by J. Cervantes
Emotional encounter a boy has with his biological father.
James woke up early that day. He was hesitant to start the day and blankly stared at his white ceiling fan. There was no denying that he was interested in what the day might hold. He pressed his pants and shirt the night before. From what he could remember he had a smirk on his face the entire time thinking of the possibilities. With the hustle and bustle of life he could admit that he never felt the void of a missing father.
For 17 years he had lived with his mother who had managed to be "Dad" when absolutely necessary. She worked two jobs for most of his life and still managed to attend all his soccer and basketball games. She even drove all night and day to make away games work. He didn't show it much but James appreciated his mother and loved her very much. He didn't like to think about this much though. It reminded him that for the last few years he had been a tough case; a rebel and made her job very difficult. It was shameful. this feeling was too real for him. He avoided it when possible. Now it was time to get a taste of what he was missing.
He picked his clothes out as if it was for a school dance. He felt like he had to look his best for today. It wasn't a job interview but he searched online for what professionals looked like. His laptop screen still had the picture up as reference. He brushed his weatherman smile and combed his wavy blond hair with great care. Making sure that there were no stray hairs atop his head and nothing sticking in his teeth from last nights dinner. Like if he was preparing for a date, he looked himself up and down in the mirror making sure to take note of every inch of his appearance. He donned shiny black shoes and the matching belt that held up grey slacks. His dark purple shirt was something that his mother picked out for him at the mall. Not his favorite but it matched a picture that he saw online of a lawyer. In that case, purple must be a good choice.
There wasn't much that he knew about his father. He was glad to find out about a year ago that his father had not abandoned them. Mother had divorced him while he was deployed in the military and took James to the other side of the country. As far as to why James' father never tried to look for him in person was explained by his mother making sure to prevent it. James cared little as to why at this point. He was interested to hear war stories and learn life skills. He yearned for prospective or instruction. This is what he longed for the most. He can recall his school mates on occasion performing some amazing feat and attributing that skill to something that their father had taught them. He could never boast about in the same nature. He lacked one things: a father.
"James? Are you ready James? Why is it taking you so long to get down here? Dont do this today. Not today James." James' mother, Tiffany, had lost some patience with him. The years leading up to High School were a blur of late nights, ambulances, and misdemeanors. She had always done everything to give James good reasons to live. The problem always seemed to be that between putting food on the table and keeping the gas tank full, she was not around enough to keep James from the clutches of delinquency and failing grades.
It was Saturday. This was usually the day that she rested in bed a bit before grocery shopping with James or cleaning to keep the house livable. Only today was different. The arrangement called for James' father to pick him up at 10 a.m. and return him at 6 p.m. There were no stipulations in the agreement as to what activities were allowed in the day. Tiffany was just hoping that there was nothing that she should worry about. After all, he had a family of his own; children and a wife and, according to the background check, he had no felonies or probation of any kind. The background check cost 150 dollars. Chump change in Tiffany's opinion considering the circumstances. "Get down here! Breakfast. Now."
"I'll be there in a second. Geez," mumbled James. Still glaring at the bathroom mirror, he was fixed on looking his best and gaining his father's respect. Respect him for what? He was not sure. On his way out he snatched the black tie laying on his desk that he planned on not wearing anyway. He swirled around at the door. He scanned around the room to make sure that he had not forgotten anything before throwing the door shut. "I think I'm ready to go. But I need you to let me know what you think. Any word from him yet?" he asked as he skipped down the last of the stairs into the kitchen.
"It's too early for that. He's not due here for another hour and a half now sit down and get this food inside you son." Tiffany had set the table already with James' plate just overlapping a manila envelope.
"What's this you got here and why is it under my breakfast?" James started for the envelope when Tiffany swiftly snatched it from him almost spilling the orange juice sticking to her lips. James slipped into his chair and watched the envelope leave his fingertips almost instantly. He shrugged and started on the scrambled eggs and bacon.
"That's not for you in anyway. Just something I need to take care of today while you are out and about." She lay the envelope atop the microwave and lay her cup aside. She took a breath of relief and looked at her watch to make note of the time.
"Listen, James, I planned out how this conversation would go this morning and I'm not sure what your feeling or what you think or if you even want to go ahead and...,"
"Mom," interrupted James waiving his hand in her direction, "I'm sure it will be fine. I mean, nervous? Yes. Scared? Of what?" He lifted his head and stared out the kitchen window into nothing. "I guess I just have questions is all and I want to find out more about him." He looked down at his plate and picked at his food some. Tiffany let the silence thicken a bit. She wanted to be careful with her words. Gentle.
"Just remember what we talked about the other day," started Tiffany, "Questions about him are fine. About his life and about his experiences make sense James. But I just want to invite you to stay away from asking about our past. What happened way back then effected you, Yes I understand this. I just don't think that he is here to explain himself. He just wants a relationship I assume."
"Mom I don't think that you have a right to dictate what happens today and the outcome of today is all on me and him." James was quick to answer. The vein on the right side of his throat throbbing. "Not you. You don't get another say." James stuck his fork into the ceramic plate and stood up swiftly moving towards the sink with it in hand.
