Helping a Friend by Colin Kelly

Sometimes the best gift you can give — and receive — is when you help a friend.


Chapter 2


Chris walked down the stairs on his own, but he stepped slowly and carefully and watched where he was going. I was glad that he did. The last thing he needed would be to fall down.

Mom was standing when we arrived. She smiled at Chris, and he smiled in response.

“Hello, Mrs. Mathews. I’m Chris Rodriguez.”

“Nice to meet you, Chris. My name is Barbara. Sit down and I’ll get you two a snack. What would you like? We have fruit, bananas, apples, and mandarin oranges. Or you could have a sandwich. But we’re having beef stew for dinner, so maybe fruit would be best.”

“I’d like a couple of the mandarin oranges,” I said. How about you, Chris?”

“That sounds good. Thank you.”

“Okay, I’ll get them for you,” Mom said.

They were in the refrigerator so Mom got two mandarins and a plate and napkin for each of us. Usually I’d do that myself, but Chris was a guest and she was treating him that way.

“I’ve never had these,” Chris said.

“The skin comes off real easy compared to a regular orange,” I said. “Lemme show you.”

I rolled one of the mandarins between my palms then peeled it and separated the segments, putting them on my plate.

“Rolling it helps pull the peel loose. They’re real sweet and juicy.” I popped one in my mouth. “Try one.” I pushed my plate where he could reach it.

Chris did and I could tell from his expression that he liked them as much as I did.

“Wow, these are really good.” He peeled both of his and ate them. He even gave me one segment for the one I’d let him have. Very polite.

After we finished our snack, Mom sat down at the table.

“Chris, tell me what’s happened to you starting from when you had to move out of your apartment.”

My mom’s voice was kind and soft and non-threatening. The kind of voice that made me, her son, answer her questions even if it got me in trouble.

Chris responded the same as I would have. He told her everything, and answered a few of her questions, too. By the end he had tears running down his cheeks.

Mom had a question. “Chris, why didn’t you call the police and report your mother as missing?”

“I asked the woman who was in charge of admitting people in the shelter at Saint Timothy’s Church about how to do that. She said that they might tell me that I hadn’t waited long enough to make a missing person’s report, or they would find out how old I was and they’d turn me over to CPS and I’d end up in a group home that could be anywhere in the county. I might have to change schools. That’s the last thing I want to do. I have to continue to get good enough grades to get a scholarship after I graduate from Edison so I’ll be able to afford to go to college”

“I understand. You’ve had a rough time, Chris,” Mom said. “Where you’ve been living is unacceptable. The fact that you haven’t been eating is serious. We have room for you to live here until you can find your mother. How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“You could declare for emancipation. The only problem is you have to prove that you have sufficient resources so you can care for yourself or be in a place where you can be cared for. I’ll talk to my husband when he gets home and tell him that I’d like to provide for you and that will prove that you will be able to be cared for. That way CPS can’t move you to a group home.”

“What’s emancipation?” Chris asked.

“It means that you would be would be responsible for yourself and free of parental control. It’s like turning eighteen, but instead you’re doing it when you’re sixteen. You have most of the rights you’d have at eighteen but you can’t drive, or vote, or buy and drink alcoholic beverages.”

“Sounds okay. But I can’t be responsible for myself. My job at the construction site only pays me $12.00 an hour, and I only work three hours each week and that’s only $36.00 a week. I can’t live on that. Heck, no one can live on that.”

“You don’t need to,” Mom said. “I said that we’ll provide for you. You won’t need to provide for yourself.”

“But your husband has to agree. What if he doesn’t?”

“He will,” I said. My mom added her own, “He will,” as well.

“Chris, why don’t you stop worrying about it until my dad gets home and my mom talks to him,” I suggested. “I already told you that you don’t know anything about my folks. You’ve seen that I was right about my mom. In a little while you’ll see I’m right about my dad, too.”

Why don’t you have Chris meet your brothers?” Mom suggested.

“Good idea,” I said.

“Chris, I’ll introduce you to my brothers, Ryan and Sean. They’re in the family room.”

