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Note: Thanks to Tim and Rock for feedback on the draft chapters. I owe a special thanks to Robb for doing the final proofreading and catching all those silly little errors I missed.
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Man, I was screwed...but it could have been worse.
I told my father about how upset Mr. Langdon had been to find out that someone had broken into his office and taken a copy of the exam and about how they said they'd found the copy of the exam on top of the pile of books in my locker.
Daddy listened to me nodding his head every once in a while. Then he hugged me and asked me to go up to my room for a little bit so he could make a few phone calls.
About an hour later, he called me back downstairs.
"Brett, I talked with a lawyer. We have a right to appeal Mr. Longworth's suspension to the school board. They meet on Monday night. It doesn't look like we can do anything any earlier than that. I'm afraid you won't be able to play in the game tomorrow."
"A lawyer? Daddy, they're expensive. Can we afford it?"
"Can we afford not to have some legal help with this? It's your reputation on the line here. I screwed up my reputation a long time ago, and it's haunted me ever since. I deserved what I got, but you don't deserve this. We're going to fight it."
"Who's the lawyer?"
"You mean Cleon?"
Daddy smiled, "I see you figured that out. He uses Robert as his first name now. Has since he went away to college. Actually, I talked with him the week after his wife died, and we've talked on the phone a few times since then. He's lonely, and I know what it's like to lose the woman you love."
"I like him, Daddy. He seems like a real nice man, and Derek's told me how lonely he's been since Mrs. Jackson died."
"We're going to go see him in his office tomorrow morning at ten."
"Daddy, anyone could have slid that test into my locker. All the lockers have vents up at the top. Lots of kids leave notes to one another by sliding them through the vents."
Daddy smiled, "We used to do that, too." Then he hugged me and said, "We'll get through this."
When Scott got home from school, I explained the situation to him. The rumor mill was already hard at work. He'd heard that there had been some trouble at the high school about cheating. He didn't know that I was the one in trouble.
We were just getting ready to start cooking dinner when Derek's Jeep pulled into the driveway.
Great! I didn't want to face him. I knew he'd be disappointed in me.
Surprisingly, Derek had a big smile on his face when he walked in the kitchen door.
"Hey, white bread, I hope you enjoyed your vacation from practice today. Man, seems like the coaches had us running for the entire practice. We're really keyed for the game tomorrow. You better not drop any of my passes in that game."
"Derek, I've been suspended. I'm not going to be playing in the game tomorrow."
"Want to lay some money on that?"
"You know a sophomore by the name of Darius Echols?"
"Yeah, I helped him out last year when Bull Cook was trying to shake him down for lunch money."
"Well, little ole Darius just paid you back, buddy. Big time."
"I don't understand."
"Word about what happened went around the school like wildfire today. I think the entire school had heard about the shouting match your father had with ol' sour-faced Longworth..."
Daddy interrupted, "All I did was to remind Frankie Longworth of a few of the times he got himself in trouble back when we were in school."
"Right. Whatever you said got Mr. Longworth very angry. Most of the south wing heard him yelling at you guys."
"Well, he always did have a loud voice."
I broke in, "Derek, what's this about Darius?"
"Okay, keep your britches on! Darius and a friend of his...a kid called Tramaine...were over at school late last night working on some project for the debate team. When they were leaving, they saw Bull Cook and Junior Long coming out of Mr. Langdon's office carrying some papers. Since Darius and Tramaine are both kinda skinny, they didn't want to have a faceoff with Bull and Junior, so they sort of held back where they could see what Bull and Junior were up to, but couldn't be seen themselves. They heard Bull tell Junior that when he put that test paper in your locker, your ass would be fried. Darius didn't think too much of it until he heard the news today that you'd been accused of cheating on Langdon's exam and that you had a copy in your locker. Darius and Tramaine told Mr. Langdon what they'd seen and heard. Langdon took Darius and Tramaine to talk with Mrs. Moore, and then all four of them talked with Longworth. The word I got was that Longworth wasn't going to do anything at first, but Mr. Langdon and Mrs. Moore confronted Junior Long, and he copped to the whole thing. Old Longworth had to do something then. So Bull and Junior are now the ones suspended from school. Coach threw both of them off the team permanently. Coach let me out of practice a little early so I could come out here and deliver the news to you in person. You're in the clear, bud! You're back in school, and we have a game to win tomorrow night."
