Mavis got up early in the morning and put on the purple dress she wore on special occasions. She counted $1.25 in small change from the piggy bank she kept on her bedroom dresser. She puts nickels, dimes and quarters in it when she returns from the grocery. It is her ‘rainy day’ money. Today, she might need it for the bus ride home. After dressing, she took her cane hanging on the back of a dining room chair and headed out the door.
It took her forty minutes to walk to her sister’s trailer. Several years earlier, it would only take her half that time. However, it was chilly outside, and her arthritis was messing with her hip. “Dammit,” she muttered to herself as she stopped, bent over and tried to catch her breath. She looked down the road and saw the mobile home park in the distance. “It’s terrible getting old,” she said as she straightened her crippled body and slowly shuffled down the road.
She rapped her cane on the trailer door and waited for her sister. When she didn’t appear, she struck the door four more times with the tip of her cane. Seconds later, a man appeared and hurried down the steps as he buttoned up his shirt.
She heard her sister holler out, “Who the hell is it? Do you know what time it is?”
Mavis slowly climbed the rickety stairs and stepped into the small trailer. “I sure as hell do, Pearl,” she spat angrily. “It’s time to bust you upside your head with this damn cane.” She moved toward her sister, lifted the cane and took a swing at her.
Pearl jumped back and shouted, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Mavis put down her cane, stood before her sister and placed her hands on her hips. “Do you know your boy is laid up in the hospital?”
“Yeah,” replied Pearl as she tossed some clothes off the couch and sat down. “The cops came into the restaurant last night and told me something happened to him.”
“So why ain’t your ass down at the hospital?”
“Ain’t nothing I can do for him,” replied Pearl as she got up and went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. She didn’t see the cane coming as Mavis hit her over the head with it.
“Hey! What are you doing?” She turned and rubbed her head.
Mavis asked angrily, “Your boy is in the hospital, and you’re not even worried about him?”
“I got a job to go to,” she replied. “I can’t be worried about him.” She put up her hand and stopped the cane from hitting her again.
“You bitch!” spat Mavis.
Pearl finished making the coffee, took a seat at the dining room chair and waited for it to finish running through the coffee maker. She looked up at Mavis and asked sarcastically, “If you care so much for him, why don’t you take him?”
“Fine,” replied Mavis as she reached into her purse and pulled out the consent form the doctor had given her for Pearl to sign. “Sign this then.”
“What is it?”
“They need your permission to fix him up.” She pulled a pen out of her pocket book and handed it to her.
Pearl looked up and scowled, “This going to cost me anything?”
She signed it after Mavis assured her that Buddy would probably get free treatment from the state since she didn’t make much money. Once she signed it, Mavis walked over to the door. Before leaving, she turned and said, “Put Buddy’s things out on the patio. I’ll have that boy next door get them and bring them to my place.”
She turned and slammed the door shut. She went to the corner and waited for a bus to take her home to rest. Before going home, she stopped at a nearby drugstore and faxed the forms to the hospital. She was fifty cents short, but the clerk told her not to worry about it. Later in the afternoon, she got up and rode the bus to the hospital to see how Buddy was doing.
* * * * *
Kyle’s father walked out of the garage and watched his son get out of the white Focus. He started laughing as it pulled away. Kyle’s face reddened as he approached. He knew his father was laughing at the bold red lettering. “What?” he asked as he walked up to his father.
His father asked, “Who was that?”
“Donnie Dillon,” replied Kyle.
His father’s face lit up. “Is that Jeff Dillon’s boy?” Kyle nodded. “I play golf with Jeff,” he said laughingly. “Got to watch that old cheat. He’ll shave a couple of strokes off his game if we don’t pay attention.” He put his arm around Kyle’s shoulder and led him over to his BMW. “How long have you known Donnie? You’ve never talked about him.”
Kyle replied, “I just met him today. He sat down with me in the cafeteria.”
