The Little Pipsqueak

© 2012 Matthew Templar

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyrighted by Matthew Templar, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

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Chapter Ten

It was just a little after twelve hundred, I mean noon, when my cell phone rang. It never rang. I wasn't even sure who had my number. But my heart sank when I saw the Caller ID announce that it was AJ's school."


"Mr. McGill? This is Vice Principal McCormick from your son's, well, AJ's school. I'm afraid we've had an incident and I need you to come and get AJ, sir."

"Of course. I'll be right there. Is he hurt? Was there an accident?" I was hoping against all hope that it was something that hadn't put him on the school's list. I was embarrassed that it was the first thing that came to my mind, too.

"No, nothing like that. Uh, just come and we can talk when you get here."

The nice thing about cell phones is I was already starting the truck up, drowning out his goodbyes, by the time we hung up. It was a ten minute drive and I used the time to obsess about what might have happened.

When I got to AJ's school I went to the main office where I was ushered to another set of offices a few doors down a hallway. They all had frosted windows and plaques next to them. It looked like an older school right out of the fifties or sixties and had that lingering school smell to everything, like dust mop and floor wax all at the same time. I was shown to one of two chairs outside of the door that had a plaque with 'Vice Principal' next to it. The office helper that led me there knocked on the door and went in, leaving me to my thoughts for about one minute. When she came out I heard McCormick's voice saying,

"And have the boy, AJ, brought in too, please, Denise."

"You may go in now, sir," said Denise. She held open the door and then closed it behind me as I entered.

Vice Principal McCormick was probably a few years older than I was and seemed to be in pretty good shape for a desk jockey. Maybe he got his exercise by chasing after kids. He stood and offered me his hand while leaning over his desk.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. McGill. I just wish it had been under better circumstances," he said with an almost apologetic smile as he slid back into his old leather chair, while he motioned me to a chair.

"And just what are the circumstances?" I asked.

"Well, it seems that he and another boy were eating their lunch when a couple of other boys came up on either side of the other boy and began taunting him. AJ, I was told, just pushed back and let them go at it. I was told he may have even set the boy up. See, the other boy is picked on quite a bit." Then his voice dropped a few decibels as he continued, "If you've seen him, he does come across as somewhat small and effeminate, if you know what I mean."

I was shocked by his bias but I tried not to show it.

"Anyway, I guess the other two boys were really laying into the boy verbally. Another student said he saw tears in the boy's eyes, but he also said that AJ did nothing to prevent their taunting, even looking around as if to see if he could get away from them or something."

"But that doesn't sound like something that . . ." I started to say, interrupting his report.

"Wait, there's more, believe me. These kids taunted the boy until they had him red and shaking, then, just as they were laughing as hard as they could at the boy, AJ reached over and spilled the kid's drink in his lap! The whole glass! I couldn't believe it when I heard that. That pretty much says he set the kid up with these two, who have a reputation for these kinds of shenanigans. So, I've suspended the three for three days, not counting the rest of today. He can come back on Monday IF he is prepared to apologize to young Stewart, the other boy."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. All the crap AJ had gone through with others when he was on the streets and he begins to hang out with these thugs? It didn't make any sense. But just then, the door opened and a sullen AJ walked in, being escorted by a huge guy that I found out later was the P.E. teacher and coach.

"AJ, you're father is here to take you home," said the vice principal as we both stood up. "I have to admit, I'm very disappointed in you, young man. You go home and think about what you've done for the rest of this week and if you can come back and apologize to Stewart, you can join your classes again. But this is your first warning; two more and it could well spell expulsion."

AJ just stood there with his head down, as I'd seen him do dozens of times, it seemed, without so much as a 'yes sir' or anything.

"Let's go, son. We'll talk when we get home."

I turned toward the door and we walked into the hallway just as another door with a plaque that read 'Principal' on it, opened and a man, a women and a young boy, almost AJ's age, with the whole front of his pants sopping wet, came out. I noticed the principal standing in the doorway saying his goodbyes to who must have been Stewart's parents, but what I then noticed blew me away.

Amidst a smile on his face, Stewart mouthed the words to AJ, "Thank you." What a cute kid, almost pretty. Still, he seemed small for his age and I could understand how he could be the brunt of jokes and things from the other kids. Everyone could see he could never fight back.

My head turned to see AJ's reaction. I caught him with the beginning of a smile until he noticed my movement. He looked up at me, gave a big sigh, then turned and walked away, looking down at his feet plod along until we got to the truck.

