The VW cruised in the fading light, music soaring through the open windows. In the passenger seat an overweight beagle rode with his head out the window, ears flapping in the wind. The driver sang loudly to the music and only seemed to fall silent when he didn't know the words. The miles rolled under the car as it moved steadily westward. Cruising into the outskirts of a small town the driver was just contemplating dinner when steam began to pour from the hood. Striving to see the road ahead, the man slowed the car to the shoulder and limped into the parking lot of a roadside diner. The beagle began to howl at the people and cars in the lot, wagging his tail in friendly greeting.
"Aww, damnit!" The driver swore bringing the car to a stop and cutting the engine. Steam enveloped the front end and the driver lifted the hood, allowing the remaining vapor to escape.
"Wow, what happened?" asked a young boy in kitchen whites. "Are you ok, mister?"
"Oh, damn hose blew somewhere, probably. I'm fine except that I'm stranded I guess, thanks." The driver shot a rueful smile at the boy. The beagle continued to howl. The boy approached the car and extended his hand through the window at the dog. "Friendly guy, aren't you? Hungry, huh, I'll just bet you are!" The boy said as he scratched behind the dog's ears. The beagle showed his approval by wagging his tail so hard it almost seemed like the tail was shaking the dog.
The driver shook his head and smiled at the two. "Looks like you made a new friend."
I was bummed big time. I can't believe this! I get halfway to the middle of nowhere and I spring a leak! I glided the car off the road into the parking lot of a diner-motel. It was the only building in view, and so my hopes of getting on the road again right away were rather dim. The beagle was howling at the few people and cars in the lot. God, he can be loud!
A kid in cook’s whites had seen my dramatic entrance and came over with a concerned expression on his face.
"Wow! What happened? Are you ok, mister?”
"Oh, damn hose blew somewhere, probably." I replied offhandedly looking up to meet his eyes. Wow, this kid was on his way to being a model or something. "I'm fine, except that I'm stranded I guess." I said ruefully smiling at him. He headed over to say hello to Tristan, my beagle, and I moved in to inspect the damage. Through the space in between the hood and the firewall I could see him scratching the dog's ears and talking while the dog wagged energetically.
"Looks like you made a friend." I said offhandedly, while searching under the hood for the culprit. I reached down the passenger side where a few wisps of steam remained and felt the ruined end of a heater hose. Not just any heater hose, either. This one was special, I remembered, larger in diameter on one end than the other, and had a ninety-degree bend in it to boot. No quick fix at Napa for this one. Well, no sense getting upset, not much to be done right now. I closed the hood and put the windows up in the car, leaving a crack for the dog while I went in to see about our accommodations.
I entered the diner, which had flashy aluminum siding, no doubt polished by dust storms in the area. I stepped inside and was greeted by an almost empty room, faded vinyl seats and a few old fellows having coffee in the last booth. I took a seat at the counter and was greeted by the young guy that had been outside.
"Can I get you something, sir?" He asked politely, pad poised to take down my order.
"Well, you can start by calling me Dave, ‘sir’ just doesn't cut it." I said with a smile.
"Ok, Dave it is. Can I get you something to drink?" He asked with a small smile.
"Yeah, tall glass of 'start the day over' if you please!" I chuckled.
"I'm sorry, we're out of that. I can probably get you a glass of anti-freeze if that would help?" He said with a shy smile, not sure if he was overstepping his bounds with the joke.
"Oh, aren't we funny?" I said with a smile. "How about a coke, burger with everything and another burger, plain."
He turned and bellowed through the alcove to the kitchen. "Two burgers, one plain Jane, one through the garden." He walked away to get my coke. I leaned back in the seat and contemplated my next move. Obviously I needed a phone and I would need to procure a room for the evening. He came back and handed me my coke with another bashful smile.
"I kinda feel bad for ya, the mechanic in town doesn't know much about foreign cars, 'cept that he don't like 'em."
"That's ok, I just need to get a room first and then get a few phone calls in. I can do the work myself."
"We have some open rooms...well, actually they're all open." He said quietly. He seemed so shy one minute, and then he cracks jokes about my car. I liked him already.
"So do I see you about getting a room?" I asked, raising a brow. He blushed furiously like I had said something forward.
"Actually, Grandpa prefers to handle the rooms himself. I just clean them." He said.
