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.
I instinctively pushed AJ's head into his lap and held him there. I could only think of keeping him safe.
As Jarod would laugh at what he thought of as his control of the situation, we would both look for the light to change, but that one intersection had to be the busiest in the city and the longest light ever. He'd look and that would make me look, and vice versa.
"You're gonna race me to the other side of the reservoir. You win and you live. If you don't or you decide not to race, you're dead. Easy, huh?"
"What are you trying to prove, you idiot?"
"Hey! Watch yer mouth or I'll just end it now," he yelled furiously as he shook the gun at me.
"What are you gonna do? He's nuts." AJ's voice was trembling. He was one scared boy.
I had to get him out of this situation, and my mind didn't like the severity of the plan I was coming up with.
I tried to get that Jarod kid to concentrate on me.
"So, let me get this straight, young punk. You wanna beat me so you can shoot me? Race me when the light changes? Sounds like another of your stupid ideas."
He actually turned in his seat toward me and was frantically waving the gun. I'd have had it if it went off. A bullet in my head might have been something that I would have chosen just a short time before, but it was not one of my favorite choices just then.
I had to time this just right. He started screaming at me as I made my decision. It was him or us. I checked my peripheral vision for just the right moment, then made my move.
"Hold on, boy," I said quietly to AJ, not taking my eyes off the fool in the other truck.
Then . . .
"OH MY GOD! The light!" I screamed, grabbing the steering wheel and hitting the gas, then immediately, the brake, stopping with a sudden jerk.
But Jarod didn't stop. He turned his body forward in panic, afraid he'd miss precious seconds as he grabbed the wheel and smashed on the gas. The tires of that old truck burned rubber and finally caught on, sending him sailing past us. He was going pretty fast as he entered the intersection . . . for the last time.
We'd sat there for almost three minutes. It seemed like a lifetime to me; it was for Jarod.
I'd watched until a huge semi was coming down the side toward us before I reacted. Jarod had driven right in front of it. He didn't stand a chance. He probably never felt a thing.
I turned toward my most precious gift.
"Are you okay, Andrew James?" I asked.
He looked over at me with tear streaked cheeks, his voice quavering and stuttering. He sounded like he had no breath and no strength.
"You just . . . he . . . how did you?"
"I'm sorry you had to witness that, AJ, but I had to think of something fast so I could protect my most valuable cargo."
He actually turned to look in the back of the truck. "But we don't . . ."
"You, AJ. You are the most valuable gift to me. A pain in the butt some of the time, but still very valuable."
He just stared until he realized what I'd said, then blushed and looked down. I reached out my right arm to him, but left it high enough so that he had to make the move toward me. He leaned over until he was against my chest and sighed a heavy, long sigh.
"Are you okay, AJ? I need you to say it."
"I . . . I guess. I can't believe how close we came to . . . you know . . . dyin'."
"Yes, so I had to make a difficult, split-second decision that would certainly make it look like I was the bad guy. Sound familiar?"
"Oh, wow. Yeah. Wow!" he said, sitting up a little straighter.
We could hear sirens coming up fast, followed by the reflections of dozens of red and blue lights all around us. Soon the whole area was teeming with every kind of response unit the city and county owned.
"Well, look who's here, in the middle of all this mess." The voice of Dan Perkins came through AJ's window and soon, so did his head.
"Uh oh," said AJ. "Your goose is cooked, best friend or not."
"You got any idea what happened here, Sergeant? Looks like you had the best view. Hi, AJ."
"Hey, Deputy Perkins," I answered. "Unfortunately, I do know and it's a long story."
A few hours later AJ and I were walking into the school board meeting, about twenty minutes after it started.
"AJ! What took you?" cried out Stewart as he ran up to his friend.
The rest of the Curtain clan and even Principal Tremble came walking up to us.
Tremble turned to address the school board. "May we have a few minutes? This young man here is one of our most important speakers tonight along with his dad here. He's our hero, you know."
"We were getting concerned. What kept you?" asked Kaye.
"Yeah, well, we were racing to get here and got stopped by an accident, I'm afraid," I answered.
AJ had a shocked look on his face that Kaye noticed right away.
"It must have been pretty bad by your look, AJ," she said.