Kyle’s face reddened when his father wiggled his eyebrows and asked, “So is he… like…um… interested?”
“Dad!” squealed Kyle. “You can’t ask me questions like that. That’s...that’s... just weird!”
“What’s weird about it?” he asked. “I’d ask Melissa the same question if a boy brought her home.”
“Alright, fair enough,” replied Kyle with a smile. “But it’s still weird.” He started to get in on the passenger’s side of the car, but he stopped when his father extended his hand and offered him the car keys.
Kyle gave him a puzzled look. “What?”
His father laughed and said, “I’m going to let you drive down to the corner.”
“What!” squealed Kyle. “You’re going to let me drive your BMW? You won’t even let me wash it.”
His father put his arm around his shoulder and led him around to the driver’s side of the car. “You’re sixteen now. I figure pretty soon you’ll be wanting your license.” Kyle nodded his head. “We’ll see about enrolling you soon in a driver’s education class.”
Kyle stepped back and said excitedly, “You’re joking, right?” His father laughed and handed him the keys to his car. Kyle hesitantly took them.
“No, I’m not,” his father assured him. “Your first lesson will be today.” He opened the door and Kyle got inside. His hands shook as he placed them on the steering wheel. He followed his father’s directions as he slowly drove down the long driveway. He was careful to look both ways before he pulled out onto the street. His heart was racing with excitement as he slowly drove down the street to the corner. He was hoping his father would let him drive all the way to the gate, but he said he didn’t want to push their luck. The community had a resource officer on duty who patrolled the neighbor, and he didn’t want Kyle to get pulled over.
As they drove toward the hospital, Kyle questioned his father about Buddy. His father told him that he had called the police that morning, and they told him that Buddy’s condition had improved overnight. He then called the hospital, and they informed him that Buddy was in stable condition. His father asked if he could have visitors, and they told him that he could. So, he called Kyle and asked him to go with him to visit.
Kyle asked, “What if he doesn’t want us to see him? You’re the one who hit him with your car. Maybe he’ll be mad about that.”
“I didn’t hit him,” insisted his father. “He stepped into my path.”
“Whatever,” replied Kyle. “We’re strangers. He may not want us to visit.” Kyle was worried because he didn’t know Buddy, and he didn’t see why his father insisted on visiting him. “Why do you want to do this anyway?”
A sad expression appeared on his father’s face as he said, “I just keep thinking what if it had been you.” Kyle leaned back in his seat, turned his head toward the window and remained silent the rest of the way to the hospital.
When they entered the hospital, Kyle trailed behind his father as he approached the information center. A kindly lady peered over the top of her glasses and asked, “May I help you?”
Mr. Caldwell took out a piece of paper, looked at it and asked, “We’re here to see Buddy Ryder. Can you tell us what room he is in?”
She entered his name in the computer and then said, “We don’t have a Buddy Ryder registered as a patient. Are you sure he’s here?”
Kyle’s father explained that he had talked to the police earlier that morning, and they informed him he was in the hospital. She looked down at the screen and asked, “How old is the person you’re looking for?”
Mr. Caldwell looked at Kyle and replied, “Sixteen or seventeen?”
She smiled and said, “We have a Garland Ryder listed. Would that be him?” Mr. Caldwell looked over at Kyle. Kyle shrugged his shoulders.
After informing his father that the patient was sixteen, she wrote a room number on a sheet of paper and handed it to Mr. Caldwell. He and Kyle headed to the elevator.
When they stepped out of the elevator, Kyle’s father pointed for them to go left down the corridor. Kyle asked his father, “What room is he in?”
“3212,” he replied. The door was open when they approached. Kyle hesitantly followed his father inside. The bed was empty. “I guess he’s not here,’ remarked Mr. Caldwell as they turned and left the room. As they headed down the hallway, a thin, black teenager approached. He stopped suddenly when he noticed Kyle.
His eyes widened as he asked Kyle, “What are you doing here?”
