What was thought to be a Halloween prank turns out to be a homophobic slur.
Will Darryl be able to prove who did it?
It was just after 8:00 and the last trick-or-treaters had come to our door about 15 minutes earlier. I walked to the table by the door and looked in the large bowl that had started out heaped full of candy but now was nearly empty.
I looked into the living room and saw my best friend, my boyfriend actually, lying on the rug with his eyes closed, listening to his iPod. “Hey, Greg!”
“Huh?” He opened his eyes and pulled out one earbud.
“How much candy have you been giving to each kid? There’s almost none left.”
“I don’ know, maybe four, five pieces.”
“You’re way too generous, man.”
“Hey, they’re little kids. Ya always hafta be nice to little kids.”
My mom sat at the dining room table doing homework for one of her classes. “Mom, do we have any more candy?”
She looked up from her textbook. “There may be some that your sister set aside in the kitchen. But I think we’ve seen the last of the kids tonight. It’s probably time to turn off the porch light.”
“Why don’t we wait until 8:30? Some of the older kids might still be going around. You don’t want them to TP the house because we weren’t giving out candy, do you?”
“Good grief, do kids still do that?”
“Debbie Briggs’ house got it last month. It was her 16th birthday.”
“Well, when your 16th birthday comes around we’ll have to hire a guard to make sure that doesn’t happen to our house. Your father would definitely not be pleased. And you’d end up having to clean up the mess.” She laughed. “I can just see you climbing a ladder to get high enough in our trees to pull the TP down. Just think about all those trees we have out front. Then you would definitely not be pleased!” She laughed again.
“That’s mean, Mom!”
“No, that’s funny, Darryl!”
Greg snickered. “I agree with your mom. It’s way funny, man!”
“Anyway, it doesn’t happen to guys, just to girls, and usually the night of their 16th birthday party.”
I heard some guys talking outside, indistinct like they were on the front sidewalk. “Hey, I hear some voices outside. I’ll bet they’ll ring the bell in a few seconds. Sounds like a couple of guys. Good thing we still have some candy bars left.”
I pulled down my horror mask and waited for them to come on the porch and ring the doorbell or knock on the door.
Mom walked over and stood in the entrance to the living room. “Where are they, Darryl?”
“I don’t know, maybe they were just walking past.” I looked out the little peephole in our front door. “I don’t see anyone.”
Greg got up and joined me. “I hear them. They’re outside. Whoever it is must still be here.” He grabbed my arm and shook me. “They’re TP-ing your house, man! Mrs. Dunbar, where do you keep a tall ladder? We gotta get it out quick so Darryl can get the TP down!” He and Mom burst out laughing.
I heard voices again, and they sounded familiar. “Hey, quiet, I hear them again.”
Greg and Mom stood next to me. Greg poked me in the arm. “I hear ’em too.”
We listened, and heard most of what they were saying.
“Come on, this is gonna be fun.”
“Leggo of me! What the hell you doin’?… Jer, what are you doin’, man?”
“Jus’ havin’ a li’l fun.”
“That’s wrong, man. I’m outta here.”
After a delay of about 30 seconds or so, we heard,
“Curt! Hey… where are you? Curt?”
Then we heard the sound of running. “Let’s go see what’s going on.” I opened the door, grabbed Greg’s arm, and we went outside. Mom followed us.
Greg giggled. “Well, no TP. Guess we won’t need that ladder, Mrs. Dunbar!”
“I don’t see anyth….” I walked into the driveway and turned around. We'd turned on the outside lights so the kids could see we were home, and they lit up the front of our house. There, in black spray paint, crudely painted on our white garage door, were the words ‘FAGS LIVE HERE’.
“Damn! I know the assholes that did this.”
“Darryl, don’t swear!” A typical Mom’s reaction.
“Yeah, well look at what they did!” I pointed at the garage door.
Mom and Greg walked to the driveway and stared at the door.
“I recognized their voices. Jeremy Jaffe did this. And the other guy was Curtis Pender. Let’s call the cops and have them arrested!”
Mom sighed. “Darryl, you don’t have any proof. You think you heard their names, but that’s not enough.”
“I have the proof.” The voice came from beyond the hedge alongside our driveway. A guy walked around the hedge. I recognized him, Kyle Secrest. He lived on the next block, and same as me and Greg went to Hillcrest. We’re freshmen and he’s a senior, so I didn’t know him well, just to say ‘hi’ whenever we saw each other.
Mom asked him, “What kind of proof?”
“I’ve got video of that asshole.” He stopped for a second and looked at Mom and looked embarrassed. “Uh, sorry ma’am. Excuse the language, please. Anyway, Jeremy sprayed your garage door. It seems like the other guy, uh, his name’s Curt?”
