Derrick-Jake-Nick by Cole Parker


Cole Parker

Nothing’s been easy for Derrick. Even now with a big change occurring, nothing is certain.

Chapter 4

Saturday began for Jake when the aromas of breakfast sneaked under his door.  Yawning, he looked at the bedside alarm clock and saw it was early: 9 AM.  Then the thought occurred that it was noon back in New York.  Not so early after all.  But already he was getting used to the time change.  And the smell of breakfast was making it impossible to get back to sleep in any case.

When Jake was dressed and had followed his nose to the kitchen, he found Mr. Scott sitting at the table in the corner of the room where they’d eaten dinner.  He had a cup of coffee in front of him and was reading the morning paper.  On the table were the items that had awakened Jake: several pieces of bacon and four breakfast sausages.

“Hi,” Mr. Scott said brightly.  “Thought you might be getting up soon.  I’ve got some pancake batter ready to go.”  He stood up and walked to the stove and turned up the heat under a large skillet.  “There’s maple syrup in the refrigerator.  Could you get it out and nuke it for about 45 seconds?  That ought to take the chill off it without boiling it.”

Jake moved to do as requested.  That was done and he was sitting at the table, but he had not yet spoken a word.

Mr. Scott brought a plate to the table with two pancakes on it.  “These are for you, and I have batter for two more.  I’ll make them when I see you’re about done with these so they’ll be hot when you’re ready.  The bacon and sausage are all for you, except I might swipe a piece of bacon.  I love crispy bacon!”

He sat down again as Jake began buttering and syruping his cakes.  When Jake began eating, Mr. Scott asked, “Do you drink coffee?  I’ve always found orange juice with syrup an abominable combination.  Or I have milk.”

Jake looked up, and after swallowing, he smiled.  “You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”

Mr. Scott grinned.  “I’ve known quite a few people who don’t want to talk in the morning till they’ve eaten.  So, yeah, ask a question that can’t be answered with a nod or shake of the head, you don’t give them much choice unless they want to be rude and ignore you.  You haven’t been rude yet.” 

Jake nodded.  “Thought so.  Yeah, I drink coffee, but not black—ugh!  Milk and sugar.  But I can get it.”  He stood up, and Mr. Scott did, too.  “I’ll get the next two cakes going while you’re getting the coffee.  Will two more be enough?”

Jake opened his mouth, then closed it and nodded before breaking into a chuckle.

Mr. Scott did, too.  “Got me,” he said.

Mr. Scott let Jake finish his last two cakes, then put his paper down.  “Let me get another cup of coffee, and then we need to talk.  Do you want another?”

Jake shook his head no but grinned when he did it, taking any offense away, and Mr. Scott grinned again and brought the coffee carafe to the table, filled his cup, then set the empty carafe on the table and sat down.  “Jake,” he said, all the humor now gone from his voice, “what you said last night disturbed me.  Living on the streets, I mean.  I think if we’re going to be living together, I need to know about your past.  Can you do me the honor of trusting me and tell me about yourself?”

Jake was silent, looking down at the table.  Eventually, he murmured, “I don’t much like talking about myself.”

Mr. Scott replied softly, “I understand that.  I’ve noticed you hesitating before answering most questions as though you’re deliberating what to say and even more importantly, what not to.

But we’re going to be spending time together, and it’ll be quite awkward if most of it is in silence.  I also won’t know what sort of remarks might bother or hurt you, and the result of that would be for me not to say much of anything at all.  That’s no way for either of us to live, Jake.”

He gave Jake a moment to consider, then said, “We don’t know each other very well yet.  So when I say I like to support and help kids, I can imagine you rolling your eyes.  But I do.  I chose the career I did because of that, and I love it.  I want to help you; I want you to be happy.  You told me you like to be independent.  You can do that here.  This is your home while you’re here with me.  Treat it that way.  You’re free here.  And safe.  The food, the stuff in the refrigerator—you have no need to ask.  Any books you want to read, just do it.  No asking.  Do what you want; be who you want to be here.

“I can see—anyone could if they bothered to look—that there’s a whole lot to you under the surface.  You hold it in.  You watch everything you say, keep that lid on so tight.  You don’t have to do that in this house.  You don’t have to hide from your past here.  I want you to be able to relax and be the person you’ve been hiding ever since I met you, and much longer than that, I’m sure.”