I put my arm around AJ's shoulders and answered for him, "It wasn't a good time, Kaye, and we didn't get our dinner, either." I felt really bad the moment those words came out of my mouth. After all, another person's life was lost.
The whole meeting went really well. The kids got to speak, as did each of the adults, as Principal Tremble introduced us. At the end, the school board had a lot to think about. Tremble made us proud in the way he handled the entire presentation. He introduced everything we'd talked about.
Oh, there was one thing that got to me. Of course, that meant it involved my boy. Well, it all did, didn't it?
Somewhere near the end of the meeting when it was up to the board to vote on a few motions, the subject of the discipline of the two boys, Brad and Devon, came up. There was some discussion, not much. To most of us adults what should happen to them seemed cut and dry. It was discussed that they should certainly be off the school's teams and even expelled. That's where it got interesting, where we adults learned something from our kids very quickly.
"Wait! No! You can't do that," exploded the voice of one of the two little ones sitting next to me. In a blur, both boys were on their feet, their tip-toes, practically reaching for the front of the room to get the boards attention. Needless to say it worked.
"Boys, boys, please sit down while the board irons out . . ." said a firm Kaye Curtain, who was sitting on the other side of her son.
Stewart looked down at his mom, pulling his arm away when she tried to pull him to his seat.
"No, Mom." Then he turned toward AJ, who nodded with him, then back to the front of the room. "You don't get it!"
"Stewart!" shouted both Curtains.
"Young man, you had better take another tone there," ordered the school board chairman.
"Da-a-d!" AJ pleaded to me.
Luckily I caught on quickly. I stood up and said, "Sir, uh, ladies and gentlemen of the board. We've all heard from these boys some remarkably impressive stories and insights into what makes our children tick. Isn't it just possible that we have something more to learn from them, although maybe with less of an outburst?"
The crowd chuckled as Stewart blushed and continued and I sat down.
"I'm sorry for being so loud but we had to say this before you all make a terrible mistake."
That time the hush was deafening, though it got the attention of everyone in the room.
The chairman nodded for Stewart to continue.
After a big sigh, Stewart went on, "I know that bullying is wrong, no matter what, but I also know something about Brad and Devon. See, they don't come from a very good environment. It isn't like they're beat or anything but all around them they see stuff that makes their lives worse than we can think about. So, maybe it's some of that that makes them so angry at anything different, like maybe attention they don't get or something. I don't know, but we were talking, AJ and me," he said, pointing back and forth between them while AJ nodded to those in the front of the auditorium, "and we thought maybe if these guys and others like them, well, if we paid attention to them in a different way, like find out what's in their heads and help them to see what makes them tick, then maybe they wouldn't be bullies."
"Can I," started AJ, until Stewart touched his arm and whispered to him. "Oops. Sorry," he said, blushing. "May I ask everyone something, sir?"
"Um, well, I suppose so."
"Okay," he said, raising his hand. "How many of you all have ever been bullied before, like in school, like happened to Stewart today? Or even after you were grown up, like at work or standing at the bus stop or in line at the drop-in miss . . . oh, probably not there." He blushed and hung his head, but only briefly.
Stewart patted his shoulder while I rubbed his leg and admonished him, "It's okay, AJ. You're doing great."
We heard some rustling noises and when we turned our attention to the crowd around us, almost half of them were raising their hands. Even some of the board members raised their hands.
"Now, how many people did some bullying?" asked AJ.
While many hands went down, some stayed and many others went up. Again, it looked like half of everyone there raised their hands. I didn't have to think too hard to remember a time when I . . . My hand went up slowly. AJ looked down at me and smiled. I suppose it was for my honesty more than anything else.
"One more question," asked my little guy. How many of the people that held up their hands 'cuz they'd been bullied, were bulliers too?"
A gasp went out among some people but the truth was apparent very soon as many of the people that had their hands up before raised their hands again, one last time.
"So," said Stewart, "See? Lots of us did both things. And we know that lots of us aren't bad people. Most lived through their school years and do a good job raising their own kids and stuff. If you guys decide to jerk Brad and Devon out of school, we're afraid it'll just make them madder. Wouldn't it be better if you helped them to see what they were doing and find out why and help them that way, so that they can maybe get good jobs and raise good kids too?"