I just stared at him for a couple of seconds before pulling him into a bone crushing hug. Scott and Daddy joined in.
"Hey, guys, easy on the star quarterback. I've got to play a game tomorrow, remember?"
The next day, Mr. Langdon started his class by apologizing to me and the rest of the class for his accusations.
I spotted Darius, Tramaine, and their crew in the lunch room. I took my tray over and sat down across from Darius and right next to Tramaine.
"Thanks, guys. You got me out of a lot of trouble."
Darius looked embarrassed and cast his eyes down toward his food.
Tramaine bumped my shoulder with his fist. "You saved our rear ends last year when you protected Darius from Bull Cook. He and the rest of his thugs left us alone after that. When we heard about what happened to you, we knew what we saw was important. All we did was tell Mr. Langdon."
"What you did means a lot to me."
Darius looked up. "What you did means a lot to us. We're just glad we could help out."
The game that night was a romp. I made four touchdowns on passes from Derek. The score was 35 to 7.
I spent the night at Derek's house. We were so keyed up from the game that it was after two a.m. before we finally calmed down enough to get some sleep.
The rest of that term went really well for me, for Derek, and for the football team. Derek continued to be the star of the team, and I continued to be his favorite target for passes. We won all our league games, and fought our way in the playoffs all the way to the state championship game...which we won. We were only the second high school team in the state of Georgia to have back to back state championships.
That fall went really well for Derek's father also. Cleon Ronald Jackson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a landslide victory. Early on it had looked like it was going to be a close race between Derek's father and Big Bull Cook, the Republican candidate and our own Bull Cook's grandfather. However, Big Bull got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. There was a company, named ARC Corporation, trying to buy up a lot of land next to the Swamp. They claimed they were going to develop a golf course and an exclusive gated community on the land that would be an economic stimulus for the county. In return for the supposed economic benefit, they wanted some tax concessions from the county and state. Big Bull was all in favor of the tax breaks for the company, but Derek's father was telling folks that the company wanted too much in tax concessions for the amount of economic stimulus it would provide. He said the concessions amounted to a huge gift to ARC Corp that would be paid by every citizen in the county and state. A couple of weeks before the election, the Atlanta Constitution ran a big article about the deal and broke the news that ARC stood for the three major stock holders in the company. The first two partners were Adventure Enterprises, a land development company based in Miami, and Remco, a financial holding company based in the Cayman Islands. The third partner was Big Bull Cook. Public opinion swung pretty rapidly in favor of Derek's father and against Big Bull Cook.
Of course, being elected meant that the Jacksons would have to move up to Washington, DC, so Mr. Jackson could take his seat in Congress in January. The Jackson's decided that Derek would live with his grandfather from January until graduation and then join the rest of the family up in DC. Mr. and Mrs. Jackson spent a lot of time after the November election traveling between southern Georgia and Washington while they looked for a house to buy up there and for a school for Derek's sister.
While Derek's parents were up in DC house hunting, his grandfather stayed at the house with Derek and his sister. Those weekends, Derek and I usually stayed over at his house so we could help his PawPaw with the babysitting.
During that time, I know that Daddy and Derek's grandfather met a couple of times for lunch. At least one of those times PawPaw Jackson spent the afternoon out at our house with Daddy. I was glad to see them talking to one another again after all those years. Mr. Jackson seemed happier than he had been since before his wife died, and I know my father was happier than I'd seen him in several years.
Of course I was dying of curiosity about what they talked about, and I even entertained the idea that they might have rekindled their old romantic relationship. If that was so, then I was going to wait for Daddy to tell me. I sure wasn't going to ask.
Over the Christmas break, two things happened. I had my first date with a girl, and I started working for Mr. Langdon.
First, the date with the girl.