He stopped for a moment, then said, “Will you tell me something about your past?”

Jake was still looking at the table.  Mr. Scott simply waited.  After a good two minutes with the only sound in the room coming from the kitchen clock ticking away the seconds, Jake raised his eyes to Mr. Scott’s.  “Okay,” he said so softly Mr. Scott wasn’t sure he’d heard him.  But from their meeting of eyes, Mr. Scott knew it was a positive response.

He nodded.  “Here or in the living room where the seats are more comfortable?” he asked, speaking softly himself.

Jake hesitated, then produced a wan smile.  “Living room,” he said and stood up.

=  =  =

Jake sat on the couch and simply stared at the wall for a couple of minutes.  Then he said, “This will be a little disjointed.  I’ve never told anyone any of this before, never spoken it out loud, and I don’t have it down where I can just run it off chronologically like a well-told story.  So I’ll probably not be terribly lucid.  I’ll just say what I remember, and if some of it’s out of order and repetitious, well, it probably will be.”

Mr. Scott nodded but stayed silent, and by doing so, he encouraged Jake to continue.

“Growing up, I had one of those bigger-than-life, overbearing and narcissistic fathers.  He knew everything and wouldn’t tolerate any disagreements.  What he said was right, and that was the only opinion that meant anything.  He brooked no arguments, either.  No one was allowed to state a differing opinion.  Not in our house at least.  I didn’t spend much time with him outside the house.  The only way I knew anything about how he handled himself there was from his boasting at home. 

“But inside, he spoke, and we listened.  His voice was as loud; it always was.  He had negative views about almost everything.  He didn’t like the government, politicians, news anchors on TV, the way the country was going, religion, teachers, newspapers, education.  He did like sports but not artistic ones like figure skating or even tennis.  He liked boxing, football and cage fighting—especially cage fighting.  He also liked to eat, but it had to be the food he liked, which was basically meat and potatoes.  Mom could get hit if she put a shrimp dish on the table. 

“He worked construction jobs, just crude, unskilled labor, which meant that what work he had didn’t tend to be regular.  He’d work for a time and then be off work again.  When he was off work, he’d draw an unemployment check.  Then he’d spend his days at a bar; maybe it’d be several bars; I didn’t know.  I did know he’d come home drunk, and that’s when he was really dangerous.  I always tried to stay out of his way.  I learned that very early—at five, maybe six; I don’t remember.  I just always remember being afraid of him.  Get in his way when he was drunk and I’d get hit, and it really hurt.”

Jake rushed on, wanting to get past that part without really having to think about it.  “He never finished high school.  He kept getting in fights at school, from what he said, and eventually was expelled.

“Then he didn’t bother with the continuation school in town.  He simply got what work he could find.  He had to because his old man wouldn’t let him live in their house after he got kicked out of school unless he paid rent.  I don’t know if that was meant to encourage him to finish high school, get his GED, or just because his old man wanted the money.  It was what it was.  But according to my dad’s version of him, his old man was a tight-fisted, mean-spirited bastard, and Dad was glad to be rid of him.

“I learned all this just from listening to him bitch to and at my mother.  Except to listen to him, it was obvious he was proud of all the fighting he’d done.  There was no doubt in my mind that he’d been a bully when he was younger because he still was then.  I knew he still got into fights at the bars he visited when he could find anyone stupid or drunk enough to go at it with him.  He’d sometimes come home with sore knuckles and bruises.”

Jake stopped long enough to walk into the kitchen and bring back a can of Coke.  He opened it, took a long drink, and settled back onto the couch, the can still in his hand.  “Dad was a large, angry, uneducated man with a temper and not much tolerance for anyone else or their opinion.  He felt the world should run the way he wanted it to.  Of course, it didn’t.  As such, the world was a hostile place for him, so he was always upset about something, and he brought that anger home with him.

“He always drank, but he drank a lot more when he wasn’t working.  So, when I saw him come home during those times, I got out of there.  He hit me when he wasn’t drunk but hit me much harder when he was.  He was angrier drunk than sober.  His grievances were more on his mind, and he had less inclination to hold his emotions in check then.  At home, he had a ready audience to hear about them, and he could take his anger out on that audience. 

