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June 5, 2017

Sedition Chapters 5-8

These are preview chapters of Sedition. These chapters are unedited, so please excuse any errors. Also, the formatting is block, which I hate. The finished product will be formatted correctly.

CHAPTER 5: George, Punching Bags

George lay in the hospital bed, hooked to an IV. His shoulder and leg were bandaged. There was an empty bed next to him, and a television affixed to the wall. He watched the news.

Lisa Kelly, the blonde newscaster said, “We have Congressman John Bradley coming to us from an undisclosed location.”

WNN cut to John. He was standing in the office of the farmhouse, with an earpiece in his ear. He was fit, and his face looked younger than his silver hair.

“Thank you for connecting with us, Congressman,” Lisa said. “Especially, given the circumstances.”

John was stoic. “You’re welcome, Lisa. Thank you for having me.”

“We’ve had unconfirmed reports that you were uninjured in the attack. Are those reports accurate?”

“They are. I was uninjured, but only because of the heroic actions of Secret Service agents, Derrick Stokes, Jake Barnes, and Greg Olson. And, of course the civilian bystander, George Chapman. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to these men, especially Agent Stokes. As you know, Agent Derrick Stokes gave his life protecting me. He was a great man, and he will be sorely missed. My heart and prayers go out to his family.”

“Such an amazing display of heroism.” Lisa paused for a moment. “Can you walk us through the attack from your perspective?”

“I was talking to my chief of staff, and a man entered through the front door. He removed an assault rifle from his jacket and pointed it at me. I remember thinking I was going to die. That’s when Agent Barnes shielded me with his body, and George Chapman tackled the terrorist. I tried to help Mr. Chapman, but I was pushed out the back door. At that point, Agent Stokes had the situation under control.”

“But the terrorist managed to shoot Agent Stokes.”

John exhaled. “Apparently, the terrorist also had a handgun under his coat.”

“We’ve had reports that both the assault rifle and the handgun had high capacity magazines. Is that true?”

John nodded. “It is true.”

“Do you think this attack could have been prevented with gun legislation?”

“As you know Lisa, my gun control bill would have banned assault rifles and magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition.”

George turned off the television, set the remote on the bedside table, and picked up his phone. He checked his email. Nothing. Good thing I didn’t have any bikes on my trailer.

George closed his email, and scrolled through his favorite news wire. He clicked on a headline that grabbed his attention.

LEGAL SYSTEM OVERRUN WITH JURY TRIALS

By: Frank Redner

May 7, 2018

Ray Washington was arrested six months ago, for felony possession of heroin with the intent to sell. He refused a plea bargain in favor of a jury trial. His court date is set for early 2020. Mr. Washington was asked why he refused the two-year prison sentence, which is ironically the same amount of time as his wait for a jury trial.

He said, “I’m not stupid, I can do the math. I see what’s happening in this country. People are tired of being abused. I’ve been out on bail for six months, and when I finally do go to trial, if I ever do, there’s a good chance that one of the jurors might be one of those anarchists. All it takes is one.”

In 2016, 90% of criminal cases were never tried in court, defendants taking plea bargains instead. In the past two years, that number dropped to 88% in 2017, and 83% during the first quarter of 2018.

This may seem like a small percentage of cases that are requesting jury trials, but it is a volume increase of 70% in two years. The American legal system has been notoriously overburdened, with district attorneys arguing ten times as many cases as their private counterparts. But today it is bursting at the seams, with trial dates stretching out over two years into the future.

These extreme delays have angered defense attorneys and defendants. Civil liberties attorney Murray Feinstein said, “The state is overburdened not because we have too many criminals, but because we have too many laws. It is estimated that the average citizen commits three felonies a day. If the state wishes to criminalize and prosecute with such a wide net, they must maintain the defendants constitutional right to a speedy trial. If they can’t, they ought to decriminalize nonviolent offenses such as drug possession.”

