if he isn't a sinner himself. Worse than those Pharisees of Jesus' time. We all know that Rev. Roberts kicked Rashod out of the house. He seems proud of that. Shows that he's `casting out the sinner'. Now, I don't know for sure what that boy's done. I've got a good guess after listening to Rev. Roberts hateful sermons for the last few weeks, but I can tell you this...whatever he did, his father should still love him instead of throwing him out of the house like some dog that just made a mess on the carpet."
She turned and started walking toward the door out of the sanctuary.
Donnie just looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled. "That's Mama. I'll catch you later, Coach. I'm going to try to swing by your house tomorrow night for TJ's birthday."
"That would be great, Donnie. We'll probably have the ice cream and cake around 8:00."
"I'll try to be there. I may have to bring the boys."
"Bring them along. Let's see, Grant's about two and a half, and Micah's about one and a half now, right?"
He smiled, "You got `em pegged, Coach. See you tomorrow."
We did have a big steak dinner the next night for TJ's eighteenth birthday, but because it was a school night we really didn't have a big party. It was just my guys plus Robert, Tyrone, and Elena as well as Jonathan Pittman and Bobby Whittaker from the soccer team.
Just before eight o'clock Ryan phoned to wish TJ a happy birthday. TJ went upstairs to take the call. The rest of the guys cleaned up the kitchen while Robert, Elena and I had coffee in the living room.
Donnie arrived with his two young sons. Grant and Micah were two of the most beautiful youngsters I'd ever seen. While Donnie's complexion was a dark milk chocolate, his two sons showed the influence of their blond headed mother with light caramel coloring and silky dark brown hair and light brown eyes.
Mutt was normally a very calm dog, but she went wild over Donnie's boys. She simply loved the toddlers. In turn the boys shrieked with delight whenever Mutt gave them a wet doggie kiss. The rest of us laughed so hard at the scene between the boys and the dog that we had tears running down our cheeks. Those two boys weren't shy in the least. With Mutt dogging their every footstep, they quickly made the rounds of everyone in the house.
We brought out the birthday cake when TJ got off the phone with his brother. Grant and Micah had cake frosting spread from ear to ear within seconds of getting their servings, and that just led to more doggie kisses from Mutt who tried her best to clean the cake and frosting off the boys' faces.
When everything was cleaned up and all the guests had gone home, it was just Trey, TJ, Rashod, and I left sitting in the living room. Isaac had gone home with Tyrone, Robert, and Elena.
TJ cleared his throat and spoke, "This has been one of the most amazing days of my life. When I woke up this morning, I had two thoughts. The first was that Ryan wasn't here to share the day with me because Angela-the-Bitch had sent him away. The second was that because I was now eighteen, Angela didn't have any legal hold over me anymore. I can do what I like, and if I'm lucky, I'll never see that woman again. I was in a pretty foul mood.
"During the day I was amazed at the number of people that came up to wish me a happy birthday, and I began to smile and think about all my friends at school. Then you guys had the dinner and the cake and ice cream. It hit me just how lucky I really am. You guys are my family. I want to thank you for everything you've done for me."
He came over and gave me a hug. Trey and Rashod joined in for an emotional group hug.
Life doesn't get much better than that.
TJ may have thought that the troubles with Angela were over and done, but that wasn't the case.
It happened the week after soccer season was over that fall. We'd had another great season. The team had only lost one match during the regular season, and we'd stayed all the way to the state quarterfinals in the tournament. I'd heard through the coaches' grapevine that several college scouts would be looking at my senior players during the spring season.
Trey, Isaac, Rashod, and I had just gotten back to the house from the unofficial after school team study hall. TJ hadn't been there. Instead, for the last couple of days he'd been driving around town after school to talk with some of his lawn care customers who he thought might be interested in snow removal services for the winter.
Rashod and I were starting to get dinner ready when TJ came in the door with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Coach, have you talked with Angela lately?"
"No. Last time I talked with her must have been sometime in September. Why?"
