|Primary Characters:||Jack, Helen, Roxanne, Luke, Patty, Sam|
|Warning:||m/m sex, rape of minor, some strong language, racist remarks|
|Description:||Roxanne is in serious trouble and so is Luke. Their troubles lead to worse trouble for others. It takes a few really brave acts to make things right again.|
Roxanne smiled enigmatically at her date for the evening, Charlie Ormond. He was the captain of the football team and very handsome. More importantly, he was a senior, and it was an important step up for a girl of Roxanne’s age to be dating him. His car was simply awesome. Roxanne loved the way the metal shone in the late afternoon winter sun. She couldn’t wait to tell Meg about the date.Meg was at home, dreaming about Luke, if Roxanne wasn’t very much mistaken. It was so wrong that those two weren’t together. Luke was such a sweet guy, even if he wasn’t Roxanne’s type. She tended to prefer a more muscular guy. And one far less complicated.Of course, there was that night, not so long ago when she’d let one special and very different guy go all the way, but that was different. No matter what everyone else seemed to think, she didn’t do that. She’d made an exception for Warren, since he was going away to become a priest. He needed something to remember in all the years of celibacy.
Priests filled Roxanne with awe, just as every other girl at Catholic school, but how could anyone, especially a guy like Warren want to say goodbye to everything fun? He was such a good singer and songwriter too. What a waste. But now Charlie was saying something and it wouldn’t do to let him get bored with her.
She flashed him an encouraging smile, just the kind that guys liked. Her experience told her that. It had been more than two years since she’d started dating properly. Even before that, she’d been looking at the boys with a special interest, one that Meg hadn’t developed until the last six months or so. Meg was such a child, but Roxanne loved to be her friend anyway.
“I said, you’re looking hot today.”
For a second, Roxanne was wondering if he thought she was too warmly wrapped up in her coat and scarf, but realized that he thought she looked sexy. Good. That was the effect she’d gone for. She straightened out her back and shot forward her bosom. Quite impressive for a fifteen-year-old, wasn’t it? She wasn’t wearing a padded brassiere either, not like some girls at school that she could mention.
Charlie laughed and put his hand on her knee. He didn’t seem to be very smart, and certainly not complicated, but so what? Roxanne hadn’t dated any brainy guys and she wasn’t about to start to. This was much easier. All the other girls were envious. They didn’t dare to do what she did. What was the point of saving yourself? One day your husband left you anyway and by then, you would be old and sad. Much better to have fun while you still could.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”
His laughter grated a little on Roxanne’s nerves and her smile faded a little. She hadn’t expected him to drive so far. Just a diner would have done, or even a drive-in movie, even though it was a bit cold for that. Of course, he kept the heat up inside the car, so they’d be fine. Even later when they got more comfortable.
“It’s supposed to be a secret. Don’t spoil it.”
She was beginning to feel a little uneasy. Charlie was older than her and she wasn’t used to this intensity. At leastt he didn’t drive much further. He pulled to a stop outside a warehouse. Roxanne knew this road. It was close to an industrial area and very far from her own neighborhood, but at least she knew her way back from here. Not that she’d have to walk. Of course not. Where did she get that idea?
“What do you think? Nice and private.”
“Aren’t you going to take me out to eat first?”
“No. We’ll save that for later. Work up an appetite.”
He moved over a little, and came closer. Now he put his arm around her and she snuggled closer. Time to find out if Charlie was as good a kisser as rumor had it. His kiss was rougher than she was used to, but Roxanne soon learned how to keep up. What worried her was the way his hands wandered across her body. So rough. Not like the boys her own age.
It wasn’t long before he put his hand up her skirt and Roxanne tensed up.
“Hey. Hold on.”
“What’s the problem?”
“You’re moving too fast.”
He did hold back a little, but soon he moved on top of her and again, his hand began to grope in between her thighs.
She was beginning to get scared. Maybe she’d made a mistake. This wasn’t what she’d expected.
“Charlie, please. Can we go and have something to eat now?”
“You’re that hungry? Try this.”
To her horror, she felt him push her down onto the floor in front of him. He wriggled about a bit and sat down in the seat she’d just slid down from, but he wasn’t finished yet. With a growing feeling of horror, she watched his hands fumble with belt and zipper. Now his pants were open in front and –
No. This wasn’t happening. No boy she knew would do something like this. She had been so sure she knew all there was to know about handling guys. Kissing. Letting them touch her breasts a bit, but not under her clothes. It was easy. She liked it. It gave her a feeling of power over them. So simple. All it took was to give them access to a little of what she had, but this was way beyond her worst nightmares.
“No. Let me go. I want to go back now. Please. Charlie. Stop that.”
“What’s the matter, you little slut? I’m not good enough for you?”
“I want to go home.”
“You’re not going anywhere until I get what I came for. If you can do it with Archie Norton and Joe Mallory, you can do it with me. Come on, Roxanne. I haven’t got all night.”
“No. I don’t do that. Who told you I did?”
“Everyone says so. It’s written on the restroom wall in school.”
“It isn’t true.”
She felt hot tears stain her cheeks and she was more frightened than she’d ever been in her fifteen years.
“I know what this is. You don’t think I’m good enough for you. You little bitch.”
The slap took her by surprise. Her cheek stung and she felt dizzy for a while. He was so strong. Sobs shook her and she tried desperately to think of a way out. She couldn’t think of any. They were alone out here. No one would hear her if she screamed. She realized that this was exactly why he’d picked the place. He’d planned this all along. Even though she’d guessed how people looked at her, this hurt. More than the burning red cheek. She had never felt this kind of pain inside. He thought she was a –
He bent over and grabbed her shoulders. Shaking her hard and long, he began calling her names. Roxanne had never faced a situation like this.
“You dirty little tease. Get a guy all worked up and then you just don’t want to. Girls like you make me sick. Go ahead. Why would I have asked you out if I didn’t think you were going to put out? Come on. You’re not going anywhere until you do what we came here for.”
He added emphasis to his words by another ringing slap, this time to her other cheek.
Tears got in her eyes, making it hard to see, but she was too afraid to disobey. Her hands searched blindly and found what was in front of her. If she did this right, maybe she wouldn’t have to – but any hope she’d had of getting off easy, was dashed when Charlie yelled angrily to her, telling her exactly what to do. She had no idea how, but she was too scared not to try.
The next couple of moments were a blur in her mind. She didn’t think he was happy with her. He growled something about her teeth and that he’d expected her to be much better at it. Eventually, she was allowed to pull back. It was a while before anything else happened. The only sounds that could be heard in the enclosed space was Charlie’s harsh breathing and Roxanne’s disconsolate sobs.
The respite didn’t last long. Charlie got up, rather shakily and opened the door. He stepped outside, pulling her right along with him. She felt she couldn’t breathe. The cold outside was bad enough, but it was sheer terror that kept her paralyzed. What was he going to do to her now?
She had her answer right away. He opened the door to the back seat and tried to shove her inside. Somehow, her paralysis ended and she regained the use of her limbs. She backed off and tried to run. He was on her in a heartbeat, flinging her down onto the snow. Now he was on top of her, tearing at her clothes. Fear added to her strength and she managed to rake her fingernails across his face.
She screeched as high as she could and Charlie looked furtively over his shoulder. A car was driving by, slowly. Roxanne used that momentary pause and got to her feet, putting as much distance between her and her attacker as possible.
Charlie scowled at her and for a horrible second, she thought he was going to come after her again, but perhaps the car driving by had spooked him. He seemed to reconsider. His face expressed such hatred and contempt, Roxanne felt her breath catch in her throat.
“Fine. You walk back then. Dirty little tramp. You think I’m not good enough for you?”
He spat at her feet, then got into his car and drove off.
Roxanne remained standing, watching the car disappearing back to the city. The cold, or the shock had her shivering uncontrollably and seized by a fit of coughing, she doubled over, retching. She threw up for what seemed like an hour or more, but couldn’t have been more than five minutes at the most. When she was done, she felt so weak she thought she was going to fall over, but she knew that if she stayed out here for much longer, she wouldn’t get back at all. Already, she wanted to lie down and go to sleep. The snow felt so soft and inviting.
She didn’t want to go anywhere. Not back to the city, to everyone’s staring eyes, knowing what they all thought of her. No, not everyone. The Pryors didn’t look at her that way. If she could have chosen her family, it would have been the Pryors. Without making a conscious decision, her legs began to move. She knew it would be at least half an hour, probably a lot more until she was there, but she couldn’t give up.
There was a vague thought at the back of her mind that if she could only get there, she’d be ok, but that was wrong. She wouldn’t be ok ever again. After this –
Stubbornly, she ordered herself not to think anymore. Just walk. Make your stupid worthless legs move.
There were moments when she didn’t think she was going to make it. She had an urge to just give up and lie down in the snowdrifts beside the street, but some stubborn shred of pride made her go on. It couldn’t be much longer now. Wasn’t this their street? But it was much longer than she remembered, and her legs felt so weak and useless. Once she stopped and threw up again. Her throat felt sore and raw. The tears had frozen on her face and she felt strangely numb.
There. That had to be Meg’s house. She was there. Almost home. In a moment, she’d ring the door bell. The lights were on all over the house. They were in. She had no idea what time it was, but it wasn’t important. It was over. Without being aware of it, Roxanne slid down to sit on the front steps. She only needed a few seconds of rest, then she’d go inside.
It was lucky for her that Jack Pryor had been working late at the radio store. Only minutes after Roxanne’s arrival at his door step, he parked his car and locked the doors. It had been a rough day. What was that lying at the bottom of his front steps? It looked like –
No, the girl lying there in a dead faint wasn’t his eldest daughter, it was her best friend.
“Roxanne? What’s wrong?”
He touched her face anxiously. She was so cold, but at least he could feel her breath on his fingers. She was alive. How long had she been lying there? More importantly, what was she doing, lying outdoors when it was freezing? All those questions had to wait. He’d better get her inside. Lifting the girl into his arms, Jack Pryor climbed up the steps and leaned on the door bell. He couldn’t reach his keys now. Stupid of him. He should have unlocked the door first and called for his wife.
Helen Pryor heard the note of panic in her husband’s voice and left dinner in Meg’s less than capable hands and rushed into the hallway. Her youngest daughter, Patty, ran after her.
“Mom, it’s Roxanne. Is she dead?”
“Don’t be silly, Patty, she’s not dead. Let your mother and me take care of Roxanne.”
“I don’t know. She was lying out there when I got back. I think she’s fainted. She’s very cold and -”
“Here, Jack. Put her on the sofa. That’s right. Could you – make some strong tea for her?”
“Patty, go with dad. You’ll have to help Meg with dinner.”
“But mom -”
“Now. Do you want your dinner burned?”
Patty reluctantly did as her mother told her. Meg was notoriously bad at cooking. Even Patty was better, though she didn’t particularly enjoy any domestic chores.
Helen unbuttoned Roxanne’s coat and took off the scarf. Had someone hit her? There were two large red spots on her cheeks that suggested that. Her coat appeared to be slightly rearranged, but Helen knew that might simply be because Jack had picked her up rather quickly. There was no reason to think that Roxanne had been attacked – but Helen worried anyway. At least her own children were at home. Even JJ.
At last she was able to get Roxanne out of her coat. The cardigan and blouse looked alright and her skirt – but Helen’s visual inspection would have to wait. She could see that the girl was coming awake.
“Roxanne. You scared us, dear. What’s wrong?”
“I was so tired and cold.”
“Yes. I can see that, but how did you – I mean, you had fainted. You were lying on our doorstep.”
“Oh. Well, I’d been walking quite a long way.”
“Yes. I couldn’t get a ride back.”