“Yeah, Curtis Pender.”
“Anyway, Curt didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with it.”
“Can we see this video?” That’s Mom, acting like a lawyer. Of course, she is a lawyer.
“Sure.” Kyle turned to me. “You got a TV with an HDMI input I can use to hook up my video camera?”
“It has HDMI out?”
“Yeah, it’s a new Sony model. It’s got just about everything.”
“Cool. Come on in. We’ve got an HD-TV with HDMI input. You have your HDMI cable?”
“Yup.” He pointed to a small camera bag slung over his shoulder. “Right here.”
It took less than half a minute to connect the camcorder to our TV and to see the video on the screen. At first the picture was pretty dark even though our outside lights were on, but then it was like it had become daylight.
We watched the video and listened to the conversation between Jeremy and Curt.
“Wow, just wow!” Greg exclaimed as we watched Jeremy sneak, though I guess it was really walk, up our driveway and pull a spray can out of a trick-or-treat bag, and then we could see Curt following him. “Man, Kyle, that looks like it’s daytime!”
Kyle grinned, and I could tell he was proud of his camcorder. “Yeah, this camera has something called ‘Nightshot’ that lets me take vids almost no matter how dark it is. Oh, look… here’s where Curt grabs his arm and tries to pull him back from the garage door. When Jeremy shakes him off and turns back to your garage door Curt takes off. You can see him heading south on Laurel. And now we’re back to where Jeremy sprays your garage door, then he notices Curt’s gone and he starts running north on Laurel. I guess he didn’t know which way Curt went. Or probably he was just trying to get away as fast as he could.”
The video ended, and Mom asked to see it again. When it started she turned up the volume and shushed us so she could hear their conversation. It was exactly the same conversation we’d heard earlier.
When the second pass finished, Mom turned to Kyle. “Can you give me a copy of that video?”
Again, Kyle looked at me. “Do you have a DVD recorder?”
“Yup. I’m not sure how to record off an HDMI input, though. Lemme check.”
I pulled out and began thumbing through the DVD recorder manual. Turned out to be real easy, just plug-and-play. Kyle reset to where he’d recorded Jeremy and Curt, I inserted a blank DVD-R disk, pressed the Record button, and a few minutes later we played the DVD back. It turned out perfect. I ejected it and handed it to Mom. “What are you going to do now?”
“Well, I need Jeremy’s address and phone number. Do you have it, Darryl?”
“He’s sure not my friend, so I don’t have it.”
Greg jumped in. “Sure you do, so do I, so does Kyle, and so does your Mom. It’s in the student list on the school website. We got our login and password at registration. And parents got their own login. Remember?”
“Jeez, I never paid any attention to that part. So we just go online and there’s the list of everyone?”
“Maybe not,” Kyle said. “Any student can be left off the list if their folks don’t sign the approval form when they register. That’s one of the reasons that parents or guardians have to come to registration. Or if they’re absent the day the pictures are taken.”
Mom looked at Kyle. “So, this Jeremy might or might not be on the list, and I can use my login to see the entire list and find out?”
Kyle grinned. Sure! Just use your parent login and password.”
“I’m going to my office to see if Jeremy Jaffe is on the list, and if he is I'll phone his parents.” She turned to Kyle. “Thank you so much, Kyle. Your video camera gave me what I need to get our garage door cleaned up.” She paused for a few seconds. “I’m wondering, by what piece of luck were you here with your video camera tonight?”
“I got this camera for my birthday last week, and I wanted to try using it at night. I was taking videos of the Halloween decorations and some of the little kids in their costumes.” He opened the LCD display and started playback.
Greg was impressed. “Man, that was fast! How’d you rewind it so quick?”
“It’s got a hard drive, so I don’t have to rewind it the way I would if it used tape. I just repositioned it at a bookmark I’d set. Here, you can see some of my real Halloween video.” He turned the LCD so Mom could see it.
“My, that’s very impressive. It's so clear. Oh, what cute costumes on those two little boys. Well, that's enough. I’m going to go make that phone call. I’ll let you know what I find out. Darryl, why don’t you offer Kyle something to drink or eat. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I wondered if Mom was impressed enough to get me a video camera for my birthday.
I led the way to the kitchen.
“What do you guys want? We’ve got Coke and root beer, and maybe 7-Up.”
Greg and Kyle both said a Coke would be fine. I got them their Cokes, grabbed a root beer for myself, pulled out a bag of chips, and poured a jar of salsa into a bowl for easy dipping. We sat at the kitchen table to have our snack and talked about school stuff while we waited for Mom to tell us the results of her phone call. About 20 minutes later she joined us.
“You want something to drink, Mom?”