It was dead silent as we drove straight home. I was going over everything I'd learned and was just amazed that he'd let something like that happen, even join in, after all he'd been through in his short life.

When we got home I had him seated at a kitchen chair, our usual meeting place for this kind of talk. I felt like we were beginning to wear out the two chairs. I got us both a glass of milk and sat looking as he sat there silently, looking at his hands in his lap.

"What was that all about? You set this kid up with these other thugs and . . ."

"No, it wasn't like that!"

"Just wait until I'm done. Then you can have your say, young man. I am pissed."

That big sigh again, then he looked into his lap as I continued.

"I can't believe you'd do something like that. You side with these guys and then spill a drink all over this, this Stewart kid. It's just too hard to understand how someone could be so mean, so vile to someone. Where did you learn this stuff, the streets?"

I was huffing, I was boiling.

AJ just sat there with his head down, like the start of every talk we've ever had, it seems. Well, he wasn't getting out of this one.

"Answer me, AJ. Where'd you learn to be like this?"

I half expected him to jump up and run out of the house until night.

I think he said something but it was so soft I couldn't make it out.

"What? Speak up!"

"YOU! Okay? You taught me to do it!" he practically yelled at me.

I was floored! How could he blame me for . . .

"How can you sit there and blame me for something so . . ."

"Is it my turn yet?" he barked, looking up into my eyes with wet, red eyes that seemed to steam with anger at me.

"Go ahead, and it had better be good."

"You said to do to others like I wanted ta be treated. You said I should treat people better, to notice them and help them. You said I'd know when the time came. So, the time came and all I get is s'pension and you yelling at me for doing just what you said ta do."

The tears were streaming down his cheeks by the time he'd finished. I was so confused. But I just waited for him to calm down and continue. I tried to reach my hand to place it on his arm, but I guess I'd never learn. He didn't want that, he didn't need me then, it seemed. He just shrugged it off.

"AJ, I'm sorry. I know I told you all that stuff, but I don't see how it relates to this incident. I was told you were helping those thugs bully Stewart."

"Yeah, well, no one knows what happened for real except for Stewart and me, and that's the way it had to be. Besides, no one even bothered to ask me."

"Okay, son, now I'm even more confused. You and Stewart planned all this?"

"Nuh uh. I didn't even know him very well before lunch. 'Member when you said I almost knocked a kid over last Friday coming outta school? That's when you stopped and told me all that stuff about helping; the doing to others stuff."

I nodded and he proceeded.

"Well, I saw Stewart coming into the building today and remembered it was him. I remembered 'cause he seems to get picked on by a lot of the guys. He just seems to stand out that way, 'cause he's small or something. So, I went up to him and he was like, 'You gonna sock me too or knock my books down?' But I just said that I wanted to apologize for knocking into him on Friday. Heck, he didn't even remember it but you could tell he was like in shock 'cause I guess nobody's ever apologized to him before."

My mouth was open through all of this and my heart started to pick up an extra beat or two.

"We decided to meet for lunch and were almost done when those two ass . . . uh, jerks came and stood over Stewart saying he was a wimp and other really nasty stuff. Man, I was ready ta go at 'em but Stewart noticed and just shook his head at me and took it from them, hoping they'd get bored and leave, I guess. I couldn't take anymore. It wasn't right, like you said, and I wanted to help him so bad. You told me I'd see my chance and it wasn't coming, until . . ."

I just stared, wanting him to go on, waiting for the rest. I couldn't believe how their story was so different from what I'd heard from McCormick.

"Until?" I prompted.

"Until I saw Stewart start to cry and this shocked look comes over his face. Then he looked down into his lap and when I did, I saw why he was crying. They'd made him so upset, I guess, that he'd wet his pants. I sat there imagining what it would be like to go to all the other classes smelling like a toilet and being about as embarrassed as anyone could be. I remembered a coupla times I had no where to go and wet, well, you know. I really remembered how bad and stinky that was. So, I saw my chance to help him as best I could. That's when I spilled the drink on him. At least then he could say it was me that did it and not him that messed his pants or nothin'. That's all I could think of doin'; like you told me to, helpin' him and all. It's what I woulda wanted for me."

I was totally stunned. He had, what, a second to act before anyone else could notice what Stewart had done to himself and he did the most heroic thing ever, short of smashing in the faces of those two ass . . . uh, jerks.

"AJ?" I asked softly.

"Yeah, now what?" he said pathetically as his head dropped to look into his lap again.

