I woke up the next morning thinking that I needed to pee. I got out of bed just as Uncle Jared came out of the bathroom. I smiled and walked into the bathroom and relieved myself. I stripped down and jumped in the shower, I washed up as fast as I could, I turned off the shower as the water became cold. I stepped out and saw my Uncle Jared standing at the sink shaving. I couldn’t help but stare at the tattoos on his arm and shoulder.
“Like them?” He asked.
“Yeah, they are cool.”
“Tell that to your Grandma. She just about killed me when she saw them a few months ago.”
I laughed as I imagined that scene. Yeah, I could see Grandma doing that. Uncle Jared may tower over her, but Grandma is pretty intimidating. Especially when she gets that look in her eye. I saw that look once at Wal-Mart, I never want to have that look directed towards me. When Uncle Jared was done, I got a quick shave myself, not that I had a good deal to shave.
Uncle Jared and I went into the kitchen and saw Grandma and Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. They both smiled, but you can tell they were the forced kind of smiles. I couldn't help feeling it was all my fault.
"It’s Sunday boys and you’re not dressed for church. You have half an hour.” Grandma said as she refilled hers and Grandpa's coffee cups.
We executed an about face and trudged back up the stairs. I took after my Uncle Jared’s lead and put on a pair of tan khakis and a light blue dress shirt. Slipped on my loafers and went both went downstairs.
“Better.” Grandma said not even looking up until Grandpa snickered. Her look silenced him immediately.
“Well, it won’t hurt us to be early.” She said standing up.
Uncle Jared rolled his eyes, turned and went through the house grabbing the Jeep keys and out the front door. I was close on his heels with Grandpa and Grandma behind us. Surprisingly, they got in the back seat. Uncle Jared smiled at me and got in the driver's seat I rode shotgun and off we went. It was nearly a ten-minute ride, if that long, to the Hazard Presbyterian Church.
I had never been in a Church before and had no idea what to expect. My mother never took me to church, other than for clothes or food and stuff. When it came to Joe, the only time he talked about God was a few Jesus Christ's, Oh God's and God Damn It's.
I wasn't sure if I even believed in God. The way I see it, if there was a God. Where has he been my whole life? I mean, let's get real here people. I am fifteen almost sixteen, where has he been for the nearly sixteen years. I don't know if there's a heaven, I am damn sure I recognize there is a hell. I have been living it my whole life.
We pulled up to the church. My Grandparents opened the doors and I followed their lead. My Uncle Jared placed his hand on my shoulder and said "Wait. We're just letting the old folks out. We'll go park and meet them in front of the church." I closed the door and sat back down.
We parked the Jeep down on a side street in a parking lot beside another church and then we walked the short distance back. The Church was a large brick building. Though it wasn't ornate as some churches. There was no misunderstanding what it was.
There were small houses all around the church. Their wood siding was in contrast with the brick church, but for some reason the church seemed to fit in with its surroundings. I felt my body shudder as we approached the people gathering in front of the building.
We crossed the street and found my Grandparents waiting with a small group of people. Some their age, some of them were younger. I must have stopped because I felt Uncle Jared’s hand on my back pushing me forward. I have to admit I was extremely nervous.
It's not that I don't like crowds. Ok, I don't but I have my reasons. I always get the feeling that people are always judging me. That they already made their opinion of me, that I am not good enough to be in their presence and be around their children. It's happened so many times before. Probably will happen again too.
Every time I thought I had made a new friend, I would then meet the parents. The following day the kids would pretty much just ignore me. After so many times that this has happened, I just stayed to myself. It was easier that way than having to deal with the rejection. Better to not make friends then to feel the rejection. Why even bother, right?
My Grandma smiled as we approached and I couldn't help but smile back as we approached them. When my Grandma smiled I couldn't help but feel good inside. That good feeling didn't last long though.
In a group a few yards away was Ruth and Uncle Teddy talking to another group who seemed like clones of each other, either way the looks I got when they saw me wasn't one that was friendly. I was doing my usual thing. I just looked down at my feet.
Uncle Jared noticed my change in attitude and whispered in my ear. "Fuck her Noah. She can't hurt you."