For the next twenty minutes Chris and the twins were discussing the sort of things twelve-year-old boys like to talk about. Sports, school, music, movies, TV shows, books, hobbies, and so on. He asked them about being identical twins, and if I or our folks were ever confused and they said we could distinguish which of them was which. They wouldn’t tell him what the differences were. He asked if they ever switched classes. They admitted that they’d done that in elementary school, but not once they started the sixth grade at Walnut Creek Intermediate School.

Finally they wound down. Chris stood up and said they’d get together later. They did the fist-bump and the twins said “Later.”

Chris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay. What should we do now?”

I smirked. “Homework.”

“It’s a holiday. We don’t have any homework.”

“You and I have a test in Spanish 4 when we get back. Maybe you don’t have anything else, but unfortunately I do. I have a short story that I have to write and turn in no later than the day we get back and by the start of third period.”

“What class do you have to do that for?”

“English 3. Mrs. Harington. When you’re a junior avoid her English 3 classes. Fair warning.”

“I’ll definitely remember that. Don’t take any classes taught by Mrs. Harington.”

“What do you want to do while we wait for my dad to get home?”

“Read. I saw that you have a lot of books in your bedroom.”

“I do. While you read I’ll write.”

We went up to my bedroom. “Darryl, is it okay if I lay on your bed?”

“Sure. Just take off your shoes. Mom throws a fit if I’m laying on my bedspread with my shoes on. Same applies to my brothers. Same will apply to you. Fair warning.”

“Okay. Got it. No problema.” He went to my bookcase and looked at the books. Most were older hardbound and paperback books. A lot of them I inherited from my dad, the other were books that were bought for me or that I bought myself. Now I read using the Kindle and Nook apps.

“Is it okay if I read this book?” He held it up. It was Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.

“Sure. In fact, you can read any of these books. That’s one of my favorite stories. It’s half science fiction, half mystery, and half comedy. I think you’ll like it.”

Chris grinned. “That’s three halves, Darryl. You need to take remedial arithmetic and get your dangling fractions straightened out.”

“My dangling fractions work just fine, thank you!” I said, laughing.

“I’m not sure about that. I think we’ll have to check it later.”

I wondered what that meant. In any case, I was glad that Chris seemed to be happier and was joking. The other thing is he wasn’t as reticent as he’d been before he talked to my mom and the twins. I could tell that he was starting to think that maybe he had a new home that was welcoming.

Chris toed off his shoes so he could lay down on my bed with the two pillows stacked so he could lean against them to read Going Postal.

I sat down at my laptop and opened up Word and Excel. I had notes for my English 3 project in a Word document, and the outline in an Excel spreadsheet. I continued working on both.

The first thing I added to my notes was the details of what Chris had told me about what happened to him and his mom. I had some questions, but of course I couldn’t ask him. I’d have to listen to what he told my dad when they talked. Which meant I’d have to convince my dad that I should be in the room when they talked.

I decided that my outline should be in date sequence. That’s one of the reasons that I used Excel: I could format the dates so they could be sorted correctly. That and it was easy to move things around. I picked December 20th for the start of the story because that’s when Mrs. Harington assigned her surprise project. I didn’t worry about the dates being right or wrong. I just plugged in what I thought worked to sequence the things Chris had told me happened to him and his mom.

First I had to define my characters. My case study was Chris Rodriguez, and he was my protagonist who I had named Case Ponder. It was a good name, but also a play on words and a joke because he was my case study. Get it? If not, look up synonyms of the word ‘ponder’ in a thesaurus and you’ll figure it out.

Okay, I had enough to get started. Next, I wrote how the story was going to end. That is something I’d learned when I took creative writing last year. “Know how your story is going to end before you start writing,” Mr. Choi drilled into our puny brains. So that’s what I did. I like happy endings, and since Mrs. Harington wanted a resolution to my protagonist’s problems that meant it definitely would have a happy ending.

My story would end with Case being adopted by the Kelleher family. They had two kids of their own, a boy and a girl who were twins and thirteen years old. I stole that idea from my own family. Case was fourteen years old. He was a friend with the boy, Sean Kelleher. He was a good fit for that family and he wasn’t too old to be adopted.