"First, I apologize for judging you before you had a chance to tell me your story. I'm very, very sorry." I said it as softly and gently as I could and tried to summon up as much sincerity as I could. That wasn't hard to do.

He looked up with his mouth open. I guess I didn't come across as being too wrong most of the time. It must have been kind of new to him.

"Second, you have to be about the smartest, most caring, hero in this world right now. I am so proud of you I could shout it out to the world!"

"Huh? You are? I, I just did what you said ta do, is all."

I think he was the confused one about then, and I couldn't blame him.

"No, you may have used what I told you, but it was your mind, your quick wits, your heart that saw that split-second opportunity and took it without ever thinking of the consequences. I'm so proud of you."

"Wow!" said the boy, but as quiet as he could with his mouth still hanging open.

"But tell me, why did the vice principal tell me the version he did? Why didn't he know your side of it?"

"Ha! That's easy. He never asked me. He just listened to the kids and the teachers around us that didn't do a thing to help Stewart, either. I was looking around for a teacher or someone to come make them quit 'cause Stewart didn't want me buttin' in and making it worse, I guess. He told me earlier he was used to all the crap he got dished out on him, but you could tell he wasn't. So, I was looking for someone, but the teachers were over in a corner, talking amongst themselves and never even looked over at us until I did the drink thing to save Stewart's totally losing it in front of everyone. That's what got them over there and me in trouble. But nobody ever asked me why I did it."

"And that's why I saw Stewart thank you in the office when I picked you up, huh?"


"AJ, I can't take this anymore. Will you please, please come over here to me?" I didn't shout but I did sound rather insistent.

"Uh, how come?"


He set his milk glass on the table and slowly got up and took the few steps around the table to my chair. He was about a half a head taller than I was sitting down and had a slight look of fear on his wet face, not knowing what to expect.

I opened up my arms and just waited. I so much wanted to grab him up, but I knew I could only risk the invitation. He'd have to make the decision on his own.

His head fell again and I was afraid he'd walk off, but he didn't. He took one more step until he was between my arms and I grabbed him.

"God, I love you, kid. I'm sorry for all the grief I've caused you since you came here. I've been going through some stuff as you know, but it's no excuse for not letting you into my life as an equal. You're too important to me, and I really, really see that now. It's not you that needed me so much as I that needed you, Andrew James. I love you."

He didn't say a thing, he just sobbed. I sobbed. We were both blubbering sobbers for almost five minutes it seemed. Finally we began to calm down and I was enjoying the feeling of being close, just hugging.

Then it struck me!

"We're going to school, young man!" I exclaimed, pushing him away to hold him at arm's length.


"Yup, go change your shirt to a dry one and meet me in the truck. Times a wastin'!" I laughed as I pushed him out of the kitchen, toward his room.

He took about two steps as slow as he could, confused as he was, then he did a one-eighty and stood there with a disappointed look all over his face.

"But what about my three day vacation?"

The little pipsqueak!

"Is the principal available, Denise?" I asked as AJ and I stormed through the office doors.

"Oh my! Well, yes, sir," she replied, as startled as you can get.

"We'd like to see him, please. There's some things that need to be cleared up, immediately."

Both AJ and Denise were staring at me, one with awe, I hoped, the other clearly with some fear.

"Um, won't you come with me and I'll see if he's busy," she stammered.

We walked to the door that said 'Principal' and waited as she tapped on the door. We heard a faint, 'Come in.'

Denise opened the door and stood in the doorway as she announced us.

"Mr. Tremble, uh, the man and his son, uh, AJ, are here and would like a minute of your time."

She made every effort to point to us with her head but evidently Mr. Tremble wasn't even looking at her.

"I'm sorry, Denise. Please go back out and tell them they'll have to schedule time tomorrow. I need to get this proposal completed for the school board meeting tonight. Explain please. This is really important." He seemed sincere enough and wasn't gruff or condescending in any way.

But it didn't stand well with me.

"Denise, could you please tell Principal Tremble that he might as well talk to us, because if he doesn't, we'll be going to the school board meeting with Stewart and his parents asking why this school permits bullying and employs useless people like McCormick who don't even know to get the whole story before they convict and sentence someone? That will just about use up all his time for his presentation after a long drawn out discussion ensues, which could cost him his job anyway."

"Oh my!" squeaked Denise.

I'd heard a rolling chair hit something in his office and the sound of shoes on hard vinyl. By the time I was done talking, I saw an arm ease Denise to one side and the principal stick his head around the door. I happened to look down at AJ who was trying hard to understand what was happening, until he saw the look on his principal's face that told him the man was desperate.