Roxanne’s explanation didn’t really explain anything, but Helen had seen with her own eyes that even if the coat was in disarray, none of Roxanne’s indoor garments seemed to be out of place. Nothing could have happened to her – but what if something almost had? Roxanne wasn’t her daughter, but like everyone else in the Pryor household, she was fond of her. If something had been about to happen, shouldn’t she ask the girl about it? Her mother deserved to know and if someone had really attacked her, surely he should be punished?
“Are you alright, dear?”
“Yes, I’m fine now. Thanks, mrs Pryor. I’m just tired and cold.”
“Yes, so you said. Ah, there’s Jack with your tea. Did you put sugar in it?”
“Thanks, mr Pryor. I’m sorry to be such a nuisance.”
It was obvious that something was wrong. Roxanne wasn’t her usual cheerful self. Helen knew that something about her had changed. For once, there was no sparkling smile on her lips, and her eyes – Helen didn’t think she’d get anything out of Roxanne, so she decided to let the matter go for the time being. Perhaps she’d confide in Meg.
“Are you hungry, Roxanne?”
“Have you had dinner?”
“No – but that’s ok, I’m not hungry anyway.”
“You should eat something. It’s no trouble. I’ll tell you what, I’ll bring you a tray. Jack, do you think you could get a few blankets and pillows from the closet upstairs?”
“Ok. I won’t be a minute.”
“Children. It’s time for dinner. Leave Roxanne alone. She’s tired.”
Helen had noticed that Will and Patty were standing in the doorway, and right behind them was Meg, staring anxiously at her friend.
“Will, would you go upstairs and get JJ, please?”
Dinner that evening was a quiet, subdued affair. Everyone felt uneasy, but for what reason, no one could say.
Helen had called mrs Bojarski and explained that her daughter was staying for dinner. Apparently, mrs Bojarski didn’t mind at all. Helen knew that if Meg had been having dinner at a friend’s house almost every night, she’d worry, and she’d certainly be disappointed. She also knew that there was something odd about Roxanne’s behavior tonight, but she couldn’t guess what was behind it. It wouldn’t be fair of her to alarm mrs Bojarski over nothing. If Roxanne had merely been quarrelling with a friend – a boyfriend, Helen amended to herself – then she’d been worrying needlessly.
After dinner, Meg asked Roxanne to come up to her room, and though Roxanne only wanted to be left alone, she agreed to go with her friend upstairs.
“What happened? Your date with Charlie was tonight, right?
“Yes. Nothing happened. He wasn’t very nice and – he left me to walk back on my own.”
“How should I know? He’s stupid. I don’t like him.”
“But he’s so -”
“Meg, I don’t want to talk about him. Have you talked to Luke?”
If her friend’s abrupt change of topic surprised Meg, she didn’t say so. Since Luke was on her mind all the time, she didn’t mind discussing him.
“No. I don’t know what to say.”
“Oh. How is JJ?”
“Have you done your homework?”
Meg stared in astonishment at her friend. There was something odd about Roxanne tonight and she didn’t understand what it was. Homework? Since when had Roxanne been interested in homework?
“Have you bought any new records?”
“No. We talked about that this morning. Have you forgotten? What’s the matter, Roxanne? You’re acting awfully strange tonight.”
“I’m tired. You know, I should probably go home.”
In reality, Roxanne couldn’t face seeing her mother tonight. She didn’t want to go anywhere, except away from Meg’s stupid questions. Meg was her best friend, but sometimes she could be so immature.
“Yes, maybe you should. Get some sleep. You look tired. Good night, Roxanne.”
Meg was a little hurt that her friend didn’t seem to be interested in talking. They always talked. About everything. Was Roxanne upset that her date with Charlie hadn’t been a success? Of course. That had to be it.
“I’m sorry, Roxanne.”
“That the date wasn’t a success.”
“Oh. Yes. Thanks. Good night.”
Roxanne’s legs felt like lead. She was tired, but not sleepy. Her mind was filled with the images of what Charlie had done to her. Again, her stomach turned. She hadn’t been able to eat anything at all. The tuna casserole was probably fine, but she didn’t have any appetite. Even the tea had been tough and before the others had finished their dinner, she’d been forced to run to the bathroom and throw up again.
While she was in there, she rinsed her mouth again and again. She opened the medicine cabinet and found some mouth wash and used that. It didn’t help. She wanted to take a bath. She wanted to go to bed and curl up into a little ball and sleep for ten years. Now she would have to go home. It was so late and so cold out there. She didn’t think she had the strength to do that.
Outside Patty’s room she ran into Meg’s little sister.
“Roxanne? Are you going home? I thought -”
“I thought maybe you’d like to sleep over.”
“In your room?”
“If you like.”
Roxanne stared at the younger girl. Patty was ok really. It was even flattering the way she looked up to her and admired her. At times, Roxanne had even given her advice about boys. She shouldn’t have. What did she know? If she encouraged Patty, she might end up going on a date with a guy like Charlie.
“Ok. If you think your mom won’t mind.”
“I’m sure she won’t. I’ll ask her.”
Patty raced down the stairs to find her mother. She loved having Roxanne stay with them. Her sister’s friend was so cool and grown up and knew all kinds of things about boys, and makeup.
Roxanne watched Patty disappear down the stairs, feeling as if she was a hundred years old. She couldn’t wait for Patty to come back. Instead, she went into the girl’s room, which not so long ago had been Meg’s and Patty’s. She sank down on the spare bed and pulled up her legs underneath her. Hugging herself, Roxanne closed her eyes and tried to imagine it was some other day, before this had happened.
It was useless. She could still hear every word Charlie had said and the way he’d said them, every move he’d made, every single thing that had happened were engraved in her memory forever. Again, the tears welled up in her eyes and she began to rock back and forth. People thought she was a slut. They’d think she deserved what had happened to her. Everyone said she was doing it. After tonight, they were right. Not that she wanted to go on another date as long as she lived. What she and Warren had shared had been different. He was so sweet and she had wanted to give him something to remember her by. It had only hurt a little and she was glad it was him. This –
When Patty returned, bouncing with joy, she found her sister’s friend hunched over on the spare bed, shaking with sobs.
“Roxanne? It’s ok, mom said you could stay. What’s wrong?”
No reply. Patty glanced uneasily towards the door. Should she go and get her mother? What could have turned cheerful, sassy Roxanne into this distraught creature? D-i-s-t-r-a-u-g-h-t – but this wasn’t about spelling, it was serious. Without hesitation, Patty sat down next to Roxanne and put an arm around her shoulder. To her surprise, Roxanne tensed up and Patty pulled back, unhappily.
“Sorry. If you want to be alone, I’ll -”
Roxanne startled her by turning towards her with a look of such hopelessness on her face, that Patty gasped. What was wrong? This was scaring her. She’d never seen anyone looking like that. At least Roxanne wasn’t offended. After a moment’s consideration, she let her head slide down to rest of Patty’s shoulder. Awkwardly, Patty put her arms around Roxanne again and held her. She’d only comforted Will like this. Not someone older. She was still scared, but she was beginning to feel a little proud that Roxanne chose her to comfort her, not Meg.
“Roxanne, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I mean, it’s not important.”
“Ok. I’m sorry.”
Patty’s sympathy made Roxanne cry even more. It felt good to have someone who cared so much about her, and since Patty was younger, she wouldn’t ask any questions she wouldn’t be able to answer. At last, the sobbing began to subside. Roxanne still felt empty inside, but it was as if the crying had drained her. She felt as if she could really sleep for a year, if not ten.
“I’d like to go to bed now.”
“Of course. See. It’s already made. Do you want me to turn out the lights?”
There was no reply. Roxanne just pulled off the covers and lay down on her side, facing the wall. She pulled up the covers and closed her eyes.
For a while, Patty stood there watching her sister’s friend, then decided that this was too alarming to keep to herself. She knew what people were saying about her, but she didn’t know what to do. Her mother would have to be told.
“Patty. What did I tell you?”
“I was going to bed, honestly, but -”
“It’s Roxanne. She was sad.”
“What do you mean?”
“She was crying. Really badly.”
“I see. Did she say what was wrong?”
“First she said it was nothing. Then she said it was not important.”
“I see. I’ll go up and talk to her.”
“She said she was tired. She went to bed.”
“Oh. Well, in the morning then. Don’t worry, Patty. I’m sure Roxanne will be ok.”
“Now run up and go to sleep yourself.”
Helen Pryor wished she was as sure as she’d told her daughter, that Roxanne would be ok. Something was wrong, but since Roxanne refused to tell anyone, there was no way of knowing what it was. She would just have to wait a while and hope that if it was something really serious, Roxanne would confide in someone.
In the morning, however, Roxanne was as adamant as she had been last night. By then, she had herself more under control. No more crying. She went home and that was the last the Pryors saw of her for a couple of weeks. She didn’t show up in school for nearly ten days and Meg had to tell the producers at Bandstand that Roxanne had the flu. Maybe she did. When Meg called her to ask what was wrong, she just told her vaguely that she wasn’t feeling well.
And that was that. Roxanne didn’t tell anyone about her ordeal. Not even her mother. Especially not her. She knew that people were bound to notice the change in her, but if Charlie didn’t say anything, she was hoping they wouldn’t be able to guess why. There was no way she was ever going on another date again. Being alone with a guy would never feel the same. She’d never give anyone a chance to put her through what Charlie had ever again.
Luke realized that he’d been staring out the door for minutes without really seeing anything. It was just luck that no customer had walked in catching him off guard like that. Meg wasn’t coming. He knew he’d been the one to break up, but he couldn’t help missing her smile, the way her eyes lit up when they saw him – The sound of the bell ringing alerted him to the fact that a customer had just walked in. It wasn’t Meg, but Luke couldn’t help smiling in recognition anyway.
“Are you looking for something in particular today, or are you just here to listen?”
“We just got a new record today. I think you’ll like it. It’s in there.”
Luke nodded towards one of the listening booths behind him. Sam smiled gratefully. There were only a few white people who didn’t make him feel like a – Luke was one of them. His cousin Nathan had warned him about trusting white people, but he knew Luke was ok. In the time they’d known each other, Luke had not only turned out to see him as any other guy, but he’d actually become a friend. Nathan was wrong. White people could be friends. Guys anyway. No one would beat him for being friends with a white guy.
“There are some others in there too. I’m not sure if you’ve heard them before but -”
“Oh. I’ll take a look. Thanks.”
Sam probably had heard most of those songs before, but he didn’t mind listening to them again. He couldn’t afford to buy nearly as many records as he would like to.
Nathan had told him to just take the ones he wanted, but Sam could never do that. Even if he hadn’t been told by the priests that stealing was a sin, he’d fear the punishment. Mr Greenwood was nice, for a white man, but he’d call the police if he ever caught anyone stealing. Besides, Sam didn’t want to steal.
He couldn’t understand why Nathan was so filled with hatred. There was so much happening in the world. Interesting, exciting things. He might not be able to become an astronaut like the white guys, but if he studied and worked hard, he’d be able to get a good job and make money. Money that would buy him as many records as he wanted, and more.
Another customer walked in – still not Meg – and Luke sold a record to him. It was slow this time of night. He’d go in and have a chat with Sam. Meg’s friend was a nice guy. If only he didn’t like that stupid music.
Luke’s suspicions were correct. The song Sam was listening to was one that had exceedingly stupid lyrics. And the melody – It was beyond him why anyone, especially someone as nice as Sam could listen to that type of music and enjoy it. But Sam was ok. A great guy. Luke was guessing it wasn’t easy for him to be the only black boy at his school.
“Hi. Hear anything you like?”
“Yes. I love these. They’re so -”
Luke couldn’t bear to make that smile fade. Sam knew he didn’t like the same music anyway.
“I think I’ll buy this one.”