“No, thanks, but thank you for asking, Darryl.”
Arrrgh! Why do parents do things like that? By thanking me for asking if she wanted something to drink I’m sure she thought she was complimenting me in front of Kyle. Thing is, it really implied that I hardly ever say things like that. I could tell that’s what Kyle was thinking, because he grinned just a little. I know when I’m a parent I’ll never say things like that to my kids in front of their friends.
Anyway, I wanted to know what she’d found out.
“So, did you talk to Jeremy’s folks?”
“Yes, I did. And I talked to Curtis and his parents as well. First, in fact. They were both very interesting phone conversations, and I think you’ll be pleased when you hear the outcome.”
“You talked to Curt and his folks? Where’d you get his phone number?”
“When I went on the school website I found Jeremy’s address, so I looked up Curtis Pender and found it as well.”
“Okay. So, tell us what you talked about and the outcome.” I turned and looked at Greg and Kyle. “All three of us are curious.”
“Alright. I decided to phone Curtis Pender first. Since he tried to stop Jeremy and left when Jeremy painted the garage door I thought he might make a good witness. He answered the phone when I called, and said his folks had friends over and could he take a message. I asked if I was speaking with Curtis Pender, and he said yes. I told him we heard him and Jeremy Jaffe talking in our driveway and have a video of Jeremy painting ‘fags live here’ on our garage door. His reaction was, ‘A video? Man, Jer’s gonna be toast.’ He told me that he tried to stop Jeremy, and when he couldn't he left. It’s the same as we saw on the video. He said I could use his name when I call Jeremy’s parents if his parents agreed. I spoke with them and they said that Curtis had told them what happened when he got home. My conversation with him confirmed that Curtis didn’t have anything to do with what’s painted on our garage door. They agreed that I could use Curtis' name when I talked to Jeremy Jaffe's parents.
“Next I phoned Jeremy’s parents. His father answered the phone, I told him who I was and that we had a video of his son Jeremy painting ‘fags live here’ on our garage door tonight. He was furious that Jeremy would do something like that. He was very apologetic, and asked me to hold on. He got Jeremy on another phone and asked him if he’d painted ‘fags live here’ on a garage door. Jeremy said ‘No!’ His father asked him if he’d like to reconsider his answer. Jeremy asked ‘Why?’ I guess he knew he’d been found out somehow. His father told him that there was a video showing him spray painting our garage door. He then asked me for our address, and if it would be alright if he and Jeremy came right over. I said yes. He said they’ll be here by nine. I’m not sure what he wants to do. Probably have Jeremy clean our garage door.”
I laughed. “I’ll bet Jeremy is grounded until he’s 21.”
Kyle looked at Mom. “What if it won’t clean off? Some of that spray paint is permanent.”
“I’d ask them to pay to have it repainted.”
“Yeah, that might be necessary and would probably be better than just trying to clean off the paint.”
“I think,” I said, “he should be made to write a story for the school newspaper about what he did and why that wasn’t appropriate.”
“And make him join the GSA club and attend every meeting,” Kyle added.
Greg had been very quiet. But he asked something that I hadn’t thought about. “So the garage door gets repainted, and Jeremy is grounded. What does he do for you, Darryl? He ought’ta do something extra. There really needs to be payback for what he did.”
I looked at my boyfriend and grinned. “You’re right. You have any idea what he could do?”
“He’s a teen, you’re a teen, he could do something you have to do. Like mow the lawn, or…”
I interrupted Greg. “That’s perfect! Make him mow our lawn every week for a month. Or how about for a year?”
Greg and I high-fived, and Kyle started laughing. “Make him do it with a push mower, you know, the manual kind. No power mower. That would be perfect payback for what he did.”
Mom stepped into the conversation. “Nice try, Darryl. I like your idea, but no way you’ll get off doing the mowing for a year. I think a month is good. Nice try, Kyle, but we don’t have a manual push mower, just an electric power mower.”
We were interrupted by the doorbell.
“You guys come into the living room.” She turned to Kyle. “If you’d prefer to leave, that’s okay. But you’re welcome to stay.”
Kyle grinned. “I’d like to stay to hear what Jeremy and his father have to say.”
“Good!” Now, let me answer the door.”
Mom brought Jeremy and his dad into the living room and I introduced myself, Greg as my boyfriend, and Kyle as our friend. Jeremy sat next to his dad and hung his head down. He seemed very embarrassed. Mr. Jaffe looked like a construction worker and definitely not someone you’d want to have mad at you. Despite his size, he didn’t seem like someone who would yell a lot, and he didn’t glare at Jeremy.
I stood and asked, “Would anyone like something to drink? We have sodas, and we can make coffee if anyone would like that.”