"Please, won't you come in Mr. uh . . ." he asked looking at Denise for a name.

"McGill, sir. Tim McGill and my foster son, AJ."

He dismissed Denise and we found seats around his desk.

"Sir, I'm sorry about your presentation but this couldn't wait," I started. "It's far too serious on several different levels. I'm afraid that if something isn't done, someone at this school is going to get seriously hurt, either physically or emotionally or both, if they haven't been already."

"No, I understand perfectly. I certainly don't want that to happen. Perhaps you could tell me what you mean." It wasn't until then that realization hit him. "Oh, this is the boy who bullied young Stewart and spilled the boy's drink in his lap just as those others were pestering him too."

AJ lowered his head and shook it slowly, then he raised up his head, turned to me and sighed, "See what I mean? They don't listen to what is true, just what they wanta hear. See?"

"Now see here, young man. You are in enough trouble without . . ." cautioned Principal Tremble, before I interrupted his interruption.

"No, Mr. Tremble, he's right. No one on your staff, including you and your vice principal asked the two boys what happened. Because, if you had asked, especially Stewart, you would have known that sitting in front of you is a hero, not a bully.

Tremble was grasping for words but I wasn't quite done.

"We saw Stewart and his folks coming out of your office. During the time they were with you didn't you think to ask Stewart what happened?"

"Well, I . . ." he said before we heard someone knocking at his door. He sighed and called out, "Denise, you know I'm in conference and can't be disturbed. Please."

The door then opened and the man I'd come to know as Stewart's father was standing there with Stewart's hand in his.

"Go in there and tell him, George. Tell him what a big mistake he made. Go. Tell him!" said the voice of who I assumed was Stewart's mom, behind the two.

The principal bowed his head and muttered, "Great! What next?" Which is something I've learned not to ask, because, then you find out.

When AJ turned to see Stewart standing there he was out of his chair and running to his friend.

"AJ!" Stewart yelled and dashed to meet his friend. Within seconds the two boys were in a corner of the office talking and laughing. I don't think anyone noticed them move out of the way, but I did. I almost laughed too, the relief was so wonderful.

"Mr. Tremble, it didn't occur to Kaye or me that no one had asked for the full story from someone that was actually involved in the scenario," said Stewart's dad as he moved toward the desk separating him from the very worried looking principal. "We were both astounded when we got home and heard the true story from our son. You, hell, your whole faculty should be ashamed for the way this was handled and I would think, very concerned for your jobs."

Tremble did a double-take at me before he spoke to Stewart's dad. "Now, Mr. Curtain, I think there's been some misunderstanding about all this. I'm not sure where you got your information but I assure you every staff member that was in the cafeteria was questioned about what went on and so were many of the students in the area. I want you to know that our staff is trained to . . ."

"To look the other way?" said a high-pitched voice from the corner of the office.

We all turned to see both Stewart and AJ walking over to the desk, hand in hand, with looks of disgust on their young faces.

Stewart continued, "If they are so well trained, Mr. Tremble, then why am I continually being hit and jerked around by bullies like Brad and Devon almost every lunch hour and lots of times at recess and after school? If they're so trained why do they always grab me and pull me away from the problem like it's my fault on the few, very few times they even notice?"

"Yeah," agreed AJ. "Since this is an ongoing thing, why were all your trained teachers all the way over on the other side of the cafeteria, making googly eyes at the eighth grade girls that sit over there, instead of near to where Stewart always sits and always gets picked on and your trained teachers know that?"

"Now take it easy, boys. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for this," said the principal.

"Excuse me, but if this has been happening as the boys have said, then what possible explanation is there than that your staff was neglecting their duties and offering up this young man, repeatedly, to the whims of those two thugs?" I asked. "And, frankly, we haven't even delved into the part about not hearing from these two boys about the incident."

Kaye Curtain reached her son and turned him toward her.

"Stewart, how long has this been going on? Does this happen a lot of times at lunchtime?"

"Yeah, Mom. It happens almost every day. It usually means I don't get to eat 'cause they take my lunch money or knock my tray out of my hands and the lunch people make me pay for a new tray when that happens."

"Oh, so you're just now making a complaint about it? Well, then how would you expect us to . . ." asked the principal in a rather accusatory voice.

"What!? Nuh uh, sir. Like I said, this has been happening for a long time, since school started and I've told lots of people what was happening. Mr. Pendergrass even told me to suck it up and if I was going to be a baby about it, I should take up martial arts or go to another school. I even had a bruise on my arm where he dragged me away from those same two guys."