"Well, I drove by the house this afternoon. There's a `For Sale' sign out front, and the house is empty. I used my key to get in, and there's nothing left inside. She even took some of the light fixtures and replaced them with real cheap looking things. Do you know anything about it?"
"That's news to me, TJ. You talked with Ryan last weekend. Did he say anything about his mother moving?"
"Not a word. I think I'll go call and leave a message at the switchboard for Ryan to call when he gets a chance. This is weird."
Ryan called back later that evening. He had no idea that his mother had been planning to move.
The next morning I drove myself to school for the morning run. I left a few minutes early so I'd have a chance to go past TJ's old house. Sure enough, there was a realtor's sign on the front lawn. It's not that I doubted TJ's word; it was just one of those things you want to see with your own two eyes.
Later that morning I used my planning period to place a call to the realty company listed on the sign. I told the agent who answered the phone that I had seen their sign and was possibly interested in the property.
"Oh, that's an excellent house in a great neighborhood." She told me the asking price for the house and then added, "If you're interested, I think you could get the house for much less than the listed price. It's my understanding that the owner has moved out of state and is very interested in selling quickly."
I talked on the phone with Robert that evening. When I told him about the sudden disappearance of Angela Ladd, he said, "Have you talked with the sheriff about this? I never met TJ and Ryan's mother, but from what I've heard she's a real piece of work."
"She's that for sure. What are you suggesting?"
"I don't know that I'm suggesting anything, but she's still got parental responsibility for Ryan, and you said he didn't know where she is. Sounds like a possible case of abandonment to me."
"I'll check on it."
During my planning period the next day I called Enderly Military School where Ryan was enrolled. Claiming confidentiality of student records, the woman who answered the phone wouldn't tell me what contact information they had for Angela Ladd. I suggested that if she had a contact phone number and address in Carterville, North Carolina, then their records were out-of-date. I left my name and numbers.
As soon as I got off the phone with the lady at Enderly, I called Theresa Cannon, a family lawyer I was using to investigate the possibility of adopting Isaac. The prospects for a quick adoption looked good, but I hadn't said anything to Isaac yet. I asked her to look into the laws dealing with child abandonment. I didn't know what was going on, but I wanted to be prepared with some legal knowledge.
That same afternoon, I was called down to the school office to take a phone call.
The man on the phone identified himself as Major Wilkins from Enderly Military School. He asked if I had any idea how to contact Angela Ladd. He said the phone number they had in their records had been disconnected with no new number information, and the billing for Ryan's spring term tuition had been returned with no forwarding address.
Things were getting more curious.
I suggested that he talk to Sheriff Stuart about trying to locate Angela Ladd.
After dinner that evening I told TJ what I learned about his stepmother. He was angry at Angela's irresponsibility and demonstrated lack of love for Ryan, but he also saw an opening.
"Coach, if Angela has abandoned Ryan, do you think I could get custody assigned to me? I'm an adult now."
"I hate to break the news to you, bud. You're an adult for some things, but there's lots of stuff you still can't do until you're twenty-one. I've already checked with a family lawyer, and it's almost unheard of for the courts to award custody of a minor to someone under the age of twenty-one."
"Then I have a really big favor to ask of you. You've been like father to both Ryan and me for the past four years. Would you try to get custody of Ryan if it's possible?"
"I'm already with you. That's one of the reasons I talked with a family lawyer."
TJ was out of his chair and hugging me tightly in less than a heartbeat. "Thanks, Coach. God, I love you."
We hugged for a long time before I said, "Okay, let's see what happens with Angela. Don't get too excited yet, but I'm going to do my best. Now, could you tell Isaac that I'd like to talk to him?"
I got another hug. "Sure thing, Coach. And thanks again."
Isaac had a puzzled look on his face when he sat down across from me at the kitchen table. "TJ said you wanted to talk to me. Is this serious? Did I screw up on something?"
"You didn't screw up anything, but this is serious. Isaac, if you're willing I'd like to start the process to adopt you."
For the second time that night I had a teenager hugging me so tightly it was hard to breathe.