Grandma introduced me to a few of the people around her as we stood outside the church. I mumbled a hello back and shook a few hands before we went into the church. I was still feeling the glares of Aunt Ruth and her friends, though I notice Uncle Teddy was frowning when she said whatever she said.
Grandma led us into the church and to the front row pew. Aunt Ruth and family followed a few people behind us. I could hear her remarks. Just the sound of her voice made my stomach go into knots. It was bad enough that I was in unfamiliar surroundings but she had to make sure I felt worse.
The interior of the church was simple white walls with wood paneling a quarter of the way up three set of pews. Grandma led us towards the first Pew. Ruth must have been expecting to sit in the 'Family Pew', but one look at me she sat across the aisle from us with her trademark disgusted look on her over made up face.
The service was long with lots of standing, kneeling and sitting. I had no idea what to do so I just followed everyone elses lead. I didn't know the hymns that were sung, but I tried my best. The sermon or homily, whatever you call it, was short. The Pastor talked about walking in Jesus's and God's light. The one Part that I remember the most and stay's with me to this day is “'Walking in Jesus's and God's light means to do it with a clean heart and good intentions. Without that then you are nothing but in his shadow.”
After the service was over Grandma greeted a few more people and introduced me as we slowly made our way out. Some seemed genuine, but I felt very exposed, like I was standing there naked. The Pastor was at the door greeting people. Once more, I felt my stomach knot up. I felt as though he was going to take a look at me and see that I am not good enough to be in his church. He was going to tell me “Sinner be gone from here.” I knew for sure that he was going to tell my Grandma “I was trouble and to send me away.”
When it came to be our turn to pass through those doors, I fought the urge to run through them and down the ramp to the street. My Grandma greeted the Pastor. They chatted for a second, then I was introduced. I looked up as I said hello and remembered that he was the one who presided over my mother's funeral yesterday. I remember the words he had said at the end of his sermon. I felt like I was in the shadow.
"I am glad you could visit us today, Noah. I want you to know that if ever you need anything or someone to talk to I am always here for you." He smiled as he greeted me. I felt confident that meant just what he said. I could tell the difference between someone who just said words and those who meant what the side. I mumble my thank you and shook his hand.
I waited with my Grandparents in front of the church as Uncle Jared went to get the Jeep. Grandpa's arm was resting on my shoulder, I felt for the first time that I was being seen as a person and not some trash left on the curb. That ended soon enough. One of the women who was talking to Ruth before church came up to my Grandma. She was dressed like one of those women from one of those high fashion magazines.
"Eva, Seth, how nice it is to see you. I am sorry I missed Emily’s Funeral. I had my daughter's birthday celebration yesterday and just couldn't get away. I am sure you all understand." She said in a tone that pretty much said she actually wouldn't have been caught near it and would have made any excuse if she didn't have one.
"It's quite alright Elizabeth. We all have our priorities." Grandma said smiling.
I got to admit Grandma doesn't miss a beat and always has a way of putting people in their place. I especially enjoyed it because, one she was one of Ruth's friends and two she pretty much acted as though I was invisible.
"This is our grandson, Noah. He is going to be living with us until his Uncle is done, with his tour in the Marines." Grandpa said.
I was also a bit confused. I wanted to know what that meant exactly. Was I just there until Uncle Jared got out? Was I going to be sent packing when that happened? Grandma shot him a look that said shut up.
"Yes of course it is. Ruth told me about him." She said not even looking at me.
I felt even more invisible if that was even possible. I looked around and saw people looking over at us. At that very second I wished I really was invisible.
"Ruth tells a lot of people things. Mostly things that should not be told." Grandpa said.
I was surprised that came from Grandpa. He doesn't say much to begin with and when he does it's never said with ill will. Grandpa is one of those people who keeps his thoughts close and chooses what he says carefully. I didn't believe he could say anything with malice. Even though that wasn't exactly said with malice, it wasn't exactly pleasant either.
I was happy when Uncle Jared drove up to the curb to pick us up. I think my Grandparents were just as happy. We piled in, again I am riding shotgun and Grandparents in the back.
"The diner?" my Uncle said.
"No. I don't think I will be able to take much more of Ruth's friend's greetings." Grandma said.
"Noah, will you mark this date down on the calendar. Your Grandmother is allowing people to take control."