The story started with Case living with his father. His mother had been killed in an hit-and-run accident in downtown San Francisco when Case was nine years old. Then his  father was injured in an accident at the refinery where he worked. He sued the company that owned the refinery but they had expensive lawyers and they needed to make sure George Ponder didn’t win his lawsuit because it would set a precedent. He eventually died of his injuries and Case was left homeless and nearly penniless.

Now all I had to do was fill in the middle, provide an arc to link the beginning to the end, and make it plausible.

I yawned and decided I’d done enough for now. I’d get back to it next morning, which was Friday, the first day of our Christmas vacation.

I made a note to consider having the Christmas holiday in the story. Maybe it would work, maybe not. If it didn’t then I’d probably have to change the starting date from December 20th to something else. Maybe the date when spring vacation started.

I copied my files to OneDrive to have a backup in the cloud just in case something happened to my originals. Then I logged out of Windows and Excel and shut down my laptop.

I turned around and saw Chris was still reading. He chuckled and I assumed it was because he was enjoying Going Postal.

I heard the garage door opening. That meant my dad was home.

I stood up and Chris looked up at me. “My dad’s home,” I said. “He’ll change from his work clothes to something more comfortable first. Then I’ll go down and prep him to meet you, like I did with my mom.”

“Should I be nervous?” Chris asked.

“Nope. No reason to be nervous. He and my mom are very much alike, and that means they are both easy to get along with.”

“That… that’s good. I like your mom. She seems to like me. Do you think your dad will like me?”

“Yes. And you’ll like him, too.”

“When do I go down to talk to him?”

“I’ll go first and Mom and I’ll let him know about you. Then I’ll come up and bring you down so the two of you can talk.”

“Will you be able to be there when your dad talks to me?”

“Maybe. If you ask him if I can be there.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Okay. I’ll go downstairs and talk to him. This might take a few minutes, or more.”

“Let me know when you want me to come down. Maybe you should leave the door open.”

“Good idea.” I walked to the side of the bed, leaned over, and hugged Chris. Then I went downstairs, leaving my bedroom door open.

I saw that my dad was in the kitchen talking with my mom. I decided to let them talk until they called me. So I went into the family room and turned on the TV. Ryan and Sean came rushing downstairs and plopped down on the sofa, one on each side of me.

“We like Chris,” Sean said. “Yeah. He’s nice. He should be your boyfriend,” Ryan said. “Do you like him that way?” Sean asked.

“That’s personal. And it’s more important to ask if he likes me that way.”

“So you do like him that way!” Ryan enthused.

“Hey! What did I just tell you?”

“Nothing,” Ryan replied.

“I said, that’s personal.”

“But you told Sean, not me.” Ryan smirked.

“You two are twins, freakin’ identical twins, so, when I tell you that’s personal and you both hear me, then it applies to both of you. Capisci?”

“We do understand,” Ryan said. “That’s Capiamo,” Sean said, then the two of them burst out laughing.

“So, the two of you taking Italian in the eighth grade? I didn’t think they offered it at Walnut Creek Intermediate. They do offer Japanese, though. I think I’ll recommend to Mom that you be moved into the Japanese language class. Maybe they can find a tutor for you. You two are really smart, so you should be able to catch up with the rest of the class by the end of the year. Sono Oto wa dōdesu ka?”

“What’s that mean?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah, what’s that mean?” Sean added.

“It means, ‘How does that sound?’ It’s Japanese.”

“Yeah. We kinda figured that,” Sean mumbled.

“He can’t even take a joke, can he,” Ryan groused.

“Nope, not at all,” Sean said.

I heard some laughter from the stairs. It was Chris, standing about two-thirds of the way down. He walked the rest of the way and into the family room.

“You guys are funny. All three of you. Where did you learn Japanese, Darryl?”

“Walnut Creek Intermediate. I expected I’d be able to take the second year at Edison, but I discovered that they don’t offer it. So, the summer before I started at Edison I went to Diablo Valley College and took second year Japanese there.”

“That’s cool,” Chris said.

“What languages did you take, Chris?” Sean asked.

“Español. Since my grandparents and my folks spoke it I decided I’d better learn it too. Mainly so I’d understand what they were saying when they were talking about me.”