“I got out and was already spending time on the streets at an early age.  My mom didn’t learn how or wasn’t able to leave and so got beaten on a lot more than I was.  I could never understand why she stuck around. 

“Their relationship was screwed up from the beginning.  She fell for my dad when she was still a young teenager.  He was bigger than life, she was impressionable, not very smart, and she wanted more out of life than she thought she could ever have just by playing the role girls were supposed to play back then.  She wanted gaiety, adventure, romance, excitement; that’s what she saw as the purpose of living.  She was one of those girls who saw everything through a dreamer’s eyes.  She set out to get it by hooking up with a man who could give her that—my dad, who in her view was everything a girl could want: big, strong, independent, a guy who took no shit from anyone, a guy who made his own rules.  In her eyes, he’d be successful at whatever he tried, and so she went after him.

“He was an easy catch because savvier girls could see what a loser he was.  Mom couldn’t, and so she was the only one chasing him.  She hooked him the way she figured would work: with sex.

“Of course, she got pregnant right away.  She was 16—15, actually.  I was born when she was 16.  I’m sure if they’d had the money for it, I’d have been flushed down the toilet as soon as Dad found out.  Instead, she carried me to term and had me.”

Jake took a last pull of his Coke and set the empty can down on the end table next to him.  “They never did get married.  He wouldn’t have wanted to be tied down to her—or probably any girl legally—and as he’d have had to agree to a marriage, it never happened.

“So, I was born.  They had no one to palm me off on even though I’m sure they both wished they could, and by then, Mom had figured out Dad hadn’t been the catch she’d thought he’d be.  But she had no other prospects, and having a kid meant he had to stay with her.”

“Why didn’t he just up and leave?” Mr. Scott asked when Jake paused his narration. 

“They lived in a ratty apartment in a mostly Italian area in New York City,” Jake explained.  “Italians feel strongly about a man supporting his family, just like they don’t believe in abortions.  My dad could have ignored the culture of the area, but he didn’t.  He was drinking buddies with other guys his age, and he’d have been shunned by them if he’d gone against the community ethos.  His drinking buddies were important to him.  That was certainly part of the reason he didn’t just walk away when I was born.  But, by living with my mom, he also got to enjoy not only having his laundry done and a hot meal at night but sex whenever he wanted it.  Also—and this was important to him—he got to go out on the town whenever he wanted.  That was basically every night, and he had someone to rail at and occasionally beat on right there in his own house whenever he felt like it.”

“He didn’t walk away, but I think we’d have been better off if he had.  He and my mom were always at each other.  When I was a little older, 11 or 12, everyone in the neighborhood knew how he and my mom fought all the time.

“His life was the bars, working when he got a job, and being lord and master at home.  He’d never lost his high opinion of himself.  Any problems he’d had were someone else’s fault.  He always remained sure of himself, and he somehow thought everyone who knew him respected him.  Of course, that wasn’t true; a lot of men feared him, but I doubted anyone respected him for anything but his ability to use his fists. 

“I’m talking about the time when I was five up to probably ten or eleven.  More and more, I wasn’t around the house.  By then, I had friends I could sleep over with and eat dinner with.  I did that as often as I could.  If I didn’t have a friend, I’d go to the library.  I was safe there, with all those books to keep me company.  As I said, a lot of this is a jumble in my mind because I was very young when I was dealing with it.  My parents’ life together made no sense to me, but I tried over and over to explain it to myself.  Kids want things to make sense.  I started spending more and more time away from home, even when I didn’t have any place to go.

Jake suddenly shivered briefly.  He picked up his Coke, realized it was empty and put it back down.  He was silent for a moment.  Mr. Scott watched without interrupting.

When Jake resumed, his voice was softer.  “My mom?  She survived in her own dream world.  She didn’t have what she’d grown up wanting but didn’t see many options out of the mess she did have.  She didn’t have any qualifications for a better life, and while what she had was crummy, she learned there was a way to have some of what she wanted.  My defense mechanism was and always had been to get out of the house and stay away as much as I could.  Hers was drugs.  Drugs, drugs and more drugs; and every drug available.  Some she took to ease the pain after being beaten up, some to escape the real world and retreat into a make-believe one the drugs enabled.  It was no surprise that she became addicted. 

