CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED and FORTY
“Gentlemen!” Bumpy pointed to the back. “Now!”
The boys scurried through the door to the exam rooms.
“You can keep him,” a mother called from the hallway.
“You got that right,” the other mothers’ agreed.
Bumpy pointed to the largest examination room at the end of the hallway. A grim line of young men shuffled and squeezed into the room. Bumpy went in after them and closed the door. The boys sat next to each other on the exam table. A few sat in the chairs and others sat on the floor.
Not one dared looked up at him.
“Any of you involved in this thing?” Bumpy asked. “You’d better tell me now because if I find out later, it’s going to be bad for you.”
The boys pointed to a boy named Solomon. Despite his regal name, the boy was a simpleton. Solomon was a sweet kid who volunteered at the library twice a week after school and worked on the sign team at Lipson Construction the rest of the week. He spent his nights and weekends keeping up in school by sheer force of will and his mother’s dedication. It was unlikely the boy even knew what they were talking about. Bumpy scowled at the boy; Solomon gave him a bright smile.
“Why?” Bumpy asked.
“Don’ really know,” the boy said. “It’s kind a fun. We get high and …”
Bumpy shook his head and looked away.
“Dallon, would you show the video to Solomon?” Bumpy asked.
The boy sitting next to Solomon took out his phone and played the video. Solomon closed his eyes after the first seconds. Bumpy touched Dallon’s arm and he took the phone away. Bumpy turned to the rest of the boys.
“What about the rest of you? You don’t need me to tell you that it’s sick and wrong to watch those videos. Real men can’t take the violence and cruelty. And you know, just having the video means you’re involved in a sex crime.”
“Not me!” the boy closest to him yelled. The others nodded in agreement.
“What’s it going to be?” Bumpy asked. “You going to do the right thing and help find the scum responsible for these assaults.”
“You mean like him?” A boy near the middle of the room pointed at Solomon. The boy hadn’t opened his eyes yet.
“Don’ do that, man,” Dallon said.
“Everybody knows he’s involved,” another boy said. “Setting the girls up with his sweetness and knocking them down for his bros.”
“Come on,” Dallon said. “How’s he gonna…?”
Bumpy looked from Dallon to the other two boys. Bumpy put his hand on Solomon’s shoulder.
“You were invited to go with them?” Bumpy asked.
“Did you go?” Bumpy asked.
“Don’ have time,” Solomon nodded. “Have to help the library and my team needs me.”
“I threw up when I saw it,” Dallon said. “Twice. I couldn’t sleep for a week after the second video.”
“Me too,” a young man from the corner said. “I like the girl in the video I got. Wanted to take her out but now…”
“Now what?” Bumpy asked.
“She’s not in school anymore,” the young man said.
“Happened to me too,” a boy near the back said. “There’s this girl in my math class. She was out for a month or whatever. When she came back, she won’t even look at me. Come to find out, she’s on one of these videos.”
“So they’re beating and violating your women,” Bumpy said. “I don’t think I need to tell you what I’d do to anyone if they hurt Dionne or LaTonya.”
The threat in Bumpy’s words hung in the room like a sword.
“Real men don’t watch crap like this,” Bumpy said. “They don’t hurt, rape, maim, or beat on their women.”
“Lots of men beat their women,” a middle school boy near the wall said.
“Those aren’t men,” Bumpy said. “They’re cowards who never learned to deal with their own demons. Think about it – they’d rather take their anger out on someone they love rather than deal with their own darkness. That’s no man in my book.”
Bumpy saw the boys heads move slightly up and down.
“How ‘bout you?” Bumpy said. “You going to be one of those cowards or are you going to start acting like men?”
The boys stared at the ground.
“What’s the hold up here?” Bumpy asked. “Your big fat egos in the way?”
“I don’t want to go to jail,” a handsome boy sitting against the wall said. “I’ve worked my ass off to get into college. Momma and I… we have a plan. I’m going into the Army so they’ll pay for medical school. I already signed a contract. I’ve got two months and…”
“You’d rather be a coward?” Bumpy asked.
