Easter vacation was fun, except for the revelation of Lydia’s pregnancy, and the beating Tom took for it. He harbored a lot of resentment against his father, but knew that it would be futile to try to do anything about it. There recently had been a troubling case about a teenage girl that was covered by a reporter in the local newspaper. Her father didn’t like her boyfriend, and justifiably so. He forbid her from ever seeing him. The daughter disobeyed, seeing the guy anyway, and she was caught dating him. The paper reported that the girl had been violently beaten by her father with a length of garden hose. She had very severe bruises. The girl ran away, to the boyfriend of course. He reported the father for child abuse to the police. Pictures were taken, and the case went to court. After listening to testimony, and viewing all of the evidence, the judge ruled in favor of the father, stating that a father had the right to discipline his children in any manner he saw fit. Tom knew if the judge ruled against a girl, he had no chance of winning any sympathy for the abuse he took. But, to himself and to Animal, he swore next time he wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Monday it was back to school, and the tension was building as the month drew to an end, and May began. The teachers were all cramming in all the reviewing they could get to prepare the teenagers for their final exams. The prom was also coming up, and spring fever had them all as frisky as rabbits in springtime. Tom, Renée, and Animal were feeling the full effect of it, but Lydia was spared as she was still being whisked away to her private girls boarding school every day.
“Hey, Ricsen... you hear what happened to Jeremy Hayward that goes to the school you went to last year?”
“Jeremy? No... Did Doc Worthington recognize him from the pictures of him with his dear daughter Debbie that have been showing up all over town, and kick his over active dumb ass?”
“Oh, thought for a minute you didn’t know which guy I was talking about. He was in a serious car accident the other night.”
“How serious? He dead?”
“No, but it’s a miracle that he isn’t.”
“Too bad. Well, tell me what happened. You gonna keep me in suspense all day?”
“A while back I overheard Jack and Donnie talking about Jeremy having a habit of sniffing model airplane glue. The police found an opened tube of it on the seat of his car. He might have passed out from sniffing it. Anyway, he ran a stop sign, and went flying over an embankment. The car finally stopped when it slammed into a huge oak tree. Personally, I wondered if maybe his brake line was cut. His car was hauled over to Seth’s, and I got a pretty good look at the brakes. The car was mangled so badly that I really couldn’t tell for sure.”
“You can actually tell stuff like that?”
“Yeah, if it isn’t done properly, it’s usually fairly obvious. Not that there is ever any justification for tampering with someone’s brakes, even if they are a low down no good dirty rotten s.o.b. that enjoys gang raping a defenseless girl.” Bitterness was still in Animal’s voice.
Tom eyed Animal suspiciously, however he asked no questions. “So is Jeremy going to be alright?”
“Looks like he’s going to make it now. He won’t be raping any other women, or making porno flicks with Debbie, or anyone else for that matter though, unless he’s the cameraman.”
“Yeah, he’ll never walk again, he’s crippled from the waist down. He’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. And, you know those pretty teeth of his that he just had the braces taken off of?”
“Gone. All of them. His mouth hit the steering wheel when he slammed into the tree. Like I said, it’s a miracle he’s even still alive. Wish I could say I felt bad, but to be perfectly honest, and that’s the only way to be, I feel he got what was coming to him. Whether it was from his own stupidity by sniffing glue, or if it was from a brake line failure, I’m glad he’ll never hurt another girl the way he hurt my baby doll. I miss her bad Tom. Think you could talk her into coming by Patsy’s Pizza soon? I haven’t hardly seen her since I put in so many hours at Seth’s Auto Repair. I got quite a stash of cash now. I know that’s just pissin’ money to you, but I’ve got a bundle saved to buy her an engagement ring.”
“I’ll do what I can Animal. She’s become quite the introvert since that happened to her. I only remember a couple of times that she’s loosened up, and had a good time. It’s going to take a long time for her to get over what happened.”
In truth, Tom was dreading going over to Lydia’s. He hadn’t faced her parents yet, and he didn’t know what kind of a reception he would receive from them. It was her birthday though, and he’d been invited over for dinner. There would be no more waltzing around the situation.
The Coach came into the gym. After winning the basketball State championship, he felt the relief of the season being over. He announced that they could do whatever they wanted to do as long as they did something physical. He didn’t care if they played dodge ball, did jumping jacks, or stood on their heads. He went into his office, put his feet up on the desk, and watched what the boys would do through the glass window.
Bjørn and Paul walked up to Animal and Tom. Tom knew Bjørn of course, and he knew Paul from the wrestling team.
“Hey, what are you rasslers doing coming over talking to the star? You got an appointment? Or, do you just want an autograph?” Animal teased the guys.
“Hi Paul, haven’t been running into you as much since our seasons are over.” Tommy felt very clever making that pun.
“If you hoop shooters didn’t hog the track we wouldn’t have kept running into each other. It all worked out once the coaches quit bickering, and coordinated our lap running time.”
“How did you guys do in the finals?”
“Came in second, but I was happy we came in that high. Next year we’ll clean up like you guys did this year.” Paul stated confidently.
“Wrestling is an easy sport. Probably didn’t make that much of a difference one way or the other whether you had your lap time cut short, or not.” Tom said.