"I take it that's a yes."
Isaac released some of the pressure on the hug. There were tears in his eyes. "You've been more of a parent to me than my own parents ever were. I didn't know what it was like to be loved and to be a part of a family until you took me in. I already think of you as my dad, but knowing you want to make it official makes me the happiest boy on the planet right now. When can we do it?"
I felt tears in my own eyes. "It's going to be while, but I'll tell the lawyer to go start the process tomorrow."
"Can I tell everyone?"
"It would be better for now to only tell Trey, TJ, Rashod, and Tyrone. Once the legal process is farther along, you can tell anyone you like."
I got another bone-crushing hug, and Isaac disappeared upstairs.
Two minutes later I heard whoops of joy coming down from the second floor. Fifteen seconds later all the guys were in the kitchen giving me another round of hugs.
When I talked with Robert on the phone later that night he said, "Tyrone got a call from Isaac tonight that made him very happy. He wouldn't tell me what it was about, but I'm guessing that you finally told Isaac you're going to adopt him. Right?"
"Right, and I'm going to do what I can to get custody of Ryan as well. I don't know where I'll put everyone if that happens, but I'm not going to worry about that."
"Parker, one of the many things I love about you is your open heart. You could solve the space problem by moving in here with me. I've got plenty of room."
"I'm not ready for that yet, Robert."
"I know. I just thought I'd plant the seed in your mind."
"And you'll try to water that seed as often as possible."
"Got that right, babe."
Two days later, Sheriff Red Stuart showed up at the after school study hall.
Caleb spotted his grandfather when he came into the old gym where the guys were working with weights, studying, or just chatting with one another. He went over and greeted his grandfather with a hug. They talked for a couple of minutes before Red Stuart headed over in my direction.
"Can I have a word with you, Coach? In private?"
"Sure, Sheriff. Let me tell the guys that I'll be gone for a few minutes. We can talk in my office." I raised my voice to be heard in the gym, "Gentlemen, Sheriff Stuart and I will be in my office for a few minutes. Keep order. Bobby Whittaker, you're responsible."
I got an affirmative reply from Bobby. I'd established a practice of having one of the seniors be in charge of the gym on the rare occasions when I had to be absent from the study hall for short periods. I was careful to ask a different student each time, and they took their responsibility seriously and considered it a privilege to be asked.
I indicated a chair to the sheriff who folded his long frame into it.
"What's this about, Sheriff?"
"It's about Angela Ladd."
"Have you found her?"
"Not yet. I asked her real estate agent for contact information. She was reluctant to give it out, but I convinced her. Turns out the number the real estate agent had is for some lawyer in Atlanta. We called there, and ran into a stone wall. Angela does not want to be found.
"I explained the situation to the lawyer, and indicated that my office was considering contacting Social Services to look into charges of child abandonment. That got the lawyer's attention. He said he'd contact Angela.
"Looks like Angela is cutting all ties to her past. All the bank accounts here have been closed. The house has now been sold, and the lawyer down in Atlanta is handling all the details of the closing so Angela won't even be coming back for that. It also turns out that Angela is treating her children equally. I got in touch with Stephanie Ladd down at Duke. She hadn't heard from her mother, had no idea where she was, and told me . . . and I quote: `If you find that bitch, I want to know about it. She hasn't sent the money for next semester's tuition or paid the rent on my apartment.'"
I shook my head. The whole situation was even stranger than I'd thought.
The sheriff continued, "Angela has no legal financial or parental obligation for either Stephanie or TJ `cause they're both over eighteen; however, Ryan is still a minor. This afternoon I got a call back from her lawyer. Angela would be willing to sign over her parental rights to Ryan as long as there's no continued financial obligation on her part."
"Do you think she'd sign over her parental rights to me? I'll take responsibility for Ryan in a heartbeat."
Red Stuart smiled broadly. "I knew you'd say that. Her lawyer has a waiver of parental rights agreement ready to be faxed. I think you'd be wise to have another lawyer look at it before you sign. Do you have an attorney here in town?"
