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Having him back, Part II by Vegard
Mom and Gary were both sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him, as he came downstairs for breakfast. He grabbed the box of cereal and the milk while Gary got up and closed the door.
"We realize we can't actually stop you seeing him," his Mom said.
Charlie didn't say anything, but began to eat, while his Mom continued.
"He really isn't someone you should hang out with though," she said.
"Why?" Charlie said through a mouth full of food. Gary frowned at him, to let him know he didn't approve of that, and said.
"Because he's a violent offender! Isn't that pretty obvious?"
"He's served his time though! Shouldn't people be allowed back when they've done their time?"
Gary looked at Allison, with a look that said, "You take this!"
"He killed a man Charlie. With his bare hands. And it's not the first time he's been in trouble. Nor will it be the last."
"What do you mean?"
She sighed, "I think he was jailed four or five times while we were together. Twice for fighting, once for drunk driving and a couple of times for "drunk and disorderly"."
She looked almost pleadingly at Charlie, and sighing again said, "He's just no good!"
"So, why were you with him?"
She looked bothered, but sounded like she had her answer prepared, "Because I was young and stupid! And I was in opposition to my parents. And nothing could probably upset them more than me going out with a guy like Jack."
"What do you mean by "a guy like Jack"?"
"A guy from a, what can I call it, a bad background, I suppose." she looked embarrassed.
"White trash!" Gary interjected, and Allison frowned at him. Trust Gary to not wrap things up too delicately.
"Trash?" Charlie was startled.
"Yeah, trash!" Gary repeated, "White, low down trash! No education, lack of morals. I'd be surprised if he can even read, considering his background!"
Allison looked shocked, "Gary!"
"What do you mean considering his background?" Charlie could feel heat rising in him.
His Mom held her hand up towards Gary, signaling for him to keep out.
"He grew up with his Mum and his Grandfather over on Mill Street. With no structure in his life.
I know his Grandpa drank, and was violent, and I think his Mum was probably a drunk to."
"How did you know him?" Charlie asked. His anger forgotten. This definitely did not sound like someone his Mom would hang out with. Not now anyway.
"I saw him around, growing up. But he was so much older than me, I never knew him as a kid."
He was around town a lot. First on his bike, and later in an old car. He told me when we were together that he didn't want to be at home. Because his Grandpa and Mom were drunk I suppose. He even slept in that car from time to time."
"So how did you end up together?"
Allison glanced over at Gary, as if she was unsure what to say in front of him.
"Well, he was away in the Army as soon as he was old enough. And when he came back he worked for my father for a while. And we met when I went to see Dad."
"For Grandpa?" Charlie was puzzled. His Grandparents were retired, but Gramps used to run a small construction company. Nothing fancy, but enough to make a good living and to take care of his family. Charlie's uncle ran it now.
"Yeah. Jack did odd jobs. All kinds of things really. He didn't have any papers, but he could work."
Charlie was done eating and pushed the bowl away. Looking at the clock on the wall he saw he would have to get ready for the bus. But he didn't want to.
His Mum seemed to understand, and said, "I'll drive you."
"So, what happened?" he asked.
"What do you think happened?" she sighed. Again. "He beat up a guy."
"Yep. The foreman."
Charlie felt like laughing, but didn't. In stead he just asked why.
"Something about him slighting his mother, and not knowing who his Dad was. That was a really sore point with him."
A thought struck him, "Is she still living here?"
Allison shook her head, "No. While Jack was in Afghanistan their house burned down. Both his Mom and his Grandpa died in the fire."
"Wow", finally Charlie was learning about the other half of his family, "Was it then that he came home?"
"No. He didn't even come to the funeral. This must have been in 2002, and he came home in -03."
"And you started seeing him then?"
"Yeah. And I kept seeing him after he got fired. I felt it was really unfair that he'd gotten all the blame. But, later, I realized he should have taken it, held his temper. and kept his job. Nothing good comes from loosing control like he does!"