Luke hesitated a little. As an employee of the record store, he was entitled to a discount. He wasn’t supposed to let his friends buy at those prices, but Sam was short of cash. Anyway, since he was working, he could afford to pay full price himself. It wouldn’t do any harm if he let Sam believe it was ok for him to pay the lower price.
“I’ll get you a discount on that.”
“It’s no problem. Mr Greenwood says I can let my friends buy at the retail price.”
Sam’s happy smile was compensation enough for the higher price he’d have to pay for his own Bob Dylan records. Then his conscience struck him. What if Sam told other people about the discount?
“Just don’t tell anyone else, ok? They’ll want to buy at that price too and we can’t let everyone do that. ”
“Ok. I won’t say anything.”
“Are you coming to church on Saturday night? I heard that there would be some blues singers and -”
“Yes. We’ll all be there. Would you like to come?”
“Yes. It would be great -”
“I don’t really like that kind of music but everyone’s going to be there. There will be dancing and sandwiches and -”
“Sounds great. See you there.”
How was it possible that this white guy loved the blues so much, when he didn’t? Sam loved pop music and dance music. Just like Meg. She and Luke were so incompatible, but it was still such a shame that they weren’t together anymore.
Sam had felt proud when Luke had confided in him. No other white guy would tell a black guy about his girl problems, Sam was sure of that. Nathan said that people like Luke disgusted him. They were such hypocrites. But Sam couldn’t see that there was any hypocrisy in Luke. He didn’t seem to see colors, only people. And especially he listened to music. All kinds of music.
The music gatherings out at Sam’s church were really something. Luke never went to church otherwise, except maybe at Christmas. He and his family weren’t really religious and if the music wasn’t good, they didn’t bother going. He was really looking forward to hearing all that blues. When he was thinking about music, at least he wasn’t missing Meg so much.
The cell door slammed shut behind the two young men with a very final sound. One of them looked slightly ruffled, but the other one wasn’t going to take this kind of treatment silently.
“You have no right to hold us like this. We’ve done nothing wrong.”
“My boys booked you for disturbing the peace. I don’t know what you’re used to in Washington, but here we don’t tolerate that kind of behavior.”
“Disturbing the peace? Is that what you call it? We were just making use of our constitutional rights. Freedom of speech. I should think you’d have heard of that in Philadelphia.”
The uniformed guard was already walking away.
“As long as all American citizens aren’t allowed even basic human rights -”
“We don’t want that kind of propaganda here. Go back to Washington.”
“Then let us out of here.”
“See, I have a problem with that. If I do let you out, you’ll just go on disturbing the peace. That’s what your kind do. And anyway, your car’s been towed away. If you want it back, you’ll have to -”
Now the other man joined in the conversation. He normally chose to stay in the background.
“Our friend will get legal representation for us and you’ll be forced to give us our car back.”
The guard wasn’t really interested. It wasn’t his problem anyway. Except that not ten minutes later, the friend of the two prisoners walked in, along with an attorney every police officer at the station knew as a troublemaker. Another fifteen minutes later, the three men from Washington walked out of the station, smiling triumphantly, or so it seemed to the police officers who witnessed the scene.
“Damned n***** lovers. Too bad Ray had to show up and bail them out. That bastard is always involved when there’s a chance show us up.”
“Right, Nicholas. Shall we get going? I heard there’s a big do down at some colored church. With all those coloreds in one place there’s bound to be trouble.”
Pete Pryor picked up his cup of coffee and followed his partner and the others outside. They’d need backup for this. He wasn’t going into one of those neighborhoods without at least three other men backing him up. As it happened, it was a slow night and in the end, they were six uniformed officers who set out for the church in question.
To their disappointment, the members of the congregation and their guests were exceedingly sober and well behaved. This was church, after all. Outside, there were hardly any people to be seen. From inside, music could be heard, but no sounds of brawling or arguing.
The group of policemen circled around, feeling bored. Even though spring was under way, it was a chilly night. Two of the men decided to go back and patrol other neighborhoods, closer to the station.
Mark Mannion and his partner and Pete Pryor and his partner stayed. After being humiliated by the three civil rights activists from Washington, they were looking for some black man to bully. It wasn’t said out loud, but there was always an understanding between them. Rigged football games, some invigorating beatings of suspects who angered them more than others. Why not? Being a policeman was a badly paid, high risk job. You deserved to take any chance to make a little extra and amuse yourself any way you could.
Still there were no excuses to rough up any blacks. Nothing seemed to be going on, except for some of that jungle music coming from inside the church. Joss didn’t understand how they could allow that sort of noise in a church, but that just showed you what kind of people they were.
Finally, the whole thing seemed to come to an end. Black couples and even families poured out of the church doors. Each and every one of them sober and on their best behavior, speaking quietly and politely to each other.
The policemen exchanged glances. This wasn’t any fun. Perhaps they should have stuck to the usual places. There would always be some drunken fights and break ins. Someone would pay for their humiliation.
Then at last, they spotted a likely scapegoat. That was the one. Not a black boy after all, but one of those white n***** lovers. The kid worked in a record store, they all knew that. Why not use him to set an example? Good white boys didn’t consort with blacks. Didn’t he have any pride over his heritage?
Mannion nudged his partner with his elbow.
“That’s the one I told you about. Look at him.”
Luke was laughing and chatting away with a black boy of about the same age. Pete knew who that boy was. The son of his brother’s shop assistant. Perhaps they’d better let him and his father get out of the way first. They could always get the Foley kid on the way home.
He cleared his throat nervously and suggested as much to Mark Mannion. After some hesitation, Mannion nodded his agreement.
So they waited and soon they were rewarded by seeing the older man gesture to his son to come along. Apparently, he felt his son ought to be getting home.
Luke waved goodbye to his friend and started walking towards home. He’d catch the bus when he got a little further. It was a pleasant night and he wanted to remember the music he’d just heard. How could anything be so – wonderful? This was real music, not anything like the simple stuff Meg liked to listen to. No, he wouldn’t think about her and her smile and her eyes and –
He didn’t even notice the four men until he nearly walked into two of them.
“Excuse me, officers.”
“Where do you think you’re going, boy?”
“Yeah, maybe we will. Later. First we’re going to teach you a little lesson.”
Luke couldn’t believe this was happening. Was this some kind of joke? But these men looked as serious as he’d ever seen anyone look. Grim, humorless, mean even. They were looking at him as if he was a piece of garbage. One of them especially. He was huge, and his eyes fixed Luke with a cruel stare.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong. You’re bothering me. Aren’t white people good enough for you? Why are you running around with n******, boy? Don’t you have any white friends?”
“I was just listening to some music.”
“We know all about that, you little punk. Jungle music.”
Luke glanced uneasily over his shoulder and realized that he was surrounded. While the first two officers had confronted him, two others had caught up with him from behind. He hadn’t heard them coming. With a start, he realized that one of them looked familiar.
Pete Pryor, wasn’t it? He’d seen a framed photograph of him at the Pryor household, when he’d been giving Patty a piano lesson. Patty had said that it was her uncle Pete who was a policeman. By now, he was beginning to feel nervous. Why didn’t anyone come by? These men seemed to be in earnest about ‘teaching him a lesson’, whatever they meant by that.
“You’re coming with us.”
Luke found himself being herded into a blind alley, stinking of urine and vomit and several days of old garbage. At that point, he wasn’t nervous anymore, he was terrified. He’d heard of black people being beaten up by police officers and others who didn’t like people with another color of skin. It had upset him, but he had thought it usually happened in the south, not here, and certainly not today. This was the sixties, not the thirties.
“This will do.”
Joss Naylor landed a punch straight in the kid’s face. His glasses fell off, and there was a look of intense surprise on the face. Clearly, he hadn’t hit the punk hard enough. He followed up with another blow to the kid’s abdomen. Joss glanced over his shoulder, seeking Mannion’s approval.
Pete was beginning to feel uneasy. They were taking this too far. All he’d wanted was for them to scare the kid a bit and send him running back to his own neighborhood. Now it was too late to back down. Mannion would never tolerate any defectors.
Luke felt the wind being knocked out of him and he began to sway. Another policeman began to land punches on him and the impact of the blows made his knees give out under him and he sagged to the ground. He tried to break his fall with his hands, but soon he was lying on his side, trying to protect his face.
It was Mark Mannion who had the idea. He’d always been a sick bastard and this seemed to amuse him. None of the others would ever have thought about anything like that.
“He’s such a n****** lover, we should do him a favor and teach him to serve whites instead.”
Before Joss and Nicholas Stephens had time to stop him, he’d pulled the kid onto his knees again.
“Stand up straight, you little pervert. That’s it. If you’re used to doing big blacks, this shouldn’t be too hard.”
Mannion laughed so hard he had to hold his sides. He was a big, fat guy, who liked to drink himself senseless once in a while. His wife had learned to fear him and his kids did their best to stay out of his way on nights like that. Now he had another target in mind.
He opened his uniform pants in front and moved up to the kid, who was having a hard time staying on his knees.
Nicholas wanted to go. This wasn’t his idea of fun. The kid was crying. Crying? He had to be what? 16 years old? His face was bruised and his nose was bleeding. The lower lip had split and he had a sort of half-blind helpless look in his eyes, as if he couldn’t quite see his attacker.
“You’ll do as I tell you, boy.”
Mannion put a hand to the back of the kid’s neck and shoved him closer. No response. Now Mannion raised a fist in the air, and waved it menacingly in the kid’s face.
“Want more of this? That can be arranged.”
He began to hit the kid in the face and on his upper body. For a while, he tipped over and threw up. Again, Mannion raised him up and this time, he didn’t need to use violence. The other three stared at each other uneasily. This wasn’t what they’d had in mind for tonight???s fun and games. It was plain sick, but none of them wanted to get that big brute angry with them.
It might have been just rumors but it was said that a guy who got transferred from Baltimore had said something Mark didn’t like. No one saw him again. He’d called in sick and after that, he’d asked to be reassigned to New York this time. Mark had beaten him up one night after work, and the guy hadn’t even dared to complain about it afterwards. At least that was the story going around the station.
At least Mannion appeared to be done. Maybe that meant they could all get going, but Mannion hadn’t finished with the kid yet.
“Right. Stop your grovelling, boy. Time for your next customer. Joss.”
Joss’ face lost all color and he stared at Nicholas and Pete as if asking for help. No one said anything and Joss knew that if Mannion didn’t get his way, there would be trouble. So he stepped out in front of the kid and did what Mannion had done just now. Mannion’s hand grabbed the kid’s hair and held his head up. He gestured impatiently at Joss who hurriedly took over. Shoving the kid’s face into his crotch, he tried to think about just about anything but what was going on. Shit. He’d never even had a woman do that for him. Under Mannion’s watchful eye, Joss didn’t know what to do, so he tried to imitate his partner’s movements from earlier. He was afraid Mannion would think it hadn’t lasted long enough, but that was as much as he could take.
“Ok. Next. Nicholas? Pete?”
“Mark, please. Can’t we just go?”
The big cop turned and faced Nicholas. He knew that if one of them had the chance to rat on him, he would. No exceptions. They all had to be in on it, or the rest of them might end up in trouble.
“Don’t be shy. Our lady friend here is waiting. Aren’t you, punk?”
And so Nicholas followed suit and after him, Pete. His face an unreadable mask, Pete mimicked the rest of them. He felt sick to his stomach. That kid???s face was going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Why had he agreed to come along?
When it was over, Mark went over to the kid one last time and gave him a kick that sent him rolling back towards a garbage can in a corner. The lid fell off, but the kid didn’t move again.
Nicholas cast a worried glance behind him as they walked away. What if that kid was dead? Whatever else they’d done, he wasn’t going down for murder. Mark was insane.