“So she became an addict, and that made her life bearable.  Where did I fit in?  I didn’t, really.  She’d never been much of a buffer between Dad and me.  When she became a druggie and was high all the time, I was more a nuisance to her than anything else.  I don’t think she ever loved me for myself, at least not after I was around five years old.  Neither did he.  And I guess a kid knows that pretty early.  He learns to watch out for himself out of need.”

Jake stopped, and Mr. Scott didn’t push.  Much of the recitation had been in a flat, unemotional voice, but the last part had been different.  Jake felt strong emotions about what he was reciting—Mr. Scott could tell.  He allowed Jake time to regroup without any interference. He knew there was much more to the story, questions that hadn’t yet been answered.  He waited.

Jake took his time.  He got up, took his empty can to the kitchen and got another.  He stayed in the kitchen longer than that chore should have taken.  When he finally returned, he appeared more composed than when he’d left.

He sat back down on the couch and looked at Mr. Scott.  He looked like perhaps he was done.  Mr. Scott realized he’d need to prompt him for the part he wanted to know about.

“So you’ve said you spent some time on the streets.  How did that come about, and how long was it?”

Jake nodded.  “I guessed that was what you wanted to know.  What I’ve told you is the background of what comes next; it should make that more understandable.”

He wriggled on the cushions to get more comfortable, then spoke again in the softer voice he’d used earlier.  “Home life was a mess, with my dad usually drunk when he was there.  The fighting with Mom continued, mostly verbal, sometimes physical.  I tried to keep as low a profile as possible, especially when Dad was home.  Tried not to be in the same room as him.

“When I got to middle school, I was bigger, of course.  Nowhere near my dad’s size, of course, and I was still afraid of him.  He thought I was a wimp, and I was, but I was quite skilled at avoiding him by then.  I think the last time he really nailed me was when I was nine.  I became more clever after that.  I was learning the basics of surviving.

“Anyway, I was in middle school.  I’d always liked school.  I was smart.  I don’t know why; neither of my parents were—” he stopped and gave Mr. Scott a sort of embarrassed grin “—was smart.  I didn’t know any of my grandparents; maybe one of them was smart.  But I liked school and did well there.  School was a safe place for me, and life there was as close to a normal life as I could get.  Anyway, when I was 12, I came home and found a police car out in front of the house.  I got a funny feeling in my stomach, seeing it there.  There had been police at our house before, called by neighbors when the shouting between my parents had become too loud and prolonged or when my mom had called them after being beaten on.  Seeing the car there wasn’t that unusual but still something to wonder about.

“I walked into the house and found a lady cop talking to my mom, who was sitting on our couch.  They both turned to look at me when I walked in.  ‘What’s going on?’ I asked.  My mom looked at me with blank eyes and told me my dad was dead.  He’d picked a fight with the wrong guy at a bar.  Dad had asked him to come outside to settle an argument.  The guy had agreed.  Outside, Dad had taken a half-drunken swing at him, the guy had stepped back away and pulled out a gun and shot him three times.  He was dead when the EMTs arrived.

“That was when things changed for me.  I can’t say they changed for the worse because they never were good, but they changed.  We’d never had much money, but when Dad had worked, he brought in some good wages, and there had been the welfare checks.  The work checks were higher, but he just didn’t work steadily enough.  Now, we had just small, inadequate welfare checks coming in, and Mom certainly couldn’t provide an income.  She hadn’t finished high school and wasn’t all that smart to begin with, and there was that nasty drug habit to pay for, too.

“Junkies need their fixes.  Mom did what she had to do to get hers.  She started bringing men home.  Some stayed for a short time; most were only there for the night.”

Jake stopped again.  Mr. Scott could only imagine what it was like, remembering such a life.

“So Mom was turning tricks for money and dope,” Jake continued.   “She’d use most of the money for more dope if she had the opportunity.  I got into the habit of going into her room in the morning when she was still asleep—sometimes alone, sometimes not—and taking some of the money the man had laid on her dresser for what they’d done that night.  Taking that money was the only way I could get food for both of us.”