"WHAT!?!" came the three voices of the parents in the room.

"Now I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for our PE teacher's actions. He's very supportive of . . ."

". . . The members of his teams? Is that what you were going to say? Because it so happens that both Brad and Devon are eighth graders on his football team," said Stewart.

"Okay, I think this is getting a little out of hand here," said the extremely stressed out man behind the desk. "Why don't we let the boys go play and we can discuss this like adults?"

"Excuse me," I countered, "But it sounds to me like the two people in this room that should be heard from are the two boys you're trying to silence by making them leave. You still haven't heard their story, sir," I said as calmly as I could.

So, over the next twenty minutes the Curtains and I made sure that Principal Tremble heard the whole story from Stewart, then AJ. They were exactly the same stories, of course, with both boys acknowledging the other's rendition multiple times throughout the telling. When they were done I noticed that Mrs. Curtain had her handkerchief to her eyes and a smile on her face.

"AJ, what a brave boy you were to help Stewart in such a way. I would have never thought of spilling his drink in his lap, especially knowing that you would surely be seen just as these people treated you, another bully. I wish there was some way to thank you sufficiently."

AJ was blushing beautifully by then. AJ's foster dad couldn't have been prouder. I was beaming. After all, I taught him how to . . . well, never mind.

"So, what's it going to be, Mr. Tremble? Though we haven't discussed it yet, I'm sure the Curtains would find it very convenient that there's a school board meeting tonight at which we could ask what the future looks like for the faculty of this grade school."

"There's a school board meeting tonight? George Curtain, we're going if we have to drag all three kids with us."

"Now really," said Tremble, standing and patting down the air in front of him to calm us all down.

"Yes, Mr. Tremble, it is all real and you and your faculty haven't done a thing about it. We want it to stop. We want you to call in counselors to talk with kids that have been persecuted and we want you to initiate training for your faculty to deal with this shi . . .," I almost said, quickly looking at the two boys. ". . . this kind of behavior. I also want the vice principal trained on how to do his job properly, orderly, like he is being paid to do. But, it never should have come to this. Those children that bullied Stewart and God knows how many others . . ."

"Three that I know of," interjected Stewart.

"Yeah, well, they should be given, not only suspension but counseling so this doesn't happen again. Do you know how close you could have come to a real show of violence had it been someone besides Stewart, and if AJ's actions hadn't prompted the catastrophe that it has become? Children could have died, teachers as well. It happens all the time. Even as it is, there may be scars that could last a long time for both these boys, whose only fault was trying to enjoy their lunch. And I'm pretty sure that Stewart isn't the only child suffering this abuse."

George reached over and slapped me on the shoulder, then gave me a thumb's up. AJ was smiling and lifted his hand flat at me. I just stared at him, trying to figure out . . .

"High-five, Dad. Good grief!" he said quietly.

I nodded, blushed and tapped his hand with mine, then we both smiled at one another as he shook his head in disbelief.

We all looked to Principal Tremble to see what his next step would be. And he just sat there with a distant look on his face. Then . . .

"You know, you're right," he exclaimed, standing up behind his desk. "How could I be so blind all these years? Things need to change around here and I'm enlisting you three adults, yes, and you two boys, too, to do just what you threatened a minute ago. I want us to come together at the meeting tonight and have you tell them what you just told me."

I was stunned! I looked over at the Curtains and they looked much the same. I looked at the boys and they were grinning from ear to ear.

"I mean it. This has to be nipped in the bud and the only way to get the finances to do what we've discussed is to get the board involved. Then, if you'll forgive me and include me in this presentation, we'll insist on action immediately.

"Now, I realize that much can be done to remedy the situation before the board can do anything, and I promise that is exactly what I will do."

We were still in shock but I was starting to feel charged, like we were almost over the hill and ready to sail down the other side, using all our pent up energy to drive us.

"Boys," he continued, "I apologize for the way you've been treated. Stewart, for all the hassle we've made you endure without so much as a helping hand, I'm sorry."

"Oh, I got that hand alright, and I had the bruises to show for it," said Stewart.

"I know, and again I apologize for how things have been handled and will assure all of you here that it will not continue while I still have breath. Now, AJ, I also apologize to you for not letting you speak up and tell your side. When we adults hear from our peers, uh, the people our age that we work with, we assume we're hearing the truth and all of the truth."

"Yeah, like politicians, huh?" asked AJ.

"Unfortunately, you aren't too far off from the truth."

"What about your presentation, Principal Tremble?"

