September 29 2008
“How did your date with Kerri go?” Jeremy asked Scott as they were driving to school Monday morning.
“Awesome,” Scott said unable to suppress a grin. “I want to go to a movie or something with her if I can figure out transportation.”
“I told you that you could ask Dad to drive you.”
“Would he really?”
“Of course he will, just ask him.”
“Hi Scott,” Kerri said as she waited at the main entrance of the high school. “Hi Jeremy.”
“Hi Kerri,” both boys said. Kerri took Scott’s hand and escorted him down the hall leaving Jeremy alone smiling.
As Jeremy waited in his car after school for Scott he saw him exiting the building and holding Kerri’s hand. This time he was leading her. “Could we stop at Braum’s for ice cream on the way home?” Scott asked as he buckled his seat belt.
“Oh, and will somebody that we know be there?”
“Yeah Kerri will be there.”
“Why didn’t you just ride with her, and then I could have met you at Braum’s?
“Because she had to pick up her little sister at the middle school and can only have one passenger.”
Jeremy and Scott were already at the ice cream store when Kerri entered with a younger version of herself. “Hi guys, this is my sister, Sara. Sara, this is Scott and his friend Jeremy.”
“Hi,” Sara said with a friendly smile.
After ordering their ice cream Jeremy paid for it all, knowing that Scott had little extra spending money. “Thank you, Jeremy,” Scott said with an indebted smile.
The situation gave Jeremy a scheme that he would have to talk to his parents about.
“Hi Mom, hi Annie,” Jeremy said when he arrived home to find Annie and Nancy working on a fund raising project for the Hope House, a shelter for abused women and children. Allen was busy preparing dinner for Annie and the family. “Mom, Dad could I ask you something when you get time?”
“We’re finished for now,” Nancy said. “What is it that you wanted to ask?”
“Well, Scott and I stopped at Braum’s to have ice cream with Kerri and her little sister, and I had a feeling that Scott felt uncomfortable about not having much money. I was wondering if it would be okay if I shared my allowance with him. I could get a part-time job to make up the difference.”
“Son, I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Allen said.
“I don’t know about that,” Nancy said. “You’re an honor student now. I’m afraid that if you work your grades could drop. I don’t mind if you work during the summer break though.”
“I know you didn’t ask my opinion,” Annie said. “But, I’m going to put in my two cents worth here. I have more than enough income to be comfortable and I’ll give each of the Downing children an allowance.”
“That’s very generous of you, Annie,” Nancy said. “Allen and I will also contribute.”
“I can afford it,” Annie said. “May I ask how much you give Jeremy a week?”
“He gets $20 a week, but if he has extra expenses we will contribute extra,” Nancy said.
“We also pay the gas and insurance on his car,” Allen said.
“None of the children have a car. I wonder if Kay and Mitch give them any spending money at all,” Annie said.
“Cody said that he has to ask his dad for money every time he needs it,” Jeremy said. “If Scott and I stop on the way home from school for a soda, he rarely has more than a dollar or two.”
“What if Mitch wouldn’t let them accept your money?” Nancy asked.
“I’ll take care of that,” Annie said. “Jeremy would you hand me the phone?”
“Hello Kay,” Annie said into the phone. “This is Annie. Would you and Mitch bring the children over to the Morgan’s around eight? There’s something we want to talk to you about.”
“I’ll have to ask Mitch,” Kay answered.
“No, you tell Mitch that we expect him and are not taking no for an answer. I’ll wait while you tell him.”
Annie covered the phone while Kay was away and said, “With Mitch you have to show him who’s in charge.”
“Mitch wants to know what this is about,” Kay said when she returned. “He said he was tired.”
“You tell Mitch that he will find out when he gets here, and that we WILL see him at about eight,” Annie said. “Goodbye for now.”
“Do you think he will really show up?” Jeremy asked.
“He will,” Annie said. “I have my bluff in on him.”
The Downing family arrived just a few minutes before eight. After Jeremy and Nancy served drinks to everyone Annie got down to business. “Kay and Mitch, you know that I think the world of your children, and I know that you get by financially, but I would like to offer an allowance to each of them.”
“We take care of our children,” Mitch said. It was apparent that he was irritated with Annie.
“I’m sure you do,” Annie said. “But, I’m offering spending money for them. Do you give them an allowance?”
“I give them money for what the need,” Mitch said.
“I firmly believe that an allowance lets them learn to budget their money,” Annie said. “Now, what I’m going to do is give Cody and Scott $20 a week and Molly $10. When she goes to high school she will get $20 also.”