“So you took it without telling them?” I asked.

“Yeah. But it didn’t work because my first seventh grade report card from WCI showed that I was taking Spanish.”

“Were they upset with you?” Ryan asked.

“Nah. They didn’t even comment about it. But I noticed that my mom and my abuela stopped talking about me when I was around.” We all laughed about that.

“You’re taking Spanish 4 now, and you’re a sophomore. The course catalog says you can take Spanish 4 when you’re a junior or senior. How’d you get into the Spanish 4 class?”

“I’d taken Spanish in the seventh and eighth grades at WCI, then Spanish 3 when I was a freshman at Edison. Normally I would have had to take Spanish 2 as a freshman since Spanish 3 is for sophomores and higher but I tested out of Spanish 2.”

“Tested out? What’s that mean?” Ryan asked.

“I talked to Mrs. Acero and she said if I could get at least a B on the Spanish 2 final she’d approve me for Spanish 3. So I took the final and got an A. Not just an A, but an A with every question, and the essay reading and writing parts, correct. I got the approval. So, I’m in the same Spanish 4 class as Darryl.”

“There won’t be any Spanish class for you to take when you’re a senior,” I said.

“That’s true. It also means that next year I’ll be taking AP Spanish Language and Culture. Will you be taking that next year?” Chris asked me.

“Yes. I see it as an easy 5 on the AP test for that class,” I replied. “That will help boost my overall AP score.”

“You’re taking some AP classes this year. Which ones?”

“AP US History, AP Calculus AB, and AP Computer Science.”

“That sounds heavy duty,” Chris said. All those AP classes.

“Three AP classes per year is the maximum,” I said. The advantage is I won’t have to take the college equivalents of those classes. That saves me about six basic classes when I’m a freshman and sophomore. I’ll be majoring in Computer Science.

“What other AP classes are you going to take next year?”

“AP Calculus BC, AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism, and AP Spanish Language and Culture.”

“Did you take Physics?” Chris asked.

“Yes. I took Physics last year. It’s one of the prerequisites for AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism which is important for Computer Science majors.”

“I’m planning on taking Physics next semester, but it’s confusing because there are so many different Physics classes.”

“Have you talked to your counselor?”

“No. Trying to get an appointment with him is a problem.”

“That seems strange. What’s the problem?” I asked.

“He mostly has seniors. They come first, I guess.”

“You need to talk to the Vice Principal of Administration to see if you can talk to a different counselor who has time to help you plan your junior year classes.”

“I can do that?”

“Sure. I had a similar problem when I was told by my counselor that I couldn’t take AP Computer Science in my junior year. So I went to Mr. Edmonds and talked to him about it and he agreed with me. He switched me to a counselor who specializes in students who are planning to major in science, engineering, and computer science. The one I had worked with students going into humanities when they go to college.”

“Who is the vice principal that I need to talk to?” Chris asked.

“Mr. Edmonds. He’s easy to talk to, and he understood what I wanted to do and why taking AP Computer Science when I’m a junior instead of waiting until I’m a senior, which is what my counselor wanted me to do. What do you want to major in when you go to college?”

“Graphic design and web design. I’m not sure what to take while I’m at Edison that will help me get into a good school like U.C. Berkeley. That’s one of the things I’d like to talk to a counselor about.”

I kept glancing at my brothers, thinking that they’d be bored by my discussion with Chris about AP classes. But they seemed to be closely following what we were talking about.

“You guys interested in AP classes?” I asked.

“Yeah. We’re thinking about what to take when we go to college, so hearing what you and Chris are talking about is real interesting,” Sean said.

“Especially taking summer classes at Diablo Valley College,” Ryan added.

“Any time you want to talk to me about planning for college I’m available.”

“Thanks, Darryl,” Ryan said. “We’ll take you up on your offer when we have some questions.”

My dad walked in. Chris stood up, and looked worried. But that passed because my dad was smiling.

“Hi, I’m Jeff Matthews, Darryl’s father. And Ryan and Sean’s father, too. You must be Chris.”

“Yes, Chris Rodriguez. Nice to meet you, Mr. Matthews.” They shook hands.