“I’m no coward, I…” the boy looked up at him. “It would kill my mom.”
“She’s going to kill you now,” Bumpy said.
“What do they want from us?” a tall boy sitting near Bumpy said.
“They need you to get over your ego to see that you screwed up by not reporting this,” Bumpy said.
“Who we gonna tell?” a boy with an orange mohawk asked. “I tried to tell my counselor. I thought he was cool, but he… Uh huh, no way.”
“They got everyone on the payroll. We talk and we go down,” the tall boy sitting near Bumpy said. “You should see what they’re planning for this kid they call On-Line.”
Bumpy swallowed hard.
“I heard they going to do his sister,” another boy said. The boys nodded.
“That’s my friend Sissy!” Solomon said. “She’s on my team at work. They can’t do that, can they Dr. Wilson? Are they going to hurt my friend?”
“And make you take the fall for it,” Bumpy said. He looked at the boys in the room. “Are you going to let that happen?”
“I ain’t going to sign my sisters and mom up for being raped because I squealed,” said a large football player taking up an entire corner of the room. “No way, no how.”
“But you’ll consign other girls to this fate?” Bumpy asked.
“Who we gonna tell?” the boy with the orange mohawk asked again. “They got to everyone.”
“I can take care of the who,” Bumpy said. “My question is: are you the type of men who own up to your mistakes and take what’s coming to you? Because this moment, this very one, is the moment when your entire life is decided. Own up to your mistakes, take your lumps, you’ll be just fine; but lie about it? Cover it over? Let this poor boy get the rap?”
Bumpy shook his head.
“God have mercy on your soul,” Bumpy said. “Because this train is coming and one way or another, it’s going to run you down.”
Thursday night — 10:15 p.m.
“What are you doing up?” Aden asked Nash as he entered the apartment.
Nash was sitting on the couch staring off into space. His computer was closed and sitting next to him on the couch. He looked up at Aden, shook his head, and went back to staring into space. Aden picked up the computer, set it on the coffee table, and sat down next to Nash. He waited to see if Nash would respond.
“Are you okay?” Aden asked.
Nash shook his head. Aden felt woefully unprepared. He wished Sandy was here because she always knew the right thing to say, or Jacob who seemed to connect so easily with the kids. Nash glanced up at him.
“What’s going on?” Aden put his arm around Nash. They sat like that for a few minutes before Nash leaned into his father.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Nash said.
“Usually, when you can’t sleep, you’re up playing games with your friends on Facebook,” Aden said.
Nash looked at the laptop and back at his father. Aden pulled on his tie and slipped off his shoes.
“Hard day?” Nash asked.
“Long,” Aden said. “Confusing.”
“Sandy told me what happened with Melinda,” Aden said.
“Really?” Nash shrugged. “I don’t have any idea what happened with Melinda. What did she say?”
“I really don’t need the ‘relationships are hard’ speech,” Nash said. “I need to know what happened.”
“Sandy said Melinda saw you on the Fifteenth Street Bridge the night you were out with everyone,” Aden said. “She said that Melinda didn’t know why you were there and that made her feel uncomfortable. She’d talked to you earlier that night and you didn’t mention it.”
“Didn’t know we were going,” Nash said. “I was going to tell her all about it when I saw her today.”
“She told me she never wants to see me again, or something like that,” Nash said. “She and all of my friends unfriended me on Facebook. Every single person who knows me and knows her unfriended me. She’s blocked me so I can’t even see what she said to make everyone hate me.”
Unsure what all the unfriending meant, Aden looked at Nash. His son’s eyes held the stunned look of someone who’d experienced something horrible.
“So you’re right, Dad,” Nash said. “I’d play games but I don’t have any friends anymore.”
“Not even Teddy?” Aden asked.
“Teddy’s doesn’t count,” Nash said.
“He’s like a brother,” Nash said. “I mean, she wouldn’t even listen to me. It’s like her mind was already made up and she knew everything.”