When the alley was quiet again, Luke tried to raise his head. He had no idea where his glasses were and he felt dizzy and sick. A couple of times, he was seized by a fit of coughing and retching. After a few tries he was able to drag himself some distance away from the wall. It took him nearly an hour to crawl towards the street, but eventually, he could see the street lights. He had no idea what time it was, but he knew his bus had left by now. At this time of night, the street was quiet. No one was about. He seemed to recall that black people didn’t dare to go out at night.
Even if he had been able to see properly without his glasses, his eyes kept filling with tears from the pain and humiliation. This was something he hadn’t even imagined was possible. That man had – He felt empty inside. Empty and broken. Not just physically but inside as well. Again, he gagged but now there wasn’t even any yellow bile. Why had they done this to him? It was as if he hadn’t been human. They seemed to look at him as just an object.
He couldn’t help thinking about Meg and how he could never ever tell her what had happened tonight. She wouldn’t understand. Something like this wasn’t possible. He didn’t understand either. It was sickening. He felt as if the boy he had been earlier tonight had ceased to exist. In his place was this creature that was nobody. Luke Foley had never felt this way, Luke Foley couldn’t feel this way. So he wasn’t Luke Foley anymore, he was no one.
There was a pain in his lower abdomen that had turned into a dull ache. His nose felt out of joint somehow and he didn’t know if he still had all his teeth. He had swallowed so much blood he’d have been sick anyway. Again, he tried to move forward, but he didn’t have any strength left. He couldn’t get any further. His head slumped down and he felt the last traces of consciousness slip away.
When he came to, he didn’t know where he was. There wasn’t as much pain anymore, at least not physically, but with consciousness came awareness. He didn’t want to wake up so he closed his eyes again. That was a good idea. The darkness rose up and claimed him again and he didn’t know anything for a while.
This time, someone was talking to him. It was a man’s voice and Luke tensed up in panic. They’d found him. He heard someone screaming, but he didn’t recognize the voice.
“Luke. Calm down. No one’s going to hurt you. I’m dr Hartley. Can I take a look at your injuries?”
But Luke wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He cowered back and tried frantically to get away.
“There’s no need to panic. You’re in a hospital. I’m a doctor. We’re just trying to help you.”
“What’s wrong with him, doctor?”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s best to – Thank you, nurse.”
Luke felt a tiny pinprick of pain in his arm. He flailed about with his arms to fend off any blows that might come, but he was feeling tired again and at last the merciful darkness came for him.
This time, when he came to, he could hear a woman’s voice. She sounded so kind and sympathetic, he had to open his eyes. It was hard to see. The light stung his eyes, and anyway, he didn’t have his glasses. All he could see was a blur, but the voice was still talking to him.
“Luke. I’m dr Cooper. Can I take a look at you? You’ve been badly injured. I need to check on you. It won’t hurt, I promise. Do you remember what happened?”
At first his mind was a blank. He just knew something had happened to him. Something he didn’t want to remember, because it was so horrible, it had to be a nightmare and not real. Then the images kept flashing back, blurred yet crystal clear, and the noises and the smells and – There was a strange thin wailing noise. After a while, he realized that he was making it.
“It’s alright, Luke. I won’t hurt you. Honestly.”
That voice sounded so kind and gentle, he couldn’t help being reassured by it. She wouldn’t hurt him. He mustn’t make such a spectacle of himself. The touch of those hands was so gentle he almost didn’t mind. They probed the spots where it hurt the most, but didn’t add to the pain.
“Try to look at me, Luke. Can you see my hand? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“My glasses -”
“Yes, I know. Try anyway. We’ll get you a new pair here as soon as possible.”
“Good. Tell me your full name.”
“It’s Luke Foley. I’m -”
“Very good. Count backwards from twenty, please.”
“We just want to make sure you’re alright. Please.”
He did as the lady told him. Dr Cooper. She seemed satisfied with the result.
“Thank you, Luke. You’ve done well. Now we’ll give you something for the pain and maybe something to sleep on.”
Soon he was asleep again. That was what he wanted anyway. Not to be awake and remember and feel the way he did. Sleep felt as the only safe place to be.
Outside, Luke’s parents were waiting anxiously for the doctor’s verdict. They stared at her, willing her to give them an answer they could live with.
“As far as I can tell, your son has been badly beaten. He is bruised and battered all over, but there’s no internal hemorrhaging. At his age, I should say there will be full recovery.”
“What about brain damage?”
“No. Nothing like that. He’ll need time to heal, but there will be no permanent damage.”
“Who could have done something like this to my boy?”
“We don’t know. When he was found, there was no one nearby who could have been responsible. At least that’s what the ambulance staff said when they brought him in. The police -”
Yes, the police would have to investigate. Pete Pryor had an awkward moment or two, when he was being questioned about the night before, but they’d already gotten their stories straight so there should be no trouble. With everyone equally implicated, there should be no risk of anyone taking a chance and selling his partners out. Mark Mannion claimed that this had to be the doing of some negroes. The boy had been found in a black neighborhood. Clearly the culprits had to be black. Everyone agreed that this was a likely explanation. They’d look for the bastards right away.
Though Mark Mannion ought to have kept his mouth shut, he couldn’t resist talking about his latest exploit and soon it was all over the precinct that a n***** lover had been taught a lesson, and what kind of a lesson it was. Soon the talk of the town was that something unmentionable had happened to a high school boy. The police still worked on the assumption that the culprits were black, but among the members of the force there were some who guessed the truth. They’d heard Mark talking or heard others talk about what they’d heard Mark saying.
It was inevitable that the rumors reached Luke’s school. Even the high school kids heard. It didn’t take long for the rumors to reach Meg’s innocent ears. By then, she’d heard about her boyfriend being attacked, but at the moment, he wasn’t allowed any visitors, except for his parents. Meg didn’t really understand what had happened to Luke, but she wasn’t slow to pick up on the fact that it was something completely unmentionable. Something that placed him apart from the other kids at their school and every other school kid.
Weeks went by and Luke didn’t show much improvement. His physical wounds healed, but emotionally he remained distant from his parents. What he didn’t know was how the tension between certain members of the public and the black community kept rising. Certain members of the black community took offense that they were being accused of such a crime and soon the city became a tinderbox, ready to explode at the slightest spark.
When the police officers showed up to interview him, he suffered another nervous attack and had to be sedated. There weren’t any female police officers who could talk to him, but eventually a social worker tried her best. He wouldn’t tell her anything beyond the merest acknowledgement of facts. Four men had beaten him. He didn’t know why. When questioned about the way they looked he had nothing to say.
Luke’s parents could only watch and worry. Their son had changed that night. The boy in the hospital bed was a stranger. He wouldn’t talk to them, beyond the simplest every day conversations. They couldn’t touch him or hold him.
When the doctors declared him well enough to go home, his parents came to pick him up. They brought their son home, but in reality, nothing changed. He stayed in his room. The record player remained silent. He wouldn’t look at the piano. His mother suggested that he call his friend Meg or one of his other friends, but the suggestion was greeted with an indifferent shrug.
Then one day, Roxanne showed up on his doorstep. Having heard the whispers about Luke, she felt she had to try to do something to help. She realized that what had happened to him had to be worse than what she’d endured, since he was a guy. How could anyone even think of making a guy do that? Meg wouldn’t even talk about him, let alone talk to him, so Roxanne felt it was up to her to do what she could to cheer him up if that was even possible.So she asked if she could take his homework to him, and though the teachers felt uneasy about even discussing him, they were relieved someone wanted to make an effort.
She rang the doorbell and waited. The door was opened by a woman who had to be mrs Foley.
“My name is Roxanne Bojarski. I’m a friend of Luke’s. I’ve brought his homework.”
“That’s very kind of you, dear.”
“Is he upstairs?”
Mrs Foley eyed the chic young girl doubtfully. Normally, she wouldn’t have expected to see a young girl visit a boy in his room like this, but perhaps this girl could reach Luke where no one else could. If she wasn’t mistaken, Luke had mentioned her as Meg’s best friend, and it was very nice of her to have come. She didn’t look as if she was here to pry and gloat like some others had at first.
“Then I’ll go up and give these to him.”
“Ye-es. Of course. You’re very kind.”
Roxanne walked up the stairs, not feeling quite as unperturbed as she had tried to seem. To begin with, she was unpleasantly reminded of her own ordeal a couple of months earlier. Secondly, she didn’t know what to say to Luke. She’d never visited him at home before. He was bound to find that odd. Besides, if he felt anything like as bad as she did, still, after all this time, he might not want to talk to anyone, about anything, even school work.
At the top of the stairs she stopped and rested. After what had happened, she had slowed down somehow. She’d spent more time at home, or at Meg’s house, mainly talking to Patty. Bandstand had to do without her. She pressed a hand to her forehead. Lately, she’d begun to suffer dizzy spells. In the mornings she sometimes felt sick. She hoped she wasn’t coming down with something. Most of all she feared the sort of unmentionable infection she knew you could get from – that.
She realized she’d forgotten to ask which door led to Luke’s room. Mrs Foley must have been too stunned by her visit to say something. Still, how hard could it be? She decided to try the first door on her right. As usual, her luck held, but it was a while until she had a reply. When it came, it was so faint, she could hardly hear what he was saying, but it was Luke alright. She decided to take that as encouragement and opened the door, before she should have time to change her mind.
Luke was so stunned by the sudden appearance of Roxanne, that for once he was jolted out of his apathy.
“I brought your homework.”
For a second, his face lit up expectantly.
“Is Meg coming too?”
Roxanne felt her breath catch in her throat. He was expecting Meg. Poor Luke. He’d be so disappointed.
“You have to understand that Meg – Meg’s such a baby.”
His smile faded and the dead, indifferent look was back.
“Oh. I see.”
He really did see. Meg had heard the rumors about him. She didn’t want to see him again. Of course. He’d expected something like this, but now that he knew for certain, it hurt anyway. Still, how could he expect a girl like Meg, or any girl for that matter, to want to be around him after they’d heard –
“What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the same rumors Meg did?”
He couldn’t bear to see her contempt. She had to go away. He didn’t want to see anyone.
“I came because I thought you might like some company, and I brought these.”
“You want to help me with my homework?”
Roxanne could relate to the pain and the anger in his voice. She knew he wasn’t angry with her really, but she couldn’t let herself be driven away. The first couple of days she’d felt dead inside, and she hadn’t wanted to see her mother or anyone. She was afraid mrs Pryor would suspect something, but she was determined not to give anything away. The Pryors were too precious to her to ever risk having them find out about her. If they didn’t want her around anymore – but poor Luke didn’t even have the luxury of secrecy. Someone had made sure his secret was out. Whoever it was, it had to be someone even sicker than Charlie and someone sure of his own safety.
“Me? Do you want to get an F? I’m not smart, like you. Look at me as a messenger. A delivery boy.”
Despite himself, he was attracted to her friendly, cheerful voice. Roxanne always talked like she was smiling, and she was, even though her eyes remained serious. Why was she here though? Had she come to pity him? He couldn’t bear that. It was better to be alone.
“Thank you. Well, you’ve delivered those books. You can go again.”
“Yes, I suppose I could, but that wouldn’t be very polite, would it? And speaking of polite -”
That flippant tone was so typical of Roxanne, Luke had to look at her again. She looked so pretty and clean and wholesome and – he was no one anymore. He was dead and gone and what was left of him wasn’t worthy of her friendly attention.
“You don’t want to be around someone like me.”
“Why not? Aren’t you going to ask me to sit down?”
He couldn’t follow her quick leaps from one thing to another. Her mind worked so fast and she was so serene and – No, he didn’t want her here. She reminded him so painfully of what he’d lost, of who he’d been before that night. A guy with not a worry in the world, except trying to reconcile the differences between him and his girlfriend. Now there would never be another girlfriend for him. Meg knew that he was tainted. She was right to stay away from him. What was Roxanne trying to do? He didn’t need her pity. There was nothing she could do for him now.