"Point taken, Jared. Huddle House it is then."
After another ten-minute drive, we pulled into the parking lot in a strip mall area. The Huddle House itself was in a separate parking lot as was the building itself. The lot was half full as we were able to park close to the door. We parked the car and walked in. The restaurant wasn't very full yet. So we were seated very quickly.
Uncle Jared told me that it was a favorite place to eat after church so we were lucky to beat the crowd and get a table so fast.
"Considering you were driving as though you had the devil behind you, the only way to get here before us was to fly. Though I swear it felt as though we were at times." Grandma commented with a chuckle.
"Well, Ruth was behind me, if that's what you mean." My Uncle said.
"Ruth may be a bit too much to take at this moment, Jared but she is your sister, do I need to remind you of that." Grandma said as she looked at the menu.
"Not by my choice. As far as I am concerned if I can forget that Ruth is my sister all the better."
Grandma looked over the top of the menu at Uncle Jared. She didn't say a word, but the look said gave him was enough and what it said was a lot. She understood what Jared felt, but was still sad he felt that way. As if on cue Ruth and her family walk in. The waitress automatically seated them in a booth near ours. Much to my Uncle's displeasure. He made no attempt to hide it either.
I was still a little off track of what Grandpa said earlier and now Ruth is nearby, was Ruth just trying to make me to hide under the table. I looked at Grandma as she smiled at my cousins as they ran over and gave Grandma, Grandpa and my Uncle hugs and hellos. I was pretty much ignored, though I could see my little cousin Aliza smile at me but that was it. T.J. looked at me as if, who let the dog sit at the table. Then another one, who I figured to be Seth, didn't look at anyone, though he did hug my Uncle Jared very tightly and didn't want to let go.
I don't know why, but I felt a little envious. I recognize Jared is their Uncle too, but I felt very possessive right then. I felt closer to Uncle Jared than to anyone I have met in my life. It was stupid I know, but I couldn't help feeling that he was my Uncle more than he was theirs at the moment. I didn't want to share him with anyone.
Ruth called them back to their booth. "I don't want you near that boy even if he is with your Grandparents or Uncle. Do you understand me?" she said in what could be considered to be a stage whisper.
"Why mother, he seems nice?" Aliza asked.
"He's just not the kind of boy decent people should be around." Ruth said as she picked up her menu.
Uncle Jared turned at looked at her, moving his whole body in the booth. "What would you know about decency Ruth? The only decent thing you have done in your life was getting married to a decent guy. If there were anything decent in you, you would not be passing on your preconceived bigotry on to your children. As far I am concerned, anyone who can turn their back on a boy like, Noah, who by the way has more heart and class than you ever will have, is not my sister. I shall have nothing more to do with you. Just stay away from me. And if I hear one more foul thing come out of your mouth about Noah I will personally knock you the fuck out."
Uncle Teddy looked at Jared. "I think Jared you owe my wife and children an apology. That was not uncalled for."
"I am sorry children for saying that in front you, but I’m not sorry for what I said. As for you Teddy, by allowing your Wife to say what she has been saying, I would have thought you would have stopped Ruth or at least be man enough to rebuke the nasty comments that have been coming out her mouth.” Uncle Jared said with very little emotion in his voice, but a lot was on his face.
“Are you going to allow him to talk to me that way mother?’ Aunt Ruth asked.
“He is a grown man. I have no control over what comes out of Jared’s mouth any more than I can control what comes out yours.”
To say I was very uncomfortable would be an understatement. I wanted nothing more than to be anywhere else. I was the reason for all the problems in the family. I wish I could have stayed with Joe. Like usual, I just cause trouble like Ruth said. Maybe I am not the boy decent people should be around.
We ate breakfast in silence, as did the other table. I could see tears in Grandma's and Grandpa's eyes and feel the tension in Uncle Jared sitting next to me. It was totally all my fault. I knew only one decent thing to do to fix it all.
I laid in my bed thinking about how to carry out my plan while my Grandpa sat in the living room watching an old movie on TCM. My Grandma said she had a headache and went to take a nap. My Uncle was changing to go visit some buddy so I had to wait to act on my plan.