Derek had a new female interest. No surprise there. It seemed that Derek had a new love interest every month or so. This one's name was Autumn Greene, and she was a senior like us. Unlike most of Derek's other love interests, this one had some smarts. She was in our AP calculus class. She was an attractive girl with light café au lait skin and not quite black hair. She had recently gotten contact lenses which radically changed her appearance, and the change had piqued Derek's interest in her. I don't want to put down Derek's tastes in women, but he didn't go after girls because of their brains. Know what I mean?
Anyway, Autumn didn't want to go out alone with Derek on their first date. I told him it was because of his reputation as a Romeo. He said it had to do with some rule set up by Autumn's parents. Long story short, Derek convinced Autumn that he really wanted to go out with her, and that I would go along if she could find a date for me.
Derek informed me of all this after all the arrangements had been made.
My date was Caitlin Lawing, another girl in our calculus class. Caitlin was fashion model thin with blue eyes and dark honey colored hair that came down to her shoulders. I thought she was one of the prettiest girls in our class, but she didn't date very much.
Since the practice and game schedule for basketball was more relaxed over the Christmas break, the Friday before Christmas we didn't have either a game or practice. After Derek picked me up in his Jeep, we picked up Autumn and then Caitlin before heading out of town to a movie up in Waycross.
The movie was an action flick with a love story side line that we figured would appeal to the girls while the action part would appeal to Derek and me. We sat in the middle with our dates on either side of us. Derek kept his body leaned over toward Autumn, and they held hands throughout the movie, but his leg was pressed up against mine. The first time he made contact, I moved my leg away, but Derek followed and reinitiated the contact. After that I just kept my leg where it was and enjoyed the feeling of his leg against mine. Caitlin and I did hold hands toward the end of the movie. I put my hand down on the arm of the seat between us, and she laid her hand on top of mine. I rolled my hand over and clasped hers. It was nice holding hands with her, but it was Derek's leg pressed against mine that really had my attention.
After the movie, we grabbed a snack at a fast food burger joint before driving back to Indian Crossing. We dropped Caitlin off first. She told me that she'd had a good time and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. Derek and Autumn did a full lip lock at her door.
After dropping off the girls, we headed out to my house to spend the night.
"So, Brett, how did it go with Caitlin? You ready to switch to the other team?"
I popped him on the shoulder. "You shithead. Why did you keep your leg pressed up against mine during the whole movie?"
"Hey, bro, I just wanted to make sure you had some basis for comparison."
"So, I was supposed to decide that holding Caitlin's hand was hotter than having your leg rubbing up against mine?"
"You're just plain evil, Jackson."
"Why, thank you. I try. Something got your attention. It looked like you had a tent in your pants during the movie."
"Yeah, well it wasn't from holding hands with Caitlin. That was like holding hands with my sister...if I had a sister that is. Let's face it, Derek, I am 100% queer. Girls don't turn me on. Guys do."
"Uh...I think we need to talk about this."
He pulled the Jeep over to the side of the road.
He put the transmission in `Park' and turned to face me, "Brett, do you have a crush on me?"
"I thought it was pretty obvious. I've had a crush on you since that first day I saw you at football practice our freshman year. It's been kind of complicated by the fact that you've become my best friend. I know you're straight. I know you're out of bounds for me, but I can't help the way I feel about you."
"Man, I never knew you had a crush on me. I'm sorry."
"Sorry? What for?"
"I guess for not being sensitive enough to pick up on the fact you had the hots for me. Does it bother you when we spend the night together?"
"Yes and no. Yes, because I know you're out of reach for me. No, because I'm spending time with my best friend."
He put the Jeep back in gear, and pulled back out onto the road.
We didn't say anything more about it that night. We just laughed and joked and carried on like normal. Then we went to bed.
We'd been in bed about half an hour, and I was almost asleep, when I heard him get up out of his bed. He slipped under my covers and snuggled up against my back.
"Will this bother you?"
"No." I lied.
He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me closer.
It took me a long time to get to sleep.
After that, we generally slept in the same bed again when one of us stayed over at the other's house.
That's enough about Derek and my first date. Let me get back to the bit about working for Mr. Langdon.
Right after Thanksgiving, Mr. Langdon asked me to come into class early the next morning. He said he had a proposition for me.