In addition to lengthy delays, anarchism has turned jury pools into potential minefields. One of the goals of many anarchists is to dismantle the legal system by infiltrating juries and exercising jury nullification. Jury nullification occurs when a jury returns a verdict of “not guilty” despite its belief that the defendant is guilty of the crime. Anarchists believe that victimless crimes such as drug use should not be prosecuted. Some anarchists believe that the state should not have the power to prosecute any crimes, even heinous ones, such as murder.

District attorneys are now forced to consume valuable resources and time they don’t have researching potential jurors for connections to the ideology. Many anarchists are hiding in plain sight, registering as Republicans and Independents, not to support a political party, but for the opportunity to be selected to a jury. This infiltration has resulted in a 110% rise in mistrials.

 

George looked up from his phone. A female nurse pushed a teen boy into the hospital room, followed by a male nurse. The boy was a chubby kid with glasses, a round face, and a bandage wrapped around his head. The nurses helped him into the bed next to George. The boy grunted as he moved into the bed.

“Are you okay?” the female nurse asked.

The male nurse exited the room.

“My neck hurts,” the boy said.

“I know. It’s gonna be sore for a few days.” The nurse patted him on the hand.

An attractive woman in yoga pants burst into the room. She was breathless as she hurried to the boy’s bedside.

“Max, I am so sorry,” she said. “I was out running, and I didn’t have my phone. I just got the message from school. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

The nurse smiled at the woman. “You must be Max’s mom?”

“I’m Julie Welch.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Welch. I’m Amy. I’ll be Max’s nurse.”

“Please call me Julie.”

The nurse smiled again. “Of course.”

“How’s he doing?” Julie asked.

“He’s gonna be just fine. He has a mild neck sprain and a concussion. We’re putting him through our standard concussion protocol, which is lots of rest and observation. We’d like to keep him overnight in case of seizures, but you should be able to take him home tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Amy.”

Nurse Amy turned to Max. “I’ll be checking on you, but if you need anything, my call button is on your bedside table.”

“Thank you,” Max replied.

“Thank you,” Julie echoed.

The nurse left the room.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” Julie said. “I should’ve been here.”

“Mom, it’s no big deal,” Max replied.

“Principal Taylor said you fell on the stairs. What happened?”

“I fell on the stairs.”

“But how?”

Max shrugged. “Tripped, I guess.”

“Would you like me to get you something to eat, or something to read?”

“Just my phone. It was in the pocket of my jeans. I don’t know where they put my clothes.”

***

“Visiting hours are about over,” Julie said. “I should go home and get cleaned up. I didn’t even shower after my run.”

“That’s gross, Mom,” Max said, glancing up from his phone.

“I was worried about you, not my hygiene.” Julie stood up, with a smirk. “I’ll be back at ten tomorrow morning to take you home.” She bent over and kissed Max on the cheek. “Will you be okay by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I love you, honey.”

Max glanced at his roommate. George was leafing through a magazine.

“Love you too, Mom,” Max said quietly.

Julie left. The lights were dim. Max watched the screen on his phone, with his earbuds in. He alternately stared at George and stared at his phone.

“Excuse me, sir?” Max said, taking his earbuds out.

George looked at Max. “Yeah?”

“Are you George Chapman?”

“Yep.”

“The one on the news.”

“Afraid so. What’s your name?”

“I’m Max … Max Welch.”

“Nice to meet you, Max.”

“It’s pretty cool, what you did.”

“I was in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place, depending on how you look at it.”

“Did you see that they said who the terrorist was?”

“I didn’t.”

“His name’s Louis Allister. They said he was a veteran of Afghanistan and an anarchist.”

George didn’t respond.

Max went back to his phone.

George closed his eyes.

“Do you wanna hear what he said on Facebook?” Max asked.

George opened his eyes. “Huh?”

“The terrorist wrote something messed up on Facebook right before. You wanna hear it?”

“Okay.”

“He wrote, ‘No more will I be a hitman for bankers and war profiteers. This is a message to the ruling elite. We’re coming for you. No rulers, No masters.’ Sounds like a criminal mastermind out of a graphic novel. These anarchists are pretty crazy, huh?”

“How do you figure?”

“This guy was in the military, then hates the United States so much that he tries to kill a congressman. I’d say that qualifies as crazy.”

