READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 2 & 3

Published July 11, 2013

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

CHAPTER 2

The little girl was afraid.

Huddled under her father’s desk, she struggled not only to stifle her tears, but to figure out exactly what she was hearing. Part of her knew what was going on – as awful as it might seem – yet a more protective part of her mind refused to believe it. Even as the big desk began to shimmy and shudder, the knowledge was too much for her young mind to process.

Why is Daddy doing this? she thought. What is Daddy doing? 

(Three blocks away, in the dim auditorium of The Lux, Albert Morehouse and his Uncle Ty were still talking about PSYCHO. At least until the opening credits for The Birds began to roll.)

Susan Davis was beyond afraid. She was terrified. Paralyzed even. 

After all, she was only eight years old. She’d wanted to spend more time with her Daddy this Saturday afternoon (the last day of June) and, to surprise him, she sneaked into the back seat of his car before he went to work. For seven months, her father had been Associate Pastor of a quaint church called Trinity Methodist – it sat in a quaint lot in a quaint suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. 

Susan didn’t know why her daddy needed to go to church on a Saturday, but because she simply adored the man, and also because she wanted to get away from her mother for awhile, she figured she’d surprise him by stowing away in his car. After her dad had parked in the empty lot, had gotten out of the car and made his way toward the building, Susan watched him unlock the church’s front doors. She prayed he wouldn’t lock them again before she had a chance to get inside herself. She then got out of the back seat and ran toward the church – a picture of innocence in pink overalls and blonde pigtails. 

After tugging hard on the front door, Susan slipped inside … and stopped. Stained glass windows let dim light in the dark foyer, but still – without music playing or people milling or teens flirting or jaws flapping – the place seemed much different on this Saturday afternoon than it did on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. It was usually a safe haven; now it just seemed spooky. 

Ascending the main stairs, Susan looked left and saw that the sanctuary also seemed ominous without a halogen-lit fellowship of believers in its pews. The choir chamber was deserted, the pulpit unmanned, even the wall-mounted cross (normally backlit with fluorescent bulbs) was now hidden in shadows. 

Susan had a bad case of the creeps. She wished she hadn’t come. 

As she turned to look down the dim hallway where there were classrooms and offices, the desire to find her father turned into a need. Susan walked that way – past the High School class, Adult Singles class, Rev. Morehouse’s office, all seemingly empty – and found the door to her father’s office. It was ajar. 

Poking her head in, she saw that it was also unoccupied.

She entered the room and called out, “Daddy?” No answer. 

After hearing a noise from the hall, Susan almost bolted back through the doorway to find respite in her father’s arms, but … she stopped, listened, and heard … giggling? Not only did it not sound like her dad, it sounded distinctly feminine. The giggling grew louder, closer, and – with no time to reason why – Susan quickly bolted under her father’s desk.

Someone burst into the room. Rather two someones.

Susan couldn’t see anything, but the giggling was accompanied by laughter. She knew it was her dad, but the timbre of his titters sounded like a stranger. 

The door banged against the wall, and was quickly closed and locked. Susan heard grunts, and kissing noises, and clothes being removed.

Her father said something then, half moaned: “Oh, Nadja.”

Nadja? Susan thought. Nadja is one of the pretty ladies who sings on the worship team. Why is Daddy kissing on Nadja? At that moment, an avalanche of paper and other desk accessories cascaded into the hole where Susan hid. She wasn’t sure what they were doing up there, but thought it might involve something to which she’d often heard her mother allude … er, rather a lewd.

It was Wrong. It was Dirty. It was Shameful. It was The Bad Thing

Curling up in a ball, Susan trembled. She didn’t know the word intimacy, but she knew what it was like to crawl up onto her Daddy’s lap and feel safe. She knew the treasure of being able to place her cheek upon his and giggle at his tickling whiskers. She knew the wonderment of being held by him in an embrace so tight, warm, and secure that surely nothing could hurt her. She also knew that all of these riches were presently being ripped away from her.

Susan clenched her eyes, clamped palms over her ears, and silently prayed, Oh dear Jesus make them stop, please make them stop, please o please o please. She repeated this over and over, not stopping until the desk stopped moving.

An eternity later (or about 20 minutes), Associate Pastor Eddie Davis and Pretty Worship Team Lady Nadja ceased rutting and got dressed. After a few whispered sweet nothings, they agreed to adjourn to the downstairs lavatories.

Susan waited for them to leave, gave them time to get downstairs, and then darted like a mouse out of the office. As she ran down the hall …

Something crashed in one of the classrooms.