“I don’t want your pity. You can just -”
“Pity? Luke, I understand how you feel and -”
“Understand? Understand? How can you understand? You have no idea how it feels to be -”
“Yes. I do.”
-“Don’t tell me that. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, Luke, I do. I know exactly what I’m talking about.”
He broke off and stared at her openmouthed. Was she saying what he thought she was saying?
“Do you mean -”
“Charlie Ormond. Nine weeks ago.”
“Your date. Meg told me.”
Roxanne nodded sadly. She had no doubt Meg had babbled about her date with the captain of the football team. Both before and after. If Charlie had heard anything about –
“I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Luke. Really sorry. It was my own fault really. If I hadn’t gone off with him – but I didn’t know – he’s older and I didn’t expect – He said I was – that everyone was saying that I -”
Suddenly, there were tears in her eyes as well. Luke felt like a bastard for making her relive those moments. Roxanne too. Of course, in a way, it was different, but still – He had never felt the way many others did that a girl like Roxanne could blame herself for being friendly and outgoing and popular with the boys. That was no excuse for them to –
“Roxanne. It wasn’t your fault.”
“No? Everyone else at school would say so.”
“I’m not everyone else. Especially not now.”
“Oh, Luke. If I could have done something to stop this from happening to you I would. Even if it meant that it would happen to me all over again. It’s not the same. Someone like me -”
“Don’t say that. It’s exactly the same.”
He didn’t know quite how it happened, but suddenly, he was standing next to her, putting his arms around her and holding her. She buried her head against his shoulder and began to cry again. He felt his own body being shaken by sobs again and he held on to her, trying to offer a little comfort, even though he didn’t have much to give. It was her he was crying for and for himself, and he sensed that she too was crying over both of them.
Somehow, crying like this together, seemed to relieve them of some of the tension. Luke began to feel a little more like himself again. If Roxanne could keep going, so could he. She had come to him and she had shared her worst nightmare with him, and even though the pain didn’t diminish, he knew he wanted to live again. It wasn’t fair that they should turn him into this – broken, discarded fragment of a human being. He hadn’t done anything wrong.
Roxanne hadn’t really intended to tell Luke about what she’d been through. Until now, she had believed that would have to be her own secret to bear, but by trying to offer him what strength she had, she began to feel stronger again. Charlie wouldn’t have the satisfaction of making her see herself with his eyes. Whatever he and his friends thought about her, she was as good anyone else. There were people who didn’t see her as a – Luke didn’t. Suddenly she knew that she cared more about Luke than she’d ever imagined. She wouldn’t let him descend into the despair she had. If she held out her hand to him and he took it, she would keep him going. She’d get him to go back to school and stop being ashamed of himself.
Self-consciously, they pulled apart, and began drying their tears. For a while, they didn’t say anything.
“Sam was asking about you. He seemed worried.”
“Oh. Sam’s a nice guy.”
If Roxanne told him that, it also had to mean Meg had not asked about him, but he wasn’t surprised. Though it still hurt to remember her, he didn’t expect anything from her anymore.
“Yes. Too bad about the situation right now. He can’t come to the record store or anything after school.”
Luke didn’t really want to know about what other kids were up to, but Roxanne’s tone seemed so serious he wondered what was wrong.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“You haven’t heard? I thought – Oh.”
She appeared to be reluctant to go on. Could what she had to say have anything to do with him? About what had happened to him?
“No. I haven’t heard anything. Tell me, please.”
Suddenly, he felt scared again. Those four police officers – he could only recall far too clearly how they’d looked at him and what they’d done and how they’d left him in that alley, not caring if he was alive or not. Still, if Sam was in danger –
“They’re saying that it had to be some black men who – hurt you, and some people want to -”
Roxanne frowned as she tried to recall what she’d overheard at school, and heard Meg’s dad and JJ discuss before dinner only last night.
“They want to make an example out of some of them. So Sam’s dad isn’t letting him outside at all after school. He has to go straight home again.”
“That’s not true. They weren’t black.”
Luke broke off as he felt the panic rising inside him. He hadn’t been able to tell them anything when they’d asked about who had attacked him.
Of course, he should have guessed that they would want to blame the blacks, but it wasn’t right. Sam and his family shouldn’t have to be afraid for their lives because of him. No matter how scared he was, he had to do something. He had to tell the truth. Not about what they’d done to him, he didn’t think he’d ever be able to put that into words, but he’d have to tell them who the men were.
“They were police officers, weren’t they?”
Luke stared at Roxanne in horror. How could she know?
“That’s what everyone’s saying. They just don’t know which ones, and officially, they’re still looking for some black men.”
“I don’t know if I can – Roxanne, what should I do?”
“I don’t know. I’m not going to tell anyone about what Charlie did to me, but that’s different, of course.”
“If I told you something, will you promise me not to tell anyone about it?”
“Of course. But don’t tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“It was – one of them was Meg’s uncle.”
Roxanne’s eyes opened wide in astonishment. Meg’s uncle Pete? That was worse than she could ever imagine. She understood Luke’s hesitation. In his situation, she would have been forced to tell her story too, she realized. Everyone knew anyway. At least no one would ever know about her, except for Luke.
“Oh. Meg’s uncle Pete. That’s -”
Luke knew what he had to do. Asking Roxanne about it had only been an attempt to delay the decision. How could he keep quiet if innocent people had to suffer or even die? He’d have to tell his parents and they’d have to go to the police, but he’d never say anything about the other thing.
“I’ll have to tell the police about it.”
Roxanne nodded. She knew that too, of course, but she’d never have said so to Luke. He had to make up his own mind. She’d only be there to offer her support. That wasn’t much, but that was all she had to give him.
“You’re very brave.”
Luke looked at her doubtfully. Brave? No. He was scared to death, but for Sam’s sake he’d do it. For all the Sams out there. If he thought about it that way, it wouldn’t be quite as difficult.
Jack Pryor was in his garage, going over some wires. It wasn’t very urgent work, but he liked to have some time to himself now and then. The radio store did as well as could be expected, but there were always concerns for the future. The kids were getting older and kept costing more and more, even though JJ was working and doing his best to help out.
Meg – but Jack didn’t feel that it would be fair to ask his daughter to contribute financially, at least not just yet. She was so young and immature. Patty might be different, but right now, she was too young as well. Poor little Will would never have to work to help support his family. Jack felt far too guilty about his youngest son’s disability to even consider such a possibility.
Jack looked up to find his younger brother standing in the doorway.
“Not really. Come on in. How are you?”
“Oh, you know. Pretty good. Listen, I wanted to ask you something.”
Uneasily, Jack met his brother’s gaze. What was it this time? Not girl trouble, surely? His brother never asked for his advice anyway. Money? No, Pete wouldn’t do that. He knew far too well what responsibilities his older brother had.
“Sure. Ask away.”
“You know about the thing that happened to that Foley kid?”
What was this? Jack felt terrible when he thought about the incident involving his daughter’s boyfriend. That poor boy –
“Have you caught the ones who did it yet?”
“No. It’s just that now they’re beginning to ask us awkward questions. As if they’re thinking one of us did it.”
“One of you?”
“Someone on the force.”
“I see. Well, I had heard rumors -”
“Yes, me too, but that’s all they are. This is different. If they really have a testimony that implicates an officer -”
“Yes, I see, but what’s the problem?”
“If they ask you to confirm my alibi, would you say I was out here with you that night?”
What? What was Pete saying? Surely he couldn’t have been involved in that atrocity?
“I was with a lady friend. A married lady friend. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
“Ah. Yes. Sure. Her husband wouldn’t like it if you had to give her away?”
“Exactly. You see my dilemma.”
Jack did see. Typical of Pete. Of course it wasn’t anything worse.
“Thanks, bro. I knew I could count on you. Well, I have to get going. Work. You know how it is.”
“Yes. I sure do. Ok. Don’t worry about it. If they do ask me, I’ll tell them you were here, but Pete -”
Pete cast his older brother an anxious glance. Was he going to be difficult about it?
“I don’t like this. Lying to the police. It’s not right.”
“I know, Jack, I know. But what can I do? My hands are tied. I’d ask someone else, but I don’t know who.”
Pete put on his best little brother’s face, pleading wordlessly with his big brother. How could he refuse?
“Oh, go on. I’ll see to it. That’s what family’s for, after all.”
“Right. Thanks again.”
Pete walked out, leaving his brother with a worried frown on his face. Not this too, on top of everything else. He really didn’t like to have to lie, it was a sin as well as a crime, but how could he let his brother down? The boy might be a wild one, but he wasn’t bad deep down, at least Jack hoped so.
The next morning, Jack read about the investigations into the assault on Luke Foley. The news story worried him. It seemed the investigation focused on four officers who had been unable to vouch for their whereabouts on that night when questioned.
Jack had a bad feeling about the whole thing. What was the name of the married woman Pete was seeing? Had he mentioned her at all earlier? Though when had Pete ever told his big brother anything, unless he was in trouble and needed to be bailed out? Jack decided to ask Pete as soon as possible. Not that he distrusted his own brother, but still –
He called Pete at home that night, and he could have sworn the question bothered his brother, but since he couldn’t look at him, he couldn’t be sure. Pete tried to cover his initial reaction and laughed in a way that supposedly suggested complicity.
“Thelma Whalley. Very sexy. She’s a nurse. Redhead. You know what I mean.”
Maybe he did, but Jack did think Pete’s tone was in poor taste. Women like that had never appealed to Jack.
“Why did you want to know?”
Wasn’t there an odd undertone in Pete’s voice again?
“Just curious. I didn’t know you were seeing any married women.”
“Oh. Well, you know how it is.”
No. Jack didn’t think he knew and he was pretty sure he didn’t want to either, but at least he had the answer to his question. The lady in question existed.
When the papers reported that one of the four men had broken down and confessed to the beating of the boy, if nothing else, Jack’s concerns increased. He knew the name of that officer. It was Pete’s partner. If Pete’s partner had been there that night, where had Pete himself been? Driven by a fear Jack didn’t even want to express clearly, he decided to find the woman in question. He looked her up in the phone book and to his relief, there was only one Thelma Whalley in Philadelphia. The address wasn’t too far from the radio store, so he decided to pay her a visit after work the same night.
He was in luck. Thelma Whalley was in, and though she wasn’t alone, she didn’t hesitate to let him in. Jack felt a blush creep over his face when he noticed the woman’s gaze travelling across him from top to bottom. This was his brother Pete’s ‘lady friend’? One of them in any case. It was hard to believe.
“Mrs Whalley, I won’t take up much of your time. I’m Pete Pryor’s brother.”
“Oh, of course. I see the resemblance.”
Her smile made Jack feel uncomfortable and he coughed to clear his throat.
“I was wondering – was Pete here on the night of the tenth of last month?”
“The tenth? No, why? My other friend was here, you see. So no. Pete wasn’t here.”
“I guess he made a mistake about the night. Thanks anyway. Mrs Whalley -”
How did he ask something as awkward and indelicate as this? Under the circumstances, he didn’t feel as if he had any choice.
“Mr Whalley -”
“My husband? Oh, he isn’t here. He left for Los Angeles last fall. I haven’t heard a word from him since. If you run into him, I’d like to know what he’s done with my inheritance.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know your husband personally. Thanks again, mrs Whalley. You’ve been very helpful.”
Hurriedly, Jack beat a retreat, mercifully missing the way her appreciative glance fixed on his rear end as he was walking away. Mrs Whalley licked her lips, before she regretfully returned to her guest.