"Ok, so what do I do next, then?"
"He'll be out when he's done cooking your stuff up, just a minute or two. Um, do you mind if I give your dog a marrowbone? We have a few extra if that's ok..." Back to being shy again I see.
"Actually, the plain burger is for him, but the bone would be a great dessert." I smiled.
"Oh, cool." He said excitedly, "I've always liked dogs, but we can't affo...I mean we can't keep one ‘cause of the road here, they'd get run over."
I nodded in understanding and we were off talking about dogs and then onto baseball. Turns out the kid loved it, just didn't have the time to play. I figured it probably came down to money more than that. It was neat though, he kept on switching between shy one minute and then enthusiastic about our conversation the next.
"Goose! Leave the poor man be, can't you see he's had a hard day already?" said the old man who appeared from the kitchen with the food. "He doesn't want to hear all that!" He scolded.
The kid seemed to shrink away at the reprimand.
"No, it's great actually, he knows his baseball. Even if he has no taste in teams." I said, eyeing the kid identified as Goose. He gave me a small smile.
"Oh, ayah. Baseball he knows. Math too, helps me with the books here he's so smart. Got his Daddy's think box, his Momma’s good looks and his Grandpa's ornery disposition." The old fellow smiled showing a full set of enamel, but obviously proud of his grandson who beamed at the praise.
"So, I guess I need to see you about getting a room here. My car seems to have decided we're not going any farther today."
"Well, I'll tell you what sir, "Goose flinched at the sir, "I have a sixteen room motel in the middle of nowhere, and you can just have your choice of Room One or Room Two, since they’re the ones Goose cleaned today."
I smiled, "Well, in that case, Room One will do us just fine. Do I need to put down a security deposit for my dog?" I asked.
"No, but if he messes, you clean it!" He cackled.
And so with my arrangements made, I pushed the car over to the room with Goose's help. After getting it set he showed me to the room, sparse but clean, and I tossed my bag in the chair next to the window. I walked to the phone and called long distance to my mechanic, crooking a finger at Goose so that he didn't run off.
"Howard?" I said into the speaker.
"Dave, where the hell are you, man?"
"I don't know, but that damn heater hose on the passenger side blew out. I need you to UPS me one."
"I got one on the shelf. I'll drop it there right now so you'll have it tomorrow afternoon..." I completed the payment with my credit card and then handed the receiver to Goose.
"I need you to give him the address here so I can get this part." I explained.
Goose nodded and gave the information to the mechanic, who then rang off.
I lay back on the bed and decided to get to know my host.
"So, Goose, huh?" I asked.
He blushed, "It's Grandpa's nickname for me. My real name is Kody."
"Ok, I'll bite, why Goose?"
"Grandpa is a big baseball fan and he calls me that after a pitcher he used to root for."
"Oh? You mean Goose Gossage?" I asked.
"You throw hard?" I asked.
"Well, actually he calls me that more for my, um, balance after throwing." He said, blushing again.
"Oh yeah? Got a spare glove, man? I got nuttin' but time."
"No way! Really?" He asked excitedly.
We were interrupted by the sound of a beagle that could no longer stand being in the car by himself. Kody went to get the gloves and I let Tristan out, feeding him his burger and giving him some water at the same time. Kody returned in a flash and we tossed the ball back and forth lazily as we continued talking.
"So, where are you going?" He asked.
"Nirvana." I said.
"What do you mean by that?" He asked quizzically.
"Indians have the Happy Hunting Ground, Christians have Heaven, and I have Baysville." I said.
"Baysville?" He said with an edge to his voice.
"Yeah, Baysville." I replied, "You hrard of it?"
"Um, well no, not really. I think I read a magazine article about it once. Um, what are you going to do when you get there?" He asked.
"My family owns a building there, someplace downtown. I’m going to open a coffee shop slash reading room. Maybe do a deli thing for lunches."
I heard him mumble a reply, sounded something like asking if I needed a dishwasher.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Nothing, just talking to myself." He said and zipped the ball in to me.
The kid had an arm, that was for sure. I threw a little harder, and he returned the heat with just a bit more. I grinned and threw a bit harder. The ball passed like a zephyr between us, as we would try to out-do the previous throw by putting just a little more heat on it than the one we had just caught. I finally gave in. That final sucker hurt!