She glanced at the clock. "Go brush your teeth hon, and I'll see you in the car."
Gary and Allison looked at each other as Charlie left to go to the bathroom.
"What will we tell people?" Gary asked.
"Yeah." Gary looked uncomfortable, "People will notice he's back, and they'll talk. It's not like people don't know who he is. He does stick out, you know?"
Allison didn't know what to say. It was almost incredible that they'd actually managed to keep Jack's crime and his prison sentence quiet for as long as they had.
Her eyes became moist, and Gary pulled her closer, hugging her.
"I am so sorry Gary," she said in a choked voice.
"We'll be okay," he tried to console her, "I wish we could keep this from Laura though, you know?"
Ally pulled herself together, "Yeah! I'll have a talk with Jack, after I drop Charlie off at school. He's not one to blab anyway, so we might manage to control this."
She sniffed, hugged her husband tightly, and got up to get her keys.
She had herself completely back under control as Charlie came out and got in the passenger seat.
Before he could start asking her questions about Jack, she said, "Have you told anyone about him?"
He shook his head.
"Good!" she was relieved, "And please don't, okay?"
"If you have to explain why he's been away, say he was in the Army, and he just stayed away for a long time after that."
Charlie was about to say something, but she quickly added, "It's not a lie! It's just not telling everything.
And please do this for Laura, ok?"
Charlie nodded. He understood her. Laura was eight, and little kids could be cruel.
"Sure Mom," he said, "We should tell Jack as well huh?"
"Yeah. I'll talk to him. Did he say where he was staying?"
Allison had an idea though. And she would look for him there after she'd dropped Charlie off.
She drove slowly down Mill Street. A trailer was parked on the lot of the Cooper's burned down house. The yard was completely overgrown, and weeds were growing up through cracks in the driveway. There was nothing left of the burned ruins, and Allison wondered who'd removed it. Maybe the "Neighborhood Welfare Committee" she thought to herself with a slight chuckle.
Jack's truck was there. She parked, went to the door and knocked. He was in his boxers and nothing else when he opened, and she felt weak for a moment looking at his naked body. She'd heard the expression "prison sculpted", but Jack had always had a great body. At least in her mind. He was well built, and strong without being bulky. From being a soldier and manual laborer she supposed, and from growing up like he had.
"Hey," he didn't seem all that surprised to see her.
"Hey. Can I come in?"
He studied her as she passed him. She'd put on some weight, but she still looked good. She was in her mid thirties, and still had that youthful glow. He'd liked everything about her, but most of all he'd liked her eyes. They weren't just gorgeous, theywere kind. Even towards him, and that was not the case from everyone.
He pulled on a t-shirt and joined her at the table.
"Do you have to look the part?" Allison asked him, staring at his cropped head.
"You're an ex-con. And do you know what you look like?"
Jack gave a slight nod, "An ex-con?"
"Yeah! You look bad man."
"Yeah, as in mean. Dangerous."
"You used to think it looked good." Jack gave her that crooked smile she knew so well.
"Yeah. I did," she gave a sad smile. "You looked dangerous back then to. And I liked it."
"But I don't want Charlie to be like that! I don't want you influencing him, and make him turn out like you!"
"I get that," his shoulders slumped, and he looked uncomfortable, "I'm sorry I've messed things up like I have."
She had to hold back an impulse to touch his hand across the table. Damn, but her feelings for him were coming back. She had to fight it.
Gary was good for them. For her. He had a steady job, he could hold his temper, and he was a really decent guy. She supposed he wasn't the ideal stepfather for Charlie, but she wasn't sure anyone could have been. Maybe she and Charlie had been alone for too long.
There was no denying, Jack looked so much better than Gary. She felt a twinge of guilt as she thought it, but her relationship with Jack had been started because she thought he was so incredibly handsome and tough. And her "ending up with" Garyhad been based largely on knowing he wouldn't hurt her, or Charlie by letting her live in uncertainty, and by ending up in prison. Gary was a real salt of the earth kind of guy, with a steady job in banking, and good values. He was the best choice.