“She’s been invited to a dance by another boy,” Aden said.
“Why didn’t she just say that?” Nash’s voice was angry and loud. Sandy peeked out of their bedroom. Seeing Aden, she smiled and closed the door.
“Maybe she didn’t know how,” Aden said.
Nash sniffed. Aden looked over to see a tear roll down Nash’s face.
“I felt so connected, popular. For the first time in my life, I was popular,” Nash said. “I mean, these kids are cool, rich, and…”
Aden waited to see if Nash would say more.
“Before you ask, I don’t want to be like them,” Nash said. “And when I think about it, I’ve been like them. I’ve spent so much time on the computer that I haven’t really been here and… Ms. Valerie left today and I haven’t seen her in months. Mike too. And Charlie’s going through this big thing. You heard that Bumpy said that Sissy’s going to get attacked.”
“I don’t think that’s a big surprise to anyone that they might try to hurt Sissy,” Aden said.
“It was to me,” Nash’s head bobbed in a nod. “It was to me.”
Aden waited again. When Nash didn’t say anything, he said, “It sounds like a drug.”
“The popular drug,” Nash said. “Suddenly, I’m not loser Nash Norsen anymore. I’m cool Nash with the cool friends and…”
Nash turned to look at his father.
“I didn’t like cool Nash very much,” Nash said. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a butt.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t realize what was going on,” Aden said. “It sounds like you’ve had a tough time.”
“The whole thing,” Nash said. “It’s hard to pretend to be someone I’m not and it’s hard now not to be friends with the people who I pretended to be like and it’s hard to find out that the people you love are struggling and you don’t have a clue and…”
“That’s a lot of ands,” Aden said.
“What did Sandy say?” Aden asked.
“She said that she loved me,” Nash said. “That’s it. Sissy and Noelle too. They said they weren’t mad at me and that they understood. Noelle said we all go through it and said Nuala had the same trouble. And she’s right. I’ve been just like my jerk of a mother.”
“I think Sandy would really hate it if you called her a jerk,” Aden said.
When Nash didn’t respond, Aden looked down. The boy was crying. Aden pulled his head to him and the boy cried against him. Aden heard a sound and looked up as Sissy and Noelle crept into the living room. Noelle squished in between Nash and the arm of the couch. Sissy sat next to Aden on the couch. Buster, the ugly dog, flew out of the hallway and launched himself onto the couch. He landed on Aden and Sissy’s laps. Charlie was not far behind. He sat at Nash’s feet.
“You can come out too,” Nash said in a tear-filled voice.
Sandy came out of the bedroom with Rachel. She set the baby on Nash’s lap and ruffled his hair. He looked up at her.
“Sorry for calling you a jerk,” Nash said.
“You didn’t,” Sandy said.
Sandy kissed his wet cheek and sat down on the arm of the couch. The little family leaned in together in a kind of hug. Nash tickled Rachel and the baby giggled.
“I think the point of having family is to have a place to fall back on,” Aden said. “You have to go out in the world and try new things. Even though we seem really far away, we’re still right here. We’re your roots – whether it works out or doesn’t, we’re here.”
Charlie looked up at Aden and Aden smiled at him.
“That seems like a good note to make something yummy,” Sandy said. “What’s a yummy root? Beets? Turnips?”
The kids groaned and Aden laughed.
“How about we start with some hot chocolate?” Sandy asked. She got up to move to the kitchen. “Welcome home, Nash.”
“Now you can be Ivy’s girlfriend,” Noelle said.
Sissy gave a little clap. Nash scowled at them.
“What about the rest of my friends?” Nash asked.
“They don’t seem much like friends,” Charlie said. “They just made you feel stupid and insecure all the time. You were always watching to see if someone unfriended you or whatever. Who needs that? I’d rather be alone than have to deal with that.”
Nash scowled at him.
“Sweet potato pie!” Sandy yelled from the kitchen. “That’s rooty and yummy!”