"Kody, I can't remember the last time I played burnout. Check that, I can't remember the last time I lost!" I said, grinning like a kid.
"That was fun. Hey, can I take Tristan for a walk?" He asked, a hopeful look on his face.
"Yeah, sure he could use that. Let's dig his leash out." I said, opening the car and beginning to root around.
Tristan was more than pleased to go for a walk, but I have to tell you it was so funny to watch. Kody thought walking the dog would mean a nice stroll around the area. Not so, the beagle would alternately sniff and mark an area, and then walk YOU to the next area of interest, whereupon he would stop once again and sniff the new location for attention-grabbing stuff.
I noticed the grandfather ambling across the lot; the diner's lights were out so he must've knocked off. I looked down at my watch and was surprised to see that it had progressed past eight o’clock. No wonder it was starting to get dark. The grandfather walked in my direction, glanced at the back of my car and then addressed me.
"Mechanic in town doesn't know too much about foreign cars." He said.
"That's what Kody said, too. I can do the work myself, but I'll need to get a few things from town, like some anti freeze and hose clamps. I don't suppose there is a bus or anything?" I asked.
"Oh, no. No bus. 'Cept the Greyhound a course, but then you'd be staying there overnight for the bus coming back the other way. I need to go into town tomorrow, you can ride with me if you want."
"I'd appreciate that, thank you."
He turned to watch Kody playing with Tristan in the dust of the parking lot. Dog was going to need a bath, it seemed.
"It's ok, least I can do for you. It's nice to see my grandson smile, not many people can get him to do that these days." He hesitated, "You, ah, got kids?”
"No," I replied, "I wouldn't know what to do with a kid of my own!" I said with a small laugh.
"You're really good with him. I haven't seen him enjoy himself this much in, well, it's been a long time." He hesitated, and then spoke again, "Like a cup a Joe?"
"Sounds great." I replied.
We walked towards the house set in behind the diner. I learned the grandfather's name was Sid, and from there the conversation just seemed to flow. He asked about the arrangements I would need to make for the car repairs, and I filled him in on the details. We talked about the depressed economy locally and the lack of people in the diner.
"It's been drying up for years, but it's all I have, exceptin’ for the Social Insecurity checks.” I nodded my understanding. “My father started that diner when I was just a kid. He was a mess cook in the navy, opened this place in 1947 after the war. I was about ten then and I helped everyday after school. I learned to do short order cooking, handyman for fixing the grills and the ovens. Had gas pumps until '83, but we lost those when they told us we needed new tanks, lord! They wanted your first-born plus your wife for a night to put the new tanks in!” He exclaimed.
"Anyway, I met my wife Anne here in 1952. We courted for a year and were married in the diner. My son Richard was born five months later." He grew quiet for a moment.
"Is he Kody's father?" I asked.
"He was. Died of Aids, summer of '86. Never saw his son, the mom gave birth to him in the third booth of the diner one night. Left him on the counter all swaddled up and disappeared. Anne and I looked after him, and then she passed in the fall of '92. Since then it's just been Goose and me against the world."
"He's a great kid." I said.
"The best." He replied.
The next day was quiet as Sid and I went to town first thing in the morning. We talked the whole way and I found him to be a fascinating guy. Upon our return, Kody and I spent the rest of the day together repairing the car. We worked as a team, he from the top of the engine and me under the car, to get it all together. I taught him the trick to refilling a water-cooled VW's water jacket and he chatted almost constantly of baseball and how he had never worked on a car before. It might be simplistic; but if I had a son, this kid would be my choice.
After testing the car Kody took Tristan for another walk and I joined Sid for a beer. We chatted amiably for a time before falling into a comfortable silence.
He hesitated and then looked at me directly as he asked, "That rainbow sticker on the back of your car. What's it for?"
I was a little uncomfortable, I was in a hick town with no visible means of escape after all, but I decided I could best the old fellow if necessary.
"It's a symbol for diversity, all people welcome kind of thing." I said.
He leaned back and seemed to meditate for a moment.
"I see that sticker sometimes, usually it's two women traveling together, but sometimes two guys. Never one with the other, though." He looked out at the stars that were appearing slowly in the night sky. I noticed that Kody was standing in the shadows of the hallway eavesdropping on us. The beagle had nested on the couch, also silently.