Susan halted in her tracks, peered into the dark Adult Singles classroom (lit only by a venetian-blinded window), and sensed movement.

Beneath the large table, hunkered in shadows, a menacing figure lurked. Two red-reflected eyes stared at her from the dimness.

Susan stood frozen, heart fluttering within her chest like a bird in a flue. Suddenly she ran toward the foyer, down the stairs, out the front doors, and returned to the back seat of her father’s Chevy sedan. She desperately wanted to cry, but – knowing her father would be getting in the car shortly and driving back home (she hoped) – she held on.

Eddie got in soon after and drove back the way he had come.

Fifteen minutes later, Susan’s father parked his car in the wide driveway of a beautiful, three-story, multi-gabled Victorian house. 

(If Albert Morehouse had been here, he would’ve been shocked: the house greatly resembled the one he had just seen in PSYCHO. It was larger than the Bates House and, rather than being in disrepair, was painted white, pink, and robin’s egg blue. There was no hill and no motel, of course, but the landscaping, foliage, and brickwork were impeccable. Two towering willows stood sentry.) 

Eddie Davis shut off the engine and got out of the vehicle. 

Susan stayed hidden, trauma-impaired brain trying to formulate a plan. With a fast prayer – Please God, help me get to my room – she got out of the car and headed to the backyard. After going up the back porch, in the back door, through the kitchen and past the parlor, she headed for the master staircase. 

“There you are, Pooh,” Eddie spoke from the parlor. He was seated on a floral-print couch next to Susan’s mother, who had been napping for the past couple hours. (Even before sneaking into her dad’s sedan, Susan knew her mom would be knocked out for awhile; the woman’s purse was a virtual pharmacy, and one could set a clock by her regular consumption of its abundant medicinals.) 

“Where’ve you been?” Eddie asked.

“Playing,” Susan answered flatly.

“Are you okay?” Eddie Davis went on. “You look a little pale.”

At this, Susan’s mother Grace looked up from her pillow. The woman was obviously still groggy from whatever combination of pills she had swallowed. “You doin’ okay, Sooz?” Grace slurred.

“Yes, Mom,” Susan replied, noting something strange. She’d always known there was a wide age difference between her parents (her mother was 48, her father 36), but at this moment the variance was obvious. They looked more like mother and son than husband and wife. There was no physical resemblance, just a division formed by weariness and vigor, wrinkled features and taut skin. Recalling what happened at the church, Susan caught a dim lucidity of why her father had sought the embrace of another woman. The actual reasonings were beyond an eight year old’s ability to fathom – especially in her current state of shock – but perhaps all was not as it appeared to be in the Davis house. 

As the weight of her terrible secret pressed down on her, Susan told them, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll lay down for awhile.” She then went upstairs to her room, climbed up on her bed, hugged a pillow as big as she was, and wept. 

Susan wasn’t sure how long she cried – maybe three minutes? – yet it wasn’t nearly long enough to halt the despair constricting round her ribs like a serpent. Tears were weakness, her mother had told her repeatedly. Susan never fully believed the statement, but realized she was too frightened to be so defenseless. She needed to shut off her tears. She needed distraction. 

Clean. Play. Run. Read. Sing. Draw.

Do something – anything – to keep from being so vulnerable as to cry. 

Disassociation was another word foreign to Susan, though her mom’s knack for it was quite deft. Grace Davis had many such ‘solutions’ for psychological problems, most far beyond Susan’s capacity to understand at such a young age.

This house was Grace’s legacy; she had grown up here in its seven-bedroom expanse. Both of her parents had died in an automobile accident when Grace Stoppelmoor was only twenty, and her inheritance included the house, three acres of property, and nearly $250,000. Grace became as frugal and practical with these assets as her father had been. She hired the smartest bankers she could find to ensure that her estate (and its earned interest) would allow her to never have to work. Throughout her 20s and 30s, Grace kept herself busy with the restoration of this vintage home. This task so occupied her time that – trips to the market notwithstanding – she hardly ever left the house. Grace never considered herself an agoraphobe, but rather a fiercely dedicated homemaker. If busyness was her stock and trade, Grace honed it to an art form. After all, busy people never had to feel. Not exactly a theory which one needed a Ph.D. to figure out, but one which drove millions to insanity, nevertheless.