My Uncle came out of the bathroom in jeans, a tee shirt and his cowboy boots. "I'll be back in time for dinner. Then you and I need to have a serious talk."
I gave a smile and nodded my head in agreement. I must have not been very convincing because he came over and gave me a big hug and kissed my forehead. He smiled and winked and left the room. I walked over and pulled a piece of paper out of my notebook and started writing.
An hour later I checked on my Grandpa. He was asleep in the recliner. I quietly went back to my room and grabbed my new backpack and an envelope. Quietly as possible. I went downstairs placed the envelope on the kitchen table, where someone would find it and went out the back door.
I walked down the road to the main road. I didn't know where I was going, but I just knew what I had to leave. To some people this may seem childish, maybe it is, looking back now it was but my excuse was I was a kid so what do you expect, right.
It got me a little over an hour, but I reached it to Route 15 and headed North. I wanted to be out of Hazard before it got dark. I stayed off the main road, as much as I could. But at some points there was no alternative. I tried hitching a ride several times, but it seemed like no one trusted hitchhikers anymore. I came to a fork in the highway one heading north towards where we had breakfast and the other back into town.
I stayed on Route 15 and the buildings of the city seemed to disappear. I was away from the place where I so much wanted to call home, but I knew deep inside I really couldn't call it MY home. I just made everything go bad for the people that I wanted to call family.
If I went to Joe, chances are he was on the road and if he wasn't he would just take me back. I just couldn't do that to Grandma and Grandpa. I recognized they would be hurt, but it wouldn't be long before they would forgot about me. People forget about me pretty fast. I had no idea where exactly I would go. Perhaps San Francisco or Los Angeles, maybe even Florida, someplace warm.
Every once in a while, I would see a house or building. At one point I passed some Christian school. Then a few buildings on the other side of the road. I still tried to thumb a ride, but no one was willing to stop. I unfortunately did it at the wrong time and caught the attention of a State Cop.
I tried to run into the woods, but some bushes snagged my jacket. I tried to yank it free, but instead I ended up falling into it. By the time I was able to get myself free the Cop had me. After a few questions such as my name, age and so on. I gave an entirely fake name and age. I gave some lame story about be kicked out of the house by my parents.
He just looked at me and smiled. "You know you fit the exact description I have of a runaway boy your age. You wouldn't be Noah Mac Daniels would you?" I shook my head no.
"Well, if you're not I am going to have to take you in. Hitchhiking is illegal in this state. But if you were Noah Mac Daniels that would be different. But since you're not, the Juvenile Authorities will have to be called and that would mean at least a day of waiting in a jail cell for them to place you in a foster home. I hope they give you one of the better ones. Most of them suck."
I must have looked a bit anxious and scared. Because the Trooper just smiled. "Come on Noah please get into the car. It can't possibly be that bad! Whatever you did, I am sure your parents will be just happy you're safe and forget about any harsh punishment."
I followed him to the back of the car. Not my first time in a cop car I am sorry to say.
"Front seat, the back is reserved for the bad guys. You're not a bad guy are you?" He laughed softly at his small joke. I immediately shook my head no.
He called someone and told them he had found me and that whoever it was coming to get me could pick me up at the Post Office off of Route 15. I couldn't help but stare at him, he looked familiar. I had seen him some place before. He must have noticed me staring because he said. "I went to school with your mother. I was at the funeral yesterday, but didn't make to the house I was on duty and I had to back to work after the Funeral."
I nodded and I remember seeing him and also seeing him talking to my Grandparents and Uncle. We just sat there in silence. Until my Uncle's jeep pulled up beside the car. Before I knew what was happening the door was yanked open and I was pulled out of the car. I thought he was going to beat the crap out of me for running away, but he just pulled me into a hug.
I could hear him saying over and over again, "Thank you, God."
Uncle Jared held me so tight I could barely breathe. I didn't care though it felt so good. Not in a sexual way, but it felt right in the way you feel when you recognize that somebody cares and enjoys you. I held on to him tightly. I felt so comforted at that moment. Relief, remorse, but most of all I felt loved. Real love. Not romantic, but the kind you feel for a parent or Grandparent or Uncle.