"I knew my son was different for a long time, but I couldn't understand it. Told him to be a man and make a grandchild. Well, he did, but it was just for me I think. I regret to this day that I pushed him so hard. I was there for him in the end, held his hand as that horrible disease took him from me." He fell silent and then spoke again slowly.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." He said, eyeing me perhaps to gauge my response. I felt comprehension dawn on me and the full impact of his words was like a ton of bricks.
"I love my grandson more than anything in the world. I think you can see that. " I nodded as he continued, "And it's my job to see that decisions are made in his best interest. People around here, they don't cotton to difference too much. He and I, we talked last night. Says you’re going somewhere favorable to you folks, somewhere people will leave you in peace.”
He sighed, "Goose, get out of those shadows, I see you, boy. We need to talk about this."
He approached from the hallway hesitantly, and sat on the couch, which drew a welcoming grunt from the dog. He looked more timid than I have ever seen right then, and I felt bad for him. He was just a kid and he already knew who he was, in fact he was brave enough to talk about it openly with his grandfather. Sid caught my attention and spoke again in a measured tone.
"I want you to take Goose with you. Things will never be that good for him here, and I'm too old to do all that needs to be done for him. You're a good man. Will you please take over for me and look out for my grandson until he’s old enough to take care of himself?"
I was in shock. My immediate answer was no, but I knew that if someone had given me this same chance, I might have been a whole lot happier a whole lot sooner in my life. I looked at Goose and saw hope reflected in his eyes, and I have to tell you it was heartbreaking. It was also blackmail to use that cute face on me, but I knew my answer before my head nodded in the affirmative. He smiled like an angel.
I felt like I had to at least attempt to explore this huge new thing in all our lives, even if Sid and Goose seemed to take it all as a done deal; no muss, no fuss.
I asked, “Any advice on taking care of a boy?” I really did want to hear anything Sid had to say on the subject!
“Yeah. Make sure that you always put his best interests ahead of your own. Your needs come first when you’re a free agent…but now, your needs don’t mean shit unless you’re taking care of him properly first. He won’t have anybody left in the world when I’m gone, so don’t you ever forget that.”
I gulped, but nodded that I understood. I didn’t really, but I thought I did, and I meant well.
Sid looked at me hard and continued. “One more thing, delicate maybe. And I ain’t got a delicate bone in my body, do I, Goose?” The boy shook his head no.
I replied, “Delicate isn’t necessary, Sid. At a time like this, plain talk is best, I’m sure.”
Sid nodded and plowed ahead. “He’s gonna be your boy from now on.” I nodded. “But he don’t gotta be anything else to you, got it?”
At first, I didn’t get it at all. Goose looked mystified, too, and raised a questioning eyebrow in my direction.
“Plainer than that? Ok. Fathers and sons don’t have no relations. He gets his own bed, he makes his own decisions about who he’s gonna be with like that. Never with you, or you’re no kind of father. I won’t be able to protect him from you if you intend that…but you’ll surely rot in Hell if you do. And he would have every right to shoot you dead himself and have my blessing before the smoke cleared. Plain enough now?”
Ah! The lightbulb went off. I could hear my heart thumping like a trip hammer in my chest. He had me feeling guilty down to my boots, and I didn’t even have any inclination in that regard. That’s why he had to hit me between the eyes with it. Goose’s eyes flashed in sudden understanding of what was being said at the same time I got it. He flushed the deepest red color I had ever seen, and his eyes bugged out. “Grandpa! Please…!”
“Goose, you hush now. He needed to hear it, and so did you. I know you’ve barely got hair one down below yet, but this is the last time I get to take care of you, so I’m damn well gonna do it as good as I can!” Goose just gulped and started studying the floor and his sneakers.
What could I say? “Sid. On my honor, that will never ever be an issue. I’ve always been interested in people my own age. I’m sure the same will be true for Goose, right, buddy?” He ventured a quick glance in my direction, but nodded in the affirmative to both of us.
Sid looked satisfied. “Nuff said on that, then. Now, there’s a few other things that need sayin’.”
What more could there possibly be? Both Goose and I waited in dread. “I ain’t got no money to give ya now, Goose. But after I’m gone, you get this place and all the land under it. That paperwork’s been done for a long time. Might not be worth anything, but it’s all I got. Even though we’re poor, I always want you to be proud.”