Two things in Grace’s increasingly isolated life offered solace: her cats and her Christian faith. Her parents had been staunch fundamentalists, and Grace still practiced their performance-based gospel to the greatly-misinterpreted letter. She read her Bible and a devotional every day, listened incessantly to the southern gospel music which had been her father’s favorite, and attended two church services on Sundays (a.m. and p.m.) without fail. Granted, with her unacknowledged fear of public places, Grace never attended any one church for long. Rather, she church hopped. She was attractive enough to have numerous suitors attempt to pitch her woo, but as soon as anyone got too close, she moved on without a backward glance. This went on for many years.

Grace was thirty-eight when she met Eddie Davis. He was a landscaper she had hired to excavate the backyard, plant more trees, and construct a stone walking path. Since she greatly feared becoming an old maid, Grace allowed herself to be beguiled by the handsome younger man sweating in her yard. She began to allure him in a manner both cunning and proficient. Her blouses became skimpier, her shorts grew shorter, her lemonade sweeter, and her visits with him more intimate. Eddie Davis grew quickly enamored of this rich and lovely older woman. Their courtship was swift, their engagement swifter. Susan was born soon after Grace’s fortieth birthday, and was doted upon as much as her father’s kindness (great) and her mother’s neurosis (even greater) would allow. 

When Susan was four years old, Grace ordered a faith-based, home-school curriculum through the mail. She wasn’t about to let her precious little angel be corrupted by the public school system’s edicts, nor be defiled by its petri-dish manner of mass education where children bounced off one another like infectious amoeba. Susan belonged here, in this Christian home, where the lessons she was taught, and the influences to which she was exposed, could be more easily controlled. Fine was the line between protecting one’s child from the world and isolating them from it, but Grace never stopped to consider it. Despite her efforts, she did little to prepare Susan for the world outside the Davis vacuum.

Grace had always wanted to be a pastor’s wife. Though she claimed this was due to her love for the Lord, position and prestige were equally motivating. While Eddie Davis was not the ideal candidate for the pastorate (he was a lapsed Catholic with a few college credits), he compensated with good looks and natural charisma. After Grace repeatedly proposed to him the idea of not only converting to Protestantism, but attending seminary, Eddie finally caved. Two and a half years later, Eddie got his first job at Trinity Methodist Church. Pastor David Morehouse hired him, and things had gone splendidly … at first. Yet, it didn’t take long for Grace’s behavior to grow erratic – to Eddie’s eyes anyway. As Grace was one of the prim and pretty Sunday school teachers, he wondered if anyone else at the church had noticed yet. She taught grades one through three – big surprise, Susan fit this category. Eddie knew his wife did not deal well with extended public relations (an hour in a crowd could literally make her face twitch), but her behavior of late had turned even more bizarre. Her appearance was also affected. Whereas once Grace was nearly obsessive about clothes, hairstyles, and make-up, her recent efforts seemed like overkill. Her reliance on psychotropic pills was also increasing. Eddie didn’t know what to do. He didn’t exactly wear the pants in this house, and standing up to Grace, especially when she was whacked on meds, could be dangerous. And so … 

Over the course of the next few months, Eddie’s eyes began to wander.

They didn’t have to wander far.

Nadja Kelley – 27-years old, slim, single, sexy, with the voice of an angel – stood on the same platform as Eddie every Sunday morning, leading worship. Eddie was so attracted to her, he rarely glanced her way during such times, lest the congregation see the truth. Pastor Morehouse, perhaps sensing trouble, told Eddie that Nadja had a reputation for weakness in the area of sensuality … especially with bad boys. Though the information was offered as a warning, it seemingly had the opposite effect. Nadja was attracted to Eddie as well, and – despite their efforts – they quickly fell into a torrid affair.

Their first adulterous congress occurred after a Wednesday night service in the band room of the church’s basement. Thereafter, their liaisons grew more frequent, less discreet, and often took place in either that musty old band room, or Eddie’s office. They’d met at other places – motel rooms, Nadja’s apartment – but none provided the same frenzied and forbidden thrill as the church. 

Whatever pangs of rationality or conscience Eddie might have had about this were obliterated by desire. Since Pastor Morehouse lived in the parsonage next door, these chapel trysts had to be cleverly arranged around the minister’s schedule. Today had been safe: the good Reverend and his Missus were visiting relatives in Blue Springs and wouldn’t be back until late tonight.

Yes, Grace was going slowly insane, but Eddie was catching up fast.

Eddie didn’t know his daughter had witnessed (audibly, at least) his most recent indiscretion. Neither did he know Susan hadn’t been the only one spying.

He did suspect there would eventually be consequences for his actions.

He just didn’t realize they would be so quick. Or so dire.

