A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 6

School was tougher than I thought it would be, but only because it was so hard to avoid getting my arm bumped in the crowds. After two periods of it, I got smart and chilled in a safe nook until the halls were almost empty. I was late to every other class, but at least I was intact, and nobody marked me late. That wasn't necessarily good will toward me. It was just too much of a hassle that late in the year to bother with, unless it was a kid the teacher had it in for anyhow.

I got lots of commiseration over my arm, too, and that sometimes hurt when somebody forgot which arm was which. I lived though, and at lunch two guys from the team carried my tray as soon as they saw I was having trouble with it. A lot of things presented problems to me, but nothing major. It was even hard to zip up in the boys room, but I wasn't about to ask for help with that, though I considered asking just to test things.  Someone might have obliged me;  people seemed willing enough with everything else.

I didn't even try to go into the locker room while the team was dressing out, but rather waited until they hit the field. Then I went in, and with Evan Two as a commandeered helper, I got into my team jersey and cap. I was on the disabled list, so I hadn't even brought my pants and cleats. I just wore the shorts and sneaks I had on. Even with help, the shirt was hard enough to get into, so I thanked Evan honestly for helping.

Walking to the field, I was sore in more ways than one. It was a gorgeous day, perfect for baseball. The sky was mostly clear, the sun was warm, and there was little humidity. There was a hint of a breeze; just enough to feel cool on a sweaty face and nothing that would influence the game. Our team was already on the field warming up, so the game would start shortly.

Chris was by first base, and he must have been looking for me. I saw him look toward the school a couple of times, then he saw me and waved wildly, which got others to notice me. Soon they were all waving and hollering, and that made the other team look my way.

When he realized who I was, their coach trotted out to meet me, and he certainly seemed solicitous. He was a kindly looking man to start with, all red-faced and gray haired, and with the kind of smile that came from a lifetime of using it. When he was close, he stopped, so I did too. "Smiley ... Evan! I know that arm has to hurt, so I won't ask about it, but it's nothing permanent?"

I shrugged, "I don't think so. It hurts now, but the hospital said it should heal right up."

His expression became contrite. "Then let me apologize. Rod had no reason to spike you, and I'll never know where he got the gumption. No excuses, though. I'm the coach so I take the blame. Rodney did the deed, though, and he's off the team because of it. He's also suspended for the rest of the year, and barred from all sports next year."

I looked at the guy, thinking the punishment was pretty harsh. "Did he say why he did it?"

The man clasped his hands in front of him, "No, he didn't say, but I know why. You got hit because you were right there, but it was really because my guys see you as one of the real threats on Mt. Harman. Rod took it to heart, and there you were, and bam!" He stood beside me and touched my good shoulder so I'd start walking again, then he confided, "I call these guys 'my boys' but hoo. Sometimes I think I should be coaching little girls at t-ball."

I giggled, then stopped. Most guys making a remark like that would have gotten a good retort from me, but I didn't want to end up banned like Rodney. When I broke off toward our side I called, "Thanks!" then taking a cue from Chris, "If you want, you can take up a collection and send me some money!"

I watched him laugh and give me a wave that said 'get out of here', and when I turned around I was looking at Coach Goodwin. His Adam's apple anyhow. I looked up and he looked down, and he had those damned mirrored shades on. "What did he want?" Coach growled.

I looked down, "He just apologized for his goon spiking me."

I looked up to see my coach looking at the other coach, and he nodded his head ever so slightly. Then he looked back at me, "You're done for the year?"

I just nodded, and he said, "You don't have to suit up if you can't play."

That comment sounded patronizing, and it made me angry. I said, as evenly as I could, and not looking at Coach, "I understand that. I just came to watch the game."

Then he got to me. "You can watch the game from the stands like anyone else."

I choked, and I fought hard not to cry. I couldn't believe it, and I stood there long after Coach walked off, then I took my hat off and threw it in the dirt and started walking toward the bleachers.

I heard voices behind me, grumbling but making no sense, and suddenly Chris was beside me. He said, "C'mon, I'll watch with you."

"Me too," another voice said, and I turned to see Dwight trotting up on my other side, and most of the team was following him. The tears finally broke in my eyes, and I said, "Don't do this guys. Not now. It's the playoffs!"

"It's the face-offs now, man!" Jerry Brin said right in my ear. "Screw this! I mean the heck with it!  Coach knows as well as anyone here that we wouldn't be in any playoffs if you weren't on this team. Let him and that other coach decide what to do when both teams sit it out. This should be good!"

I hadn't noticed, but when Jerry said that I saw the other team clambering up onto the opposing bleachers, and I drew a blank.  I just gaped.

"They heard it, Ev," Chris said. "They won't play either. This is way too much!"

We watched the coaches and their assistants go at it from afar. Goodwin was clearly furious, talking with his hands, making crazy gestures. Before long, the opposing coach, the one who'd talked to me, had our coach back against a railing and was pointing a warning finger right at his nose.

I longed to hear what was being said, and at the same time I didn't want to hear it. The last thing I needed in this life was for Coach Goodwin to suffer some kind ... any kind of humiliation over me.

They went at it for a good five minutes, then turned their backs to each other. They both looked like stubborn men down there, their chests puffed out and their arms crossed over them. After another minute, they turned around and started yelling and gesturing again, then turned away from each other a second time. This time Goodwin's hands went straight up, then they marched toward the respective bleachers, and I started to panic when Goodwin came close. "Smiley!" He bellowed. "You start on third base!"

My jaw dropped, and I honestly couldn't form a thought, much less a word to express it. My right index finger pointed at my left arm as if on auto-pilot, but he repeated, "Start on third, I said! Don't question me now!"

Other guys complained for me. "He's hurt coach!"

"He's in shorts, Coach. No cleats!"

"He doesn't have a glove, Coach! He couldn't use one if he did."

Coach had started walking to the bench, but he turned around, and once again I thought I detected an almost-smile. He said levelly and dangerously, "One more time. Smiley starts on third. Now get moving!"

His arm and hand jerked into an arrow pointing at the field, and I walked rather than ran to third base. When I got there, the kid coaching the base handed me my hat, then a baseball and said, "Hang in there, Evan."

It was then that I got what was going on. Andrew Winkel, the best and fastest base runner on the other team, took up position on second base, and when he saw that I was aware of him, he made a blast right at me. I wasn't prepared, not at all. Tagging runners was instinctive, though. I didn't have a glove and the ball was in my throwing hand, but I'd done that before, too. I leaned out and got the guy's shoulder, and it was a nice, clean out even if it wasn't real. I had it figured out by then. Both teams were giving me the chance to see how the play that hurt me should have gone. Close enough.