Everyone said ‘no, thanks’ so I sat down.
Mr. Jaffe stood, and put his very large left hand across the back of Jeremy’s neck. That would freak me if he did that to me, let me tell you! But the way he did it with Jeremy seemed different. He held his hand softly across Jeremy’s neck; a connection from a father to his son, showing that despite what Jeremy did, his dad still loved him. I thought that was very cool.
“First, I’d like to apologize for myself and our family for what our son did to your garage door. There’s no excuse for what he did, and for lying to you, Mrs. Dunbar, and to me, when you called this evening. Jeremy is being punished, and that’s something between me and my wife and Jeremy. Jeremy will pay for professionally cleaning or repainting your garage door. We have a tarp that Jeremy will tape to your garage door tonight to hide the homophobic insult that he wrote there. He will write a letter of apology to you for damaging your home, Mrs. Dunbar. He will hand deliver it to you tomorrow evening. He will also write a separate letter of apology to your son.” He turned and looked at me, and continued, “Darryl, right?”
“Yes, Mr. Jaffe.”
“Jeremy and I had a talk on the way here. One way he will provide restitution is to pay for cleaning the garage door. He will also do something specifically for you, Darryl. Now, one of the things Jeremy hates to do more than anything else is mowing the lawn. Right, Jeremy?”
Oh, my god! Exactly what we’d talked about before he and Jeremy got here!
“Now, Darryl, Jeremy’s taunt was directed at you, that you're gay and that you have a boyfriend. There’s no reason for him to have done that. So what he did to you, Darryl, I absolutely can’t understand. I have a question for you. Do you mow the lawn for your folks?”
“Yes, every week. I do it on Saturday mornings.” I bit my tongue to keep from grinning.
Mr. Jaffe turned to face Mom. “So, here’s what I propose, Mrs. Dunbar. With your approval, Jeremy will come here every Saturday morning, at a time convenient to Darryl, for the next seven weeks. He will mow your lawn, front and back, using your power mower, the same that Darryl would use. I’d appreciate it if Darryl would show Jeremy where to mow, and anything special about your lawn, and check his work each Saturday. I’m not going to ask Jeremy to do any edging or trimming, just mowing the lawn. Is that acceptable?”
Mom looked at me. “Is that okay with you, Darryl?”
I nodded to Mom, and answered Mr. Jaffe’s question, “Sure. We can start this coming Saturday. I always start at 8:30 so I have most of the day left to do what I want. I have one question, Mr. Jaffe. Why seven weeks instead of eight, when eight would be two months?”
“The eighth Saturday would be Christmas, December 25th. I think it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make Jeremy mow your lawn on Christmas morning. Do you agree?”
Mom and I replied “Yes” at exactly the same time, then grinned at each other.
Mr. Jaffe looked at his son. “Jeremy, do you agree?”
“Then I think it’s time for you to stand up and apologize to Mrs. Dunbar and Darryl.”
Jeremy stood and looked up. “I’m sorry I acted so stupid, painting what I did on your garage door, Mrs. Dunbar. I’m especially sorry that I did this to you guys, Darryl and Greg. It was supposed to be a practical joke. But I guess it wasn’t very funny. I’m always trying to be a comic. But this wasn’t appropriate.” Jeremy looked down, and in almost a whisper he said, “I hope you accept my apology. I really didn’t mean anything by it. I have gay friends at school, and they’re always saying ‘fag’ to each other. I thought you guys would think it was funny, too. I mean, you’re gay, and… jeez, I guess all I can say is it was real stupid of me and I’m sorry I did it. I should have listened to Curt.”
I suggested that Jeremy should join the GSA club at school and put that in his written apology, and Jeremy and his dad both said that was an excellent idea. Mom and I accepted Jeremy’s apology with that addition, and Greg said that he accepted it too. We went outside to watch Jeremy put a painter's tarp over the "Fags live here" that he'd painted on the garage door, and he and his dad left. Because Monday was a school day, Greg and Kyle also headed home, and I went to bed.
On Saturday morning Jeremy showed up at 8:30, and I showed him the mower, where to mow, and how I did it. He was fine with that. I followed his mowing by doing the edging, and after we each had a root beer. Yeah, I finally found someone else who likes root beer. Anyway, Jeremy and I talked about all kinds of things after he finished mowing, and that's what we did each Saturday. Greg and Curt started coming over and the four of us ended up becoming good friends. Jeremy is funny. He’s always telling silly jokes, and says he knows a million of ‘em and I believe him. Hey, he’s my friend, why shouldn’t I?
When you think about it, what ended up is sort of a weird payback for what Jeremy did. It turned out to be the best kind of payback, a couple of new friends. Cool.
~~ The End ~~
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