Sometimes things happen that you think you’ll never be able to live down.
But is that really true?
We had breakfast in the hotel’s coffee shop. Gary wanted to fool around afterwards. He said he was horny, we had the room till 11, it would take my mind off worrying, and, why not?
They were all really good arguments, and I was horny too, but I said no.
“I have a boyfriend, and if things work out, I’ll still have one tomorrow. I don’t want to have to tell him I messed around with you. He’ll want to know what we did here in the hotel, everything we did. I want to be able to tell him the truth.”
Gary looked disgusted, as disgusted as he was able to look, but I knew Gary, and when he grinned, I was expecting it. “What about another massage, then. I’m surprised you’re still horny, after that one last night.”
“Hey, nothing happened. Other than I got a little excited!”
“A little? Even Erica was blushing, and I’m sure she’s seen all there is to see before.”
“Well, it was your idea to have the nude massage. I’d never have done that in a hundred years without your whining at me how we should do it, and calling me chicken.”
He smiled. “Well, it was fun, wasn’t it?”
I thought about it, and then smiled myself, and changed the subject. “Let’s go swimming instead.”
So we rented suits and swam for an hour. I swam as vigorously as I could, trying to work off my building nervousness, then got out, showered, dressed, and we called a cab.
We got home at ten after ten. My mother’s crap car was in the driveway. My heart started racing.
“Come on, let’s get the show on the road,” Gary grunted, and paid the driver.
I hesitated, and he grabbed my arm; we walked to the house and went in.
My mother was sitting in the living room, talking to the Jenks. “Keith,” she said when I came in. He voice was flat, unemotional. She didn’t get up.
I walked over to her, expecting her to stand up and hug me, but as she just sat there looking at me, I wasn’t sure what to do. After a moment, I turned and sat down in one of the chairs there.
She had been watching me, and said, “You’re taller. You look different.”
“I guess I’ve been growing some,” I replied.
She looked without speaking for a moment, then said, “Well, we’ve got a long way to drive. Get your suitcase and we’ll go.”
Just like that. She was going to tear up my life without giving it a second thought.
I didn’t get up. Instead, I said, “I don’t want to go. I love it here. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Mr. and Mrs. Jenks told me they wanted me to stay. May I? Please?”
When she didn’t respond, and even turned her eyes away from mine, I continued. “Why don’t you go where you’re going, Iowa I guess, get a job, get settled, and then we can talk about it? I’m in the middle of the school year, I’ve been making friends, things are going really well for me now. Why don’t you leave me here and go by yourself? You don’t really want me with you anyway. I’d just be a burden on you.”
She regarded me like she might be regarding an unwanted stain on her blouse. Then she said, “Enough. You’re my responsibility. Get your suitcase. We’re leaving.”
I looked at Mr. Jenks. I’d tried. If anything different from what she was asking was going to happen, it would be because of him now, not me.
“Ms. Stuart,” he said, “Keith’s found a home for himself here. He wants to stay as badly as we want him to stay. Won’t you please reconsider?”
“No.” Then she turned to me, dismissing him. “We’re leaving. If you don’t have a suitcase packed, you’ll just have to come as you are, Keith. But we need to go. I’m getting very tired of all this.”
She stood up. So did Mr. Jenks. He handed her a piece of paper, folded, and said, “Mrs. Stuart, perhaps you should take a look at this.”
“What’s this?” she asked, opening it.
“It’s a subpoena for a court appearance this afternoon. I was able to get the judge to grant it this morning. If you take Keith now, I’ll have you followed, and when the time of the hearing comes and you’re not in court, I’ll tell the sheriff where you are, and quite soon after that you’ll be arrested. You have no options here. You must attend the hearing, along with Keith and the rest of our family.”
“A hearing? Why?”
“This will all be settled a few hours from now. At this time, I’d like you to leave our house. Don’t worry about the car following you. As long as you show up at the courthouse on time, no one will bother you at all.”
I was sitting in a courtroom. This wasn’t a regular trial or anything like that. It was a hearing, and it was about me. Go figure.
Mr. Jenks had spoken to his attorneys, and they said that if my mother wouldn’t allow me to be adopted, the only other options were to have her declared an unfit mother and me made a ward of the court, or for me to be emancipated.