 

CHAPTER 3

Wearing a blue Superman jersey, Albert Morehouse hunkered on his haunches, elbows on knees, grimy hands dangling between them. Dusk was closing in, and Uncle Ty had just finished an oil change on his ten-year-old Harley-Davidson Sportster. The fact that this totally boss bike was the exact same age that he was wasn’t lost on Al. Uncle Ty had even let Al assist him on this task, and the black grease on his little hands felt more like a Rite of Passage than merely something to be washed off with a bar of Lava. Al’s dad never let him help on his car – of course, the reverend rarely even checked under the hood or carriage, usually letting professional mechanics handle such dirty work.

As Ty cleaned his mess off the Morehouse driveway, Al stood and inspected the intricately-airbrushed, teardrop gas tank of the Harley. It was gloss black, with big, blue, Creature Feature letters on it, spelling the ironic moniker: TYLER’S REVENGE.

Al had never seen anything cooler in his life than Uncle Ty’s Harley.

“Can we take her for a spin, Uncle Ty?” Al asked.

“Gettin’ dark,” Ty replied, readjusting the light-blue bandanna around his head, “but if you want, we can ride her around the parking lot a few times.”

Ty didn’t have to ask twice.

As man and boy rode TYLER’S REVENGE around the parking area of Trinity Methodist Church, Christopher Morehouse looked up from his bedroom desk and glared out the window at his uncle and little brother. The noise pollution pouring out of the Harley’s glass-pack muffler was enough to raise the dead, much less keep a thirteen year old from doing his homework. It wasn’t that Chris didn’t like his Uncle Ty, but ever since the man had taken up residence in their basement, a huge rift had grown between them. His father’s brother had never come out and proclaimed to have a favorite between his two nephews, but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that Al was the one he liked best. Maybe it was because Al was too young to realize their uncle’s influence was unhealthy, inappropriate, and often just sinful. More than once, Chris had called his uncle to account for a few of these things – the man’s idolatrous obsession with film, his tattoos, his cigarette habit, his verbal approval of attractive women, his occasionally salty language – and yet every time he did, Uncle Ty came back with a rebuttal which made Chris feel like a hypocrite. Uncle Ty even said to him once, “Stop acting so Pharisaical.” Chris hadn’t initially understood his uncle’s words, but – later on, searching through his Bible – he got the gist of it. He didn’t agree with it, but he got it. And didn’t like it one bit. That a jobless, irresponsible, twice-divorced, tattooed, overgrown kid could have the gall to compare an ambitious teenager to a Pharisee, upset him to no end. Since then, Christopher basically avoided the man, spending most of his time in his room.

And yet … it sure looked like Al and Uncle Ty were having fun out there.

Maybe I’m being too unforgiving, Chris thought. If I’m really concerned about Uncle Ty having a bad influence on Al, maybe the best solution is to provide a better influence myself. That was all the self-goading he needed. Dropping his pen and closing his notebook, Chris headed downstairs and went out to join his uncle and brother.

As Ty circled the lot – Al clinging to his torso – he realized even over the noisy pulsation of his hog, he could actually feel little Al’s giggles of delight. It was a sensation nearly like a salve on his turmoil-laden heart. He had spent too many selfish, self-destructive years running from a past that never tired of pursuing him, yet the simple vibrations of a little boy’s laughter touched him in a tender place he thought was long since dead.

When Ty saw that his other nephew was watching from the yard, he was in such an amiable mood (unusual for him without artificial assistance) that rather than dread the sight of the boy, he saw an opportunity to patch up their differences. Ty didn’t dislike Chris, but the boy was certainly his father’s son, in ways both good and bad. Now that the hermit had come out of his cave, Ty told himself to accept Chris the way that he was, just as he had done for the giggling boy now on the back of his motorcycle. Ty steered toward the yard.

Screeching to a halt in front of Chris, Ty smiled at him. Chris smiled back. Al was jumping up and down on the back seat of the hog, giddy with delight.

“Hey, Chris!” Al cried over the loud engine. “Wanna go for a ride?”

“It’s up to Uncle Ty,” Chris replied.

“Hop on, buckaroo,” Ty told him.

As Al got off the motorcycle, he was so excited, so pumped with adrenaline, he said something that, immediately after, he knew would ruin this fragile reconciliation between his uncle and his brother. Without thinking – and with innocent excitement – he cried, “Uncle Ty, your Harley is totally kick ass!”

“Hey, now. Language, Al,” Chris scolded. “You know better than that.”