Coach yelled, "Yer out of there, Smiley! Hit the bench!"

"Yessir," I grinned, and ran in. This time I was cheered from both sides, and I gave up bogus thoughts of money. One thug on a team didn't make the rest of them bad sports. Everyone on both sides knew I got a bad deal, and they just did something to make up for it.

"Jesus, let's get this show on the road," the home plate umpire muttered, and that was just about when I realized I'd missed my pain pill. I didn't just remember randomly either, I had a reminder in the form of my left arm. It hadn't just forgotten the injury, and chose then to start bitching again. I headed to the locker room to get one from my bag.

I slowed as soon as I was off the field and out of the way. Lee ran up beside me, and he surprised me. "Whoa! Where'd you come from?" I asked with a start.

"I just got here," he said. "What's going on?"

"I have to take a pain pill."

"What'd you do?" Lee asked. "It sounded like those guys were making fun of you."

I stopped and looked at Lee. "What guys?" I asked.

He suddenly looked a little nervous. "Your team, they were joking like they just pulled a good one on you."

I looked back toward the field, where the game was just starting, and wondered if the whole thing had been a put-on. If it was, then it was a good one. I'd have a hard time topping it, and the more I thought about it the more it seemed like an elaborate joke rather than a random happening. I took my pill and sat with Lee for a few minutes to rest my arm. It still felt best just hanging at my side, but I don't think I was doing it any favors by walking so much.

After small talk, Lee asked, "Remember that condo we saw, Evan? Over in Benham Falls?"

"Oh, yeah. That place looked nice. Did you buy it?"

Lee shrugged, "No, but we're moving there. Mom's not sure about a place like that, so she's renting it for a year. After that, we can buy it or just leave."

"Back to your old house?"

He shook his head, "No, she's selling the house." He looked at me and smiled, "This could be fun, you know. We might just keep moving. Mom's really excited about it. They're building some fancy-ass apartments right on the river, so we could try them the year after. We can be like Gypsies for a few years if we want." He grinned brightly enough to let me know he was serious, and that the idea pleased him.

I thought about it and said, "Yeah, I guess that could be fun. Home is where you make it, right?"

Lee nodded, then said seriously, "Mom's pretty good now; more like she used to be. She's back to shopping, and stopping out after work sometimes." He giggled, "This guy calls her all the time, too, and I wish she'd just go out with him. She's hung up on 'too soon' but I hope she doesn't wait 'til it's too late."

I was surprised, "You want her to date?"

Lee snickered, "What I want is for her to marry Bill Gates! If that's out of the question, then Jeffrey would be a good second choice."


He snorted, "Yeah, Jeff Anjelarowicz! Don't you love that name? Five syllables, man! Anyhow, they've been friends forever, and Jeff's wife got killed a real long time ago. He was one of Dad's best friends, so I sure don't have a problem with him.”

I looked at Lee’s face as he continued, “I don't need a new father, but I could be a good stepson if some guy was treating Mom right. I'm kind of too old to need a new Dad, and I favor the one I had anyhow. But Mom's way too young to not try again."

I looked at Lee again, and he continued to surprise me with his outlook. He was fourteen, almost fifteen, and as fine a human being as I'd ever met. With pain in his recent past that would cripple most people, he was remembering the good and pulling that good along with him into his future. I thought that the abuse he’d suffered would show somewhere, but I didn't see it in Lee's case. The bad was a burden, and sometimes a visible one, but he was burying the bits where he could, and keeping the rest behind him where it couldn't get in his way. I could see it, too. I did something similar when I forgot that painful first month in Riverton in favor of the happy times that followed. I didn't suffer any abuse, but I hurt just the same then. For all the hurtful parts, I had a lot to show for it. Aaron, of course, but more solid new friends than I could count on my fingers, and an entire new awareness of myself. I gave myself an exclamation point; not for mere pride but because I felt I'd earned it. The old Evan was the new Evan!

Looking at Lee, I wondered. If I got an exclamation point, what did he earn? Lee!! Heh. I thought that wouldn't look good, but it really does. Lee!!

I said, "We can go now. Are you gonna watch the game?"

Lee looked serious for a moment and asked, "Your arm?"

"It's still there," I said. "I'm very aware of it, but I'll live."

We walked out and back toward the baseball field, not saying anything. Then Lee came up with, "Eww! I wish you didn't say that."


"That you're aware of your arm! I bit my tongue yesterday and there's this little bump where I did it. Now I'm all aware of my tongue! Do you know how gross this is?"

I looked at Lee and the expression on his face, and it made me laugh. It was my first free and easy laugh since I got jammed the day before, and it felt good to let it out.

I said, "Tongue awareness can be good, you know. At least if you're getting some!"

Lee laughed and looked at the sky, "I know that! It's this self awareness jazz that doesn't cut it!" He elbowed my good arm and said, "Do this. Make yourself aware of your tongue all by itself in your mouth. Then picture it with a little red bump on it, and tell me that bump isn't the size of Maine!"

I laughed some more, and said, "I know those bumps." I looked at Lee again and wondered if he ever thought of things like giving himself exclamation points. I figured he probably didn't.  He wasn't the type, and I wouldn't even know how to begin trying to tell him myself. Instead I used my good hand to stroke his shoulder for a second while I said, "You're alright, you know that?"

Lee looked at me, and his expression was kind of inscrutable. Then he smiled quickly before turning his attention to the game, which had suddenly erupted with loud excitement. I did a little, silent 'yay' because some of our guys were running the bases, the bench was up, and people were cheering and jumping. Even the small crowd in the stands was making a lot of noise. Through it all I saw two runs score, and whoever hit them in slid safely into third base.

I was learning. I yelled my appreciation instead of waving my arms, and I hurried closer without running. My joy jumped twofold when I saw that it was my very own Chris Humphrey dusting himself off at third base, and as soon as I was close enough I screamed, "What happened? What'd I miss?" Just then the scoreboard changed to tell me part of the story. It was the second inning, and we were up by two runs with three hits and an error, two outs. John Berman came running to the fence crying, "Did you see it, Evan? Chris just hit us in! Me and Jerry!"

"Good going!" I grinned, trying to envision it. It didn't matter in the long run who did what; it never did, but if anyone could play well under pressure it was Chris, and he was yelling encouragement from third to the next batter while the new pitcher warmed up. That was good, too. If we had their starter gone in just two innings, then we had the catbird seat for the time being.