“Let’s go into my office and we can talk.”

“Okay.”

I got up and my dad shook his head. “Darryl, I think it’s better if I talk to Chris privately.”

“Is that alright?” he asked Chris.

Chris turned and looked at me. He definitely looked uncomfortable. “I… I guess.”

“Would you prefer that Darryl join us?”

Chris looked conflicted and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. But then he looked at my dad. “I’d would like Darryl to be there, if that’s okay with you.”

“Alright. Come on into my office, both of you.”

Our house had a small office on the first floor, and my dad used it for telecommuting and paying bills and for conversations with my mom when they didn’t want me and the twins to overhear.

Dad closed the door and Chris and I sat down on the couch. Normally my dad would sit at his desk, but  instead he turned one of the side chairs around so he was facing us.

“Chris, my wife Barbara explained what your situation is, and I don’t think I need to have you tell it once again. In case anything I say about what happened to you is incorrect, please interrupt me so you can correct what I said. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Next, just relax. Alright?”

Chris nodded. “I’ll try.” He grinned.

My dad smiled, then got started.

“Barbara talked to you about becoming emancipated. I think that could be a problem for two reasons.

“First, we have to assume that your mother is somewhere in this area. The court would want the police to try to find her before granting emancipation since a parent or guardian has the right to object to a child declaring that they want to be emancipated. The court could report you to CPS and you might be moved to a group home until your mother is found. Or, after some period of time, not found.

“Second, you don’t have an adequate income or any assets to live on your own. While we can say that we’ll provide for you, since there’s no relationship between you and us, other than you’re a friend of Darryl, the court would need assurance that we’d continue providing for you. So they might tell us that we would have to foster you. But that would get CPS involved, and it means you might not be able to stay with us while that is being considered. Again, they might even decide to place you in a group home.

“I think the best arrangement is for us to have a document that states how we are going to provide for you while you’re living with us. It would also let you return to your mother if that was feasible and you and she agreed that is what you wanted to do, which means we would stop providing for you. It will protect you and it will protect us. If, for example, you continued to work at that construction sit it would state that any money you made was yours. You’d also receive an allowance while you lived with us, same as what we pay Darryl, and you’d be expected to do some chores that Darryl and the twins do currently, but you wouldn’t do more chores than those Darryl would be doing.

“To make it legal, we would go to a lawyer and have the document drawn up, we would review it, and if we all agree with it then it would be notarized with my and Barbara’s signatures and your signature.

“The advantage of this approach is that we would be able to go with you to the police and file a missing person report for your mother. Doing it this way means you wouldn’t be reported to CPS by the police.

“How does that sound to you, Chris?”

“It sounds fantastic. I’m amazed that you’re willing to do this for me. I mean, you don’t really know me at all. I know Darryl from school, but we’re not best friends or anything close like that.”

“Barbara has a PhD in child psychology and I assume she didn’t tell you that. She said her evaluation is that you’re a fine young man. She’s eager to help you. And Darryl is, too.”

I decided to add to the conversation. “Maybe Chris and I aren’t best friends, but we’ve known each other since seventh grade. This semester we have two classes together, Spanish 4 and Digital Arts. He’s always helping people that he sees are struggling. He can explain Spanish grammar so the person he helps can actually understand it, and in Digital Arts he helps people learn how to use Photoshop to do complicated things, like using smart objects and layer masks. He’s always helpful. I know he’s getting an A in Spanish 4, and you can say it’s because he learned Spanish when he was growing up. But he’s also getting an A in Digital Arts and he didn’t know Photoshop before taking the class and he picked it up right away. He’s smart, and I’d guess he’s getting good grades in all of his classes.”

“Barbara said you told her you were doing ‘pretty good’ at school. How are your grades, Chris?”

I could tell he was embarrassed because he was blushing, but he answered my dad’s question. “Last year when I was a freshman and I got A’s in all of my classes both semesters. This semester I’m working hard to also get all A’s again.”

“What do you want to take when you go to college?”

“Graphic design, web design, maybe even animation and game design. U.C. Berkeley has a good design program. I’m aiming to get all A’s in high school so I can get a full-ride scholarship. I need that because that’s the only way I’ll be able to go to college.”