Jack’s mind was in turmoil. Pete hadn’t been with mrs Whalley at all, and there was no jealous husband either. That could only mean that – but that thought was so terrifying that Jack shied away from it. He had to ask Pete in person before he overreacted and did something he’d regret.
That evening, Meg was on Bandstand. To Patty’s surprise, Roxanne showed up at their house. Since that night over two months ago, when Roxanne had been so sad, she was different. Patty didn’t see her cry again, but she also didn’t see her smile either. Not like she used to. This was something that had been worrying Patty, but she knew better than to ask.
“Roxanne. But Meg isn’t here. She’s -”
“She’s on Bandstand, I know.”
“Would you like to watch her on tv with me?”
“Not really. Can I come in anyway?”
“Of course. Mom, it’s Roxanne.”
Helen Pryor had been worrying a great deal about Roxanne since the night Jack had found her outside their door. She too, had noticed the changes the girl had undergone since then and if she had believed her questions might have produced an answer, she would have asked her daughter’s friend what was wrong. What had changed the normally so buoyantly happy and cheerful girl this way? Still, she could tell Roxanne wouldn’t reply truthfully, so what was the point?
Helen dried her hands and left the sink overflowing with dishes without regrets.
“Hello, Roxanne. Meg’s not at home.”
“I know. I was wondering -”
“Of course, you know that you’re always welcome here. Patty is watching tv. If you’d like -”
As it happened, Roxanne had no intention of watching Meg enjoying herself on Bandstand.
“I could help you in the kitchen, mrs Pryor.”
Helen eyed Roxanne doubtfully. To her knowledge, Roxanne was only marginally better at doing household chores than Meg. Not that it mattered. If she could get the girl to open up about that night – So she just smiled and nodded. If she was hoping Roxanne would confide in her, she was disappointed, but at least the girl applied herself to the drying of the dishes seriously enough. Not one glass or plate was broken.
“Patty. If the show is over now, I’d like you to do your homework.”
Roxanne dried her hands and went out into the living room, feeling restless and worried. How was Luke doing? She’d taken to visiting him every night, but tonight, she’d sensed that he wanted to be alone, so she’d been irresistibly drawn towards the one place where she felt safe. Now that she was here, she almost wished she hadn’t come. This too, felt different. She knew mrs Pryor was wondering what was wrong with her.
Patty cast Roxanne another worried glance, but couldn’t keep quiet anymore. She wanted so much to talk to her sister’s friend.
“How come you never do any homework?”
Roxanne was startled out of her brooding and stared at Patty. The little girl backed off, fearing she had offended the older girl.
“I – it’s so boring. Besides, what difference does it make? I’ll never be anyone special anyway.”
“Why not? It’s not too late, and it’s not so boring either. At least I don’t think so.”
“That’s different. You’re smart. I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. I think you’re very smart. You know so many things about boys and makeup and hair -”
“That’s not important, Patty. Getting good grades is much more important.”
“Then why -”
Yes, why? Even if she wasn’t as smart as Patty or Luke, she could at least do her best.
“You know what, Patty? You’re absolutely right. I should be doing my homework. Maybe I should go back and pick up my books and -”
“You can borrow Meg’s. I know where she keeps them, and if you like – I know I’m so much younger than you – but I could help you if there was anything you didn’t – Mom could help you too. She’s very smart.”
“Yes, I know. She’s a student at the university. That’s very cool. Thanks, Patty. I think I will study after all.”
When Meg got back, she was amazed to find her sister and her best friend studying together. When was the last time she’d ever seen Roxanne poring over a book?
By that time, Jack Pryor was back, looking pale and ill at ease. Helen noticed right away that something was wrong, but she didn’t like to upset the children and besides, dinner was ready.
“Patty, are you done with your homework? Good. You and Meg can help me lay the table. Hurry up. Not you, Roxanne. You’ve already helped me with the dishes. That was very kind of you. Just finish your homework.”
She didn’t like the look on Roxanne’s face either. When had that girl started looking so pale and listless?
“Alright. Dinner’s ready. Everyone. Will, please go and get JJ.”
Roxanne pushed away Meg’s schoolbooks and tried to get up, but her head felt strangely light and the room looked odd, almost as if it was tilting sideways. All sounds ceased and darkness hovered before her eyes. Silently, she fell to the floor.
“Mom. Roxanne’s lying down on the floor.”
Will’s scream had everyone running into the living room. There was no doubt about it, there was something wrong with the girl. The question was, what was it?
Jack Pryor ran forward, his own heartbreaking dilemma momentarily forgotten. For the second time in just over two months, he lifted Roxanne onto the sofa.
“Children. Go and sit down at the table. I’ll look after Roxanne. JJ, please. Make sure they stay in the kitchen. You too, Meg, please. Meg, JJ, could you please serve dinner to Patty and Will? Now.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know, Jack. I’m afraid -”
“Should I call a doctor?”
“Yes, I think we have to. I feel responsible for her and this seems serious.”
Glad to have something to do, Jack went to telephone for their family physician.
“I think you’ll have to carry her upstairs. We’ll put her in Patty’s room.”
By the time Jack leaned over to put her down on the spare bed in Patty’s room, Roxanne was coming to. For a fraction of a second, she panicked and began to thrash about in Jack’s arms. He nearly dropped her, but at the last second, she recognized who was holding her and she relaxed.
“I’m sorry, mr Pryor. I -”
“That’s alright, Roxanne. I’m sorry I startled you.”
Relieved to have done his part, Jack retreated towards the door, to let his wife try to talk to the girl. He didn’t like Roxanne’s reaction at all. It was almost as if –
“Roxanne, what’s wrong? You know you can tell me anything.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong. Lately, I’ve felt dizzy.”
“In the mornings?”
“Yes, why? Do you think it’s something serious?”
“I don’t know. Cancer?”
“No, Roxanne, I don’t think you have cancer. You’re too young. Girls your age don’t get cancer.”
“But I heard of a girl who got blood cancer and -”
“Yes, that’s true, but I don’t think this could be leukemia. Don’t worry about that.”
“But what do you think it could be?”
Roxanne had horrible visions of herself dying from some unmentionable disease, the kind the girls were whispering about at their school sometimes, when they mentioned girls who were doing it.
“Let’s just wait for the doctor to get here, shall we?”
“You’ve called a doctor?”
“You’ve fainted twice in just over two months, Roxanne. I really think we need to find out what’s wrong. Don’t you?”
Roxanne opened and closed her mouth. She wanted to say no. No doctor was going to examine her.
Still, when the elderly gentleman arrived, she knew she would have to put up with his touch or she would alarm the Pryors who were being so kind to her. She couldn’t risk them finding out about what she’d done that night. If they were to turn her away, she’d never get over it.
The Pryors retreated downstairs while the doctor performed his examination, to try and calm their own children down. They were all worried about Roxanne. Especially Patty and Meg.
When the doctor came downstairs, Helen gave the girls permission to go upstairs to see Roxanne, hoping for some privacy to listen to the doctor’s diagnosis. JJ took Will up to their room to keep him out of trouble. He sensed his parents wanted to be alone with the doctor.
“Mr and mrs Pryor – the girl isn’t your daughter?”
“No. She’s a close friend of our daughter’s. We’re all very fond of her. What’s wrong?”
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
Helen drew in breath. What if it was leukemia after all? She’d as good as promised Roxanne that she’d be safe.
“There’s no easy way of saying this, so I’ll just say it. Roxanne is pregnant.”
“Yes. I think she is at the end of the first trimester but I can’t be sure without more extensive examination. Is she in your care?”
“No. Her mother, mrs Bojarski, will have to be told. Oh, dear.”
“Would you like me to contact mrs Bojarski?”
“No, thank you, doctor. I’ll talk to her myself. She’ll contact you about Roxanne’s further treatment. Is she alright?”
“The girl hasn’t been taking good care of herself. My guess is that she’s not been sleeping or eating well for some time. She appeared distressed, so I should think she’s been worrying over this.”
Helen didn’t think so. Roxanne didn’t appear to have any idea she might be pregnant. Instead, something worse was on Helen’s mind, and when the doctor had left, it turned out her husband had been thinking along the same lines.
“Helen – you don’t think that – I mean, that night when I found her outside in the snow – Do you think someone had attacked her?”
“Yes. I’m afraid I did think so at the time, and now -”
“Now I’ll have to tell her mother that Roxanne is going to have a baby. What a terrible tragedy. How do we tell Meg about it? And Patty?”
“We’ll deal with that when we have to. You don’t think it’s any use asking Roxanne about it now?”
“Maybe we should just let her mother handle it. I don’t feel comfortable prying just now. On the other hand, you know how she feels about her mother.”
“Yes. Helen – there’s something else.”
“More bad news?”
“I’m afraid so. I’m still in a state of shock.”
“Not the store?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“And you’re not sick again?”
“No, Helen. It’s not me I’m worried about. It’s Pete. But maybe we should think about getting the children into bed first. At least Will. Patty too, hopefully.”
“Alright. Then I’ll go and call mrs Bojarski. Will you try to get Will to go to bed?”
“Ok. He’ll be tired, I’m sure.”
They didn’t get a chance to talk privately until Jack had driven Roxanne home. He didn’t know what to say to her. All the time she was in the back seat of his car, the girl was crying silently. It broke his heart to see her like this. He knew what reputation Roxanne had, but he’d always felt that the other girls were being hard on her. After finding her on his doorstep that night, he had definitely begun to fear that Roxanne had been the victim of some kind of assault.
“Yes, mr Pryor. I’m sorry. I won’t be a bad influence on Meg, I swear. Not on Patty either. We never talk about boys anymore.”
“I didn’t mean to – Roxanne, I just wanted to say that we’re sorry too, and you’re still welcome at our house. Please don’t think that we’d -”
“Oh. Thank you. You’re so kind to me. All of you.”
She began to cry even more. Jack could see her mother anxiously waiting in the doorway so he got out of the car and opened the door for Roxanne. When he helped her outside, he squeezed her hand reassuringly. It was sad to see the normally so perky girl drag her feet as she walked up the front steps and into her mother’s arms.
He put the car away and locked the door behind him. Now he would have to tell Helen about what he’d found out about Pete. He still had a hard time believing what he’d just learned. His own brother. And something like this.
Helen was waiting for him in their room. She looked so worried already, he didn’t want to add to her concerns, but he had to ask her advice about this. It was too serious to decide on his own.
“How is Roxanne?”
“She was crying all the way home. Her mother looked upset too, but she didn’t yell at her.”
“I see. Poor mrs Bojarski, and poor Roxanne. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Me too. Unfortunately, I have some more bad news.”
“Yes. Helen, you remember what happened to Luke Foley?”
“Of course. Did they catch the men responsible?”
“I think they will soon. Pete came here the other night, asking me to provide an alibi for him.”
Helen’s voice came out shrilly and she put a hand over her mouth. She couldn’t think of any reason for Pete to do that unless –
“Yes. He said he’d been with a woman whose husband wouldn’t appreciate finding out about him, but I went to see that woman.”
Jack’s face betrayed his impression of the woman in question and Helen could guess what sort of person she was.
“She denied having seen Pete that night. Apparently she has other friends, and there is no jealous husband anymore. He’s gone away to California and been gone for nearly a year. So I went to confront Pete and he changed his story. Told me that he knew the other man was there, but since he was passed out drunk on the sofa he had stayed anyway. I didn’t believe him.”
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Jack’s voice was filled with bitterness. This time, his little brother had gone too far. After what he’d done, he wouldn’t be welcome in the Pryor house anymore. How could they let him be near their own children after what he’d done to poor Luke?
“Are you going to tell the police?”
“I’ll have to. I lied on a police investigation. How could Pete do this to me?”
“I’m so sorry, Jack, but you’re right. Luke didn’t deserve to be treated that way. He might have died. I can’t believe Pete or any other police officer would do such a terrible wicked thing.”