I just started to cry. I just couldn't stop. All the pain and sorrow I felt came pouring out in that cry. I wasn't embarrassed I wasn't afraid to cry. Even if I was I couldn't stop if I tried. Uncle Jared cried too. We just held each other and cried.
"Let's go home, " he said. After thanking the state cop, we drove off towards home.
"Don't ever do that again understand me?" Uncle Jared said in a stern voice.
"I, won't I promise." I smiled and got his smile back.
"Okay." I didn't really believe it all but I had to agree that Ruth was a bitch.
“Now let me tell you where I went and what the outcome can be.”
Uncle Jared told me this story about his little trip while I was running away. I just had to get out.
“You see, I felt like everything was turned upside down. I loved Ruth's kid's even T.J. a clone of her with a dick. Aliza was sweet and gentle and you couldn't help but smile at her. Seth though, was something. You couldn't help but want to love him. He didn't say much in words, but his actions spoke better than any words. He was so unique and so full of love.
You though, I loved more than anything. Even if you weren’t Emily's son I would have loved you. That there's something in you that say's I just want to be loved. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. I knew if I ever have a son I want him to be just like you. You’re a boy who only desires to be loved but is afraid to ask. You take in every hurt and hold it in.
I don't know what your life was like before you came to us. Guess I may never know. All I know is I need to make the rest of your life better. Show you the happiness is there. I just want to do best to make sure you know that there are people who will love you if you let them.
I pulled up to my buddy Marc's house. Marc Windsor and I have been friends since kindergarten and were inseparable until I joined the Marines. He went on and became a Police Officer with the Hazard Police Department. If anyone could help me get my thoughts together, it was him.
We had done everything together, sports, though, was our favorite topic. The fact that we both were on the football team and our little pranks on away games were always the subjects of most of our memories. We both got scholarships I turned mine down he went on and became a football hero at the University of Alabama, he would have gone pro except he got an injury in the next to last game that was bad enough to end the career.
Before I could even ring the bell the door swung open and was pulled into a big hug.
Marc had to be on duty yesterday, so he couldn’t be at the funeral. Believe me he would have been too. He was more like a brother to me. Suze or Susan and Marc were high school sweethearts. She was an excellent catch and could cuss and party just as comfortably as any guy. That fact was it was love at first sight with Marc. At first she didn't want anything to do with him, but he charmed his way into her heart. Anyway, as they say the rest is history.
We talked for a few minutes catching up with each other. Being able to just relax was nice. Though I guess it was noticeable that I was anything but relaxed. "Now that we caught up, let's hear what's on your mind Jare." Marc said looking at my face. He always could tell when I bothered by something.
I sighed and told him everything about Noah. How Ruth was acting. How I wanted to take that boy and make him mine. How I wanted to be more than just his Uncle.
I told him about a discussion I had with my parents on Friday night. On how because Ruth was acting that it would be better if Noah was not directly under my Parent's care and how I would become his legal guardian. I felt it wasn't enough that Ruth had some pretty powerful friends and could do something to get Noah out of their custody. Even if it was only temporary custody while I was off serving in the Marines.
Marc would ask questions or he make comments every once in a while, but Suze was quiet. It wasn't until I talked my heart out that she finally said something. She reminded me that she worked for Teddy as a paralegal.
She informed me that she had overheard Ruth and Teddy arguing in his office, it was hard to understand her, with the way Ruth was shrieking. She wanted Teddy to file for custody using the fact that my Grandpa has Alzheimer’s. Teddy refused to represent her in any way in this case. She just went off yelling “she’ll find another lawyer who will.
I was a little shocked to hear that even Ruth would stoop that low. I envisioned in my mind her sending Noah away to some military school or worse. I really wasn't having any of that. I asked Suze what she thought I could do she told me one possible solution. So as you see that is where I went to get some answers. I didn’t trust Ruth though; I was surprised how far she’d go. At that point I got a text message from my dad. Saying three words 'COME HOME NOW!!!'
I thought it was odd because my dad never texts he calls. I looked at my phone and panicked. There were six missed calls from his cell. On the drive home, I knew Ruth was doing or she had did something. I knew she was to blame. I was ready to take her life as I pulled in front of the house. No one is going to hurt my son I thought. I was already thinking of you as my son.