“If you’re in the military and you’re sent to war, it would stand to reason that you might see war up close and personal. And you might not agree with it.”

“Do you agree with it?”

“I don’t agree with violence.”

“But you stopped the terrorist,” Max said. “And you used violence.”

George nodded. “You’re right, but to me violence is justified if it’s used in self-defense, or the defense of another.”

Max was quiet for a moment. “Like standing up to a bully?”

“That’s a good way of looking at it. So, what are you in here for?”

“I fell and hit my head.”

“That must’ve hurt.”

***

Max tapped and scrolled on his phone as he polished off the last of his pancakes.

“How was your breakfast?” George asked.

Max scrolled through his phone. “Not bad actually.”

“How’s your head? You feeling better?”

Max didn’t respond. George glanced from his breakfast to his roommate. Max stared into his phone, his face blank.

“You all right over there?” George asked.

Max’s eyes were glassy. He stood from the hospital bed, and snatched his bag from the nearby chair. Without a word, Max walked to the bathroom.

A few minutes later, Max emerged in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. He sat in the chair next to his bed.

“You taking off already?” George asked.

Max’s face was blotchy. “Yeah.”

“Well, I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Max.”

Max looked away from George, toward the window.

“Anything you wanna talk about?” George asked.

“What?”

“Do you wanna talk about what was on your phone?”

“It’s nothing.” Max still looked away.

“When I was your age, I got picked on pretty bad. I had face full of acne, and barely two nickels to rub together. I remember being made fun of because I was wearing clothes that another kid’s family donated to Goodwill. The kid’s initials were on the tag of my shirt. My dad was long gone, and my mother … well, she had some issues. The kids at school said a lot of stuff about my mother. I was too afraid to do anything about it. I was the school punching bag.”

Max turned to George, his eyes red. “I’m not the school punching bag.”

“I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant. I’m just saying that I know school can be a cruel place. It’s not unlike prison in a lot of ways.”

“Yeah, well it’s a shitty place.” Max hung his head. “And I can’t get away from it.”

“Sounds rough.”

“Kids took pictures when I fell, and they posted these stupid memes on Instagram.”

“You didn’t fall, did you?”

Max lifted his head. “I did fall.”

“But you had some help.”

Max nodded.

George took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Max. There are two types of people in this world. People that wanna be left alone, and people that won’t leave you alone.”

“What do you do with those people, the ones that won’t leave you alone?”

“Seems to me you have three choices. Continue to take it, make them stop, or walk away.”

“I can’t stand it anymore, and I can’t … I can’t make it stop.”

“Sometimes the only solution is to walk away.”

“How am I supposed to do that? I have to go to school.”

“Don’t they have online school here?”

“My mom would never let me go virtual.”

“Have you asked her?”

“No, but I know her. She talks about how she loved high school. She wouldn’t understand.”

“From what I saw yesterday, it looked like she really cared. I think it’s worth a shot.”

Max shrugged. “Maybe.”

 

Chapter 6: John and Leadership

Linda was sleeping on her side, facing the wall. Rays of morning sunshine pierced the gaps in the curtains. John rolled toward her, toward the warmth. He lifted the cover and glanced at his wife. She wore black bikini underwear and a T-shirt. His pulse quickened as he gazed at the curve of her hips, her toned legs and strawberry skin. Her T-shirt had ridden up, exposing the small of her back.

John inched closer. He wrapped his arm around her and pressed his crotch against her backside. His semi-erect penis hardened as he moved. Linda opened her eyes and her body went stiff. John moved his hand up her T-shirt and over her nipples.

“Honey,” she said.

John reached down and tugged her underwear down to mid-thigh.

Linda rolled onto her back, and pulled up her underwear. “Honey, not now.”

“Come on, I’m really stressed,” John said.

“There’s an agent right outside our door and a house full of people,” Linda replied, in a hushed tone. “Someone needs to make breakfast.”

John moved his hand under the silky fabric of her underwear. She slapped him across the face, and John removed his hand as if he’d been burned. Linda exited the bed.

John’s face was flushed. “Jesus Christ, Linda. Was that necessary?”