“I can’t let you do that,” Mitch said as the smiles on the children’s faces disappeared.
“Yes you can and you will,” Annie said firmly. “And you can add $10 a week to that amount.”
“Ten dollars?” Mitch shouted. “I can’t afford that much. That’s $120 a month.”
“Mitch, how much do you give to your church a month?” Annie asked.
“Between $500 and $600 a month, not that it’s any of your business,” Mitch scoffed.
“You’re right that it isn’t my business, but I’m an old woman and I’m making it my business. Being an old prying woman giving me certain privileges that I take advantage of,” Annie said. “But, I think you can cut back on what you give to your church to take care of your children.”
“The Bible says to give ten percent of our income to the church,” Mitch argued.
“If you really understood your Bible you’d understand that Israel was a theocracy, the Levitical priests acted as the civil government. So the Levite's tithe was a precursor to today's income tax. We pay income tax now to run the government and take care of welfare for the poor. I attended a funeral at that church of yours that you support. I’ll tell you that there were some very expensive carpets and furniture there. I’m sure your own home doesn’t have things that elaborate.”
“I live okay, and it isn’t my place to question how the church spends its money.”
“If you tithe, then it is your right to know, just the same as knowing how the government spends our tax dollars. But, back to the allowance to the children, are we in agreement about that?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Mitch finally agreed. He knew that Annie meant business and could cause him trouble otherwise. He feared her powers.
“Good then,” Annie smiled in triumph. “The children will come to my house every Monday to receive their allowance. I will expect them to have the $10 from you at that time.”
“I’m not sure what I’m going to tell the church,” Mitch whined.
“Tell them that your children will appreciate the $10 a week much more than they would,” Annie chortled. “I’m not saying one shouldn’t contribute to his church, but I am saying that one should take care of his family first. I’ll bet you don’t hesitate to buy a soda when you want one. I also bet that most of the time you’re children don’t have the money to buy themselves one.”
“I take care of my children.”
“You may, but you take better care of your church. What did you do with Kay’s old car when you finally got around to getting her a better one?”
“We had no need of it and I gave it to the church.”
“You gave a car that needed just a little work to the church when you have a teenager of driving age. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
“I had to buy my first car and I expect my boys to do the same.”
Mitch Downing, that just isn’t true. I know for a fact that your parents bought your first car for you.”
“I worked and paid them back.”
“I know for a fact that you didn’t pay them back, but you had transportation to work,” Annie said while giving Mitch a knowing smile. “Here’s what we’re going to do, Lee Walker has a Ford Focus for sale. It’s in excellent condition and he only wants $3500 for it. I’m buying it for your boys, and you’re going to pay for their insurance.”
Cody and Scott were beaming with the realization that they were getting their own car. They were quickly let down when Mitch said, “Thank you for your kind offer, but the insurance for teenagers is just too expensive. I don’t think they really need a car.”
“You probably didn’t need one when you were sixteen either, but you got one anyway.” Annie said. “I’ll go tomorrow and purchase the car and then when you get home from work we will meet at your insurance agent to purchase insurance. We will both be listed on the title as co-owners and when Cody is eighteen we will sign the car over to him.”
“Thank you Annie,” Cody said.
“You’re most welcome,” Annie said. “Scott, when you turn sixteen we will do the same for you, and that goes for you too, Molly.”
“Cody hasn’t had driver’s education and can’t take his driver’s exam,” Mitch said as he smiled thinking he had played his trump card.
“We can enroll him in the online parent taught course that Jeremy took,” Allen said.
“What is that?” Mitch asked as he was beginning to feel trapped again.
“He takes an online course and then after he passes the written portion a parent spends 55 hours with him behind the wheel,” Allen said.
“Well, I don’t have the time for that,” Mitch said while knowing he had already lost this argument.
“I’ll do it on weekends and evenings,” Kay said as a small act of defiance to her husband.
After Cody had passed his driving test Jeremy was happy that his friends had their own transportation, but he missed Scott’s company to and from school. Occasionally, Scott did ride with him when Cody had an after school activity or he was with Allison.
Jeremy was busy with wrestling and chorus, but had no genuinely close friends except for Cody and Scott. He continued his workouts with Scott, and occasionally Cody would join them. To say that Jeremy was lonely would be overstated, but he did wish for a boyfriend.
“Dad, would you look at this?” Jeremy asked while handing his laptop computer to Allen who was watching TV with Nancy.
“What do you want me to see?” Allen asked as he took the laptop.