Goose started to cry silently. “Oh, Grandpa…” he sniffed softly and got up from the sofa. He crossed to where Sid was sitting and knelt down next to the old over-stuffed chair. He put his arms around his grandfather and didn’t look to be letting go anytime soon.
I cleared my throat. What could I say that would be helpful? “Sid, Goose will be calling you regularly. We’ll both stay in close touch. When we get settled in, we both want you to come visit. Hell, come and stay! There will always be room for you, just like you always made room for him here.”
It was Sid’s turn to tear up, and I could tell he hadn’t been planning for that. “I might like to come visit and see how you’re set up. Gonna be a mite quiet around here without you, boy…”
All of us were sniffling and trying not to. It’s so hard being manly, don’t you find?
We talked for a couple more hours, late into the night. Hopes, dreams, plans…everybody being relentlessly positive and optimistic. Nothing mentioned about fears for the future or the difficulty of coming changes. That would all come up later.
"Ok, good." Sid sighed in relief as we wrapped things up for the night and adjourned to get some sleep, "There’s just a few more particulars to deal with, and then you’ll be set. In the morning we’ll go to town and see Judge Chiarolanzio; he’s an old friend. I’ll transfer guardianship and then the legal stuff will be done with." He turned to Goose, "You know he doesn’t have to do this, and I know you’re a good boy. But Goose, what he’s doing requires you to be more than good, you have to listen and you must obey. Understand me?"
The boy nodded and stood slowly from where he had been crouched next to his grandfather, and two generations embraced. Sid watched his grandson lovingly as Goose left him and came to me and embraced me as well.
"Thank you." He whispered.
I kissed the top of his head. “We’re all gonna be ok, Goose. I’m going to work my ass off to make sure we are. I promise.” Goose nodded into the front of my shirt.
Believe it or not, I actually did get some sleep after that!
The next day we were in town for a brief time while the appropriate papers were signed. One more stop to get his school records and another to get a copy of his medical file (very thin, both of those files…) Then Goose and his grandfather packed everything he would be taking with him. One old battered suitcase held it all.
No long good-byes; everything necessary had been said the night before. And then we were on the road. The five-cylinder engine accelerated smoothly and we chatted easily through the day, stopping to stretch our legs and to see occasional points of interest. We also stopped for a late dinner, but decided to continue west rather than try to find another hotel. After night fell, Kody went to sleep. I munched on sunflower seeds to keep myself awake. We passed a sign that stated 312 miles to Baysville. Huh, if I keep going this fast we’ll be getting there...about eight in the morning. Wouldn't it be awesome if the first thing we saw in the morning was Baysville? I thought so, and the miles unrolled through the night.
As a side note, don’t drink Gatorade on the road, especially not on this highway. Distressingly few rest stops, and thank god the top of the Gatorade bottle is wide!
The sun rose and about seven we pulled onto the main road leading into town. I needed coffee, and I figured breakfast wouldn't be too hurtful, either. I drove down Main Street and pulled up in front of my building. I glanced at Kody and corrected myself, our building. Just a block down on the opposite side was Lusiad's, and I figured breakfast would be good there. Kody continued to snooze as I got the beagle into the back yard of the building and then I came back to shake him awake.
"Huh?" He grunted.
"Wake up, Goose." I said with a large grin. " We're home."
He sat up and looked around with a dopey grin and climbed out to stretch. We walked in a companionable silence to Lusiad's and entered the empty restaurant. There was a handsome man behind the counter who spread his arms indicating that all seats were open. We took a table near the window and the man behind the counter walked over.
"Good morning, my name is Chris. TJ will be your waiter as soon as he gets here. Meanwhile, can I get you something to drink?" I thought Chris looked a little tired himself.
"Coffee for me, my friend." I looked at Kody. "Goose?"
"Can I have a glass of Orange Juice, please?" He asked.
"Java and OJ, coming up." Chris returned a few minutes later with two coffees and an orange juice, and after placing the drinks on the table, he took an open seat.
"You guys just pull into town?" He asked amiably before sipping his coffee.
"Yes, just about an hour ago. I'm Dave, and this is..."
"Goose, right?" Chris replied grinning at Kody who just nodded with a small smile on his face.
"Guys just passing through or hanging for a bit?"