Now that I had a proxy mother to compare her to, I could accept the fact that my own certainly was unfit, but Mr. Jenks said my opinion and the legal definition were a little different, and the chances of having her declared unfit were pretty small. That left emancipation.
Which we were trying to achieve at the hearing.
Gary was with us too, and Mrs. Jenks. There weren’t any lawyers present, other than my mother. The judge spoke once the bailiff had us all seated in a semicircle, facing him.
“This is a hearing on a petition from Keith Rogers Perryman, a minor, on the issue of his emancipation. Is there anyone present who would oppose a decision for the petitioner?
My mother stood up and said, “I’m his mother, and I do.”
The judge nodded, then asked, “And your name is. . . ?”
“Very well, Ms. Stuart, your objection to the petition is duly noted. And may I ask you to sit down? No one needs to stand to speak this afternoon. This is a formal hearing, but there’s no need when there are so few of us involved for anyone to rise to speak.”
My mother sat down. The court stenographer finished typing and sat with her fingers poised, ready for more.
The judge began when my mother was seated. “We’re holding this hearing on a Saturday afternoon because of our informed understanding that the minor was about to be taken from where he’s now living, taken out of state and out of the court’s jurisdiction, and so convening this meeting at this time is warranted. Due to the short notice, I am prepared to allow anyone to ask for a continuance to better prepare for the proceedings if necessary. Or to secure an attorney, should anyone feel they would be better served that way. Does anyone wish to request a continuance, or does anyone wish to secure counsel?”
The judge looked first at me. I shook my head. The judge said, “You’re Mr. Perryman? Keith Perryman?”
“Yes, you honor,” I said shakily, shrinking back into my seat, thoroughly intimidated. What was I doing here?
And then I remembered. I was here because I wanted to be here. What happened here today meant everything to me. And I’d better stand up for myself now! Circumstances had brought me to this. If there was anything I could to do make it all end up as I wanted it to, it was up to me to do it.
I sat up straighter in my chair.
“Keith, when answering questions, please do so out loud. The stenographer cannot record a nod.”
“Sorry, your honor.” My voice wasn’t shaking any longer; I refused to let it. “No, I don’t want either a lawyer or a continuance.”
The judge smiled and told the stenographer to note my remarks. It appeared to me she already had.
The rest of us were asked the same questions, even Gary, and they all said no. I figured my mother might say yes, and so did she, but when the judge said I would be held in the court’s jurisdiction as a ward of the court during whatever delay she was granted, she got red in the face and said she’d represent herself then and no continuance was necessary.
So, we proceeded.
I thought it was going to be a big deal, and was surprised that it went as quickly as it did. The judge read the applicable law. It said emancipation in California depended on four factors:
The judge asked me to tell him about my situation with regard to each of these four points. I’d spoken to Mr. Jenks about this; we’d gone over each one of the items in detail. He’d decided, and I’d unhappily been convinced, that it would be more impressive and show my maturity if I answered the judge’s questions and did all the talking on my own behalf.
I hadn’t done it all myself, the prep work I mean. Forms had had to be filled out, some financial documents prepared, and I’d been coached on what to say. Mr. Jenks had had one of his lawyers come to the house to do that. All I had to do was the talking. Of course, that was one of my worst things.
Anyway, I showed the judge my birth certificate which proved I was 14. I wasn’t much past 14, but this wasn’t horseshoes; close didn’t matter.
I told the judge I was living with the Jenks with my mother’s permission. The judge looked at her, and she started to speak, but then she looked at Mr. Jenks, and he smiled at her, and she realized she had given her approval for me to stay with them. She’d given it to Mrs. Jenks over the phone, and she was there to testify to that fact.
I guessed my mother was wondering if she could lie about that. But, she’d told me when I’d phoned her in San Diego that she’d given me permission to live with them, so that was corroborating testimony, too. If she lied, I could testify, and Mrs. Jenks could testify and it would be two to one. The really important fact, however, was that I was indeed living with the Jenks right then, and my mother hadn’t contested that. That certainly supported the reasonable conjecture than she had given her permission. She could lie, but to me it seemed very unlikely the judge would rule in her favor. There was really nothing she could do but agree that she actually had given her permission.