Ty’s heart sank. He knew from past experience where this was going and did not want to get in the middle of it. He also knew that Chris blamed him for Al learning such allegedly blue lingo. Yet, until the boys’ parents returned from their trip tonight, he was responsible for seeing that Al and Chris didn’t fight or argue. Too often he ended up not as referee, but as an active participant.

Reminding himself for the thousandth time that he was the adult here (and also not to biasedly take Al’s side as he was so inclined), Ty turned off the Harley so he wouldn’t have to shout, and said, “Al, your brother’s right. That’s probably not an appropriate term for a boy your age. If your father heard you say it, who do you think would get in trouble?”

“You would,” Al replied.

“That’s right.” Turning to Chris, Ty paused, weighed his words, and said, “Chris, I know your dad has taught you a lot about what God finds acceptable and what He doesn’t. I agree with much of it. I, too, believe in God and Jesus. No, I don’t look like your typical Christian, and I’m not comfortable in church, but that’s only because …” Ty stopped, left eye twitching as if he were recalling something terrible. Finally, he went on, “…coming from the abusive past your dad and I came from, I’m hypersensitive to any kind of legalism or hypocrisy. You just corrected your brother for using the word ‘ass.’ And since Al is only ten, you were probably right to do so. But that word means so many different things that a blind offense at it makes Christians seem … puritanical. An ass can be a donkey, a dumb person, or your bottom. The expression kick-ass means excellent. A bad-ass is a tough guy. There’s a hundred other meanings. My point is: think about the context of a word before you get so bent out of shape. Ask yourself whether or not there’s any hate behind what’s being said. That’s what’s really important. Otherwise, you end up sounding like a prude.”

Ty wasn’t one to make speeches … unless someone pushed one of his buttons, and then he was as capable of preaching as his brother. But it was also a good little speech, he thought. He was far more intelligent and insightful than his appearance led most people to believe – an attribute that had gotten him out of (and into) his share of fights. He hoped Chris would take what he had said in the genial spirit intended, however …

“Who are you to judge me?!” Chris screamed, red-faced and fire-eyed. “You can’t keep a job! Or stay in a marriage! You smoke! You’re covered with tattoos! You live in a fantasy world of movies and motorcycles! Worst of all, you’re teaching my little brother to follow in your footsteps. He idolizes you!”

“Shut up, Chris!” Al cried. “Uncle Ty is right. He wasn’t trying to be mean to you. He was just saying …”

“I heard what he’s saying! He’s saying that I’m prudish and puritanical. Maybe I am, but at least I’m not a liar!”

“I’m not a liar,” Ty said.

“Oh, yeah?!” Chris shot back. “You told me this morning you were taking Al miniature golfing, but I know where you really went. You took him to The Lux to see Psycho! Do you know what my dad would do if he found that out? He’d be furious, and you know it. Why are you even here? Why don’t you move, Uncle Ty? You’re a grown up! You should act like it instead of an overgrown kid. Stop mooching off my parents and take care of yourself for a change! Nobody wants you here except Al, and you’re corrupting him like …”

“He’s not c’rupting me!” Al screamed back at him. “I love him! He’s real! He’s more real than you are, you big … phony!” Al didn’t hate his brother, but Chris was threatening the thing he held most dear. He knew Uncle Ty would move out someday, but wanted to prolong his stay as long as possible. In a world where nobody understood him, Uncle Ty got Al. That, in itself, was priceless.

Without another word, Chris stormed back in the house, slammed the door behind him, and returned to his room.

Al went to his uncle’s side, looked up at the man’s face, and saw two things clearly: pain and sadness. He wanted to make those awful expressions go away – forever – but was clueless how to do so. Speechless and befuddled, Al simply put his arms around Uncle Ty, and hugged him tight.

An hour or so later, as Chris fumed in his room, Al and Ty sat on the couch in the unfinished basement, watching a rerun of the original Star Trek on an independent TV station. Uncle Ty called himself a Trekkie, and had passed on his addiction of original series Trek to Al. Al didn’t have many heroes in his life, but running a close second to Uncle Ty was Captain James Kirk. The roguish captain was strong, confident, valorous, and quite the ladies man. He could also be a bad ass … but perhaps such descriptors were better left unspoken.