“It seems that you know what you want to do and what you need to do to accomplish it,” Dad said.

“I hope so,” Chris replied. “My mom disappearing hasn’t helped.”

“Well, we’ve decided that we’re going to help you. The first thing we need to do is make a list of the things that will be in the document that we’ll take to our attorney. Darryl, you don’t need to sit in on this so why don’t you go do your homework before dinner.”

I knew when I was being asked to leave. “When you’re done with Dad come on up to my room. Unless it’s almost time for dinner, then I’ll see you in the kitchen.”

“Okay,” Chris said. “Thanks for your help, Darryl.”

“You’re welcome.” I left my dad’s office, closing the door behind me, and went upstairs to my room. This was a good time for me to get back to my short story for Mrs. Harington. I had enough material to finish the story. However, I probably didn’t have enough time to finish it before dinner.

I was totally focused on my story when Chris knocked on the doorjamb. “Your mom asked me to tell you that it’s time for dinner. She wants us to set the table.”

“I stretched and yawned. “Okay. I’ll save my story and I’ll be right down.”

“Okay. I’ll let her know.”

I saved my file, turned off my laptop, went to the bathroom to wash my hands, then went downstairs. I showed Chris were the dishes were in the kitchen and we set the table.

This was the first real meal that Chris had eaten in over a week. He kept saying how delicious everything was. My mom loved hearing this.

After we were through the twins job was to clear the dishes off the table and put them into the dishwasher. I emptied the leftover stew from the slow cooker pot into a smaller container and put it in the refrigerator. Then I washed the pot and the cover and Chris dried them. He put them back into the slow cooker and I showed him where it went. I washed the salad bowl and he dried that, and I showed him where it was stored. When we finished he started looking through the cabinets to learn what was in each. That impressed me.

We were finished so we went upstairs to my room. “We should set up the guest room for you,” I said.

“O…kay,” he said. He didn’t seem pleased.

“Is that a problem?”

“I sort of don’t want to be by myself.”

“Oh. You want to sleep in my room?”

“Could I? I don’t want to interfere. But I think being by myself will be lonely. I’ve been lonely for a long time.”

“There isn’t room for another bed in my bedroom. But I have a king-size bed so there should be enough room for us to sleep together. Thing is, I’ve never slept with anyone and I might move around a lot at night. If that’s not going to bother you, it’s okay with me to share with you.”

“Do you mind? Maybe just for a while, then I can start using the guest bedroom, which I assume will be mine.”

I smiled. “I don’t mind at all. There is something else. I don’t know if I snore or not.”

“Same with me. Will we have to tell your folks? Your brothers?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Well… they might think it’s a little weird. Or that I’m gay.”

“Are you?”

“Weird?”

“Gay.”

“Maybe.”

I laughed. “Maybe means you’re unsure.”

“I’m unsure. I… I think maybe I am. Is that a problem?”

“Nope.”

“Are you gay?”

“Yes.”

Chris seemed surprised. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Wow. I never would have guessed. Do your folks know?”

“Yes.”

“Do your brothers know?”

“Yes.”

“Damn. I assume your folks wouldn’t be happy if I was sleeping with you, then.”

“I don’t know. It’s never come up.”

“It might be a bad influence for your brothers.”

“I don’t think so. They know a lot more at twelve years old than I did. Maybe as much as I know now.”

“That’s different than when I was twelve, too.”

“Chris, Would you be upset if we slept together but didn’t do anything?”

“No. The reason I want to sleep with you is because I’ve been sleeping alone… no, make that among strangers, for the past week. And before that I was sleeping in the passenger seat in my mom’s car for almost six months. I feel lonely. Actually, I feel isolated. That’s a better way to describe it. I don’t want to be alone. The idea of being alone in a big house like yours scares me, Darryl.”

“Let’s go talk to my folks and I’ll tell them that you’re going to sleep with me. Then you tell them the reason that you just told me. Is that okay?”

“Yes. I have a good memory, so I can remember what I said. It’ll probably be worded a little differently, but will cover the same bases.”

“Come on, Chris. Let’s tell them now.”



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