"Yes. I've been talking with Theresa Cannon about adopting Isaac. She knows about Ryan's situation also because I asked her to check into the laws surrounding abandonment. If you'll tell me how to contact Angela's lawyer in Atlanta, I'll have my lawyer call her lawyer."
"Dang, I was sure you'd be willing to take in Ryan. I had no idea you'd already been moving on that front, and I had no idea about Isaac. I have to tell you, Coach. I thought you were a pretty special person before, but you've just risen to the top in my book."
"Sheriff, please don't say anything about this until everything is signed and official. I'd hate to have either TJ or Ryan get their hopes up and then have the deal fall through."
"I understand. Here's the number for Angela's lawyer." He handed me a folded piece of paper.
I was on the phone to Ms. Cannon as soon as the sheriff's large frame had cleared my doorway.
It was all settled within a matter of days. Theresa Cannon looked over the waiver of parental rights supplied by Angela's lawyer. She asked me about the clause that absolved Angela of any future financial responsibility for Ryan, but I told her it was okay with me. I didn't want Angela to have any remaining hold over the boys, and, truth be told, I would have gladly paid Angela if necessary to bring Ryan home.
TJ and I called Ryan with the news. We all had a good cry over the phone lines. TJ wanted to bring Ryan home immediately, but Ryan thought it would be better to finish the fall term at Enderly before coming back. I agreed. Reluctantly TJ agreed since there were only four more weeks in the term. Ryan would be home well before Christmas.
I realized I had to do something about my house. There would be five teenage boys sleeping upstairs (six when Tyrone stayed over). The two bedrooms upstairs were large, but not large enough for the entire crew. Trey and TJ would be off to college in the fall, but even then, I needed more room. Robert had suggested that we all move in with him. There was plenty of space over at his place, but I didn't think that needing extra room was the best reason to start living with him. I just wasn't ready to take that step in our relationship.
I talked with the architect who had helped me with the last renovation. I wanted something that would keep the early 20th Century farmhouse character of the place. The architect suggested expanding the kitchen wing of the house and adding a second floor above it. The expanded first floor would have an enlarged kitchen and dining area as well as a family room and deck at the back looking out to the pool. The new second floor would have three moderate sized bedrooms and one large bathroom with a large tiled shower area like the other upstairs bathroom. The cost estimates were reasonable, and I could afford it by selling a few of the bonds left to me by my parents. I signed the deal with a builder who would start right after Christmas, weather permitting.
Tyrone Jackson's sixteenth birthday was December 5th. Robert had a big party at his house. Tyrone's present from Robert was a brand new BMW convertible. Of course that impressed all the kids at the party. At one point while everyone was outside looking at Tyrone's new wheels I caught Isaac looking over at the used Nissan pickup truck I'd helped him buy after his sixteenth birthday in March. His expression was masked, but I thought I had an idea what he was feeling.
TJ and I drove down to the Charlotte airport to meet Ryan's plane. We hardly recognized the young man who met us at the baggage claim. In the six months he'd been away, fifteen-year-old Ryan had grown another two inches. He now stood an inch taller than the six-foot height of his brother and me, and under his winter clothes it looked as if his body had lost the last traces of adolescence he'd displayed the previous summer. His beard was thicker, and I guessed that he now needed to shave two or three times a week. TJ was turning into a startlingly handsome young man, but Ryan showed promise of surpassing his brother in the hunk department.
With Ryan home, Christmas, always one of my favorite times of the year, was especially festive. We had Christmas Eve dinner at Robert's. Elena outdid herself with the meal. All the boys swore they were so stuffed they wouldn't be able to eat the next day, but of course by the time we opened a few presents at Robert's and got back to my place, the guys were scrounging around in the kitchen for something to eat. I decided to talk with the architect about adding space for a second refrigerator when the kitchen was enlarged.
Robert, Tyrone, and Elena came over on Christmas morning. We had another round of gift opening. The guys got a lot of clothes that Christmas, especially Ryan who had outgrown everything he owned before. Physically, he was now the biggest of all the guys. Tyrone was taller, but Ryan was more muscular.