The family turned to look at the kitchen.
“She’s really…” Nash started and everyone laughed.
Thursday night — 11:15 p.m.
Jacob pulled their new, larger, ready-for-the twins SUV up to an old house north and west of the airport. There were two almost identical houses near this house. Jill looked at him and turned around to check on Katy. She was sound asleep in her car seat in the back.
Jacob nodded and started to get out of the car. Jill touched his arm.
“Why are we here?” Jill asked.
“I wanted to show you the houses,” Jacob said. “The other two are rented, but this one’s empty right now.”
“Ok,” Jill said. “Why are we here?”
Jacob settled back in his seat. He glanced at Jill and she raised her eyebrows to repeat the question. He sighed. With his sigh, he crumpled forward and put his head on the steering wheel. She touched his back.
“Tough meeting?” Jill asked.
“Stupid meeting,” Jacob said. “Want to walk?”
“What about Katy?” Jill asked.
“What about Katy?” the little girl said from the back seat.
“What are you doing awake?” Jill asked.
“What are we doing here?” Katy gave her big Katy-smarty-pants smile. Jill laughed. “I can walk. I wore my trainers that’s what Paddie’s sort of Uncle calls them.”
She lifted her feet to show her new exercise shoes.
“Walk?” Jacob asked.
“Sure,” Jill said.
She fussed with Katy’s heavy coat and wool hat before letting her get out of her car seat. Jacob helped Katy out of the SUV while Jill stepped out on the passenger side. Jill pulled her jacket around her round belly. Jacob took Katy’s hand and held out a hand for Jill. They walked toward the large, handcrafted farm house.
“I bought this place when I moved to Colorado,” Jacob stopped walking. He let go of Jill’s hand to point. “This house and the other two. They were built by Mormons around 1900. They farmed here, raised families here… for decades. The last generation moved on to Utah around the time I moved back to Denver. The houses aren’t extravagant, not in any way, really; but, they are gorgeous inside, solid, and… built with love.”
Jill watched his face in the moonlight.
“I dreamed of living here with my family,” Jacob said. “My daughter would keep her horses in the barn.”
He waved in the direction of an empty field near the house.
“My sons would run across the open fields,” Jacob said. “And you…”
He leaned into her and she kissed his cheek. Jill knew that he was telling her something important, so she didn’t respond. He looked out across the field.
“We’d grow corn or soy,” Jacob said. “I wasn’t sensitized to the whole GMO thing and pesticide thing then. Now, I think I’d grow sunflowers and… organic corn and kids; maybe a cow or two, some goats… I’d give it all up for a patch of land, a lovely wife, and a few kids.”
Katy tugged on his hand and he let her go. She ran out into the moonlight and twirled in place.
“I’m sorry,” Jill said. “I don’t know if you’re sharing a very sweet dream with us or if you’re seriously thinking about giving everything up and moving to this farm.”
“I see,” Jill watched Katy in the moonlight. “Rough meeting?”
“I’m tired,” Jacob said. “Tired of the fighting. Tired of being tired. Tired of working so damned much that I never see you or Katy. And the boys… I thought I’d be done with all this Lipson crap well before the boys were here. Now, I’ll be lucky to live long enough to get away from the company.”
“You’re distraught,” Jill said.
He turned to give her an exasperated look. Shaking his head, he looked away.
“What?” she asked.
“You don’t understand,” Jacob said. “All I ever wanted was a quiet life.”
“What do we have?” Jill raised an eyebrow at him.
Jacob moved away from her, picked up Katy, and carried her to the car.
“We may as well go,” he said.
Jill came up behind him and held him for a moment.
“Why don’t you show me the inside?” she whispered in his ear.
He looked back at her. For a moment, with the twins between them, their eyes held. He gave her a partial smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just…”
“Worn out,” Jill said. “Can we stay here tonight?”
“No beds,” Jacob said. “The house has been empty for a couple months.”
“Let’s go take a look,” Jill said.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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