Mr. Caldwell said, “We’re here to see Garland.”
The black youth looked over at Kyle’s father and said, “You mean Buddy? No one ever calls him Garland.”
Mr. Caldwell asked, “Are you a friend?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied as he extended his hand. “I’m Andre Patterson. Buddy’s my best friend.”
Kyle’s father looked back at the room and asked, “How is he? He wasn’t in his room?”
“They took him down to run some more tests,” replied Andre. He looked over at Kyle and said, “I still don’t understand why you’re here. Buddy said you don’t say much to him at school.”
Kyle gave Andre a puzzled look. “Buddy talks about me?”
Realizing he had probably said too much, he turned to Mr. Caldwell and asked, “Why do you want to see Buddy?”
Mr. Caldwell looked down the hall and noticed a small sitting area. He put his hand on Andre’s shoulder and said, “Let’s go have a seat and talk.” Kyle trailed behind them as his father continued to hold Andre’s shoulder. His father and Andre sat on a hard, leather love seat while he sat in a chair a few feet away. He listened as his father explained to Andre about Buddy stepping in front of his vehicle the night before.
His father reached out and pulled him into his chest when Andre began to cry. “I don’t understand why this happened,” he sobbed. “Buddy don’t deserve this. He ain’t never done nothing bad to no one.” He continued to cry for several minutes while Mr. Caldwell held him tightly.
After several minutes, he finally gained his composure and sat back up. Kyle’s father asked, “How badly is he hurt.” Andre explained about the concussion and the other cuts and bruises he had received from the beating by Brad.
Mr. Caldwell asked, “What on earth was he doing over at Brad’s?” Kyle listened attentively because he was also interested. He had heard the rumors, but he didn’t know if they were true.
Andre looked down at the floor and responded, “I’d rather not say.”
Mr. Caldwell decided not to continue questioning him about the incident. He knew that the police would probably keep him informed about what had happened. “What kind of tests are they running on Buddy?”
“An REM,” replied Andre.
Mr. Caldwell laughed and said, “You mean an MRI?” Andre shrugged his shoulders.
Kyle sat quietly and watched his father and Andre talk. Andre, even though small and frail, appeared extremely cute. He had light brown skin, almost like the color of an almond. Like his own, he had very little body hair. His hair was curly, and he had long, dark eyelashes. His eyebrows were arched, like he might have shaped them. Kyle remembered seeing him several weeks ago at the football game that he attended with Melissa. Then he had had a hood over his head, so he wasn’t able to get a good look. Now, he could see just how handsome he really was.
Kyle looked over at his father and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” He wandered out into the hall and until he saw a sign that said, ‘Men.’ He walked down the hall and entered the small bathroom. As he was relieving himself, the door opened and Andre stepped inside. He walked over to the sink, turned on the water and began splashing water on his face. Kyle finished, stood back and watched Andre in the mirror.
Andre stopped drying his face when he saw Kyle looking at him. “Hi,” he said timidly.
“What did you mean when you said Buddy talks about me,” asked Kyle. “We hardly know each other.”
“I...I... guess I got confused,” stammered Andre as he tossed the wet towel into the trashcan. He started to leave, but Kyle gripped his arm.
“Please,” pleaded Kyle. He could tell that Andre was holding back on him. He was curious why Buddy and he would talk about him.
Andre thought for a minute as he decided whether to tell Kyle the truth. He knew Buddy would never say anything, so what did he have to lose. Kyle could leave the hospital and forget about Buddy, or he could perhaps bring them together. He took a deep breath and said, “Buddy’s had a crush on you since the first day of school.”
“What!” exclaimed Kyle. “A crush on me? Why?”
Andre giggled and said, “Yes, you. Who wouldn’t.” He stared into Kyle’s brown eyes. “You’re cuter than he said you are.” He grabbed the door handle and opened it. “Listen,” he said before leaving. “I’ve already said more than I should. Buddy just likes you, okay?” Kyle stood with his mouth open as Andre hurried from the bathroom.