“There’s an equality center in Tulsa where gay and lesbians can meet to socialize and it even has a library,” Jeremy said. “I want to go check it out this weekend.”
“We can’t drive you there this weekend,” Allen said. “We’re going to a dinner party with some other professors from the university.”
“Dad, I have a car now,” Jeremy said. “I can drive myself there.”
“Jeremy, you’ve never driven in Tulsa by yourself,” Nancy reminded him. “I don’t think you’re ready for city traffic.”
“Mom, it couldn’t be worse than driving out on the south side of town near Wal-Mart,” Jeremy replied. “I can handle Tulsa traffic.”
“He’s right,” Allen agreed. “If your mother and I agree to let you go, I want you to take my Expedition.”
“What’s wrong with my car?” Jeremy asked.
“The Expedition is heavier and if you get in a wreck it would be safer,” Allen said. “It also has a navigation system and will take you right to where you need to go.”
“He’s right, I’d feel better about you taking the Expedition,” Nancy agreed.
“Then I can go?” Jeremy asked as both parents nodded in agreement.
“Thanks Mom, Dad,” Jeremy said in excitement. “I love you.”
“We love you too,” Nancy said. “We trust you to make wise decisions, now don’t do anything to break that trust.”
When Saturday arrived, Jeremy excitedly prepared to depart for Tulsa. “Make sure you have your cell phone and that the battery is fully charged,” Nancy reminded him. “Your dad filled up with gas and you shouldn’t have to stop to do that. If you need anything, your dad will keep his cell phone on. Wear your seatbelt, and keep your speed below the speed limit.”
“Yes Mom,” Jeremy said as he rolled his eyes.
The navigation system took Jeremy directly to the equality center with no wrong turns. After finding a good parking spot, he entered the center and was greeted by a pretty blond volunteer. ‘I’ll bet she’s here because she has a gay brother,’ Jeremy thought.
“I’m Chelsea,” she said.
“Hi, I’m Jeremy,” he said.
“We have discussion groups that you may wish to sit in on,” Chelsea said as she explained the center. “There is also a library for your use, or you could just roam around and meet people.”
“We have a discussion group in about twenty minutes about being a gay teenager in the Bible Belt,” a pretty brunette said as she joined the conversation.
“Jeremy, this is my partner Kayla,” Chelsea said. “Kayla would mind showing Jeremy around?”
After sitting in on the lively discussion group, Jeremy did some reading in the library. Over three hours had passed when Jeremy decided he should leave for home. When he stepped outside he realized that it had turned colder and it was raining. “Well fuck, it’s raining,” he heard a voice behind him say.
“Yeah, I’m glad I parked close,” Jeremy said. “Where are you parked?”
“Over there,” the boy said as he pointed to a bicycle chained to an electric pole. “I’m going to be soaked for sure by the time I get home.”
“How far are you from home?” Jeremy asked.
“I’m not sure, but I guess it’s about five miles,” he said.
“Is there someone you can call to come and get you?”
“No, I live with my grandma and her car was stolen and she can’t buy another one until she has been reimbursed by her insurance.”
“Let’s load your bike in the back of my dad’s SUV and I’ll drive you home.”
“I live across the river by Webster High School. That would probably be out of your way.”
“No, that’s okay. I can’t let you ride your bike home in this cold rain. My name is Jeremy, and what is yours?”
“Nice to meet you Jeremy, I’m Blake.”
“Nice to meet you too, Blake.” Jeremy noticed that Blake was extremely good looking.
“Thank you for driving me home,” Blake said after they had loaded the bike into the SUV.
“Happy to do it,” Jeremy smiled thinking he was the lucky one. “Now, how do I get to your house from here?”
“Do you know where Webster High School is?”
“I’ve been there for a wrestling match, but I was on a bus with the rest of the team and didn’t notice how to get there.”
“The fastest and best way would be to take Highway 75 across the river and exit on Southwest Boulevard.”
“Pull into the drive at the next house on the right,” Blake said as they approached a modest but well maintained house. “I’ll go inside and unlock the garage door and we can put my bike in there.”
“Okay, I’ll go ahead and unload it while you do that.”
“My grandma wants you to come inside for some hot chocolate, and she would like to thank you for driving me home,” Blake said when he opened the garage door.
“Hot chocolate would be good, it’s getting colder.”
“Grandma, this is Jeremy,” Blake said as he introduced a dark-skinned Afro-American. “Jeremy, this is my grandma, Mrs. Howell
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Howell,” Jeremy said as he conjectured how this black lady could be a grandmother to a light completion blond Blake.