“Jake . . .” Mr. Scott said, his voice full of compassion.

“That’s okay.  I lived it; talking about it is easier than living it.  Anyway, it wasn’t long before one of the guys she brought home decided she hadn’t been enough for him.  I always locked my door when there were men there, but it was a cheap house with cheap doors, and this guy decided he wanted to do a boy.  He was probably as doped up as she was, although she tended to fall asleep, and he was wide awake and ready for more sex.  Ready for more . . . and I was handy.

“He knocked on the door, and when I yelled through it to go away, he said he’d give me five seconds to open the door; then he was going to kick it open.  Five seconds was plenty enough time for me.  I opened my window that was only about five feet above the ground outside, then ran to the closet.  The guy did kick the door in.  First kick, the door was flimsy and just shattered.  The guy came in; he was naked and half aroused.  I watched him from the closet.  He took a quick look around, saw the window open, and walked to it, stuck his head through, and I came up behind him with my baseball bat.  I swung as hard as I could, aiming for his ribs.  I hit him solidly; I think with a baseball it would have been a home run.

“He screamed.  He tried to pull himself back inside, but with broken ribs, twisting and turning was really painful, and he had to move very slowly.  Anyway, I watched as he tried.  It took him a long time, edging back into the room a slow inch at a time, which he did accompanied with lots of cursing.  During that time, I was stuffing what things I could into my backpack.  I picked it up along with my guitar, and, well, I just left.  I looked in at my mother.  She was asleep, lying naked on her back on the bed.  I heard the man still swearing, still trying to get out of the window and back into my room.  I grabbed what money I could find and was out the door.”

Jake took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  He wasn’t looking at Mr. Scott.  His eyes appeared unfocused, like he was back in that house, in that room, totally absorbed in the past.

“That was the beginning.  From that point on, I was on the streets on my own.  I’d come home sometimes when I had no choice or just to see if she was still alive, but not very often.  I usually could either bum a night or two with a friend or find a safe place to crash.  Eventually, I discovered a mission that took homeless guys, even kids like me who were avoiding the foster system.  I knew I didn’t want that; I’d never liked being told what and what not to do, and if you’re staying at a place that has a lot of rules, it’s their way or the highway.  So I didn’t stay there all that often.  One way or another, I got by.”

“But clothing.  Food.  School.  How could you just, well, survive?”

“I managed.  I spent a lot of time in the town library.  Got to know the librarians really well.  They gave me a part-time job after they’d seen I was responsible, so I made a little money doing that.  I read a lot.  The only hope I had for anything at all good for me in the future would be an education, and I was in the library anyway.  Why not take advantage of that and read?  So I read.  All the time.  Good books, too.”

Mr. Scott smiled.  “Now I understand why you use words I’ve never heard any other teenager use before.”

Jake didn’t smile back but nodded.  “Yeah, you read all those books, you do learn a lot of vocabulary if you don’t mind looking up words you don’t know.  Clothes—you can get them cheap at the Goodwill and places like that.  I couldn’t afford anything else.  I got free breakfast and lunch at school and saved some of my lunch for dinner.  I got by.  You can get by if you don’t give up and start using your wits.

“There was a downside to having no money, no decent clothes, no place to invite kids to.  I couldn’t hang with them after school when they went for food because I didn’t have the money.  I wasn’t able to dress like they did, either.  My friends had lots of time on their hands and computers to play video games and money to spend on trivial junk, and I didn’t have any of that.  So, pretty quickly, I became a loner.  No real friends.  I got used to that, though.  Got so I didn’t mind being alone.”

He saw more compassion in Mr. Scott’s eyes and quickly finished.  “Anyway, that’s about it.  I got by, and then this—” he spread his arms out, signaling his current circumstances “—went down.  You know about that, don’t you?”

“The bare-bones,” Mr. Scott said.  “That you witnessed a crime and are being given a safe haven here until the trial.”

“That’s it.  It was scary when it was happening, when I saw it happening and then right after when the guy was trying to find me and kill me, but I’m over that now.  I’m just waiting for the trial.”

“And what comes after that?”

Jake almost smiled, although there was nothing at all to smile about.  “Your guess is as good as mine.”

=  =  =


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