“I know. I find it hard to believe myself, but there’s no doubt about it. My own brother.”
There were tears in Jack’s eyes, and Helen pulled him closer. He buried his face against her bosom. She knew how he must feel. To be forced to turn in his own brother. This crime was too serious to let it go. She admired her husband for having the courage to do what he had to do.
Since the distressing decision Jack had had to make, he was out of sorts and he couldn’t stop thinking about his brother and about poor Luke. His business was another cause of concern so in the following weeks, he was short-tempered and constantly tired.
One night, after dinner, Will and Patty got into an argument.
“I will too.”
“No, you won’t.”
“Because you’re a girl. JJ’s going to college, but not you and Meg.”
“Meg might not be going, but I will.”
“You will not.”
“Mom. Will is mean.”
“Will, leave your sister alone. Why don’t you go upstairs and play with your tin soldiers?”
Jack sighed and decided to go out into the living room and watch some tv before bed.
“Dad, Patty’s not going to college, is she?”
College? How could he pay for her tuition when he couldn’t pay for JJ’s? Anyway, it was too soon to worry about that. Why couldn’t they just play quietly like they used to?
“Patty, you might not want to go to college when you’re older. When you meet a young man and get married -”
“I do want to go to college.”
“Will, it’s time for bed.”
“I told you so.”
“You too, honey. You don’t have to turn out the lights yet, but go and get ready for bed, please.”
A little while later, Helen went upstairs to make sure her youngest were in bed, or in Patty’s case, at least in her room. Will was fast asleep, so she tucked him in and pulled up the covers a little higher. To her surprise, Patty was crying. Patty hardly ever cried.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?”
“It’s dad. He doesn’t think I’m smart enough to go to college.”
“That’s not true, honey. Dad is just tired and worried. We both know you’re very smart. If you get a scholarship, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go to college, just like JJ.”
“I will get a scholarship and then I’ll show Will and dad.”
“That’s wonderful, darling. Do you think you could go to sleep now?”
“You can read for half an hour, but after that, I want you to turn out the lights, ok?”
Jack was waiting for her in the bedroom. He was sitting on the side of the bed, removing his jacket.
“How are the kids?”
“Will’s asleep. Patty – she was a little upset about the argument.”
“About going to college? Do you think I was too hard on her?”
“Not at all. It’s just that she was a little disappointed. She felt you didn’t believe in her. I told her that wasn’t true.”
“Of course it isn’t true. I believe in all my children, and Patty – I know she’s smart enough to go to college – but Helen, how could I afford that?”
“Maybe you won’t have to. She could get a scholarship, just like JJ. I mean, not an athletic scholarship but her grades are good enough. I’m sure -”
“Yes, me too. I’ll go and talk to her. I didn’t mean to upset her.”
“That’s a good idea. I’m sure she’ll appreciate that.”
Jack walked quietly over to his youngest daughter’s room. The light was still on.
“Patty, are you asleep?”
“Can I come in?”
“I didn’t mean to upset you, darling. I know you’re smart enough to go to college. It’s just that I don’t have the money to pay for it. I’m sorry. If I could -”
“I’ll get a scholarship and I’ll go anyway. It’s ok, dad, I understand. You don’t have to pay for me.”
“That’s my girl.”
Deep down, though, he wanted to be able to pay for the education of all his children. It hurt to be this helpless. No matter how hard he worked, he could only make ends meet, no more.
Roxanne’s mother was still in a state of shock. In the meantime, Roxanne still went to school. She didn’t know what else to do. It seemed to her that people were staring at her and sometimes, when she walked past a group of girls they suddenly stopped talking, as if they’d been discussing her.
At least her meetings with Luke made her feel a little better, and it seemed to her that he was feeling better as well. Meg had never mentioned his name again. That made Roxanne angry. Wasn’t she the least bit worried about Luke? Didn’t she feel sorry for him? Hadn’t he meant anything to her?
One night, she asked Luke if he wanted to go out and have a soda at a diner. It had been far too long since they’d had any fun. Why shouldn’t they go out together like ordinary teenagers? To her relief, Luke agreed, though he didn’t seem very enthusiastic. They decided to meet there.
Luke felt uneasy about walking alone. It wasn’t all that late, but he still felt wary of being in the street. He knew that the police officers responsible were going to be sent to jail for what they’d done, and the volatile situation had stabilized. The black population were safe for the time being. Even so – On the other hand, Roxanne hadn’t been out for ages. She deserved to have some fun. Besides, it would be nice to meet a girl for the first time since – No. He wouldn’t think about Meg anymore. That part of his life was a closed chapter.
On his way over, he ran into Sam and his father. Sam’s face lit up, but to Luke’s distress, he appeared to change his mind about calling out to him. It seemed to Luke as if Sam’s father didn’t even want to look at him. He grabbed Sam’s shoulder and Sam looked away too. So that was it. Sam didn’t want to be seen with him. He should have known. It was just that he had always considered Sam a close friend. Maybe he shouldn’t have expected better.
Returning to school had been a nightmare. Everyone seemed to know and though no one said anything to his face, he could hear the whispers. Their staring didn’t make him feel any better either. It was as if he was some kind of freak on display. He knew it was only a matter of time before someone said something out loud. There were times when he wanted to drop out of school just so he wouldn’t have to face the other guys. What was the point anyway? His life was over. If Roxanne hadn’t shown up when she did – There she was anyway. He couldn’t help smiling. She was so – Why hadn’t he noticed her before? Meg had held all his attention, but Roxanne was fantastic. He’d never met anyone like her.
He felt proud to be buying her a soda. Maybe those guys sitting at the other tables would think she was his girlfriend.
They sipped their sodas, and talked about school and their families. He had a feeling Roxanne was holding something back, but he didn’t want to pressure her. If she was upset about something, she could take her time telling him about it. There was no rush. He hoped she knew he would be there for her, whatever it was.
Suddenly, Tom Murphy got up and and walked over to their table. His two friends were right behind them. Luke knew those two and he didn’t think they would have something nice to say to either one of them. He wished he didn’t feel so insignificant. A couple of months ago, he wouldn’t have feared them at all. If they had come to be rude to Roxanne he’d have told them a thing or two. Now, he wasn’t sure what he’d do.
“Roxanne. Fancy meeting you here. I heard you had a bun in the oven. So what’s the deal? Who’s the father? Not Lucille here, I’m sure. He’s got other interests, from what I hear.”
Luke felt all color drain from his face. He’d never imagined anyone could be so cruel.
“What makes you say that, Tom? Are you interested? In him? Too bad if you are, because he’s already taken. Yes, since you ask, Luke is the father. Anything else you’d like to know?”
She cast him a searching glance. Would he be upset about being accused like this? She hadn’t meant to put him on the spot, but Tom was such in intolerable loser she had wanted to put him in his place. To her relief, Luke didn’t seem offended. Instead, he looked at her, with a solemn look in his eyes, as if he was coming to a decision.
“Roxanne’s right. I’m the father. We’re here, celebrating our engagement, so we’d appreciate you leaving us alone.”
“You’re getting married?”
“You heard Luke. Now leave us alone. We’ve got a wedding to plan.”
Tom opened and closed his mouth dumbly while his friends glanced uneasily about them. Their joke had backfired and all they wanted was to go before Roxanne could produce more of her poisonous remarks. They felt out of their league. She hadn’t reacted at all the way they’d expected. Their intended victims were now ignoring them. It was time to go and without another word they sneaked out, feeling deflated.
“Luke, I’m sorry about that. They were just being so hateful and -”
“Don’t apologize. I had no idea you were – did Charlie -”
He felt awkward even asking that question, but if she’d been –
Roxanne glanced furtively around the room. No one was close to them and there wasn’t anyone who was even looking in their direction.
“It was Warren. Do you know him?”
“Of course, but he’s -”
“I know. It was sort of – a going away present. I’d never done anything like that before, but he was so sweet and he’d written a song about me and I felt sorry for him. You know, for having to live in celibacy for the rest of his life. Do you think I’m bad? Like Mary of Magdalene?”
Luke smiled. Roxanne appeared to be serious. She was worried of what he thought about her.
“Of course not. I don’t believe much in that stuff anyway. Since he’s the father, aren’t you going to tell him?”
“No. He told me he’d dreamed of being a priest all his life. How could I destroy that dream for him? I’ll just have to manage on my own. It’s ok. I’ll think of something.”
“You don’t have to do it alone. Have you forgotten about our wedding?”
He smiled shyly. What if she didn’t want to be married to him after all that had happened – to him and to her?
“Luke, you don’t have to go through with that. I just said it to get them off your back.”
“Oh. Well, if you don’t want to -”
“Of course I’d want to, but if you don’t want to -”
“I want to. Really. I’d love to marry you, Roxanne. You have no idea how much I want that. I just can’t – I don’t think I could -”
Roxanne thought she knew what he was getting at, and she felt so terribly sorry for him. She’d gone through that feeling too, and still didn’t feel quite comfortable about kissing and so on, but maybe one day –
“In that case, Luke Foley, I’d be more than happy to accept your proposal. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
She had screamed those words out rather too loudly, but for once Luke didn’t mind the attention. He smiled back at her. Maybe one day, he’d even be able to –
“I don’t have a ring for you. I didn’t know -”
“Oh, never mind that. We’ll get one later. Luke, I’m really happy.”
This was something so totally unexpected, Luke’s head was spinning. Even if Sam’s betrayal hurt, it faded into insignificance in the light of what had just happened. He had thought he had no future, but suddenly, he couldn’t wait to see what the future held for him. Marriage at his age? Under normal circumstances he’d have been terrified. Now he wanted to tell everyone he knew. He wanted to listen to music again, play the piano. He was beginning to feel alive again, and it was all thanks to Roxanne.
“No thank you, Luke.”
Shyly, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. At first, he tensed up, then he returned the kiss, lightly.
“Come on. I want to go home and tell mom. She’s crying and crying and – I think this will make her stop crying, don’t you?”
“Yes. I hope so. Are you sure she’ll like me as a son-in-law though?”
“Of course. Why not? Come on.”
He could think of one or two reasons, but he decided not to spoil Roxanne’s mood.
“Then we’ll have to tell your parents and – oh.”
“I suppose you’ll have to tell them that you’re not really the father.”
“Why? They won’t believe it, but I don’t think they’ll say anything about it.”
“Ok. We’ll just say that I’m pregnant and that we want to get married right away.”
“Yes. You’re beautiful, do you know that?”
“Thanks. You’re so sweet. There’s just one thing – I won’t get to marry in a white dress. Do you mind?”
“Mind? I couldn’t care less what you wear as long as you do marry me.”
“After we tell your parents, I want to tell the Pryors and – uh oh. Meg. Never mind. We have to think about ourselves now, don’t we?”
“Absolutely. Meg hasn’t asked about me in all this time, has she?”
“Let’s not even talk about Meg. You’re making me jealous.”
“Oh. Sorry. I won’t say another word about her.
Outside, Roxanne couldn’t help hugging Luke and he couldn’t help hugging her back. He was getting used to being close to her. It felt a lot better than he’d expected. She smelt wonderful and her hair was so lovely and – It wouldn’t be so hard to forget Meg after all. He’d buy her a ring from the money he’d saved up while he was working at the record store. Did he still have a job to come back to? It was something to consider, now that he was getting married.
It turned out his parents were just as delighted as mrs Bojarski at the news.