She had to admit, life with him was kind of boring though. Kind of boring, but good. Really good she insisted to herself.
Forcing herself to think about something else, she began looking around the trailer. It was nice. Maybe a bit old, but well cared for.
"Where did you get this?"
"Did you ever meet Mike? The guy who was the driller on my crew in Louisiana?"
"No. You talked about him though, and I spoke with him a few times, when I was asking for you."
"He's the tool pusher on a rig in East Texas now, and he gave me a job," Jack looked around, and he lent me this, plus money to buy a truck."
"Wow!" Allison was impressed, and curious, "Was he the one you pushed away from that falling, er, something?"
That crooked smile again. "Yeah, a "something" was being lifted to the drill floor and slipped out of the slings, and would have hit him if I hadn't pushed him aside."
She laughed, and he winked at her and said, "I can't wait to tell Mike steel drill collars are now called "somethings"."
Remembering why she was there, Allison became serious again.
"I've talked to Charlie, and he agrees people here in town can not know what you've done, and where you've been."
Jack agreed to this, and they talked a bit about their son.
As she got up to leave he mentioned that Charlie had asked to learn how to fight.
"Are you going to teach him?"
"Yeah," he got up, and followed her to the door. "A bit," he added.
She frowned at this, and with an almost guilty look at her he added, "I won't get him in trouble."
She studied him. He was so tough, and yet so vulnerable at the same time, and she suddenly realized that was one of the things that had made her fall in love with him.
"Oh, Jack." she sighed, "Be careful, ok?" she looked at him with worry in her eyes. Those beautiful, kind eyes.
Unable to hold himself, he suddenly grabbed her, and kissed her passionately. She was perplexed, but despite herself she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. Almost wilting at the knees as she clung on to him.
His strong hands began pulling her blouse up out of her slacks, and she felt their warm touch on her skin. "Oh, God!" it felt good. They kissed long and hard, at the same time stroking each others bodies under their garments. His hands were cupping her breasts, and she was on the verge of giving herself over to him when she forced herself to think about Laura and Gary.
With regret she pushed him away, "No, please Jack. Stop!"
He stopped. Panting, reluctantly he let go, and looking really disappointed he took a step back.
"I can't," she said, panting as hard as him. Jack nodded. They both looked at each other with longing, but it couldn't be. He understood, but he also hated it.
She made sure she was completely composed as she tucked her blouse back in, and checked her hair was in place in the tiny bathroom. With a sad smile at him she went out the door, and he stayed in the doorway watching her drive off.
"There he is again!" Pete said. But Charlie allready knew, he'd seen him, parked in the same spot as yesterday.
Pete had been curious about who Jack was, and Charlie had told him. And without elaborating he'd told him Jack had been deployed in Afghanistan, "And he's been away, working and stuff."
Pete asked why he hadn't told him about him before, and looked like he'd like to know more, but Charlie explained, briefly, that his Mom didn't talk about it because they'd had a really rough break-up.
Pete and Charlie both rode across the street to Jack, where Pete and Jack were briefly introduced before Pete, again, rode off on his own.
They went to Jack's trailer, and Charlie was at his Dad's home for the first time. It felt strange.
"Mom said you didn't go to school much." He said. His Mom had told him more about Jack as she drove him this morning. About when he used to live in town.
"I guess not." Jack shrugged.
"Would you go if no one made you?"
"Maybe," Charlie pondered it, "My friends go, and I wouldn't have anyone to hang out with while they were at school I guess."
"Who'd you hang out with?" he added.
"The Connor brothers, until they moved. Then no one in particular for a while." Jack studied his callused hands, and added "Things were kind of messed up," he said.
Charlie looked at him, expecting more, and Jack continued.
"My Grandpa was a violent, drunken asshole. And my Ma wasn't much better. She'd just slap me a bit though, so no big deal. But my Grandpa beat me pretty bad. We lived in his house, and he kept reminding us we had to obey his rules, or else we'd be outon the street. So, I had to put up with it.