The third point was easy. I had $75,000 in the bank, in my name. My mother opened her eyes really wide when that fact was stated, and then supported with documentation. My expenses were larger than I imagined. All those clothes we’d bought, my allowance, my razor, everything was listed. However, there was also a statement saying they were paid for by the Jenks and there was also a notarized statement saying future expenses would also be paid for by them. Nothing was said about whether I was mature enough to handle my own finances. I guess they assumed, as all expenses were going to be paid, and as I got an allowance and had money in the bank, it wasn’t going to be a problem. It wasn’t likely it actually would be a problem in the near future, either, and if it ever was, it probably wouldn’t be until I was no longer a minor.
As for my finances being from legal sources, Mr. Jenks spoke to that point. I sat back in my chair and hoped my part of this was done.
When Mr. Jenks finished, the judge asked my mother what she had to say. She’d heard everything that had gone before. She looked at the judge, then at me, and said, “Keith. I’m your mother. We should be together. I love you. This was all unnecessary. You can tell them it was a mistake, and we can start over. You’re all I’ve got.”
Damn! I hadn’t really wanted to face her, to stand up to her, but she was making it necessary. I was supposed to stay seated, but this didn’t feel right to say sitting down, so I stood, and faced her.
“Mom,” I said, and tried hard to stand tall, “maybe you do love me. But you’ve never shown that love to me. Mr. and Mrs. Jenks show me what love is every day. Gary does, too. All this, today, a court hearing, we didn’t need to do this. If you’d just said I could go on living with them, that would have ended it. You forced this, and are forcing me to say what I’m saying now. You made me choose, and I choose to be free from you so I can live with the Jenks. You say you love me, but those are only words. I know deep in my heart that the Jenks love me. They show me they do. You never did.”
She slumped back into her chair. It was hard to look at her, but I did. I couldn’t help thinking back to growing up with her. Not everything had been bad. But while thinking of the good times, even then, I realized love hadn’t been much in evidence. Now, I had people who loved me, and that made all the difference.
Seeing her defeated like she was, hurting with what I’d said to her, made me sad, made me realize our times together were over. Those memories, however, didn’t make me want to change my mind.
Eventually, she looked up at the judge and said, “I withdraw my objection to his emancipation.”
The judge smiled at her. “Very good, Ms. Stuart. By my authority, Mr. Keith Perryman is hereby granted emancipation.”
And that was it. Mr. Jenks told me, driving home, that there were many legal entanglements that came with emancipation, but it was very unlikely I’d ever get snarled up in any of them. All I had to know about it was, until I went off to college, I’d be living with them.
When we got home, after I’d hugged them and then hugged them again, Mr. Jenks went on, saying that if after college I didn’t still treat them like the parents they were going to be for the next few years, if I tried to go it alone without them, I’d better go back to being invisible again, because they’d come hunting for me, and they wouldn’t give up easily.
If he hadn’t been tickling me when he said that, I might have been crying. I usually cried from being sad, but that time, it would have been from sheer and absolute happiness.
The next week at school, everyone was talking about Mr. Johnson being fired. They hadn’t appointed a new vice-principal yet, or a new football coach, but as the football season was already over, there wasn’t any rush to do that.
Dr. Jacoby was at the school every day, which was a change for us. We hadn’t seen much of him before this. Where Mr. Johnson had patrolled the halls, scowling at everyone and yelling and assigning detentions whenever he saw something he didn’t like, Dr. Jacoby smiled a lot, stopped and talked with kids and often left them laughing. What a difference he made! There seemed to be a lighter atmosphere in the school now. Everyone’s circumstances at school had changed for the better.
I wasn’t being quite so introspective now, and nowhere near as reclusive, but I did think about that a little, about circumstances changing. About change, really. I’d changed a lot, as my circumstances had changed. Now I saw how the school was changing, too, and because of that, how much friendlier a lot of the kids seemed to be.
Not everything changed. On Wednesday, Mrs. Bowerman got on my case. I’d used arcsecant in a problem where I should have used arctangent, and she started riding me about it, in front of everyone, making sarcastic comments about my intelligence. She did that to anyone who made a mistake, so it wasn’t anything personal, I didn’t think. It was just her being her. No one liked her much.
But my mood was so much better these days, and I’d learned that standing up for myself usually had good consequences, so I let her blather on without losing the smile that had been a pretty constant companion of mine this week. She saw the smile, and she didn’t like it. Not at all.