I ran into the house and found my parents sitting at that table. Mom had tears in her eyes. Daddy looked like he was close to crying. It must be something wrong.
"Where's Noah?" I demanded. Dad handed me a piece of paper. I looked at it and read it, I felt the tears begin, my little buddy is all I could think of.
I am so sorry I caused so much trouble. I didn't mean to, it just happens when I am around. It is because of me that no one is happy. I just seemed to make everyone sad and angry. I was glad to be here don't get me wrong but everyone seems to be fighting and it's because of me.
I going to just leave, but thought I should leave a letter saying how grateful I am for all that you have done for me. I didn't want you to think that I wasn't.
Ruth was right, I am not worth the trouble I seem to cause. It is because of me that she won't let you see my cousins while I live here. I saw how sad everyone was today at the restaurant. I don't want anyone to be sad because of me. Your family is fighting and I am the reason why. If I had never come, everyone would be happy.
I don't want to leave but with me staying there is nothing but bad things happen. I just wanted to say goodbye and thank you and hope everyone can start being happy and loving each other again.
Love always and forever,
I read the letter two more times to make sure I understood what I read. I sat down at the table and looked at my parents. "Fucking Ruth." I said as the tears flowed down my face. I told them I was going to go look for even though they already called the police. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing.
I went out to look for you too at first I drove about ten miles south. I was already heading north when I got a call from Marc telling me you had been picked up. I was hurting, but I knew that you were hurting more. A piece of me wanted to go to Ruth's first and beat the life out of her. It was her hatred and words that made you run away. That made a poor kid feel unwanted enough to run away. I can understand how you felt, I felt that way growing up with her. Though you, Noah are more important right now. I can deal with Ruth later.
I pulled into the parking lot beside a state trooper car and I got out. I wanted nothing more right than to grab you and hold you and make you safe and loved.
I sighed when he finished the story just as we pulled in front of the house. I hadn’t even noticed we were there until he turns off the engine. I hugged my Uncle as we pulled into the driveway. I got out of the car and stood in front of the Jeep. When he got out I looked at his face. I ran to him and held on tight. My Uncle Jared was a memory that I could remember this was my first really happy memory.
I was beginning to feel a little nervous not sure if I was going to like the next words would be. 'So are you going to send me away.' That is what I imagine Uncle Jared next words were going to be.
After dinner Uncle Jared pulled me out to the barn. We climbed up into the hayloft.
"Have a seat Noah we have to have a little talk."
I sat on a hay bundled and Uncle Jared pulled on over and sat across from me.
"First off Noah I know you already promised me you would never run away again, but I need to hear you say it again."
"I won't ever run away again. I am sorry I just cause problems; it’s all I know what to do, no matter how hard I try not to." I promised.
"OK and that has to stop. You're not to blame for anything in regards to Ruth and the arguing. That has been going on long before you ever came to us. As far as your cousins are concerned that was again Ruth. Ruth is to blame, not you. She is a cold hearted bitch who is more worried about what her so called society friends think than to where her own family is concerned."
"Now we all know Ruth doesn't want what's best for you and will do anything she can to get you tucked away in some little corner so she doesn't have to worry about her perceived embarrassment." Uncle Jared seemed to think how he was going to word whatever he was going to say next so I just waited for the bad news.
"The only way to protect you from her is if my parents were not your legal guardians. We initially thought if I was that might be enough, but it won't be."
"So after I had a talk with a friend. I would like to adopt you. That is, if it's something you would want." He stated.
I stared at him in total disbelief. I couldn't talk even if I could, I didn't know what to say. Before I knew what was happening, I launched myself at Uncle Jared and held on tight. For the second time that day I cried. It was different though I was happy. Happier than I have ever been in my lifetime.
"I take that as a yes."
"Yes!" I shouted. It was then that I realized I was sitting on my Uncle's lap. Straddling him with my legs and arms wrapped around him. I didn't care, didn't blush. I felt it was OK.
We talked for a little bit longer and set up plans. It had to be done fast but Grandma had her connections being not only the principal of the Hazard High School but also friends in the right places. It had to be done this week because Uncle Jared had to go back to Camp Legume next Sunday. Also it had to be done quietly so that it would be done before Ruth had a chance to react.