After all the nonsense, and with my arm aching the way it was, the stands looked pretty good, and I walked over with Lee during the pitcher change. We saw Nancy there with two of her friends, so we sat with them, and I made sure I had the end seat where I could dangle my arm safely.

Nancy had become quite the baseball fan since the night she came to dinner at my house with Chris. Their relationship before that night had been just cordial, kind of the same friends they'd always been. They lit their own fires, of course, but I liked to think I at least gave them the matches. Now they were ... um, seriously in favor of one another.

I heard the crack of a bat and realized that I wasn't paying attention to the game. Chris was on his way home, and Andrew Bezier, a Senior, just had just crossed first base. It sucked that I couldn't cheer properly, but I cheered loudly instead to make up the difference.

"Chris scored!" Nancy announced, "Did you see that? We're ahead by three now!"

I was excited about the game's progress and amused by Nancy's use of 'we', but that's the way it always was.

The rest of the game was less exciting, but we won by those first three runs. I was happy, and especially happy for Chris. He was MVP for the game based on his two-run double, and his heads-up advance to third on an error. He'd also been deadly on defense, as usual. The neat thing was that Chris had as much fun playing baseball as I did, and neither of us had any real aspirations about making money with the game. We both hoped for scholarships, not contracts, and I honestly don't know what I would have done if one of the scouts looking at Jerry Brin happened to look my way.

When the game ended, we all hurried over to the team. Coach gave Chris the game ball, and that was deserved. Then, when I was going to congratulate Chris, Coach stood right in front of me. He looked at my arm and asked, "How is it?"

I looked at it myself and said, "Worthless right now. It hurts, too."

He kept his eye on my arm and muttered, "Next year, then," and walked off. I watched him go, wondering just exactly what made that man tick. If I was a coach I'd be different. Everyone on my team would know the pecking order and where he stood in it. Players know anyhow, but Goodwin could mess with enough heads that guys didn't know if he thought they were good or not. That didn't matter if you got to play, because you could perform or not, and make your own case. Sitting on the bench, especially in a losing game, could only leave you wondering if you could have made the difference, at least just that one time.

I hung around with the guys while they celebrated the win, then followed them up to the school. Chris was my ride. Lee decided to wait with Nancy and her friends, and I went with Chris into the locker room. We were only there briefly while Chris got his things, and we both joked around with the other guys for a few minutes, then we left.

Nancy was quick, that was clear. She and her friends, including Lee, squealed their delight the moment Chris stepped outside, then they were at him with papers and pens, demanding autographs. I thought it was funny, and Chris was delighted. When he was done he kissed Nancy casually, as if they'd been practicing. Nancy's friends squealed again, and Lee turned a raised-eyebrow smile toward me.

I muttered, "All hail to the conquering hero!" which elicited a snort from Chris. We walked to the parking lot where both Chris and Nan had parked, and decided to meet at a place nearby for ice cream. I looked forward to the treat like everyone else, but I also welcomed the extra time away from home and my brother.

I knew that avoiding Matt was pointless in the long run. Our day would come, and I don't really know what I was hoping for. Maybe Matt could observe me being me and decide I wasn't evil incarnate after all. Maybe he'd find a job and move out, or decide to go back to school and still move out. Then again, if I could avoid him for just a few more weeks, then I could move out, and go back to Riverton where I felt I belonged. Then Matt could have a whole summer to decide what to do with himself, and he'd be gone for sure by the time I came back for school. If that happened, then we could start writing to one another again, which would give us a less perilous means for getting everything out.

At the ice cream place, I decided that I should probably go back to the doctor about my arm. It was all I could do to use my left hand to pull money out of my pocket for my milkshake, and my money sure didn't weigh much.

I had a good time there anyhow. Chris and Nancy, as the only couple there, seemed to take on the role of hosts, and good ones they were. We were still talking and laughing long after our treats were done. I was the quiet one for once, but only because I was having a good time observing. Lee mingled easily and cheerfully, and he caused dismay with one girl  when he mentioned that he was moving shortly after school let out.

It was clear that the girl, Sue Bruczinski, knew of Lee's past because she asked, "Back to that place?"

Lee smiled, "Yeah, Benham Falls. We're renting a condo there." He raised his eyebrows and asked, "Have you ever been?" Sue shook her head, and Lee said, "You should come visit! It's just a tiny town, but we have the park and the falls! It's really a nice place."

Sue seemed concerned, and asked, "After what happened there?"

Lee frowned, and said, "Things happened here in Mt. Harman, too." He paused, "It's not the town's fault what happened in either place. I have good memories, too, from there and here." He frowned and looked down for a moment. "Bad things are part of my life, too," he muttered, then he looked up defiantly. "They don't own me, though. My past doesn't control me; I won't let it! I got some bad breaks is all."

He smiled shyly at Susan, "I'm okay, and I'll be okay. For now, I'm happy and I'm healthy, and I'm doing just fine."

Sue looked at him skeptically for a moment, then smiled broadly. "I believe you, you know that?" she said cheerfully. "You're quite a guy!"

There was a murmur of agreement before Chris stood up and announced that it was time for him to get moving. He looked at me and asked, "Are you going to the meeting tonight?"

I hadn't thought about it, and he was talking about the little group that was trying to bring sense to the whole thing about Ron Mastracchio. I'd let it get out of mind, and the group had grown to where they didn't really need me anymore. Still, it was an excuse for getting out of the house, and I thought my father would go, so I said I would too.

I knew I was copping out, avoiding my brother at every opportunity, and I wasn't proud of myself for it. I did dread the confrontation that seemed so inevitable, and I was currently avoiding it because my arm was such a mess. If things got physical with Matt, which they well might, I'd need to be at least functional. I wasn't even close, and I didn't feel any real improvement in the arm.  I was just kind of used to the pain; it wasn't any better yet.

When Chris dropped me off, my car wasn't in the driveway. I was a little bit surprised. I thought Matt might have rejected my offer, but there was no other reason for the car not to be there.

"I'll pick you up by seven-fifteen," Chris said. He grinned, "Stay out of trouble, okay?"

I pointed at my dangling arm with my good one and said, "Yeah, right. This thing's not getting any better."

Chris suddenly looked concerned, "Look, man. If you should be at the doctor, by all means go."

I heard him, and looked at my dangling arm as he drove off. It wasn't feeling any better. The pills held off any major pain, but even if I just wiggled my fingers to see if they still worked, I'd feel it all the way up to my shoulder. I went inside and found my mother, and said, "Mom, I think I should go back to the doctor. My arm's not getting better at all.”