“Do you think this is funny, Keith?” She was glaring at me.
“No, it’s not funny, but it isn’t life-threatening or anything, either. You’re getting all upset and uptight over a silly mistake that I probably won’t make again, and it probably isn’t good for you.”
Now that got her really mad! “We’re talking about your performance, young man! Not me! You’re out of line, talking about me that way. Maybe you’d like to take that smile to detention tonight?”
“Detention? No, I don’t think I want to do that. The last time I got sent there, by Mr. Johnson, he got in trouble and then was fired. And anyway, Dr. Jacoby announced that all detentions were cancelled, so if I went, I’d be the only one there, and he’d have to monitor me as there isn’t any vice-principal to watch detention any longer, which means, since he’s as friendly as he is and likes to chat with us kids, I’d probably end up having to tell him all about why I was there, and I guess I’d have to tell him I was serving detention because, if you really think about it, I smiled in your class.”
I smiled even harder at her. She got red in the face, and opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out, and she finally turned away from me and started talking to some other kid who’d made a dumber mistake than I had. So, I’d had a confrontation with an adult, hadn’t backed down, and won, with a smile! Yep, things were certainly changing.
Except for Mrs. Bowerman herself. Nobody had liked her much before, and that hadn’t changed at all.
Friday, I was excited all day. Darryl was coming for a sleepover! He’d be there for dinner, too. Then Gary was going on a date with Amy, a date he had high hopes for. I was just going to hang with Darryl at home. I had high hopes for my evening too, and figured, circumstances being what they were, that my chances were a whole lot better than Gary’s.
After dinner, Mr. Jenks asked me if we could talk in private in his den for a few minutes. Gary was getting ready for his date. Mrs. Jenks asked Darryl to help her with the dishes. I sensed a conspiracy.
Mr. Jenks and I went to his den, and he closed the door. We both sat down.
“Keith, I just wanted to tell you, when I was a boy, there were lots of things I liked to do, but I can remember, when I was 14—well, actually all through my teens—there wasn’t much I liked better than skinny dipping. And while it was all kinds of fun, it was even better if”—and here he stopped, looked around suspiciously like he was making sure not one was eavesdropping on us, and then continued in a whisper—“I wasn’t alone.”
He looked at me and raised his eyes in a way that make me know he wanted me to say something.
“Uh, just what are you telling me here?” My heart had started racing. But, I noted, my stomach wasn’t tight at all. Since my mom had left, my stomach hadn’t bothered me once.
Back in his normal voice, and with a smile growing broader as he spoke, he said, “I guess I’m telling you that Mrs. Jenks and I are going to make an early night of it. We’ll be going up to our room when the dishes are done. You know where our room is, don’t you? On the front side of the house?” He was really smiling hard now. There was no mistaking what that smile meant. My heart beat a little faster.
“Uh, are you like saying, uh, I should skinny dip tonight?” I felt myself starting to blush. “With Darryl?”
“What I’m saying is, Keith, is that if you wanted to do that, you wouldn't have to worry about your privacy at all.”
I looked at him then, and saw only warmth and caring in his eyes, and asked, “Why do you think I’d like to skinny dip with Darryl?”
He smiled and said, “Keith, Darryl has been over here several times now. I’ve seen how you two are together, how you talk to each other with your eyes. I could be wrong, I could be misreading things, but I’d be surprised if that were true. So, I just wanted you to know that his sleeping over, his going skinny dipping with you, you two having fun together, it’s all fine with Mrs. Jenks and me.”
I got up, and then I was in his lap. We hugged, and I may have let my emotions run over the top a little, until finally my heart slowed down, until I began thinking of Darryl, in the kitchen. Which made me ask a question, my voice still a little shaky from all those emotions. “Is Mrs. Jenks having a conversation like this with Darryl?”
He laughed. “Well, maybe something like this.” I tried to laugh, too, but it was hard, through my tears.
It wasn’t much later than that when the two older Jenks said good night to Darryl and me. Mr. Jenks took his wife’s hand and they walked upstairs together.
I looked at Darryl, and he looked at me. Then Gary came downstairs. He wasn’t dressed for a date. He was also scowling.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Amy cancelled. So, what you guys want to do tonight?”
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