"Do no get offensive James. All I'm trying to do is make sure that..."
"...That he stays clear of becoming important to me Mom? Like you did the first time, keeping him away from me and not giving any other explanation than a lie to keep me uninterested and bitter? I got that about you mom hence you are not allowed to get involved at all," commanded James taking one step toward Tiffany. His eyes had watered. They were glassy, his upper lip quivered. Tiffany could tell that they had strummed the same chord again. The same chord that had started the long, sad song of argument and hatred in that house numerous times before.
"My reasons for keeping distance between us is important to me as a mother, James. There are things that I understood back then and I made a call. I tried to predict the future and do the best I could to keep you in good shape. Call me a prophet; that prediction came true and we did the right thing. We moved on without him; we made our life like he was making his." She took her arms that were folded at her at stomach and reached out in his direction. A look of understanding on her face, "Today is the start of mending our hearts Son. The start to making sure that you feel that you have all you need to move forward with life. "
James was not convinced. He felt a knot in his throat and couldn't find the words for the moment. This frustrated him, made him sweat at the forehand. The moment was awkward and his mother stood staring hoping for amends. Just as James lifted his eyes to meet hers there came a chime. It repeated again and again in his mothers purse. She dropped her out stretched arms in despair and ran to the chair to sift through her bag for the phone. After the last ring, a honk came from out in the driveway.
"Hand me that screw driver! Quick!"
James' fingers were freezing. He could see the tools on the street near the left rear tire of the shiny Silverado truck, but he was sure his fingers could not feel them. The street light was not enough against the shadows of the night. James blew hot breath into his left hand before reaching down to the chilling ground to pick up the Phillips screw driver. His hoodie kept creeping over his eyes and he kept having to adjust it back. He quickly handed the tool to Kevin who was busy picking at the door lock. The job of look-out was left to James. He looked up the street just in time to see the stop light change to green. A man on a bicycle went across the intersection but didn't notice the soon to be thieves. His head swung around in the opposite direction to a lonesome residential street. Only a few leaves scattered along the road in the wind.
The dogs across the street of an old Victorian-looking home kept barking in their direction. He prayed they would stop. The sound made James' blood race and his hands quiver. It put him on edge. He hated that feeling. The feeling he got when the nerves in his muscles were set to sprint. His left knee was beginning to hurt so he swiftly changed the knee he was pressing against the frozen pavement. The smell of rust and grime emanated from the space in between the truck tire and the chassis.
"Is this going to work? Have you done this before? Whats taking you so long?" asked James shivering in the winter breeze.
"Hey, don't chicken out on me! This score is going to be big. Look at this ride! Are you kidding me? We pull this off and we are the guys to beat around here," repeated Kevin between the chatter and clicking of this teeth.
"What if the alarm goes off when you open it?"
"Don't worry about that. Just be ready to hit the streets."
James assumed his role as the look out and turned around in order to rest his body against his opposite shoulder. With Kevin at his back, the breeze hit his cheeks hard. He could feel the cracking of his skin. It felt like multiple paper cuts across his lips with every howl of the wind. He adjusted his over sized hoodie back again away from this vision. A car in the distance turned in their direction. It approached at a creeping pace but it was not long until the boys were going to be caught in the head lights. James' heart lept as the siren lights atop of the vehicle became clearer in the night. The cops.
"Oh God! We have got to go! Lets get out of here!"
Kevin was startled by the booming of the siren and the red and blue lights that pushed the darkness from around them. James ran into him on his way away from the truck towards the intersection at the opposite end. In a full stride run, the over sized hoodie corrupted his steps. He never hated that old ugly thing more than tonight. He knew that running into a busy intersection would not be the best thing. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed an opened fence to the right. With no hesitation he cut in that direction stomping his feet against the ground as hard as he could. He ran past the gate and meant to close the door but it was out of his reach. He almost lost his footing as the grass turned to gravel near a window with bright light shining through it. He turned a corner with the hope that the patrol had chased after Kevin.
He waited a few seconds. He couldn't see as the lights of the patrol car had had their effect. He couldn't hear anything over his deep, heavy and uncontrollable breathes. He had to calm down. He wanted to reach over and hunch at his knees to rest but fear kept him rigid. He was glued in place with his spine against the back porch of the home. He stared at the 6 foot wooden fence across the yard he would be forced to jump next. His breathing calmed although the vapor spewed from his mouth in the wintry air. He heard the gate squeak.
"Dispatch.... Foot pursuit in progress east of 42nd. 3 or 4 blocks from Wilshire Street. Over." The individual struggled to find air. The snapping of the leaves and the brushing of the grass let James know they were walking cautiously. A bright light was born and first seemed to scan the area across the fence right in front of James.
In desperation and recognizing that the foot steps were getting closer, James pushed off of the wooden porch and made for the fence in front of him. He could hear a sound behind him; a voice. He was not worried about making out the words of that voice. All he needed to do was jump. All his legs needed to do was forget the cold. Forget the pin needles of the dreary air of that night and lift his body up and over the wooden boards. He could see his silhouette formed by a giant light behind him on the fence. The voice kept getting louder and soon James felt someone else's foot steps almost match his own.