“I said, no.”

“You said, not now. If I didn’t push you, we’d never have sex.”

“Keep your voice down.”

“I don’t know why I even bother. I was almost killed two days ago, and I can’t even get a sympathy fuck.”

Linda glared, her cheeks crimson. She started for the bathroom.

John popped out of bed and beat her to it. He stood between Linda and the bathroom door.

“Move,” she said.

He stood with his arms crossed. “I’m not waiting around while you monopolize the bathroom. I have things to do that rank a bit higher in importance than fucking breakfast.”

She pursed her lips, her eyes glassy. She opened her mouth and shut it.

“You’re welcome to shower with me,” he said with a smirk.

***

John buttoned his shirt and tucked it into his slacks. He picked up his phone from the dresser. There was a text.

Donna: Call me as soon as you get this. We have a situation.

The shower ran in the bathroom. He smiled to himself, knowing the hot water was waning. I hope she enjoys the cold shower.

John bounded down the stairs. He nodded to a couple of agents, not remembering their names. He shut the door to the office. There was a laptop on the desk. He sat down in the swivel chair and powered on the computer. He pressed Donna on his phone.

“We have a big problem,” Donna said.

“That’s a helluva way to greet someone first thing in the morning,” John replied.

“Sorry, John.”

“No, you’re right to the point. I like that. Let me have it. Give me your best shot.”

“There’s video footage of the attack.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Apparently, Jeff Hutton recorded it with his phone.”

“Who the hell’s Jeff Hutton?”

“He’s an intern, college student. He just started.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“The video shows an inconsistency between your account of what happened and what actually happened.”

“Witnesses are notoriously unreliable. People will forgive a mistake.”

Donna was quiet.

“You don’t think so?”

“You said that you tried to help George Chapman, but were taken away by the secret service.”

“That’s what happened.”

“Not according to the video. The video doesn’t show any indication that you made any effort to help Chapman. If anything, it shows you backing up before Jake pulled you away.”

“I still don’t see a problem. I was still shot at. In my mind, I started to help Chapman. Everything happened so fast. I had a gun in my face for Christ’s sake.”

“There are videos that show your interview with the attack footage. The best one is set to music, and it replays, what you said like a refrain. It’s quite catchy, actually. It’s trending on Twitter, and it already has over a million views on YouTube—”

“What’s the damage?”

“It’s tough to say, but it’s not positive. It depicts you as the typical lying politician, which is exactly the opposite image we want to portray. People want someone different, and to them, this is the same old bullshit.”

“Jesus, Donna, I was almost killed. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“That’s what the Democrats are saying, and this isn’t going to hurt your congressional reelection, but to win in 2020, we need more than the Democrats.”

“That’s two and a half years away. You don’t think it’ll blow over?”

“I do, but the Republicans will dig it up, and use it to portray you as a coward.”

“I’m a coward?” John huffed. “Half these Republican fat fucks would’ve shit their pants.”

“We need to address it before it gets out of control.”

“There’s nothing to address.”

“The public disagrees.”

John clenched his jaw. “Do you have something in mind?”

“I think we should setup an on-camera meeting with Chapman. To the public, Chapman’s one of them right now. It would be good for you to show him some gratitude. I’m thinking something heartfelt. We’ll draft a few different statements, and poll them to find out which one plays best.”

“I’m fine with that.”

“I think we need to address the inconsistency in your story with a statement to the press.”

“Is that necessary? Chapman’ll be my best friend by the time I’m done with him.”

“We can’t leave any loose ends for the Republicans to exploit.”

“I think it’s a mistake to admit wrongdoing here.”

“I agree,” Donna replied. “I think we can craft a statement that touches on how stress can affect memory. We might get away with admonishing the press for focusing on a victim’s faulty memory, instead of the heroism of the late Derrick Stokes.”

“That might work.”

“We’ll poll it and find out before you stick your neck out there. How much longer will you be at the safe house?”

“Jake thinks today or tomorrow at the latest.”

“That’s good,” Donna said. “I’d like for the meeting with Chapman to take place at the hospital. It’s important that you see him before he’s released. He’s due for release tomorrow afternoon.”