“Nice to meet you Jeremy,” Mrs. Howell smiled. “I guess Blake told you that some lowlife took our car and wrecked it while we were grocery shopping the other day. I’m supposed to get an insurance check next week. You boys go on into the living room and I’ll be in with the hot chocolate shortly.”
The living room was comfortably decorated with a couch, love seat and recliner that Jeremy assumed was Mrs. Howell’s favorite sitting place. There was a copy of The Da Vinci Code on the table next to Mrs. Howell’s recliner that Jeremy assumed she had been reading.
“Here’s your chocolate, and I have some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies too,” Mrs. Howell said as she sat the tray on the coffee table. “Jeremy, I want to thank you for giving Blake a ride home. I tried to call his cell phone and tell him to take a taxi home, but somebody left his phone in his room.”
“Oh, I guess I did,” Blake said as he patted his pocket feeling for his phone.
“Do you know Blake from school?” Mrs. Howell asked.
“No, we met in front of the center,” Jeremy said. “I live in Tahlequah.”
“I graduated from the university there,” Mrs. Howell said.
“Grandma taught math until she retired,” Blake proudly said. “I wasn’t good in math until I came to live with her. Now I’m an A student.”
“Jeremy will you stay and have dinner with us?” Mrs. Howell asked after visiting for almost an hour.
“Thank you, but I really should be headed home soon,” Jeremy said.
“It was just going to be soup and sandwiches,” she said. “It won’t take but just a few minutes.”
“Yes, please stay and eat with us,” Blake pleaded.
“Alright, but I’ll need to leave right after,” Jeremy said.
“Do you need to call your parents?” Mrs. Howell asked.
“No, they’re having dinner with some friends,” Jeremy said.
While Mrs. Howell prepared the soup and sandwiches, Jeremy and Blake visited. Jeremy learned that Blake was also in chorus and that he was also in cross country track.
After dinner Jeremy and Blake exchanged E-mail address and phone numbers before he left. When Jeremy opened the door he was surprised to see that the rain had changed to a heavy snow. The street was also becoming covered with snow. “You drive carefully,” Mrs. Howell said with a worried look.
“I will,” promised Jeremy.
By the time Jeremy was past Broken Arrow the snow was beginning to pack on the road and he switched the SUV over to four-wheel drive. He slowed his speed as the snow became more intense. His cell phone rang, but he ignored it while giving his full attention to driving. When he saw the lights of the service plaza on the turnpike, Jeremy decided to stop and check his phone. Allen’s cell number was shown as the most recent caller.
“Dad, were you calling?” Jeremy asked when Allen answered.
“Yes, you had us worried when you didn’t answer,” Allen said. “Where are you now?”
“I’m at the service plaza at the Muskogee exit, and I couldn’t answer because I was driving.”
“Good, I’m glad you didn’t answer while driving. Do you want to wait there and I can come and get you?”
“Dad, I’ve driven this far and I think I can drive on to Tahlequah. There’s no reason for you to get out on the road too. Besides I have the SUV in four-wheel drive.”
“Okay Son, drive carefully and call if you need us.”
The drive from Muskogee that normally would have taken about 30 minutes took over an hour, but Jeremy made it safely home. Nancy and Allen were elated that their only son was home safe. “Did you get a chance to eat dinner?” Nancy asked.
“I ate with a boy and that I gave a ride home and his grandma,” Jeremy said. “He was on his bicycle and it was raining so I offered him a ride. His grandma insisted that I eat with them before I left.”
“That was nice of her,” Nancy said. “How old is this boy?”
“I didn’t ask, but he’s about my age,” Jeremy said. “You know there’s something strange though.”
“What is that?” Allen asked as he handed Jeremy a cup of hot tea.
“She’s black and he is blond,” Jeremy said.
“Maybe he’s mother or father is half white,” Nancy said.
“I don’t know,” Jeremy said. “But, she is pretty dark and he is really light, even lighter than I am. And, I’m only one quarter Cherokee.”
“I’m sure there is an explanation,” Nancy assured him.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jeremy agreed. “After that drive back in the snow, I’m exhausted and I’m going to bed.”
“Okay dear,” Nancy said. Good night.”
After taking a shower, Jeremy decided to check his E-mail before going to bed. He was surprised to see an E-mail from Blake already. “Hi Jeremy, I want to thank you for saving my ass from getting soaked. Grandma thanks you too. You may wonder about grandma, and how I came to live with her. If I see you again I’ll explain.”