Ryan insisted on helping Robert and me with Christmas dinner. Six teenage boys and three adults demolished an eighteen pound roasted turkey. There may have been enough meat left for two or three sandwiches, but that was all.
After dinner, Elena took Tyrone and Isaac back home while Robert stayed over with me.
Two days after Christmas Ryan and I went into town to finish getting the clothes he would need for school in January. The rest of the guys were out on the ski slopes. We'd gotten the last of the jeans and shirts for Ryan at Belk's and headed over to Henson's Hardware. One of the electrical outlets at the house had gone dead, and Ryan and I were going to replace it before joining the crew on the ski slopes.
We picked up a replacement outlet and made our way to the checkout counter. I stopped short when I realized that Karl Henson was behind the counter. I'd known Karl was going to be home for a few days over the Holidays. His dad had given me that bit of information the last time I'd been in the store, but I hadn't planned on seeing him. Darn, he was even better looking than I remembered!
Ryan spotted Karl and immediately went over to talk with him. Karl came out from around the counter and gave Ryan a big hug. Then he looked up at me. He paused for a moment before heading over in my direction. I thought he was going to hug me as well, but at the last instant he looked over his shoulder as if checking for other people in the store. Instead of hugging me as he had Ryan, he just extended his hand for a polite handshake.
"Parker, it's great to see you."
"Good to see you too, Karl. Your dad put you to work?"
He laughed. "No. Dad and Mom have all the employees over at the Mountain Café for a Holiday dinner. Usually they have to close the store, but I told them that Ash and I could take care of it for an hour or two."
He looked over to the back part of the store and called out, "Ash, come on over here. I want you to meet someone."
A handsome young man came around from the paint aisle. I knew who it had to be, and I thought my heart would stop.
Karl grabbed his lover by the arm and pulled him over in front of me. "Parker, I'd like you to meet Ashford Connor. Ash, this is Parker Arnold."
Ash extended his hand. The grip was firm but he didn't hold it any longer than necessary. He was about Karl's height, but not as muscular. He had dark blond hair cut in the military high and tight style.
He smiled when he shook my hand, but his eyes were cold. I didn't like him.
"Mr. Arnold, it's good to meet you, Sir. You were Karl's soccer coach, right?"
Karl playfully punched his lover's arm, "You know about Parker. I've told you all about him."
"That's right. I remember now."
I'll just bet you do...you sonofabitch. I brought out my best smile. "It's nice to meet you, Ash."
"I'd love to talk with you, Parker. Ash and I are only going to be here until tomorrow. We're going down to Florida for a little R and R before we have to be back at the Point in January. Will you be out at your place later this afternoon? Maybe we could stop by for a bit."
Ash broke in. "Karl, we won't have time for that. We've got to get packed."
"But that won't take long. We've got all afternoon."
"We have to pack."
The tension in the store was thick. I thought I'd better do something to ease things. "Karl, I'm sorry, but Ryan and I are going to meet TJ and the rest of the guys at the slopes this afternoon. Maybe the next time you're in town and you have more time."
"Uh, okay. Next time."
I paid for the replacement outlet. Ryan and I left the store and drove back out to the house. We didn't talk the entire trip. We placed our purchases on the kitchen table and pulled off our coats. I sat down in one of the chairs.
Ryan sat down next to me. "You didn't like Karl's boyfriend, did you?"
"Was I that obvious?"
"You were to me. I don't think he liked you too well either."
"Now, that was obvious."
We sat in silence for a minute or so before Ryan put his hand on top of mine. "You're still in love with Karl, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know."
(To be continued)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many of the characters who play parts in this story were previously introduced in either "When Love Comes" (last posted in the College section on Sept. 6, 2001) or "Love of a Lifetime" (last posted in the College section on May 19, 2003). While not necessary, readers may find it useful to read the two earlier stories posted on this site. Both previous stories are also posted at www.crvboy.com.
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