She got all concerned. "Oh, no! Is it hurting you now?"

I grimaced, "It never really stopped hurting. The pills do good, but I don't think it's getting better."

She looked at me, then went to the top of the stairs and called, "Come up here, Matt. Take a look at Evan's arm."

Dad showed up in a few seconds and asked worriedly, "What' wrong?"

I hoped I wasn't making something out of nothing when I said, "It's not right, Dad. I thought it would get better, and there's no change at all. I can't do anything with it."

Dad looked at my arm, then my face, then he turned to my mother and asked, "How long before dinner?"

She said, "It's ready, I was just waiting for Matty to get back."

Dad said, "Fix two plates," then he looked at me. "We'll eat, then I'll take you to the clinic. I'll call now to make sure they have your x-rays from the hospital." He furrowed his brow, "Maybe you should stay home for a few days. Is there a lot going on at school?"

I shook my head, "I have a final Friday first thing, then it's our class outing. Otherwise, nothing."

He nodded and smiled grimly, "Let's eat, then see what the doctor says."

We ate quickly, then I called Chris to let him know we wouldn't be at the meeting, and I was out the door with my father barely a half hour after deciding I should see another doctor.

The clinic we went to was a private family practice, almost like a little hospital in its own right. Our pediatrician worked there, as did my mother's gynecologist and the internist Dad used as a family doctor. There were other specialists there, including a neuro-surgeon, who I went to see right after talking to the pediatrician.

He was friendly enough, but obviously not too pleased with what he saw on the X-rays compared to what the E.R. doctor saw. He poked at my arm gently, gave equally gentle tugs that still hurt like the devil, and tsk-tsked all the while. He finally started feeling around my elbow again, and said, "This elbow bothers me, Evan." He snickered, "Well, not as much as it must bother you, but I'd like to give it a good yank, then put you in a brace for a few days." He sighed, "I'll need a few more pictures first, so let me set you up in X-ray. Relax here, I'll be right back."

I watched him go, and I was in a cold sweat by then wondering what that 'good yank' was going to feel like. I didn't fret long, because my father looked in, obviously sent by the doctor. "Well?" he asked.

I gulped, then joked, "I hope you brought whiskey. I have a feeling this might hurt more than the original."

Dad sat in a chair and said, "I'm sure they'll be careful. At any rate, it's a good thing that you get attention before your arm gets any worse."

I nodded, then we waited in silence for a few minutes until.a woman looked in and asked, "Evan?"

"That's me," I said.

"Come along, then. Doctor wants a few pictures of your elbow." She looked at my father, "You can wait right here if you like. We'll just be five minutes." Dad nodded his assent, and I followed her down the hall to radiology.

She pointed to a chair and told me to sit, then she adjusted a table on my left side. I rested my arm on it when she said to, then she looked at the doctor's notes and said, "I'm going to leave it up to you how you get in position. I'll show you what I need,  and you do your best to give me the correct angle without hurting yourself." She came close and pointed to the inside of my elbow, then to each side of it, and finally to the back of the joint.

I did my best as a contortionist, and learned that trying to avoid pain in my elbow caused different pains in my shoulder and the rest of my arm. At least I didn't have someone pushing, pulling and slamming me into position like the sadist at the hospital did the day before. It wasn't a long time, either; just a few minutes and several pictures, then she thanked me and told me to go and wait with my father.

We weren't there long before the doctor came in, X-rays in hand. He showed them to me, along with the ones from the hospital. Where he saw 'compression' and a joint out of line I just saw skeleton, but I wasn't about to disagree with him. If I was compressed and out of line, then I was in the right place to get uncompressed and realigned.

I laid down on a padded table, and the doctor cranked my back up until I was sitting with my legs straight out. Then he said, "Tell you what," as he handed me what looked something like a rubber hot dog. "Put this ear protector between your teeth, and when I say 'bite' you bite down on it as hard as you can, okay?"

I took the thing and looked at it suspiciously. Ear protector? Whose ear? It looked more like a dick than an earplug, but when he said to get ready I put it between my teeth. He was fooling around with my arm, wiggling the elbow for a moment, then massaging it, then repeating. "Okay now," he said. "Get ready ... and bite!"

I chomped down on that piece of rubber, and just in time, too. At that very moment, a train crashed right into the room and broke my arm into five hundred little pieces, and each piece hurt more than the one next to it. I was instantly sweating bullets, pouring out tears and choking on a giant ear protector, which was suddenly pulled gently from my mouth. The doctor patted my shoulder, "You alright? Maybe a big glass of gin would be a good idea when you get home."

I looked at him, envisioning that ear protector shoved up in a place that doctor probably never thought about, and scowled. "That," I said, "hurt!"

The doctor bopped my forehead lightly with the rubber thing and said, "At least this worked. I didn't hear a thing!"

I giggled despite myself, getting his little joke. I bit on that thing to protect his ears!

"There's just a little more, Evan, and this shouldn't hurt much at all." He was standing there with a piece of dark blue cloth and a piece of dark green. "Pick a cast color."

I looked and said, "The green is nice."

"Excellent choice, I like the green myself. Let me fit you up here, then you can go home."

He started to work, fitting a green piece of plastic to the bottom of my forearm and securing it with tape, then he put a similar piece just above my elbow and taped that on, and there was another piece that went on the back of my elbow. The doctor was bantering all the time, and he kept my mind off what he was doing. "You know, I think they should make this stuff in black. Then I could make believe I'm creating a Darth Vader instead of a Munchkin." He looked at my father and said, "You should watch the rest of this, Matt. If you see how it goes together, you can take it off yourself and save the office visit."

Dad came to look, and the doctor pulled a piece of green cloth that matched the green plastic around my upper arm, and it secured with Velcro. He did the same thing with a longer piece on my forearm, then picked up an aerosol can with a long, thin plastic tube coming out the nozzle. "This," he said, "is just like the outlet insulation you can get at Home Depot ... except it's medical grade, of course."

Dad nodded and I asked, "What's the difference?"

The doctor shrugged and held the can for me to see. "This is medical grade, you can see that by the Rx symbol. The difference is that this can cost fifty dollars instead of the buck you'd pay at Home Depot."

He proceeded to squirt the stuff into the pockets the cloth created on my arm, and as the foam swelled and stiffened my arm became almost immobile. Then he put a little bend into my elbow, which hurt all over again, and strapped everything together so it would stay just that way.

"Stay home for a few days, Evan," he said when we were leaving. "Relax and stay off your feet, for one day anyhow, two if you can manage it." He knocked on my brace, "This should give that elbow a little relief. Don't try to defeat it, and don't get it too wet."