He didn't mind me when I wasn't there though, so I stayed clear as much as I could"
"What did he do when you were there?"
"He'd drink, and he'd beat me when he felt like it. Which was often. He used his fists on me, his belt, a stick. Anything would work."
Jack rubbed the stubble on his head, "He's the one who introduced me to this. And he did it back when people were still hippies, you know?"
"Yeah, Or maybe it was around 1980. People weren't hippies then, but there were hardly anyone with short hair." Jack looked bitter, "Just me."
"There must have been some others?"
"Yeah, the Connor brothers, but they never had it as short as mine."
"Grandpa would always find something to gripe about when it came to me. I ate too much, I grew too quick, when I needed clothes, I didn't grow quick enough when he was tired of providing for me, I didn't do enough around the house and I did it wrong if I tried to do something."
"And my hair was too long." Jack finished.
Charlie just listened. His Dad seamed to be on a roll now, and he didn't want to interrupt him.
"First time was when I was going to start school, and my Ma was dumb enough to ask for money so I could get a nice haircut for my first day.
I remember I was looking forward to starting. Maybe the most because I would get away from him, but I wanted to go as well. Same as all kids I guess?
So, my Ma stood me in front of him, and asked for money."
Jack had an expression on his face that was hard to read. A mixture of hurt and bitterness.
"She should've known better," he almost mumbled, and continued.
"I was so little I thought I could actually see fire coming out of his eyes, and he shot out of the chair, pushed me aside, and knocked her to the floor.
I got so scared I started crying, and that pissed him off even more. "Wait here!" he yelled at me, and he marched over to the Johnson's next door. While he was gone I helped my Ma up on the couch.
Grandpa wasn't gone long, and coming back he ordered me outside, and told me to take my shirt off. Meanwhile he was cussin' and carrying on with an extension cord he pulled out of the house, and more and more kids and neighbors stopped outside our house to see what was happening.
Jack lifted his can, and took a sip. His thoughts back on that day in September about forty years ago, as he stood half naked in the yard with all the neighbours watching, and the feeling as it dawned on him the monstrous thing his Grandpa had borrowed from the Johnson's was a set of electric clippers.
"He fired that thing up with a mean grin, and told me to stand still. And he mowed my hair off in front of everyone. With no guard."
"S**t!" Charlie could picture it, and was shocked.
"Yeah, S**t's the right word."
"I don't think my hair was long, but it was several inches I guess. And he started shearing from my forehead to my crown. Pass after pass, on top first, then the sides and the back, and I stood there like the little kid I was, being completely shorn, while crying and calling for my "Mommy". Off course she didn't come. I saw as I walked in after that she was coping by getting drunk in front of the TV."
"What did the neighbors say when he cut your hair like that?"
"Some laughed, but as I looked up after he was done, and looked around, I could see most felt sorry for me. And that doesn't feel good either you know?"
Charlie was appalled, and lost for words.
"This was the day before school started, and I'd been running around outside all summer, and my skin was pretty tanned from the sun. But my head was now fish-belly white through stubble so short you could hardly see it. And in stead of looking forward to my first day of school, I now dreaded it.
Our first grade teacher was Mrs Lochlin, and she was shocked to see me like that I think. We'd all been to see her before, and yeah, she was shocked,
Se asked if I'd had an accident. And Sally Weaver piped up,
"He ain't had an accident Mrs. Lochlin, he's just dirt poor!""
"Oh, f***!" Charlie muttered. Jack laughed, a humorless laugh, "So, from day one I hated school. And Sally Weaver."
"How's that for a start to an education, eh?" he added.
"How often did he do that?" Charlie asked
"I don't remember. Too often, and not often enough."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is, it looked like s**t when it grew out. It was just sandpaper when it was fresh, and it looked like I was bald. Then it would grow in some, and for a couple of weeks I almost liked how it looked." He rubbed his head again.