AJ was beaming and looking at his friend with great pride. He slapped him on the shoulder and they both sat down. Stewart looked like he was in a bit of a shock.
I was starting to choke up and when I saw movement on the other side of Stewart, I looked up to see George hand his wife his handkerchief.
All eyes were on the board as they put their heads together and conferred. Soon the chairman turned back to address the crowd.
"Young misters Curtain and," he looked down at some papers in front of him, "Uh, well, Mr. McGill, please stand."
With gulps the boys pulled themselves up.
"You are right, Stewart, we all have a lot to learn. It isn't often that we parents learn the most important things in life from our children, our students. But this time you made us see this problem in a totally different way. We have decided to suspend the boys, as was originally suggested by Principal Tremble, for three days, pending their agreement and that of their parents to seek counseling which will be provided to them if they cannot afford it.
"Yes, the important thing here is that our children are suffering. To put an end to it, rather than being reactive, we need to think in terms of stopping this behavior at its origin. Wouldn't it be better to stop the need to bully than to deal with the damaging results of that bullying?
"Now, will the parents of our young boys please stand?"
I think we were both as proud as could be until we heard his request. We pretty much repeated the gulps that the boys' had done earlier. Of course, they thought that was the funniest thing ever!
"You must be very proud of the boys you're raising. They are fine examples of who we all wish we and our kids were. I commend you for your commitment to bringing them up with the understanding we need about how we should all work together as neighbors; to take care of one another, not just ourselves; to treat each other as we would want to be treated."
AJ snapped his head up at me when he heard those words and grinned big time.
"Now, to finish some old business, let me just say . . ."
We were all very satisfied as we walked out of the meeting. Many people wanted to shake our hands. They were all very complimentary to the boys too.
It was frozen pizza by the time AJ and I got home. AJ was pretty high all the way home and halfway through the meal. Suddenly I realized that he was holding a piece of pizza in front of his mouth and it was shaking. As it got worse his expression went blank.
I didn't know what to think!
At the same time that the pizza fell to the table, he was in tears, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. I immediately moved around and grabbed him up into my arms.
"I'm sorry, AJ, that I put you through all this. It isn't fair to you."
He shook in my arms as he let loose of the night's stresses, good and bad. It had to be an enormous pressure for anyone, let alone a young boy barely struggling for his life.
"No-o-o-o," he cried, "all the crap I put you through and the junk you had to put up with. I'm s-sorry. You never deserved all that. You've been through hell before I arrived and I just put you through it all over again."
"AJ, we all have bumps in our road. If we take them on as challenges and not as barricades, we can grow and learn from our experiences. I'll have to say, young man, I don't think I've ever learned so much or grown as much as I have since I've known you."
AJ was still shaking, though not as much. In fact it felt like he'd almost calmed down. Then, as quickly as he stopped, it all started again, only that time, that time . . .
I moved so I could see his face.
"You're laughing! You're laughing at me, right?" I exclaimed.
"Ha ha ha. You're so funny," he said, then fell back into my arms.
The little pipsqueak!
We'd just enjoyed a great weekend with Dan and his troops. Our second meeting had them over on their bikes, all tuckered out and wringing with sweat. Still, the boys played hard and must have investigated every inch of our land; a very proud AJ showing them each nook and cranny.
A few days later, in the early afternoon while the boy was at school, two patrol cars pulled up to the house. One was a sheriff deputy's car and the other was a city police car. I went out onto the porch to meet them.
'Now what have I done?' I thought. I realized I still had some debriefing to do about the most recent accident.
But when the door of the sheriff's patrol car opened I recognized Dan right away. I should have known. He was probably there to check up on me. He was a good friend. I was a bit concerned that he thought he needed back up.
"Hey, pal. How's it going?" he called to me while he waited for the other officer to join him. He sounded a little more serious than his usual manner.
The other officer, from the police department, wasn't as forthcoming as Dan, and kind of stood quietly as Dan spoke to me from the gate to the front walkway. I'd begun walking toward him.
"Unfortunately, we're here to give you some bad news. I'm not quite sure how to tell you this."
"I've always figured the best way was to just come out and say it. Don't beat around the bush," I said as I opened the gate between us.
"Well, then, I'm afraid your, uh, son is dead."
End of Chapter Eleven