"Well," I answered, "Goose and I will be opening a coffee shop and reading room over in the vacant building on the corner of Main and Birch."
"Oh, the storefront with the nice bay windows on each side of the door?" Chris asked.
"That's the place. It'll have some couches and whatnot. The coffee will be a side thing I think, mostly a reading room and bookstore kind of place." I said.
We were interrupted by a youth running into the restaurant with an unbuttoned white shirt and a bow tie sticking out from his shirt pocket.
"TJ, glad you could make it! How about getting these guys some menus when you finish getting dressed, huh?"
The new entrant turned to look at us in surprise and then nodded. Kody seemed to have gotten his head stuck looking at the retreating TJ.
"Any idea what you want, Goose?" I asked. Chris picked up my cue.
"Something listed on the menu, perhaps?"
"Huh?" Kody said, finally turning to look at us. "Um, omelet sounds good. Yeah." Chris and I laughed and Kody just blushed. TJ was back out to take our order and Goose was back to the staring game, which honestly was really cute to watch. Diners began to filter in for breakfast and Chris brought a number of folks over to say hello. A German fellow named Torsten and a boy sat down with us and we began to chat. The boys made fast friends. Jordan was his name.
Kody kept brushing his hair out of his eyes; it came down in long strands to frame his face. I knew he was flirting, but I couldn't resist.
"Goose, looks like you need a cut there, your hair is getting in the way." I grinned.
"I like it long!" He said sticking his tongue out.
"Well, it does make you kinda cute, I guess." I replied.
"I'm not cute," He replied lowering the register of his voice, "I'm a man."
"Kinda short for a man, aren't you?" Jordan asked. We burst out laughing. I noticed that Kody was really connecting with Jordan. Maybe he'd made his first friend.
After breakfast we were exhausted. Upon arrival at our building we proceeded to the second floor, where the furnished apartment lay. It had three bedrooms, well, two and a closet really. I sat on the dusty couch and looked around at the boxes that had been delivered a few weeks ago and just sighed. Later, I promised myself. Goose was sitting next to me and the beagle snuggled in as well and before you knew it we were all out like a light in our new home.
Late in the afternoon we awoke to stiff backs and hunger. After making ourselves presentable we headed down to Lusiad’s for an early dinner. As we took a table, Chris waved hello and TJ came over to bring menus.
"Hi, can I get you something to drink?" He asked politely.
"I'll have a beer and...Goose! He said 'drink'!" I grinned.
"Oh, Uh, Coke...please." TJ nodded and then returned momentarily with our drinks.
"You guys are new in town, right?"
"Yes, just this morning."
"Opening a new shop down the street, Chris says?"
"True enough." I replied.
TJ looked between Kody and myself before speaking in a mock confidential tone to me, "Does he talk? Or is he just for show?"
Kody's mouth snapped shut and he sat up as he realized he'd been noticed. His cheeks were positively burning. TJ, however, handled the situation nicely.
"I'm TJ." He said holding his hand out to Kody.
"Goo...I mean, I'm Kody."
"Well, Kody, some of us are going to go down to the Pep Rally for the Little League game tomorrow morning. Our Padres are playing the Red Sox, want to come?" He looked at me, "If it's ok, that is."
Kody's eyes went wide and he stared at me willing a positive answer.
"Well, we were up all night, I don't know if Goose is up to another long night..." I began.
"I'll be fine, no problem. Can I go? Please?"
I smiled and nodded. The boys made their plans and I left Kody at the restaurant as TJ was just about done. I headed home and started to unpack the few boxes I had, and then headed down to the lower level to inspect the home of my future business. It was messy, and most of the stuff in here would have to go. Looks like it was a jewelers or something similar judging from all the glass display cases that I was about to dispose of. I'd need a few tables and definitely a comfortable couch or two. Thinking of Kody, I thought a love-seat would be nice as well!
There was a knock at the door and I frowned as I saw a uniformed policeman at the door. I crossed the room and unlocked the door.
"Can I help you, officer?" I asked.
"No, not really. I just saw the lights on and thought I should see if everything is ok. This place has been vacant for a while. New in town?" He asked.
"Yes, just this morning." I answered.
"Well, let me welcome you to Baysville. I'm the sheriff around here, Rich Restless."
"Dave." I answered and shook the offered hand. I shook myself internally. I was being a bit cold, wasn't I?