“I agree.”

“We’re already working on the statements. I’ll send them to you as soon as I have them.”

John was quiet for a beat. “Thanks, Donna.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. What was the name of the intern that recorded the video?”

“Jeff Hutton.”

“Get rid of him.”

“That might not be—”

“I want him gone.” John’s cellphone buzzed. He glanced at the incoming call and groaned. “I have to go, it’s the senator and his wisdom.”

“Listen to him,” Donna said, “but ultimately, it’s your career.”

“Is it?” John clicked over to the incoming call. “Dad.”

“I hope you plan on doing something about this … this discrepancy,” former Senator Bradley said.

John frowned. “I’m on it.”

“Attempting to make yourself look stronger than you are, makes you look weaker than you are. These days the public will forgive the veterans, billionaires, and celebrities, but not us academics. They see us as politicians, sitting in our ivory tower.”

“It was a mistake. I was shot at, so forgive me if I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“No, you weren’t. The shot went into the floor. Your entire staff was shot at more than you. It would serve you better in the press to remember that. Play down your own danger and heroism and emphasize the heroism of others. That’s leadership.”

 

CHAPTER 7: Katie Likes JFK

Katie sat at her desk watching herself on the laptop screen. On and off screen, she wore a low-cut floral sundress—no bra of course. Her light brown hair draped down to her chest and curled at the ends. Thankfully, her cleavage was uncovered.

“It’s no surprise that USN picked up the video. Congressman Bradley is a major threat to the Republican establishment. We have to think about who stands to gain if Bradley’s assassinated. Certainly, the Republicans, and of course the anarchists. The shooter was a self-proclaimed anarchist, but he was also a registered Republican. And now with the failed assassination attempt, they’re attempting to assassinate the congressman’s character.”

Katie on the screen adjusted her black-frame glasses.

“Congressman Bradley was almost killed, in a stressful, life threatening situation that most of us will never experience. Memory is often unreliable in normal circumstances, but they are absolutely atrocious under stress. The man had a machine gun pointed in his face. In the Congressman’s mind, he thought he made an attempt to help George Chapman. He never said he did help Chapman, only that he made an attempt.

“We have to ask ourselves why they’re blaming the victim. Are they blaming all the other people in the office that didn’t help? Of course not, because it’s totally illogical. Our focus and blame should be on the shooter, the anti-government anarchist nut job with Republican ties.

“There’s a reason why they killed John and Robert Kennedy. The Kennedys represented real change in this country the same way John Bradley does. John Bradley will be the Democratic candidate for President in 2020. I hope he survives long enough to be the change we want to see in this country.”

There was clapping—long, slow, loud claps. Katie looked up. It was Declan. He stood in a black T-shirt and his pork pie hat. His right arm was covered in Native American tattoos. He wasn’t just another white guy; he was one-thirty-second Sioux.

“Nice speech,” he said with a grin. “You have my vote.”

Katie smiled. “Thanks.”

“Are you about done?”

“Almost.”

Declan sauntered behind the desk, behind Katie. He bent over and kissed her neck. He ran his hands inside her dress, over her breasts. She exhaled and tilted her head back, looking up at her boyfriend. He bent down and pressed his lips to hers.

“I think you’re done now,” Declan said.

Katie giggled. “Think so, huh?”

Declan nodded and moved around the desk to the camera. He ran a USB cable from the camera to the laptop. He pressed record and checked the camera screen. Katie was centered nicely, her round face smiling back at him. Declan sashayed back around the desk. He swiveled Katie around in the chair, so she was facing him. She looked up, with red cheeks and big blue eyes under her specs.

Declan kneeled in front of her, reached up her sundress, and slid her panties down her legs. He pulled her forward to the edge of the chair. Katie leaned back and draped her legs over Declan’s shoulders. She gasped as he worked his tongue over her clitoris.

Katie was out of breath and flushed as Declan came up for air. He stood Katie up and pushed the chair aside. She turned toward the camera and bent over, placing her hands on the desk. He undid his belt, and pulled his skinny jeans and bikini briefs down to his knees.