"But then it got longer, and looked like fur. Sometimes it grew to over an inch before he'd take notice and order me in to the yard again. And I began hating that grown out buzzcut so much I almost looked forward to being sheared."
"But not the way it was done though!" he added quickly, "And not that short."
"What an asshole!" Charlie shot in.
Jack nodded, and they both sat and drank their beer in silence. The humiliation of it coursed through Jack, and his right knee was shaking slightly from anger at his Grandpa as he talked about this.
"Everyone knew off course, and I guess people talked. But I don't think I've ever talked about it myself before.
I got used to it in a way though, but the shearings were hard."
He sighed, "And I got used to being a kind of outcast I guess.
I didn't go to school much, and when I did I'd get in to fights, 'cause the other kids teasing would always get my blood up.."
"Did you ever try and stop him?"
Jack stared distantly out the window to the driveway, and the over-grown yard, where it used to happen.
"Nah. Like I said, he threatened to kick us out if I ever even talked back to him.
I used to dream about killing him though. And maybe I would have if I'd stuck around."
He smiled his crooked smile, as if the thought of this cheered him up some.
"But I took control of it." he said, and looked brighter as he asked, "Guess how your Great Grandpa made a living?"
Charlie shrugged, "As a barber?"
This made Jack laugh, "Yeah! He worked in a salon down on Main."
This cracked them both up, before Jack continued.
"He ran his own still," he chuckled, "In the back of the house, and he made his living selling moonshine.
And I wasn't old before he expected me to practically run it for him, so he could just drink in stead of work."
"And it's not hard sneaking off a bit when you're left alone to watch a still all day." Jack winked at his son, "And it was real easy to sell.
I guess I was the main supplier to a lot of teenagers in Georgetown, and I pulled in a lot of cash."
It had gotten him invited to a lot of parties to. Even when he was way too young for it, and he could hold his booze while he was still in grade school.
"From the money I made, I bought myself my own set of clippers, and I'd run them over my head once a week, instead of waiting for him to get all riled up and doing it in the yard.
He never sheared me after that, and I don't know, maybe he thought my hair had just stopped growing?"
"How old were you then?"
"About ten. Eleven maybe." Jack shrugged, "At least I was, kind of, in control myself then. And since I was the supplier of booze in town, I got treated ok by most kids. And my head was just buzzed, nice and easy."
"And you kept it like that always? Even after you moved? And after they died?" Charlie was puzzled.
"Yeah," Jack smiled, "I felt I was in control, you know? Even if it was forced on me at first, I made it my choice."
Charlie didn't really get it, but he nodded.
"Were you ever arrested? You know for selling booze?"
"Yeah, a couple of times. But I got off fairly easy. I guess the whole town knew what our family business was, but it was all we had." Jack paused and drank the last from the can, and got up to get another beer for himself, and offered Charlie another pop, which he declined.
"I guess they sort of accepted it, 'cause we'd probably starve if we couldn't do this, you know?"
Charlie didn't really know at all, but he nodded. He understood they'd had it real hard, and that it had been kind of decent of the sheriff's office to let them do it.
"Why weren't you taken care of by child services though?" he wondered.
"I should have been I guess. But folks just left us alone."
"I guess that's why they were drunk so much to huh?" Charlie asked.
Jack nodded, "Yep. Probably what got them killed to I reckon."
Seeing Charlie didn't immediately understand this he explained "It wasn't so much a fire, as an explosion that got them.
They were probably running the still, and didn't turn on the water to cool the vapor when they should have. And, I don't know, maybe Ma went to use the bathroom right next to the wash-room where the still was at, and when she used the light-switch it caused a spark, and blew up the whole house, and burned it to boot."
"You think that's how it happened?"
"Yeah. I'm pretty sure really. It was what they call "an explosive fire", and they weren't running a meth-lab. Just a still."
He lifted his can to Charlie, as if to toast his late Grandma and Great Grandpa.
"Here's to them!" he said, with a slight grin.
To be continued