When he returned to the waiting room, Andre was sitting beside his father. They were talking as if they had known each other for years. Kyle sat down and tried to listen to their conversation. It appeared that Andre had dropped out of school, and he was attending a community college to get his GED certificate.
His father asked, “Why did you leave school so young?”
Andre’s mood changed to sadness. “I got bullied all the time,” he replied. “Since I’m small and gay, the kids picked on me all the time.” Kyle was surprised by Andre’s casual admission of his sexuality.
“Didn’t you tell the administrators what was happening?” asked Kyle’s father.
“Mr. Caldwell,” replied Andre, “No one cares about gay kids. They were happy when I dropped out because then they didn’t have to deal with me.” Kyle’s father shook his head and looked sadly over at his son.
He asked, “Do you have that problem, Son?”
Kyle dropped his head and muttered, “I think I can deal with it.” His father started to say something, but just then the elevator door opened, and a frail woman got off.
Andre jumped to his feet and shouted, “Aunt Mavis!” Mr. Caldwell rose and helped her over to his seat.
“Damn cold weather,” she muttered angrily as she rubbed her hip. “This arthritis is killing me.” She looked up and asked Kyle’s father, “Who are you?” Andre quickly introduced Kyle and his father to Mavis. She asked, “What are you here to see the boy for?”
She didn’t seem upset when Andre told her that it was Kyle’s father who had hit Buddy. Mr. Caldwell said apologetically, “I’m really sorry. There was nothing I could do. He just stepped out in front of my car.”
“Course it wasn’t your fault,” she responded. “Buddy shouldn’t have been in your neck of the woods in the first place.”
Mr. Caldwell asked, “How is he doing?”
Mavis shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Didn’t you see me just get off the elevator?” Kyle giggled when he saw his father’s face turn red. She looked over at Andre and asked, “What are you all doing out here anyway?” Andre explained that Buddy was having tests run on him, and it would be a while until he returned to his room.
Mavis explained to Andre that he was to get Buddy’s belongings when he went home and bring them to her house. Andre became upset with the way Buddy’s mother seemed to be unconcerned for his health. Mavis ranted for ten minutes what a deadbeat mother she was, and she related some of the things she had done to Buddy over the years.
“Used to beat the living hell out of that boy,” she said angrily. “Poor boy did nothing, but she’d hit him anyway.”
Mr. Caldwell asked, “Why didn’t you call children’s services?”
“And what would they have done?” Mavis asked angrily. “Written a report and left. That’s why he always came by my house. He knew he was safe there.”
Andre asked worriedly, “What’s going to happen to him now?”
Mavis started to answer, but a nurse stepped into the room and asked, “Are you the family of Garland Ryder?”
Andre giggled and informed her, “You better not let him hear you call him Garland. He’ll get upset.”
“What should I call him?
“Buddy,” replied Andre. “He likes people to call him Buddy.”
“Buddy it is then,” said the nurse as she wrote his name on the chart she was holding.
Mavis rose slowly from her chair and asked, “Can we see my boy now?”
“Buddy just got back from having several tests run,” she explained. “He was complaining of being in a lot of pain, so the doctor ordered a sedative. He’s asleep right now.”
“I still want to see him,” insisted Mavis as she limped past the nurse. “He’s my boy now, and I want to see him.” The nurse looked sympathetically at Mr. Caldwell. He grabbed Mavis by the arm and helped her down the hall to Buddy’s room.
Kyle and Andre trailed behind. They stood just inside the doorway as Mavis made her way across the room with the assistance of Mr. Caldwell. “Poor Baby,” she cried as she leaned down and kissed him gently on the cheek. “It’s going to be okay now,” she muttered softly as she kissed him again.
Andre started crying. He leaned over and buried his head into Kyle’s chest. Kyle hesitated as he put his arm around Andre and comforted him as he wept.