Paul’s jaw got a little tight. Just as Bjørn was ready to say something, the Coach blew his whistle. “You four ladies going to stand there for the rest of the hour? I can send you over to Miss Rodan’s knitting class. Ericsen, you think you’re so tough, if I was a bettin’ man, I’d put my money on Paul. You couldn’t go three rounds with him on the mat.”
Tom laughed. The guys on the basketball team always snickered under their breath about the mat rollers. He’d hung around a few times watching the guys compete against each other, he didn’t think they sweat that much. On the mat in just a matter of seconds, Tom was easily pinned, first by Paul, then by Bjørn. Suddenly, he was singing the praises of the wrestling team, and got very serious about learning the sport. The four boys worked out together every day for the rest of the school year. Their respect for each other grew as they learned. As a kid, Animal had been somewhat of a street fighter when the need arose. Tom never had any need to fight in his social circle. Tom now felt there was much to be learned, and before long he understood all the terms, and was getting proficient at the half nelson, and the gut wrench. He was no match for Paul or Bjørn, but he felt that if a situation came up, he could put his new found knowledge, and skill to use. Tom enjoyed the sport so much in fact, he was disappointed that wrestling season was in direct conflict with basketball season. However, nothing could ever tear him away from his love of basketball, or the “ticket out” that he hoped it would provide for him.
Tom got to the cafeteria as quickly as he could. It was one of those hustle bustle days at school when everything was running behind schedule. Renée was already sitting there, and smiled as soon as their eyes met. Tom’s eyes scanned the area then he gave her a quick peck on the lips so they didn’t get suspended this close to the end of the school year. He decided to skip eating since he didn’t want to waste time away from Renée by standing in line. “You look exceptionally beautiful today sweetie.” Tom said sincerely as he looked at his girlfriend’s glowing face admiringly.
“Thank you. I wish I felt as good. With all the stress the teachers are putting on us cramming for finals, my stomach is churning. And, Mama is not feeling well again. I do not know what else I can do. I am cooking and cleaning. Even though the weather is quite warm now, Mama is cold all of the time. It is very distressing.”
“Has she been back to the doctor?”
“Yah, Papa says the doctor’s are doing all that they can do. As long as Mama gets her rest, and eats well, the rest is in the Lord’s hands.”
“Renée, is she eating well? I can help you know. Your father works so hard, and I know the house payment and doctor bills are getting most of his pay check.”
“Papa would never take charity.” Renée’s eyes were teary. “But, thank you Tommy.”
“Charity my butt! I’ve never not been offered food at your parents house. Look, this is what we will do, let’s go to the grocery store, pick out what you usually have in your cupboards, I’ll pay for it, and no one will know the difference. If Papa, or nobody sees us, and we don’t make a big deal about food coming into the house, no one will know the difference. Trust me Renée, men don’t take inventory of a woman’s kitchen. All we want is to be fed.” Tommy eyed what was left on Renée’s plate.
“You are hungry. At least eat my bread and butter. You are being silly for not standing in line to get some lunch.”
“My eyes are feasting on you Renée. Would you like to go over to Lydia’s tonight for her birthday?”
“Yah, but I can not. There is laundry to do, and dinner and dishes. Then I must study my algebra. It does not click well in my head, and there is no one at home that can help me. Bjørn was taking it when he was a sophomore, but he thought it was stupid so he dropped it, and took business math instead. I wish that I could do the same, but it is necessary for me if I am to take college prep courses.” The strain of life was showing on Renée.
“It won’t always be like this Renée. If you can, please get caught up with studying and what you have to do for your family. Tomorrow after school we will go grocery shopping and fill the cupboards. Since I’ve not been running around as much taxiing Lydia and Animal, I’ve got a lot of gas money left. Good food is probably all your Mama needs to get her strength back. I can’t pick it out, because only you know the brands. But, I can pay.”
“Tommy, I do not know what I did to deserve a boy as sweet as you.”
“You, my dear, taught me the meaning of love.” Tom quickly glanced around again, and placed another kiss on Renée’s lips.
“Mr. ERICSEN! How many times do you have to be told there will be none of that necking nonsense on school property? You’ve been warned. Are you being defiant? Or, are you just plain stupid?”
“Mr. Finch, if those are my only two choices, I would have to go with stupid. You see, when I look at Miss Jorgensen’s beautiful face, the world stands still, and I forget everything I’ve ever learned. So you see, it’s her fault. If she was some ugly looking thing, there’s no way I’d be kissing her.”
“Tommy!” Renée’s jaw dropped. “My fault?”
“Look at her Mr. Finch... even when she’s angry, that spark lights up those blue sea green eyes. Tell me, if she was your girl wouldn’t you be kissing her every time you got near her?”
Mr. Finch turned beet red in the face. “Well... well, I’m not warning you again Ericsen. Just because it’s puppy love, you don’t need to be acting like a dog in the school cafeteria. Behave yourself, or, or, or, or else!”
Tommy laughed as soon as the principal walked away, and turned back to his girlfriend. Renée took her thumb and forefinger, and thumped him on the forehead. “Bad Tommy!” She laughed right along with him.