Katie pulled her arms out of her dress, allowing her chest to dangle for the camera. He grunted and thrusted, watching Katie in real time, her face contorted on the laptop screen, and her breasts swaying back and forth. Declan moved faster, their skin smacking together. He gripped her hips tight and groaned as he climaxed.

After, Declan wiggled his hairy white ass back into his tight jeans. The camera was still rolling. Katie lifted her dress and put her arms back through the sleeves.

“I should get going,” Declan said.

Katie turned around and pressed out her lower lip. “Already? You know I’m leaving in a few hours. I won’t see you until Friday.”

“Sorry, babe, I just stopped by to uh—”

“Fuck your girlfriend?”

Declan laughed. “To wish you luck. But I can’t stay. I’m interviewing that US Oil exec.”

“Your dad’s friend?”

“Yeah.”

“Does he know it’s a hit piece?”

Declan grinned. “What do you think?”

“Save the best questions for the end.”

 

CHAPTER 8: Julie and Friends

Julie glanced up at the clock as she hurried down the hall. There was laughing coming from the room. Is that Max? She entered the doorway to the hospital room, her mouth open.

Max sat on a chair. He was next to a hospital bed, and a man hooked up to IVs. They were laughing as if they were the best of friends. Did I miss something? He looks familiar. The man had short dark hair, beady eyes, and faint acne scarring on his cheeks.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” Julie said.

The laughter dissipated as Max turned from the man to his mother. “It’s okay, Mom.”

“You ready to go home?”

“This is George,” Max said, glancing at the man in the hospital bed.

The dark-haired man raised his hand toward Julie.

“Hi, George,” she said, then back to Max. “You ready?”

“It’s nice to meet you,” George mumbled.

“Mom,” Max said, “this is George Chapman from the news.”

Julie did a double take and narrowed her eyes. “Oh … oh, I thought you looked familiar.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” George said a little louder.

Julie forced a smile, then turned to Max. “We should get going.”

Max stood. “It was cool talking to you.”

George extended his hand. “Likewise, young man.”

They shook hands.

Max grabbed his backpack and left the hospital room with his mother.

“How are you feeling?” Julie asked as the elevator door closed. “You look better.”

Max shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“That’s good.” Julie glanced at her son.

He was staring at the floor numbers.

“I took time off work,” she said. “The doctor thought it would be a good idea if I watched over you for a few days.”

“You don’t have to,” he replied, still watching the floors tick down. He stood a little straighter.

The elevator doors opened. “I wanted to,” she replied.

They hiked through the lobby.

“I know we need the money, so you don’t have to,” Max said.

Julie grabbed her son’s hand. “Your health’s more important than money.”

He stopped. “I’m fine, Mom. Really.” He pulled back his hand.

They exited the building and continued through the parking lot in silence. Inside the car Julie put on oversized sunglasses. They edged along with the lunch hour traffic.

“So, what were you two laughing about?” Julie asked, glancing at her son.

Max shrugged, his face buried in his cellphone screen. “I don’t know, we talked about a lot of stuff.”

“What kind of stuff.”

“Different stuff.”

Julie pursed her lips. “Honey, would you please put that down? I’m trying to talk to you.”

Max sighed and shoved his phone in the front pocket of his jeans. He looked out the passenger window.

“You two were laughing like you were best of friends, which is weird, because you were in that hospital room for one day.”

Max turned from the window. “Why is it weird? You’re always telling me to make friends. I make a friend and now I’m weird?” Max crossed his arms over his chest.

Julie exhaled. “I didn’t say you were weird. I’m just concerned. When I suggested you try to make friends, I was thinking of someone your age.”

“Nobody likes me, Mom.”

“Oh, come on, honey. You’re such a nice kid. That can’t be true. You just need to open up.”

“It is true,” he said, glaring at his mother. “I don’t have a single friend in that stupid school. And just because you were popular, doesn’t mean I can be. You have no idea what it’s like.”

Julie pulled off the highway and parked in the back of a strip mall. She put the Honda in park, and turned her attention to her son.