"What presentation, Mr. McGill? I don't deserve what I was going to propose until I make our school a safe place for our children, all of our children. Don't you agree?"

After another hour of talking over the plan for the evening and actually meeting the Curtains, we left the school.

The ride back home was quiet, but when I looked over at AJ and saw him sitting straight up, on the edge of his seat, with a smile plastered on his face, I was as happy for him as he seemed to be.

As soon as we got into the house I went to the bathroom, then I went to get a drink when I saw AJ just sitting at the kitchen table.

"Well?" was all he said, looking much the same as he did on the way home.

"Well?" I said, leaning against the counter, holding my drink.

"Aren't we gonna talk about what happened? Have a discussion?" He was so serious, but very happy, I suppose because he knew it was all good, for him especially.

"You're right," I said, sliding into a chair across from him. "I want to say again how proud I am of you, young man."

"Awe, anyone coulda done it."

"Maybe so, but you're the one that actually did it, and in a split second. Not only that but do you have any idea how many other kids you helped today?"

"I did? How do ya figure?"

"How many kids will be safer, more protected and live more happily because of what you started?"

"Oh," he said with wonder in his young voice. "Yeah, wow," he said quietly.

"So, where would you like to have dinner before we go to this meeting tonight, my hero?"

"Whaddya mean?"

"I mean I assume, since you're a growing boy, you must be hungry and, since we have to eat quickly so we aren't late to your meeting tonight, we need to eat out and it needs to be by the high school in the city where the meeting is held. S-o-o-o, you get to choose where we're going to eat."

"Oh, you mean like McDonald's or something?" he asked, his eyes lighting up in anticipation.

"No-o-o," I said and his eyes went huge then blinked and his head went down.


"I mean like that steak place that has that sign for huge steaks or that buffet around the corner from it. Maybe you'd like Chinese even more."

Silence. Then,

"Wow. Have you seen the fancy people that go into that steak place? I could never do that. But, man, the smells when their door opens. M-m-m-m."

"AJ, you look just fine. Go brush your hair, get your new coat and let's see if the taste is half as good as the smell."

"Wow! Nummie!"

I think it took him three seconds before he was calling me from the front door. Somehow he did manage to make his mop presentable. His looks were growing on me. Soon, with his handsome face, he would be fending off the ladies left and right, no doubt.

"What are you starin' at?"

"You, handsome, you look good enough to eat, so you'd better get out of my way," I said as I started for him.

He screamed the funniest scream and darted out of the house, arms waving and laughing through his fake show of fright. I was delighted that he finally felt that free.

It did my heart good to know that we may very well be on our way to being a family; a loving family. I went running after him, carrying on, waving and screaming just like he was doing.

"Good grief!" he said to me, while standing by the truck. "That's about as embarrassing as it gets. Brother!"

"Ha ha. Exactly like you looked, huh?" I said. "Get in."

As he slid in he answered me, "Yeah but I'm just a kid and you're an old man. Oops!"

"What did you call me?" I shouted, grabbing him, throwing my arm around his neck and giving him a great nuggie."

"Ow, ow, ow. Stop! Ha ha ha. Quit it. Stop means stop, you brute!"

He was laughing so hard he was sliding out of my arm. I was laughing so hard I couldn't hold on to him.

"Okay, okay, let's get going," I said, scooting behind the wheel of the truck and fastening my seat belt. "Buckle up, young hero. We're off."

"Yeah, speak for yourself." He was almost squinting at me, expecting revenge. He was being so funny, so real.

I couldn't have been happier.

We still had a lot of time, but we had to go through the city to the other side. The restaurant was just out of town on the main highway that went through the city. We were making good time, but then AJ decided to turn on the radio to some hellacious noise he was bouncing to.

Of course I had to change it and turn it down. We were goofing off far too much for me to be driving safely. Just as we were about to cross the other main highway that separated us from the restaurant, the traffic light turned red.

We were still laughing when I noticed another pickup pull up on our left side, waiting for the light as well. I immediately noticed the pukey 'forest ranger green' color. Where had I seen that . . .

"Hey, asshole!" came the voice from the other truck.

We both swung our heads toward the voice.

"Oh shit!" cried AJ.

"I don't believe it," I said to no one in particular.

"That's right, ole man, it's me, your worst nightmare."

"You don't listen very well, do you, Jarod?" I called back to him.

"You don't understand, fart face. It's your turn to listen." As he said that, a gun raised up to just over the bottom of the window opening, pointing right at me.

End of Chapter Ten

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