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Of who could that be? I thought, trying to maintain an outward calm. It was not working.
Her body stiffened. "Who is that?" she asked.
"I don't know, Honey," I said, taking a magazine from the
wall rack. "Look at this with me. The first one to see a
"I lost the feeling," Katie said, starting to climb off the
"No, Honey," I said as gently as I could. "Just keep
trying. Conor will get it." I was squatting in front of her
leafing through pages as a distraction. She sat back down.
"Conor, answer the door!" I called.
"Conor!" I called a notch higher.
"Dad! I'm trying to beat this guy!" he yelled up from the
"Oh, Katie," I said with exasperation. "I'm going to get
the door. You keep trying."
"No, Daddy. I'm coming."
"No, you stay here." I rose and left the bathroom.
She rose, pulled up her pants and followed.
I opened the front door to see one of the mothers from
"Alice. Come in," I said holding the door for her. "How
"Not good," she said stepping into the hallway. "Your
son Brett called my Garrett a fag and punched him."
"Where?" I asked.
"Excuse me?" She looked at me as if I had spoken a
"I mean...Is he alright?"
"Physically, he is. But, he is very upset. I think Brett
owes him an apology. As soon as possible!"
Katie clung to my leg. I patted her on the back. "Well,
uh...let me talk to him about what happened. But uh...look,
I'm sorry...Would you stay for a cup of coffee?"
"No," she answered defensively, heading for the door.
"I'm upset too. I just thought you should know. They've
been friends a long time. So have we." She gave me that
look again and left.
From the top of the basement stairs, Conor said, "Who
put the bat up her butt?"
"Conor! Cool it with the butt talk. She is right, you
"She is right, you know," he mimicked and disappeared
back down the stairs.
I returned my attention to Katie. "Do you want to try
"No, Daddy. I don't have to."
"Oh, Katie. It's been three days."
"I don't have to," she insisted.
"No, you don't have to. But it's got to come out."
Suddenly, Brett burst in the back door bounding with
defensive energy, three friends in tow. They had seen
Garrett's mom depart.
"Dad!" Brett spat. "I didn't do anything!"
"Wait a minute," I said, trying to steer control my way.
"No, Dad. I was just protecting Joey. Garrett was going
spaz on him. Right?" he said to Joey, who stood four inches
shorter than the other boys did.
"That's right," Joey said, forcing angelic assuredness.
Timothy and Liam O'Toole each nodded rapid
affirmation. "Yep. Yep. We were there."
"Just hold on, fellas."
"Quiet!" I snapped, with palms down, lowering my hands
in an attempt to reduce their intensity. I looked at Joey.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah," he said with an expression suggesting I need not
"How was Garrett going spaz on you?" I continued.
"He was punching him in the back," Brett said.
"Brett! Please!" I looked him hard in the eye then again
to Joey I asked, "Why did he hit you?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know. He was just hitting you for no reason?"
"Yeah...well, no." The boys looked from one to the
"Did you guys call him a fag?" I asked.
"He is a fag," Brett said.
"I don't know about that. And even if he is, so what?" I
"Oh, come on, Dad. Are you saying you'd hang out with
"Yeah. And don't call them fags."
"What am I supposed to call them?"
"How about calling him by his name and treating him like
a friend. You've all known him since you were four years
"So, friends don't grow on trees. And I want you all to think about how he feels right now. People get hurt inside
and it takes a long time to heal. And another thing, I don't
like the hitting. You can kill somebody with one punch."
"Yeah right, Dad," Brett mocked. "You know what
you're talking about."
"I do. And I know that until you call Garrett and work
this out, you're grounded. That means you guys have to go."
"Yes, Mr. Shane," the boys complied and headed for the
"No!" Brett insisted.
"Brett, it's simple. If you call Garrett, you're not
"I'm not calling him."
"This sucks," he snapped, punched the bathroom door
with the back of his hand then stomped off to his bedroom.
An hour later, I walked into his room to be met by a wall
of distorted guitar and mega bass noise blasting from his
compact disc player. The nearly undecipherable lyrics were
delivered in horror movie fashion: "DIE! DIE!"
"Uh gee...that's pretty music," I suggested sarcastically
then turned the CD player down from 8 to 4.
"Come on, Dad." Brett sprang up from a lying position on his bed. "I can't hear it!"
"They can hear it in Mexico, pal." I listened for a few
more seconds then turned it off. "Actually, I want you to
listen to me good."
"Noooo....you're not giving me a lecture. Are you?"
"Yeah, I am."
"Ohhh," he groaned and hung his legs over the side of the
I sat next to him. We sat the same way. Our shoulders
touched at the same height and for a moment it was the way
it used to be. "I remember the first time you and Garrett saw
each other. It was like two friendly puppies met...Ha. You
could almost see your tails wagging."