When I was walking out with my father I muttered, "At least he thought I got the right pills."

Dad's phone rang right at that moment, so he answered it instead of me, and it was obviously my mother on the other end. He was still talking when we got to the car, but by the time I was inside he had hung up. "That was your mother, Ev." He smiled, "Aaron's at the house waiting for you."

Does pitter-pat sound less than manly? If it does, I'll apologize right now, but that's exactly what my heart did then, and I won't examine it any further. Just hearing Aaron's name cheered me up, but the fact that he was at my house waiting made a whole lot of bad disappear, just like that. I refrained from telling Dad to step on it, but I didn't have to anyhow. He wasn't exactly a hot-rodder, but he'd never been afraid of the accelerator either.

We were home in no time, and Aaron's car was right out front. My car either wasn't back yet, or it was gone again. I didn't care either way, with my mind fervently stuck in one track.

Aaron was standing in the opened doorway when I got to the house, and I stopped before I got to him so I could look at him. He looked at the harness on my arm, then turned an innocent look to my face and asked, "Where can I touch?"

I giggled and drew a line down the middle of my face with my finger and pointed, "This side." Then I gave in, "Oh, I don't care! It is good to see you, Aar. You're just what I needed!"

With that I went in, and I gave Aaron a one-handed hug and an elated kiss. "How long did you have to wait?" I asked as we headed up to my room. Aaron started to answer, but my mother called.

"Evan, don't get lost. Someone else is on the way over ... the boy who hit you the other day."

I stopped in my tracks, looked at Aaron then back down the stairs. "What's he want?"

My mother gave me a look and said, "He's coming to apologize, of course. He should be here any minute."

I swallowed, then said, "Just call me when he comes, then. I'll leave the door open." I looked at Aaron, who shrugged, and we went on up to my room.

When we got in the room I said, "Just what I ... mmmmph," then I forgot what I was going to say anyhow, under Aaron's kiss. When he pulled back he grinned and said, "I love you. Let this guy say his thing when he gets here. Turn your computer on, I want to show you something."

That got my interest. Unlike me and most of my friends, Aaron had little use for the computer outside of homework, so I couldn't wait to see what he'd show me.

It was typical Aaron, though. He'd found a website that had classifieds for gay kids looking for friends or partners. He had to log in, and he'd started an ad as a joke. "Help me finish this, Evan!" he said, "I can't wait to see how it comes out."

I started laughing the moment I started reading it:

Boy, 16, in search of similar to fill in, because my steady is in another town. Looking for gorgeous, not too big, and good dental hygiene.

"What the hell are you doing, Aaron?" I laughed out. Good dental hygiene? And you better be more specific when you say not too big!"

Aaron giggled happily and said, "Help me out then, this is funny stuff."

I read it again, seriously this time, and said, "Add self-lubricating, maybe?"

Aaron laughed so hard he got spit on the screen and had to get a tissue to clean it off. Then he typed, 'multiple dicks a plus!' and immediately erased it. I asked, "Why'd you do that? Oh, I get it ... two dicks would be too distracting on one guy?"

Aaron was beyond speech, so he just shook his head while tears poured from his eyes. I knew what he was thinking: that kind of distraction wouldn't be a problem, he'd just feel inferior.

We played around with that ad and laughed ourselves foolish. In the end, of course, it never got posted, but nonsense fun like that was exactly what I needed to get my mind of my own problems. Problem. Well, I had a bad arm and it was a problem, but now the guy who hurt me was on his way, so that pluraled out into problems.

Like clockwork, my mother called right then, and Aaron and I only took a second to wipe our eyes. Aaron whispered, "I'll be straight," then followed me down the stairs, where my parents were waiting with Rod Bensen and his parents, and the whole bunch of them seemed nervous.

I stopped and looked at the kid, smiled the best I could, and held out my good hand. "Hi."

He was a big kid, built, but round in the face like he still had some baby fat to get rid of. He looked at the brace on my arm, then more-or-less at my feet and said, "I'm sorry. I hope you're okay." He looked up, "I did that on purpose, and I feel really bad about it.. I don't know what else to say. It’s not me.  It shouldn't have happened." He looked at my bad arm again, "It'll be okay, right?"

I nodded, "That's what they say." Then I shrugged and looked him in the eye and said, "Apology accepted." Then I remembered manners and said, "I'm sorry, this is my friend, Aaron," and that started a round of introductions. Aaron was true to his word, too, and acted as straight as anyone in the room. I was put off by that at first, then I understood what he was thinking. If that guy could go back to his coach and team and tell them that he only hit me because I was Mt. Harman's gay player, he'd probably get all his sins erased and finish off the playoffs, while I still languished on the bench.

Thankfully, there weren't a lot of pleasantries after that. Mr. and Mrs. Bensen asked after me, then promised that Rodney wasn't off the hook yet, and they all left.

My parents thought it was nice that they came over like that, and I guess I agreed. I just thought it was overkill. The kid could have sent a note. When I was going back upstairs with Aaron, I rethought that, and decided it was right that we did it in person. He got to see what he did, and I could see that he wasn't a monster who did things like that for the heck of it. I'd get better, and he would pay the price of banishment from sports at his school. That was steep.

My evening with Aaron wasn't to be, either. Before we reached the upstairs landing, I heard the door slam and Matt's voice asking, "Who were those people?"

I sat on the top step and said, "Kiss me, Aaron. Then go straight again. That's my brother, Matt."

Aaron did kiss me, but I felt him tense up. "Straight?"

I looked at Aaron and felt the fool. "No don't," I said. "If he's a jerk, then let me handle it." I smiled at Aaron, albeit nervously. "We're our own truth. If Matt can't handle it, then he can't. He'll never change how I feel about you, and it's better that he sees the real you right up front." I gulped and said, "Come on, Aar. I want to introduce you to my brother ... as my boyfriend!"

He gave me a look, like 'You sure?' and I nodded. "Who can I kid, Aar? Matt should know right now that you're my boyfriend ... that I love you." I squinted and snickered and added, "That's the truth, too." I pulled Aaron to me, "I do love you Aaron. Maybe more than you'll ever know."

Aaron smiled sweetly, "Oh, I know how much, Ev. Let's go meet your brother. I'll just follow your lead."

I took a deep breath, then stood up and started down the stairs, Aaron a step behind me. I heard voices from the kitchen, but it was my parents out there when we went in, and my mother smiled, "Are you taking good care of our patient, Aaron?"

Aaron said, "Not yet," kind of glumly.