As he approached the fence, it seemed to grow taller. He reached for the top but would need a jump to curl his fingers over the edge. His left foot raised into the air to lead the hop but his right foot shifted underneath him. Instead of rising in the air, he was falling. He was about a foot from the fence and he tucked his left shoulder downward to absorb the impact. He felt a pain and heard a crunch as his body met the hard surface. His face was in the dirt and and his exhausted breathing threw dust into his eyes. Within moments a group of ice cold hands wrapped him up. They forced his right cheek closer still to the ground and held his arms behind his back. Their pulling and tugging sent pain through his chest and left shoulder. He wouldn't move again. He was tired. He had been beat. It was over.
The Police Station smelled of cigarette and steel. It felt colder but as lifeless as the winter air outside. James had been booked about an hour ago and sat in a room with four windows on the same wall opposite him. Through the windows he could see what seemed like an endless stream of “New Visitors” entering the building. He sat a few chairs down from a young black women with her head drooped over backward and her hands tucked to her side. She was over weight and the silver jacket she was wearing could not contain her. James was sure that it did little against the frigid snow outside. She was asleep and had been since he had arrived. There were others in the same room but most of them were scattered. The room was a replica of a bus station depot only no buses were headed out. Only place to go from here for most of them was a cell.
One after another, juvenile, senior, men and women alike, would be dragged through fingerprinting closest to the door. Still handcuffed, this was always difficult for the Officers to handle. Those that were not tazed in their hostility were pulled toward another Officer with a camera. Mug Shots. James remembers his turn. He was sure they were not pretty. Afterwards they were escorted to the final processing desk. An Officer there, who seemed of higher rank, asked you so many questions you forget which was first. A bell rings, a door opens wide and the inmate is walked into the holding room along with James and the others. The door slams shut. Whether all of your body parts are through or not, the door slams with a tone of condemnation. This thunderous slam jolts the young lady near James awake. She rubs her eyes and folds her hair around her right ear before looking behind her. Noticing that nothing has changed, she slumps back into the chair and closes her eyes.
“Newton. James T. Newton. Its time for your phone call should you have anyone to contact. Step forward or you forfeit this privilege.” The Office stood a foot taller than James who was above average for a High School Junior. His uniform was snug. It looked painted over the ripples of his muscles from head to toe. As James stood up the Officer hooked his right thumb in the armpit of his Kevlar Vest. With his other hand he reached down toward his tazer resting on his belt.
“Step this way. Let’s move it young man. I have plenty to do tonight and little time to waste.” The Office placed a hand in between James’ shoulder blades and pushed him through the giant door and to the left. A long corridor with offices, a drinking fountain, and a phone along its walls sucked James in.
Who was he supposed to call? He was not sure of the time but it was the middle of the night. If James dialed for his mother, there would be hell to pay. Of course she would get him out but once at home he would hear the same old spill. He was not in the mood for it today. If he dialed Kevin’s family, he was not sure they would answer. If they did he was not sure they could bail him out. James could not remember the last 2 digits of their house number anyway. Kevin? Where was Kevin?
“S..ss…sir.” James was slowly turned around right in front of the phone on the wall by the Officer. “I was with someone tonight. My…..my friend.” James stared down at the floor firmly and dared not make eye contact. He nervously swayed left and right and twirled his thumbs.
“That’s right. I remember they said you were one of a two man party when they brought you here. The other boy is in the hospital I’m afraid. Something about a car accident but I’m not clear on the details young sir. Now you have to make your phone call. You can find out about him later.”
The hospital? What had happened? Why did James leave him behind? Kevin’s mother and father were great to James. They let him stay over when things were gritty between him and his mother. They were always so inviting and so kind. And they cried a lot to James. Quite a bit in fact. They cried as they described how Kevin was on a destructive path. How they were worried for his well-being and how it was impossible for them to get anything across to him. They once told James that they were hoping that he could be a positive influence; steer things in a different direction. Redirect the aggression and recklessness that plagued Kevin. Bases from where James was standing…that plan had failed.
“I’m just not sure who to call.”
The expression on the Officer’s face let James know right away that he had not said the correct thing. James racked his brain on who he could call. All he knew was that he was not going to call his mother. That was infinitely out of the question.
“I do not have the time young man! You pick up that phone and dial a number. I don’t care if it’s the number to the Zoo and you ask about the new Lion Exhibit. Now pick up that phone and rock n roll!” The Office was inches from James’ face and the veins along his neck and forehead grew in size.
Rock N Roll? Rock N Roll…. His uncle Craig. The only uncle that he had met from his father’s side of the family. The last memory he could muster was the loudest version of Led Zepellin he had ever heard and a smell of marijuana. He remembers asking for some and Craig getting offended. Craig smiled at him afterward and rummaged his hands through James’ hair, undoing it. “Cute kid. I think we are going to get along,” was what he managed to say in between belching and staggering off. Every time that James saw him he seemed drunk. Regardless, Craig was always inviting and smiling. He always welcomed him to have a seat and talk about anything that he had on his mind. That was his get out of Jail Free Card.