For a month and a half, the Morehouse basement resembled (of all things) a small bijou. Uncle Ty owned a huge video library, methodically arrayed on shelves bookending a big TV, bigger speakers, and an antiquated-but-powerful McIntosh 240 tube amplifier. The bare walls had movie posters pinned to them; including Universal’s unholy trinity: Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man. There were sleeved lobby cards, Aurora models, dioramas of iconic film scenes, thick books about directors, actor biographies, 70mm film cells set in Lucite, laminated ticket stubs, roadshow programs, and other Hollywood ephemera. While escapism came natural to children, when it came to the celluloid brand, Al could not have handpicked a better teacher. Ty considered Al an apt pupil; a virtual sponge who never tired of soaking in his encyclopedic film knowledge. Ty had never considered himself a role model, but ever since coming to live here – and finding himself the aim of one nephew’s fanatical admiration – he took the responsibility quite seriously. And yet given his propensity for brooding, self-loathing, and artificial mood-enhancers (not to mention the occasional suicidal thought), he sometimes questioned the healthiness of his influence.

“You gonna be okay if I go outside and smoke a cigarette?” Ty asked Al.

Al nodded, attention enrapt by Jim Kirk as he battled the reptilian Gorn.

Ty headed out through the garage, stopped to get something out of a secret compartment under the seat of TYLER’S REVENGE, walked across the parking lot toward the church’s gymnasium, and lit a Marlboro. Ensuring his solitude, he also fired up the remains of a joint, and leaned against the building.

With one leg propped on the brick, Ty looked cool – actually, he was a bit of a mess. His words to Chris had obviously stung the boy, but Chris’ words had stung, too. Ty didn’t have all the answers. Maybe he didn’t have any answers. Does your heart hurt? Do you feel like you don’t belong? Is life too painful? Well, fire up a joint; or go to the movies; preferably at the same time.

Maybe Chris was right. Who was he to preach morality? As he took a drag off the Marlboro in his right hand, and then a deeper one off the jay in his left, he considered what he might do to win the boy’s trust again. One of the reasons Ty had sabotaged two marriages was that he was positively petrified of being a father. He didn’t want the responsibility of raising a child when he felt so screwed up himself. Maybe he owed Chris an apology.

Ty was also flummoxed by his nagging suspicion that there was something profoundly wrong with modern-day Christianity. There were seemingly scores of legalistic traditions that the church had proclaimed as Gospel for so long, they no longer knew the difference. And yet each time Ty attempted to expose these errors – using scripture no less – his family accused him of being a heretic. A crazy one at that. At times, he almost believed they were right.

After taking a third toke on the joint, Ty stripped the cherry and returned the little roach to his cigarette pack. Putting a Wint-O-Green Life Saver in his mouth and Visine in his eyes, he glanced back toward his brother’s house.

A dark silhouette stood at the window of Chris’ bedroom … watching him. The figure darted away as soon as Ty looked up, and suddenly …

Ty knew how it was all going to go down. His goose was most likely cooked.

A car pulled around from the backside of the gym then: a black Camaro. The driver slowed down for a moment, looked briefly at Ty, and then tore out of the lot and down the street, burning rubber and swirling blue exhaust.

Ty – both startled and confused by this – noted that the license plate on the Camaro read GRIM-1. He grunted, wondering if the driver was just as freaked out as he had been. After all, what was a burly, long-haired, tattooed biker doing smoking cigarettes (among other things) in the parking lot of a church? It was probably just teenagers looking for a place to chill, or make out, or possibly do what he had just done. Remembering that he may (or may not) have been spotted by Chris doing the one thing that was going to get him evicted, Ty started back for the house. Right before he reached the yard, David and Ruth Morehouse pulled their Suburban into the driveway. Ty (sucking madly on the Life Saver in his mouth) greeted them as they got out. “Hey, bro. Hey, sis.”

“Hi, Ty,” David replied. “Did you see that car speeding out of here?”

Ty nodded, saying, “Yeah, I think it was parked behind the gym, though I didn’t check for vandalism or anything. It was prob’ly just some kids partying. In case you do find any damage later, I got the license plate. It was GRIM-1.”

“Okay. Everything go all right with the kids?”

As Ty grabbed their bags from the Suburban, “Same as always,” he replied.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” Ruth said, waddling hurriedly toward the house, “but I’ve got a pee-pee emergency.”

“My wife, the potty mouth,” David retorted.

Ty chuckled at that, but without much humor. No Dave, Al and I are the potty mouths in your house. As a matter of fact, when it comes to being potty mouths, we kick ass! After closing the Chevy’s back hatch, Ty picked up the suitcases off the driveway, and headed inside with his brother.

“You all right, Tyler?” David asked.

Ty shrugged, grunted, and carried the luggage in as David held the door. “Mom says to tell you, ‘Hi,’” David told him.

“Mmm,” Ty grunted again, setting the bags by the foot of the stairs.

“Where are the boys?”