I asked, "Where's Matt?"

"In my office," Dad said. "He's looking up car values on the computer."

I was nervous again, and I asked, "Do you think he's ready for Aaron?"

Dad gave me a look, then smiled wanly, "I guess it has to happen someday. I'll go with you. Actually, maybe it's best if I do the introduction."

Mom said, "That's brilliant! I'll come too."

I felt a little heartened with their presence, and we all followed Dad into his office through the open door. He went first, followed by me, then Aaron, then my mother. Dad asked right away, "Having any luck?" which caused Matty to turn around. His curiosity showed when he saw Aaron, but only normal, like when anyone saw somebody new in their house. He smiled a little and started to stand as Aaron approached with his hand out. His smile became genuine when he got a good look at Aaron while they shook hands.

If Aaron had one single feature that defined him, it was the friendliness that was built into his face. It was a friendliness that showed on generations of family members with that same face, and it was very real. Matt was seeing in Aaron someone who he would clearly like just the way he stood there. It would be up to Matt to make the best of that, or to make it go awry.

Matt said, "Pleased to meet you."

Aaron said, "Mawg dilligs! I've heard lots about you from Evan."

Matt glanced at me warily and dropped Aaron's hand. "All bad then, right?"

Aaron shook his head, "Nuh uh! All I ever heard was good 'til you ... well, you know." He stepped back beside me and stared at Matt; still a friendly stare. "You'll change your mind, you know. Evan didn't become gay just because you found out, and he sure didn't become gay just to tick you off! The only reason you didn't find out earlier was that everyone was being sensitive to your feelings. Evan never told me why, but you were the one person he was afraid of, too. Not because of anything you ever did, but because he knows you the least well." Aaron grinned, "Now's your chance to prove him wrong." His grin turned to a happy smile, "Think of it like this: It's the same old Evan with some new features. He's probably a foot taller than you remember him, and he's gay, and he has a boyfriend. He's still smart as a whip, very good at sports, and prone to making people crazy."

My father said in surprise, "Very well spoken, Aaron, and right on the money!" He looked at Matt, who seemed confused. "Son, don't let bad information upset your standing in this family. We've all struggled to understand Evan, and in the end we all do understand. Evan is gay, so you have a gay brother. That's all there is; no more and no less."

Right then we heard Bruce calling, "Where is everybody?"

"In the office, sweetheart," my mother said, then Bruce showed up at the door. He looked at the situation, then gulped and tried to back away.

"Come in here, Bruce," my father said, and Bruce came in looking reluctant.

"What?" he asked.

Dad said, "Bruce, tell Matthew what makes Evan different."

Bruce eyed him, wondering what the correct answer would be, then he glanced at me and back at Matt. "Um, he's not too bright?" which got a snicker from me, glares from my parents, a harsher glare from Aaron, and a blank look from Matty. Bruce saw the reaction and said, "I get it. I'm supposed to say gay, right? I mean, even Mom understands fractals." He looked at me and said, "You should spend more time frying things, then you'd get it."

Only Bruce! I cracked up, and backed up until I hit a chair to sit in. My weakness in PHD level mathematics made me weirder than being gay did in Brucie's mind. I'd survive being gay, but until I understood fractals I'd miss the transcendent meanings of frying. Or something like that. Under anything like ordinary circumstances I would have sat there and laughed for a long time.

Matt stormed out of the room, saying, "This is sick! Really sick! Since when is a faggot just a bad joke?" His voice faded as he stomped over to the stairs, then up them, "It's depravity, not normal:  a sickness ..."

My mother was right on his heels, with a look I hadn't seen before on her face. It was a combination of rage and fear, coupled with determination, and right then I was glad not to be Matt.

I felt this quiet rage building up inside me at the same time, and it multiplied when I saw the horrified and sorrowful expression on Aaron's face. I took a step toward the door and my father barked, "Evan!" which stopped me in my tracks. I looked back at him quickly and his own expression was dark. "Don't," he said. "Let it go for now." He looked at Aaron and said quietly, "I'm sorry, son. I'm really sorry." He patted Aaron's shoulder, then mine, and followed after my mother.

Aaron looked at me, his lower lip quivering, and I stood beside him. "Just forget it, Aar. It's ignorance, I hope. Otherwise I don't know ... I just don't know." I nudged him, "Let's go up to my room, okay?" Bruce was still there looking mortified, and I said, "You can come too," even though I hoped he wouldn't.

He shook his head, "I have to read for tomorrow." He looked at Aaron, and he actually looked worried. He looked like he'd say something, but finally turned and walked out.

I touched Aaron's arm and said, "Let's git while the gittin's good, pard!" which made him giggle.

We were at the bottom step when the door to outside opened behind us, and Alton was standing there when I turned around. He grinned at first, then lost the happy face and asked, "What's wrong? Why do you have that thing on your arm? Where is everyone?"

I sighed, and decided I was thirsty anyhow, so we went to the kitchen. Aaron didn't want anything, and I got a glass of water while Al warmed up some dinner. I told him about my trip to the doctor briefly, then about what had just happened with Matt. "Honest Al, I thought things were going to be okay, then he just took off down the hall, practically chanting every bad thing he ever heard about gay people." I shrugged my good arm, "Anyhow, Mom took off after him, and I think he's getting religion right about now."

"I'd like to see that," Al said as he tested the bottom of his plate in the microwave. He put it back in and set some more time.

"You can see it if you want," I said. "Maybe you can even help, if it stays out of hand." I looked at him curiously, "Did you expect anything like this?"

Al was arranging his dinner, and he shook his head. "I didn't know what to expect, Ev. I knew he had some opinions when we were in Florida, but ... I don't know. You're his brother for God's sake. I can understand the surprise, and I can even see the upset and anger, but he has no right to go calling you names. Not in your own house." He slammed a knife and fork down onto his dinner tray and said, "I will join them. I have as much say as Matt does in this house."

He picked up his tray and stormed out, his napkin blowing off after only two steps. Aaron quickly retrieved it and hurried after him. When he turned around I held my glass out like a microphone and said, "Excuse me. Sir?" Aaron looked, a sheepish smile on his face. I said, "My name is Frumpton Gooderbadder from CNN news. Don't you love that? Cable Network News news! That's where I'm from though, and I'd like for you to take tonight's survey question, which is this: Do you, given the recent hostilities in the Smiley household, believe that Evan will prevail? This is multiple choice, so please answer either (1) Evan is always right, and he will prevail, or (2) Matt is acting like a moron, so Evan will prevail, or (3) I don't care, because I love Evan right to tiny little bits and itty bitty pieces."