Max hung his head. Julie placed her hand under Max’s chin and tilted his face upward. His eyes were glassy.

“I’m sorry,” Julie said. “I didn’t know.”

“I don’t wanna go back to that school.”

She placed her hand on top of his and squeezed. “Did that man say something to you?”

“He said a lot of things.”

“Maybe we should take a few days to think about this before we make any rash decisions.”

Max was quiet.

“It’ll get better,” Julie said. “I promise.”

“You’re not listening,” Max said.

“I am listening. Talk to me.”

“Forget it.”

“Come on, honey, please don’t shut down. I’m trying to help you.”

“No, you just want me to be okay because you can’t deal with anymore disappointments.”

Julie closed her eyes for a moment. “That’s not fair. I’m doing the best I can.”

Max looked down. “So am I.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“I wanna finish school online.”

“There’s a month left in the school year. I don’t know if you can get into the virtual program at this point.”

Max looked at his mother, his face blotchy. “I’m talking about next year. I’ll finish the month, but after that, I’m done.”

Julie bit her lower lip. “I’m just … I’m just worried about you being even more isolated at home by yourself.”

“I eat lunch every day by myself in a packed lunch room. I can’t think of anything more isolating than that.”

“If I’m going to consider this, you have to at least tell me what this George person said to you. All this feels like it’s out of the blue.”

“It’s not out of the blue. George just told me the truth. He said that I deserve to be treated with respect, and if I don’t like the way someone’s treating me, I can walk away.”

“Honey, I don’t think George has any special training with teens—”

“He was like me when he was in school, maybe worse. He knows what it’s like.”

“You don’t think he’s like one of those …”

Max rolled his eyes. “One of those what, Mom?”

“You know … pedophiles.”

Max blew out a breath. “He’s not like that. Gimme a little credit. I’m not gonna be friends with some creeper.”

“Are you friends with him?”

Max shrugged. “I don’t know. He gave me his e-mail and said I can contact him anytime. He’s actually interested in what I have to say. He’s a freaking hero, Mom, and he never said one word about it.”

“I’m interested in what you have to say.”

“You have to be.”

Julie leaned over and hugged her son. After a moment, Max reciprocated.

She released her son and said, “You’re a good person, honey. One day people will see what I see.”

Max nodded, his head down.

“I’m so sorry that you’ve been going through this. I love you.”

Max looked at his mom. “I love you too, Mom.”

Julie released the emergency brake and exited the mall parking lot. They drove home.

“Shit,” Julie said, pulling into her parking space. “The grass.”

There was a middle-aged man standing on the sidewalk with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’ll do it now,” Max said.

“No. You need your rest.”

“I can do it—”

“Go inside, I’ll take care of it.”

Julie took a deep breath and stepped out of the Honda, her sunglasses still on. Max grabbed his backpack and shut the car door. Max ignored the greeting from the middle-aged man on the sidewalk, and trudged toward the townhouse.

“Good afternoon, Julie,” the man said, staring at her overgrown lawn.

“Hi, Dan,” she replied.

Dan Gordon wore khakis and a golf shirt tucked over his gut. He had a white mustache and a receding hairline.

“Grass grows pretty fast in the spring,” he said.

“My son was in the hospital, but I’ll get to it this weekend.”

Dan turned to Julie, looking her up and down. “Has he been in the hospital for eighteen days?”

Julie raised her eyebrows. “Just the one night.”

Dan nodded. “Huh. Lawn hasn’t been cut for eighteen days.”

“I’m sorry, Dan. I’ve been really busy at work.”

“The lawn needs to be cut every week in the spring. When it gets real hot in the summer, you might be able to go every ten days. But you gotta monitor it.”

“I’ll put it on my phone calendar.”

Dan sighed. “This is the third time in less than a year.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

He stared at her chest.

Julie cringed at the possibility that her white T-shirt was wearing thin.

Dan lifted his gaze. “I’m not gonna fine you, but I can’t keep givin’ you special treatment.”

Julie forced a smile. “Thanks, Dan.”

He pushed his wire rimmed glasses up his nose and grinned. “You’re lucky I like you.”

 

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