“Same place they were when you left ‘em.”

This time David grunted. “Let me guess, Chris is in his room, and Al is in the basement watching …” he glanced at his watch, “Kirk and Spock.” When Ty nodded, David took off his coat and asked, “Sure there’s nothing wrong?”

Before Ty could answer, Ruth appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked tired from their drive, but Ty thought there was a look of concern on her face beyond that. “Dave,” she said, “I think you’d better come up here for a minute.” Behind her, Christopher stood in his bedroom doorway wearing a smug grin.

David joined his wife upstairs, and they both adjourned to Chris’s room.

Ty sighed resignedly, worst fears realized. Knowing that time was short, he went down to the basement and saw Al engrossed in the finale of Star Trek. While the denouement played out, Ty gathered courage for the business ahead. He waited for the credits to roll, went around the couch, and turned off the TV. Before Al could ask why, Ty squatted in front of the boy and took his hands in his own. In an emotion-choked voice, he said, “Al, you know I love you, right?”

Al nodded and replied, “Sure.”

“Well … I don’t think I’m gonna have much more time to spend with you.”

“Why not?” Al asked, noting that Uncle Ty’s breath smelled minty and his clothes had a musty/sweet smoke odor. He knew sometimes his uncle smoked things besides tobacco. Al had his suspicions, yet – not wanting the gavel of his father’s judgment to drop – he never breathed a word about it. His ten-year-old mind usually thought of it in terms of: Uncle Ty is putting another Band-Aid on his heart because he hurts inside. He wished that he could wave a magic wand and heal his uncle’s troubled soul, but – knowing that he couldn’t – he just loved him instead. “Why not?” Al repeated.

“Well, your parents just got back and … I don’t think they’re gonna be very happy with some of the things I’ve been doing. It’s not their fault. I’m the one who’s … broken some promises I made when they agreed to let me stay here.”

Eyes brimming, Al asked, “What promises?”

“That’s not important. What is important is that you know I think you’re a terrific kid. You’re special. You made me believe in family when I gave up on that word a long time ago. You’ve got tons of potential, Al. I’ve watched your parents show an unfair partiality to your brother, but … you’ve got the savvy, the instinct, the passion, and the heart. And no matter what happens …”

Loudly, from the stairwell, David called: “Al?”

“No matter what,” Ty hurried, “I will always think the world of you.”

“Al, come here please,” David repeated. “Your uncle and I need to talk.”

“No!” Al screamed, hopping off the couch and clinging onto his uncle. “No! You’re not gonna make him go away! I won’t let you!”

“Al,” Ty said softly, embracing him, “you need to listen to your father.” “No! I hate him! I want to go with you!”

“I know you do, Al. But … we both know that can’t happen. Not right now. You need to obey your dad. Please, Al. If not for him, do it for me. Please?”

Al calmed himself, but was shaken to his core. With hot tears scalding his cheeks, he hugged Uncle Ty fiercely. Ty hugged him back with equal fervor. After a moment, Al let him go, spun around, and sulked upstairs, eyes shooting poison daggers at his father. As he climbed another flight to the second floor, Al went past his brother’s room, and saw his mom in there talking with Chris.

And suddenly it was all clear: Christopher had ratted out Uncle Ty.

Murderous fury flashed inside Al, making him want to throttle his brother. The only thing that kept him from doing so was the knowledge that if he did (and ended up in jail, juvenile hall, or possibly the nuthouse), his uncle would be disappointed in him. Al went to his room, closed the door, blocked it with a chair, and knelt down next to the furnace vent on the floor. He put his ear to it, trying to hear the conversation in the basement. He could hear, and clearly.

Dad: “Grow up. Get over it. How long will our past control your life?”

Uncle Ty: “Like it doesn’t still affect yours.”

Dad: “Did you take Al to The Lux to see Psycho?”

Uncle Ty: “Wow. Did Chris tell you that? Yes. I did. I’d do it again.”

Dad: “Did you jump down Chris’s throat because he told Al not to curse?”

Uncle Ty: “I wouldn’t put it like that. He was being too self-righteou …”

Dad: “Yes or no?”

Uncle Ty: “Yes, but …”

Dad: “Did you smoke pot in the church parking lot before we got here?”

Uncle Ty: “It doesn’t matter what I say, you’ve got your mind made up.” Dad: “Just answer me, Tyler.”

Uncle Ty: “Yes.”

Dad: “That’s three strikes. You know what that means?”

Uncle Ty: “… What? I’m out?”