Roxanne couldn’t stop thinking about Meg. Even if Meg had abandoned Luke, strictly speaking, she was the one who had dated him first. If her best friend didn’t share her joy at the engagement, Roxanne couldn’t be truly happy about her own luck. So one day, she walked over to the Pryors’ house, hoping to have a chat with Meg. Meg was on her way out, to Bandstand, but since she wasn’t in any hurry, she agreed to speak to her friend, upstairs in her room. She couldn’t help feeling curious about why Roxanne had dropped out of school so mysteriously. It seemed to her that her parents knew something she didn’t, and it had to have something to do with Roxanne’s fainting.
“Meg – promise you won’t be upset with me.”
Meg felt puzzled at the way the conversation evolved. This wasn’t quite what she had expected.
“Luke and I are getting married.”
“You and Luke? But -”
“I’m sorry, Meg, but you broke up with him, didn’t you? After what happened -”
“Yes, I know. Never mind that. Why are you getting married? I didn’t think you were interested in him.”
“What? And you never told me? Are you saying Luke’s the father?”
Meg’s eyes looked enormous as she tried to take in Roxanne’s news.
“No. If I told you a secret, would you promise to keep it to yourself?”
“Of course. Don’t you trust me?”
“Ok. It’s Warren.”
“Yes. It was sort of – a going away present, and I can’t tell him about the baby.”
“No. That would be -”
“So you see, it was very kind of Luke to offer to marry me.”
Meg did see that, and in a way, she found her friend’s story touching, romantic and more than a little bit exciting, but still, Luke had been her boyfriend. Now – On the other hand, something had happened to him, something she couldn’t quite understand but which she had a feeling made him impossible as a boyfriend. Obviously not for Roxanne. At least Roxanne had told her her big secret. They were still friends, even after Roxanne had changed so much. Maybe that was because Roxanne had been worrying about the baby.
“Yes. It is. Ok. I’m very happy for you, but I have to go now. Are you sure you’re not coming to Bandstand with me?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I can’t dance now.”
“Have fun, Meg.”
“Thanks, I will.”
This had gone better than Roxanne had expected, and the fact that the Pryors still welcomed her in their house filled her with gratitude.
Patty had seen Roxanne go upstairs with Meg and now that Meg was gone, she dared to approach Roxanne.
“Hi. Want to watch Meg on Bandstand with me?”
“No, thanks, Patty. I don’t really want to watch the show.”
“Oh. I don’t have to either. If you want to talk -”
Patty looked so hopeful, Roxanne had to smile. It really was touching the way Patty admired her and followed her around. She was also grateful to the younger girl for encouraging her to study. Not that it would do much good now, or maybe it did. To her surprise, her mother had suggested that she go to night school. Perhaps she would.
“Ok, Patty. Let’s talk.”
“We should go downstairs so Meg won’t get angry with me for being in her room.”
“Oh. Sure. Your room then. I’d rather Will didn’t listen in on this.”
Patty looked at Roxanne filled with amazement. What was Roxanne going to tell her? The same secret she’d shared with Meg? Patty was pretty sure something important had happened, and now it seemed her idol, Roxanne, would confide in her. The little girl smiled so warmly, Roxanne couldn’t help smiling too.
Patty ran down the stairs, and had to wait for Roxanne, who had become awfully slow lately. She couldn’t be sick? For a second, Patty was worried. She recalled the awful times when Roxanne had fainted and looked very pale and sick.
“Patty, I’m going to get married.”
“Married? Oh. Who are you marrying?”
“Luke Foley? Meg’s -”
“Yes, I know. He used to be Meg’s boyfriend – and your piano teacher?”
“Yes. I really like him, but he doesn’t come here anymore. I think he’s been sick.”
Roxanne nodded. Sick with the shock most likely. From now on, she was going to make sure he stayed on his feet from. She wouldn’t let him despair.
“He’s getting better.”
Patty felt a slight sting of jealousy, but she was too young to realize what it was. As Meg’s younger sister, she’d always known that a boy like Luke wasn’t for her, and she held Roxanne in even more awe than she did her own sister.
“That’s wonderful. I hope you’ll be very happy.”
A strange look flew across Roxanne’s features at this. Happy? Maybe one day. Right now, she was just relieved and pleased, but she couldn’t help but feel quite happy, when Patty flew into her arms, hugging her over and over again. Poor Patty. She really ought to make an effort to be nicer to her. It seemed Meg didn’t appreciate her little sister at all.
As usual, Helen Pryor invited Roxanne to stay for dinner. She really considered her daughter’s friend a part of the family.
Roxanne decided to make her announcement at dinner. She had sensed how concerned the Pryors had been over her condition. If only they would accept her choice of fiance. She sat quietly in her usual chair, next to Meg, watching the Pryor family sit down to their dinner. Once everyone had been served, she drew in breath.
Jack and Helen had been watching her too, and they realized she had something to say.
“Everyone. I have some news. I’m getting married.”
Will’s eyes grew to enormous proportions. Meg and her friend were nearly grown up, but to think that one of them were actually getting married.
“Yes. Luke has asked me to marry him and I said yes.”
Proudly, Roxanne held out her hand to show off the ring Luke had brought her. His mother had given it to him, so he hadn’t been forced to use his savings after all.
Helen Pryor relaxed slightly. It was such a relief that Roxanne had found a solution to her dilemma, and what a kind, generous act by that poor boy.
“That’s wonderful news, Roxanne.”
Jack Pryor smiled warmly at the girl who had become something of a protegee to him.
“Yes. Congratulations, Roxanne.”
Meg might envy Roxanne her beautiful ring and the prospect of getting married, but she did feel quite happy for her friend, despite everything. She and Luke really weren’t right for each other after all.
The following day, Roxanne told Luke how well their plans had been received at the Pryor house. He was pleased for her sake, but he didn’t think he’d feel comfortable visiting them again. Not so long ago, he’d been dating Meg. He’d been Patty’s piano teacher. Now – everything had changed.
Besides, there was one thing weighing on his mind. The last time a police officer had come to inform him and his family about the progress of the case, he’d found out that the reason Pete Pryor was now being thrown off the force, was that his own brother had refused to give him an alibi for the night in question. Mr Pryor had sacrificed his own brother for the sake of a kid he hardly knew. That was more than Luke had ever expected anyone would do for him. The question was, would he be welcome in their house? If it hadn’t been for him, Pete Pryor would still be a police officer, and if no one wanted to look at him, or be near him, why should the Pryors want him in their house?
He decided to ask Roxanne’s advice.
“They’re so kind, of course you’d be welcome. You’re my fiance, why shouldn’t they want to see you?”
“But mr Pryor’s brother -”
“After what he did, do you think they’d want him around? Don’t be silly. Let’s go and visit. Meg said she was fine with it. She was very nice about it.”
So the following night, Luke found himself reluctantly walking the same way he’d walked to visit Meg and to teach Patty to play the piano for all those months.
Roxanne could tell he wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it, but she wanted so much to show off her fiance, and she knew that the Pryors were such kind, generous people, they’d never make Luke feel like a freak the way everyone else did. He’d dropped out of school, just like she had and they were taking evening classes together. No one knew anything about them there, so it didn’t feel so awkward coming there.
Patty had managed to beat Will to the door so she was the one who greeted them. It was hard to feel uncomfortable when faced with all that admiration and the overwhelmingly warm welcome. Luke even felt quite fatherly when Patty reached up and hugged him. It really was kind of sweet the way she jumped up and down and hugged Roxanne over and over again.
Once inside, the real difficulty began. JJ, Meg’s older brother, who Luke didn’t really know, stared at him, as he walked in, which made Luke feel just as bad as he had in school. Though the older boy held out his hand and said hello, very politely, Luke still felt that JJ was regarding him as something he couldn’t quite understand. It might have made Luke feel better, if he’d known what was on JJ’s mind. Blues and other music didn’t interest JJ at all, and he had no idea what to say to Luke.
Mrs Pryor greeted him just as warmly as Patty had, if not as demonstratively. That was fine, but sitting down to dinner, with Pete Pryor’s brother was the worst ordeal for Luke so far. Not that the two men were anything alike. Luke didn’t feel physically threatened, it was just so hard to face the man who had been forced to give up his own brother and for such a crime too. Would it be surprising if the man felt resentful towards the cause of the schism in the family?
In the end, Jack Pryor didn’t say or do anything to make Luke feel uncomfortable. Instead, he was just as friendly and polite as his wife, though much quieter. He had a distant look on his face, suggesting he was only half present.
After dinner, Roxanne offered to help mrs Pryor with the dishes. Meg and Patty hurriedly made the same offer and followed their mother into the kitchen.
Will asked to be excused, then jumped up and vanished up the stairs. Apparently, his toys attracted him far more than boring grownup conversation. JJ hesitated, not wanting to seem impolite, but in the end, he too excused himself. He hardly knew Luke and Roxanne and he had never been close either. What would he talk to that odd boy about anyway?
That left Luke alone with the very man he most wanted to avoid. On the other hand, shouldn’t he at least make an effort to express his gratitude over the sacrifice this man had made for him? Nervously, Luke glanced across the table at Jack Pryor. His mouth felt dry. No. He couldn’t say anything. Why had Roxanne abandoned him? Why wasn’t even Patty here to provide some kind of distraction?
He nearly jumped out of his seat at the unexpected sound.
“I – I’m terribly sorry about -”
Jack broke off uncertainly. How did he apologize for what his brother had done to this poor boy? How did he even allude to something like that?
Luke didn’t feel any more comfortable discussing the matter, so he hurriedly spoke up.
“Yes. Thank you. I appreciate it. Sir – I was told what you’d done. That you were the one who -”
It dawned on Jack that Luke was trying to thank him for turning his brother in. That too, was a topic he much preferred to avoid.
“Uh – yes. I see. They did, did they? Oh, well – How could I lie to protect him?”
Now Jack really wanted to change the subject and he seized on something else that had been on his mind.
“I want you to know that we’re all very happy about you and Roxanne and – we’re very happy for you.”
At least they didn’t seem to resent him. Even if the rest of the world treated him as untouchable, he still had a few friends.
The next day, he learned that mr Greenwood was only too pleased to have him back. He got back to work that very afternoon. One of the first customers to walk in was Sam. Luke looked away, hoping some other employee would deal with his former friend. To his surprise, Sam walked up to him, an apologetic look on his face.
“Luke, can we talk?”
He didn’t want to hear it, whatever it was, but he found himself walking into one of the listening booths anyway. This time, Sam’s attention wasn’t on the records.
“I’m sorry about the other night. It was dad. He says we can’t afford to be mixed up in -”
Luke winced. He knew exactly what Sam’s father must have been referring to.
“Luke, I don’t agree with him. I know people who have been beaten up by the police – black people – and – it’s not your fault. You’re my friend and I don’t care what people think. My father and I don’t always agree.”
“Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it, but haven’t you heard the rumors about me?”
Sam looked as if he was blushing, but Luke couldn’t tell if his skin was changing color or not.
“Yes. I don’t know how people can be so cruel. What a dirty, vicious lie. I want you to know that I don’t believe a word of it.”
Luke hesitated. If he told he truth, he would most likely lose his only remaining friend. On the other hand – it felt humiliating to have to lie. Like Sam had said just now, none of this was his fault, but he didn’t want to lose his friend, so he merely smiled and nodded.
“Thanks, Sam. I really appreciate your friendship. You – you’re my best friend.”
If he’d looked back as he walked out to the cash register, he might have guessed what was on Sam’s mind. Sam had just told a lie. He knew what was being said about Luke and he had no reason to believe it wasn’t the truth, but if he acknowledged what he knew, wouldn’t that just make things worse? How could they even discuss something like that? He didn’t think it was Luke’s fault and he wouldn’t dream of abandoning his friend over something like that, but he also had no way of dealing with it. This was the only solution he could think of.
Luke couldn’t help smiling despite the humiliation. Sam really was a good friend. After all, he still had one good friend and a very lovely fiance. Perhaps people would forget, even if he never could.