Aaron stared for a second, then burst out laughing. It took a minute for him to even try, then he said, "Th ... th .... oh ha ha ..."

I held the glass back out, "That's your answer? Ha ha? The question was in English, sir. Would you mind responding in ..."

Aaron smacked my head, and hard I might mention, and held three fingers in front of my face while he continued laughing happily.

I was laughing myself, and said, "There you have it, Cable Network News news viewers. This gentleman's spoken answer was in Roman, as you can clearly see from the Roman Numeral three in front of my face. Thank you sir, for your participation. Oh, there's someone else ... madam, excuse me!"

Aaron slid to the floor and leaned on my knee, lost in laughter. Then I noticed what a convenient position we were in, but the location was all wrong. "Aaron! We're needed upstairs, like right now!"

* * * * * * * *

By Friday, the day of our class outing, my left arm was working again, but only nominally. I had no strength in it, and everything I did caused pain, but at least I could move all the joints. It was still pretty much useless, and it would severely crimp my style at the picnic. Recovery was in sight, though, and that was heartening.

I had my last exam of the year in the morning, then at ten o'clock I was outside with the entire Sophomore class waiting to board buses. The Seniors had their field trip on Tuesday, the Juniors on Thursday, and now it was our turn. Freshmen didn't have an outing, but the ones without exams were allowed to just book out.

We were waiting while the chaperoning teachers got a head count, and then it was onto the buses and away! The place we were going to was Amston Resort, which I'd only heard good things about. It was an outing type resort, not a place with a hotel or anything, but they were well known for their food and activities. The price was steep I thought, but kids who couldn't come up with the forty bucks on their own were on the bus anyhow, and as filled with anticipation as the rest of us.

The ride wasn't bad; less than an hour, and we were let out in a parking lot next to a large compound, with all kinds of buildings if you looked around. There were a lot of college-age people there in uniforms of white shorts and red golf shirts, and they seemed eager that we'd all have a good time. We got chopped up into arbitrary groups of twenty right off the bus, but that was just so we could get a very quick tour of the facility, learn where we could safely leave our belongings, and where to turn when we were hungry or thirsty, and of course the toilets were pointed out.

It looked great. The buildings were along a river, and there was a sandy beach behind them, along with docks that anchored canoes and paddle boats. The beach had lounge chairs lined up along it, each with a plump, blue cushion on it. Up farther, there was a speedboat dock for water skiing, and farther yet there were kayaks. The athletic fields included ones for football, softball, and soccer. There were fenced basketball and tennis courts right there, too. The big pavilion, where we'd have our main meal, was also set up for dancing, and the DJ was already playing music when we got there.

It was a fine day, too. Almost eighty, and the only clouds were high, fluffy ones that barely made a shadow. There were snacks out already, and since I wouldn't be doing much else, I got in line for mini-doughnuts and cider. I didn't take a lot, but the treat was just right.

People were scrambling everywhere, and they were almost aimless in their zeal to have fun right away. About half disappeared into the dressing rooms, others already had their bathing suits on under their clothes, so they just stripped down to them. There were people running toward the beach and people running to the ball fields, and before long the pavilion I was in was down to the disabled list, which was a very short list. Luther Perkins was there, still using a crutch because he'd broken his foot in a fall. He'd be good company; we'd been friends through third grade, then his family moved out of the neighborhood and we went to different schools until coming back together in high school. Ellen Fournier was there in a neck brace, the result of a car accident a few weeks before. Her mother bumped a car in front of her right outside the school; not hard enough to even set off the airbag, but Ellen hadn't seen it coming. All of her aches and pains were actually from the seat belt she was wearing. We were the only three at the outing. Kids with worse injuries and chronic illnesses saved their money and stayed home.

We three joked around for awhile, but I was itchy to at least get out in the sunshine, even just to bask in it. Luther and Ellen were happy to stay inside, so I picked up my bag and went out to the beach, where I chose a centrally located lounge chair and dropped my things on it. I had my bathing suit on underneath, so I kicked off my sandals and dropped my shorts. I'd worn a tank top, which I didn't normally like to wear, but it was easy to get out of, which is why I chose it. I put my shades on, shoved my shoes and clothes into my pack, then stretched out on the chair. I thought it was a good deal, or the best one I'd get for the condition my arm was in. I couldn't swim, but I could wade around if I got hot, and I could work a paddle boat, at least if I could bear being seen in one.

I had a book with me, too, but I didn't think I'd be bored enough to read it. I laid back and relaxed. For about eight seconds. Then Chris was there in my face crying, "There you are! We need you to umpire!"

I looked, "Umpire what? Whiffle ball?"

Chris grinned, "Well, so what? I told everyone you could umpire with one arm ... that you could umpire with your eyes closed."

"Chris," I explained, "My eyes were just shut. That was ball one, by the way."

Chris snickered, "He didn't even throw the ball yet."

I snickered back, "Well, that's delaying the game, then. Take your base, soldier!"

Chris shook his head and laughed, "Alright, you had your laugh, now get moving. You umpire, then you ref basketball, then you spot when I'm skiing. If you're a good boy, I'll cut your steak up for you."

That got my interest, "Steak? We're having steak?"

Chris looked at me like I was from Mars. "I do not believe you sometimes. You coughed up forty bucks without reading the menu? I was kidding about the steak anyhow. It's imitation chicken patties, which I know you love, especially when the grease isn't quite hot enough, so it all soaks in."

"Oh yuck," I said. "Are we having steak or not?"

Chris shrugged, "Steak, salmon and chicken breast, I think. There's something else too, maybe ribs, but I don't remember."

I stood up, "It's not ribs if you don't remember. There was a menu?"

We bantered until we got to where the guys were already playing whiffle ball. Chris cried, "Here's our umpire! Start again!"

The runner on second yelled, "You start again! I'm staying right here."

Chris looked at me, "Ump?"

I looked out at Kenny on second and asked, "What's the score?"

"There isn't any."

"Out at second!" I yelled. "Now let's get the ground rules down. This is whiffle ball, and that means ball control is impossible. Anything you swing at and miss is a strike, and anything you don't swing at is a strike, too. You can walk if you get hit by the ball, but only if you whine and cry first. Otherwise you're out, unless you get conked in the nuts. Then a gasp will get you on base as fast as you can crawl there." I grinned, "How'm I doing?"

Everyone was laughing and Chris said, "Good rules, Evan." He patted my butt and said, "Back to the beach with you. I'll call you when we're ready for basketball."