Brett stood up quickly and walked to the other side of the
room. "Alright, alright, alright, alright! Enough talking! I'll
"What's the matter, Brett? We used to talk all the time."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Sure there is." Our eyes met and for a brief moment
there was hope.
Then from downstairs, Conor shatteringly roared, "Dad!
Come quick! Katie just tipped over a whole thing of milk."
"Oh shit!" I said and ran out the bedroom door. The wall
of noise from Brett's CD player returned and hit me in the
The next morning, I asked Brett if he had called Garrett.
He had not.
"Call him," I said. But by that afternoon, he still had not.
"Call him by tonight," I said. He said he would, but he did
The next morning I said, "Brett, I want you to call
Garrett today." He said he would call. He had not called by
late afternoon. Again, I told him to call.
At 6:45 p.m., Brett apparently decided his grounding had ended because he was in our basement with his girlfriend
Peggy. Timothy and Liam were also there.
"Did you call Garrett?" I asked.
"No," he snapped. "And, I'm not going to call that fat
"Excuse us!" I said, addressing his friends then to Brett I
continued, "I want to see you upstairs."
He begrudgingly complied.
We went into the dining room. "Look Pal, I love you.
But, you are wrong here. You've hurt Garrett's feelings and
all I'm asking you to do is call him. Why is that so hard to
He said nothing and stared sullenly at me.
"Well, you're still grounded and I'm going to ask your
friends to leave."
"Yes!" I turned to deliver that message but he grabbed
my arm and turned me about.
"Fuck you, Dad! You can't tell me what to do!"
"Hey! I'm not afraid of you and telling you what to do
is my job! If you want a piece of me, come on!"
He charged me, rammed his body into my chest and
slammed me into the wall, its plaster strength yielding not a
hair yet my left shoulder caving in at least an inch. Then he ran
through the kitchen punching cabinets and the refrigerator
into the living room where he knocked over a wooden chair,
before two stepping up the stairs yelling and swearing the
As I shook off the blow, I turned to notice Conor and
Katie staring at me with eyes as wide as saucers. "Wow,"
Conor said. "Are you going to kill him?"
"Is he going to kill you?"
"No, no. It's alright. I'll take care of it." But as I went
down to the basement I was unsure of how. As a hollow pain
from my shoulder began to creep in, I said to Brett's friends,
"You guys have to go." They all responded immediately.
While we rapidly walked up the basement stairs and through
the kitchen to the back door, I continued, "I'm sorry for this upset. I know he's headstrong but I'm not asking for a lot
here. Hopefully, he'll catch up with you soon."
"It's okay, Mr. Shane," Peggy said just before Brett burst
into the room barking, "I'm going with them, Dad, and you
can't tell me I'm not!"
"You're not going out, Son!"
"The fuck I'm not!" He turned for the door but I quickly
reached out and grabbed his right wrist. He reflexively reeled
about with his left fist flying.
"Brett, no!" Timothy cried a split second before Brett hit
me on the bridge of the nose, breaking it with the blow.
Responsibility kept me on my feet. His friends ran out the
door as I grabbed his sweatshirt at the chest and lifted him off
the ground. He kicked, punched, spat, swore and screamed
while I carried him at a run into the living room. In the midst,
Katie very nervously cried, running out of the way and to her
mother who had just arrived while Conor stood safely to the
side watching in twisted fascination. Without releasing Brett,
I threw him, aided by momentum and his weight, into a
recliner, which upon impact sprang open fully to slide
forcefully at its pointed corner into the wall, which now gave
way into crumbling, small plaster balls. My grip remained
iron solid. He could not move and protested loudly.
Looking deeply into his eyes, I got even louder. "Do you feel
how strong I am ? Huh? Huh?! You know I'm not going to
hurt you? Huh? HUH?!"
He gave one last concerted burst of protest before I
yelled, "Calm down. Calm down! I love you. I love you. I
love you. I LOVE YOU! Okay?"
He nodded, slowly gaining focus. I could see his anger or
maybe just his strength dissipate.
"I'm not giving up, Brett. Never! I'm always going to be
there for you." I let go of his sweatshirt and climbed off him
only to immediately pace. He started to get up. "Don't
move!" I ordered, just realizing how rapidly my heart and
head were pounding.
That is when we started, or should I say restarted, to talk.
For you see, it was not so long before this that Brett and I
had been the best of buddies. Now, we reached back for that
in need as we talked for hours about responsibility, sensitivity
and, most of all, what we meant to each other.
That evening, he called Garrett. The following day, I was
sitting at the kitchen table playing poker with Conor when
Brett and his friends walked by. "Hi, Mr. Shane," a familiar
voice said. It was Garrett. Once again, he was part of the
group as if nothing had happened.
As for me, my nose bled for a week. Over three weeks,
my right eye, after the swelling went down, turned a range of
colors from purple/black to mustard yellow. My left shoulder
hurt for half a year. But had I let Brett walk out the door that day, I would have lost him forever.
Copyright 1999 Edward A. Shaw