I told him I'd be there as soon as I could, but that the school bus often ran pretty close to the first bell. The bus cooperated the next morning and got me to school just a little ahead of schedule.
I walked into his room. He was looking over some papers.
"You wanted to see me, Mr. Langdon?"
"Oh, hi there, Brett. Thanks for coming in a little early."
"Here's the deal, Brett. I'm renovating a house, and I need someone to help me with it. I do the work on the weekends, over school breaks, and in the summer. Are you interested?"
"Gee, Mr. Langdon, I already work weekends and summers at Tarricone's. I don't think I could handle anything else."
"I know you work at the store. I've seen you in there lots of times. If I can ask, how much do the Tarricones pay you?"
"They pay me $6.15 an hour, plus some groceries now and then."
"I'll pay you $8.00, and I can guarantee you at least forty hours a week during the summer. Most weeks, it'll be more than forty hours."
"That sounds great, Mr. Langdon, but the Tarricones have been really nice to me. I'll need to talk with them before I can give you an answer. Will that be okay?"
"Sure, do you think you can give me an answer before the start of Christmas break? I'd like to get started on the project over the holidays."
"Okay, I'll let you know as soon as I can."
I talked with Antonio Tarricone that weekend when I was working. I told him I had another job offer at $8.00 an hour.
"You've been a good worker, Brett," Antonio told me. "Both Angelina and I like you a lot, but as much as I'd like to do it, I can't match that pay. You got college coming up next year. You need to earn all the money you can before you go. You gotta take that job if you want it. No hard feelings. We still gonna love you."
On Monday, I told Mr. Langdon I'd take the job.
It turns out that Mr. Langdon had been fixing up old houses and then selling them for years. His father was a teacher in Savannah, and when Mr. Langdon was still in grade school, his father bought an older home to fix up. By the time Mr. Langdon was in high school, he and his father were doing about one house a year. When he got out of college and started teaching, he followed his father's example, and started buying, fixing, and selling houses on his own.
The house he was renovating was about half a mile outside of town and set back away from the road with a large yard. It was a classic Southern Georgia home built around 1910 or so. It was two stories with a hipped roof; kitchen, dining room, living room, and parlor downstairs. Four bedrooms and a single bathroom were upstairs.
Mr. Langdon planned to connect two of the bedrooms to make a master bedroom suite with its own bathroom. The downstairs was going to be rearranged to create a large country kitchen/family room combination across the back of the house. The living room was going to stay the same, but the old parlor would be reconfigured into the new formal dining room. All that rearranging would create enough space for a laundry room and half bath off the kitchen. It was going to be quite a project.
The first step in the renovation was to tear out most of the original plaster walls and ceilings so we could run new electrical wiring and duct work for a heat pump that would replace the electric baseboard heating already in the house. Mr. Langdon had carefully worked out the plans so that none of the load-bearing walls on either floor were taken down.
That was dirty and dusty work. We wore masks and goggles. By the end of a day's work, our clothing and faces were black with dust and dirt. When we took off the goggles, we looked like negative images of raccoons.
We worked over the Christmas break when I wasn't in basketball practice. Mr. Langdon's plan was to get as much done over the holidays as possible, because once school started again in January, our work time would be confined to Saturdays and Sundays.
Derek helped out a couple of those days before Christmas, and Mr. Langdon gave him the same hourly wage as I was getting.
The three of us worked well together. At his invitation, we began calling him Art when we were working, but we were always careful to say Mr. Langdon when we were at school.
I really enjoyed getting to know Art as a friend as well as a teacher. Besides that, he was sexy as hell!
(To be continued)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Some of the characters who play parts in this story were previously introduced in "When Love Comes" (last posted in the College section on Sept. 6, 2001), "Love of a Lifetime" (last posted in the College section on May 19, 2003), "Finding Family" (last posted in the College section on June 5, 2008), or "Construction Job" (last posted in the College section on July 24, 2008). While not necessary, readers may find it useful to read the earlier stories posted on this site. All of the Adams State/Carterville stories listed above as well as my other stories are also posted at www.crvboy.com.
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