I looked at his hand when he took it away from my rear and said, "Don't stop doing that! It felt better than doughnuts and cider."

Chris giggled, "Nah! Doughnuts and cider in the same place would feel great, too."

"Only you would know that, Chris," I said as I headed back to the beach, laughter in my wake.

If the walk back taught me one thing, it was that I should have worn my sandals. This was my first barefoot of the year, and my tootsies were already feeling tender. Between the beach and the ball field there were pine needles, pebbles, hot blacktop, grass with little sharp things in it, and it was more of the same going back. I was hopping when I finally reached the sand, and even that didn't feel as nice as it had before. I walked right down to the water to cool my feet, and that really felt good. The beach was on a little cove in the river where the water didn't move fast at all. Even so, it was moving. Just standing still, the sand would erode out from under my feet until I felt that I should tip one way or the other. It was neat, and a step in any direction would start it all over again.

I wasn't the only one in the water, of course. People were swimming and wading all around me, and I talked with anyone who wanted to. Suddenly there was a giant squeal, and everyone started running from the water. I looked and couldn't see any sea monsters, and when I finally turned around I knew they weren't running away from something, but rather running to a lineup of nacho wagons that seemed to be everywhere.

I grinned and headed toward the closest one myself. It was neat looking, and I started to think I'd really get my money's worth. The nacho wagons were pushcarts, painted fire-engine red with gold lettering in kind of an old-west style. The operators were some of the same older kids who'd welcomed us earlier. They were wearing sombreros now, big smiles, and giving us all we wanted. The cheeses were labeled 'Sheesh!', 'Zing!' and 'Ouch!' which I thought was clever. I took a plate full of nachos, then put some of each cheese on an empty plate. There were plastic tubs filled with ice and soft drinks right there behind the carts, and after a little indecision, I got a spring water. Then it was back to my still unmolested lounge chair to enjoy.

I sat on the edge, and was soon joined by others, the one I really knew being Nancy. She was, by then, the official Chris girlfriend, but I knew her first. Anyhow, Chris had gone to eat by the ski boat so he'd be up front in the line when they started taking people out.

The nachos hit the spot even if the cheeses were way overstated. Ouch my foot! Whoever put that mess together forgot their heat. Even bland, they were tasty, and I ate all I had on my plate.

Nancy smiled at me, "You look good, Evan. Your arm's getting better."

I realized that I hadn't really noticed my bad arm since I got there, although a little flexing let me know it wasn't magically better. "Better," I said. "Yeah, better."

Nancy said, "It's nice that you can still have fun. I hear your brother is home from Iraq?"

I inhaled sharply, then decided to not make a deal of it. "Yeah, Kuwait. He just got back this week."

She smiled, "Chris told me there's a problem. Still, you must be thrilled that he's home in one piece."

"I am," I admitted. "I just wish he wasn't so down on me. He won't listen to anything. He won't even borrow my car anymore. He just walks so he won't have anything to thank me for. It's kind of a mess at home right now."

Nancy put her hand absently on my leg, then abruptly pulled it away. "I don't know how I can help, Evan. Is he staying home for awhile?"

I shrugged, "I don't know. It doesn't matter anyhow. I'll be leaving after next week, and if he stays I'll just stay away."

Nancy looked at me and said, "You said it doesn't matter. You didn't say you don't care, and I know you do."

I sighed, "I care. Of course I care. I don't know what to do. I thought I'd get through to him with funny, but that went nowhere." I looked at Nan and said, "I don't know anymore. I just don't know."

She leaned in and kissed my cheek. "Don't sound so sad. I don't know what you can do with your brother, but he's the one with a problem."

I said, "I know that. I'm not even mad at him. I mean, I left home last year because I thought I was the one with a problem." I shook my head, "I might still be." I leaned toward Nancy, and she to me, so we were touching at the shoulder. "Everybody has their feelings about gay people, and Matt's aren't exactly unusual. I think he basically doesn't have a clue. All this crap in school about tolerance, then zero-tolerance ... that wasn't around when Matt was in high school." I looked at her helplessly, "I'm not his only prejudice, either. He calls Arabs 'towel heads' and Indians are all 'Ghandis'.

Nancy looked, "Really?" then she got a gleam in her eye. "How about Amazons, Evan? I don't know any six-foot girls, but enough of us could go there and kick his ass into next year. What service was he in?"

"Air Force," I said weakly.

Nan nodded, "A Wing-Ding then? Yeah!" She poked my side with her finger, "Leave it to the girls, Ev!" She looked curious, "How old is he?"

I never really answered, because there was a sudden to-do by the pavilion. We couldn't see from where we were so we hurried up there to find people all watching a television up on a shelf. There was an advertisement on, so I asked the closest person, "What's going on?"

That turned out to be Darlene Bender from my art class. She said, "Oh hi, Evan! It was just on the news! The state's taking over the gambling thing at school. The Attorney General is coming on, so you'll see." She jumped up and down a little, clapping at the ad on the television, but the news was big, and I hoped that someone on that television could explain it.

My own friends were gathering close to me, and when the advertisement ended, a news person came on and gave us the basics.

That got Ron Mastracchio's friends hooting, because his case was transferring to juvenile court, and the charges against him were being consolidated. I thought that was righteous, and I would have cheered myself except I wanted to hear the rest. Then video came on of major busts happening around the state, and they were being conducted by the FBI and ATF, as well as State and local police.

And it went right up to the top! When the Attorney General finally came on, he said they had issued indictments against thirteen people so far, and more were on the way. The D.A. in Mt. Harman had been relieved from the case that morning, and the State's Attorney was working on a change of venue.

His speech was more angry than eloquent, and I got the feeling the man felt let down by a lot of people. "I will not," he said, his face angry and his right arm ending in a fist, "I will not allow one high school student to face this alone. This is more than one boy, and the problem reaches in many directions ... both in Mt. Harman and across our great state."

I'd seen that guy on television countless times. He was as tall and as skinny as they come, and the truth is that I didn't often like his message. He was always using the phrase 'for the children' when he talked, and that seemed both patronizing and empty to me. Now I liked what he was saying. He wanted to use the resources of the state to confront the adults who created kids like Ron Mastracchio.  Those people were legion, he said. Petty criminals for the most part, lawbreakers that nobody paid attention to, but there were people in authority greasing the slides, and he was after them all. I was thinking, not paying attention to the reporters' questions, then the Attorney General said he had one more thing to say.

"I concede that this happened on my watch, and I'm ultimately responsible." His look steeled up and he said, "Now I promise that it will end on my watch, too. Thank you."

Continued ...