"C'mon in sheriff, please."
"Thank you, place looks a bit dusty. You have some work ahead of you. Call me Rich, by the way." He grinned.
"Ok, Rich." I smiled back, "Yeah, lots of work to be done. Some furniture shopping tomorrow if you’ll suggest a good place. Then I need to order some equipment, and this place will be on its feet in a few weeks."
"Reading room and coffee shop, huh?" He asked looking the place over.
"Um, yeah. How'd you know?" I asked quizzically.
"Oh, Chris was spilling the beans at lunch. No secrets if you talk down there!" He laughed heartily. "I understand you have a boy with you?" He asked.
"Yes, Kody. He's out right now with TJ from the restaurant. A Little League Pep Rally for the big game tomorrow morning, they said."
"Yeah, funny how all the boys like TJ." He laughed again, "He and Ian and a few guys that have a band are going down tonight. Mouse, Jay, Andy and the rest."
"Mouse?" I asked.
"Don't ask, I haven't a clue!" He replied.
I liked this guy already.
"Big game for sure, though." He continued, "Championship game, in fact. The Head Teacher of the High School and the Middle School Principal are the coaches and they are usually right in the thick of things. Good kids, all of them."
"You usually get to know most kids around here?" I asked.
"Well, sure. One of the advantages of small town life. Plus we get some runaways and I like to keep up on them, too." He said.
"So the kids that run here usually stay? Why do you get so many?" I asked.
"Yup, they usually do stay. We have a good foster care system in place and we’re working on getting a shelter organized so we can safely house more of them, if necessary. And as far as why, well, all kinds of reasons, really. We had two come in a little while ago…let’s just say that they hadn't been treated well." The sheriff's face showed the agony of the wounds he had witnessed.
"I guess in your line of work you get more than your fair share of that stuff." I answered quietly.
"I...well, I never saw it quite so bad, and I'll die a happy man if I never see anything like that again." The sheriff said quietly. "Anyway," he continued, "the kids here are pretty good actually. You hear a lot of stories about kids, teens mostly, that just don't care. Desensitized with video games and that kind of stuff. The kids that end up here aren’t like that."
"So, what do you know about this TJ guy?" I asked.
"He's a good kid, lives with a great foster couple. They already had one kid of their own and TJ needed some acceptance. Really blossomed into a nice person. Your boy will be safe with him, I think. But I was wondering, you don't look old enough to have a kid Kody's age." The sheriff asked with a small smile.
"Well, that's because I'm not. I have guardianship over him because his grandfather thought he would be better off out here with me than he would have been in the little town they lived in."
"Ah, well, that explains it." He said with a gleam in his eye.
"What? There’s something good about that?" I said jovially.
"Yeah, I just won me a bet with Bubba."
"We had a bet whether or not you were old enough to have a kid that age, and I won." He laughed.
"I see," I grinned, "And so, what’s the prize?"
"Bubba's buying me dinner. I love the kids but, jeez! It'll be nice to have a night away from them, too!"
"Oh, you and, ah, Bubba was it? You guys are together."
"Yeah, most of the time anyway." He smiled slowly, like something sweet just crossed his mind.
"Wow, must be nice to be out and accepted like that."
"I don't know how much you know about this town, but we all get along. Well, most of us. We always have to leave out Rev. Creed and the Baptist crowd. They don’t play nice!" He laughed.
We heard the approach of a group of people talking and laughing. One asked for the group to wait outside for a second. Kody came through the door with a grin plastered from ear to ear.
"I need to talk to you for a second!" He then noticed the sheriff, "Oh, um did I interrupt something?"
"No, what's up, Goose?"
"Well," Kody lowered his voice, "We went to TJ's house after the rally, and I met Mouse and Andy and a few other guys. TJ's Dad isn't his real Dad, but he loves him just like you would a Dad, you know? And I was thinking, I mean I wanted to ask you. Um, I know you’re not my father. But I guess you’re, like, my Dad now. I'd feel funny calling you by your first name in front of the guys." He went very quiet, "I was wondering if it'd be ok if I called you Dad? At least in front of them?"
I felt my cheeks getting warm and a tear forming in the back of my eyes. "Yeah, Kody, that's cool. I'd like that."
He smiled and bounded back out the door inviting the crowd in.