Dad: “You got it. You’re outta here. Pack your stuff and get. No, wait. You can collect your things in the morning. I want you gone this minute.”

Uncle Ty: “Who are you? I know my brother. I love my little brother. And you are not him. It’s like the Body Snatchers got a hold’a you. You’re evicting me because I took Al to the movies and smoked a little pot? Right, I smoked pot. My heart hurts. You know why it hurts. You experienced the same abuse I did.”

Dad: “Yes, I did, but God healed me of those wounds a long time ago and …”

Uncle Ty: “Pppffhh, right.”

Dad: “… that’s why He’s blessed me with a home, a family, and a church, while you’re still wandering in the wilderness. “

Uncle Ty: “Well, isn’t that where all the lost and broken people live? You know, your supposed target audience? Whatever happened to love one another? Or does your take on Christianity’s most basic tenet apply only to those holy enough to sit in your pews? Something is incredibly wrong when those who need to hear the Good News the most aren’t welcome inside your church because they self-medicate a little differently than you do. And you do.”

Dad: “What are you talking about? I’ve never used drugs in my life.”

Uncle Ty: “Your drug is religion. Sanctimony. You’re like a Pharisee, man – obsessed with obeying rules and avoiding sinners. Which is the opposite of how Jesus acted. Jesus drank with sinners, defended them to the religious police, and loved them in spite of their behavior. That’s the model to show your flock. Instead, you’re grooming pew-warming Pharisees who show up on Sundays to share gossip, compare clothing, give you money, and cluck their tongues at those hooligans, like me, who can’t keep to your made-up list of thou shalt nots.”

Dad: “You stand there, stoned, and presume to tell me how to run my …?”

Uncle Ty: “Why wouldn’t I feel that way? You’ve demonized everything that I hold dear: movies, TV shows, actors, musicians, rock-n-roll, pot, hippies, or whatever else doesn’t meet your priggish list of moral acceptability.”

Dad: “Those worldly things are not appropriate for …”

Uncle Ty: “I know, I know: ‘Good Christian soldiers marching in the Army of the Lord’. Ugh, you sound just like Dad. Only you’re so totalitarian about it, you’re not marching in the Army of the Lord, you’re goose-stepping.”

Dad: “What did you say? Look, if you want to backslide by soiling yourself in the secular––fine––but you’re not going to do it around my …”

Uncle Ty: “Backslide? Secular? Worldly? Your definitions of those words are seriously flawed. How exactly are you teaching your family and flock to be light in a dark world when you keep them completely isolated from it?”

Dad: “We’re to live in the world, not be of it. Ty (sigh) you’re my brother, and I love you, but … you’re the one who’s not over the past. You’re the one who’s being unforgiving, and judgmental, and bitter, and rebellious, and …”

Uncle Ty: “Sure, I am. I’m bitter about the poisonous brand of Christianity that Dad crammed down out throats, and I’ll rebel against it till my dying day. But you – who should know better – are passing on to your children! Arrgghh! What? You think I’m not a Christian because of my choices? Who’s judging who here, brother? You’ve already turned Chris against me. If you do the same to Al, it will break my heart. You are teaching Al – right now – that I’m too vile of an influence to be around him. And that’s bullshit. That’s about unforgivable. If I had kids, I’d keep them as far away from you and your church as possible.”

Dad: “Get out, Tyler. You are no longer welcome in this hou …”

Uncle Ty: “You know what this world needs? It needs an advocate for its walking wounded; those whom the church has either turned off or turned away. My ‘sins’ were simply herbal and cinematic, and it got me the boot. What about all of the other lost souls out there who need God’s love and grace? Somebody needs to plead their case. All you do is alienate them. Hell, you make God look so absurd to those outside of your bubble, you practically propagate atheism. You put a pious price tag on God’s paid-in-full gift of salvation, when that gift is for the worst of us – even an old hippie like me – and not just those who look and act the way that you think they should. I’m ashamed of you.”

Dad: “You’re ashamed of me? That’s a laugh. Get out of here, Tyler. I wash my hands of you. We can finish this conversation in Heaven … if you make it.”

Uncle Ty added something then that Al didn’t understand, but would never forget. He wouldn’t forget any of this. “Whitewashed tombs,” Uncle Ty said. “These people honor me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Dad: “GET OUT! NOW!”

Al rushed to his his window and saw Uncle Ty mount his hog, kick-start it, and roar away. Looking down, crying, Al saw tears fall on the Superman crest on his shirt. He laid on his bed then, buried his face in his pillow, and screamed.

 

go to CHAPTER 4.